3 Jan 2016

Off Road; 78° North in the Arctic Circle

Before heading off to Spitsbergen, an island which is part of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago situated in the Arctic Ocean I made sure I was well equipped for the Arctic conditions. Temperatures here have been recorded as low as -46 Celsius (-50F) in March. I sought advice from people who had a great understanding of photographing in extreme cold weather conditions. Layers, layers, layers, but not the Photoshop ones, seemed to be the mantra clothes wise. My trip was only to be 5 days but it’s amazing how much volume is taken up by lots of warm clothes and snow boots.

I flew with Norwegian which has a generous 10kg cabin baggage allowance. The camera bag I chose to take with me was the Manfrotto Off Road 30L Backpack which fitted perfectly in the overhead locker.

The bag is divided into two parts internally. Inside the camera section of the bag, which can be seen in the above photo, bottom left, I put my camera and lenses in. The top part of the bag fitted my lap top, remote releases, filters and warm clothes for when I got off the flight in Longyearbyen. Note that the camera compartment of the bag can be removed completely, turning the bag in to a full back pack.

Arriving at -16C (3F) was a shock to the system as I had been in +34C in South East Asia just a month earlier. The house we rented had amazing uninterrupted views looking North and East.

I had booked a day snow mobile trip from Longyearbyen on the west coast to go to the east coast, a return journey of around 200 km (125 miles) which would take about 10 hours in total with stops along the way.

For the trip I had to decide which bits of camera kit to take along. In the camera compartment of the bag I put my Canon camera with the old faithful Canon 24 -70mm f2.8 lens attached. Also my Canon 17- 40mm f1.4 and my Canon 100-400mm f4.5 -5.6 lenses. I usually take my tripod everywhere, but for this day I left it behind as this was very much an ‘on the go’ photography trip.

Inside the bags top compartment I put all my spare cold weather gear: gloves, hats, scarves, jumpers, spare puffer jacket, sunglasses, glasses and there was even room to spare.  There is a side pouch to put a water bottle in, no use in these – 30C (-22F) conditions as the water would have turned to ice. So instead I put in hand and feet warmers in case they were needed. A side pocket fitted my Lee filters,  filter holder and adaptors. In the front pouch I packed some energy bars and mint cake for emergency rations. The waist strap has neat pockets which fitted my torch, penknife and other pieces of equipment for the Arctic. It is quite incredible what you can fit in to this bag,  even with all this packed it was not at full capacity!

Tip: in cold conditions camera batteries drain much faster. I didn’t leave my 2 spare batteries in the camera bag, instead I wrapped them with their covers in place in a sock and kept them in an internal pocket close to my body. I also kept my spare memory cards close to my body. I fitted the camera bag on to the back seat of my snow mobile as it was going to be a long journey. I could release the bag quickly when we stopped to carry it on my back.

The day I went out we were blessed with great conditions, clear skies and little wind, though clear skies here mean much lower temperatures. I was well kitted out for the cold with a snow suit, wool balaclava, scarves, sheeps wool leather mittens and most importantly the snow mobiles have heated handle bars, which keep the hands nice and warm.

There is lots I like about my Off Road camera bag, you can fit so much in it for a start, with lots of neat pockets and pouches. The side access to the camera compartment meant that I never had to put the pack down on the snow and ice. The adjustable straps and pulls can all be neatly folded and Velcro’d up, which means they aren’t flailing around.

The outer sheeps wool and leather mittens for riding the snow mobile are impossible to handle a camera with, so I also wore very thin base layer smart gloves (for my Instagram phone shots) and over those I wore insulated wool gloves all underneath  my snow mobile mittens. When it came to taking photographs, I would take off the snow mobile mittens and I could handle my camera with the other 2 sets of gloves. The Off Road bag has fantastic well designed large zip pulls which can be used with thick gloves, perfect for this trip.

Nothing can really prepare you mentally for a full day out in the Arctic wilderness and the sheer beauty of  the landscapes you encounter. The tough bits of snow mobile riding over glaciers compensated by immense vistas.

The photograph of myself above is where I took the panoramic header shot at the top of the page. In the crisp clear conditions you can see a really long way.

When you are photographing in cold weather conditions you really have to know your camera as no photograph is worth getting frost bite or hypothermia whilst you faff around setting your camera dials. I tend to mainly shoot on manual and am very quick setting my exposures through 25 years of experience. When shooting snow and ice scenes it is important to be in control of your exposures as these conditions are tricky to photograph. If shooting on auto the camera will tend to underexpose the scene. In snow and ice landscapes I always start by over exposing by about 1 ½ stops, pushing the histogram to the right and making sure the highlights are not blown out. From there I gauge the correct exposure for the scene and set the exposure accordingly. One advantage of such white scenes is that I could keep the ISO low without my tripod.

The shot above the wind had really picked up almost knocking me off my feet, there are wisps of snow and ice blowing across the icy scene. In a more sheltered spot just as the sun was setting the piece of broken off iceberg trapped in the frozen sea ice was a transient nature sculpture moving slowly in the landscape.

After a photo shoot in cold conditions it pays to have a clear zip lock bag with you to put the camera inside. Once you go in to a warm interior condensation will quickly occur on and inside the camera. Take out the memory card and the battery and put the camera in the zip lock bag, place it inside your camera bag. When you get back inside leave the camera bag in the coolest room of the house so it warms back up slowly over a number of hours.

Remember what happens when you take a nice ice cold drink outside in the heat, your glass drips with condensation, you don’t want that amount of condensation on your camera when taking it from the cold outside to the warm inside. There are so many neat designs with the camera bag that I didn’t utilise on this particular trip. You can attach a tripod or ski poles to it, there is a front camera strap on the backpack which allows the camera to be kept secure on the chest when it is carried, avoiding neck strain and there is a rain cover tucked away in the top of the bag.

After my short time in Spitsbergen I have fallen in love with the Arctic and it’s ever changing light conditions and will be returning there as soon as I can with my Manfrotto Off Road camera bag.

This day with me

Off road Hiker 30L Blue
Off road backpacks collection

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P5190526 29 May 2015

Manfrotto Backpack 50 at the Chelsea Flower Show 2015

As a travel and garden photographer the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is the pinacle of the horticultural year. After photographing at the show over a number of years I know the layout of the site and knew which equipment to bring. Obviously the camera equipment is the most important part of a photographers kit, however many people overlook how important the camera bag can be. For the Chelsea flower show I chose my Manfrotto Professional Backpack 50 for the job as it packs in lots of camera gear, whilst still feeling light when carried due to its well designed waist strap and shoulder straps which you can pull thus bringing the bag nearer to your body.

Manfrotto Chelsea blog Stephen Studd Photography travel photography workshops tours and holidays

Yes the bag really does fit all this equipment:
Canon 6D body and remote release.
Canon battery charger
Canon lenses:
24 – 70mm f2.8
70 – 200mm f2.8
17- 40mm f4
100 – 400 f 4.5-5.6
100 mm f2.8 macro
180mm f 3.5 macro
Lee grad filters and lens adaptors which fit neatly in to the side pockets for easy access.
Computer and lead.
Box of business cards and postcards.
Various memory cards (not shown).
Camera instruction manual (not shown).

I also used my trusty Manfrotto 055 carbon fibre tripod which has travelled round the world many times with me.

NOTE: the bag is also the right size for cabin baggage for travel photography photo shoots.

Manfrotto Chelsea blog Stephen Studd Photography travel photography workshops tours and holidays

I had a 5 day press pass for the event with prized 5.30am early access, when the light is much kinder to photographers. The ‘Urban Retreat’ garden below designed by Adam Frost, was shot just after sunrise with the sun hitting the flowers from behind, which is a great technique employed by garden photographers as it shows off the shape, form and translucence of the flowers, making them really stand out.

RHS Chelsea flower show 2015 - The Homebase Garden - Designer Adam Frost - Sponsor Homebase awarded Gold

This year I concentrated on photographing the show gardens as I had several commissions to complete as well as shooting stock images for GAP gardens. There are so many different styles of garden to photograph with many design ideas. One garden that had bold dynamic hard landscaping was Darren Hawkes garden for Brewin Dolphin. This garden had lots of trees planted in the garden, to give a feeling of an early summers day I shot the garden when the sunlight was dappling through the trees canopy.

The Brewin Dolphin Garden -   - Designer Darren Hawkes Landscapes - Sponsor Brewin Dolphin awarded gold medal

I am a great fan of natural swimming ponds where plants and micro organisms instead of chlorine keep the water clean. At Chelsea this year ‘The Retreat’ garden designed by Jo Thompson had a natural swimming pond that blended well in to the environment. For the shot below of the garden I used a Lee 0.6ND graduated soft filter to balance the top of the photo with its highlights, to the bottom of the photo which is darker. I was after the feeling of a fresh, warm, still, summers morning.

RHS Chelsea flower show 2015 The M&G Garden – The Retreat - designer Jo Thompson - sponsors M & G Investments awarded silver gilt medal

The stars of the show at Chelsea are the plants themselves. When photographing flowers it is always important to check out the background they are against. The bright vibrant purple hues with hints of orange in the Lupin flowers against the orange hues of the rusted steel worked well together in the ‘Healthy Cities’ garden designed by Chris Beardshaw.

RHS Chelsea flower show 2015 Morgan Stanley Healthy Cities garden – Designer Chris Beardshaw - Sponsor – Morgan Stanley - awarded gold medal

When plants are backlit with early morning or late evening sunlight they really show flowers off to their best. The white Eremurus flowers below are lit by the first light hitting the garden. As the sunlight is hitting the flowers from behind and only illuminating them, they really stand out as the main focal point in the Telegraph garden designed by Marcus Barnett.

RHS Chelsea flower show 2015 - The Telegraph Garden – Designer - Marcus Barnett - Sponsors The Telegraph - Awarded

One of the big stars this year in the show gardens was the Protea flower in the ‘Time in Between’ garden designed by Charlie Albone. Again the flower head is being backlit from early morning sunlight, which really gives the red bracts of the flower head a fiery glow whilst gently illuminating the central flower stamens.

RHS Chelsea flower show 2015 - The Time in Between – Designer Charlie Albone - Sponsor – Husqvarna - Gardena - awarded

When photographing flowers these are always good techniques to employ, flowers might look good to the eye in bright sunlight but they don’t photograph so well in harsh light, a reason why the RHS grant early morning access to garden photographers at their shows. Looking at all the show gardens it is hard to imagine that they haven’t been there for much longer than the few weeks it takes to actually build them, which is a real testament to the hard work from all the designers to the build crew to get them looking so good.

I was pleased I had chosen the  Manfrotto Backpack 50 for this job as it is really well built, sturdy and it kept my equipment dry when there were heavy showers. The bag also fits in an awful lot of camera equipment which is needed for this type of assignment.

For more on the Chelsea show gardens visit my WordPress blog https://stephenstuddphotography.wordpress.com/ and you can keep in touch via my websites and social media.

This day with me

Professional Backpack 50
Professional bags collection

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Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di 16 Dec 2014

Travels with my Manfrotto Bravo 30 at Angkor Wat

I have been returning regularly to Cambodia and the temples of Angkor Wat since 1999. My latest journey there being in November, for a photo shoot and a travel photography workshop I was running.

Before flying out to South East Asia I had recently changed cameras as I am starting to shoot more HD time lapse sequences aswell as my photography for stock agencies and commissioned photo shoots. On this trip I decided to bring along a new bag with me too, the Manfrotto Bravo 30. I needed a day bag that I could use to carry my photographic equipment and laptop that I use for my time lapse photography.


I had been using my new Canon 6D camera for a couple of months before my departure and was pleased with its handling, especially for time lapses. My new Manfrotto bag had not yet been put through its paces, though a 3 month photo shoot in Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam would surely do this. My Manfrotto tripod bag has been around the world with me for at least 10 years, so I knew the bags are built to last.

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di

After a short flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, I had planned a dawn time lapse shoot of Angkor Wat the next day. Even though I am very familiar with the location, I visited the afternoon before the dawn shoot to check that there was no ugly scaffolding on the towers of Angkor Wat as it is constantly under renovation. Also I wanted to check the water level of the lake in front of it, as I wanted the temple reflected in the water for the time lapse sequence.

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di

In all the years that I have been photographing here I had never seen a boat on the lake, which made for a unique view. My only concern was that it might get in the way of my time lapse the next morning, so I found an angle where it wouldn’t be in the way, as had these Buddhist monks.

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot monks in front of Angk

Having already pre planned the dawn shoot, that evening I packed my Manfrotto Bravo 30 bag with my Canon 6D camera, 24-70mm f2.8 lens, Lee ND graduated filters, laptop, Canon timer remote release, lens cloths, phone, pen, torch, card reader, external hard drive and my water bottle as there was going to be a long wait whilst shooting the time lapse.

Taking a new bag away with you can take some getting used to as I knew where everything was in my other bag, infact I could probably find everything in it blind folded. As the new bag was primarily for just carrying my equipment when shooting time lapses, I found a place for my kit easily. I am very used to locating everything in the pitch black without the need for a torch. But better safe than sorry, make a double check everything is packed and once again too.

I set my alarm for 4am, this would become a regular time to get up for the next 3 months in the tropics.

Arriving in the dark I set up my rock steady Manfrotto tripod and set up my camera shooting in RAW, my Lee ND grad filter and remote timer. Before starting the time lapse I took some stills to check for focus and check the composition, very important when you know you will be shooting over 900 frames in a couple of hours. It is also important to make sure the shutter speed is shorter than the time interval between frames, especially when starting a time lapse from dawn. I was after the tsequence starting in dawn light and ending with the sunlight bursting from behind the towers of Angkor Wat and the sun rising up from there. Below is one of the frames from the sequence, note, the boat had disappeared over night!

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di

I had set up my tripod slightly in the water so it didn’t get accidentally knocked by anyone watching the sunrise, here it is taken with my phone.

2014-10-31 06.49-2-Edit-Edit

Once the sun had risen high enough out of the frame it was time to move on, My first stop was at a nearby cafe where I know the owners. I wanted to download the sequence on to my computer and back up on to my external hard drive that I’d packed in my bag.

The new Manfrotto bag became the one I regularly used around the temples and around Siem Reap.

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di

As most of the locations I was returning to I know really well I knew which bits of kit to take with me, so I wasn’t over burdened with carrying too much equipment.

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia Di

The water festival was on in Cambodia whilst I was there, which made a break from photographing at the temples. Luckily the Manfrotto bag was waterproof as I did get wet photographing the festivities..

Manfrotto Bravo 30 camera bag photo shoot Angkor Wat Cambodia wa

Next stop Burma for a month and then on to Vietnam for 6 weeks with my new travel companion the Bravo 30.


This day with me