As all photographers, I also always search for the best camera bag. I already tried few of them and my latest one is the Sling-o-matic from Think Tank. I heard a lot of good about the Think Tank bags, so I thought I give them a try.

The Sling-o-matic caught my eye, as I’m not really a big fan of backpack. I know that for long trips, the backpack is the best solution, but that’s not what I needed a bag for. I needed something which I can use for shorter, few hour trips, usually when I’m visiting a city. For instance a sunset shooting. So as I said, it caught my eye, as i wanted something what I just can hang on one shoulder and it still is comfortable to carry.

sling-1
sling-2

Before I bought this bag I researched it quite a lot online. The reviews were overall very positive, with very few negatives. I think it is a little strange to see people complaining about stuff, which has nothing to do with the bag, or that have been clearly stated in the specifications (like, complaining that a 17 inch notebook does not fit into a bag designed for a 15 inch notebook, or complaining that the bag fits too much and then its too heavy), so I will try to stay with the bag.

The bag on its own looks very good. The simple square shape without any overly visible branding or other flashy stuff looks very pleasing. It does not scream that its a camera bag. From outside, the bag looks quite small, but quite big when you have it on your back. That is mostly due to the not really traditional shape. You also get a lot of dividers (more than enough) and chest, waist and tripod straps. The inner space is much bigger than one would expect. If I put my 5D with the 24-70mm F2.8 attached, then add the 70-200mm F2.8 IS II and the 16-35mm F2.8, I still have around half of the bag empty. If I compare it for instance to the Lowepro Fastpack 200, which is the same owerall size as the Sling-o-matic, the Fastpack would be already full with such a load.

sling-3

My impressions with the bag in the field are very good. The first try was strange. The bag sits on the back differently than other bags and backpacks I had before. It takes some time to get used to it. But I’ve been using it now for over 6 months and it became very natural. The size of the bag is also perfect for traveling. It adheres to the airline restrictions and it fits nicely under the seat in any airplane.

One of the things I was skeptical, was the way they advertise how you pull out your camera. I mean the way you shift the bag in front of you an pull the camera out. But after about a hour of usage, I started doing this without even thinking about it. It was so natural. It works also great when you are changing lenses and need a place to put down your lens. Only issue is when the bag is not evenly weighted down. Then it can distort a little, which make it harder to zip it up again. This feature helped me many times, when I had no place to put the bag down.

I have the Sling-O-matic 30, which is the biggest version. It also has a place to store a 15 inch notebook. I tend to store my tablet there, and few times I completely forgot that I had it with me, as you don’t feel it at all.

sling-5
sling-4

One issue that a lot of other review mentioned, and I noticed also quite quickly, is the absence of usable small pockets. There is one which can be used for memory cards and identification documents, but you cant fit much more into it. If you have stuff like remote, bubble level, filters and similar, there is no real space for this. You can put it into the main compartment, but then isn’t very hard to find them again. As the whole inner area of the bag is covered by a Velcro surface, I will try to correct this by finding a smaller bag, that can be attached onto the inner side (haven’t found one yet).

Another thing that is not very natural, is having a tripod attached to the bag. As it is to the side, it pulls the whole bag to that side. I usually don’t attach it and just carry it in my hands. There are also straps to go around your chest or waist, to keep the bag in place. This make longer trips easier, but they are in the way if you want to move the bag in front of you to pull out the camera.

Overall I think the bag is great. I been using it for multiple trips and I always get everything into it that I needed. As I stated, it’s not so great for hiking or any longer trips. As it’s not completely balanced, a long trip with it can cause back pain. The feature where you can change the shoulder you carry it on can help here, but only partially.

For more information on the bag, please visit the Think tank website.

View all my other reviews here.

I’m not completely satisfied with this photo. And I think I could edit it more and more, and I still would not like it completely. It was just an ugly day. But it’s a great photo to try out and advance my manual blending skills, as the dynamic range was extreme. You just have to think about it, the whole foreground area had no light source at all. Open the full post to see the original exposure.
Framed view

This is a scene where HDR really helped a lot. The contrast between the city and the sun behind it was just too big. This was actually taken the day I went shooting with Elia Locardi (if you don’t know ho he is, check out the links page :)). And I don’t know if it was the presence of a great photographer, but the sunset was just perfect. Like it tried to show off :)

Don’t forget to open the full post to see the original exposure of this photo.
Colored by the sun

This article was first published in the HDR one magazine, but here you have a version with few more photos :)

There is also an extended version made into an eBook available, and its free for all the newsletter subscribers. Check more on the newsletter page.
book-preview

Fireworks

Fireworks make a quite special category in photography. Most of us  have very few opportunities to take photos of them and they tend to be over so quickly, that you can’t really change much once they start. Knowing what you are doing, knowing exactly how to control your camera, and arriving early on the spot are the most important thing you can do, to get a good photo of them. But let’s take a little closer look at taking photos of fireworks.

You will also notice that photos in this article are only from few occasions. I personally can take photos of fireworks maybe 2-3 times a year and I always try to take that opportunity, but I haven’t been shooting so long, that I had them that many :)

What do you need

For taking good fireworks photos you need:

  • a camera that can run in manual or bulb mode
  • a stable tripod
  • cable or wireless camera trigger

I would not suggest trying to take these kinds of photos handheld, as you will need a long exposure. Also working without a remote is possible, but your final photos will be not as sharp and you will introduce camera shake.

Finding the right spot

Another thing you need is the right spot from where to take the photos. Really try to include something more than just the fireworks in your photo. If you have just the explosion with nothing else, you will still get a nice photo, but it stops representing a certain event an will be quite impersonal.

So try to look for a nice foreground object or an interesting background. Look for buildings, bridges, reflective areas (especially water), or you can even use the crowd of people watching the fireworks as a composition element.

Prepare your camera

So once you have your spot, set up your camera there. Try to place your camera and tripod so you can block anyone from touching it and so ruining your shot (people tend to gather when there are fireworks :)) Set up your composition, so you have nice additional elements to your photo. If you know where the fireworks will be, you can try also to place them mentally in your shot.

Focus your camera onto an object in the distance, something close to the place where they will fire the fireworks. I do this manually using the live view function of my camera, where I can zoom in into the view. Don’t forget to turn off auto-focus before you start manually focusing your camera.

Now you need to find the aperture you will use. Set your ISO to 100, aperture to 6.7 and time to 4s. Half-press the shutter button so the camera takes an exposure reading. Now you will see on you camera if the shot is over or under exposed. Correct this by changing the aperture. If it’s under exposed open it more (aperture of 5.6 or bigger), when it’s overexposed close it (aperture of 8 or less). Take a test shot and continue tweaking the aperture until yo get a nice photo of the scenery.

Once you have that, underexpose your shot by one stop (use a smaller aperture). This is because the fireworks will lighten up your scene and you have to compensate for it.

Shoot in RAW

I think everyone should know this already, but in case somebody forgot. Shoot in raw, always shoot in RAW. The ability to recover overexposed spots in fireworks and brighten the surrounding area is really important here.

Take your photos

Once the fireworks start, I tend to take as many photos as possible. It is quite random how they will look, so a lot of photos will be unusable, but there be few good ones. I use one of two approaches to taking the photos:

  • use the settings I already set, and just use the remote to take the shots. When I hear there were being fired, I press the shutter button and let the camera take the picture. If I see the results are to bright or dark I quickly tweak the settings and take another shot. If the results are good, I sometimes even turn on the intervalometer  with no delay between shots (I use Magic lantern firmware for this), so the camera takes the photos automatically one after another
  • switch to bulb mode, but keep the ISO and aperture settings. Now use your remote and press the button when you hear the explosion. Now wait few seconds (around 4) and let go. Check your result briefly and take another shot, varying the time to get a brighter or darker exposure. It a little about luck and you ability to judge when the fireworks were too bright or too dark and you changed the time accordingly. So if you see a lot of bright explosion, use slower time. If there is one big, but darker, explosion use longer time.

Change the composition

It’s not that easy to change the composition on the fly, as you have only a limited time to do this. The fireworks will end sooner than you think. You should try to do this few times, as having 20 good shots, all looking the same is worse than having 5 good shots, each one different. Look for different composition even before the fireworks start.

When you change the composition, try not to zoom in or out of the scene. If you do, you will have to refocus your camera and that takes time. If you get better and faster at this, you can do it, but you should know the controls of you camera without even looking at them. Also knowing exactly on what to focus is really helpful. Just very quickly recompose your shot, go into live mode, zoom in into the shot on the right place, refocus manually and quickly continue taking more photos. After some time, you should be able to do this in a mater of few second, and you should practice this before.

Sometimes just rotating the camera will give you a different photo.


There is one more “blind” approach to recomposing. I use it when I shoot in intervalometer mode and see that the setting are OK. I just let the camera take photos, and change the composition during that, blindly. One of two photos in the sequence are ruined, but this is much faster than stopping the camera series and starting it again. If you know what you can get into a photo with the lens you have on your camera, you should be able to get a nice composition without ever needing to look through the viewfinder. This is really much easier with a wide-angle lens, as you can still crop your photo afterwards :)

Choose the best ones

So once you are done, choose which photos you would like to edit. Don’t just look on the fireworks, but on the whole photo. If the scenery is too dark or overexposed, try looking for a better one. You can use any way to edit this shots, but in my experience, the most common things you have to correct are:
[row][span12]fire13[/span12][/row]

  • brighten the scene – as the fireworks are really bright, the surrounding scene can look really dark and dull, brighten it a little to make it a part of a photo
  • add more contrast – either directly as a contrast or using a plugin like the Nic Color Efex and the Pro contrast preset
  • remove noise – usually the sky around the fireworks tends to be quite noisy when you brighten it, a little noise reduction will help here
  • add sharpness – a little bit of sharpness in the fireworks will add more pop to them, use the high pass sharpening or unsharp mask, but don’t sharpen the surrounding sky
  • brighten the whites – usually parts of the fireworks are overexposed a little, if you add even more brightness to those parts, they will look even better and attract the viewers attention

Here is an example of before and after edits. You can see, that the biggest change was adding more contrast.
fire15

Try HDR processing

This does not work always, but trying to edit a fireworks photo like a single RAW hdr (check my HDR tutorial for more info on this) , can give you some great results. Programs like Oloneo HDR engine are really great at recovering details in such photos, without making the photo looks artificial.

Use more than one photo

If you don’t move you camera between different exposures, you will have many similar photos, with just the fireworks different. And as the fireworks are differently bright, you will have differently exposed surrounding area. So why not blend fireworks from one shot and the area from a different one. Just choose the photos which look the best.

Have better chances

Taking photos of fireworks is a lot about luck. You never know how exactly they will look and where they will be.  So to have better chance for nice photos, take a lot of them. I usually get one good photo, for every 30 I take (there are more, but I discount similar ones).
fire14

Try to enjoy the fireworks

One thing at the end. If you try to automate the process of taking fireworks (intervalometer helps a lot), and set up your camera correctly you still can enjoy the show. Fireworks don’t happen so often, and if you spend the whole time looking at your camera, you will miss all of the beauty in front of you. Try to stay a little in the moment. It’s hard the first time, but over time you can get the hang of it :)

So after Bratislava and Prague, the third city I’m adding to my Top 5 spots list is Budapest. There are much more great spots there than on this list, but not all are publicly accessible or allow the use of a tripod. Still I will ad few more later on, which I think are great, but I don’t yet have any good photos from them

To see all my photos from Budapest, check out the Budapest category here

If you don’t have much time to prepare yourself before the trip, to check out the best places for photography yourself, check out Photo tours in Hungary for guided offers from one of my photographer friends Miklós Mayer.

Don’t forget to check out other available lists:

Best day to visit – 20th of August

Before I get to the spots, let’s first look at the best day to visit. The 20th of August is the St. Stephnes day celebration in Hungary. This is something comparable to the Independence day in the USA. So same as there, also in Budapest there are celebrations. There is a huge street market with some great (really great) food, lots of attraction and the best thing of all, a huge firework over the city in the evening.

Be ready of course for a huge number of people, but one can catch a good spot for the fireworks if one goes early enough. I would suggest at least two hours before the fireworks. I would go either to the castle fortification, or to the Citadella. Both give nice views. First photo here is from the castle, second from the Citadella.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

At the Chain Bridge

I have to start with my favorite subject, a bridge. The Chain bridge that is. It really looks great at any time of day, but from my experience, the best view is during the sunrise. Especially during the very short time, when the lights are still on and the morning blue hour starts. This is only for about 10-15 minutes each day, so you have to be quick. Also be very careful when going to this spot, as you have to cross a busy street with no traffic lights (you are going there on your own risk).

Also, you can get very nice photos with the lion statues and the heavy traffic on the bridge.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

Opposite from the Parliament

Another spot where you should go for the sunrise. There are two reasons for this. First the sun goes up behind the Parliament. The second, that early in the morning there are no ships and you will get a reflection in the water. During other times of the day, the river is too busy and there is no reflection. Also finding the spot that is exactly opposite the Parliament is quite easy. As you walk along the Danube, you will see a metal part on the bank, and you are there :)

Top photography spots - Budapest
The very soft colors in Budapest

St. Stephens Basilica

I tend to prefer spots where you are allowed to use tripods without a permit, but will have to make an exception for the basilica. It’s just so beautiful. And with a little luck, you can use a tripod also here. Just prepare everything before you enter and quickly take your shots :) During one visit I was able to shoot freely with a tripod for 10 minutes, before I was asked to not use it :)

Lights in the Basilica
Different composition

At the Liberty Bridge

Liberty bridge on its own looks really great from any position. But once you get there you will notice a cross on a hill above the bridge. That’s the place I like. You have to find you way up there but it’s worth it. Just be careful if you stand on the edge, so you don’t fall down (as usually, enter at your own risk :)).

Of course the view from under the bridge is also great, but mostly the one from the other side of Danube.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

By the Fishermans Bastion

The Fisherman’s Bastion is atop of a hill above the city, right next to the castle. It gives you a great view, but it’s mostly closed. But right next to it are two smaller bastions with a walkway between them. You actually have to pay to enter the walkway, but if you are there for a sunrise or a sunset shots, the walkway can be entered for free (usually if you see no one sitting by the entrance, it’s free :) )

Top photography spots - Budapest
Fisherman's Bastion

Matthias Church

Right next to the Fishermans bastion is the Matthias Church. It’s a beautiful church that has only recently been reconstructed from outside and also from inside. There are many things to get photos from here, but what I would recommend three. The fist is the view from the walkway I mentioned in the previous spot. Second is inside the church. You have to pay the entrance fee, but they never had issues with me using a tripod, so you can get a nice shot. The third is from the top of the tower. It the highest spot in the city and while you have to walk up many (and I mean really many) steps, the view is worth it.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest



The platforms in front of the castle

After the reconstruction few years ago, there have been two platforms added to the castle fortifications. Both of these have a great view of the city. The first one has completely unobstructed view, the other one has a statue in the middle, but still worth the stop by, as it is so close.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

The castle steps

Another part that was created in the reconstruction, are the castle steps, that go down most of the castle hill. You can take an elevator to go up, and then get this great view towards the city with the steps going there. Or you can take photos over the little wall to the right, that give you a view of the new castle park.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

High Note SkyBar

If you want to combine you photography evening with some drinks at a great location, I would suggest visiting the High Note SkyBar. It’s right in the middle of the city, next to the St. Stephens Basilica and it offers a great view. While I was there, I was able to use a tripod without any issues.

When you go there, I would suggest reserving a table beforehand, as it may be full, and they will not let you in in that case. But you can try also without a reservation, but will just need to have luck then.

Top photography spots - Budapest

Heroe’s Square

This square just looks stunning. You have all this huge statues, and this very symmetrical look with the pillar in the middle. It’s usually very busy in the day, so as I did for these two photos, I would suggest going there in the early morning. You will be there alone.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

Around the Hungarian Parliament

You can try taking photos in front of the parliament, but as it’s really big and you are close, it’s not so easy to get a nice one. Quite better view is from behind. Especial if you go to the small waterfall fountain that is there. If you get really close, you will get a wonderful reflection of the whole parliament. It creates a very nice view there.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

At the Margaret Bridge

Another great looking bridge in Budapest. You can take photo from under it or from it, but be warned as it shakes quite strongly when the trams pass by. Not great for long exposures. My favorite way to take photos here, is to frame the parliament building under the arch of the bridge. Looks great.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

Citadella

Citadella is very high above the city on the hill. The view from there is great, but getting there is a bit harder. You either walk up many steps up the hill, take a taxi or the hop in buss. The normal city transit buses don’t go up here.

You get as a reward a great view of the city and as I mentioned before, it’s perfect for the fireworks time.

Top photography spots - Budapest
Top photography spots - Budapest

These are my top photography places in Budapest. If you want to see more, explore Budapest with a local photographer who will reveal you many other great spots for photography, check out Photo tours in Hungary.

Other available lists:

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