Archives For Lindblad

A tribute published by Digital Photo Pro Magazine

Cotton Coulson: Master Of The Travel Narrative

Those who knew Cotton Coulson knew him as funny, kind, outgoing and, above all, loving. Coulson was known to become so entranced by his subjects that he would often come back from a shoot, transformed. With unkempt curly locks and an ear-to-ear grin, Coulson was easy to spot, even on assignment. He was always the one with insuppressible energy and a passion to explore. He was incredibly attached to the places and the people around him. This was no more true than with his wife, Sisse Brimberg. Together, Brimberg, herself a National Geographic shooter, and Coulson were clearly two sides of the same coin.

Separately, and as a team, Coulson and Brimberg photographed more than 60 stories for National Geographic and Traveler magazines. It was National Geographic, in fact, that first brought the couple together.

“I came on a grant in January of 1976,” Sisse Brimberg recalls. “I think the second day I was there, I was introduced to Cotton. I saw him and there he was, with all his energy and his amazing looks, with the curls and everything. I think I fell in love with him right there.”

For five years, Brimberg had been working as a photographer in Denmark, and she was looking for something new and different when she came to National Geographic. Coulson, though just 24 at the time, had already established himself as an up-and-coming photographer for the publication.

“I think Cotton was around 12 when he first picked up a camera,” Brimberg says. “He became a member of the photo club in his school, and that encouraged him in that direction. He attended New York Art and Design High School, where he liked photography even more. Then he went to New York University, to NYU film school. Film had a great influence on him. He loved all the films from the 1930s, the film noir, the black-and-white. Touch of Evil was his favorite, because the start of the movie was so amazing with one long, long shot. I remember it being something like four minutes long.

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“Cotton always loved the Leica M series the best,” says Sisse Brimberg, Cotton Coulson’s wife and photographic partner, “no matter when, no matter where, no matter what. The Sonys, recently, he really took a great liking to them, but the Leicas were always the supreme love for his expression in photography.”


“That whole pan scene, it’s something that had never before been seen like that. An amazing thing. It was so unusual, and he loved it. And, in a certain way, Cotton was always out there, looking for the ultimate, pushing the edge, pushing to get something new. He did that with photography throughout his whole career. His style, even from the very start, is more than documentary. It’s documentary and art together.”

At 19, Coulson received a small inheritance. He used the money to fund his first photographic excursion, traveling to the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland, a region as remote as any you’re likely to find.

“He just wanted to go out there and shoot,” Brimberg says. “He’s 19 years old, he’s never traveled on his own before, and he goes and hangs out with the people from the Orkneys, and he gets into the Geographic. From there, they started to sponsor him so he doesn’t need to pay for his film. He’s 19 when he gets to the Geographic; that’s an unusual thing.”

The gregarious Coulson, by all accounts, had a knack for the unusual. Though photography remained a constant throughout his career, he ventured into other roles, including picture editing at The Baltimore Sun and U.S. News & World Report, working with Rick Smolan on his noted 24 Hours in Cyberspace project.

“He goes in to U.S. News & World Report and works there, and literally becomes the assistant director of photography there,” recalls Brimberg. “He’s there and he’s together with a lot of different photographers. He loves to pull pictures. He loves to find just the right shot, or find what has been overlooked. And he has a great eye for it. That was right around Tiananmen Square; that year was full of some very big events. He was just getting the film in and going through it like nobody’s business. He loved it. He also loved deadlines. That was something that encouraged him to work harder and so on.”


“Cotton really could hyperfocus, for better or for worse,” remarks Brimberg. “When you hyperfocus, you really forget everything else. I’d say, ‘Oh, Cotton,’ and you just couldn’t penetrate if he was so locked and loaded on what he was doing. I think that came from his upbringing. I think he had seen and experienced things that were a little different, but he used it to his advantage.”

After his stint at U.S. News & World Report, Coulson became a senior vice president at then fledgling CNET Networks, when he recognized the dawning digital age as the inevitable revolution it would become.

At one point, realizing that he and Brimberg couldn’t both be on the road full time and still raise their children, Coulson even sold insurance to photographers, so that Brimberg could continue her career. He was able to work with one of his earliest photographic mentors, an insurance agent with a love of photography. He became their highest-ranked insurance salesman almost immediately. Taking pictures, no matter how far he strayed from a life on assignment, remained the constant thread.

“It followed him through his whole life, this commitment,” Brimberg says. “He had so many careers, but he was always true to photography and always true to his vision. And it’s the love of his…I don’t know, it’s not that it was the love of his life, because he had love for me, he had love for the kids and so on, but it was definitely up there. And he was very true to it.”

“He was always leaning toward art photography,” Brimberg continues, “and I think that’s what his purpose was. He did work on a body of work that was called The Space Between. It was about how you look at an image and then you have to kind of look at it one more time in order for you to see really what it is and what was his idea of what he was photographing. It was not like reality, and it was not abstract, but it was in that realm between the two. And he loved to be in that space. And I think that was also true his whole career.”

“He also did a lot of black-and-white,” says Brimberg, “because he felt that offered an emotional range that color didn’t. Both of them have great values, and they complement each other more than anything else.”

Coulson’s portfolio reveals a passion for nature, evident in many artful images of landscapes and wildlife. In recent years, he and Brimberg (who officially became photographic partners after 20 years of marriage, even sharing their copyright on images) were working on a meaningful personal project in the Antarctic, filming and photographing the remnants of an abandoned whaling station that represented, in a broad sense, the lasting havoc humans wreak on the natural world. As part of the effort, Coulson produced a short lyrical film titled Remains, which features haunting images of the decimated whaling station in the beautiful, desolate landscape.

Remains reflects Cotton’s creativity and thoughts well,” Brimberg says. “But he had so many different disciplines where he was fantastic.

“In a certain way, between him and me, we worked together and it was always a little bit of, not competition, but when we were downloading pictures and looking through them, it was kind of ah-ha. We were at the same spot and we stood next to each other. And we would do that very often, and most often, it was just because we had zoomed in on the same thing. But then came this little excellent twist, about how I saw this and this really interested me, and so on.”

While on assignment, Coulson and Brimberg produced narrative photos for National Geographic and abstract art pieces for themselves. The Space Between examines the stories that they felt deserved a second look. The result is a body of images that Coulson was particularly proud of, because they conveyed the emotion and movement of a subject, without a literal interpretation. Intentionally vague, the photos were designed to elicit an emotional response in a way that he felt traditional images could not.

While there are a number of husband-and-wife photographer duos, few worked together so seamlessly as Coulson and Brimberg. The collaboration seemed to create a new photographic vision in their work, the collaboration making the resulting images more powerful.

“We benefitted from it tremendously,” Brimberg remarks. “First of all, we encouraged each other. I think both of us became better as photographers from this relationship, and encouraging both of us forward and finding new things.

“It’s not difficult when you’re two, it’s not difficult to be out there in the streets and work extra-hard and so on. It’s much more difficult when you’re alone. Also, in the whole approach to people in the street, if you’re approaching them—which you most often are not—it’s much easier as a couple because you represent no threat at all. What is this person doing taking pictures? But if you’re two and you say, oh, that’s my husband over there, or, oh, yeah, my wife is standing over there, then it kind of demystifies and makes it much simpler and gives it a whole different flow.”

Whether photographing people, wildlife, landscapes or abstractions, cold climates held a special appeal. Coulson was never quite comfortable working in warm weather. For someone so drawn to the outdoors, perhaps relaxing on a tropical island would be appealing.

“That would not be him,” Brimberg says. “He’s always enjoyed colder places much more than anything warm. He was much more…I wouldn’t say ‘bleak,’ and ‘monochromatic’ is not right either, but he was always drawn toward the colder regions. Whenever he had assignments in hot areas, he didn’t much care for it. He was a cold weather kind of guy.”

Coulson and Brimberg were photographing on assignment for National Geographic Traveler in 2009 when he made this image in predawn light of a fisherman on Hallstätter See, a lake in Austria. It’s an image that’s quite representative of many of Coulson’s loves, as well as his ability to blend documentary photography with fine art.

One beautiful image that combines many of Coulson’s passions—the cold, the sea, humanity, nature, art—is an image from Austria. It’s a simple portrait of a man on a fishing boat, made early one morning while the cold predawn light blankets Lake Hallstatter. Made in 2009, the image would be equally at home in the 17th-century gallery of an old master painter. It’s a remarkable, timeless image that says much about Coulson and his life’s work. It’s an image that National Geographic used in its own tribute to the photographer.

Coulson was clearly successful in defining a niche making images that were as much art as journalism. And, although he may have been most excited about pushing boundaries and embracing the avant-garde, Brimberg says for her, after a lifetime shared and a decade working side by side, it was Coulson’s ability to connect with the people in his viewfinder that was most amazing.

“I still always sway toward his people pictures,” she says. “I still always get amazed over whatever it is that he pulls out of people in that split second. And I’m not sure he really looked at it in quite the same way. He’s more in there with The Space Between than he is the people. But those pictures from the past, where you see piercing eyes or extreme emotions or some tenderness, that was really amazing. Funny enough, we’ve been talking about art and surfaces and things, but if you look at Cotton’s people shots, he’s so in touch with the people in front of him. It’s pretty amazing—their actions, their feelings. I think that he was a very fine photographer for describing people’s feelings. And he always wanted to touch something in your soul. And he said that. The picture, if it did not touch your soul, then it really was not anything worthy.”

Cotton Coulson died May 27, 2015, while on a diving expedition off the coast of northern Norway. See more of his and Sisse Brimberg’s photography at





Cotton Coulson

January 16, 2016 — Leave a comment

Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson on assignment in the Arctic

Apologies in the long gap since I last posted a story. We took an unscheduled break after the tragic loss of colleague and close friend Cotton Coulson , who helped establish this blog. It is still hard to process the loss and perhaps the best tribute to our wonderful friend and  talented photographer is to post a selection of his images. In a following post I will link to a article about Cotton, which wife Sisse Brimberg helped to write and is a great tribute to our much loved friend and colleague.  God speed Cotton…










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Cotton Coulson died May 27, 2015, while on a diving expedition off the coast of northern Norway. See more of his and Sisse Brimberg’s photography at


Support your camera…

February 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

We just had the pleasure of testing out some great products from Australian tripod manufacturer Miller. Here is the story in full. See below for a link to the story on their own website….

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I started out in the film business over twenty years ago, shooting wildlife documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films (OSF). From the 1960’s on, they had been at the forefront of developing specialist equipment to shoot stories that always pushed the limits of technical and creative innovation. This gave me exposure to the best and newest technology in the film and documentary business from around the world. One of the many talented people I had the pleasure of working with during this time was Australian filmmaker and lens designer Jim Frazier, who won many awards for his innovative inventions.

After four years working as a staff cameraman at OSF, I had the opportunity to move to Australia to work on a wildlife series that would see me taking adventures to shoot stories all over the continent. I soon realized what great contributions Australia had, and continues to make, to both creative and technical developments in filmmaking. It became obvious that from the Outback cattle stations that became the base for many of our shoots, to the highest levels of high-tech industry, this was a country where geographical isolation gave birth to a culture that demanded creative engineering skills. It didn’t matter whether it was using fencing wire to mend a broken down truck in the Outback or to have the imagination required for Jim Frazier to create his pioneering lens designs, this was a culture that values innovative solutions.

After selecting the appropriate camera and lens combination (at that time the Aaton LTR Super 16 film camera / Zeiss and Nikon glass), the next crucial part of the filmmakers kit is selecting a good tripod and fluid head system. This decision combines a need for smooth camera moves, a steady platform, but not so heavy that it restricts your ability to be mobile in the field.

Back at OSF I had been using solid Germany technology, an Arriflex camera and Sachtler tripod, both at the top of their field in terms of build quality, but to my mind, not designed for use in the extreme conditions that we often encounter shooting wildlife and adventure stories. When I went freelance and headed to Australia, this led me breaking the mould and to selecting the Aaton camera system. It was designed by a cameraman with an engineering skills, as opposed to a brilliant engineer, that had never spent long hours in the field with a camera in their shoulder.  I wanted a tripod built with similar design sensibilities.

Soon after arriving in Melbourne, I was quickly exposed to one of Australia’s greatest technical contributions to the film business, Miller tripod systems. Originally built with wooden legs and uncomplicated fluid heads, these products were ideal for the independent filmmaker requiring a reliable and mobile system. Twenty years later, they have stayed ahead of the times, trading wood for carbon fibre and fluid heads capable of carrying anything from a video enabled DSLR to the heaviest of digital cinema cameras. For the last two decades, when given a choice, I have hardly used any other tripod system. This has included working on flagship TV series including BBC’s “Life”, “Life in Cold Blood” (featuring Sir David Attenborough), “Frozen Planet” and recently Emmy Award winning National Geographic series, “Untamed Americas”.

Today, I combine shooting stories for networks that include the BBC, Discovery, and National Geographic, with teaching digital storytelling workshops for the world’s premiere expedition travel company Lindblad Expeditions, and their partner National Geographic Travel. My first adventure with Lindblad was in the Arctic outpost of Svalbard, a place I had called home for two years while shooting a story on polar bears. We sailed on the ship Explorer, along with other top National Geographic contributors that were invited to share their experiences of shooting films and magazine articles from all over the globe. I was lucky enough to travel husband and wife team, Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. They have shot over forty magazine articles during their careers. With many common interests and a shared love of wild places, Cotton and I soon decided to collaborate on future projects, culminating in Expedition Workshops. Currently based onboard the Lindblad / National Geographic fleet of ships, we offer dedicated digital storytelling classes to a small group of guests in some of the world’s most remote wildlife and cultural locations. These cover everything from video shooting techniques to editing a finished film.

For my broadcast work I still use a 100mm bowl Miller DS25 with double stage carbon fibre legs and Cotton uses a Miller 20 tripod system. But we both needed a light solution for the small camera and DSLR shooting we do for the workshops. The ideal solution was the Miller Solo DV and DS10 head. Both Cotton and I have the same camera support systems which we have tested everywhere from the Tropics to the Antarctic. In addition, for shooting human interest stories (as well as when shooting stills), we also both employ Miller carbon fibre monopods.

The DS10 heads have withstood the rigors of every environment we have thrown at them, from the muddy banks of the Amazon to the sea ice of the Antarctic’s Weddel Sea. Recently while shooting the king penguins in South Georgia, Cotton and I both spent many hours on our stomachs shooting images of the molting adults and growing chicks, as well as the many elephant seals populating the beaches. To make this possible we each used one of our favorite features with the Miller Solo DV, its ability to spread the legs out quickly so we can shoot just above ground level.

Capturing images at just 12” from the ground, it places you at the eye level of the subject enables you to better convey the environment in which they live and better enter their world. At other times you can extend the Solo DV to almost 6’, enabling you to capture high angles when that is more appropriate. It is truly a very versatile set of legs.

The tripod always holds fast in the high winds that sweep down from the glacial ice. These catabolic winds can appear in minutes, raising wind speeds from zero to gale force without warning. We also walked many miles up and down the high mountain slopes and thick tussock grass, and weighing in at less than seven pounds, the light carbon legs and compact head made our treks much more manageable.

The head is equipped with a simple but very effective counterbalance control which neutralizes the effect of the camera’s weight when it is tilted. The pan and tilt provide smooth movements and are each easily locked, plus the quick release plate allows the camera to be removed instantly from the head, as well as positioned to make ensure the whole system is balanced. The DS10 head is ideally suited to cameras weighing in at between 5 and 11lbs, with smaller or larger heads available to suite other camera systems. All simple, but very effective designs that you would expect from an Australian engineer! One of the other features that immediately sold me on Miller tripods was the placement of the levers for adjusting the height on my larger DS25 / Sprinter combination. Unlike other popular European designs, the double set of leg extensions can all be controlled from the middle of legs, making it very easy to adjust height without having to bend down…. something that save valuable seconds when capturing a scene.

The monopod has many advantages for the kind of shooting we are doing, which includes everything from old style street shooting of people, to shooting wildlife from the deck of the ship, where there is often no room for a tripod or the vibration of the engines cancels out the steadiness of the Solo / DS10 system. The quick fix to stop the vibration while shooting from the deck is to place the base of the monopod on your foot. This absorbs the motion and allows you to capture a steady shot. I also use the monopod much as you would a Steadicam system. When walking with the camera to track with moving subjects, you keep a bent arm, the monopod hangs down and acts as a counterbalance making it easier to keep a level horizon and more effectively track you subject.

Our students often arrive on the ship with more economical tripod and fluid head systems, but after demoing our Solo / DS10 units, order a Miller system as soon as the get home. After years of field testing many Miller products, I would definitely recommend them to everyone from the beginning filmmaker to seasoned cinematographers working on features or television projects.

David Wright is an award winning director of photography and producer, with recent accolades including an Emmy for cinematography. He works on high profile television series, features and commercials, also specializing in shooting high speed / slow motion imagery. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the BBC, Discovery and PBS

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Cotton Coulson is an award-winning photographer who began his career shooting for National Geographic at age 21. He was the Director of Photography at “The Baltimore Sun” and Associate Director of Photography at “U.S. News & World Report.” Cotton was Senior Vice-President at CNET Networks where he managed the Creative Design and Product Development teams. Cotton is also a Contributing Photographer for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Today his photographic and video work is focused on contemporary environmental issues.


View the story as posted on the Miller website

Check out David’s blog post for Nikon on their Nikon Cinema site for advise on this and many other topics

Read below for a full reproduction of the piece


David Wright is a 20-year Nikon camera veteran and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Working as a regular contributor in the roles of cameraman and producer for National Geographic television and the BBC, his work has taken him around the globe to film both wildlife and human interest stories. David employs the latest imaging technologies, including high-speed HD and ultra high-definition cameras, plus gyro-stabilized units for filming from helicopters.

David started out as a stills photographer but was soon well on his way as a cinematographer. At the age of 21, David was offered a job as an apprentice cameraman at world-renowned documentary production company Oxford Scientific Films. He was a regular contributor to their stock library. Through his work, David quickly mastered the craft of shooting television documentaries, and within two years become a cinematographer working for major broadcast clients.

“I learnt the trade using 16mm and 35mm film cameras,” he shares. “Today we shoot using the latest high definition (HD) cinema cameras that capture exclusively in video.” While the majority of his work is motion, David keeps a Nikon camera by his side to capture stills, time-lapses for his television productions, and for the camera’s video capabilities for which he applies to both personal and professional projects.

Adapting Cinematography Techniques
David recently led a workshop specifically for photojournalists that focused on best practices for HD-SLR video shoots. Preparation for this workshop made him consider the lessons he has learned as a cinematographer, and how best to adapt those techniques when shooting video with his latest camera, a Nikon D800.

Single lens reflex cameras (SLRs) have a long design history with a primary objective to capture still images, not motion work. David tactfully points out that shooting video with a D-SLR camera requires a different way of working the device, and that this process can be at odds with how a still photographer works. He further adds that producing video requires gear not likely found in a traditional photographer’s bag.

A Look Inside National Geographic Cinematographer/Producer David Wright’s Bag
In David’s own words, read more about his choice of gear, plus a few valuable lessons he’s picked up while on the job. These are all things you may wish to consider for your own video workflow.

DW & Mic

David Wright with D800 & ME-1 Microphone
Photo by: David Wright
Mic Check
The unsung hero of every video shoot is the sound-recordist. Whether shooting live action, an interview or other subjects in-between, I am often reminded that great capture with bad audio is unusable. On the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful; if your visual capture was not up to snuff you can usually shoot it again!

“Great capture with bad audio is unusable… on the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful”

Lesson number one for your HD-SLR shoot: use a good microphone. Compact and well designed for the job, I’m convinced the Nikon ME-1 is a great way to equip your camera for video work. The ME-1 has impressive specifications and is compact. It is powerful and will pick-up the smallest of sounds. Unfortunately even the sound of your hands operating the camera will be captured; this is known as “handling noise.” I like that the ME-1 has a built-in shock mount that assists in reducing this problem. Adding an ME-1 is an important component to consider as you start building-out your videography bag.

Also consider an add-on for improved sound—some sort of wind protection to shield the microphone. If you venture out into the wilds to shoot you’ll benefit from a windjammer (windscreen).


Capture different crops in camera without compromising output quality by using the DX crop mode (or 2.7x crop mode if available) – this will give you flexibility in editing the video together.
Photo by: David Wright
Choices, Choices: Magnification and Camera Angle
Unlike shooting photo stills and the “decisive moment,” filmmaking requires you to capture a series of moving images that best narrate an unfolding story or sequence. Sounds obvious, but understanding this key concept—both in terms of obtaining the shots that best piece together the story plus incorporation of the best lens(es)—can make or break your effort.

“I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie… turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced”

To better understand the concept of shooting a sequence, I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie. When you watch, turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced, how the film flows from one frame to the next, and how long each frame runs. You’ll likely start noticing that the editor is using rather basic techniques.

The two most important techniques are: changing magnification or size of subject and camera angle. Shoot with these notions in mind and you’ll give yourself ample editing options once you’re prepping the footage. During the edit, cutting between shots will be easier and you can pace your finished sequence in any way you choose. If someone else is cutting for you, creating more choices by following these techniques will make you a popular cameraman!

Three Favorite Lenses
I rotate between three favorite NIKKOR lenses when shooting video:

AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF
This lens is ideal when hand holding the camera or using a monopod. The 17-35mm lens allows you to establish the scene with a great wide angle view. This lens is also more forgiving of camera shake—something far more noticeable than when taking stills. With stills you’re concerned about holding a camera steady for a brief moment in time. With video you may need to hold the camera still for several minutes.

For example, if you like shooting candid street shots and want to blend in with the background by not using a tripod, the wide angle is a great way to go. Plus, with a f/2.8 lens you’ll get great capture in low light.

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
One photographer at a recent workshop referred to this as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of his preferred lens selections when traveling. The 24-120mm f/4G is fast enough to work well in low light, and it has a range that enables the different shot size requirements mentioned above that go into constructing a solid sequence.

As a tip, I like to start a sequence with a wide establishing shot (24mm). I then move in for a medium shot (50mm). And finally, I go to close-up (120mm). Of course you can also achieve the three different focal lengths by moving the camera closer to the subject, but for ease and speed this lens handles all the footwork.

AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
When I need to travel light, this is the lens I tend to use most. Its compact size and amazing zoom range permit me to quickly capture a wide range of shot sizes; I don’t miss any action by relocating the camera. At the long end of its zoom capability this lens is best paired with a tripod. The results are astounding.


The larger sensor in HD-SLR cameras paired with a fast lens enables shallow depth of field in your video, allowing a great cinematic look to be achieved.
Photo by: David Wright
Cinematic Sensor Size
Of course one of the big attractions for using an HD-SLR for video is the large sensor size—and the resulting shallow depth of field it yields. You bring a great look to your footage, and the technology allows improved separation of subject from background.

As a tip, for occasions where even more distinct separation of subject from the background is desired, I suggest a prime lens with fast aperture. The AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G is great for recording interviews or when you wish to shoot a portrait photograph.

Techniques to Imitate a Filmic Look
Another joy of using an HD-SLR to shoot video, compared to cameras with smaller sensors, is the ability to recreate that filmic look I saw from my trusty old 16mm and 35mm film cameras. To achieve the look, I mimic some of the older camera settings, which means either using a frame rate of 24 fps or 25 fps (depending on whether you are in an NTSC or PAL country; the USA uses NTSC).

Want to make the most of this look? Calculate your exposure time as if it were the 180-degree spinning shutter in the film camera. In other words, a 1/50 sec. exposure should be used when shooting at 25 fps. This allows just the right amount of motion capture in the image to yield a smooth and pleasant playback because it mimics the way the human eye sees things in motion. In other words, with just enough blur.

To maintain that shallow depth of field in your video work, not only should you shoot at 1/50 sec., but also set a large aperture (set between f/1.4 and f/4 depending on the lens you are using). The challenge here is that, particularly in bright situations, you can’t help but be overexposed.

Combat overexposure by using a variable neutral density (ND) filter. The filter knocks back exposure by two stops, and you can dial it down by as much as nine stops. I recommend not pushing too far; the corners of the image will start to become dark and you may see a slight color shift. The variable ND also provides the ability to smoothly adjust the amount of light entering the lens while you shoot.

ND Filter Makes For a Smooth Operator
An interesting point about a “traditional” cinema lens is that the aperture ring does not have click stops. Most new photography lenses don’t have an aperture ring; all adjustments are made via a dial on the camera body.

The cinema lens aperture ring is great because you can make adjustments without the viewer becoming aware of the change. I frequently run into a situation where I am hand-holding the camera and walking behind a subject; for example, when filming the person as he or she moves from indoors to outdoors. For continuous footage in this scenario you’d have to reduce exposure on-the-fly by stopping down the lens.

The solution? Use that filter for easy on-the-fly exposure control. Practice with the variable ND filter and gain expertise in maintaining correct exposure by merely spinning the front element. With practice you can take the motion of your subject, combined with your own movement, to hide in-camera adjustments. No one will even be aware that changes have been made.

My second camera is a D600 – for this camera the aperture locks once I hit the record button in Video Mode. I’ve learned that by setting the lens and ND filter to the right combination I am more precise in adjusting exposure. I can let more light in or decrease the light during a shot—and I do not have to restart the camera.

External Monitor Gives a Second Look
One of the most important things I have to remember, after years of working with traditional movie cameras, is that HD-SLRs don’t have a viewfinder that can be oriented to different angles. For my work I often need to look down into a finder instead of the backside of a camera where the LCD screen is. My solution is to add an external electronic viewfinder. These monitors provide extra features such as focus assist modes, histograms for checking exposure and much more. These added tools will likely help boost your confidence in what you are capturing.

Two Last Best Bets
Two last items in my kit, that have not changed much since my film days, include a good fluid head and a sturdy set of tripod legs. The tripod is not only essential for steady telephoto shots, but the better the head, the smoother the movement during video pan or tilt. There are a lot of brands on the market, but my choice for best build quality, design and price is the Miller range of products. For times when I am on foot and/or need to keep a low profile, I’ll also carry a monopod to help steady the capture.

Ultimately, what you end up adding to your videography bag will be dictated by what you shoot and what you prefer. My work takes me all around the planet. I capture everything from animals to people to nature. I shoot in all ranges of light and environmental conditions. So for me, my personal favorites include:

Nikon D800 and D600 bodies (view)
NIKKOR 17-35mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 28-300mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4mm prime (view)
Plenty of spare batteries and memory cards (view)
A variable ND filter
External electronic viewfinder (EVF)
A good tripod and monopod
You have an amazing film-making tool in your hands. To ease into motion, consider the video-making capability of your Nikon HD-SLR combined with time-lapse image capture in stills mode. You can create some amazing looks. When you are ready to dive into 100 percent motion work, know that with a little camera practice the rest comes down to your imagination.


David Wright
David Wright is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Originally from the U.K., he has worked in more than 35 countries and now makes his home on the coast of Maine in the U.S.A. Upcoming travels will take him to South Africa, Brazil, South Georgia and the Antarctic. A long time Nikon user, David started out in the business at Oxford Scientific Films. He then went freelance and now shoots for clients including National Geographic, the BBC and Discovery Channel. Recent projects have included landmark series like Nat Geo’s “Untamed Americas,” which just earned him an Emmy nomination for cinematography. Previously he received an Emmy for achievement in documentary filmmaking, and a nomination for cinematography for his National Geographic special on polar bears. Throughout his career David has used Nikon photography equipment, as well as NIKKOR lenses, to shoot everything from television productions to commercials and feature films. Along with his work as a cinematographer and producer, David also runs workshops for the expedition company Lindblad, a National Geographic partner. David shoots with a Nikon D800 and will also be using the COOLPIX AW110 in his upcoming adventures.
To learn more about David’s work visit

In addition to the new digital video workshops I am leading with David Wright, in partnership with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, Sisse Brimberg (my wife) and I also often lead city based photo workshops, most recently in Paris, France. The other day we responded to a couple of questions from National Geographic Expeditions about our workshop series.

Q: What makes Paris a great subject for photographers?

A: Paris is one of our favorite city locations to shoot in, most because of the variety of subjects and light. The city offers lots of opportunities to refine your skills with street (people) photography, architecture, and food. Paris is an elegant and refined city capital, every time you walk around a corner, there is always a new tableaux or scene that unfolds in front of your camera. The light is very special as well. Its ever changing and dramatic. One of our favorite activities is shooting photos at the local markets, where we enjoy seeing and tasting the produce from France. Of course the food is displayed in in fresh and colorful ways that lends itself to strong photos. Sometimes we will focus just on the textures of the food. Over the years, Parians have become more and more open to having visitors come to their city and photograph life in the streets.

Q: What is the most important thing a participant should bring to this workshop?

A: The most important thing the participant should bring to the workshop is an open mind to new ways of shooting, as well as formulating some sense of how he/she wants to improve their photography. We really stress the importance of understanding “light” and how this impacts your photography and how you can utilize it to your advantage.

It’s also important to bring a laptop and software that you are familiar with using, we do not spend oodles of time discussing photo processing e.g. Photoshop, but you should be comfortable and quick with your editing workflow. The great advantage of this workshop is that we allow time for constructive critiques and feedback which really helps the students understand light, composition and other photographic concepts.

Q: Tell us about a favorite photo you took in Paris.


A: One of the favorite photos we recently took in Paris was this simple reflection shot taken into a window on Place de la Madeleine. Here the photograph of the model in the window display seems to be looking out into the square. Paris provides ample opportunities to shoot reflections and play with the light, and the juxtaposition of the photo and the location make for a fresh new angle.


Finding the right camera bag seems to be an ongoing struggle. It constantly reminds me the Goldielocks and the three bears…. I am always trying to find just the right on.

The parameters are protecting the camera gear, having a bag that is  light, but strong and also comfortable. To my wife’s dismay, I think I have every shape and size on the shelves of my office. Then I discovered Gura Gear. They produce a line of camera packs that are to be the ideal combination of quality, strength and are still light weight. Perfect for a trek in the mountains or a day photographing in the city. With weight restrictions also being a concern at airport check-ins, this bag is also a great solution for plane travel.

I have been testing out their Bataflae model (see above), which even my very discerning wife doesn’t mind wearing when we are out for a hike. The pack is well designed and very versatile in terms of fitting the straps to ensure a comfortable fit what ever size you are.

The other challenge we face in traveling is packing gear in shipping cases so that airport security guards don’t damage items when they place things back where they may not have started out. Gura Gear have the solution for that too. They have a great line of pouches they have branded the Et Cetera line. As there website suggests “a great way to handle your extra stuff and organize the chaos”. The pouches each contain items like my radio microphone kit or video monitor. Not only can I quickly find locate each of those kits, but they are safe inside the larger shipping case, even with the roughest treatment the baggage handlers can throw at it. With transparent lids so you can see the contents,  strong enough sides to afford extra protection and a place to label the gear, more pouches the Et Cetera line will be on my Christmas list.

We have two exciting trips coming up with National Geographic / Lindblad, Epic South America & South Georgia/Antarctica.While on board we will be teaching two film-making workshops, please let the reservations folks at Lindblad know if you would like to attend, as spaces are limited. As fun as these trips will be, they will demanding in terms of protecting gear in the rigors of climates that range from the tropical heat of the Amazon, to the frigid temperatures of king penguin colony. The Gura Gear pack and their Et Cetera pouches will be traveling with me to meet the challenge. If you are getting ready to join us on these adventures or heading off on your own, Gura Gear is a great option to carry you gear. Excellent build quality, design and so light that it will really help you stay within airport weight limits for carry-on bags.

Traveling to some of the world’s remotest locations is perhaps the best part of being a documentary filmmaker or photographer. The downside is staying in contact with loved ones and also staying in contact with social media networks that many of us rely on. Secretly I have to admit being off the grid is something I enjoy, but it is easy to be the one traveling to somewhere exotic while leaving family and friends at home. On some well funded shoots we started to carry an early satellite phone, but even they can be frustrating as they were bulky and often lost connection. Still, it was an improvement from the old days of HF radio. My wife still cringes when we think back to me calling her via a radio from remote corners of the Arctic. With nothing else for entertainment, everyone else across the Svalbard and perhaps most of Europe could listen in to our conversations. You either made the choice not to care what people overheard or tempered the exchange and kept it business like…. There was simply no privacy and sometimes the conversation made being homesick even worse thanks to all the things that were unsaid.

Fortunately satellite technology has moved on. I have become a big fan of the SPOT Messenger system. We initially started using it when I was shooting a story on black bears in northern Minnesota. I would spend all day walking with habituated animals and never knew where I would end up. The SPOT would send out a position every ten minutes to a Google map and enable my wife to monitor my progress anywhere she had internet or 3G service. Quite incredible and soon the researchers working with the bears realized that my walking with the animals all day gave them an incredibly accurate plot of everywhere the bears moved. Much better information than was being transmitted but much more sophisticated tracking collars.

I shouldn’t ignore perhaps the most important feature of the SPOT messenger, the HELP and SOS/EMERGENCY buttons. Walking in the remote woods of Minnesota, anything could have gone wrong and the help button would first allow me to send a call for help to predetermined people giving my exact position, the message arriving as a text or email, and then if something really bad happened, the SOS/EMERGENCY button would alert the appropriate rescue squad (police, fire, game wardens etc). A great insurance policy when you are alone in the woods or away from cell phone coverage. In fact over and over again these devices have proved to be life savers across the world whether someone has crashed a vehicle in a remote place or been hurt on an expedition. The testimonials on their website speak for themselves.

Soon after this SPOT brought out their next generation of beacons, the Connect,  that enabled the user to send a brief text message, tweet or Facebook unpdate. This is all done by the unit connecting to a mobile phone from which you type in your message via an app. Combine this with the tracking service and a map that you can share, suddenly the world can follow your adventures. For limited time the Connect is available with a $50 rebate

But today arks another milestone as SPOT have launched the affordable SPOT Global Phone, a satellite communication device we can all use. With low per minute cost it provides an excel;lent way to stay in touch from the remotest of locations.  So happy travels and now their is no excuse for not calling your mother!