John Slonina Photography leads photo workshops and tours across the United States. Here is a list of common questions we get.
What do you recommend for a tripod?
There are two types of tripods cheap and low cost and ones that work. Please click here for more info.
Do you recommend mirrorless cameras?
I still prefer DSLR but the gap is getting closer and Mirrorless is the future. Click here for more info on my blog.
What filters do you recommend?
Quick answer: This will be future blog. I think having a polarizer is critical for any outdoor photographer.
In the past I always recommended a Split Neutral Density filter but now with the Graduated Filter in Lightroom. It is easily done in the digital darkroom see below for links explaining it. If you are more advanced Masking in photoshop opens a lot of doors.
Skylight filter is recommended by most camera stores as a cheap way to protect you lenses. I don’t recommend them. If you have a $1200 lens and you put a $10 filter on it. The picture quality will be $10. Use you lens cap and hood to protect your lens.
What’s in your Bag
Canon 5D Mark IV
The following Canon Lenses
16-35 F2.8 Lens: Great lens for night photography
24-105 F4 Lens: This is the lens I use the most for landscape photography
100-400 F4.5/5.6 Lens: I use this lens for both landscape and wildlife photography
500 and or 600 mm F4 Lens: Great lens for wildlife but expensive
Teleconverters: 1.4X and 2X
Delkin and Sandisk Cards
Cable Release or Intervalometer (Time Lapse)
Hoodman Loop (Great tool for Live View Focusing at Night)
Headlamp (Lightweight and great for night photography or emergencies)
One extra lens cap and rear lens cap
Flint: Fire starter for emergency (never used one for this purpose)
If I am shooting Macro I add my 180 and or my 100 MM lens. There is also a bunch of things I bring if I know I will be shooting macro like reflectors, the plamp, platypod. and extension tubes.This will be a future blog.
What do you use for a tripod head?
As a nature photography I do a lot of macro, night, landscape, and wildlife photography.
I find a ballhead the most practical for me.
A.) I use a Really Right Stuff (RRS) Ballhead
They are expensive but great quality
B.) I also use Induro Ballheads.
They are good quality and are cheaper.
Make sure you also buy a plate (even better L Bracket) for your camera.
I also recommend you buy a dedicated plate for each lens that has a collar.
For plates I recommend Arca Swiss Compatible.
Software (Post Processing)
What do you use for post processing?
I currently use both Lightroom and Photoshop. They are both great programs.
Lightroom is my favorite as it is like several different programs all put in one. There are several features that help you edit, organize, keyword, compare, develop, separate photos. You could even put together a book, printing project, or build a website with it. To be more specific I use Lightroom Classic.
Most nature photographers use Lightroom. I also think it is important to go with the crowd. If you were out with a group of photographers and you had a question most of the people would know how to use lightroom. If you buy a different program will it be around in 10 or 20 years?
Another problem I see is photographers using to many programs. Sometimes ten or more. I would rather be great at a few than mediocre at a bunch.
What do recommend for an online resource to learn Lightroom or other post processing techniques?
There are several different books and tutorials on the web
My favorite way is to watch a video. There are several free and paid ones. Some can be streamed and or downloaded.
a.) Adobe.com : There are several resources on Adobe's Website.
b.) UTube: There are several video's on how to do just about anything. Some video's are excellent some are horrible. Be Careful.
1.) Tim Grey: Great Instructor of Lightroom and Photoshop
2.) Kelbyone: has several educational videos on post processing and photography
3.) Lynda.com Has several video's on Photography, Post Processing. They also have other videos on several different software programs, web design, social media, marketing, etc.
4.) Matt Kloskowski is a great teacher on both Lightroom and Photoshop.
Gradient Filter in Lightroom
This is one of my favorite tools in LR. In the past I always recommended a Split Neutral Density filter. Now with the Graduated Filter in Lightroom it is easily done in the digital darkroom. When you make an adjustment in the Basic menu you are making changes to the whole image. Suppose you just want to darken the sky but not the foreground or vice versa.
Here is a video that explains how to use it
If you understand the first video and want to get more advanced check out this great video by Matt K
If you are more advanced try Masking in photoshop.
How do I pack my suitcase and what type of travel tips do you have?
What do i pack or not pack?
I sent a specific packlist for each trip.
Here are some things you DO NOT need to pack: Suites, Dress Shoes, High Heals. Yes i have had people bring this stuff. We usually go to Casual but really good Restaurants.
Photo Tour & Workshop Specific
What is my favorite thing about the tours?
The answer is I really like the participants the most.
It is a wonderful group of people who attend. We all love nature and photography. It is really great to see incredible things and get to share it with someone who has the same interests. We have had several laughs and funny adventures that make me chuckle to this day. I really consider each participant a friend and I spend a lot of time reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to do this and meet incredible people.
Are Bears Dangerous?
Yes all wild animals can be dangerous but Bear attacks are rare. I will be writing a future article on this. .
For my Alaska Bear Trip we have 6 participants plus 2 guides. It is almost unheard of a bear attack with 3 or more people, Never with 4 people.
We also carry bear spray and one of the guides carries a gun. We have never used either one. The camp hasn’t used either one in 30+ years.
I have been photographing bears for several years and i never felt any danger. I have decades of bear experience so i am always watching their behavior.
They do a lot of cool things which leads to incredible photographs.
What is the most bears you have seen in one day?
We usually see several per day. My record is 28. The reason the number is so high is we go to the best locations in the world. We also fly to where the actions is. One location may have several bears and the following week zero. So it is important to be able to access multiple locations at the right time.
Aurora (Northern Lights)
How often do you see the aurora and do you guarantee it?
We do not guarantee the aurora. But since we go to the best places at the best time of year.
Here is our results.
Number of years = 7
Nights the aurora has been out and active: Every single night the aurora has been out when we were there. Regardless of the solar cycles.
What’s the catch? Cloud Cover. The aurora could be active but the clouds can block some or all of the view.
We have done 8 trips (7 nights each) = 56 Nights. Out of the 56 nights we have lost 5.
Five of the eight tours we had no cloud cover. One of the eight tours we lost one night. 2 of the eight trips we lost 2 nights.
So every night you have a 92% chance we will be successful. That’s every night.
Why do you go in March?
This is when the Aurora is most active. It also is one of the best months for clear sky.
Average High and Low Temperature in March
Daily high temperatures: 17°F to 34°F, rarely falling below -3°F or exceeding 47°F.l
Daily low temperatures: -5°F to 10°F, rarely falling below -26°F or exceeding 25°F.
Lets be honest it can get cold. It is low humidity do the numbers are not as cold as it seems but proper dress is required. We also try to go later in the month, It is warmer in late March than early March.
We provide a suggested equipment and clothing list.
What is your knowledge of astronomy?
For me personally very little but that is why i have a coleader on this tour. His name is John Chumack. He is expert astronomer and astro photographer. He has done work with NASA, Time Magazine and several other publications.
Why is Fairbanks Alaska one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights?
Fairbanks’ location is ideal for northern lights viewing because it is under the “Auroral Oval,” a ring-shaped zone over the far north where aurora activity is concentrated. Additionally, Fairbanks’ low precipitation and distance from coastal areas contribute to consistently clear nights. All combined these variables make the Fairbanks region an outstanding destination for possible aurora borealis viewing. There are some other places under the belt like Iceland but they have high humidity so the clouds are often in the way.
Great Smoky Mountains
When do you go to the Smoky Mountains?
I go twice a once a year either April or October. This is the best time to be there.
They both have their pros and cons
April is the height of spring. Rivers and Waterfalls are flowing at peak rates. The dogwoods are out and look incredible. It is also the peak time for wildflowers. We also see lots of Black Bears and Turkeys. White Tailed Deer are also around but do not have large antlers this time of year.
October is peak fall foliage. Everything looks extra special with fall color. For wildlife we see less bears than April. It is the beginning of the rut for the White Tailed Deer. They look great and have big antlers. The drawback for Oct is traffic. It can be rough. I avoid Cades Cove on Saturday and Sunday.
Maine Coast Trips
Down East vs Acadia National Park
I have two different tours along the Maine Coast.
Acadia and Downeast Maine. Both are beautiful coastal locations for landscape photography. Both trips are great places.
Here is the difference
Puffin Boat Trips: Acadia: 1 Trip Downeast: 2 Trips
Whales and Lighthouses by Boat: On the Downeast Trip we have a private boat tour that takes us out to see multiple lighthouses, seals, eagles, and a chance of Whales\
Distance from Bangor Airport: Acadia 1 Hour, Downeast 2 hours
Lighthouses: Acadia 1, Downeast 3+
Shopping: Acadia: Yes but not park of tour, Downeast: No
Countries: Acadia just US, Downeast: We visit Campobello Island (Canada) needs passport
Time of year: Acadia: We go in June before tourist season kicks in, Downeast: June or July
Landscape Photography: Both are really great
Wildlife Photography: The Downeast Trip is better
Acadia National Park is more accessible and touristy. There is multiple gift shops, restaurants, and gas stations. Acadia has famous locations like Cadillac Mountain, which you can drive up for sunrise.
Down East has more wildlife with more boat rides. It is a little harder to reach since it is farther from the airport. It also is less touristy. Gas Stations, Supermarkets, Restaurants, ATM’s are less common that Acadia. This trip visits Campabello Island in Canada, which requires a passport. This trip also features Quoddy Head Lighthouse, which is the Easternmost Location in the US.
Wildlife: All trips go to the same island for the Puffins. The Downeast trip we visit the island twice and add an additional whale watch.
This is all weather permitting.
We visit several locations in Florida. I have been photographing wildlife there for several decades
Snakes: They are around but we hardly ever see them. Average one per trip.
Alligators: At some locations we see several. They are all over Florida. Alligators can be dangerous most are afraid of people. We just walk around them at a safe distance. They are fun to watch and photograph.
Mosquitoes: They are not a problem in the winter
Why is Florida great for bird photography? For some reason the birds allow a close approach. Some are just a few feet away. There is a lot of biodiversity and a lot of unique species in large numbers. There are some great species like Roseate Spoonbills, Burrowing Owl, Purple Gallinule, Snail Kites, Bald Eagles Nesting.
Is this a good trip for me? If you love wildlife and bird photography yes. If you don’t i don’t recommend this trip.
Why the winter? The birds are in large numbers and less spread out, Average Temperature in the 70’s
Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
John has been photographing both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons and the surrounding areas for 30+ years.
Why Grand Teton National Park? Most people will tell you they find the Tetons more beautiful. I also find the wildlife is just as good in the Tetons and Yellowstone and for some species of wildlife like Moose it is much better. Fall color and reflections are much better in the Tetons. Also the two parks are closer to each other.
What is your favorite time to visit?:
January: Yellowstone Winter is incredible and this is the best month to visit for winter photography..
September: Fall Color and the Elk and Moose are in the rut which leads to dramatic behavior. The crowds are greatly diminished.
Why not summer?: Peak crowds, less wildlife, and hot weather. If there is a roadside bear traffic can be backed up for several hours. Going in the summer is better than not going.
Why not October?: It is past peak for fall color in most of the park, a good portion of the park facilities are closed or closing, high probability of road closures also due to snow storms. There is an advantage lower priced lodging and less people.
New England Fall
When is peak? Peak is always subject to change but 95 % of the time here is the answer.
First Week: Northern Maine, NH , Vermont, Berkshires
Middle of the Month: Acadia, Quabbin (MA) , Lakes Region NH, Southern Maine and NH, Eastern MA, Southern VT
Late October: Southern CT, Coastal MA (Cape Cod but not great for foliage)
Suppose Peak is Early or Late? Not everything turns at once. There is always a few good areas if you know the area very well and are willing to drive.
Remember: Overall Peak usually occurs north to south.
This are two exceptions
a.) Higher Elevations turn first
b.) Coastal Areas turn later (warm ocean breeze delays foliage),.