Getting it right, every time : F-QMAASS

I shoot in manual mode, and the only thing I ever float is my ISO.  However, sometimes while shooting, I diverge and start changing settings to accommodate for the conditions of the scene. Now, as an extreme hobbyist nature photographer.  I say ‘extreme’ because I make a small amount of money doing this, but mostly I do it as an altruistic pursuit, a vocation.  Ok, enough about me….sometimes when I am shooting I forget to check my settings and then I blow an entire set or even an entire location.

I developed QMAASS as a way for me to always do a sanity check whenever I am shooting. I run through this checklist every time I change “sets”.  A “set” is a group of photos from a locational scene. So, when I am in a particular location, and am shooting a particular scene, I may take three or four sets. When I change scenes, the set needs to be checked, and that is where QMAASS comes into play.

By “set”, I mean settings, which has everything to do with how I have my camera configured. It’s a paradigm that I use to help me make sure that my camera is properly configured for the scene I am shooting, which includes considerations for the lens I am using, for the lighting, the subject matter, and whatever effect I am trying to achieve.

I shoot in manual mode almost always, and sometimes, between scenes, some time passes. As a nature photographer, I shoot in some very diverse conditions, and so my sets are wildly divergent at times.

Camera settings during a particular grouping of photos  of a particular subject matter applied to a different set can destroy my photos.

For example, last weekend I was shooting a Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest. I was shooting through lots of twigs and had the camera in manual focus mode.  I left the scene, and as we were driving into a new scene, a Harrier was playing around not 50 feet from us. I stopped my car, jumped out, started shooting, and blew the entire set except for one shot – I was in manual focus, and a coincidence of distance focused one shot out of the whole set. I learned that I need to have the camera in a neutral QMAASS, which is a balance of settings that will work in most situations. While I was shooting the Harrier, I was able to run through QMAASS and get the shutter speed up, but QMAASS has no “F” for focus.

So now I’ve added the F, and it is F-QMAASS. below, I list what each setting is, and what I use for each when I am between sets. So, every set I ever do will start with these settings, which may ( will ) change during the set.

  • F- = focus mode and drive (this include manual/auto, AI servo/single drive, and the auto focus points.)  — AI servo
  • Q = quality (jpg, raw. Etc)  — RAW (captures far more information than jpg and can be used to recover massively under or overexposed photos
  • M = mode (manual, Tv, Av, Custom. My camera goes not not have an Auto mode ). –Manual
  • A = Aperture –8 – 11 for birds. 8 for birds far away, up to 14 for close ones and if you have enough light.
  • A = Auto ISO –Auto, though sometimes I set it to 1000 to force the camera to a different exposure. For example, shooting the moon is best at 200 ISO
  • SS = Shutter Speed – 1/f  or 1/(f – 1) if the subject matter is relatively stable, 1/(f – n)  if the subject is absolutely still and I am on a tripod.  1/(f + n) for stop motion, adding n until stop motion is achieved or I am at my fastest shutter speed. f = focal length of my lens, so for example, if I am shooting at 800mm I would not want to drop my shutter speed slower than 1/800 unless I am confident I can hand hold it steady or if I am tracking on a moving subject.

F-QMAASS needs to be checked twice. First: before a set starts. Second: when a set finishes. Why both before and after? Well, for me, when I am walking around with my camera dangling at my side, there is no end to the number of buttons I can accidentally hit. Sometimes, I even bump the AE lock button. I don’t have a letter for that in my acronym because it’s an icon in my viewer and it has high visibility, so I can just kill it when I see it.

So, that’s the story behind F-QMAASS. I needed a way to make certain that I could quickly check, and reset as needed, all of the settings that may he changed intentionally during a set, and accidental between sets.

Let me know if you have any questions, and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have in the future.

You can read tips on composition and lighting there:

Learning to Kayak

As a lifelong paddler of canoes, with the occasional kayak outing here and there, I recently began to think that kayaking is the life for me.  Within 10 minutes of arriving at this decision, I had purchased a couple of kayaks and drained all the cash out of my bank account.  (Unfortunately, I happened to be at an outdoor outfitter when I experienced this epiphany)

NOTE to kayak purchasers:  If you are getting ready to purchase a kayak, definitely work through this blog post.  While putting this together, I discovered that there are two important things that the sales person failed to mention to me:  Kayak skirt (a must-have) and sealed bulk-heads.  I bought my son a kayak that doesn’t have sealed bulkheads, and on mine there is only one.  So, I will be buying the right kind of three-inch foam and doing it myself.  The tricky part for that will be making a template, but I have a trick for that that you will like to see.  I will make a video for that later this summer (2014).

Kayaking has a lot of the same mechanics to it that you’ll find in canoeing, but it pleased me to no end to watch a series of videos and learn that kayaking embraced another discipline that I have had many thousands of hours of experience with as a child and an adult : swimming.  As a child I swam every day – my parents forced me to do it.  I actually kind of hated it, but because my mom had me in the pool when I was two, I was better at it than all the other kids (I had more practice than they did.) So, my parents made the same mistake that many parents make – they thought I was “gifted” at it and so they forced me into it.

OK, back on topic:  Kayaking has a number of paddling strokes that are very similar to swimming.  – think of the kayak like the swimmers body, and the paddle is his arms.  I suppose you could even split the paddles and do a butterfly stroke and a breast stroke, but I don’t recommend trying to do that as a serious paddle.

This morning I embarked on a mission to learn more about paddling, and I am so excited about all the things I learned that I wanted to share them, along with some GREAT videos from paddle TV that really get to the point (better than i am doing here…).  I’m hoping that you will read through this and watch these videos, which will make your next kayaking outing both safer and more enjoyable.

Propelling yourself forward using the Forward stroke

Here is a nice blog post about an efficient stroke: and here is a great video that you should definitely watch:


There are three parts to this:

  1. Catch – stick your paddle in the water.  Some videos show the paddler stuffing his entire paddle under water – I think that how much of your paddle you stick in is entirely related to how fast you want to go and how much maneuvering power you need, but you should develop your own style and methods.  Don’t think that you have to do it exactly like the pros.
  2. Stroke – rotation – While holding your paddle with a firm but easy grip, use your entire upper body. “Wind up” your body, and plant entire blade. Use your body rotation to power the forward stroke. Real power comes from core and body rotation. If you use just your arms, you will end up with sore shoulders.  Your stomach and sides and back have big muscles on them that can work hard for a long time, once they are conditioned.  One thing I noticed in the videos I watched is that the professional paddlers had a stroke line that followed the wakes of their kayaks.  I look forward to trying that out – my suspicion is that if you follow the wake line with your paddle, you will be far less likely to waddle or fishtail your kayak a lot.  By keeping your kayak tracking in a straight line, you can take longer strokes and get more speed.  This will conserve your energy by delivering more power to your forward motion.
  3. Exit – it looks like the kayakers in these videos are twisting their paddle right before they pull it out.  This will reduce splashing, but it will also reduce the suction effect you get when you pull the paddle out of the water.  Try it both ways and see what I mean.

Exercise: Tilt the boat and paddle forward to turn in the opposite direction you are tilted.  Experiment with this as I saw people doing some things with their kayaks that were pretty impressive.

Turning around using Sweep Strokes

  1. Tilt kayak away from the direction you want to turn (tilt with hips!), brace yourself using the pedals.
  2. Take long, far reaching, sweeping stroke, with paddle completely in water.
  3. Combine alternating forward and reverse sweeps into a “spin turn.”

Sideways with Draw Strokes and Sculling Draws

  1. Reach out, insert paddle, and pull it toward your hipS
  2. Slice or “T” out before you hit the kayak!
  3. sculling is like fish tailing the paddle out to the side to push you – you should watch the video for this and try it out and experiment.

Stabilizing the kayak in a wobbly situation: Getting upright

Low brace, high brace, and sculling brace are techniques for getting your kayak back into an upright position if you have tilted too far over and can help prevent a tip.  They involve reaching out in the direction that you are tipping, reaching out with the flat of your paddle, and pushing down ward and toward the underside of your kayak, drawing the paddle in toward your hip.  As you do this, your head should stay down, and your hip should snap up and toward the upright position.  If you’ve ever seen anyone do that dance move where his arms make a wave as he steps to one side, it kind of is like this.  Again, watch the video from these Paddle TV guys!

Again, another fantastic video from these paddle TV guys:

  1. High brace – hands in a pull-up position..  You can pull weigh more weight with your back than you can push with your shoulders.  First, remember to keep your hands low, even in a high brace.  A high brace is probably better for rougher situations, whereas a low brace is something for calmer situations. Not that any situation is ever a calm one…
  2. Low Brace – hands in push-up position.  In both of these, you are essential using the paddle as a lever.  THe further away from you the paddle is, the more leverage you will get, but it will also be harder to do (it’s a physics thing, which I am actually sort of qualified to talk about, unlike most of this post)

According to this video, the high and low brace moves are kind of a one shot deal.  If it fails, you need to switch into another technique called a sculling brace.  I am not sure if it is wise to attempt consecutive low/high braces.  I’m also not sure which has more power, the high brace or sculling; I suggest you experiment and see what works best for your center of mass, strength, and your own body mass.

Sculling brace

the sculling brace you just sort of have to see to get.  It’s just like sculling when you are upright, only you are using it now in a more powerful way, with the paddle deep in the water, and you combine it with the hip pivot and head roll to get back into an upright position.

Oops!  You aren’t in your kayak any more.

Well, now you know why you should never kayak alone.  This technique requires two people and a second kayak.

re-entering the kayak
Three things that need to be accomplished:

  1. get in the boat
  2. get the water out
  3. get full control

You really need to watch the video on this one, and then practice it on your lawn.  Then, once you have it mastered, try it in the water.  Make sure you don’t forget your pump, and do it only on the nicest, warmest day when you were planning on swimming anyway!

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Never kayak alone – when buying a kayak, if you buy a tandem, it doesn’t count!
  • Sealed rear and forward bulkheads – without them, the kayak can sink
  • Keep a hold of gear (paddles) when you fall in.
  • Kayaks should be positioned upside down kayak bow to rescuer in a ‘T’ configuration during recovery
  • man in water – pushes on stern
  • man in kayak – lifts and rolls bow to empty water.
  • position kayaks kayaks together in parallel, bow to stern, with cockpits offset so that the rescuer can stabilize the bow during reentry
  • There are three reentry techniques:
  1. feet first, using the two kayaks like parallel bars
  2. pull body on deck
  3. Scoop final option – leave kayak in, slide in and then rotate it up. pump out.


Be sure to read training materials and watch lots of videos before you go out onto the water.  Other safety tips include things like wearing a helmet, wearing a wet or semi-dry suit when the water is really cold.  One rul of thumb i ran across in my research is if the air + water temp is less than 100 degrees = trouble, fast.  You literally have minutes to live if you are wearing cotton.  Kayaking can be one of the safest sports, but if you don’t know what you are doing you can easily get yourself into trouble.

That’s it, and don’t forget rule number one:  When in doubt, STAY OUT.  That goes double for river kayaking.  If you hear or see something and it looks like it might be trouble, get your kayak out of the water ASAP and walk up to the trouble site.  Examine it, and if you think it could be trouble, portage around it.