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Photography DiscussionStarting Off in the Wedding Business- Equipment and Ethical issues.

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Ed Shapiro
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Starting Off in the Wedding Business- Equipment and Ethical issues.

Post by Ed Shapiro » Thu Feb 12, 2015 10:32 pm

Starting Off in the Wedding Business- Equipment and Ethical Issues.

Hi again!

This article is for the newbies, rookies, aspiring professionals and folks who are planning to set up a wedding photography business. This segment deals with general equipment issues; planning and purchasing your gear. It is important to have the right tools for the job in terms of proper usage, reliability and versatility. The equipment you have may be suitable for wedding work or you might need to upgrade some of it. At the same time you don’t want to become preoccupied with ultra-expensive equipment and become what is affectionately known in the biz as a “gear-head”! That is, someone who believes, to a fault, that fine results are strictly the product of outrageously expensive gear. We all want the best equipment that we can afford but your skill sets, knowledge, performance and people skills are your most important assets and “equipment”! It is also of the utmost importance to have SPARE equipment because even the best state-of-the-art equipment can fail at the most inopportune times and substitute gear must always be close at hand. This goes for cameras, lenses, lighting gear, connecting cords, batteries and anything that can malfunction, become damaged, burn out or somehow come to its unceremonious and untimely demise during a gig! Most of the higher end consumer and/or professional grade cameras will do the job. If you now have a pretty decent crop DSLR and want to upgrade to a full frame sensor model, it is wise to keep your original cameras as a spare.

Brand names and money: Most of the popular brand names and equipment types that are currently on the market are certainly applicable to different aspects of wedding photography. It is wise to invest in good “workhorse” equipment that has become industry standards by way of their performance durability, reliability and reputation among experienced professionals. Camera models with a giant menus of automated features will cost more money.Frankly speaking, many of theses features are unnecessary in professional use and can even be detrimental to smooth operation if the wrong button is accidently pushed during the throws of an active wedding coverage and something locks up or the camera “take over the controls and begins to “fly” in another direction. By the time the error can be undone; many important must-have photo-ops can be lost. Too many features can also create more possibilities for equipment breakdown and failures.

Lighting equipment types and usages: When starting a new photography business it is important to plan your equipment acquisitions very carefully as to usage and economy.

Mono-Lights: There are lighting equipment setups that are designed and configured for studio-like formal portraiture that can be use in-studio or set up at wedding venue locations to enable high quality portraiture and candid shots that are lighted “like in the movies”. Mono-lights equipped with appropriate light modifiers are the best choices for this portable studio concept. Most of theses lights are AC operated and therefore require access to electrical outlets- there are some that can operate on battery pack adaptations but theses are usually significantly more expensive. The big advantage of mono-lights is their built in modeling lights that enables the photographer to observe his or her lighting patterns and effects. Brands such as Photogenic, Alien-Bees, Speedotron and many others will do the job well. As I alluded to before; it is best to purchase known “work horse” gear that has earned reputations for high performance among established photographers. There are some imported units that just can not withstand the rigors of professional usage such as extended duty cycles, constant transporting to and from locations and hurried set up and takedowns. Some very low cost units have been know to literately “go out with a bang” in that the can explode due to poor quality capacitors and circuitry and even set fire to light modifiers due to poor heat convention and ventilation.

Speedlights: Nowadays, theses are probably the most popular types of electronic flash systems in use by wedding photographers. They are light weight, very portable and in some cases very sophisticated in their automation, transmission of exposure data and remote triggering. . Theses are good for candid and photojournalistic styles of wedding coverage and can be used for some formal portraiture if you are able to “guestimate” their lighting patterns and effects in that most of theses models have no modeling lights. The can be used in conjunction with light modifiers but the same experience and guess work is involved. A typical automated system may consist of a hot shoew mounted unit (or a so called command unit that is dedicated to certain brands of flash/camera combinations) and any number of remote units that can be controlled from the camera position. My strictly personal feelings about theses systems is that the are not all that powerful, are very expensive and can possibly cause problems of “subject failure” a failing of the automatic systems when used in very large or dark venues. I prefer the units that I am going to discuss in the next category. Again- you savvy in using theses units will; determine the results- I have seen some great imagery where this kind of gear has been utilized.

Professional grade portable flash units: Some photographers may consider theses “old school” but there are a number of great manufacturers who are still regularly producing them. Theses manufacturers are Quantum (Q-Flash), Lumadyne, and Norman. Theses are basically manual units- some have a simple auto-flash (thyristor controlled) features. They all basically consist of a lamp head with interchangeable reflectors that also enables bare bulb use and shoulder or belt carried power supply. Theses have a wide range of power selections up to and including as much as 400 or more watt/seconds. Some of the lamp heads are available with modeling lamps. Depending on the make and model you choose; there are options such as ad-on power modules for more light, a variety if normal, wide angle and telephoto reflectors and variation of battery capacity for shorter and longer duty cycles. Theses units can be more easily adapted for studio-like results because of their high power and modeling light options. The light quality from the “softer” round parabolic reflectors is better than some of the more concentrated configurations found in most speedlights.

WHAT AND HOW TO BUY: The key to wise and economical purchasing of lighting gear for upstart businesses is OVERLAP! That is, putting together a multi-purpose system that can address your various requirements with the least amount of expenditure for the most versatility. As an example: If you were to purchase 3 mono-lights to address you formal and group portraiture needs. Those same three lights can be employed in a “surround” lighting setup at an indoor or outdoor reception. In the case of an outdoor reception held at a home, club or catering establishment; you would have to use some long extension cords to power your lights. Usually there is some party lighting and power requirements for the band or a DJ to operate their equipment as well- there should be some nearby outlets in place. If you are at a beach or some more remote location, you will have to depend on battery powered lights. Three of the professional grade portables can enable a nice surround light system for theses kinds of venues. They work well as fill flash units for daylight applications as well.

If you decide on one of the more automated speedlight configurations a 3 or 4 unit systems can supply a good multiple light surround system as well as a decent enough group and portrait set up as long as you have a good working knowledge of lighting placement without modeling lights. One good mono-light in a soft-box in conjunction with a flat silver reflector can yield some very impressive bridal portraiture- again; this all depends on your knowledge and efficiency in portrait lighting. This mono-light can also be employed as a main light, especially effective for groups, while using the on the camera flash in direct or bare bulb mode as your fill light source. My minimum system is one on camera flash unit and one remote unit manned by an assistant and triggered by radio synchronization systems.

Safety Considerations: You always need to make sure that in the even of equipment failure of any component in your lighting is backed up with spare gear, at least enough to finish the job with at least 2 working lights. Many experienced photographers can cover an entire wedding with two speedlights or shoulder pack units- one on the camera and the other on a monopod manned by an assistant. This can yield great lighting in a very simple way. No matter what- you should never be left with anything less that this simple 2 lighting system. Even if one unit fails, you can still come away with a decent job.

Another safety consideration is that of an electrical nature. Even the smallest of speedlights can harbor very physically damaging or even lethal voltages under high degrees of capacitance. Except for specialized underwater strobes, none of the aforementioned equipment is meant of use in rainy or very wet weather conditions. If you get caught in some drizzle after a church ceremony; some plastic bags will offer some protection but it is best to shut down and shelter (ASAP) any flash gear that it set up out-of-doors if unexpected wet conditions should emerge. At indoor venues you need to be sure that all light stands are place out of high trafficked areas and are well anchored.

Used Equipment: There as a lot of great deals out there on used gear but there is always somewhat of a gamble in purchasing it. It can be like buying a used car- you may be unsuspectedly inheriting the originals owner’s woes. Here are the pitfalls to watch out for: Electronic flash units do not take well to really rough handling so you must watch out for dents, gouges, broken down insulation on cords and cables, blackened or burned out sockets or connectors, loose switches and obvious signs of equipment abuse. On the other hand, some well used equipment may be slightly “ugly” but perfectly functional. Even if the equipment is cosmetically perfect and looks like new there can be the issue of deformed capacitors. Flash equipment that has remained dormant and totally unused for long periods of time can suffer from this problem. In many better units, the capacitors can be easily reformed by simply turning the unit on and allowing it to charge up WITHOUT FLASHING for about an hour and them beginning to trigger it repeatedly but at the same rates you would use it at in actual use. If there are normal recycling times, no crackling or gunshot-like noises, burning smells or smoke- you are most likely good to go. If the capacitors are deformed, unfortunately enough, replacement and repair costs will be high and hardly worth the investment in used gear. The next thing to examine is the flash tubes. Look at the area where the electrodes enter the coiled tube; if those parts are very gray or blackened, although the tubes may still flash, the will need replacement. Old tubes in this condition are carbonized and will lead to poor and uncorrectable color balance and erratic or intermittent firing. Again, replacement may be costly.

Some words to the wise: Of course, there are many more techniques involved in cotemporary wedding photography. Flash lighting is only one of the important techniques and methodologies that warrant study, practice, ongoing creative experimentation and discussion. In this post we have not discussed in detail the mixture of available light and flash, other forms of artificial light and flash combinations or the use of existing or carefully controlled available light, additive or subtractive lighting methods and other more advanced flash techniques such as bounce lighting, on camera modifiers, bare bulb usage, specific ways of using umbrellas, colored gels and a whole lot more. We have not even touched on the physics of light such as reflectivity and angle of incidence and how our lighting integrates with other principles such as depth of field, depth of lighting, lighting ratio, the inverse square law and even the principles of posing and composition. I hope to create such tutorials on an ongoing basis. Your suggestions, ideas and augmentations are welcome, invited as well as questions that y’all want to discuss.

The FUN factor: I appreciate the fact that some of you are young, up beat and enthusiastic about starting a career in wedding photography- those attributes are all important and your good attitude will show up in the expressions of your subjects in your work. Please do not take this as an insult, a disparaging or discouraging remark or anything of the kind. Take it from a long experienced wedding photographer: At your stage of experience please do not think that wedding photography is any kind of FUN! It is very serious business and for the inexperienced or uninitiated upstart it can be pure HELL! Yes! You must have good gear but that is only a small percentage of the issues at hand. In many cases the use of very elaborate lighting setups can actually be detrimental because the more lights and the more gadgetry, the more can go wrong. Mistaken positioning of a surround lighting setup effort at a party can lead to lens flare and accidently including your light gear in your field of view. Radio and data transferring gear in triggering systems can harbor all kinds of gremlins and should be fully tested and familiarized with before you take them out on the job.

I have to admit that I still enjoy my wedding work even after more than 5 decades in the business but I always go to the job knowing that I am not there to have fun, dance, drink or mingle- I am the hired professional and no matter what happens, I have to deliver the goods. My fun starts on the way home from the assignments knowing that I have a good job under my belt. My fun continues when I present an awesome set off images and secure an awesome additional order and plenty of customer referrals. I mention this because I hear so many new photographers say that “wedding photography is gonna be so fun”! Well- it ain’t necessarily so! It takes infinite patience, dedication, nimble and faultless technique and a keen sense of responsibility. It is a discipline! It is wise to get the education, training, mentorship and experience and not start running before you can walk in terms of know-how! Without theses prerequisites you are dealing with Murphy’s Law, The Sword of Damocles and the Grim Reaper (the business-death one) all at the same time. Are we having fun yet? Good things are worth working hard for and with experience the good times will come.

I want the best for you and all the new kids on the block who may be reading on!

Ed :thumbup:

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Post by TomCofer » Thu Feb 12, 2015 11:27 pm

Informative post Ed!
Thanks.
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Post by JLemmon » Wed Dec 13, 2017 1:41 pm

Thank you, Ed. As a photographer who just signed her first contract, I appreciate the information you have shared. While the wedding is a bit away, I still have a little bit about lighting to learn and plan to keep coming back to your post as a starting point.

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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:39 pm

JLemmon wrote:Thank you, Ed. As a photographer who just signed her first contract, I appreciate the information you have shared. While the wedding is a bit away, I still have a little bit about lighting to learn and plan to keep coming back to your post as a starting point.

Be sure to ask us anything, anything at all. When I had my studio I shot a guesstimated 800 weddings, all in medium format film. My skills are of course utterly obsolete (!!) but we are here to help. The one thing I would remind anyone looking at wedding photography is that everyone has their first wedding, and far too often (although we always love to tell our War Stories long after the screaming no longer echoes) they are not great, and heaven forfend not an actual disaster. :headshot:

Weddings are HARD! I always considered them the hardest work I did, and always said I was only as good as my next job. Learning to do weddings is a process, and it really never ends as long as you do them. There is always something new to learn and challenges to meet, not to mention that every single one is completely different. Do not imagine I am trying to scare you (!!) but the biggest single problem with weddings is that there are no do-overs. You either get the shot or you don't. Your camera must be an extension of hand, eye, and brain, operated almost without conscious thought, but (I always like to say) "it ain't about cameras." Saint Ansel once said, "Photography is knowing where to stand." I think that's a perfect quote for weddings. I also used to joke that shooting weddings was like duck hunting: you don't shoot at the duck; you shoot at where the duck will be. I would encourage you to plan carefully well in advance. We (my late bride and I) would have conferences with all interested parties, two or three conferences, to draw up shot lists so we knew who the players were. We would ask that the families designate a member who knew everyone so we didn't miss crucial people (my first wedding I missed the bride's sister who had a colicky young baby so she was never around, but I can still hear the screaming, and I don't mean the baby :o ). I eventually shot enough weddings that there was a certain sameness of protocols, such as, say, Catholic or protestant or Jewish. That often gave me a knowing-where-to-stand leg up, especially if I was in a familiar venue, but you still need to know what this couple plans to do differently, so on yada &c. I made it a habit to attend the rehearsals whenever possible, more to calm my own butterflies than anything.
Okay, I shuddup and go away now, but we are here to help (!!!) (OK)
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by JLemmon » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:58 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:
JLemmon wrote:Thank you, Ed. As a photographer who just signed her first contract, I appreciate the information you have shared. While the wedding is a bit away, I still have a little bit about lighting to learn and plan to keep coming back to your post as a starting point.

Be sure to ask us anything, anything at all. When I had my studio I shot a guesstimated 800 weddings, all in medium format film. My skills are of course utterly obsolete (!!) but we are here to help. The one thing I would remind anyone looking at wedding photography is that everyone has their first wedding, and far too often (although we always love to tell our War Stories long after the screaming no longer echoes) they are not great, and heaven forfend not an actual disaster. :headshot:

Weddings are HARD! I always considered them the hardest work I did, and always said I was only as good as my next job. Learning to do weddings is a process, and it really never ends as long as you do them. There is always something new to learn and challenges to meet, not to mention that every single one is completely different. Do not imagine I am trying to scare you (!!) but the biggest single problem with weddings is that there are no do-overs. You either get the shot or you don't. Your camera must be an extension of hand, eye, and brain, operated almost without conscious thought, but (I always like to say) "it ain't about cameras." Saint Ansel once said, "Photography is knowing where to stand." I think that's a perfect quote for weddings. I also used to joke that shooting weddings was like duck hunting: you don't shoot at the duck; you shoot at where the duck will be. I would encourage you to plan carefully well in advance. We (my late bride and I) would have conferences with all interested parties, two or three conferences, to draw up shot lists so we knew who the players were. We would ask that the families designate a member who knew everyone so we didn't miss crucial people (my first wedding I missed the bride's sister who had a colicky young baby so she was never around, but I can still hear the screaming, and I don't mean the baby :o ). I eventually shot enough weddings that there was a certain sameness of protocols, such as, say, Catholic or protestant or Jewish. That often gave me a knowing-where-to-stand leg up, especially if I was in a familiar venue, but you still need to know what this couple plans to do differently, so on yada &c. I made it a habit to attend the rehearsals whenever possible, more to calm my own butterflies than anything.
Okay, I shuddup and go away now, but we are here to help (!!!) (OK)



For many of the reasons you mentioned, I have not attempted a wedding. This is a one chance, no do-overs type of event and I never wanted to mess that up. Ok- so I will still mess something up but I feel more confident than before. I am lucky that my clients are laid back and having a small country wedding. I warned them this is my first wedding but explained how I felt confident to be their photographer. I have in my contract that we will sit down to go over more specifics- poses, list of groups, everything they are looking for, however not limiting me from my creative side. I had not thought about going to the rehearsal dinner and will see if they would allow for that as well.

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Post by Ernst-Ulrich Schafer » Wed Dec 13, 2017 6:05 pm

Jessica, Glad you found one of Ed's posts. Find more!!!! The wealth of his knowledge is priceless!!
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Post by Ed Shapiro » Wed Dec 13, 2017 8:46 pm

Hi Gang!

I've been away from this forum for a while- just getting a rest form social media and forums for a spell- sometimes a rest is needed to gain a bit of perspective. Some of the goings on in online forums is just too combative for me, however, this is one of the few photographic sites that tend to maintain a high degree of friendless and decorum.

When there is conversations about “ethics” in wedding photography, I do become interested in that, in my own personal point of view, the industry has taken a downturn in the ethics department. So many folks are entering the “profession” with a lack of basic skills, experience and a keen sense of responsibility to the work at hand. So many new photographers are too preoccupied with equipment and gadgetry leaving a lot to be desired in the areas of competence, artistry and precautionary methodologies.

I never wanted to create the impression that wedding photography was particularly “hard” work, rather it is highly skilled work that requires special talents, a great deal of stick-to-intuitiveness, dedication and duty. Once the necessary skill sets are studied and mastered and the right attitude is adopted, the work itself actually becomes easy and the photographer can then concentrate on artistry and and spontaneity.

The advice I have for newcomers to wedding photography or those aspiring wedding photography is multi-layered. The consummate wedding photographer is indeed a hybrid variety and certainly NOT a “one note photographer”! My school of thought is that a great and successful wedding photographer is versatile and does not necessarily confine him or herself to one singular concept . Wedding photography is a mixture of fine portraiture and photojournalism which is seasoned with a taste of fashion, photography, commercial photography and more. I therefore encourage aspiring wedding shooters to delve into theses specializations and create a unique style of their own and which will enhance there work and allow them to serve a broader spectrum of client types and tastes.

Sadly, there has been a trend to abandon some of the more traditional elements in wedding photography. When I started in the industry, over 50 years ago, mainstream wedding photography was usually in the domain of the established portrait studios in most geographic locations. Clients came to expect a certain level of quality in lighting, posing and aesthetics. Although the wedding coverages were called “candid wedding photography” the contents of most wedding albums were anything but “candid”- there were mostly posed photographs except the for ceremony and some of the dance floor shots. Large format press camera were the tools of choice- the large negatives enabled skilled negative retouching and yielded excellent print quality. This is the environment I was trained in, however, the studio I apprenticed and eventuality worked in, catered to various client bases that also preferred a very spontaneous and impromptu coverage as well as a comprehensive selection of formal photographs.

As young photographer. I studied and practiced hard and to master my 13 pound hand-held press camera and handle it with speed and skill to enable the capture of fast paced events. At the same time, my first employer sent me to numerous master classes, seminars and courses to study the elements of fine portraiture. Surely, customers love the candid and “fun” shots” but most certainly want to look at their very best in there wedding photographs. I needed to learn to pose and light folks, as I would in the studio, but in an adaptive way that would work quickly and efficiently in the limited time frames of a wedding schedule. I still adhere to this basic method and train my wedding photographers in this style and encourage them to inject other skills and techniques into the wedding coverages.

So...what about the ethics? First of all, I don't like to rush things. In my studio business, I draw my wedding photographers from schools and community colleges and prefer students who have a basic ground in professional photographic methods. I first hire them as assistants- on the first few assignments they simply pitch in hauling around gear and mostly observing myself and my basic crew. Over a period of 6 months, I integrate them in to duties such as setting up off camera lights, manning a mobile second light, and some second shooting. After the first year, we get them into semi-solo shooting on small wedding assignments. They go out with a more experienced photographers and shoot a segment of the job- say the preliminary shot of the bride and her entourage before the ceremony. Next time he or she will do the ceremony and the next time, the formal session and finally, the reception. In the last training stage, the new photographer will shoot an entire smaller wedding with the more experienced photographer as his or her “assistant”. Of course, the results will determine the readiness of the photographer to undertake more complex and demanding assignments. 18 months to two years is not an unreasonable span of time to learn and master a lucrative and viable professional specialization.

More ethics: I never worry about my newcomers or “rookies”- it's the old-timers that I sometimes become concerned about. The new guys and gals are usually very consciousnesses about all of this and their equipment maintenance issues. SOMETIMES the more experienced folks get a bit complacent and that's when things can “go south”! The first hig I teach is respect of “Murphy's Law”, that is, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”! This is not to induce paranoia but to encourage caution and preventative methodologies. I don't encourage “gear-headed-ness”, however, the use of good, reliable equipment that will stand up to constant professional use, is essential and mandatory. Unfortunately enough, even the finest equipment can unceremoniously drop dead at the most inopportune times, like right in the midst of a wedding ceremony! So...you gotta have spare and overlapping equipment. You don't need every body and lens in you system but redundancy is more important the variety. The same applies to you lighting gear, exposure meters, synchronization cords, batteries and memory cards!

Thing is- when you have plenty of spare gear, nothing usually breaks down but if you don't carry spares, you can bet on some kind of unmitigated disaster! Even of you equipment never fails, you need to make sure your enthusiasm doesn't break down- I have seen this happen to many long time wedding photographers. Sometimes we need some downtime to gain new perspectives and renew our zeal for the job. Always learning new approaches, techniques and ideas helps us keep it alive! Never allow yourself to fall into a rut- avoid sameness on every shot on every job. Just trying one new shot or new approach to an old one on each wedding can serve as a great source of renewed enthusiasm.

I don't like to discourage folks or dwell on negativity but my usual disclaimer about wedding photography is that it is not a job for the faint of heart, the lazy photographer, a misanthrope (a person who doesn't like people) or a misogamist (a hater of marriage)! Superior social and people skill are prerequisite to the job.

I hope this helps! Give me some feedback!

With kindest regards, Ed :thumbup:

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Post by minniev » Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:15 pm

Though I am about as far removed from wedding photography as one could be, I wanted to thank you for this and tell you how pleased I am to see you back - and how much I hope you'll stay involved! Your knowledge, experience, and attitude are inspiring and have value for all of us, no matter what genre we are shooting. We can learn so much from folks like you! So welcome home!
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Ernst-Ulrich Schafer » Wed Dec 13, 2017 9:46 pm

Great to see you my friend Ed and hope all is well with you and yours. Your words of wisdom is always a breath of fresh air.
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Post by Ed Shapiro » Wed Dec 13, 2017 11:26 pm

Thanks!!! Minniev and Ernst!

Thank you for you warm welcome back!

I am still working at my studio here in Ottawa, Canada. Just prior to the holiday season I am quite busy but I will try to post as much as I can. On weekends, I am still shooting my own weddings but pretty soon,I will turn that work over the the younger members of my staff! In February I will be 74 years OLD and I want to put in one more year in the wedding department and then mainly concentrate on my commercial work and portraiture. I am still pretty fast and agile for my age but after a 15 hour ethnic wedding- well, I am gonna have to charge the clients an extra fee for the ambulance service to get me back to the office. My lovely wife thinks I am insane for still wanting to shoot weddings. :D

I have a bit of catching up here on the forum, I don't know where I can help out the most so let me know what you think.

Lately, for fun, I have been packing my Android cell phone and have been having fun with a bit of street photography and kind of casual art-photography. The special effects apps are loads of fun and it is surprising what kind of quality can be had for that little flat device- it looks like a burned and blackened POP TART and it takes pictures. All my other gear is rather bulky so I don't take it wherever I go on my rare off time.

I noticed that Bobby is posting again- nice to see him back as well.

Ed

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