Crazy Month of November

Been awhile for posting but have to say it has been a crazy month! Not a whole lot of photography but lots of work and personal stuff. Decided to post before I turn 38 tomorrow. You know I am getting old!

Photography has been on the back burner although I still need to sort 400 plus photos from a fundraising event at the end of October. Then need to edit which I hope won’t take too long. This event was a challenge for lighting for an indoor event. Did discover reflector tape can mess with a camera’s sensor!

Managed to submit four photos to camera club’s first competition. Improved on scores a touch from last year but this going to be another rough competition season. At the rate I am going I will be a novice till I am old and grey. You need a certain number of award of merits (AM) and honorable mentions (HM) to move up. My record stands at one AM and one HM from last year! Biggest issue is judges who will not “think outside the box”, break a rule you get deducted marks. On the rare occasion you do get a few judges who award for creativity but not very often.

This months biggest task has been dealing with the aftermath of a second flood in our apartment. This time the floor lifted in several large spots, ceiling stained in living-room and kitchen counter warped. Thank you to parents who arrived at 9pm at night from Fort Erie on a Wednesday to assist with clean-up! We had to wash every dish in the cupboards, dry out a stove and dry out lights.

This all occurred in the middle of me having to complete an emergency work project. Thankfully had an understanding boss since I had to work from home or take time off to deal with management, arrangements, keys, clean-up and packing (plus unpacking).

The big adventure was having to move two adults and three cats to a guest suite for several days. Two of our cats, Mickey & Rajah have never been anywhere but here. Mickey also has a big aversion to carriers. Mickey and surprisingly Cleo weathered the move like pros. Both adjusted fairly quickly. Rajah on the other hand was not pleased. Spent most of his time in the guest suite in the bedrooms. He was also not feeling the love from the ladies of the house. He got hissed at a lot and Mickey even swatted him a few times. Never seen a cat so glad to be home, Erica who carried him in the elevator (and is now deaf from yowls) watched him jet out of the elevator and impatiently bang head on door for in.

The two adults were okay other than having no internet at night and watching TV old school. Basic cable with a very small TV. Erica’s biggest concern was missing sweeps month. She jury rigged the TV in our apartment to be plugged in and attached to cable. Workers did not unplug cable and nothing was missed much to my sister’s relief.

Apartment looks pretty good, floors are shiny and ceiling is white. Only wish building would hire true professionals. My toes and ball of foot are immortalized in varnish unless I can figure out how to fix! Hadn’t realized a puddle of varnish (workers spilled?!) is still semi-soft. Warm sunshine and a warm foot was all that was needed to put my mark on the floor. New rule socks at all times till floor cures.

Next will be finishing up fixing the flood damage. Realized just as we finished up the last of the packing the kitchen ceiling is now peeling and cracking. Just praying that none of our plaster walls crumble like after the first flood.

Plus some decisions will need to be made about the lights that took the brunt of the water damage. Sister’s favorite ceiling fan has been soaked twice. Remote controls fried the first time the second time has added to corrosion. Only problem fans are expensive so this will have to wait till next year. Kitchen light is in okay shape will be fine after a good cleaning but will need to reassess next year too. The only light needing immediate replacement is a floor lamp, base crumpled and at the moment is being held up by a wall!

We now have the cleanest apartment in Toronto if not all of Canada. Good thing too since there is a party this afternoon. Nothing like a previously planned birthday party to speed up unpacking, reorganizing furniture and clean-up. For those who have asked will post photos of apartment as soon as I get a moment.

Crossing fingers the rest of 2011 to be uneventful, although I probably just jinxed it!

PS Had to write this while dealing with a very clingy Cleo. She was determined to interrupt my typing by banging elbow and rubbing head on iPad! At the moment she is finally napping quietly beside me. Phew!

Discovery and Learning on Thanksgiving Day

It’s been awhile seen I posted but it has been really busy the past few months. I took on a special project at work, plus my photography and my duties at the camera club. Been challenging but I have been learning in leaps and bounds both at work and with my photography.

I have made the biggest leap forward by learning how to use filters in Color Efex Pro 4 (www.niksoftware.com) and figuring out Photoshop Elements 10. Still need to have a strong photo to edit so continuing to learn how to handle my camera. I am struggling to learn manual mode on my camera which is frustrating and a big skill I need to master.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in October so my sister, mom and I took a drive to Niagara on the Lake. We decided to take the long way home via the Niagara Parkway. My sister noticed out of the corner her eye a sign for something called Willowbank. After turning around my sister headed down a dirt road for which I was wondering if we were trespassing. Then in front of us this huge house appeared. Thankfully even though Willowbank Estate (www.willowbank.ca) is a restoration school the public are allowed to tour the grounds and during off season the interior. The house is being restored and repaired. Due to some structural issues the third floor is off limits as told to us by one of the students who is assisting with renovations on the house.

This is where a wide angle lens (28 mm), filters and elements came in handy. Took a fairly good shot of what is actually the front of the house but is referred to as the back of the house after the 1930’s renovations.

After doing basic fixes in Lightroom, took photo into Color Efex Pro 4 and applied a recipe I downloaded. Recipes is a wicked feature in the new software, you can apply multiple filters to get the perfect look. Adjusted recipe to fit photo then transferred photo to Elements. After several failed attempts finally figured out to fix lens distortion, remove picnic tables and take out the bare bulb over the door (probably at one time this would have been a chandelier).

Now I have to resist the urge to go back and try new techniques on past photos.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Finding My Unique Photography Voice

Been reading lots of posts and books about finding your voice something that is still at times befuddles me. I have not been shooting all that long so it is still something I am exploring. I know it is very slowly emerging by what makes me pick up my camera.

It is clear to me that I am just not that comfortable with street photography. For some reason pointing my camera at complete strangers on city streets just gives me heart palpitations. I have tried but when something makes me start to sweat I have a tendency to avoid it! Not had a chance to do this with a group which may make it a little easier.

I love shooting events. I love the chaos, the noise and the fact I can comfortably fade into the background. I enjoy being able to just quietly observe and capture the special, fun and crazy moments that happen. You have to stay alert because some moments are fleeting. I typically shoot well over 500 photos at an event. I much prefer to edit afterwards in order to select the photos that tell the best story. Most current event Reds Meets Pink posted on Flickr here http://flic.kr/s/aHsjv5R16D.

I have always enjoyed the challenge of nature photography but not so much the part of capturing the creatures. I realize I like finding the patterns in nature. I have a large collection of photos on just tree roots. I find it fascinating how these grow in various environments. I even have a beautiful pen & ink print in my house centred around a tree and its roots. Thinking if I get ambitious I should create my first Camera Club photo essay on tree roots. That should be a first in my club. The only other obsession my sister has noted is clouds, I love clouds. I remember my first film photos in elementary school was on cloud formations. Sounds like a great idea for a second photo essay.

I have had a lot of firsts, first wedding,  first baby bump shoot, first newborn shoot and up next first engagement shoot. I love the challenge and the chance to continue learning. I still get frustrated but I am crossing my fingers over time I will work out all the kinks.

Not sure if I will ever try to take my photography outside of friends, family and work. For now I am just enjoying being able to have an outlet for some of my creative drive. As mom astutely pointed out she never thought her daughter would ever find something that could get her to sit still for hours. Photography seems to quiet my mind and allow me to just focus on one thing.

I will post when I get a moment about Sunday’s engagement shoot. Will be fun it is on a beach, with beautiful blue water and two really great people.

Through the Eyes of a Child

It is an interesting fact of life as you get older you forget about how it felt to have that new found sense of wonderment that a young child gets when learning a new task or just exploring their world.

On July 9th I decided the little girl we have been taking care of since she was a baby was mature enough to handle my entry level Sony a300. Kaede has over the past few years shown an interest in taking photographs with us. We even bought her one of those kid proof cameras, the ones that can be dropped, drowned or tossed without breaking. Not the greatest camera but it served its purpose.

More recently Kaede has been trying out my Dad’s Canon camera, a little heavy for a six year old but she still managed to take some pretty good photos. As expected there are still a few framing issues and the horizon is a bit skewed. I thought she would have better luck with a lighter camera.

On the Saturday at Rattlesnake Point in Milton, I set her up with the Sony and the 28mm prime. Thought a prime would be a bit easier than a telephoto. Plus one less thing to worry about getting accidently misused. I also had the camera on aperture, set at F-8 and one stop underexposed. With a 8gb card Kaede had the ability to take 1800 photos. Dad got quite the chuckle since it would be him sorting through whatever she happened to take.

I started with some pretty simple instructions, like if you want to get closer you will have to move your feet. We then had to amend instructions to include what was too close. Incredibly this photo worked for Kaede:

The only other rule was camera strap had to stay on her neck and if not in use to turn the camera off.  Kaede got the hang of it pretty quick although a faster shutter button in the hands of a six years old means a lot of photos. Still need a few extra lessons on framing I noticed a lot of heads getting chopped off!

After watching the fun she was having, Dad took the camera back to Fort Erie. Chloe and Kaede spent  nine very fun and busy days with them.

Post has been updated since photos have mysteriously reappeared from Dad’s black hole. Note the two photos posted here by Kaede are unedited except I did remove lens dirt from sunset photo. I didn’t have any expectations of the lens staying completely fingerprint or smudge free!

Next up camping in the Allegheny National Forest for five days which will be a great break from the outside word. There is no cell or wifi signal in the area (partially picked to keep Dad from working!). Biggest issue is keeping electronics charged, Dad’s new car does not have an electric plug like his old car.

Beautiful Summer Day Post

Haven’t been in the mood to do much writing has been super busy and I have been working on work projects in the evening. The mood struck while sitting in my parents beautiful little sun room that they have lovingly created. I get to sit bug free outside listening to the birds and the lawnmowers. Dad decided on Father’s Day that the lawn needed mowing. At least he is out of his computer dungeon 🙂

Been a hectic spring already but at least I am finding time for my photography. Attended a great seminar by Jay Maisel that provided a lot of insight. I love the fact that he focuses on everything but the technical. The point I will always remember is that it is about capturing the moment or gesture not all the other stuff that can clutter a photo. Photo may not be technically perfect but if it moves you then it was successful. Something I really wish some camera club judges would hone in on this point. When editing photos to keep and to not to keep will look at them with a different perspective.

Applied a few of Maisel’s wisdom at the event I was shooting this weekend. Tried to focus on capturing the mood and moments on the cruise. Concerned with the background and what was within the frame but knew if I there was no way of shifting or moving to just capture the moment. I have 535 photos to edit not all are keepers and some I took for my personal enjoyment http://500px.com/photo/907158. Who could resist when you are on Lake Ontario on a gorgeous summer day. New lesson is to have a better sunscreen on, got a tad burnt especially on my nose and cheeks. The sun is definitely getting stronger as the years have passed. As soon as I have some photos edited I will do another post.

Next up is a two part engagement shoot in July. Not sure how but I have been asked to get the bride to be with fiancee and her nephew in front of a peacock at the zoo. This maybe one challenge that is beyond my skills. Going to need a bit of luck. Second part will be easier it is at a beach. I mostly just need a diffuser for my flash or possibly a portable umbrella. I know this beach has great shaded areas so will need to create fill light. Still haven’t mastered my flash so this will be a challenge.

Happy Father’s day to all the Dad’s out there!

Birth of a (small) Photography Monster

This is my contribution to ongoing discussions about gear collecting among all types of photographers. This is not me passing judgement just a blog post from my point of view.

The “monster” as my family calls it was born out of a gift one Christmas a few years back of an entry level Sony DSLR. At first I was shocked at the price of lenses, flashes and accessories but that wore off quickly. Thank fully my limited budget prevented me from expanding my collection too quickly. The other reason I have not become a gear monster is that I meet a person at my camera club that taught me that you really should only buy something if you really needed it. No point slapping a boat load of cash on an expensive piece of glass if it was only going to gather a lot of dust. I also learned early on I can purchase old Minolta digital lenses, great glass at great used prices.

This is the equipment I have as of today, all of it fits neatly into one back pack:

Sony a550 – just recently acquired this. My first camera was a300. I upgraded solely to reduce noise in low light situations, gain a little more fps and reduce the amount time I spend editing. It is a discontinued camera so bought it open box at a great price. Came with a Sony 18 – 55 SAM lens. I have not had a chance to try it out.

Sigma 55 – 200 F4 – F5.6 – my go to wildlife lens or when I want stealth shots at an event. This is a little short when trying to shoot wildlife since you have to get close for them to here you! May eventually try to find a longer lens but in no hurry.

Minolta 28mm F2.8 – My go to lens now. Bought it used. Funny story spotted the lens and at first thought it was a 50mm. Once the sales person confirmed it was a 28mm it was mine! This lens produces really sharp photos with soft backgrounds.

Sony 30mm Macro SAM – lens I bought to assist with taking close-ups of flowers and other items. Also the closest with a cropped camera to a 50mm. I have gotten really good photos with this even with hand holding the camera. One of the only lenses I have bought brand new.

Minolta 50mm – Another used lens but one that needs repair. Not sure what is wrong with it but it consistently is blowing out my photos smaller than F4. I tried a few tests with no luck solving the mystery. Currently this is not in my bag. Good thing because it would be a tight squeeze.

Flash Sony HVL-F42AM – a mid-level wireless flash that my sister just about passed out when she saw I much I paid for it. Even after I used a gift certificate and price matched. Big issue had to also purchase reusable batteries with charger. No point dragging around disposable batteries. Goal this year is to master this beast. I also need to purchase a reflector and diffuser for it soon.

Flash Sony HVL-F20AM – a small compact flash I got as a Christmas gift. Works great in casual situations where carrying the larger flash is not practical to carry. Only flaw with this flash is that it eats through AAA batteries.

Filters – Have a set of filters that were purchased in the US for the same cost as one. I have a 49mm ND filter, 49mm polarizing filter and a 55mm polarizing filter. I also have a UV filter that I need to use more but its tough to constantly flip between lenses. Plus I learned on one trip in certain weather conditions it can get jammed.

I also carry two batteries, an extra memory card and a small silver/white reflector. All of which is neatly packed in my small Lowepro camera backpack (although it barely fits my iPad in the front pocket). The other bag I have is a small holster Kata bag, which holds camera plus one lens. It includes a great water proof cover. This bag is great for quick trips and when you don’t want to look like you are carrying a camera. Kata’s are little expensive but make great bags. At the moment I am not carrying the a300 but keeping it as back-up and when I would like a second body with me. It is still a great camera for certain situations.

Now that I have all the primary gear I need the next step in my evolution is to master my camera and push myself to the next level. I have a seminar booked with Jay Maisel in June and full day conference in July with Scott Kelby. I am also trying to explore my city with camera in tow. I know the more I shoot the better I can get. Practice makes perfect.

As others have said it not about the gear its about the person behind the camera. It is also about understanding your strengths and weaknesses and not comparing yourself to others.  Studying other photographers is important but I know it’s about developing your style and voice (see I have been listening David DuChemin!). My photography will eventually be as unique as my fingerprint.

The fun part this summer will be to go out, take lots of photos and to keep learning & challenging myself.

Till next time!

Silencing the chatter

I started this blog to kick start my writing skills and document some of my adventures. The only problem is I keep getting a type of writing block. I am finding the extra chatter going in my head has a tendency to slow down my ability to figure out what to write. Way too many ideas end up being crammed in there and then everything just gets all tangled up.

Silencing the chatter or at least trying to quiet it all down to a dull roar is the only way I can focus. Once I have it somewhat quiet that is when I can finally get things moving forward. The last few months have been all about challenges, learning and meeting goals. I am not normally one to set goals since I usually never meet them. In light of this I have been keeping my goals simple.

One of my big goals is moving my photography forward. One step toward that is trying to find something anything to shoot as often as I can. Unfortunately with the weather this has somewhat involved driving my cats insane (full set). The other part of meeting this goal is to finally explore the city I was born in, funny how little of it I have explored.  Some explorations have been not so successful like my visit to Guildwood Park (full set) where I somehow managed to have the wrong f-stop most of the time. My first visit to High Park (full set) was better although a little early not many flowers or trees were in bloom. The other part of this goal is to attend seminars where possible. I have signed up to see Jay Maisel in June and Scott Kelby in July.

The other major news of the year is that I have offered to be the secretary and newsletter editor for the camera club I am a member of. This is will be interesting with my pretty busy work life. Not sure what I was thinking but I know this will make for an extra crazy summer.

Now on to planning more blog posts or at least I will try!