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Sunday, July 27, 2014

5 tips when shooting in artificial light


Over on the Q&A Anonymous asked the following question:

I'm a natural light photographer as well. When shooting indoors, I always open the curtains and turn off the lights. But, sometimes (like at 10 pm) I have to have the lights on. I'm never satisfied with the results I get, regardless of my WB settings.  What advice can you give me for shooting in artificial light?

Dear Anonymous, 

This may shock you, but I actually live in a cave. A mid-1980's territorial-style cave that has little to no natural light.  And somewhere along the line I had a mid-life crisis and selected orange cabinetry and painted the whole inside of the cave baby-puke beige.  I'm sure you can imagine how normal healthy people can start to look horribly ill in photos taken in my home, especially under artificial light.  I've made Papa promise that should we ever move, our new home would be made entirely out of glass and all surfaces will be painted pure white.  All in the name of photography.  'Cause that's totally practical. 

Wait!  Wait!  
Did I mention the times I taking pics in the high school gym with no windows, lots of overheard fluorescent lights and all surfaces painted the school-spirit colors of red and yellow!  Oh what joy and bliss to take photos in there!  But a mama's gotta do what a mamas got to do to capture her son's wrestling match!  

All that to say, I have some experience taking pics in low and or artificial light.  And I want you to shoot at night in in low light situations.  Many ordinary miracles take place after the sun has set and I want you to be able to capture these too.  I assume here that we're not talking about fancy schmany studio lighting here.  Plain ol' I'm-in-my-house-at-night-and-there-something-I-want-to-take-a-picture-of lighting. 

So lets talk about some things I've learned along the way. 

#1  To me, worse than artificial light, is more than one type of light.  Say natural light and artificial light.  You mentioned that you turn off the lights for your natural-light images and that is the PERFECT thing to do!  If you have even a smidgen of natural light, see if you can make it work.  If the natural light isn't gonna work use the light you have, even if it is from a lamp but think of this light just as if it's coming from a window.  Remember that it gets brighter the close you get to it, and is directional, just like the natural light coming in the window.  One of the advantages of artificial light it that we can turn it off or on or even move it!  Pull that lamp back away from your subject if it's too close. 

#2  The combination of low light and poor white balance is a recipe for an editing disaster.  Learn how to set a custom white balance in your camera.  Pull out that very boring camera manual and figure out how to do it.  Really all you need is a white piece of paper and the know how. If you're anything like the students in my class, you may be surprised how easy and fast it is to set a custom white balance in your camera!  This is the one thing that I do in the high school gym pics that saves me every time.   If photography is your thing, and you don't mind spending a little bit of money, (under $50) consider purchasing an Expodisc to nail your white balance. 

#3  Don't be afraid of noise in your low light image.  Crank that ISO up to do what you gotta do to get the image.  It's way better to have a photo with noise than a photo that's blurry or no photo at all!  And noise actually has some beautiful qualities to it that can enhance your image.  Honest. 

#4  Embrace the color casts that end up in your photo and don't even try to correct them!  Just go for those yellow casts and be okay with it.  Ya, this totally goes against #2 above, but I'm crazy so what can I say?!  But it's these exact color casts that can set the stage for your photo and evoke emotions.  The glow of the TV can create some amazing light.   A candle lit dinner should have a warm romantic glow to it!  These color casts most likely shouldn't be corrected because they help emphasize the story that the image is telling.  Use these color casts to your advantage!

#5  Learn how to edit your images and thus correct your white balance and reduce noise after the fact.  Ya, it's really always better to do this in camera rather than in editing, but hey editing is awesome and has "saved" my pics more than once!  and while you're editing, consider turning your image into a black and white photo so you really don't even have to worry about the white balance any more!  (Information and shameless plug re my Lightroom class is here.)  

Okay, anonymous, I hope that helps.  And I hope you don't live in a cave like I do.  but if you do, embrace the light you have make it work!
This photo was shot with a very high ISO at night.  A small table lamp with a plain ol' 60W light bulb was the only light source.  In editing, the image was converted to a black & white and had noise reduction among some other various editing.  It's a sweet little glimpse of my girl after dark with all artificial light, and one that I'm VERY glad I captured even though there was no natural light!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back in Paradise


We went there in 2009 when Tess and Jude are creek walking in diapers and Tess was her typical  self.

 in 2010 when we were potty training in Paradise and you'll see my embarrassing yet continued infatuation with the Contrast slider.

in 2012 when Mimi had only been home a few months, but already is all smiles.

I'm shocked by how little some of the child were back then.  Thankful that I have the photos to remember it all. Back when Sunny was still under my roof and yours truly had a few less grey hairs.

Actually we've gone there for years, even before we were the crazy, or even the crazy 7.  I remember Papa taking me here back when it was just the 2 of us!  But time passes, seasons pass, things change and yet our Paradise does not.  Summer visits to Paradise Creek are a tradition for us.  We squeeze in as many visits as we can during our stay at Little Cabin in the Woods.  And this year, without fail, it is no less gorgeous that it has been in past years.
It's hard to get his photo these days.  But that doesn't stop me from trying.  Patch just got home from a 116 miles canoe trip in northern Minnesota.  I'm pretty sure he grew a couple more inches while he was gone.  If I look at the pics from our past trips at to Paradise Creek I can almost remember a time when I was still taller than him.
And this is what happens when one of the little girls has to "use the facilities" and mom leaves her camera out for Papa to take photos.  
The fact that 2 of my kiddos (well 3 actually since Sunny has flown the nest) aren't in these photos isn't lost on me.  Liv was working, and Boo was on a camping trip.  The days of having all my children in one place at one time are far and few between now.  Don't get me started on what that does in my heart. Like I said, seasons pass.  
I do love love love summer. It's my very favorite season of the year.  And I love this sweet state of mine.  

Seriously, does it get any better than this? 
Mamas, hold your family summer memories and your own traditions in your heart.  Luv on them, put the camera down, laugh and giggle, hold their hands, lay on your back and find the shapes in the clouds, feel the sunshine, and just be present in these moments. 
 
As I know first hand, it passes before you know it.

I want to think I appreciated that back on that first blog post is 2009.
I hope I did.
I certainly do now!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Photogallery {Mimi in the light}


In the summer, Little Cabin in the Woods gets monsoon storms sometimes daily.  And when we do, they can come and go on a dime. I was sitting on the front porch as a storm was blowing through and the sunlight started popping through the clouds.  The cabin is in the middle of tall pine trees and the light pops through tress in some spots and not others.  I saw this bright light and quickly asked Mimi to dance in the light with her fancy dress that she was already wearing.  It came out kinda magical, you think?
ISO 160, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/320

Saturday, July 19, 2014

5 reasons we let our teenagers hang out with the bad kids


Kay asked me a question over on the Q&A that I thought I'd address.


How do you balance your kids' (specifically the teens) social lives and family lives, and make sure their friends are good, solid kids who will be a good influence?


My knee jerk answer to the second part of this question, Kay, is we don't.  
Well kinda.  
Let me explain. 

When our children are little we do more of this.  Making sure we met and know the mom and dad and family before having play dates or sleepovers.  It's easier to do when they are little.  I don't like my kiddos watching R or even PG-13 movies before they are old enough, (mostly because of the violence) and of course we want to make sure that they were in a safe and fun place.  

But starting at age 10-ish we start talking to our children about the big things a lot more frequently.
Sex. 
Drugs.  
Right and wrong.
Shaping and molding character.
You know... the big stuff.   The awkward hard stuff that can be hard to talk about, and hard for kiddos to hear... from their parents that is.  If they're going to be learning about it at school, and they absolutely are, and hear about this stuff from their friends, we certainly want them to hear about it from us (hopefully first) with accurate info, terminology and our foundation behind it.

But here are a couple of thoughts about why we don't necessarily "make sure their friends are good, solid kids who will be a good influence."  

#1     Who am I to judge who it a good influence and who isn't?   When they were littler it was easier.  Is your pool fenced?  Have I heard mom or dad use profanity?  Do they attend church?  Is little Sally polite?  Does Bobby share?  When they were little we were training a lot of "surface" issues.  And these issues, like using manners and eating a balanced diet, are easier to spot.  But as kiddos get older their training goes deeper.  Is it ever okay to lie?  When shouldn't I help a friend?  What type of issues do my parents want to know about?  Is service a part of your lifestyle?  What is excessive?  Where does God fit into my life?  These issues are much harder (maybe impossible?) to truly discern in another person or family. Maybe in part because issues like these are often constantly evolving throughout the course of a lifetime.  Heck there have been people and families that I thought I knew and thought were fabulous influences!  Only to discover big ol' huge stuff, things that rock the foundation of what we believe to be so important, a decade later.  So figuring out the good influences from bad ones, especially as children turn into teens isn't easy at all.  Appearances are incredibly deceiving in this day and age.  The good news is that teenagers are incredibly good at evaluating character.  It's like they have a second sense about it, and most of the time they have far more info to do it with than we do.  So maybe some of this job is better left to them. 

#2     Through exposure to a variety of people and real life situations with "the bad kids" comes amazing opportunities for our children to practice good decision making.  Our children are going to encounter a wide range of bad influences and general crap in the world.  They are going to encounter unscrupulous people, both from children and adults... in grade school, high school, college, the work force and throughout their lives.  We want them to practice while they are still under my roof how to make good choices even when it's not popular.  And we can't expect them to practice if we shelter them in a bubble of happy happy joy joy.    

#3     At one time or another each of my children has been that bad, un-solid kid that was a bad influence.  The child, that other parents had they known, probably would not have wanted their kid to hang out with.  Not always, but yes, all of people, teenagers and children make poor choices eventually.  Life is a series of doing, learning and doing better.  And would I like for my children to never have friends to hang out with or never have great kids to hang out with that would be a good influence on them?  Of course not!  I want them to hang out with good, solid kids who will be a good influence too even when they aren't perfect!  

But my children aren't perfect, so we try our best to reinforce their good choices AND catch them when they fall.  Because they will fall.  WE ALL fall at sometime or another.  (Sweet God knows I've had my fair share of falling, sometimes hard and big falls too.)  So let's pray that when our children do fall it is when we parents are there to help them, teach them better and build a strong foundation.  It's better to do this when they are teens under our roof than when they are in college away from us.  Do we want our children to makes mistakes?  Heck NO!  But we are all sinners, and we all do.  So let's treat their mistakes like the amazing teaching opportunities that they are. 

#4     We have had some amazing, life-altering-in-an-amazing-way situations with our children hanging out with the "bad kids."  These kids have been invited to our homes and welcomed. One thing we learned is that nobody is all bad.  There are often understandable circumstances that have led up to a bad reputation.  We give them a chance.  And often the reputation was just that, a false reputation.  Or maybe someone that just needs an opportunity to change.  And what an amazing opportunity to show another teenager (or adult) what good choices and decision making can lead to!  We want to show our children that we should serve others, and it starts at home.  We want to be that family that isn't afraid to get our hands dirty and with that comes being around and making an investment people that others may not.  

#5     It facilitates communication and provides opportunities to strengthen character.  Now my kiddos might be shocked to read all this stuff.  (Actually the biggest ones may not.  So if you're one of my kiddos reading this, this is NOT permission to experiment with poor decision making!)  Somewhere around the beginning of middle school we start making a big deal to our kiddos about them talking to us about what's going on around them.  Who said what at lunch.  Who's talking about smoking cigarettes.  Or smoking them after school.  Who's kissed already or talking about it.  What are they seeing on their cell phones via YouTube.  Who sharing inappropriate pics at recess.  What's happening that's sneaky and why.  Or worse!  Because as kids get older this stuff only gets worse.  In the end, the stuff that they hear, see and talk about is stuff they don't forget, and the stuff they automatically know that mom and dad would want to know but purposefully hide.  reiterate to my children again and again and again, they will have more privileges if we can openly discuss this stuff.  They will be able to go to more parties, more over-nighters, outings without us, if we are having ongoing discussions about "the hard stuff." I initiate the talks usually after they've been somewhere.  How was your date?  Did you have fun sleeping over at Bobby's house?  What did you talk about at camp?  And I prompt them.  What do I want to know about?  Anything inappropriate happen?  How were you involved?  What did you say?  The inappropriate stuff is going to happen whether or not we parents know about it or not, so if I can get them to discuss it after the fact, then half the battle is won. Of course all my kiddos have felt awkward about doing this initially.  Some of them have come to these talks more easily than others.  But I assure them that if they do talk with us, they will not get in trouble for talking about it, we will not run to their friend's parents and tattle, and I won't even dislike the aforementioned "bad kid" that they talk about, and if they participated, owning up is a great step in building character.  In the end I hope these talks facilitate ongoing communication, opportunities for us to teach and reinforce our values, and keep us informed about what goes on in their world.  And ultimately we hope it helps our children come to us when they mess up and become that kid so we can work out the problems together.  Does it always work this way?  Nope.  But we do believe it trains children in this direction.  

So there are some of the things that come to mind about our tweens and teens, the influences around them and what we try to do about it.  Yes we want them to hang out with solid kiddos that are good influences.  But it's not that easy as you probably know, Kay, and we want them to develop skills for living in the real world.  Of course all of this is MUCH easier on paper than it in in practice.  I really feel kinda awkward writing it down since I'm far from having all the answers to parenting!  Do we know what we're doing all the time?  Certainly not!  The vast majority of the time I still feel like I'm wingin' it in the parenting department.  But like I try to train my children, I try my hardest and when I know better, I do better.  I know I've contradicted myself all over the place in this post.  But much of parenting is like that.  Take what you like.  Discard the rest.  

Certainly discard all the typos! 
Boo, almost 12 years old.
We've started talking about the awkward BIG stuff more recently these days.  I know this stuff is already a topic of conversation among his peers.  He still looks at me like a deer in the head lights when we do.  Trying to find any escape.  That's okay.  It's important stuff so we keep talking. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hermès never looked so good


To escape the excruciating heat of the desert in the summer, we made it up to Little Cabin in the Woods.
It's divine.  Life at the cabin is like that.  Life it simple and the important things in life are magnified.  The thunder storms roll in each afternoon and I sit on the porch and edit photos with blankets wrapped around me, counting the seconds in between the lightening flashes and the thunder.  The kids play outside, get dirty and learn all about just being together.  You know what I mean... the important stuff.
I'm not sure where this scarf came from but we've had it a long time.  It's big, sheer and has lovely colors.  The children have used it for years as super hero capes, wedding veils or even here as butterfly wings.
Tess flew around the cabin, spreading her wings both literally and figuratively.  It has been a long journey with this precious, perfectly-made little one.
She'll be 7 years old next month, and in that time there have been 6 years of continual therapy of one sort or another since the very first week she came home.  It still continues for those who ask.  I don't write about adoption a lot any more.  Adoption is just part of us now although we try not to let it define us.  Adoption originates with separation and loss.  Adoption is hard.  International adoption is really hard and not for the faint of heart.  And sometimes the adjustment isn't just in the short term.  Sometimes the adjustment lasts years, and even then the residual scars remain and may have to be dealt with for a lifetime.
 Sometimes.
I wish I could have seen these photos 6 years ago.  To see her spread her wings and fly with such happiness and enthusiasm.  If you're an adoptive parent in the depths of the uncertainly that is adoption and trying hard to surrender the fear, please reach out.  Reach out to other adoptive parents that have been there.
Eventually Tess got tuckered out 'cause all that butterfly flying is pretty exhausting after a while, and Papa pointed out that the scarf she was playing with is Hermès.  I had no idea.  I'm pretty sure this isn't what the Parisian Hermès had in mind.  No, it's not on Queen Elizabeth or Grace Kelly or even a Hollywood starlet, yet I can't help but think that Hermès never looked so good.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Photo Gallery {My favorite}


I have a lot of favorite images from my Vietnam trip.  I mean a LOT.  But I think... just maybe... this one is my very favorite one.
I've had several folks ask me if I asked her to pose for me.  I didn't.  I don't know how I would even ask her.  Liv and I were just walking to our cooking class, and I saw her on the other side of the street and fired off a couple pics of her. Completely oblivious to me taking her photo, she then snapped open that yellow fan, the same color as that wall behind her, and I think I might have actually gasped.  I got exactly 1 photo of her with that fan... this photo.  Then the insanely busy traffic crossed between us, and it was time to move on. 

I love that she is wearing purple pants.  
I love the grit of the setting. 
I love that well-used cooking pot on the frame's left.  
I love the shiney-ness of the goodies she's selling in contrast to her reality.  
I love the potted plant.  

I love this image and the memories it holds. 

Okay, I think that's the last of the Vietnam pics.  Looks like I should start planning my next trip!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Photo Gallery {Namh Dinh}


I'm gonna toot my own own horn for a moment.
I've gotten pretty good at taking pics from moving vehicles.  In this case a bus going down the Vietnamese highway.  You see the thing is, is that when I look out the window and I see things like this scenery, I just don't ever ever ever want to forget that moment right then and there.  So I simply can not resist taking a photo of it.  Nobody ever told me I couldn't do it.  Nobody ever told me pics through the glass of a high-speed car just won't come out.  So I do it.

I love the cows working in field.
I love the red roofs.
I love the slightly out-of-place turquoise house.
I love the overcast gloomy sky that casts sweet filtered light.
I love the rice fields and the little burial ground in the midst of it all.

I love the memories and the fact that nobody ever told me I couldn't take pics out a moving car, and now I have this image forever.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Photo Gallery {Selfie}


I'm was going through the last of the Vietnam photos and ran across several that I passed up so I'd have more time to work on them.  And I ran across this sweet gem.
In Hanoi we ran across a high school graduation.  It was kinda ironic since Livy had just graduated days before, the night before we got on the plane to go to Vietnam.  These 4 young ladies, dressed in the traditional Vietnamese ao dai were waiting for their commencement to begin.  And what do teenage girl's do when passing time?  Take a selfie of course!  And the theme of my trip was again reaffirmed: many things, like teenage girls and cellphone usage, are the same wherever in the world you are.

I love that they've kicked off their shoes.
I love the bright yellow high heels.
I love the matching lipstick and haircuts.
I love the textures of the steps.
I love that they have no idea I was taking their picture.

I love the memories this photo holds.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hanoi Market

I'm going to try real hard to wrap up the Vietnam photos this week.  Honestly if I can get all my travel pics edited in less than 2 months then I'm pretty stinkin' happy with myself. 

But before I do I have to show one of my favorite things that we did, and that was right before the Liv cooking class Liv and I took, we went to a neighborhood market and were given a tour.  It's kinda a makeshift albeit permanent space between a couple buildings covered with tarps and riddled with maze-like pathways.  It was morning when we had our tour so the market was in full swing.  Motorbikes and bicycles and pedestrians of all shapes and sizes were buzzing around.  

First the butcher section.  Beef, pork, chicken... and every single part of beef pork and chicken that you can imagine. Yes, we were given samples. It was kinda like Costco in that way.  
Well kinda.  
But not really. 
I loved this vendor sitting on top of the counters as she worked and the cutting block in front of her that she was working on.  
Then the produce section.  Lots of fruits and veggies that I recognized.  And lots of fruits and veggies that I didn't recognize. 
Then the seafood section.  Did I mention it was fresh?  At one point a big ol' fish flopped out at our feet.  
I love the dichotomy of old versus new in this pic. 
This is the egg section of the market.  Chicken eggs and duck eggs and lots of others most likely.  Raw eggs.  Cooked eggs.  White eggs and brown eggs.  And yes the ever popular balut.  If you don't know what that is, I'll let you look that up here.  Ummm no.  I didn't try any.  I'm adventurous.  Not that adventurous. 
This is the fish-head, larva, unidentifiable-guts, some-veggie-I-don't-recognize vendor.   And just to give you the whole picture, the larva were squirming around in those 2 bowls. 
The herb section.
Those boots she's wearing mean business!
Then we came to the clam, mollusk, snail, frog (in the green mesh bag) section of the market. 
The root department?  I don't really know.  I'm totally guessing.  If you have any idea what this is below, holler.  
A month later and my jet lag is totally gone.  And I'm missing being there.  We've been to China and Vietnam now and both hold a special place in our hearts.  Especially since these countries will always be "home" to 3 of our children.  And as much as I learned and enjoyed China, Vietnam holds my heart. I tell people all the time the I'd go live there in a hot second if I could.  I miss the realness of the place and the smiles of the people.

Who knows... maybe someday we will.  A girl can dream, can't she?!

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