Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Improving My Photography: Wait For the Moment

Tip #1: Wait For the Moment

I have heard this advice repeatedly yet it's been difficult for me to put into practice. One of my biggest obstacles, beyond my impatience, is that I don't make photography my priority. Rather. I take my camera on my walk, or take my camera on my vacation, or take my camera to record the moment; a moment I don't even wait for!

So out I headed with my iPhone and photography as my priority. The following illustrates my best example of the snapshot versus waiting. 

Two kids sit looking at books. 

The moment when his sister puts a book in a bin outside the door causing the small boy to glance up. 

The first is a nice photo without a compelling story. In the second a story is waiting to be told.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

9 places to factor into your post-blizzard walking route

I have a new request for Google— map a walk for me that optimizes the availability of shoveled sidewalks. With the number of people in the path of winter storms this year, I think there may be many of us who would use this feature.  

Good news, I have conducted a very unscientific survey (while walking, of course) and can provide the inputs for an algorithm to identify the best-shoveled sidewalk route.  

For starters there are sidewalks that should definitely be avoided as they are the least likely to be cleared after a storm.  For instance:

  1. Cross-walk access.  Yes, definitely the most unlikely of snow-blocked routes, yet time after time while the sidewalk was clear and the street was clear, crossing the street would lead the walker straight into a significant snow-encounter. 

  1. Post-offices— clearly the postal service has enough to do to reduce costs without focusing on clearly sidewalks.

  1. Gas stations— pretty obvious one here as their only goal is to get cars in and out so the easiest place to pile up the snow is one the sidewalk.  Honestly, why would anyone want to walk by a gas station?

  1. Strip malls— serious uncleared sidewalk
    offenders with an economic incentive. All of the strip malls I passed had well cleared passage
    into  their mall. Draw the walkers in and maybe they’ll stay to shop.  
Seriously, in the photo at left, the sidewalk goes to the right of the shrubbery along the street. The cleared walkway in the left part of the photo goes along the strip mall and soon turns left, away from the sidewalk.

While those are spots to definitely be avoided, I need Google to find sidewalks that run in front of the following establishments:

  1. Places of worship— possibly due to their charitable nature or possibly to help new followers find the path to follow, literally, their sidewalks are among the first cleared post-storm.

  1. Train platforms— actually train tracks were far and away the most tempting route for my walk other than the high likelihood of meeting a train traveling at far greater speeds and with far greater mass than I, but that’s a physics problem for XKCD. So, Google, no need to include any well-cleared railroad tracks for my route.  However, the platforms along train tracks are definitely fair game— well-cleared and wide enough for walking side-by-side with a friend.

  1. Libraries offer another wide-path alternative— wide enough for a double stroller to easily make it past. Perhaps there’s a high correlation between book borrowers and winter stroller walkers.
  1. Pizza parlors were a surprising find in the clear-sidewalk category.  The sidewalks around the local pizza house were not only well cleared to the door, they were down to pavement all the way around. Shoveling might be a good way to cool off after standing in front of a hot pizza oven.
  1. Finally, considerate home owners.  Identifying who might actually take the time to shovel using only the data available from a Google map is a little tricky.  

At first I thought I saw a correlation between homes with porches and shoveled walks, but alas that quickly faded farther from the town center.  Perhaps home-owners with driveways would be more likely to shovel their walk as they were already out clearing a driveway. That too proved a dead-end, perhaps they were too tired from shoveling the driveway.  

Then I saw it— homes with a front door painted in a contrasting color to the rest of the house are far more likely to have a clear sidewalk out front than other houses.  I didn’t come up with a reasonably hypothesis on why this would be, but with Google street view, front door paint color can often be discerned.  If the color contrasts with the siding, trim and shutters then voilĂ !  Add that house to my walking route.

So Google, just maximize walking past homes with contrasting front doors, pizza parlors, libraries, train platforms and houses of worship, while minimizing strip malls, gas stations, post offices and major intersections that need to be crossed.  How hard could that be?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Downy Woodpecker tummy-to-tummy with Red-bellied Woodpecker

While many people easily confuse the Downy and Hairy Woodpecker when not seen side-by-side, I doubt if there’s much confusion over the Downy (on the left) and Red-bellied (on the right, with no red belly). Regardless, their bird feeder stand-off allows an easy tummy-to-tummy, as it were, comparison.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Night Skys

Picnic, check. Beach blanket, check. Forecast for clear skies and northern lights, check, check! Having read about the fickleness of clear skies and northern lights even when they are predicted, we headed to the beach early to enjoy the rippled sand and sunset. Any northern light sighting would be considered a bonus.

 The textures of the dune grass, sand flats and mottled western sky all beckoned to me and my camera saying, “hey, no need to wait for some elusive northern lights, look at our show."

What a show indeed. The deep oranges of the setting sun reflected off every surface and reminded me of one of the pleasures of summer camp— lake sunsets that never grow old.

Every evening campers and counselors drift to the water’s edge in ones or twos or threes to watch the sun’s departing show. While artificial lights creep across our cities and suburbs, camp life celebrates natural darkness where only the occasional flashlight interrupts the moonlight dancing across the lake. Looking up into a star-studded sky and seeing a satellite slowing arcing past or spotting a shooting star or recognizing a constellation by name are gifts campers receive each summer.

These were the memories that flitted through my mind as I sat on the beach gazing north over the dark ocean, waiting expectantly for the northern lights. Was there a green glow above the horizon? Possibly. Was it the aurora borealis? Possibly, or possibly my imagination.

We looked up at the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, enjoying the darkness and quiet. We may or may not have seen an the northern lights, but like a summer night at camp, we thoroughly enjoyed the delights of the night sky.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Passover in the Digital Age

Many years ago I hosted my first Passover Seder and placed steaming hot dishes of food on the table as we sat down and opened the Haggadah.  First question, “why on this night did mom put dinner on the table and not let us eat?”  The food was far from hot when we finally answered all four questions and completed our retelling of the Passover story.

Although I will never be mistaken for a quintessential Jewish mom, I have learned a lot about hosting a Seder in the intervening years.  Perhaps my most important learning has been “make it relevant.”  To that end, we retell the Passover story as a group with one person starting the narrative and others chiming in with additional details or the occasional correction:

“Miriam hid in the bushes and then a Princess, -" 
“Actually the Pharaoh’s daughter.”  
“Right, the Pharaoh’s daughter, came down to the river and saw the baby in the rushes.”

2014 marked the year that we made technology relevant to the Seder.  Our household observes strict no-technology-at-the-dining-table rules.   However, this year we embraced technology to bring together family across borders and share in our Seder via Google+ Hangouts.  We set up a laptop at one end of the table, right beside Elijah’s cup actually, and those of us physically at the table crowded to the other end so we could all be on camera simultaneously.

The slight audio time-lag made the story retelling somewhat disjointed, but the pleasure of all sharing the Seder together more than compensated.  

My daughter is now mulling over designs to transport food digitally so we can all share in the same food.  However, even though we didn’t all serve ourselves from the same dishes, we certainly all shared a meal together.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Photo Tips for Nonprofits to Share

Photo FAQs for Non-Profit Photos

Selfie of the pope?  Not too interesting.  Photo of the Pope taking a selfie?  That’s a story!

Most non-profits are always looking for new photos for a newsletter, a website, a Facebook page, slideshows, or possibly even to send to a local paper. In general, photos are needed whenever someone says, “Do you have a photo for this?”

It's likely that many of your volunteers have a Smartphone or a camera on hand.  So here are some tips to share with your volunteers and hopefully you'll receive higher quality photos in return.

Do you need me to take photos?
Yes! Non-profit photos, like most good photographs, need to tell a story.  So take photos for us and help us share the story of our organization.  

Do I need to get permission?
Generally permission is not needed for photos taken in public places, however, non-profits should have specific guidelines on whose likeness can be used in different media whether online or in print.  Find those guidelines and share them with your volunteers.

What are the key considerations to getting a good photo that we can use?
Two elements that turn good photos into great photos are composition and lighting.  
Compose your photo to tell the story.  For non-profit photos, what is the story you are trying to tell?  Do you want to show a student studying, a group raising a wall into place, a ranger giving a talk on a native species?  Are these just smiling faces or are these smiling faces building a house?Is this person walking in the snow, or is this person walking in the snow on a college tour?  Are these children laughing together or are they laughing as they use the new backpacks your group just donated?  

However, don’t get so far away that the you lose the personality of the subjects. If you’re unsure of the best composition, take 2 photos—one close up and one farther away with the subject off center and the background identifying the story we are sharing.  Take the time to move yourself, your subject or stuff to avoid extraneous items in the background.

Lighting is also critical, most especially for any photos that will be shared in print, such as in a physical newsletter.   Take the time to position yourself and your camera so you'll have the best light for the subject.  Generally the light should be on the face for people shots, but you don’t want your subject squinting into the sun.  A shady location on a bright sunny day works well.  Sunlight reflecting off of water or snow onto a face works well.

How can I get great indoor photos at a concert or sporting event?
Indoor action shots are hard.  You are welcome to try to capture photos of the basketball game your group sponsored or the solo in the orchestra for which your group donated instruments, but often between the lack of bright lighting, the movement and the distance you aren’t going to get a photo we can use in a wide variety of settings unless you don’t need to be reading this FAQ.  

However, take the photos and send them knowing we may not be able to use them.  
So ALSO take a pre or post-game/performance still shot.  Get a couple of the performers or teammates together with a prop such as an instrument, an actual stage prop or sports equipment.  Have them be silly or at a minimum create a composition other than a line-up: two players each holding on to a basketball, violinist pretending to play: show the story.

Should I take action photos or staged photos?
Action and candid shots are great to get when possible.  When you take a candid shot the subject is candid—the photographer can be prepared!  Think about where you are standing, where the subject will be, what the lighting will be like, what’s in the background etc.  
Make staged photos interesting, read the answer to the preceding question.

Will my iPhone take good enough photos to use in publications or on website?
Your iPhone will take great photos!  Just make sure when you share the photos you share it at “Actual Size”.

Your iPhone will take even better photos if you treat it like a camera.  Turn on the grid and use the rule of thirds to compose an interesting photo putting the subject or an interesting area of focus somewhere other than smack in the center.

Set HDR On (on the top of your screen when you compose a photo) especially outdoors with a blue sky and a subject that may be shadowed.

Should I use a flash?
That depends… I’m not going to go into a whole photography class here, but if a subject is in a shadow use a flash. Better yet, take the photo so that the subject’s face has natural light and isn’t in the shadows.

I just took a photo on my phone, what should I do with it?
Email it right away!  When you email a photo it is very important to send the highest resolution photo possible.  On an iPhone select “Actual Size” when emailing a photo.  Don’t edit the photo; send what you have, we may want to crop or edit it for different uses.

I have photos on my camera, what should I do with them?
Upload your photos to your computer.  Once on your computer you can email them to the photo master (person responsible for collecting photos).  As an organization you should have someone responsible.  If the organization has regular photographers then create a Dropbox or other shared folder to share lots of photos easily.  Always email a photo at full resolution and as attachments (rather than inline).  This may mean that you can only send one or a few photos at a time.  Thumbnail photos will be of little use to showcase an organization's works.

Should I keep copies of all the photos I send to you?
You are welcome to keep your photos, but for our purposes, once the photo master has acknowledged that receiving your photo and it’s sufficiently high resolution you may do whatever you want with your copy.