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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Neil Gaiman Writes for Homebound Winter Days

Book:          The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author:        Neil Gaiman

This is a book to own and to wrap your hands around and to feel how the letters are embossed on the book jacket after you have read the last page and need to hold on to the characters and their tale.  This story transcends genre; it is the definition of story.

A story that brings out the child in all of us, or at least our memory of childhood.

Make no mistake, it's not lighthearted.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  As Maurice Sendak is quoted in the epigraph, "I remember my childhood vividly... I knew terrible things.  But I knew I mustn't let adults know I knew. It would scare them." Neil Gaiman deftly transported me into my own childhood memories.

Some of the images (no spoilers) of childhood thoughts that rang so true...
The main character, a young boy, discovers a hole in his foot, "I do not know why I didn't ask an adult about it.  I do not remember asking adults about anything, except as a last resort." 
In the recounting of his tale that is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, the narrator says, "Why do I find the hardest thing for me to believe, looking back, is that a girl of 5 and a boy of 7 had a gas fire in their bedroom?" 
Describing a black and white TV, "The vertical hold was unreliable, and the fuzzy black-and-white picture had a tendency to stream, in a slow ribbon: people's heads vanished off the bottom of the screen as their feet descended, in a stately fashion, from the top." 
"Peas baffled me.  I could not understand why grown-ups would take things that tasted so good when they were freshly-picked and raw, and put them in tin cans, and make them revolting." 
"Adults should not weep, I knew.  They did not have mothers who would comfort them."
I took a journey with these characters and was left wanting more, but knowing that more could easily spoil the gift I had been given by an incredibly talented author.

As the snow builds up outside, curl up with a book and find your childhood.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In a word: Relationships

A word cloud formed from blogs on the value of overnight camp for campers and counselors conveys the essence of camp, and perhaps, of life : relationships.

Relationships with friends and campers and counselors, and yes with parents too.  

Relationships with counselors who live in the moment and serve as valuable role models for children. 

Relationships among campers who learn and grow to meet their potential, who arrive with trepidation and leave camp with memories and lives changed through the relationships they form each summer.

Relationships between children and parents who give the gift of summer camp knowing a child can gain more self-confidence and responsibility in a few weeks of summer fun than nearly anywhere else in life.

Look into an overnight summer camp experience for your child this year.
For more blogs on camp visit: Summer Camp  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Readers Discussion Guide for The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic
Discussion Guide for The Buddha in the Attic
By Julie Otsuka

I enjoy leading book groups. When I lead, I write up a discussion guide to use. Feel free to ask your own questions or discuss your own observations or reactions in the comments section.

I have moved this discussion guide to my new blog, Group Reads which is a collection of discussion guides.  You can find a guide for this book at Group Reads: The Buddha in the Attic .

Stop by and see what other guides might interest you!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hummingbird Impatience

A much more obliging photographer's model
I pressed more tightly against the side of the house hoping to appear invisible to incoming hummingbirds. Wearing a green sweatshirt and shorts as my camouflage— perhaps I would look like a tree, albeit a tree with glasses holding a camera—I was nestled into a small patch of shade. I held my camera steady, not quite at eye level and heard the unmistakable sound of tiny motor droning overhead. I caught the shadow of the hummingbird on the deck in front of me and just as I lifted my camera, the shadow darted away. This was going to be more difficult than I anticipated.

We had become enamored with hummingbirds since observing them enjoying sugar water from a friend’s hummingbird feeder. So enamored in fact, that the next day I ordered one myself and as soon as it arrived suctioned it to the window, filled it homemade nectar and sat down to await the arrival of flocks of hummingbirds.

I waited. Nothing. My husband and I waited together. Nothing.

“Maybe they will feed in the morning,” my husband offered hopefully.

That night he read late into the night, googling all he could find on the Internet about hummingbirds. The red of the feeder would attract them. They migrated from New England to points south anywhere from July to September. They needed to put on weight before starting their long flight and our feeder wouldn’t delay beginning their journey.
When I awoke, the first words I heard were, “maybe they have already migrated.”
All that day we watched out the window, hoping one straggler would still venture by our feeder. Just when our vigilance was beginning to wane we heard a loud buzzing overhead and watched in awe as a hummingbird first hovered above, then set down upon our feeder and dipped in his beak for a long drink of homemade nectar.

I was hooked and instantly sought to catch the hummingbird in a photograph. The first few shots through the window were easy to take, but sadly, the dirt encrusted on my windowpane was far more visible than the tiny bird hovering through the glass. I tried different times of day with the sun at different angles, but none captured the whimsy of the hummingbird.

Thus I began sitting outside, near the feeder, as even with a zoom lens the tiny stature of the bird required me to be quite close if I had any chance of it filling my camera frame. Not surprisingly the hummingbirds were keenly aware of my presence every time I so much as twitched.

 I watched as the sunlight slowly started sliding towards my shady territory. Soon my foot was bathed in sun and the light and warmth continued to spread up my leg and my torso, until I wished I had chosen something other than a heavy sweatshirt as camouflage. I felt large beads of sweat form on my back, yet still I waited quietly for the return of my petite funny friend. Whenever I heard the loud drone above, I froze in place, hardly breathing. The hummingbird would alight on the feeder and just as I raised my camera, would zoom away as quickly as it had arrived.

I tried holding my camera in place, but between its heft and the heat of the sun I soon grew impatient and set it down in my lap. As if the hummingbird knew I was no longer at the ready, he darted in for a quick sip and darted away in the time it took me to lift my camera to eye level. After what felt like an hour sweating in the sun, but was likely no more than 15 minutes, I decided to create a photo memory. The next time the hummingbird came by, I didn’t move a muscle, just studied his feathers and beak and his red collar and created my own mental image of my tiny, feathered friend.