Friday, February 24, 2012

Say cheese!

......or not.  Today I thought I'd give you just a few photography tips.  As most of you know, I am also a professional photographer and absolutely love it.  I think there's a lot of folks that think, "hey! I've got a camera like that.  I can be a professional photographer too!"  Well, I'm here to tell you if you haven't figured it out already, it's not an easy job.  It takes a LOT of practice and it's not a cheap.  You have to just start out with the basics and you'll naturally build up from there.  My camera is a Canon 7D, and the main lenses I use are my 24-105mm/4.0, and a 50mm/1.4.  I prefer to use natural light.  Not only that but it's much cheaper than going out and purchasing a ton of lighting equipment.  I always have my small step ladder and a 42" collapsible reflector with me.  The reflector allows me to bounce light onto my subject if needed, or I can use it to create some open shade.  I also have a 580EX external flash along with a basic tripod/umbrella kit.

Let me first say that it is extremely helpful if you own a digital SLR camera.  You know those larger cameras that allow you to switch out lenses?  You can definitely still get a lot of practice in with a small "point and shoot" camera, but honestly you can only learn so much.  Not only that, but you will quickly learn that it's not about just having a "good" camera and putting it in P mode, or Automatic mode and firing away.  You want to get to a point where you can put your camera in Manual mode and tell the camera exactly what you want. There's nothing worse than taking a picture and not getting the image that you were hoping for, and then not knowing how to fix it or what to change on the camera to get it.  OK, there could be worse, but you know what I'm saying. I'll get into more detail in other posts, but today I just wanted to cover some basics.  Here we go:

1)  Move in!  I mean, get closer to your subject.  Get rid of all that dead space around your subject.  Part of taking an image, for me anyway, is telling a story.  If you're kids are outside playing and you're taking some candid shots of them, do you care to see the entire front yard with who knows what taking up the dead space.  Are you telling a story about those folks that live across the street, their trash bins that are still out,  and that old green Monte Carlo that they drive?  Of course not.  (Or I don't know, maybe you are.  It kind of sounds like there might be a good story there. ?) So, first get as close as possible....then if you're still picking up a lot of distracting items, now you can use your camera to zoom in.  I say this because people think that just because you have a zoom lens, that means you can stand really far away and still get a great image.  Not true.  You'll notice when you take images like this, your subject doesn't look as clear as you had wished.  When you're using a good zoom lens, then your subject should still look decent, but if you have a zoom point and shoot camera..not so much. 

2)  Move around!  That's right, take shots at different angles.  Get a feel for what looks best.  Do you like the shot of your little one as their looking up at the camera?  Do you prefer the one where you squated down and got eye level with them?  Or maybe you really like the one where you're actually looking through the legs of a chair, but focusing on the little one?  This is where the foreground, the legs of the chair, may look blurred out, but your subject is crystal clear.  Kind of a cool image.  Everyone has different taste, so move around and get several different views.  Find the one that you like the best.  

3)  Rule of Thirds.  I'm sure you've heard of this one.  This is where you look through the viewfinder of your camera and imagine the space being divided into 9 equal sections.

image from

Place your subject in one of those sections.  Either off to the left, to the right, or in the top half or the bottom half, or depending on the situation maybe you place it dead center.  Let's say you're taking a picture of a beautiful horizon.  The image would look much more interesting and creative if you set the horizon in the bottom 1/3 of the frame rather than putting it right across the center. 

Here is an image I took of my daughter at the beach.  The water isn't my subject, and the horizon isn't my subject, but she is.  Part of my story telling is a nice sunny day at the beach playing in the sand.  I obviously wanted to include some sand, the ocean, even the jetty in the this is what I shot.  I had also bent down some to be more at her level.

4)  Leading lines or natural frame.  Look around for opportunities to take some creative shots.  If the tree limbs are creating a natural frame to place around your subject, use it.  You can see here in these images that I used leading lines.  When I went to do this Senior photo shoot, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the old standing railroad ties.  

Here is another image from a day at the beach. Again using leading lines.  Those birds are everywhere and I wanted to make sure they were included in my storytelling.

5)  See the light! Probably the most important thing you can practice on is seeing the light and utilizing it to your advantage.  This is one of the reasons why it's so important that you learn how to use your camera in Manual mode.  You will be able to adjust the settings in order to bring in the amount of light that you need for an image.  That being said, your lens plays a big role in that as well.  A typical kit lens (the ones that come with your camera when you purchase it) is not going to be the best lens, and I can bet that before long you'll be at the camera shop looking for a better one.  There's a reason why lenses get pricey.  Not only is it a really good piece of glass, but one of the benefits is that you can get one that will help you produce the type of images that you want.  For me, I do mostly children, couples, and families.  I'm in pretty close range, so my 50mm/1.4 is perfect.  It's a fixed lens, meaning it's not a zoom lens.  I am the zoom.  I just walk in closer or step back until I get what I want in the frame.  The 1.4 is the big difference.  This is the aperture.  The lower the number, the more light the lens will allow to enter.  This will also give me a better bokeh.  Bokeh is that nice blur you see around a focused subject.  Notice the railroad ties in the picture above.  They get more and more blurry the further back they go.  Again, she was my focus, not the railroad ties.  They were just there to add character to the image.  So I naturally wanted to use a setting that would blur out the background.  The more light that is allowed to enter, the lower ISO I can use.  The lower ISO I can use, the less grainy the image will be.  The less grainy my image is, the more crisp it will be.  Now sometimes, you may want a grainy image to give it a gritty feel, or give it some texture, and that's fine.  IF that's what you're going for.  Again, in Manual mode YOU make the choice in how you want your image to look.  Later in post processing you can always add other textures, overlays, and whatnot. (that's for another future post)  The other thing to think about when seeing the light is seeing EVEN light.  If your subject is standing in harsh sunlight, you may end up creating some pretty nasty shadows.  It's best to look for nice open shade.  "Evenly lit" is what you're looking for.  If your subject is standing underneath a tree and there are harsh sunrays bursting through the limbs onto your subject, that's not evenly lit.  You'll end up with basically white lines going across your subject. Take a look at my little man in that first image.  It was in the middle of the day, super bright sun.  I had him hold his arms up to block the sun from his face.  This gave me nice even light over most of his face and gave me the shot I was looking for.  I shoot mainly outdoors, but you can get some decent shots inside as well.  This is where a good piece of glass with a nice open aperture comes into play.  Enter my 50mm/1.4 lens. (By the way, there is also a 50mm/1.2 lens which allows even MORE light to enter, but that's another $1000 that I don't currently have in my tight budget) By utilizing the open window light and setting my camera to a 1.4 or 1.8 aperture, I can get a beautiful evenly lit shot.  I rarely have to use my external flash.  Unless of course you are in a setting where it is dark outside, you're inside, and then you'll need to use that flash.  But again, think "evenly lit".  No harsh light.  This is where you want to have some sort of diffuser attached to your flash.  It helps to spread the light out and make it more even.  There are several different styles out there, some you can attach directly to your camera and others that attach to your external flash.  I don't think you'll ever see a professional photographer using a flash without a diffuser.  

Well, gosh!  I think I went on a little longer than I had planned.  I know it's not everything that you need to know, but it's something to start off with.  There's absolutely no way I could fit everything into one post anyway.  It's just too much. There really is so much to learn when it comes to photography.  The important thing is to practice, practice.  I can't say it enough.  A few recommendations I will leave you with are:

  • Learn your camera through and through.  In other words, read the manual.  And then read it again.  I guarantee you you'll learn something new every time.  There's nothing like taking pictures for a friend and your camera does something that you're not used to and you don't know how to fix it.  Or you know that you're camera does something that you really need right now but you don't know how to use it.  
  • If you have a dSLR camera and are thinking about upgrading your lens I would recommend renting.  If you live in the DFW area, Fort Worth Camera and Arlington Camera are great places to rent from.  They are very professional and helpful folks.  They know their stuff, and they know photography.  Lens rentals are anywhere from $20-$60 depending on the lens.  I would also recommend renting it for the weekend because it's the same price as a one day rental, except you pick it up after 3p on a Friday and don't have to return it until Monday morning.  Allows you more time to practice!
  • If you're thinking about going professional, a good external flash is essential.  You never know what type of lighting situation you will be in, and having that extra light will be a life saver.  You can also purchase some lower end remotes for your flash.  This allows you to put your external flash on a tripod behind an umbrella and setting it in a place where you need more light.  Oh, that's another thing....the tripod and umbrella.  You can get a lower end kit for under $200.  You don't HAVE to have these items, but I will tell you that there will be instances that you say to yourself, "OMG!  If I just had some more light!". In the meantime, you can just get a diffuser for your camera's flash and stick that puppy on there anytime you need more light.  One of the other differences is that with an external flash, you have the ability to rotate the flash head.  You almost never want the light bouncing directly onto your subjects face.  You typically want to point it up at a 45 degree angle, or point it behind you, or bounce light directly off of the ceiling or off of a wall.  Options, options.  
  • If you can afford to take a basic photography class, do it.  If you can afford to take the occasional photo workshop, do it.  From now on, you will constantly be learning.  I remember a few years ago I told my husband about a specialty workshop I had signed up for and he said, "Mel, don't you know enough already?"  WHAT!  I will never know enough!  There is so much to STILL learn.  Continue to educate yourself. If anything, make a trip to the bookstore and purchase a book on beginners photography.  I would even check out the University book store for new and used books that the kids have used for their actual Photography courses. Oh, and learning Photoshop.  Eeeek!  That's a whole 'nother monster all by itself.  
  • Purchase some sort of image processing software.  Of coarse, Photoshop is the standard.  There are TONS of tutorials out there on using Photoshop.  I'll be posting some in the future. Now, the ridiculous thing is the price.  The standard Photoshop CS5 is around $700.  Ouch!   I use Photoshop CS2.  It's the version that was out when I got into photography and I never upgraded.  Too expensive.  They already got me for my $600 back then, and the newer versions don't do enough "new" stuff for me to rationalize spending even more money on it. :)  If you're just starting out, PSE (Photoshop Elements 10 or any older version, I think 10 is the most current) will do just fine. You can get it all day for under $100.  There are so many things you can do to your image to make it look even more superb!  
  • In the beginning of the post I typed "Say cheese.....or not".  This is because you don't always need your subject looking directly at you.  Candid shots of them having fun and doing something natural are just as great as the ones where they're looking right at you saying cheese.  

I think that's it for now.  Please let me know if there is something specific you guys want to learn about and I'll be sure to add it to the post list.  All I know is that there are so many tips and ideas I wish other people would have shared with me when I was starting out.  I've learned a lot on my own and still learning.  I've taken several classes, workshops and looking forward to more.  Nowadays, there is so much information out on the web.  You can learn just about anything really.
Until next time!  Have a great weekend! and have fun shooting!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Traditional Rice pudding

Hey guys!  Hope everyone had an awesome weekend.  I for one have not been feeling well.  Came down with some viral upper respiratory infection and pink eye, and was down in the dumps for a good 3 days.  Yuck!  BUT!  I am feeling tons better today and ready to tackle the laundry and some much needed clean up.  Yahoo!

So, today I'm gonna show you guys how to make traditional rice pudding.  Well, traditional for MY family anyway.  As far back as I can remember, rice pudding was a favorite breakfast meal for me.  Especially in the winter.  I can remember waking up in the morning and smelling it as soon as I stepped out into the hallway.  Mmmm.  I love the stuff!  My parents are a combination of Mexican, American-Indian, and Spaniard.  Most of the cooking growing up was Mexican food.  Mom and Dad always called this recipe "Atole" (ah-tol-ay).  Atole actually means oatmeal, but I guess to them this was Mexican oatmeal.  If you look up other recipes you may also see it called "Arroz con leche".  That means rice w/milk.  I know there are tons of other variations of rice pudding recipes out there.  Just depends on where you grew up.  Not only that, but you know how people tweak recipes to their liking.  I've seen some recipes even call for eggs and cream. Anyway!  This recipe is the same one that my mom would make for us.  I haven't changed a thing.  It's easy, simple, and most of the ingredients you have on hand anyway.  Let's do it!
You'll need:
2 C rice
1/8 tsp salt
1/2-1 C sugar
1 TB cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 C raisins

First you want to cook your rice according to package directions.  I say this because regular long grain rice takes 1 1/2 C water for every cup of rice, and brown rice takes 2 C water for every cup of rice.  FYI: Each cup of dry rice will yield about 3 cups of cooked rice.  Just so you know what you're gonna end up with.  If you have a rice steamer, you can steam the rice first and then just put 6 cups of cooked rice into a large pot for your rice pudding.  I have a steamer, but I prefer just to make it all in one pot.  Less clean up.  OK!  So, you cook your rice.  You want to make sure that the rice has soaked up all of the water.  We don't want watery rice pudding.

 Now that you're rice is cooked, this is where you add the milk.  I didn't put a measurement for the milk, because I never measure it.  You just pour in enough milk to completely cover the rice and maybe even about an inch more.  
 Now you will add your salt, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.  I would start off with just a 1/2 C of the sugar.  I made a double batch.  Enough to last us the next 4 days.  I barely had enough room to add all of my ingredients.  Eeek!

When you add the rest of the ingredients you want to gently stir it all in.  If you get too aggressive with it, you'll break up the rice and make it mushy.  If you're going for mushy, I guess that's OK.  To each their own, right?  Either way, it's still edible and tastes gooooooOOd!
Now comes the hard part.....cover and let it sit on low-med heat for about 30 min-1 hour.  This is important because this is where the flavors come together and the raisins get nice and plump.  After about 30 min, go ahead and stick a spoon in there and taste it.  If it's not sweet enough for you, this is when you'll add that other 1/2 C of sugar.  Make note on how much you ended up putting in so you'll know for next time.

That's it!  Just a few ingredients and you've got a yummy breakfast.  I love it as a snack or even dessert.  If you make it as a dessert you can drop a dollop of whipping cream on top.  For me, that makes it an official dessert.  Store it in the fridge and when you go to warm up a bowl, you may need to add some more milk. It will dry up quite a bit after cooling.  
 You can see that some of my raisins aren't very dark.  That's because I used half regular raisins and half golden raisins.  They were there, so I used em'.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Homemade baby wipes!

Oh my gosh!  I absolutely cannot believe that I waited this long to actually try making these homemade baby wipes.  I had heard about it and seen youtube videos about it, but just didn't feel like trying it out I guess. Mr.D was potty trained shortly after he turned 2yo.  (In case you're wondering, he WAS NOT ready, but I was.  He's a smart kid, so I did it.  I bought him some big boy undies, put em' on him and that was it.  No diapers during the day.  No pull ups. We went to the potty regularly, and sure he had some accidents but after about a week he got the hang of it.  Patience young Jedi....patience)  Nonetheless, he still wears a diaper during naps and at bedtime.  He just sleeps right through it.  So!  I do use the wipes when he's wet after the naps or in the morning.  I also like to keep some in the car for sticky fingers and what not.  You know what I'm talkin' about. So I got down to the bottom of my wipes container and thought, "you know what Mel, let's go ahead and try making some!"
A while back I had thought about trying this out so I bought the little travel size baby shampoo and baby oil specifically for this task.  Here we go:
OK, so I've really looked around, read other tutes, watched several videos, and essentially here is all you need.

  • A roll of good paper towels.  NOT a cheapy brand.  Apparently they're cheap for a reason.....they tear up easy.  I always buy the "tear-a-size" paper towels because the regular size is always way more than what I need.  The "tear-a-size" seemed to work really well for this project because they are well, just the right size when you pull them out.
  • A sharp long serrated knife, or a bread knife.  
  • A container to store your new homemade wipes.  I just re-used my old container.  Other folks have just used a plastic storage container that is large enough to house the new wipes.
  • Baby oil.  Some folks use olive oil or other special organic oil.  I just went with the basic baby oil.
  • Baby shampoo.  Some folks use special organic baby shampoo.  Really it's your own preference.  It's the gentle good smelling shampoo that you want.  I love the way Johnson's baby shampoo smells so that's what I got.  Honestly, any baby/kids shampoo would be fine. 
First you need to cut your roll of paper towels.  I originally cut mine in half, which is what ALL of the tutorial/videos say to do.  Well, when I got to where I put the 1/2 roll into my container, it didn't fit.  It was too tall.  I wanted to be able to pull the wipes out from the center hole.  You know, like you do the Clorox wipes?  So, I would suggest measuring how tall your container is.  In order for mine to fit into my old wipes container, I actually had to cut my roll into thirds.  Yay!  More wipes out of 1 roll!
My container is a little over 3 1/2 inches tall and a roll of paper towels is 11 in. long.  11 inches divided by 3 is a little over 3 1/2, so I measured 3 5/8 in. from both ends and mark.  Now get that sharp knife out and cut. Just an easy back and forth motion.  Like sawing a log.  Here is my post-cut picture.  Yikes!  Obviously my knife was not a sharp one.  Oh well, it's all the same.  Remember I originally cut my roll in half per original instructions.  I didn't take a picture of the new roll cut into thirds.  But you get the idea. Just remember if you're going to reuse your old container like I did, cut the roll into thirds! This half roll actually makes a perfect size napkin so I'm sticking it on my paper towel holder.

Next, you'll get a bowl and mix your ingredients.  Let me say that apparently there are large fatty rolls of paper towels, and then there are smaller regular rolls.  I guess the ones I buy are the large fatties.  I didn't realize. I say this because you'll need a little more sauce for the larger rolls.  My rolls actually say "Super Roll" in the top left hand corner.  For a regular roll you'll need:  1 cup of hot water, 1 TB shampoo, and 1/2 T oil.  For a fatty roll you'll need: 2 cups of hot water, 2 TB shampoo, and 1 TB oil.  (it's not rocket science, right?) Put your water, oil, and shampoo into the bowl and stir.  Set one of the cut rolls into the container you're going to store them in.  Now you'll pour your mixture all over the cut roll.  Just try to evenly soak the roll.  Close the lid and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  After the 10 minutes go back and turn your container upside down.  This is just to make sure that the paper towels soak up all of the liquid.  Honestly, it should have all soaked in during the first 10 minutes.  The flip and do 10 min more is just to make sure.  Anyway!   Here is a picture of my roll after it's been soaked.

You'll notice in my soaked image, the center cardboard piece is gone.  That's the next step.  Since it's soaking wet, you should be able to pull it out pretty easy.  This can be tricky because it may tear into a few pieces at first, but no big deal.  Just stick your fingers in there, pull it away from the edges, grab it, and pull it out.  You know how when you use a roll of paper towels, that last paper towel is kind of stuck to the cardboard tube?  Well, it's still stuck.  So when you pull that cardboard piece out, you'll have you're center paper towel pull out with it.  Yay!

Here are my ready to go homemade wipes in the container with that center piece ready to poke through the top of the container.  They pull right on out one by one with ease.  Pretty easy, huh?  If you've got some friends that use regular wipes all the time, maybe you can ask for their empty wipes containers when their done.  Either make all 3 at once, or put the other 2 cut rolls in your commissary  for when you run out of roll no.1.  (Please don't let me word commissary fool you into thinking I'm one of those food hoarders.  We have an extra little closet in our house where we store any and all extra stuff.  Nothing to write home about.  Just some extra toothpaste/toothbrushes/floss/soap/lotions/tp/paper towels/etc.)
So that's it!  Homemade baby wipes for the baby or to keep in the car for messy kiddos.
It took me all of maybe 10 minutes labor time to make these things.  Again, I wish I would have started making them a long time ago.  I try to keep my paper towel purchases at no more than .75 per roll.  When they're on sale, .50 all day and twice on Sunday.  The baby oil and wash cost me a couple of bucks for the travel sizes, but a lot of us already have that stuff on hand anyway.  Not only that, but I only used a few Tablespoons from each and there's tons left to make who knows how many more containers of wipes.  Better yet, get the regular size bottles from the dollar store!  Oooh!  Even bigger savings!  ChaChing! All that being said,  I figured out that my homemade wipes cost me no more than .68 cents, and that's estimating pretty high.  I think this makes a great side gift for a baby shower.  Print out the basic instructions, tie it onto a string, attach it to the container, and she'll save tons of money for several months, maybe even years to come.  OK, maybe not TONS of money, but a significant little chunk anyway. Sass it up if you want and make a cute basket out of it along with a pack of diapers, the rest of the baby oil, shampoo, a cute Tablespoon for measuring, and on and on I could go.  Happy Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's parties ahead!

So, both kids have their Valentine's parties tomorrow at school and I wanted to show you guys which treats we went with.  There were so many great options out there on Pinterest, right?  I think I've got plenty of ideas for several years to come.  First up, we have C's Valentines:
C picked out the Heartbreaker Valentines.  I know, I know, I told her it WAS Valentine's day and typically there's red or pink in there somewhere.  Well, you'll learn that she likes to go with the flow but always likes to add her own sense of style.  For this project, she was feelin' the neon green and orange.  That's fine.  My little gypsy.  She's so awesome.  I used my Silhouette software to create my hearts and to cut them out.  We filled them with a packet of those Nuggets from Florida's Natural.  Have you seen these?  I love em'.  I first came across them during Halloween last year. Actually I'm not that crazy about any of the gummy type snacks, but I can go for these.  The box is around $4 at Wal-mart and has 24 little pouches.  The pouches are full of these teensy little fruit chew nuggets.  There are 4 different flavors: Strawberry, Blueberry, Green Apple, and of course Orange.  They're right there where the other fruit gummy packs are.  My Wal-mart has them on the top shelf away from the other gummies, so they're easy to miss if you don't even know that they're there. 
Next up is the little man.  He's about to be 3 and is in a little pre-k class with other 2-3 year olds.  I really hate to pass out candy for these little people, but the dentist does say that the best candy for a kid is chocolate.  If their gonna eat candy.  No kidding. That's because it doesn't stick to the teeth.  It just melts away.  So I compromised.
Got those little bubble's from Wal-mart in the party section and a pack of Hershey's kisses.  Already had the little plastic bags on hand. (I keep a stock of different sizes for business and such occasions) Typed up the little bag toppers, printed them on cardstock to match the bubble's.  (the bubbles only came in pink or turquoise, and Miguel didn't want Dane passing out "blowing pink bubble kisses" treats to everyone. :) Then I also printed out some little labels for the Hershey's kisses from the same cardstock.  I just used my 3/4" hole punch to punch em' out, ran them through the Xyron sticker maker and stuck em' to the bottom of the kisses.  Voila!  The back side says "Happy Valentine's Day! Your friend, D"
I got an email last night from C's karate studio and there was a note stating that we are welcome to bring valentines to pass out in class.  Hmmmm.  I'm sure C is gonna want to participate in the exchange.  That one is definitely last minute, so we'll see what we end up doing.  Not only that, but I've been working on a Valentine for Miguel.  OK, working on it in my head.  I haven't actually put scissors to paper yet, but I'm hoping I can get it done.  

So what did you guys do for Valentines?  Any other Pinterest junkies out there? 
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!