Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Play Time...

The girls and I are enjoying the casualness of holiday break mornings. They have made full use of PJ time and have enjoyed playing with their new Christmas gifts. I have done a lot of reading and have stayed busy working on studio promotion materials. Cartoons have been watched. Coffee has been drank. It's been lovely.

This morning I decided to do some reading on the ins and outs of good flash photography. I hate using a flash. Partially because I much prefer the shadows and highlights created by natural light, where as I feel like flash shots often seem "flat". Partially because I have not taken the time to really learn how to work with my flash to maintain a feeling of depth while appropriately filling in light when needed. My standard shoot wide open in natural light approach doesn't always serve me well...and if I'm going to start shooting portraiture I'm not always going to have perfect light available. So I best learn how to use my flash to help get the images I want in any lighting situation. Here are some test shots from this morning. These first 4 shots are straight out of the camera...the only adjustments made were to image size for easier web posting.

First here's a shot taken without flash, with a wide open lens, using only the ambient light of the room.

The problems: The back light of the widows is blown out and because of a low shutter speed there is a bit of blur due to camera shake. Yet what I love is this is really what the scene looked like...shadows and highlights and all.

Next up, a shot taken with my camera in full program mode using my flash with a diffuser and angled at 45 degrees like I take most of our indoor shots.

For me the flattening has started to occur and the windows are still blow out.

I've been reading about using the manual mode to both capture the ambient light of a space and use flash to throw light on your subject. Generally shots taken this way look natural and well lit...and is the effect I'd really like to be able to produce on a regular basis. But it's going to take a lot of work, time, and experience. Here is a shot taken without a flash that properly exposes the widows behind the girls...

And then using that same information I let the flash fill in the fore ground bouncing it (diffuser on) off the ceiling straight above me rather than at a forward facing 45 degree angle.

Better, I think. I'm still not in love with the look but I have to remember I haven't done anything to this shot in terms of adjusting contrast, highlights and shadows in post processing. Mostly I'm happy about the general lack of any harsh flash shadows and the more balanced exposure over all.

I'm also still trying to decide where my post processing style lives. This first picture is adjusted simply as I normally would...a little boost of contrast, brightening of highlights and deepening of shadows to create some depth...

Then I added some sharpening using an MCP action...

And finally I added a little "flair" using an action from The Coffee Shop Blog...

While I like each of these for different reasons, I'm not sure which I'm drawn too the most. What do you think? Which look is your favorite?

OK, play time needs to come to an end...we are officially out of vegetables in this house. A trip to the grocery is in our very near as soon as I get showered and dressed!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Not until 7:00...

As we tucked our girls all into bedon Christmas Eve, we reminded them...there's no need to get up early because we are not going downstairs until at least 7:00.

So Lexi woke up at 5:45.

To her credit she quietly came into our room to check the time, then returned to her bed with a flash light to read...until the flashlight died 10 minutes into her quiet distraction. Brea magically awoke totally on her own accord right after Lexi stopped reading (still not sold on that version of the story) and we ended up with two little wiggly snugglers in our bed at 6:00.

Just to be evil we made then wait until 7 before either Scott or I crawled out from under the warm covers to start the morning's adventure. (Oh the many joys of being the parents.) We made them brush their teeth. Then they had to brush and pony their hair. And then only after I ventured down for the camera could they make the decent themselves.

Waiting at the top of the stairs...


...less patiently.

I love that first look of pure joy that comes across their faces when they first see what Santa has brought them.

Brea received just what she wished for...a Polly Pocket house.

And we have hardly shared two words with Lexi since receiving her new DS game.

Brea was so excited about all her new PP house items...including a tiny toilet.

And no matter how many she receives, she still gets so excited about a new critter to snuggle.

The remainder of our day was spent in our PJs, enjoying each others company, on Skype with loved ones in Nebraska and Germany, napping, knitting, game playing and waiting for the Kansas grandparents to arrive for an afternoon of gifts and good food.

Simple joys.

So many blessings.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank Goodness for Knitting...

This is apparently how much knitting I can accomplish while watching Christmas Vacation...

(I'm not a very fast knitter.)

It's the start of a handwarmer for my MIL. She had requested some last fall and with my lace scarf, sweater, and my Mom's socks and moebius, they never made it on the needles. Now that I have the knitting done on my first crack at a shawl (which I'm now SLOWLY binding off with the required sewn bind off) my row counter has been freed up for a new project. These are a cross between my good ol' standard self designed handwarmer pattern and the Brainbridge Mitts pattern over at Spicy Jellybean Knits blog. The cuff is a twisted rib with a broken rib body. I wasn't sure at first how I felt about the twisted rib, but it's growing on me as the twist of knitting through the back loop makes the knit ribs very dense and raised over the looser purl columns. With any luck I may be able to knock these out over the long holiday weekend and send my MIL back to KC with warmer hands. (But don't hold me too that...remember, slow knitter on board.)

Our Christmas Eve has begun as it should...lazily. I'm sipping my home-made latte with a touch of egg nog. Scott is out playing in the newly fallen snow with his new hand-me-down snow blower. The girls are eating Clementines and watching Santa Buddies. I have a bit of cleaning to do, gifts to sort and wrap, photos to sort through to put together some sort of an electronic holiday greeting for this here blog (since once again sending a print card was not in the Mavin holiday budget), and candied corn to make for our snacking pleasure. On one hand I am feeling a bit inadequate for all that I have NOT accomplished this holiday season (and for that matter, this YEAR). On the other I am completely happy to be doing nothing more than enjoying the morning with those I love near.

My coffee cup is empty...and my knitting looks lonely sitting here beside me as I type. Hoping you too find yourself enjoying the simple joys of the season today. May your home, and your heart, be filled with the warmth of friends, family, and the blessing of togetherness. And to those who are not near at this time of year, may you know how much you are loved.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Little Elves...

Winter break begins today...which means both of my little elves are home with me for the next 10 days or so.

It makes my heart happy to have them near.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Addicted in Less Than 24 Hours...

Another shoot with my new lens...more fun play learning PS Actions. Scott is already planning an intervention. What can I say...Me+my camera+digital play time=LOVE.

First, Brea at breakfast yesterday SOOC...

Notice the lovely snot trail and speck of frosted mini wheat. Nice.

Last night I decided to play with the new skin fix technique to get rid of the snot and then applied a few simple actions to sharpen.

But then, as I was randomly poking around the web, I found The Coffee Shop Blog written by a mom who, well read her bio and you'll see why maybe I'm just a little drawn to her blog. Here's the same picture of Brea, snot trail left in tact, with a few of the Coffee Shop's actions applied.

First there's Coffee with Cream...

(I actually had to go back and do a bit of masking so that the sunny side of Brea's head wasn't totally blown out.)

Then we go B&W with a little Irish Breakfast...

(I chose not to add the optional softening action.)

Here's Raspberry Tea...

(Again, no softening.)

The dreamy Creamy Toffee...

(I again used a mask to bring a little sharpness back to Brea's face.)

And finally, a little modern twist with the Urban option of Vivid...

A few years back I helped my Mom pick a paint color for her kitchen. We both that in order for a color to totally speak to us it had to have a pleasing name. I don't know of any better way to name, or choose for that matter, photo action sets than with coffee and tea lingo. Me likey!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Everyone Else is Doing it...

I don't know if you know this about me or not...but I can be a little bit stubborn. I've been thinking a lot lately that stubbornness can lean one in two directions...that of being brave to pursue one's dreams OR that of just being stupidly stubborn. I think this is a story about the later, that I'm hoping to shift towards the earlier.

I've been doing a lot of learning and researching online for the past several weeks on the photography front. One of the areas which I feel I need to greatly improve as I prepare to put my photography services out into the world for hire is how I process my images once I pull them off my camera's memory card. I personally feel that the most important skill set I can develop are the skills that help me to capture images that need only minimal processing to go from good to WOW. If the composition, use of lighting, or focus are bad there's no point in wasting time trying to make a bad picture look just OK. Those are all skills that I will forever be honing. Yet in today's photography world if you want your work to stand out in the crowd, you have to make use of all the tools available to the modern photographer. I'm fortunate to have an older version of Photoshop to utilize for this purpose. Up to this point I've used what little information I have learned from playing around with various adjustments on my own, as well as the information that has been shared by my photographer friend Jenny. I've been hesitant to give in to using some of the downloadable processing short cuts, known as action sets, that are available online. I was bound and determined to find my own best work flow, my own processing style.

The thing way of working has not been the most efficient in terms of time and has yet to come anywhere close to being as affective as what you commonly see on photography forums and photo share sites. So today I decided to give a few free Photoshop action sets available from The Pioneer Woman and MCP Actions a try. It's easiest to make comparisons when various adjustments are made on the same photo, so I choose to work with one of the photos of Beckett that I took during our photo shoot in the park.

First, here's the picture as it appears straight out of the camera (SOOC) adjustments.

Next I adjusted the photo as I normally would without using any action sets. Generally those adjustments include increasing the contrast, balancing levels and curves, and in the case of this photo adding a little lens vignette.

Then I decided to see just what the action sets could do. With each of the action set examples below I began with the original SOOC shot and adjusted only the basic levels before applying the chosen action set(s). I did not apply any lens vignetting to these images.

This first image I simply applied the High Definition Sharpening action set from HCP Actions.

While there's not much difference in color and brightness over the image I adjusted myself, there is a difference in the sharpness.

Next I decided to get serious. In this next photo I performed a skin fix using the patch tool which I learned through one of the free video tutorials offered at HCP Actions. I then applied the Boost and eye highlighting action sets from The Pioneer Woman.

This photo is visibly more crisp and vibrant. I think the Boost Action Set could be very handy, but I also think it can lead to an "over processed" look if over used. And while some people like the look of heavily processes photos, I'm more drawn to photos that look slightly enhanced rather than heavily altered. I REALLY like the skin fix technique using the patch tool. It proved to provide a more natural looking fix than my previous method of using the heal tool. In this case I lightened the red splotch on his forehead and his busy boy black eye.

One of the sets I think I will use a lot is MCP's Crystal Web set. This action with only one click of the mouse sharpens and resizes the image for upload to the web. YEAH!

I also treated myself to a new lens this week...the very affordable, but much praised, 50mm/1.8. Which means a lens that is a fixed focal length (no zoomability) that has a large maximum shutter opening size to allow one to take photos in low light without a flash. (I'm really looking forward to utilizing the features of this lens Christmas morning!)This lens is well known among photographers for its usefulness in portrait photography. It probably should have been the first additional lens I purchased beyond my kit lens. But it wasn't. The lovely thing about the large aperture opening is that it creates a short field of vision...aka nice blurry backgrounds.

Here's a shot of Tilde SOOC I took this morning near a window in our dining room. (It's actually become my favorite spot in our house to snap shots in the natural light of the morning sun.)

And here she is after I applied the sharpen & define and eye enhancing actions from PW.

So...maybe I was wrong about taking a few short cuts here and there. Luckily I'm not stubborn enough that I can't admit when I am wrong. Most of the time...


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Photography Playground...

As promised, a few more shots from last weekend's wedding trip. I don't know if it's weddings, or churches, or groups of people, or what, but I can't help but dragging my camera along to occasions such as this...

Many thanks to the wedding photographer, Dan, for taking time to sit with me for a bit at the reception and talk shop...and let me play with his 50mm/1.4 lens. (I may or may not have the cheaper 50mm/1.8 lens headed my way as I type this for this year's holiday photos.) I'm inching closer and closer to my dream of launching J. Mavin Photography in the coming months!


Monday, December 13, 2010

A VERY White Wedding...

We took a little trip this weekend.

A trip to Scott and I's first home, Wayne, America. (AKA Wayne, Nebraska...home of Wayne State College, Wayne Chicken Days, and the Roses.)

The occasion? The wedding of Marisa and Brian. Marisa was a cheery little 2nd grader back in the fall of '93 when her family, the Roses, first invited us into their home for a Friday night dinner (the first of MANY) as part of the Host a Student Program through WSC where Scott and I went to college. She is now a lovely woman, all grown up and married! It doesn't seem possible that so much time has passed since that first dinner...yet I can't remember time before the Roses were part of our family. (Kinda like it's hard to remember what life was like before I met Scott...or before we became parents.)

You know how it's the unexpected things that happen during a wedding that end up being the special memories that you hold on for years to come. WELL, let me tell you, Marisa and Brian's wedding is bound to be known at the Blizzard Wedding. I kid you not...a blizzard set in during the night Friday after we traveled in 50 degree beautifulness late Friday afternoon to arrive in Wayne in time to catch the end of the rehearsal dinner and for Scott to go have a couple beers with the guys after we checked into our motel.

OK, let's just get the whole story about the motel out of the way. I may or may not have waited until the last minute to book our room in hopes we could figure out some free lodging situation. When I finally did call the only decent hotel in Wayne, The Super 8, was booked. (It didn't help that WSC was hosting home basketball games over the weekend.) Which left us the choice of the older scary motel, or the old REALLY scary motel. We chose door number 1 and luckily they had a room. Lexi, being a little older and a little less adventuresome, was NOT impressed with the tiny room with 80s decor that greeted us at the KD Inn.

Brea on the other hand thought the tiny bathroom was the coolest thing ever! After getting her PJs on and going into the bathroom to pee we had to laugh when she yelled out, "Guys, we have our very own tiny shower!"

Despite the close quarters, the thin walls, the impossible to control heating system, the strange vibrating pipes/heater sound that entertained us ever 15 minutes during the second night of our stay, and the less than plush beds, our room was mostly clean and that tiny shower had plenty of hot water with decent water pressure. Our stay might not have been as shadowed as it was had it not been for the blizzard and the fact the KD Inn didn't feel it was necessary to clear the blowing and drifting snow from their parking lot AT ALL! We thankfully had to venture out on Saturday morning to find some breakfast or we might not have ever made it out of the parking lot. As it was Scott and I shared an "oh shit, what if we're really stuck" glance or two as he rocked us in and out of drifts of snow in our little Corolla until we reached the plowed street. When we returned to go to bed on Saturday night we parked across the street in the Subway lot which had been plowed and tromped through the drifts in our dress shoes back to our room. Sunday morning as Scott was carrying things out to the car he helped pushed another guest out of a drift after they had mostly shoveled themselves out. I'm not sure how anyone can have a business that accommodates travelers and think that simply NOT clearing their parking lot of drifted snow is OK.

We weren't real sure to where to hunt out breakfast on Saturday but we did know we wanted coffee and the coffee shop on Main Street was at least on a main drag that would more likely than not be maintained. To our surprise, in addition to lattes, they served full breakfast! The girls were super excited to order pancakes, eggs (for Lexi), and sausage (for Brea).

(Lexi checking out what's happening on campus.)

Scott was an usher for the big day and I was in charge of making sure everyone got flowered up, so we headed over the church early to get dressed, help as needed, and chill until the ceremony. As I chased people down to pin on their pretties and helped finish up a few decorations here and there, I also (of course) took some time to snap a few pictures...

(Scott and Mom & Dad Rose.)

(Scott with little sister Megan.)

(Scott with Megan's other half, Nick.)

After a small, but lovely, ceremony and a night of dancing we woke up Sunday morning to sunny skies. The Roses had arranged for us to all meet back at the reception hall for breakfast and gift opening before the weekend came to a close. We ducked out a little early (after breakfast, before gifts) to get on the road not knowing what we would be facing once we got out on the highway. Before we left I grabbed a few pictures of the girls and the lovely family who have blessed us with our honorary membership.

(The girls with Grandpa Dan.)

(The girls with Grandma Kyle.)

(The girls with Auntie Megan.)

(And of course, the girls with the Bride and Groom.)

The first 15 miles of our drive were a bit dicey and more than once I think Scott and I both wondered if it would be best to just turn around and stay another day. But after making it those 15 miles to connect to a busier highway that would take us to the interstate, the roads remained clear and we were able to arrive home in the full light of day only having added an extra 30 minutes to our expected drive time. I'm thankful the girls (all three of them as we had Tilde with us) are patient travelers.

Thank you Roses for a lovely weekend. We are so blessed that our paths crossed all those many years ago. And we are happy that we were able to share this very special day with you all.

I'll share some more random pictures I took at the wedding later in the week. Until then, cheers of congrats to the newly weds! We wish for you many years of loving one another and a life that is full of family, friends, and much joy.