How to Trick People into Thinking You’re a Good Photographer

By request of stupidtom, I present to you this pictorial of photography equipment guaranteed to make people think you know what you’re doing behind the lens, even when you really don’t.

First, get yourself a user-friendly digital camera. Or have your husband buy you one, like I did. Yes, my camera was a gift, and a damn good one. That was about the time that Mark came into his stellar-gift giving time of life. He had learned that the gift of gadgetry makes me way happier than a bunch of stupid flowers or some jewelry.

My camera is a Canon EOS 400D/Digital Rebel XTi.

I won’t bore you with a listing of all the wonderful features. Okay, maybe just a few. This camera has 10 megapixels, a self-timer, tons of auto-modes, a multi-shot function for those fast-action sequence shots. There are too many to list. If you want to know more, you can go here. And Canon has come out with new and improved versions of this camera, but I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Once you have your camera and a standard lens, you might want to add some extra equipment, like a zoom lens.

Extra lenses are expensive. They’ll run at least a few hundred dollars a piece. But they are worth every penny. A nice zoom lens is good for getting shots like this one. The play was at second base and I was sitting way up on a hill behind the first base line.

And from behind the fence…

I also have a macro lens. The macro is great for getting really sharp, detailed close-up shots. This is my favorite kind of photography. I love to go walking around parks and ponds and gardens and find all the detail among the ordinary, everyday stuff. Often, you might find me doing something like this:

Thanks, Sis!

to capture shots like these.

You’ll also want to have some necessities like an extra battery,

and a carrying case. Mine is a small back-pack case with room for the camera with a lens and a couple of extra lenses as well as all those little things like filters and cords and such.

OH! And don’t forget the Bible! Your camera should come with an instruction guide, but spend the extra money for a more detailed instruction guide. I think mine was in the twenty-dollar range at Barnes & Noble. These books are great for explaining how to achieve certain effects in a step-by-step manner.

I’ve been told I have an eye for a good photo. Maybe so. And the equipment I have certainly helps. But even if you capture a good shot, there’s no guarantee that your camera settings were just right for a great photo. This is where editing comes in. This is also where I have the least talent and knowledge. I am just not inclined to learn all the ins and outs of contrast and saturation and all that. A lot of people use software such as PhotoShop, but to be honest, the few times I’ve tried to learn how to use it, I was completely lost. My camera came with some nice, basic editing software. But most often, I use a free online service. I store most of my photos on Flickr. You can create an account for free on Flickr, but it gives limited storage. I actually spend the twenty-five dollars a year that it costs to have a Pro account with (seemingly) unlimited storage. Flickr partners up with a photo editing service called Picnik and this is how I edit most of my photos. Maybe someday I’ll learn the finer points of editing, but for now, the basic stuff works well enough for me.

Here are just a few of the hundreds upon hundreds of photos I’ve taken with my camera over the past few years. Some are edited. Many are not.

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And if you want to see even more, you can visit my Flickr photostream.

So there you have it. Everything you need to make people think you’re a decent photographer. And if you want to see some truly amazing photos, done by someone who actually knows what she’s doing, go visit my friend Tara.

Home Again

Kacey came home from school for the weekend. Yes, I know she was just here only last weekend. But you see, last weekend was dedicated to family doings. She had no time to see “people.” So another visit home was planned. Plus, she brought all of her laundry home last weekend … everything from the first two weeks at school. She got it all washed and dried, but forgot her load of white clothes in the dryer when she went back. So “people” and the whites were compelling reasons to come back home so soon. And since school is just over an hour away from home, not to mention that she has nice little circle of friends willing to share carpooling duties, it’s easy enough for her to come back as often as she likes.

Not that I think Kacey will be making a habit of coming home all that frequently. She has settled easily into college life and seems quite happy and comfortable with it. There are several friends from high school at her college, one long-time friend and several with whom she is now forming closer friendships. And she has made new friends too. Her classes don’t seem to be overly challenging and she actually enjoys them. She and her room-mate have slightly different personalities, but they seem to like each other just fine. Her new-found independence suits her well. With each passing day, I breathe a little easier knowing she is adapting just fine to college life.

I’m getting used to this emptier nest a little bit. There’s less laundry to do and the grocery shopping has become a lighter chore. I have more freedom to do whatever I choose to do or not do. I guess I can see why people might look forward to this stage of life, but I’d still go back in a heartbeat. And it sure was good to have my baby home again. When my kids come home, it’s like there’s a sense of energy in the house that goes missing when they are away. Their friends come around and fill up the furniture in the living room. They watch movies and play video games and debate what the next source of entertainment will be.  They help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator and they make themselves at home. Their conversations and laughter fill the house and it makes me happy. They stay long after I’ve gone to bed and I when I wake up in the morning I find signs of them here… decorative pillows tossed carelessly off the love seat and television remotes left in the middle of the living room floor. They leave little surprises for me, like rearranging and relocating the little wooden camels that I keep on display in my china hutch. And they leave sweet notes like this one.

How could I not love a kid who leaves notes like this one for us every time she visits?

I managed to cook some of Kacey’s favorite foods while she was home – some cheesy wild rice soup and the lasagna that I first tried a few weeks ago, of which she was insanely jealous to hear was made in her absence. She accused me of torturing her with news of such cooking going on in our kitchen. I felt it only fair to make it again when she could actually taste it. And her reaction was well worth the effort. She even managed to take some leftovers back to her dorm with her.

Connor, of course was here during most of the waking hours, which was just fine with me too. I miss him when he’s not around. He and Kacey seem to be managing being apart fairly well, but it’s understandable that they want to be together as much as possible when she’s home. I love seeing those two together. They are such good friends and have such fun. They make each other happy. I can’t describe how wonderful it is to see that your child has somehow, in spite of everything in this world, figured out how to have a healthy relationship.

Of course, the weekend ended too soon. We drove Kacey back after dinner, along with two other kids. I couldn’t help but notice that the college campus had a different feel to it when we pulled in this time around. When we dropped her off that first day, it seemed foreign and strange and maybe a little unfriendly. I was full of worry for Kacey. I worried that she’d be homesick. I worried whether she’d be able to find her way around. I worried that she wouldn’t have anyone to sit with in the cafeteria. I worried that her classes would be too challenging. I worried about all of these things even knowing what a strong and capable daughter I have. And now, just a few weeks later, that campus has a whole new feel to it. Instead of seeing some strange and scary place where I was dumping off my youngest child, I saw a place which has now become a part of her; a welcoming place where she belongs and a place where she is happy and thriving.

But she can still come back home anytime she wants!

Change of Scenery, Change in Attitude

Morning traffic on my way to work has been unpredictable lately. I used to be able to hop on the freeway and zip into downtown, but recently it’s been stop and go, creep and crawl, sit and wait for no apparent reason. One day it took me twice as long to get to work as it ever does. I complained to my friend, Erin earlier this week about the traffic. She has an hour-long commute on a good day and she brushed off my complaints, saying I had nothing to gripe about.

I don’t think people see each other on the freeway. There’s a lack of respect for others, because no one sees each other. They just see cars; not the people inside them. If a driver wants to move in front of you, they will, whether there’s room to merge into the lane or not. There’s no regard for the speed limit. It’s just eyes ahead, seeing nothing and no one.

I stopped being sure of what time I needed to leave home to get to work on time. I was bored seeing the same billboards and road construction and endless lines of cars and trucks and buses. I got very tired of that drive. This week, I decided to travel through the suburbs into the residential part of the city that leads into downtown. The new route gave me not only a change of scenery, but a chance to slow down, an opportunity to think, a sense of perspective.

On the city streets, not everyone is in cars. Not everyone is oblivious to everything around them. People walk in the city. They cross the street. They wait for buses. And when I drive by and glance at them, I find them looking at me. Our eyes meet. I stop and think about who this person is that I’m connecting with for those few moments of my day.

High school students gather on street corners. There’s a chill in the air these mornings and they huddle together as they wait for their school bus. At one busy intersection, a boy trudged through the cross walk with a snail’s pace, holding up cars from proceeding through. He deliberately glared at the drivers as they remained stopped, waiting for him to step up on the curb. Just as he was finally about to reach the safety of the sidewalk, he turned around and lunged back to the middle of the street. My windows were up. I could see his friends yelling at him, but couldn’t hear. A car began to move toward him then slammed on its brakes. I saw the boy’s face light up with laughter as he sauntered back to his friends. I was shocked by his daring and disregard. .

This route takes me through old neighborhoods. The houses sit so close together that you can imagine someone reaching a hand out a window toward the neighboring house and almost touching. Many of them are unkempt. There are so many more people outside in these neighborhoods at this time of day than I’d see in my own neighborhood. Different people. “Non-traditional people” is what my mind thought. But hey, who am I to judge?

Young adults wearing dark sweatshirts walk the sidewalks, with their hands jammed in their pockets and hoods pulled down over their eyes. A disheveled man with untamed facial hair stood smoking a cigarette on one corner by a run down apartment building. An animated guy in baggy clothes strolled briskly down a sidewalk, gesturing wildly and appearing to be talking to himself.

There’s one man I’ve noticed in particular this week. He waits for the bus in a part of the city where I’d not want to live. I’ve seen him twice now and he has stayed in my thoughts. He looks like an aging motorcycle type; a white guy with grey hair long enough to pull back in a ponytail. He wears jeans, and work boots and a flannel shirt. He stands on the corner looking up the hill toward where he’ll be able to see the city bus coming soon. He’d look like a real tough guy, were it not for the dark-skinned little girl he holds in his arms against his chest. She’s maybe four years old and she curls her body against him, her head tucked into his shoulder as she sleeps. He seems too old to be her daddy; maybe not quite old enough to be her grandpa. It’s none of my business, but I wonder who she is to him.

It was slightly rainy both days that I saw these two. Maybe he was taking the bus by choice, but something told me he wasn’t. I don’t know. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to assume that people who ride the city bus would actually prefer not to if they had another choice. Regardless, I felt bad that the man and the little girl had to stand in the rain while I was warm and dry inside my comfy car, heading to a job that pays the bills and lets me indulge myself a little now and then.

Erin was right. I have no reason to complain.

Photography Job

Earlier this week, I received an email from Kacey’s softball coach. I was kind of surprised, considering the fact that the softball team’s time together has come to an end and the only reason I ever had to exchange emails with the coach was softball related business.

Turns out that the coach has a special Christmas gift in mind for all of his daughters. He wants to give each girl a poster featuring her playing her favorite sport. Since I took bunches of photos of the softball girls, including two of his daughters, he asked if he could hire me to shoot photos of his youngest daughter playing soccer.

I was hesitant at first and held off on responding to his email. But then I remembered how much fun I had taking the softball photos. So I emailed him back saying I’d love to take the job. I insisted he wasn’t allowed to pay me. It was the least I could do for all the time and energy he’d invested in the softball team for the past several years. And besides, I told him I might have an eye for a good shot, but anybody with a decent user-friendly camera could do what I’ve done with sports photography. There are much more talented photographers, but if he’s just looking for something on par with what I’ve already done, I felt pretty confident in my ability to get him some fairly good shots.

These are just a few of the softball shots I took this summer.

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I expect shooting a soccer player will pose a few more challenges than shooting softball players. Softball players can be caught standing in one place at any given time. Not so much with soccer players. But there are four home games coming up, so if I don’t get what I need the first time around, I’ll have a few more opportunities to get it right.

Wish me luck!

I’ve Developed a Serious Lack of Routine on this Blog

Gotta fix that. I’m going to make more effort towards this and just write at least a little something at least a few times a week. Sorry I haven’t read your blogs in a while either. I’ll work on that too.

And I thought life was going to get boring with the kids all off to college and what-not.

Life has just been busy lately. Work is busy. Home is busy. Bowling has begun. I didn’t tell you, did I? Guess who’s the new women’s league president! Yes, I’m sucker. But it really doesn’t involve me doing a whole lot of anything. It’s the secretary who really does all the work. I was assured my only duty would be to cast a vote if a vote were needed on some issue. I can do that.

My peeps were all home this weekend to attend Mark’s nephew’s wedding. Brad and Heather came home, and Kacey made her first trip back home since leaving for school a couple of weeks ago. Connor pretty much camped out here from the moment she got back. It was so good having everyone here again. The house was crazy and messy and oddly, I enjoyed it.

Of course, we had to take a picture all dressed up for the wedding. It happens so rarely that we’re all dressed up at the same time. Look at Jake! He’s wearing a suit! He said he thought he should have a suit, so I helped him buy one. He looked sharp!

Me, Mark, Jake, Kacey, Connor, Heather and Brad

We had so much fun at the reception. I danced with my nieces, kids and sisters-in-law all night long. Even got Mark out there for one or two songs.

That’s all for now. The bowling alley is waiting for me!

Inside the IT guy’s head

Big things are happening at the office! We’ve been working our butts off and we’ve finally completed the first phase of our project. We’ve been holed up in a conference room for months now, three of us. Sometimes the other few members of the team come in and touch base, but mostly we three create tests and run files and study the results. We document what needs fixing and the IT guys fix it. Then we do it all over again. I really have never worked so hard in my life and for the most part, I love it.

Much of the time, if you were to walk by and peek in, you’d see our heads bowed over our documents as we stare at Excel spreadsheets. Sometimes there is conversation. Sometimes we are so deep in our own thoughts and it is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Recently, the IT guys have joined us in the conference room. As our phase one deadline approached, we could be more efficient if we could just verbalize problems and the IT guys could fix it on the spot.

The IT guys are a little… different. Yes, I know IT guys tend to have a reputation for being slightly off. Our guys do voices. It cracks me up. They make up nicknames for various reports and sing them into songs. They walk around in their socks. One of them drinks gallons of Diet Coke every day. He’s not to be messed with before noon, but after he’s had his fill of caffeine, he’s happy as a clam. That’s when I ask him to fix things for me and I’m most likely to get the desired result.

I had a conversation with Dale today. I had evaluated some online stuff and found things that weren’t working right. I needed to show him what wasn’t working so he could fix it. I pointed to a particular report.

“See these records,” I asked? “Everything displays except for the names. Why aren’t the names showing up?”

Dale spoke out loud as he took notes, “Names are being shy. Help them come out of their shells.”

I laughed, then leaned over to peek at his notes.

“You actually wrote that,” I exclaimed.

“Hell yeah,” Dale said! “The report’s a party! We gotta make sure everyone has fun there!”

Mmmm-kay…

Later, we were back to having our heads down and buried deep in our own thoughts. Dale left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, he slid back into his chair and broke the silence.

“You know how Spiderman shoots a web from his wrist?”

Joe and I both looked up.

“Yeah,” we both replied.

“Why do you think he doesn’t make better use of that? I mean, he could just sit in his chair and shoot the web across the table to grab a pen and pull it back to himself. Why would he ever get up to go get something? Do you think he’s just being lazy by not using the web more?”

“Hmmm,” I responded. “You’re right. If he wanted a beer, he could shoot a web over to the fridge and pull it open. Then he could shoot another one to grab his beer!”

“See,” Dale asked? “You get it.”

He seemed really excited that I’d caught on to his theory so easily.

“Yeah, but maybe he’s being green,” I said. “If he shoots the web all the time, that’s a lot of web to have to pick up.”

“Not an issue,” Dale replied. “The web dissolves in like an hour.”

Who knows these things?

“Okay, then maybe he’s being health conscious,” I argued. “If Spidey sits around all the time and brings everything to himself with his web shooter, he’d never have to get out of his chair. He’d get fat.”

“Nah,” Dale disputed. “He came around in like the seventies. They weren’t health conscious back then.”

Suddenly I stopped and looked at Dale. “I can’t believe I’m actively participating in this conversation!”

Joe smiled, amused. He’d been smart enough to keep any opinions he may have had about Spiderman to himself.

“You should work with us more often,” I told Dale. “You crack me up, making me contemplate things like the Spidey web.”

Dale just smiled. I couldn’t tell if he was really being funny, or if he seriously contemplates things like this in his head on a regular basis. Didn’t really matter to me anyway. I realized that Dale was probably some of the best stress relief I’d seen in weeks.

I wonder what we’ll debate tomorrow? World peace? Why fun-size candy bars shouldn’t be cut with a knife and eaten in smaller portions? (Actually, we already had that conversation.) Anyway, I’m fascinated with the strange way his mind works. I just hope it doesn’t rub off on me too much.

Away from it all

Four whole days we had to get away from reality. Four days of kicking back and sleeping in. Four days of beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures.

It was our ninth annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin with a group of good friends. When we first started doing this, some of us barely knew each other. We had no idea then that we’d come back together and do it a second time the following year. We had no idea that nine years later, we’d still be coming together at this time of year for what had become an annual event.

We ate together and laughed together. We had in-depth conversations, talking about things as simple as our favorite sandwiches when we were kids and about things as complicated as the realization that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get. We visited beautiful Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands again. Their beauty never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. We had a wonderful afternoon on a quiet, nearly empty beach, soaking up the sun, taking in the scenery and playing games. I took my camera and explored the beach for a while.

We reconnected with friends we see only a few times a year. We caught up on each other’s lives over the past year and I marveled at the ways we are so different from one another and yet still share so much in common. I realized things about my friends that I hadn’t seen before; things that make them such amazing, strong and good people.

We relaxed and let ourselves forget about things like work and worries and dates and times for a little while.

The beach on Stockton Island

And it was wonderful. But no matter how good it is to get away sometimes, it’s always good to be back home again.