Friday, February 27, 2009

The Miracle of Photography (to honor a greater miracle!)


Could photography be considered a modern miracle? I say yes. Maybe not in the same way as antibiotics, space travel, computers, etc., but isn't it amazing that with a click of a button on a little rectangle box, and with no particular talent, any of us can 'make time stand still', then years later be able to look at a picture and remember in exact detail what food you had at a party, what you really saw on that vacation of a life time, how your missionary looked as he waved goodbye at the MTC.......especially what a loved one looked like at a specific second in time. For those who come after us to actually see our lives and get to know and remember us through our photographs is amazing to me.

I want to thank Adam and Lisa for giving me the honor and privilege of knowing Gabe during his brief sojourn here in mortality. What memories I have, and I am forever grateful to have pictures to remember so many details that I would have forgotten with all that was happening in those brief 2 hours and 17 minutes. (Likewise, I am so grateful for every photograph and video I have of Gavin in his short almost 15 months with us. I treasure each one. They are truly my priceless possessions.)

There is a non-profit organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Its mission is to send professional photographers to hospitals all over the country to photograph dead or dying babies. Usually this is due to late term miscarriages, or stillbirths, or situations like Gabe. This gives the parents beautiful portraits to keep the memory of their little one alive and is given with love at no cost. A lovely lady (professional photographer), who had also lost an infant, took beautiful photos of Gabe, however, the one posted here is one of mine. These once-in-a-lifetime photographs are not only memorable, they are priceless.

Yesterday I ran across a blog by a local photographer who is involved with this organization. Last year she sent one of her images in to a contest and won. It speaks volumes on the sanctity of life, no matter what stage of life one may be in. The parents will treasure this forever. Please click on the following link and scroll down to her post, NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP, Wed, Sept 24, 08, and then to SOUTH VALLEY JOURNAL, Sat, Sept, 6, 08. Click on the newspaper article to see the enlarged photo. I hope this beautiful image moves you as much as it moves me!
http://www.kathrynmichaels.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Goofy Tourist!

He looks familiar, but can't be the person I know, who would never do something like this..... Just goes to show ya what happens when you're on a vacation, far far from home! (This was taken in Jamaica several years ago.)

Anyway, I just had to post a quickie 'laugh for today', especially after yesterday's post that I'm sure put everyone to sleep!

Hope everyone has a great day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tech Talk Tuesday

Today I'm going to start with some random thoughts about creating memorable photos, then later give more specifics. So here we go.

Be On Location:
Sherrie mentioned that by the time she gets her camera out, the moment is gone. This brings me to my first thought. Learning how to take decent photos takes some forethought. If your camera sits in the back of the closet and is only brought out once in a while, your chances of producing memorable photos are slim. So the first thing to do is to have your camera handy....on location. Keep it where your family congregates. Put it on a kitchen shelf or in a handy drawer in the family room. Make sure it is charged and has a clean memory card. (I'm making the assumption here that we all are shooting digital.) If you shoot with a compact point and shoot, keep it in your purse when you are away from home like Aunt Jan does. I try to keep mine in my car, but don't always, and there have been many times I wish I had it with me. You won't use your camera, if it's not close by.

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!
It is the law of averages. The number of memorable photos you end up with is proportional to the number of photos you take! Digital photography has set us all free. No more worrying about wasted shots, wasted film, wasted money as you get your roll of 36 back from the developer and only have 2 decent pictures. We now have the freedom to experiment, figure out what works and what doesn't work. The learning curve has really been shortened. But, here's the caveat...if you pull your camera out and shoot a million pictures with no thought to composition and other photography basics, you probably still won't improve and you'll have a million boring shots. If you really want to improve, you must give thought to what you're doing and learn as you go. Give yourself some challenges, (see if you can take a 'good' photo a day for a month, document the growth of one tomato plant from seedling to harvest, pick a subject and see how many interesting views you can take, pick a subject and take pictures at all different times of the day and night, etc. etc.) Think up some fun, creative and challenging learning projects, and remember that like every skill, the more you practice, the better you will get, and more of your photos will be interesting and memorable.

Check Out Your Camera:
A good photographer can take memorable pictures with any type of camera, from simple point and shoot, to expensive SLR. The trick is to know the limitations of your camera, and compose pictures within those limitations, and, to make sure the camera you are using is in proper working order. (Sherrie, your camera may not be working right, or if you have rechargeable batteries, you may need to buy new ones. Old batteries can slow down the recovery time.) Digital cameras are so reasonable these days, that you should have a camera with basic features and a reasonable pixel count. Over and above this, if you are becoming frustrated because you see a picture but your camera won't allow you to take it, maybe it's time to save your pennies and upgrade. There are terrific buys on e-bay. (If anyone is interested in my views on cameras and camera brands, let me know.) Whatever camera you use, make sure it is working, then read the manual from cover to cover several times so that you know every feature and how each one works.

Time & Effort:
This hardly needs to be said, but I will say it anyway. All of us will get lucky once in while and take wonderful photos that in some way have the thing, (see previous post). ...pictures that are timeless, that we want to look at over and over and they become family favorites. But to 'see' these pictures in our mind's eye before we push the button takes time and effort and practice. Like I said last week, most of us have other hobbies and interests more important that taking pictures, but if photography fascinates you, you can learn how to take great pictures...at least more often than most people. It's an acquired skill; the technical side of learning about exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, etc., and also the artistic side, like learning the basics of strong composition. Joel Sartore, photographer for National Geographic says, "Writing and photography are not bestowed, they're accquired". (Side note, Joel Sartore is the National Geographic photographer who ran the workshop Kay Lynn and I attended several years ago. We learned a ton and had so much fun as well. I'll probably be quoting the wit of Joel frequently.) Anyway, when Jeff bought me my first nice camera, I had to justify the expense by learning how to use all of its features. I went to the library and read every photography book they had. I slowly built my own library of photography books, and now, the education one can receive free on the internet is limitless. I've found several websites where photographers post their work, and make comments and critique each other's photos. I've learned so much in this way. Two are www.webaperture.com and www.perfectlycaptured.com Check them out. So, if you want to improve your photography skills, you must take the time and effort to learn the basics, then practice.

Now for the basics. I mentioned there are some tried and true 'basic' rules of photography. Some apply to the technical side, and some apply to the artistic side, or the composition of a picture. According to Joel Sartore, here are the first two rules of photography:
1. "The first rule of photography is, there are no rules"
2. "The second rule of photography is, refer to Rule #1"
This of course is 'tongue in cheek' but his point is, you learn the basics, and then see if they apply to the composition you are planning to capture. Most of the time following the basics will create a more dynamic composition, but sometimes, the exception to the rule applies and breaking that rule will make for a more interesting photo.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I'm going to start with ways to improve COMPOSITION, because like I said in the previous Tech Talk, you can screw up all the technical stuff and still have a great photo if you nail the thing, and that usually has to do with composition. Simply speaking, composition means, having an interesting subject or subjects, and having a visually pleasing arrangement and presentation of the subjects in the frame. Some of the elements that make up a pleasing composition are:

* simplicity
* perspective or view

* lighting
* framing
* balance

* lines

* rule of thirds

* mergers

* energy
* depth of field

I'll mention the first two today. Usually the less cluttered a photo is the more appealing it is. If you take a picture of your child sitting at the kitchen table, the viewer may get distracted from his cute smile because he is busy looking at the dirty dishes on the table, the stuff on the countertop behind him, the busy wallpaper in the background, etc. When you look thru the viewfinder, look for simplicity. Move to a different angle or zoom in so the focus in on the cute smile and the distracting things are not in the frame. "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not getting close enough." In other words, fill the frame with your subject, and leave out the distractions.

Look for interesting viewpoints or perspectives that most people don't see. Everyone looks down to see a flower. Try getting down and shooting up for a view of the stem and underside of the petals. Everyone sees beautiful sunsets. Try taking a photo of the reflection of the sunset in a window or a pond. Try to see and capture what most people don't see, and your photos will be more memorable. Everything can't be dramatic. Here is a simple example:



This is a photo of the St. George Temple I took this past weekend. I took this picture mid morning. I walked in front of the temple, looked in the viewfinder and snapped. For me, this is a very boring picture. There is a lot of boring sky, and the distractions of the caution sign, red curb and pavement don't help. The light on the temple itself is flat. This photo does not give me the feeling I want to convey when looking at this beautiful place.






















Another morning I got up before sunrise, (Jeff was still sleeping of course!), and I walked around to find a view that had no distractions and that showed off the beauty of this temple. Here the trees frame my subject, (I'll talk about framing at another time), and the beautiful, warm light of sunrise gives me a feeling and mood more in line with how I feel about these sacred places.

























As I walked around and tried to find interesting views or perspectives, I noticed the unique fence surrounding the temple grounds and took some shots with the fence in front of the temple, but they were too busy, and the fence, while beautiful, took away from the main focus, which is the temple. Then I decided to use the fence as a frame to highlight the temple. This is a unique and interesting view for me. (Jeff isn't crazy about this one. Like I mentioned before, you're not going to please everyone!)

















Last but not least, I wanted a view where I saw the temple in connection with its surroundings. I took the road to the airport, still in the early early morning. I love the soft morning colors, the layers the background mountains make, and especially the morning light highlighting the temple which is in sharp focus, while the surrounding areas are in soft focus.

So enough for today. Let me know your 'critiques' of these photos, and fire away with any questions. Scroll down to see some questions and answers from last week.

Questions & Answers

Question: Would you tell us the settings you use on the photos you post, (exposure, shutter speed, focal length, etc.)
Answer: I am usually too lazy or forgetful to remember to do this here on the blog; however, I put all these photos on the website I use to store and preserve my photos and it has a great feature. When you are in a gallery, hover your mouse over the right side of the spotlighted photo, (the large one in the viewing area), and a pop out box will appear. And down at the bottom it will say 'Photo Info'. Click on that and it will give you all the technical details. The website is: www.karenlarsen.smugmug.com

Question: What is a good photo editing program for an amateur who likes to scrapbook?
Answer: I know there are many adequate editing programs that will work just fine, but the granddaddy of all editing programs is Adobe Photoshop. The bad news is that this program is around $600, (give or take $100), but less if you are a student. The good news is that Adobe makes a simplified version called Adobe Photoshop Elements. It's been a long time since I checked, but I think you can get it at Costco for around $69 - $80. I used Photoshop Elements for years and it had every feature I ever needed for photography work. This would be my recommendation.

Question: When I try to take random shots they just come out a big blur. Does your camera equipment make the difference?
Answer: Yes and No! There are multiple reasons for blurry photos. Here are some of them:
1. It could be a camera problem, and if it is, this would be hard to answer without knowing the camera. If you use a point & shoot, most likely the camera assumes you want to focus on the main subject which for most amateurs in smack dab in the middle of the viewfinder. Your camera doesn't know if your subject is off to the side, so it focuses on the middle. Most cameras have numerous focal points around the viewfinder. You have to read your camera manual and learn how to tell which one is 'active' and place your subject on that point. Another camera problem could be that your shutter speed is too slow to 'stop' the action. Here again, the type of camera makes a huge difference. On an SLR (a camera where you can change lenses), you have lots of options for adjusting shutter speed. On a point and shoot, you can usually change your program mode to 'action', (usually a button on top that points to a little guy running), and hope you are shooting in bright light. If you are shooting indoors at night you must use flash and with some cameras be fairly close to your subject.
2. It could be shaky photographer syndrome. Particularly with candids, we are in a hurry so as to not miss the moment. It is very common to move the camera as you are pushing the button. Particularly with point and shoot cameras where you hold the camera way out front and look at the LCD screen. Having a traditional viewfinder and putting the camera up to your eye and next to your face helps you hold the camera steady. There is also some conscious thought to pushing the button slowly and carefully so that the camera does not move during this motion. The slightest vibrations can cause blurry pictures. (Obviously the best way to avoid camera shake is to use a tripod, which, however, is highly impractical if you are shooting candids of moving kids.) Here's a side note.....sometimes photographers use selective blur intentionally to enhance the effect of the photo, i.e. to show movement, action, etc. This month's National Geographic has numerous blurry photos that are outstanding, but they are purposefully done.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A BREAK FROM WINTER

Jeff & I needed a break from winter....well, I needed a break from winter, so Jeff took me to St. George for a few days. The temperature was not much different than home, but the sun was shining, the wind wasn't blowing, and there were no piles of dirty snow to look at. Here are a few pics....I'll post the rest on the website.

Huge lava sinkhole (Snow Canyon)


Color coordinated! (Zion NP)


My knees, calves, hips all hurt after walking to this waterfall in Zion NP. I'm so out of shape!


I saw this reflection and thought it'd make a neat picture.


Can you see the people on top of the waterfall???


A beautiful Vista (Zion NP)


Jeff sitting on 'waffle' rock (Snow Canyon)





Wednesday, February 18, 2009

P.S. to Previous Post

I forgot to say that in my next 'Photography Chat' I'll talk about some ways you can increase your chances of capturing the thing in more of your photographs. (For those of you who have no idea what this means, read previous post.) Also, answers to your questions coming up soon. (I'll probably do Photography Chat once a week or so.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tech Talk Tuesday

First of all, I'm about the least technologically savvy person I know, so it's pretty funny to title this post 'Tech Talk'. Second, this blog is purely my, 'downtime, relax and don't think about winter for a few minutes' diversion, so, when spring comes and I can escape to the great outdoors you will probably never hear from me again....(just kidding... I think!) Third, my photography is a wonderful, artistic hobby for me and my goal is to relax and have fun, because I'll never win any awards with my stuff!

With the above disclaimers out of the way, I'll move on. I get a lot of questions from friends and family about my pictures, i.e. what camera equipment do I use, what settings for a particular shot, (exposure, lens, aperture, etc.), how did I get that effect and so forth. The age of digital cameras has made photographers out of all of us, so I thought it would be fun to have a little photography chat once in a while, but don't worry, nothing toooo technical because I'm not capable of that.

So, ask me questions, either general photography stuff, or about a specific photo, and we'll see where this goes. Either use the comments section of this blog or e-mail me at:
karen@karenlarsenonline.com

I'll also give my suggestions about how, with a little info, anyone can take much better pictures. (Another disclaimer here: if you are well past Photography 101, or you are happy just snapping a few candids with your iphone, or you just like to look at someone else's pretty pictures, scroll past this post.) Sooooo, here we go with my thoughts for today:

Hummm, I think I'll start by telling you the most important thing you should know if you want to take memorable pictures....... and it may not be what you think. Here is what that thing is not:
It's not perfect exposure
It's not perfect lighting
It's not perfect composition
It's not knowing all the general photography 'rules'
And it's certainly not how much fancy equipment you have!

Here's the thing: .......... Oh, look at the time, I'll have to continue this tomorrow!

(Just kidding!)

To take memorable pictures you have to emotionally 'move' the viewer, (and or you the photographer), in some way. When he or she looks at your image, it must evoke a feeling, a mood, a memory. It must make him or her sad, happy, want to cry, laugh, rage, do something, tell someone, etc. You have to tell a story that will be meaningful to your viewers - of course not all of them, only some of them. (World famous photographers, I think, have learned what types of images and stories will move the greatest number of diverse people.) Do you get the idea? Now, that doesn't mean that all useful and important photography must do this. But for me, the type of pictures I'm talking about are the ones we remember most, (the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima, the firefighter carrying the dying child after the Oklahoma City bombing). Those two examples create emotion for most all Americans and we all remember them. Our pictures, yours and mine, will probably only create emotions, memories, stories for a smaller circle, but will be relived again and again by those who come after us. And it doesn't have to be like those dramatic examples. If you capture your child with a particular look or behavior that is uniquely theirs and reminds your family of the special times when they use 'that' look, then you have succeeded. So much better than a 'look at the camera and smile' picture. (Although, once again, classic portraits are important, too, and will always be part of one's photograph collection.)

So the bottom line is......if technologically speaking, you do everything wrong when taking a picture, yet still manage to capture the thing, you will have a wonderful photo. But, if you learn some of the camera basics I mentioned above that the thing is not, you will take a wonderful photo and turn it into a memorable one!
Goal: Create story telling photos that family and friends want to look at over and over again because of the memories and feelings they evoke. (In my humble opinion, your photos should be more interesting and creative than the scrapbooking page they are stuck on. Ouch!)

Scroll down to see two simple examples of the thing in the next post, AND REMEMBER TO ASK ME SOME QUESTIONS SO I KNOW WHERE TO GO WITH THIS.

Engagement


I took lots of classic pix like this one, many they liked and ordered.





























But this is the one they really liked, and I think they ordered a 16 x20. It was an accident! I was changing the card in my camera and they were 'taking a break' from the photo shoot. I looked up to see this tender moment and shot......into the sun, sky blown out, not really a silhouette, all orange, lens flare, bad lighting, bad exposure, etc. But for them I must have caught the thing because this was their favorite. Funny, when I was going thru all the shots before giving them the 'proofs' I had taken this out as a total mistake, then for some reason I must have had a glimpse of the thing because I put it back in at the last minute. I even apologized and said it was a bad shot, but they might like it anyway. Like I said, this was their favorite, and it taught me a good lesson.


Scroll down to see another example.

Another Baby!!!!




This was a quick candid at a family party and I just happened to be in the right place with my camera pointing the right direction. Her daddy had just made an announcement to everyone that they were going to have a new baby join the family. I just love, love, love this sweet expression. When I look at this photo I will always remember what happened to create this sweet look of anticipation at hearing such exciting news. Much more of a memory than just a 'smile for the camera' moment.


Comments or questions please....or both!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Missing Gavin Monday


Some of my favorite memories of Gavin are watching him eat Cheerios and blueberries for breakfast. I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning and I missed this adorable little face. The day of this picture, I just happened to have my camera handy and Gavin cooperated nicely by color coordinating his outfit with the Cheerios box then giving me several of his 'I'm Mr. Mischevious' looks. I miss you Gavin!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tiera's Challenge - Sixth Folder, Sixth Picture


Well, this is boring! Of all the zillions of photos I have, this would be the one! (I was going to cheat and use another one, but just couldn't do it.) Anyway, I keep a folder of various patterns to use as backgrounds in photos. This is a photo I took of the walkway up to our front door......well I couldn't just post this, so I thought I'd show you what I might do with this pattern, and a little bit of Photoshop Magic as well. Scroll down......

Original Photo of Vanessa

Original photo taken at the Children's Museum in Omaha. Bad lighting, kids moving, etc.

Final Photo



Final photo with new background, cropped, sharpened, lighting brightened on eyes and teeth. And isn't she a beautiful little girl, with or without my photo magic!

A VALENTINE Heart



One of the roses Jeff gave me for Valentine's Day, with a little fancy lighting and a fun bit of artwork., (put your readers on and look closely!)

If we have sweethearts who are kind, generous, trustworthy, temple worthy, dependable, hard workers, devoted parents, who often sacrifice their needs for the best of the family, then we are rich beyond our wildest dreams! I have and I am.

Happy Valentine's Day, Jeff!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

STRANGE OLD LADY

A very weird thing has happened. A strange old lady has moved into my house. I have no idea who she is, where she came from, or how she got in. I certainly didn't invite her. All I know is that one day she wasn't there, and the next day she was.

She's very clever. She manages to keep out of sight for the most part; but whenever I pass a mirror, I catch a glimpse of her there; and when I look into the mirror directly to check my appearance, suddenly she's hogging the whole thing, completely obliterating my gorgeous face and body. It's very disconcerting. I've tried screaming at her to leave but she just screams back, grimacing horribly. She's really rather frightening.

If she's going to hang around, the least she could do is offer to pay rent. But no. Every once in a while I do find a couple of dollar bills on the kitchen counter, or some loose change on my bureau or on the floor, but that certainly isn't enough.

In fact, though I don't like to jump to conclusions, I think she steals money from me regularly. I go to the ATM and withdraw a hundred dollars, and a few days later, it's gone. I certainly don't go through it fast, so I can only conclude that the old lady pilfers it. You'd think she'd spend some of it on wrinkle cream. Heaven knows, she needs it.

And, the money isn't the only thing she's taking. Food seems to disappear at an alarming rate. Especially the good stuff - ice cream, cookies, candy - I just can't keep them in the house. She really has a sweet tooth. She should watch it; she's really putting on the pounds. I think she realizes that, and to make herself feel better, I know she is tampering with my scale so I'll think that I'm gaining weight, too.

For an old lady, she's really quite childish. She also gets into my closets when I'm not home and alters all my clothes. They're getting tighter every day. Another thing, I wish she'd stop messing with my files and the papers on my desk. I can't find a thing any more. This is particularly hard to deal with because I'm extremely neat and organized; but she manages to jumble everything up so nothing is where it's supposed to be. Furthermore, when I program my VCR to tape something important she fiddles with it after I leave the room so it records the wrong channel or shuts off completely.

She finds innumerable, imaginative ways to irritate me. She gets to my newspapers, magazines and mail before me - and blurs all the print; and she's done something sinister with the volume controls on my TV, radio, and phone. Now all I hear are mumbles and whispers. She's also made my stairs steeper, my vacuum cleaner heavier, all my knobs and faucets hard to turn and my bed higher and a real challenge to climb into and out of.

Furthermore, she gets to my groceries as soon as I shelve them and applies super glue to the tops of every jar and bottle so they're just about impossible to open. Is this any way to repay my hospitality? I don't even get any respite at night. More than once her snoring has awakened me. I don't now why she can't do something about that. It's very unattractive.

As if all this isn't bad enough, she is no longer confining her malevolence to the house. She's now found a way to sneak into my car with me and follow me wherever I go. I see her reflection in store windows as I pass, and she's taken all the fun out of clothes shopping because her penchant for monopolizing mirrors has extended to dressing roons. When I try something on, she dons an idential outfit - which looks ridiculous on her and then stands directly in front of me so I can't see how great it looks on me.

I thought she couldn't get any meaner than that, but yesterday she proved me wrong. She had to nerve to come with me when I went to have some passport pictures taken and she actually stepped in front of the camera just as the shutter clicked. Disaster! I have never seen such a terrible picture. How can I go abroad now? No customs official is ever going to believe that crone scowling from my passport is me!

She's walking on very thin ice. If she keeps this up, I swear, I'll put her in a rest home. On second thought, I shouldn't be too hasty. First I think I'll check with the IRS and see if I can claim her as a dependent.

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, JAN.....WELCOME TO THE 'OFFICIALLY' OLD CROWD!!!!!!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Priorities! Priorities! Priorities!

The following insightful thought is roaming around the internet. I liked it so much that I composed this photo as my reminder. It's my thought for the day:

I wonder what would happen if we treated our Scriptures like we treat our cell phones?
What if we carried them around in our purses or pockets?
What if we turned back to get them if we forgot them?
What if we flipped through them several times a day?
What if we used them to receive messages?
What if we treated them like we couldn't live without them?
What if we gave them to kids as gifts?
What if we used them as we traveled?
What if we used them in case of an emergency?
This is something to make you go hmmmm.....where are my Scriptures?
Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about dropped calls, or about being disconnected, because Jesus already paid the bill!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cotton Candy for the Eye


I love, love, love, the big picture window we put in our bedroom that looks east to Mt. Timpanogos and the Wasatch Range. Most mornings before sunrise I sit in my chair by this window reading my scriptures, and when the room slowly brightens as the sun rises, I usually take a few moments to watch the scene out our window - the horizon begins to change from dark to light, shadows turn into mountains and trees aglow with perfect picture taking morning light, the birds begin flying back and forth through the hollow behind our house and Utah wakes to a new day. On occasion, like yesterday morning, I am rewarded with scenes like this. I quickly grabbed my camera, and after firing off several shots the show was gone, the sky clouded over to a dull gray. Just a few glorious seconds that gave me a beautiful image to remember during my day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just You an Me Dad!


Another shot at Tibble Creek Reservoir of what I assume was a Dad & his son ice fishing. They were all alone and looked like they were enjoying the solitude and each other's company. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to let them know they are important enough to spend time with them.