February 22, 2011

working together

Did you all have a wonderful President's Day? I wish I could show you photos of the delicious cherry pie I baked in honor of George Washington, but the closest I got to cooking all weekend long was the pizza box I opened on Saturday night. It's difficult to take pictures of something that doesn't exist.

I have not been feeling the cooking love lately...at all, but I have a house full of company coming later this week, so my kitchen and I will be getting reacquainted very soon.

But enough about me, let's talk about you. Have you had your camera out?

Have you been shooting in manual mode?

Yes? Good.

Many, many different factors come into play when taking pictures in manual mode, and today we're going to talk about two of the biggies. At least they're biggies in my book.

Aperture and shutter speed.

Instead of fumbling my way through an explanation of the two, I am going to pass the buck in a very big way. The Pioneer Woman does an amazing job explaining both aperture and shutter speed in the photography section of her world famous blog, and I could not possibly say it any better than she already has. She's titled the four part series, "What the Heck is an Aperture", and it is well worth your time to pop on over and read all four parts.

Go ahead, I'll wait right here.


Okay, you're back? Good.

Did you also read "What the Heck is an Aperture, Part Two?" Because you really should. And Part Three? How about Part Four?

Just making sure.

Do you totally understand aperture and shutter speed now? Yes? Awesome!

If not, you're in very good company. Bookmark those posts and read them again. Then play with your camera and come back and read them again.

I took these pictures with my 50mm f1.4 lens, and hopefully they will demonstrate how aperture and shutter speed work together.

I started with my aperture wide open....f1.4. That gives us a very shallow depth of field - you can see that only the flower and a narrow stripe on the table are in focus, and it's hard to tell just what the rest of the objects in the photo even are. That wide aperture also lets in a lot of light, so we need to have a very fast shutter speed or we'll end up with an overexposed photo.

(aperture 1.4 ~ shutter speed 1/640)

Now I'm going to start closing down my aperture, (remember that the bigger the number gets, the smaller the opening - 2.2 is a smaller opening than 1.4. I know, it seems backward), which will let in less light than before, so to make up for the smaller aperture opening, I'm going to slow down my shutter speed, which will let in more light.

At an aperture of 2.2, everything but the flower is still pretty blurry.

(aperture 2.2 ~ shutter speed 1/250)

At 4.5 things are starting to come into focus.

(aperture 4.5 ~ shutter speed 1/60)

The aperture keeps getting smaller, and at this point my shutter speed is getting very slow in order to let in enough light. I used my tripod for all of these shots, but if I was hand holding my camera, things would be getting pretty blurry by now.

(aperture 9.0 ~ shutter speed 1/15)

Now my aperture is as small as it can go.

(aperture 22.0 ~ shutter speed 0.4)

Side by side, the range is pretty impressive.

(f1.4).................................................... (f22.0)

Now, if that doesn't leave you with more questions than answers, I don't know what will!

I encourage you to do this exercise yourself. I am a hands on learner. I can read something over and over, but it doesn't usually click until I put it into practice for myself. This will help you see how aperture and shutter speed work together. Start with the widest aperture your lens is capable of (different lenses have different aperture ranges), and take it from there. Keep in mind that your shutter speeds will vary from mine depending on your lighting conditions.

I'll leave you with a couple quick tips.

Experiment to find the slowest shutter speed you are comfortable using while hand holding your camera.....and don't go below it. Many, many times in my early days I would get caught up in shooting and forget to keep an eye on my shutter speed. You may not see the blur on your camera screen, but you will see it when you load your photos on your computer. It doesn't matter if you've got the best composition or you've captured the most precious moment, if your picture is blurry, you will be sad.

Moving subjects need a faster shutter speed than stationary subjects. ( I know that seems like a given....but it wasn't for me.)

Many of you have asked how to achieve a dreamy, blurry look to your photos. As these pictures show, it's the wider apertures that give you the pretty background (and foreground) blur. (Also known as bokeh.) Experiment with your f-stops (aperture) to see just how much blur you like for your own shots.

Remember.....practice and read.

Get out your fake spring flowers and make them model for you.

Google and read and practice.

Borrow your neighbor's children and make them model for you.

Read, practice, read, practice.

Rinse and repeat - and have yourself a little bit of fun while you're at it!

February 18, 2011


My usual blogging computer died in a blaze of glory earlier this week. Fortunately, they were able to salvage the hard drive, so hopefully I'll have my weekly photography q and a post up early next week.

Until then, I thought I'd share a few very fun shots.

A friend of mine has a clothing store in town. She has recently started offering formal wear in her store, so we thought it would be fun to do some photos as a way to spread the word with the high school set. Prom is just around the corner, so we brought out some gorgeous spring dresses and had Kayla play dress up in my front room.

Now that was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Have a wonderful three day weekend!

February 15, 2011

tie a yellow ribbon

Dear Department of Defense,

So, it has finally come down to this.

Back in September when I first got wind that Junior Number Two was going to be deployed, I really wasn't too terribly concerned.

For one thing, my way of dealing with worrisome subjects is to swiftly scoot them to the back of my mind. That makes plenty of room for the fluffy bunny, sweet baby chick, rainbow and butterfly thoughts to live up front. Oh, I know those pesky thoughts are back there....they pop to the front every once in a while, and niggle and nag a little from the back row, but generally speaking the rainbows and bunnies have the dominant spot. Now you may be tempted to go all Dr. Phil and want to chat about the psychological ramifications of that way of thinking, but that's not what I want to talk to you about today.

The second reason I didn't immediately start to dither was the assurance I'd been given that deployment orders are known to change with the same frequency as Lindsay Lohan's hair color and incarceration status. Why get my knickers in a twist about something that very well may not come to pass.

Thirdly, the deployment wasn't scheduled to happen until Spring, and back in September, Spring was still a very loooong way away. A lot could change before then. Perhaps the bunnies, rainbows and butterflies would all head on over to the Middle East and work their magic there. Problem solved.

It could happen.

Last? In my mind, Junior Number Two still looks like this.

And everybody knows you can't send a cute little baby overseas.


Last week I became the proud owner of my very own yellow ribbon pin. It's just a little pin. A subtle, little yellow pin. But when my husband placed it in my hand, that's when I finally acknowledged that this is going to happen.

For real.

Oh boy.

Now, don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly approved of Junior's decision to join the National Guard, knowing full well he would be deployed at some point. And I have the utmost respect for all our men and women in uniform, and I was proud to the point of sinful pride when I attended his graduation from boot camp. They told us we were joining the biggest family in America. I am proud to be a part of that family. I get a lump in my throat whenever I ponder all the wonderful men and women serving our country and the huge, huge sacrifices they make on my behalf every single day.

The fact that Junior volunteered for this particular deployment just fits in with a slightly alarming pattern I've noticed around here for the last couple years.

You see, my mama princess bubble was burst years ago when it became clear that these boys of mine were actually going to have the nerve to lead their own independent and somewhat dangerous lives. My dreams of my oldest becoming a quiet country veterinarian, or my middle son becoming a mechanical engineer quickly went poof in a cloud of testosterone fueled smoke.

My hope now firmly lies in my youngest, whose aspirations to become a waiter in Hawaii sound better and better with every passing day.

But back to the subject at hand.

It has finally sunk in, Department of Defense. This is happening, isn't it. I reluctantly acknowledge that the sweet little baby pictured above has grown into the man you see here.

A man who will serve you well.

He always has been and always will be in God's hands, but for now, you're going to be playing a major role in his life.

Please take good care of him.

And make sure he drinks plenty of water. I've heard it's hot over there.

Meadowbrook Mama

Oh, and p.s. I don't know if you read my blog or not? Anyway, if you do, then you know we're having a family wedding here this summer. If by some slight chance you get a bee in your bonnet and want to just pop Junior home for a quick visit around the end of July, that would be awesome! I don't want to put you out or anything, but just in case you don't have anything else going on right then, I thought I'd mention it.

February 14, 2011

happy valentine's day

Thanks again Kayla, for going along with my crazy ideas!

I hope all the glitter left in your hair brought you good luck in Wii bowling yesterday. Did you win?

Oh, and sorry again for stepping on you. I hope I didn't do any permanent damage!

You can bill me for combat pay.

February 10, 2011

manual is a must

When I got my Rebel several years ago, I immediately had buyer's remorse. I was not even remotely impressed with my photos. The point and shoots that my husband and boys were using were producing much better photos than my Rebel. I had obviously been under the impression that my new fancy pants camera would automatically start spitting out beautiful pictures, but it very quickly became clear that an expensive camera does not a good photographer make.

That's your first profound photography revelation for today.

Not one to give up without a fight, I hit the internet, and I hit it hard. I followed every single photography rabbit trail I came across. I read everything that crossed my path. I stalked the blogs of photographers whose work I admired and I quickly became convinced that I needed to learn to shoot in manual mode if I had any hope of producing the kinds of images I dreamed of creating.

So, I put my camera in manual and immediately went from being unimpressed with my photos to being extremely unimpressed with my photos. I would flip some dials willy nilly, take another shot, change some settings, take another shot, and on and on and on. Occasionally, I would come up with a keeper, but I had no clue how I got it. More importantly, I had no clue how to get it again.

So, here's profound photography revelation number two.


Shooting in manual mode is technically complex and the willy nilly method just doesn't cut it.

Unfortunately, at that time my head was a certified technical free zone. It's true. Just ask any of my junior high or high school math teachers. Or my dad, who thought I should know how a carburetor worked before I was allowed to drive a car.

That side of my brain has been on vacation in the Bahamas pretty much all of my life.

But my free for all button pushing, dial turning days were numbered. That approach just wasn't working for me. There very well may be those who can pick up a camera and make magic happen without a thought, but I wasn't one of them.

There are several different technical aspects to shooting in manual mode, and if I hadn't pushed myself to figure out how it all worked together, my Rebel would be on a shelf right now, gathering dust.

It was not an easy journey for my noggin.

It made my head hurt.


I survived.

I learned. And learned some more. And slowly it started to make sense.

Very slowly.

Next time, I'll get into just what those technical aspects are and how I wrapped my brain around them.

Till then, here are a few suggestions to get you headed down the road to fabulous photos.

*Read every single thing you can get your hands on. Read your camera manual. I know. Snoresville, right? Read it, then go out and practice and then read it again. Every time, a little bit more will make sense.

*Get a good photography book or ten. I have Scott Kelby's Digital Photography series. He has a very user friendly style - good information without a lot of technical detail.

*Take a million pictures. Or more. Get familiar with your camera. Very familiar. When you first start out, you have eleventy seven things to think about before you click that shutter. The more you know what button does what, what dial does what, the more you'll be free to focus on other more creative aspects of photography.

*Lastly, if you are frustrated, don't give up. I'm here to tell you that you can do it. You can learn this. If I can, you can. Promise. You've found your people here. Or at least your peep. I'm living proof that those who are struggling to take better photos really can make sense of it all. Well, maybe not all, but at least a good chunk of it.

So, go forth and take pictures in manual mode, shout from the mountain tops that manual mode is from the devil, come back next week thoroughly frustrated, and we'll take it from there!

p.s. I was needing some Valentine photo ideas, so I took a skip through Flickr. It's a great place to find inspiration....all of these photos were heavily inspired, if not flat out copied, from photos I found there. I wish I had thought of making a heart out of my buttons, or making book pages into a heart shape, but I didn't. It seems the right side of my brain occasionally visits the Bahamas as well. And when that happens, tell me just what is left up there in my head?

Don't answer that.

February 7, 2011

weather wonder

I am obsessed with the weather.

I check the seven day forecast. I check the ten day forecast.

I check the weather in New York where my son and future daughter-in-law live.

I check the weather forecast for my Midwest friends. I want to know what kind of meteorological day they are having.

I don't check the weather for my Pacific Northwest friends because I know what it's doing there at any given moment.

It's raining.

I know it's raining because I lived there for the vast majority of my life and that's what it was always doing.

I love storms. Big, loud summer thunderstorms. Lots of snow winter storms. I'm obsessed with hurricane season. If one is headed toward the states, I am checking the storm tracks with the same frequency as someone who lives on the Gulf Coast. I've been in Florida during August storms with thunder claps that could stop your heart. I've been in Kentucky driving down the freeway with tornado warnings all around. Being a former Pacific Northwest girl, I thought I knew rain. Ha! You don't know rain till you've driven through a severe storm in the South. And we won't talk about why we were driving down the road whilst tornadoes were swirling all around. Let's just say it starts with 'S' and ends with 'tupid'. Northern girls. We had no clue.

This has been a winter for the books, hasn't it? Ours has been colder and snowier than usual, but nothing like most of the country has been experiencing. Right now I only have a dusting of snow and my temps are in the 40's. Not very exciting.

So, indulge me. I would love to hear what's happening weather wise in your neck of the woods. Are you a Texan with snow on the ground? A Midwesterner encased in ice?

I'll grab a cup of cocoa and get my weather fix through all of you.

February 1, 2011

first things first

Oh boy, now I'm nervous.

It's one thing to think about sharing photo information and tips, but it's a whole nother ball game to actually put it out there on the internet for all to see. While it's true that I've learned a lot about photography over the last couple years, I am still very much flying by the seat of my pants on a regular basis.

That said, I am happy to share what I do know. For now, I think I'll try to do a photography q & a post a week and if nothing else, this little series will no doubt serve as a high form of entertainment for any real photographer who happens to find their way here.

So, since you have to have a camera before you take a picture, it would seem that photography equipment is the logical place to start.

Up until a year ago, I was shooting with a Canon Rebel XTi. It came with an 18-55mm lens which I used for a while, but before long, I knew I wanted something better. After much research, I decided on the Canon 50mm f/1.4. I love this lens and still use it most of the time. I eventually also added the Canon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. This lens is always on my Rebel, and most of the landscape shots you see on my blog are taken with this setup.

Like this one....

Last January, my hubby was kind enough to buy me the Canon 5D Mark II. It is an amazing camera. I am head over heels in love with what this baby is capable of. I also recently bought the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I'm still getting used to this lens, so I'll keep you posted on my thoughts there.

The latest Canon Rebel is the T2i. If you are looking to upgrade from a point and shoot, that's where I'd start. My Rebel has served me very, very well. I learned so much with that camera. I understand Nikon has something in the same range as well. There are many, many comparisons online and I would check out as many as you can before you take the plunge.

So, is that all clear as mud?


Shall we re-cap? Yes?


Canon Rebel XTi - my secondary camera
Canon 18-55 lens - came with my Rebel and I never, ever use it
Canon 18-200 - always on my Rebel and used for landscape shots

Canon 5D Mark II - my best friend
Canon 50mm f/1.4 - use this most of the time
Canon 24-70 f/2.8L - need to get more comfortable with this lens

I have a tripod and I hate using it. However, on a rare occasion, I will haul it out to get still - not people - shots in the house on a gloomy day.

A couple last thoughts.

First, read as much information and as many reviews as you can possibly absorb before you make any camera or lens purchase. Here is one of the review sites I used each time I made a new purchase. There are many more out there.

Second. When purchasing lenses, buy the highest quality your budget allows. I'm sure that's stating the obvious, but lens quality makes a huge difference in your photos.


Well, how was that for information overload?

Let me rephrase that. How was that for very dry and somewhat boring information overload?


Next week, we'll chat about the picture taking process.

Prepare yourselves to be totally underwhelmed.