Archive for August, 2013

I’ve been making some rookie mistakes lately with my photography. Remember when I went down to campus for some DIY graduation photos and forgot to change my aperture? I confess it hasn’t been the only time. At home, I can always re-take a photo, so I don’t sweat it. It’s a learning process. Since I want to enjoy my first vacation in two years, and not make it all about photography, I decided to shoot in aperture priority mode. That way, at least the exposure would be “right”. That was my intention. I went from indoors to outside with little thought. The shutter speed was no match for the large aperture and high ISO and ended up with some really overexposed photos. Woopsies.

Luckily I noticed fairly early in the process and also ended up with some great vacation photos, but this left me a question of what to do with the over exposures. I wanted to see if I could do anything with them. I immediately thought of my previous attempt at editing a photo to give it the appearance of a drawing. The first step was to dramatically increase the brightness like an over exposure. I decided to give it another go, this time following this tutorial I found. The tutorial was for photo shop, but I was able to replicate the steps pretty easily in paint shop pro. (I rarely see anyone using paint shop anymore, so I didn’t bother including the steps in this post. If you have any questions feel free to email me.)

The final product

The original photo (with an increase in contrast)

It was fast and simple, and I was happy with the results so I decided to try again with a few more photos. The correctly exposed photos turn out better than over exposed ones. (That’s usually the way it goes.) But with a few adjustments to contrast and brightness the exposure is correct enough that I can get something decent out of the photo. In some cases the glowing edges effect was too strong and I reduced the opacity, but overall the process did not involve much tuning. I was even able to finish this post during nap time.


The initial photo I tried to turn into a drawing.

While the initial tutorial was for creating a black and white drawing effect, I found I could produce decent colored drawings as well. I tried two different approaches, (1) one where I skipped the de-saturation step and (2) one where I left it in and reduced the opacity de-saturation layer to let some of the original color show through.

Method (1) Without the De-Saturation step

Method (2) With the de-saturation step, but the opacity of the de-saturation layer reduced

When skipping the de-saturation step in approach (1), the dodge layer effect is a little too strong in my opinion. The tutorial is designed for a black and white drawing that where the pencil strokes show the texture and edges of a shape. Solid blocks of color in the photo (like skin) appear mostly white. This makes sense in black and white, but less so in color. To correct this I reduced the dodge layer opacity to 96%. Now the ‘white’ regions have a touch of color to them.

I prefer the result from approach (2), where the opacity of the de-saturation layer is reduced. The overall color feels more even, and looks more like I would have expected from colored pencils. For the curious, the opacity of the de-saturation layer in the above photo is 66%, however I find this number to be highly variable based on the original image.

My underwater camera is struggling. I’m not sure if it’s because the camera is now three years old and I’ve never gotten it re-coated like I was supposed to, or if because consumer electronics tend to die earlier these days. We took Nicki to the community swim center last weekend and the delay between pressing the shutter button and having it actually take the photo was pretty impressive. I was catching the tail end of moments, rather than the moments themselves.

I decided to try something different this time around. In the past it didn’t make sense to get an underwater case for my point-and-shoot since the case was so expensive. These days, my phone has become my point-and-shoot and underwater cases for phones are rather inexpensive. We went with this one.

Daddy and Nicki in the Pool

I have to be honest, I loved the case right up until the moment I started working on this post and looked back over my photos to find a “good” one to use as an example. Don’t get me wrong, the pouch functioned great for it’s intended purpose. No water leaked into the case, and I was able to use my phone in the pool with confidence. On two separate occasions we were waiting for phone calls. It was nice to bring the phone into the pool rather than sit pool side waiting for the call, or worrying accidentally dropping and destroying my phone. It also has a neck strap so I could bring it into the ocean without fear of loosing it. I kept my room key and id with me in the pouch so I didn’t have to worry about loosing either.

The actual photo quality? That left something to be desired. There were two issues with the case that effected picture quality.

1.) Humidity / Fog

When getting in and out of the water, both the underwater camera and the iphone in the underwater case suffered from the same droplets over the lens problem. The droplets distort the light waves and you end up with something looking like abstract art.

The iPhone case had an additional fog problem. Since the case was not airtight, and Florida is a rather humid environment, humid air was trapped in the case. Once the case was in the cooler water, the air condensed on the case and it started to get foggy. There are sprays you can get to help, (spit will help too), but it’s a bit of a pain.

2.) Our figures kept getting in the way.

Chalk this one up to user error, but both Domingo and I kept getting fingers in the shot. Sometimes the entire subject was blocked by the finger! We’re both frequent users of the iphone camera so we weren’t expecting this to suddenly be such a problem.

Normal (at least for me) way of holding the iphone in landscape orientation.

Normally my index and middle fingers are supporting the front of the camera when holding the iphone in landscape orientation, my thumb is in the back. My fingers are positioned in the middle of the vertical axis so the weight is most balanced. The lens is in the top right corner, unobscured by fingers.

Holding the camera in the waterproof case

When the camera is in the waterproof pouch it tends to rest along the bottom. Now when my fingers are along the middle of the edge, they’re much closer to that lens.

The Verdict

Next time I’m bringing both the underwater camera and the waterproof pouch. In the mean time I’m trying not to beat myself up about not taking the underwater camera to our first beach trip. Momtographer fail.

August 25, 2013

Airborn Toddler

Yesterday was our first cross-continental flight with a toddler. It was safe to say I was a more than a little nervous about it. Dreading it might be a more apt description. Flying with toddlers is rumored to be more difficult than flying with babies (they have opinions and preferences now! And remaining seated and still and using indoor voices are typically not among them.) Our last east coast venture resulted in a diaper blowout during each leg of our return trip. What would be in store for us this time? The answer was not much.

Here’s what I learned about flying with a toddler.

There are a 101 ways to entertain a toddler with plastic cups. Wowza. We asked for a spare cup thinking it would make a good snack bowl to help keep the mess contained. Nicki loved the concept and was grabbing puffs with doubled handed glee the way some of us (*cough* me *coungh*) eat popcorn. At one point we started mixing snacks – cheerios AND gold fish crackers. The novelty of the different snack combinations in the same bowl fascinated Nicki.

snack bowl

We also turned the plastic cup into toys. We put them on her feet like shoes and “hid” things in them. At one point we were holding them to our faces to make funny sound. Hearing Nicki ‘sing’ muffled by the cup? Priceless. They were great distractions and a source of entertainment for both of us!

You can get away with packing a lot less stuff than you think you need, and you will be grateful you did. Nicki’s at that stage where she’s walking, but can’t walk the length of the airport. So we had to carry her, our bags and the car seat. Everything seems twice as heavy when you’re stressed.

We opted not to bring many diapers again since they’re bulky. I brought a day and a half’s worth, all overnights to minimize the number of necessary diaper changes, with the intention of picking up some more at the store first thing in the morning. The downside to this approach was the local drug store didn’t have the brand and style of diapers we prefer (Huggies Snug and Dry tend to fit Nicki best, we’ve only had three blowouts, including the two from our last flight, since 4 weeks old.) But holy mother of expensive! I guess I now know why all those online diaper cost analyses are so high.

We also mostly passed on toys since they didn’t really keep Nicki’s interest for long last time we flew cross country. The name of the game was small and easy to tuck away into the corners of our suitcase. Daddy bought some new squirting bath toys which we served us well for both bath time in the hotel and a non-bulky distraction on the plane. We also brought the headbands she likes to play with. That was it. For in flight entertainment we let her destroy the sky mall magazine and put the extra plastic cups to good use.

The only thing we found really necessary to pack for Nicki was clothes and food for the plane. Toddler food, baby sun tan lotion, diapers and wipes tend to be sold everywhere. Even our hotel gift shop sells baby sun tan lotion.

The Miami International airport is deceptively long. The extra cost of buying diapers in the convenience store this morning was worth it.

August 18, 2013

A Draft

Who has two thumbs and a complete thesis draft?
Who has had an average of 4 hours of sleep a night and feels loonier than a ‘toon created by the brothers Warner?

My stress level has been probably the highest it’s been in over a decade. Last week I had a near constant stress induced migraine. The stress wouldn’t let me sleep, making me more and more tired, but the fatigue was preventing me from being as productive as I needed to be and I’d fall farther behind and stress out more. Last Wednesday I went to bed a little past midnight and could not fall asleep until 6:15 in the morning! Enough.

I ended up changing my approach to my thesis. I had been trying to perfect each chapter at a time. I kept thinking about all the unfinished sections, and I think that was contributing to my stress level. So I decided no more worrying about writing well, just write. I have some sections that are pretty rough, but I have a draft!

My current thesis draft by the numbers
– 111 References
– 135 Pages (92 are the actual thesis, the rest are references, boiler plate and appendices)
– 8 Chapters
– 2 Appendices
– 14 Figures
– 11 Tables

I know it’s those numbers are rather meaningless, it’s the quality of the content and not the quantity of content, but they give me a sense of accomplishment. Not that long ago my thesis was only 122 pages, and before it reached 135 I dropped it down to 106 by removing extraneous content and tangential references. I want from 72 references, down to 61 and back up to 111 in a couple of weeks, and I have more to add! I have accomplished a lot, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. And if I can do all that, surely I can finish.

And now, I’m off to what I hope is the first of many good nights of sleep.

self portrait
Circa Spring 2012

A friend of mine is considering getting his first DSLR camera. (I think I’ve created another Nikon fan, yay!) We were discussing camera bodies and features, before the conversation turned accessories and I started thinking about what accessories I have in my camera bag, and what might be missing.

Here’s my list of favorite inexpensive accessories.

1. Camera Strap

A professional photographer friend once told me he can always spot the successful photographers from the wannabes by one piece of gear – the camera strap. According to him anyone whose getting any amount of business and shooting on a regular basis is going to want to replace the strap that comes with the DSLR.

Back in March I purchased this basic black strap. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable the strap that came with my DSLR was until I got this puppy on my neck! The non-slip elastic is great, and the neoprene/silicone is so soft! It’s a little on the shorter side which is great because so am I. Who knew $8 could make such a difference?

2. Spare Batteries

On our honeymoon we took a bus tour through the Peloponnese in Greece. My camera battery died while we were at the Museum in Olympia. It died right before we got to Hermes of Praxiteles – the signature piece in the museum! Never again. Now I always have a spare battery.

These days I’m actually a three battery gal. I have my battery that came with my camera, and two off brand cheap batteries. When on travel I like to keep one in my camera, one in my bag (or go bag if that’s what I’m using) and one back at the hotel charging. That way I always have at least one fully charged battery each day.

I like the off brand batteries because they are so much cheaper than the brand ones. I bought this two pack when I was using my D60. After two years they weren’t holding as much charge as my Nikon battery, but they would hold enough of a charge to last the day. That’s good enough in my book.

3. Lens Pen

For lens cleaning on the go I typically use a Lens Pen. I have the rocket blaster, but it’s so big and bulky I tend to leave it at home.

4. Tweezers

I also keep a pair of tweezers in my bag. Why? It dates back to honeymooning in Greece. When we were visiting the acropolis I noticed a cat hair on some of my photos. Yet there was no hair on or behind the lens! I keep trying to clean out this hair I couldn’t see, but no amount of blowing was getting rid of it. It was the day before we were leaving on the bus tour and the fear of having photos with cat hairs from our once in a lifetime vacation had me pretty upset. We went back to the hotel and online and found that the hair was likely trapped behind the shutter. In order to get it out I had to set the shutter speed for a 30 seconds exposure and unscrew the lens while the camera was taking a photo and the shutter open to expose the cat hair. The next step was to remove the hair with a pair of tweezers. But we were in a foreign country where we did not speak the language. While many of the hotel staff spoke English rather well, ‘tweezers’ was not a common enough word for them to know. Finding a store where we could buy tweezers proved a bit of a challenge, but we succeeded and they haven’t left my bag.

5. Memory Cards

I keep a 32 GB card in my camera, and have a number of smaller cards for backup. I like the 32GB size as it’ll holds about three weeks of photos for me. Another piece of advice from a photographer friend was to get a fast card. After switching to the ultra (30MB/s) I’m a convert! I like to leave my photos on my card until I’ve ensured I’ve backed everything up to both my computer and the external hard drive. That sometimes means I run out of space when using my camera and have to delete some of the older ones that are only backedup on my computer asap. A fast memory card is essential in these moments. I also will use continuous mode when trying to photograph Nicki splashing in the tub or walking. It’s nice not to have to worry about buffering.

I typically upgrade my memory card once a year (on Black Friday, they’re always door busters!) While I’m willing to go off brand for spare camera batteries, I’m much more hesitant to do it for memory cards. The thought of having my memory card dying before backing up my photos terrifies me to my momtographer core.

So what am I missing?

I’m considering getting a set of white balance cards, but the white balance in my photos doesn’t appear particularly off to me. Maybe it’ll be like the camera strap, where I don’t realize what I’m missing until I have them?

So that’s my list. What else am I missing? What would you recommend?

Nicki has been thriving in the infant room. She has a best friend, Kai*. They play together more than I thought was possible for one year old babies. They chase each other around the room, share toys, and “talk” to each other constantly. Even hug on occasions. Together with Lincoln* they are like the three babyteers. Always giggling, always playing together. It’s the middle of the summer, and with so many families on extended vacation, it’s just the three of them most of the time. She loves her situation at day care so much that in the morning she’ll point to the door, and start to grow frustrated with Mommy if Mommy takes to long to put her shoes on. No more signs of separation anxiety.

I’ve mentioned before that they’ve begun the process of transitioning Nicki to the toddler room. Her teachers have been bringing her over for little visits in the afternoon, so she can meet the other toddlers and teachers and become familiar with the room. Typically Nicki and Kai go on these visits together since they’re both old enough for the toddler room and do so well together. I have been secretly hoping Kai and Nicki would transition together, but he’s not as close to being ready as she is. In order to move to the toddler room one has to have (1) given up on bottles and drinking from sippy cups, (2) feeding themselves, and (3) be walking. Nicki, who has never turned down a good meal and was cruising before crawling, mastered the first two and is just perfecting the third. Kai is the total opposite. He has more interest in playing with finger food than eating it, and was a fabulous early roller and crawler who only took a few steps recently when following Nicki.

Nicki has a tentative move date in the end of August.

When I dropped her off this morning, however, the infant room was at capacity. There are a few people who enroll their children for emergency backup daycare, and one of those children was visiting. So it was decided that Nicki, whose the closest to transitioning, would start the day off in toddler room until another infant room teacher was available.

She did not like the change in routine. When I set her down, she clung to me. If I started to move her grasp tightened. She didn’t understand why she wasn’t in the infant room with Kai and cheerios. It was my intention to spend 30 minutes or so helping her adjust by sitting next to her while she played. She knows everyone in the room so if she could just get distracted with the toys, she’d forget all about the this-is-different feeling. But one of the teachers suggested it would be easiest on her if I just left. So I did. The waterworks that followed broke my heart.

I felt so guilty I waited a few minutes on the other side of the wall before seeking a peek through the observation window. She had stopped crying but was still not happy. I wanted to rush back in and hug my baby, but I was afraid I’d set off another crying jag.

I called a half hour latter. She was fine, apparently rearranging all the toys on the shelves, and would be in the infant room by snack time. She recovers much faster from these things than I do.

I’m now absolutely terrified at the prospect of changing day cares when we move.

*Names may been changed.

August 5, 2013

Coming up for Air

framed photo

I took a break from thesis writing today to frame my favorite photo of Nicki. I seriously can’t believe that came from my camera. No color adjusting or photo editing, I only cropped it.

Sometimes I can’t even believe Nicki came from me. How did I get so lucky to have such a wonderful daughter? We were playing together this evening, she was sitting in my lap and I was doing itsy bitsy spider tickle attack (itsy bitsy crawls up her arm and tickles her under the chin.) My little miss giggle fits loves it. I had just discovered a bug in my code, and I wasn’t sure how badly it was going to affect my thesis. I was two weeks behind where I wanted to be. I was frustrated with myself, and so stressed I was getting multi day migraines. Baby laughter in the best medicine.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the stress of an incredible to-do pile. I have to remind myself that those self imposed deadlines are, indeed, self imposed. All these things I’m stressing over are nice-to-haves, not necessities.

In my next incarnation after graduate school I will have good work/life balance. I will make this happen.