I believe in miracles.
I try to change the world every day.
I love my husband, my friends, and my family.
I plan my next great adventure constantly.
I think most occasions call for a dress.
I write what I know and believe.
I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile because people are always asking me how to improve their photography. The first step is to get out of auto mode on your camera. Until you get out of auto mode, it’s going to be hard to get the pictures you want. Sure, you can edit them in Lightroom (and I definitely do that), but I think it’s important to be able to take a good picture first. I always cringe when I see people over-editing to compensate for not knowing how to use their camera. You have so much more flexibility in editing if you can master your camera settings first.
You don’t need a super fancy (read: expensive) camera set up to get out of auto mode and take a good picture. My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XT. When I started doing some wedding photography, I upgraded to a Canon 50D. I eventually upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark 2 in 2010, and I’ve been shooting with that ever since.
The best bang for your buck is in the lenses. I’ve accumulated quite the collection in my camera bag. I started with the Canon Nifty Fifty because it was affordable. As time went on, I bought a couple of used lenses when a wedding photographer I know switched to Nikon. And lately, I’ve been buying lenses from the Canon Refurbished site. If you’re going to take a lot of low-light or fast moving shots, you’ll want a faster lens with lower f-stop capabilities. If you’re going to shoot mainly outdoors, you can get by without L-glass. I have a mix of both, though my favorite lenses are L-glass because they give me the most versatility when traveling.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a camera to take good pictures.
Get Out of Auto Mode – Understanding the Basics
Believe it or not, there’s not that many settings to master to get out of auto mode and start taking better pictures. Once you master the basics, you can start playing around with your settings and learn what works for the types of pictures you want to take.
ISO is like film speed. Remember when you would purchase film for your camera and you had to choose between 100, 400, and 800? That’s what ISO is. While most digital cameras have a pretty wide range (my 5D ranges from 100-6400), it’s important to know that the higher the ISO, the more noise (grain) you are going to get with an image. You’ll start to lose clarity and sharpness as you go to higher numbers. As a general rule of thumb, I shoot at ISO 100, especially when I’m shooting outside. If I’m shooting inside and it’s dark, I’ll bump my ISO up to 400, 800, or sometimes 1600 – but rarely higher than that.
Aperture is essentially how big the hole is that lets light into your camera. This is a little counterintuitive, so stick with me. The higher the f/stop, the less light you are letting into your camera. The smaller the f/stop, the more light you are letting into your camera. Shooting at f/1.2 is considered to be “shooting wide open” and will result in brighter images than shooting at f/16, depending on your shutter speed.
As a general rule of thumb, I’ll set my f/stop at 8.0 when I start my day and adjust up or down, depending on what kind of mood I’m going for with my shots. If I want “blown out” or bright, white images, I’ll drop it down to f/4.0 or less. To create sunbursts or light “stars”, I’ll kick it up to f/14 or higher. If you’re looking for bokeh (or the blurry background to a sharp subject), it’s usually found when shooting with low f/stops.
Shutter speed is how long your lens stays open. Obviously, the longer your lens stays open, the more light is let into your picture. Short shutter speeds result in darker images. For effective night photography, you will want to have long shutter speeds, but this will necessitate a tripod (or other stable surface) because it’s virtually impossible to not shake the camera. Even ordinary breathing or merely clicking a button can result in blurred images. If you’re trying to take pictures of sports, you’ll want a quick shutter speed (and a low f/stop to let in as much light as possible). To get a smooth water effect, you will use longer exposures. If you’re going for light trails, you’ll want long exposures. I find myself adjusting shutter speed more than any other factor because it is the most variable.
My camera uses a 9-point diamond shape setting for determine the automatic focus point. This is a place where you can exhibit the most control over your images (outside of the settings above). You won’t be able to change this any of the automatic settings, that’s why it’s so important to get out of auto mode and over to manual ASAP. By changing your focal point, you can control what piece of your image that you want to be sharpest. Sometimes that’s the middle, sometimes that’s the eyes (if you’re taking portraits), and sometimes that’s what alters your depth of field to give you great bokeh in your images. In the shots below, you’ll see that my focal point was shifted from the center to the side to empathize different focal points of the image.
Get Out of Auto – Other Settings to Set and Forget
RAW vs. JPEG
To give yourself the most flexibility, you’ll want to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. The challenge of shooting in RAW, however, is that you will need post-processing software to convert your photos to JPEG. When I’m on the road and want to share photos quickly, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements to convert my RAW files to JPEG, abut for complete post-processing, I use Adobe Lightroom. RAW files aren’t compressed at all, so they will take up the most space. Most of my RAW files are about 22MB each. JPEG files are more compressed and will take up a little less room, but you won’t have as much flexibility in editing. Note, you’ll still have a lot, just not as much.
Because I use Lightroom to edit my images, I typically just set my white balance to AWB (auto white balance) and move on. If it’s excessively bright, sometimes I’ll switch it over to sunlight, and sometimes I’ll switch it over to shade to see what the temperature difference looks like, but those are things I generally worry about in post-processing. (Even when I’m shooting at night, I leave it on AWB, instead of worrying about the incandescent light setting – I have an orange light removal preset that gives me the ultimate control in post-processing.)
ISO 100, f/8.0, 1 sec, white balance corrected in post-processing
Ultimately, photography is a game of trial and error. You have to figure out what works for your taste. Learning to master your shutter speed and aperture settings will provide you the most flexibility in determining your photography style. My photography style changes based on where I’m shooting and what I’m going for from my images. Our honeymoon photos were bright images that captured soft reddish tones of Italy. When we went to Cinque Terre, I focused on capturing the bright, vibrant colors. When I photographed Venice and Prague on our most recent anniversary, I was focused on creating rich, deep colors that mirror the mood of the cities.
In a Nutshell – Get Out of Auto Mode
Basically, if you use a lower f/stop, you’ll let more light into your camera. If you leave your shutter open longer, you’ll let more light into your camera. A higher f/stop lets less light into your camera. If you use a shorter shutter speed, your lens stays open for a shorter period of time and lets less light into your camera. You have to play with these two settings to find the perfect balance to create the images you are looking for. If you want bokeh, you’ll want to shoot with a shallow depth of field (low f/stop) and choose your focal point wisely. For more clear landscape shots, shoot with a higher f/stop and center your focal point or use multiple focal points.
If you’re not sure what your settings should be and you don’t have time to get it right, you can switch over to Av (aperture priority) or Tv (shutter speed priority) modes, take a shot and see what the camera is doing with the other settings. Again, you won’t get as much flexibility with these modes, but it’s a good way to learn more about what direction to go with your settings.
The winter blahs are upon me. I’m exhausted from the January run through deadlines, the nonsense related to community college and class rank, and just overall nonsense. I feel like I’m in need of a long winter’s nap, which is impossible because I’ve relocated to the guest room because of less-than-year-old mattress is officially sagging more than an inch. (That Furniture Saga is TBD.)
I was asked to co-present on a panel at the College Board Dream Deferred conference next month on Advocating for Black Students in the Competitive Admissions Landscape. I think that fits nicely into my 101 in 1001 list for presenting on something different.
My kid got into a Top 15 law school last night! This was welcome news since we’re being held for further consideration/sitting on waitlists at a handful of schools right now. ACCEPTANCE is a GREAT thing.
We’ve booked flights for our annual April adventure. I know that I’m spending Easter weekend at La Toretta, but the rest of the trip is TBD. I need to spend some time working on that.
I managed to get one of our high schools re-ranked and I’ve been furiously working on mid-year reports. I remain hopeful that we’re going to have some kids get in ED2… which is probably wishful thinking my part, but I want it.
So – despite the wins – I want help getting through this winter exhaustion. What’s your best cure for the winter blahs? (I’m pretty sure Stephanie had it right in this post, but let’s hear your thoughts, too.)
Welcome to part one of what will likely be a few parts to The Furniture Chronicles. The alternative title could be “How I Might Have Gotten Hoodwinked by an Online Furniture Retailer” or the more optimistic, How Weirs Furniture Saved the Day! But, both of those parts of the story are yet to be written, so stay tuned…
One of the agreements that my husband and I made after we finished renovating the house was that we would take our time furnishing it. (That agreement was likely made when we purchased the house, too.) We didn’t want to rush into buying things we wouldn’t love. While the renovation was its own adventure, it will be two years since we settled back in this coming June.
The Furniture Chronicles: The End Table Saga, Part I
At the beginning of October, I found the perfect end tables and coffee table for our living room. Max and Russ was having a sale, so I ordered them. By the end of October, I hadn’t heard a peep from them. I called and emailed a couple times until someone finally called back and gave me a delivery estimate in the “next two weeks.” At the beginning of December, they still hadn’t been delivered, so I called back and left messages asking for an update. No response. None. At that point, I contacted Bernhardt directly and asked for their assistance. They told me that delivery would happen within the next week or so. Sun Delivery finally called to set up delivery the week before Christmas. I set it up, arranged for our office assistant to meet the delivery truck because I need to be at school, and crossed my fingers that everything would be ready for us to host Christmas.
Sun Delivery, the “white glove delivery” service, showed up with the table tops and none of the hardware. My office assistant asked what I wanted to do and I told her to refuse partial delivery. Given how unprofessional everything had been handled up until that point, I had little hope that we would receive the hardware. No one called me to apologize, to follow up, to try and reschedule delivery. Not a peep from Sun Delivery nor Max and Russ. I reached out to Bernhardt who referred me back to the retailer – who still would not return emails or phone calls.
At that point, I initiated a chargeback with my credit card company. They granted it until a couple weeks ago, when I received correspondence that showed that merchant said that it was a correct charge. I sent in correspondence that showed their lack of response to any of my emails. The dispute is still open, and when I contacted my credit card company this weekend, they said that I need to file additional paperwork showing what I expected to receive and what I actually received. (Never mind the fact that I never received the merchandise?)
Knowing that my mom has plenty to say about my lack of end tables (and coffee table), I reached out to Weir’s to see if they carried the tables. I’ve purchased almost all of our furniture from them, and I haven’t been disappointed. They didn’t stock the tables, but they could special order them for me. Not only did they special order them (and give me a delivery time frame), but they gave me the semi-annual sale price. (I also moved the old end tables (that we’ve been using as nightstands) into the living room for our Super Bowl party. I’m tired of hearing my mom complain about that.)
And that, my friends, is why you should source furniture locally.
Stay tuned for part two of the furniture chronicles (working title of “How My New Mattress Injured My Back at the End of 2017”), which will surely follow Wednesday’s visit from the mattress technician.
I’ve been thinking about all of these things for awhile, and while it seems silly to start February with a January recap, it’s where we are today. (I thought it was more important to share pastries yesterday.)
I am discovering that I like being accountable to a list. Compiling a 101 in 1001 list has helped direct me when I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with myself. This is especially true when it comes to the blog. I feel like I should make a list just for the blog and maybe I’d actually get some things done. To recap the 5 things I accomplished in January:
Rewritten my About Page. I’m a lot happier with this now, and I think it gives a better picture of my personality.
Started replacing oddly pixilated images as I attempt to master my BlogStomp settings – Manarola – 2017 and Riomaggiore – 2017 were easy places to start. I realized that there was a spot on my lens for the vast majority of that trip, so there’s some re-editing that needs to happen before I replace (or print) more pictures.
Enjoyed two visits to bliss for massages and facials (and using my gift certificates before they expired)
Redeemed my BusinessExtraAA points before they expired – more to come on this!
I found this week that our district doesn’t plan to re-rank our seniors until February 15. This puts our seniors who applied to ED2 programs and some selective schools at an incredible disadvantage. I started crying when I found out. Then I tried to mobilize people to help. The truth is, I’ve really been struggling with feeling ineffective in my district for awhile. I have been able to convince behemoth organizations like College Board, ACT, and even the DOE to change things in the last year, but despite proving myself over and over in our district, I can’t affect change here. They say all politics are local, but in this case, I’ve been more effective on a national level than for the kids I personally know and care about. This is not a comforting feeling, and I worry that it’s going to lead to my professional burnout, which is even less comforting. (My fortune cookie, however, tells a different story.)
Speaking of local politics, I donated to Michael Doyle for PA170 and you should, too. What he stands for on “local” issues are things I believe in for everyone. If you want the high points, you can read his list, but I’ll summarize for you: be a good human to everyone and advocate for equity. It’s that simple.
January was the longest month ever. Can I get an amen that it’s over? I’m clearly not alone in this feeling. See here. Let me tell you why I’m glad it’s over. DCCCD Promise Pledges are done. That’s another post and another discussion in itself, but we are done making all of our seniors sign up for this “scholarship.” Again, another post for another day. I’m glad it’s over and my staff can get back to work on the things that are really important.
My husband loves to find “the best” options in absolutely everything. When we headed to Austria, he was on the hunt for the best cafe in Vienna. What I found, however, is that the best cafe in Vienna is dependent on what you’re looking for out of an experience. Cafe culture is a large part of life in Vienna, so I thought it would be fun to write about which cafe to visit for what. We made two trips to Vienna in a single year (April and December), so I feel like our choices are relatively well-researched for consistency.
With a light, flaky crust, a dusting of powdered sugar, a filling that isn’t too sweet, and a seat outside, Cafe Demel wins the best apple strudel in Vienna. I highly recommend getting a reservation in advance. We stopped by several times and weren’t able to get a table until right before we left for Prague. Everything about this apple strudel is perfection. Just look at him – he’s a handsome little guy!
Is it really all that surprising that the best cafe in Vienna for sacher torte is the original Cafe Sacher? Service is hit or miss depending on the day or how busy they are, but I do enjoy their sacher torte. What is a sacher torte, you ask? It is a delicious dense, iced chocolate cake with a surprising ingredient to keep the cake moist. Allegedly, no one else has the recipe, but given the proliferation of sacher tortes in Vienna, it’s safe to say that someone violated the non-compete agreement. (Obviously I don’t mind.)
Arriving in Vienna after an early train from Budapest, our first stop was Cafe Central. This visit is what inspired the taste test. Starting with chocolate cake (delicious) and apple strudel (also tasty), my Vienna trip was kicked off in a remarkable sugar rush. The chocolate cake is rich and decadent; the whipped cream offsets it nicely. My husband and I both loved the high ceilings and ambiance. When we returned in December, we found ourselves with at Cafe Central with our books for a lazy Sunday morning. (The delicious amaretto hot chocolate is a great way to warm up during the winter.) I found myself imagining what it must have been like during the early 1900s with great thinkers and writers coming here for sweet treats and to be inspired.
Tip: You can tell that it gets busy by the ropes outside, we didn’t find the lines too overwhelming in the morning or the mid-afternoon.
P I N I T Best Cafe in Vienna… for People Watching
My favorite day on our April trip was the afternoon when we braved the consistent crowds at Cafe Demel, grabbed a table outside and feasted on their delicious apple strudel. Even if you can’t sit outside (like in December), the cafe inside is frantic with people purchasing sweet treats. Demel is a beautiful side street near the Hofburg Palace, so there’s quite a bit of foot traffic to watch. We tried their sacher torte and their apple strudel. As stated above, the strudel wins hands down. I would certainly return and try more of their cakes though.
Right around the corner from the opera house, Cafe Sacher lends itself to a prime spot for a romantic evening rendezvous. The dark decor, the plush interior, and the deep red tones are perfect for a romantic dessert. This place almost convinces me to redecorate our bedroom in rich ruby tones. (I might have realized that I have an obsession with walls adorned with really expensive fabric. My love for our suite at the St. Regis Florence on our honeymoon was NOT an anomaly.)
Choosing the best cafe in Vienna is not an easy task, but we felt most welcome to relax at Cafe Central. (The amaretto hot chocolate may have also played a part in this decision.) Service is not intrusive, and the waitstaff is more than happy to offer recommendations when asked. The ambiance, however, is what propelled Cafe Central to the top of the list for us.
This is a bonus! Sarah, one of my favorite bloggers to follow, from Endless Distances, reached out to me and shared her favorite gluten free options for sacher torte and apple strudel. I know this is something that is increasingly more important to share, so I asked her if she would send them to me to include. (She does a great job of sharing gluten-free options regularly, so make sure to follow her!) Here are her picks:
Gasthouse Zumwohl – This one is more of a restaurant than a bakery, but is 100% gluten free! They have gluten free desserts on rotation. When we were there they didn’t have sacher torte, but the apple strudel and lemon cream cake were amazing. The lemon cream cake was actually my favorite cake I had in a very long time (and my non-gluten free boyfriend agreed!).
Allergiker Cafe – This is a specialty bakery with everything gluten free, lactose free, nut free, and soy free. They have TONS of cakes but I had to try the sacher torte (when in Vienna!) and it was very good.