We are conducting an interesting experiment.  It started unintentionally with the sudden demise of our usual elevator.  The elevator is not dead, but it needed a day or two off.  Tisen, it turns out, is a man of routine.

We turn left out of the door.  He gets on the elevator, he gets off the elevator.  We turn left leaving the elevator to go outside.  On the return, we turn right off the elevator and our door is on the right.

Our condo is situated between two elevators.  It’s not really a big deal for us to have to walk a new direction.  But it sure was a big deal to Tisen.  He wanted to turn left when we needed to turn right.  He wanted to turn right when we needed to go left.  Then, when we returned home, he did the opposite.

The funniest part was when he walked up to the door across the hall from us and acted like it was only a matter of time before we opened the door–it’s like the whole world had flipped in his head.

This reminds me of an experiment I once read about where people were asked to wear glasses that inverted what they saw.  After 2 weeks, their brains were re-flipping the images so that what they thought they saw was right-side-up.  Then, when they stopped wearing the glasses, they started seeing everything upside down again.  It took a couple of weeks for them to begin seeing the world right-side-up.

We will see how long it takes for Tisen’s internal map to right itself once the elevator is fixed.

In the meantime, I posted some more of the macro shots of the flowers I took following a rainstorm the other night.  Everything was so dewy.  All I needed was a ray of sunshine to make the reflections in the raindrops really pop.



Sunset and the iPhone

The strong blue streak going skyward on the left side is what initially caught my eye

The strong blue streak going skyward on the left side is what initially caught my eye

I have been shooting with my iPhone much more often since being asked for tips on how to take better photos with the iPhone.  One of the areas that I have not been particularly satisfied is low-light images.  They get extremely grainy and the dynamic range is quite limited.

However, when I happened to see the sky do something cool the other day, I had a choice.  I could run inside, grab my DSLR and tripod, run back out and hope I hadn’t missed it.  Or, I could pull my iPhone out of my pocket and do the best I could.  Call me lazy, but I went for the second option.

In the few moments between shots, the streak started to spread

In the few moments between shots, the streak started to spread

I used the Camera! app rather than the default Camera app (the only difference in the name is the “!”, but there are many feature differences).  If I would have had a panoramic view from where I was standing, I might have tried the standard Camera app’s panoramic capability, but what was worth shooting fit into the frame, so shooting panoramic seemed unnecessary.

I chose the Camera! app because of its ability to separate the focusing point from the exposure point.  You can tap the screen to select where you want to focus and then use a second figure to select a different area that you want to expose for.  It’s slightly helpful in scenes like this with strong contrasts.  However, slightly is the operative word.  Using the dark areas for exposure blows out the sky.  Using the sky clips the foreground.  By picking something halfway in between, you can sometimes get something better, but in this case, I allowed the darker areas to be underexposed–they weren’t very interesting anyway.

Within 5 minutes, the effect had pretty much disappeared--good thing I didn't run for my DSLR

Within 5 minutes, the effect had pretty much disappeared–good thing I didn’t run for my DSLR

The images right out of the camera didn’t have the brilliance of the actual scene.  I was able to increase the saturation slightly to get it closer to reality, but the blue of the sky started to move to cyan.  One of the challenges with iPhone photography (especially in low light) is that it needs post-processing, but because of the lower resolution, jpeg format, and graininess in low-light situations, adjustments can only be minimal before noise, pixellation, and general ickiness set it.  Less is more.

That said, I’m still happy I pulled out my iPhone because the interesting streaks shooting skyward disappeared pretty quickly–I would still have been unzipping my tripod bag had I tried to run for the DSLR.

When I went back in to sit down and blog, I had a little trouble finding a place on the sofa.  Tisen was occupying 50% of an 6’ long couch.  Pat and I compressed ourselves into the other 3 feet.  This isn’t a great shot (another iPhone grab), but you can just see my shoulder next to Pat who is leaning over Tisen in order to create enough room for me to type.  We just couldn’t stand to wake Tisen to get him to make room–he was snoring quiet contentedly.

Trying to fit on the sofa to blog without waking Tisen

Trying to fit on the sofa to blog without waking Tisen

Dogs and Fireworks


Dogs are frequently afraid of fireworks. I would venture to guys that dogs fall into two categories: Those who are completely oblivious and those who think the world is coming to an end. Tisen does not like fireworks. Nor does Twiggy, who is visiting with us again while her mom and dad are on vacation.


Tisen seems somewhat embarrassed about his fear of fireworks. Like he knows he’s supposed to be a big tough boy and not be afraid of loud noises. Instead of whining, howling, or barking, which would only draw attention to his cowardice, he hides. But if you happen to look in on him from time to time, you’ll discover he often has a puzzled look on his face like he can’t understand why his humans are not distraught by all the noise.

I think there is a simple explanation for this disparity in human and dog interpretation of loud noises. I think it’s hearing. While one might speculate that canines have less ability to understand the source of loud noises or to reason as to whether they are in potential danger or not, I really think it comes down to pain. The deep, reverberating booms and high pitched crackles sound so much louder to a dog than to a human, it seems quite possible they are in physical pain.

This being my theory, I was doubly surprised when I spent the entire length of the Riverbend fireworks out on the balcony of the common room (where dogs are not allowed) and Tisen remained parked by the front door waiting for my return instead of hiding under the sofa, desk, or Daddy. Twiggy cuddled with Daddy, leaving Tisen to fend for himself as the stalwart guard patiently awaiting the return of Mommy. I felt pretty guilty when I got home and found him still waiting for me.

I wonder if he is more afraid of losing Mommy than he is of fireworks? This also made me feel more guilty getting on a plane the following morning.

Tisen braving it out at the door

Tisen braving it out at the door

The Etiquette of Dog Days

Twiggy keeping cool

Twiggy keeping cool but not still

When I was a child, I preferred to wear dresses.  My mother was constantly trying to get me to wear pants, but I was insistent on my own sense of fashion.  I have no recollection as to why I would have wanted to wear dresses or even that I did, but I know that all the photos of me up until I was in about the first grade prove my mother’s story.

In most of these photos, I have skinned knees or knees marked with the white residue of a white-painted fence we used to climb.  I my memory, I spent most of my time outdoors running around, frequently falling or managing to bang myself up in other ways.

Tisen enjoying a rub

Tisen enjoying a rub

This was not, however, the concern my mother had with me wearing dresses.  Rather, it was the constant battle she had going on in her head between wanting to preserve my childhood innocence and wanting to help me learn to conform to some social norms.  While I’m sure someone somewhere has written a book that tells parents when girls should stop being allowed to run around climbing on things when they’re wearing a dress, my mother hadn’t read it.  Even if she had, she might not have agreed on the cutoff point.

In any case, eventually my mother did convert me to wearing pants.  Had I been born a generation or so earlier, she might have made me stop climbing trees and fences and kept me in dresses.  I feel pretty fortunate that pants afforded me freedoms that might otherwise have been denied to me.

Twiggy does not wear dresses or pants.  She goes out in fur every day of the year, although her parents were kind enough to have her coat trimmed for her as the temperature rose, she otherwise dresses the same every day.  As a dog, we humans don’t expect her to have adopted our own hang ups about sitting primly with ankles crossed.  Yet, Twiggy frequently does sit that way.  She assumes a sphinx pose, crosses her front pays, and holds her head in a pose that makes you think she might be Cleopatra reincarnated.  She truly is regal.

Tisen takes Duck to the other side of the room

Tisen takes Duck to the other side of the room

But the other day, when our inside temperature was pushing 80 (yes, I am trying to make it to June with no A/C), she had no qualms or self-consciousness about flopping down on the floor in as unladylike a pose as imaginable.  And I found it so amusing that I had no qualms about taking a few photos (using the Camera! app on the iPhone) to share with you.

Tisen, who was happy to opt for a belly rub when Daddy was available, didn’t seem quite as comfortable with the whole belly-twist pose Twiggy assumed.  Although, I don’t know how much of his shyness came from my with the camera vs Twiggy sprawling across the floor.  All I know is Tisen took Duck and moved to the other side of the room.

Tisen decides to hang out with Duck

Tisen decides to hang out with Duck. Photography note: backlight seems to create a very hazy effect with the iPhone

Photo Fails: Part II

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are a few more examples of obvious photographic failures and how to avoid them.

Foreign Objects in the Frame

Holding Tisen's toy while shooting downward resulted in a blue blur in the frame

Holding Tisen’s toy while shooting downward resulted in a blue blur in the frame

How many images have you seen with someone’s finger in them?  This is especially a problem with smart phone photography–it can be challenging to hold the camera steady while tapping the screen without getting a finger over the lens.  Using an app that allows you to use the “Volume Up” button to take the shot on the iPhone 4S or 5 is a great help with this.  In this example, I was shooting with my DSLR while holding Tisen’s toy, Jack.  Lesson:  don’t hold a dog toy while shooting at a downward angle.

Choosing a different angle kept the toy out of the frame (as did setting it down on the ground while shooting)

Choosing a different angle kept the toy out of the frame (as did setting it down on the ground while shooting)

Bad Angle

Tipping treehouse with corner of railing in the foreground doesn't work

Tipping treehouse with corner of railing in the foreground doesn’t work

This could have gone in the Hipsta-Tilt post I did a couple of days ago–the tree house is not vertical.  But, not only is the tree house looking like it was built on the side of a hill, but I managed to get the end of the railing in the frame as well.  Particularly because the rail is very light compared to the rest of the image, it immediately draws the eye away from anything you’re intended to look at.  The fix here is pretty obvious, but with an iPhone, it can be hard to hold still.  Setting the phone on the rail might have been a good way to avoid this (and might have added a really cool element to the image if it captured the rail running towards the treehouse diagonally).

While not perfect, the railing running diagonally and the nearly straight treehouse come closer

While not perfect, the railing running diagonally and the nearly straight treehouse come closer

Bad Timing

My subject is over shadowed by the finger of my husband trying to catch a marble that rolled out of the frame

My subject is over shadowed by the finger of my husband trying to catch a marble that rolled out of the frame

The end result isn’t so different from Foreign Objects, but the problem is different.  Rather than a finger slipping over the lens or something I’m holding hanging into the frame. this is a case where I captured the motion of my husband’s hand instead of the motion of the marble.  This particular set up required trying over and over until figuring it out.  But, when shooting a large object moving from left to right (or vise versa), the best solution is to find the subject through the lens when it’s still pretty far away, pan with it as it approaches, and take the shot when it’s in front of you.  I haven’t tried that with my iPhone yet–maybe that’s what I’ll do tomorrow?

No finger in the frame and a marble in motion was what I was shooting for

No finger in the frame and a marble in motion was what I was shooting for

Always Perfect

My blurred and under-exposed baby still looks perfect to me

My blurred and under-exposed baby still looks perfect to me

My final photo is perfect.  This is called “always perfect” because sometimes we are so emotionally attached to our subject that we think every shot of them is perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe we shouldn’t make our friends look at 500 pictures that are out of focus and mostly look the same.  🙂

Better exposure (right eye visible) and more in focus (at least the eye is sharp) make for a better image, although the background is distracting

Better exposure (right eye visible) and more in focus (at least the eye is sharp) make for a better image, although the background is distracting

Welcoming Cow Ball

I’m beginning to think Lamb is a bit of a tramp.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’m happy she’s living her life to the fullest.  After all, it’s probably a lot more fun then just hiding under the bed until Tisen decides it’s her turn to go for a walk.  But, first we had the whole disappearance with ‘Possum.  Then we had the Duck incident.  And now, it appears she and Big Dog have run off for some sort of road trip.

I discovered Lamb was, once again, lost when I gathered everyone together for a dual-purpose portrait:  to create a record of all of Tisen’s toys so we can remember when they’ve gone missing, and to practice using my flash on camera since I broke a hot shoe adapter for my light stand and will need the flash for a shoot tonight.

I was playing with a honeycomb grid attachment for my flash unit to see what it looks like on camera (as opposed to on a light stand).  It creates a very tight, spotlight effect which seems like it will work well for shooting at the Haunt tonight.

Cow Ball appears at the far left of the group shot.  I’m at least 50% sure she is, in fact, a cow.  I like her because she matches Tisen’s coloring.  Tisen likes her because a) she has nice soft fur and b) she has a very loud squeak.  Tisen is a sucker for a good squeak.  He tried out Monkey, Pink Elephant, Silly Dog, and Flat Cow, but decided Cow Ball was the one he wanted to take home with him.

This was a Tisen day.  Given how much I’ve been working, Tisen’s been feeling neglected.  And, of couse, I will be gone all evening shooting at the Haunt.

After sleeping late, we took a long walk to a dog-friendly pub, Hair of the Dog, where we sat on the patio for a late lunch.  Tisen enjoyed people watching.  He also enjoyed some of Daddy’s fries.

Tisen was quite a hit walking down the road with Jack in his mouth.  Tisen’s toy-carrying habit is the best PR move for pit bulls ever.  Or it would be–most people don’t recognize him as a pit when they seem him with a toy.  It’s an interesting psychological phenomena.

After our walk and lunch, Tisen and I went looking for a hot shoe adapter to replace my broken one.  Unfortunately, one camera store who might have had it has gone out of business.  The other one closed an hour earlier.  Best Buy had never heard of a hot shoe adapter.

But, we were next to PetsMart, so I took Tisen in to pick out a toy since he’d been so good about guarding the car.  It was hard to get it out of his mouth long enough to scan it at the register.  Hopefully Cow Ball will stay closer to home than Lamb.

Flash of Insight

When children learn a new grammar rule, they often start over applying it.  They get that adding “s” makes things plural, so they add “s” to everything.  They learn the exceptions later.  I’ve had the realization that I have learned what the depth of field will be like at a few aperture settings and started applying those settings all the time.

Now, the trick is to step things up a notch and start paying closer attention to the exact results I get in each circumstance.

In the meantime, I had a moment of weakness.  Upon spotting a very good price on some used studio lighting, I decided it was time to figure out how to start taking control of the lighting in my living room.

Today I take on two lessons simultaneously.  First, control depth of field.  Second, control lighting.  I start by using Pat as a reluctant model, but he bails and I turn to Tisen.

As it turns out, the enormous soft box and umbrella of light flashing at him are enough to motivate Tisen to go nap elsewhere.  I am stuck with only Tisen’s toys to shoot.

In reviewing the shots I’ve selected, here are the lessons I took from each (so far):

  1. Over exposure is easy when using giant studio flashes.  I actually really like this picture however.  This is a barely retouched photo–the drawing effect is purely from the overexposure.

2.  The second shot is what happens when you are using two monolights and you forget to turn one on.  I actually like this shot, too, though.  I am beginning to think I do my best work by accident.

3.  A grouping of Tisen’s toys are a great tool for depth of field practice.  In this shot, at f/4.5 (another thing I learned–I apparently have 1/3 stops enabled on my camera), I got a relatively shallow depth of field.  Shallow enough that I was able to tell that Red Dog and Mr. Beaver were not sharp from my camera’s LCD.

4.  Same group shot at f/10, the depth of field is significantly better than the last shot, although Red Dog still does not look sharp.  I am beginning to suspect that it’s difficult to get fake red fur to look sharp.  I also added a fill light to reduce shadows.

5.  I switched Lamb and Mr. Beaver, who always looks like he’s in a shadow.  The depth of field was the same as the previous shot.

6.  Here, Tisen demonstrates both a shallow depth of field (paw in foreground out of focus) and what happens when your subject decides to pop up and take a nap with his head propped against your soft box.

7.  Repeating the previous shot with greater depth of field, now the paw is in focus and so is his face (I think?).

8. Finally, I thought it would be nice to see the setup (plus Tisen).  There is also a light behind the umbrella.  Given that this is all new to me, I was pretty happy with the lighting results.

High Flying

For today’s triple play, let’s start with hang gliding. On the big training hill, there are 7 tests to “clear,” which means you get your Novice license and you can fly off the mountain launch.  But, if you don’t fly off the mountain for 4 days straight, you have to “re-clear.”

Today, Pat will re-clear and I will continue my endless quest of clearing for the first time.  Yesterday, I learned they mis-counted my total training hill flights:  they missed a page.  At the rate I’m going, I will have about 160 flights by the time I clear for the first time!  They don’t give you a trophy for that; they just charge extra.

After successfully completing one more test today, I’m pretty much spent.  Pat re-cleared and left for the mountain early on, but the wind prevents him from flying.  He picks me up and then we head over to the landing zone where we each get a tandem flight.

For the second time, I hook in with an instructor and we are towed above 2000 feet, literally into the clouds.  But this time, I’m not as mentally paralyzed.  The instructor gives me control and I fly us all the way to the landing (except for those moments when it appears I’m going to kill us both).

Flying a tandem glider with an extra person in it is completely different from flying solo.  It’s good to experience the altitude though–and to have 12 minutes instead of 12 seconds to practice.

Next, let’s talk about Tisen.

Two new things happen at the training hill today.  First, while Tisen has stopped chasing wheels, when I carry my glider he dives at my legs, grabbing at my pants and pinching my skin.  When I set the glider down, he stops.  When I pick it up, he starts again.  He doesn’t seem to be able to associate my legs with my body when I have the glider on my shoulders.

Second, when Pat leaves, he calls Tisen down from the big hill by squeaking his favorite ball.  He was at least 100 yards away and he ran down the hill to get that ball.  The power of a squeaky toy!

In the car later, Tisen starts carrying his squeaky toys up onto the seat in the min-van.  I cannot help but snap a shot with my iPhone.

This leads us to our final subject, Photography.

The pictures from the tandem flight were taken by a small Olympus point and shoot positioned on a mount on the wing.  The camera was set to take a shot every 10 seconds.  This was not my camera, but an add-on service the flight school offers.  Frankly, I can’t tell much from the photos and they all start to look the same after a while, but it is kind of cool.  I am definitely going to wear sunglasses so I don’t have to wear the school’s protective eyewear next time, though!

Goodbye to Lucy Lou

Lucy, one of our two foster dogs, was adopted today.  Her brother, Rex, was adopted on Saturday.  I was happy for Rex with only a little sadness, even though he was my favorite.  Then something happened.  Lucy bloomed.  Removed from the shadow of her big brother, she came into her own.

She went from being terrified of the elevator to pushing at the door like she owned the thing.

She was suddenly sitting like she’d understood all along but was too nervous to sit in front of her brother.

She figured out walking on a leash didn’t mean towing me.

She learned to amuse herself.  First, she decided the socks on the bedroom floor should be piled on the couch.  Then, she decided to move all linens from her crate to the couch, too.  She started with the heavy quilt draped over her crate.  It weighs almost as much as she does.  She grabbed it by a corner and wrestled it off the crate, one inch at a time.  She managed to get one corner of it up onto the couch, adding to her pile of socks she’d collected.  Then, she hopped down on top of the rest of the quilt, took the corner in her mouth and tried to jump up on the couch with it.  She couldn’t figure out her own weight was preventing her from performing this feat and ended up in a wrestling match with the quilt, growling at it while she tried to figure out how to get it into place.

Finally, she gave up and went for the first blanket in the crate.  Then the second.  Then the towel we’d put underneath for extra padding.  She had a massive nest on the couch plus the large quilt draping down to the floor.

When Pat came home and sat on the couch to print a document he needed, she jumped out of her nest, barking at the printer across the room.  I laughed and said, “Maybe we can teach her to retrieve your printout?”  30 seconds later, the printer stopped and Lucy ran over, grabbed the printout off the printer, brought it to within 3 feet of Pat, and dropped it on the floor.  It was almost scary.

Sitting on the couch with her cuddled in my lap, she gazed up at me with her brown eyes and I started thinking thoughts like, “Maybe she could just sleep with us tonight?”  Then, I remembered she had an audition with a potential new owner this afternoon.  I rubbed her belly and tried not to think of it.

Pat came and took her to her appointment.  He came home without her.  He liked the family that took her.  I am happy for Lucy.  But, part of me wishes she could have left a couple days earlier when I was less attached.  The shelter says we broke a record for the shortest time to have a foster dog.  Turns out it’s not a record I was prepared to break.