Tail Wag

The other night,  I sat at my desk trying to wrap up a few last things.  My dog decided I had already been working too long.  He came over, tail wagging, playfully bouncing, and stuck his nose under my mouse hand, knocking it away from the mouse.  When I turned toward him, he jumped up to put his front paws in my lap and started licking my face and pushing at me with his head, clearly trying to motivate me to get out of my chair.

When I stood up, he started racing around in circles, tail going so fast I thought it might fall off. I couldn’t help but smile as we began our evening routine.

Even though I don’t leave for work physically, I leave mentally.  My dog has tuned into my work day and mostly just naps near by during the hours he’s come to expect me to be working.  But when he needs to go out or is just tired of being ignored, he won’t take no for an answer.  He’s become my alarm dog, telling me when it’s time to take a break if not put work away for the night.

I am reminded of something a friend said to me once about how people should greet each other the way dogs greet their people.  That if we would dance around with wagging tails when we were reunited with friends, we would probably all be happier.  It occurs to me that if we were all as willing to express our feelings and our needs so unambiguously, we’d probably all be a lot happier, too.

I rarely know what I need.  Even really basic stuff like needing to use the restroom.  I will be in the midst of my day hopping from one conference call to the next and have a vague notion that perhaps I should take care of one of life’s most basic and unavoidable needs and then forget until, hours later, comes a sudden moment of urgency that cannot be denied or postponed.

Not knowing what I need makes it nearly impossible to ask for it.  I am surprised and delighted every time my husband magically appears to deposit lunch in front of me.  Realizing I forget to notice when I’m hungry, my husband makes sure I have something to eat without me having to stick my nose under his mouse hand.  I think it’s the most romantic gesture there is, except maybe when he does laundry.

But since he often shows up with lunch in the middle of my work day while I’m in the middle of doing work, I don’t jump up and run around in circles wagging my tail.  He’s lucky if I make eye contact with him and smile before he returns to his own busy day.  Perhaps I will give that a try on Monday.  Note to self: jump up, wag tail, run around in circles excitedly when Pat brings me lunch.


New Flash

Tisen looks nicely lit for this quick-and-dirty shot with the flash on camera

Tisen looks nicely lit for this quick-and-dirty shot with the flash on camera


I recall working pretty darn had to get a decent exposure with my manual flash

I recall working pretty darn had to get a decent exposure with my manual flash


I’ve been doing well on holding steady with the photography equipment I have.  I had the small splurge on small accessories for my iPhone along with a few dollars worth of apps for my iPhone, but otherwise, I haven’t bought anything for quite a while.

Then, I got frustrated with my inexpensive manual flash unit when I last pulled it out.  First, it doesn’t have an auto-focus assist function for low-light focusing.  Second, I have to take about 3 shots to figure out the right power settings on the flash (or buy a light meter).  Third, it won’t do high-speed sync (meaning I end up with black bars on my photos if I have too fast a shutter speed and my only option is to choose a slower shutter speed even when that’s not what I want.  Finally, I can’t do rear-curtain sync.  This is a feature you don’t think about until you try to shoot motion in dim lighting.

So, having these irritations right about tax return time combined with the realization that the price of the Speedlite I’ve been lusting after has dropped significantly since I last fantasized about owning it led to one of those late-night purchases that made me feel a little queasy when I woke up in the morning and realized what I’d done.

I put the card up to create catchlights in the eyes--another feature I was missing--but Tisen refused to look at me and even closed one eye

I put the card up to create catchlights in the eyes–another feature I was missing–but Tisen refused to look at me and even closed one eye

While it’s not the most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever purchased, I tend to think of things as being “expensive” or “inexpensive” based on how much use I get out of them.  My tripod had a higher price tag, for example, but I use it all the time and it will last the rest of my life.  I feel the same way about my lenses.  While camera bodies are expensive and quickly out-dated, they last years and the camera body is the one piece of equipment I use for every shot I take.  A flash, on the other hand, is an occasional add-on accessory for me, not something I need 80% of the time.

In any case, I decided I should start learning how to use the thing immediately in order to increase the odds that I will be happy with having purchased it.  I tried to get Tisen to help me work on using rear-curtain sync, but he was resistant and seemed to think I was mad at him because I kept coaxing him onto one side of the room, making him sit, and then, when he started walking, pointing a big, black machine at him that kept flashing.  When he started cowering when I called him, I decided I needed to enlist Pat’s help.

Not quite what I was going for--was working on a trail leading up to a solid Tisen but me-thinks I have some learning to do

Not quite what I was going for–was working on a trail leading up to a solid Tisen but me-thinks I have some learning to do

Pat was not more cooperative and I didn’t have any better luck getting the image I was looking for.  But, I was pleased with how nicely the automatic abilities of the flash unit to choose the exposure worked.  I got far better exposures with ¼ of the effort.  That’s encouraging.


Pat got a little more solid, but he's still see-through

Pat got a little more solid, but he’s still see-through

Show Me Terror

While shooting the Acres of Darkness haunt, I wanted to get shots of people while they were waiting in line.  This was truly shooting in the dark because I literally could not see them in the view finder at all.  Unfortunately, I had a single flash unit attached to my camera and was trying to light groups of people, so it was a bit tricky.  The lighting is, well, shall we say “not dramatic”?  But, the assignment for this series of shots was fun and the participants nearly made up for the bad lighting.

The assignment I came up with for the attendees was to show me their most scared face.  I asked each group waiting in line to show me absolute terror.  I got some mixed results, but overall, I was impressed with much of the acting!

Some people were immediately into it.  Like the ladies in the 3rd shot.  They really got a kick out of how scared they could look.  We actually did 3 shots because they were having so much fun.

The larger groups were fun because they would have some people who were really into it and others who really just wanted me to go away.  Like the family in the 8th image–the teenage girl in the background looking utterly bored spoke volumes about adolescence.

But even some of the pairs were a 50/50 mix on willingness to act.  One of my personal favorites is the 6th shot where the guy is totally acting scared and the girl is looking like she’s not really sure she wants to be seen in public with this guy.  Made me wonder how long they’d been a couple and how much longer it would last.  🙂

Then, there’s the image immediately after that one with the three guys.  The one on the far left said he imagined he was writing an alimony check to inspire his expression.  I thought he looked more like he’d had an accident in the restroom, but I appreciated his effort.

The two young girls in the 11th image cracked me up.  The one on the left gave a pretty realistic scared look.  The one on the right, who appeared to be the younger of the two when seen in person, seemed to think throwing up her hands was all it took to look scared.  Maybe she has yet to experience real fear?

This assignment, by the way, only worked well because I could show the subjects their picture immediately on the LCD of my camera.  They looked at the result and immediately wanted to try again to make it even better.  They all laughed and made fun of each other’s faces in the shots.  Who knew photography could be so entertaining for the subjects?

Afterwards, I had several people approach me and ask if there was somewhere to view the photos so they could decide if they wanted to buy them.  Maybe next year.

The Blind Shooting Blind

One of the skills in photography I try to work on is composition.  The easiest aspect of composition to focus on (pun!) is what is in or out of your frame.  For example, not ending up with a sign post in the background sticking out of the head of your subject.  Or, not cutting off your subject’s hand.  Or not chopping off the edge of a shape in an awkward and inexplicable way.  These are things I pay attention to.  Sometimes, I pay attention to them after the shoot, in which case, I say “shoot!” in a different way.

Shooting loose is a cheat.  This means leaving lots of space around your subject so you can crop later to get what you want in the frame.  I’m not very good at shooting loose.  I always end up with some awkward position where I have to either cut off the subject’s hand or foot to get the framing I want.

For this reason, I try to come home with at least the framing right.  This is not to imply that how you frame a shot is the only thing to think about when it comes to composition.

In any case, shooting at the haunt over the weekend was a completely new lesson in composition.  When I was shooting in unlighted areas, I literally could not see my subject at all when I looked through the viewfinder.  My technique was to take a shot with my flash, look at it on the LCD screen, and then try to guess where I was positioned and which way I needed to move to get the subject completely in the frame.

This is a case where shooting loose was absolutely necessary.  I ended up with a lot of headless people on my first shot.  Then I would zoom out a bit to make sure I at least got the heads included in the second shot.  After a few dozen wasted shots, I finally started getting to where I could get the subjects into the frame in one shot.  On the one hand I was excited I was managing to get subjects into the frame.  On the other hand, I was really wishing I had a floodlight I could use to frame up the shot I wanted.

As a side effect of shooting blind, I ended up with a lot of strange things in the background.  This is also the side effect of shooting at an event.  There are lots of people milling about so you end up with someone’s nose sticking out of your subject’s ear or a rear end in the background next to the head of your subject–sometimes my flash was just a little more powerful than I really wanted it to be.  This all led to more time in Aperture cloning black areas over top of unwanted objects.

Perhaps that’s a life lesson:  shooting blind leads to spending more time cleaning up the mess.

Event Shooting

I am gaining a greater and greater appreciation for event photographers.  Think about it.  You show up, you’re supposed to get great photos in what may be the most difficult of circumstances to shoot in and you’re supposed to do it without distracting from the event.

We went to a wedding reception Friday night and I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that I am not a wedding photographer.  I’m not sure I could take the pressure of shooting that kind of once (or twice or thrice) in a lifetime event.  I watched the two photographers at the event and they seemed so calm and collected.  They were both young.  They shot for a while, took a break to eat cake, and then started shooting again.  They seemed to feel no stress at all.  I admire that.

I got to play event photographer Saturday night in the lowest stress situation possible when it comes to event photography.  First, it was a volunteer job, so I didn’t have to worry about people feeling like they didn’t get what they paid for.  Second, the group is fun and appreciative, so I felt like they would be patient.  And finally, this is a recurring event, so it will happen again next year and there will be more opportunities to get better shots.

However, what did create stress is that it was a Halloween Haunt.  And that means it was dark.  Very dark.  And I am not exactly an expert with a flash.  In fact, I had kind of given up on learning how to use my flash a few months back when I broke a hot shoe adapter that allowed me to put it on an umbrella stand.

I seem to take little interest in flash photography until the moment of panic when I realize I’m going to need to shoot with a flash.  Then I suddenly wish I’d spent a lot of time becoming an expert with the thing.

Saturday night, I decide to warm up in the family area.  This area is well lit by comparison.  It still requires a flash, but people are sitting at tables for pumpkin decorating and face painting, so I have the opportunity to shoot and reshoot without having to worry about missing the action.

With my flash unit attached to my camera directly, I couldn’t shoot vertically.  It was like having a hand tied behind my back.  Having a manual flash turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than I expected.  For one thing, it has no auto focus assist feature so I had to pull out my iPhone and use the flashlight app to find focus in the dark.  It was also hard to see to adjust the settings.

I found myself creating a shopping list:  flash bracket, speedlite, portable battery pack.  I guess I’d better decide if I like event shooting or not before I start buying more equipment!

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.

Slow the Circles Down

If you have read some of my earliest posts, you may recall that I have issues with going backwards.  I arrange my life around maximum efficiency whenever possible by minimizing repetition, back-tracking, and wasted motion.

There are some consequences associated with this.  For one, I tend to focus on the goal and not on the journey.  The very physical consequence is that I frequently run into things.  I think this may also serve well as a metaphor.

Another consequence is that I often move on completely and usually without regret.  Been there, done that.  I’m over it.  Time for the next adventure.

But every once in a while, something sticks and I don’t mind going back to it over and over.  The Tennessee Aquarium is one of those things.  Every time I go, I discover something new.  Someone is awake who was sleeping last time.  Or the absence of someone else allows me to see others for the first time.  And there are certain exhibits I never tire of.  I have to refrain from block tackling all the small children at the display where you can touch the stingrays–the darn kids are always in my way.

When it comes to shooting at the aquarium, it remains a challenge.  Trying to shoot through glass is always an interesting proposition.  Between the distortions and the bright reflections in the glass, the dim lighting, and the movement of the creatures, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets a shot of anything.

Using a flash helps if you have the right angle.  I admit I love watching people with their little automatic point-and-shoots standing directly in front of the glass and getting frustrated when the image they get is the flash bouncing off the glass.  In my defense, I only get a chuckle out of this because they’re usually doing this right in front of a big sign that says “NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY.”  It just seems like karma.

I, however, usually opt for no flash in the aquarium.  This is for several reasons.  First, I’d rather end up with blurry pictures than disturb the animals (anymore than they are already being disturbed).  Second, I still pretty much suck at using a flash.  And finally, I really want to set the flash up off-camera, but that doesn’t work well in a crowded aquarium.  Try to imagine me carrying my umbrella stand around and yelling at small children when they bump into it.  Does not make for a good time.

But, when we took Pat’s family there during their visit, the otters decided to make an appearance.  I find it fascinating when looking at the otter shots that the otter moves faster than the water.  Where the water splashes are frozen, the otter blurs.  None-the-less, I couldn’t help but share my blurry, badly framed shots of the otter doing a back flip.  That was just too adorable.

Maybe next time I’ll catch a stingray jumping out of the tank.