Paying Myself First

When I was 9 years old, I started mowing lawns to earn money.  My mother used to tell me to “pay myself first.”  It was actually a rule back then, not just advice.  Half of my net earnings had to go into my bank account.

This philosophy works great for financial freedom.  It helped me pay for two degrees without any student loans.  This week, I decided to try applying the same philosophy to other areas of life to see if it works just as well.

Taking the attitude of “pay myself first,” I decided things that make me feel balanced, relaxed, and more at ease with the world work like a savings account–they give me energy and a calm state of mind to draw on when things get tough.  Since things get tough every day, I decided I needed to return to my old habit of getting “me time” in first thing every day–paying myself before I give any of my time or energy to anything else.

My first rule was not to check email until after I’d spent time doing what I wanted to do in the morning.  I got up dark and early most mornings at 5AM to have a few hours to myself before I needed to plug in and get online for work.

I rode my bike, went to the gym, or did yoga each morning.  I also made myself a healthy breakfast.  All of this made me feel cared for, relaxed, and far more ready to tackle work.

I also set some new limits for myself at work.  I decided I needed to limit the number of hours I would spend on work each week in order to make sure I wasn’t sacrificing on sleep.  To get 8 hours of sleep, have my time in the morning, and some time in the evening to write my other blog (snapgreatphotos.com), I had to limit my day job to no more than 10 hours a day.

This turned out to be the hardest rule to follow–especially coming back from a week off and knowing that I’m taking another vacation shortly.  I repeated the mantra, “I am enough,” over and over.  Anything I could delegate or let others handle I let go of.  I had to let go of the intense pressure I put on myself to be helpful at all costs.  I had to take a breath and ask myself if it was really important to jump in or if doing so would take time and energy away from more important things and/or deny someone else an opportunity to step up.

I can’t say I executed perfectly.  I was up later than I wanted to be on more than one night trying to get one more thing done.  But I keep telling myself that if I can pay myself first, I will be better at everything else I do and that will make the investment worth it to everyone.

Visual Effects

At times like these, I wish I had the kind of job that could be blogged about.  I say this only because I have been spending way too many hours working the past few weeks and, as a result, am running out of more universally interesting things to write about.

Normally, I would have done enough shooting over the weekend to have brand new photos for you and stories to tell about them for the next five days.  Unfortunately, between my photography-free road trip on Saturday and working all day Sunday, I am out of new photos.

Even more frighteningly, I am nearly out of old photos I haven’t previously shared as well.

So, for today’s blog, I thought I would experiment with some old photos from our second trip to Mt. St. Helen.

It’s pretty amazing what can be done with a photo in even relatively simple photo editing software like Aperture, my personal favorite.  In today’s gallery, I’ve posted a series of photos that are quite similar.  I processed 3 exposures using the Photomatix HDR plug-in for Aperture and created two unique exports from Photomatix.  In the one, I used more natural-looking settings.  In the other, I used an “artistic” lighting effect that made the foreground and sky look lit differently.

Then, I used my standard post-processing adjustments on them in Aperture.  Mainly, I played with highlights and shadows and the levels.  Once this was done, I made a duplicate of each version and then tried something new.

The first image used a built-in effect for black and white with a red filter.  I also pulled the black point up–many greens disappeared into the shadows.  I experimented with different combinations of lifting the shadows and then raising the black point and finally settled on this one.  It’s dark and gloomy.  I hope it shows up OK for folks–sometimes photos look brighter to me on my iMac than they do after posting to my blog.

The other crazy thing I did was with the second duplicate.  I played with tint and saturation and took the photo to the point where I thought my eyes would bleed if I looked at it any longer.  Then, I backed it off to the brink of pain.

I have no explanation for why I did this.  It just looks too purple when I look at it now.  Perhaps I thought it was time to start exploring the possibilities instead of remaining stuck in reality.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it only took a slider control to add saturation, luminance, and vibrancy to real life?

Exposed

I am on a quest to get the exposure I want.  The scene is one I enjoy daily, but this particular day there was a stunning cloud display in the background.

The problem is a classic one.  A camera cannot correctly handle the same range of light that our eyes can.  Especially not when I’m looking at the world through polarized sunglasses. 🙂  It’s an issue that photographers have struggled with since the beginnings of photography.  You see a stunning sky and a lovely foreground view.  The camera can only properly expose one or the other.

I took shots of the scene with multiple exposures, hoping I could combine them successfully into one image.  High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography has been both rejected and embraced by the “serious” photographers of our time.  I believe it’s not the combination of exposures that troubles more traditional photographers but the special effects that can make an image hover on a line between a drawing and a photo.  I get this impression because many traditionalists extol the value of having a camera that will combine multiple exposures into a single image but have no interest in “HDR” post processing software like Photomatix.

Not that anyone is looking to me for guidance on the subject, but I continue to be on the fence.  I don’t care for photos that make you wonder if it’s a photo or a drawing. but I don’t mind an image that looks clearly like one or the other.

I also don’t like spending hours editing a photo I could have captured in the camera in by making better decisions.  However, when it comes to the age old problem of limited range of proper exposure when I really want to see the sky and still see the details in the foreground, I feel a little more fond of HDR processing.

For today’s exercise, I made an attempt to get a photo that combined the dramatic sky with enough detail in the foreground to keep it interesting.  Unfortunately, I forgot I’d changed my camera setting to JPEG, so I’m afraid I have limited resolution to work with and each edit step diminishes the resolution further.  But, I’ve given up on ending up with something I want to print and hang on the wall at this point.

Attempt 1:  Underexposed image with the shadows lifted a lot, the highlights pulled down a little, and a few other minor adjustments.

Attempt 2:  Overexposed image with the highlights pulled down a lot, the shadows lifted a little, and a few other minor adjustments.

Attempt 3:  3 images 2 stops of light apart combined in Photomatix with no other post processing.

Attempt 4:  2 images 2 stops of light apart combined manually in Photoshop Elements (and looking very weird).

Attempt 5:  3 images 2 stops of light apart combined in Photomatix (with different settings than attempt 3) and then adjusted further in Aperture.

In the end, let’s just say I wish I had a camera that could combine two exposures.  🙂

French Kiss

I wake very early feeling like I’m in a straight jacket.  I realize Pat is pulling on the blankets on one side and Tisen has them pinned down on the other.  I wiggle my way to the top and crawl out, trying not to wake either of my boys.  I am sweating under two comforters in weather that feels like a summer night.

As I get comfortable and nod off, Tisen makes his way to the top of the bed, laying his head on my pillow.  I am soon awakened by a dog licking my arm.  There is just something disturbing about the notion that my dog has decided I need to be groomed in my sleep.

I roll over, tucking my arm under the cover and attempt to fall back asleep.  Tisen continually changes position, pushing me further and further over.  I decide tonight is the perfect night for him to learn to sleep in his crate.

I get an early start on work while Pat takes Tisen for his morning walk.  When Pat returns, he tells me he tested our new leash–a Wacky Walker.  When Tisen pulls, the leash stretches like a big bungee.  This is surprisingly nice.  There’s no jerk on your arm or shoulder and the leash springs back, teaching the dog that when he pulls, he gets pulled back.

The only problem is that I picked a leash that is only rated for up to 50 pounds.  What can I say?  The color went better with Tisen’s collar.  But, Tisen now weighs 60 pounds. When he encountered an aggressive dog at the park, he lunged at the dog and Pat was sure it would have broken if he wouldn’t have grabbed the non-stretchy end.  So much for fashion.

We move on to crate training in preparation for tonight.  Pat comes up with a great idea.  We call Pat’s phone from my phone and then leave his phone sitting on Tisen’s crate.  We put the phone on speaker and voila!  We have a dog monitor.  We’re gone 10 minutes and Tisen whines only once.  We repeat at dinner, but we’re gone nearly 40 minutes.  Once, I startle a few other diners sitting at the bar when I pick up the phone and shout the “Neh eh eh!” in it, but Tisen gets quiet and settles back down.

After dinner, I take a little time to play with some shots of the “French Kiss” chair (that’s what the designer named it).  Tisen walks through my shot several times, carrying a different toy each time he goes by.  He’s teasing me.

I have a lot of fun manipulating the French Kiss chair shots in Photomatix.

When at last I sit down to write, Tisen curls up next to me and dozes off.  10 minutes later, he wakes up, jumps off the couch and runs across the room.  This is not unusual.  I’m convinced he has awakened from a dream confused.  I hope he sleeps well in his crate tonight.