Dec 30, 2010

Wishes For Happiness And Bliss

I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year.  Christmas has quickly passed, and the year 2010 is over.  Ahead lies new opportunities for cherishing those we love and living every moment fully.  I hope you take every chance to slow the quick pace of the world and embrace 'nothingness' once in a while.  It is the most healing thing you could do for yourself and those around you.

We all have many responsibilities and obligations, but happiness doesn't lie in meeting deadlines and accomplishing great feats.  It is found in the quiet, restful moments sprinkled here and there amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  It's in the time spent with friends and family, the walks out in nature, and the tender moments with our children and spouses.  True bliss isn't about what you do, but how you do it.

So this year, my wish for you is to be happy all of your wakened moments.  May you find peace within while the world rushes around you and may bliss be yours in all that you do.

Be well in 2011,

Dec 8, 2010

Tips For Taking (And Sharing) Great Christmas Pictures

Christmas is a very special time of year.  The joyous moments shared with family and friends are the kind you cherish forever. 

The latest cameras on the market allow you to capture these moments, but using the automatic settings doesn’t necessarily guarantee a perfect shot everytime.  Whether you have an expensive DSLR or a point and shoot, you may sometimes wonder why your images don’t come out quite as nice as you’d hoped.  The following are tips that I picked up over the years and could help you take Christmas pics you’ll want to share with everyone, including your Facebook friends.

1.  First, I want to talk about automatic flash and the drawbacks of keeping your camera set on this feature.  I know we all hear that indoor shots should be taken with a flash, but I disagree.  I have an aversion to flash photography myself, so I don’t often use it.  One reason is that the flash washes out colours and faces, and often shows up in windows and mirrors in the shot.  Flash photos don’t look as natural, plain and simple.  So for daytime pictures, I rely on natural lighting.  If the picture comes out a little darker than you like, you can adjust the brightness level in your photo editor afterwards.  For evening pictures with indoor lights, you can also increase your ISO setting from the typical 200 to 400 or more, which will allow more light into the camera and brighten the shot without a flash.  This could make the image grainier though, depending on the quality of your camera.  I still prefer this method instead of using the flash; if you choose flash, you might want to set your camera on a tripod to reduce blur from camera shake.

Here's a photo taken with flash:

Here's the same subject in natural lighting 
and brightness adjusted in a photo editor program:

2.  Another tip I learned is that action shots are much more interesting than typical portraits.  So on Christmas morning when the kids are opening gifts, take snapshots of their facial expressions as they rip the paper and get the first look at the present inside.  These are really fun to look at, and they capture the moments as they happen; portraits of the family all lined up on the couch just don’t have the same feel.  For action shots of family members laughing at the Christmas dinner table, or hugging at the door when they arrive, turn the dial on your camera to the ‘action’ or ‘sports’ setting.  These shots will come out clear in spite of the fact that the subjects are moving.  With this setting, you can usually hold the shutter button down and it will take several pictures continuously, giving you a few to choose from afterwards.  Also, don’t be shy about zooming in as close to faces as possible.  Close-ups capture the emotions in a way distant portraits cannot.

Here's an example of a distant 'portrait' style photo 
(I had no live subjects at the time):

This is a closeup of the tree, capturing the details 
and colours more vividly (shot in action mode):

3.  Another aspect of a great Christmas picture is position.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try your shots from different angles.  You don’t need to be right in front of the subject and the subject doesn’t have to be in the centre of the picture.  In fact, the rule of thirds discourages this.  If you picture a tic-tac-toe grid on your viewfinder (some cameras have the grid built in), compose your shot with the main subjects lined up with the lines of the grid; this way, your subject is slightly off to the side.  Similarly, position yourself above a subject or down low, to make the shot even more interesting.  Try tilting the camera slightly as well.  You’ll be surprised at the effect these position changes create.

A front-facing, centred photo:

The same subject, captured at an angle 
and using the 'rule of thirds':

4.  Finally, I just want to touch on a few more aspects of great picture taking:

If you’re going to upload your images to sites such as Facebook, adjust the setting on your camera to the smallest image size.  The smaller the image, the more your memory card can store and the faster it will upload.  Typical size on most cameras include Large (12Megapixels), Medium(6.4)  and Small (3).

Once you upload the photos to your computer, delete the blurry or really bad ones immediately, right from Windows Live Gallery or your picture editor.  This save time looking for the good ones to edit later. 

The first thing I do with my snapshots in my photo editor is use the ‘smart fix’ or ‘adjust levels’ feature.  This first step is especially good to brighten or darken images.  Bear in mind though that this is not always necessary.  And sometimes, it actually makes the image look worse.  Only use it on images you think need improvement.  If you know your way around the photo editor, you can tweak the levels more precisely if you wish.  

Once you’re happy with the picture and you’re ready to save it, give it a new file name, one that you’ll recognize.  This way, when you’re ready to upload, your search for the pictures on your computer will be much quicker.

Christmas photos are fun, especially when you can share them.  If you’re looking to improve on your photo skills, I hope these tips find their way into your Christmas pictures this year and that you’ll show them off on Facebook.  I’d love to see them!

Dec 2, 2010

Home For Christmas...

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~ Norman Vincent Peal






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