Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Photography Class

Jonathan got me a gift card to Clickin Moms for my birthday and in February I finally got around to cashing it in for an online photography class. Although I had self-taught myself to shoot in manual via reading my camera manual and various blog tutorials, I still felt like I lacked confidence and had some gaps in my knowledge. As with everything in life, if you don’t have mastery of the fundamentals, you aren’t going to get very far! So I chose a beginner class: Mastering Manual Exposure. 

The class format was that every Monday videos and a PDF would be posted. On Wednesday there would be a quiz on the materials and you had to post a midweek photography assignment based on what the week was focused on and the instructor provided individual video critiques. Then on Saturday you post a final photo assignment with additional video critique from the instructor. 

Everyone taking the class could see all the critiques so there was a lot of information to absorb. There was also a Q&A forum where you could post any questions about the material and the instructor would go more in depth or answer specific nuanced questions. I was immediately intimidated because some of my classmates where professionals or at least already talented enough to become one. But several were beginners like me and luckily they weren’t afraid to ask questions to break everything down into layman’s terms. 

The class was 4 weeks long. The first week focused on getting correct exposure in general and how to spot meter. This was my biggest ‘AHA!’ week as I learned that matrix metering isn’t fool proof but if you learn how certain colors meter (0 for medium gray or primary colors, +2 for white, -2 for black, etc) you can get more accurate and consistent results. This is especially true in tricky situations like in the snow, on the beach or with a background that is very dark. 

Your camera will try to tell you things are over or under exposed because of all the dark or light matter it’s reading, but you can change your settings and basically tell your camera ‘look I know better than you in this situation.’ I still tend to underexpose by a smidge just because when I was first learning I read the tip that underexposing is better than overexposing because if you over expose an image, you lose data that can’t be recovered during post processing, whereas the information in an underexposed image can be brightened in the editing process.

Of course ideally you want to get it just perfect in camera so less editing is needed, so that’s what I’m working on. 

Week 2 focused on aperture and depth of field which is basically how much of the picture is in focus. The wider your aperture, the more light is let in and the more ‘blur’ you’ll have in the background. While most photographers shoot 'wide open' the flip side of this is that it’s easier to let your focus slip if it isn’t dead on perfect. This is a big struggle of mine! My favorite lens opens to f 1.8 and I love it when I get it right, but for now I’m more consistent around f 2.5-3 so I hang out there a lot. 
Wide open aperature = small area of focus, lots of blur.

Narrow aperture= lots in focus.
You also want to narrow your aperature (larger f number) when trying to get the background in focus or shooting subjects on different planes. 

Week 3 was shutter speed and this involves how fast the shutter releases on your camera. I did not like this week! All of our assignments dealt with shooting fast moving subjects and by manipulating shutter speed we had to get a frame of totally frozen motion and another with motion blur. For the most part, photographers want to stop motion and when shooting wiggly toddlers try to keep their shutter speed above 1/500. I think this is a good tip but my camera really lacks in it’s ISO ability so I’m hardly ever to stay above 1/500 unless I’m outside and there is plenty of sunlight. 

Also, nailing focus is another area where I struggle so trying to focus on a rapidly moving subject was terribly frustrating! 

Week 4 was ISO and white balance (correct color for different lighting sources). Another frustrating week for me since I bought a grey card and learned to do custom white balance based on whatever lighting I'm in at the time which theoretically should be PERFECT every single time. 
I am clearly doing something wrong though because it’s mostly a smidge (and sometimes WAY) off. 

Practice makes perfect so I keep trying. Sometimes I love the results.

I wish I would have had one more week of this class to kind of bring it all together. I’m a slow processor so it takes me awhile to integrate and organize such an overload of information. Now I have so many questions but the class is dunzo. But anyway- I loved it! And I wish I would have taken it WAY sooner. I may even consider having another baby just so I could document the whole growing up thing. (Just kidding!)

I loved feeling like I was in school again and having assignments to complete. I loved using my creative side for more than toddler activities and I love some of the images I captured and how the quality of my pictures continues to improve.

Now that I feel like I have a good foundation I am ready to learn the basics of editing and composition so those will be my next classes. Clickin Moms offers two options, either full participation or for half price you can do ‘study along’. In study along you get all the materials and can view all the forums but you don’t submit photos for feedback and you can’t participate in the forums. I feel like I will do study along for my next class just because I am not good at asking questions! Apparently my shyness transfers to my online personality too.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring Break 2017!

Spring Break with a 3 year old isn’t quite the same as it was in my college days but we decided to take Forest’s week off of preschool and crash at my parents’ beach condo in Perdido Key. We broke the 10 hour drive into two legs, stopping at my parents' 2nd home in Lafayette on the way down. My brother and his girlfriend also came in for the night to spend some time with Master F which was a nice treat. 

My mom and I left the next morning with the plan to stop in Baton Rouge so she could swing by to see my Grandpa and I could have lunch or coffee with my BFF April. Traffic was so crazy that it ended up taking us 2.5 hours to get from Lafayette to BR (roughly 60 miles of mostly interstate) which kind of thwarted our plans. Still we needed to eat and let Forest run some sillies out so my mom dropped me off at Zoe’s to meet April for a quick bite and then took F to my Pawpaw’s house just up the road. 

We got back on the road at about 2 and continued to face pockets of Spring Break traffic all the way to Florida. All those darn Texans congesting the road!!! 
After a two long days of traveling, we were ready to relax but the weather had different plans. It was pretty rainy, windy, and chilly  the first two days of our trip. 

On Day One we went to the Aviation Museum at the Naval Air Base and it was awesome! Not only did they have tons of interesting planes (the first one to fly around the world, George Bush's WWII plane, Nazi and Japanese jets, etc) but they had a plethora of hands on equipment for the little one’s to enjoy.

#41's plane

Forest had a blast pretending to drive the helicopters and flighter jets. That coupled with watching Disney’s Planes in my mom’s suburban on the trip there made him come home saying that planes are the new trains. We’ll see how long that lasts. You can see we’ve already gone ‘all in’ on the train obsession so fat chance he ends up with a similar plane collection. 
Anyhoo, it was the perfect way to spend a yucky morning and I was so impressed with the museum! We will be making a return trip next time for sure. The rain held off that evening so we went for a wee walk on the beach. 

Scottish born lad has no hesitation about getting in freezing cold water.

Oh yea, Forest can write his name now! Had fun practicing in the sand. Such a big boy!

The next day was even worse weather-wise but luckily my in-laws were at their condo (which has an indoor pool) just up the road from my parents so we shipped Forest off for a morning with them. Of course, once he got there he only wanted to play with the train set they brought so didn't get in the pool at all. 

That evening we had a DVD movie night and finally got to watch Moana

Forest liked it but was super scared of the lava monster and would run out of the room screaming anytime it showed up on the screen. He would stand around the corner until we told him it was safe to come back in, but man that lava monster just kept on coming back! 

By the third day of our trip the rain was clearing out but the temperatures were dropping even lower. It certainly wasn’t the warm sunny beach vacation I packed for! Jonathan’s parents wanted to take Forest to the Foley Train Museum and the Gulf Shores Zoo so we spent the morning on those outings. 

The train museum was a huge hit of course. They had an incredible display of model trains in a very detailed town. 
James from Thomas& Friends was one of the trains on the track so of course that was a huge hit for Forest. He could have spent all day just watching the trains going on their routes. They also had big trains outside that they could go in and explore as well as a mini steam train they could climb in. 

Next we went to the zoo and it was packed! Lots of spring breakers who also found it too cold and windy to enjoy the beach or the pool. We didn’t get to spend much time there since we were running up on F’s naptime but Forest enjoyed the animals he got to see. 
The next few days were heavy on sunshine but in the 30s and 40s most of the time. That’s cold y’all! I seriously didn’t even know Florida got that cold. Of course it was in the 70s back in Texas. Eye roll. My dad wanted to take Forest bike riding on the great trails they have across the border in Alabama and my mom and I tagged along to do some dog walking while they rode. 

I still think it’s the coolest thing ever that we can now take our 3 year old bike riding. He is such a pro now.  He was a big hit with all the other cyclists and walkers and everyone we passed made a comment about how good he was riding. He still doesn’t do so well with the rules of the road or listening in general which is one of the pitfalls of teaching a 3 year old to do something they can physically yet maybe not cognitively master yet. 

The great thing about this trail was it was super wide and not very populated and nowhere near vehicular traffic. I really wish we had something similar in The Woodlands. We have so many trails but most run alongside the road and cross several roads on all of our routes. He’s getting so much better at keeping a good pace and stopping at every stop sign but occasionally he’ll blow through a stop sign claiming ‘well there weren’t any cars coming!’. He’s still learning…. 

He took a big honking nap that afternoon so we didn’t do much else that day other than heading downstairs to try to get some pictures of Forest and the beach around sunset. Unfortunately he ran into the freezing cold ocean before the sunset actually happened and it was still really bright outside but I still got a few cute shots. 

I’m still learning…. 

The next day was Jonathan’s parents turn to take Forest bike riding and they brought a bike along for me to join them. It was a beautiful day and a smidge warmer than the day before but still pretty darn cold! 

Warm enough for an alligator spotting and a 40 minute bike ride. I’m curious as to how long Forest could ride his bike if we just let him go. He didn’t show any signs of being tired on this occasion and didn’t feel the need for a nap afterward. It’s not fair that my 3 year old has better endurance than me. No wonder I feel so tired all the time! 

Without a nap we were all pretty lazy that afternoon so I think we just played trains and watched Planes (again) and then went to dinner with Jon’s parents that evening at a gorgeous restaurant on the water, Shipp’s Harbor Grille. 

The next day was our last full day on Spring Break and luckily it was great weather! We still needed long sleeves but as long as we were in the sun it felt great. We decided to use the opportunity to finally take my dad’s boat out. 

Since it was St. Patrick’s day we went boating for cocktails and felt pretty darn lucky to see some incredible dolphins along the way. I’d never seen wild dolphins so close. 

They were touching the boat at one point and jumping up to where all we had to do was reach out to touch them. We decided out of respect not to actually pet them, but it was still a thrill! 

They stayed with us for a good 5 minutes just swimming around our boat and showing off for us. I call Forest my little dolphin and he’s in the ‘dolphin’ classroom at preschool so he was pretty excited to see them so close too! 

We ate lunch to the Tiki Bar and then boated back to the condo for naptime. 

Forest woke up with terrible sunburn! I felt like such a bad mom. He was wearing his hat most of the time on the boat and then I didn’t think to apply sunscreen for lunch even though we ate outside. Those little sunkissed cheeks were adorable though and didn’t seem to bother him at all so I’m hoping it wasn’t too bad of a burn. He didn’t peel or anything. 

After nap, my parents headed out to the Luke Bryan concert at The Wharf while Forest and I finally enjoyed some warmer temperatures on the beach. Funny story- the two afternoons I brought him down to the beach in his cold weather gear and instructed him not to go in the water, he ran straight in. The day I put him in a bathing suit and old him it was ok to get his legs wet, he stayed totally dry. 

That sand is a real bummer though. If I lived on a beach it would drive me crazy! It was everywhere. 

The next morning I went for one last sunrise run on the beach before we packed up the car and headed to Lafayette. 

We broke up the trip again and got back to Houston Sunday around naptime…though he actually hasn’t napped nearly at all since so…..that’s a different post for a different day but I blame you, Daylight Savings Time!