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Moving to Manual: How to Transition Away from Automatic Mode with Your DSLR

DSLRCanon EOS 60D DSLR by Jung-nam Nam (Flickr Creative Commons)

Are you a new DSLR owner? Or have you had a fancy camera for a while but never quite known what to do with it? If not, you might be interested in skipping over today’s post. But for those who are into photography and have a DSLR, I wanted to talk about how I often find myself struggling to turn off the full-automatic mode and get my creative juices flowing by experimenting with the manual settings—it can be intimidating! Here are just a few tips I’ve discovered along the way to get myself moving toward manual:

  1. Turn off the autofocus. No really, this is one of the easiest things to start with, and it can still give you a lot of creative license. The point of focus in a scene, especially one with a well-defined foreground and background can dramatically change its look and feel. So play around with it, do close and far focuses and see what you like best for each shot. Plus, fiddling around with the focus control makes you look like a pro out in the field.
  2. Shoot more pictures. You know that point where you snap the shot and you think “Got it!” in your head? Now go back and take 5 more shots of the same scene. Pick a new angle. Try a new focus. Practice holding the camera really steady so you don’t get any blur. Lots of minor defects in photos show up when your at the computer screen reviewing what you shot, so you might as well have a lot of material to work with.
  3. Turn on exposure bracketing. The exposure bracketing feature will cause your camera to take several photos in succession when you snap a shot (both above and below aperture or shutter speed settings you set). This means that even if you are playing around with some of the fancier features of your camera and mess up the amount of light going into a particular photo, chances are that one of the exposure bracketing images corrected for your error. It’ll help give you the confidence to try new techniques without worrying so much about “losing the shot.”
  4. Change from color to black and white. A lot of photographers say not to do this, because you can always edit your photos in post-production to come out black and white, while you can’t go back and add color to a black and white photo. But I find that shooting in black and white occasionally sparks my creativity and helps me to get over feeling uptight about whether I’m putting all my settings on the “correct” level or not.
  5. Play around with the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You knew this was coming right? This is the part I tend to get most nervous about and feel like I have a hard time getting right. But practicing some of the other techniques above should help give you a little more wiggle room, and here is a blog post to help you out in understanding and experimenting with those settings. Believe it or not, you’re actually smarter then your camera sometimes in figuring out these levels, and remember that it’s normal to have a lot of over- and under-exposed photos as part of the learning process. It really can’t be avoided.
  6. Forgive automatic. Last, but not least, remember that it’s okay to shoot in automatic when you feel like it. It takes a long time to really get the hang of shooting in manual (I’m certainly not there yet). Also, most cameras also come with semi-automatic settings, where you can experiment with the aperture for example while the camera sets the shutter speed for you. To be honest there will probably always be some shots that I switch over to full-automatic for, simply because I want to make sure that I capture the moment. As long as you’re happy with how you experiment you shouldn’t feel guilty for switching between automatic and manual modes.

That’s it for now! Hopefully some of these tips are helpful as you grow and experiment with your camera. I’m looking forward to getting out again soon to keep going with my own trials!

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Green-Eyed Monster: Can We Learn Something From Envy?

envyEnvy by Mandy Jansen (Flickr Creative Commons)

The last book I read in 2013 was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and what a great way to finish out the year! I’ll post more of a summary about it the next time I do a book review post, but if you want a taste, check out my Mom’s review of the audiobook version here. (Yes, I know, shameless plug, but what can I say, she does great reviews!).

Anyway, a passing comment in the book mentioned that the people we envy show us something about ourselves—they show us what we truly want at the deepest level of our lives. I thought about this idea and decided to reflect on the people that I personally envy and specifically what I envy them for.

First I wrote out a short list of people that inspire the feeling of envy or jealousy in me (sort of the opposite of positive visioning I guess, and strangely satisfying). Next I went back and wrote out a sentence or so next to each person’s name trying to get as specific as possible about what I envied them for. Finally, after I’d written a couple sentences for each person, I went back and bolded the words that popped out to me from each of those sentences.

And here’s what I came up with:

real. express. share. beautiful. magical. power. passionate. happy. place and people. born to do. persistence. process. indispensable. connected. caring so much. speaking truly and authentically. positive. looks. decorating her life with beauty. kindred.

It was a really informative process for me. While some of the words describe a specific trait, I can tell that there are underlying emotions and energies as well. I’m not 100% sure yet what the list is telling me, but I definitely see authenticity, connection, and vibrancy as being key. There’s something about authenticity in particular, a kind of sparkle that it brings to someone’s life that I can’t help but envy and admire.

Of course who’s to say if the people I listed actually feel the way that I characterize them in my mind. They may in reality feel small and unheard or frustrated with where they are in life. But that’s not really the point. It’s more about understanding what desires I project onto other people and why. And it’s also interesting to note which people in my life I think to when I do this exercise. Usually it’s people I haven’t heard from in a while or that I’m not especially close to, which adds support to the idea that they might not actually be the way that I think they are. Regardless, it was a quick and fun experiment and something I might think about trying again the next time I hit a crossroads in life.

What do you think your envy words would be?

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Poetry and Sunny Days

Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait.
-Dan Albergotti, from “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale.”

This week I was introduced to the awesome poem above by Dan Albergotti (full version here). Poetry is always up for interpretation of course, but in my opinion it’s about what to do with yourself during those times when you feel stuck for some reason. I don’t know if I’m in that place right now, but I still really liked the words, and I remembered again how much I love thought-provoking poetry. Yesterday I went into Goodreads and added a bajillion poetry books to my to-read list.

In other news, it’s been surreal reading about the crazy cold weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast. I just had a lovely day in the sun hanging out with my mom in the Bay Area.

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Another thing I’ve been doing with my free time is experimenting in the kitchen. Results = kale chips and a smoothie. Sometimes I forget how easy it is to mix up your routine (haha, no pun intended) and make something different. I’d had that blender sitting around under my sink unopened for ages and just felt like it was time to break it out and use it!

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I have to admit that I’m being a little less diligent about getting work done before the craziness of classes starts again, but at least procrastination is tasty!

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5 Awesome Cover Songs

Five Things ForwardIt’s been a little while, but I’m bringing  back 5 Things Forward to post about a few of my favorite cover songs.  I don’t really consider myself to be a music aficionado or anything, but I really appreciate when an artist can take a great tune and make it theirs without ruining the magic. In my opinion here are a few great ones:

1) Crazy by Alanis Morissette. I absolutely loved the original Seal song and his unique voice, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t ever find someone who could hold a candle to his creation. But actually I enjoy how Alanis takes it in a totally different direction with her cover and awesome music video (the ending is a surprise).


Link to the Seal version.

2) Voodoo Child by Angélique Kidjo. Jimi Hendrix might never have imagined his rock song being turned into an afro-funk piece, but that’s exactly what Angélique Kidjo has managed to do. Her version is fun and creative, I love the fusion of American and African.


Link to the Jimi Hendrix version.

3) Don’t Stop Believing by Glee. This is one probably a lot of 20-somethings and under recognize. I was never a dedicated viewer of the show, but I still listen to some of the songs that come from it. I’ve always thought this was a really talented remake of the original Journey version. (And who doesn’t  like a little glimpse at what Sue Sylvester is up to?)


Link to the Journey version.

4) Eleanor Rigby by David Cook. Something about the energy and passion in this version really gets to me. The gravel tones in David Cook’s voice also add a completely different feel than what the Beatles initially put out. When he hits the chorus I almost imagine him flying over a huge crowd.


Link to The Beatles version.

5) House of the Rising Sun by Haley Reinhart. Here’s another American Idol creation. Haley Reinhart brings a sultry, deep tone to the popular tune by The Animals, though Wikipedia tells me the that song has been around in folk-version for a long time. I love her presence and stage confidence too. (Fast forward to 1:09 on the video for the beginning of the song).


Link to The Animals version.

What are your favorite covers?

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Photographing People: How to Get Over the Discomfort?

world bank portraitPortrait of Child. Uzbekistan by World Bank Photo Collection (Flickr Creative Commons)

I have a quandary. I love looking at portrait photography, and I’m dying to try it, but usually when I go out to shoot with my DSLR I’m way too chicken to take anyone’s photograph candidly or even ask them if I can take one.

In my head there’s a mental gallery of all sorts of shots that I would love to have taken if I had had the guts. Don’t get me wrong, I love photographing still objects, art, and landscapes too. But there’s something about human expression that just seems so dynamic and fascinating to try and capture on film. It’s an entirely new technique to learn. I have gotten some shots of people when I’m just out with my iPhone or point-and-shoot camera, but I’d love to get the full-bodied image that comes from DSLR photography.

I know I’m not alone in this discomfort. A quick Google search landed me on a Flickr forum with photographers pitching in left and right about their tips on the subject. Some people suggest shooting from the hip, a technique where you don’t hold the camera up to your eye in hopes that people won’t realize you’re photographing them. Another interesting suggestion was to start with photographing people at parades who are waiting on the sidelines to start marching, or people near you who are watching the parade. Some people just recommend gritting your teeth and going for it until you feel more comfortable.

It probably will take at least some amount of sheer brute effort to force myself to get out there and ask people if I can get a close-up of them. And I really might be surprised about how many people are interested. Once, when I was taking shots in Oakland, two guys walking past laughed and asked if I wanted to take their picture, but I was too surprised to say yes and they had already started crossing the street by the time it occurred to me to say “Wait!!!”

I’ve gotten a few good shots of family and close friends that are portrait-style, so exploring that more might be a good first step. It would also give me an excuse to play around with things like lighting and positioning with a patient audience. And there’s certainly a few places I could go in Oakland to be in the middle of a bunch of people, where hopefully it would be less conspicuous to photograph. Maybe all I need is a little 2014 energy to get me experimenting!

Anyone have other thoughts about how to get started with photographing people?

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Family Fun

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Ever wondered what the inside of a computer hard drive looks like? Here you go. This is why I love coming home. My dad is always tinkering with something or another and ready to show us how the world operates from the inside.

Now I’m back in my apartment making plans for the rest of vacation (I still have another 2 weeks off!) I actually have some school-related work to get done, so I think the down time will work out as a nice combo between work and play. Though I do have to admit that I stayed up until 1am last night watching Sherlock and didn’t roll out of bed this morning until 11ish. Guess you gotta relax too!

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Oh Hey There 2014!

happy new yearHappy New Year by Amodiovalerio Verde (Flickr Creative Commons)

My first thought in sitting down to write a post about New Year’s Eve was how to make it unique among the many other awesome New Year posts popping up? I could tell you about the things that I accomplished this year (or didn’t accomplish). I could talk about my goals for 2014. Or I could have decided not write a post at all. But I do feel compelled to write something, if only to wish people good tidings. So here’s a little spontaneous musing on how I feel about the upcoming year itself.

Like 2013, I’m sure the next year will be full of new people and new experiences, but I’m happy to also be going into it with a solid sense of place. While I might be moving at some point next year, I’ll definitely be sticking around the Bay Area, not hopping all over the country (or even other countries) like some of my friends have planned after graduation. And even thought that comes with a bit of self-judgement—am I not being adventurous enough at this free stage in my life?—it also helps me feel calmer about graduating from my program soon and hopefully moving back to full-time employment. And I’m hoping it will also mean the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with the people around me who are similarly invested in the area.

While I do have some goals for the upcoming year—some which I already outlined in an earlier post—I’m also moving into 2014 pretty happy with how I’ve been taking care of myself recently.  Despite the demands of grad school I make time for blogging and creative writing. I refuse to do all-nighters like I did a couple of times in college. I try to dig out my camera and my jewelry-making stuff every once in a while. And I recently joined a gym that I’ve been going to almost every other day, which is a really positive change in habit for me.

So I don’t feel like I’m starting from scratch in terms of self-improvement for the new year. What I do think will be important though is getting better at holding myself accountable for my goals. I don’t want to start lagging on my gym visits if it gets rainy, which I’ve been known to do in the past. And I want to get better at editing my stories and essays, rather than letting them get stuck in the first or second draft stage when I don’t feel like slogging through the changes anymore. Some of these things will come with time, though some of it is about intention and how much I work to schedule in benchmarks, rewards, and check-ins for my goals.

But I’m pretty content overall, and I really do wish the best to everyone else out there who sees the new year as an opportunity to commit—or recommit—to their goals. While goal-setting can be a little overdone around this time of year, it’s also fun to build off of the momentum of everyone else who is thinking about similar things. Best of luck, and see you in 2014!

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Christmas Updates

santa on treeHey there! Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. I thought I would post just a few quick highlights of what’s been great over the past few days.

  • Opening presents: I was lucky to get several great Christmas presents. I’ve had “Counting Stars” from OneRepublic’s Native album pretty much on repeat since I got it, and the rest of the CD is great too. I’m also excited about getting some books I’ve really been wanting to read, like This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz and Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.
  • Starting A Game of ThronesThis book has been on my to-read list for a while, especially with all the hubbub of friends who like the TV show. So finally I just curled up in my old room at my parents’ house and dug in. It’s great so far, really different than other things I’ve been reading lately. Sometimes it’s nice to read fantasy and get drawn into a completely fictional world.
  • Catching up with old friends: I just had a coffee date with a good friend who went to high school and college with me, and have also been catching up with friends who live far away on Skype. It’s been wonderful to not feel rushed for once, and to have the time to really check in with other people in my life.
  • Going for walks: Spending most of my time in the city sometimes makes me forget that walking around a neighborhood can be a really peaceful thing. Today I experienced a beautiful orange-red sunset over the hills while walking around. The suburbs aren’t too bad every once and a while.
  • Doing some blog maintenance: Over the past few days I created a to-do list in Trello of things I’ve been meaning to catch up with on the back-end of the blog, and because of vacation I got the chance to actually take care of most of it. It’s nice to just have a chunk of time like that for once.

All in all, I’m glad that my vacation got kicked off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of relaxation and taking care of loose ends.

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West Oakland Exploring: American Steel Studios

You know all those things that you want to do for fun but you never get around to because there’s not much time? That’s how I was feeling about taking photos with my DSLR. So, in the middle of the craziness of finals, I put on my calendar that I was going on a photo exploration trip this past Saturday in West Oakland. Which I did, and it was tons of fun!

V and I dragged our bikes out of the building and hopped on to get away from downtown and out into the more residential and industrial neighborhood of West Oakland. It’s such an interesting neighborhood that’s seeing a lot of changes these days with new folks moving in near the train station. Historically it’s an African American community where lots of neat things happened, though like many neighborhoods it’s also had its struggles with crime.

I was attracted to the area because we’ve biked past it before and seen all these old warehouses and factories that I thought would be awesome to photograph. And lo and behold we biked right up to one warehouse that had a sign saying “Art” and an arrow pointing around the corner. Of course we followed the signs and found that the whole warehouse had actually been converted into an industrial arts space. It was so amazing to stumble upon it! And I think they only had that sign out since they were having an open house that day, so any other day we might have gone right past without knowing what it was.

For local readers who are interested, it’s called American Steel Studios. And without further ado, here are some pictures I took while visiting:

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Happy Holidays!

It’s time for the obligatory holiday post! Merry Christmas for those celebrate it, and Happy Holidays to everyone! We all know that the holidays can bring up a range of emotions, depending on where you and your loved ones are able to be throughout this time, but I’m fortunate this year to be living close to my family and able to spend a lot of quality time with them due to a month off from grad school for winter break.

Some things I always look forward to around this time of year:

  • All the lights, trees, and decorations! I love the way so many people get into decorating around the holidays. Everywhere you go in the Bay Area there is something festive in your face, adding a new dimension to all the places you know so well.
  • Staying cozy indoors. Baby it’s cold outside. During the cold snap that was definitely true and it’s still nice to be spending time curled up on the couch with a cup of tea and my laptop or a book. I feel like this is the one part of the year where it’s still acceptable to just laze around and take a slower approach to life. (Once you get all the shopping done of course).
  • The food and drinks. Beside pumpkin ice cream, which I’ve mentioned my love for before, you’ve got your apple ciders, your pumpkin pies, your eggnog, your gingerbread, and so many other amazing seasonal foods that you spend the rest of the year wanting. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I’ll make some gingerbread cookies this weekend…

So I’m pretty jazzed about the holidays, and about all the free time I now have in my hands, since finals are finally over.

This year also marks the first time that I’ve made a holiday card. V and I had fun wrapping a fake present (it’s an empty box) and setting up a scene for the front of the card. Picture me getting the camera ready on a tripod in our apartment and then dashing into the photo to hold the gift after setting the self-timer.

Here’s the front of the card:

holiday card front

And the back:

holiday card back

We don’t have a holiday tree, so instead we put our little fake present next to our houseplant, Misha. We’ve actually put an ornament on her since then too. (Yes, we are a little silly!)

What are your favorite things about the most wonderful time of the year?