Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Things That Sparkle…and What to Focus On

Before the season slips too far away, I wanted to share some photos that, to me, highlight the Christmas season. I wanted to take some close-ups because I find that as in everything, it's the little details in Christmas that make it special…

...and sometimes what's not in focus is the most special!

Like this ginger bread house with a Christmas tree in the background:
Look at what's not in focus...my Star Trek Christmas tree. Notice straight above the lowest orange gumdrop is the Starship Enterprise D, flying over the Christmas scene just like the ancient carol proclaims, "The first Noel, a spaceship we saw…"

 Or a closeup of a "manger scene" at my brothers cabin:
Notice that Jesus is not in focus. I'd like to blame the camera, but, at least for me, that's the story of my adult-hood life. That could very well be me standing next to the Baby Jesus. I'm nearby because I believe, but I like being who people focus on...and if you look closely, I'm not even looking at Jesus…looking far off trying to plan my own future. Typical Greg.

Or this view of Christmas cookies:
Baking cookies is a tradition in my family, my brother's kids even stare at them cooking through the oven. Awesome. And, for some reason, just like the Christmas tree lights in the background make this photo tons better, baking and eating cookies tastes tons better at Christmas as well.

Check out this yummy dessert tray:
I love the colors, and the sparkly ornaments in the background. Paula is awesome at providing a warm, inviting place to celebrate. I'm sure it's just coincidence, but the most yummy treats are in focus…yet the unfocused items…the ornaments and the house, complete the festive image.

Red candles certainly remind me of Christmas:
The empty plate in the blurred background remind me of how awesome all the Christmas meals were! 

Finally, a closeup of our Christmas tree:
I love how my family decorated this tree. They all put a lot of work into placing the lights, ribbon, ornaments just the way they want it. It reminds me that my wife, 2 sons, and 2 daughters make my life sparkle in what they do…and who they are. Without them, my life would be much like this corner of the room without the tree; bare, lonely, dark. 

The reflection in the upper right window reminds me that our family impacts others…for good and bad…and if we shine, others lives will light up as well.

I hope this Christmas was excellent for you. For me the pre-Christmas rush was very hard (early Dec), but once our families got together, it was quite rewarding. 

I can't wait for what 2014 holds. 

So, how about you? What did you focus on this Christmas?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Photography - Winter Thrills

OK. My plan to summarize my week of photos just isn't going to work. I'm just having too much fun! Instead, I'll just share some highlights that I think you'll like (along with some technical details if you care :-)   )

One of the most delightful photo opportunities I had while celebrating Christmas was outside in the snow. Take a look...

Our kids love to play in the snow. I was thrilled with how well my camera took photos out in the snow. Of course it helps that these kids take to the camera so well…

Content and happy
I love the background blur, and the clarity of the jacket and poms poking out of her hood. 
    1/800 at f/5.6  ISO400   200mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

That was fun! 
    1/1250 at f/5.3  ISO400   155mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

This has a great 'bokeh' as well…blur background to focus on this scheming ten year old :-)
    1/500 at f/5.6  ISO400   200mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

Sliding into home
I did get one decent action shot using "Sports" mode, and got a bit of 'frozen in air' snow, but I'll have to work on that more…maybe get at the bottom of the hill next time.
     1/1600 at f/5.6  ISO400   55mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

REAL Sledding
My brother has two snowmobiles at his cabin. The BEST part was driving with my wife riding arms-wrapped-around-me behind me. There's a whole post sometime in the future about that bonding experience. The second best part was that I was able to try out some action shots, and was thrilled to see the outcome: 

Girls ready for battle
I love the eyes
    1/250 at f/5.6  ISO200   55mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

Oldest tearing it up!
    1/500 at f/5.6  ISO640   125mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm  

Youngest giving the thumbs-up!
    1/500 at f/5.6  ISO450   200mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm  

Wide Open Future

This one is probably my favorite…just because it captured the sled so well but also the background and the wide open space they could choose from…
    1/800 at f/5.6  ISO400   200mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

With a beautiful white christmas, our pup was thrilled with playing in the snow…I was able to get some great shots of her…some using just the automatic and some using sports mode.

Playing Wolf
I confess that touched this up to remove her yellow lead. I really want her fully trained to never bolt, but until I do, I'll have to rely on touchups to remove her restraints. 
    1/640 at f/4.5  ISO400   95mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

True Colors
This is honestly the first photo I've accurately captured her wonderful facial colors.
    1/500 at f/5.3  ISO720   155mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

Orchid just loves the snow. I'm glad I could capture her glare. 
    1/500 at f/5.6  ISO560   200mm           Lens: Nikkor 55-200mm 

I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I love this camera. I know it's an 'entry level', but I'm thrilled with the photos, and I'm thrilled to share them with you.

That's all for now.

Question for ya: Which is your favorite shot?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Playing With Photography - Week 2 - Things That Fly

This month I am focusing on taking the best photos I can with my new camera. If interested, here's my purchase story, and my week 1 playing with photography.

This week I focused on one category: Things that Fly

My topic?

My girl's first optionals gymnastics meet. It was at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and was so dang fun because: new camera, other dads have cameras, and most of all, our girls new routines. they are AWESOME!!!

First up was Renna's Level 6 meet. The USA Gymnastics changed all the levels so while she was level 6 last year, this is a higher "Optionals" level.

Level 6 Team

 Straight as an arrow
There's so much else going on at these meets that I tried to crop to focus on the gymnast, but now I know why pros get really close and point upwards…avoid all the other distractions.


Nice form on dismount
 For most of these I used my 55-200 lens, and 'sports mode' that usually chose 1/400 exposure. As you can see, there are some small blur spots, but for my first time out, I'm quite happy with the shots. 

Starting beam routine

Tumbling across floor
Some I took during warmups. It was nice to practice with, but sometimes I captured a good one

Posing on the floor 

End of the routine
This I experimented with fading focus. It seems to nicely focus on her, but I still think I have work to do.

Awesome vault
This one was really far away. I zoomed in to 142mm, cropped, and ended up with a decent shot

Next it was Julia's Level 7 meet.

Level 7 and 8 Team

The start of her beam routine

Beam splits high in the air
I really liked where the beam was placed so I could get a clear shot of them without all the other competitors and judges

Beautifully positioned leap 
This is one of my favorites…since the camera was able to capture the move pretty well. I did notice some small lines/waves in the photo (her leg) that is probably due to capturing so fast but maybe due to the kit lens as well?

High on the bars

Vaulting Julia
This was highly zoomed in, so while the camera captured it as good as it could, there is some distortion since it's such a fast event, and it was so far away. Still, after cropping pretty far in, you can still see Julia's position and precision. 

All in all, I was super impressed with the camera. We'll see how future meets go, and I hope to get some even better shots as I learn and experiment.

Question: What settings do you use for indoor sporting events?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Playing With Photography - Week 1

Last post I talked about my black friday adventure (notice I did not capitalize the b or f. I'm angry at it still and it's my own literary way to slap that day in the face).

The very next day, I saw a bunch of "Photo Challenges" to take photos of certain things each day. I thought it was perfect timing, so I started. However, I soon found that what I was interested in photoing was not necessarily what was on their list, so in my usual HINTER fashion, I'm doing my own challenge. Here is what I photo'd in Week 1.
Note: click a photo to see a bigger version. Note 2: I had to 'dumb down' the quality…the originals are 6MB and I can drop in much smaller areas with the 26mega pixel size :-)

Things Right In Front of Me
I'm not lazy…I'm just excited to see what this camera can do!!! My first few pics were things right in front of me, like…

My bonsai tree - I loved the closeup of the roots and rocks and how everything else blurred out

A flower in a vase - This was at night so I altered ISO but also took flash

Wife's bird feeder - Crazy Bird Lady likes her birds, and now we can get great shots of them

Things I Play With
I just HAD to try out action shots since the whole reason for the camera was to get action shots of our girls. Since girls weren't around, I tried it out on pup.

Orchid returning with glee in her eyes (I added a blur effect after)

Love the intensity of her eyes laser-focused on her prey/frisbee

Her leaps and bounds captured here in mid bound

Things I'm Proud Of
I am so proud of this young man so wanted to capture a deep thought

Things In Low Light
I like a challenge. I wanted to see how well some ornaments would show up in low light if I kept the shutter open for a long time. These were 2.5 seconds, and I found even with tripod I needed to use the timer since my pushing the button bobbled the camera enough to blur.

I love the colors and sparkles captured here

This "J" is subtle, but I love the richness it conveys

Things In Focus
I love showing things in focus with the background a bit blurry. Seems to make the subject pop out…and I'm quite happy with the clarity of the subject…

Mic with drums in the background - Excited for other cool studio shots

Pup in front of our christmas tree

Well, that's all for week one.  This coming week will be a challenge to think of other things but we'll see what comes up.

Until next time, happy photo hunting!!!

Any suggestions on what I should photo next?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Black Friday Really Screwed Me Up

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's the only one left that focuses on connecting with those you love. Even the retail/media focuses on how to make the time with your loved ones better.

This Thanksgiving was fantastic. The family and conversation was great, and the missus cooked her first turkey and it tasted amazing!

At 11pm Thursday, glowing in good-day vibes, full bellies and gift beer (the tastiest kind), my wife reminded me that we should look for a Black Friday deal for a camera so we could finally get some decent shots of our girl's gymnastic meets. I'd been researching for months so I already had it narrowed down to a few options. The only question in my mind was how 'pro' should I go?

I looked at target.com and saw a great deal on a Nikon D3200 bundled with 2 lenses for $500 ($300 off). I remembered that they had already opened at 8pm so I hopped in the car at 11:30pm, bought the last one, and drove home very happy. In fact, I commented to myself that I really liked the "Open Thursday Night" thing since I didn't have to get up early to get this deal.

…and then Black Friday arrived.

I dropped my girls off at gymnastics at 7am, drove home, and as I sat down for breakfast, I thought, "I wonder what other deals are out there?"

I saw B&H had the same bundle I bought, but no tax, and included bag and memory card. I saw Walmart had an older but 'better' Nikon D5100 with almost the same lenses for the same price. I saw Best Buy had a 'fantastic' Nikon D7000 with a single lens for $800, regularly for $1700.

My 'I deserve the best' attitude kicked in, and thinking I could get an even better deal than the one I bought, I excitedly went online and noticed all were available! I went to walmart.com and put their deal in the cart. I went to B&H and put their deal in the cart. I then spent about 5 minutes to compare the D3200 with the D5100. I still wasn't completely sure since the Walmart lenses didn't have a VR feature, but I figured I could return it so I went to buy it. I clicked "Purchase", and Walmart nicely said, "This item was removed from your cart and is no longer available".


I lost out on a killer deal because I delayed 5 minutes to compare and be a wise purchaser? AND, some stranger just STOLE it out of my internet cart!?! I tried again but sure enough, the deal was gone.

I then went to B&H and clicked "Check Out". At least I'd get the extra goodies at the same price. What did I see? "This item is no longer available and is on backorder."


By that time I was furious.

Since I had an MRI scheduled for 9:30am (to diagnose my screwed up shoulder) I left early to stop by Best Buy and see if there were any of the 'fantastic' D7000s left. I arrived to learn the last one was sold an hour earlier. I immediately thought that if I had just drove here after dropping the girls off at 7am, I would have gotten the "only camera you'll ever need".

So friggin' frustrated.

Throughout the MRI, which was a 2 hour ordeal including 30 minutes in a claustrophobic tube, all I could think through was how I failed to plan, how I missed out, how I ended up with the worst deal ever, and how others would scoff when I bring out my entry-level D3200 while they hold their D5100 or D7000. The whole day was crap. I was angry, frustrated, and my family (and pup) got the brunt of it.


Now, a couple days after, I'm still ticked at the whole situation. I can't help but thinking through how I could have done it differently to get the best deal possible. But I'm starting to ask myself: How did I go so quickly from wonderful family vibe, to 'got a great deal', to 'life is crap, and my camera deal sucks' in the span of just a few waking hours?

I think it comes down to: Am I content? Do I have peace?

Both answers are a resounding "No" for me.

I should be. In all external metrics I should be content: family, income, hobbies, skills, opportunities. But I am not content. I do not have peace. Black Friday seemed to magnify my state of mind...

…There's something better just out of reach
…what I have is not good enough 
…I might be satisfied if I keep pushing/moving/scheming/working

That needs to stop. If I was content, Black Friday would not affect me like it does. In fact, it might even be fun. But for now, it's a potent reminder that I need to find my purpose, my peace, my contentment.

…because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to find it in the aisles during Black Friday.


In case you're curious, I opened my D3200; convinced myself that saving $300 was OK and I didn't need the pro camera since I'm not a pro, and you know what? I love the pictures I'm taking.

Hmm…content with an 'entry level' DSLR. Maybe there's a glimmer of hope for me after all.

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