Monday, March 30, 2009

SnapKeddie: A Question of Light

Wow, it's been a while since we've done one of our "SnapKeddie" posts (click tag at the bottom of this post to see the others). I guess that's primarily because we've just been too busy to go on photography walks lately... And the pictures we've taken have been incorporated into other posts! But here's one that's been a germ of an idea in my mind for a while now...

The essence of photography is capturing light. And one of the main reasons why we wanted to upgrade to a DSLR was to be able to take better low-light photos -- most of the pictures we take are indoors, at evening events. It's much easier to get a fabulous shot of an outdoor vista, when the sun is shining brightly to illuminate the whole world... We were hoping that having a better sensor and larger lenses would help us get the indoors money shots.

And our camera does do a lot! But we discovered that the really key piece of this puzzle was having a good external flash.

Meet the Canon Speedlite 430EX II:

Isn't she a beauty? She's much more powerful than the camera's built-in pop-up flash, and much more versatile.

And wow, does having her make a difference in our pictures. Here are two from our recent small group "M" party:

I took the top picture before I realized that I really needed to use a flash. I've tweaked it a little in Photoshop to get rid of the yellowish tone, but you can still tell the difference in light quality. Plus, the camera had to have a slower shutter speed in order to properly expose the picture, which resulted in some motion blur on Mimi's face. The bottom picture is so much nicer.

The other thing I love about the Speedlite is its versatility. You can rotate and angle the flash head so that it points up or to either side, in order to bounce the flash off of the ceiling or a wall. And bounce flash is what has really revolutionized our pictures.

Here's an extreme example, showing the difference between straight-on flash and bounce flash:

This is David taking pictures of himself in the mirror of our dark bathroom. :) Obviously, straight-on flash caused overexposure of the flash head itself, but it also washed out all the other colors in the photo. The bounce flash made for a much more natural light.

Here's another example, to show why I always, always bounce the flash off the ceiling (assuming that there is a ceiling, and that it's white -- otherwise, you'd get off colors reflected):

Here's David smiling patiently while I experiment with the lighting at Matt's birthday party last weekend. With the flash straight on, you get the standard "flash photography" snapshot -- washed out colors, and a flat-looking subject. With the bounce flash, you get much more natural light, and more complex highlights and lowlights.

Of course, a lot of this is a matter of preference. I just happen to really like the way bounce flash works in the photos we've taken so far...

But there are some situations where it's much more up for grabs. For instance, the first dance at Jenitta and Stan's wedding. The reception was in a ballroom with high ceilings, and there were flashes going off throughout the whole dance. So I got the following two pictures of Stan dipping Jenitta at the end of the dance:

I'm pretty sure the first picture was the result of catching someone else's flash, while the second is my flash, bounced off the ceiling, but not quite reaching the couple -- I was probably too far away from them.

Part of me likes the higher contrast of the first shot -- you can clearly see that Jenitta's dress was, in fact, white. But another part of me prefers the second shot -- it's a closer representation of what the reception hall actually looked like (dim, romantic lighting), and you don't have any glaring reflections.

So what do you think? Which photo do you prefer? (And hey, might as well open it all up -- of each of the above pairings, which do you like best?)

Your opinions matter to us here at SnapKeddie headquarters... :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Visiting the Nielsens!

As promised, here's a write-up of our fabulous weekend away in New Mexico with Erik and Erin and their baby son, Luke! Warning: this is a long post, with lots of pictures -- what can I say, we had so many beautiful things to photograph!

Our first view of New Mexico, from the plane window

So here's our lovely long weekend, broken up into general categories. Starting off with:

Erik and Erin are parents!
It was strange and wonderful to see such dear old friends in such a new stage of their lives... One thing (of many!) that we appreciated about our visit was being able to live with new parents, and a one-month-old baby, for a few days. I thought I knew a lot about childcare and newborns, having seen PEF staff families raise their children here in Princeton, but there's no substitute for actually seeing all of the day-to-day activities of raising a little baby. And we've come away with even more respect for Erin and Erik as they parent their little son!

As an example -- did you know that newborns tend to need to eat about every two hours? I think I knew that beforehand. But did you know that it can take 45 minutes to an hour to actually feed a newborn, counting the time to feed, change the diaper, and burp? And then the baby will go down for a nap -- but did you know that it might take 15 to 20 minutes to get the baby to actually go to sleep? It does for Luke -- poor kid would go into full cry mode when he was tired, and Erik and/or Erin would sit by his bassinet, shushing him and soothing him to entice him to fall asleep. And then after all that, it'll almost be time for him to wake up hungry again...

It's a good thing Luke is as cute as a button. :)

Erik and Erin are homeowners!
Not only do they have a new baby, but they also own a beautiful home in Albuquerque. How terribly grown-up... :) We spent one gorgeous, sunny afternoon just hanging out in their backyard -- Erik was doing a little yardwork, Erin was inside feeding Luke, David was enjoying the sunshine, and I was taking photos like a maniac. Because that's what I do. :)

Erik and Erin are hikers!
OK, so this isn't new at all. What's striking, though, is that this hasn't changed, even though they now have a one-month-old baby.

David and I went into the trip figuring that we'd get to Albuquerque and just hang out at the Nielsens' home the whole time. We didn't want to be a burden on the new parents, and we certainly didn't need or expect to be entertained beyond getting to coo at little Luke.

But Erin and Erik had other plans... :) They took us on two different hiking expeditions in the mountains surrounding Albuquerque -- with Luke in tow! On Saturday, we drove out a couple hours to Tent Rocks National Monument, which has hiking trails through some incredibly striking natural geographic formations. Sure, Erin had to pause to feed Luke in a crevice in the mountains, and we ended up changing his diaper at another point along the trail, but we made it up to the top!

(Um, and by "we," I meant David and Erik. Erin had a good excuse -- I just punked out and couldn't make it the last several yards. I blame the high altitudes and lack of oxygen...)

And then on Sunday afternoon, we went for a hike along the La Luz trail, just northeast of Albuquerque. The trail itself is ten miles long, and leads to the top of the Sandia Mountains. We only went a little way up, but wow, what beautiful vistas we saw!

Luke is ready for his adoring public!
It helps that his parents also have a Canon DSLR -- he's used to having a big camera going off right next to him. :) I was sitting next to his carseat while we were running errands with Erin and Erik, and I couldn't resist taking the following series of baby facial expression pictures...

And seriously, who can resist baby feet? So so so so cute!!

Erin and Erik (and Luke!) -- thank you so much for showing us such a wonderful time! We're so thankful for your friendship, and we praise God for continuing to grow and strengthen our relationship with you despite the miles between us. It was such a blessing to be able to have such a refreshing time with such dear friends -- we can't wait until your East Coast visit this June!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Visiting the Nielsens: A Teaser!

We got back really late last night, and then we've been super busy all day today... But since we've already had comments (Anna, this is for you!), here's the briefest of teasers, in anticipation of what I'm sure will be a massively long post about our visit with the Nielsens!

More to come later... :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cowboy Take Me Away...

I'm done with my last conference call for the week, and I've finished the last time-sensitive projects on my plate, and I'm standing at the brink of three whole vacation days... So I thought I'd break my self-imposed "no blogging at work" rule and get the vacation party started a little early. :)

We're flying out tomorrow morning to beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico, to spend a nice long weekend with our dear friends Erik and Erin -- and to meet their baby boy, Luke! Because no matter how many times we may have watched all of the videos posted by his doting parents (and no matter how many of the videos I may now have memorized... what can I say, Erik and Erin are really cute as new parents!), nothing could beat actually meeting little Luke in person.

And it'll be so good to see Erik and Erin again! We've been friends and neighbors for years -- I was actually living with Erin and David was living with Erik before we all got married off. :) And we're looking forward to the day when some east coast university offers Erik a tenure-track position and brings them back closer to us...

So New Mexico, here we come! We probably won't be blogging between now and when we get back late on Monday -- but we will for sure be taking tons of pictures!

And now I'm off to "work" just a bit longer... That, or watch some more baby Luke videos at my desk...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Cooking Class at Roy's with Diana!

Thanks to the generosity of my dear friend and old college roommate, Diana, I got to go to a cooking class at Roy's, a fancy Hawaiian fusion restaurant in Philly, this afternoon!

It was really more of a demonstration than a cooking class -- we didn't actually get to cook anything ourselves. But we got to watch (and taste individual elements) as the restaurant's two sous-chefs took us through four amazing courses... It was like being an audience member for a Food Network show! So fun! :)

Eric and Mariah, the sous-chefs

And really, it made more sense to sit back and watch the demonstration, rather than get into the nitty gritty details of preparing the dishes ourselves... Especially since most of the dishes required multiple days of prep time. That's right, days. For instance, the short ribs that made up half of our surf and turf entree required marinating in a chicken and veal stock reduction that takes four days (and 150 pounds of veal bones, and 100 pounds of chicken bones) to prepare. And the shrimp for the "light and easy" salad was conveniently already deveined and poached in a complex stock, and the lettuce (three different types!) had already been sliced into 1/8th-inch thick pieces...

So I'm glad we got to watch the final steps of each dish -- and to eat the fruits of the sous-chefs' labor!

Our four courses: (1) Lakanilau Sushi Roll - crab dynamite, tempura asparagus, Kobe beef; (2) Roy's Classic Maui Waui Salad - Shrimp, Avocado, Caper-Lime Vinaigrette; (3) Island Style Surf and Turf - Sake-Teriyaki Glazed Salmon and Honey Mustard Grilled Short Rib; and (4) Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle - Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Molten Hot Center served a la Mode.

Remember: you can click to enlarge!

Believe me, it tasted just as good as it looks and sounds. :)

And it was so much fun to watch the demonstrations! Below: (1) torching the Kobe beef on top of the sushi rolls to sear and crisp; (2) plating the shrimp salad; (3) drizzling butter sauce over the short ribs and mashed potatoes; and (4) a couple other attendees watching the fun.

Diana, thank you so much for the really fun afternoon in the city with you! You know you don't have to bribe me with amazing dinners to get me to hang out with you -- but I'll never say no to this kind of outing. :)