Monday, November 30, 2009

Tilt-Shift, or How to Fake It

Tilt-shift in photography and film. It's a way of making a normal scene in a photo look like tiny toys grouped together. I think it's really cool, but then again, I built little shoebox dioramas for my own amusement when I was a kid.

For a great example of how it's used in film, check out the opening credits of DOLLHOUSE:

This is achieved by manipulating the depth of field; you reduce it to trick your brain into thinking what you're looking at is a miniature. Here's a more technical explanation but honestly, I think it's as dry as that first slice of bread in the bag because someone keeps forgetting to put the plastic tag thingie back on. (How hard is it to do that?)

"‘Tilt-shift’ actually encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift. (Are you asleep yet?) Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. (Ah, yes, that one. I think she was in charge of my high school.) Shift is used to change the line of sight while avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings. In many cases, “tilt-shift photography” refers to the use of tilt and a large aperture to achieve a very shallow depth of field.”

Now, one way to create this effect is by using Photoshop. There are lots of tutorials to walk you through all the steps. Or you can use TiltShiftMaker, and they'll do it all for you!

I'm an instant gratification kinda gal. I used Tilt Shift Maker. And voila:

This one reminds me of those plastic turtle homes we had as kids.

Smashing magazine has 50 examples you can check out. I'd love to see more. If you try it, send me a link and I'll post them.

Happy faking!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lost and found

As many of you know, my Youngest is across the country at university. She's in her element, studying fine arts. But she misses her home and family, and asked if we wouldn't mind sending a postcard every once in a while to lift her spirits. Isn't it true that there's something really satisfying about receiving an actual letter or postcard or box in the mail? An email just doesn't cut it. And this girl loves postcards. Look at the wall above her desk at home.

The wall of postcards
Originally uploaded by Pamelala
So, as a mom who lives to please her younguns, I rummaged around my desk drawer and discovered a special packet of postcards I'd purchased at my favourite place on earth, the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was saving these for a special occasion (or person) and I knew my daughter merited one or two. She loves this gallery as much as I do, and we visited it together for her sixteen birthday and my hmmphbeedumph-tieth.

I filled the card with nonsense about home and how proud I was that she'd taken up knitting and asked if she might give me some pro-tips when she came home at Christmas since she'd managed to knit herself a beautiful hat after reading directions on the internet. Then, after putting double postage on the thing just to make sure, I passed the card on to my husband and asked him to add it to the outgoing mail in his office, thinking that would be the fastest method to get it to our girl.


My husband meant well, but he really is the quintessential absent-minded professor. He called me later that day and said now, don't be mad, but I lost the postcard somewhere between the house and the office. He had retraced his steps but there was no sign of the card.

I couldn't send another exactly like it. This was a one-of, purchased years ago. We told Youngest what happened and said we'd meant well, but....sorry.

Well, she phoned yesterday and said she'd gone to the post office with her roommate, who found four cards in her inbox. As she watched and felt just the teensy-eensiest sorry for herself, she looked in her box and saw something inside.

It was the lost postcard. Someone found it and added the following message to my motherly ramblings about studying hard, learning to knit and coming home for Christmas:

I found this postcard in Westmount Square, MTL. Keep on knitting! Karl

I think this added message thrilled our girl even more than the original card. Here was someone who took the time and effort to make a stranger happy. Wow.

So here's to you, Karl, wherever you may be. Thanks for bringing a little sunshine into our lives, and may you find joy and happiness and good health this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Field Trip

Went to visit a friend this week. She has a new cottage. The weather was iffy, it being November. But it was still wonderful to be in the country.
Her lake is long and shallow, so the ice is already forming.

Her cottage is warm and cosy. Not so the old outhouse in the woods.
But it still has its charms.
I liked this old tree, struggling to hang on, its roots wrapped around a mossy rock.
And at the base of this tree, a magic door where a sprite lives. I opened the door to see inside, just to make sure.
A Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

You can't HANDLE the spoof

This is beyond funny. This is hurt your forehead funny.

Tom Cruise auditioning for the role of Edward in Twilight:

Celebrity Auditions: New Moon from Electric Spoofaloo on

Thanks to Lainey for this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sir Ken Robinson in a TED lecture

For years I watched as the arts programs in my kids' schools were slashed - art class gave way to more science classes, gym class was reduced to one hour a week, and computer science was anointed the new king of them all. Not that I have anything against computers. Heck, my relationship with my laptop falls just short of carnal. (Now there's a sentence you don't want taken out of context.) But I argued that kids in kindergarten didn't need computer skills as much as social skills and that it was more important to nurture and encourage their innate creativity.

My proposal fell on deaf ears so I did what a lot of stay-at-home moms armed with degrees and work experience did at that time - I volunteered for a lunchtime enrichment program. If the school board wasn't going to offer more opportunities for creativity, then volunteers would organize it and offer it to the children outside of school hours. You want to learn the trumpet? Done. You want to take karate lessons? Done. Paint, dance a Highland Fling and sing in a chorus? Done, done, done.

This TED lecture by Sir Ken Robinson articulates everything I was trying to argue back then. All three of my children studied Liberal Arts before they went on to specialize in their various fields of interest (English Literature and Political Science, Finance and Economics, and Fine Arts and Literature as it turns out.) With a grounding in liberal arts, they learned how to think, developed the skills necessary to communicate effectively, and most importantly, they gained a lifelong passion for learning. If you want to run a company, it helps to know a bit about the world at large, don't you think?

Some salient points Robinson makes:

1. Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

2. If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.

3. We stigmatize mistakes, and we're educating people out of their creative capacities.

"Picasso said all children are born artists. We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we get educated out of it."

Everywhere, around the world, is the hierarchy of subjects in any school system.

Mathematics and languages is at the top.
Humanities comes next.
The arts are at the bottom.

He speaks of "a new ecology of the mind" just like the one we apply to the earth. "Our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to re-think the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children."

Thanks to kcdyer and jamesmccann for bringing this to my attention. It's brilliantly funny and uplifting, and its message is clear and true. Put aside 20 minutes and have a listen. It's well worth it, for the Shakespeare bits alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fear of Flying...

...while sitting near a screaming toddler. Who hasn't been there, either as a parent to the child, or as a passenger sitting near one of the little anklebiters? I've been both. It's a toss up which is worse.

I remember one memorable trip to London with my husband. The plane was delayed by several hours, with various excuses made over the loudspeaker by the gate crew - "mechanical difficulties" was the first, "awaiting a part from Toronto" was the second, "wrong part sent" was the third, "awaiting another part" was the fourth...

Sitting nearby in the airport lounge was one particularly virulent, screaming child in a stroller. He repeatedly smeared thick snot caterpillars across his cheeks with his chubby fists as his exasperated mother tried to wrestle him under control. He'd fling himself backwards, his back rigid in indignation until a coughing jag released his spine like a switch, then he'd gag and sputter and gather enough energy to start up again. Please God, do not let him sit anywhere near me, please, please, please, became my mantra that night. This was not fair, I argued. I have been there, done that, chugged the gin to erase the memory. And while I feel sorry for his mother, we left our own kids at home and this was supposed to be a romantic vacation.

Well, it seems God doesn't like to be bothered by such mundane and clearly selfish requests when He has bigger and better things on his mind like famine and floods and pestilence, so he punished me in biblical proportions by not only putting that kid near me when we boarded the plane at midnight (after a seven hour wait in the lounge) but directly behind me. The little hellion further enhanced my torture by punctuating his screams with angry kicks to my chair. We hadn't even left the ground, and there was a whole ocean to cross.

We sat on the tarmac for hours until 4 a.m. when we were asked to leave the airplane due to "more mechanical problems." I would have gladly leapt from the airplane in a swan dive over the runway at that point.

So when faced with an eleven hour flight to Hawaii a while back, I reckoned I needed a backup plan. My sister asked me why I wasn't using Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I'd actually bought a pair for my husband years ago, but had never tried them myself. You gotta get the Bose, she insisted. With the cries of that toddler still ringing in my ears, I splurged and bought myself a pair.

Oh, baby. Oh baby, baby, baby cry your heart out, 'cause mama don't care. When Bose says "noise-cancelling" they ain't kidding. There actually was a screaming baby on board but as soon as I slapped those puppies on my ears, I was literally in my own head space.

If you have a long trip ahead of you, beg, borrow or steal a pair. Seriously. I am not getting any kind of kickback for endorsing Bose products, but I believe.

I believe!

And if you want to read an absolutely hilarious account which triggered my memories, go to "How to Survive a Mid-Air Disaster" by Johanna Stein. She's a self-described "first time parent and long-time neurotic" who says in her bio "I was born in Winnipeg, Canada, to a pair of American hippie intellectuals who have smoked 73 varieties of marijuana combined. As a result I am a dual citizen who is pathologically easygoing." This essay on flying with her child, which also appeared in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, just slayed me.

And if you want a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones (le sigh) and you live in Canada, go here and check them out. I know they're expensive, but I'd rather have a pair of those than a big sparkly ring. Honest. (Unless I can use that ring to carve out a hole for an escape route next time I find myself sitting in front of a toddler in full meltdown mode.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Fun Theory

Fun. A theory about fun!
inally, something I can believe in.

What happens when an ordinary staircase is replaced with musical steps? Will more people use the stairs instead of the escalator? And what if a regular garbage can is turned into the world's deepest can? Will it encourage people to throw away more trash if it's fun?

Thanks to the Laughing Squid for this. It made me think about how much fun I have in my life. Not enough, I concluded. Must rectify immediately.

And thanks to kcdyer for the link to the Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hisch, who created the fancy schmancy capital letters you see here.

Just when you think you've seen it all....

Can you believe how beautiful these are?

Am in danger of becoming obsessed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Complicated. And I Can't Wait.

This is worse than having to wait until Christmas morning to open gifts.

Another 45 days until this movie opens. Le sigh. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, people! Together. In a Nancy Meyers film!

I love Nancy Meyers. She creates dialogue and believable, quirky, charming characters like no one else. Have you seen SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson? I watched it again the other night even though it's exquisitely painful due to my deep, unrequited love for Erica Barry's kitchen. (It's more like kitchen lust. Actually to be honest I could run away with that whole house and have ten thousand of its babies, and please don't tell me it's just a movie set and it doesn't exist because I need my fantasies and these days, most of them involve that kitchen.)

Nancy writes about real women, women like me or at least, the kind of woman I'd like to be, one who writes successful plays and lives in a luscious house situated right on the ocean, beautifully decorated of course, with off-white furniture and tasteful art and no dust or pet hair anywhere and probably no rotting fruit in her fridge... but I digress. I adore Nancy Meyers and Meryl the Streep, and from the looks of this trailer, this movie is not going to disappoint.

I just have to make it until Christmas. While the family is cleaning up the last bits of turkey and gravy, this old broad is planning on hoofing it down to the Cineplex.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stephen Fry and Sunny Days

A blog about letters of note. Or as the tagline says "correspondence deserving of a wider audience" and I agree wholeheartedly.

Let's start with Stephen Fry, shall we? Because I love him. Because I saw him in London at the premiere of V for Vendetta which was not intentional, but a happy coincidence as I passed through Leicester Square on my way to a play and there he was, towering above the crowd, being as gracious as only he can be.

A woman wrote to him saying she was desperate and depressed and felt she had no one to turn to. He wrote back, and said in part:

I've found that it's of some help to think of one's moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It's real.
You can't change it by wishing it away.
If it's dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can't alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


It will be sunny one day.
It isn't under one's control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one's moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real.

If you wish to read this letter in its entirety and other wonderful correspondence, go to LETTERS OF NOTE and look around.

(My favourite letters include two replies to artist Haymes when he sent out a questionnaire to over 500 artists and people of distinction to ask them to describe the sky. One is by Isaac Asimov and the other by Jerry Kosinski. Beverage alert. Don't say you weren't warned. Read them HERE.)

Have a great weekend!

Multiple Exposure with the Nikon D200

I went on a mini-field trip yesterday with a friend, and discovered a function in my Nikon D200 that was hitherto unknown to me. (Hands up how many of you use "hitherto" on a regular basis?)

Okay, technically this function wasn't unknown to me as I knew it was in there, I'd just never used it before and never purposefully went looking for it. (Listen? Can you hear it? The chorus of "read the #$%^ing manual!" from the camera club guys. Can't hear it? Me neither.) So I went spelunking into the depths of my camera menu and found this little jewel.

It's called Multiple Exposure, and with Freeman as my guide and mentor, I gave it a whirl. The camera automatically divides the exposure after you enter how many multiple exposures you want - choose 10 for example, and it will give 1/10th the amount of light you need for each shot so that the finished shot will be accurate and balanced. How cool is that?

What do you think? I like the sort of expressionistic, watercolour quality to the photos. Or maybe I'm just full of hooey.

I tried different objects with varying degrees of detail - a brass jar with silver embossed figures, a firepit surrounded by leaves, a painted votive candle holder, a hummingbird feeder...

It was an interesting experiment and I learned a certain degree of control is necessary for each exposure, but it was fun to try something different. My method was to take the first shot dead centre, then move a few shots to the right, go back to the middle and then take the remaining shots to the right. Others may move deliberately from left to right, but I wanted control over where the image was centred in the shot. I have no idea if there's a right or wrong way to do this, so I just dove in.

And for the traditionalists in the crowd, some corn husks. Plain, old, one-exposured corn husks.

Oh oh. I just discovered the Image Overlay even gives a preview in camera. Whoo hoo, I heart my Nikon!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Freeman Patterson has left the building

Joseph Campbell said “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

I am lucky to be a member of a camera club who hosted the incomparable Freeman Patterson, a Canadian photographer and writer of world renown, and a deeply soulful man.
We were treated to lectures, field trips and dinners with Freeman, who is an extraordinary teacher of visual design i.e., he teaches one how to "see" the world.
After ten days of workshops, lectures and field trips, he taught a lesson in trust - trust to go with your heart, and your instincts. I think it's going to make us a better club, particularly as competitive is a dirty word in his books. Freeman is all about the inspiration, the euphoria in the moment when you see something and capture it with your camera which, if you pay attention, usually reflects something in your subconscious. Hmm, what does this say about mine?
I'm guessing we are going to change the way we hold competitions in our club and in fact, they may disappear entirely because really, how do you compete in photography? It is so subjective and even the old rules like the rule of three or always having a central focus no longer applies. Freeman doesn't even like the word "critique" and prefers the word evaluation instead.
I was intimidated at first, because I'm still fairly new to photography and not that savvy when it comes to the tech stuff, so I was afraid he'd launch into a technical rant so common amongst some members of our club. Sometimes I'll ask a question of the wrong person, and get an answer that reminds me of this Larson cartoon:

What we say to dogs: "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!"

What they hear: "blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah...."

But spend even a few minutes with Freeman, and you quickly learn that it's not about whether you're a beginner or a professional, it's about finding and unleashing your creativity to your absolute fullest. That's liberating and cause for euphoria, wouldn't you say?

"Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you." F.P.

If you want to see some of his amazing images, go HERE

If you want to read a great interview with Freeman, go HERE

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hallowe'en is over for another year

And around here, it was windy and rainy and miserable all day, which made for poor conditions for tricking and treating, but great conditions for photos.

This is the view from my yard. I wish I had been at the lake and had a better view across the water without the power lines, etc. But still, it was spectacular.

So how was Hallowe'en in your neck of the woods?