Monday, November 29, 2010

What I learned about photography II

My friend Angela was kind enough to invite me along to a cosplay event in southern Seoul on Sunday. I'm not into Japanese animation at all, but the lure of taking interesting photos and getting out on my own for a day won me over. We had a wonderful chat all the way from Chang-dong to Yangjae about everthing from photography (we are both new but eager DSLRers) to the North Korea situation. It's so great to get out once a week on my own and do something fun.

Anyway, we finally made it to the event, ate some street food, and started shooting. I had no idea how many people are so into this the point that they dress up like this once a month for these events. Some of the costumes and makeup were very elaborate. We eventually tracked down the members of the Seoul Photo Club. For me, this was good and bad. Good because they're nice guys, some with a lot of experience in photography. Also, due to their experience they are a little more bold when it comes to asking people permission to photograph them. We followed them around a bit and jumped in on their shoots.That's why it was bad, too. With so many people swarming around the subject, it's hard to get in there to get a good, clear shot. You're shooting in a hurry, sometimes with people walking in front of you. But it was great to watch them as well. They were not afraid to direct the cosplayers in how to pose or where to stand. So I picked up a few things from them.

Here's what I learned on Sunday:

1. I shouldn't shoot wide open all the time. For some reason I'm always shooting at the largest available aperature. I guess sometimes this is good, but you don't have to all the time. I think I would have had some sharper photos had I stopped down a bit more.

2. Don't be afraid to ask people to take their photos if you want to. The worst they can say is 'no.' Sunday was a good exercise for me, being a shy person. By the end of the afternoon, I was walking up to people and asking them to pose for me. Don't be afraid to tell people, especially at such an event, how to pose.

3. Look for more interesting angles. Angela is pretty good and seeing different, more interesting angles. I need to work on this.

4. Look for good light. The light was hard to work with on Sunday. It was so bright and there were harsh shadows everwhere. In some of my photos you can see the shadows of other photographers and other things. Not pretty. When trying to find a good angle, you have to look at how the shadows are falling.

5. Use flash. I brought my external flash on Sunday, yet I did not take it out until the last 1/2 hour or so. I don't know why. It was stupid. I should be experimenting and testing it out. When I finally took it out and used it, I was so pleasantly surprised by the results, I was kicking myself all the way home for not using it more. One of the last photos I took and I used the flash to even out the light, and I I think the results were good:6. Don't be so hard on yourself. Often I go out expecting to bring home jaw-dropping photos, and it just doesn't happen. But so what? As long as I learn something, it doesn't matter. I'm always so hard on myself, in all areas.

7. I need to start shooting in RAW. Angela took the plunge on Sunday and switched over from JPEG to RAW. I need to start doing this so that I can work more with my photos in the editing phase.

8. I'd like to get a good portrait lens next year. Both my lenses are great, but I want something a little longer and portrait-specific. I'm borrowing someone's 85mm 1.8 lens right now, which is supposed to be a good portrait lens, but I haven't had a chance to get out and use it yet. It's too long to use indoors and I didn't want to bring it on Sunday because the owner doesn't have a filter on it, so I didn't want to risk it.

That's all that I can think of right now. I really enjoy photography as a hobby. Whenever I take a bunch of photos, I can't wait to get home and upload them and see if I got any keepers. Since I started uploading photos with my new camera to facebook, people have been asking me what kind of camera I have and what to do... Just get one! Best decision I ever made.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Weekend plans

I have none. I rarely do. Whenever the weekend rolls around, I think to myself, "I should have made plans to do something fun earlier." I'll often call a friend to see what's up, but usually it's too short notice, understandably. Grace has been coughing today, so I think we're in for a quiet weekend. I might try to do some Christmas decorating. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The glass is 1/8 full

...instead of 7/8 empty. I finished book 1 of 8 today, although I still have to type it out. That will be an all-afternoon job for tomorrow.

I'm really glad I made the decision NOT to buy a laptop to do this project. I go to the cafe with only my paper, pens, and reference materials and I have nothing to distract me at all. I don't bring my knitting or mp3 player. I sometimes bring my camera, but only take the odd shot on my way to and from the cafe. I'm kind of proud of myself for being so hard on myself. I am getting to know my strengths and weaknesses and how to deal with them. I'm far too distracted by the internet these days, so it's best not to have that available to me at all when it's time to work.

Why is it so hard for me to focus on this work? My theory is that I'm thoroughly sick of anything ESL related. A career in ESL is definitely not in my future.

Project P&S Photo Rescue

I've been learning a lot about photo editing, mostly by reading online and good old trial and error. I'm starting to know what I like, and what I don't like. Before, like many people, I'd look at overdone photos and say, "Oh, that's cool" ... "How neat" ... "I love that." But these days I'm looking at photos with a more critical eye....and I'm comfortable with saying, "I don't like that" ... "This photo is way overdone"... or... "This is a bad photo." Of course, a lot is just a matter of taste, but I'm happy to at least to be developing my taste, and hopefully one day, my own style of photography.

I've been thinking about finally getting a baby book for Grace done. At least her first year. I bought a baby book when I was expecting and of course, it's still sitting on the shelf, empty. Well, I think I added some ultrasound photos. Anyway, it's looking less and less likely that I'll ever complete that book. I heard that a lot of people these days do their baby books online and have them printed by companies like shutterfly. I recently got a coupon from a Korean company I think this is the route I'm going to go.

In preparation, I have to sort through her first year photos and pick my favourites. I got some decent shots considering the limited abilities of my point and shoot camera. But the quality is low in a lot of the indoors photos. They are really dark and full of noise. Since I've been practicing my photo editing, I thought I would try to fix some up. This little project will take quite a while since I have a lot of photos to go through and rescue, but it will be fun. I'm going to make a photo book for us, my parents, and Sejin's parents.

Here are a couple of samples of what I've done so far. It's hard to see the difference in these small size photos, but in the larger files, you can see that a lot of the noise has been removed from the skin at least, which I think will make a difference when printed.
Actually, these two might be different photos...I guess I decided to go with another one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What I learned about photography

So, a friend asked me to take some pictures of her family. I was flattered, because really, I am a far cry from a photographer. It's a growing hobby of mine, but that's about it. I got my DSLR camera to capture great memories of my family and maybe a few neat shots in between. Anyway, I agreed because she's my friend, and because I thought it would be a good experience for me and teach me a few things. I was right. I learned quite a lot.

1. Backgrounds are KEY. The background in a portrait or family shot can really make or break the photo. We went to a place called Herb Island, which is actually quite nice, but it was not an appropriate setting for the pictures. There were too many people around to take wide open shots, and the backgrounds were sometimes tacky and WAY too busy. The lighting in the green houses was difficult for me, an inexperienced photographer, to work with. It was a little chilly outside for little Logan who is only three months old. I should have went to their house and took photos near a window with his blankies and toys...something more traditional. Outdoors would have been nice in the warmer weather in a quieter location.

2. I need to learn about the autofocus settings on my camera. For some stupid reason, I left my focus settings on 3D tracking, which is actually for moving subjects, but my subjects weren't moving. Should have gone with plain old single point. I switched over since then and I have more keepers now.
3. I need to learn how to use my flash and reflector. I love my external flash. I use a mini softbox and bounce it off the ceilings at home. This makes amazing light with no shadows. But I am still unsure about how to use the flash as fill light. I tried a few times, and the photos came out with an orangey cast. As for my reflector, I tried using it to reflect light, but it created even hotter light on their faces. I think I was using it incorrectly, or just in an inappropriate situation. However, it did work quite well for blocking out some harsh light. Must practice some more with it.

4. If I were to do such a thing again, I would have to do some research and compile a list of possible poses. Nearly all of my pictures are of the family sitting on various photo-op benches, chest-up pictures, looking at the camera. I was not nearly daring or creative enough. Some candid photos would have been great. I think this would have turned out a bit differently had we been in a secluded area outdoors, but still, a variety of poses to draw from is always good.

5. I understand why professional photographers charge so much. You really spend most of a day doing something like this, and then you've got hundreds of pictures to go through, choose the best from, and then edit. Editing takes time...many hours...days.

6. My 35mm 1.8 lens is great. More keepers from that lens than the Tamron 17-50. The Tamron is give me more flexibility and I love the wide angle at 17mm, but for quality, the 35mm wins.

This all being said, we got a few good pictures out of it. I'm happy that she has a family picture she likes enough to put on a Christmas card. I just wish there were more shots of baby Logan alone basking in his own cuteness. This would have been possible if we were in his home. Some diaper shots would have been awesome. I'm not really happy with the photos, mostly because of the venue, but I am inexperienced and didn't know any better. At least I learned a lot from the experience.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Christmas with Gmarket

I recently ordered a few things from gmarket for Christmas. Nothing major, as I'm moving home early next year. Just some cheap, fun stuff I can decorate with and give away or throw out later.

This vendor has cute Christmas card mobiles and some cheesy headbands and earmuffs. I will be taking cute pictures of Grace in snowman earmuffs at some point over the holidays.

This vendor had some of the only good garland I could find. I ordered the green stuff with the white ends, as well as some silver and gold starry stuff.

I'm a fan of gold ribbon at Christmas time. This vendor has some nice sparkly gold ribbon, not to mention lots of other nice embellishments.

Get your cheesy Christmas headbands here. Actually, he's sold out of a lot of things.

That's all I got. Of course I have stuff from previous years to put up, like my sad little tree. Here is my loot:Not really Christmas related, but today I am ordering Grace a winter coat. She's still wearing hers from last year. It's a bit tight and the buttons keep popping open. I had a heck of a time finding a winter coat that looks warm. Most of the coats for little girls that I saw were ultra cute, but didn't look very thick. Anyway, this vendor has some nice stuff that actually looks warm.

I may or may not order a Christmas dress for Grace. I have a hand-me-down dress for her that is cute enough, so I should just stick with that. Perhaps a cute little vest and some leggings to go with it. I most definitely will be ordering her a birthday dress.

Anwyay, thought I would provide some links to some fun Christmas stuff that can be found on gmarket. These days I don't have time to scour Seoul for little things like this, so gmarket does the trick.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back online

And that's not necessarily a good thing.

In a previous post I talked about possibly buying a laptop to help me work on my current ESL writing project. While my computer was in the shop, I reflected on my own habits, and decided that buying one would not help me at all. In fact, it would be counterproductive. When I'm in front of a computer, I can't seem to resist checking my email, Facebook, Ravelry, etc. It eats up time, and I don't have much time to spare.

It was amazing, not having a computer around to lure me in. I knitted a pair of mitts and worked at sewing up my cardigan. I did my work on paper at the cafe. I did more laundry than usual.Yesterday, the comptuer came back, and I literally spent an entire day reorganizing (repairman installed Windows 7), reinstalling programs, uploading photos, and wasting time online. If I were to take a laptop out to do work, there's no doubt in my mind I would waste time there, too -- not to mention waste money on a 5000 won coffee.

Geez, I feel so weak just reading this. I wonder if other people are a slave to the internet, like I am.

Well, I'm going to grab my notebook and pencil case and leave the house while I still have a few hours to work until I pick up little Grace.

Monday, November 15, 2010


My computer totally broke down on Thursday morning. The guy said it was in bad shape, but the information was not lost. It's in the shop.

So I've been without a computer for almost five days now. It's been strange. I used to spend so much time online...too much. I will admit, there have been times in the last few days I have felt lost, but in general, it's nice not to have the internet sucking away my time. For the last two nights, I've been sewing up my cardigan, which should have been done a long time ago. If I didn't need a computer for my work, I'd be tempted to cut off the Internet all together.

I'm in a PC room feeling my health deteriorate by the second. It's dark, smoky, and the worker just served me the most disgusting cup of coffee I've ever tasted. The worst part is there's some dad in here with his little kid. Why would you do that to your child?

I have several posts to make when my computer is back up and running, so you'll see me again soon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shutterfly Holiday Photo Cards

I first heard about Shutterfly about five years ago from my best friend, Meg. After our trip to Australia, she sent me a beautiful magnet featuring us petting a koala at a sanctuary. It's still on my fridge. I'm not sure why I didn't check out Shutterfly then. Maybe it was because I live in Korea, and I always tend to think shipping will be a pain in the neck. But now I know that Shutterfly has convenient shipping to international customers.

Fast forward five years and I'm still living abroad, but now with a beautiful 22-month-old little girl. I do send out cards every holiday season, but this year I really want to share some memories we have made over the past year. I'm thinking holiday photo card. Actually, I was thinking the same thing last year, but I was extremely busy this time 2009 with writing an ESL book, caring for an infant who wouldn't sleep at night, and worrying about a husband in the hospital. So I've decided this is the year to send out a beautiful Christmas card to our friends and family. This is made even more exciting by the fact that I recently purchased a DSLR camera and actually have good quality photos to share.

The problem is: which photo layout to choose?! There are hundreds to choose from! I kind of like the simple single photo style, but then you're limited to one photo, so it'd better be a good one. Since I have so many photos of Grace that I love, I'll probably choose a multi-photo layout. Here are some of my top picks. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know which one you like best.Some things to keep in mind when creating a card on Shutterfly. Once you're a member, you can create and save several photo cards. I've already been in there fooling around with possible layouts and photos. I just save the project and then I can return to it at any time, or compare it to another card. Also, you can do some minor editing of photos when you're working on the card. For example, you can change the crop on a photo, change it to black and white or sepia, boost the saturation, or add slight blurriness (more like a glow). So don't worry about preparing your photos to perfection before you start making your card. Just upload your photos to a Shutterfly album first, and then you can add them to a card and alter them there.

I'm really excited about getting and sending out my personalized Christmas cards. Time is ticking and it's getting a little late to order and send out holiday cards internationally, but I think that my friends and family back home would rather get a beautiful Christmas card with photos in January than get a store-bought card in December. Anyway, I suspect if I order soon and send them out right away, they will arrive in time for Christmas.

One final note: I think these types of cards are even more relevant to expat families, since their families back home are missing out on so many beautiful memories. This way, you can share memories in such an elegant way. And in this digital age when so few people actually get their photos printed, it's so nice to have a tangible keepsake from friends and family. For the past two years, Karen has given me a photo card of her family and they are now in my photo album. People will not toss out these cards in January!

Do you want 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly? Click here to go to Shutterfly for information on how you can get 50 free cards this holiday season, and make sure to select Clever 1000 as the referral source. This post is part of a series sponsored by Shutterfly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More changes

Here is an update post on little Grace, who is getting bigger every day. What prompted me to make this post is seeing all kinds of changes in her recently.

This may seem hard to believe, but she went to bed Friday night and woke up Saturday a really different little girl. She definitely hit some kind of big development leap. Starting Saturday, she has had really high energy and has been really interested in everything. She suddenly wants to do everything herself, and says so. She has been eating like a trucker. She is putting more words together, in both languages. She gets frustrated really easily and has thrown some tantrums over silly things. For example, she spent a long time "helping" me hang up wet clothes, and when there was no more to hang, she threw a giant tantrum. She sat on the swing by herself for the first time on Saturday (usually she sits on my lap). She fell off twice (thud) and didn't cry. She likes to talk about people and experiences that have happened in the past. She keeps talking about how she fell off the swing. She talks about her uncle who brought a cake over on Sunday. She'll tell me what she ate for breakfast. She doesn't seem as keen on TV and has been taking more interest in her books again. She is saying hello/annyonghaseyo to random people on the street. She also likes to tell them that I made her hat. She is allowing me to shampoo her hair again, as long as we talk about all the animals that also shampoo their hair.

Quite seriously, a lot of this has just happened since this past weekend. She has been really happy, on a high almost, but at the same time she has a short temper, so watch out. I suppose she is just getting to know herself and is excited about all the things she can do by herself now. I suspect it's also a little growth spurt. It's been really cool, but exhausting. I guess this is what having a toddler is like.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time for some changes

I had my heart set on going home, and now I am not. However, I've been offered a great opportunity, so I have to try to focus on the good. I'm getting jobs that thousands of other ESLers would love to have a shot at. Yes, some of it is because of my visa status, but I have spent the last few years slaving away on writing and editing contracts that don't pay very much. Finally, my hard work has paid off and I have the chance to work with a more prestigious company. That is good.

Problem is, my morale is down. I've been looking forward to a change of scenery, lifestyle, career...everything. So instead of moping about it, I'm going to have to suck it up and start appreciating what I have right now: a fantastic job, a beautiful family, and life in a dynamic country like Korea (it's not always "good" dynamic, but it certainly is dynamic). I need to get my morale up in order to stay on top of the demanding workload I have ahead of me for the next two months.

Working from home is not as great as it sounds. You get lazy, you get distracted, and then you get down because you got lazy and distracted. Then you stay up really late doing the work you should have done during the day. I consider myself a fairly self-disciplined person, but over the last few years, my productivity has gone way down. I'm going to have to fix that, pronto. In reality, although the workload is great, I should be able to get my work done during the day so that I can recover in the evening.

My plan is to make a very detailed work schedule with many tiny deadlines. I also plan to buy a laptop computer so I can do work outside the home (thank goodness for the 10% pay advance on contract signing!). My ultimate goal is to do my work Monday to Friday, during the day, leaving my evenings and weekends free for relaxation and early bedtimes. I would also like to take a weekend trip out of town with Grace to see a friend. Think I can pull all this off? Stay tuned...

Life is strange

It is. I'm not superstitious or religious, but sometimes things happen that make me go, "huh?"

I had decided 100% that I was going to leave Korea by November or December. I had finally, after many years, made up my mind. Then, today, I'm in Seoul talking over a contract with a major international publisher for fantastic money (think about 5 times what Korean publishers have paid me). So I'll be here 'til February.

And then what? I know that I definitely want to live in Canada. But what if there is more incredible work with that or other publishers? Head home to tough it out, or stay longer and make the wons in hopes of someday getting in at a Canadian office?

One thing at a time. This project I'm taking on is quite a lot of work, and I have to do it well. I get down to work on Monday.

In contrast to my complicated life:Oh, to be a kid again!


I didn't do a post for Halloween.

We had a nice time out at Children's Grand Park. It wasn't very Halloween-y though. Grace had fun looking at the animals and of course, collecting the candy, which is still being rationed at one per day after dinner. Although this morning she managed to find her candy bag while I wasn't looking and got a mouth full of candy corn.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

I really didn't see this birthday coming. I'm not doing too much. I'm going to go and get my haircut and meet Sejin at Outback for a late lunch (he got a gift certificate on his birthday in September). I have to write a teacher's guide unit tonight, and I really don't want to. I'd love to goof off and do some knitting. So many unfinished projects.And if I'm still in Korea for my next birthday (not a high probability), I will be requesting that Gerry make me this cake I saw here.