Friday, August 29, 2008

i'm lovin' it
Go on your own Jedi Quest with a happy meal!

I bring the boyz lunch every day and I thought it would be funny to do something different. I went to Mickey D's and got the happy meal boxes and toys and then put their lunches in them. The smiles on their faces when I brought the happy meals to work were priceless. They took an extra long lunch break to play with their toys.

Who says you're too old for happy meals?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How We Take Our Pictures
We've had a few people ask about our camera setup, so Amberly thought it would be a good idea if I gave a sort of outline as to how we take our pictures for our blog here. By the way, thank you to everyone who has so kindly complimented on our photos we have posted -- we've worked hard to improve our skills to make these pictures work and we still have a long ways to go in making them better. Here are a few things we have found out lately and I hope they can help you:
1. Our camera -- Nikon D50
Honestly, the actual camera you use doesn't make as much impact on photos as most people think. But no doubt if you want to start getting into more technical aspects of photography, you will need an SLR (probably a Digital SLR or DSLR nowadays). SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex and basically means that when you look through the viewfinder, you are looking through the actual lens by way of a mirror system instead of a separate little window above the lens or a little screen on the back of the camera. Along with the mirror system, you get the ability to use different lenses, giving you the flexibility to use a particular lens that will work best with a given situation. The Nikon D50 isn't around anymore, but its closest equivalent now would be the D60 or the D40, both which would make great first SLR's. Also highly recommended are Canon's Digital Rebel Xti or Xsi. As to which is better, Nikon or Canon, it doesn't matter. You should probably choose the one that is used most by your family or friends because then you could borrow lenses or get help from them. Here is a picture of the D50 camera body without a lens mounted:
2. Lenses -- Nikkor 50mm f1.8 and Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR

Most SLR's will come with a kit lens included, usually a mid-range zoom. As far as quality goes, these kit lenses are fine. The downside with them is they are usually only good for high-light photography, meaning outdoors or when there is a lot of light indoors. This is because they usually have maximum apertures of 3.5-5.6, not enough to give you fast shutter speeds at low ISO's with lower light like a typical indoor shot. (For a basic guide on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, click here) If you have ever put your camera on auto and tried to take a picture of your kids inside, chances are your camera wants to turn the flash on, which results in a really bad picture, with anything close too bright and a big shadow behind them. If you avoid using flash, you will get MUCH more flattering pictures. However, if you simply turn off the flash and try to take that indoor shot, the kids will be blurry. This is because the lens doesn't have the ability to open up wide enough to let enough of this dim light in and the camera decides it needs a slower shutter speed in order to expose the picture properly, causing the movement to blur. This reason is exactly why we got a 50mm lens. If you have an SLR, you ABSOLUTELY should get one of these. Nikon and Canon both make the versions to fit their cameras. We got Nikon's f1.8 which I highly recommend. The 1.8 means its maximum aperture is f1.8 (a lower number means a larger lens opening) which will allow sharp photos at incredibly low light -- perfect for the kids playing around inside. Almost all of our pictures of the kids are taken with this lens. The wide max. aperture of this lens is also what helps to narrow the "depth of field" or the range of focus of the image, allowing everything out of that range to give the "blurred" effect that is great for portraits. A good example is the first picture of the Kauai post that I took of Amberly waiting at the airport. If you notice, her right eye is in focus while her left eye is out of that focal range and is already blurred a little. Then the background is completely blurred. This was taken using this lens at f2. If I had taken it at f3.2, the focal range increases and her whole face would be in focus and you would start to see details of the things on the wall behind her, resulting in a less-effective portrait.

A few things about these lenses -- they are stuck at 50mm -- they are NOT zoom lenses, so if you're used to twisting the lens to get closer to the subject, you'll have to get used to zooming with your feet instead. Also, they do not have a built-in autofocus motor like most larger lenses do. What this means is that if your camera body doesn't have an autofocus motor, such as the Nikon D40, D40x, and D60, it will be manual focus only. I'm not sure about the Canons, but I believe the Rebel Xti and Xsi also do not have motors, but don't quote me on that. Actually, I prefer to focus this lens manually anyway, but that's just me.

the Nikkor 50mm f1.8:

For outdoor photography, I got my 18-200mm lens. This is a great travel lens. It's not huge, yet it has a great range, from really wide (18mm) to super telephoto (200mm). But unfortunately, its maximum apertures are what limit it (f3.5 at 18mm and f5.6 at 200mm), making low-light photography impossible without a tripod. But if you're going on vacation, to Kauai for example, and you don't want to be switching lenses all the time, and you'll be outside, taking pictures of everything from -- I don't know -- big gorgeous beaches to faraway lighthouses, this one is hard to beat. Almost every one of our Kauai pictures was taken with this lens. If there was lower light, like the sunsets, I used a tripod so I could have long exposure times.

the Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR:

If I had the money, I would invest in some of the f2.8 lenses, which really gets into the professional range of lenses, and opens up a lot of photo opportunities.

Another useful thing we have is a Hoya 72mm Circular Polarizer filter for the 18-200mm lens. I used it on every one of the landscape shots in Kauai. It rotates to allow you to block some of the haze in the sky, darkening up the blues, or to remove reflections off water surfaces, allowing you to see the blue water underneath, or even to green up wet grass by blocking the reflections off the water droplets. Absolutely indispensible for landscape photography.

We also have a Canon A560 point-and-shoot camera which is great for times when you don't want to lug around the big SLR. The picture of Jolie and Grandma Merrill making cupcakes was taken with this camera. Unfortunately, since it was indoors, the flash was used, and you can see it just doesn't look as nice as some of the other pictures there.

A couple more things we have learned:

1. Avoid using the Auto modes. With an SLR, there is really no reason to use Auto. I keep it on either Aperture Priority or Manual mode all the time. This will let you have control over how you want the picture to come out. If you are indoors, put it on Aperture Priority (the little dial on the top pointed to "A") and set the aperture to the lowest number it can go and the ISO to 400 or 800, and give that a shot. Play around with those settings. If you're outdoors and you're taking pictures of the kids, do the same thing but lower the ISO to 200. If you're taking pictures of scenery or a group of people you want a smaller aperture (higher number) such as f5 or f8. This will get a lot of the scene in focus. With most point-and-shoot cameras, however, you will probably get the best results using the built-in modes such as portrait, landscape, night, party, etc. What those modes do is alter those same settings behind-the-scenes automatically, but you have to choose what type of picture you're taking.

2. Generally avoid flash indoors. It just makes for less-than-stellar pictures. Believe it or not, a great time to use the built-in flash is outdoors in bright sunlight. Bright light creates dark shadows which look especially bad on faces. Sometimes all that's needed is a little fill flash to lighten up those dark areas. We have a little fold-up reflector that is gold on one side and silver on the other for reflecting sunlight onto the subject, eliminating those dark shadows, which is even better for these situations than a flash.

3. Better yet, don't take pictures in bright sunlight. Place your subject in the shade, or try the portrait photographer's favorite time of the day - sunset! The light is softer which helps to even out the light on faces and also adds warm color. Cloudy days are also great for pictures of people.

4. Try placing your subject's face off-center in the frame. Ever wonder what those weird lines and markers are in your viewfinder? Often those are there to help with placement of subjects. Take a look around at the work of popular photographers. Rarely are things centered. This can add a little drama to otherwise ordinary photos.

5. Try tilting the camera a little when taking pictures of kids. Yet another way to add drama.

6. Focus on the eye closest to the camera. When you are taking portraits of one person, this is a good rule of thumb to use. The eyes are the first thing you want the viewer to look at, so that's what should be in focus.

7. You've gotta do a little post-processing. I end up running almost everything through Photoshop for some basic tweaking like cropping, contrast, a little burn and dodge, and sharpening. It's absolutely amazing what a difference some slight changes can make.

As for who is taking our pictures, we've both been doing our fair share. If you see a landscape or nature shot, it's most likely mine. If you see pictures of the kids, they're most likely Amberly's. One of hers that turned out great was Jolie in the hammock, taken with the 50mm at f2. I will occasionally take some pictures of the kids, but I'm not home as much as she is, so I don't see quite as many photo ops as she does. I will, however, take credit for the shots of Bronson in the mud.

Another thing that is great about digital photography is you can take as many shots as you want - they're free! That means you can fire away at the kids and then pick one juicy shot to show everyone else. Back to those pics of Bronson in the mud. I took over 50 photos of that scene and only showed you 2 of them. There is power in numbers.

Sorry for the mega-long post. Hopefully some of these tips can help you as they have helped us to slowly get a little better at expressing our lives through our photographs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jolie was so excited to lose her first tooth. The day before it fell out we made a little tooth fairy pillow. It has a little pocket in the front to put her tooth in. I love how kids get so excited about the little things in life. I wish I could be a kid again.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jolie's Favorite Things!

Swimming at the Mason's

Swinging in the Hammock at Grandpa's cabin in Walker

Making Cupcakes and .....

Eating them!

Having her Toes painted purple

Getting CottonCandy at the carnival

Roasting hot dogs in the backyard

You Caught Me!

What do you do.....get mad or take pictures?

Take pictures of course!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mom My Ride
I saw this on my sister-in-law's blog a while ago and thought it was so funny. Plus it goes right along with finding the melted crayon on the car seat.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Last night I had to take out my car seats to fit the Young Women in my car and underneath I found a dark purple crayon melted to the back seat. For those of you who know me I can tend to get into deep-clean mode. My mission this morning was to get this freaking crayon out of the car. Ben found online that if you spray WD-40 on a melted crayon it will disintegrate it. Sounds perfect to me. We got the WD-40 and started spraying it on the car seat. It seriously worked. Right away the crayon turned to liquid. It took a load of paper towels to blot up the mess. After a few rounds of spraying and blotting, all the crayon came out and the seat looks brand new. I wish I had taken before and after pictures because you wouldn't believe it. So if any of you have melted crayon in your car, hope is not lost.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kindergarten here I come!!

About a week before school started I got a call from the school saying that Costco is donating backpacks and supplies to the all the students at Granville Elementary and that I didn’t need to worry about getting a backpack for Jolie. Sweet deal, right! Jolie was so excited to go to school for the first time. So excited that I don’t think she was thinking’s why.

Day 1:
To make sure the teachers could keep track of all the kindergarteners, they gave necklaces to all the kids with their names on them. Well, when I got back to the school to pick Jolie up she was wearing different clothes and had no name tag or backpack. Come to find out she had gotten a bloody nose and had to go to the nurse. At the nurse’s office she had to change her pants because they were all bloody. The nurse gave Jolie a pair of pink sweats to wear and put her bloody pants in a little baggy and told her to put them in her backpack. You know one of the free ones that 500 other kids have. So Jolie puts her pants in a backpack and goes to the cafeteria to meet her class for lunch. Then she forgets her backpack in the cafeteria. I went to pick her up and found her with no backpack and wearing some unknown pair of pink sweats. After hearing Jolie’s version of events, we went to see if there was any chance to get her stuff back. Obviously hers wasn’t the only backpack that had been left there because there was quite a pile of forgotten things awaiting pickup. There was only one of the free backpacks there and it didn’t have her pants in it. So we participated in the musical backpacks game and took that one and lost her pants which never resurfaced at the school.
Day 2:
Jolie desperately wants to ride the bus to and from school. No problem. So we get her set up to ride the bus (which works out perfectly because the bus spot is right in front of our house). I sent Jolie off to school with her newly-traded backpack and a lunch box. When Jolie got off the bus she only had her name tag. But at least she was wearing the same clothes. Jolie told me she forgot her backpack in class and her lunch box on the bus.
Day 3:
I sent Jolie to school with lunch money only. While she was at school I called the bus barn and found they had her lunch box, so I went and picked it up. This time when Jolie got off the bus she remembered to bring home her backpack but she also brought home someone else’s lunch box.
Day 4:
Jolie went to school with her backpack and 2 lunch boxes and come home with all her right stuff.
It was a bit stressful but somehow we made it through Jolie’s first week of school.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Beautiful Island of Kauai

We were invited by my sister Nicole and her family to stay with them for a week at a house they rented in Kauai (that's the northernmost island in the Hawaiian Island chain, also called the Garden Island - for good reason). All we had to do was get there. Thank goodness we got our plane tickets quite a while ago - they ended up more than doubling in price as gas prices skyrocketed! (they still weren't cheap, but hey - we couldn't just pass this up!) We left the kids at home with my mom (thanks Mom!!!) which was hard because we had only been away from Jolie for two nights when she was little and not a single night from Bronson. He took it really hard.

After wading through airport security and a layover in L.A. ......

We arrived in paradise! This is the house the Masons rented - FABULOUS! There's literally a river rushing by about 15 feet away on the other side of the house! Check out the banana trees in the front yard. The weather here is so perfect that half of the house is only screened in with no windows. No need for central cooling or heating. There's nothing like falling asleep to the sound of a river and the occasional rain.

The scenery here is so awesome I just had to pull over and snap some photos, much to Amberly's dismay. Hey - you can never have too many pictures!

Ke'e Beach at sunset. Also one of the best snorkeling spots on the island.

The Waimea Canyon Lookout. It is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Sorry about all the sunsets -- they're just so spectacular they are begging to be documented!

We went on an 8-mile hike along the North Coast on the Kalalau Trail and up a river valley to Hanakapi'ai Falls. This is at the mouth of the river as it pours into the ocean.

The trail overlooks Ke'e Beach. You can see the reef in the water below.

The beautiful Hanakapi'ai Beach. Incidentally one of the most dangerous beaches on the island. Crazy undertows or something.

We took a stroll along Lumaha'i Beach where the movie South Pacific was filmed.

A sea turtle taking a break on the sand. After he was all sunned out, he decided to head back out again. Me, brother-in-law Brian, and nephew Jake all swam out with him to the edge of the reef.

Snorkeling fools. I seriously couldn't stop snorkeling. I think I did it for 7 straight hours one day. Way too much fun! Now we need to go back to explore the rest of the beaches we didn't get to. My sister Nicole took this picture, which is posted on her fabulous blog. I would tell you to go check it out, but after you see her pictures, you won't come back.

Larsen's Beach

We thought we should check out one of the less-populated beaches on the island to kind of have the deserted island experience. This one takes a little hike to get to it, and we only saw a couple of people there. We beachcombed for a while until we think we saw a guy off in the distance that evidently thought it was a nude beach or something. That was enough for us. As beautiful as it was, we probably won't be going back.

Kilauea Lighthouse juts out on a peninsula with gorgeous views all around.

We went back later for another of my many sunset shots. This is a view from a lava rock shoreline looking at Kilauea Lighthouse.

Huge thanks to the Masons for letting us crash their family vacation and giving us the opportunity to get to know one of nature's most spectacular treasures. And thanks to my Mom, who allowed us to have our vacation kid-free (although we're already talking about bringing them the next time we go -- yeah, in like 10 years).