More Help for Hurricane Victims

A few more charities have come to my attention, so I thought I would make another post. Click here to see the organizations I promoted earlier this week. Many groups are asking for cash donations to help with rebuilding. Food and other supplies are great but storage is limited, especially in the areas like Rockport that were hit the hardest, so cash might be more beneficial at this time.

Once again, I’m trying my hardest to focus on small organizations where more of your dollars will go to those who have been hit the hardest. One of the things I dislike about large non-profits, like the Red Cross, is that so much money goes to marketing and bloated CEO salaries and not to the people who really need it.

The Houston Zoo’s Harvey Relief Fund–The Houston Zoo created this fund to help employees who have suffered losses. Thankfully the zoo itself only suffered minor losses.

Homeland Preparedness Project–This group is currently operating three shelters in Brazoria County and supporting shelters in neighboring Fort Bend County. (This is their homepage.)

Walker County Long Term Recovery Committee–This is run by volunteers in Walker County, Texas, to help community members recover after disasters.

Harvey Helpers 2017–They seem to be collecting donations for many communities. The link is for their Facebook page, where they request whatever is needed.

Brazoria County Dream Center–A community outreach center dedicated to helping people in Brazoria County with their basic needs. They’re currently helping out with hurricane victims, but they operate year-round to provide food, school supplies, and other things to people in need.

Rockport-Fulton Good Samaritans–I’ve heard that they’re collecting donations and supplies for hurricane victims, but I believe they also operate year-round to help those who are in need. Rockport is one of the towns that was hit the hardest.

Please note that if you live in any of the affected areas, one of the best things you can give is your time. Volunteer to help out in the shelters or to help with rebuilding efforts. In most areas, you can contact places like their Chamber of Commerce, Volunteer Fire Department, or City Hall, to find out how to volunteer. Also consider spending your money at locally owned businesses as much as possible, rather than big box stores, to help support people in these communities.

And just like last time, none of this is of any personal benefit to me. I just wanted to do something to help out. Please share this post with your friends, and comment if you know of any other organizations that I didn’t list here. Thank you!

 

Help for Hurricane Victims

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus while I try to figure out what I really want to do with this site and with my photography, but I decided to come back for today because this feels important.

I may live in Tennessee now, but I’ve spent most of my life in Texas. I grew up an hour south of Houston, then went to college and started a career in a town about an hour north of Houston. As far as I know, my family and friends are all okay, minus a few vehicles and some damp carpet. But there are others who need help. If I hadn’t totaled my car earlier this month, I would be loading it down with all the supplies I could carry and driving there right now. But since I have no vehicle–and no hope of getting a vehicle for at least another 3 or 4 weeks–this is the best I can do.

I’m sure you’ve all seen links to donate to the Red Cross and other large relief organizations–and that’s fine. Many thanks to everyone who has donated. But I know there are people out there who don’t trust or don’t want to give to big non-profits, so I’m giving you a list of smaller, local organizations that could really use the help.

Note: I’m not receiving any personal benefits from donations made to any of these organizations.

SPCA of Brazoria County–This animal shelter is taking in pets found loose in the flood as well as sheltering animals whose owners have had to evacuate to shelters. Many places that shelter human evacuees will not allow people to bring their pets. The SPCA is currently operating their main shelter, a secondary shelter called The Box, and a large-scale shelter at the county fairgrounds. This will be a long-term effort; they’re still housing several animals that were left homeless in the 2016 floods.

Rita B Huff Humane Society–An animal shelter in Huntsville, TX. Parts of Walker County are flooding, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the shelter is at capacity. If they are not already there.

Houston Food Bank–The Houston Food Bank is currently closed because their facility is inaccessible due to floodwaters. They are the largest distributor of food in the area, and I’m sure they could use any assistance you could provide. Every dollar donated to the Houston Food Bank provides 3 meals to hungry people.

JJ Watt’s Flood Relief Fund–Started by Houston Texans player JJ Watt. Donations surpassed the original goal so quickly that JJ raised the bar.

MD Anderson Cancer Center–Several of their facilities are closed due to the severe weather. Currently only two MD Anderson hospitals are operating, and those are both near the Austin area.

Texas Children’s Hospital–All clinics are currently closed although they are continuing inpatient care at this time. Their Facebook page says they are currently assessing their needs and will release a statement at a later time. I’m assuming financial contributions would be welcome at any time, however, and there is a link on their website for those who wish to donate.

 

This is just what I could come up with off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many, many local churches, food pantries, animal rescues and hospitals that would welcome donations at this time. If you have any information or would like to provide a link, please leave it in the comments below. Also, I’m asking anyone who reads this to please share the heck out of it. Thanks!

The Gate

There is no single reason behind photography. We all take photos with different purposes in mind and, for the most part, there is no wrong or right in that.

The gateway above is sort of a metaphor for that idea. I might have taken the picture, but I don’t know where it’s going to take someone else. The courtyard at their old college? A feature in a public park or garden? Somewhere they visited on a vacation? Maybe it reminds them of their old family home. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, the point of photography for me is to evoke an emotional response in someone. To take them somewhere far away, or to remind them of something familiar and dear. Or maybe just to make them laugh a little.

What is the purpose behind your photography?

July in Photos

Rather than take the time to write an actual post today, I thought I’d go back over some of the highlights of the last month and just share lots of photos with you. July was a great month for pictures!

July was also a great month for blogging. My traffic is increasing and I’ve been getting more attention on social media as well. Yay!

So tell me, which one is your favorite? Leave a comment below or talk to me on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Mead’s Quarry

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about packing up and moving here. The last time I lived in a large city was when I went to college in San Antonio. It was so crowded and dirty and I just hated it. The part of town where I lived was pretty rough, unlike the polished tourist areas around the Alamo and the Riverwalk. Vandalism and burglary were regular occurrences in my neighborhood and after witnessing one really bad incident, I was afraid to even go outside. I basically hid in my apartment until the school year was over and I could transfer to a college in a smaller, quieter town. And then I stayed there for the next 10 years.

So far, the Knoxville I’ve seen doesn’t intimidate me the way San Antonio did. I don’t know if it’s because Knoxville is actually a kinder place or if it’s just because I’ve grown older and, dare I say it, wiser, since that time, but I’m certainly more comfortable here. There are neighborhoods that are run-down and places that I’ve been cautioned to avoid, but overall it’s not so bad. Downtown seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance; lots of old landmarks and buildings are being restored and that just suits me to a T. I’ve dreamed of renovating an old farmhouse or Victorian home for years, so I love seeing people breathing new life into these old buildings.

But even all the restoration isn’t the best thing about Knoxville.

My favorite part is all the green space. There are so many parks and Ijams Nature Center is just loaded with things to do. It makes Knoxville feel like less of an urban sprawl to a small town person like me. I got up early Monday morning and decided to explore a part of the park that I hadn’t visited yet. Of course I brought my camera.

I specifically wanted to take more practice shots with my 75-300mm lens. I do pretty well with my other two, but this one is still giving me headaches sometimes. As you can see.

I think I was too close. I would have been standing in the road if I had been any farther away, though.

I think I have a habit of getting in too close. This is a big lens and its strength seems to be focusing on things that are fairly far away. Luckily I’m a lazy hiker and wanted to stay on the path, so I had plenty of opportunities to shoot for things that were not so close to the trail I was following.

Surely it’s too early for pumpkins?! I do love that bright color against all the green, though.
These flowers were pretty far off the path, but my lens brought them into focus pretty well.

I brought all my lenses with me, and I have to admit that the temptation to switch from the unfamiliar 75-300mm to my trusty 50mm was very strong. But I tried to stick with the big guy for the most part because I’m never going to get comfortable with it if I don’t use it.

I’m not a fan of up close and personal time with bees or other insects. So here’s where this lens really shines for me.

 

Mead’s Quarry. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I did decide to switch to the 50mm when I got to the quarry. It seems to be better for those wide landscape shots and I wanted to show them off as much as my abilities and equipment will allow. This is the side of Knoxville I was talking about when I mentioned all the restoration going on–this quarry was converted into a lake with gorgeous views; you can fish or rent boats, part of it is sectioned off for swimming, and there’s even a trail to hike. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife.

Taken from the same spot as above, but with the 50mm lens. There’s just a little…more. Idk how to describe the reasons why, but I like this shot better.

I walked around the quarry for a while, and then reattached the 75-300mm lens and walked back to my car. What a hike! The way back to the Ijams Visitor Center, where I parked, is mostly uphill. I’m not used to these inclines yet, and I’m big-time out of shape right now after having surgery on both legs earlier this year, so I didn’t take many photos on the way back.

I noticed this fungus when I stopped to take a little break on the walk back. I had to do some editing afterward to get the exposure just right, but I think it looks good.
Decommissioned railroad tracks that run through Ijams. This photo is slightly underexposed, but I left it as-is because I love the dark, mysterious look.

I feel so fortunate to have a place like Ijams here in Knoxville. Driving in the mountains makes me horribly carsick, so it’s hard to get out of town on my own and do anything. Luckily there are lots of great sights downtown and plenty of green spaces to explore. Check back on Friday for the next part of my photography basics series. We’ll be talking about aperture again, and I hope to have lots of shots to share! In the meantime, please be sure to give this post a like and a share on Facebook. Thanks everyone!

Test shots and fun

Wow! I guess people really were interested in articles about photography basics. Friday’s post has the highest traffic of any page on this site! How cool is that? I’ll be back on Friday to talk a little bit about how shutter speed affects your exposure, but today is sort of a lazy day for me. I wanted to keep Wednesdays just for fun (although I’m thinking about bumping these back to Tuesdays just to space things out a little).

Taken through a special solar filter. I’m getting all geared up for that eclipse, y’all!

Yesterday, I posted this photo to Facebook and asked you all to guess what it was. It’s the sun! I’m super excited about the solar eclipse next month, and I got a special filter for my camera so I can take photos! If you’re planning on watching the eclipse, please be sure to get some eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. I had to get a filter for the camera to protect its sensor, too. I need to practice with it a bit more so I can get some clear photos when the time comes.

A goldfinch? I’m not sure.

While I was testing my solar filter, I also just took some shots with my 75-300mm lens, which is the one I’m tentatively planning to use for the eclipse. I’m not really used to it yet, and it definitely has some quirks that my other lenses don’t. I’ll probably be using it a lot over the next few weeks, just to get a feel for how it works.

I was surprised to find apple trees at a public park. How pretty!
Another test shot

I had hoped to get out over the weekend and check out a few potential eclipse viewing spots, but I just didn’t get a chance. Where I live, we’ll get a 99% partial eclipse. A short drive will put me into the totality zone. Obviously I want the full experience, but I’m not familiar with this part of the country. I need to find a good place to go, and I have a few spots I want to check out before next month.

I did get out to the botanical garden and downtown over the weekend. You’ll see a lot of those shots on Friday, but I can share a few of them here today.

This is the full version of the flower from today’s header. I thought a little editing might be fun for a change.
I don’t know what this is, but I love this color.
Gay Street after dark. I love the lights and theater signs (and the ice cream shop down the road).

That’s it for today! Are any of you planning to watch the eclipse? Let me know what you have planned! And of course, check back on Friday to see the next post in my photography basics series.

 

Photography Basics: Exposure at a Glance

Welcome to my basics series! Although a lot of my posts involve DSLR shooting, since that’s what I primarily use, I wanted to create some articles that would be universal to photography with almost any digital camera. For those of you who don’t know, DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex, and it refers to the way the camera uses a single lens and a mirror to process light into images. At this time, I’m more interested in the art of taking photos than in the more technical details of how a camera works; I’m planning on writing some posts in the future about different types of gear when I start getting ready to upgrade my equipment, but today is not that day. Today we’re talking about exposure, which is the foundation of photography no matter what kind of camera you’re using.

But I won’t leave you tech fans high and dry. If you want to know more about the differences between types of cameras on the market, here is a Wikipedia article that talks about DSLRs, traditional digital cameras, and the newer mirrorless system cameras. Enjoy!

Exposure is basically how bright or dark your image appears. It’s something I’ve touched on before here and here, but so far have not discussed in detail. It’s one of those things that seems simple in theory but can be tricky to master.

I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that most beginner photographers shoot in Auto, or whatever their camera’s approximation of Auto is. It’s easy and safe, and most cameras will probably produce decent pictures in Auto. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But what if you want to do better than decent? Well, then it’s time to get out of the safe zone that Auto mode provides and start taking control of your photography. This is a process, by the way–don’t be discouraged if your pictures are bad at first. Set aside time to practice and you’ll eventually see your hard work pay off.

This was taken on auto at sunset. It’s not a bad photo overall, but I prefer the manual version below.
This one was taken in manual, just a few seconds after the auto picture. It is a bit darker, but I feel like the sunset looks much deeper. Honestly, I probably should have gotten in place a few minutes earlier.

The first step in the process is to dig out your camera manual and figure out how to change the settings. You’re looking for three things–shutter speed, aperture (or f-stops), and ISO. If you don’t have the manual, look for your camera model in a search engine and see if one is available to view online or download. If you’re shooting with your smartphone, consider an app that will give you that level of control over your phone’s camera. Open Camera (Android) or Halide (iOS) came up after a quick Google search for me; I don’t use either of them, though, so I can’t tell you how well they perform. You’ll have to try them out on your own and then come back and tell me about them. (I’m 100% guilty of leaving my phone in Auto all the time; I don’t take pictures with it all that often.)

Step two is learning how these three elements interact with one another to create an image. This one’s going to take some practice. For now, we’ll just go over what the elements are.

Shutter speed–In a digital camera, shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. In a nutshell, high shutter speeds are good for bright places, while slower ones will allow more light to reach your sensor when it’s dark. But wait, there’s more! Your shutter speed will also determine how much motion is in an image. A high speed will allow you to capture subjects in motion while lower speeds introduce blur. Shutter speed is usually measured in seconds or fractions of a second. We’ll talk more about this next week.

This was shot at a fairly high (I want to say 1/250 but of course I didn’t write it down) shutter speed. As you can see, the water in the fountain is “frozen” midair.
Same fountain, same time, the big change was a much slower shutter speed. I also had to adjust aperture to keep from overexposing the shot. You can see the motion of the water here, and the background is brighter as well.

Aperture–We’ve talked about aperture before, and we will again. You can’t have a complete understanding of exposure without learning about all three elements, and I feel like this one allows you a great degree of creative control over your photos. Aperture is the opening in the lens of your camera (and different lenses will allow you to achieve different apertures, which is another bonus of a DSLR or a camera that allows you to switch out lenses); it’s measured in F-stops. Small numbers are wider openings, which allow more light to pass through the lens. Large numbers are smaller openings and let in less light. But that’s not all! Your aperture also determines your depth-of-field, or which parts of the photo are in focus. Large numbers are good for landscape photos or pictures where you want everything to be the same level of focus. Small numbers are good for softness or artistic blur.

This field of sunflowers was shot at a high f-stop (I want to say 16 or 20), so all of the flowers have about the same amount of focus.
This sunflower was shot at an aperture of F 1.8, the widest I can produce at the moment. The image in the foreground is fairly sharp and the soft background makes it stand out even more.

ISO–The ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light. Lower numbers are less sensitive, while high numbers are more sensitive. Like shutter speed and aperture, ISO is also a twofold element. A high ISO will allow you to take photos in darker environments, but it also introduces noise to your photos. I don’t care for noisy photos, and I had a serious problem with cameras taking very noisy pictures in low light. So taking control of this was a big deal for me. I tend to shoot with a low ISO and only change it if I can’t get the shot I want by altering my shutter speed and aperture.

Here’s an example of a photo with noise. I shot this on Auto a long time ago. See all the speckles in the background? That’s noise caused by a high ISO.

When you’re getting ready to take a photo, exposure is one of the first things you need to consider. It’s not just how bright or dark you want your image to be, but also how you want to capture motion, depth-of-field, and the amount of noise you’re willing to put up with to achieve your desired shot. It’s a balancing act. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to show you how to manipulate all three of these elements so that you can find the balance in your own photography.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Please come back next Friday for a more in-depth look at shutter speed. I’m working on putting some really cool stuff together for you. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook for more pictures, articles, and other goodies.

 

 

Random summer photodump

I got a new lens last week (a Canon 75-300mm for anyone curious) and spent the weekend testing it, as well as practicing with the 50mm lens that I’ve had for a while. I don’t feel like I have enough experience with either of them yet to give you a thorough review, so I thought I’d just upload some photos today.

I’m really pleased with this batch; I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement in a short amount of time. My ratio of good to bad pictures is getting higher every time I go out to shoot and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of what all those numbers on my display mean. I hope everyone here is noticing some improvement over my earlier posts as well.

I’m also doing a lot of work behind the scenes, so to speak, planning future posts and doing research on both my camera equipment and upcoming local events. I have a list of things I’d like to try out at some point, and I think some of it is going to be really exciting stuff. I’m also starting a new series of basic photography advice, which will run on Fridays starting this week. If there’s anything you’d like to see in a future post, please leave a comment and let me know!

Fireworks

Photographing Fireworks

Today’s story is mostly about learning from mistakes and making the best of a less than ideal situation.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that I should go to the Independence Day celebration here in Knoxville. It was going to be at World’s Fair Park, and I just knew I could get some amazing pictures of the fireworks and the Sunsphere, and it was going to be great. Fantastic even; the best Fourth of July ever.

And honestly, it wasn’t bad.

My husband and I got downtown early and found what we thought was going to be a good spot to set up. It looked like rain, so we picked a parking garage where there would be shelter, but we’d have an unimpeded view.

Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville
Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville.

We still had hours to go, so we went for a walk and sampled some delicious ice cream from a local dairy.

Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.
Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.

At dusk, we went back to the car and started setting up the camera. Except for a few short rain showers, things were going pretty well. And then the fireworks show started and things fell apart a little bit. It started raining again–we both got drenched, but the camera stayed dry–and I had completely misunderstood where the fireworks display was going to be. So the test shots I had so carefully composed were completely useless. I had to readjust and just make the most of it.

Which was great for a certain hotel chain, I guess, but not so good for me.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.
Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I can’t complain too much. It was a learning experience, both for shooting fireworks and shooting at night, and I gained a lot. I just wish it hadn’t been such an obstructed view. Plus the show was really short; we waited for hours, and only got 15 minutes of fireworks in the rain.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I think my biggest takeaway from this experience was that I should have looked into the location a little better. Obstructed view does not make for good composition. Given the weather, I’m not sure that I could have gotten into some of the really good spots without getting my camera soaked, but I probably could have done better than I did. If I decide to do this again next year, I’ll try to shoot from the Gay Street bridge. I think the sight of fireworks blooming and fading over the river will be amazing.

Advice for shooting fireworks:
Location, location, location
A tripod is a must
I would also highly recommend a shutter remote so you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it
Set your exposure to manual, and your lens to manual focus
Set a slow shutter speed–I shot most of these at about 1.5-2 seconds
ISO should be 100 to minimize noise
Don’t be afraid to play with your aperture a bit until you get it right
Take some time and enjoy the show; remember to look up from your camera from time to time
Have a plan for afterward; traffic can be a real pain, so rather than fight it you might want to find a local restaurant that’s open and hang out a while

Honestly, I think I could have gotten some great shots if only I’d been in a better spot. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, though, I’m going to celebrate because I got some pretty good pictures in spite of the location. The whole point of all this is to learn and improve, and I feel like I was successful in that area. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the photos! Please be sure to share this with your friends, and follow me on Facebook if you want to see more!

Street photography

There’s something really special about street photography. At its essence, it’s honest and very pure to me; a good street photo captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. It’s candid, raw, and often imperfect–just like life itself.

Dog riding in car; Seattle 2011
When I first spotted this dog, he was resting his head on the mirror; he had moved by the time I got my camera up, but I still love the picture.

This is what I mean–it’s not a perfect shot; the dog should have been a little more to the left of the frame, and it’s blurry too. But it’s a slice of everyday life, one of those funny moments that will never come around again. Seconds after I took that picture, they were gone.

Humans of New York is one of my favorite examples of street photography. Their work is more thoughtful and composed than I think is typical of the classification, but it’s just so beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I’m not up for taking lots of pictures of people yet–I am intensely uncomfortable around strangers–so I generally tend to focus on things like architectural details, street art installations, landscaping, and whatever else catches my eye.

autumn leaves
A leaf peeks out of the hood of someone’s coat.

 

Heart in a tree
A heart-shaped hole in a tree. The tree is probably still there, but I might never see it again.

 

Waikiki Rainbow
A beautiful rainbow over a jogging path in the Waikiki area of Honolulu.

 

Pulse chalk art memorial
Chalk art in downtown Knoxville on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting

Tips:
Be aware of local laws regarding photographing people (especially children) and buildings; don’t get yourself in trouble
Don’t sweat it if your photos aren’t perfectly composed when you’re first starting out. Try to get your exposure right and let everything else fall into place.
Plan in advance and try to keep your gear down to the essentials. If you’re walking all day, do you really want to lug your whole kit along with you?
Be aware of your surroundings; bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable going alone.
Have fun and enjoy the sights.

I’m sure I’ll have more street photos for you in the future. In the meantime, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. For my readers in the US, have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend! I’ll see you next week. 🙂