Friday, December 27, 2013

What Does A Weatherman Do?

Jaiden and Joey share their thoughts about what daddy does at work ...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How To Take Fireworks Pictures

With the 4th of July Holiday coming up on Monday, I bet quite a few people are planning to go out and try to get some cool fireworks pictures ...

While I am by no means an "expert" on fireworks photography, I have captured a few nice images over the years (including the one above). As such, I feel I'm qualified to offer up a few ...

Tips for better fireworks photography this 4th of July

  • Use a tripod. Keeping your camera steady is especially important when shooting at night, or with a longer exposure. (If you have a dSLR, you might also consider locking the mirror up, and using a remote shutter release device)

  • Set your camera for a 1 to 5 second exposure. If your camera has the capability, you can use either "shutter priority", or manual mode. If you have a point and shoot camera, set it to the "night-time scenery mode". By using a longer exposure, not only will you avoid having to "guess" when the firework is going to explode in the sky; you'll also be able to capture a sense of "motion". The picture above was a 2 second exposure. Had it been taken at something like 1/200th of a second, all you would probably only see is a scattering of blue or possibly even white dots.

  • Stop down to a smaller aperture. If you're shooting in manual mode, don't be afraid to stop down to F8.0 or even F11. The last thing you want when trying to shoot fireworks is a shallow depth of field ... much better if the whole scene is in as sharp a focus as possible.

  • Focus Manually. Speaking of focus, if your camera has the ability, set your focus to manual, find a good target off in the distance, and take a few practice shots before the actual fireworks show begins. No matter how good the auto focus function on your camera is, none of them work very well in the dark ... you will end up with out-of-focus shots.

  • Consider the Foreground and Background. Pictures of fireworks exploding in the dark sky can be dramatic and cool; but they have no context ... they could have been taken anywhere. If there is a distinctive landmark or skyline that you can include your shots, it will definitely serve to enhance the story; and your memories.

  • Take a lot of pictures. Fill up that memory card. No matter how well you prepare, your ratio of "throw-a-ways" to "keepers" is probably going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 15 to 1. And even those keepers will require some photoshop work ... at the very least adjustments to white balance are likely to be needed.

  • Have Fun! As easy as it can be sometimes when you have a camera "glued" to your face, don't forget to pay attention to your family and friends ... especially if you have kids. Mentally capturing that look of wonder on your son or daughter's face as they watch the show is often way more rewarding than even the perfect digital image of colorful "bombs bursting in air".

Well, that's my advice for 4th of July photography. I hope you found it helpful ... and I hope it assists you in getting some awesome fireworks shots this year.

Enjoy the holiday!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful 2013

I'm tempted to say I had fun this morning, but I don't know if I'd really call picking up trash along the side of the road "fun". But I did help clean up Copperas Cove .. our new home town.

I was browsing Facebook last night, and I saw that the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce page had posted a flyer inviting people out to the cleanup:

I figured there was a reasonable chance that I might be up by 9am, and we didn't have anything else planned until after lunch, so I told Ana I was going ... and about 8:30 this morning, I actually got up and got ready.

We all met up over at the GC Service parking lot, were they had coffee and doughnuts to eat, passed out t-shirts and safety vests, and explained how things were going to work.

2013-04-06 at 09-06-07

2013-04-06 at 09-03-30

2013-04-06 at 09-03-19

I was selected to be part of the crew that would be cleaning up Ave D .. which is the road I drive down every day to and from work. We all drove over to the Sherman Williams parking lot for a second meet up. There I was given my trash bag and "grabber". That grabber turned out to be something my back greatly appreciated.

2013-04-06 at 09-38-35

We we navigated our way across the road, it was time to start picking up. We went both directions, the length of the road. It was a pretty good turn-out, with a couple of different groups, some retired people, and even some high school kids. I was actually surprised there weren't more military people out there.

2013-04-06 at 10-12-57

For the most part even the trash wasn't too bad. However, this experience did renew my scorn for smokers. There were a few sections of the road where I swear it almost looked like people had pulled over and just dumped out their ash trays.

2013-04-06 at 10-21-36

I'm not sure if this is just a yearly thing, or as I suspect, several times a year. I suppose I'll find out, since I gave them my phone number and email address. ;-)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Never Forget to Send a Birthday, Anniversary or Valentines Card Again

Are you one of those guys rushing up and down the greeting card aisle at Wally World the night before you wife's birthday? Come on admit it, I won't laugh (too hard) .. because I've done it too. ;-)

Good news, this might help ...

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 3.43.36 PM

Just a couple of simple steps:

  • Create an account at Pixingo (retail or wholesale, ask me if you need a breakdown of the difference).

  • Fill up the address book with all the people you think will notice if you don't sent them a card ... plus those who will smile when you do.

  • Create a couple of cards ... you can even personalize them

  • Schedule the date you'd like them printed and put in the mail

Now obviously you'll need to load a few bucks into your account to pay for them. But the really good news is, even at the retail prices you'll still only be paying about 1/2 as much as you would for that card you're running around looking for at the last minute.

This is really a no brainer if you're a procrastination prone guy (like me).

lol, I'd imagine women are going to really like this new feature too, but for most of them it will be more of a "want" than a "need" ;-)

Keep havin FuN!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taking Pictures of Lightning is Not That Hard

So you'd really like to take cool pictures of lightning, but think it's probably beyond your capabilities ...

Well guess what?

It's really not that hard.

See that picture up above? I took it last night, and most of my Facebook friends really seem to like it. They are seriously impressed with my mad photography skills.

Funny thing ...

That picture was not planned. I'd hoped to get some thunderstorm pictures earlier in the evening, but after the sun went down I pretty much gave up and put the camera away ... until I heard the thunder.

I quickly grabbed my camera, and turned the dial to manual. I set it at F11 and a 15 second exposure. Changed the focus to manual, and attempted (in the dark) to focus on the distant horizon. I then looked around the yard for a place to put the camera down. I settled on the edge of the trampoline, with a hula hoop under the front of my lens to prop up the angle a bit.

I then sat down behind the camera and pressed the shutter release every 15 seconds for about 5 minutes or so.

Out of the 18 pictures I took, this bolt just happened to show up in one of the frames.

I downloaded it to my computer, and spent literally about 8 minutes in Aperture "cleaning it up" (changed the white balance, sharpened, added some contrast and viginette, and cloned out some of the dust spots that inevitably show up when I shoot the sky at F11 with my 8 year old camera).

As is wont to happen with many photographers, I'm not nearly as impressed with this particular image as some of my friends are.

If I wanted to capture a really "good" lightning pictures, I would have planned a little better:

  • Dragged out my tripod and remote shutter release

  • Scouted out a location with something more interesting in the foreground than my neighbor's houses

  • Focused the lens to infinity before it got dark

  • Done some test shots to try to figure out exactly which aperture/shutter speed settings would really work best

  • Stayed outside a lot longer than 5 minutes ... even if I already had some "good" captures

  • Spent a LOT more time doing post processing.

But you know what? None of that was really my point. I'm of the opinion that provided you have a camera with manual setting, and you've read enough of the instruction book to be able to change the aperture and shutter speed, there's no reason YOU shouldn't be able to capture a picture at least as good as the one in this post the next time a thunderstorm rolls through your neck of the woods.

Keep havin FuN!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Do You Have a Commissary Rewards Card?

deca_rewards Coupons loaded digitally onto a card. Sounds like they did this for us guys. I'll be honest, when I go shopping, while I'm not opposed to using coupons, I'm normally not willing to go to any extra effort to collect them.

lol, I'm the dude who is proud about the $.75 I just saved on my $257 worth of groceries. :-)

Yesterday I stopped by the Fort Hood Army Wives expo, where my wife was volunteering. One of the tables was set up by DECA (Defense Commissary Agency). We were drawn by the offer of free candy for the kids, but while I was there they also gave me one of these Rewards cards.

It just so happens that I need to go food shopping today, so this morning I sat down and registered my card. It was pretty easy, I just entered my information and the number from the back of the card. After my account was set up, it brought me to a page full of e-coupons. I "clipped" the ones I was interested in, and apparently they've been loaded onto my card. I guess we'll find out in an hour or two how well it worked.

I will warn you, there wasn't a really big selection of coupons. I only found two that I wanted to use. Buy hey, it's $1.60 that I'm going to save, while only expending a couple of minutes of my time ... worthwhile enough that I'll plan to log onto the from now on before I head to the store.

If you have a military ID card, and don't have one of these Rewards cards yet, Todd's Tip would be to get on before your next commissary trip. ;-)

Keep havin FuN!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Free (and useful) Apple Aperture 3 Tutorials

aperture_logo When I bought my copy of Apple Aperture 3 a little over a month ago, the first thing I did was look for some tutorials. I was pretty disappointed by the results of my Google search. Don't get me wrong, I found a few; but for the most part they were just short teasers for tutorial series that cost money.

I know, I know, I should have just sucked it up and paid. The whole reason I was looking for tutorials in the first place is because I've been using Photoshop for about 9 years now, and I still don't know what half those buttons do. So when I finally bit the bullet and traded in my MacBook Pro for a new Mac Mini I decided it was also time to switch to Aperture.

... and actually learn how to use it right from the start.

Unfortunately, after my disappointing tutorial search, I (thought) I was left with just the manual. And although the manual is actually pretty good, it is a manual. So I've pretty much been going with the same trial and error method of learning that served me so well (not) with Photoshop.

Then this morning for some reason I decided to search for "how to sharpen and image in Aperture", and found this YouTube video:

But hmmmm, that looks a little "polished" for a YouTube tutorial. So I went back the Apple site, and sure enough, there's a whole suite of useful video tutorials:

Now in my defense, Aperture isn't actually linked from the main videos page, you have to type it into the search box. (and it was nowhere to be found when I Googled) So this is very nearly another "dumb Todd" story. But at least now I know where they are, and I can quickly correct some of the things I've already been doing the "hard way" .. and learn to do everything else "right".

... and you can too. ;-)

Keep havin FuN!

p.s. in browsing through YouTube, I did find some other Aperture tutorials not made by Apple. I liked some of the ones on this guy's channel: