30 December 2011

Day trip: Mission San Juan Capistrano

When I told the boys that it was a "no climbing" adventure, they looked a little disappointed. But no worries, they made up for it with extra goofiness.

They are walking up to the Great Stone Church, whose walls crumbled and domes caved in during an 1812 earthquake that killed 40 worshipers.

I really liked the Bell Wall--originally used to call the community to meals, religious services, work, funerals, or recreation. The bells also signaled the sighting of a supply ship or a returning padre.

The Serra Chapel:

Afterwards, we headed down Ortega Hwy to Casper Wilderness Park so the monkeys could climb.

Day trip: Joshua Tree National Park

Road trip checklist: iPhone x 2 - yup, iPod - yup, iPad - yup, Kindle - yup!  Okay, I don't actually endorse this flavor of overkill because, in reality, our devices only got a few minutes of use at the very tail end of the drive home.

The obligatory entrance photo:

Parents of the Year!  I am a bazillion miles away to get the full shot.  Their dad is at bottom of the rocks, "Move closer to the edge so you can plummet to the rocks below I can take a pic!"

But they survived so it's okay.  We've clearly learned to let them explore on their own.

This is not a stellar image in itself, but A1 had scratched his back from squeezing between 2 rocks and A2 ran over to him to comfort him and I thought it was so sweet that it deserved a photo.

Then A1 recovered and it was back to the usual business of horsing around from dangerous heights.

A1 is trying to earn his Photography belt loop and pin in Scouts and while I don't love photos of myself, I will honor him by posting this shot that he grabbed of me and A2.

27 December 2011

How much can we cram into a single day?

I'd been wanting to take the boys to the Bolsa Chica wetlands for some time and finally got a chance to do it.  There are 2 exhibit rooms in the visitor center full of living and mounted exhibits and both rooms were staffed by very nice, helpful people.  The parking lot was full when we got there and I didn't want to make the boys cross at Warner (so big and busy!) so we waited about 10 minutes and several spaces opened up--lots of joggers coming and going on the trails.  We were able to spot a good number of water fowl, but regretted not bringing our binoculars.  Still, at the whopping price of FREE, I don't suppose we should complain about our experience!

Then we headed off to Sunset Beach.  It's a County-maintained beach so I assumed we'd have to use our Regional pass, but there was so much convenient street parking that we never even made it to the official lot (if there even is one!).  The dunes were especially fun for digging and closer to the water, shells are aplenty.  The boys favored the mussel shells so they gathered a few for their sculpture.

After a late lunch and a freshly baked batch of cookies, we headed back out to the Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center.  It borrows Irvine Regional Park's entrance but is its own entity.  We'd been there with our Pack for an archery & BB gun with our Cub Scout pack and I really enjoyed the tall opening in their outdoor chapel so I wanted to snap a pic of A1 there since I'd gotten A2 last time.

I'm really going to miss these packed days when the boys go back to school next week.  I don't exactly have our adventures mapped out for the day so it's quite a luxury to be able to wander about the county as it suits us.

By the way, the total price to today's activities?  $0!

25 December 2011

Post count

Unless I post twice per day until New Year's Day, this will turn out to be the year with the lowest post count since I started blogging (except for that first "year" which was only 2 months anyhow).  Maybe that's why I've been composing these little posts instead of those monstrous ones with 20 images embedded.

You know what's strange?  The RC helicopter, model rocket, archery set, fishing poles, etc. mean absolutely nothing compared to the boxes in which they came.  Next year I'm going to put boxes in their boxes!

You know what else is strange?  I wanted to show much I love whipped cream on my hot chocolate (with a healthy dose of holiday bokeh in the background) and I think I just ended up connecting the frenzied holiday season with antipsychotics.

I checked the tide tables and saw that low tide was nearly at dusk so we visited the tide pools instead of our usual Christmas day beach.  And to stick to the theme of strangeness--these DSLR images don't impress me as much as the one I made with my iPhone!  Here are the boys discovering cool critters like the half plant/half animal sea slug and the usual suspects: hermit crabs and anemones, doing some sort of tide pool Tai Chi, and frolicking in the waves.

New electronics!

I know, I know, Christmas is not about new toys.  That being said, I *really* love my new toy!  James updated my iPhone to a 4S primarily because I'd been wanting a point-and-shoot for those times when I couldn't/wouldn't carry my DSLR with me.  This shot of the boys at Little Corona at sunset today is my very first image on the phone:

Are you kidding me?!?  The dynamic range on this little thing is fabulous!  On the old phone, the darker portions would have been completely black and the lighter portions would have been totally blown out.  And the color rendition is remarkable as well.

ETA: I can't stop staring at this image.  No wonder compact manufacturers are afraid that the compact digital camera is going to go the way of the film cameras.  I can see why so many people have abandoned that extra device when their phones work so well to capture memories in two dimensions.  If I could gain aperture control on this phone, I might just leave the DSLR at home most days!

If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done!

Every year it's the same.  I push and push to get the cards photographed and ordered and then they just sit around for a month only to arrive in mailboxes with the tiniest cushion before Christmas.  Why do I do that to myself?  Of course, I resolve to avoid this predicament next year (and of course, I will repeat myself anyhow).

Here is the final choice and its card form:

And here is the shot that turned into the sticker which saved me from licking a bazillion envelopes:

24 December 2011

Reasons why this year sucked less

The bulk of my photography business (can I really call it a business if I don't ever advertise and have never printed any business cards?) comes in from September through November and sometimes a little of it spills into early December.   This is my third such season and, while each has been plagued by fantasies of walking away from the business end of photography altogether, this was most definitely the best season yet.

I thought it was because I had finally learned to say no (and I did turn away a good number of inquiries to commission my services because I didn't want a backlog of unedited photos haunting me at night) and took on fewer sessions than last year, but the fact is that the difference in absolute number of sessions is negligible.  In fact, with my various non-official duties at both kids' schools, my MOMS Club, and the Scout den/pack, I probably shot many, many more frames this year.

A lot of this year's ease can be attributed to better technique and better equipment, which means that there's less editing.  I've got a better handle on the editing software too so I don't mess around too much with superfluous sliders and options.  I'm also a lot more cutthroat and able to delete a so-so frame without as much guilt as before.  That also means I've stopped promising 30 images, but delivering close to 100.  That was a act of shame that reflected my compensating for what I perceived as poor technique with added numbers.  I have to assume that if people didn't enjoy my style, they wouldn't have hired me in the first place.

I stopped scheduling multiple portions of a single session.  That shooting style wreaked havoc on my schedule, making me busy all month long instead of quick shoots here and there that allowed me to dedicate more time to the editing component.  I also stopped scheduling (as many) mini sessions.  I'm doing away with individual minis altogether next year.  It takes nearly the same amount of effort as a full session to drive to a locale, capture 20-30 minutes' worth of frames, and get back home.  But for 4 times the cost, all I have to do is stay another 10-20 minutes for a "full" session.  So unless I'm doing an afternoon of minis back-to-back in 1 locale, there's no way I can manage all that on-site shooting like I did last year.  I still owe 1 prepaid and 1 as yet unpaid mini because I previously promised clients, plus there's a fabulous family that stops by the house and they are quick, easy, and super fun, but other than that, I'm done with mini sessions!  The worst part of shorter portions of a whole session or mini sessions is that they produce sterile, posed images that are not in keeping with my style.  There's just not enough time to relax and get those candids that truly capture the personality of my subjects.  That is also the exact reason why I refer to last year's pre-Christmas rush as soul-killing.  I take no issue with Target, Babies R Us, Sears, and the like.  If you want a portrait of the family all sitting nicely and staring and smiling, then by all means, use these excellent and affordable studios.  But please don't call me!

The biggest difference this year was that I arranged for the boys (sometimes 1, sometimes both) to be with me on just about every shoot.  Seriously, this is not my job and I have a chosen profession to which I hope to return one day.  Shocking revelation: Photography is not it!  So to have to send the boys away means that I'm spending less time with them during this magical and most favorite part of the year.  It also means that my time is worth more.  Last year, I grew increasingly resentful of how little I charged (which is a purposeful statement reflecting my belief that every family deserves to keep treasured photographic memories, not just the filthy rich ones) because I wasn't being paid enough to be apart from my babies.  In fact, it's so important that the kids can come along that it will likely be part of the new business model so that it's incorporated onto the site Information page.  I don't want to feel bad about asking whether the boys can mill about in the background--I want potential clients to know that that is simply part of the deal.  I can happily leave them at home, but I'd have to charge twice as much to even come close to feeling like my time is fairly paid for.  And that's okay, I'm less than half the price of my "competitors" so it's not exactly a big leap.  At the end of every year, I rejigger my pricing schedule and I will probably not increase the session cost (and if I do, it won't be much at all) but I will double the travel fee.  Travel means I'm in the car--not with the kids (whom I love) and not photographing (which I also love)--so I don't love travel.

I'm grateful for these lessons learned and hope that next year is even better than this one!

Random shot of the boys playing with a friend yesterday.  Yes, they are armed and marginally dangerous.  And yes, I took my lens hood off to create the ghosting and flare of a cheaper lens (why?!?).

Santa Anas

The winds were really whippin' last week.  How bad was it?

Really bad!

It was so bad that one of our trees fell over--notice that melaleucas don't grow horizontally.  It knocked over the fixture atop the lamppost but that was pretty much the only damage.  We're rather fortunate, both this time and the last time trees were felled by the winds in 2003.  iPhone pic:

We decided it was time to give A2 a haircut after that.  Here's the last pic of him before he was off to the barber's.

23 December 2011

Aliso Beach

My mother had these outfits for the boys and requested that I photograph them.  And by "them" I'm not really sure whether she was more interested in the outfits or the boys.  I obliged and here are 2 of the results:

Riley Wilderness Park

The sun had already sunk below the mountains and it was drizzling out, but the boys still wanted to fly their planes so we headed out to Riley.  The park was a beautiful sight but it quickly got very wet and very cold so we skedaddled on out of there after only a few flights.  We'll definitely be back in fairer weather.

Environmental Nature Center & Little Corona

The ENC has a good handful of hands-on exhibits that the boys enjoyed--but they're generally very good about reading those informational plaques and discussing the materials at hand.  The grounds are only 3.5 acres so it's rather surprising that they can cram 13 different plant communities into that space, but they manage to do it, and do it well too.  We liked the plants but the critters were the best part of the short, highly manageable hike through the various trails.

We were excited to get there because this was a trip I'd been promising them for a long time so it took a while for A2 to stop dancing.

Then my GPS led me the wrong way and we got all turned around so I decided keep going on the current path and somehow ended up at Little Corona.  I'd been checking the tide tables and knew it was a minus low tide so there were lots and lots to view on the exposed rocks.  It's such a lovely locale, but the nearly noon hour meant horrible light so we only snapped a few shots.