Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday's Photolife--changing up an icon

Wednesday's answer and winner: We only had one person get it right this week. Congrats, Crimey! The answer was the Empire State Building.

On to the Photolife:

Here are a few more views. I love getting different views of famous things. Lighting and angle are great ways of changing up something that is very familiar.
Put the sun behind you and it's all lit up. Include the name so people will know what it is. (For less familiar things this is nice for you as well. I've been known to take pictures of street signs and exhibit names just so that I will know where I was and what I've taken when I go back a couple years later. Now a lot of cameras have GPS and will log that info but it is still nice to have the name in some pictures.)

Put the sun in the picture and get a sunburst and a rainbow, AND with this angle from a little farther away it's much easier to identify. How would you have fared on Wednesday if I'd used this picture?

Wait for a change in ambient light, and include surrounding buildings. It's especially nice when you get a reflective surface like the building on the right to continue the sky or some other element of the photo. With this angle, I bet most of you would have known what the building was.

Application to writing? When describing a scene, think about how familiar you want things to be or how you can change up something that everyone knows. e.g. image 1: the glowing window strips ascending into the blue..., image 2: the sunburst painted a rainbow..., image 3: the window washers hung in the evening's reflection with the Empire State Building looking on...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What in the world?

Hint: A different angle would make it more obvious.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday=Book Review Time--sans Richard Armitage

Up for today: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Today's review requested by Mary Kay. If you see anything you'd like reviewed in the Books Read in 2010 list, just let me know. I have 4 in the queue right now.)

Why I bought it? I had seen the BBC version with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe and adored it. If you haven't seen it yet, put it on your netflix queue. You'll thank me later. I got the Norton Critical Edition with all the footnotes and commentaries through Amazon.

Synopsis: Margaret Hale is uprooted from the idyllic life she has lived in the south of England and moves to the fictional town of Milton in the north when her minister father leaves the Church of England. The abrupt descent into relative poverty is very difficult for her as is the change of lifestyle from the agrarian south to the industrial north. She sympathizes with the workers in the cotton mills and their plight. When she meets the owner of one of the mills, Mr. Thornton, they clash over class issues. (This is different than the movie. It is much more subtle.) He falls for her, but she feels he's completely inappropriate for her. There are a lot of political and social issues along the way, but, ultimately, this is a story about love.

What I thought? I loved it. Some of the things that I didn't like in the movie were different in the book. Very nice. I love the Mr. Thornton in the book more than the one in the movie (even though I think Richard Armitage plays him brilliantly). It has a slow start and a quick finish, but despite those drawbacks, I still love it. Gaskell tells a wonderful story full of flawed, yummy characters. Even Charles Dickens liked Gaskell's work. (They were contemporaries.) Since I read it the first time (this was a reread), I've read all of Gaskell's finished novels, and all were enjoyable--some more than others.

My Rating: ***** out of 5

Cleanness Score: 3 out of 10, This is more for themes than anything else. I thought about giving it a 2, but there is some violence and a suicide (off scene) and several natural deaths. It's a book intended for an adult audience, but I wouldn't have a problem with my teens reading it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday's Photolife--Outings

Wednesday's answer and winner: Y'all are so smart. This week Alyssa was the first to get the answer right. It is, indeed, an apple press to make cider. Or in other words a cider press. In today's photolife I've included a view of the whole thing so you can see the process.

On to the Photolife:

Documenting outings is often in the details. Here are a few pictures from a family get together apple picking in Virginia. (There are tons more pictures, but this just gives you an idea.) Autumn is my favorite season. The crisp air. The vibrant colors. The falling leaves.
Look at the color of that cider--caramel, golden brown with a tinge of red. We strained it then boiled it--and partook. Taste bud heaven.
When we take pictures of outings, it's good to include as many aspects as we can. The cider dripping off the press into the pan, my nephew-in-law climbing a ladder into the trees to knock the apples down,
roasting marshmallows (my daughter and two of my nieces),
another daughter who was obsessed with the tractor we used to haul the apples from the orchard to the fire pit and cider press,

my take-home-cider waiting under my chair for the ride home along with a bag of apples, my daughter's poncho (that I knitted), and my backpack.
The memories are in the details.

Application to writing? One of the things I've been thinking a lot about lately is how putting specific details into writing makes it more vivid and sucks the reader in more and more. The aroma of the cider boiling, the crispy charcoal taste of the burnt marshmallows, the red-orange glow of the apples in the sunset, the sputtering chugs of the tractor, the buzzing whine of the go-cart, the nip in the air of evening setting in, the dirt under my fingernails.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What in the world?

Guess away--three views of the same contraption...

Hint: My fall crush.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday=Book Review Time--Taking me back

I interrupt the regular schedule of reviewing your requests for a selection of my own.

Up for today: This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett

Why I bought it? I actually didn't buy this one. A friend recommended it highly and lent it to me on CD.

Synopsis: Carol Burnett tells humorous vignettes and memorable moments from her life starting at her childhood and continuing through her rise to fame and beyond.

What I thought? There's a reason I'm breaking my regular schedule for this. I LOVED it. I highly recommend listening to this one. Carol Burnett narrates. She tarzan yells, sings, chuckles, and you chuckle along. It's completely enchanting. It took me back to watching her show as a little kid. If you are a fan of Carol Burnett, you will love this. If you've never heard of her, you will still get a kick out of her stories. Her first experience with a mugger had me dying laughing. There are serious moments, too, and I cried a few times--then again, it's easy to make me cry.

My Rating: ***** out of 5, for the CD at least. I think it would be the same for the book.
My daughter's rating: **** (she said no one takes a kid seriously if they rate something a 5--so take her seriously--she'd never heard of most of the names Carol throws around and still really enjoyed it.)

Cleanness Score: 4 out of 10, There was a little mild swearing, and a couple places where she talks about adult topics but nothing obscene. My 16 year old listened to most of it with me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday's Photolife--Let it be easy

Wednesday's answer and winners: Great job this week. The first to answer correctly was Carolyn V with water lily, but in my head I was thinking lotus because of things like Lotus Rising and Lotusgirl, so, since Yat-Yee was the first to give that answer, she also gets a nod.

On to the Photolife:

Recently I watched the videos that go along with my Aperture program (like Photoshop but for Mac). Now I've been using it for quite a while--trial and erroring my way through tweaking my pictures. While trying to adjust the lighting on the picture below (for a stinking long time) and not getting what I wanted, I finally decided to watch the videos. All of them together took maybe 20 minutes (probably more like 10). And voilĂ :
the picture the way I wanted it. I learned how to use the presets. I thought I knew how to use them before. I didn't, and I wasted tons of time trying to recreate what I could do with them in seconds. SECONDS! Seriously. Seconds.
By learning the tools I have at my disposal, I made my life a lot easier.

I can just slide my curser down the presets and choose various options.
It even shows me what the picture will look like in a thumbnail image.
Here's a look I wouldn't have thought of for this shot, but I loved it when I saw the thumbnail, so...

Application to writing? 1. Learn the tools of the trade and use them. My writing life has become so much easier since I learned how to use things like "track changes" and "Find..." in Word (one of my tools). AND 2. Listen to those who know what they're talking about and learn from them. I've been reading a book the last few days that has had some excellent advice. I wish I'd read it a year ago. There's some amazing advice online for free. Here's an excellent post from Georgia McBride for newbies.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What in the world?

After the last few hard ones, I thought I'd try something a bit easier. Obviously, it's a flower bud but what kind?

Hint: I have a warm place in my heart for these.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday=Book Review Time--Another impressive debut novel

Up for today: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (This review requested by Mary Kay.)

Why I bought it? Several friends had recommended it, and I'd heard a lot of buzz online about it, so I downloaded it to my Kindle.

Synopsis: Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, the book follows the lives of 3 women, two black maids, Aibilene and Minny, and one white woman newly graduated from college, Skeeter. In alternating chapters each woman tells her own story. Eventually, they come together to work on a super-secret project--one that exposes the hidden lives of the well-to-do whites, and, of course, fallout ensues.

What I thought? I enjoyed this book immensely. I found the way the dialect was written at the beginning very off-putting, but after a while I got used to it. (A friend said that she had listened to it on CD and that the reading was wonderful--which would take care of the crazy spellings, etc. If I had it to do over again, I'd listen to it.) That said, the dialect itself was spot on, and, having grown up in the south, I'm a hard one to fool on southernisms. The food (oh my gosh, it made my mouth water), the weather, the names (I even had a friend in high school whose nickname was Skeeter), the set up of the houses, the interaction of the classes and races was all well done. It's obvious the author knows the south.

The characters are so engrossing that the book is very hard to put down. There's tons of humor and plenty of poignant moments, too. These characters have stayed with me even though sometimes I wish there had been more rounding out of the white characters. (I know there were plenty of mean white women with maids and insensitive ones and oblivious ones, but there were also kind ones and ones that were mean sometimes and kind other times. It would have been nice to see more of those.) A great first book for this author and a nice one for book clubs.

My rating: **** out of 5. Up until about 3/4 of the way through, it was 4 1/2 to 5, but I feel like Skeeter's story got the bum's rush at the end. I still recommend it highly because her story wasn't my favorite part. I loved the tales from "the help." They were priceless, and I wouldn't be surprised if every single one of them really happened somewhere.

Cleanness Score: 5 out of 10, This is kind of vague in my head because it was back in January that I read it, but I don't remember anything very offensive. There was some physical abuse and language and a lot of adult themes, but this is another book intended for grown ups that teens could easily read.

FYI: They are making a movie of it that will be out next year. It will be interesting to see how they put it on the big screen.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday's Photolife--What's your angle

Wednesday's answer: Sorry, there were no winners. I didn't realize this would be so tricky. It was an icehouse. Fill it up all winter, and you have ice throughout the spring and summer. Cool, huh? This particular one was Jefferson's at Monticello.

On to the Photolife:

Do you always take pictures straight on? Here's one (mostly straight on) at a WWII memorial in Annapolis, MD.
How does the impact of the picture change when shot from a side angle?
Do you think about your vantage point when taking pictures? Try it sometime. No fancy equipment required. Just break out your point and shoots. This is more about where you put yourself and the camera.
Shoot from above (I was on a balcony above my cute nephew.)
or below (I knelt at the bottom of the column that was part of James Madison's icehouse.)
or dog level. (I held the camera down around my ankles and clicked--talk about literally pointing and shooting.)
Take this colorful street.
Think about how the angle changing
alters what the picture says or your reaction to it.

Application to writing? Telling stories from different points of view can dramatically or subtly change the impact of what you're saying. If a scene isn't working for you, try it from a different POV or, if you'd rather keep your story at one POV character, try giving him a different perspective. e.g. For one scene in my WIP I had my POV character on a balcony overlooking the action on the street below rather than at street level. Think about how her perspective would have been different if I'd put her looking out a basement window.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What in the world?

What is it?
Here's a view through the bars.

Good luck!

Hint: Wealthy people often used to have them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday=Book Review Time--translating life

Up for Today: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (This review requested by Yat-Yee Chong.)

Girl In Translation

Why I bought it? It was September's read for my book club, and I downloaded it onto my Kindle.

Synopsis: Kimberly Chang is a brilliant student, but, when she and her mother arrive in New York City from China, she can only speak her 5th grade English--i.e. not much--and her mother speaks none. Beginning 6th grade is a challenge to say the least. They live in an apartment in a condemned building (lots of companionable roaches and rats and no heat)--arranged by her mother's sister. (With family like her who needs enemies?) They work in the sweatshop of the aforementioned loving sister and her husband and survive as best they can. I don't want to give any more away, because this story is lovely to discover as you read. If you want a bit more, you can go to Jean Kwok's synopsis on youtube.

What I thought? I loved this book. The writing is beautifully wrought--amazing for anyone but especially someone who's first language was not English. What an incredible debut novel. It is vivid like nobody's business. There is such authenticity to it that sometimes it feels like memoir (and at times perhaps it was a bit. Kwok did experience some of the same things when she moved to NYC from China.) I was completely transported. I cried and laughed, mourned and rejoiced along with Kim. The way Kwok deals with Kim's fragmented understanding of English (at first) is so well done that it brought back my own experience learning French. I'm in awe of Kwok's writing. Awe, I tell you.

My Rating:****1/2 out of 5, It was almost a 5, but there were a few things that held it back. Still a fabulous read.

Cleanness Score: 4 out of 10, for some mild language, some incidental drug use, and a not over done sex scene. This is a book intended for adults, but I think most older teens would be fine reading it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday's Photolife--to flash or not to flash

Wednesday's answer and winner: Erinn guessed a beach in South Carolina. That's as close as it got without being wrong. So congrats to Erinn. The full answer is Hilton Head Island, SC. The greens in the hint was for all the golf courses. The 2nd picture highlights the tidal wetland, and the 3rd picture is for the spanish moss that you see everywhere there. Savannah, GA, from Samantha Bennett, was actually a very good guess. It's not very far from Hilton Head and has some significant similarities.

While I was taking pictures there one night, I had a bit of a dilemma. It was almost dark and the building with the indoor pool was beautifully reflected in the small pond encircling it. To flash or not to flash? I tried both. You may be surprised to find out that the first picture is the one
with flash
and the 2nd is without. The light wasn't able to reach the building before the shutter closed so the only thing that caught the light from the flash is the grass. For the second I leaned against a pole to hold the camera steady. With a flash on you lose most of the natural light in your shot.

Sometimes that's what you really want to show. Here's an example from Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
With the flash you see all the details of the railing and the golds and grays of the stage, but there's no way that you would know that
the archway was lit up with blue light. Without the flash you see that but can't make out the same level of details. As a photographer you have to decide which one you prefer or take both (which is what I usually do) and use both later for something like this. You know I'm always thinking of you.
With--you show the bellhop directing people to the elevator in the Tower of Terror,
or--without--you create a ghostly vision of the same scene.
With--you show the exact material of the ball at Epcot,
or--without--you emphasize how the ball glows.
With--you show how the path at Epcot is made with some paving stones that seem to sparkle,
or--without--you show how they light the path in the darkness.

When we take pictures, we are always faced with this choice (whether we realize it or not).

Application to writing? When setting a scene, we should decide what we want our description to do: give specific details of the surroundings or set a mood.