Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How to Take Better Landscape Photos

This week I am away 'up north'.  When I say 'up north' this is where I mean when my husband goes away shearing.  My in-laws have a farm near where we live and they also have one up here in New South Wales, at a place called Wakool, which is about 30 minutes or so west of Deniliquin.  It is a very different landscape to where we live.  There is also a lot of wide open spaces so I thought I would have a look at landscape photography for today's Tips Tuesday.
There is one thing with landscape photography that I always find disappointing.  The photo never seems to do the scenery justice.  What I mean is, you go on holiday somewhere, see this fabulous view, thing "Quick I must take a photo so I can show the folks back home," and yet the photograph never seems to truly capture the splendid scene that you saw spread out before you.  It never seems to give you a true sense of scale, or capture the glowing afternoon light, or leave you that giddy feeling that the view from the cliff did.
For me, who doesn't take brilliant landscape photos, (I actually don't own a wide angled lens) I find mine a little...well...boring.  So, I've come up with a few tricks.  In the photo above I have included a sheep and a water tower in the foreground.  It has broken up the photo so that you look through to the tree and created some interest in what would have otherwise been a fairly flat uninteresting shot.
The use of leading lines can help you look into your photo.  These tyre tracks leading off into the distance give you something to focus on in this shot...instead of just a rather uninteresting row of trees at the bottom of the paddock.  (This track is actually leading to the tip...but shhh...don't tell anyone)
This big gum tree on the edge of the photo gives it a nice frame.  It also gives the photo a good sense of scale.  I have shot this looking in towards the rising sun, which also looks a lot nicer with it peeking through the trees, instead of blowing up in my face and causing a lot of glare. 
Mix up your landscape photos by making good use of different levels of light.  This sunset had an unusual red sun, which is further highlighted by the silhouette of the buildings and tree in the foreground.
I find shots of the sea really really boring.  All that blue expanse... it does nothing for me.  It's a personal thing of course, because I would rather look at the countryside, but I always feel the water is better broken up with a bit of coastline showing, and even having a person in the foreground.  Once again, you get a better sense of scale with my son in this shot.  You also get the feeling that this water is cold!
This is more my style of landscape shot...I mean at least it's the countryside, and the hills give you something to look towards, but having the shed in the middle ground gives you a good balance within the photo.  It gives you an idea of the space of the great outdoors, with the shed being off in the distance, and as it is dwarfed by the hills in the background, it gives it a further feeling of isolation.  Again it's thinking about that sense of scale, so think about what can be in the shot that will give the viewer an idea of how grand and fabulous everything is.
This dry and barren landscape is not particularly interesting.  It has wonderful rustic character but without the girl in the foreground, frankly it would be a really boring photo.  The colours of the landscape aren't that rich or exciting either...but give the girl some bright pink balloons and BANG!  (no...don't pop the balloons!)...the photo is given some life, but also the contrast of the plain background suddenly looks great against the bright colours.  Remember, your background, middle ground and foreground are all a part of a whole.  Don't forget to look at everything in your shot and tie them all together.
Great landscape photos are everywhere you look, it just takes a bit of getting used to seeing them and perhaps shifting your focus to take in the whole view.  The paddock above is lovely, but I think the clouds really make this shot.  Who would have thunk it!?!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Take Photos of Food

For today's Tips Tuesday I am going to have a bit of a look at Food Photography.  Now Food Photography is not my area of expertise at all, and certainly not the Food Styling part of it, that's a whole career in itself.  But, I have, in my travels as a photographer, had to take photos of food for the magazine I work for, as well as my blog.  I also, like a lot of people, take shots of food to upload to my Instagram account (when I've encountered a particularly delicious bit of cake at a café or a 'too-good-too-be-true hot chocolate).  So today I thought I would discuss taking food shots for your blog or for sharing on social media.
Taking shots of your meal that you order in a restaurant or café so that you can share it with friends (and perhaps make them jealous!) is such a common thing nowadays that you probably don't even get a single sideways glance when you whip out your camera and make your partner wait for ten minutes while you get the perfect shot of his steak sandwich.  With the use of the Smartphone camera this has become a lot easier, and a lot less obvious, and straight away you can send that piece of cake into cyberspace and have your friends drooling over it in no time.  Usually you are trying to get the shot done as quickly as possible, (I know I am...so as not to draw too much attention to myself in a crowded café) but try to remember a few things.  Go for some different angles; so not always just front on.  Stand up and quickly get a shot from above, or to make it a little more interesting...eat a spoonful of the cake, or have a few crumbs on the plate, or even the fork resting on the side.  Get a little inventive.
These nut butters looked better when taken from above...you get the lovely textures of the different types and it really makes you want to stick your finger in and have a taste!  This is what food photography is all about.  You want people to look at your photo and almost taste the food.
Sometimes you might get all 'clever in the kitchen' and feel the urge to do some baking.  Why not share your creations on social media?!  These cupcakes I made for my boys...it was someone's birthday, can't remember which one now (!).... but I felt they were worthy of a photo.  They probably would have looked nicer resting on a different surface, instead of the cooling rack...even the bench would have looked fine, but I am happy with the background in this shot.  There is just a bit of kitchen flotsam and jetsam floating around in the back there, but as I have taken the shot with a shallow depth of field, the background is sufficiently out of focus to look quite good.  So to get this blurry background, remember to set your aperture to a lower number.  (Tip.  Lower the number..Less in focus!)
Sometimes you might want to take a really set up shot, kind of like a product photo.  You don't always have to have a white background, by any means, but sometimes you might want to have a nice clean background so that your food really 'pops'.  This photo is just some random bits I threw together...as you can see...I'm no food stylist...but I have put it together to highlight the white background.  Make sure you can either shoot near a window or set up a light box, with your artificial light sources coming from both sides.  You may have to adjust the white balance, but you can do this later during your editing.  I have taken this shot from above, so just using a white piece of paper, and set it up next to a large window, but you can also use something white (either paper or material for example) and create a seamless backdrop, (ie. where the white covers the back 'wall' and then curves around to cover the 'floor' as well.  For smaller items you can use a piece of paper.  For larger items I have the back of a window blind that does the job.)
Sometimes food photography can be a bit like a work of art, or even be quite abstract, like the photo above.  Three guesses as to what it is!  Is it the centre of a flower?  Is a spinning vortex of death?  No!  It's what I found when I took the lid off the chocolate flavoured gelato!  This was how it looked before I put a spoon in and ate probably the entire contents in one hit!  The pattern was too fantastic to not take a photo!  Don't be scared to get out the macro lens on your food!  You can come up with some unusual abstract, yet fantastic photos.
Occasionally, with my magazine work, I need to showcase food as part of the article.  This will occur if I am doing a story on a cafe or a food producer, for example I have done a number of stories on farms that make their own cheese.
For these two photos above I have been conscious that the food displayed was fairly bland in colour.  In both cases they really needed the 'pop' of colour with the flowers (I could have used something else to create the same effect) to help lift the photo.  This was particularly the case in the second photo because it was a lot of 'white on white'.
Taking photos of food on display is something else I do a bit of.  It does tend to look better if it's not too cluttered.  This photo above is not the greatest as it has a little bit too much going on.  It's not bad but I find myself getting a tad distracted.  The photo below is better.
It's not as 'busy', and the bench top, despite having a pattern on it, works in really well.  It gives it a lift.  Think about what your food is resting on and what is in the background when you take the shot.
Markets are great places to practice taking photos of food.  These meringues were delicious by the way.
You can get a real sense of a 'story' when you take photos at a market.  Here it obviously was a beautiful day, there is farm fresh produce available, it was a country market, which is hinted at by the wicker baskets and chalk written sign...it was an all round lovely morning.  This photo has made the food seem fresh and natural...which is what it should be.

Sometimes I have to take shots of meals!  They always look delicious!  And that is your aim when taking these types of photos.  To get up close and personal and make them look like you can taste them.  A few of my shots like these have ended up within advertisements in the magazine, so the food really does need to look delicious so readers see it and think..."oooo...that looks sooooo good, let's go to that restaurant".
Think about the angle that you are taking the photo from.  For example this wrap would have looked boring if I had taken the shot from the other end...ie. you wouldn't have seem what was IN the wrap.  Plus the chips are this end.  It's a bit of a no brainer but sometimes in the confusion of doing things in a hurry, which is often the case when I'm out on these types of jobs, it's things you don't think of in your haste.
Sometimes you just have to do the best you can.  This is a dessert and that burgundy blob is sorbet...and it was melting as fast as you can say "wait a minute it's melting."  I had the chef (who put this dessert together) standing behind my shoulder, so this was a pressure shot.  Sometimes you've just got to do the best you can with the time you have.  Needless to say this photo wasn't used, and the other shots I got of this dessert were worse...the sorbet was one big puddle!
This dessert (yes! It is a dessert!) was much easier to photograph.  It just sat there like good 'pretend eggs with little pretend edible bits of twig in them'.  Yes, weird I know.  I played with this one a bit, turning it around until I got the right angle.  Later this shot was cropped a bit to get that edge of the glass in the top right corner out of the photo, which improved the shot too.  Editing can be your best friend, so keep that in mind with your food shots.
When taking photos of someone else's creation keep in mind that you are not the only 'artist' at work.  The chef was hovering over my shoulder here, but this was his dish, with a lot of fore-thought and planning gone into it, plus he was someone that was proud of his craft.  Always try and do food justice when you take a photo of it, particularly when you share it with your friends!
I hope this post was helpful!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Break & Happy Birthday

I have had a bit of a 'forced' break.  Due to a bit of stupidity on my behalf (opening up a virus email), I was without a computer for half of the week, then on discovering that my computer had a 'non-related' virus and that the hard drive was starting to fail....I went and bought a new laptop.  My old one was a remarkable 5 years old so it really was about time.
So, I am typing this from my swanky new red laptop (it's very pretty) and apologising for being missing in action for the week.  It took me a while to transfer data over and I just didn't want to cause myself extra stress by trying to get my normal blog posts done.  I managed my usual outfit post on Monday (due to having one sitting waiting in the wings) and also my Weekly Vlog on  Wednesday...but Tips Tuesday with its photography advice, Thursday's outfit post and yesterday's 'Mum & Style' post had to have a break.  Next week, hopefully, all should be rolling out as per normal.
As well as getting a new computer I did, in fact, have a birthday (as you can probably figure out from the photo above), so it wasn't a completely bad week...although considering the age I have turned things could be seriously heading down hill!
Hope all of you have been well in my absence..looking forward to getting up to speed again next week...although have enjoyed my little 'break'!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Take Photographs of Animals

Today's Tips Tuesday is about taking photographs of those other important loved ones in your lives; your pets, as well as other animals you may deem particularly photo worthy.
Taking photos of animals requires an extraordinary amount of patience and time.  You can ask a dog to 'sit', but that doesn't necessarily mean he is going to look at the camera, if that's what you want him to do.  Cats can either be difficult or easy, depending whether they are in their 16 hour sleep cycle or enjoying that fifteen minutes of terrorising the dog.
The trick is to have your camera either permanently attached to your face, or in an easily accessible place.  I leave mine on the kitchen bench all the time, so if a photographic opportunity presents itself it's within grabbing reach.
Taking photos of animals when they are just hanging out doing their own thing is often best.  You really get a true sense of their personality and capture them in a 'moment'.  I used my zoom lens to get this photo of the cat.  Having a shallower depth of field works well too.
I really like this shot of these horses.  Try and think outside the square a little.  This isn't your usual 'person on horse' type of photo, nor is it a standard sort of horse shot.  These two were snuggling up together and it made for a different photo.  I also cropped a lot out of this shot, their legs for example, which I think makes it work better.  Think about what is within your frame.  Sometimes closer is better.
It is, of course, great to get people in with your animal shots.  Casual, un-posed shots work well.
Animals can create some awesome action shots!
And it is great to sneak up on them having a quiet moment.  Remember that the same rules of photography apply, for example, taking photos of people during that 'golden hour' in the late afternoon will give you the best light.  This old dog is highlighted beautifully in the early evening glow.
Zoom up on your subject.  You will capture all those fine little details, like the feathers on this chook.
As well as the lighting think about what is in the background.  These sheep were wedged in this pen waiting to be shorn.  The old door in the background gives this photo a lovely rustic feel, and the light behind it really makes this photo.  (so much so that I actually won 1st prize with this photo on the weekend!...very pleased!!)
Don't just stalk your pets!  Get some shots while you're out and about.  Cows make fantastic subjects!  They're so mooo-ving.  (sorry, couldn't help myself)
And don't be afraid to get dirty!  Get down and in amongst it.  You'll get some fantastic shots if you get down on an animal's eye level.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Best Makeup Products for a Busy Mum

Today marks the start of my new Friday series, 'Mum & Style'.  I hope you find these posts useful!
As a busy Mum you feel that you don't have time to do anything, let alone put on makeup in the morning.  No matter how many hours there are in the day there just never seems to be enough and the lists of tasks is endless.  Mix that up with your career (if you head out to work), or if you happen to work from home (like I do), or even if you don't....there is just no time to spend fussing about with makeup.  Getting kids ready for school, making lunches, getting them out the door, kids to kinder, pre-schoolers demanding all your time, washing, cleaning, cooking....I could easily go on.  Somewhere in all that madness you just can't waste half an hour making yourself gorgeous. 
Unfortunately, what can happen, is that we can let ourselves go, and as a result can start to feel frumpy and even grumpy (didn't mean to make that rhyme...) because we don't look our best and find ourselves getting annoyed that we always have to come last. 
This has to change.  To vastly improve your mood, and show yourself some of the love that you deserve, you need to spend a little time each day on yourself, and if taking a quick ten minutes to put on some makeup is the way to do it, then run with it.
I personally never used to wear makeup, but it's only been in the last year that I have bothered, and it's for that reason.  I wasn't spending any time looking after myself.  As well as looking a little more fresh faced, it is nice to devote a little time to myself, even if my kids are bashing at the bathroom door while I'm doing it.  So what do I find are the best products to use to give myself a speedy spruce up?
I've never been big on foundation, it's only been recently that I have invested in some, and that is really only for when I do my outfit shoots for the blog, although I may wear it if I go out somewhere special.  The rest of the time I either just slap on my usual moisturiser, or I wear a BB cream or a tinted moisturiser.  I have been using this 'Earth Cream' by Dusty Girls, which has been great.  I also picked up this Tinted Moisturiser by Natio at the chemist a little while ago and used it for the first time today, and I must say, I really like this.  It blends in perfectly, is the exact match of my skin tone and doesn't make my skin look dry at all.  These sorts of products are great for a busy mum because you don't have to spend as much time getting them perfect.  I find they don't leave a nasty line around the jaw, and often now they have a sunscreen in them too.  This Natio one has SPF 50, which is awesome!  Today my skin looks really dewy and fresh, without looking too oily, plus it's hidden the old crow's feet a little (!) and it took me about a minute to apply.  A nice, even skin tone is really all you need.
Once again, you want something that is super quick.  If it's too much hassle you're not going to have time or even be bothered, so keep it simple.  Most days you might just want a slick of mascara and that is it when it comes to your eyes.  I have dark lashes anyway, so sometimes I don't even bother with that, but it does make a difference to the length, and different ones make my lashes look a lot thicker, which is nice.  I like my 'Dusty Girls' mascara for everyday.  It's made from natural ingredients and seriously doesn't clump.  My 'Black Argan Oil' mascara by Josie Maran I find is better for going out as it is a bit thicker.  I will bother with eyeshadow when I am going somewhere, even during the day.  I stick to my neutral 'Chocolate Bar' palette by Too Faced which has all the beige/brown shades I could ever need.  There are three shades I generally use, a soft creamy colour I put all over the lid and almost up to my brows, then a soft pinky beige on my lids, followed by a darker shade on the outside corners of my lids which I will blend in.  I find this highlights the green in my eyes and makes a huge difference to the overall look of my face.  Instead of zombie I look a lot more alive.  It doesn't take long, perhaps 3 minutes total.
Lips are super quick, so if you can't manage anything else for the day this is where you can at least pop some colour on your face in a flash.  It's also easy to do on the run as well, although I don't recommend putting it on while you're driving.  As well as being highly dangerous you can also end up with stripes across your face...which is great if you're a tiger but otherwise...not so much.  Lip stains are perfect here.  A bold lipstick can be a bit dressy, plus you need a mirror.  I like lip crayons for the days I want just that little bit of extra colour, and on really 'non-event' kind of days a simple lip balm adds a little shine and moisture. 
A good cleanser that you can use in the shower will be the easiest way to get your makeup off at the end of the day, and it will make it much quicker.  If you're anything like me you are the last to have a shower and fall exhausted into bed, so this type of light, simple makeup makes it easy at the other end too. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Amazing Zhus & Roominate Review

On Wednesday I was lucky to attend a blogger event at The Melbourne Convention Centre where the Melbourne Toy Fair was being held.  Australian toy distributor Modern Brands were launching two new toys and as bloggers we got to experience them both.  These were 'The Amazing Zhus', an extension of the popular Zhu Zhu Pets, and 'Roominate', a customisable building system that allows children to create structures, from doll houses to carousels to helicopters!
The Amazing Zhus are fully interactive toys that perform magic tricks and gravity-defying stunts and come with a range of magician related accessories.  Two types of pets will be available in Australia, including The Amazing Zhus Magician Pets and The Amazing Zhus Stunt Pets.  The magician pets are available in two different characters, The Great Zhu and Madame Zhu.
The Stunt Mice come with acrobatic accessories and there are four different characters to collect, Abra, Dynamo, Kardini and Piccadilly. 
Designed so that even very young children can perform the magic tricks, you can see more at The Amazing Zhus.
Roominate is a new toy impressing parents and the toy industry in the US and is set to encourage more Australian girls to enjoy science, technology, engineering and maths. 
The pieces connect together easily and children can create a whole range of structures, it's completely up to their imagination.  The inclusion of motors and lights means that they are also introduced to working with wire and circuits, creating hours of educational play.
The range was conceived while co-founders Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen were studying their Master of Engineering degree at Stanford University in the US, an inspirational story in itself for any young girl.  It was a pleasure to meet Alice and see her demonstrate the range, while interacting with our children!  Modern Brands believes that Roominate has the right mix of technology, creativity and open-ended play ability to ensure that it will be hugely successful.  Seeing my boys playing with it I am certain it will be a big hit with both girls and boys. 
For further information visit Roominate.

I have included a short video of the event for you to discover more.  Enjoy!