Five Tips For Shooting Better Fall Photos

Happy Monday! There’s only one week of October left, eeek! Grab your camera and go take a walk in the woods, but before you head out, learn how to take better fall photos. This post was originally published on October 30, 2014, but after a wonderful hike in the woods this weekend, I thought it was worth another look.

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Autumn really tends to steal the show in terms of natural beauty, dontcha think?  This year I took a trip to Asheville, NC and after cruising up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway I don’t think I’ll ever take fall for granted again.  I spent three days hiking, driving and simply sitting and looking at leaves.  After the trip I mentally cataloged what went well and what went wrong in terms of the photos I took.  I thought it might be helpful to share a couple fall photography tips here in case you want to capture the season.

  • Zone in.  Don’t be afraid to focus in on one tree, one branch, even one leaf!  Get close, choose your angle and go for it.  While the whole forest is beautiful sometimes when we constantly shoot at a wide angle, the viewer’s eye doesn’t really know where to focus when looking at the picture.  The resulting image will be a mess of pretty hues instead of that amazing sugar maple with fiery red leaves. While you’re busy looking up, don’t forget to look down and around too.  There are multitudes of berries, fungus and seed pods waiting to be photographed too.

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  • Photograph your subjects in open shade or on cloudy days.  Cloudy days are great for photographing people; the clouds act as a huge soft box eliminating all shadows.  Obviously you have no control over the weather, but avoid midday sun and its harsh shadows, instead find a big wide open area of shade (near a building, under tree cover, etc) and take portraits there. You should find that the light is even and diffused because of the shade, but still bright enough because you’re in a wide open area.  If the sun is peaking through and creating hot spots (over exposed areas) in your photo, it will be pretty distracting so look around and try to avoid that as best you can.  Shooting in open shade is more comfortable for you (not so hot!) and your subject (no squinting) and the balance of light between your subject and background won’t be as drastic and therefore much less confusing for your camera in turn creating a better image.

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  • Shoot when there’s weather. Shooting during a sunny day with blue skies is nice, but shooting when it’s stormy, foggy or rainy is more dramatic and interesting. Weather easily adds mood to a photograph without a subject present.  I especially like shooting dark blue stormy skies during the fall because the contrasting colors of the deep blue sky makes the orange leaves pop even more. Shooting in the rain (or right after if you want to stay dry) looks fantastic during fall.  The colorful leaves that normally look dry (well, cause they are) glisten and shine, which really brings out their color.  Think about how nice a car looks when it’s freshly washed and still has drips of water on it or how shiny your nails look when you put a clear coat on.. it’s all about the glisten 😉

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  • Try setting your white balance to Shade.  (Its symbol is usually a house with three diagonal lines next to it)  Shade basically warms up your photograph, which in turn will result in leaf hues closer to what you are seeing with your eyes.  Sometimes photography can be frustrating and disappointing because what we see isn’t what our camera sees.  It’s ok to use the camera as a tool to better create the scene in front of you.  Using Shade white balance is one way I’ve found to help the camera represent changing leaf colors more accurately. Try it and see if it works for you.

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  • Coordinate with the fall foliage.  We think about color whenever we’re trying to create something visually pleasing (interior design, picking out an outfit, choosing a palette for an art project) so it only makes sense to do the same when we’re creating photos.  If you know you’ll be the subject or the shooter, dress to compliment your scene!  This is especially easy in the fall because you generally know what colors to expect. Next time you are the subject of the photo, you’ll compliment the scenery and visa-versa.

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I planned on only dishing up five tips, but here’s a bonus that works for shooting in any season and setting: Shoot during the golden hour.  This rule basically runs every photographers life.  The light is warm and shadows are long, which creates for interesting and beautiful photographs.  If you want to shoot the changing leaves and natural scenery, shooting during the first hour and last hour of light is highly advantageous.  The colors of the yellow, orange and red leaves will look even more brilliant during the golden hour so plan your walks just before sunset!

Have fun and happy shooting! Oh and if you snap a shot using one of these tips, tag us on IG @liveseasoned because we would love to check it out 🙂

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Bat Halloween Shirt

Halloween is just around the corner, and now that we have a 3.5 year-old in the house, every holiday is a big deal! Combining Alex’s current love of bats and the coming holiday, I have a great DIY for you : bleached bat t-shirts!

bat_shirts5bThis project couldn’t be easier, but unfortunately, since you’re working with bleach, this is not necessarily a kid-friendly DIY. Don’t worry, they’ll have a great time watching the “magic formula” work!

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Supplies

  • black or navy blue t-shirt
  • freezer paper (it has a wax coating on only one side whereas wax paper has a wax coating on both sides)
  • bat stencil (I free-handed on, but you could print out a bat clipart silhouette)
  • piece of cardboard (an empty cereal box works well!)
  • toothbrush
  • bleach
  • water
  • latex glove (to protect your hand will applying the bleach splatters)

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Hints

  • Trace and cut-out bat silhouettes from the freezer paper. I made large and small bats, but you have complete flexibility with the size and number of bats you use (whatever you think will look good on your shirt).
  • With the iron on low heat, carefully iron the freezer paper bats onto the shirts (make sure the waxy side of the paper faces the fabric). Keep the iron relatively still, pressing into the paper and fabric and moving it slowly across the stencil. The freezer paper should will stick to the fabric, forming a bond that will stop the bleach from getting under the wax paper.
  • Make a 50-50 water and bleach solution.
  • With a gloved hand, dip the toothbrush into the bleach solution and splatter the solution on the t-shirt around the bats. It’s ok, and even looks great, to make both large and small splatter marks.
  • You should see the bleach start working on the fabric after a few seconds. Continue to splatter the shirt until you’re happy with the density of “stars” on the fabric, being sure to thoroughly splatter the shirt around the bats so that you get a noticeable silhouette once the wax paper is removed.
  • Watch the bleach activity – when you’re happy with both the density and intensity of the stars, remove the paper stencils and quickly rinse the shirt under water to stop the bleach activity.
  • Wash the shirt, and you’re done!

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And look at that kid, he loves his new shirt! Such a simple project and it brought this little guy so much joy.

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Happy Halloween!

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Balsa Mat & High School Geometry

Were you one of those kids sitting there in high school geometry thinking about when you’d ever use that stuff? And now you’re crafting up a storm and haven’t thought about Pythagorean Theorem since. Well, today’s the day you’re going to put that famous formula to work! … now before you get the cold sweats, just know that you won’t *have* to use the formula (I’ll show you a trick), BUT if you want to impress your high school geometry teacher, then we’ll also whip out our calculators phones.

What am I talking about? Cutting angles for a super-simple DIY balsa wood mat.

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I came up with this project out of desperation. My mom gave us a poster of an Egon Schiele print (I know what you’re thinking – why’d she cheap out and not buy the original? What a bum.), and I wanted to frame it to hang on the wall. The print itself was about 32″ by 21″, requiring at least a 36″ x 24″ frame. The problem was that I couldn’t easily find a mat large enough for the frame. I’m sure I could have ordered one from a framing shop or the framing counter at Michaels, but that would require talking to someone and explaining my problem. Did you know that young kids love to yell and scream at the exact moment you’re trying to talk to someone else?

(Side note, while I love original art on the walls, I’m totally comfortable enough in my house decorating to still use posters of art that I love but can’t afford. Call me crazy.)

Then I came up with an idea to shirk the traditional mat and make something more visually interesting out of balsa wood! If you haven’t worked with balsa wood before, it’s a very soft and lightweight wood that can be cut into thin sheets and used for any variety of craft projects (as well as having many structural uses beyond crafts). Balsa wood for crafts and model building is sold in Michaels, art stores, and some hardware stores. I bought the 36″ x 3″ x 1/16″ sheets for this project.

Supplies

  • balsa wood sheets
  • double-sided tape
  • sheet of paper as large as the framed area (I used the sheet that was already in the frame advertising its size)
  • exacto knife
  • cutting mat or board

Hints

The basic overview of this project is that you’re going to center your print on the large piece of paper and place the pieces of the balsa mat around it, attaching the print and the balsa wood to the paper with double-sided tape. What I’m going to help you with below is making sure that the balsa wood ends are cut at the correct angle so that they fit together nicely in the frame.

Begin by decided how wide the balsa sheets will be on the top/bottom and sides of the print. For example, in my situation, I wanted the mat to be approximately 2.25 inches on the top and bottom, and only 1.5 inches on each side.

Cut the balsa sheets so that they are the length and width you want for your mat. Again, in my case I had two pieces of balsa that were 24″ x 2.25″ for the top and bottom, and two more pieces that were 36″ x 1.5″ for each side.

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Once you have the four rectangles, you’ll have to cut the corner angles. If your sides and top/bottom pieces are the same width (i.e the mat will be the same width all the way around the picture), then you can easily cut the angles using the 45 degree line on your cutting mat as a guide as in the photo above.

BUT if the width of your side pieces doesn’t match the width of the top/bottom pieces, as in the example photos below, where the width of one piece measures 2.25″ and the width of the other measures 3″, then you’re going to have to use the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the length of the corner angle.

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Good Old Pythagoras taught us that “a-squared + b-squared = c-squared”. Remember that? This formula only applies to right triangles, where on corner (the one opposite the hypotenuse) is a 90 degree angle. In this case, if we know the lengths of any two sides of the triangle, we’ll be able to find the length of the third using that equation.

Can you see the faint triangle drawn on the balsa wood in the photo below? That’s our right triangle with the 90 degree angle on the top left, and we’re looking to calculate the length of the hypotenuse that runs from the outer corner of the mat to the inner corder.

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Applying the pythagorean theorem to this problem, I calculate a length of 3.75 inches for the corder cut, and by holding the ruler up to my mat, I see that that number matches the length of the cut from the outer to inner corners – it works! And as I mentioned in the photo, it’s worthwhile to note that the angle of our ruler doesn’t match the 45 degree line on the mat, so using that as your guide would give you corners that don’t line up.

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Ok, but as I’m sure you’ve already realized by now, you don’t *have* to make those calculations, you could just hold the ruler up as I’m doing below and use your exacto knife to cut along that edge without giving it’s length a second thought…. but come on, don’t you want to impress your better half? Or at least make your high school geometry teacher proud?

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After your corners are cut, use the double-sided tape to secure the balsa pieces to the large piece of background paper, and then carefully place the whole thing (art and balsa mat attached to the background paper) into your frame, and your customized mat is done!

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Simple & Personalized Souvenirs

We love a good vacation souvenir like the next guy. T-shirts are a favorite in our family, but that can quickly get out of control. There are so few other things that we want to buy in the shops (except books – more on that in another post!), so we’ve started to get creative with making our own souvenirs. This year we used Cafe Press to make canvas bags and drink bottles for everyone!
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We’ve used the site many times to make personalized gifts in the past, and with a little bit of practice, their design tools are relatively easy to use. For these items I wrote out the text and then used a single black and white clam clipart image for the graphics. I just added the clam to the design in different sizes and turned it to different degrees. Since most clams look alike in real life, it didn’t look that odd to use a single clam image this way.

If you’re looking to do a similar project, I have to say that I love the quality of the cafe press canvas bags – both in terms of bag durability and in print quality. I made a few of these a couple of years ago that still get daily use and they have held up really well. When it comes to drink bottles, I’ve tried the plastic “bike” bottles from Cafe Press and did not like the quality. The design was printed onto a plastic label that was then stuck onto the bottle, but the ink started to rub off of the label after a few uses (I think it doesn’t help that the bottles were being squeezed when used). These metal bottles, on the other hand, seem to be great quality. The design is printed directly on the bottle, and while they aren’t a name brand bottle, I noticed that the Klean Kanteen lids fit these bottles. So I already ordered some sport caps to make it easier for the boys to drink from these.

The other reason we particularly love making souvenirs for our beach trips is because Saxis doesn’t have many commercial businesses, other than the island museum goods, there’s nothing else that says “Saxis” on it, so it’s fun for us to be able to make something to share our Saxis pride.

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Midsummer Magic

It’s the middle of summer, food is at its freshest, and the livin’ is easy, or at least it should be.

There’s nothing we love more at this time of year than the intense flavors and colors of fresh fruits, and there’s no easier way to enjoy them than to just throw them in whatever you’re making. Need some ideas? That’s why we’re here.

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Last week I put some fresh raspberries and cherries in my mojito – smashing them up just a bit in the bottom of the glass before adding the rest of the ingredients.

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Serve cubed watermelon with mint for a refreshing treat on a hot day. If you like that combo, you’ll love our watermelon mojitos!

And if your garden’s still overflowing with mint, make some aqua frescas.

Add fresh figs and blueberries to your mocktails (or cocktails!).

Throw watermelon and blueberries in your smoothies with a tea-based twist.

What about watermelon in your gazpacho?!

Any ripe berry would go well in these yogurt-based popsicles. These lemon pops are another refreshing option.

Yesterday Alex asked to bake a cake (nothing makes my heart melt faster than his request to do something in the kitchen!). He wanted a cake with “a blue middle and red paint on the frosting”. I let him add some food coloring to our batter, but then transformed his idea for red paint into a splattering of berries and their juices across the top. This is a basic yellow cake with our favorite coconut milk buttercream (scroll down).

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Summer, and particularly July, is such a special time of year for us, and nothing tastes more like summer than perfectly ripe fruit; it’s pure midsummer magic. If you can get your hands on some, especially if you have the chance to get out there and pick berries, do two things : 1. eat as much as you can while picking, and 2. do something creative and special with the leftovers. You won’t regret it! xo

 

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Garden & Pond Update

I’m documenting the growth, successes, and failures in our backyard space. It’s been about a month since I introduced you to the pond, and two months since I introduced the garden.

We have reached the height of summer here in the mountains. This is our hottest month, and while it seems dry out there, August is usually even drier. As you’ll see in the photos, there have been some real successes here in the garden, but what you don’t see is that there have also been a few failures/areas for improvement.

Fist, a surprising success : look at this clematis!

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That vine grows in a small bed, that’s more like a container built into a little nook in our deck. It doesn’t have any irrigation, so the soil is extremely dry if not watered regularly. Last summer I was so busy with baby Luc, that I completely ignored this area. I barely watered it, and I didn’t care that the vine never grew (seriously, it grew maybe 10 inches and then died). Fortunately, with ample water, it came back in full force this summer and is covered in beautiful blooms!

I think that it also serves as a great reminder of the resilience of plants, and about how lush a garden can be with just a bit of care.

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In the photo above, I’m showing off the echinacea that I planted this summer. I planted four of these around the yard (two in this bed and two near the pond). As you can see, these are successfully blooming, and I’m hoping to let their seed ponds fall into the bed for some self-seeding action. Unfortunately, one near the pond died – it suffered from a lack of watering and also an attack by our garden mice!…

The mice seem to be living in the beds along the deck, and I’m looking for ways to get rid of them or at least minimize their foraging. They’ve been eating some of the black-eyed susan flowers that I planted as well as the veggies in our veggie patch (so we haven’t been eating the vegetables, just to be safe). Any mice advice?

Behind the echinacea is an extremely large pot – I have two of these, and both are planted with a purple grass and those flowers. I’m totally blanking on the name of those flowers. It’s a nice combination that’s done well for me two years in a row.

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The photo above shows one of my potting surprises. I planted these violas and pansies in early spring when I wanted something to fill the pot but knew that only something cold-hardy would do. I expected to fill the pots with something more heat tolerant once summer arrived, but these beauties keep flowering! They do look a bit leggy, but really not that bad, so I’m going to keep them here for a bit longer and then I’m hoping to transplant them to a shade spot under one of our Aspen trees, and see how well they do there (the violas should come back as a perennial).

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As I surmised in my introductory post, we have raspberries that fruit on old growth (known as floricane-fruiting). Since I cut down all of the canes when we moved in (spring of 2015), new canes grew last summer and now they are all producing fruit! We have so many berries out there right now, only a small handful of really ripe ones so far, but more and more and ready every day.

I’m not sure what method I’m going to use for maintaining the raspberries. Part of me wants to cut down all of the canes again after this growing season (new and old growth), but that would meant that then we won’t have any fruit next summer. Or, I could go in and selectively thin the canes – cutting down the old growth and keeping the new growth. If I’m feeling ambitious and have the time, I may try this method… either way, I’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime, we’re enjoying this year’s bumper crop! 
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In the pond, our waterlilies are doing fantastic!… so is the algae! It’s a daily battle to go in and remove the string algae, but if I stay on top of it, the pond looks beautiful. We have these two lilies blooming right now, and I can see that the plants are multiplying – sending out new roots and plants within the containers. They seem to be such vigorous growers that I’m thinking about putting them in even bigger containers next year to encourage new plants.

The smaller plants floating around the lillies are the fairy moss. It’s growing well, but I think that next year I’ll order even more, because it’s not covering the pond as quickly as I’d like (I want it to cover the pond to help shade-out the algae).

A few of our other pond plants are doing well, but are still relatively small, so I’ll share updates on those in a future post.

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I’d still like to add a couple of fish to the pond, but without more plant cover, I think they’d be immediate prey for the birds and other wildlife around our house…

I’m definitely highlighting the successes, because that’s what makes the gardening fun, and these are the areas my eyes turn to every time I walk out the door. Maybe I’ll share more of my “eh” areas in the next post. There are a few spaces where I was hoping to see big changes this year, but I’m starting to realize that I may have to settle for a slower evolution of the space.

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Garden Update : The Pond

Throughout this summer, I’m documenting our garden. How it’s growing, what we’ve planted, and any changes we make to the space. Here’s my introduction to the bulk of our flower and veggie beds here.

Ugg, we’re such lazy bloggers lately! I realized that if I didn’t put this post up soon, then I’d miss my window of opportunity for pond introduction photos. Without further ado ~

When we lived in PA, I experimented with a few water gardens on our deck. Click here to read more about those experiments and the Thai water gardens that inspired my experiments.

With this house we inherited a small pond. It’s not something that either Calder or I would want to instal in our yard, especially in such a dry area where it seems a bit frivolous, but since it’s here, I’m so excited to expand my water gardening to this bigger space!

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The Pond

This pond is created using a waterproof rubber liner that is then covered with rocks. The pond is about 10 feet from our deck, and between those to spaces is a flagstone path with mint growing between the rocks (that’s what you see in the foreground above). The pond has a filter and pump system that pump water to a waterfall that’s about 6 feet high and 10 feet away from the pond. The water then trickles down a stream and into the pond. Last season we turned on the pump once (right after cleaning it), but then never used it again. This summer we’re hoping to tweak it slightly and use it a bit more, but I’ll discuss that feature in a future post.

Spring Cleaning

Both last year and this year we started the season by draining the pond and spraying it down to try to remove as much algae and silt as possible. I didn’t photograph that process, but realized I should next year. We learned a lot of things last year that made what was at least a 12-hour project the first time just a 2-hour jaunt this time.

We drain the pond with a big hose using this technique. You just fill the hose with water, submerging one end in the pond water and putting the other end at a lower point, letting gravity do the rest.

With a pond of our size, it takes a while for it to drain completely, so while it’s draining, I get to work removing the algae. I drag a large pitchfork through the water, picking up sheets/strings of algae that I then dump outside of the pond. As the water level goes down, I’ll hook another hose up to a water source and start spraying down the rocks on the side of the pond, trying to remove any algae and slime on them.

Once the pond is almost completely drained, you have to be careful that the draining hose doesn’t lose suction. It’s just a pain because then you have to fill it with water and get suction going again to get any remaining water. During this phase, I’m almost constantly spraying fresh water onto and between the rocks to wash out as much silt, slime, and algae bits as possible.

I don’t remove every bit of gunk from the bottom of the pond, but once I’ve done a fairly good job, the process is done and I start filling it again with fresh water.

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Algae

If left unchecked, our pond came become overgrown by string algae. From what I understand, the algae is not a danger to us or other organisms, but cosmetically, it’s a bit unsightly and makes the pond look more like a swamp than an oasis.

One of the reasons that our pond seems to be a prime target is because it gets a lot of direct sunlight throughout the day, and just like other plants using chlorophyl to make their food, sunlight will encourage growth. I was told that I could eliminate the algae and have crystal clear water by adding bleach to the pond, but this is only a solution if I don’t want to have any other plants or animals growing in the pond (and if I don’t mind dumping bleach into the environment, which I do). There are a few other solutions, so this summer I hope to keep you updated with my algae successes and failures.

In addition to physically removing the algae (as described above) and using an algaecide (discussed below), I can try to physically limit the amount of sun reaching the water’s surface. One easy way to do this is by adding water plants that will grow on top of the water, so that’s what I’ll be experimenting with this summer.

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Mosquitos

Because of the cool weather in the mountains and the lack of standing water in our dry climate, the mosquito population in the mountains is generally low. That said, we don’t want this pond to become a mosquito breeding ground. There are a few ways to avoid that.

Generally, mosquitos will successfully breed if they have access to the surface of still water and if nothing eats the larva. If we keep the waterfall on, this would agitate the water enough to deter mosquitos from laying their eggs. It’s unlikely that we’ll do that because of the noise, energy use, and increase in water loss that would happen. Another option is to cover the surface of the water in plants so that it’s hard for the mosquitos to lay their eggs. I’m going to attempt to cover most of the water with plants (more below), but it’s unlikely that we’ll completely cover the surface. If I do achieve relatively good plant cover, then I would love to add a few goldfish to the pond, and they would help to eat the larvae. So, there are some options, but they aren’t guaranteed to work at this point in our pond’s lifecycle.

So, for now, we’ve decided to add Mosquito Bits to the water. The mosquito pellets/dunks contain BTI, which is a bacteria that is toxic to the larvae and will kill them. The dunks are considered safe and non-toxic (when used correctly) for all other animals.

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Plants

This year I’m hoping to do some experiments and expand the variety of plants that I grow in the pond.

Right now our pond contains two groupings of water lilies. Both are made up of lilies that I put in the pond last summer and they successfully spent the winter out there. Not only did they survive in our little pond, but they thrived, multiplying successfully in their pots. This year I repotted them and added another one that came as a dry root from Home Depot. I bought that one because it was so much cheaper than the live plants and I wanted to grow it as a test this year to see how well it does.

I’ve also added a curly rush, two canna lilies (from dried roots), and another mystery lily that I picked up in the pond section at Home Depot. You can see the leaves of the mystery lily just starting to sprout in the photo above. All of these plants live on the “margins” of waterways ~ along the edge where their roots may be submerged in water, but their stems and leaves aren’t. So I have them in pots near the surface of our pond. It isn’t the most beautiful presentation, but I’m hoping that the floating plants will disguise the pots, and if they plants are successful, then I’ll come up with a better solution next year.

I was going to use duckweed as a floating plant to cover the water surface, but I wasn’t happy that the batch I received in the mail. So just this week I placed an order for fairy moss (it’s the small floating plant growing in the photo above), and a couple of water lettuce (another floating plant that is larger, like a small head of lettuce, and multiplies like crazy).

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That’s our pond in early spring. I’m hoping to get some lush growth from the plants this year. I would love to add a couple of goldfish, knowing that they will be super attractive treats for birds (thus wanting some good plant cover for them to hide under). We have a couple of frogs out at the pond now; we hear them but can never see them! Last year they laid eggs, so we’re hoping for another batch of tadpoles this year.

I’m excited to keep you updated as the pond grows and evolves this summer!

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