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Friday, April 24, 2009

Kitchen Encouragement

I wrote the other day about finding inspiration and encouragement in learning about the photographer behind Blissful Images. I would be remiss if I did not mention another blogger that has served as a huge source of encouragement to me.

You see, it is not only in the photography arena that I assume everyone has better gear than I. I also believe this to be true in the kitchen. I have a sorry, old, rundown excuse for a kitchen. The whole room measures 13x9. I have a run of cabinets, which are 60 years old if they are a day, along one wall. There is one drawer in the whole kitchen. And, most importantly, the biggest span of countertop is the area over my dishwasher, between the sink and stove. I believe it measures 2 feet long. I have three lower cabinets, the largest of which is basically useless, as it is beneath my sink. Okay, enough whining, you get the picture.

So - I have been following along with a bunch of cooking blogs, most notably the Pioneer Woman. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the Pioneer Woman. I mean, I read her practically every day. But PW not only has a very large, very tricked out, very AWESOME kitchen in her home, she also has a lodge on her property, and the lodge has an even bigger, more tricked out, more awesome kitchen. Perhaps there are some self-esteem issues rising to the surface here, but I began to feel like I may not be able to take my cooking to the next level because I did not have the proper kitchen.

Enter Deb and the Smitten Kitchen.

The Smitten Kitchen is a beautiful website with delicious recipes. And many of the recipes are complicated and involved. Well, it turns out that Deb is cooking out of a tiny NYC kitchen that only mine could rival! Learning this bit of information made me so happy, I cannot begin to tell you. Not that I am glad that Deb is dealing with a challenging kitchen, but knowing that there are others out there who are cooking in kitchens just like mine, yet managing to turn out wonderful dishes, helped to put my head back on straight. Thank you, Deb!

When you start to look around, encouragement is everywhere.

Love, -40.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blissful Images Photography and a Note of Encouragement

I have been on a Spring cleaning/organization tear lately, and one of the resources I have found to be most helpful for finding organization ideas is the website apartment therapy. I cannot sing the praises of this website highly enough. If you have not checked it out yet, please do so right now.

Apartment therapy often links to other blogs, and it was in one of these blogs that I came across blissful images photography. I was instantly drawn to the soft, ethereal quality of the images and the watercolor-like muted colors. I lost several hours browsing the blissful images shop on etsy, the blissful images companion website, and the photographer's blog. Perhaps it is my lack of experience talking here, but I immediately drew the conclusion that the blissful images were captured with a much more expensive camera than mine. Because, I admit, I am still one of those photographers that believes you need a fancy camera to get fancy images.

It was to my shock and delight that I discovered that most of the blissful images were taken with a Nikon D40. A D40! To those of you who are not Nikon people, I will simply say that the D40 is an entry-level, 6mp DSLR. Until very recently, the camera did not even take a prime lens. Many enthusiasts love the D40, and I am sure it is a great camera. However, it is not a camera I normally equate with serious photographers. I stand corrected.

I find it so inspirational that there are people out there making beautiful images, and even selling them, with cameras that most shutterbugs can afford and handle. Thank you, Mrs. French for inspiring me and teaching me once and for all that it is the photographer, not the camera.

Love, -40

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Remove Unwanted Images in Your Photographs Using the Clone Stamp Tool

When I first decided that I wanted to tackle the behemoth that is Photoshop, there were two main things I wanted to learn to do: 1.) Get that amazing "eye pop" that Audrey Woulard gets in her photos (I know, I know, she says she gets her shots to look like that straight out of the camera. But some of us need the help of Photoshop; and 2.) Get rid of unwanted objects in my photographs that were ruining an otherwise good shot. I set these two goals when I was still a naive young thing and hadn't yet been exposed to the full beauty of Photoshop. Needless to say, there are oh-so-many more things I now want to learn to do. But I still want that eye pop. And I still want to get rid of those darn things that sneak into my pictures.

Today, I will introduce you to the wonder of the clone stamp tool. This is a picture of my daughter that I really liked, except for that pesky ghosly apparition of my son in the background.

Enter the clone stamp tool. This is a really easy, and fun tool to use in Photoshop. Definitely something a beginning beginner can do with ease.

Open the photo you want to edit. Go into full edit mode. Click on the clone stamp tool. In my Photoshop Elements, Six, it is the eighth icon down on the left hand side of the tool bar. It looks like an "M" shaped stamper. Then go up to the brush selector at the top of the page on the lefthand side (it is a black squiggly line) and chose the size brush you want to use by either moving the slider or entering numbers into the box. I am going to be honest here and tell you that I have no patience. Because of this, I always choose a brush that is way too big and wind up doing alot of "undoing" when I work. Don't be like me.

Now, pick a spot in your picture as close as possible to the object you want to erase. You want to do this in order to seamlessly blend the new area you are about to create with the existing area. After you have chosen your spot, Alt Click on your mouse. By doing so, you have told Photoshop that you want the spots you are deleting in your photograph to look like the area on which you just alt clicked.

Now comes the fun part - click away on the object you want to erase. As you do so, the object will disappear and be replaced with the parts of the picture on which you previously alt clicked. Caution: as you move the cursor around your picture, be aware of the plus sign that moves along with it. The plus is continuously sampling your photograph and using the samples to replace your unwanted object. Keep an eye on it and make sure it is sampling from the correct area(s). I have wound up with a child with three arms and an eye in the middle of their forehead more than I care to admit!

Here is my picture after using the clone stamp tool:

Ahhh.....much better. And my daughter no longer feels haunted by her little brother.

This is such a fun tool. Have fun!

And remember, if I can do it, you can do it!

Love, -40

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seeing the Light - Finally!

In his book Understanding Exposure, Bryan Peterson talks about the significance of different types of light in photography. Learning to understand this significance, and see the different types of light, has been one of my biggest struggles as a photographer.

The lighting circumstances under which a photograph is taken can drastically affect the photo and can be the difference between a ho-hum picture and a showstopper. One aspect of seeing the light is understanding how the light changes over the course of a day and what this means for your photographs. For instance, sunlight at noon is a very different light than sunlight at sunrise and sunset. Mid-day, the light is harsh and contrasty. But in the early morning and evening, the sun is much softer and warmer. The same subject shot in exactly the same way at different times of day can yield startling different results.

I have been struggling to see the differences with my eyes for months, and, suddenly, it is becoming clear. A few weeks ago, I looked out the window at sunset and noticed that everything looked a pink. Now, everywhere I look, I see the changes in the light. My neighbor’s house is surrounded by a golden glow at 7:00 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., the magic is gone. At 6:00 in the evening, my fence looks like it is on fire. By 6:30, it is back to its normal state.

This is my fence at 6:25 p.m.

This is my fence one minute earlier, at 6:24 p.m.

What a difference one minute makes!

My baby in the car.

And just a few minutes earlier.

Do you see the warm glow in this picture that is absent from the one above?

My wall at 7:30 a.m. and a few minutes later.

I hope these examples help set you on your way to "seeing the light" and that you gain your sight more quickly than I did! Experiment, take pictures, and have fun!

Love, -40

P.S. If you haven't read Understanding Exposure, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Lest you think I have been remiss about my Cooking Challenge, I thought I would dedicate a post to the duds I have known and loved so far. I have already mentioned two of the duds in an earlier post, but as the duds mount, I realized that if I didn't share my failures as well as my successes, this blog could wind up being pretty sparse.

The first recipe to break my heart was Roasted Chicken and Arugula from Everday Food. I am constantly on the lookout for simple recipes with few ingredients that I can easily whip up with the baby attached to my hip. Oh, this recipe was sooooo promising. Arugula, potatoes, butter - what more could a recipe need? I really, really wanted to love this dish. But no matter how I tried, I could not even muster up an "okay" for this recipe. The chicken was bland, the arugula made my mouth feel as though I had been eating sand at the park all day, (which gave me a better understanding of why my 18 month old is so cranky when we come home from a day of sand-eating), the potatoes were so-so. My dislike for the dish made me even more sad when I realized that this is the first time in 15 years that Martha has failed me. Martha? Why did you have to harsh my mellow?

The next dud came courtesy of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, another cook for whom I have the utmost respect and rely upon to publish failproof recipes. The recipe was for Ina's Outrageous Oreo cookies, which I found published in Oprah's magazine a few years ago. Oprah, another woman who ususally knows her food. Anyway - I am so very sad about these brownies. I can't even talk about it. Just trust me, and don't waste your time cooking this (very involved and time-consuming) recipe.

Last, but not least, we have the Kielbasa, Cabbage and Rice soup from this month's Food and Wine magazine. I love, love, love kielbasa. It's crazy, really. I also am very found of cabbage and rice. Sure, the ingredients list looked a little sparse, but I hoped that this was one of those dishes that was greater than the sum of its parts. And what great parts with which to begin! But it was not to be. This soup was sooooo bland and tasteless, I picked out all the kielbasa and threw the rest away. If you knew me, you would know that this is a HUGE statement.

So that's it for this post. Stay tuned for more fun and excitement in the kitchen! Tonight I plan to bake the Confetti Bakery's recipe for vanilla sugar cookies, which cookies I will then attempt to decorate in an artistic manner. If you knew me, you would know how funny an undertaking this will be!

Love, -40

Julia Child's Home

Apartment therapy, a blog both 35 and I love dearly, had a great post today featuring pictures of Julia Child's Massachusetts home. The pictures were originally featured in a 1976 Architectural Digest article. The post came via the blog Cooked Books. Take a look when you have the time.