Mmm... the weekend was just as relaxing and wonderful as I hoped - the sun shone and with little Grannie-blankets keeping our legs warm, we even managed to have brunch outside at one of my favourite Sunday-brunch spots, Pasternak.  The Russian smogasbord kept my tummy happy through a chilly 'Third-Reich' walking tour of Berlin.  It's been a while since I did some proper "touristing" and I was happy to discover a few more monuments and memorials, as well as some great Nazi-era architecture, to add to my list of places to return to to photograph properly. 



I've been gone from here a little longer than I anticipated.  I forgot that I was heading down to Frankfurt for a conference for 3 days and didn't plan any posts.  Plus I've kinda enjoyed the quiet and space that turning off the computer has given me.  I've been doing lots of things - photo-taking, knitting, a bit of crochet but none of it has turned up here, yet.  Some of the things I've been making are gifts.  Remember this picture from back in November?
81/365 : Bellies
Well, three of these Mamas have recently had their babies - two boys and a girl and the fourth is not too far behind.  I've been making and creating sweet little things for Lewis, Hugo and little Clementine, as well as starting a few projects for my own July-Bean.  Yup, I've started nesting, stalking baby blogs like they might disappear overnight - my current favourites are here, here, here and here

Tonight an old friend from Australia is coming to stay for a long-weekend city break.  He's currently studying in Oxford and having missed him in Australia last time I was out, I haven't seen him for almost 2 years.  Looking forward to spending evenings sitting on the couch hearing about England, future plans and thoughts on how to rid the world of evil.  I expect I shall return to this Internet space of mine next week with lots of stories and perhaps a few finished projects to show.  Until then.


The case for Manual Mode

By now if you've been reading along with this series you should have some understanding of the three basic element of photography - ISO, shutter speed and aperture - have a basic understanding of manual mode and some concept of colour compensation.  Today I'm going to try to convince you as to why manual is in fact easier to use than other semi-automatic modes, especially when you are trying to create specific moods in your photos.  Having said that, it's not always the best mode to use, in certain situations allowing the camera to do some of the thinking will produce the best results.
** The text should read : These photos were shot at the same time on two different days (bad typo - sorry!)

Creating these three different exposures or moods using Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority would be quite bothersome.  On my camera it would be a two-step process that involves me holding down one button while adjusting my shutter speed or aperture with the other and setting the light meter to under-expose or over-expose.  Definitely possible, but a bit of a pain.  In manual all I need to do is adjust my shutter speed up or down so that the light meter in my view finder is showing that the photo will be under or over-exposed.  If that all sounded like gobbeldygook then head back here for a refresher.

Here's another example of when manual mode was much better than aperture priority, shutter priority or automatic.

If you are approaching manual mode for the first time it can seem a little daunting.  Practice is the key and mistakes, especially in photography, almost always teach you something.  Here is how I approach manual mode.  It's not the only way, or necessarily the best way, but it works for me.

Step 1.  White Balance: What conditions are you going to be photographing?  If you are inside or under fluorescent light consider setting your White Balance to Tungsten or Fluorescent.  If you want to enhance a sunset, think about switching to a Sunny White Balance.
Step 2. Select your ISO: Usually you'll be photographing in similar conditions for a while, select or check that your ISO is logical for your current "photo session"
Step 3.  Composition:  Ask yourself what "story" or "message" you want to convey in your photos.  Can you recompose the image to make this message clearer?  Think about Andreas Feiniger's three prinicples of exploration, isolation and organisation
Step 4.  Aperture:  What aperture do you want?  Do you want everything focused or only a small aspect of the photograph?  With P&S cameras switch from landscape (the mountain), to action (a running man) or close-up (usually a flower), with a dSLR consider the aperture that you want
Step 5.  Colour Compensation: What is the main colour of your photograph?  Should you consider over or under exposing to achieve the best colour range in this photo?
Step 6.  Adjust the shutter speed:  Adjust the shutter speed based on your decision about colour compensation and the atmosphere in your photo - dark and gloomy or bright and ethereal?
Step 7.  Assess your shutter speed:  Will you get camera shake at this shutter speed?  Do you need to adjust the ISO and/or aperture to get a crisp image?
It may seem like a lot, but a lot of these steps need only be done once or twice, especially if the light conditions stay the same and you'll only need to make small changes to your shutter speed.


Andreas Feiniger (1906 - 1999)

I mentioned Andreas Feiniger in my post on Friday and since then have been quietly stalking him on the Internet.  Born in Paris, to US-German parents he immigrated to New York just prior to World War II where he became a photographer for Life magazine.  Feiniger became famous for his depictions of New York and, particularly, Manhattan in the 40s and 50s - you can definitely feel the raw 'busy-ness' of what was still clearly an important Port City in all of his photographs.   It is perhaps ironic then that the picture of his I like the most is the last.  It couldn't be further away from the smog and chaos of an industrial port, but the open sky and the long straight road really appeal to me. 


like love letters falling from the sky

Valentines Surprise

- Flowers left on the table on Monday night - because we said we weren't celebrating, and then he did
- This restaurant
- A first kick
- Blankets searched for in the middle of the night
- Merengue
- Conversations about Focaccia and McDonalds to an Italian "from the south"
- The promise of guests in Spring
- Spaghetti with Muscles
- New clothes (that fit!)
- Blue skies
- and a successful experimentation with home felting

Just a few of the things that made my week great.

What's making you smile this week?
Day 36-42


Bunker Hill

On the weekend I went for a walk in Friedrichshain Volkspark looking for the first signs of Spring.  Think we are still a few weeks away yet; no buds on the trees or little bits of green poking their way through the soil.  

Part of my walk took me up Bunker Hill, one of several bunkers built by the Nazis during WW2. The bunker is more-or-less indistructable so it's been covered over and turned into a jogging path.  From the bottom it looks like a pretty normal 'hill', it's only when you reach the top that there are a few hints of it's former life.  Here amongst the rubble I managed to find  the colour that I'd been looking for - my little bit of "Spring" - beautiful green Lychen and Moss growing over the concrete. I am sure there is something poetic to be said about nature slowly erroding  and absorbing a fairly ugly bit for human history, but right now I can't think of the words.  Although it struck me at the time that this was what was happening and that this, indeed, was good.



Berlinale, Berlin's International Film Festival is on this week.  This is Berlin's answer to Canne, Venice or Sundance with a little less a lot less glamour, as is befitting a city rugged up against the February chill.  That's not to say that Berliners don't take their festival going seriously.  It is not unusual to hear of people dedicating a week of their holidays to 'festival going', seeing as many as 14 films in one week. 
Matthias and I have settled for a more moderate film-lovers tour this year - we're seeing four films over the next 10 days.  On Friday we kicked off with Offside, a film that won the Silver Bear at Berlinale in 2006.  It's back on the program as a protest against the imprisonment of director Jafar Panahi by the Iranian government.  Offside is a wonderful movie - a comedy about five girls trying to get entry into a football stadium to watch a game (women are banned from attending football games in Iran). I loved it despite the Farsi and German subtitles making understanding slightly challenging. I'm hoping that the other three movies are just as good - on the cards is an Argentina film about a wine critique who looses his sense of taste, a Japanese film about Sushi and Riddley Scott's new film "Life in a Day".  Here are two teaser's from Life in a Day - since I've seen these this morning I'm even more excited about seeing the film on Saturday.


And a few more photos from Friday night.  Not surprisingly, Offside generated a bit of a media frenzy.  Check out all the big lenses!  Lots of elbowing and jostling for prime photo-take positions.  Below left is what all the photo-taking frenzy was about - as I said before, Berlinale isn't quite as glamourous as Venice or Sundance - but this odd collection of people wearing green neckbands are the cast and crew of Offside. The green is another symbol of resistance against the Iranian regime.


Switching Focus

Today I want to talk a bit about composition and framing your shots.  The idea of this post has been rattling around in my head for a little while, but it was only on reading David Praekel's book 'Composition' yesterday that I felt like my ideas really crystalised into a coherent picture.  Incidentally, I have quite mixed feelings about Praekel's book and it is probably not a book that I would recommend you buy (if you so happened to be asking), but in this instance it proved incredibly useful and I'm all about giving credit where credit it due.  Anyway, onto the post.

One of the simplest ways to improve your photography is to practice composition and begin to be mindful of the stories you are telling through your photos.  It is very easy to imagine the result that we want in our heads, but translating that image into a photograph can be challenging and goes a long way beyond just lining up the viewfinder and pressing the shutter.  At it's most complex it involves a mastery of the technical aspects of manual photography but it is also about framing your images, changing angles and shifting your focus.  

No one gets composition right immediately, it takes years of practice to be able to "nail" a photograph in one shot.  The best way to improve your 'eye' and your understanding of composition is to pick a subject and take several photos of it from different viewpoints and angles.

It's all very well to say, take "take several photos" but unless you have a 'process' and some thought behind what you are doing you will end up taking 10 or 20 photos with all of them turning out to be rubbish.  For the next part of the post I'm going to refer directly to David Praekel's book.  He refers to another photographer - Andreas Feininger - who describes three fundamental aspects of composition: to explore, to isolate and to organise and suggests that by approaching your photography with these three aspects in mind you will naturally become more "mindful" about composition. 

Exploration begins before you even pick up your camera.  Think about what you want to say with your photograph.  Look at the subject from different angles - how is the light affecting your subject ? How is the subject interacting (or not) with the background?
Isolation is the process of refining your mini-brainstorming session to ideas and photos that you think "will work".  It may include choosing an appropriate lens, shutter speed or aperture but also includes  thinking about how you will frame your image. 
Organisation is the process of actually composing your image within the viewfinder.  At this point take a few photos, including an angle or 'idea' that pushes the boundaries of  your current  photography skill set.  Sometiems it is the angle that you least expect, or try last, that ends up being the "winning shot".
Exploration: The idea for this photo came from some tulips that were sitting in a vase on the table.  They were so big and I somehow wanted to show this by placing them in a huge coffee mug.  I also had the idea of drinking the tulip to somehow symbolise "drinking spring" and the petals to symbolise colourful snowdrops.  There were a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head - I don't always think about my 365 photos so much, but this time I did.  
Isolation: In order to capture some of my ideas I decided my photo needed to be a Bird's Eye View Shot.  I wanted a wide aperture (less than f/3.0).  I contemplated putting out a tablecloth because I think the grain of our dining table is distracting, but in the end I just went with it. 
Organisation: I took several photos at different angles and I actually like a few of them.  I also tried a self-portrait series, but these didn't quite work the way I imagined.  In the end I settled for this close crop.  When I was editing the photo I desaturated the image because I didn't like how prominent the wood grain was.  On reflection I actually like the brighter images, thankfully I can always go back and change it again!
At this point I think it is worth mentioning that unless you have very patient friends or family it is worth practicing these things on inanimate objects, such as gloves and coffee cups.  With time thinking about these things will come naturally and you will begin to incorporate them into all the photographs that you take and your friends and family will be happy that you didn't make them sit still for half an hour while you nailed your shot!


Imogene Cunningham (1883 - 1976)

Thank-you to everyone who left a message about commenting yesterday.  Seems as if it is something that every blogger thinks about and finding what feels "right" for you can be tricky.  I'm still thinking about Disqus, although for now I'm going to visit people's blogs and reply directly to people if they have a question or I want to continue a discussion about something that they raised in their comment.  If you would like to email me about anything (and definitely receive a reply) you can always use the "Email Me" button on the right-hand panel.

But now onto this week's photographer: Imogene Cunningham.
Imogene Cunningham (1883-1976) was an American photographer who studied in the US and Germany before setting up a photo studio in 1910.  My favourite works of her's were those taken in the 1920s and 1930s.  She seems to have approached photographing flora and the nude in a similar way, so much so that when viewing her photos from a distance the two subject seem to blend together making it sometimes difficult to determine which is which. I love the simplicity of the first two photos , the curves of the women are reflected in the curves of the flowers and there is a symmetry and harmony in both pictures that is incredibly calming. 
During the later part of her career, Cunningham began experimenting with double exposure.  This photograph of Martha Graham is one of my favourites.  


Three Six Five

Two weeks in one day - I've managed to get myself organised and still taking pictures after last week's little hiccup.  Also, thank you to everyone for the breakfast suggestions the other day - seems that yogurt and fruit are the way to go.  Also thank-you Kristina for suggesting this gorgeous blog for breakfast inspiration. It's gone straight into my reader.

Oh, and I would like to apologise for being slightly behind on replying to blog comments lately.  I think I'm going to have to come up with a new solution.  As much as I love Blogger for it's simplicity, I don't like that it can be hard/impossible to reply to people - especially if they don't have a blog or don't want to provide their email address.  I'm contemplating just replying in the comments box, or switching to Disqus.  I've tried Disqus before but wasn't much of a fan because of the long loading time on some computers.  What are your thoughts?

Another thing I'm struggling with is whether it is necessary to reply to every comment.  While I love the idea in principle, replying to "Lovely photos" or "Great idea" is difficult.  Sometimes I leave comments like this on other people's blogs - often it's all I want to say and I think its fine,  it's a nice acknowledgment that you've read or seen the post and felt "something", but when I leave comments like this I don't necessarily expect to receive a reply back.  I also have the loafty goal of trying to visit everyone's blogs but replying, visiting, and commenting everyday is beginning to feel like hard work and that's not really what this blog is supposed to be about.

There's been a lot of talk about blog commenting etiquette flying around recently.  Mostly I've found the discussion interesting, but not all that helpful.  Mostly it's been about the actual process of commenting and not what the etiquette is about replying to blog comments.  There seems to be some idea bandied about that once you become 'popular enough' as a blog you aren't required to respond to comments anymore.  Frankly I think this smacks of a superiority that I find distasteful, and ignores that fact that replying to comments takes time regardless of how many people read your blog and it is often time that would otherwise be spent doing and creating the things that you love.  That's not to say that I don't love replying to comments either.  I have had some lovely email discussions with people that I know only through their blogs, often prompted by a blog comment.  This has turned into a rather long winded schpeel about blog commenting and it's probably enough to say that the whole thing has me a little confused. If you've got to the end of this I'd be interested to hear what you think.  Disqus - yes or no? And what's your take on the etiquette of replying to blog comments? 


The Sketchbook Project put to bed

Ages and ages ago now I signed up for the Sketchbook project - a project that I still love in concept  but in reality turned out to be an epic fail. My intentions were good, I recruited good people onto my team of merry Sketchbook-Helpers and had all the resources at my ready.  But unfortunately it wasn't to be.  Perhaps my first mistake was to choose a rather ambitious theme (reason here), or the fact that we were experimenting with the Polaroid for the first time.  It is even possible that had I remembered to bring pencils and pens instead of using things found at the bottom of handbags and  in a 4-year-olds emergency keep-me-quiet-while-at-a-restaurant-bag we might have had more success.  Whatever the reason "Things Left on Serviettes" is being put to bed.
But not without a proper account of the idea and my families artwork here, plus a few useful lessons on what went wrong.
After a few initial stumbling blocks I decided that the perfect project would be something akin to a family journal documenting our food and wine trip to South Australia.  I had a new-to-me vintage Polaroid, Polaroid film from the Impossible Project and eight mostly willing adults in which to help me out. 

The plan was simple, every day one adult would be in charge of taking a polaroid photo of our lunch or dinner.  The only caveat was that it had to have a serviette in the frame. The same person then had to create a page of the sketchbook which included the polaroid and whatever else they wanted to include.

It started off brilliantly and infact, my mum's page (first photo) is almost complete. 

The Polaroid picture taking also went reasonably well.  There were a few hits and misses when we totally fudged the exposure or someone bumped the photographer mid-photo.  But these things happen when you're on holidays and wine tasting is the name of the game.  It was to be expected and in my mind would have only enhanced the final Sketchbook.

The real un-doing came when I read on the Impossible Project that Polaroid Photos will continue to change colour and darken after the photos are taken.  I can now testify that this is true as the five remaining photos (left) have darkened significantly since they were taken in November.  Given that we wanted the Polaroids to last the first two photos that were taken were peeled apart and the photo's 'saved'. 

But then disaster struck... nowhere on the Impossible Project's internet site does it say that the now exposed Polaroid would be incredibly sticky and not dry. Ever. The two photos stuck to everything they touched.  Below is my Mum's photo stuck to a page of the journal.  Even looking at it today makes me sad.  The sign of a project gone horribly wrong.

And below is my sister's boy-friend's page.  It was awesome.  He spent a good 1/2 hour completely absorbed in creating this which I reckon was pretty good for a 22 year-old who "can't draw" and was more interested in kicking the soccer ball around with my 4-year-old Nephew and watching the cricket than participating in his girl-friend's sisters art project.    The drawing  (pencil courtesy of someone's handbag - remember?) was an extension of the Polaroid - a view over his plate with whoever was sitting opposite him as a hazy, blurred figure.  It looked great.  On the opposite side of the page you can just make out some of the original photo which has stuck to the opposite page, and a picture drawn by my Nephew.  
Needless to say after these two disasters noone was too keen to peel their Polaroids until a better solution had been found.  I'm still looking for said solution and the Sketchbook is now back in Berlin quietly gathering dust.  Submissions for the project needed to be back at the Brooklyn library by the end of January.

I'd still like to continue with this project.  I love the five photos that we still have, I still love the idea and maybe, someday, I might feel better about the whole thing and be ready to begin again.  But for now, as I said, it's being put to bed.



Winter Light
Faded Quiet

It's been raining since Friday night here, endless drizzle interrupted by heavier downpours - oh hum, I'm trying not to get too mopey about it and not let it interupt plans.  So despite the fairly constant drizzle Matthias and I got out yesterday and ventured down to Erkner, a small town to the south -east of Berlin. We walked around Flakensee, still half frozen despite the warmer weather we've had recently.  It was a lovely walk - mostly flat which suited me quite happily, we even managed to scout out a few spots that will be perfect for a summer picnic in a few months time.  

Other weekending adventures included making some delicious and reasonably healthy banana muffins.  I think I can probably tweak the recipe even more to make them a super-healthy, yummy, fibre-full breakfast item.  I'm fairly fickle about breakfast and up until recently have mostly given it a miss but am finding that without something in my tummy before 9am this mamma-to-be doesn't cope too very well!  I'm not much of a cereal fun - although I love muesli. I'm keen to build up a bit of a breakfast repetoire, what are all your go-to quick and delicious breakfast staples?