In the dark

Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.

So let’s start at the top.

My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.

For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.

Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.

It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.

Here are some examples:

Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.

Why is that one bird on a branch all by itself?

This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.

But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.

This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.

This one looks like I put a stocking over my lens to make the whole picture softer….

I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.

Loafing about

Hi everyone, how’s it going? I’m still pretty upset from all the craziness with the fires in and around my hometown last week. But today we are going to talk about bread.

Cobalt and I have been enjoying fresh bread from a local bakery. But then our friend K gave us a jar of sourdough starter and a recipe so we could try it ourselves. So on Friday night, we rolled up our sleeves and started the process. It’s long. Most of the steps aren’t really time consuming — just add some flour here or some water there — but there is a very specific order to things… and there are a lot of six-hour wait times. Also, there are a lot of steps where you only keep a little bit of the dough/starter and toss everything else, which Cobalt and I found wasteful. Oh well. Let’s get to the details!

Anyway, so on Friday night before we went to bread bed, we fed the starter. Turns out it eats flour and water, which is good because I don’t know if I could afford to feed a starter that liked steak or sushi. We got up on Saturday morning and took a little bit of that fed starter and fed it again. Same diet. Then on Saturday afternoon, we mixed some of that starter with more flour and water plus yeast and salt to make the actual bread dough. On Saturday night, we split the dough in half and set up an experiment. One loaf got to proof at room temperature and the second loaf got to proof in the fridge.

On Sunday morning, the room-temp loaf was huge. Waaaaay overproofed. We spent the morning quoting Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood from The Great British Baking Show. But we baked it anyway. And it didn’t turn out too bad (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would say otherwise, I’m sure ;)). It still looked and tasted amazing, which is what really counts. Plus it crackled as it cooled, which we found heartwarming. It reminded Cobalt of a line from the movie Ratatouille: how the sound of the crust will tell you how good a bread is going to be.

It was a bit flat but still delicious. :D

Tarantula was very curious about our baking. We’re starting to wonder if it’s the smell of yeast. She was intrigued as we set up the overproofed bread Sunday morning and even more intrigued during its photoshoot an hour later. Crazy cat. You’re supposed to be a carnivore!

Endlessly curious…

The fridge-proofed loaf turned out much better. We baked it on Sunday afternoon and it just looks lovely.

Yay bread! We saved some of our starter so we’ll definitely have to make more soon. Maybe even next week? What fun recipes should we try next? So many options…

It’s Taco Tuesday!

Happy Taco Tuesday, everyone!

Today I am sharing pictures of chorizo tacos that Cobalt and I made last week. Yum. It’s beef chorizo too, which makes me happy because I generally don’t eat pork.

Anyway, let’s talk about about tacos. I love them. I think they might be one of my favorite foods. They’re so versatile! You can pretty much put whatever you want in there. Add some form of protein + tomatoes, onions, and avocados and you are good to go.

For these tacos, we also added green chile because it’s green chile season in New Mexico right now. Apparently there are enough New Mexicans in this part of Washington to ensure that we get our own stash of green chile up here too.

These tacos also feature Cherokee purple tomatoes from our local farmer’s market. Yummmm…

I also picked out tiny corn tortillas. I liked the idea of having miniature chorizo tacos that fit snugly into your hand. I always overstuff my tacos (as you can see here) so they weren’t really bite-sized. Maybe more along the lines of three-bite sized. But still, they were fun to eat. And I was pretty full after this plate.

Let’s add some cheese to these guys…

Thank you Cobalt for being the cheese shaker. I was pretty hangry by the time I was taking the cheese pictures so it probably wasn’t easy to help me…

Speaking of green chile, this weekend we bought a box of freshly roasted chiles and brought them home to peel and freeze. We’re set for the year now… or at least for the next few months.

That’s all for today. Short and sweet. I couldn’t write any more because I got hungry looking at my pictures. Your turn now: what is your favorite taco ingredient? Or if you have a taco speciality, what is it? Let’s talk about food!

Meteors and other camping phenomena

Hello everyone! How are you? Cobalt and I went camping last weekend! On Saturday afternoon, we and our friends M and E (and their dog Bear) and K (and her dog Josie) piled into two cars with tons of camping supplies and hit the road to go camping in Umatilla National Forest!

So I like car camping because you don’t have to carry all of your stuff on your back and you have plenty of room for all the fun camera supplies you want. I had an extra bag full of a tripod, a variety of lenses, and my trusty DSLR because I was hoping to photograph the Perseid meteor shower.

While I gave myself a crazy photo challenge of trying to catch meteors streaking across a random spot in the sky, I think that camping offers a fun environment to try night time photography. It’s usually way darker out there since one point of camping is to get away from the city. And wow you can see so many stars (unless the moon is out…)! Plus it’s just fun to play with light when it’s dark. So I thought I’d talk a little about that, show off some crazy night sky pictures, and then we’ll top it all off with some fun hike pictures from the next day. Sound good?

Great. Let’s get started. So for those of you have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that Cobalt and I love taking weird photos at night. There are some creepy ones like this one of him sneaking up on me. There’s a romantic one of us with the Big Dipper. Plus there are some weird ones like this one with the moon making weird patterns in the sky.

The thing I like about night time photography is that you have to be creative about what kind of light your camera sees. So sometimes I use the flash followed by ambient light. Sometimes I use just ambient light. And sometimes I use ambient light to convey motion. That is the most fun.

Check out my crazy star pictures from this weekend. Both of them have a pretty long exposure — I left the shutter open for a long time to try to capture a meteor in action. Look at how the stars are swirling around. Cooool.

Holy light streaks, Batman! Also maybe that’s a meteor in the top right hand corner? I played around a little with the settings in Lightroom here but maybe it’s too black and white? Check out the next photo for comparison.
We started the picture and then walked away for ~10 minutes while we got ready for bed. The stars moved sooooo much! Also maybe I caught two meteors on the right? It’s hard to tell. :-/

I ended up getting pretty frustrated with this whole process because the remote control I usually use with my camera to start and stop loooooong exposures was on the fritz. I think it needs a new battery. Also we kept seeing AMAZING meteors in the opposite direction from where my camera was pointing. Oh well… that is life. Plus, it’s important to remember to actually experience life too. Not just stare at it through a camera lens.

P.S. Do you see all those weird specks of light all over my pictures? Pretty sure it was still smokier than we thought out there. :p

While the night sky was perfect for star watching, we woke up Sunday morning to rain. Not big fat drops but just enough to make for a wet, cold morning. After hot oatmeal and coffee, five damp humans — and two soggy pups — shuffled up the trail for a 5 mile hike. I decided to leave the DSLR in the car though because I didn’t want to get it wet. So the iPhone got to take pictures instead.

Check out this fun panorama with Cobalt and M. I think they need to start making music together because it looks like an album cover to me. What do you think? Something indie, most likely.

I think their band would be called “Elk Snacks.” Thoughts?

If I had brought my DSLR, I think I would have liked to do some jumping pictures like I have in this blog post about the Maroon Bells. Those are always fun to do but they require some playing around with settings that makes them best suited for a DSLR instead.

I like to test the limits of my iPhone camera anyway though so here is my attempt to photograph this wet bee that was clinging to a flower. I got the camera close enough to the bee that you can make out her spiky fur while the background is a blur.

Fuzzy…..

Finally, I got one of my favorite hiking photos: Cobalt with the trail in front of him. I take this type of photo a lot. I like it because it shows off some scenery but then Cobalt’s there to put it all in perspective and make it interesting. Plus he’s always so determined on hikes. Here he’s wearing my amazing shark backpack. Also, isn’t this trail gorgeous? We’ve really been missing our trees over here.

That’s all for now. Who’s excited about the eclipse in LESS THAN A WEEK!?!?! What percentage totality is it where you live?

Inspired by food

Helloooo everyone! Long time no talk. We have a bunch to catch up on but today I want to talk about food.

So last week my friend Jem and I met up in Minneapolis to attend a food photography workshop by Lindsay from Pinch of Yum. I’d been following Lindsay for a while and I secretly wanted to attend one of her workshops but I never had the time. This time though, Jem and I jumped on an opportunity to go as “buddies” where we shared a table and set up. We were both pretty nervous since we are trained scientists/science communicators and not professional food bloggers (yet…). But it turned out to be so much fun. Now I am feeling inspired to work on my photography skills again, which is awesome because that’s why I made this blog all those years ago.

Come on, Potassium, enough chatter. Let’s talk about food:

First up: All the food was real. We ate almost everything after we photographed it and it was all delicious. Yum.

Now onto learning how to photograph food! So in addition to Jem and me, there were 11 other women at the workshop. Lindsay organized the workshop into 4 sessions over two days. The first session was a quick how-to lesson for DSLRs and then we got to practice shooting fresh fruits and veggies. Yum. Jem and I chose some radishes and I quickly became obsessed with their tangly roots.

This one made it to Twitter and Instagram but I like it so I’m posting it here too. So red…

In the second session, we learned about lighting. I think this session was super helpful for me because I never really think about lighting and camera angles when I’m shooting, other than “OK. The sun making weird shadows on my subject. I should maybe move.” Or “Crap, I’m photographing people in a lab and there’s absolutely no natural lighting going on here…. uhhh…” After this session, we practiced with tasty cobbler and melty ice cream. Then after our practice, we got to eat our creations. :D

The next day, we practiced our lighting skills again with some tasty breakfast (which also subsequently got eaten). My breakfast is featured at the top of this post.

After breakfast, we started our next session: composition. I loved this session because I think I learned something about myself here: There is no one “perfect” way to compose a photograph. It’s an entirely creative process. You pick what works best for your personal style and the message you want to send or story you want to tell. It may seem simple and/or kind of duh but it was magic for me. I feel like I get frustrated with photography and other creative endeavors (writing, etc.) because my stuff doesn’t match whatever weird standard I think it should match. But now I think that it doesn’t have to. The only thing that matters is that it looks the way I want it to and that it matches me, my personality, and my message (which is usually one of making things accessible in case you haven’t figured that out). MIND. BLOWN.

Anyway, as I was processing that new information, we got to practice our composition with pancakes and a billion possible toppings. Jem and I were really interested in getting motion into our pictures: showing syrup running down the side of the stack or toasted coconut flakes snowing down from above. It was definitely more challenging than we thought it would be but that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to practice. :)

Go syrup, go! Some of you may have seen this on Facebook or Instagram but it wanted to make an appearance on the blog as well.

The final session was to introduce us to Adobe Lightroom, which is one of the Adobe products I hadn’t played with yet. Omg. It is endlessly fun. It’s a different way of thinking about photos compared to Photoshop and it seems equally as powerful as Photoshop (but in different ways). Time for tons of photo playing.

So besides my mind-blowing revelation in the workshop, there were a few other things that stuck out to me that I’d like to mention here. At the beginning, Lindsay asked each of us to write down a few objectives for what we wanted to get out of the workshop. Then she checked in with us periodically to make sure we were hitting our objectives. This activity ensured that everyone had a personalized experience. Also, each session was taught with a small lecture, a demo, and then practice time so that everyone could have a chance to learn however she learned best. Finally, there were so many props for food staging and toppings to try. It was a great safe haven to let your creativity fly! I came home loving my DSLR again and ready to try to take more food pictures on my own.

Below is my first attempt: a matcha green tea latte in a mug that we got for our wedding (they were a set: this one is the Potassium mug and then we also have a blue Cobalt mug <3). I’ve been obsessed with learning how to make my own matcha lattes for the past few months and then this one was so pretty in the Potassium mug. I wanted to show it off. Enjoy!

Mmmm… matcha…

Whew. That concludes Potassium’s epic food photography workshop recap. Stay tuned. More photos coming your way soon (potentially even more food photos).

Now it’s your turn: what is something you have done recently that made you feel inspired and excited? Or what is something you’d like to do? Also it’s summer! Is it hot where you are? We’ve been melting in 100 degree weather up here in… Washington (state)? Yeah… we have a lot to catch up on, don’t we? Until next time!