Unbeknownst to me, I’ve already had my first paying photography gig

Do you see this rather ugly picture?

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What is it?  I’ll tell you.

It’s a picture of a framed picture of Christmas trees.

See, way back in December, my father-in-law (we’ll call him Dad) said, “They do a really nice display of Christmas trees at the Eagles.  Would you mind taking a picture of them for me?”

Sure.

About half an hour into taking all sorts of artsy shots of the lights and the trees and the ceiling, I finally thought to ask, “Uh…what exactly do you want this picture for?”

“I’m going to show the picture to the leaders of the Eagles so it can be enlarged, framed, and put on display here in the club.”

Huh?  No!  No, no, no!  That’s not fair!

Out of all the pictures in all the world, it has to be Christmas lights?  Seriously?  Christmas lights?

Taking pictures of Christmas lights is tricky, tricky, tricky.  And, more importantly, pictures of Christmas lights are ugly, ugly, ugly.  I’ll prove it to you. Google images of “Christmas lights on houses” and you’ll see what I mean.  Aren’t they the most boring pictures you’ve ever seen?  Yes they are.

My mood sunk.  Don’t get me wrong.  The display was beautiful in person.  Hours upon hours of work went into it, and you could tell.  There were about 40 trees, all decorated and with whimsical displays beneath them.  Truly lovely.

But so boring in a picture.  Somehow, I’d have to try to take a picture nice enough that the leaders at the Eagles wouldn’t snicker in disdain when Dad showed it to them.  The family honor was at stake.

I warned Dad, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” and did my best to lower his expectations.  In the end I managed to eke out a few unattractive pictures that, with luck and a lot of squinting, might turn out so-so.

Then I spent a very frustrating evening trying to edit out the graininess.  Elements proved it hates me yet again by permanently deleting part of the picture I was working on.  Why, oh, why would Elements do what it did unless it is sentient and resentful and a big fat meanie?

And then came the realization that even if the Eagles leaders liked the electronic copy of the picture, what if it looked bad enlarged?  What if it was grainy and distorted?  I’d better check before Dad presented it to them.

Fortunately, Darling Husband works at a college with a photography department and is friends with the photography geniuses who work there.  They edited it a little more for exposure, figured out how exactly how much it could be enlarged before it got distorted, and printed one out for me.  $10.  I should make those guys some banana bread as a thank you.

And I have to say, the picture looked a little bit cool printed out.

I gave it to Dad and he liked it.

He showed it to the Eagles guys and they liked it.

So dad had it framed.

And even I have to admit that it looks kinda of nice enlarged, printed and framed.  You can’t really tell from the picture I posted above, but in person, it was nice.

And get this: two days ago, we took Mom out for her Birthday Dinner.  (You know where.  Jin says hi.)

Before we left the house Dad said, “Here. The Eagles wanted to pay you a little something for the picture.” And he handed me real live money.  Real live money!  For my ugly Christmas tree picture!

It was just $25, but still-it was real and it was money.  I guess it wasn’t really alive.  And if I can get $25 for the ugliest picture I’ve ever taken, think of what I could get for something nice.

I’m not going to spend my $25.  I’m going to frame it.

—————-

Here are some artsy pictures that I was having fun with before Dad rained on my parade:

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Death by Potato Masher, Dust is Healthy, and Dogs Toot

So I was at Karen’s house today.

“Who is Karen?” you are wondering. “The Lizard has never talked about Karen.”

That’s because I don’t know Karen very well.  She goes to my church and we became Facebook friends, but other than a “Hi Karen,” “Hi Jackie” at church, we’ve not talked much.

But Karen is an amazing CVS shopper who buys $80,000 worth of stuff for a nickel.  She offered a class to teach how she gets the $80,000 worth of stuff for a nickel.  I decided to go.

Got directions to her house and pulled up beside it.  Well, pulled up beside the carriage house.  Carriage house?  Yup.  Carriage house.

And peered past the summer kitchen.  Summer kitchen?  Yup.  Summer kitchen.

Walked to the front of the house and peeked inside the glass door to see a hallway brimming with woodwork.  There was an old staircase with built in bookcases at the top and a hardwood hallway with rooms coming off the sides.   Oh, rapture.  It was a Gorgeous Old Home (GOH) and not one of those nasty UNHs.  (Ugly New House.)

Karen told me her GOH was built somewhere between 1875 and 1880.  Dreamy sigh.

This was going to be a problem.  See, I don’t know Karen very well and it would have been nice to give her some sort of eye contact.  But that was impossible under the circumstances.  I tried, I really tried, but in the end I succumbed to gawking at the house and wiping drool off my chin.

Take a look at her potato masher.

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That’s a great potato masher, isn’t it?  It has a right angle to it.  Perfect for nabbing things off of too-high shelves.  Unless you also nab your mugs which break in the fall.  See those green mugs?  They’re grieving the loss of their brother cups who didn’t make it.

Karen said, “We have some old cameras if you want to take their picture.”  Did they ever have old cameras.  Fifteen or so gorgeous old timey cameras. I love old timey stuff.  I could wander around in antique stores for days, sleeping on the rope beds at night and living off of the dust on the books.  Almost like in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And speaking of dust, see this picture?

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Pretty boring, huh?  There’s nothing of interest for your eye to fall on, so it wanders around the picture and gets bored.

But if you crop and darken the darks a bit, your eye has something to look at.  And see how the dust on the camera really stands out.

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Isn’t that some awesome dust?  Doesn’t it just make the picture so much better?  It gives you a sense of age. Karen was a good sport that I took pictures of her dust.  Dust adds character to GOHs.  A little bit of dust is healthy.

And speaking of Basil, she has a little dog named Basil.  I wondered, “Basil Fawlty?”  Yup.

I’m not particularly a dog person, but her little dog was very sweet.  Let’s have fun with before and after pictures of Basil.

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Note the distracting paper on the couch across the room that looks like it’s coming out of Basil’s muzzle. And the coupons on the table.  And my knee.

Gone!  And colors made richer.

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Poor little guy is going bald.  I really like his holey sweater.  It adds lots of texture.

Unedited of a close up of Basil at a very slightly different angle:

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Edited–removed that thing by his muzzle again and again, made the colors richer.  When I made the darks dark, the pillow on the couch disappeared into the shadows.  Now Basil is the complete focus of the picture.  I like the pink of the blanket across the room from him, though.  Adds just a little bit of interest, but not enough to distract from Basil.

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Basil sat on my lap through the entire lesson and I do have to say, I wish they’d stop feeding that poor dog beans.

My Misshapen Head

As you can see, yesterday was grocery shopping day.  Go head.  Snicker all you like.

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—–

I’m determined to master flash photography.  I plan to practice it a little bit every day.

So there I was practicing using my flash on Boy7, which is  rare thing.  He doesn’t like having his picture taken. In order for him to let me post these pictures online I had to bribe him with bite-sized MilkyWay bars leftover from his Christmas advent calendar.

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A little too dark.

A little too light

A little too light

The best in the series (for lighting.)

The best in the series

And halfway through the photoshoot, I noticed that the new headband I bought at the grocery store was popping off my head. I made Boy10 take pictures of my misshapen head and the popping off headband.

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Headbands are very frustrating to me.  When I tell other women, “My hair is acting up today.  What can I do with it?”  They often say, “Wear a headband.”

Apparently all the other women on this planet are able to wear headbands to disguise a bad hair day without them popping off their heads.  Why can’t I?

And here’s the part where it all comes together so nicely.  Follow along:

I posted a photography question on a secret Photo Club page on Facebook.  After expressing annoyance at a complicated answer I got, Gerhard wrote to me:

“Just calm down. When someone is trying to teach you things, you have a tendency to half listen and think 2 or 3 steps ahead to “what if I did this or that”. Slow down, you’re thinking too fast. Give ideas time to sink in. Just because we’re digital and seeing our images instantly,it’s still a slow process to learn this craft. Am I being too blunt?”

My first thought was, “What? Surely I don’t have such irritating habits as all that!  Not moi!”

But then I read it again, and realized that nestled in his observation was the brilliant explanation as to why my headbands pop off.   Read Gerhard’s comments again,

“…and think 2 or 3 steps ahead…you’re thinking too fast…”

Obvious now, isn’t it?  The reason why my headbands pop off is because of my enormous brain.

——————

There were thousands of perfectly formed snowflakes everywhere this morning.  I threw on my coat over my robe and family sweatpants to take pictures.  I didn’t even realize I still had on my Steeler’s hat until the next door neighbor came outside to accuse, “What is that thing on your head?”

Eh, he’ll get over it.

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Darling Husband tried to get pictures of the snowflakes on his own with my camera.  He observed, “You need a macro lens.”  What an amazingly highly intelligent man that I married.  He’s very, very smart.  And he’s right.  I do need a macro lens.

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I changed clothes for the first time in 26 days yesterday

Yesterday evening about 16 people from my church were going to be baptized.  The people being baptized ranged in age from 7 to 60-something.

It sounded like something fun to watch, so I bundled up the kids and we headed out. It wasn’t until I got there that I found out that a bunch of my Soup Day friends and my kids’ friends were being baptized.

Huh?  What’s up with the secrecy guys?

Anyway…remember how I told you I’m friends with a couple who remind me of Mary and Joseph from the bible?  Last month I took their Christmas card pictures.  Mary was sooooo happy with the pictures that she cried happy tears. Yes, I checked to be sure they were happy tears and not tears of bitter disappointment.

Here are their Christmas pictures:

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Well, Mary and Joseph’s boys were going to be baptized.  And when she saw me arrive last night, she said, “Oh, Jackie!  Oh…do you think you could…?”

She wanted me to take pictures, but she was afraid to fully ask, because she didn’t want to impose.  I mean, she’s just like Mary and Mary would never impose.  But how could I say no to Mary?!

I couldn’t.

Fortunately, I’ve been given special permission as a Photo Club member to take photos of any church event that I want to, from anywhere I want to.  I double checked that it would be ok and I made preparations to head up to the very front of the church for picture taking.  The baptismal tub is built into the wall waaaay at the front of the church under a stained glass window.  You wouldn’t even know it’s there if no one told you.

I got all my gear ready (two lenses, flash, batteries for the flash, batteries for the camera, and rag for cleaning lenses) and stuffed it all into my pockets.

The pockets of my bright red vest.

The pockets of my bright red vest that was over top of a bright white shirt.

Aw, man.

Photographers at solemn spiritual events are not supposed to be wearing attention-getting bright red vests with blindingly white shirts underneath.  Photographers at solemn spiritual events are supposed to be dressed in dark clothes.  Like, maybe dark navy blue sweaters.

Do you remember back on Christmas day when I wrote about a dark navy blue sweater my mother bought for me for Christmas?  I wrote, “Along with a very lovely sweater that I’m wearing right now and will probably wear every day for the next month because I love it so much (hey, I’ll change the shirt under it), my mother bought me…”

Well, just as I predicted, I’ve worn that sweater every single day since then (and am wearing it now) except for last night.  I finally got tired of wearing it for 26 days in a row and threw on the white shirt and red vest.

So, instead of heading to the front of the church to take discrete pictures of a solemn spiritual ceremony in a subdued dark blue sweater, I just had to be the flashy photographer sauntering to the front in my glowing red vest and blindingly bright shirt.

I found this old picture of the front of the church that Michael gave to me.  Ignore the fishy pictures on the sides.  Look at the big black arrow.  That’s where the baptismal tub is hidden under those flower arrangements.  See the red woman?  That’s me.  I was standing on a shelf behind those chairs.  Waaaay up front.  Waaaay up high.  Bright red.

Red Vest at Baptisms

Barbetta was working in the nursery and watching the baptisms beamed in on a tv screen.  She said, “…and then I saw this blob of bright red move across the screen and thought, “Who is that?”  Then I realized it was you.  Jackie, you really should dress more subdued if you don’t want everyone staring at you when you’re taking pictures.”

Yes.  Yes, I know, Barbetta.  I know.

Anyway.  I have to say I’m soooo glad I practiced with the flash on Saturday.  The lighting was dark and the baptism shots would be action shots.  I’d need a flash or they’d be a big grainy blur.  I wanted to do right by Mary and Joseph.

And I figured that since I was already up there, I may as well take pictures of everyone.  Half of them being baptized are my friends anyway.

So I did.

Here’s a sample:

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As a final word, it turns out that a lack of expectations makes all the difference in photography. When no one expects pictures and you take them as a happy surprise, it’s kinda fun.  I didn’t even care that I was in front of a crowd of 100 or so people in my bright red vest.  I was the one with the very best view of each and every person being baptized. Very cool.

But I may take to leaving black shirts in my car, in case I ever need to do an emergency photography session at church ever again.

I’ve never been a snob before, but I’m one now: a camera snob.

Yesterday was Photo Club.  I brought my flash so I could practice using it.

First was Kevin.  He knows he cannot avoid the inevitable and accepts it with stalwart resignation.  In other words, he freezes in place.  The camera comes out and, like a wile rabbit, he stays perfectly still, his features immobile.  He does this every single time.  (And yes, wile is spelled correctly, I looked it up.  Pronounced Wile. E. Coyote.)

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Actually, it’s really nice of him to do that.  That way, the pictures don’t come out blurry.  Thank you, Kevin.

Next was Gerhard.  Gerhard also knows to freeze, except for his lips.  He will not be deterred from telling a good story.  It’s up to the photographer to fire off a few shots between sentences.

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You know the phrase, “better than a poke in the eye?”  Well,having your picture taken by a photographer who’s trying to sort out how to use her flash is at least better than a poke in the eye.

Or not.  Scott opted for the poke in the eye.

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Eh–he couldn’t have been all that upset.  He froze for the picture, too.

Then, there was Hannah.  Poor Hannah.  Long story short, she didn’t have a camera to use at Photo Club.  That made her The Model for the day.  Poor, poor Hannah.  I hope she comes back.

In the church atrium there is a dark corner with some couches.  Here’s a picture of the couch area with my camera set to f11 (yes, it goes to 11), 1/125 shutter speed and ISO 200.  This really is the picture from my camera of the couch with those settings.

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Without the flash it’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black. Which, actually, is exactly what I wanted.

It means that any pictures I took in the couch area would be lit by the power of my flash alone.  “Hannah, come sit on this couch, would you?”

I got a series of pictures of Hannah.  I like this one of her and Scott.

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Yes, that is a tissue stuck onto the lens of Scott’s camera with a hair band.  If you want to know why, you’ll have to come to Photo Club.  Photo Club secrets are safe with me.

Then I went home and tormented Darling Husband with flash photography as well.  He is not a good model.  I can get in maybe 3 shots before he loses interest and wanders off.

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Unfortunately for Scott, we invited him to spend the day with us after Photo Club.  Even though he makes a big fuss about it he will let me use him as a model indefinitely so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Scott Flash Photography Collage

The only side effect is that, as you can see, Scott gets increasingly crabby the more pictures I take of him.  By the end of the night, poor Tony Stark Lego mini-fig was just trying to eat his peanut butter cookie in peace…

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…but Scott had become very unreasonable by then and insisted that it was his peanut butter cookie.  Poor Tony.  His little head popped off in the melee and now we’ll have to move the stove to find it.

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There was a point to telling you all this.  Here it is:

Traci, of Traci Cake fame, walked up to me in church today.  She was dressed very nicely.  She said, “I need a favor…”  and I immediately started reaching for Alex.  When a photography enthusiast’s friend is dressed up and says “I need a favor,” you know exactly what they want: a portrait for something-or-other.

She began rummaging in her thirty-one bag and murmuring, “You can take the picture on my cell phone.  I figured if anyone can take a good picture on my cell phone, you can.”

At that point I got lightheaded and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t from low blood pressure.  Honestly?  Are you kidding me?  You want me to take a picture of you…on a cell phone??  I haven’t spent $1000+ on camera gear to use your cell phone.  Augh!

If I didn’t know that Traci isn’t manipulative in the slightest, I would have thought it was some sort of reverse psychology.  “I’ll ask Jackie to use my cell phone camera and she’ll be so disgusted at the thought that she’ll insist on using her good camera to take my picture.”

I fell for it this time, but it’ll only work once, people.  Don’t even try to trick me again into taking your picture by handing me your cell phone.  I’m on to you now.  Next person who tries to pull that trick has to treat me to Li’s Buffet.

But good for Traci that I had just learned how to use the flash.  Except for the white flash mark glowing on her forehead.  Maybe she won’t notice it.  I sure hope not, because it’s all I can see.  Glow, glow, glow.

Maybe I should have used the cell phone.

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In Which I Embarrass a Good Friend But She Doesn’t Know it Yet

I tried a little experiment today that I read about on the internet.  The article recommended playing Eye of the Tiger in the background of your most mundane tasks to see what happens.  I tried it and the article was right:  I felt pretty fierce while I was washing the socks.  None of the socks dared to get lost in the dryer by the time I was done with them.

———-

Once you let doctors know you have a medical condition, they want to see you all the time.  It gives them something to do.  If no one admits to any illnesses, the doctors can’t have fun.

Remember how I told you I have low blood pressure and when I jog on the treadmill it makes me dizzy for the rest of the day?  No wait!  I didn’t tell you!  I only told my Facebook friends.

I was crowing on Facebook about my condition.  Turns out the treatment for low blood pressure involves eating more salt and caffeine.  It’s the Best Medical Condition Ever.  Bring on the Grandma Utz Potato Chips and Pepsi.

Anyway…I went to see my nurse practitioner today about my low blood pressure and dizzy bouts and apparently this is what she’d been waiting for all day long.  She called in the student doctor to sit in on the appointment so the student could share in the fun.

She asked the student, “Have you ever seen anyone perform the Dix-Hallpike maneuver?”  The student said, “No.”  At this, my nurse practitioner pushed my head to the side, much like James Bond does in movies when he’s going for the kill by snapping someone’s neck, and then shoved me down flat on my back. !!  Then she helped me back up, twisted my head the other way, and shoved me down again!

If only I’d been playing Eye of the Tiger on my iPad at the time, she’d have never gotten away with that.

Next, just because she wanted to see how far she could push before I realized it was all a joke, she told me that maybe the “crystals in my ears need to be realigned.”  Crystals in my ears? To go with my bionic eye, I suppose.

And it was at that point that I burst into laughter.  I mean, it’s bad enough having to admit to everyone that you’re dizzy when they all suspected it in the first place.  But now that I’d admitted to it, my provider was using it as an excuse to knock me over and tell me I have ‘misaligned crystals’ in my ears.

I ended up laughing so much about the misaligned crystals in my ears that I couldn’t even answer some of her questions.  It was bad.  It wasn’t like having cute little giggles.  They were all out guffaws.  When they settled down I had to take deep breaths and think about sad things so it wouldn’t start up again.

I think all my laughing got to her just a bit because she went out and printed a paper from the internet about how to treat misaligned crystals in the ears.  Treatment?  Flipping the patient’s head around and winging them up into seated positions and then knocking them down (wing up, knock down, wing up, knock down) until the crystals fall out of their ears.

Then you can make a lovely set of earrings with them to give to your mother on Mother’s Day.

And actually, according to the paper, they’re not really “crystals.”  They’re calcium deposits.  Ok, that sounds a little more reasonable, though not nearly as entertaining.

It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered that my nurse practitioner is my friend Barbetta’s coworker.  Oh no!  I sat there laughing and laughing at her about the misaligned crystals in my ears until I couldn’t breathe.  And she knows I’m Barbetta’s friend.

Do you remember some of my other blog posts where I explain what a Bad Patient I am?  And remember how I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t act like a loon in front of my new nurse practitioner so that I wouldn’t embarrass Barbetta?

Well that resolution went out the window today.

I’m sorry, Barbetta, but I’m pretty sure your coworker doesn’t think my dizziness is a medical condition.  It’s just my same old dizzy personality disorder that I’ve had since the day I was born.

Torment by Newsletter, Compliment via a Blaat, and A Non-Reassuring Reassurance

Every month my church puts out a newsletter.  On the third page they list the names of everyone who has a birthday or anniversary that month.  The actual ages aren’t listed.

Usually.

For some utterly bizarre reason, if you have a Big Birthday (one that ends with a zero) there is a special bar to the side just for your personal torment where your age is listed for all to see.  That way all 60 billion church members can be stupefied by your ancient age and they can come up to you on Sunday to exclaim about it.

Who thought that up?  I’m gonna blame the youth group.  Who else, except someone under 22 wants their age announced to all and sundry?  No one!

Except for 90 year olds.  They love to tell you how old they are.  They always sound pretty flabbergasted when they tell you, too.  “I’m 95 years old!”

I think I know how they feel.  I’m still reeling from the shock of turning forty.  (“Me, forty?! Inconceivable!)  I can’t imagine how astounded I’ll be once I hit 90.

I’d hoped that being married to a board member would have come with a few perks, like getting out of having your Big 4-0 announced to everyone.  No such luck.  In December’s newsletter, my Fortieth Birthday was announced for all to see.

Yesterday, a man walked up to me in church and blurted out, “I didn’t realize you were that old!”  There was heavy emphasis on the “that”.  It wasn’t so much a blurt as a blaat.  He blaated it out, like a sheep blaat or a trumpet blaat.  “I didn’t realize you were thaat old!”

I think he was trying to compliment me so I replied with a, “Um…thank you?”

So what do you think?  Here are collages of some of the self-portraits I posted on The Blog in 2012.  Do I look like I was 39 going on 40?  Or do I just look irritated and perplexed?

Jackie Collage 2012 Part A

Jackie Collage 2012 Part B

Note:  If I ever take a picture of you and you say, “Don’t post a bad picture of me on online,” and I say, “Don’t worry.  I would never post a picture of someone else that I wouldn’t be willing to post of myself,”…don’t be reassured.

———-

P.S.  I’m just kidding about being upset that my 40th was in the newsletter.  I don’t really mind that it’s in there.  But there was that time that Keith turned 30 and they accidentally listed him as turning 40.  That was a bit of a shock.  We were all blaating to each other, “I didn’t realize Keith was that old!”