An Observation: Sunset Photos, Selfie Filters, and…That’s More Than One Observation

I’ve seen some absolutely incredible sunsets lately from my front door. As most people know, though, capturing a good photo of a sunset presents its own challenges. The most common complaint I hear after the shutter clicks is, “Well, it was a beautiful sunset, but it looked better in person!”

Sometimes, it can come down to adjusting a few settings in your camera. If you’re using a DSLR, you have a wider range of options than you would on your smartphone. One of my recent sunset photos is a good example of how this can work to your advantage. Mesmerized by the colors, I stepped outside and took a few shots with my Nikon. When I looked at the results, the colors looked nothing like what was staring back at me in plain sight. After I adjusted the white balance, I finally found the shot that matched my ocular reality.

Yes, it really was that breathtaking.

Lens filters are also helpful for a variety of reasons. I own very few lens filters. These filters help to enhance what is already there, and you have to make other adjustments to your shots based on the filters you are using. Also, unless I’m specifically trying to make a photo look like an oil or watercolor painting for a reason, I try not to make a ton of adjustments when processing the prints.

Is it possible to overdo it with the settings and filters and other gizmos?

ABSOLUTELY.

And I’ve found that the perfect example to illustrate my point is the infamous selfie filter.

I don’t even really know where to find some of these filters…I’m not exactly one of the cool kids. I don’t even have the Snapchats. I’ll admit, I used to ask school photographers on faculty picture day to check for a “ten years younger” button on their camera before taking the photo of me that would haunt the yearbook for eternity, but I didn’t realize that there were filters out there that could essentially take your face back to infancy.

(Side Note: Has anyone else noticed that some facial features all but disappear through these overly-filtered filters? I’m not just talking about wrinkles and blemishes. I’ve seen an awful lot of nostrils running around without noses. It’s weird.)

However, curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to do a selfie filter experiment. Someone can let me know later if I did it right.

Here’s the “before” with no filter:

This is what I really look like. Sorry.

And…the after, with some kind of filter (I think):

Umm…yeah.

Okay, something tells me I need to practice a little bit more on my use of filters. Or not. Perhaps I should put the selfies on the back burner and take a hike. Literally. There’s lots of nice stuff outside to photograph.

A Trip: Concrete and Sea Turtles

A few months ago (or maybe it was years…I’m still a little fuzzy on the whole time and space thing these days), I bought a few yards of material to begin sewing some masks. I quickly discovered that I had two problems to navigate–the last time I had used a sewing machine was when I was nine years old, and the machine I would use to make said masks had more than a few issues that, unbelievably, I wasn’t causing.

Since I am notoriously stubborn when it comes to learning new things, though, I went ahead and bought way too many yards of a print that I would feel comfortable wearing in public and insisted on learning how to make masks.

Sea turtles. Perfect for someone who lives in a landlocked state.

I cut fabric, I threaded the machine. I put the pedal to the metal and listened as the machine would lurch, then stop, then lurch again as I would forget to do something while I was untangling a mess, like putting my foot down.

I didn’t know how important “foot” would prove to be in this whole twisted tale of trying to do my part. However, when you use a sewing machine, you must lower the presser foot before you start feeding the fabric through, unless you just love trying to work your way down a knotted mess of thread to figure out how to undo what you just undid, or…yeah.

Additionally, you must have good control of the foot pedal as you work, unless your idea of a finished product involves threading needles through the delicate flesh in your hands. (No, the blood stains don’t give your mask “character.”)

In another ironic twist to the story, a few weeks after I had completed enough masks to keep several in my personal rotation (I had to block off significant chunks of time in the beginning to figure out what I was doing, obviously), I took a stroll down to the mailbox in my flip-flops after a rain shower. As I walked back into my garage, the rain plus my stellar sense of coordination plus the slick spot that every concrete floor has added up to a slip-and-slide ride resulting in my ending up on the ground with a lump on top of my foot. A very bruised lump.

The darkest part of the bruise eventually settled in to the shape of a sea turtle.

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I suppose I could have used one of my unwearable early mask creations as a makeshift ice pack. Oh, well. My next home project might have something to do with the first aid kit. We’ll see.

A Short List: Things I HAVE Seen Lately

Author’s Note: Sorry it’s not more exciting. But, instead of lamenting all of the things I haven’t seen lately, I made a list of a few things I have.

  1. The stop sign at the end of my street.
  2. Snails.
  3. My sewing machine, otherwise known as That Thing I Have To Fix Every Five Minutes Because I’ve Only Recently Started Using It Again After It Spent Two Years in Storage.
  4. My resident kitchen gnome.
  5. My kitchen sink.
  6. My kitchen.
  7. (You can’t help but like the gnome.)
  8. (I’m a little jealous of the gnome, though.)
  9. (For starters, he has better hair than I do.)
  10. (And a really cool hat.)
  11. (He does have to stand up all the time, though.)
  12. (And smile, even if he might not always feel like smiling. He watches me “cook,” after all. Not a pretty sight.)
  13. (“Gnome” is an odd word once you’ve said it over and over several times.)
  14. (I got sidetracked. Where was I?)
  15. (Oh. Stuff I’ve seen.)
  16. A bag of potatoes next to my kitchen gnome.
Cute little fella.

A Not-So-(NEO)WISE Decision: Mosquito Swarm

Let me preface this entry with an announcement: I broke the internet yesterday. I didn’t mean to, but WordPress gave me the dreaded “white screen of death” while I was running updates, and I had to use my resourcefulness to navigate through tutorials and whatnot to figure out how to un-break the internet. Long story short, if you’re reading this, I guess I fixed it.

anchorman celebrating GIF

So…if you really are reading this, let’s talk NEOWISE. The photographer in me was desperate to get out and take some photos of this once-in-6,800-years comet that was just discovered back in March when the rest of the planet was justifiably concerned with things happening on the ground. It’s July now, and the comet came into view this month. I thought it was time for a field trip.

I decided to try to get my photos during the evening twilight. Earlier in the month, it was visible in the pre-dawn hours, but morning isn’t my finest hour. Evening was a better choice if I wanted to get a good shot. I knew it was likely that I wouldn’t be able to see it from my house due to the city lights, which prompted me to drive towards the farm fields away from town.

I’m from the Delta, but I still managed to underestimate the most formidable summertime force that descends upon the flatlands as the evening darkness falls–the mosquito swarm.

I pulled off the road and tried to adjust my camera settings for some (hopefully) good shots so that I could just hop out of the car, put the camera on the tripod, and use the remote shutter release to snap away once NEOWISE was in view, thus limiting my mosquito exposure.

Good plan, right?

Home Alone Idea GIF

WRONG. I was out of the car for two whole seconds before the swarm found me. My grand plan went out the window as the mosquitoes invaded my car, my ears, my arms, my legs…everything. I scrambled and danced as I secured the camera on the tripod.

Focus? I didn’t care about that anymore. I could see the comet, so I could at least claim having seen it. However, I really wanted a good photo. Yeah…wasn’t happening this time. I snapped four pictures before I drove away with the windows down in an attempt to rid my vehicle of the bloodthirsty little beasts. The only shot that came close to looking okay-ish was this one:

At least I saw it. It wasn’t that blurry in real life. (I think. I’m not sure. I was moving around too much.)

The following night, owing to the fact that it was higher in the sky than I expected it to be, I thought I’d try to step outside my front door and see if I could see it. The mosquitoes in my neighborhood are not nearly as bad as they are near the rice fields. I couldn’t see it, but I thought that I might catch it by taking a few long-exposure shots with the camera. I was marginally more successful in that outing, even catching a passing airplane (or satellite, or possibly UFO) in one photo.

Let the conspiracy theories begin.

The mosquito bites I earned outside of my front door were limited, although I still have plenty of them to scratch from my field trip. Not the smartest move, but I suppose the bites will serve as a reminder not to try that again when NEOWISE returns sometime around the year 8820.

An Update: Reviewing a Camera Six Months After Purchase

Like many of you, I have largely been staying close to home for the last few months. Ordinarily, I would have been on the road most weekends in the springtime with my camera. But, the thoughts would start to creep in about how far I would want to drive to look for photo opportunities, how many non-socially-distant people would be around, and the eventual need to use a public restroom during a pandemic.

Duck Reaction GIF

So, most of the photos I’ve taken this year have been pretty close to home.

That’s not to say you can’t find interesting subjects in and around your own home. I was just hoping to take the camera I bought in late January for a longer test drive.

Still, I thought I would share a few thoughts and possibly gather yours regarding what I have discovered about my Nikon D7500.

Let’s start with the negatives (haha…see what I did there?) first to get them out of the way.

DISCLAIMER: I’m still practicing quite a bit just to get to know this camera, so I’m perfectly happy to take any advice you might have to offer.

I tend to use a circular polarizing filter a lot outdoors, particularly if I want to emphasize the sky on one of those crystal-clear days. Therefore, I know I will have to compensate to a degree. However, I’ve found that I’m having to do far more adjusting that I’ve had to do in the past just to get enough light into the camera to keep from having to radically alter the exposure in the computer later. In fact…

I have to do this without the filter, leaving me to wonder if I need to adjust other settings as well. Could it be the 542-focal-point system built into the camera that’s causing me headaches here? (I think it’s more like 689. Lots of squares. They might not even be related, but it was worth a thought. I think.)

This one eventually turned out well, but I had to do a lot of bracketing and later adjustments in Lightroom to get the results I wanted.

I’m still stuck in the old habits I used on my old camera for ten years when it comes to button-and-doohickey placement. Functions I once automatically reached for without looking are in different spots. Many frequently-used function settings can be saved in the camera menu, which I should probably do.

Now, for the pros:

Despite my complaints about the low-light problems when I’m shooting on a sunny day, I captured one remarkably good shot recently of a storm…at midnight.

I was using a remote shutter release to try to get a lightning strike from a distant storm. However, I ended up with something far better, in my opinion, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the camera handled this situation.

The clarity and sharpness are a huge improvement over my last camera. I have much wider range of ISO settings available, although I haven’t really encountered a situation yet where I’ve needed to bump it up to, like, a million.

Once I figure out how to make necessary adjustments, the quality is great.

Spring…

So, that breaks down my experiences with the Nikon D7500 to this point. Again, I’m still sifting through all the functions and working on finding opportunities to practice in different scenarios, but you get the picture (haha…see what I did there again?).

Thoughts?

An Observation: Outdoors Should Stay Outdoors

If you’re anything like me (my apologies and best of luck if you are), you’ve probably noticed an uptick in two activities recently: eating and cleaning. You’re probably learning a lot more about the ingredients and products you use as well. I started looking at the box on my dryer sheets one day and began to wonder if I should be using this particular scent.

Fresh, huh? You been outside lately? There’s lots of stuff out there that isn’t quite fresh, especially on trash day.

Things that typically stay outdoors aren’t always the most pleasant things, are they? Who has ever had an outside dog? They don’t always smell April fresh. In fact, they like to seek out the opposite of fresh, roll in it for a leisurely afternoon, and trot home to give your family a hug.

I live in an area where the outdoors seems to really want to come indoors right now. As the weather has grown warmer, it’s usually been flies.

flying adult swim GIF
Umm…they don’t look…yeah.

Another outdoor bug made its way into my home recently, though, that I hadn’t been expecting.

It was a Saturday night (I think). I was in the process of changing from my daytime pajamas into my nighttime pajamas. I had only stepped away from the living room for about fifteen minutes or so. When I returned to resume wearing the contoured dent into my sofa, I saw something on the rug. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and I wondered if I’d dropped some food from my fourth snacking session of the evening.

As I looked closer, though, I realized that I didn’t have anything in the pantry of that shape, consistency, size, or that moved by itself.

Wait. It’s MOVING?!?

Shocked face GIF

I took off towards the pantry to get a fly swatter. At first glance, it looked like a night crawler. As my vision came into slightly better focus (and after I poked at it), it curled up into a tight coil.

A millipede.

bbc madagascar GIF by Head Like an Orange
Not in my house. No, sir.

A couple of scoops, some shrieking, and a flick out the front door later, I set it free to roam the neighborhood.

Those darn millennials. Thinking they can come into my house uninvited. The least it could’ve done was knock on the door or ring the doorbell. It has enough feet to do both.

Some things are just meant to stay outdoors, though. And if that’s part of what represents “outdoor fresh,” I think I’ll switch to new dryer sheets.

An Observation: Soft Kitty, Smart Kitty

I’ve had some time on my hands lately; therefore, I have overthought.

Oh, who am I kidding? I would have overthought of this eventually, regardless of whether or not social gatherings were taking place…largely due to the fact that I didn’t take part in tons of social activities in the first place. Throw in a few germs of ANY KIND during your run-of-the-mill cold and flu season and I was going to avoid the plague like, well, the PLAGUE, finding my own socially-distant activities to pass the time.

Streaming The Office GIF

So, in the course of my regularly-scheduled overthinking, I came upon something that has been mildly annoying to me for years–but fun for lots of other people, apparently–and decided to analyze it until it wasn’t fun anymore. (That’s how it works. I don’t make the rules. Sorry.)

I have always liked cats. I was around cats in my home until an unfortunate allergy that surfaced in college left me in tears (and hives) every time I found myself within a mile of a cat.

Animated GIF
Kind of like this, only with a lot more sneezing.

While I can’t help but think that some of them are out to get me (knowing that their dander and my weakness for their cute little faces are my kryptonite), I know they aren’t devoid of intelligence. They’re very smart creatures, in fact, even if they choose not to listen to people most of the time.

Which…brings me to my current overthought:

Hooman.

Somewhere along the way, someone else on the planet who thought cats were as cute as I do began to create memes about them. For some reason that I can’t quite determine, the word “hooman” began to emerge as part of the central tenet of cat vocabulary/language theory. It’s a theory that contends that if cats could speak, they would speak in terms…like that.

And it bugs me.

I’ve finally figured out why.

Sure, I’ll explain!

  1. One would assume that if a cat picked up the English language, they would do so by listening primarily to their owners, right? Okay, then. How many times a day–in normal conversation–do you refer to another person as a “human”? You’re more likely to call them by name, or perhaps refer to “people” or “a person.” You might even say “you” relatively frequently. But I can’t think of the last time I called the person sitting next to me “human” as a way of getting their attention. Therefore, they would be far more likely to pick up on the other terms before anything would have the opportunity to morph itself into “hooman” form.
  2. I know we’re living in a meme land where we assume cats can speak, but cats, in general, would probably say “meow” anyway. Why? Well, it appears to be easy for them, and it’s part of what makes a cat a cat. Plus, they’re stubborn. They’ll revert to what they know. “Meow” is familiar, and it’s succeeded in keeping cats fed and warm for many years now.
  3. As for the other grammatical errors that generally appear as part of these memes, sure, not every person speaks in grammatically-accurate language all the time. However, I’m doubtful that cats listen exclusively to conversations that mangle subject-verb agreements. Remember, they’re putting this language together based on what they hear, and conversations not directed towards the cat will likely be taking place in their presence. And, finally…
  4. Well, I didn’t quite think this far ahead. So…yeah. Overthought complete-ish.

I don’t know about you, but based on my observations of cats, they would probably place themselves more in a “cat”egory of perceived intellectual superiority above all other creatures, including their “hoomans.”

That is, until they fall off a ledge or something during a cat nap.

An Observation: Umm…Yeah…

Well, here we are.

It’s been quite a week month year so far, right? And to think, just a few months ago the upcoming election was providing the biggest mess on the nightly news. To recap–in my corner of the world–we’re dealing with a worldwide health pandemic, quarantines, a tornado, and the Tiger King.

Yeah, this really would have been enough to deal with on its own, 2020.

I’m not really sure which definition of “quarantine” to use when speaking of our current situation. As a words person, I’ve checked the definition from several different sources, and the first option listed in Merriam-Webster states that quarantine means “a period of 40 days.” Today feels like Day 412, even though we’ve only truly been at this in Arkansas since around March 14. (That’s quite a while when I factor my own cooking into the equation.)

Oxford defines it as “a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.” Other sources have made the distinction among three common terms–social distancing, quarantine, and isolation–with “isolation” being the most confining term of the three.

Still, I always thought of quarantine as being rather strict, possibly owing to the old books I used to read and movies I’ve watched about bygone centuries. People who were in quarantine seemed to be pretty isolated. (I always pictured a little prairie girl sitting in her bedroom practicing cursive on a slate and wistfully petting a kitten. Or something like that.) Because of that definition in my mind, it seems strange to me that people who refer to themselves as being “quarantined” go hiking and walking and…outside. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, meaning that the current definition of “quarantine” is far less strict than “isolation.” It’s all a bit wordy.

Umm…yeah.

That’s where we are. Most of us have been at home, picking a new room to visit each weekend for a short getaway. (I’ll be visiting the upstairs guest room myself.)

And then along came an EF-3 tornado. (A tornado on top of everything else was a bad idea.) Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but the damage was fairly extensive. Seeing a large tornado hitting your town on television is surreal and frightening enough when life is “normal.” (Author’s Note: My neighborhood was not hit, but many homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. The community response has been swift and remarkable in helping those who lost so much.)

It feels as though everything has been upended in both literal and metaphorical storms around here. The mere fact that I have been in the kitchen should have been proof enough that strange things are afoot.

Woah.

Umm…yeah.

What do we do with all of this? I suppose we do the best we can do by following the guidelines and recommendations. I try to deal with it by using humor, although I find it in relatively short supply lately. However, I try to find something that makes me laugh every day.

Simply put, we do the best we can.

And we try not to watch Tiger King more than…three times (four, tops…I promise).

A Minor Obsession: Word Games and Other Puzzles

I have made plenty of jokes over the years about my math skills. However, I’m happy to sit down and work a Sudoku puzzle, despite the fact that I know I’ll be looking at lots and lots of numbers that I have to arrange into a logical sequence which only looks logical if you know how to work a Sudoku puzzle. (Meaning…the numbers all balance out in a way, but you don’t have to add them up; therefore, they are usually out of sequence and look a lot like trying to win a spelling bee by dividing your last name by the number 9.)

I suppose the part of my brain that makes turning complicated musical rhythms into actual music has helped shape my desire to figure things out in new and creative ways, even during the times that the puzzles start to look number-y and math-y based. Take, for example, the Rubik’s Cube–the bane of any 80’s kid’s existence.

This one’s all solved and stuff. Kudos to them.

I spent hours and hours trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube until I realized that the little colored squares were actually stickers. Sure, they never quite stuck back to the toy itself quite the same way once you peeled them off and moved them around, but I had found my creative loophole–or, in this case, loop-cube.

Okay, so the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t my forte, but Sudoku is something I can manage well. My absolute favorite games, though, are word games (for obvious reasons). I don’t get cross with crosswords (haha…see what I did th…never mind), and I enjoy a good word search.

I believe that participating in word games results in the exponential maturation of your vocabulary at a relatively formidable progression so as to create a exceedingly superior external representation of intelligence. Because, as you all know, sounding knowledgeable, well-informed, perceptive, astute, and brilliant helps you to attain a reputation as a illustrious and authoritative expert on a subject matter.

(Yeah, you learn big words. Or something like that.)

Playing those games also helps you develop your best puns and “dad jokes.” Even if expanding the ol’ vocabulary isn’t your goal with word games, everyone should have a few good puns in their back pockets.

jokes lol GIF by Michelle Porucznik
Umm…I said a few GOOD puns.

Whatever your motivations, I think that exercising your brain–be it through puzzles, games, advanced calculus–is always a good idea. What are your favorite brain games to play? Be sure to chime in and let me know. I’ll just be in a corner somewhere trying to figure out the best glue for the stickers on my Rubik’s Cube.

An Observation: Coffee and a New Camera

I’ve seen “Sling Blade” at least 147 times. I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with one statement by Karl Childers.

“Coffee kindly makes me nervous when I drink it.”

Surprised?

You shouldn’t be. After all, in my “About Me” section on this very blog, I have described that I generally tend to take my coffee in the decaf flavor. I had a doctor once tell me that I should cut back on the caffeinated variety to control things like heartburn and…well, nervousness. Mmmhmm.

I LOVE coffee, though. I love the taste, the smell, and the warmth of a good cup o’ joe.

coffee winks GIF
Right back at ya.

So, I save the caffeinated type for things like weekends. You know, when I have time to be nervous and suffer from heartburn.

I’m going to need a BIG cup, though, if I’m going to figure out all the bells, whistles, and doohickeys on my new camera. I’ll also need to stay awake to read the entire manual.

I’m supposed to “read this manual thoroughly before using the camera.” Okay. Sure.

I tried to flip through the manual on a Friday evening when it wouldn’t have been a good idea to have a cup of coffee. Why? Because…sleep. Caffeinated coffee is generally a morning delicacy for obvious reasons. So, I spent a Friday evening lethargically pressing buttons and leafing through the instructions only to give up and decide that the task was better suited for a Saturday morning fueled by my good friends at Folgers…and Green Mountain…and Starbucks.

Even with their help, though, I think I’ll be better qualified to fly a mission to Mars than ever figuring out all of the buttons on the camera. I’m beginning to think that some of them are just there to create the illusion of superiority to other models.

Perhaps it’s premature to feel that way about it, seeing as how I had ten years with my previous camera in which to learn about all of its functions.

Of course, it could also be a sign that it’s time for me to learn how to paint. I’ve heard things about some guy who teaches by video…

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