There is something about The Holidays. The decorations, the Christmas music, twinkling lights, brisk air, lots of traffic and pushy shoppers. :)
In all seriousness, though - I feel like photography can really come alive during Christmas time. I guess, that sense of wonder comes through in our Holiday casual portraits with the kids. Admittedly, I'm not the best at Portraiture but it all seems to just "work out for me" this time of year... Strange, no?
I think it really shows that your mentality can come through in the portraits you shoot. If you don't want to be there, it shows through in your work.
And this year, like every year, I really looked forward to our seasonal activity of unboxing Christmas lights and letting the kids play in them as we decorate the tree. This year, I put two Alien Bees at 45's in the living room. We shot some with strobes and some with natural light.
Some tips for others who might be looking to do this.
Turn on some fun or traditional Christmas music and try not to be too over-bearing on the kids. Let them play and capture the shots, don't worry with trying to over-impose your ideas on how they should be. Set the stage but find the shots, don't build them. This way, they are genuinely having fun (and it shows!) Do be careful that no one removes and a bulb and inserts a finger, tonque or any other body part into the business-end of a Christmas light socket. Holiday electrocution avoidance protocols should be in effect. :)
This year, we switched to LED lights. Photographer's warning: LED Lights are actually pulsing. They have a refresh rate similar to an old computer monitor, so consider that when setting your shutter speed. It is quite easy to get the perfect shot but appear the LED is off.
Resist the urge to over-light holiday shots. Get just as much light as you need to keep camera noise at Bay but don't worry about trying to shoot as ISO 100 for clarity. Shadows and tones are great for holiday shots. (For these, we used the modeling lamps on Alien Bees but I seldom let them fire and even then only at low-power since they washed out the Christmas lights. In this case, I thought the reflection and glow of the lights was far more important than getting the perfect exposure.)
Bokeh (blurry background) is really popular for holiday shots, especially lights. Remember, you don't have to have a crazy-expensive lens with a huge aperture to get good bokeh. If you shoot your larger aperture (smallest f-number) and put lights sufficiently behind your subject and use your zoom (if you have it), those lights will start to bokeh-ify quite nicely.
Some locations and elements that work well for Christmas shots: Christmas tree farms, trains, city light displays, fireplaces, decorative staircases, the beach (think: sand-based snowman and festive santa-on-vacation theming), candle-lit areas, ice skating, anything with Christmas lights, manger scenes, even to simple things like your living room coffee table with milk and cookies and kids in pajamas.
The final tip I have is... Be cool. Parents seem to have lots of pressure to get just the right Christmas Card image. If you are stressing it, your kids will be annoyed or stressed and it will show through. If you have to yell at them "Look like you're having a good time, damnit!" then you probably missed the opportunity. Take a break, have some egg nog (I recommend Myer's Dark Rum).
Stay calm, have fun and if it doesn't work out -- just do it over another day.
Good luck to you and yours for your Holiday memory capturing! :)
I've always been a bit more of a fan of the xBox than the Playstation. In a lot of ways I think the Playstation is probably better but I've always been more drawn to the xBox exclusive titles. It's just a preference. Though, I do love me some God of War on the PS3.
This year, I preordered both the PS4 and the xBox One, figuring them to me good adds to our game room. For both consoles, I attended the midnight releases. The night of the PS4 release, a Gamestop guy mentioned, "Just so you know, .4% of those have an HDMI Display issue."
The experience was already tainted, though my PS4 was evidently fine. If only there were some games on it that were native to the machine generation that I cared to play. :) The seeds of doubt were firmly planted, though. I suspected that I would be re-learning the hard-won lessons of the past with respect to 1st-batch issues and electronics.
Then, the xBox One release time came around. I was more excited about this one because of the launch and announced promising future titles. I noticed the line was longer for the xBox midnight release (all of them preorders) though the attendees for that release seemed more rowdy and annoying than their PS4 counterparts.
I got the new console home and put it in under lock and key in my basement game room. I needed to work the next day so no time to play. Saturday morning, we participated in a St. Jude fundraiser, that evening I finally found myself with knife in hand, unboxing the shiny new xBox One.
I'll admit that I don't really care for the design. The three B's of design (Big, Bulky and Boring-looking) are the best way to describe it. Like a black VCR with vent louvres. About the same size, too.
After going through a Day-One firmware update that seemed a little sluggish considering our internet speed of 100mbs and some xBox Live Account stuff, I was finally presented with the xBox One Dashboard in all of it's very Windows-8 - like appearance. I popped in one of the three launch titles we purchased and found the drive was making a horrible grinding noise. The disc was never recognized.
Some googling showed this is indeed a reported hardware failure on the xBox One and the solution is.. you guessed it -- a replacement.
I've written this post, while on hold with Microsoft.. This morning I started a service request with MSFT with their "call me back" option. 2 hours and 45 minutes later, I received my "call back." Now, I've been on hold for over an hour.
Total time from initial phone contact to getting through the MSFT support gauntlet? 4.5 hours with the majority of my "successful" support coming from the website. Blog posts tell you to call MSFT but I will say this, the agent told me they were being inundated with problems but had a limited number of Day-1 consoles where these problems had already been fixed. Apparently they knew about these problems going into launch, given they had time to source new gear and have it staged for RMA replacements. That is annoying.
Annoying, too is the incompleteness of the support site. It presents you with two options, an advanced replacement and a standard-exchange. The definition of each - just WHAT gets replaced - is different from the site versus what the MSFT rep says on the call.
At any rate, it looks like I'll get ... something.. in advance replacement from Microsoft within the next 2 weeks. During which, they get to put a hold on the full amount of the console against my card until I send the old one back. I was nice to the reps and they didn't offer anything for the inconvenience.
I think as news develops and reports spread, we'll learn this was a pretty prolific failure. I'm sure that Microsoft will replace it but I must say this isn't convenient or fun and I'm very disappointed in this, my favorite software/technology company, for the failure.
Maybe it is for the best. I can spend my hard-earned holiday off time building a hoverboard or tesla coil instead of being vegged out in front of a next gen console working on meaningless achievements.
But I do sit back and I think about the dad who bought this to be THE Christmas present this year and I think about the fiasco of Christmas morning that will ensue as they open their new console to find it doesn't work. That's the kind of thing to make a kid stop believin' in the big red guy and the sleigh. Just sayin'. :)
If you are looking for that perfect Christmas gift for this season, maybe it isn't an xBox One (for fear of failure) or Playstation 4 (for lack of compelling launch games).
I hear with the appropriate eye-protection the red rider BB gun can be quite enjoyable.
I, for one, tried to welcome our new bespectacled cybernetic overlords but alas, they were powered down to save battery.
I recently found the opportunity to try out Google Glass, the Version 2 of the Explorer Edition release. First, let me comment on that. When Glass was announced, I immediately applied and did all of the things a person was supposed to do to be considered for the opportunity to try Glass. But, my pleads of Glass interest washed out over the internet and were only seen by maybe 100 people.
Without a billion followers on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, etc, I clearly didn't fit the intended recipient profile of the initial release. Boo. I find it super-ironic that Google, a company of geeks, would resort to popularity contests for product trials and reveals. If you ever got picked last for kickball in elementary school, for some reason this reminds me of that. I'd think the super smart Googlers could devise a more genius propagation method.
Eventually after some cajoling and arm twisting, an invite code found its way to my inbox for Google Glass from a photography colleague. The very next day I was opening the Explorer Edition Google Glass box.
The box and markings were very refined and nice. Looks like someone took a cue from Apple in this respect. A very sturdy box that could be wood or some very rigid cardboard, painted in a Matte white with the Glass emblem on it. Minimalist but elegant.
The box revealed a URL to get started on one side and a frosted overlay accentuating the curve of the glass headware beneath.
Lifting the frosted sheet, Glass is snugly held in place by a custom-routed cardboard insert.
Beneath this insert, the rest of the goodies, like a charging cable, carrying bag and mono earpiece are all cleverly packed in a very high-end way.
The packaging was very good.
I began to run through the Glass setup procedure, done via the web instead of an Android app. The Web App asked you some simple questions, had you login to your Google Account and then prompts for the information necessary to connect to a Wifi hotspot.
I was surprised to learn it would not connect to the AC or N enabled SSIDs in my office powered by an Apple Airport Extreme but it was able to connect to a mesh of 802.11 a or g range extenders around me.
Why not put in an 802.11AC radio? Maybe it has one and the Google->Apple mojo was bad. But I'm pretty sure these only connect over the older wifi bands. Surprising though the bandwidth consumption doesn't need my 100 mb internet connection so possibly there was power saving wisdom in that choice or maybe it was just a cost cutting measure.
At this point, I was off and running with Glass.
Initial use of Glass was pretty intuitive. A tap on the temple-sensor gets the "Ok, Glass" start menu thing. From there, it is listening for your command. Tap-"Okay Glass, Take a picture" --> Picture Taken
Alternatively you can look up at a 50 degree angle and the Okay Glass menu shows. I suppose these activations are in place to save battery and to prevent someone in the elevator telling you "Okay Glass, Google Pornography."
This control dynamic works well but isn't very natural unless you are the type of person that spends alot of time pawing at your temple like an insane-person. The "look up" activation, I'm not thrilled with. In perhaps one of my least wise moments, what is one of the first things I did with Glass? I Drove to the subway down the street and back to grab a sandwhich.
Don't drive with Glass on. Yes, there is a "Get Directions to..." feature. As a passenger, go ahead and use it. As a driver, it will make our streets more dangerous. I know that I've seen chatter about Explorers being ticketed for driving with Glass. Prior to using it, I thought that was silly since so many cars have pepper's ghost heads up displays similar to the Glass viewing cube. It is different. Not to mention, at night every reflective element in the road bounces around in the display prism and makes for lots of distracting reflective ghosts right near your eye.
I do hope that driving with Glass doesn't become 'a thing'.
On to using Glass..
Two use-cases of Google Glass was interesting to me. As a Software Developer - Product Manager and as a Photographer.
As a photographer / dad - I found the idea of a somewhat unobtrusive eye-level camera to be promising. In my hopes, Google Glass would be the best possible Dad's-Eye-View KidCam. It did work reasonably well for this.
Especially with the Holidays around the corner, I imagined that Glass may solve our annual parental paparazzi Christmas morning problem. In a way, cyborging up for Christmas morning could retraditionalize our Christmas morning, allowing me to put the other cameras away. In theory, anyway.
So long as you get get all of your family memories to occur in less than 20 minutes.
The battery life is really quite limiting whilst shooting video. 20 minutes seems to be the average before the battery warning comes on. On one hand, I can see this as a practical limit (home videos more than 20 minutes are too long to enjoy anyway) but on the other hand in use it led to battery rationing instead of care-free use.
The camera is decent, as compared to cellphone cameras in terms of image quality.
but, the shutter control mechanism, the whole "spoken control" as well as on screen animations make the "time to snap" elongated -- which lead to many missed opportunities in stills. All of your greatest frustrations from your worse point and shoot cameras -- effective shutter lag.
Being an arcade nut, one of the uses that excited me about Glass was hands free video recording for the sake of demonstrating arcade machines and doing owner reviews.
So, I put Glass through the paces for some arcade review videos. (Hard work, I know!)
As you can see from one of the videos, more of the same limitations in video quality. Without exposure control settings, in the poorly lit 80's retro arcade environment things were too dark or blown out with no way for the wearer to correct while recording. The "right-turns-only" race game led to a naturally lopsided image through the majority of the video. Perhaps I hold my head crooked while driving? Didn't know that..
The battery life was again, a major problem here. These three videos were done on three separate full battery charges and the battery was complaining about death at the end of each recording.
So, I'd sum up the camera experience saying that I'd like to see a better camera in the final retail version and the battery needs some rethinking.
From the developer perspective, interfacing and coding for glass was easy enough if you have android development experience. I was able to have a simple app running on glass within 15 minutes.
The general idea is that you present data in small screens called cards in a defined timeline. Google did a good job of making all of that easy-peezy but I think the real challenge will come down to overcoming the practical limitations of building apps that scale to such a small amount of visible real estate.
The other challenge, I feel will be building applications to live within the "glance able information" model, where you may only have the screen active for 10 or 15 seconds at a time or that can survive keeping the screen active without destroying battery life.
Everyday use of Glass leaves a little to be desired. The bluetooth audio isn't very good, unless you use the mono ear bud. The design could be more understated. I would imagine that Google designers wanted something that could become iconic but too me, the less you see the better. Walking around the streets of Manhattan isn't the same as walking along the streets of southern Alabama suburbs. It isn't a shame of use or a fear of being mugged, more of a desire to not be ostentatious. In my opinion, Glass in it's current iteration is a little too ostentatious. Unless you are looking for attention. Of course, I've never been a fan of over-styled bluetooth headsets that wearers treat like jewelry, either.
My plans for a very Googley-Glass Christmas morning of recording the kids in their excitement have faded, as has my excitement for this very cool but not-quite-ready technology product. Maybe the retail release will be better. But, it will have to be alot better with a far more attractive price point for me to come back for another round of play. Sorry, Google. I was rooting for you on this one.
As a tween, I had one of these things in the room. I believe I spent some hard-collected allowance money on it from Spencer gifts. It was an 8" globe with a potentiometer switch. (A knob allowing varied power) I spent hours marvelling at it and doing unwise experiments.
I was determined to be a mad scientist. Though, I really wasn't mad about anything.
I discovered, quite on my own in those days prior to wikipedia that if you put a magnet on the globe, ground yourself to earth and touch the magnet you would get a pretty significant little arc (relative to the transformer size driving the globe) that would burn you. It could also light a small light (incadescent.)
I thought it was magic of magnetism, I understand now to be a property of capacitive coupling. Any appropriate conductive material would provide a similar effect. (Kinda like those wireless charging mats for electronics).
Then of course, the ol' flourescent light bulb stick. The gasses in a florescent bulb passed within sufficient distance of an active plasma globe will be charged by the high frequency RF and light, quite spontaneously.
A high frequency transformer and an electrode, encased in a glass ball filled with various gasses... Different gases excite at different colors as the RF EM fields streak to find a ground.
I can't think of a practical purpose but to an 11 year old it was still the coolest thing in the world. 23 years later, a much larger one (nearly museum sized) came into my possession in a free-to-me arrangement for a paid marketing project. But, between me, you and the tax man I'd have done the marketing project for free just to satisfy that 11 year old me that still wants to build a 20 ft tall tesla coil in the backyard. (Just because.)
But, this will have to do, for now. :)