$800 for reupholstery, who are they kidding?

I have a few habits in my life that are all about feeling good.

I do my best to cheer people up when it is within my power. I think my go-to method of cheering someone up is to do something for them, since I can afford to do things for them more than I can afford expensive presents.

That being said, to make myself feel better about something, I usually bury myself in a hobby. I combined these two in the last few weeks.

My mother went to the hospital with breathing problems three Mondays ago. When it was apparent she would be there at least a week, I decided to have a present waiting for her when she got back.

I went into the basement and I found my great great grandmother’s favorite rocker/recliner. There is no doubt my great grandmother rocked my sister, me, my brothers, my uncles and my mother to sleep in this same chair.

I took this with a phone just to show friends. But you can see it is in slight disrepair.

I took this with a phone just to show friends. But you can see it is in slight disrepair.

She was always in this chair and she slept in it oftentimes. It’s amazing to think that it came with the purchase of a case of Larkin Soap. I found a flyer online years ago.

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The ad says that the chair came with checked velour, my mom says it was red at one time. My aunt had once repaired and reupholstered it with the ever fashionable avocado green brocade fabric. Her repairs included lots of wire, a mesh onion bag, plumbing straps and a piece of particle board under the seat so the broken seat springs wouldn’t poke you all the time, only some of the time.

Even if the springs in the seat were in good condition, the fabric was not.

Even if the springs in the seat were in good condition, the fabric was not.

Notice the tearing and the once popular avocado green color.

Notice the tearing and the once popular avocado green color.

Here you can see particle board to keep the springs from piercing your cheeks.

Here you can see particle board to keep the springs from piercing your cheeks.

You can see this mess much clearer without all the padding. Notice the broken spring on the front and right. Most of the wires weren't even screwed into the frame anymore.

You can see this mess much clearer without all the padding. Notice the broken spring on the front and right. Most of the wires weren’t even screwed into the frame anymore.

Instead of burlap, an onion sack was used between the padding and springs.

Instead of burlap, an onion sack was used between the padding and springs.

It worked for a while, but the brocade was ripped at all of the extreme edges, in the front of the seat and just above the head rest.

The chair had been downstairs as long as my mother has been in this house, waiting to be reupholstered. Every now and again we would look at it and mom would ask, “Should we just get rid of it?” I would look at it and say, “No, I think we could get it reupholstered.” We talked about what we would need to fix it, and then after our supply list got bigger than our wallets, we’d forget it again.

I got a second job about a half year ago, and while I’m not rich by any means. I could spare some money on a special project, so I carried it up the stairs and took some photos. I sent them to a local upholstery shop for an estimate which came back at over $800.

I could work three more jobs and not be able to afford that professional reupholstery. I decided to wing it. I wing a lot of things and it is amazing how many things I don’t know how to do, but succeed at. Before I figured out if this was really within my power to fix the chair, I disassembled it. No turning back then.

I found the old green velour and padding made from compressed straw. Dust was everywhere when I pulled the cushions open. To make patterns of the old material, I forgot what material I was working with and threw it in the washer, where it pilled and shredded. I tried smoothing it out afterwards, but there would be no patterns from the old materials.

I then started acquiring parts. There were only six springs in the seat (one of them broken), I think there were once nine. I purchased three metal bar pieces with coil springs attached along with a roll of upholstery twine.

I then went to a craft shop and bought two pieces of high density 2 inch thick closed cell foam padding and one length of one inch thick padding and two bags of batting.

Figuring a week into this ordeal that mom wouldn’t want to come home and find her grandmother’s chair reupholstered in an ugly fabric, I asked what colors she would like. She said dark green or dark blue. I found two yards of a fairly nice dark blue brocade on ebay, but I needed three.

Back at the fabric shop I checked for fabric and found only four fabrics that might count. Two very ugly greens, one plain dark blue and a stylized dark blue…half off. You can guess which one I went for.

I started with the pull-out foot rest since my springs still hadn’t arrived and the foot rest was just a solid piece of wood with padding. I cut a 2 inch pad to about one inch bigger than the foot rest, then wrapped it with batting. To hold it in place a little, I put a staple in the edge of the batting and pad on one side.

I then started by stapling a small fabric sample to one of the broad sides of the foot rest, starting in the middle. I stretched the fabric to the opposite side, rounding out the cushion, then stapled it there then. I worked my way around the outside until it was all stapled back together.

I added a little more flare by cutting a piece of cardboard to fit the bottom of the foot rest. I stapled it in the center so it would stay on the foot rest.

I wrapped a piece of fabric around the cardboard and tucked the edges under with a metal ruler, and then stapled to keep the fabric tucked. This helped me to hide the cut edges of the fabric. It was also practice for the back of the chair.

The leg rest was the simplest part. Small, no springs and overall simple.

The leg rest was the simplest part. Small, no springs and overall simple.

When the springs arrived, I was surprised how nice they were and they fit perfectly. I screwed them in place and followed a video to learn to tie the strings with the new twine.

The new springs are very nice, and with nine of them, support should be more even. Notice I left one spring out on each support on each side so I could tie the upholstery twine to that screw before tightening it down.

The new springs are very nice, and with nine of them, support should be more even. Notice I left one spring out on each support on each side so I could tie the upholstery twine to that screw before tightening it down.

I didn't mention that I started by covering the tied springs with burlap, which you can see here, even before the padding.

I didn’t mention that I started by covering the tied springs with burlap, which you can see here, even before the padding.

I did the same thing with the back seat of the chair, but the springs there were still all in tact, so I didn’t need new ones.

You can see the springs are complete, but the twine is broken in some places and the springs are unevenly spaced. The old burlap was even ripped. These things made it necessary to redo the back also.

You can see the springs are complete, but the twine is broken in some places and the springs are unevenly spaced. The old burlap was even ripped. These things made it necessary to redo the back also.

You can see the back rest is actually in decent shape. The top of the head rest is ripping, and mom said she didn't like the bump it made behind her neck, so I still had to remove that at least, but I still considered using the old padding for the lower section. Lumbar support even without retying the strings was surprisingly comfortable.

You can see the back rest is actually in decent shape. The top of the head rest is ripping, and mom said she didn’t like the bump it made behind her neck, so I still had to remove that at least, but I still considered using the old padding for the lower section. Lumbar support even without retying the strings was surprisingly comfortable.

I then stretched the remainder of my 2 inch thick foam for the seat, and used the 1 inch foam for the back rest, followed by batting material (though I forgot batting for the back rest).

I changed up the method of reupholstering this time. Rather than using trim to hide the cut and stapled edge on the front of the seat, I put the material upside down with the edge on the front of the wooden seat, I stapled it at the very far edge and then folded the fabric back over the rest of the seat. The staples are not visible and no trim is needed to hide the cut edge. The old upholstery had a similar treatment to the back of the seat, but nobody sees the back, so that didn’t make sense to me.

I then pulled the sides of the fabric down to the bottom of the seat to staple it there, and stapled it to the top of the seat where the back rest and the seat meet. The back rest will hide the staples and cut ends that way.

For the back rest I stretched all of the fabric to the back side of the chair and stapled it there, alternating staples on the opposite sides so the tension I pulled into the fabric was about equal and lumps were kept to a minimum.

When I was done with that I stapled a piece of cardboard to the back (being careful to staple as far toward the center of the seat as I could). I then used a ruler to tuck the material behind the cardboard and staple it sparingly in place. This time the staples are somewhat visible, but I kept them to a minimum and used decorative upholstery tacks in the corners where things will be most visible.

I reassembled the chair. Then I sat in the chair and put my arms behind my head. The chair nearly flipped over. It seems the rocker springs are a little wore out. It leans backwards even without someone sitting in it. They are available online, but I am going to wait at least one more paycheck before replacing them. Mom is a fairly short, much lighter person than I am, so she shouldn’t have any problems, plus she sits very close to the wall, so that should keep the chair from overbalancing.

This is the finished chair. I really like the fabric and how it turned out. There are some folds and bumps where there shouldn't be, but it is comfortable and it looks nice at a distance at least.

This is the finished chair. I really like the fabric and how it turned out. There are some folds and bumps where there shouldn’t be, but it is comfortable and it looks nice at a distance at least.

This little project took me basically one night after work and roughly $100 in materials. It would have taken a professional less time and less materials. Doing it myself was a good distraction. I finished at the beginning of week 3, and now I have to figure out something else to distract me, because mom isn’t home to sit in her grandma’s chair.

Mom has been in the hospital three Mondays. The first week they discovered that the space around her right lung was filled with fluid, which compressed her lung and made it collapse somewhat. In the meantime, something caused pneumonia in her left lung. They put a drain in to remove the fluid around her right lung and put her on antibiotics for the pneumonia.

They found cancer cells in the fluid around her lung, but they didn’t originate there, meaning she has stage 4 cancer. They determined they couldn’t even scan her to find out the cause until she was able to breathe while laying flat for an hour. For that reason, they needed to get rid of the fluid around her lung and get rid of the pneumonia.

Week 2 they did a procedure to stop her lung from filling up with fluid. They inserted talc into the space around her lung, which caused part of it to fuse to her lung. For some reason, the talc didn’t work all the way around her lung, so she continued to retain fluid after they removed her chest tube.

They scheduled another surgery to put in a new chest tube, intubate her, and fill the remainder of the space around her lung with talc.

Week 3, they brought her in for her surgery. The anesthesiologist cancelled the surgery because her oxygen stats were too low to put her under, intubate her, or do basically any part of the surgery.

Before we know anything, mom needs to beat the pneumonia.

We’ve been getting support and prayers from many people. I cannot express how grateful I am. We need them now more than ever. Help me get my mom’s butt back in this chair.

upholstery

 

UPDATE: Mom’s fight with cancer ended February 23. Sadly, she was too sick to return from the hospital to spend her final hours at home, and except for photos, she didn’t even see her chair. She will be deeply missed as my family settles into a new “normal”, because life will never be the same.

Cheap lens filters can work for news too!

It’s amazing what cheap accessories we can actually use to improve our photography. Among the cheapest are filters.

That’s not to say that some day you won’t want more high quality glass (filters), but it is okay to start with one of those $12 starter kits with a few specialties thrown in (shop around, prices vary a lot! but do your research).

It was brought to my attention that some news photographers worry that using filters alters the photo in a way that is not objective. That is, they say it sort of falsifies the photo. It is my firm belief that you can use filters without distorting a photo, but it important to attempt to make the photo look the way the scene looks to your naked eye.

Our eyes may not have telephoto zoom, but they are pretty advanced compared to the average lens, camera sensor combination. Perhaps it is most significant that we have a wider range (and more forgiving) for contrast and color saturation.

Doubt me? Try taking photos of a bunch of pale winter sun starved caucasian kids in black suits on a stage under spotlight. Their faces are too bright, their suits are too dark. The contrast is a problem.

Notice their suits have all their details, but those facing the camera have no chin. This is too bright.

Notice their suits have all their details, but those facing the camera have no chin. This is too bright.

Notice how the edges of their suits simply fade into the background, but you keep all the detail of their faces. With a high ISO you might be able to tweak this. This is too dark otherwise.

Notice how the edges of their suits simply fade into the background, but you keep all the detail of their faces. With a high ISO you might be able to tweak this. This is too dark otherwise.

These Sno Daze candidates’ faces don’t look like white blurs to your eye, and their suits don’t fade into the background either. If you turn down the exposure, you might bring the face out, but you will lose their suits. This is a Catch 22, but you can usually get just enough detail if you use an AEB setting (an entry to come on that later). This difficult situations are easy for our eyes, because we have a more forgiving range of contrast, and our brains have a tendency to fill in the blanks and adjust. It’s like instant super Photoshop up there.

I bring this up because in some settings, we can capture a photo that looks more like what we see with our eyes by using filters, and we don’t need to break the bank to buy those filters. Here are some suggestions.

Graduated Neutral Density: This is my most recent lens purchase. The GND darkens one half of the lens and spins, so you can choose which half.

Why would you want to do this? Sometimes light distribution in a photo is unbalanced, especially when we are talking a bright, sunny day where the sun is actually in the shot. Any shot with the bright sky in the background and a darker foreground will almost certainly pose a contrast problem. You could darken your exposure to reduce the glare from the sky, but you would darken your foreground. Alternatively, if you brighten the foreground to bring out more detail, your sky will blow out. A GND will even out the contrast.

I got it because of this photo.

This photo looked great to my eyes, but even in RAW, there was no way to fix the contrast.

This photo looked great to my eyes, but even in RAW, there was no way to fix the contrast.

The sun was at the top of this person’s push pole, and because he was standing, there is a great deal of sky in the background. If the sun were to our backs, this photo would have been easier, but obviously it would have been a slightly different photo. Unfortunately, I had no control of where to take this photo, as there was no shoreline behind him to stand on. It looked great to my naked eyes, but my camera could not manage the shot.
With a GND, I could have brought the backlighting under control. I had been pondering a GND filter for some time, but hadn’t made the purchase yet. This convinced me, and it made this photo possible.

I already trashed the failed photos from this experience, but they looked similar to the one above with the canoe poler. With a GND, however, it looks almost exactly as my eyes saw it.

I already trashed the failed photos from this experience, but they looked similar to the one above with the canoe poler. With a GND, however, it looks almost exactly as my eyes saw it.

This is a prime example of how we can actually improve the accuracy of a photos representation by using filters.

Circular Polarizing Filter: CPL filters change the way light is polarized. This allows us to get more color saturation, or remove glare from non metallic surfaces.

Why would you want this? Imagine you are looking down at some shallow water, and something at the bottom catches your eye. You think it is neat, so you pull out your photo and snap a shot. Chances are, you will find you just photographed a reflection on the surface, and what is under the water is barely visible at all. It looked great to your eyes (because your eyes process as you are looking) but it didn’t work in the photo. This is also relevant if shooting through glass, such as shop or car windows.

This photo was made possible by my CPL.

My nephew loves firefighters, but my niece didn't get excited till she sat at the wheel.

My nephew loves firefighters, but my niece didn’t get excited till she sat at the wheel.

Alternately, you may be looking at a bright blue sky with clouds moving across it. If the clouds are robust enough, they will look to your eyes to be more 3-D than ever. You can see their texture and shape and shadows. If you take a photo, however, you might find that the clouds are flat, and the blue sky has turned to a dull periwinkle. With a CPL, you can again bring this back into perspective and make your photo look more like it did to your eye.

Higher quality CPL filters will actually polarize much more effectively, but a beginner will still see some benefit from a cheaper filter.

Ultraviolet filter: UV filters are actually not that useful unless you climb mountains (or so I’m told). This wasn’t exactly true at one time, but cameras have advanced to filter out UV fairly well all by themselves, but everyone should have a UV filter.

Why would you want one? UV filters are lens savers. When I first learned photography, I was told that the lenses of a professional photographer are more expensive than the camera body. In the age of DSLR’s the camera body has gone up in price, but the lenses are still far more expensive, so lens care is important.

One thing we overlook, however, is that when we are on the job taking photos and we get something on the lens, if we quickly wipe it away (even with a lens wipe) we are risking tiny scratches to the lens. Over the lifetime of the lens, how many times might we wipe that lens? How many scratches are we putting on it?

A UV filter can act as a splash guard, or a dirt filter. The filter doesn’t affect most news photos in any visible way, but if dust or water are in the air, the filter gets hit while the front lens does not. Even more important, if something hard goes air born and hits the front of your camera, your lens will not be damaged, but the UV filter will.

Finally, if you somehow drop your camera and it lands on the front of the lens, a lens filter could mean the difference between a trashed lens and a trashed $4 filter. Then you can toss the filter, hug your lens and promise it that you will be more careful in the future, while secretly thinking about your wallet.

Just be sure to buy a new UV so you will have backup the next time you drop it. You should have a filter on every lens you own for this reason.

If you are photographing for the newspaper, try to avoid most lenses that have a colorful tint. I don’t know any way to use these without actually altering the photo in a subjective way.

Some day I will also look into a few other filters, including an adjustable Neutral Density filter and a solar filter (for solar eclipses). These are really more artistic, though.

Getting dirty for better photos

Our next photo tip is to wear clothes that can survive a little time in the dirt, because if you are really dedicated to a good shot, you have no reason not to roll around on the ground every now again.

The low shot is in some ways better than the high shot. First and foremost, you can do the low shot with any camera and with absolutely no equipment. All you need to do is get down on your belly and shoot from there.

In spite of this simple option, newer cameras with live view can help you to avoid having to crawl around on your belly for certain photos. Because your camera allows you to see what it is pointing at, with live view you can simply hold your camera literally on the ground and angle it upward.

Note that this method of cheating is not as controllable as actually crawling on the ground with the camera to your eye, but it has its advantages:

  1. Cheating with live view makes it so your clothing doesn’t rub on concrete, asphalt and hard ground, hence you don’t wear out your knees as much. The same goes for stains.
  2. Cheating with live view allows you to take photos in a more movement ready position. If you are taking photos of something or someone that is moving around or changing, you can stand up and follow the action in an instant. Being on your stomach will slow you down.
  3. Cheating with live view can also prevent soreness for old joints.

Just like the high shot, there are several reasons why you might want to take a low shot. The first is simply that the low shot is just as out of sorts as the high shot, compared to eye level photos. So, as far as utility:

•Low shots can be used to enhance size of a subject. Taking a photo from floor level can make even a regular sized human being seem larger than life.

Admittedly, this chair is big in real life, but taking a photo from a point of view where you are looking up at it enhances its size and allows the viewer to feel it.

Admittedly, this chair is big in real life, but taking a photo from a point of view where you are looking up at it enhances its size and allows the viewer to feel it.

•Low shots can give you more foreground. If you have something small in the foreground of a shot, on the ground, you can take a photo from floor level up close to that item in order to get more foreground detail in a shot. Behind that item you can then find an interesting feature or person.

 

 

This photo gives you reflection, but also a spinning coin. If I took this at eye level, the penny would be lost.

This photo gives you reflection, but also a spinning coin. If I took this at eye level, the penny would be lost.

I didn't end up using this photo, but you can see that taking it down low (in addition to exposing my camera to water spray) could allow the viewer to get close to the action of the shot. If I had a waterproof housing I could have gotten low, and gotten the spray even closer.

I didn’t end up using this photo, but you can see that taking it down low (in addition to exposing my camera to water spray) could allow the viewer to get close to the action of the shot. If I had a waterproof housing I could have gotten low, and gotten the spray even closer.

•I feel like this fits in with item number 2. With reflections cast in shiny floors or puddles of water, taking a photo from ground level can stretch out that reflection and eliminate distortion. This effect has been used very effectively by some wedding photographers.

•Low shots make the photographer less conspicuous. I photograph prom and homecoming events regularly. I kneel the entire time, and though it hurts my knees, it makes me just a small shape in the dark of the gymnasium. Hopefully I am less distracting to the rest of the audience than if I were standing tall and holding my camera on a monopod. Furthermore, this low down position allows better full body shots that the girls likely appreciate. After all, they likely spent lots of time and money to find the perfect dress.

•If your subject is doing something that makes them look down, low shots are a good tool. You want faces in your photos, not the backs of people’s heads.

I didn't use this photo either, but notice that all the faces in the photo are visible. This is very valuable for a newspaper. You still also get the folding ceremony, which gives this photo its 1,000 words.

I didn’t use this photo either, but notice that all the faces in the photo are visible. This is very valuable for a newspaper. You still also get the folding ceremony, which gives this photo its 1,000 words.

Something worth noting about high shots versus low shots. High shots of people in a group tend to work to set someone apart from the group. As in last week’s photo lesson (actually not the best example) the DNR officer and the people in front of him are somehow granted more focus than the rest of the crowd. A ground shot will actually eliminate that distinction. A group photo taken from ground level has the tendency to eliminate a specific focus for that photo. This is good for group photos, but not so good for focusing on individuals.

Even though one person is in front, this is still a pure group shot. Everyone is so small that you can't really say any one person is the focus.

Even though one person is in front, this is still a pure group shot. Everyone is so small that you can’t really say any one person is the focus.

Some cautions, Low down photos are not the first shot you might think about for portraits, for a variety of reasons:

• Some low shots allow you to see up your subject’s nose. This might not be flattering, but in some cases you might need to run that risk to make sure your subject is big enough in your photo, but you can still get something above and behind them in focus as well. Your other option would be to back up until everything is significantly smaller.

Though this shot is not preferred for profile shots, here it worked. You can see up her nose a bit, but she isn't looking down on me so it isn't too unflattering. Furthermore, you can get her business' banner in the background, which was important for this situation.

Though this shot is not preferred for profile shots, here it worked. You can see up her nose a bit, but she isn’t looking down on me so it isn’t too unflattering. Furthermore, you can get her business’ banner in the background, which was important for this situation.

• If your subject looks down at you, it will cause the skin in their neck to fold and compress, making them look heavier than they necessarily want to. This will add to the fact that their lower body is closer to the lens and will also look bigger.

• Because their face will be so far from the lens, a ground up shot could make their face less of a focal point. They blend in with their surroundings more, especially with other people around.

It is also good to note that “low” is a relative term. It doesn’t always mean shooting from the ground up. Sometimes it is from belly height, or even just from tabletop height, if your subject is looking down at a product on a table. The point is, you are shooting from a position lower than standard eye level.

This table level shot is still below eye level, but the effect works great here. Everyone is looking down, but we got their faces.

This table level shot is still below eye level, but the effect works great here. Everyone is looking down, but we got their faces.

Getting high (up) for photos

Once you’ve learned about the insurance shot, then you should practice different angles.

I’m going to start with getting high up when photographing.

A professional photographer with awards behind his belt once told a newspaper panel that the most boring height for photographs is 4 feet 9 inches (actually I don’t recall the precise height, but that isn’t important). He was saying that everyone sees everything basically from eye level, so photographing with the camera at eye level produces photos which are mundane due to angle.

Adding height to a photo can be about utility. It can also be about pure style. The good thing is that today with cameras that allow you a live view using a screen, getting higher up shots is actually easy and does not need to add any cost to your photography.

I have done photo shoots at large events with a camera that was not equipped with live view. That made up high shots difficult, but not impossible. Because the camera would not take photos while live view was on, I had to master one of two tricks.

On, off, shoot: If your camera has the capability to turn live view on and off, but not the capability of taking photos in live view, this is the best option for you. You start by turning on your live view, usually a little button next to the viewfinder.

Once you have ensured you can see through live view and you have the right settings, you lift your camera above your head at arms length. Be sure to have one finger on the shutter, and another on the live view button.

Once you have the photo you want, turn off the live view with one finger and take your shots.

If your subject is moving, such as on a stage, you might have to practice following them around the stage without actually knowing if they are still in frame. This is similar to the next method.

Shooting blind: If your camera doesn’t have a live view, you are in for a very tricky proposition. You need to be good at predicting things.

First, turn your camera on server mode.

Find your subject in the viewfinder and put them in focus. Depress the shutter to lock on the focus.

Carefully and slowly, raise the camera above your head at arms length, imagine a straight line extending from the lens to your subject and tilt the camera as if that straight line is a real connection, keeping your subject in frame.

Shoot when you are at the right height. If you are lucky, you tilted and pivoted the camera properly, and everything is still in the shot and in focus. This is easier with a stationery subject, but it can be very difficult.

Live view shooting eliminates this difficulty, and even opens up your possibility for using more remote camera accessories and settings.

Arm extenders: That’s just a name I would give to a monopod, tripod or selfie stick. You use it to give your camera an even higher point of view. If 4 feet 9 inches is common and six feet is less so, 9 feet is going to really give your photos some oomph! These items allow you to get your camera higher than your arms would allow. Price for arm extenders varies. Personally, I favor a hiking monopod with a hanger bolt screwed down into the top. If you use an acorn nut, you can tighten the bolt down to the perfect height for a camera tripod mount. Hold any of these at the very bottom to get your highest perspective.

Cable release: A cable release with a long cable is a good tool to invest in if you are going to use an arm extender. This allows you to have precise control of the shutter button even when the camera is out of hand. You are, however, limited to the length of the cable, which is often shorter than your tripod. These accessories are cheap. You can spend a couple bucks on a generic one online and it will work just fine. Steer clear of the IR remotes, however, as they require you to be standing in front of the camera, not under it.

Self timer: Lacking a cable release, or just one with a long enough cable. You enable the self timer (I recommend setting it to take four shots in a row), frame the subject and depress the button. Quickly grab your arm extender by it’s lowest point and raise it above your head. In high wind, clutch the bottom against your chest to limit movement. Use live view to keep the subject in frame. If you do this quick enough, you will have at least one of four shots that will turn out as you expect. More likely, you will have four good shots.

High ground: Sometimes even nine feet isn’t high enough (especially for tall buildings). At those times, you might need something tall to stand on. If you planned ahead for your photo shoot appropriately, you might have a ladder in your vehicle, or you might have chosen a place where you can climb a fence or something taller. The roof of my pickup truck has shoe prints from me taking photos of tall buildings. Even mundane photos can be transformed with the right height.

Of course, these are the methods, but then there are questions about when and why you would want to take high up shots. Sometimes it is just stylistic. You get up high because it is a less common point of view. Sometimes, however, the higher perspective can have utilitarian uses.

Tall Buildings: When photographed from the ground, tall buildings keystone. Because you are angling upwards, the lens is at an angle, meaning the top of the building is farther from the lens than the bottom of the building. If the building is tall enough, it will look like the top is significantly smaller than the base. In this case, standing on a vehicle, climbing a tree or some unique methods of adding extra height can really improve the visual quality of your photographs. Your photos will look more like your eyes see the building, and that is good.

Big crowds: In a concert venue you are not guaranteed a front row spot for photography. In the case that you get put smack dab in the middle of a mob of heaving masses, taking photos from eye level will give you photos of the backs of people’s heads. Holding your camera at arms length above your head will result in actual photos of the band. Interestingly enough, these photos are more interesting than if you were standing eye level with the band too, because now your camera (in relation to the band) is low. We will talk more on that next week.

Here, you May notice that there is a head to the bottom left. This is when eye level photos are difficult.

Here, you May notice that there is a head to the bottom left. This is when eye level photos are difficult.

Photos like this are made possible by up high perspectives, where you get above the crowd.

Photos like this are made possible by up high perspectives, where you get above the crowd.

Furthermore, big crowds can make other events difficult. If you are crowded out of a space by people looking to interview, say an authority figure, then you might again get photos of people’s ears rather than the person you are after. Because the subject in question is at the same height as the crowd, and surrounded by them, your photos here could be even worse than the concert scenario. Raising the camera up high will not only show you their face, but if you get the crowd in the frame then you can lend to your viewer the feeling of claustrophobia that the subject might be feeling. This angle makes the photo feel very crowded. This is a powerful, though common shot, especially for people leaving a trial.

The media crowding made a photo from eye level virtually impossible, but up above, you got a really good idea of the exchange, and crowding.

The media crowding made a photo from eye level virtually impossible, but up above, you got a really good idea of the exchange, and crowding.

Flattering portraits: Portraits taken from eye height can make people very self conscious. While the newspaper is not n the business of flattering its photographic subjects, so long as you aren’t misrepresenting a person, it is good when they open up your paper and consider hanging their photo on the wall, rather than making disgusted faces.

A person with their chin down exaggerates the skin under their chin and their neck. Even if they don’t have what you would call a ‘double chin’, they might look like it in a photo if they are looking downward too much. Looking slightly upward is slimming for a person’s face.

Furthermore, if photos from eye level are boring, photos of people’s faces are even more difficult. If there is one thing you see from eye level all the time, it is human faces. Raising the perspective just a little bit can make a portrait really pop. In some cases, it is also useful in reducing red-eye.

Getting on their level: Sometimes you take photos of something that just won’t look good from the ground. Take for example an industrial lift doing construction. Photos of the lift, even with people on it, are lackluster from the ground. If you get up to the lift’s level, you can really give a unique perspective, especially to viewers who would never have been willing to get as high up as you might have to.

While climbing on a questionable support might not be the best idea...

While climbing on a questionable support might not be the best idea…

Your effort will certainly show through in your photos.

Your effort will certainly show through in your photos.

Artistic photos: These are less for the newspaper, and more for other purposes. If you were going to take photos of giant statues, a photo from the feet of the statue would make the viewer feel small and the statue big. Photographs from higher up would make the viewer feel either on level (if taken at the statue’s eye level) or even bigger (if taken from higher up than the statue’s height). This may go too far to be considered objective, since your perspective in this case is actually to affect the sensations felt by the viewer. However, for artistic purposes, this is an important consideration.

The great thing behind getting a higher up perspective is the affordability. It doesn’t take a lot of money. For $30 you can have a cable release and a homemade monopod. Then all it takes is creativity. A little bit of courage is also useful if you intend on climbing tall things.

Did I miss anything? I would be interested in hearing your perspective. Also, maybe tomorrow I will add some photos to this entry as examples, stay tuned next week for “Getting Low”, which is actually easier, so maybe it should have come out this week…

The insurance shot

It is long past due I get back to writing here more frequently. I have a list of photo tips that should serve to keep me writing at regularly scheduled intervals. Let’s start with the insurance shot.

In my job there have been plenty of situations where something has gone wrong.
• I arrived to an event expecting lighting enough to use one lens, but the lights are far dimmer.
• I excitedly have been shooting some spur of the moment occasion and haven’t taken time to check that the photos have been turning out.
• In the middle of an event I put my camera back into the bag, only to take it out again and I didn’t realize the settings got switched in the case.
• Someone is photobombing in all my photos with inappropriate hand gestures.
• You decided to allow your subject to send you a photo to print, but they never did.
• Your equipment fails after the first few seconds of shooting.
• There is simply nothing going on where the event is or your subject is just not photogenic.

Honestly, the possibilities are endless. Even if we plan carefully, anything could happen that makes it so our photos don’t turn out picture perfect like we had hoped. Often it is the fault of us overreaching with the subject, or our equipment. We expected to be able to do something creative but it was too ambitious and the photo doesn’t work out after all.

The great thing is that these events leave us more experienced. It is due to these experiences that we become better photographers, but for this week’s paper, what do we do if we need that shot that didn’t turn out?

I’ve taken to always getting an insurance shot. What is an insurance shot?

Well, an insurance shot is a fairly basic shot you take that guarantees even if the shots you are most excited about don’t turn out, you still have something to use. Insurance shots should:

  1. Be taken as early as possible during the event. If your battery or other equipment fails partway through the event, you will know that the photo you took early on is on your card. You are not empty handed.
  2. Be simple enough to guarantee. Complex shots have backlash, especially if you have never done them before. Taking an insurance shot using a tried-and-true method guarantees that everything should turn out.
  3. Be creative enough to not be totally boring. Sure, insurance shots are rarely award winners, but they don’t have to be boring. Use your past experience to make these photos at least worth your time. Do you know how to use flash outdoors in full sun to make your subject pop? Do you know how to flatter your subject in even a posed portrait shot? Can you use your angle and location to emphasize the reason you are photographing who/what you are photographing? Think of the times where you weren’t rushed and managed to get a photo because you were able to work with your situation. If you have been doing photos more than half a year at the newspaper, you know a few tricks to make a photo pop, even just a little. Use those.
  4. Not be too rushed. Insurance photos are usually most important in situations where you are about to be rushed and don’t have the convenience of making sure everything is perfect for every subsequent shot. Say you are at a homecoming coronation. If you know it might be hard to get a good shot during the coronation due to low light or some other difficulty, show up early and get a photo of the court before the coronation even starts, or even organize a photo a day or more in advance. Planning is as important for an insurance shot as it is for any other situation. Don’t procrastinate.
  5. Fudge the rules a bit. It’s true that in many situations a photographer would prefer a candid shot over a posed one, but sometimes that isn’t realistic. Be willing in most tricky cases to do at least one generic posed shot, then try to do better after that. If you get phenomenal candid shots, nobody will blame you for having one posed shot on your camera that never gets used. However, if you are on assignment and the assignment is “get photo of….” then you better have something, even if it is posed.
  6. Use flash if needed. In many events, flash is frowned upon. Sometimes you will get no forgiveness for explaining that their lighting made good photos impossible. A posed photo outside of the main event allows you the latitude to use flash if necessary. You aren’t interfering with anyone else’s enjoyment.
  7. Set a goal. All subsequent shots after the insurance shots are aiming to be better than the insurance shot. Your posed shot should not be the best photo of the day unless you run into one of the problems listed earlier on. If your insurance shot runs in the paper, either one of those disasters is to blame, or you didn’t beat the insurance shot. Try to challenge yourself to get something better at every event.

 

Am I missing anything? I feel like I am. Feel free to add to this in the comment section and tune in for the next installment in photo advice on getting high (not like that!).

“It’s my old photography injury acting up”

As a writer for a small town newspaper, I don’t always have weekends to myself.

It isn’t uncommon to have virtually the whole weekend scheduled with interviews or photographs. On those weekends, I don’t always get my weekend chores done, but sometimes work and chores have a nice balance. Take this weekend for instance.
Saturday I got the rare blessing of being able to sleep in an hour or so. When I did wake up, I made a small breakfast and recharged for the morning. I had a lot of yard work.

I started by digging some very stubborn blackberry bushes. I bought two years ago, and planted them on the outskirts of my garden. To my frustration, they decided to slowly invade my asparagus patch. To halt the invasion, I was down on my belly, using my fingers to push through the dirt, following the delicate roots, knowing that if I broke the roots and didn’t manage to find all the pieces, they might grow stems and then my problem would continue. I did a fair job of uprooting the blackberries. After excavating the outer boarder of my garden to remove the roots, I relocated them to the border of my property in a nice line along the adjoining pasture. The hope is they will form a hedge to deter deer and other animals from coming into the yard, as well as to convince my dog going outside of the yard is too much trouble.

I then decided to double down. I had planted five blueberry plants on the complete opposite border of the garden, amidst rhubarb and strawberries, but I had been thinking of mulching them with pine needles. However, doing so might negatively impact their neighbors. Having moved the blackberries, I had some nice, soft soil for the blueberries, so I transplanted them into the former blackberry patch. I also moved two large carpets of thyme on either side, which I had once hoped to encourage to spread throughout the border, so as to form a barrier to the grasses that constantly try to spread into the garden. I had since changed my mind, so I relocated them into the inside of the garden, near the back wall of the house where I grow my other perennial herbs.

I planted eight new asparagus crowns, fertilized them and all the transplants from the day, and watered the whole bunch of them.

I then moved four piles of leaves. Two of which I used to mulch my row of 18 asparagus plants. They can be a pain to weed in the summer. The rest went in a pile where they can either decompose or be later harvested for other mulching.

A few chores later, and it was time to change for work. At 6 I went to the Pine River-Backus School for prom photos. I took over 150 photos. Due to poor lighting, I was constantly moving. I attempted to get photos of prom goers in two locations of the gym, so that if one photo didn’t turn out, the other would. That meant running to one place, kneeling, taking the photo. I would then run to the second spot, kneel and take another photo, and then wait for the next couple. You wouldn’t think this is that much of an activity, but kneeling seems to be something my body will never get used to.

IMG_2762

Pine River Backus Prom Photo Gallery

I watered my straw bales when I got home, on the verge of being ready to plant, their interiors are pretty warm. I then did various other jobs around the house until bed.
Sunday I went to church, kneeling on legs that were already sore. After church I commenced with a little more yard work. I straightened out the legs on a metal windmill just added to the garden and pulled 4×4 posts out of the ground so the bluebird houses on them won’t be in the way of mowing. I’m not sure where they will go yet. I visited a friend, returned home, had dinner and just as I was thinking what other jobs I had to do, I got a call reminding me of a controlled burn for the fire department.
I helped pull hoses around the outside of an agricultural field for the first hour or more. Then I strapped a bladder with 60 pounds of water to my back and patrolled the border of the burn to put out any flames that tried to escape into the woods. Carrying the bladder wasn’t so bad, but putting it back on after refilling it two times was going to kill me. At one point we were heading off some flames, downwind of those flames in heavy heat and smoke so thick you couldn’t see the fire. I felt like I had just smoked a Camel’s factory by the time we were done.

Controlled burn video
I returned home, showered, and deposited my sweat soaked smoky clothes in the laundry room before becoming a couch potato for an our or so before bed.
I woke up this morning amazed. In spite of the yard work and the controlled burn and what-have-you, I’m not a bit sore…except for my legs. In spite of the fact that my job is not a strenuous one by any stretch of the imagination, my legs have been sore since Sunday morning all because of Prom.
I’ll never understand how that works. I can work myself into a sweat doing half a dozen different jobs including heavy lifting, but at the end of the day, kneeling for photographs is what really kills me. Who would have thought?

Remembering Sam Sater

By now, my April 23 column will have been published by the PineandLakes Echo Journal. I wanted to share it again, here, where I can also share photos. I hope nobody minds that I borrowed from their Facebook feeds, but I thought it might be fitting.

In addition, visit the following links to see some things from Sam’s perspective.

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-942544

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-921569

http://m.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2014/0615/How-vets-help-vets-conquer-the-after-war

Sam 1

Sam

Sam2

sam3

Sam4

sam5

Remember to support your veterans

There have been some rough days in the past few years. I know that during the roughest of those, good memories have helped me. For some people, the memories aren’t so good, so this might not be an option.
I often think back when my family lived next to the Legion in Backus. Our house was nearly a recreation parlor, with friends coming and going constantly. Among them was Sam Sater, who lived within a short biking distance.
I didn’t always see eye to eye with Sam back then. He was very smart, I believe he was even skipped ahead in school, and he always seemed to have A’s, even when he spent most time slacking with us. That intelligence translated to quick witt, and I didn’t like even mild teasing. Even so, he was one of Brent’s best friends, so he was a regular presence at the house.
There were plenty of hours spent either in the driveway shooting hoops, in the basement playing video games or sitting at our chain link fence chatting with the neighbors. Sam was almost guaranteed to be there for most of them.
I remember that Sam was a very outgoing person. I remember once he did a free rap battle against someone in my grade, much to the entertainment of a large crowd of kids gathered in the gym where it took place. From a distance, it looked like a fight, but they threw nothing but words.
When we moved out of the house by the legion, Sam and Brent seemed even closer. Brent was Sam’s ride to school almost every day, and we were late almost every day because of it. We, of course, didn’t mind delaying the inevitable school days.
It was Sam that gave Brent his first flat tire in his Pontiac 6000. Sam didn’t have his license yet, but Brent let him drive down a dirt road out past Oshawa. He didn’t hear Brent warn him about a sharp curve in the road, so Sam took it going 30…and launched the car into a nicely plowed and planted field. They bounced off a huge rock and heard a loud hiss. They jumped out of the car, apparently expecting something catastrophic. They looked back and watched the car slump from the blown tire.
We were mischievous, and Sam was always there to make those times more fun. He was enthusiastic and funny. Though he occasionally got in trouble (what teenager doesn’t?) Sam had a true heart of gold.
After graduating, Sam said he would join the Army reserve. Even when a friend who joined with him got out, Sam stuck in the service. He always did what he said he would do, even when that meant going to the middle-east.
He deployed to active duty twice. I remember a story he told about going through some sort of security dressed in his full combat uniform. The security there had to wand him to check him for weapons he might be concealing. Sam said it was one of the stupidest things he had ever been through, because at the time he had a loaded M16 hanging over his shoulder, just like all the other soldiers going through the same check. The irony was not wasted on Sam.
Sam came back from the service slightly subdued. For the most part, he was still the funny, smart individual he always was, but over time, his service must have eaten at him. He, like many others, came back with post traumatic stress syndrome (another vet once pointed out there is nothing unnatural about reacting to the horrors of war in this way, so syndrome is more fitting than disorder). Within the last year, the affects of the syndrome were more evident in his Facebook posts. He still fought hard, but in a way, his memories were poisoned and likely not much use in his battle.
Sam’s younger sister, who he always cared so much for, announced over the weekend that Sam had died on April 17, a casualty of a war he fought so many years ago. There is some comfort knowing the battle is over for him and he can rest.
My opinion of him changed over time, and by the time he joined the military, I not only got along with Sam, I respected him immensely because not everyone can do what he did, and he was going risk so much.
I know today isn’t Veteran’s Day or any other holiday honoring our veterans, but I think of how often we feel thankful to anyone, soldiers especially, but we don’t put those thoughts into words, and we should. It almost certainly would not have cured him, but I’m sure it would not have hurt if more people (myself included) had told Sam how grateful they were, and offered him what little assistance they could have.
There are still plenty of veterans out there suffering, including from Pine River and the surrounding area. They could sure use some words of support.
On my behalf, I’d like to say thank you to our vets. I’ll be praying for all of them, but especially my friends who fought, Sam and his family.

A new venture from an old habit

While attending college at Bemidji State University, I adopted a sort of adage that I shared with other writers. I would say, “Always carry two books. One from which you read ideas, and one into which you write ideas.” Basically, I would carry a pocket size novel in one suit pocket, and a Moleskine journal in the other.

This practice fell by the wayside some time during my teaching experience in China. I don’t know why, but I simply stopped writing in my journal. It’s been more than two years now, and I have picked that journal back up, but not exclusively for journaling. I have had this sort of goal in mind for a couple years. Looking at the Farmer’s Almanac, I thought it might be interesting to have a personal almanac. Basically it would be a journal tracking the various things that contribute to success in activities like fishing, gardening, or hunting of various wild things. In a way, this would be a minor form of phenology.

There were a few things that I needed to be able to track to meet this goal.
1. Temperature
2. Barometric pressure
3. Humidity
4. Hours of daylight
5. precipitation

Of course, you could purchase a thermometer, a barometer, a humidity meter, and an individual monitor for each of these things, but they make affordable tools that accomplish most of these goals all at once. I ended up buying this one, but you should really choose one to your own needs.

Weather station.

This weather station tracks temp, pressure, and humidity. It also shows times for sunrise and set and has a frost warning (which is a bonus so I can cover my plants). It has other functions, including an alarm clock, but it is too shrill for me to use it. It does lack a tool for measuring inches of precipitation, but that is easy. I’ll just get a rain gauge.

Now, one might wonder why all of this would be useful. That’s easy

People have long been aware that barometric pressure impacts fishing success. In the same way, hours of sunlight determine proper planting times for some plants. Nighttime temperatures determine morel mushroom hunting success and maple sap harvest. If I track these pieces of data regularly, it could be possible that I could find other relationships in my successful harvest of other plants such as blueberries for instance. Finding these patterns is why I have started keeping a journal again.

If I have years of journal entries that demonstrate what weather brings a healthy wild strawberry harvest, I could stop missing the delicious little treats using data from previous years.

With our sudden temperature change in the local area, I was able to predict a poor maple sap harvest far ahead of the WCCO news crew. I looked at the warm nighttime temperatures and said, “The night temperature is rising too fast. The sap isn’t going to flow very well.”

My next step is to find a decent soil thermometer. This site, http://www.hungry-for-hunting.com/morel-mushroom-hunting-tips.html , has some good information on nighttime and soil temperatures for planning morel hunting.

This is only the start! I have also started occasionally including my own personal weight, and may pick up an old habit of tracking my caloric intake and other health related data. All of that would then go into that journal.

Really, the possibilities for tracking this kind of information are endless. Maybe I will start sharing some of this information on my blog or on twitter. Let me know your thoughts.

Small town journalists are a part of the community (and a DIY sauerkraut video)

You may be aware that journalism is all about some degree of separation. This is what we call objectivity. We try to keep distanced from our subjects. In spite of this, we small town newspapers inevitably became part of the community alongside our readers.

I have always enjoyed talking courses in community education classes and attending special events. I sometimes do double duty at these, attending as an attendee, and as a reporter with camera. Sometimes I get lucky and get to be just an attendee.

I am a member of the Backus Fire Department, and I occasionally lead wild food classes during warmer months. I got to be even more a part of the scenery this past weekend, when I attended this year’s Back to Basics event.

Back to Basics is what I would consider a convention. It is held at my old high school and features a large quantity of expertise in one area, most of it dedicated to self reliance and some really cool life skills.

Last year was my first year. I enjoyed all the classes I attended, and I must admit I was tempted to attend presenter and vendor Abby Schramm’s homemade soap presentation all over again this year. What a blast it is to have a hands on experience like that!

This year, however, was different. I was actually a presenter at the event. I lead a class on the subject of wild teas. My students got to sample a large variety of teas I have harvested and processed. They also got to learn to identify some on their own, and went home with recipes for making and mixing teas. The whole thing was a blast.

Some may say that this makes me a biased reporter, considering I took photos and did an interview at this location. Maybe that’s true, but you must remember that this is not a story that bias actually factors into. This is event coverage. It is really more about showing what happened, without much additional commentary. I can manage being the reporter and attendee, so don’t worry about the accuracy of my story.

This year’s event had a lot of food. I am a food lover, so it was virtually made for me.

I attended two classes by the same presenter, who gave instructions on lacto-fermentation and sauerkraut fermentation. I attended a keynote speaker from Duluth Bar and Grill, who presented on his restaurant, which uses locally produced food. I also attended a very cool session by a local fishing guide on sustainable angling, which ended with fish tacos freshly fried. This year was a fantastic event, but don’t you worry. I thought this might be a wonderful time to introduce how-to videos to my blog.

Without further ado, I give you instructions on making your very own sauerkraut.

MNA, or: Don’t show me those dateline specials on hotels, you’re bringing me down man!

Thursday and Friday of last week, (Jan 28 and 29) newspaper employees from all over the state converged on the Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest and Convention. I will take just a brief moment to brag about the awards we won, then we can talk about the important stuff. Yet again we won an award for Use of Photography as a Whole, though this year we won third place in our division.

Marcy is an important part of our layout process. Without her we’d probably put the wrong photos with the wrong stories!

Our News Editor Nancy Vogt won first place in the News Photo category for this fantastic photo.   Publisher Pete Mohs (Also MNA president this past year) got second place for this Sports Photo.

Since Pete couldn’t hand the award to himself, Nancy took it from him and then gave it back.

We (especially our very own Becca Clemens) were awarded third place in Best Use of Video for our news of the north coverage of 2014’s Ice fishing Extravaganza

Our News of the North Shout Out won first place in the Best Use of Social Media. We also won third place in General Reporting. This is in addition to a literal mound (seriously, we don’t have enough wall space so they are piled up somewhere) of awards in the Pine River Journal, Lake Country Echo, and now Pineandlakes Echo Journal newspapers. For a small town newspaper we do well. I love being a part of this award winning news team.

Now, on to the important part. I had the coolest hotel room on earth, mars, or the astral body formerly known as the planet Pluto. The bright side of working with a ton of women and few men is that when we go to conventions, I often end up in my own room. This year I had the added benefit of having a whole Sheraton to myself (the Doubletree should have added a third tree as it was booked after we booked two rooms for my female coworkers). First, let me state that after waking up too late for a proper shower, riding three hours to the convention center, and hanging out at the convention all day I felt like a foot by the time I was able to actually go to my hotel room. Hence, my first attraction was the shower.

That Showerhead is as wide as a volleyball.

And don’t get me started with the amenities.

Since when are those scrubbie things included?

I noticed the closet after my shower, and if I could have ordered a mountain of ice cream I might have recreated a scene from Home Alone II, but that would have been a bad idea.

“Keep the change you dirty animal!”

Of course they had a tv big enough for a flintstones drive in theater.

And a bed (probably deceptively) white enough to keep dateline investigative reporters away.

I guess this is just that much more incentive for us to keep winning awards. The good news is that I learned a thing or two at the convention, and I intend to be back again next year (though maybe we might be giving Dan a chance at his own hotel room, which he will deserve by that time, haha).

P.S. I forgot to add, there was a phone by the toilet! Who would ever use the two at the same time? Wait! Don’t answer that (the question or the phone, some experiences you should not share).

Don’t answer! It’s a trap! No, I said TRAP!