Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Point and Shoot 101: Contrast and Lighting

This weekend in Nashville I gave my mother a 101 lesson on her point-and-shoot, and decided much of this information could be useful to others... as I've said in my other two P&S101 posts (1) (2), most people don't have time to read their entire camera manual, especially when the device works just fine with Power, Autoflash, and the Automatic setting. But the auto setting isn't going to let you learn, in fact sometimes it will just frustrate you into thinking your camera isn't as good as your friend's camera because her pictures come out way better. Perhaps, or perhaps you just aren't using your camera to its fullest capacity.

Here are the points we went over this weekend together, and what mom learned...

1)The basic settings: Use the dial and alternate settings (under "menu" or "function") as your primary tools:
a) the face is for portraits (usually focusing on just the image in front of you, blurring out the background)
b) the mountain is for landscapes (focusing on everything, whether it's landscapes or not!)
c) the flower (which might not be on your dial but a button somewhere else on the back or side of the camera) is for shooting macro- SUPER up close pictures NEED this setting or they will be blurry
d) the running man or kids/pets setting is for quick action (look for a layered square as well, which will allow you to shoot many images while holding the shutter, so far I haven't found this to be an automatic for the running or action settings, but it should be!)
e) night image (a function on my dial, but in "SCN" or scene on some cameras) will bring out the colors and balance the flash in a night setting
f) indoor (also under SCN on many PnS's, sometimes called "party") is a huge helper for balancing the lighting inside- sometimes called Tungsten, this is the orangy light we get from light bulbs, which the indoor setting automatically switches to
g) other SCN settings are beach/snow- balances out the white of the snow and sand, fireworks- which operates way better for fireworks than that night setting will, and foliage- which will make the colors of trees and other foliage much brighter by strengthening the "contrast."
h) timer and speed shutter - these are on the same button for mine, and are for most Canons. New PnS's have custom timers, where you can set it to 2 or 10 or 20 seconds while you're running out to the rocks above the waterfall to get the "self". The speed shutter is also a huge helper for sports, it's the layered-box icon I mentioned above, and will allow you to hold the shutter and snap 5-to-infinity pictures (depending on your model) while the runner or skier or child is zooming past you.

2. Advanced Settings
Under P, TV, AV, M, and C settings on your dial, you can adjust...
a) the aperature- this fraction number is for how long the shutter stays open and signifies a fraction of a second. The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter speed, meaning i) the less light you let in and ii) the less blurry the photo
b) the f-stop- this is the number with the f before it, signifying the size of the hole that the shutter opens to. Adversely, the smaller the number, the larger the hole, and the smaller the number, the larger the hole. Small holes make everything in focus- Landscape is shot in f12-20 or so. Large holes make only the focal point of your image in focus- Portraits are shot in f4-f10.
c) the white balance- choose from sun, shade, clouds, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, or auto to shoot under these circumstances. If you don't, your picture will likely be off when it comes to light.
d) the color/contrast- choose from monochrome (black and white), sepia (old western brown), neutral, vivid, portrait/skin tone, or a variety of others for these circumstances to enhance the photos even more.
e) the ISO- this is the film speed, a setting carried over from the 35mm days, and quite useful in shooting indoors or under low lighting. Use 100 for full sun, 200 for clouds, 400 for bright action, 800 for low light or low light action, and 1600 only if you absolutely need it, as the higher the number, the more pixelated your image will be.
f) the focal point- choose evaluative, partial, center, or spot to have the camera help decide what should be in focus. In a PnS, if your camera seems to be taking control of your image or flipping back and forth too much between subjects of different distances, change this setting to spot or center so that when you push the shutter down half way to focus on the humans or subject matter, the camera won't fluctuate when you snap the shot.
g) the lighting/AV balance- on some cameras this is a +/- icon, and if you hold that down while turning a control dial, you will make the image lighter or darker. I use this setting inside, in shady situations, and on black animals.

Hope this helps you make the most of your camera without reading the manual! I know mom's pictures already look better because she's no longer afraid to screw around with the buttons!

Good luck, and happy shooting!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Purple Gluten Free Gnocchi - YUM!

I'm a proud Italian, so one of the things I've missed the most since going gluten free is pasta. I know there is "rice pasta" out there, but I've yet to try it; my regular store doesn't carry it, and I just haven't gone out of my way yet to find it. I will; but I also own my own pasta maker so I plan to try that, and in the meantime I have always loved making- and eating!- gnocchi the best.

Having a potato base and not many other ingredients, gnocchi is a pretty easy recipe to alter for gluten-free. So today I ventured into the kitchen to try out a recipe I found on the Celiac home site (from Paula Santos), but as usual, I've decided to alter it, and am happy with the results.

This recipe also doesn't call for milk, with margarine instead. My bible Italiana - the Silver Spoon - has eight gnocchi recipes in it, and the Gnocchi Alla Bava is without milk, also using butter. So I gave this recipe the ok- the rest call for a LOT of milk, and I've used soy in the past for those. It does call for a little parmesan, which doesn't bother me as much as milk, but it is also optional. Your choice.


2 lb cooked mashed PURPLE potatoes (right)
1 cup white rice flour
¾ cup potato starch
¼ cup corn starch
1 tablespoon margarine
1 tablespoon grated parmesan (optional)
2 eggs

Preppin' the Taters
First, I learned, on the TV show House of all things, that baking the potatoes dries them out better than boiling or steaming, for obvious drier reasons, and thus making the gnocchi hold together better. Don't bother to peel the potatoes first, just poke a few holes and bake them for 60-90 minutes. The recipe calls for 2 lbs, but I made all the rest of the purple potatoes we had from our CSA (fun!), and plan on freezing some pasta for the future. Always the best plan! When they're soft to poke with a fork, half them, and let them cool. Then scoop out the center and put in a bowl.

Mix all ingredients with hands. Knead lightly. Shape small portions of the dough into long snakes. On a floured surface, cut snakes into small pieces. Place a few gnocchi in salted boiling water. As the gnocchi rise to the top of the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon. Repeat until all are cooked. Cover with hot tomato sauce and serve.

Added bonus tonight!
A dear friend dropped off two packs of ground elk meat yesterday, so I'm using my homemade marinara with some elk meat on the top. The Silver Spoon has some great marinara sauces, as did my great-grandmother- my mother made her sauce by the gallons and froze them, so we always had fresh sauce for pasta. I suggest you do the same; Ragu just doesn't taste the same! But if that's all you've got, spruce it up with some red wine and fresh herbs!

I also plan on trying a lactose free white sauce so you can see the purple gnocchi better, so stay tuned for that!

Fun last question:
How does YOUR family say Gnocchi? My great grandmother, who handed her own Italian recipes down to my mother, always said it "yNawwki" and I love all the different ways to say it. :)

(And for those who've been following along and are curious, I will likely stay fairly gluten free forever- my psoriasis is nearly gone, I figure a few more months and the last of the patches will slowly disappear!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Addicted, and yet so removed

Ashamedly, I haven't written a post in over a month. Now, I write three other blogs as well as for Examiner on a regular (or sometimes no-so regular) basis, but that doesn't mean my Ideas have diminished, so where have I been?

Especially when I have recently learned that I am, indeed addicted to the internet, sad but true. Read that article, and tell me if you are too... but this point dawned on me when we were just recently in NYC for a few days and our (gasp!) phones went out. Both of them. With no way to Tweet my awesome experiences, I felt detached from the world, my friends, and my online family. Yet I've only been a member of Twitter for about a year- so what did we do before these online social networks? My only answer is, Who cares?

I was actually turned on to the above Addicted article through reading an article on America-the No Vacation Nation, where I realized a sad but very real point, that we are working our country to death. I already think we watch too much tv- so much so that our newest generation is riddled with ADHD, and yet I have a 42" plasma that uses way too much electricity in my living room. Worse, it is the focal point of our living room. Every chair in it points to the glowing God.

I can point the finger in so many directions; we eat so much sugar our kids not only have ADHD they have obesity and diabetes, we are so lazy we drive to the neighbor's house two blocks away, we are overworked that we rarely take vacations and feel guilty for leaving the office at 4pm on Friday, we are so under schooled that our spelling and reading levels are declining at a rapid rate... You get my point, I'm not jaded, we're just a nutty country that has taken a few wrong turns.

But I live in paradise up in the woods, rarely read the paper or watch the news, don't have kids of my own, try to meditate and practice yoga daily, and spend a lot of time outside in all seasons. I feel so removed from many of the problems of our country that when I DO read articles like No Vacation, I am shocked, disappointed, saddened, and helpless.

So, at a loss for ideas apparently (since having not written one down since September 2nd!), I give to you a challenge instead (Pick one):

  • Take more vacation, even if it's just to Grandmother's house because that's all that fits into your budget.
  • Spend more time outside, even if it's cold and windy and you hate iceskating.
  • Follow the Life Is Good Motto: Do what you like, and like what you do. If you have always dreamed of being a photographer or a nurse or an expert scrapbooker, teach a class, take a class, and follow your dreams.
  • Read more. It expands your vocabulary. Join a book club for new ideas and new friends.
  • Spend less time on the internet. I'm going to leave my desk RIGHT now for at least two hours, and I don't feel guilt about it one bit.