Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photography 101: Composition

While in Las Vegas last week, exploring the Paris casino, my husband and I squeezed into a chair, held the camera out in front of us, and snapped a self portrait.

Then a stranger sitting next to us asked to help and took the same shot of us, only it was no where near the same shot. While it was a better shot of us humans, it got nothing of the background of Paris. (Notice this stranger made it into our "self" photo too!)

What makes excellent photographers stand out above the rest isn't their equipment, it's their eye for composition. If you took everything I learned in four years studying visual arts and crammed it into one word, it would be "composition." What most people do when shooting photographs is look at the shot, hold up the camera, and snap. But sometimes all it takes is a different point of view and a few reminders to improve your photos results by 100%. The goal is to achieve unique photos that even if they're of something quite familiar, you're giving the subject new meaning, new life. Here are some tips for framing the shot so you look like a pro.

Before reading further, if you're using a point and shoot camera, make sure you read previous photo101 posts on using your camera to the maximum.

Cropping: Rule #1 is definitely crop beforehand. While computers have helped us become better editors, they have handicapped us into relying on Photoshop. Back when dark rooms took up 70% of a photographer's time, pre-cropping was a must. If you look closely before you shoot and see things that shouldn't be there, zoom in a little more or move the camera to one side and crop them out. Sometimes all it takes is moving two feet to the left for the perfect shot, but if you don't move around and experiment, you'd never know the shot was there. See the two images below, and the difference it made just walking around the statue a little.

Layers: Every image has a foreground and a background. Play with the focus so these layers take different priorities, and if there is a specific subject matter (ie person, pet, object), see how the focus affects the contrast of this subject.

Thirds: Artists use the "rule of thirds" in many mediums, but in photography it's especially important to remember to frame your image around this type of grid. If you divided your image into 3 rows and 3 columns, you'd have nine squares in your screen. Many cameras have a setting that will make these guide lines appear. By placing your subject off-center in one of the side squares, the composition will improve dramatically.

Framing: Use elements in the shot to help frame it- architectural buildings, trees, lighting, shadows, and people can all help the composition through framing. Also with framing comes filling the entire frame; make sure everything that's in the image has a purpose to be there. Likewise, make sure you haven't cropped anything out that's of value to the composition.

Angle: The best angle is not always right in front of the subject, and rarely acheived by simply tilting the camera on diagonal to take your shot, although that will sometimes make for good composition, don't rely on this technique alone. Lowering the camera to the eye level of the pet or child, raising the camera above your head for a crowd shot, or even putting the camera on the ground will entirely change the composition of the shot. And then there's the rotation of the camera as well, landscape or portrait, and which composition best frames the image. With the digital age saving us from wasting film, take several shots of the same image, from different angles, so you can choose later.

Balance: Last, look at the lighting, colors, and shapes in the image, making sure there's a harmonious balance in the composition- by far the hardest of all of these rules to achieve. Time of day can even affect lighting enough so the balance is off. Especially given the "thirds" rule above, these two rules seem to condradict each other at times. If you're intentionally placing your subject off center, make sure to balance it with something on the other side.

While even just one of these rules can help improve your composition, spending a season working on all of them will dramatically improve the quality of your images, I guarantee it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five Awesome Camping Recipes

We love to camp, but we don't technically like to "rough it." I don't know many who do, so I don't feel terribly bad about being a "car camper," since who wants to go out into the woods without their kitchen anyway? Not me! But I do like to make cooking very simple when we're cooking by campfire, and thought to share these awesomely-easy recipes for your next trip to the woods.

1. Hobo Chili- for us, the key to campsite cookin' is the lack of cleaning, so this one is the highest maintenance of all with one big pot to clean. If you time it right however, you can make this meal last and bring home a dirty dish to clean in a more civilized location. You'll need:
  • Big soup pot
  • 2 packages of hot dogs
  • 3 cans of chili, chili beans, or combine cans to your liking
  • Chopped onion
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • 12 hot dog buns
  • And a roaring fire with a cooking grate
  • Spoon or fork
Put chili, dogs, and onions into the pot to heat up. When hot, break up and add the buns and cheese stirring for another 10 minutes until buns are soft and cheese is melted. This meal may sound too simple for your palette, but it's a crowd pleaser if you're camping with a platoon.

2. Hunters Meal- this works with many different ingredients, and is prepared ahead of time so you don't have to bring the kitchen into the woods. Here's our staple list, alter it to your liking:
  • Hamburger meat and your favorite spices
  • Diced potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Butter, salt, pepper
  • Tin foil
  • Fork
  • Fire coals
Break the hamburger meat into patties, flavoring with your fave spices. Lay out a piece of tin foil for each individual who is camping, as if they were plates, placing a burger, a portion of potatoes, and a portion of beans onto each sheet. Put a dollop of butter and salt/pepper onto your potatoes and beans, then top with another piece of foil and crimp the ends so no juices can escape. Throw in the cooler and keep cold until ready. When it comes time to cook, take them out and place on the coals, flipping every 10 minutes or so for about 30-50 minutes depending on how hot your coals are. The last time we tried this we only had a Coleman burner as the wind was too high to make a fire, and these took about 15 minutes on that.

3. Foil Alternates- With foil you can wrap whole potatoes or ears of corn and put in the fire as well, remember to wrap tightly and even twice if possible. The strangest thing we've cooked in tin foil is pasta, and if you put enough water in there and seal it tight, it actually works. The best thing though is biscuits- right out of the tube into the tin foil, turning often (lay biscuits out flat so they have room to rise). The smell will bring the neighbors over!

4. No Bake Cookies- this is a great recipe for scout troops who want to make their own cookies, or if you're just in the woods for a longer while and want to no-bake your own. Also good if you're green-conscious and don't buy things with a lot of wrapping, which cookies sometimes do (that plastic liner in the Oreo's bag has always bothered me...) You'll need:
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. cocoa
  • 2 T. butter
  • 3 c. oats
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • Wax paper
  • Medium pot
  • Mellow fire
Mix first five ingredients thoroughly and boil for 1 minute over the fire, then remove from heat. Combine all the remaining ingredients into the pot and combine/stir, drop cookies onto wax paper to cool when finished. Throw the paper in the fire when you're done!

5. Brown Bag Breakfast- saving the best for last, we actually hadn't attempted this until our recent trip to the desert, (photo at the top, Cholula optional :)) and man were we impressed. You'll need (per person):
  • Brown bag
  • 1/2 cup of potatoes, cut into small squares or in frozen hashbrown style
  • 3 strips of bacon
  • 2 eggs
  • Roaring fire
  • Cooking grate or stick
  • Fork
Starting with the potatoes, layer food into the bag, with eggs on top. Roll or fold the top of the bag down to the food (this air-tightness will allow it to cook faster), and place on the grate over the fire. You can also hang the bag by a stick over the fire, but be careful not to move the back too much once the eggs are in it, as they can and will bleed through the bag. Also be careful not to have the flames of the fire touch the bag, as they will burn it, of course. It will cook in 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the fire, so keep rotating the bag. YUM! When you're done, throw the brown bag in the fire!

If you have any easy, no-clean recipes for camping, pass them on!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spirit Guides

I'm going to go out on a limb on this one, proving my lunacy to some I'm sure. But since 1995 I have worked with my lead guide, guardian angel, spiritual master, whatever you chose to call them, and have a list of miracles and fascinations as a result. Fifteen years with this man I call Merlin; he has guided me from studying crystals to teaching classes, through courses in energy work and healing, and in creating meditations, journeys and quests for myself and others. He calls me "my child," and our sacred place is atop a lone butte with miles of views in every direction and with a cave that houses our talks on the rainier days, which has two nice "sky chairs" hanging in the protected entrance.

But how did I come to find Merlin? That summer in Oregon I took two classes from Sarah Felez, a woman I found at the Saturday market whom I now call my first spiritual teacher. The first class was in "Basic Assumptions," where we learned about our soul path, in a sense; based on 2-3 trigger words that come from the earliest childhood memories, we discovered negative and positive attributes on a very base level.

The second class was on channeling, what they called working with guides back then, that I feel still has negative, ouigi board connotations to it. What Sarah was doing WAS channeling, and an extra terrestrial spoke to us through her at the beginning of every class. But as beginners, what we were learning was how to speak with our minds to the other realm.

This is the hard part of working with spirit guides. Many doubt that voice they hear is anything other than their own. But many, such as those who work with their spiritual leaders often (Buddha, Jesus), know that this is basically a form a prayer, only it's not so one-sided.

I often hear people say they can't talk to God, or he doesn't listen, or he doesn't reply. Most of us know that's untrue, but perhaps we've forgotten it. God, and his spiritual team, is always there for us, 24/7, we just have to learn to listen. That's a problem here in the Earth realm, listening to each other, so why wouldn't it carry over to other dimensions for us? God never ignores you in your dreams, why would he in reality? We've just forgotten how to use our ears.

This, and belief, is the key. We've lost our connection to "the source" as Wayne Dyer calls it, but when we're in "the zone," creating art, living in nature, or in meditation, it's easy to get back there when we try.

At first I was in disbelief. Yeah right Merlin the magician, I said. But his patience is far greater than mine, and when he spoke the words I am your Gatekeeper once to me, it sunk in so deep that my arms tickled and I began to cry. Now, for me, those tears, even just one, means I am connected to source. For you, it's likely to be an entirely different experience.

Since then I have worked with many more of my guides, who tell me we all have a team of spirits helping us, and that some of us share spirits, and some of us will become them after death. They all love me unconditionally, laugh with me often, lift me up when I'm down, and bring in anything within reason when I ask for it.

It would be lonely without this team, and I think of all the people out there who do not have contact yet with theirs and hope this post helps you see this topic in a different light, without judgment, and with hope.

Today, I will let them write to you about how one gets started working with their guides:

1. be open to it. trust us. listen for us. we're here.

2. let the names come, don't force them. ask our names and then believe what you hear. if something doesn't up immediately, remove the judgment, breathe, and ask again. perhaps tomorrow.

3. we are here to work WITH you, not for you. if you ask logical questions, with love in your heart, we will answer. if you have anything other than love in your heart, you will not hear us. although we are still here.

4. sometimes you will break from us for long periods of time to you. we are not in the same time continuum as you, so do not apologize if you make contact, and then let go for a year. we are still here. in this same sense, you can not ask us "show me a sign before Monday of next week," as we only work in NOW, and show things when you are ready.

5. we love to help you work with animals, plants, minerals, and other natural things. ask for our help in working on these topics first, and remember to listen for the answer.

6. if you still do not believe, ask for a sign, we will bring you one.

7. we are here to make sure your are protected, but we are not here to change the course you have already set for yourself. your lessons are your own, and if they seem hard to you, call for help, but don't expect us to cure, heal, eliminate, or reverse anything that you have chosen for yourself.

8. some of us are made of light and don't have human form, we are lightbeings, and you will not see us with your physical eyes, but we talk just as loudly as everyone else.

9. sometimes we are people you know, from this lifetime or previous ones, and the familiarity in our voice might startle you. know that we are only here to help you, and are of the highest light. if your instinct tells you otherwise, ask for a higher guide, like when you ask for the manager. often times we are a leader, a color, or a name that has been following you around for quite some time. our presense whould come easily to you once you open up to the idea.

10. no matter what religion you celebrate, if any, on Earth, we support you, and will always "send" you the right guide if you ask. if you do not ask, you can not receive. similarly, if you do not give, you can not receive.

11. it is easier to connect to us in higher altitudes (on a plane or mountain top), higher vibration locations (church, sacred monuments, and creative centers), in the woods, and always in a peaceful, undistrubed place. the first question to start with should be "is anyone there?" or "what is your name" or "do i have guides?" if you hear a yes in the back of your head, somewhere near your spinal column, potentially not in language but in feeling or vision for some, that is us.

12. similarly, it is detrimental to talk to spirit in lower vibrations, as you might catch the attention of a lower entitity. these are few and far between and quite logical, so you would likely not do this, but it's worth mention so that you know. places selling alcohol and encouraging "escapement," funeral homes and graveyards, hospitals and places of incarceration - legal or mental.

Our final words ~ Thank you for taking this post as seriously as you can, but never to take yourself too seriously.

For more about what I do with this realm, see, and click on "Meditations" for some help with getting "in the zone."