Friday, October 29, 2010

Greening up your Holidays

This past Tuesday the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council hosted its monthly Talking Green event on "Greening Up Your Holidays," and I spent several days gathering tips in many categories to present on.  I thought I'd post it here as well, enjoy!

Halloween Costumes
  • Buy face paints and lipstick without lead, nickel, cobalt, chromium, which can affect brain development
  • Buy safe nail polish from Skin Deep
  • Avoid powder cosmetics which can affect the lungs
  • Skip the hairspray which have toxic chemicals
  • Use non-paraffin (petroleum based) and non-scented candles for cleaner air
  • Create low-impact costumes (used, homemade, etc), or host your own costume swap
  • If hosting larger parties, see our Zero Waste Event Guidelines
  • Compost all food waste
  • Use paper bags instead of plastic for baking the turkey
  • Replace canned ingredients with local foods with minimal travel distance for reducing carbon footprint
  • Buy organic to reduce intake of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and radiation
  • Use reusable cutlery and plates instead of paper or plastic
  • If you must put out non-reusable cutlery and plates, purchase compostable ones and schedule a pickup from Twin Enviro (or your local composter) after the holidays
  • Clean and recycle your used aluminum foil
  • Rinse and recycle liquor bottles
  • Use the crock-pot where possible for less energy usage
  • Reduce energy consumption by only using the large burners for large pots
  • Keep your burners clean, spots on burners can increase energy needed to heat
  • Stop using the disposal and decrease your carbon footprint- this waste goes to a water treatment plant, then the solids get sifted out and trucked to a landfill.
  • Use green or homemade cleaners

 Gift Giving
  • Use recycled papers and papers that can be recycled
  • Even better, use reusable gift bags and boxes, cloth, or newspaper
  • Start a re-gift pile of all the gifts you will not use but don’t want to throw away
  • Purchase local gifts to support the local economy
  • Replace secret Santa game with toys-for-tots drive or similar
  • Make your own gifts by canning your garden produce, and other DIY gifts like homemade bath and body products  
  • Replace family gift giving with group donations to a green organization
  • Buy USA-made toys for kids and earth-conscious gifts for adults
  • Recycle your cardboard boxes
  • Replace holiday cards with photo slide show email
  • If you must purchase holiday cards, buy recycled paper cards
  • Recycle or better, reuse holiday cards you receive
  • Recycle your old cell phone and electronics if you get new ones
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by:
    • Offsetting your airline and car travel by purchasing Carbon Offsets (, between $10-20 per flight)
    • Try a “Staycation” or more localized vacation
  • If you do travel, buy local to support their local economy
  • Take an “Eco-tourism” or “voluntourism” trip
  • Choose a green hotel
    • IE: Locally owned, one that recycles and composts, doesn’t change sheets and towels daily, has energy reducing programs (such as lights automatically turning off when you leave by just removing your key card), and contributes to the local economy
  • Rent a green, high miles-per-gallon or hybrid vehicle
  • Rent a bicycle in warm climates
  • Use your at-home energy reducing practices while on the road. Just because you’re not paying for their electricity, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help reduce it. 
  • Find natural decorations like tree leaves and limbs, pumpkins, dried gourds, etc
  • Make your own wreath
  • Purchase a tree certificate from the Forest Service and cut your own tree, or make sure to purchase a pesticide-free tree
  • Recycle your tree after the holidays
  • Use non-paraffin (petroleum based) and non-scented candles for cleaner air
  • Use low-energy or solar-powered lights outside and on the tree
  • Retain your good-practices for energy consumption during the holidays, encourage your guests to do the same (turn off lights, take shorter showers, use the automatic thermostat, etc)
  • Print holiday fliers on non-neon or dark red, green or blue papers

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Photography 201: All I learned from Canon and more

Earlier this month I was blessed to spend an entire weekend with Canon (camera)'s best of the best in Moab, Utah at the Red Cliffs Lodge photographing Arches National Park and cowboys at the ranch.

One of Canon's esteemed "Explorers of Light," Tyler Stableford instructed the class, and four Canon tech representatives and Tyler's #1 man Draper assisted us with trying out high-dollar Canon bodies, lenses of all angles and lengths during the sessions. We were instructed on Tyler's workflow, programs, and editing techniques as well, and went home with three huge prints of our best work after Sunday's critique.

All in all in was one the best experiences of my lifetime in terms of photography; having not been in a classroom setting since college, I was able to pack in as much learning as I could in a short two-day workshop.

Needless to say the take-away was indescribable; here are some major points for those of you who want to take your photography to the next level.

Tyler's tips
We started the workshop inside Saturday morning, with an a.m. session of Tyler's tips. I will try to condense the 12 pages of notes into a reasonable blog post! Here are some of his great tips:
  • People (subjects) always add dimension, contrast, and quality to a landscape image.
  • Shoot in the AV setting, and always "brackets" your shots (see below).
  • Use manual focusing, and use the camera's custom focus settings to have the focus button be something other than the shutter (see your manual under custom settings).
  • Pay attention to horizon lines, Tyler considers them among the most important. Don't break the horizon line at your subjects neck or knees, and play with it's location to get the best composition.
  • Coach the model to look relaxed and natural, as well as "composing" them to form the best shots.
  • No shadow, no shoot. Shadows add dimension, work with the lighting so they don't block compositional accents.
  • Check the internet for other shots of a specific location to get ideas and learn mistakes.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Arches National Park
At Arches we all took out wide angle lenses, and I upgraded from my 18-55mm to a 16mm on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Some students even shot with fisheye lenses, but I liked spending the day with just one new toy and the shots we all got were amazing. We focused on lighting, "bracketing" especially, and shooting directly into the sun, which most photographers have trouble mastering.

Using the AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) setting in either custom settings or on one of your main menus (depending on camera), you can have the body shoot 3 photos at once, in 3 different exposures. Once in this setting, use one of the roll tabs to expand the AEB from just 0 (no adjustment) to -1/3 0 +1/3 or up to +/- 3, in 1/3 increments. It's always good to start with 1/3, but often times I'll find I need an entire stop (+/-1). Using this quick shooting feature, you'll be shortening your correction time for each image. Having grown up in the film world, we did this with light meters, but the digital age has sped things up and made this exposure correction feature a must for shooting in all temps of light. Learn more from one of my favorite online learning centers on AEB here.

Other tips from Arches:
  • Try shooting with the sun in front, moving the glare spots out of the main focal point, to give the composition a bold look.
  • Focus on the rule of 1/3's for composition.
  • Shoot from the ground with wide angle lenses to create exaggerated dimensions
  • Focus on the negative space and try increasing it and reducing it for different compositions (space between the arch above, space between hikers' legs, etc)

Cowboys at Red Cliffs Lodge
On Sunday we focused on the locals at the ranch, spending time with just the cowboys first, then a herd of horses, and a herd of cows. Tyler was always very specific with his direction of the models, and wasn't afraid to have them do several takes of the same shot to get the best versions of our images. Instead of just getting "what's natural," his careful direction made for much better composition, subject matter, and details, all of which the students seemed to take a lot away from.

He had us really focus on manual focusing in this setting as well in order to avoid the automatic shifting focus during action shots. He also made sure to remind us about the importance of model waivers and thanking the models somehow- either by sending them a photograph through email (he pointed out that no one opens up and prints from a CD so don't bother), or sending them tangible photographs or something like a calendar, which can be printed for pretty cheap these days. He gave examples of offering to pay an amateur model for their model waiver (usually around $50) if needed as well.

For this session, we were shooting with long lenses, and I got to try out the amazing 7D and EF 70-200 2.8 $2000 lens.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Last thoughts
While learning from your manual and online blogs like this is enough to have you test new techniques and try new things, the experience of being around 15 other photographers (amateur and professional) and in using Canon's amazing equipment (note, they never did try and push a sale on us, which was great) was irreplaceable. If you have the opportunity to learn from the best while trying their equipment (which most workshops most definitely do NOT offer), do so. I get no perks from Canon in saying this, they offer their Live Learning series workshops all over the country as well as a Canon in the Parks series. Check it out.