Beans and photosnaps.

I took a break from roasting during a particularly unfriendly spell of very cold weather. I am not sure if the beans would have even roasted with ambient temperatures around 5°. I admit, just before the temperature dropped, it was up in the 50s, and ideal for winter roasting. B even reminded me that it was a sort of last chance to roast for a while, but I declined. So lately we have been drinking some of TJ’s Ethiopian. I kinda like it, but B does not.

Last night I got back at it, and roasted up a batch of a blend I am working on. It is a sweet base of El Salvador Santa Rita, with some distinctiveness from small amounts of Yemen Mocha and Sumatra Mandheling. The first batch was a little heavy on the distinctiveness, so last night I added more Santa Rita. I am looking for a mellow and sweet blend with some chocolate and musky interest.

As I roasted I recalled a recent conversation with Nathan about the difficulty of photographing roasted coffee beans. They are always dark, and if you put them on a light background, the contrast throws the light metering and white balance off. So I thought it an interesting challenge for Max. The best results were achieved using a flash, with a darker background.

I was also trying to see how all the automatic settings fared in a low-light florescent environment.

Not too bad, I think.

Dreams taxes and Max

A few months ago I posted about a trade-in immediately followed by a reversal. It really was a good thing. Since then I have put the dream of a digital SLR at the back of the dream queue to wait for it’s number to be called. The numbers were being called randomly, so it was unclear how long he would have to wait. Recent events, including, but not limited to, root canals, and hoods flying up while driving at high speeds seemed to indicate that the wait could be long indeed. Fortunately, we are very limited in our perspective. It is early tax season for those of us who have no equity or investments and we bagged a great refund this year (not sure how to calculate the points on these babies, do you go by the amount, or the number of corners on the check?). If you are confused by that, remember that we live in one of the deer-hunting-est states in the union. Ok, so the number 723 was called, and it was exactly the number that Mr. Digital SLR had between his anxious fore-finger and thumb. By the way, his name is really Max, not Digital SLR. He comes from a prestigious yet recently extinguished family line (ok, maybe not extinguished, just adopted out). If you are interested in stalking him, there are plenty of resources out there. His mighty works are beginning to show up in the gallery.

Frugal Photo

Let’s see, I was browsing WordPress sites and found myself at PhotoMatt, where I read a post about using wordpress. In the comments some one mentions that Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism also uses wordpress, and I happed to notice on that site a link to Pinoy Top Blogs. A casual perusal of the list found Litratista, a Pinoy photo hobbyist site. This site had quite a few links to frugal-style photography. It is the Filipino way to make do with what you have, so these are a few of the sites that I found, in that round about way, from Litratista:

Home studio on the cheap – This really is cheap, coming at around $75. I am not sure I have the space for this kind of setup, but I think i could swing the light box below.

Small budget photography – How to use what you have to look like a professional. A few basic skills and available software is all you need. Personally I would recommend getting familiar with The Gimp. It will do most of what you need, and maybe more for hundreds less (free, actually).

Build you own light box/tent – This would be perfect for small studio shots and macros. It would also come in handy for all those pictures of B’s projects.

Portable Gimp – This may only apply to Windows users, but it could be very handy for touch ups on the road, or for those of you who travel the world with a camera… You know who you are.

Using old SLR lenses with a digital SLR – Very handy if you already have some of these lenses, or have easy access to them. I think you could find them cheap on eBay well, so maybe it really is a good way to fill out your collection of lenses if you do not mind the drawbacks of more manual fiddling.

Unusual photography tips – These are just good tips that you may not have seen/heard before.

I had a lot of fun looking through these sites, and thought I would pass them along. Strange how one hobby (web design/Wordpress) led me to another, in a culture that I understand (Pinoy photography)

Moving the gallery

I have been somewhat dissatisfied with the gallery that I had. It seems to work well as an album, but it does not make it easy to post daily photos, nor does it make it clear if something has been added. I am moving to a photo blog rather than an album, and it should be a better situation all around. There is a single photo on the main page, the most recent one. You can browse through the previous photos one at a time, or pick from an index. The link under pages will now take you to my photo blog. If you really miss the album gallery, I can make a link to that as well, but I do not think it will stick around.

Work that CCD!

Ok, I thought I would share some of the hard lessons I have learned about making your little consumer digital camera actually take good pictures. I have a little Canon A40 that has a 2 megapixel sensor. Not anything special. I have had it for about three and a half years, and have learned to push it to it’s limits, which I think are surprisingly few considering the age and cost. So, here are the things that I do to get the best out of my little pony of a camera:

  • Use the lowest ISO I can. I pretty much keep it at 50 at all times. This will give you the most detail, and clarity of picture, when your hands are stable enough not to blur the subject. It used to be that people did not use ISO 50 film in their cameras because the likelihood of blur is so high. Well, today we can take as many pictures as we want, and toss the blurry ones without thinking about the cost. So I just keep it at 50 as much as I can, hold real still, and take lots of pictures. Those that turn out can look great. The other thing about higher ISO on digital cameras is that you get tons of noise (digital equivalent of grain) as soon as you take it up to 200, a common speed for normal photos in film cameras. The exception is the dSLRs, which have better sensitivity without noise, but some still hit the usability ceiling at ISO 800. The dSLRs also have far more pixels so prints at smaller sizes can hide some of that noise more easily than our little consumer cameras.
  • Get to know my white balance settings. The automatic WB does not always do the best job in every situation, and there are usually several options. Both incandescent and florescent lighting indoors tend to look awful when you use auto WB. The tungsten setting is better usually for incandescent, and many cameras have a florescent option as well. Use them and see what they look like. If you are familiar with your WB settings, you drastically improve your ability to take pictures that look closer to real color.
  • Use my zoom for normal shots. When your camera is fully zoomed out, it is at wide angle and will cause some distortion in your subject. If you are taking portraits, you definitely will want to step back and zoom in so that your kid, or spouse, does not look like a chipmunk.
  • Use my program mode. Depending on your camera, you will have a program mode that lets you use either aperture priority, or shutter priority. This means you can set one or the other and the rest will be automatic. I have mine set to a constant ISO, and I can adjust the shutter to get more or less exposure. This makes it easy to bracket shots and pick the one that has the best exposure. Someday I also hope it will allow me to create HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos, but that is another post.
  • I get close. Most subjects look better if you can make them intimate. One of the great things about photography is that it allows you to capture scenes or subjects that we are not used to seeing. In our busy busy world we usually do not take the time to inspect the things around us. A photo can put you there immediately, and draw your eye to a special feature. Not everything looks better up close (the unshaven cheek of a man, for instance, looks pretty nasty).
  • I take lots of pictures. This is the biggest difference between film and digital. Unless photography is your career, or you have plenty of expendable income, you think about the cost of each film image you take, and the resulting prints. for a long time this paralyzed me, since I was not a photographer, nor did I have expendable income. We had rolls of film that had been in the camera for an entire year. So once I had a digital camera, I took pictures all the time. I still run into memory limits on my card, but it is not a cost issue. Once I felt freedom to capture everything, I was able to hone my 1337 s|{1||z.

Well, I think that is about it. I love taking pictures, and my little camera has done pretty well for me. I miss my SLR, but that can wait. I love my Canon A40 too.

Java rig

Java rig

Well, I have been roasting coffee for some time now (since Brother Nathan and family came up in March), but not until recenlty did I decide to eliminate or reduce the number of cramped muscles that are produced each 20-30 minute sessions per batch. First I set up the blocks on a military issue typing table and used c-clamps to hold them in place. That held the bowl, so that I am not as likely to lose the entire batch into the grass or gravel. Next I took a magnetic guage holder and rigid armature (can be found at McMaster-Carr), and used some bolts to cradle the heat gun. The armature has adjustment knobs, so I can aim the gun exactly where I want it. All that is left to hack together a stirring mechanism so I can just stand back and listen for evidence of a good roast…

Lampost in the Woods

Having been in the tropics for the last few years, snow fog is very novel to me. On this particular day, a few weeks ago, the fog was wonderful, and I was almost in a panic to take pictures. Normally I would not panic, but just go take pictures. I had sent the camera with B to take pictures of furniture at resale/antique shops, and thus the panic. It was nearing sunset when she finally got back and I headed right out. The timing was perfect. All the shots ended up spooky and bluish, and the lamp lit up orange. This one in particular has me looking for a faun…

Look, Kids!

I realized that we have not posted pictures of the kids in a while, and while they don’t seem to care, the relatives do.

I thought I would make a goatee and mustache for Ethan out of paper one rainy day. He enjoyed it and began honing his dramatic skills. I asked him for an angry face, but the first attempt seemed weak. I told him to put his eyebrows into it and viola!

I then asked for surprised. I think he is off to a good start…

Ariana did have a birthday at the end of May, and she did have a party. We decided to take her and her friends out to a restaurant and let them pick from the kids menu. We also took them to a coffee shop and they ordered tea.

They were very excited about the tea. Not because they like tea, but because it came in great bug catchers (yes, paper cups with lids). They were all sweaty because they had PE just before they come for the party, and then our AC (air conditioner) did not hold up well in traffic. At some point kids depart from kiddom and become guys and girls. Then they will notice that they stink, won’t be more interested in bugs than clothes, and may even like tea. But I can wait. Kids are fun!