Monday, December 28, 2009

Big Rocks and Beautiful Girls!

It was a crisp chilly morning as I headed out to Big Rock Park Christmas Eve morning. The sky was blue and the colorful trees had managed to hang on to most of their leaves during the blustery windy day we'd had the day before. My assistant, Ashley, arrived and we were gathering all my equipment for the photo shoot when Laura and her daughters, Alex and Jordan, pulled up.

All bundled in sweaters and cute boots the girls looked darling. Laura looked amazing in her very fashionable boots! The girls were excited about having their photos taken. The last time they had had photos taken they were just little things, so it was definitely time! We headed into the park with the girls chattering about all the places they thought would be good spots for photos. Alex wanted photos down by the creek among the trees. Good idea. I had that thought also. Jordan wanted photos on the slide in the play area. Absolutely, but maybe at the end of the shoot. Only one idea was nixed and that was Jordan's idea to have them all lined up with their backs to the chain link fence! Kids are funny, aren't they? Jordan was okay with it, because I promised her we would take photos on the slide.

All was going very well until my off-camera flash died on me. I'm sure I recharged it. Was it last night or the night before? Oh well, next time I'd better make sure it's the night before my shoot! Out came the reflectors and the on-camera flash. Back to basics as Laura said. We managed to finish up the shoot with some lovely photos of Laura and her girls. You can see all their photos on my website.

Now, go forth and do something that will take you back to the basics!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Blaze of Color and "I Do!"

It's a crisp chilly day as I head out to take photos for James and Chelsea's wedding. As I drive over the bridge I can see the blaze of fall color in the trees at Santee Lakes below where the wedding will take place. The gazebo is being "dressed" to welcome the couple who will say their marriage vows in front of their guests. The tables are being decorated with Chelsea's colors, red and black. Excitement fills the air!

The cloud cover provides beautiful translucent light for taking photos, and I wonder if it will last or if perhaps the sun will pop out to say hello. I busy myself checking the locations I have envisioned for the formal portraits. Ah, the perfect spot! A huge gnarled tree bursting with color. I can see the happy couple on the little pier with the colorful canopy framing them in all their wedded glory. Yes, it is the perfect location.

It's time to get busy. My assistant, Jerome, arrives and is ready to help with anything I need. How wonderful to have help. Weddings are so much fun, but I need extra hands to accomplish all I need to do for James and Chelsea.

And then Chelsea appears on mom and dad's arms a vision of loveliness. The camera loves Chelsea. Her blue eyes sparkle. She has her hair done up and wears a pearl necklace. She is perfect, and I know James will think so, too, when he sees her.

Snap, snap, snap! Weaving in and out of the guests. Skirting around the back of the gazebo. Oh, don't miss that shot. Got it! Oh, I wish the sky wasn't so bright behind Chelsea. Nothing I can do about it now. Snap, snap, snap! Get the kiss. Chelsea loves the "he's just about to kiss her" look. Ah, yes! That's it. Going in five different directions at once. The vows have been said and now it's on to the reception. Keep moving!

It's a small, simple, but very sweet wedding reception. . . so intimate with just close friends and family. Group shots. Get them in front of that big tree with the colorful leaves. No! Look THIS way please. You can take photos when I'm finished. Thank you! Quick, quick, quick. I'm sweating. Peeling off the layers even though it's chilly out. Working hard and loving the shots I'm getting. Stealing the couple for some intimate shots at the fabulous location I've chosen. Oh, no, people along the pier. Thank you for moving. We really appreciate it!

Yes, yes, yes! They are gorgeous and so intimate. Chelsea and James will love them. I know I do. Chelsea and James are fading fast. Oh, dear. They're both sick and feeling awful, but what troopers. We got the photos and I know they will be so happy with them.

Don't relax yet. One more photo. Jerome suggests a photo of the bouquet on the gazebo railing. I like it, so I shoot it. He thinks it will make a nice cover shot and I agree. Almost finished and then I can relax. I've been sick for two days myself and I will be happy to be at home soon. I just know I'll be at my computer processing the photos as soon as I get home. I'm so excited and I can't wait to show them to James and Chelsea.

Monday they are posted. Chelsea contacts me and tells me that she and James absolutely LOVE the photos. YES! I'm thrilled because I do too.

Got a minute? Check out James and Chelsea's wedding photos on my website Elizabeth Heath Photography. They're worth a look.

Now go forth and do something that makes you sweat, but is very rewarding and share it with someone who will appreciate your work!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Aaron Gets HIs Blues On!

He was a cute young fresh faced kid carrying the flag in the Civil War reenactment group at Old Poway Park when I met Aaron a few months ago. I had been asked to take some photos of him, because he would soon be deploying to Afghanistan. I was more than happy to do so and you can see those photos of Aaron on my website Elizabeth Heath Photography.

As I got to know Aaron, I learned a few things about this young man that I admire so much. He was born in Burlington, Wisconsin nineteen years ago and he grew up on a dairy farm with 600 cows. He loves the smell of cows! I can't blame him. It feels or I should say smells like home for him. Aaron joined the military for a couple of reasons. For one thing it's a family tradition. Every male in his family has served in the military, and although his mom would have preferred that he join the Air Force, he decided that the Marines were for him. The second reason is that Aaron wants to be a teacher, so joining the military will help him achieve that goal. I taught school for many years and I still substitute teach, so Aaron's story really touched me. He'll make a great teacher.

In talking to Aaron I learned that he had been sick the day he was supposed to have his formal dress blues portrait taken, so he missed out. I just couldn't sit back and not do something about that, so I offered to do his dress blues photo for him. We chose Old Poway Park, since we had been there before and liked it so much. Little did we know it would be so crowded with people when we returned to do the portrait. We did manage to find an area with good light that wasn't too crowded. We enjoyed stopping each time the train came around to wave at the children. It was a fun time. Aaron was terrific. He took direction so well that it made my job that much easier. I also have to say thank you to Jerome who is part of the Civil War reenactment group and a photographer in his own right. He was a great assistant, and I could not have provided Aaron with such great portraits without his help.

I'm proud of Aaron and his willingness to put his life on the line for my freedom. As we walked back to our cars, people would stop Aaron to shake his hand and thank him for his service to our country. He will be deployed soon and my prayers will go with him for his safe return. He has my thanks and gratitude for all he is doing for his country and for me. You may see all of Aaron's dress blues portraits on my website Elizabeth Heath Photography.

Now go forth and do something for someone in the military to thank him or her for their service to our country.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Blue and The Gray

It was the deadliest war in American history with 620,000 deaths, including soldiers and civilians. The American Civil War, which began in 1861 and ended in 1865, legally abolished slavery in the United States, restored the Union, and strengthened the role of the federal government.

So why after all these years would groups of people, men and women, reenact such bloody and deadly battles? I suspect they do it for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of them is also the reason why we have ceremonies every September 11th, build memorials, and erect statues to the fallen. It is because will never and should never forget!

We as a nation honor our fallen soldiers for just that reason, so that those who died for our freedom did not die in vain. We remember because it is more than important - it is necessary. The lives of the fallen must be honored and must be held in our hearts with thanks and gratitude. What they did mattered and their lives mattered whether they died yesterday in Afghanistan or a hundred and forty years ago on a Civil War battle field.

I couldn't help but feel the pulse of a time long ago when brother fought against brother and father against son. As I walked through the encampments of the Union and Confederate Armies, I felt myself being drawn into history and a much simpler life than what I know today. The farm in Moorpark where The Blue and The Gray event was taking place is out in the country among fields ripe for harvest and horses lazily grazing in their corals.

Children played with wooden toys while mothers prepared food over open fires. No, they would not have been on the battle fields, but they added flavor to the event and brought to mind the families that waited and prayed that their husbands, sons, and brothers would soon return home.

The battles were loud and primitive in the way they were fought in comparison to how wars are fought today. But I think the most difficult thing for me to see were the young boys no more than ten or twelve years old carrying rifles nearly as big as they were. Some played the drums and fifes leading the home grown soldiers to almost certain death. Many of them died, too, never knowing life as a grown up.

For me the day was a learning experience bringing the pages of history alive. It drummed home to me how much I hate war and what it does to our young men and these days our young women too. I captured images with my camera that I know are not "real," but they remind me of a time and a place in history that was very real. I hope and pray that the war we are now fighting will end soon and that our young men and women will be able to come home and live their lives, unlike so many who lost their lives in the bloodiest war in American History.

Those that reenact the battles of the Civil War do so for many reasons, but I suspect that one of the main reasons is so that we will never forget how precious peace in our country is and the very dear price that has and is being paid for our freedom.

You can see all my photos from The Blue and The Gray event in Moorpark on my website Elizabeth Heath Photography.

Now go forth and thank a veteran for putting his or her life on the line so that you can live free.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's Magical!

"You have to see it," she exclaimed. The tram was winging its way to Mandalay Bay and the only other people in my compartment was a nice couple eager to talk. The huge flowers on the ceiling in the lobby are all made of hand-blown glass she went on to explain. The hotel puts up displays for each season and they are just spectacular. Okay, now she was piquing my interest. I had lots of questions, but the tram was quickly reaching its destination. I decided I needed to see the Bellagio Hotel for myself.

I found some time to make my way down the Strip in Las Vegas to see flowers, which according to the nice couple were well worth my time and effort. The hotel entrance sits back from the street and after all the walking I had been doing at Photoshop World , I was really happy to be whisked along the moving sidewalks. Down one more escalator and I was finally at the entrance to the Bellagio Hotel which was quite grand. Huge lions sat on either side of the wide walkway directing guests to the lobby. No, they weren't real but stunning and proud just the same.

Fountains lined the flower beds giving that wonderful sound of lazily gurgling water that is so inviting. As I stepped into the lobby, I knew instantly what the nice couple meant when they said I had to see the flowers. Look up! Each flower was at least three feet across overlapping the others around it. It looked as if a magical flower garden had been turned upside down. Couches invited guests to sit and crane their necks for long gazes perhaps expecting crystal fairies to peek back at them from behind the massive petals. I sat and craned and gazed along with others who were as mesmerized as I was.

Further into the lobby I spied a glassed in conservatory that beckoned me to come and explore. As I entered I was greeted by raining trees sparkling like thousands of tiny diamonds as light danced on the water falling from each leaf. To my left I saw leaves that made me feel as if I'd suddenly entered the land of giants. Water slid and hopped from leaf to leaf as it made its way to the pool below. I continued to walk drawn in by the magic of this place.

Directly ahead of me a water wheel carried its cargo round and round whoosh. . . whoosh. . . whoosh. I was startled by a deep voice and as I turned I wondered if Dorothy and Toto might appear. Didn't they encounter talking trees in The Wizard of Oz? The tree delighted the children who pointed and laughed. All around the tree sat the most beautiful pumpkins of all colors and shapes. Some were as tall as me weighing hundreds of pounds.

As I rounded the corner behind the water wheel my eye caught sight of a fabulous miniature Bellagio Hotel complete with water fountains. I looked closer and discovered that the entire model was constructed of natural materials like beans, peas and bark. The roof of each little building was comprised of pieces of pine cones which from a distance looked like tiles. Tiny people made the model complete. This was by far my favorite exhibit in the entire conservatory.

Yes, indeed, the Bellagio Hotel is well worth the time and effort to discover for yourself. The grandness of it all will take you right back to your childhood when giant flowers, talking trees, and intricate models would capture your imagination for hours. Now I'm going to say to you the same thing the nice couple said to me, "You have to see this magical place!"

Now go forth and discover something magical!

(By the way, all the photos in this blog, like the two previous blogs, were taken with my cell phone camera. When it's the only camera you have, it's the best camera you have. I am pleased with most of the photos I was able to get with my three mega pixel cell phone camera. As I said in my last couple of blogs, sometimes it's about capturing the memories I don't want to lose in spite of the fact that I know I won't be getting the finest quality photos. In that case my cell phone camera will do rather than have no photos at all.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The People You Meet!

Walking the Strip in Las Vegas at night is always an adventure. The people you meet will sometimes surprise you as they did me. Marilyn Monroe in her classic white dress from a very famous movie scene is ready to have her picture taken with you for a few bucks. Elvis, glittering in his rhinestone jumpsuit, keeps Marilyn company and will put his arm around you, baby, for a few bucks. "Thank you very much," he says in his southern drawl.

For someone who has never walked the Strip at night, it's eye opening. Two beautiful twenty something girls walk toward me just a little or maybe a lot drunk pointing to everyone they pass, including me, shouting, "F*** You!" Oh, I think their parents would be so proud (please read with sarcasm). I continue down the Strip toward the Bellagio Hotel and the Paris Hotel when I hear strange clicking sounds that remind me of how my bike sounded when I was a kid and I attached a playing card to the wheel. A group of men and women stand in the midst of a sea of dropped cards pushing yet more cards in front of me inviting me to a free nude girlie show. Sorry, not my cup of tea. If I really think about it, I feel sad about this part of Las Vegas, which to me is so unattractive.

Further down the Strip I meet the Blues Brothers and yet another Elvis. Then I reach the Paris Hotel. Now I've been to Paris and seen the beautiful architecture in that amazing city. I've also been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and stood enthralled looking at the city below on a gloriously clear day. The real thing is amazing, but the Paris Hotel in its own way brings back wonderful memories of my time in Europe. Coming out of the hotel, I see a cute young couple who have obviouly just been married. I stop to say congratulations only to find out that they came all the way from England just to be married in Las Vegas. They were delightful.

Across the street from the Paris Hotel sits the beautiful Bellagio Hotel. At night they put on the most amazing water show with lights and music. It is something to see. I head toward the escalator so I can take photos with my cell phone camera, the only and hence the best camera I have (check out my previous blog The Best Camera You Have). As I ride up the escalator, I hear music. Someone up on the overpass is playing an accordion quite well. It sounds like, "You Are My Sunshine." I feel myself getting choked up, because we used to sing that song to mom when she was so sick just before she died.

When I see him, I can't tell if he is homeless. It is just too dark on the overpass. I can see his cowboy hat and his case open for passersby to drop coins and bills. The music is sweet and a nice respite in the midst of a frantic night on the Strip. I busy myself with taking pictures of the dancing water show below me and every now and then take a peak at the man playing the beautiful melodies. Several young men with thick Irish accents and tipsy from a bit too much to drink join the man and begin singing "Danny Boy" at the top of their lungs. They twirl in time to the music and laugh deeply. They are enjoying themselves. I wonder if they'll remember their singing and dancing tomorrow.

And then it happenes. I hear the sweet strains of "Amazing Grace" and I stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and just drink it in. "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." I feel tears stinging my eyes. I love that old hymn and the words that speak to my life. I've been saved for many years and I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart, but hearing the hymn brings my human condition and my need for a Savior back to mind. How blessed I am to know my Savior and experience His grace from day to day. I know this man has a story and I know I must investigate what it is.

"That's one of my favorite hymns," I tell him as I walk over to have a closer look at him. He smiles and continues playing. I can see now that he isn't homeless. He's too clean and sober to be homeless. Perhaps he's just a guy down on his luck and needs a bit of extra cash to make it through the week. He finishes playing and I press a bill into his hand. "Thank you. That was beautiful," I tell him. And then he starts sharing with me a bit of his story and why he's out on the overpass nearly every night playing his accordion.

His wife lay slowly dying from complications she suffered as a diabetic and he was heartbroken. He knew he had to do something to bring a smile to her face, so he paid $250 at a pawnshop for an old Cantino accordion with mother of pearl and shiny gold accents. He hadn't played since he was a kid, but it came back to him quickly as he sat at her bedside for two months ten hours a day filling her room with old classics, country-and-western tunes, and old hymns like "Amazing Grace."

The staff would open the door to the room and the music wafted down through the ward. It brought hope, joy, and healing to those suffering incredible pain. Two months later his wife of forty-eight years died and he sank into a deep depression. He returned to the hospital and played his accordion for anyone that wanted to hear him in hopes of filling the massive void left in his heart when his wife died.

All of a sudden, he reaches down and pulls out a stapled three-sheet packet with his picture and story. "Here," he says, "I'd love to have you read this and then call me and tell me what you think." He scribbles his name and number on the back and hands it to me. His name is Dean. "Thank you, Dean. I'm Elizabeth and I will read it." I thank him again and ask if I can take his picture. "I know it's really dark out here, but if we wait for the big sign to light up at the Flamingo Hotel, it should be enough to get a picture of you." He gives me a cowboy smile under his bushy mustache and after a couple of attempts, I think I have a photo that will help me remember a very special time on the overpass near the Bellagio Hotel. I give him a hug and he gives me a little peck on the cheek and calls me "pretty little lady." We say good night and I promise to call him.

I'm waiting for my bus to come and it seems to be taking an eternity when I look up and see Dean walking toward me accordion case in hand. He tells me that this is his bus too. We sit together on the bus for a few more minutes and he tells me a bit more about his life. He plays in three churches on Sunday mornings and regularly plays in the hospital for patients who request it and those that are unresponsive to treatment. He tells me about a young man heavily bandaged and barely able to move. He'd been burned over 60 percent of his body after his motorcycle collided with a vehicle and exploded in flames. Day after day Dean played "The Old Rugged Cross," "I Saw the Light," and "How Great Thou Art." The young man began to respond. He has a long road of healing ahead of him, but with his new friend, Dean, he has hope and music to help him along.

Dean gives me a final hug as I get ready to jump off the bus and head to my bed. He tells me he's going for breakfast and then home to bed. "Breakfast at midnight?" I ask. "Yes," he responds with a smile. He says he'll share the x-rated version of his story with me one day. "By the grace of God," he says, "I'm not that man anymore." I smile, give him a final hug, and wave goodbye. "Good night pretty little lady," he says. I watch for a moment as he disappears into the night. I can't help but think that in the midst of so much glitter, glamour, heartache, and unhappiness that can fill the Las Vegas strip hope is there in the sweet music of a man once shattered and now living by God's amazing grace. I call Dean a few weeks later and have a nice chat. We plan to get together the next time I go to Las Vegas and he will tell me his story - all of it. I'm looking forward to it.

My orginal intent for my blog today was to talk about how I was able to take photos with my cell phone camera as a continuation of my last blog. Somehow, though, I ended up here and I'm really okay with that. Maybe it is more important to talk about hope and God's amazing grace than it is to explain how I was able to take a picture. Next time I will share my pictures from inside the Bellagio Hotel and the amazing seasonal decorations that thrill old and young alike.

Now go forth and remember that God's amazing grace is there for all who choose to partake of it, including you!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Best Camera You Have

Have you ever heard the expression "The best camera is the one that's with you? I heard it for the first time at Photoshop World in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. One of the instructors told us about Chase Jarvis who has authored a book called The Best Camera is the One That's With You in which Jarvis discusses the iPhone and the potential for nice photos using the camera application. I smiled when I said it to myself later in the day. Such simplistic truth, but why hadn't I thought of it.

The more I thought about it the more it got me to thinking. What Jarvis says is very true. There's no point in wishing I had another camera with me, because that isn't going to get me the photo I want. I've been in that place quite a few times and never thought about using my cell phone camera in place of my expensive Canon.

When I went to Vegas, I decided to leave my Canon at home. I knew I'd be using the bus and walking a lot. My hotel was on the other side of town several miles from the Mandalay Bay Hotel where the conference was being held. Lugging a heavy camera around or leaving it in my hotel room and possibly finding it gone when I returned made my decision to leave the big expensive camera at home a lot easier.

So I found myself in a quandary. The last night I was in Vegas I decided to walk and look and take in all the sparkle and drama that is the Las Vegas Strip. It was then that I began rethinking my decision about bringing my camera. I had a thought. What if I were to challenge myself to get some photos of the Strip using only the camera I had with me. Hmmm. . . well, that might work. I don't have an iPhone, but I do have a little LG phone with a 3 magapixel camera. If worse came to worse, I'd get some practice, but hopefully with a bit of forethought I might be able to come up with some descent photos. No, they wouldn't necessarily be iPhone quality like Jarvis's photos, but they would certainly help me to remember the feeling and sense of energy that is pervasive all along the Strip.

So out came the LG phone and my mind started working. How was I going to get my shots? I figured a higher vantage point might work best, so I climbed up to the street overpasses. Using the overpass and the fencing, I steadied my hand to keep the phone as still as possible and started shooting. Some shots were horizontal and I went vertical on others. Mmmm. . . not bad, but I'd have to wait until I downloaded them into my computer to see how they really looked.

I became a little braver as I worked my way down the Strip and decided to try shooting without a brace to steady my camera. Well, some shots were better than others, especially if there was more available light. All in all I was quite pleased with the results. No, I wouldn't be able to put them in a book like Jarvis did, but then my goal was a bit different than his. I wanted something to remind me of the sparkle, excitement, and the craziness that comes out at night all along Las Vegas Boulevard. I think I was able to do that and I'm glad I challenged myself. You can see all my photos from my personal challenge on my website.

Next time I'll be writing about the Bellagio Hotel and the spectacular art and decor they have in their lobby and conservatory. It was such fun spending some time enjoying it all. I'll also be introducing you to Dean who's quite an amazing man I met on the overpass near the Bellagio Hotel while I was out shooting my last night in Vegas.

Now go forth and challenge yourself to do something that will stretch your limits!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Learning With Rock Stars!

As my plane lifted off the ground and we winged our way up the Southern California coastline, the words "jewel of the coast" came to mind. San Diego is so incredibly gorgeous and on this picture perfect day, I drank it all in until the plane headed inland. I was on my way to Vegas that day to attend the Photoshop World Conference at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I was anticipating learning a lot, but I had no idea how much there would be for my brain to soak up!

It had been miserably hot in San Diego, so I was concerned that Vegas would be even hotter, but it turned out to be perfectly lovely as my mom would say. Vegas had changed hugely since I was last there and I could easily see why it is called a playground for adults. The hotels are huge! And they are decorated with themes like "Paris" and "New York, New York." At night the strip sparkles like the costumed dancers in the nightly shows. It's magical! And if you don't pay too much attention to those that have had a bit too much to drink who are acting like fools, it's not half bad.

But I was not there to play, I was there to learn along with 3,000 - 4,000 other photographers, designers, and printers. The lineup of instructors was like a who's who in the world of Photoshop and photography. They are rock stars in the photographer's eyes and it was incredibly exciting just to be in the same room with them.

Scott Kelby, who started the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) almost twenty years ago is a great teacher and I took full advantage of his workshops. He focused on retouching portraits so I was able to pick up some great tips. I also learned some fantastic shortcuts and new to me tips from John Caponigro who happens to be from San Diego.

Since my goal as a photographer is to give my clients the best possible portraits, I was very happy to sit in as these "rock stars" shared how to do my job better and easier. For awhile now I've been learning on-line at the Kelby training site where so many of the instructors teach. One of my favorites is Joe McNally who, like Scott Kelby, is very funny and very good at sharing concepts in a way that I can understand. So when McNally asked for a volunteer who was wearing white to come up on stage and 'model' for a lighting demonstration, I shot my hand up in the air. And since I was sitting pretty close to the stage, he picked ME! I am sooo glad I decided to wear my white blouse that day.

It was great fun having McNally 'shoot' me. He joked with me, told the crowd that I had beautiful eyes, and in the process of working with him for a few minutes I actually learned quite a bit. Photography is not an exact science, and when McNally's photos didn't come out the way he anticipated, I felt very encouraged. If the big guns still have to try a second and a third time to get the result they want, then I won't feel so discouraged when my photography doesn't go exactly the way I want it to the first time.

I still can't believe that Joe McNally took my picture, well, quite a few pictures. If you follow NASCAR, it's like Jimmy Johnson inviting you to have a driving lesson in his race car. It's huge! A woman stopped me in the bathroom after the class and said, "It's too bad you didn't get to see the photos Joe took of you." The way he had me standing I couldn't see the giant screens. I asked her if they were really terrible. "No!" she said, "They were really good." Boy, I wish I had been able to see them and even more I wish I could have had copies of them. Can you imagine the bragging rights I'd have? I'm still excited thinking about it today.

Next time more about Photoshop World and my little challenge to myself at night on the Vegas strip.

Now go forth and try try again without getting discouraged.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vegas Baby!

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! We've all seen the television commercial and it gets our imagination going every time. I on the other hand want everything that happens to me in Vegas to come home with me. Let me explain. I recently joined NAPP otherwise known as the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and the Western Conference known as Photoshop World is happening later this week at the gorgeous Mandalay Bay Hotel in Vegas. I'm going and I can hardly wait!

Photoshop. We've all heard about it (at least in my world we have) and a lot of us have used it in one form or another. Students use it at school, most photographers I know use it, and designers of all varieties use it. "That's what Photoshop is for," or "I'll just Photoshop that," have become standard phrases in our every day language. And why not? It's a fantastic tool that can not only enhance a photograph but save it too.

There has been a debate over the years about leaning too much on Photoshop instead of working hard on technique and getting the photo right in the camera. Yes, there will always be those that take the easy road, but today I'm not talking about those people. I'm talking about people like me who work really hard on technique so that the photos we shoot will be fantastic. But sometimes I need a little help and that's where Photoshop comes in.

There are times when a lighting situation or shoot location puts us in a place where we have less control than we'd like and at those times Photoshop can be a life saver. It's also nice to be able to touch up portraits and finely tune photographs giving us the best possible image for our clients.

The three day conference will be packed, not only with eager photographers and designers, but with some of the biggest names in the world of photography. It will be hard to choose from the myriad of workshops available, but I think I'm going to concentrate on the ones that deal with skin tones, lighting, and taking great portraits.

Scott Kelby is among the names listed along with other great teachers like Joe McNally, David Ziser, and Moose Peterson (I sincerely hope that is a nickname. I would never name my kid Moose!). Scott Kelby created NAPP and is the editor and publisher of Photoshop Magazine, which I read every month. I am so excited about meeting him. I own three of his books and have literally sat with a book open in my lap following his directions step-by-step. He is an excellent writer and I have learned SO much from his books.

So tomorrow I'll be winging my way to Vegas, thanks to a great deal on tickets from Southwest Airlines, and putting my eager little brain into overload. My plan is to come home with lots of techniques and information that will enhance my work as a photographer. My ultimate goal is to give my clients the best possible image I can, and I believe it's only possible if I continue to improve my skills both behind the camera and at my computer. I won't be blogging again until after I return next Monday, October 5th, so I'll see you then.

Now go forth and do something to improve your technique!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Here Comes the Cavalry!

It was a beastly hot day as I drove up to Old Poway Park, but the idea of watching the Cavalry save the day was more appealing that staying in out of the heat. I've never actually been in Poway, so I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the city is. The old western style of buildings in the center of the old part of town really helped set the scene for what was about to happen.

I parked outside Old Poway Park and walked past a fabulous farmer's market. That will definitely be on my list of things to do another day, because the fruit and vegetables looked so yummy. But I had to keep going if I wanted to see the Cavalry save the day. On I walked past a beautiful fountain next to the Hamburger Factory, (hmmm. . . lunch!) over the wooden footbridge, until I finally reached the encampment. Canvas tents were held up by wooden poles, rifles were pitched like a tepee, and I suddenly felt I had slipped back into history.

The old steam engine train was making its way round and round the park with excited children, old and young, thoroughly enjoying themselves. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! I just about jumped out of my skin. The Gatling Gun was being fired with smoke filling the air and gun enthusiasts smiling at the sight of it.

Off in the distance the Old Poway Train was chugging along its way when all of a sudden pistols could be heard - the train was being robbed! The money was brought off the train while the passengers waited hoping to be on their way without anymore shots being fired. What's that I hear? It's a bugle announcing the Cavalry's coming.

The face off began. The train robbers were face to face with the Cavalry and there were only two choices they could make - leave peacefully or take their chances with the Cavalry. They decided to fight and the shots rang out piercing the air. Children cried and smoke choked the air. One by one the robbers fell until they had been defeated. The Cavalry had saved the day. And because this was pretend or reenactment of events that happened in history, the robbers got to their feet and bowed for their appreciative audience.

I decided to wander among the tents to see all the historical guns, medical equipment, clothing, and daily items used by the Cavalry, fur traders, the sheriff, and others who had come out to give us all a little taste of history.

Off to the Hamburger Factory for lunch and relaxing in the cool before going back to enjoy more of my day at Old Poway Park. By the way, my hamburger was delicious.

This November the Civil War Reenactment will take place in Moorpark. It will have many more groups like the ones I saw at Old Poway Park and they will reenact actual civil war battles. I can't wait. Maybe I'll see you there. In the mean time check out all my photos from Old Poway Park on my website

Now go forth and make it an exciting day and maybe stay inside where it's cool!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Legal Pirates and a Roman God

My day at the Tall Ships Festival in Dana Point Harbor was filled with fond memories of the brig Pilgrim, fabulous tall ships, and scallywag pirates, which I wrote about in my last two blogs. But there was more to see and enjoy that day, including some privateers and a Roman god.

Remember the cute rat pirate I wrote about in my last blog? Well, as I was talking to his "daddy," I learned that he wasn't really a pirate, but rather a privateer. "There's a difference," he told me. Pirates plundered for their own gain, but a privateer plundered for the queen or king depending on the country he was working for.

If the privateer was a "sea dog," which meant he was working for Queen Elizabeth I of England, it meant that he had a legal right to attack enemy ships and plunder their gold for the crown. The ship would be licensed and carry a letter with the queen's seal permitting attacks without fear of punishment. In exchange, the queen received a share of all plunder and increased the size of her navy without having to pay the crew, maintain, or supply them.The best known privateer is Sir Francis Drake who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. What a fascinating bit of history!

I have a question for you: How often have you gone out to enjoy the day and you just happened to run into a Roman god? Well, I did and he was amazing! His name in real life is Lou, but for that day he was the Roman god Neptune, god of the sea in Roman mythology. He was 8 feet tall (okay, not really, but it sure felt that way standing next to him) and he had put together a frothy green costume that really looked like he had just walked out of the sea with sea shells growing out of his head.

The kids looked up at him as if he touched the sky and had magic spilling out of his trident! And, of course, they all had to have their pictures taken with him. Can you imagine what their friends and teachers said when they went back to school and told them they had met Neptune!

Well, I can't finish my blogging about the Tall Ships Festival without sharing a photo of a gorgeous exotic bird. There were several on display just outside the Institute. This one was my favorite, because he had such spunk. Every time I tried to take his picture, he would try to eat my camera lens! What a guy. There are more photos of the other birds I saw as well as all the splendid things I saw that day. Please stop by my website and enjoy looking at them, and while you're there, please sign my guestbook.

Next time train robbers and the cavalry. It's a another fun step back into history. Until then. . .

Go forth and make it a day to learn something fascinating!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pirates Arrrrrrrr!

Arrrrrrr! I heard it again and again at the Tall Ships Festival in Dana Point. Young and old alike. Kids with plastic swords and eye patches. Dad's acting like kids Arrrrrrring with their children. Unsuspecting demure ladies blushing when caught Arrrrrrring by a stranger who returned their Arrrrrrr with a grin (that stranger would be me!). But that was part of what made the day so much fun in Dana Point - Pirates! They were everywhere delighting kids and adults alike, including me. Their costumes were so intricate and the makeup (for those who wore it) was incredible. One would have thought he had just walked onto the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. With the tall ships as a back drop, the pirates fit in perfectly.

Some pirates had come from Pirate's Dinner Adventure in Buena Park while others simply enjoyed being at the festival in costume. There's something about putting on a costume that brings out the kid in everyone. We do and say things we would never do and say otherwise. It's license for adults to play legitimately without being thought of as being silly. And it's fun for those who get to hang out with them and partake in a bit of silliness that takes us back to our childhoods.

Most of the pirates had their acts down perfectly. On cue they would put on the pirate face - lift the chin, squint one eye almost shut, and look like a scallywag. And every other person moving along an impossibly crowded walkway wanted to stop and have a picture taken with each pirate. I can't blame them, of course, but I was more concerned with taking photos than being in the photos. The cutest photos, of course, were the children who had dressed up in their own pirate costumes and stood with twinkling eyes with their grown up counterparts.

So I saved the best for last. I think it's possibly the cutest little pirate I've ever seen. I was walking through the tent area when I saw a great looking pirate. After snapping a photo, he said, "Look down." I looked down, and inside a leather pouch tied to his waist sash was a beautiful blond rat with a tiny pink nose and beady black eyes. I'm used to handling pet rats, since I know several teachers who keep them as classroom pets. They have wonderful personalities and are quite wonderful to hold. Their little noses and wiskers tickle when they nuzzle into your hand.

I asked the pirate if he would take him out of the pouch so I could take a photo of the cute little guy. "Would you like to see him in his pirate hat?" Of course I would!!! "YES!" I said almost too enthusiatically and he proceded to pull out the tiniest little pirate hat you've ever seen. On it went and I snapped away. Here's a photo of the littlest pirate. Too cute!

Come back again and read about about the privateers and Neptune - yes, he was there too - in my next blog entry. In the meantime you can check out all my pirate photos on my website elizabethheathphotography. Don't forget to sign my guestbook while you're there.

Now go forth and make it a day to have some fun and be a kid again!

Elizabeth - Arrrrrrr!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Remembering A Good Time!

Last weekend Dana Point's Marine Institute played host to the Tall Ships Festival and I was there! There was no way I was going to miss that shindig. It only took an hour to reach the harbor on an overcast Sunday morning, but I had high hopes that the sky would clear and bring a glorious blue to replace the morning gray.

As I drove down, I couldn't help but remember my only other visit to the Marine Institute roughly fifteen years ago. I was teaching fifth grade at the time (yes, I teach school when I'm not working as a photographer) and my students were just about bursting with excitement. They were headed to Dana Point Harbor and the brig 'Pilgrim' where they would be spending the night. They would exit the bus and enter the year 1834 as lowly sailors swabbing the decks, polishing brass, hauling water, and cooking (yes, cooking!).
I had read them the book Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana recounting his journey on the Pilgrim. Dana had an attack of the measles which affected his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, Dana left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn. He kept a diary throughout the voyage, and, after returning, he wrote Two Years Before the Mast.

His ship was on a voyage to trade goods from the east for cow hides. Interestingly, the bluffs near Mission San Juan Capistrano presented an obstacle to taking the cow hides to the beach for subsequent loading onto the ship. So, Dana, along with others of the Pilgrim's crew, tossed the hides from the bluffs. Some hides got stuck part way down the cliff and Dana was lowered with ropes to retrieve them. Since that day, that point where the bluffs were located, took on Dana's name, and is today the city of Dana Point.

So here I was again, but for a much different reason - tall ships! It was not hard to imagine life in the mid-1800's looking at the sheer cliffs that enclose the harbor. Today houses sit precariously at the top and the sea wall makes the harbor calm and appealing to visitors in the 21st Century. The visiting tall ships rocked in happy tandem all except the Pilgrim sitting in her place of honor as she welcomed young and old alike to explore a little bit of history.

And explore is exactly what I intended to do. There were the tall ships, of course, but there were also pirates, and exotic birds, and the Ocean Institute, and the ocean, and the art festival, and cute dogs, well, you get the idea. There was a lot to do too much to write about in one blog entry. So in my next few entries, I'll write more about my adventures at the Tall Ships Festival. You can enjoy all my photos from my day at Dana Point Harbor in the gallery on my website, Until next time. . .

Go out and make it a day to enjoy a little bit of history.