Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prime Time

After years of point-and-shoot, I saved up to buy a "grown-up" camera -- a Nikon D40x.  That was 6 years ago.  My Nikon has been a blessing and a curse ever since.  A blessing by taking decent photos but a curse because I don't always understand how to use it! I'm still trying to grasp how to operate an DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.  My main gripe every year is that my Christmas photos never turn out very good.  All of the places we visit on Christmas day, including our very own house, have poor lighting which leads to poor photos.  I want crisp, clear Christmas photos! 

Most reviews of DSLR cameras say that the kit lens (the lens that comes with the camera) is decent but not great.  I researched better lenses and came to the conclusion that I'd like a prime lens.  A prime lens is the opposite of a zoom lens - the focal length is fixed. So instead of zooming the lens out or in to take a photo, I have to physically move forward/backwards to take a picture.  Prime lenses have superior optical quality and have a high maximum aperture (smaller depth of field).  Translation:  clear pictures!

A 35mm prime lens isn't cheap so I opted to search on eBay for one.  I managed to get one for about $30 less -- not a huge savings but it's still something.  I was a happy girl the day my prime lens arrived in the mail last month, just in time for Christmas.  Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out how to use it properly but my Christmas photos were noticeably better than prior years.  

Here's a collection of photos I've taken with my prime lens to show you how it differs from other lenses:

Prime lenses are great for portraits.  See how the background is blurry?  I can increase my aperture (small f-stop) and get a shallow depth of field.  Chelsea was actually walking toward me as I took this picture.  That's a Ritz cracker crumb on her face :) 

Another shallow depth-of-field picture.  I love how the fence and flags are blurry in the background.

A portrait of Nate, is a little shaggy in this one.

I didn't do anything special to this photo -- no editing.  This is exactly how it turned out.  Plus, it was taken with natural light from my kitchen window.  Pretty amazing detail.

Nate's Lego helicopter.   

And the helicopter pilot who Nate has named "Helicopter" (makes for confusing conversations.)  He's standing on the bricks that edge our backyard grass....looks a lot more interesting in the picture than what's really there!

Every year I take a picture of this house in our neighborhood and it's always under or over-exposed.  I've always struggled with outdoor, night-time photos.  This year's picture of the Christmas lights -- perfect!

Not a great picture but an example of how I can have both kids in a photo and still focus on Chelsea shoving Cheerios in her mouth on Christmas morning.

So that's it.  I think most photography novices such as myself think that a zoom lens should be at the top of your wish list.  I'm here to say that a prime lens is the way to go. 

Monday, January 13, 2014


Christmas Day antics.  I never said we were normal.
Be sure to check out my Shutterfly photo book at the end of this post.

We put up our Christmas tree on December 7th -- I didn't want it to be soooo close to Thanksgiving but I wanted us to be able to enjoy it for a while.  As I wrote in my previous post, the Ikea "ornaments" worked out great.  I may even put them up next year!  And while I missed the scent of a real tree, our artificial tree looked and felt great even after having our heater on for 20+ days straight.  A real tree would have become a fire hazard, for sure, due to the chilly nights we experienced.

Lee used up the last of his vacation days the 2nd week of December and we were able to take advantage of doing some Christmas-y things during the week.  We drove about 46 miles east to see Santa at the Bass Pro Shop (he really did look and act like Santa!) on Monday.  On Wednesday, we took Nate ice skating after school at the new outdoor ice skating rink in our city.  We had the entire thing to ourselves, which was fun but maybe a little boring.  Go figure -- it was unusually warm and sunny that day.  

The 3rd week of December was Nate's last school week before Christmas.  The entire school hosts a short sing-a-long on Friday in the church sanctuary and it's adorable.  Unfortunately, Nate woke up sick on Wednesday and stayed sick the remainder of the week. No sing-a-long for us in 2013!  That was heartbreaking since it was his last performance with this school.  Thems the breaks, as they say.  And Nate was really sick so there wasn't much time to think about the sing-a-long between juice and Tylenol runs.

You know what's coming next....Chelsea developed a fever on Saturday, the 21st.  It hit her fast but not as hard as Nate.  Despite a milder virus, Chelsea also had to deal with bad diaper rash and some teething.  She was not a happy camper.  She and Lee missed out on our annual tradition of visiting Stats and picking out an ornament.  Nate and I still had a great time.  We loved the decorations, chatted with Santa and picked out an ornament on Chelsea's behalf.

By Christmas Eve, Nate was feeling about 95% better and Chelsea seemed a bit more like herself.  I had to work the first half of the day (boo!) and then we rushed like mad to get to church on time (we weren't) before decorating cookies for Santa and driving around & looking at Christmas lights with Grandma.  Boy, we crammed a lot into that 12 hours.  That evening, while Lee was at church until about 11:30pm, I cleaned up the house, baked some zucchini bread, and "played Santa Claus."  Nobody tells you that as a pastor's wife, you'll be putting toys together yourself on Christmas Eve.  Thank goodness I'm handy with a screwdriver!  Every year the instruction manuals get more complicated :)

You know what's coming next....I woke up on Christmas with a scratchy throat.  Double ugh.  Time to power through - it's Christmas morning!  Nate was super excited to see his toys and Chelsea got a kick out of the chaos.  We enjoyed time opening presents at home before going to Grandma's house for brunch and Grandpa's house for dinner.  A fun day.  A tiring day.

I had to work the day after Christmas with a flow-blown cold.  Not fun.  The fiscal year was about to end and, as a bookkeeper, I had a million things to do.  Looking back on it, I wish I would have planned ahead and taken Christmas week off from work.  Now that the kids are getting older, it would be nice to be with them for the entire holiday week.  

On Friday, we headed south to Newport Beach to visit with family. It was a really nice day visiting with family we don't get to see often enough.

Chelsea gave us a nice Christmas gift -- she started walking!  She had taken a few steps here and there during the previous month but she seemed a little nervous about walking then.  By late December, she felt more confident and -- boom -- took off without looking back.  That's my girl!

The rest of December is a blur...I closed out the fiscal year and was home from work on New Years Eve by 5pm so we were able to eat dinner and drive a few blocks to see our city's entry in the Rose Parade.  There weren't many people at the warehouse, which made it intimate and fun.  I think Lee was impressed with the scale of the float and the flowers.  You really do have to see the floats in person to appreciate all of the work that goes into them.  Nate was really interested in seeing the float the next morning on tv so we watched the parade and ate our traditional New Years donuts (Chelsea's first donut!)  It was a beautiful New Years day.

And that's the end of December.  What a great month.  I had so much fun with my kiddos and we made some great memories together.  The sick part wasn't the best but it comes with the territory and we tried to roll with in.  We feel very blessed to end 2013 this way.  I'm excited to see what 2014 has in store for us.....

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