Close Up or Far Off-Compose Yourself Challenge

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge: How your camera is not like your eye.

I call my camera a semi-automatic, a Nikon P610. It has a single lens: 4.3 to 258 mm focal length range (I think they call this a “wide angle zoom”). It has the ability to adjust many things but not change the lens so the only focal length adjustment is to zoom or not.

I wasn’t sure if I had a comfort zone. So I did a couple experiments.

The cormorant on the dolphin:

In this series I like the close up the best. The bird is too small in the other two pictures, and the dolphin isn’t very interesting without it. Somewhere between the 12.5 and 125.4 might have been nice, but the ferry was pulling out.

Raft of seabirds:

I don’t really like any of these very much, but the series gives an idea of the full range of what my lens can do. To get the full raft of birds into the frame means that there are too many other things in the frame and the birds do not contrast much with the water so they don’t grab your eye. In the two close ups you can tell that the birds are there, but they are scattered, it feels like a cacophony not a composition.

From those two sequences I decided to try and use no zoom as my “out of comfort zone” trial. Here are some pictures of the beach taken at 4.3 mm focal length:

What did I learn?

  • I like this focal length best when there is an obvious subject in the foreground. My favorite is the one with Ginger close to me.
  • Mostly stuff is too far away to really capture your attention.
  • The big picture has so many things in it that it is really hard to make your intended subject pop. It might work better for a simpler background with a larger subject.
  • It works better for dogs than birds.

Applying what I learned– I took these pictures today without zoom




Still there…and yet

I grew up on an island, on the beach at the end of the trail. Our front yard was the beach and the back yard the woods.

Little me
Little me

I was a wild child. One might almost say “feral”.My parents were loving, in their way. They were very young and caught up in the challenges of life. My dad was working a regular job, moonlighting, going to school and building the house we lived in. My mom was trying to be hip, having other children then suffering from depression, which became progressively deeper.

KSM20100901-My_Playground-03-720pxEven as we lived there things changed. The large big leaf maple had to be cut down because time and tide ate away the soil at its roots and it started to pry the foundation of the house out of the ground. Dad made enormous progress and the addition was twice the size of the original cabin. My parents marriage broke up and the house was never finished and eventually sold.

There were good times, mostly alone,  playing in the woods and on the beach and I have been working to try and reclaim that joy.

KSM20150421-My_Playground-04-720pxThe beach is still there. The woods are still there. The house is still there, although it looks pretty posh now. The trail is still there, although it has been rerouted over the years due to mud slides.

A few years ago I walked down the trail again. When I started I planned to be bold and knock on the door to ask if I could see what things looked like. When I came to the gate that marked where the county trail ended and private began, I looked at the gate, hesitated, then turned away.

You can never really go back.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ode to a Playground.”

Watch Your Tone!

Chinese is a tonal language…what does that mean?

It means that the tone is part of the word, just like which syllable you accent or how you pronounce read (present tense) versus read (past tense). In Chinese it is more extreme than read vs read; the word “ma” can mean mother, hemp, horse, scold or act as a verbal question mark, depending on tone.

In English we use tone primarily to add an element of attitude or emotion to the meaning of the sentence, for example a rising tone makes the sentence questioning (our question mark indicates that a sentence should be read with a rising tone) or a falling tone can indicate that you really mean it. The tones add the same element of meaning regardless of what the words are.

As a lifelong speaker of English I am finding it challenging to switch the way I use tones.  For example, I really want to ask questions with a rising tone. I tend to say “You speak English hemp” instead of “You speak English?”

Being the wish-washy sort I find the falling tone, which is explained as “how you say ‘no’ when you really mean it” hostile sounding, and it seems strange to use it in phrases that are cordial, like “thank you”. I tend to tone it down, which means I mispronounce “thank you” (even though I really mean it!)

When we say “watch your tone!” in English it is an admonition to pay mind to your attitude, to be respectful. In Chinese it would mean something closer to “be careful and precise to make your meaning clear”.


It is All Chinese to Me

I am not lazy, but I lack aptitude for language learning. Unless I have a goal it is hard to motivate myself to buckle down and really learn a language. Other stuff drifts to a higher priority.

I am trying to learn Chinese, again. This is my third try. Language isn’t my thing, even in my native tongue when I need words they just don’t come. One reason that I rarely post is that it takes me longer than a day to pull together a response.

When I traveled to China before, I have been twice now, it has been with a lot of dependence on other people. I have managed surprisingly well and had some great experiences (see Let’s Go Fly a Kite, A Picture and a Phrasebook Saved the Day, and Happy Mama).  But this time I decided that

  1. I really want to be able to communicate with people on my own.
  2. I want to go to a couple of places that are not on the western tourist track on my own.

I only decided to go about two months before takeoff, a very short time for someone who is all but tone deaf to try and learn a tonal language.

Before my first and second trips I tried using two different book plus CD programs. With the first, I ran through it once then listened to it in the car. After almost a year and a half of doing that, including several trips to and from California where I heard all three CDs twice a day, I made almost no progress. I was unable to recognize the words when someone other than the canned voice spoke them, or come up with them myself in real life situations (Although, I can say nihao and xiexie). But worse than that, I really could not speak the phrases in the phrase book. I couldn’t figure out how to follow and correctly pronounce the pinyin (Chinese phonics system). Nor could I recognize if someone responded with a phrase in the phrase book.

With the second I just couldn’t get into it. I think it was designed more to be used as an aid in a class where the instructor took you through it rather than working on one’s own. I took that one with me to China last time and tried to work on it in the morning then go out and listen for the phrases. I never recognized a thing.

This time, with six weeks to go before take off I started an on-line course ( This seems to be going better.  It helps to be able to see the person forming the words, and they focus on how the tones sound in a variety of real words (saying “ma” five different ways many, many, many times really didn’t help me). It also has a Chinese on the Street segment so you can hear a variety of voices using the material in context. So every morning now I am spending 45 minutes to an hour studying Chinese.

I know that some people have a better ear, are more linguistically oriented,  and are more courageous about trying than I am, but I really think the idea that one can just pick up a language with no effort is blarney.

T – 14 days for my real life test, I’d better get back to work.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Lazy Learners.”

A Trick of the Light

Fjordlands in New Zealand.
Fjordlands in New Zealand.

My old, and very faithful, Canon A510  would occasionally create a monochrome, almost black and white effect when the sun was really bright and sparkly. Technically it is probably an error of some sort and I could never make it happen on purpose, but sometimes I liked the results.

Looking north at the north end of Four-mile beach in Port Douglas Australia.
Looking north at the north end of Four-mile beach in Port Douglas Australia.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Monochromatic.”

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