Low Light Photography Class – Products Discussed

Low Light Photography Class – Products Discussed

In Part 1 of our photography class, “A Focus On Gear”, we discussed many different products and how to evaluate what will work best for your needs. As promised, here are a list of products and brands that I’ve used over the years, and some comments on each.

A Good Tripod (doesn’t have to be expensive)

Your class discussed the trade-offs of features-vs-price for a new tripod. You can buy a very light tripod that is very sturdy, or one that is useless. The only
way to know if a tripod will work for you is to read the specs and try the tripod out yourself. Here are several brands I have used.

  • Manfrotto – One of the tripods I currently use. Typically higher quality brand, sells complete kits or legs and head separately.
  • Slik – Many years ago, I had one similar to Slik Pro 500HD. Was very happy with it, but the kit did not come with a “ball head”. A good budget tripod if you get one of their good models, they also sell “cheap” pods too.
  • MeFoto – Fairly light, decent tripod. Folds up for travel.

A Trigger / Remote

Triggers allow you to fire the shutter w/out touching the camera and causing unwanted camera shake. Triggers can be complicated or extremely simple.

These triggers are examples for CANON. Triggers are camera-specific, make sure and get one for your specific camera manufacturer and model!

A Good Lens

In class, we talked about “fast lenses”, lenses that have extra-wide apertures to allow in more light. There are several very expensive models on the market, but
a good place to start is the 50mm Prime (in one of our other classes, the 50mm is listed as “a lens everyone should own”). Here are several options.
Note, these are Canon lenses, but all other makers have similar 50mm options.

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L
    ($1,500) Canon’s best 50mm option, an “L” series professional lens.
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
    ($350) This is what I use. It is preferred by many hobby and professional photographers. A workhorse lens for lowlight and wide apertures photography.
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
    ($100) A reasonable option for low light photography, however it does not feature the better glass and build quality of the other two lenses. The
    lens body is plastic, making it lighter — but also makes it prone to breaking.
Joe Lippeatt is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for 24Moves Consulting. He is also the organizer of HoustonPhotowalks.com Photography Club. When not working, he's enjoying planning photography trips and helping his wife and son work in their gardens.
Photography Travel Packing List

Photography Travel Packing List

Checklists are lifesavers. Checking a list can make sure you don’t arrive in Belize with a perfectly good camera and tripod — but no tripod quick release plate.

The 24Moves Photography Travel Packing List

About once a year, I update my photography checklist just before taking a photography trip. This year, I added a few additional checklist boxes to help make sure I remember some important details. For example:

  • CLEAN – a reminder to wipe memory cards and clean lenses
  • TEST – to make sure I’m not packing any heavy gear that is impossible to use
  • FULL BATTERY – its important to pack batteries, but charging them is pretty key too
  • CHARGER – once the battery is charged, pack the charger
  • BAGGAGE – a reminder of which items I can “check” and which I should “carry on”.

It’s not just a checklist!

The checklist also has room for your equipment serial numbers. Once you are all packed and ready to go, you can include the checklist with your important documents. If anything is lost or stolen, you have a ready-made inventory — including identifying digits — to provide authorities and/or your insurance company! You won’t have to wait until you get home to find serial numbers before calling to file a police report.

Bonus! It’s free!

Just like every year, I’m happy to make my check list available for friends, family and HoustonPhotowalks.com Members — anyone that can use it! So print it out and get to cleaning, charging and packing!

If you find this useful, post a comment to say hello and let me know!!

Bon Voyage!

Download the Packing Worksheet

Joe Lippeatt is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for 24Moves Consulting. He is also the organizer of HoustonPhotowalks.com Photography Club. When not working, he's enjoying planning photography trips and helping his wife and son work in their gardens.
The Art Car Parade and your Special Needs Child – Tips and a Treasure Hunt

The Art Car Parade and your Special Needs Child – Tips and a Treasure Hunt

Houston has an amazing Art Car Parade each year. Its usually in the spring, and you can read more about this crazy fun event at The Art Car Parade Web Site.

For spectators who have children with challenges, there are aspects of this fun event that can be difficult. Its a crowd, its sometimes hot, there’s the occasional loud spectator (or participant), and the long line of cars trying to escape parking lots after the event can really twist the panties of even the most patient child. And if you arrive without eating first, its gonna be cranky for everyone.

The AutismHouston.com support group plans to attend this year, so I wanted to offer some hints and tips that we use to help make it a fun event for our family. These tips may not apply to everyone, pick and choose what you think works best for you.

Also, feel free to post a comment with your suggestions too!

  1. Go early – Art Cars start lining up as early as 1 and a half hours before the official parade roll. So you can arrive before the major crowd, park close by do a walking tour of the cars parked on the street. There’s lots of folks in costumes, dancing, activities, etc. One of Alex’s favorites is the school bus covered in chalk paint. They let the kids write their names on the bus before the parade starts! BONUS: if your kiddo starts getting a little cranked, you can walk back to your car and head home without getting stuck in exiting traffic!
  2. Eat Ahead of Time (and/or Bring Snacks) – There aren’t any stores close buy, so if Jr. gets cranky and occasionally needs a bite to help him settle, be sure and bring that with you. Depending on the weather, you might consider a bottle of water too.
  3. Create a “Treasure Hunt” – this will help keep everyone’s attention on the cars and festivities, and hopefully distract from things that are triggers or concerns. The treasure hunt we used last year is attached to this blog post.
    • BONUS – You can edit the treasure hunt for your child’s age and interests.
    • BONUS – You can include new words so its a teaching experience for younger and non-verbal children.
    • NOTE – Some children may feel the list I created is too long, so you can customize it as needed!
  4. Keep An Eye Out for Cars – While walking along the route (before the parade), keep an eye on cars. Art cars will be driving past as they enter their position. So if you hear a honk, politely move out of the way. 🙂
  5. Go Pee Before Arriving – There will be porta-potties, but if your child doesn’t give you much notice, you may not be close enough to make it. Did I mention they were “porta-potties”? Yeah.
  6. Careful When We Touch – Our kiddos can be very tactile and want to “experience” their surroundings with their fingers. Almost all of the car owners are happy to have kids enjoy their cars by running their fingers on the art work. But some cars may have delicate or sharp parts, and occasionally you may encounter a car owner that doesn’t want folks to touch. This is a great opportunity to teach kids how to ask “Can I touch this?”
  7. Avoiding Loud Music – Some of the cars, especially the dance floats, will have loudspeakers with music. Typically they point the speakers toward the crowd as they pass by (the “passenger side” of the vehicle). If loud music is a trigger for your kiddo, consider walking on the opposite side of that vehicle, the “driver’s side”. This way they are on the opposite side of the speaker direction. Typically there’s only 3 or 4 of these floats out of the 100+ cars that attend.
  8. Be Patient with Everyone – The parade participants have always been super friendly and super interesting. But there’s been a couple of times that spectators forgot their manners around my AUT son. It really sucks to hear “Move that kid out of the way!” from some fat 55 year old sitting in a fold out chair, trying to take a picture of something your child is standing next to. But there’s a jerk or two in every crowd, and its better to just move than be confrontational.
  9. Leave Early – Last and possibly most importantly, you don’t have to stay for the parade itself. If the family has checked off enough of the Scavenger Hunt list and attention is starting to be lost, head for the car. After the parade is over, the loooong line of cars trying to exit can crank up even the most patient person (including myself, LOL).

I hope you find these hints helpful. The Art Car Parade (and the parking before hand) is a really amazing event, and can really spark interest and creativity in kids of all ages. Consider your child’s needs and try to attend at least part of the festivities!!

Have any other suggestions/hints? Feel free to post in a comment!

Joe Lippeatt is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for 24Moves Consulting. He is also the organizer of HoustonPhotowalks.com Photography Club. When not working, he's enjoying planning photography trips and helping his wife and son work in their gardens.
Tips for getting the most out of your Autism Playgroup Sessions

Tips for getting the most out of your Autism Playgroup Sessions

Many people join Autism support groups such as the one my wife and I host, AutismHouston.com, and then don’t actually attend events. This has some very unfortunate consequences. Parents of recently diagnosed ASD family members miss out on seeing they aren’t alone. And children with awkward or difficult social circumstances miss out on opportunities to make pier- and age-group-appropriate friends.

Over the years, I’ve heard several reasons for not attending:

  • Parents have specific expectations of a meeting — and those expectations aren’t met (and everyone’s expectations are different).
  • Everyone is a little uncomfortable joining a crowd of strangers, some more than others.
  • Some parents don’t want their kids to see lower functioning children. I’ve heard this several times.
  • Some parents are concerned about how to interact (if at all) with other ASD children for fear of offending or upsetting the child.
  • Some parents feel all the other parents are “complainers” and a drag to be around. I’ve heard this many, many times.

After watching what works and what doesn’t at ASD Meetups, I want to share some suggestions for making the most out of a playgroup or playdate event for you and your ASD child.

Watch your Expectations: $80 Social Skills Group Sessions vs. Free Playgroup Events

What strikes me really interesting is hearing parents complain about the high-cost of social skills group classes, and how far they have to drive, and how inconvenient it is to drive into downtown — but they skip out on opportunities provided for FREE right in their own neighborhood.

As parents, we (or our insurance) pays professional service providers because they are highly trained, skilled, and professional. We complain about them being expensive, but they have to pay bills just like we do (and those bills include education fees and their college loans).

Free playgroup events can’t replace professionally-led social skills classes. Playgroup, or playdates are an opportunity to practice and reinforce what our kids are learning from their parents, school teachers, para-professionals, counselors, etc. We can tell our children “Say please”, and “Say nice to meet you.” But if we don’t help them practice with everyday situations, the teachings go in one ear and out the other.

Suggestions and managing expectations:

  • Most ASD Playgroups allow members to suggest or organize meetings in their own area.
  • Don’t expect (or desire!) a big crowd. You may see only 1 or 2 other families. Our kids don’t like massive crowds, so that works perfect.
  • Participate. Unlike an $80 social skills class, we can’t drop our kids off or sit in the waiting room.
  • Save complaining for later. Include the children in any conversations, encourage them to participate.
  • Be uplifting, upbeat, and encouraging to both the kids and parents.
  • Join a parents-only event to discuss uncomfortable school administration problems or complaints about your doctor.
  • Lower your stress level when interacting with the other ASD kiddos. (See suggestions below)

Reducing Discomfort

Its not easy walking into a group of strangers. When it comes to walking into a park with 20 families, its hard to walk up and ask “Are you here with the Autism Group?”

Suggestions for managing discomfort:

  • Agree on what to wear. If everyone (or at least several people) wear a specific color shirt, finding “the group” is much easier.
  • If its a small group, the host can just tell folks she will have on a yellow shirt/hat/pants.
  • Post yellow balloons at the park bench. Its very unlikely that someone else at the park will be using JUST yellow balloons. The Yellow Balloon trick will separate you from the birthday parties.
  • Agree on a specific location and time. If the time is ambiguous, misunderstandings can lead folks to never want to return again.
  • Remember that every other parent is just as uncomfortable, if not more, meeting complete strangers. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t help, but its important to remember.
  • You aren’t there to impress other parents. You’re there to help your kids interact, and show your kids how adults interact with each other in a friendly way.
  • Put philosophical differences on the back-burner. Kids don’t need to see us parents arguing about religion, politics, or the “Cause and Cures of Autism”. Go to Parent-Only events for that.

Some parents don’t want their kids to see lower functioning children.

Parents have told me they never came to events because they didn’t want their child to be around low-functioning Autistic children. The excuses ranged from being worried it would “damage their self-esteem” to “worried he will flip out”.

We want our children to be in a fully-inclusive, general education program. So it’s completely hypocritical for a parent to withhold access to social learning and friend-making opportunities from their children because there might be “those kinds of kids” at the event. Parents who use this excuse are no different than school administrators that think anyone with a diagnosis belongs in a different school.

Suggestions on how your child can benefit from associating with other ASD kids:

  • Don’t rob your child of the self-esteem elevating experience of helping other children.
  • Allow your child to practice working with and communicating with people of all ages and situations.
  • Allow our kids to build their community without poisoning their attitudes with bigotry against other children.
  • Teach your child to have compassion by actually showing real compassion for others yourself.
  • Every parent tells me their child is a “High Functioning Autistic Child”. And then I meet their kids and realize that many parents are in denial.

Last thing on this subject: Can you really tell your child “don’t play with him, he’s more Autistic than you.”? I find people that say this kind of thing to be very offensive. If you are a parent that doesn’t let their kids play with “those kind of kids”, then never attend a playgroup. Ever. Send your spouse.

Some parents are concerned about how to interact (if at all) with other ASD children.

This one is really tricky. Unless you know a specific family’s situation, its hard to know the best method of interaction. Every child is different, and so is every parent.

One time when discussing a disagreement between my son and another child, the father ran over and loudly explained, “I can handle my own child.” It turned a learning opportunity for my son (and his) into a very uncomfortable and contentious situation. Instead of teaching the kids to work together, “dad” taught the kids that adults become aggressive and loud.

Good job, “dad”.

Suggestions on dealing with other ASD Kids and parents:

  • Help your child practice asking other children their names (and if they like video games, and …).
  • Don’t pressure kids to answer a question; someone may be non-verbal, or just shy. Either way, don’t take a non-response as a queue to start ignoring the child.
  • Remind your child that some children don’t quickly (if at all) respond to questions, and to be patient with those who may be a little different.
  • Remind yourself and your child that we keep our hands to ourselves. Some of us are huggers, some of us are really affected by any type of touch or physical contact. For some with sensory issues, simple shirt tags and bra straps can be very uncomfortable, so a hug may be seen as a sign of aggression, not friendliness.
  • When you’re encouraging introductions between children, remember to ask “can I shake your hand?” before reaching out.
  • Remind your child ahead of time that some children are painfully sensitive to perfume and chemicals. So they should remember not to say anything if they notice another child has bad breath or BO. Our ASD kiddos can be a little blunt, so this is an important social skill for them to perfect at an early age.
  • If a parent becomes offended because you encourage the kids to play together or learn each other’s names, that parent’s expectations need to be adjusted. Tell me, my wife, or another host so we can get on the same page. If someone doesn’t want their child to be social with others in the playgroup, they stop attending playdates.
  • Patients is key, with parents and kids.

Some parents feel all the other parents are “complainers” and a drag to be around.

Mom and dad: stop complaining when we should be helping our kids communicate with each other!

  • Don’t huddle in a corner with other parents and let your kids run wild.
  • Kids will play “all alone” in a massive group unless we as parents show them how to play together.
  • If a child hears mom say to another parent “his teacher is a horrible person who doesn’t seem to care about autistic children”, why would that child cooperate with their teacher?
  • Every time your child hears you say something bad about their teacher, you UNDERMINE the teacher’s ability to maintain the type of relationship needed for your child’s success.
  • Non-verbal children can hear. They know their teacher’s name. If they hear you say their teacher’s name in an unfriendly or stressed or angry tone of voice, the non-verbal child can pick up on that. This can lead to the lack of cooperation. It does not help your child at all.
  • Playgroup and Play Date sessions are about helping socially awkward or difficult children learn to interact and play together.
  • Need emotional support, advice about how to handle teacher’s administration, etc? Attend or create a Parents-Only event!

Conclusion

Hopefully you found at least one or two suggestions helpful. Even if you don’t attend organized Social Group Classes, attend (and host) free playdates to help reinforce new social skills that will help them be successful. And allow them to socialize within the ASD community so they don’t grow up with feelings of shame, rejection and perpetual isolation that often accompanies growing into an adult with ASD.

Joe Lippeatt is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for 24Moves Consulting. He is also the organizer of HoustonPhotowalks.com Photography Club. When not working, he's enjoying planning photography trips and helping his wife and son work in their gardens.
My Backup Workflow for Large File Repositories

My Backup Workflow for Large File Repositories

We shift files back and forth trying to find the best backup strategy.

But the activity of moving files around only increases our chance of loosing important data.

At one point or another, we’ve all lost a file forever. Maybe it wasn’t a significant tragedy, or maybe it was 10 years of your child’s photos. Or the project due tomorrow. Or your client’s wedding photos. As we generate more and more data in our lives, it becomes increasingly more important to solidify our backup strategy — and stick to it.

Workflow is personal.

Sometimes when folks ask me about workflow, I preface by saying “this might not work for you”. We need workflows that we are comfortable with and simi-automatic — otherwise we won’t do it. Or we forget a step and then make matters worse when trying to play catch-up. But I’m happy to share with you my workflow, let me know in comments if it works for you, or if you have a better system.

3 copies, or it doesn’t exist.

Some of us may be familiar with this concept. Basically it means, if you don’t have 3 copies of a file, in 3 physically different locations, then it doesn’t actually exist. The intent here is to focus your attention on backups before you begin other aspects of your workflow.

I’m always a little tickled when people post images from our group photography events, even before I drive home. But I also wonder if folks have finished the critical backup stage of their workflow before they start editing images.

My workflow, and my recoverable backups

This workflow may not work for everyone. It’s a methodology that works for me and may give you some hints for your own process. For this example, I’m using a workflow from a photography shooting event.

STEP ONE copy files – do NOT import directly from your memory card!

The first thing I do after plugging in my card is “COPY” the images from my card to a staging directory on my computer, usually on my desktop. Many times I short-cut this step and just move the entire directory.

The most important part of this step is making sure ALL FILES are copied over. If you are using slower cards and an inexpensive card reader, the computer can sometimes “lose” connection as files are copied over. The copy process will halt and you might think the process is complete (and format your card not realizing you’re losing LOTS of images).

This is significantly worse if you try to “import” into your image management software (iPhoto, Lightroom, etc). If your card suddenly ejects and instantly reconnects during import, the software will pop up a pretty dialog box saying all files were imported, when actually they were not.

STEP TWO import files into Lightroom.

I wrote a blog post about safe Lightroom Catalog Backups a few months ago, so check out that article for more details. Each time I import a new batch, I create a new directory on my Drobo, a multi-disk storage device. This is where my “working files” will live forever.

So in a file directory called “2013”, I will create a new directory called “2013-10-05 Grand Prix of Houston”. This way when I order by directory name, all of the directories fall into “date order”.

Note that I say “working files” and not “backup files”. Although the Drobo Mass Storage Device system is often used as a “backup” system, I get the best use out of it as my primary working space.

The Drobo is a black box that sits on your desktop. You plug in 4 or 5 empty (and cheap) hard drives, and your computer “sees” it as one drive. As time goes on and you start running out of space, you pop out whichever drive is the smallest, and pop in a new hard drive of any make, model or size. Presto, more hard drive space w/out having to copy files all over the place.

This also makes upgrading to a new computer MUCH easier, since my work lives on my Drobo rather than my computer’s hard drive. So if my computer crashes (or needs to be repaired/replaced), I can plug the drobo into a new computer and I’m off-and-running like nothing happened.

The Drobo is also redundant. If one of the drobo’s drives goes bad (and you know they do/will), the other drives contain enough data that anything lost can be instantly recovered. All I have to do is run down to Best Buy, find a cheap replacement drive and plug it in. Presto. (Ok, not presto, it takes a while for the device to be ready to use again — but at least I didn’t lose any projects or data).

Finally, if the Drobo itself goes bad (mine is going on about 5 years old, so it won’t be long), I can order another from the manufacturer and pop in the old disks. This is very similar to RAID devices. If your RAID enclosure burns out, your data is still safe on the drives. Unfortunately because each manufacturer uses their own modified version of the linux operating system, you are usually forced to buy another RAID enclosure from the same manufacturer, otherwise the drives have to be reformatted. Similarly, if your Drobo device fails, you have to buy another Drobo to continue using the data on those drives.

One of the criticisms for using external storage (like USB drives, etc) is that it slows your workflow. Drobo products you can buy today have Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. I don’t experience a significant issue using the drobo for editing images. However, as mentioned in the other article, I do keep my Lightroom catalog data on my local hard drive.

Ok, enough about Drobo.

STEP THREE

At this point, I have a single copy of the project files, stored on a redundant drive system. This is good and safe, but not quite safe enough. This is where Time Machine comes in. If you are using Windows, there are several Time Machine-esk utilities on the market. Time Machine makes a backup of my computer a couple of times a day. In my configuration settings, I added my Drobo to the list of things being backed up.

This means I have one huge Time Machine, and eventually I’ll have to revisit this step. But for now, its a completely hands-off backup system. I now have two copies of my project: a copy on redundant file protection system, and a backup on Time Machine.

STEP FOUR

It’s great that I have two copies. Unfortunately they are sitting right next to each other. If my house burns down, or hurricane or tornado, etc, then both will be lost. The third location needs to be “off site”, somewhere completely different. Some folks use two Time Machines, and leave one at the office. Then they just swap them out once a week or month.

I’ve also heard of people using a safety deposit box. But that means having to retrieve it every time you want to update the backup. Kinda messy and painful to make a run to the bank over and over. Another option is to trade backups with family. You hold a USB drive of their backup and they hold one for you. That works, but still the same problem as the bank, just not as bad.

A much more realistic, and hands-off, approach is “cloud” storage. There are several companies offering secure cloud backup services, the one I chose with is CrashPlan. I went with their “Unlimited” plan, which is about $60 per year. However they are currently offering a 20% discount for new subscribers.

I installed the product on my computer, and configured which directories I wanted backed up. This took a long, long time. I was limited by my bandwidth, and I have LOTS of files (about 3 TB). When I say a long time … it was measured in months, not hours. But once it was complete, a simple backup refresh only takes a few minutes.

CrashPlan will send you a hard drive that you can fill and send back to get your first backup started off quick. Since I was already using another system for off-site backups, I didn’t pay the additional money for that service. However, if my house burns down, I will likely pay for their rapid return service, where they send you a copy of your data on a hard drive if you need it in a hurry.

So you may ask, what if CrashPlan goes out of business? That’s about the same risk exposure as a failed hard drive. Since I have three copies, losing one copy means I have work to do to replace it, but not a tragedy. If CrashPlan goes out of business, or prices themselves out of my budget, then there are plenty of competitors I can switch to.

STEP FIVE – Productions

So now I have my three backups of all my files. However there are auxiliary and less obvious backups. For example, several of the places I upload photos to have them printed will keep files available for some period of time. Also, I have almost every image I’ve produced on my Zenfolio web site, MEDIA.24Moves.com. Likewise, I have fairly large versions of my images stored on Flickr as well.

Now this isn’t all of my work, just the “good stuff” that was worth displaying. Just like you I have LOTS of other stuff from shoots that should probably be deleted rather than backed up. If I lost those source files, it would be sad, but having the productions available on Zenfolio and Flickr is a nice bit of extra security.

I do *NOT* get any warm feelings about the security or safety of using Facebook as a backup system. When you upload images to facebook, their image hosting software takes great liberty with any image that seems “too big”. This includes down-sampling file quality and even reducing the file dimensions in some cases.

End of braindump. What’s your system?

See something here that you might be able to improve? Or do you have a system that works better for you? Anything here helpful enough that it changes your workflow for backups? Please leave a comment and encourage my good behavior.

Joe Lippeatt is a User Experience Engineer, Front End Specialist and Application Developer for 24Moves Consulting. He is also the organizer of HoustonPhotowalks.com Photography Club. When not working, he's enjoying planning photography trips and helping his wife and son work in their gardens.