Christmas Surprises + Post-its

Four post-its scribbled with notes. I like to plan things on paper. And because I'm detail oriented it's usually a whole pad of post-its.

I was a little bummed it snowed three flakes last winter which was a surprise since it felt like 20 below zero and naturally assumed we wouldn't go boarding, something we waited all year for. So when Jin surprised me with a trip to Whistler as my Christmas gift I was psyched! I love taking random trips as is, even if it's to the park down the street so you could imagine my excitement when he told me were going to Whistler. Don't get me wrong I love unwrapping presents but I'm beginning to realize that I also love gifts that allow for some good ol' memory-making, something you have for a lifetime. So I really appreciated this thoughtful gift and we had an amazing time from drinking wine in Lululemon (holiday party) on our way to Sushi Village (amazing!) to waking up to inches of snow on one of the mornings. I thought an eskimo from the north pole had moved their igloo onto our hotel balcony.

So the post-it notes are my game plan for this Christmas. This year I'm planning something for Jin. I surprised him with a W Seattle getaway and burlesque show last year but this time it will be a little different. I wanted to keep it a surprise because I love surprises, giving and receiving. Plus I have a little feeling he might find out if I tell you what it is :) But I'm excited. Let's just say it will be our first Christmas away from home. I'll really miss that feeling of waking up under a Christmas tree but this will make it that much more memorable!


Starlight Family Portraits

Linda and I wanted to make time to volunteer this holiday season and we got off to a good start by volunteering as photographers for the Starlight Children's Foundation. In a span of about a month, we along with other fellow photographers provided roughly 300 families in the greater Seattle area with family portrait sessions as a gift for the holidays. It was a huge endeavor that was coordinated by Earnie Glazener of Seattle Smug so much respect to him for all the hours I know he put into it. The photo sessions were conducted as far north as Mukilteo and south as Graham. This turned out to be a lot more time commitment and work than I first thought when I signed up as team lead for one of the days but in the end it was worth every minute seeing the project through. Personally it was a very special experience that warmed both Linda's and my heart as much as it did for the families who were so excited and thankful for the gift. Seeing the kids walk in curiously and shy at first then warming up and filling the room with more smiles and personality than we knew what to do with was one of the special highlights for me. We just wrapped up post processing and all the families will be presented with a large 24" x 30" canvas print donated by Bay Photos along with digital copies of the rest of the pictures next weekend. It will be fun to see the families again and be there to present them their gift. I'm also looking forward to meeting all the other photographers that helped out and to see the work they created. I'm a bit nervous though because we won't get to see the final canvas prints until the same time the families do so yikes!

Photographically for both Linda and I, it was such an amazing learning opportunity by having jumped into unknown territory of family portrait photography. It's a very different ball game than say an engagement shoot or personal portrait shoot but what a rush it was! We learned so much by diving right in head first and just doing it on the fly. For example we ended up only having about 20 minutes to setup the studio when we were supposed to have a whole hour to get ready before the first family was scheduled to arrive. Then to top it off, because nobody replied to my several emails prior to the shoot to get a feel for what kind of team we were made of, I found out there that nobody was familiar with setting up or using studio strobe lighting....Luckily Linda and I were able to get it setup from all the hours of home schooling we've taken through YouTube University and the likes. Maybe you've heard of it? =) It was a huge task for us working with the challenges family photos present like for example, getting all the model release paperwork filled out beforehand, group positioning, ensuring everyone was in sharp focus, capturing enough keeper shots where all members of the family actually looked into the camera with nice expressions, catering to the kids that had special medical considerations, getting everyone lit evenly without hot spots or unwanted falloff, and finally building rapport with the the family and kids making sure they were getting guidance and felt comfortable throughout the whole shooting process. In all, it was absolutely touching, rewarding and exhilarating!

| About Starlight |

When a child is diagnosed with a serious illness, the day-to-day joys of childhood take a back seat to the rigors of treatment and hospitalization. For more than 25 years, Starlight Children’s Foundation has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and life-altering injuries by providing entertainment, education and family activities that help them cope with the pain, fear and isolation of prolonged illness.
Starlight understands what families go through when a child is sick, and how important it is to find relief from constant worry and isolation. Its programs have been proven to distract children from their pain, help them better understand and manage their illnesses, and connect families with others facing similar challenges so that no one feels alone.

A few of the pictures...


One productive week

Days can blend together when there's a lot going on and your mind doesn't have time to reflect. It's easy to forget everything you've done until you lay it all out but fulfilling to know how much can be done in just one week if you make the effort. Here's to one fun, busy, tiring, exciting, fulfilling, productive week!

one week:
five breakfast and lunch preps
forty hours at work
one band shoot
one family and portrait shoot
one concert
one chinese take out night
one night location scouting
one birthday party and dancing
one christmas party in our dream house
two homecooked meals
one happy hour
one mexican dinner
two hours basketball
ten hours post processing
one christmas tree purchase and decorating


How do you know...

How do you know if you're genuinely passionate about something, something like photography?

Is it when your Marc Jacobs purse fund turns into a Canon lens fund...

When your idea of a celebrity turns from David Beckham into Chase Jarvis...

When you rationalize every potential purchase with, "Well, this could go to camera equipment"...

When you go to a photography seminar on Friday night after work...and Saturday, and Sunday...

When you start popping in the One Light lighting DVD over season 3 of Glee...

When you go to a concert but not to listen to the music...

When you have enough lens caps lying around that your guests mistake them for coasters...

When you start eyeing the engagement shooter's L-lens over the Audi R8 on the street (and fantasize jumping him for it)...

When you dream about camera settings, shoot locations, and flattering poses...

When you live your dream and dream your dreams...

Maybe this is when you know.


Engagement | Cassie + Eric

Break rooms are more exciting than tupperwared leftovers and cold ham and cheese sandwiches for some. Eric and Cassie's love began the day he followed her into the break room of an Arizona Office Max to flirt with her during their shift. Six and a half years later, they still flirt and have more affection than a couple at six weeks. Cassie, a pharm tech, and Eric, a graphic designer, might not share the same passion for art but have more than enough passion to make a soap opera look like an after school special. This super sweet couple were such great sports and a pleasure to shoot. It was a cold fall Sunday but luckily the bipolar Seattle weather was on our side as we made our way through Wallingford, an impromptu stop at a sky bridge on the way to Sculpture Park, and slipped in a sushi stop at Japonessa before ending with a night shoot downtown by the market. Even with hours of posing and smooching for the shoot, we'd catch them sneaking kisses off camera.

Though we never made it to Sculpture Park due to the light afternoon drizzle, Eric popped the question here last May before a trip to Paris. He tricked Cassie by purchasing an expensive camera lens for himself earlier that day. "Sorry babe, looks like your ring will have to wait a while longer." Fill in reaction here. Hint, let's just say the back of Eric's head got to feel the fabric of what felt like an oversized bag. They finished off the day at the park, drinking wine under the warm sun when liquid courage brought upon the anticipated four words at sunset and the rest was history.

The destination wedding will be in Puerto Vallarta next spring. It was a treat to have had the opportunity to capture them before they ride into the sunset as one. Jin and I had an absolute blast spending a day in the lives of Eric and Cassie and wish them all the best in their future endeavors!

Click here to jump to the full album...


Cassidy + Eric

You know that couple that makes you sick for being so damn cute together, like pretty much all the time? Well that would be our friends Cassie and Eric. We had the fun honor of shooting their engagement session yesterday! Linda and I had a great time and learned a whole lot shooting these two love birds and even though we're friends, we can't thank them enough for being our first couple for our first engagement shoot. It was a bit overwhelming but they made it a lot of fun for us and hope they had fun too! More on the day later, but for now here's a teaser pic!


A Busy Photographic Weekend

This past weekend flew by in a hurry even with gaining the hour from  daylight savings. It was probably because of the jam packed schedule of classes  we attended. It kind of felt like we flew to another city to attend a workshop  expo but we didn't. We were just kicking it up in Lynnwood mostly which of course is way way  cooler. =)

To kick things off, Friday evening we met professional beauty  photographer Joe Edelman. He shared with us what goes into making a great image  and emphasized the importance psychology and model/photographer interaction plays in getting great  shots. It was very informative, relevant and I really like his pictures because  they are so simple yet emotionally charged when you stare at them. I love it.

We also attended numerous photography workshops all day Saturday and  Sunday at the Lynnwood Convention Center. They were all free so we took advantage. Btw, thanks again Oliver for the  heads up. There we met several professional photographers, one of which was Dean Zulich a Seattle based commercial and fashion photographer creating great  work and representing Sea-town to the fullest! The timing of it was cool because I had just  learned about him reading the latest edition of DPP magazine the day before,  then just by coincidence I ended up meeting him the next day where he gave a  presentation about fashion photography on the go and the importance of color  calibration. He was showing the versatile Elinchrom Quadra lighting gear. Very nice and compact looking gear but like Dean when he was a broke ass student during art school, I consider myself to be  in self-study photography school at the moment so anything Elinchrom is definitely out of my price range for now. =) Anyways, Dean seemed like a cool down to earth dude and  meeting him was definitely inspiring. I hope someday I can be at a level where he'd be down  to work on a collaborative project together. Haha, it's good to dream  right? Actually you know what...I'm going to write that down as one of my goals  just for the heck of it. =)

With Dean...

Couple more exciting things worth mentioning.  Linda and I got a new lens...woot! Our second prime and this one's not made  mostly out of plastic like our 50mm, ha! Since we've been shooting a lot of portraits, we picked  up the Canon 85mm 1.8 USM. It was kind of a no brainier next lens to add to our  gear. It's a beautiful portraits favored lens that doesn't require eating  top-ramen for the next couple of months to pay for it. We also picked up a much  needed 3rd light stand and reflector holder arm. The light stand is the  Manfrotto nano light stand which is great for on the go/on location shoots since it's very compact and light. I learned about this product a while back  following Mr. Hobby's blog. The reflector holder is made by Avenger and  unfortunately it doesn't hold our Westcott 5.1 reflector very well so I'll have  to mess with it to get it to hold properly. We now have enough lights and stands to have  the option to fire off a key light, back light and side or fill light if we want  to....sweet-tah!

We also educated ourselves a bit on the history of  photography and how the camera medium was invented and evolved to what it is today. It was a fun history lesson. Makes me appreciate even more how spoiled we are in creating our images. One of the fun things I learned from this class is how the  key principles for image capture hasn't change much since the beginning. Also speaking of not having changed, during the civil war the battlefield  photographers who captured the aftermath of the bloody battlefields at times  moved the dead soldiers bodies around to get a better composition...are you serious?!

Here's a few quick shots we took with the 85mm from the convention center. Being a medium telephoto lens, it does a better job compressing the picture together than the 50mm we've been exclusively been using. We've barely had any time with it but I'm sure we will use it a lot and  get to know it's strengths and quirks soon enough. Linda was so cute like a kid in a candy store. She was so excited, she couldn't even wait and was already opening and mounting the new lens to the camera before we even finished checking out at the register.

This one Linda took of me at f2.8 | ISO 400. The 50mm is usually a bit softer at this same aperture.

Here, photographer and educator John Williamson was demonstrating basic on location lighting using a Nikon SB900 speedlight flash with a Apollo Wescott Softbox modifier.We've had this modifier for a while and it's really slick how it collapses like an umbrella. Very compact and works like a charm.

This one was wide open at f1.8 | ISO 200. Again not bad on the sharpness. I back button focused on her left eye and then recomposed a slight amount. I took this test shot simply to see how much the cars behind her would blur at wide open and the quality of the blur. Not bad, better than the 50mm and I didn't have to be as close but of course it would be really good if I shot this with the new 70-200L IS USM II lens extended fully at 200mm. I'm sure you wouldn't even notice there were cars behind her at the 200mm focal length. Speaking of the new 70-200, we got to mount that bad boy up on our camera body and take some test shots. This lens is big and heavy and ain't playing around. It compresses a scene like the way you wish your mama would iron your shirts. And then there's the creamy bokeh and the new image stabilization which is impressive. I was getting sharp shots at around 135mm at 1/50s at f2.8. How cool is that! Me want one so bad....drool.

The new sharper, more glare proof, IS capable, heavier, and expensive 70-200...

And here's the other tools we got. Their sale prices were pretty  much in line with online prices or slightly better so it was a great opportunity  to pick them up locally which helps support our local economy and all. Also there's  nothing better than instant gratification of not having to wait for shipping which Linda clearly demonstrated.

Coming up, Linda and I are volunteering for a charity photo shoot next weekend for Starlight Children's Foundation. This will  be an in studio shoot and I've been given the fun opportunity to lead the group shoot. This should be a lot fun and I'm really excited for the challenge. Stay tuned...

Tip of the Day: Using BBF (Big beautiful females?)

Okay, so the title doesn't hold true. But this is something that I've been reading up on the past week and informed Jin about as well and we played with it for the first time a few days ago. It always excites me to learn something new about something I love, especially if it's really beneficial and I want to share it with everyone. Anyhow, for those of you who aren't familiar yet BBF stands for back button focusing. It was mentioned all over Open Source Photo that many professionals use this feature and was also mentioned by a speaker, John, at the Digital Expo we attended over the weekend that many professional photographers utilize this. In dummy terms, it basically means instead of pressing the shutter halfway, you press the back (*) button on your camera to lock focus where you want and let go and the next time you press the shutter release on your camera it takes the picture since the back button prelocked the focus for you. Just an FYI though that this feature has to be enabled in your menu settings beforehand. You might wonder as I did what the advantages of this approach are versus the traditional method. For one, when pressing the shutter halfway you might accidentally lose focus if your finger moves slightly. Second, when using BBF the camera won't lose focus if something enters the picture while you're shooting. Also, if you're taking a series of similar shots, say for portraits, you don't have to refocus each time. Another example is if you're waiting for someone to make a certain expression, you don't have to sit still and wait with your finger on the shutter halfway until you capture the perfect moment. Personally, I think it takes a little getting used to since the back button is smaller and not as convinient to press but I'll definitely be using this feature more to see how it really benefits my shots. Afterall in photography, it only takes a second to miss a beautiful moment. More here including instructions for Canon and Nikon shooters: http://www.rickykphotography.com/tutorials/camera/back-button-focusing/


Lady In The Smoke

This evening, I tried capturing smoke for the very first time just for fun. In the 30-40 shots I took, by total luck in timing, I captured the smoke right when it was in this form.

Are you kidding me?! There are so many types of photography and in my short journey so far, I've been primarily drawn to shooting people and portraits. Then this happened tonight. I'm not sure how to feel about it but it is by far the most beautiful and touching thing I've ever captured. I am utterly speechless and inspired beyond words. This is straight out of camera.


Happy Halloween!

It's that time of year again. We went to a haunted house for the first time last weekend. It was Jin's first and I haven't been to one since I was eleventeen so I wasn't sure what was in store for us. We actually had a blast and I haven't laughed and screamed so hard at the same time since I can remember. Next time I'll remember to pop some Advil before entering but it was worth it :) I know it's a little corny for some people and it was pretty dead but it's what you make of it and who you're with and we were definitely with a fun group. My friend was hitting on the zombie and trying to tell him to get his nails done in her best authentic Vietnamese accent. "Yo nayo so uk-lee. I may yo nayo prih-tee, fie dolla." Can't wait for the next one!

The last couple years we ended up getting our costumes last minute. Literally. Jin was running around town looking for something the day before. He ended up with a costume three sizes too big. Apparently Large in Halloween sizes equals a quadruple X-L. So he vowed this year would be different. That we would be good and start shopping at least a month in advance. Okay, being good meant shopping two weeks in advance but that was much sooner than the previous years. We even got Kimmy a little costume before we got ours. We started off with happy hour at one of our spots and walked over to the shop. We had some fun playing around the store trying on different accessories. Our original idea was to be Aladdin and Jasmine but we ended up choosing to be Romans this year. I went to the fabric store to make it a little more creative and I was amazed by all the little detailed accessories they had. It's definitely inspired me to utilize that for next year's outfit. Will post our costumes (and Kimmy's) in the next blog but leaving you a peek at what we were role playing as last year. Crazy captain and his Rainbow Brite.


Mystery Mushrooms

 "Can we meet up today? I have something I need to give to you right away." We met up with my mom for our occasional dinners last minute at no place other than OCB. Gotta love the buffets once in a while. It turned out my generous mom had a huge bag of mushrooms for us. Magic mushrooms, I joked. But she was very serious. "I know, they look scary but please don't throw them away. The street price on these is very expensive." And by "street" I think she meant the streets of farmer's markets around the world. I was beginning to think they might be "magical" afterall. "You have to eat them all, okay promise?" Okay, we will. I'm sure there was some hesitation in my voice with a question mark at the end of my answer to go along with my blank stare.

 We got these dusty things home and I didn't realize how hard they were to clean until I found myself scrubbing them forever it seemed under the cold running water. I got them prettified and looking good for meals to come. We were determined to eat these things because we'd feel guilty if we didn't after all her efforts and pleading.

I threw them in the new dutch oven to add to a rosemary lemon chicken dish the first night. They were pretty good, nothing like the typical mushroom I've had. It had a more chewy and meaty texture.

We ended up using these for dinner every night after that in efforts to eat through the entire bag. Yes, there were enough in there to last through four very large cooked meals. The next night we had a few friends over and I added them to our chicken enchilada verdes. They were actually really good in these.

I made some kalimotxos to go along with our enchiladas. I wanted our friend Ryan to try it since he seemed a little turned off when I first told him about this popular drink. I like watching people try something for the first time, especially when they think they won't like it. His reaction was the same as mine when I first found out about it along with many others. "You're putting what in what...what the?"

Kalimotxo (pronounced "cali-mocho") is equal parts red wine and cola served over ice and garnished with a twist of citrus like lime. I just learned that this drink is actually served around the world in places like Chile, Bosnia, Hungaria, and in Germany it is sometimes referred to as "Korea". Random fact, young spainards were commonly known to save money by mixing cheap red wine and coke in a plastic bag and squeezing the contents into a cola bottle. This drink is served all over Spain. The only place I've seen in Seattle so far that serves this on the menu is the now-extinct Txori (Spanish tapas) in Belltown, which had awesome tapas. His reaction, like mine was surprised satisfaction.

Continuing on the mushroom adventure, Sunday evening we sent the shrooms swimming in a pool of sesame oil and soy sauce then tossed them with our porkchops and ate them "Korean-syle" wrapping them in lettuce leaves with a bunch of side dishes called ban chan. On the final day, I sauteed them in garlic, onion, and oil and tossed them into rice for a Mexican casserole dish. For the rice I mixed sour cream, salsa, cilantro, cheese and pan fried chicken thighs seasoned fajita-style with some cumin.

 Jin commented that he liked them more and more each time he tried them. The funny part is, I think we actually enjoyed and appreciated them more once we found out the real story behind these mystery mushrooms. Around dinner number two, I received an email from my sister in San Francisco that she had received an anonymous care package full of nature's goodness in her mailbox one night. I couldn't even imagine my face if I got a box of these unknowingly in the mailbox considering how confused I was even receiving them in person from my own mother. The sight and smell of these frightened her and her mushroom-hating boyfriend and they worried it could be poisonous. She took them to the farmer's market the next morning and learned they are a delicacy going for (the street price) of $28 a pound! An elderly Japanese man asked where she got them and said they're really good in risotto. He said they're a huge delicacy in his country and grow near pine trees. She felt safe enough to cook them in her small apartment that evening but had a difficult time getting the smell out. Ah, the sweet aftermath of expensive fungus. Her boyfriend has been a great sport about it as he hates mushrooms, a trait I've learned about quite a few people actually. Usually due to the ooey-gooey texture. Needless to say, my mother vowed never to send her mushrooms again. Luckily Jin and I both love mushrooms so we were able to eat through the whole bag within a matter of days.

These mystery fun-guys turned out to be called matsutake mushrooms. Here's a background on these if you're interested: http://www.mssf.org/cookbook/matsutake.html


Spooky Shoot

With Halloween creeping up around the corner, it reminded me of a random shoot we did at a park in Kirkland this past summer. It was quite random actually because a few hours prior, we had just landed home coming back from San Diego and instead of unpacking and chill-axin, we went shooting. To me, these pictures turned out a bit eerie which is why I thought of them when Halloween popped up in my head. These as usual were shot with the Rebel T2i using just one Vivitar 285HV speed light flash on a light stand, with a 28" collapsible Westcott Softbox.

Pretty much in all of these pictures, the focus/sharpness were off to various degree due to the low available light. The sun had already set and we were in the mist of trees and ferns right off a dirt trail. After a point it got so dark that the camera couldn't establish lock onto focus so I had to switch to manual focus mode and guess. I had Linda make some quick whipping movements with her head to get these funky shots. I like how they turned out and she killed the pose! I gotta give it up to her because there she was dressed in street clothes and in heels for a movie we were going to go watch with some friends afterwords. She was definitely not dressed for trampling around on a steep bank with twigs, shrubs, loose dirt, and bugs buzzing all up in our grill. Regardless, she still managed to repeatedly find her balance, strike a pose and whip her head around for me on my count. Of course after whipping her head each time, she lost her balance and came stumbling down the bank towards me to catch her step. Quite impressive now that I think back about it. Later on after uploading, I noticed there was a distracting wooden stick poking out of the ground next to her foot but at the time I totally didn't see it. I know I can fix it in Photoshop but again I'm posting it uncorrected for my future amusement.

Here's a few more misc. shots. While shooting a friendly woman walking her dog took interest in what we were doing. Her dog Amy I think, was really sweet and friendly so I asked if I could include her in a shot so we got one with her in it. =)

I like this one that Linda took of me. It's a simple back lighting effect using a bare flash in front of me pointed towards the camera. I turned my shoulder out a little to the side which caused the light to bounce off my chest illuminating the nearby dust particles in the air. I can't believe we were breathing all that dust but it created this cool mystical affect.


I think it would be fun to do a Halloween costume shoot this year so if any of my friends are putting effort into their costume this year and would like to run through a dress rehearsal per say before Halloween, let's all get dressed up and try creating some fun pictures on location. Let me know if anyone's interested! Jin


Finally a Table! | Update - It's In And It Fits!

The table and chairs arrived and it fits, feels, and looks great. For most of the time when it's just us two, having the table bumped up against the window with the view of the trees outside gives it a nice cozy feel. I'm very happy with it and look forward to enjoying many delicious meals on it and even using it as a table top for still life photography.

We cooked up some hearty jambalaya and fresh baked bread for dinner as our first meal on it. This turned out to be a long but fun interior design adventure for us! Next up...finding the right chandelier or arching floor lamp to light the space. I'm open ears, so for fun if you dig interior design like I do, let me know if you have any ideas for that taking into consideration the color scheme we got going on up in our crib.

A few pics...

Linda and I are super excited for tomorrow because in the span of the last year and a half after having patiently searched making numerous repeat visits around Seattle and even Portland to Bo-Concept, West Elm, Dania, Kasala, Alchemy Collections, Skarbos, Ikea, Design Within Reach, Macy's Furniture, Crate and Barrel, and Ligne Roset (I think I covered them all), we have finally found a dining table! Until now we've been eating at the bar counter or in front of the TV. After all that running around locally, we ended up finding it at CB2 in downtown San Fransisco. =). I'm very impressed with what CB2's design team have been producing especially within this past year. We've made our rounds so many times to the point that a new employee at one of the stores recently asked if we've been in before to which I smiled back and said oh you must be new. =) It took this long partly because for one, I've made my share of bad furniture purchase decisions in the past. For example, I once bought a butt ugly black leather couch set from Dania that every fresh out of college guy wanted for some unexplainable reason. The funny thing about that story is a guy just out of college ended up buying mine years later. With those types of silly experiences under my belt, I didn't want us to make a choice until we thoroughly knew what we wanted and what all our choices were which we can confidently say we did. Our options were limited because of the space constraints we had to work with. Linda and I were both in agreement that it shouldn't be too long or wide for the space, the color probably shouldn't be white since we already have plenty of surrounding white furniture (we both love white), and lastly it should be multi-functional in being both collapsible or expandable in size for entertaining friends and family. Hilarious at the moment, we didn't follow any of our requirements and reason being, they went against the very things we really wanted. So when we saw it, we finally gave in. The table is white, big and not multi-functional. It's a simple and clean modern one piece top with slab styled legs all in lacquered white. We also picked out four dining chairs that looks great with the table, doesn't compromise on comfort and matches the rest of the room. I know it'll fit since I measured the space a long time ago but we're not sure if it'll be too cramped. I really hope it works because it's the only table we've liked enough to get after all this time. I guess we'll find out tomorrow. =) Keep your fingers crossed...I'll update the post with pictures once it's in.


Let Me Upgrade Ya

Alright just as a warning this post is a bit geeky but hey who isn't these days with the majority of us constantly upgrading to the latest shiny smart phone, Internet TV and/or tablet that seem to keep getting refreshed every few months anyways right? I felt like writing about my just completed PC upgrade for those of you out there who are thinking about what can be done to speed up your computer without buying a new one or breaking the bank.

Ever since I started using hardware intensive programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, my somewhat dated home PC has been struggling to keep up. To remedy the problem, I would loved to have gone in and picked up the latest 27" all in one Apple iMac from the store and be done with it but money doesn't grow on the trees around where I live and besides, I already have a decent PC that just needed a little bit of upgrade love. Being that it's already a quad core CPU system running 32bit Win7, I just focused on a couple key components that were the major bottlenecks in my system. Once they were upgraded, it made a significant difference in overall responsiveness. Also it didn't cost much either so I'm sharing it with you for your informative reading pleasure. Here's the what and why I upgraded the components I did and for how much.

1. Probably the biggest bottleneck for computers since it's existence has been the platter/spinning with mechanical arm style hard drive. The past several years, solid state drive (SSD) based hard drives have improved dramatically and now dropped low enough in price, making it an attractive option over the traditional hard-drive, at least for use as the main system partition where the OS runs. These suckers connect the same way as traditional hard drives and work pretty much like a usb memory stick or camera memory card. They are still no where as cheap per gigabyte as traditional hard drives but I was able to pick up a 40 gigabyte OCZ Agility 2 series SSD for $100 from Newegg.com. I'm using it just for my system partition where Windows and key applications run like Photoshop and Lightroom run since it's only a 40GB drive. I've installed all my other lower priority/less used applications on the secondary partition which is a traditional hard drive that is much higher in capacity. SSD is the future of hard drives. Actually it's safe to say, it's what's in now. If you look at computer manufactures today like Apple, IBM, Dell, etc., you will see this as an upgrade option when building a system on their website. With exception to adding more RAM, if you're looking for the biggest bang in performance for the buck, this is the upgrade I recommend.

2. At the office, we've been running 64-bit operating systems for a good while now but I've held off on doing so at home because I really haven't had a need to but now I'm doing things on the PC that demand much more system memory aka RAM. This upgrade actually involves two components. In order to use more than 4GB of RAM which is what I had, you have to be running a 64bit operating system. Long story short without getting too technical, a 32bit OS can only see and address about 3.3 gigabytes of memory. With a 64bit OS, you can use much more. For example at the office, we have servers in our data center running 64bit Windows Server 2008 with roughly 100 gigabytes of RAM installed. That's a lot for one system and also expensive! So I ended up buying two more sticks of RAM totaling 4 GB bringing the system total to 8 GB. I also installed the 64bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate so the system could take advantage of using all of the memory.

I also picked up a cheap 2 terabyte external USB 2.0 hard-drive to backup and store all of the photos from our ever growing picture library. This isn't a performance upgrade per say, but more of a capacity and insurance upgrade since we all should be backing up our files to at least two storage mediums and ultimately have one of those mediums stored at a different physical location. This is a whole other topic I'm not going to get into but if you only have your files stored on one device, you really should be backing it up to a secondary storage medium or even up to a Internet storage provider.

In total, the upgrade (SSD hard drive and RAM) cost me about $185. If you include Windows 7 Ultimate, the total would come to $385 but luckily I had a free copy. It was well worth the price and time to reinstall the OS and applications on the new speedy SSD hard drive. Windows boots up to the desktop in roughly half the time as before, which I can thank the SSD hard drive for. More importantly, Lightroom and Photoshop running in parallel performs much snappier even when making numerous consecutive memory and CPU intensive actions that used to bring my PC to a sluggish crawl.

Now if I inspired you to go upgrade to an SSD drive, you will not be disappointed, but be sure to read up on before buying because there's some key features you want like TRIM support that I didn't get into for the sake of keeping this post short. Hit me up if you have questions!


Nifty - Fifty

This post is to highlight a Canon lens that has made it possible for me to create photographs I never knew were possible for a measly, get this, $99 bucks! For all you photography hobbyists out there, you probably have heard of the nickname it has so appropriately been given, known as the "nifty-fifty." It's official name is something like Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II lens and if you want to know more about it, simply Google it and if you end up wanting to buy it, you can pick it up at Amazon. If you want to test it out in personally before buying, come on over (as long as I know you of course) and try out ours or you can visit CameraTechs in Ballard on Market Street where I got mine. Ask for Bill or really anyone...they always seem kind of busy fixing a camera or something but bother them as they are friendly. This is also where I got my first off camera flash, a used Vivitar 285HV, a great cheap but useful speed light flash. Also, Glazer's Camera by South Lake Union pretty much has on display any mainstream popular lens you might want to demo in store or rent.   

This lens is by far my favorite. Why? Well probably because it's really the only lens we have. =) Well actually we also have the 18mm-55mm zoom kit lens that came bundled with the Rebel body, but both Linda and I rarely use it except when we have no choice but to compose a wider shot in a confined space. To date roughly 95% of all the pictures we've taken have been with this lens. I heard how great of a lens it was for starting out and I couldn't agree more after having used it pretty much exclusively for the past 6 months. Seriously, I love this lens like Oprah loves Ezell's Chicken. Reason being, I've invested almost nothing for it and it's given me great results in the area of sharpness, contrast, bokeh and low light performance. 

Like with most things we love though, there's always compromises and this lens is no exception. My relationship with this lens is definitely not all butterlicious. At the moment, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it. It can deceivingly give me soft unacceptable shots usually when ambient light is low and the aperture is on the wider open end. It also doesn't want to focus in dim light as it screams at me while it tries to lock on focus with it's loud cheap focusing motor. Regardless, at the end of the day I tuck this little champ into bed, read it a bed time story, and finish off with a kiss good night and sleep tight wishes. Well ok, I don't really give it a kiss good night. =)  

Overall I am really happy I am learning to shoot with this lens because I know it's weaknesses are making me better and the day we have the pleasure of owning higher end lenses, I know I will probably appreciate them that much more for having started with this nifty - fifty. No matter what happens, I will never forget you Nifty, I swear...I can't quit you. =)  

Check out our Flickr galleries (on the right) where most of the shots were taken with this lens. And btw, if you love art and photography like we do, we've love to have you follow us so you can be notified of new posts automatically. Simply click on the Follow icon located up top on the right hand side of the blog.


Kathy & JR

She played in the church orchestra, he sang in their choir. As much as his voice captivated her, Kathy didn't see JR as more until their paths crossed often, allowing them to become better friends. They served for the homeless downtown and hung out at gatherings. When they were placed on the same missions teams for a trip to Argentina Kathy began to see JR in a different light. In preparation for this trip they spent more time together, having deeper conversations about their visions in life and it was this that attracted her to him as a man of character, passion, humility, and she genuinely loved his company as she felt comfortable talking to him about anything. Little did she know that his feelings were developing for her at the same time.

JR finally had the nerve to tell Kathy how he really felt about her in May 2008 and the rest was history. Just two months later during the missions trip in Argentina, JR had a translator deliver little notes to Kathy throughout the day. The following day, a little girl delievered JR's final note to Kathy asking her to meet him for a walk which ended with the proposal. The priceless moment was captured on video by a friend who was hiding in the bushes nearby. Less than a year following their beautiful wedding in a quaint little garden in San Diego, Kathy learned that she was pregnant with their first child, a baby boy. Settling on the name "Obadiah", they changed their minds after seeing a billboard for a movie starring Jaden Smith (but with the addition of a "y".) Little Jayden put Kathy on a strict diet of anything and everything potato, McDonald's cheeseburgers and fruit loops.

Kathy and I were like siamese cousins growing up. We were joined at the hip since the day we could crawl. We were each other's shadows the way our puppies are to us now. We did everything together and living just a block away made it possible as kids. We'd clean the house floor to ceiling to bribe our parents to let us sleep over. We would set up all of our dolls and play school, teaching them lessons. Piano lessons. Math lessons. Built houses with blankets and legos. We'd pretend the dolls were our babies and dreamed of what it would be like to have our own families one day. Kathy was the one I shared all these experiences with growing up so it was very special the day I got a text from her that she was going to have her first "real" baby. I felt everything she was feeling and can't express how happy and excited I am for her.

I had the pleasure of being there for the baby shower this past weekend during a trip to the Bay, which was just as intimate and full of love as their wedding day and captured their moments together as soon-to-be parents. I know without a doubt they will make an amazing team to raise a beautiful child. Congrats to Kathy and JR!