Photos from Winterfamilytime 2011

Adrian’s New Chef’s Hat

I visited my parents in December for Winterfamilytime. Pleasantly, the weather was really nice in Charlotte—it hardly felt much like winter some days (not that I minded).

Among the photos I’ve posted, I used the same lighting setup that I had used last year—I used one flash with a Lumiquest LTp Softbox that I attached to the second-floor walkway railing and I used my other flash with a Lumiquest Softbox that I attached to the mantle.

Cross-light often accommodates a fair degree of flexibility when photographing an environment, though for reasons that elude me, it seemed to work a little better for my shots last year than it did this year. (With a cross-light setup, two lights face each other on a diagonal axis to the subject that’s in-between them.) Although it’s somewhat a hunch, what may have happened this time is that I may have had too wide an arc between the subjects and my lights.

On one hand, it’s hard to say where people are going to sit, and on the other hand, there’re only so many places from which one can hang flashes. So as I daydream around how I might set things up next year, I’m pondering the idea of maybe getting a third flash to offer some fill-in light along the axis that may be getting the short end of the stick lighting-wise. (You could think of the lighting setup I’ve been using as similar to a “/” shape and the one I’m considering might look a bit like a lowercase lambda, “λ”.)

Recipe: Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

I had been looking for a good recipe for some time and I finally found a bruschetta recipe that I liked on Allrecipes.

There’re not a lot of fancy ingredients here, but what I especially like about this recipe is that it calls for a thin layer of herb-cheese spread on the bread before one adds the tomato mixture. That rather effectively keeps the bread from becoming soggy, which is great if you may be setting out the bruschetta as hors d’oeuvres that need to last through a cocktail party or the like.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar [Among supermarket brands, I quite like Lucini Gran Riserva Balsamico.]
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced [Apparently a Microplane can work well for this, if you have one.]
  • 7 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 sourdough baguette, cut into ½" thick slices [I like to cut the bread on a bias to create a larger surface area for each slice. Plus it looks nice too.]
  • 1 (4 oz) package semi-soft cheese with garlic and herbs (such as Alouette)
  • (optional) Shredded deli Parmesan, to taste [This is often sold in a small circular tub of about 2" high and around 4" across.]

Directions:

  1. Mince the garlic, chop the basil, and then whisk those together with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a bowl.

  2. Chop the tomatoes and stir those into the mixture with the whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (You’ll need to add salt and pepper, stir, and repeat the process a couple times—it may take three sets to get the mixture properly seasoned.)

  3. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 20 minutes. (The plastic wrap should be right on top of the tomato mixture to prevent it from drying out.)

  4. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Spread the bread slices in a single layer on a large baking pan.

  5. Bake in the oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to cool on a wire rack.

  6. When the bread is cool, spread the semi-soft cheese evenly over each slice. Using a slotted spoon, spoon some of the tomato mixture over each slice. (You may as well leave the bread on the baking trays for this step; that way, if any of the tomato mixture topples over the sides, it’s not a big deal.)

  7. Optional: If desired, sprinkle some shredded deli Parmesan over each slice and, on the broiler setting, slide the bread trays back into the oven, taking them out once the cheese becomes melty.

  8. Depending how hot they are, you may need a spatula to transfer the bruschetta to a serving tray. (Sometimes a wooden cutting board can work nicely for this.) They’re ready to eat immediately.

If desired, the tomato mixture can be made a day ahead of time. In fact, a little extra marinating of the ingredients can make the final product all the more scrumptious. Just be sure to cover the bowl with plastic wrap before placing it in the fridge.

Photos from Thanksgiving 2011

Adrian is Incredulous

I visited my family in Charlotte, North Carolina over Thanksgiving. Pleasantly, my brother Adrian was able to come too— in the past few years, Adrian had been living in Cape Town and hadn’t been able to make it to Thanksgiving.

I really debated which lens to shoot, whether my 50mm f/1.4 or my 17–55 f/2.8 IS. Theoretically, the 50mm could let in heaps more light (and potentially allow for sharper shots), but on the other hand, the image stabilization of my 17‐55 does quite well toward reducing camera shake too.

In the end, I went with my 50mm, although I’m not sure that was my best option. Sure, the 50mm f/1.4 could theoretically let in four times as much light (2 stops) as the 17–55mm f/2.8, but as I was processing the photos later, I came to realize that IS often provided more than two stops of stabilization. So, for example, shooting at f/1.4 at 1/30sec on my 50mm often resulted in blurry shots, but if one takes the equivalent exposure of f/2.8 at 1/6sec, I know my image stabilization would be able to handle at least some of those.

At this point, you might be thinking, “f/1.4 at 1/30sec? That sounds like a ton of light.” And with a more modern camera it probably would be. But with my 4-year-old Canon 40D, I can’t really go above about ISO 400 without running into serious noise issues. So while you 5D Mark II shooters probably don’t give a second thought to shooting at ISO 800 or even ISO 1600, those options are pretty much out of bounds for me.

All told, I did enjoy the freedom—as it were—of not having to worry about zooming my lens to compose a shot (since one can’t with that lens) and the 50mm is also considerably lighter as well. So perhaps I might lean toward my 17–55mm the next time I shoot that type of scene.

Camera fiddly bits aside, I believe we had fourteen people for Thanksgiving (including my family), which is a pretty good number, but not altogether as many people as we had last year. Because some of our relatives were driving in from out of town and we weren’t quite sure if they might run into traffic along the way, we asked guests to come over around 4:30/5:00.

As we’ve done in past years, we cooked our turkey on the grill over the course of several hours—like usual, my dad put the bird on around 2:30 or 3:00. On some of our previous Thanksgivings, we asked guests to come over nearabouts that time, which allowed for a couple hours of chatting and nomming hors d’oeuvres while the bird cooked. With guests coming over a bit later this year, we had slightly less gabbing time before the turkey was ready.

What I came to realize later is that the hour or two of pre-turkey chit-chat is when I would ordinarily take most of the day’s photos. And with this year’s shortened carousing time, maybe I should have been quicker on the draw to get a few more photos in. But mentally I was still on the timeline of previous years and so I kinda dropped the ball on some of my picture taking.

Picture stuff aside, I still had a great Thanksgiving—everyone was super nice, we were all in good spirits, and hardly anyone talked about politics. (Thanksgiving sans political banter? Mon Dieu!) Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but this was one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

Flat Screen Televisions

My friend Chris is moving into a new apartment in a couple weeks and he asked me the other day whether I had any suggestions on a new television for the place. As a home theater aficionado, I was only too happy to look into that pass along a few ideas.

Thinking ahead—as he does—Chris also shared the floor plan of his apartment to help narrow down an appropriate size set for the room. As it would happen, there are formulas for calculating an appropriate television size based off the dimensions of a room (or vice versa).

The short version is that one can roughly take the diagonal size of the screen and multiply it by 1.5 to get an approximate maximum distance that one would want to sit from the screen in order to be able to fully appreciate 1080p. (At distances past that, one loses starts to lose the ability to discern the finer details within a 1920×1080 image.)

So, I decided to run the numbers on Chris’ living room. The room is 15'9" × 17', although embarrassingly I couldn’t quite remember next to which wall he had wanted to place his television. No matter—once one divides those numbers in two (assuming that a couch may be placed halfway back within the room), that means that Chris’ couch would be approximately 8–9' back from whichever wall would be nearest the television.

I converted those distances to inches (96–110) just so that our final measurements, once we got there, would be appropriate for a television screen. From there, I divided each of those by 1.5 to get an optimum screen size of approximately 64–73 inches.

And here is where the compromises begin. Chris didn’t give me a specific budget, but I’m guessing he has some type of upper limit. And 65" televisions aren't cheap. As well, they can be rather heavy devices and I wasn’t sure whether that may be a factor.

Having said all that, I figured I’d go over a couple ideas, starting first with the cream of the crop and then offering a couple options that may be a bit more budget-friendly.

(But first, a quick caveat: Television manufacturers have ridiculous model-naming schemes. Rather than take an approach of assigning a single name to a series of models and appending a size, they tend to assign unique model numbers to each and every sub-model in their inventory. So, for the televisions below, I list both the specific model number of the television along with a wildcard mask (##) to convey the other sets in that series).

Top Pick: Panasonic’s TC-P65VT30 65" set. (TC-P##VT30 series)

This set isn’t cheap, but it’s a scorcher. C|Net praised the plasma as having the “deepest plasma black levels of the year” and crowned this “the best-performing TV we’ve tested in 2011.” As well, ConsumerSearch—a site that aggregates reviews— placed the 55" version of this set in their “Best 55-inch plasma TV” bucket.

Runner Up: Panasonic’s TC-P55VT30 55" set. (TC-P##VT30 series)

This one is basically the slightly-smaller sibling of 65" TC-P65VT30. With the same components going into this set (albeit with a skosh smaller screen), it’s sure to have fantastic picture quality like its bigger sibling.

Runner Up: Samsung’s PN51D8000 51" set. (PN##D8000 series)

Though this set may not have quite the black levels of Panasonic's finest, C|Net lauded this set for offering “the most accurate color of any TV we’ve ever reviewed.” ConsumerSearch chimed in as well, saying “[in] terms of color performance, there is no quibbling—it’s outstanding.

Closing Remarks

I think the sets here offer some good options, but even if you don’t go with one of these, I’d probably go with a plasma over an LCD-based set as they tend to offer better black levels.

As well, I happened to offer some links to B&H since I've received excellent service there, but I suppose you could order your television from anywhere. From whomever you buy it, though, I’d recommend opting for not just home delivery but also in-home setup or the like. Even if they don’t hook it up for you, just the act of unpacking it and placing it where you want it within the room could be handy (unless you really want to lift those 100-some pounds on your own).

Photos from Christine and Steve’s Maui Wedding

Happy Christine is Happy

I’ve known and been friends with Christine for almost as long as I’ve lived here in Dallas. She moved to San Diego a few years ago and that’s where she met Steve. And they decided to get married in Maui.

I hadn’t been to Maui before, but it was a trip I had been looking forward to for months. And even though I was only able to go for a Saturday-through-Tuesday trip, I had an awesome time. Hawaii is basically picturesque everywhere, all the time. You can glance in nearly any direction and you’ll see a beautiful lush landscape.

The wedding was on the back lawn of the Wailea Golf Club on the Sunday around 5 p.m. It wasn’t an overpopulated wedding—I believe I counted twenty chairs—but that seemed just right for the setting. Christine and Steve were both beaming with happiness and they said their vows just as the sun was falling into the horizon. It was pretty special.