Sunday, 26 April 2009

Easter Weekend in Wales - A Photographic Paradise

Finally I managed to do some typing after dislocating my shoulder (see previous post), obviously I have some stories to tell. A couple of weeks ago we visited some friends in Llangollen (in Wales), we met them last year thanks to the Rotary Club and they invited us again to stay for a couple of days.

I've never fancied living in the countryside but after seeing how they live I surely have to consider it again (maybe for retirement? ok, not really). Last time I was absolutely in love with the look of their house but I couldn't summon the courage to ask them to pose for a couple of portraits. Well this time was different.

The portraits were done on the very last day of our visit and it took some convincing from my part. At the end I think they were very good subjects ;)

For the first shot I chose the living room, one of the easy chairs was just by a Coat of Arms that I considered interesting. They are not sure who commissioned it, it was already there when they bought the house many years ago. R was willing to pose for me and I thought that Holly (a springer spaniel? was a nice touch). As I said before, time was of the essence and I didn't want to make them loose their patience with some "silly" portraits.

A Man and His Dog

This shot was lit using a 580ex shot through an umbrella hold by my wife. On camera I had a 580exII as a controller and pointing up just for some fill. My main goal was to avoid reflections on those glasses. At the end I was very happy with the shot. Especially because a year before I didn't venture asking and I was dying for it. If I ever have another chance I will try to move the easy chair a bit farther away from the coat of arms to be able to use a separate light on it. I hope you also like it.

After that shot we took some more just for fun with Valentina in them as well and playing with the dogs. Lotsa fun!!

The other portrait was trickier specially because J was not as convinced of having her portrait taken. After all she agreed. For her I had planned in advance a shot in the staircase, in this place they have lots of images from their kids (the youngest now my age) at different stages on their lives (weddings, graduations, etc) so I thought it was a special place to do this shot.

It was not difficult to light it up since all the walls and ceiling were white making the bouncing light from the flash very soft. I took several pictures but this one was my favourite. I'm using a 580exII on camera pointing up and ahead to use all the bounce from the ceiling. I also used a shoot through umbrella at my feet with a 580ex just to add some fill to her face. This was my favourite shot and prolly the only one in which she is not looking forced to pose :) sorry J.

A Woman and Her Memoirs

This was Easter weekend so we had an egg hunt on Easter Sunday in which Valentina got plenty of chocolate eggs. Read and see more after the jump...


Before getting into the egg hunt I want to show you a shot of my wife. I took this shot just to see if the shot in the staircase would work. So consider this my homework, it is very good if possible to try your shot with the assistant (if you have one) before the actual subject arrives. That way you can solve any lighting or location issues beforehand.

The Staircase

I had the joy of having some wide angle fun while Valentina was looking for her Easter eggs. Here some of the pictures, nothing fancy in terms of photography technicals:
The Egg Hunt-1

The Egg Hunt-2

Sorry for making this post so lengthy!! More to come.


Sunday, 19 April 2009

About Pain, Dislocated Shoulders & Technology

(Written using handwriting recognition software. I apologize in advance for the typos.)

Ouch! the sumbitch really hurts.

Yep that is right, yesterday I dislocated my left shoulder for the first time -apparently once it happens it could become recurrent. Yikes!

(if you don't want to read about how it all happened, hit the jump to read about how I expect technology to help me through now).

How did it happen? I'm still figuring out. But I was playing in the pool with the kids when I tried the ultimate underwater twistting maneuver -which only resulted in me ultimately twistting my shoulder, bleh!. I have to confess that my personal opinion of the NHS was pretty bad, but in this case they really shined. Special thanks to the ambulance guys, they were ace! And the gas they pack is fu@%ing brilliant! I'm telling ya! I really felt like flying.

Now about the pain, I've never felt so much pain before. I'd had some major bumps before -like ripping the ligaments on both knees and a heavily sprained ankle- but this was much worse. At some point I even asked Ernesto (my host) to pull the shoulder back in place. Glad now that he chickened out cause we could've caused more damage to the shoulder, maybe pinching a nerve or a blood vessel.

The ambulance arrived in less than five minutes, the pain was getting worse while the shoulder was cooling down. Just getting the trousers on was epic. Once in the ambulance they offered me a pain killer -at the beginning I refused but the guy knew what was coming and he got it ready anyway- as I said before "oh, blessed gas from heaven". After the first corner (and a big scream later) I was holding to the mask as if my life depended on it.

After a couple of hours, a couple X-Rays, some morphin and some other white cocktail they patched me up and sent me home with a sling and an appointment to the fracture clinic next Thurs!

Now this is a pain in more than one sense. While there is no good time to get injured, ever, certainly writting up a thesis while running out of funding is no joy. But taking this with some philosophy, it forces me to try out some of the technology available for disabled people. More after the jump.

We normally forget that there are people struggling day in and day out to perform tasks that you and me take for granted. Like typing on the keyboard -which I can't now- damn key combinations! However, FEAR YOU NOT cause there are tools to help someone disabled or injured to perform those tasks easily. Yeah right!

So here I am trying this handwritting recognition software that comes pre-installed with Vista.

While certainly I cannot write up my thesis like this it certainly provides a good option for writing some short texts. Even writing down this post is proving to be quite tiring.

I've tried voice recognition software before and this seems to be as frustrating. Problem is, first you need to give the program quite a bit of time to learn how do you write. And while here you don't have the problem of the accent you start blaming yourself for not trying harder to improve your caligraphy as a child. It also requires some heavy concentration and I'm feeling really exhausted.

This program has three writing modes: the writing pad, the character pad and on-screen keyboard.

In the Writing Pad (below) you can use free-writing in which the computer tries to guess what you are writing. The problem is, you don't have much control over the editing of the text. It is difficult to insert spaces (you end up either with none or too many)or tell the software what goes capitalized or not. Apparently it improves the more you use it. It is very good -however, for a quick text or maybe chatting. In this mode 13 where I have more typos -as you can see.

Then we have the character pad (below these lines), it's proving to be my "favourite" so far. You have little boxes in which to write, just like filling-in a form. So far I hate letters "t", "y", "g", "i" and "l" other than that is very accurate. Downside is that the program is not using its database to guess the words. But you are "spelling" everything so to speak. You can teach the software so it can improve accuracy, the fact I write a lot using my PDA is not helping cause here you have to think you are writing on paper instead of the modified alphabet on the PDA.

Finally, you have the On-screen Keyboard which is self-explanatory really. I only have to say it is very slow to write anything but still useful to insert symbols.

It's taken me a long time to write this. It was mostly an exercise to get used to the technology an evaluate its usefulness in the following weeks. I'm supposed to rest my arm for a couple of weeks and the Doctor said No TYPING but I can't really stop working on my thesis altogether. I think this will prove helpful but I will also install the Dragon Naturally Speaking as a voice recognition software.

Wish me luck and avoid dislocating your shoulder it does hurt!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Curry, Blogs and Bloggers!!!

If you follow this blog in English bear with me this post had to be written in Spanish but the blog will come back to normality soon, I promise.

Bueno pues empujado por el buen Francisco (aka Dtradd) tenía que contar lo que sucedió el pasado Jueves Santo en Manchester.

Me contaba el buen Paquito (eso le va a encantar!!) que anteriormente cuando los blogs no eran tan comunes la gente hacía mucha alharaca cuando se reunían a contar sus experiencias como "bloggeros". Así se dieron reuniones apodadas como: Tortas y Blogs, Chelas y Blogs, Tacos & Blogs, etc. De ahí el título de esta "meme" (como diría el buen Juan).

Bueno pues en esta ocasión tocó en la lluviosa ciudad de Manchester. Aunque la reunión no se hizo específicamente para hablar sobre blogs, si estuvieron presentes varios bloggeros de afición ya muy comprobada - el ya "linkeado" Francisco, Juan y Hector. Ellos tienen mucho mas tiempo escribiendo mientras que mi bló aún no cumple ni el mes.

(Hay que presionar el More>> para seguir leyendo)

La reunión empezó muy bien con unas chelas para abrir el apetito en el Varsity (Oxford Road, aparentemente muy fácil de confundir con otro cerca del centro) y después de que llegaron otros amigos nos fuimos a un restaurante (Pink Garlic) a disfrutar de un curry.

Para ser sinceros el curry no es lo que más me atrae pero eso no me detuvo (ni a los otros) de comer como si recién hubieramos salido de una larga vigilia en el desierto.

Si bien es cierto que tire el mango lassi como no se olvida en apuntar el buen paquito pues en mi defensa tengo que decir que la mesa bailaba un poco por lo que se cayó mi botella de agua sobre la jarra de delicioso mango lassi. Además, el efecto fue positivo puesto que el susodicho tuvo que moverse al final de la mesa. Sus aventuras amorosas estaban atrayendo demasiada tensión y se me estaba terminando el tema de conversación al no poder mencionar a la nueva susodicha que era en realidad el "hot topic" de la semana. Bueno, eso si es que existe porque la verdad no la he conocido en persona.

La verdad fue bueno poder ver a Juan y a Hector nuevamente pues se marcharon de Manchester poco después de haberlos conocido (Hector a Oxford y Juan a Alemania).

Tristemente pensé que alguien mas tomaría las fotos y no lleve ninguna cámara conmigo. Pero aquí incluyo una foto de hace tiempo en la que aparecen Juan y Hector respectivamente a la izquierda de la foto.


y otra del buen Francisco aterrorizado por las alturas. O mas bien por lo enclenque del teleférico.



Thursday, 16 April 2009

Partitioning your new computer... I rather have a root canal!!

Well not really but it was a real pain in the a$$. I just got a Dell Studio 15 with a 500GB drive and it just made me nervous. You know that thing about having all your eggs in one basket. So I decided to partition the drive with no previous experience in doing so. A real DIY project, you know the like I needed rescuing from, problem was -snif- there was nobody to help me out. All my friends were too busy and some were good lads and gave me some pointers through the MSN (and some also laughed heartedly at my predicament, the bastards).

One of my friends -who knew my plans of partitioning the drive- when I finished asked me "So, is it working properly? mine went very slow afterwards" the B... ok I'd have appreciated the information beforehand but it seems my machine works nicely. As nicely as it can running Vista I mean. It feels like walking on thin ice.

The same friend sent me the following comic, which is exactly how it feels now, my dear new laptop. Except for the Hardy Heron part which I didn't install.

I haven't tried word handling a big file full of Endnote citations or NVIVO but certainly there is a huge improvement on Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 2.2 :¬) they are cruising, man!

Oh almost forgot! to make this more informative: if you ever need to partition your disk then I can really recommend GParted to do the job. Just don't forget to tell your computer again which one is the active partition to get the OS from... If only I had known better.



Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Hot Shoe Diaries!!! and some thoughts about gaining experience

If I haven't mentioned it before -and you could guess it from my pictures below- then I have to say that I love to bend the light to my will :)

Easier said than done though, it requires some patience (it can be very frustrating sometimes), experience and set of tools that only make you travel... well, less light! (no pun intended) Speedlites, triggers, diffusers, stands, gels and other modifiers can give you a headache both while packing and using them (I'll talk more about equipment some other time).

In terms of gaining experience, the best way is to practice, practice, practice. But it is also very useful to read what others with more experience have to say. I have already mentioned Joe McNally before and now I am very excited because finally I got a copy of his new book: The Hot Shoe Dairies. I will start reading it tonight with a nice cup of tea (or coffee most likely) and report back with my impressions. I've read that he recycled some posts from his own blog but I still have to see that for myself. I am sure that the information there will prove very useful anyway.

Janina and Mike

Hit the jump below to read and see more...


Thanks to the information available in blogs like Strobist, Joe McNally, and Lighting Essentials. I have been able to experiment by myself and produce images like the one above (using two portable flashes in this case). Not brilliant but definitely part of a learning experience that I'm proud of.

Those same sites (and Flickr) have made possible for me to meet new people and to collaborate with other fellow photographers (like Alex) in the use of bigger lights as in the next photo (more technical info within each photo page).

Olivia - Red Dress

Or to practice location portraiture with Tobiah Tayo (as in the first image in this post) or Jo Harter-Tong (in the next picture), both great as individuals and photographers from whom I have learnt a lot.

The Look

What I am trying to say is read: as much as possible so you learn from others but also stop being afraid of making mistakes and start experimenting by yourself. You will realize that -even if at a slower pace- you learn more when things don't go as planned.

I am sure in your locality you will find people willing to walk with you in such a photographic experience.

Until next time...


Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Manchester United 2 - 2 Porto FC

Yesterday I went to the match with a friend. As always, going to the Theatre of Dreams (Old Trafford) is an adventure from the moment you take the train straight to the grounds. When you arrive despite the ton of cops guarding the grounds everybody is cheerful and you don't really feel that intimidated. After walking around and visiting the mega store we waited for the err "Ticket Man" to arrive so we could collect our tickets. Don't ask me anything else about that, the important thing is that we got our tickets =) (it happens even in the best families, we Mexicans would say).

Once inside we heard the Champions League Hymn, the players came into the ground, the traditional picture was taken and on they went. To the surprise of all of us Porto played better all the 90 minutes and surprised the Red Devils with an early goal that Rooney cancelled just before the half time.

The second half was really boring. ManUtd played terribly and they were only hanging to their "champions luck" because Porto missed many opportunities. I have to say the team looked a tad better after Gigs, Neville and Tevez went into the pitch, not great though.

And suddenly yay!!!
Cut2-1 Tevez scored!!! with only four minutes to go and we all counted the 3 points in the bag.

and three or so minutes later... Noooooo!!!
Porto scored again! to seal the game...

Ronaldo and Gigs still had a good opportunity during the injury time:

The Last Chance
... and missed (Gigs took the free-kick).

In all honesty this score was more than fair since Porto played better. Let's wait and see what happens in the second leg.

It was nice to go to a match after a long time. Pricey though!! I could have bought a couple light diffusers for my flash.

Until next time commenting from the Tib Lock 88, Manchester.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Disseminate your work!

As a photographer and especially as an amateur photographer you need other people to admire your work. Obviously, it's not any different from the other arts. A musician or an actor need a stage and live for the applause (an some money is never bad to calm the nerves either).

So as an amateur photographer a good way of reaching a bit farther than the web is to design a book (which as something tangible it's great). There are different tools and one of them is Blurb. There you will find many options to organise and pair up your photos in an interesting way to make it appealing to the reader/viewer.

If the big guns of Photography Web 2.0 style like Joe Mcnally, David Hobby, Chase Jarvis etc. continously promote each other why not to blow the trumpet for a good friend!! My friend Mark has gone for his second (or third actually) book that you can get here...

The book looks pretty good and it is full of interesting and eye catching stuff to prove us that "The world is full of beautiful things" (and I can tell you that being stood up by a model is not one of them, sorry still a bit sour).

I don't know, maybe one day I will go for my own book as well. It's only that sometimes I don't think I have material interesting enough, need to be more selfconfident ;)

Till next time, today it is sunny again! A great day for football and I will be supporting Man Utd tonight from the Old Trafford!! Go Devils!!

Monday, 6 April 2009

The DOWNSIDE of working with people!!

In terms of photography I mean. Last Sunday I had a photoshoot booked, I got a cool location, I booked a model and one of my friends was helping as a second shooter and assistant. Well, guess what? the model was a NO SHOW!!!! what a [insert F word here] disaster.

U N B E L I E V A B L E, did she give us enough notice? of course not, she only sent a text message at the time she was supposed to arrive. Sad thing I really had big hopes for this one, she had great communication beforehand and all went to waste.

Oh and you read it correctly "she sent a text" not even a phone call. I remember reading on the news that some employers were sending texts to their employees when firing them!! well I felt exactly that way.

Have you had this kind of deceptions? and that goes without mentioning I declined an invitation to a barbecue when the day was so sunny and perfect! today it's back to normal here in Manchester: windy, rainy and pretty lame :( better luck next time...

Am I going to contact her again for a shoot? hmmm well I have a chicken heart really but I am not sure if she invented the emergency or if it was real... we are humans after all, BUT today I am totally pissed off.

Until next time Valdo writing from all wet Manchester...

UPDATE: Aaron Johnson hit the nail with this cartoon!!


Sunday, 5 April 2009

What do I love about photography?

Since I am not particularly good at drawing -or writing as you can witness here- photography gives me a way to express myself. Through photography I can express my views, feelings and ideas. That is why I opened a Flickr account long before thinking of having a blog.

Tantos siglos, tantos mundos, tanto espacio...

It also gives me a escape from daily problems, close contact with other people and even some power when I'm directing someone else. Even though I like landscapes and cityscapes...

Sun rays

... that is not really my thing (my cuppa tea as they say here). Too lazy to wake-up in the early hours to go find the perfect place at the perfect time - not me - I much rather deal with people so portraiture is what moves me. Wish I were more creative though, a portrait is not just the mere sum of someone sitting/standing/jumping/contortioning (you get the picture, no pun intended) and someone pressing a trigger. All the planning, camera equipment and models are worth nothing if you cannot convey YOUR idea. I will talk more about portraits in some other post let's stay with the phtography discussion.

And she waited patiently for her prince to come only to discover that she was standing in the wrong window...

My approach to portraiture is simple, whatever it works! I've heard lots of people moaning about film vs digital and straight from the camera vs Photoshop (here some disasters), and even among portraitists natural light vs strobes. I believe it all depends on your vision. In my case I embrace digital mostly because I couldn't afford buying film and develop it back in the day. About Photoshop I can say it is a great tool if you don't play too much with the sliders, and why limiting yourself if you have at hand such creative freedom. In terms of lighting, sometimes natural light is enough some others (especially here in Manchester) you need some help from external flashes -by now I have a nice collection of them - I will show you all my kit some other time ;¬)

Don't you have anything better to do than taking my picture? ... again!

As you can see from the previous image, photography is an excellent way of documenting what is going on with my life and what is important to me like my daughter and family.

Well this is it for now but I promise to get more into photography and into how I work and what I carry to my photoshoots. Hope you can come and read my blog from time to time.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Tales from Albion, Part 1

While living here in the UK I've noticed many funny stuff going on with this old species referred to as "the Britons". And in this series I will mention some of the aspects of their lives that I find amusing (Check what my friend Mark has to say about that!).

In this first part however, I've decided to skip the obvious comment about the two taps and jump straight into the "British Gentleman" concept. For instance, before coming to the Island I had a very Sherlock Holmes idea about the British people: educated, polite and law-abiding, you know what I mean right? Even if by now I've discovered that is not always the case, today I saw something that proved me that there are still law-abiding people in this country.

Let me begin my story almost a month ago when a contractor started working on my street. Apparently they found gold or something, and ever since then they've been punching holes everywhere without any regard for the poor motorists that find new traffic signs every single day.

Today was the cherry on the cake when the contractors surrounded a pay and display* machine without worrying to leave any clue to the motorists on HOW or IF they had to pay. No need to mention that I spent countless minutes just watching different people come and go wondering how on earth to get close to the darn machine and pay. This could have easily been an episode of "Candid Camera".

Here a picture of some of them that finally made it to the machine. They are gentlemen indeed or those red hatted officers are really fearsome =)

Pay and Display

* If you haven't seen the concept before "Pay and Display" means that you have to park your car, leave the door open (as many do) while you go to a machine -which is always in the farthest part of the street in relation to where you parked- and after paying you go back to your car and put the receipt on the front window just above the board. Don't forget to close the doors afterward.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A little bit of sun and...

Here in Manchester:

- People hurry to the closer terrace to have some drinks. Today when I was coming back from the Uni, I noticed a rumbling all around me coming from people gathered and chattering in those terraces. I still can hear people at the Rain Bar across the street enjoying some good time (its now half past nine).

- The girl's skirts suddenly lose an inch or two. I have to say I've never seen such long legs or such short mini-skirts. Hurray!! I also have to say that one can see mini-skirts, cleavages and open-back dresses all year round. This girls are crazy I'm telling ya!

- People start wearing sandals, short trousers and sleeveless shirts.

And all of this happens while it's barely above 10C and I still can see my breath while walking (and not for the spiced curry I ate earlier).

On other things... I've found that I just can't stop writing!! but sadly not PhD related stuff but more silly things for the new blog. I hope I can keep the enthusiasm even though nobody is gonna read all this. I'm also feeling attracted to the idea of using more Spanish in the blog...

More to come...

The Boat that Rocked (2009)

While still pondering on the previous question let me tell you that I had the chance to watch The Boat that Rocked the other day with my wife.

I have to admit that we had a very good laugh. I have to be honest and say that we only picked this movie because it was the only on show at 12!. Why so early? because sometimes we go to the cinema while our daughter is at nursery ;). In Spanish (and in Mexico) we call that "hacerse la pinta", you know being in a place where you are supposed to be elsewhere (like working or writing-up the thesis).

The movie is about a Pirate Radio back in the 60s which made me think about the things that nowadays we take for granted and in the past people had to fight for. It also made me realise that we (my wife and I) really like British comedy and specially Richard Curtis movies: Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Love Actually.

I think that the British have an splendid way of auto-criticising their life-style and their view on topics like sex and drugs in these movies. Take this opinion as coming from a foreigner that has had the opportunity to explore the British culture up close without claiming any understanding of it at all.

In short, I can recommend this movie specially for a rainy Sunday if you need some cheering up.

Sun rays

More to come...

Decisions, decisions, decisions!!!

In a world were you cannot just ask for a cup of coffee (or tea) without having to make an inconceivable amount of split second decisions in front of a bored looking cashier (decide if it is gonna be short or long (whatever happened to small, medium or big?), real or fake milk, decaf, with chocolate on top, yadda yadda...), I thought that publishing a blog would be easy as suggested by Francisco.

Indeed it is easy enough for a granny to do it but now I have to decide about the colour (or color), the layout, the settings, etc, etc, etc. As if thinking a name wasn't paramount already (and I only managed to come up with that thing at the top of this page!!). However the most difficult question I am facing right now is:

Should I go about it in English or in Spanish as my mother tongue dictates?

Why a Blog?

Well the truth is that I just felt I was missing something after noticing some of my friends having their own blogs and having fun with them. I also follow some blogs about photography like Strobist and with this WEB 2.0 mentality I thought I should try to contribute somehow.

So if I manage to amuse you for a few seconds then mission accomplished!!!