Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alt's Biggest A-ha's...

If you've worked in consulting, you might be familiar with wanting to present clients with "A-ha's"...Not "that's so interesting, let me file that away year or never", but rather big moments where the cartoon lightbulb goes off over your head and either you're inspired to fix something right now, or fireworks go off because you realize whatever your working on can be done in a way that's consistent with what you are doing.

Even though I had envisioned doing lots and lots of Alt recaps, most have been done excellently already (for a full list, see the Alt Blog here). Don't worry, I still have a couple planned for Photography Fridays from the camp sessions since that's a different kind of content, but looking back on the weekend in Salt Lake City, I realized that despite my pages and pages of notes, there were several big "a-ha's" that stood out for me:

1. It's okay if it takes awhile: After a few sessions, you quickly realize that the panelists are panelists because they know what they're talking about.  And they know what they're talking about because they have been doing it for awhile - often times five years, six years, seven years...It's okay if you don't know everything right off the bat - you can take advantage of learning from others who have learned on a longer curve, but don't expect to be where they are "overnight".

2.  You can be older than 20 and still a relevant blogger: One of the refreshing things about Alt was that you quickly realize that it is totally normal to blog in your 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and beyond that - there is room for all ages in the blogosphere.  And in fact, there was one dapper gentlemen in his 70's behind me in the registration line. The organizer at the desk asked him if he had come to the right event and he replied, "Of course I am.  I am an architect and anyone who cares anything about design should be at this conference."

3.  You can keep your day job: In fact, most bloggers have a day job.  Even those who you assume blog professionally.  Some people have day jobs as bankers/lawyers/etc...some wait tables, some are stay at home moms (let no one tell you that's not a job)...and some blog professionally but they also have interior design services...styling name it.  The only question is what do you want your day job to be?

4.  If you want your blog to be any kind of job, get legit: If you're thinking of taking any kind of payment in monies or kind, you need to get squared away on your paper work.  Lots of advice around this but no surprise here, if you want a business from blogging, you have to treat it as a business and that means getting incorporated, paying taxes and all that good stuff.  In fact, it's like your other real jobs minus the 401(k).

5.  The internet domain is not the public domain: I had a crash course on this last year when I was a really new blogger and made some assumptions on how to best credit sources.  Someone corrected me and it all got sorted out - and in fact, I made some great blogging friends in the process but if you're going to blog, be you a new blogger or not, there are definitely some rules to follow.  As far as crediting goes, Erin Loechner's handy dandy guide and Link with Love are great places to consult but keep in mind that while most of the information refers to photography, it applies across everything: artwork, videos...and music.  One of my biggest eye openers was that if you buy a song on iTunes, it's a no-no to use it on a video you made and posted to the internet (no longer personal use, it's broadcast) - you're going to have to license music.  For the recreational user, this is kind of crappy.  And defeats a bit the purpose of iTunes.  But it is what it is, so good thing I learned this sooner rather than later.

6.  Design used to be a distinguishing factor, now it's a prerequisite: It used to be that people who invested in the look of their blog were set apart because they did so, but now it's just the entry ticket.  It doesn't mean you have to pour in thousands to get a good blog design, but it does mean that you have to balance what you want out of it with being functional, clean and easy to navigate.  Be smart about your design decisions early on.

7.  Just be yourself: This must have come up in every session - all the more interesting when I was speaking with someone who attended the year prior and said there was no where near as much mention of original content and authenticity as there was last year.  It's challenging to write creatively, consistently and with your own voice, but no voice, no blog.  Be comfortable in your own thing.

In case it is not immediately apparent, the photo above is me having one or all of these a-ha moments during Ben Silberman's Keynote - photo courtesy of Brooke Dennis Photography. All official Alt photos can be found here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Photography Friday: January Book Club

Remember that list of Resolutions for 2012? Yep, reading a photography book a month is on it! And we're going to do it! Well...I'm going to try.  So a new feature is "Photography Friday" where at least for the next couple of months, I'll be featuring something photography related, and last Friday of the month will be dedicated to the book club.

So first up is January's book - in the future, I'll announce what the next month's book will be in case others want to read along but this month I was still getting the idea sorted out in my mind.  So given that everyone is recovering from holiday expenses and travel, this month's book, "Craft and Vision: 11 Ways to Improve Your Photography" has the bonus of being free.  Yep. FREE.  Granted it's an ebook format (my first real experience with these and guess what, I'll likely print mine out on paper since I learn by taking notes) but free is tough to beat.

The book is a collection of essays on how you can change up your approach in order to further your photography.  Edited by David Du Chemin (and if you've never checked out his blog, you should, it's the fastest fix for gorgeous travel photography), various contributors offer ideas in their own themed essays that all feature actionable tips amidst the paragraphs like:
  • Don't stereotype your lens - did you know you could shoot potraits with a wide angle? I didn't.
  • Histograms (what? i never look at those) - even if you nothing about them, you're going to want to get the most "stuff" on the right hand side of the histogram, which will likely give you the picture with the most correct exposure and where the picture can store the most correct information
  • How to get a "panning" shot (i.e. subject in focus, blurry/movement background): Set shutter priority to 1/30 and shoot several shots continually (I'm going to have to try this and report back)

But perhaps the most eye opening for me was Alexandre Buisse's essay on the stages of learning photography, particularly poignant since I'm on this journey myself:
1. No artistic intent, only a desire to record moments
2. Intent in beautiful imagery, playing around with what's available to produce high creativity but likely low quality
3. Realization that lack of technical knowledge is holding you back - he calls this the "dangerous" stage because you can get mired in the details without ever lifting up to the bigger picture
4. Realization that technical knowledge can feel like a "dead-end" which prompts a return to composition and light in your photography
5. Realization that you have reached proficient levels of "know-how" but need to define your own vision
6. "Finding your voice and stop worrying"

Buisse maintains that people never fully reach the final stage or if they do, it's only for awhile.  Which makes sense - in the end, isn't refining your view on the world a lifelong goal?  And this doesn't have to be just for photography - it could be for blogging...or painting...or any other creative hobby that requires you to have your own perspective and be comfortable with it.

What I thought was most interesting in all of this was Buisse's point on the role of community.  In the second stage, he notes that people share enthusiastically and it is primarily to an enthusiastic audience for the purpose of support and encouragement, rather than in the third stage where you share for technical criticism, which has its own role in terms of pushing your understanding of craft and equipment, but again, can be dangerous if you don't work through that stage completely.

Once I saw this laid out in these steps, it made perfect sense to me in terms of looking back of my own development in wanting to know more about photography - so which stage does that leave you?

All book images from Craft & Vision.


Next Month's Book: Fine Art Weddings by Jose Villa (yay! Valentines Day!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

15 Things I Should Have Packed for Alt...

Alt Summit 2012

Alt Summit 2012 by thenewdiplomatswife featuring a cream shirt

I wasn't sure to what to expect sartorially from Alt...I mean, I was expecting some of the most creative people so I was expecting some pretty creative outfits.  Not disappointed on that front. If you've been following for awhile, you probably know I have a pretty classic and largely predictable style: you'll rarely see me without a white oxford on, a classic trench, and when I splash out, it's on big necklaces for my oomph.  At the end of the day, I work a corporate gig, formerly in Vienna and now in DC, but it's also my personal style, and it works for me.  The biggest takeaway from Alt is that you should be yourself.  But if yourself really wants to be a bit more adventurous, a bit more colorful, a bit more creative...then you don't have to hide that at Alt. 

Here is a quick list of things that people regularly used to bump it up a notch at Alt.  2013 will bring a whole new set of trends, but this is what I learned from this year's picks.

1. White tutus: The much talked about "Diner en Blanc" brought out lots of creativity for white outfits and tutus were front and center several times.  Actually, I've made tutus several times for assorted costumes in the past, but I should have known that at Alt, the tutu is not a costume, it's a serious fashion piece.  If you're on the fence about something creative to bring, just bring it.  You'll be at home here.

2. Colored denim: Have you gotten the recent J.Crew catalog and wondered in what world do people wear jeans of one primary color paired with a striped top of another opposite primary color?  In this world.  Generally, you can't go wrong with color at Alt.

3.  Polka Dots: Same with patterns, you can't go wrong with that - base layer, over layer...any layer.  Polka dots were a winner this year, but so was leopard, cheetah, plaid, and the classic mariniere stripe.  And don't be afraid of wearing two patterns at once.  And why not three?

4.  Enthusiasm and a positive spirit: Naturally I didn't forget to pack mine but I probably should have been less shy about expressing it.  "I have found my people!" or "This is my tribe!" were popular phrases but simply throwing around "Awesome!" or "Amazing!" will do just fine.  Ironically, many of my European friends make fun of me for using the word "Awesome" too much, but I don't think they really know what too much is.

5.  Boots: I brought these but should have brought more.  Wearing my "I pack like a business person and never pack more than I can carry myself" hat (rules to live by normally), I packed one pair of my beloved and practical brown leather boots that went with everything.  But don't hesitate to give yourself options - on the fence about bringing this or that? This is one event where you can bring both.  You're going to have to check luggage anyway.

6.  Business Cards: Again, something that I had but what I should have brought was a card case or little receptacle of some kind for the mass collection I would accumulate.  Trading cards at Alt carries an intensity similar to trading Dungeons and Dragons cards in those high school angst movies, and each card is a little piece of artwork on to itself.  People have done some amazing things.  Note to self for next year: add Twitter handle to card (mine were printed before I had one - @thenewdiplomats).

7.  Glasses: The bigger the better seemed to reign queen here (wonder if next year people will go opposite), with Warby Parker as the King.  In a few cases, I wish people wouldn't obscure their loveliness with such huge frames, but nonetheless, if you are a glasses wearer, don't bring your contacts to Alt.  Also, if you actually need glasses, you'll probably see the presentations on screen better with them.

8.  Your iphone:  Duh.  It doubles as a functional tool (tweets! stats! information superhighway!) but also something to hide behind when you're feeling a bit intimidated.  I had mine but for next year, I definitely need a new case.

9.  Bright tights:  Colors...patterns...different colors for different outfits - just because you can't get away with them in your day job, doesn't mean you can't wear them to Alt.  And for those that might be a little shy with color and aren't quite ready to jump in, pair a softer color or pattern with a black dress to get your toes in the water.

10.  Sequined or beaded tops: Sequins are never out of place at Alt. At any time of the day.  What goes better with oatmeal in a hotel lobby at 7 am on a Thursday than sequins?

11.  Vintage lace dresses: Lots of these and especially in white for the white party.  The ladies of Alt are master thrifters and re-inventors so don't think everything has to come fresh off the runway.  Looking at what's been worn before is a great place to start thinking of how it can be new again.

12.  Faux fur vests: Something about mountains and fur vests that go together.  I don't own any faux fur so I actually brought my real fur as my coat. I might add that several people came up to me to pet it, noticing it felt a lot different than the vest.  Yes, it feels different.  But faux or not, fur is defnitely appropriate for Utah in January.

13.  The sock bun: Wearing buns for years, the sock bun trick has somehow escaped me all this time.  Where did I miss the boat? Luckily, you can remedy that right quick with the Say Yes to Hoboken tutorial on making your own sock bun structure.

14.  Red or coral lipstick: I don't wear lipstick, I wear chapstick.  Sometimes a Chanel sheer.  Usually I go for nude lips and play up the eyes but maybe next year I'll be a little bolder.  Plus it seems to photograph well - which is appropriate since there will be about 10 professional photographers roving around at any given time, and about 34 photo booths to participate in.  Just as before, don't be afraid to step out of your "I have a practical and responsible day job" routine.

15.  Glitter hotpants: See items 1-14.  If there is anything that is clear about Alt is that you can pretty much bring/wear/do anything.  And that includes glitter hotpants.  You will definitely not see these out in DC - I haven't even seen these out in New York.  But if you're feeling a little funky and you own such an item, just bring it and wear it with confidence.  You'll be glad you did.
PS - Don't forget to check out my little Alt Video for these items in action!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Suite Life...

So in addition to all the amazing things I learned at Alt, I also was able to take an amazing chunk of time to myself.  Sounds selfish, right? Maybe, but there is something about having a bit of time to just yourself to do things that just you are interested in.  I've taken trips solo before since diplo-baby of course, but those are work related and not quite the same thing.  And I took the weekend to do Me Ra Koh's Confidence workshop but since it was in DC, I trekked back home at night so not quite the same thing.  Alt was 5 days of uninterrupted time for just me, no obligations.

If you know me, you know a a/ love a good hotel, b/ adore great service and c/ have listed turndown as one of my greatest luxuries that I enjoy in life.  The Grand America in Salt Lake City delivered on all three of those without skipping a beat, and upgraded me to a suite to boot. WA WA WEE WAH! While I adore my home, I'm also one of those that adores the hotel life (n.b. hotel life, not roach motel life, though believe it or not, I have stayed in my fair share of those). 

For anyone out there that is or has been a consultant, you're probably prone to a bit of hotel life yourself - it never goes away. There is something about the blank canvas of a hotel room - no nagging errands to do, no piles of mail I'm supposed to sort through, no missing hot water faucet that I'm supposed to replace.  At home, despite my best efforts, there's always part of life that creeps in on the way that I would ideally like to live because, well, at home I share that space with all the things and people in my life and I just don't get to everything - and I'm okay with that. 

But in a hotel I have a fresh clean space that I relish, I have an edited wardrobe, I have an edited everything...I lay out everything just so, I put my jewelry out, I choose my outfits ahead of time, I put everything on display...just how I would want it in my "ideal" life.   And its stays exactly like that for five days. There is someone to make the bed, someone to take out the trash, everything is a quick phone call away...  But at the end of the five days you can bet that I was missing all the little bits of chaos that make my house my home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Scenes from ALT Summit...

I'm still processing all that I learned and saw and was inspired by at Alt Summit, but here are a few scenes from the amazing weekend to get you started!

Scenes from Alt Summit 2012 from The New Diplomat's Wife on Vimeo.
Music by Adam Kurz.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Bahamas Guest House...

So last post for this week on the Bahamas! Yesterday if yesterday was the little guest house that could, today is definitely the guest house that does.  One of the more famous Bahamian residents is India Hicks, daughter of the interior designer great, David Hicks, and if you'e a royal watcher, you might recall she was the youngest attendant at Charles and Diana's wedding.  She's all grown up now, with a portfolio of Bahamian properties anyone could be jealous of.  But you don't have to get too jealous, if you have the cash, you can rent it at a mere $10,000 a week.  It does sleep 10 though and my guess is that's close to the going rate in these fair isles.  Although there is one mod property in the bunch, most seem to follow traditional island Colonial like The Guest House.  But Colonial or not, what really shines at this property is the photo above, which is the private beach access.  India Hicks says it's close enough that you could "throw an ice cube into the ocean from the balcony".  Sigh.

All images from India Hicks Properties.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Bahamas Beach House...

For as close as the Bahamas is, I actually couldn't find a lot of Bahamas inspiration in the shelter mags.  I would have thought that there would be more, but it does seem like one name keeps coming up if I did manage to find a photo here and there.  Tom Scheerer is an interior designer, who in addition to other commercial projects, seems to specialize in beach houses.  The pics below are from a project called "Bahamian Salt Box".  Clean, simple, chic, and very welcoming - but at the level that a beach cottage should be.  Everyone always says in interviews that they want a house where the kids can run in with sand on their feet, this is one of the few that actually looks like you could do that.  The guest bedroom is particularly charming with the canopy bed, and funky footed lamp.  Now how can I become a guest at said Salt Box? 

All images by William Waldron for Tom Scheerer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Diplo-style: Thundering Thunderball!

Prior to researching our last minute jaunt to the Bahamas, I confess I didn't know much about these islands other than they were close and often times the first stop for cruise boats and spring breakers. Not exactly confidence building measures.  But my research also turned up that Nassau really its hey day in the height of the swingin' 60's, a refuge for the glitterati once Havana fell off the map.

And in 1965, Nassau set the stage for the James Bond flick Thunderball.  It wasn't known so much for nuance and plot, but like any Bond movie, it was full of handsome men, fun gadgets, glamourous gowns for glamourous evenings, and gorgeous gals that seem to take as much interest switching off with Bond as they do switching swimsuits.

Bond, James Bond is played by Sean Connery.  Since I'm a bit younger than this movie, I only know Sir Connery as older, so I actually didn't even recognize it as him.  He's quite handsome both younger and older, and Claudine Auger, the leading Bond girl here is a perfect match.  Often times, they're wearing things that are just as stylish today - a well tailored tuxedo, a pressed linen shirt and khakis; and on her that one shouldered black swimsuit would be welcome in my suitcase.  Also, I think I really need an orange wetsuit.  And definitely a jet pack.

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