Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sunday Shots: A touch of blossom...

From our visit to the cherry blossoms last week - they've already come and gone and only the photos are left for this year.  If you happen to like this one, you can vote for it in the Foto Week DC Cherry Blossom Photo Contest!  Click here to vote.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Photography Friday: Envisioning Family with Tamara Lackey

March's selection for Photography Book Club was Tamara Lackey's new book, entitled Envisioning Family.  I had been eagerly awaiting this one - it was on my Christmas list after all! But after having read it, I have to say, I'm kind of on the fence about it.  The reviews on amazon are glowing, but to me, this book didn't seem to decide what it wanted to be and to whom.  Sometimes it's a how-to guide, sometimes it's a dump of partially useful information, sometimes it's a historical perspective.  As a reader, it was confusing to follow along as the author jumps from all the gear in her bag and why she uses it (very helpful) to how to set up a working studio complete with multi-thousand dollar lighting systems (less helpful), to the importance of having a studio sign (random) and then concludes the section with how to turn on your camera and basic settings when you take it out of the box (um, isn't that the first step - if you're buying a sign, you should know how to turn on your camera).  From a flow perspective, it was all over the place - for me anyway.

It's not to say that it wan't a useful book - I dog eared quite a few pages.  The bigger issue was that you weren't sure with when you were going to get hit with something really good.  Ms. Lackey starts out with a section that's a historical overview of families - meh - it's not short enough to be anecdotal and not long enough to be actually substantive so it's a weird inbetween.  But she talks about order of children in the family and how that might affect how their photographed - they are generalizations but helpful to keep in mind.  She also goes into how she formed her own family with her children, both natural and adopted, and unexpectedly, the story of picking up her daughter in Ecuador actually left me in tears.  More importantly, she talks about how her own transition was reflected in her professional transition - she became less interested in just children's photography, and more interested in actual family photography, and if nothing else, her words there leave you inspired to want to capture those moments for someone else.  She moves on to gear, setting up a studio, interaction, sessions, posing and composition. 

What I really appreciate from Ms. Lackey is her continual insistence that it is the photographers job to make sure clients look good.  People pay you to take good pictures of them - so if they should be standing a different way, or you should fix your shirt, or move whatever, then there is a way to bring that into the conversation without making the person feel like they are doing something wrong.  As someone who's been on the receiving end of a lot of sessions, it is amazing to me how many photographers don't say anything when something is off.  They just keep plowing forward, and it inevitably results in client disappointment.  As a photographer, you can see behind the lens - as a client you can't, and I appreciate Ms. Lackey's continual reinforcement of that.

So with that - here were some of my favorite takeaways and most were on managing how you approach the photography of families and kids:
  • It's okay for children to behave like children during a photo shoot - "I assure parents during a photography shoot...that this is not the time to be actively raising upstanding members of society. This is the time to let them show me...who they are".  Imagine the relief a parent would feel if they knew that going into a session.
  • Anticipate what will happen next so that you don't miss a shot
  • Become the subject - I literally just talked about this with my ladies photography group earlier this week so I was relieved to see I'm not the only one that thinks so but basically, you can't have people pay you take their pictures if you haven't paid someone to take your pictures.  Having been the subject will make you much more empathetic to how nervewracking it is to not only be a subject, but to have made a significant investment of time and money.
  • "Because much of photography is actually mirroring, start by recognizing that as the photographer you need to show your subject how comfortable you feel, how naturally you interact, how lacking in self-consciousness you are.  You put them at ease by actually being at ease".  Again, as a client, I couldn't agree with this more.
  • "But taking everything into account, I'll choose best moods over best lighting or best location" - Ms. Lackey astutely points out that a good photographer can fix the other two.
  • Just becuase you're shooting families, doesn't mean you can't benefit from a second shooter or assistant to help with wrangling, reflectors, changing lenses, etc - consider one.
  • The worst thing you can do as a photographer is to look at the back of your camera in front of the family and say things like "I'm getting nothing" or "Hmmm...this isn't working...hmmm".  I'm definitely guilty of this one - never as a paid photographer, but I know I've definitely taken pictures of my own family and then immediately rejected them.  I never thought how about how that probably makes them feel - again, if it's not right, it's my fault - not theirs.  And if you are being paid, it probably just makes you look incompetent (you're paying me and i can't get it).  Definitely a big note to self.
  • The "family looking together at camera" is not often the most creative shot, but it's a loved one by clients so get it done first and break off from there
  • She asks clients to bring multiple options of what to wear - that way, she can change them out if the colors aren't working, it gets dirty, etc.  Or ask people to wear solids from the same color family
  • Positioning your subjects at a 45 degree angle away from the lens but have them look back at the camera - the s curve looks good on everyone
  • If you're going to make a suggestion on how to sit/tilt/etc be prepared to show it yourself, it's often the fastest way to get there
  • If you see something going wrong in the shoot - change it - it's the responsibility of the photographer.
In the end, I think Ms. Lackey's words of introduction on the importance of having family pictures were ones that resonated with me.  When we can present someone with a meaningful portrait, then:

"We give them the opportuntity to look at themselves all together.  A bona fide, true look at who they are and how they belong to each other to say, I have been so busy, so preoccupied with details but look! Look at what's been here all along! Look at how we've grown, at what we've overcome, and how much we still have to look forward to as a family."

Next month, for April, we'll move a bit from taking pictures, to displaying pictures (hint: just storing them in your computer probably isn't doing the most for them with Living with What You Love by Monica Rich Kosann.

First three photos by Tamara Lackey.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I love Paris Apartments in the spring time...

I seem to be a bit behind on my April magazines this month - but as I was thumbing through my Elle Decor in anticipation of actually reading it (yes, I read all of my magazines cover to cover), this apartment in Paris caught my eye.  You know the style: a little global, a little funky, but a lot classy.  I was mesmerized by the magenta print fabric in the living room - and that was right after I was mesmerized by Sabine de Gunzburg's art collection. WOW.  That's all I have to say about that.  The apartment is at once very Parisian, but also not very typical Parisian at all, if that makes sense.  Maybe it's all the symmetry or the absence of abundant pre-war moldings, but there is simultaneously an "is she/isn't she French?" kind of thing going on.

 All photos by William Waldron for Elle Decor.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Springtime in Kiev...

I visited Kiev once about 10 years ago - actually, probably closer to 12 now.  Colorful is not the word I would have used to describe it (unless you mean of course, in the adventure sense - driving the wrong way down a five lane highway in an armored vehicle to get to the airport on time is colorful in its own way I supposed),  Granted we went in January, so that of course has something to do with it, but I definitely came away from the trip thinking the city intriguing. 

But when I saw this video - comprised of more than 25,000 tilt-shift stills (taken over the course of two days no less!), colorful is almost the only word that comes to mind - in addition to it still being intriguing.  Maybe it's time to give Kiev a second look...any diplo-spouses out there in Kiev?

Video Credits:
Shot and edited by Efim Graboy & Daria Turetski
Music: Adam Burns / Jez Burns – May Flowers

Video via Aether Journal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cherry, Cherry Blossoms...

I'm not sure how long these cherry blossoms will last - I've been driving up and down the 14th street bridge just as often as I can since last week.  I just can't get too many glimpses of the blooms that are truly magical and unique to DC.  The Tidal Basin is the place with the view and the quantity and if you haven't seen them yet, go now - it's fleeting by the minute.  If you go, make sure you walk from metro, the driving situation is completely bonkers down there.  However, if you're a bit more local DC you can also see a good selection at the National Arboretum - including a couple of varietals that bloom just a bit later.  I took these shots there for those that can't catch them in person!

Here's to spring!

All photos by The New Diplomat's Wife.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Zoo be zoo be zooooo....

Am I the only one that can't get this song out of my head?

I know some people didn't feel a lot of love for the Mad Men premiere last night but I loved it - I thought it did a wonderful job of setting the scene for a season full of change.  Excited for more to come but in the meantime, I keep humming this frenchie number from 1966. Additinoally, am I the only one craving a mid-century sunken apartment with grass cloth wall after this?nbsp; Back to regular posting tomorrow but for those that also can't shake this song, click below.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Photography Friday: "Frida Kahlo - Her Photos"

Since we were on a Mexico theme with all of the reporting from our trip, I thought I'd continue that through to Photography Friday and close out this week with some photo highlights of the "Frida Kahlo: Her Photos" exhibit going on at Artisphere.

The exhibit features 240 photos - well, kind of...They're not original photos but copies of photos, due to Diego Rivera's specifications that the originals not be taken out of Mexico.  And despite what the title might indicate, they are not "her" photos in the sense that she took them, but rather "her" in the sense that they hung in her house.  Nonetheless, with the originals being credited to people like Man Ray, it's not like these were taken by slouches behind the lens.  Unlike most photography exhibits that are displayed because of the vision of an artist, these are being displayed because they happen to belong to an artist that had a very particular vision.  Kind of like looking through their scrapbook or their nightstand drawer to see what was important to them.

I hadn't yet heard of Artisphere - somehow, it completely escaped my radar.  As it turns out, it's just up the street from my office - HOW did I miss that? So checking out this little treasure trove of contemporary arts is on my to do list today - maybe with my afternoon coffee.  If it's on your list too, head up there pronto since the exhibit closes today and doesn't have plans for further US dates - the space is open until 11pm.

If you're wondering what to wear, Refinery 29 did a lovely Frida inspiration board...

All photos via Artisphere and The Examiner.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A journey like no other: Maroma, Part II

So if yesterday's post was all about how they make the inside of Maroma resort special, today let's talk about the outside.  And specifically let's talk about the beach...the glorious beach.  One of the most perfect I've ever seen - although that can be said for the coast that stretches all the way to Tulum.  What was great about this part of Mexico is that the beach is this unique combination of white sand that's the density of powdered sugar, the blue water that's out of a fairy tale, and there is nothing to take away from your beach experience.  No jellyfish or urchins that force your beachmates to relieve the sting (yes, have been there), no sharks lurking underneath the surface, no trash on the beach and from what I could tell (whether at Maroma or anywhere else we were on the coast), nothing really preventing you from leaving your things on the beach without a care in the world while you go for a swim in the warm waters.  We have done beaches all over the world and I can't think of one that checks off all those items all in one location.

And of course, as is their style, the service that Maroma provides on the beach itself only adds to the experience.  Beach chairs with inches if not feet of padding, a regular parade of treats to keep you cool, and a BEACH BAR CART...  that comes to you! and makes concoctions to order!  Loved it.  And maybe loved the bar tender too.  In a platonic way of course.

One quirky thing about the beaches on this coastline is the regular seaweed/algae clearing.  We first saw it in Tulum and from what I could tell it was happening at just about every beachfront property, regardless of whether it was hundreds of dollars a night or just a collection of simple palapas.  There is a lot of raking that goes on from early morning to late afternoon of this never ending collection of seaweed/algae on the shore - some rake, some wheelbarrow.  But where does it all go? And it seems to be like that all day every day - I imagine they burn it or set it out for biodegrading somewhere but I ended up being totally fascinated by this process.  Something to investigate further...

View from our room.
The Maroma Beach.
The parade of beach refreshments begins...
Like chilled mini-apples on ice in copper urns.
...and cardamom ice cream mini cones...
And my personal favorite - the Maroma beach bar cart.
...with all the key ingredients.
The beach bar cart in its full splendor.
The beach in its natural state...
The platoon of seaweed/algae clearers.
Wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow of seaweed.
Undeveloped beach on one side of Maroma.
The one rainstorm of our stay rolling in.
And one pic of yours truly, having a journey like no other, just like they promised.

 All photos by The New Diplomat's Wife.

Full Disclosure: I received my hotel stay at Maroma as part of a prize, but am writing about my experience of my own volition.  All travel, meals, gratuities and extras on property were paid for by myself, with the exception of one spa treatment for each of us. All opinions expressed about the property are my own.

A journey like no other: Maroma, Part I

The Main Hacienda Foyer

So way back when, in the dark days of November, I happened to enter a Twitter contest on a whim.  It was for the Orient Express line of hotels and their campaign of "journey like no other".  AND I WON.  I never win ANYTHING.  Raffles, contests, whatever, I never win - and let's just say that this win was worth waiting for.

The prize was a stay at the Orient Express Maroma Resort, and that was the whole reason for building the trip around the Yucatan Coast in Mexico that I've been writing about this week, so that it fully became a journey like no other.  As you can imagine (or at least, as I was imagining), the Maroma property truly is one of a kind, and while the buildings are gorgeous, it's actually the service, elegance and friendliness of the staff that truly set it apart as one of the better properties that I have ever been too.  It is not at all stuffy, but it is luxury.

When we planned our trip (and I'll post our itinerary in a few days in a resources post in case it's helpful for anyone considering the same), we got all of our adventures and exploring out of the way so that the last few days we could use to totally unwind, and also to make the most of Maroma.  This is one of those places that once you check-in, there is very little that you want to do on the outside of the hotel until you check out.  I'm sometimes weary of big hotel developments in "tourist zones" - gah - but Maroma manages to balance that with the feeling of total seclusion.

What's neat about this property, compared to some of the big boxes on the beach, is that it was a house before it was a hotel and that translates into the overall feel.  The gift of a local baron to his girlfriend, the main house has become anchor to the property restaurants and initial rooms, with additional out buildings for rooms and villas and spa built around it. It's Carribean white on the outside (goes well with that carribean blue water), but pure hacienda chic on the inside and as beautiful as it is during the day, the place takes on a while different feeling at night when the staff hand lights over 1,000 votive candles to distribute amongst the property. 

I'm sharing some shots of the interiors and grounds with you today but I'll be back with shots of the beach and ocean tomorrow, the real stars of the show...

Entry to the Property.

Entry Foyer Waiting Area.

One of the best beds I've ever slept in...

Ahh welcome notes and fruit plates always win me over.

Slippers handwoven by the surrounding Maya community in the rooms.

One of the many restaurants - all of them excellent but our favorite (as is our style) was the
sushi and margaritas as Freddie's Tequila Bar on the water.

A Cantina theme night organized by the hotel with communal table for hotel guests.

Mexican Hot Chocolate stand in the mornings.

Handmade tortillas fresh every day in the lobby.

Handpainted Mexican pottery at breakfast.

The Temezcal Sweat Lodge on property.

Hand painted urns.

Entryway to the Kinan Spa. 

A furry friend on property.

Ladies wanting babies take note, the Ixchel fertility pool.  They say it works.

Loungers in the spa.

Chilaquiles, my new favorite breakfast.

Tortilla chips for the evening made from the handmade morning tortillas.

Mayan pottery in one of the restaurants.

Handpainted planters dot the property.
A little glimpse of the candlelit evening look.

All photos by The New Diplomat's Wife.

Full Disclosure: I received my hotel stay at Maroma as part of a prize, but am writing about my experience of my own volition.  All travel, meals, gratuities and extras on property were paid for by myself, with the exception of one spa treatment for each of us. All opinions expressed about the property are my own.
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