Lilies Everywhere

In my neighborhood, there seem to be very specific blooming periods for different flowers. One day you won’t see any daffodils and then the next day, there are dozens of daffodils everywhere you look. I know that this is true in many parts of the world, but I’ve never lived in a neighborhood where it occurred so consistently with so many types of flowers. Currently lilies are in bloom. Orange lilies are especially abundant, and it makes me so happy to see the bright petals while driving or walking along the local streets.

Lilies in the Neighborhood July 2016 Final-10

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies in the Neighborhood

 

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies at the Racine Zoo

Lilies at the Racine Zoo

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies in the Neighborhood July 2016

Lilies in the Neighborhood

Lilies at the Racine Zoo

Lilies in the Neighborhood July 2016

What flowers are blooming right now in your part of the world?

Home Tour: Guest Bedroom

Guest Bedroom

Today I’m so excited to share the first of many tours of my home. As I mentioned when I first started this blog, I’ve spent over seven months working on all sorts of home projects in our “forever” home without documenting it in much detail. Home decor doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable sharing more than occasional peeks publicly.

It may seem weird to start with the guest bedroom. However, it’s the first room I’ve ever designed completely on my own. I’m more than a little proud of it.

Summer on Olympus Floral Show at the Domes

The Mitchell Park Domes reopened their Show Dome on April 29! The conservatory was closed through most of the winter and early spring due to some ongoing structural issues. You can read more about it over here. It may still be years before the Domes are fully reopened, but I’m very glad they’ve found a way to continue to run their seasonal floral shows and that they’re finally working toward a long-term plan for full restoration. I always enjoy their seasonal floral shows and am excited to share a little peek at Summer on Olympus here today.

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Mitchell Park Domes Summer on Olympus

Summer on Olympus runs through Sunday, September 11, 2016. The Michell Park Domes are always free on Monday mornings from 9:00 a.m.-noon except major holidays for Milwaukee County residents. Due to the limited Domes access, general admission is just $3 until all three domes reopen. Children 5 and under get in for free.

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on repeat lately

Rob High Fidelity Headphones

A little taste of what I’ve been listening to lately…over and over again. Check it out!

Radioactive by Lindsey Stirling and Pentatonix (Imagine Dragons Cover) – I’m a huge Lindsey Stirling fan and frequently default to her albums while I’m working. Lately to mix it up a little, I started listening to her YouTube channel. Lindsey has so many fantastic covers, but Radioactive is really ahead of the pack. I absolutely love the string addition to the song, which isn’t a big surprise because I love strings in rock music. Some of the riffs remind me of this song.

I’m not a Pentatonix fan because most of the time, they try way too hard. I don’t like having music shoved in my face. You just want to say, “Hey, you’re really good. Stop trying to prove that and tone it down a little bit.” If they sang like they sing on Radioactive all the time, I would love them. The a capella arrangement adds so much to the song. For me, this is definitely one of those covers that rivals, if not surpasses, the original.

Lane Boy by Twenty One Pilots – In another effort not to exhaust Lindsey Stirling’s albums completely, one day I browsed related suggestions on Amazon for Lindsey Stirling fans and came across Twenty One Pilots.  (Yeah, I know they’re not new…at all.) I’ve been listening to Vessel and Blurryface a lot. Initially my favorite song was Holding On to You, but lately Lane Boy is the one I keep repeating. I think it’s largely because I recently read The Song Machine.

Adele – Hello / Lacrimosa (Mozart) by The Piano Guys – The classical mashup theme continues. (This is one of my absolute favorite bands, remember?) One of my good friends in high school went through a huge obsession with Mozart’s Requiem (yep…). It got me listening to the Requiem a lot. Consequently I still know the piece very well so I sort of geeked out over this mashup. Adele and the Lacrimosa sounds like a terrible combination, but it works so well. Cello fits both melodies wonderfully, and the video is the perfect match for the arrangement with its staggering number of loops. Jake and I got to see The Piano Guys live earlier this year, and they played this song, which was nothing short of amazing, as was the whole show. If you ever have a chance to see them live, don’t miss the opportunity.

Walking in a Circle by Santigold – I checked out Santigold after the lead singer of I’m Not a Pilot mentioned he was a fan and was instantly hooked. Walking in a Circle is from her latest album, 99 Cents, which is just as strong as her first two albums. Typically I listen to the whole album straight through without repeating specific songs or starting at a specific song. So it was hard to pick one favorite to mention here, but I really love the chorus of Walking in a Circle.

Wristband by Paul Simon – I’ve been listening to Paul Simon ever since I was little. You Can Call Me Al is one of my two all-time favorite songs. (The other one is Blackbird by the Beatles). I’m blown away by Paul Simon’s consistent song writing. His newest, Stranger to Stranger, may not have a lot of hits, but he still knows how to write a great song. Normally I don’t gravitate toward the single from an album, but I had to go with Wristband for this post. If you haven’t heard So Beautiful or So What, please give it a listen, too.

What have you been listening to and loving lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

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5 Tips for Improving Your Photography

5 Tips for Improving Your Photography

One question I get asked all the time is what advice I can give for improving photography skills. Of course most people want to hear that I improved my skills by purchasing a better camera or taking a class. While upgrading your camera gear or taking a class or classes can certainly help you improve your skills, these steps won’t magically improve your photography overnight. We’ve all seen people with amazing photography gear who produce mediocre images. On the flip side, there are also lots of people creating stunning images on their smartphones with free editing apps. I am far from an expert in photography, but I can offer a few simple tips that will help you start improving your photography today.

1. Take lots of pictures

Memory is cheap. The amount of memory you have should never limit the number of photos you take. If you’re shooting with a modern smartphone, you should have ample storage space for hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. If you’re shooting with a camera, I highly recommend picking up a couple of 64GB cards. SanDisk Extreme is a reliable, affordable option.

Taking lots of pictures allows you to make a lot of mistakes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles, lighting, and settings. You can always delete the photos you don’t like later.

2. Start editing your pictures

Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of photos they see on websites and blogs and in magazines and other publications are edited. Even when you take well composed photos with the proper camera settings, most likely you’ll want to do a little editing or post processing. Learning how to crop a photo and adjust the light settings is a great start. Get in the habit of editing photos before you share them online. If you’re editing on your computer, Google Photos and PicMonkey are both great free software options. If you’re editing on your smartphone, you can also use Google Photos or one of many other photo editing apps like Snapseed (Android | Apple) and Afterlight (Android | Apple).

3. Challenge yourself

Regardless of your current skill level, it’s easy to stagnate and keep taking photos without really improving. Sometimes it may be helpful to set goals or challenges for yourself. A challenge can be anything from taking architecture shots to adjusting your ISO and white balance manually. In 2011 and early 2012, as I was building up my skills before purchasing a DSLR, I participated in several weekly and monthly photography challenges. While I didn’t produce a ton of great shots from the challenges themselves, they pushed me to consider a lot of subjects and perspectives that I wouldn’t have photographed on my own, which was integral to bringing my skills to where they are today.

Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day has remained one of the most popular challenges for five years or so. Check out the current challenge list right here. I also have a (not recently updated) long list of daily, weekly, and monthly challenges over here.

For some people, a class may be a great option, too. If you want more accountability and companionship for specific assignments, think about a class. There are numerous local and online classes, many of which are very affordable. To get started, check out Alisa Burke’s Snap Shot Delight.

4. Share your photos and be open to critique

Putting yourself out there creatively is scary. Even professional photographers still have those “but what if everyone hates it?” moments. At some point, you just have to start putting your photos out there, even when you’re still an amateur. Typically family and friends are really supportive and will encourage your creative pursuits. (If not, maybe you need some new family and friends.) This encouragement can be the push you need to stick with photography.

Getting constructive feedback is also important to keep developing your skills. Personally I’ve gotten some of my best feedback from Toby of Photorec.tv and his Patreon only Facebook support group. Many photography communities are largely focused around gear rumors or “pixel peeping,” which is an industry term for picking apart photos just for the sake of being a snob. Toby has cultivated a supportive community that offers helpful tips without being condescending. It’s critical to find fellow photographers who will build you up and make you better.

5. Follow really good photographers

A tried and true method to improve any creative skill set is to study the best people in the industry. One of my favorite ways to follow photographers and process large quantities of photos each week is Instagram. I love having a single feed filled with fantastic images and very little distractions (i.e. minimal personal updates, no incessant article sharing, limited ads). To get started, try using the Explore function and typing in subjects of interest such as Chicago or Rocky Mountains.

I try to stay conscious as I’m viewing images, considering what I do and don’t like about different images and how I can apply their techniques to my own work in a way that’s meaningful and original. If Instagram isn’t your thing or you’re looking for another place to create a stunning photo feed, Flickr, DeviantArt, and Tumblr are also great options, and they’re all available as smartphone apps.

Should I invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera to improve my photography?

Returning to the gear topic, if you’re shooting with a smartphone or a basic point and shoot, I encourage you to learn all of the settings. Newer smartphone cameras have an impressive array of settings in the built-in camera. You can also download an app like Manual (Android | Apple) for further control. Get comfortable using these settings. It will help you make the transition to a mirrorless or DSLR camera more smoothly because you won’t be as reliant on Auto modes.

If you’re really serious about becoming a great photographer, there will come a point when you’ve exhausted what you can do with a smartphone or point and shoot camera. At this point, think about investing in a mirrorless or DSLR camera. I have more info about the gear I currently shoot with on my resources page.

Do you have any basic tips for improving your photography? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

More resources to improve your photography:

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