meanwhile over at a la mode

My little sacker buddy Laura Jane and my daughter's best friend (aka Laura's daughter) had a snow day.  Go check it out!  I am STILL laughing at the egg picture.  I don't even know why.  I just am.  Mmmm.  Eggs.  HAHA!  You're brilliant, Laura.  I'm DYING to see a bigger version of M-poop looking through her green hands...  You must email it to me...

my perspective of M and N's wedding...

While Tasha had all the sweet spots for taking the money shots at this wedding, I tagged along for moral support (and in case her camera malfunctioned...)  I was able to hang back and play with the bride's adorable daughter, G.  Here was the wedding from where I was standing - see if you can spot Tasha workin' it in any of the pictures!

These pictures are taken at the Suffolk House Bed & Breakfast just 20 minutes east of Edmonton - if you're looking to elope, Sheila has some amazing deals to offer, including an exclusive standing order for photos by the fine, fine ladies of ticdesign...

Week 3 task - Tanya

Miss Tanya is a keener and got her first mood pictures up today.  I have to share this, because it's an absolutely prime example of what I wanted you guys to accomplish: a picture that conveys emotion.  Well, not only did the picture convey emotion, but it evoked it.  I literally burst out laughing at this picture, very aptly titled: Canine Bliss

canine bliss (Tanya's choice)

You can keep an eye out for Tanya's stuff over at her blog here.

the many faces of Mariah

This is the love child of the previously photographed psychotic faerie and her pet giant. Aside of a nasty case of being adorable, she turned out pretty OK. Nice job, Ryan and Renee. She's truly a beauty. Make sure you kiss her extra for me, OK?


Miss Amber Lee!!!

I had the pleasure of meeting this gorgeous woman up close and personal this past weekend.  She had the misfortune of being seated across from me and so, I got a picture.  HI AMBER LEE!!!

what are the basics?

I've had a few people ask me what the minimum is to start taking pictures. The smart-ass reply is, "...a camera..." The actual answer is, to set up a very basic portrait/wedding photography business, with minimal investment to provide the best possible results in the most number of circumstances, here is what I suggest; please note that because lenses and equipment vary from manufacturere to manufacturer, this guideline is as generic as possible.

~camera body
~31mm or 50mm 1.4 lens
~1 memory card, 2 if you plan to do weddings, capable of holding 500 maximum quality jpegs each
~external hot-shoe compatible flash with swivel and/or pivot capabilities
~a piece of neutrally-coloured fabric (white, light beige, light grey) that is a) wrinkle-free or b) wrinkles nicely (muslin works well and is relatively cheap...) that is about 8ft - 10ft wide by 10ft or more long for draping ugly stuff or tacking up on the wall (tab-style curtains from your local dept store work well, too)

****the extras****

These are things that you can collect over time, adding to your versatility as a photographer.

~zoom lens, 70mm - 200mm range, preferably f2.8 or smaller though f3.5 will work
~wide angle lens
~release, wired or wireless - the magicalest-est tool EVER for getting difficult kids (and parents) to have their picture taken...
~tripod - nice for doing a series of portraits that all need to be similar (like headshots for your kids' soccer team) and for playing with in the dark
~backdrop stand - sew a tube at the top of any kind of fabric you have and voila
~dark or black backdrop for doing those low-key high contrast photos
~strobe kit (you can pick up an inexpensive but effective set of 2 multi-purpose strobes with up to 4 umbrellas for under $200 including shipping and duty on eBay - just make sure you get ones that say 'shoot-through' umbrellas and wireless sync)

A note about using the same location: if you are going to be doing photos in one location (including a permanent or makeshift studio in your home) you *may* want to mix things up with some fun props; these can be anything from a little sheepskin Ikea rug or a nice wicker basket and fluffy white towel for photographing newborns, to a miniature park bench, table and chairs, or rocking chair for younger children; tall stools or a funky wooden chair or two for seating variety; a set of blocks or juggling balls that spell 'boy' and 'girl' for maternity sessions (dry-erase markers write on skin and flake off easily, too). For glamour portraits you may want to look into buying some gauzy or sheer fabric, some peacock feathers, or some long gloves and beads. Any second-hand store is a treasure trove of inexpensive props, often yeilding the most amazing fun stuff for a song! And even if you normally wouldn't shop there, I have to tell you that my favourite place to look for fabric is in the $1.97 bin at WalMart. I've found everything from fun fur and oriental brocades to sassy stripes and polka dots, from shiny satins to gossamer organzas... all for $1.97 a metre - LURVE IT!!!

pick yourself up

For anyone who's gotten off to a rough start this year, here's some great advice from Fred and Ginger.

The Shadows - Apache

The oroiginal artists... the Tommy Seebach disco version is hilarious, though...

pony up, folks!


Week 3 Tasks

I do apologize - I have not had a chance to post my examples from last week.  They are coming - I need to get them off the stupid memory card still..

At any rate, this week's project is simple and fun: I want you all to take 3 images that portray distinctly different mood or emotion - joy, sadness, claustrophobia, excitement, peace, frustration...  They can be portraits of people, landscapes of these lovely snow-dunes, still life that you create - whatever you choose.  Pay close attention to your selective focussing and DOF, to help enhance the feeling or mood you want to imply with your images.  Give your images a title - it can be as simple or as clever as you like.

Have fun!  I really look forward to seeing what you all come up with!  Id' like to post the 3 images you each make on the blog, so once you have shot and saved your images, please let me now where I can find them and I will add them to an album!

what brand of camera is best?

Murrayville Mom says:

Hi again!

I was out camera looking last night. I was leaning towards the Canon Rebel XTi, but then a lil Nikon caught my eye. It was the Nikon D80. I am also a leftie and have a learning curve with all of the buttons and dials being on the right side.

What should I be thinking about in terms of a camera/body/lenses etc. I think for what I want to do, would mostly be indoor photography and some outdoor I would think...

Can you help me figure this out?! I don't want to purchase the WRONG camera as it will be a HUGE purchase for me!!! EEEK!! So exciting.

At the end of the day, you could sit and split hairs over everything from MP to the colour of the neckstrap and there will be discrepancies across the board in terms of features and functions.  As I always say, it isn't about the camera anyways - it's about the photographer.  I did a random read up on the Nikon D80 and on two of the sites I visited it scored higher user satisfaction than the Canon XTi, while on two other sites it scored lower (Pentax scored the highest customer satisfaction rating on 3 of hose 4  -YAY Pentax!!!  lol); there were several comments from users who crossed platforms lamenting that their new Canon certainly wasn't their old Nikon.  However, the Canon XTi is currently the #1 selling entry-level dSLR on the market, and internet reviews aren't really the best measure (how do we know Canon users aren't just thet ype to hate .  Having seen a couple of them in the workshops, they are fine little machines in terms of what they will take a picture of, but the Canon set-up just is not comfortable for me - the buttons don't feel like they are where they 'should' be to me.  I seriously debated going to Nikon when I upgraded this time but after going to the store and manhandling a few cameras, ended up remaining a loyal Pentax customer.

So, for me this question is easy to answer: whichever one you put in your hand, that feels like you own it the second you are touching it - THAT is your camera.  The important thing is to love your camera, and not be swayed by popular opinion, what's in vogue, or what brand people tell you THEY would buy or think YOU should buy.  You are ultimately the one who will be lugging it around like a 5th appendage, so you better like it.  

The only thing I caution you about is that before making that first purchase you should seriously contemplate if you're ready to marry that brand.  Here's why: you will upgrade the body of the camera over the course of your career, but your lenses will probably carry forward.  The lenses are the real investment, and once you start acquiring additional glass it can become a fairly large investment, one that would cost much more if you were to decide three years from now that you want to switch to Canon or Olympus.

It sounds like you have your heart set on that Nikon, Miss Murrayville.  Does it feel good in your hand?  Do your fingers intuitively find the buttons, dials and knobs where it feels like they 'should' be?  Do you like the look of it?  Does it feel like it's 'yours'?  If the answer is 'yes' then go ahead and buy it, and you will never regret it.

I'm going to do a separate post about setting up for a very basic 'beginner' studio, one that can grow with you and be expanded over time.

Hope that helps,


have to brag a bit here...

It's been almost a month since we officially announced Tasha and Laura joining ticdesign and starting on their own paths towards careers in photography.  Although both of these ladies showed immense talent before I asked them to join me, I have been consistently surprised and amazed with the level of commitment they have shown for honing their skills and braving some unfamiliar territory, especially in the last week.  I am bursting with pride to see them rise to the occasion each and every time and really look forward to watching their continued growth in the coming months.

Tasha, Laura - I applaud you both.  You make my heart soar, and have reminded me what it's like to feel that intense passion for making photographs again.  You are both inspirational and motivational.  I'm so truly, deeply happy we're able to work together.

Hugs, love and all that disgusting drivel,


let me also draw your attention to...

Tasha over at Fresh! shot her first wedding last weekend!  The pictures turned out AWESOME!  I am so excited for her - shooting that first wedding is always a huge undertaking, and Tasha managed it with ease.  The bride's mother has never seen snow, and so at Noreida's request, her and Mike braved the freezing temperatures to get a few pictures in the White Stuff.  Doubtless, these will be her favourites from the day...

Congratulations, Tasha!  Well done!  WOOT WOOT!!!


let me draw your attention to...

Laura over at a la mode did an amazing preemie session. She did a write-up of the experience on her blog - please stop by and check it out!

reason #983 why I love Bill

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband?

My sweet Billiam sent me this link, I peed, life is grand.  You have to watchthe intro right to the end, and go on the website.  I spent 20 minutes trying to perform the Do mi mi, Mi so so, Re fa fa, La ti ti part of The Sound of Music HAHAHAHA!!!!


announcements, announcements!

I've known the two beautiful ladies in these pictures for just over a decade. It brought me great joy when V asked me to do engagement photos! Too bad her fiance, big D, was distracted by V's cleavage so much - made it take much longer than it needed too... "The camera! look at the LENS! BLOODY HELL, man - eyes here!!!" After which he took to grabbing her butt. Yeesh.

On the day we were scheduled to shoot, V's daughter, who used to babysit my sons way back when, asked if her and her boyfriend (little D, no relation to big D) could join for a family picture. Of course, I said yes! If you ever scroll through my albums and see a poi (fire) spinner, that's G!

Of course G, not to be outdone by her mother, had her own little announcement to make. Congratulations on the pending marriage to V & big D, and on the pending baby to G & little D!!! (V - a grandma - what a hoot!!!!)

(And you're right, V&G - little D does have a nice smile with teeth.) LOL!!!

under what rock?

Geez.  I went and visited Tanyapoop's blog.  I must not have been paying attention yesterday when it was announced that Heath Ledger died.   I never gave the man much thought, really, but I did find his performance in Brokeback Mountain remarkable, certainly a cut above what one might expect from a straight guy playing for he other team.  It's disappointing - the young man seemed to have huge potential.

He complained frequently about paparazzi attention, always unwanted.  He tried to remain humble and out of the spotlight, which is such a rare and respectable thing.  Perhaps that's why it's so shocking.  I am truly hopeful that the cause of death is not discovered to be suicide.  Hot on the heels of Owen Wilson's suicide attempt and Anna Nicole Smith's OD, it's really more than I think I can handle.  How very sad.

never swallow bubble gum

about the lens on the Olympus

I have searched and searched for a decent picture to examine the kit lens on taht camera, and cannot find one to look at. I will be making a trek to the camera store this weekend, so while I am there I will check into it... honestly, why they would manufacture a lens and not put the foussing distances on there is beyond me. The only reason I can I think it maybe it has something to do with the whole idea of it being an entry level dSLR, and the manufacturer therefore doesn't find it necessary to provide such high-tech info to an entry-level user... ~shrugs~ I will find an answer for you, promise!

about the flash on that Rebel XT/XTi

Alright - I have searched and searched about a way to disable the flash, to no avail. According to the Canon website, it is disabled by default in creative modes (M, Av, Tv, etc) - can anyone confirm this for me?

update on the all-night bus idea

It was announced this morning that, after only a few weeks of discussion, the idea of 24/7 bus service has been officially post-poned. At an average annual cost of $115 million dollars, that would make the average annual cost to individual riders requiring service in what are currently 'off' hours $7500, or, $625 a month, approximately the same cost as taking a $30 cab ride home every work day.

Sounds like bicycle time to me.

Exercise 2 - still life

Task 4

Choose any 5 objects; try and choose objects that work well together, and of varying size, shape, and texture - a vase, an apple, a hairbrush, a picture frame, a feather, some beads, etc.    Set up wherever you think you'll get the best lighting from. Mark a spot on the floor (a piece of masking tape,  specific floor tile, whatever) where you will shoot the next 5 images from.  Arrange the objects into some sort of still life.  Take as many pictures as you need on whatever settings you like until you have an image you are satisfied with the DOF and lighting, as long as you stay in that SAME SPOT.  Rearrange the SAME objects into another still life.  Again, shooting from the SAME SPOT, take as many pictures as you need until you have one you think you like.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  When you are done, you should have 5 images of the same objects in 5 different arrangements.

Task 5

Choose your favourite arrangement from Task 4, and set it up again.  This time, you will be taking 5 pictures from any position you like - above, behind, beside, under, up high, down low, close up, far away.  Keep shooting on whatever settings you like until you have 5 pictures of the same arrangement that are as different from one another as possible.

Upload your 10 images from tasks 4 and 5 to an album so I can see them!  I will post a sample set tomorrow or Wednesday.

Happy shooting!

debrief - first exercises

Task #1 was to introduce you first-hand to the effect of aperture.  When you are out shooting, you need to be conscious of your aperture, as too shallow a DOF may result in not enough being in focus (a group of people 2 or 3 layers deep, the eyes being in focus but not the tip of the nose, etc.)

Task #2 was to introduce you to the plane of focus - how close or how far away from you is the area in focus?  When you are out shooting, you will be making creative choices constantly. Here is an example of a shallow DOF, with the plane of focus very close to the camera.  If I had used a deep enough DOF to get the parents in focus, how would that have affected the impact of the image?

Task #3 was to get you to practice focusing in the dark.  That's all.   Well, OK - it was to demonstrate and reinforce manual focusing, and how the plane of focus is a specific distance from the camera.  Remember when you were a kid, and the school photographer held that string tied to the camera up to everyone's nose before taking the picture?  He was making sure the kids were the correct distance from the camera.  Neat, huh?

With experience, you will learn to select the best DOF for the task at hand, whether that's taking a group picture with everything in front and behind them in bokeh, a beautiful sunset landscape with everything in focus, or a close-up of baby's hand with just the fingertips in focus.

I encourage you to scroll through other photographers' pictures and see if you can identify the creative intent behind the DOF used.

Parade of Dresses

Here are the dresses I have chosen from my collection that I would like to photograph using models. There are more, but some are too delicate to be worn, while others I felt were just not right for this project. 

If you are interested in a free glamour portrait session wearing one of the dresses in this album, please email Before selecting the dress you would like to model, please check the dress description and comments to be sure that a) it hasn't been claimed or modeled already and b) that the size is right for you. You may watch for new additions to my modeled vintage dresses like the one of Tammy below over at whatever blows my hair back.

portrait settings

Murrayville Mom asks:

What is the best setting for taking a b/w photograph of a person (not moving)on a DSLR?

Any tips? Probably using natural light (if there is enough light) or the built in flash on my camera.

I want the photos to look fabulous!! Can you help me?! I am thinking full body shots, or waist up type shots.

Well, MM, I wish there was a simple answer for the settings, but there isn't.  Whether it's in B&W or colour.  I personally prefer shooting in Av mode, which is aperture priority, meaning, I like to make the depth of field (DOF) shallow enough that I can use bokeh (the blur in front of and behind whatever is in focus ) to my advantage.  I prefer bouts of diarrhea to using artificial lighting (strobe, flash, continual, whatever) for anything but creative purposes and curse people who don't get their picture taken at a decent time of day.  On my old manual cameras, I'd have to adjust the shutter speed accordingly and deal with whatever ISO I had loaded in the camera, usually ISO200; DSLR cameras will do the work for you in Av.  The camera will also adjust the ISO in the auto-range you have it set to; the higher the ISO, the more noise you will get in the final image.

Here's where Av can get tricky, though - when you have Av set, the camera will adjust the shutter speed below 1/60 of a second.  This is problematic because the longest a person can stand still and take a picture without getting camera shake is 1/60 of a second.  A tripod will allow you to not get camera shake, but also limits the positions you can be in while taking the picture.  Some cameras come with a setting called 'TAv' which will allow you to set your camera up to warn you that you're about to dip below whatever shutter speed you've selected.  Also, if you have a flash that cannot be manually turned off, then you will end up fighting with the flash popping up when you don't want it up.

The available aperture will vary from lens to lens.  An aperture setting of f3.5 is a safe place to start - will give you pretty good front and back bokeh (I like to call it the good blur) without risking having too shallow a DOF to get the whole person in pretty good focus.  With too shallow a DOF, you may end up with the person's nose out of focus; if the focus is accidentally set on the part of the person close to you (their chest, their forehead) you may end up with the person's eyes out of focus.  A good rule is to always focus on the person's eyes - a blurry nose isn't nearly as bad as blurry eyes.

If you want to learn how to guestimate this, put your DSLR on manual, set the shutter speed to 1/60, and play around with the film speed and aperture to get the exposure you like best.  Another tip is to use spot or centre-weighted metering instead of matrix or multi-point meering, and your EV lock, so just your subject is being metered, and not the background which may be lighter or darker than your subject.  It also helps keep your whites white and your blacks black.

I hope this helps!  Happy shooting!

what's in the bag, lady?

Murrayville Mom asks: Can you tell us about your equipment? I mean your photography equipment! I would love to see a list on your side bar!!

I have too much equipment to list. I'll list what often or usually accompanies me on shoots instead.

Right now I'm shooting with a Pentax K10D. I use my 50mm Pentax f1.4 ad nauseum. I hope to be buried with the f1.4 lenses, from this camera and the K1000s. I also have a Pentax f4.0 12mm-24mm wide angle lens, and a Tamron f3.5 - f5.6 24mm - 300mm macro lens that I use as sparingly as possible. I have 4 other lenses that I use occasionally from the manual camera, as well as the original f3.5 18mm - 55mm kit lens from my old D*ist which is notorious for vignetting, and which is why I love using it. I have the Pentax AF400FTZ flash. I collect vintage everything, and one of my prized possessions is actually an old Berkey Canada (circa 1967-ish) professional strobe that I've retrofitted with a wireless outfit to operate with my fancy schmancy digital camera. It works with my old manual cameras great, too. It also handily doubled as a stand for my mannequin bodies when I was photographing the dresses for the blows my hair back blog... uploading in the very near future... I have a corded cable release and a $40 tripod, a 2GB and a 4GB memory card (150x write speed), a macro kit, a couple of filters and lens hoods, some lens wipes, a few q-tips, spare batteries, spare camera lens/back covers, and spare card reader, business cards, one-step hand sanitizer, and some HEPA masks in case I have the sniffles when I'm photographing infants or people with weak immune systems.

look who's back!!!

My Sweet Dolly Sasha put in an appearance at the DLS workshops last weekend! Isn't she gorgeous?  If you're interested in playing along at home, the DLS practice tasks are posted on the DLS blog every Monday!

Task 2 sample

I promise, all this wax-on, wax-off stuff has a purpose.  I will sum up the point of the exercises in a separate post.  In the meantime, here is the side of a crib I use for climbing plants in my garden.  Note that I chose 3 very different spots to focus.  Which one do you like best?  Which one doesn't work for you?  Do the different focal points create a different kind of impact or mood?

Task 1 sample

OK - I admit some of the pics have camera shake - it was COLD outside this morning! However, if you scroll through from the beginning to end you will notice that the early ones, just the pine cone at the front is in focus; gradually, all of he pine comes are in focus. I started at f3.5 and went all the way to f22.0. Because I was focussed on he object at the front, I could not get a clear focus on he object at the back. Had I chosen the object in the midde, I would have seen my DOF increase both forwards and backwards.

Click on the slideshow to view the images larger; when you get into the album, open the 'more info' tab to the right - it will show you the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. (I didn't include one f-stop because it was REALLY motion-blurry lol)


I went to visit Landon for his 6 month session last weekend. I almost packed him up in the animal hat suitcase and brought him home with me!!!

ponypalooza and faeriejane for Eve and Auntie Danna

Auntie Danna and Nanook took it upon themselves to bestow the girls with uber-frilly faerie costumes.  They have to wear them with undershirts because they are scratchy.  Getting into undershirts involves partial undress, which leads to total undress.  Then there are only pink bums running amok in the house.  Really, any excuse to get nekkid works: changing into costumes, getting a sleeve wet, breathing...  which comes as no surprise to those of you who have met Serejane. You all know I am not exaggerating.  At.  All.  To wit, last spring on our first walk about the yard, the neighbour didn't recognize Serejane 'with her clothes on.'


Eve made a post about girls infesting the house with pinkness.  I couldn't help but think of her as Serejane and I indulged in a talking head full-out pony/miniature teddy bear battle.  I say the bears won.  Serejane would disagree, but she's 3 - what does she know?

hey good lookin'

Whatcha got cookin'?

We're having fettucine with chicken, pesto and sundried tomatoes (the girls will eat the noodles with shaky cheese, hold the pesto...) and chocolate fondue for dessert.

What's for dinner tonight, y'all?

pictures from the workshop

Anybody get any really great shots (or horrible or funny or silly) from the workshop? I'd love to post a couple - email me what you got!

get a tissue handy

how come...

No one has shared their pictures with me!!!  What are y'all shootin' at?!?!?!

human again

I feel like I've been in a cocoon the last several days.  The sinus infection I had ignored for a good week found its way into my throat and right ear, culminating with me being unable to swallow or speak without wincing in pain, and rupturing my eardrum.  Now, for those of you who know me, I rupture my eardrums regularly, usually in swimming pools, once when someone clapped me hard on the ear, and this time, because I was too stubborn to go to the Dr. when it started hurting in the first place early last week.  I guess my pain tolerance has increased, since I didn't notice the rupture until I scratched my ear and found yummy goopy smelly bloody stuff on my finger.  Yay Hope!  I should TOTALLY win an award for being a jackass.  So, what should have been a quick trip to get antibiotics turned into 3 days off work, struggling to not be nauseated, and not even bothering to try and say conscious...  Today, for the first time in almost 2 weeks, I feel human again.  Must be them thar 'spensive drugs I got me - 10-day cycle, one pill a day, $70.  Ouch!

so sweet it'll make your teeth hurt

My first session of 2008 was with two lovely young ladies who took turns posing, NOT posing, crying, smiling, and peeing on the backdrops. It was also Laura Jane's (of a la mode) first time tagging along on a session with me - so lucky Mom & Dad are getting TWICE the bang for their buck! I'll post a link to Laura's pics when she has the album up. In the meantime, I have to share this picture. A word of caution - it is a work in progress and will change before it's finished for real - but it is just too sweet not to share!

for Serejane

Bless her little heart, she requests this... again... and again... and again...

can of worms: bus service, 24.7

It appears there are some folks asking the City of Edmonton to make our transit run 24/7.  Thus far, I hear a lot of arguments coming from young kids who are drunk and can't afford cab fare, who are fortifying their argument by stating shift workers would use it too.  So let's examine this. Based on historical incidents, practicality, common sense, and feasibility, we'll try out a couple scenarios..

Some people including nurses and doctors and welders working night shift will be able to take the bus home from wherever they are at 3:00 a.m.  People who are working the night shift are, all in all, only a handful of people, a very small portion of the population.  The #1 complaint next to lack of 24/7 service is infrequency - the wait time between busses.  Everyone wants to have a bus stationed immediately outside their doorway when they are done their shift, and one that takes them right to their door at that.  Therefore, in order to make this service affordable to the city without increasing taxpayer subsidization, the cost of off-peak fares would have to be substantially increased to offset the lack of ridership, and the routes would have to run once an hour, tops.  So I dunno about YOU guys, but if I was finished my shift at 3:30 a.m. and had to wait until until 4:30 a.m. for the next bus, pay $5.00 for my fare, and sit on the bus for up to 3 hours, depending on how well I make my connections OR drive OR pay $20 and have a cab take me right to my doorstep, chances are pretty good I want to just go home.  Really, all y'all want is a $3 cab ride...  I say, live closer to work, or work closer to home, and ride your bike.

Some people who are drunk might not drive if they could take a bus home from the bar.  Yes, people, there are those who think drinking and driving will be  thing of the past IF ONLY the city would provide public transportation!  Imagine, if no on ever HAD to drive drunk again?  Someone better call Operation Red Nose (they come and drive you home WITH your car) and tell them that they can cut their volunteer base in HALF nay QUARTER once the busses start running 24-7 .  *whew* What a relief!  And the bouncers and waitresses could take the bus, too - the party can continue on the way!  Yes, it's a great idea to put a bunch of drunks on a moving vehicle at 3:00 a.m.  I'd personally like to know who is chipping in for the puke buckets?   And for those of you who claim you are sober at 3 a.m. and just partying, just looking to get home so you don't have to crash on someone's floor: you have NO EXCUSE.  If you're presumably responsible enough to not drink, you are presumably, ergo, responsible (and sober) enough to catch the last bus home.  Deal with it.

Now, above and beyond all of this, let's take into consideration the safety of the bus driver and the passengers.  Aside of the aforementioned handful of the population that works nights, the types of people who would be accessing all-night transit service are statistically speaking, at least, not necessarily your Sunday church crowd.  I imagine there would be all sorts of wayward souls in varying states of sobriety and consciousness, and various levels of cooperativeness.  A driver is completely defenseless on a bus.  Imagine a busload of brawling drunks - what is the driver able to do?  Pull over, you say?  And what of it when someone pulls a knife or a gun?

So, let's sum up:

Limited ridership
Not cost effective
Safety concerns for passengers and drivers

I wonder how many weeks and taxpayer dollars will be wasted investigating this no-brainer...

DLS Exercise 1 - DOF, MF

This exercise is to help you hone your understanding of DOF while practicing manual focusing.

Find a nice bright spot to take a picture - a kitchen, bedroom, or living room floor with lots of natural light would be ideal, or this could be done outside. Set up a series of 7 similar or identical items in a row, each about 12 - 18" apart from each other. Be as creative as you like - they could be anything from beer bottles to baby bottles, Hotwheels, Barbie shoes. You could make a train of some sort with your kids. You could put pinecones on the snow. You could ask 7 friends to stand in a row. Really, the sky is the limit...

Disable your flash, set your camera to MF, AV f3.5, ISO 200. (Remember, your zoom may need to be at the widest angle to get to f3.5!) Standing at one end of the row, focus on the object closest to you. Take one picture. Note how many of the objects are in focus at f3.5, and adjust your aperture one f-stop at a time until ALL the objects are in focus, WITHOUT readjusting your focus. How many f-stops did it take you? Note the light and what the camera set your shutter speeds at - did you have to deal with camera shake at all? If you had trouble getting pictures with higher f-stops, what would your options be for increasing the shutter speed without altering the depth of field? Hint - law of reciprocity only has 3 parts: light intensity (aperture) sensitivity (film speed) and duration (shutter speed).

Disable your flash, set your camera to MF, AV f3.5, ISO200. Find a long edge - your table, a countertop, the fence in your backyard, a bannister, a windowsill. Standing in the same spot at one end, manually focus so that you have 3 images with distinctly different focal points along that straight edge. If you're feeling adventurous and want to take your shooting to the street, this would be a really fun one to do in a grocery store in the soup aisle or in the library along the bookshelves! If you really want to challenge yourself, find a table or countertop that has a distinct end - something about 6-8 feet long. Try adjusting your aperture so that the entire length of the edge is in focus, but drops off suddenly at the end so everything beyond he table fades off into Bokeh oblivion...

Get a tape measure. This exercise needs to be done in a dark but not black room - your child's room at night with a night light, a windowless bathroom with the door partially opened, a room with the lights off and he TV on, the kitchen at night the lights off and the fridge open half an inch... if you want to know if it's dark enough, put it on AF. If it can't focus, then it's dark enough. Place a shiny object (glass, metal, plastic, no mirrors though) in the darkened space.

Set your camera on a stable surface - chair, table, tripod if you have one - and disable the flash. WITHOUT looking through your lens, set your camera to MF and place it on the chair or tripod or wherever you are going to be taking the picture from. Measure the distance between the object and your camera. Without looking through your lens, turn the manual focussing ring on your lens to that distance. Using the 2sec delay timer to avoid camera shake, take a picture. Move the object, and guesstimate the distance. If the image isn't clear, adjust your aperture until you are able to get the object in focus.

I'd love to see what you are coming up with! I strongly recommend using Picasa as both a photo organizer and for very basic editing features. It has an easy upload interface to Picasa web albums as well. Mac users can set up iPhoto to upload images directly to Picasa web albums as well. If you are using flickr or Facebook or another site for online sharing already, no worries. Send me a link to wherever you're uploading whatever you're shooting! (Or you could start a blog...)

cropped or chopped?

Hi Hope!!
I was wondering... how do you feel about chopped limbs/hands/feet in portraits? Do you think it ruins the image? Or is it something that doesn't bother you too much?

I only ask because on one of the forums I'm on, it's like committing a deadly sin. But when I browse through many very professional photographers that I LOVE, they all seem to chop. What do you think?

Honestly, that kind of mob mentality is what turns me right off a lot of so-called semi-pro and pro organizations. There are technical and design elements that any person can be taught. Any monkey who knows the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Red, never chops off a hand or a foot, who knows how to turn their camera onto auto can call themselves a photographer. If they can run a few actions they downloaded for Photoshop, they're considered genius. They create the vast majority of homogenized work I see out there. Formulaic bores me to death.

Now - because I do a fair bit of technical critiquing, I am often able to tell people what is formulaically wrong with their pictures. There was one fellow that I noticed in his body of work a tendency for every subject to be centred, only he was just slightly off centre by about the same amount in pretty much every picture. I suggested he shot crooked like I do, to which he replied it was intentional. He was covering his ass for his sloppy shooting, of course, but I can guarantee that the next time he notices it, it will be intentional. At that point, he KNOWS the rule, and is CHOOSING to break it.

It's the people who know the rules and disobey them that make waves, that make it difficult to pigeon hole them, especially if they disobey admirably or in a striking way. There have been times when I have accidentally shot a little too tight and I've lost just the fingers or the toes - that looks weird to me - but if the rest of the image is balanced, the lighting is great, everyone is smiling and looking at the camera, etc. and so forth, I'm not going to fret over some missing toes. I would, if anything, chop off MORE hands and feet (so it looks intentional) before passing it off as 'unusable.' Honestly, when is the last time you ever heard of any client saying, "Gee, I really like this shot. Too bad you can't see my husband's other foot though." I put far more value on what the client has to say about it. If the client hates it, then there's a problem. If another photographer hates it, well - they aren't the ones paying me. I don't care for a lot of work done by a lot of photographers - does it matter?  Nope.  I'm not the client.  A lot of photographers don't care for my work - does it matter?  Nope. They're not the client.

Luckily for us photographer types, there is no wrong or right. What I think is bad photography is dreamy to others and what I find stunning probably scares other people a little bit lol. Technically I am sure people would rip a lot of my work right apart - I'm not a technical photographer at all lol

now I lay me down to sleep

I am blessed to have given birth to 3 beautiful healthy children, who came into this world kicking and screaming for more.  I've watched each of them them grow fatter, taller, stronger, brighter.  I.  Am.  Blessed.

Unfortunately, there are parents who never hear that first cry or gurgle or coo much less see them smile or take their first steps.  They will never see their child off to kindergarten or hear them say, "Mommy, Daddy..." Often, parents have few photographic memories of their child's brief life - taking pictures is the last thing on their mind.  Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a registered not-for-profit Colorado-based organization that connects photographers willing to provide free bereavement services with parents of infants who are or will be stillborn, or will pass on in the first few days, hours, or minutes of life.

I found Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (nilmdts) via Jillian Kirby, an amazing BC photographer I met here in blogland.  When my father passed away I found peace through photographing the process, one I was too raw and numb to participate in.  At the time, there was a part of me that thought it was morbid and I imagine some of my family and friends found it equally morbid.  However, looking back at those pictures now, they are both powerful and peaceful.  I am both honoured and humbled to have been accepted into the circle of photographers who provide this service to families in need.

Please consider donating to them by visiting their website at or help spread news of the availability of this organization's services for grieving parents by passing this link on.  If you work in a hospital and you are not yet aware of this organization, I encourage you to visit the website and ask how to become an affiliated hospital.


I don't do beef

I got this question today from a Miss T:

some neighbors have invited us for dinner, we haven't been there before or socialized much with them before.

i only eat chicken/turkey, my family will eat other meats.

what is proper etiquette for my "chicken only" situation? do i mention it? or do i just eat the side dishes only if they serve beef or pork or something? i don't plan to mention it as i'm used to eating the things i choose and i don't mind not having meat for dinner, however then it can be all awkward if they notice why i'm not eating the beef? LOL

i've never really had to worry about this before, as we don't get invited anywhere except by people we know well.

what to do?

Well, Miss T, I feel the same way about bacon.  Nothing is more disgusting to me than waking up at someone's house with a pungent noseful of greasy frying pork.  A baking ham isn't much better *urp*  

Anyhow.  I happen to collect etiquette books.  I have consulted them and here's the verdict:

Caroline Tiger apparently didn't think it was noteworthy enough to mention food preferences in her 2003 book, "How to Behave: a Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged," which is, quite frankly, about the worst, more incomplete etiquette book I have ever read.  But I digress...

In Chapter One of Etiquette Etc. published in 1967, Sheila Ostrander assures us it isn't impolite to politely decline a dish you won' t eat.  However, she notes in Chapter 2 that the alert hostess will make inquiries and keep on file guests' preferences in the pre-planning stage of the gathering.

The 1934 edition of "The New Book of Etiquette" by Lillian Eicher, while concurring with the idea of the well-organized host or hostess taking note of the guests' preferences clearly sates on page 219 that it is at the discretion of the dinner party providers to set the menu.  This might be somewhat misleading, as the suggested menu suggests one chicken or fish dish and one pork or beef dish, including tongue - yum!  She contradicts herself yet again on page 212 where she suggests that it is only proper to refuse a dish at a large dinner party where it will probably go unnoticed.  She suggests it is better to accept a serving even if you have no intention of eating it.

I consulted Amy Vanderbilt's  Complete Book of Ettiquette to try and settle it by majority rules.  There is an entire section on page 284 of the 'Home Entertaining' chapter dedicated to the topic of 'token portions.'  It says quite explicitly that as a courtesy for the hostess, you must accept a small portion of everything offered to you, even if it is only with the pretense of actually eating it.  Her menu suggestions include fish as an appetizer but rarely as an entree, naming 'meat' somewhat ambiguously as the preferred entree.

Rubbish.  All of it.  The 1967 etiquette etc. was at least moving in the right direction by realizing that it's wasteful and foolish to put something you won't eat on your plate in the first place.  What a waste of time and energy putting on such pretenses.  I'm from the school of common sensiquette etc.  Here's my two bits:

I would personally think it rude and tactless if someone told me what they will or won't eat without being asked, unless they have allergies.  Vegans are particularly good at being dramatic about their need for a special menu.  I, however, as a hostess, normally suggest what we're thinking of having and ask if here are any allergies or preferences or vegetarian issues to consider.  On occasion I have been known to ask for suggestions as well.  If there is no opportunity to ask, I tend to prepare chicken, as it is more universally accepted than beef, pork, or fish, and try to ensure some sort of substantial vegan dish is served as well - pasta tossed with pesto or beans with rice - perhaps not the most nutritious meal, but at least they aren't left spooning up on nothing but peas...

If I am asked, I tend to give an honest answer, as I expect the same from my guests.  If you hate lasagna or won't eat poached salmon, then I'd hate to go through the effort of preparing it and having a guest a) go hungry, b) waste a portion by taking it but not eating it and go hungry anyways, or c) gag down whatever was on the menu simply because there was nothing else to eat.  I would never go to someone's house and take a serving of beef or pork dish that I didn't intend to eat.  If it was served to me, I would leave it on the side of the plate and explain later, if asked, that I don't care for beef.  Or I may quip, "I don't dig on swine," later on in the evening, depending on my familiarity with the hostess as an explanation for my untouched porcine portion.  If I don't finish something that was served to me because it wasn't tasty to me, I try and mask the uneaten portion so as not to offend the hostess.  If I am unfamiliar with a dish, I tend to take a very small portion to sample it, and if I like it, wait until everyone else has served themselves and take a second small helping when and if the opportunity for seconds arises.  If the host/hostess apologize, I ensure them that everything else was extra delicious and that I am indeed full, even if I'm not.

In your shoes, I would do one of two things.  1) Fish for details by asking what you can bring - a red or a white wine to go with the fish/chicken/beef.  Often this prompts the person to say, "Oh, we're having pheasant - I hope you like pheasant?"  At which point you can say, "I've never tried pheasant - is it gamey like duck?"  A smart hostess will pick up that you aren't into pheasant.  2) Wait it out - you don't even know what she is serving yet - and when you serve up for dinner, politely and apologetically, without being condescending, decline the offending 'meat.'  If it is served on your plate instead of taking a bite and turning your nose up at it, leave it untouched on your plate.  When and if they ask why you aren't eating it, just say you don't usually eat beef.  Tell them it doesn't agree with your tummy - people are always understanding of that.

However.  If they keep looking at you and eyeballing your untouched meat, wait until no one is looking, stick it on the kids' plates, pass it over to your husband, accidentally drop it on your lap and have it drop to the floor as you stand in horror at your clumsiness, slip it under the table to Mr. Muffles the Shih Tzu or excuse yourself to the bathroom and feign diarrhea.  Surely you won't be expected to eat anything else after that, no questions asked.  It is not impolite to refuse Pepto Bismol and antacids.  Just remember that if you're too sick to finish supper, dessert is off limits, too...

for Bill

My husband loves bacon. My children love bacon. I leave the house when bacon is cooking - YELCH! Hope doesn't dig on swine.

Getting to know your camera/SLR

Time: 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively
Location: 12212 - Jasper Avenue, Room 204
What to bring: your camera and accessories, owner's manual, pen and paper
Don't forget: your memory card and fresh batteries!!!

last minute registrations!?!?

There have been a number of people who have contacted me in the last 2 days looking to sign up. There are still a couple of spaces available - I cannot accept credit card payments for tomorrow's session anymore but will accept cash, cheque, or email transfers. Please comment with your email included (I won't publish) and I will send you a registration form!!!

can of worms: pants

A woman sits at her desk posting on her blog over lunch. Her pants are presentable, generic: plain slacks with moderate detailing. They are bland and cannot be identified as belonging to any one company. This is not an accident, and is in no small part out of rebellion - she holds people who wear designer labels in contempt. The simple fact they would dare to flaunt their designer labels and expect her to be impressed by the knowledge that their jeans cost 3 times more than any pants she would ever own disgusts her.

She thinks of her children, carefully dressed in equally generic clothes, cutting off exterior tags, ensuring the pocket labels are removed, whether they come from Gap or Zellers. This is not to mask their income or lack of income, but rather to avoid her children developing an idea that somehow a label on the back pocket of their jeans puts them above or below someone else. Unfortunately, the kids with the designer labels have been taught that they are indeed above those who do not display their apparent wealth on their pants. She cringes to think her children are being abused because of it, because of parents, intentionally or not, recklessly breeding a sense of superiority into their kids on something as superficial as the brand of clothes they are dressed in.

The woman knows this is nothing new. She suffered the pain of being the one not in designer labels as a child, because there simply wasn't money to do it. As she grew older, it became a point of contention, something to stand up against and prove a point. Even once she had the income to afford such luxuries as brand name clothing, she refused to succumb. And yet she debates herself, day in and day out, whether she isn't doing her children a disservice by not allowing them the social status that comes with wearing the right pants. Would her children be more liked within the school population? Would the teachers treat them with more respect? Would they do better in sports? Would their self-esteem rise? Would they be less likely to dabble in narcotics or hang out with gangs? Surely it's ridiculous to ponder these things. Surely.

character sketch: "I'm heading in to the office..."

I hear him long before I pedal up beside him, a distinctive 'click-clickety-click-swish!-cli-cli-cli-clickety-clickety...' He is a penguin in tap shoes. From behind it's quite the sight, really. He's knock-kneed, partially due to genetics, partially due to the extra 40 pounds he's packing, mostly on his belly and thighs. You can tell, even without seeing him from the front, that his pleated black business casual pants ($45 ~ including the faux-leather belt ~ at Randy River) bunch at the crotch, and I make a guess that his white business casual shirt ($30 on sale during Sears Days) tugs a bit at the neck buttons rendering use of the clip-on tie impossible, and though the shirt fits snugly over his high, round belly, it balloons out in the back. He is wearing plastic-soled business casual shoes ($28.84 at WalMart), which he slips in when he hits the icy patches while he hurriedly shuffles across the uneven gently uphill sloping terrain to meet his bus. 'click-clickety-click-swish!-cli-cli-cli-clickety-clickety...' I personally think he'd have been better off with rubber-soled loafers, even the ones with the tacky fringe and tassels, for navigating the hostile sidewalks today.

Despite the forecast calling for temperatures in the -20C range, he isn't wearing any kind of gloves or scarf, and his male pattern baldness is on display for anyone who cares to look. I imagine he works in a warehouse office, middle management of some sort, a paper pusher who really couldn't describe what he does all day except it involves a lot of miniature crisis management, like making irate phonecalls to Toshiba to try and figure out why the red light on the boss's phone won't stop blinking. Once upon a time he'd have been called a secretary; he doesn't have anyone to supervise, yet the title on the engraved tag to which his punched plastic name label is affixed says instead, 'Floor Supervisor.'

On the weekends, his buddies and him play old school D&D. While sitting around in his basement suite on the dilapidated sectional he got from his buddy when his buddy got married and his wife made him buy new furniture they'll hash out the weeks' events. "How was work?" someone will ask. He'll talk big about his job to his buddies, making it sound Very Important and Stress-Riddled, peppering it with just the right amount of disdain for his suboardinates and disrespect for his superiors to seem adequately disgruntled. According to him, everyone he works with is an idiot, the people he deals with outside the office are all morons, and the delivery people in the warehouse couldn't find their own asses with a GPS and a guide dog. Secretly, he loves his job.

I hear a faint electronic ringtone that sounds vaguely familiar. From the pocket of the dated leather jacket he probably got as a grad present in 1990 he pulls out a cell phone and nods, slips, sprints for the bus doors, nods again, saying, "Yeah... Yeh, yeah - I'm heading in to the office as we speak..." As he hangs up, the door closes, and I place the ringtone: Dr. Feelgood.

givin' me guff...

It appears my slack-ish blog posting is disppointing to some. They've resorted to ~gasp~ phoning to see what's new. I assure you everything is fine - I am just really focussed on getting things ready for the first Dirty Little Secrets workshop this Sunday. (There are still a few spaces available if anyone is interested in signing up or maybe even bringing a friend!) I've also been trying to stay sane this first week back at work - it's start of term and start of the new year and start of the wind-up to fiscal year-end - busy busy, as usual.

I thought that in the meantime for your amusement, as a thank you for your patience and understanding of my absence, I would offer you the following: There are little snippets I have time to think about as I absentmindedly pedal my ass back and forth from work, and one of my favourite things is making up stories about people I see while I'm riding. I note physical characteristics or traits, and postulate about the rest of their lives. Following is a character sketch from the point of view of the cyclist, based on a man I saw on my way to work today.

There is too much road slurpee debris along the edge of Whyte for me to take to the street without being in traffic, so I choose safety over speed. Tall cumbersome fella comes lumbering up the middle of the sidewalk across the Mill Creek Bridge, methodically stepping ~boom-boom-boom-boom~ to the beat of some unseen drum. Strung about his neck is one of those giant lunchbox dealies, the huge soft-bodied ones with the zipper that goes 3/4 of the way around the top. He is wearing it like bling, the giant pouch bouncing ryhthmically against his chest ~boom-boom-boomb-boom~ his puffy insulated locket holding the promise of so much Saran-wrapped and Ziploc'ed lunchroom bliss. He can see himself pacing, savouring his macaroni-bologna-on-Wonderbread-with-bright-happy-yellow-mustard sandwich as he waits for his Boyardee in the microwave to beep. His patience will soon enough rewarded with heaping plastic spoonfuls of tomato-ey noodle goodness. Despite his blank stare dead-ahead, he doesn't see me. I ring my bell and he starts, but eyes me sheepishly rather than swearing or scowling. Even a cyclist on the sidewalk can't ruin the thought of Boyardee for lunch...

Monty Python: Spam


my bad!

OK -so this week has been completely hectic between getting ready for the workshops, taking care of clients leaving the country, and trying to get everyone settled down enough to return to school tomorrow morning. That being said, poor Amber never had the rest of her Spotlight interview posted! (I honestly forgot about it until i went to start constructing the next spotlight and realized my error.) To be fair, I will leave Amber's spotlight up for this coming week as well, since she really didn't get a fair shake at it. Folks - please comment, and feel free to ask her questions - she shot those pictures with a 3.2MP point and shoot camera - BE AMAZED! She rocks!!!

Spotlight - Amber Lee

This is the first in hopefully a very long series of installments called, "Spotlights." It is my pleasure to introduce to you Amber Lee. This Red Deer based artist is a costume designer and budding photographer. I found her in a Facebook photography critique group, and was hooked. I'll be back later with the full interview. In the meantime, it's easy to see why I fell in love with her work. See the condensed interview with Amber Lee on the ticdesign Spotlight page here. Images in this post are copyright Amber Lee Photography.

Name: Amber Lee
Location: Red Deer, AB
Camera(s): Sony Cybershot DSC-P72 3.2MP, and just got a Canon Digital Rebel XT from Santa...

Why do you take pictures?
Taking pictures is a way to express myself and my passions. I can capture the essence of a person and show to others what it is I see.

Who has been your greatest mentor?
The person who introduced me to the camera was my high school shop teacher. He taught me how to use a 35mm and taught me dark room processing. I fell in love with photography the minute I picked up the camera. Since then, I have been nothing but supported and encouraged by friends and family. I would say that those people have been my greatest mentors.

How would you define your style?
My style is definitely unconventional and extremely versatile. My style varies, as I am a flexible photographer. I believe my work to be of a unique and undefined style.

What would the ultimate photo shoot be?
Being that I love fashion, design, sewing, I would like to blend my passion for all three. My ideal photo shoot would involve historical locations, and a modern take on glamorous and classical attire. The ultimate photo shoot for me would be to form a collection of clothing involving the history and beauty of an antique era, shot in an old, run down, abandoned location as though it had never been forgotten about.

Hope Walls of ticdesign says:
Amber was strutting her stuff on a critiquing site on Facebook and from the moment I saw her work, I was all over her like white on rice. She’s not only an amazing photographer, but makes incredible costumes as well. You really MUST get to know this girl...


This version of L-O-V-E is our wedding song. Thank you, Kate, for sharing it - it makes me smile because it reminds me of two people I love very much, my husband, and you.

Howard Jones - No one is to blame

It was my first ever junior high school dance. I was wearing a mint green pantsuit and pink lace-up jelly shoes. I had joined the badminton team for him. I would have hot flashes when I passed him in the hallway. I got dizzy when he talked to me. He asked me to dance to this song. I could have died happy that night. ~swoon~ I knew RC as 'Tigger' back then, and when he graduated from grade nine at the end of that school year, having never asked me for a second dance let alone a date, I thought I'd never feel the same again about another boy - that raw, innocent, pure attraction that kinda knocks the wind out of you. Thanks for the dance, Tigger, wherever you are...

I never crushed that hard again until I fell in love with my would-be husband when he was just 17, and I was 21. Though we'd known each other for 7 years by then, we were at very different places. We dated only for a few months, then lost track of each other for a few years. Last thing we knew of one another, I had married someone else, and he had moved to Ottawa.

Then, one fateful day at Tim Horton's we bumped into each other, older, time-worn, both of us separated from the other parents of our children. A year after that fateful reunion we bought our home together, and made Serejane.

I suppose I should have posted this on January 1st, which is our actual wedding anniversary, but after 20 years I think we are both comfortable knowing that no matter what comes our way, we'll always wait for each other.

I love you, Bill. Happy Anniversary.

lurve it!

pull my finger...

Sam's parents came to me in a bit of an emergency situation between Christmas and New Year's...

I love all the pictures, but the one of Sam holding Daddy's finger just chokes me up and cracks me up at the same time, since my Dad was the KING of, "Pull my finger." I wish I would have gotten a chance to show him this picture - he'd have really enjoyed it. Thank you, Sam and Daddy, for inadvertently giving me the best last smile of 2007 possible.

Mom, Dad - I'll have ALL the proofs done by the end of the day Saturday. Sadly there won't be time to get any prints, but you can have a CD to take with you!!! Happy trails!

yes, I do like it soft...

Mushy music rules.

a crush

I was head over heels in love with Peter Cetera for many many years. And, he's pluckin' a 12-string, Daddy!

bugs bugs bugs!!!

I've noticed that the portfolio and album pages on the new websites are running a bit sluggish. Rest assured I am fixing this problem ASAP. In the meantime, if you notice anything else, please let me know!!!


I need to buy a flash, but which one?

Andrea asks:  I have a Nikon D40X camera and was considering the Nikon SB-600 flash. They also offer the SB-800 but I don’t know enough about them to know which one to get. I wanted to have it for the workshops. Also, am I better off to get the Nikon flash or is there an alternate brand that is just as sufficient?

Excellent question, Andrea.  For what it's worth, the hot-shoe on top of your camera is universal, meaning you should be able to plop just about any flash you find on there and it will work to some degree.  

In this day and age of digital technology, however, there are a few things to consider when buying a flash.  First and foremost, you need to make sure that whatever flash you purchase will actually work with the model of camera you own.  The nice thing about buying the same brand flash as your camera model is that of course there are no conflicts that way.  However, the down side is often the price - a name-brand flash will set you back a pretty penny, especially the funky ones that have maximum functionality and features.  

Here are the top three technical value (and cost) adding things you might find while shopping for a flash: 

#1.) Swivel.  I hate using a flash at the best of times, and using a flash that's pointed right at my subject for anything other than creative reasons is someplace I just won't go.  (Think red eye and that big white glare spot on everyone's forehead, especially if they have shiny skin...  oy...)  A swiveling head on your flash (vertical, and 360 if you can find it) makes it possible to employ bounce flashing, which eliminates these problems and makes for more interesting and beautiful 'artificial' lighting.

#2.) TTL - these letters stand for 'through the lens' and are what make a flash self-meter based on what your camera is seeing.  In theory it automatically calculates the correct flash for whatever you're shooting.  In actuality, if you are using bounce flash, it's kind of a useless feature.  It's still a piece of equipment, and therefore only as good as its operator.

#3.) Off-camera sync.  This is a great feature.  It allows you maximum flexibility, as you can remove the flash unit from the camera body and point it wherever you want, from whatever direction you like.  This can be a pricey feature, but well worth it if you can afford it.

In most cases, your best bet when shopping is to go into it with your bottom line in mind, and find a flash that fits within that budget.  You're always wise to do a bit of research.  I like these guys for their relatively unbiased reviews.  (Just do a search for whatever equipment you want a review on, and if it's missing from their list, you can always request a review!)  Some after-market flashes are really inexpensive for a reason (because they are cheap pieces of crap) and some are inexpensive but actually a pretty good deal.  Vivitar comes to mind as a good mid-range prices flash that is a heck of a good deal when you are balancing the books.  

Even if the flash you purchase doesn't have TTL, a swivelling head, or off-camera sync, there are other ways of making it work for you.  For example, if you find a steal of a deal on really great used but older name-brand flash, you can accomplish off-camera syncing by purchasing a hot-shoe extension or wireless remote from many online and local camera stores.

If price is no object and you intend to use your flash quite a bit, buying a flash that is designed to work specifically with your camera is almost always a good option, and which model becomes a question of personal preference.  In your case, the SB600 appears to be more than sufficient for your needs, and the SB800, though it carries a few extra features, may prove useless once I teach you how to avoid using it anyways lol... You may want to look at something like a ring flash, as well, which is designed for macro shots but is also sometimes used for making nifty-looking catchlights in people's eyes.  If you purchase your flash through a reputable dealer, they will have a great return policy.  In your case, Andrea, I would suggest waiting until a few days before the workshop to pick up your flash so that if you decide you want a different model, you aren't outside the allowable no-questions-asked exchange time frame.

For me, because I prefer natural or available light 99.99% of the time, I didn't want to invest a lot in artificial lighting.  I had an ancient Vivitar flash that I used on my old manual camera and then on the D*ist that finally kicked the bucket after I (stupidly) put a cheap battery in it and the leak did some nasty corrosive damage that ended up shorting something out...  ~sigh~  When I had to replace it, I had a very low bottom line.  My artificial lighting equipment now includes a used older model swivel-headed TTL name-brand flash I got for a song off eBay, an ancient Berkey professional strobe from Classic Camera Exchange, and a converter with surge protection and universal wireless remote I purchased after the fact at McBain's so I can use them together.  I opted for a flash that had good lighting distance ('flash range') since I shoot one particular annual function in a gymnasium and have to be able to light the subjects from my spot on the floor up to 100 feet away.  The down side is, it's often a little too powerful for the close-up stuff considering I like a wide aperture.  I often have to stop down in order to not completely white out the faces  of the subjects, taking away my lovely shallow DOF...  woe is me...

it's official!!!

Happy NEW year!

~~~~drumroll please~~~~

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