Thursday, 10 April 2014

One Photo & Twenty Words - April 2014

This Furry Person believes he runs the household. 
We are merely the Staff, paid in kind with purrs and head-bumps.

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This is part of Abi's Meme 'One Photo and Twenty Words':
"Find one photo and choose up to twenty words to tell its story. Jot it down and link back here."

Why not join in too and leave a link in the post at Abi's blog?
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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Springing Around in the Garden!

It's been Springtime in our garden this week.  Tom has been very happy to be allowed outside.  He lies happily in the grass, watching birds and insects, sunning his tummy or back and enjoying the breeze. 

Tom is ready for his close-up...


Tom also spends a lot of time running around, which is good for his fitness routine.  He has been on a Diet, as he was a bit overweight. I'm sure all the dashing about and adventuring outside is doing his little chubby figure some good - he'll soon be fitter than me!
Dave has also been busy.  He's renovating the lawn near the new deck.  It was pretty mashed up by the builders' equipment.  We had some stepping stones across to the steps, but the digger rolled over them and broke one, so he's dug them out and filled in the holes.  They are no longer in the best place, as the whole dynamic of the garden is affected by the new building and decked area.  We'll replace them with new ones soon, running on a slightly different line.  

He's also making a soakaway next to the deck, as all the rain we had in the winter turned the lawn area into a huge swampy puddle.  The hole is quite deep and has a thick layer of sharp sand, with another of nice green stone chippings. 
He has smoothed and levelled the ground (digging out several loads of stones, rubble and bricks embedded there by constant running of machinery over the grass!).  Four boxes of grass seed, some feed and a layer of compost later, we are hoping for a few new green shoots in the next week or so.
 * * *
The garden itself is enjoying the warmer weather and many of our spring flowers are now opening out and giving us a display of colour, after all the greys of winter.

Euphorbia... (pretty and so cheerful in their corner by the acacia tree)
Muscari (grape hyacyinth)  
The pear tree is now beginning to waken too and the blossom is almost out.
Pear blossom ready to open...
And the tulips have big green buds, with evidence of fast-ripening flowers inside.
Tulips - these will soon be red!
* * *
The birds are enjoying the springtime too.  There's been much activity and flurry going on, with pairings-up and dashing around with beaks filled with fluff, twiggy bits and straws for nest-building.  The robins are nesting in the hedge, the greenfinches somewhere nearby (they collect stuff from our garden, then vanish over the top of the big hedge), the sparrows are out in a gang, twittering and squeaking in the shrubs. 

Also, this nest box has proved popular.  There have been several Viewings, but it is no longer To Let - it has been taken for the season...
 The nest box is high up in the false-acacia tree, far enough away from cats to make it a desirable location.

I sat and watched with my (new!!) camera, on Friday lunchtime...
Blue Tit...
...checking it's safe...
...going inside...
...with nesting material! 
So, soon we will have little twitterings and flutterings from the blue-tit box (and we'll need to police the cat!). 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The New Camera

After a lot of deliberation, thought and considering... I have finally bought myself a New Camera!

It wasn't an easy decision.  I knew my old camera wasn't really good enough.  I need something that will take decent photos of my books and other makes, so I can make them look as good as possible for my online shops.  My photos just haven't been up to scratch - not enough contrast, no depth, no sharpness... 
The "Old Camera" was doing a much better job than "The Previous Old Camera", but it was still only a "point-and-shoot", with the various limitations of its kind. 
Yes, it was 8.2 megapixels. Yes, it had a good macro feature.  Yes, it was neat, small and easy to operate.  No, it didn't do a good enough job.
The Old Camera

I needed Something Better.  However, there were several problems/issues that I needed to consider.  Firstly, I was never particularly clever at operating a Real Camera.  I took photography as an option at art college, but wasn't very good at the technical side of working the camera.  When I took a good photo, it was because my messing around with "f-stops" and "apertures" and all that stuff had just turned out a happy accident.  I could frame a good shot. I had an eye for a decent picture. I couldn't work out the hows-whys-and-wherefores of the actual machine that took the photos.

After college, my boyfriend, who was a photography enthusiast, bought me a nice little SLR camera.  Nothing very posh or expensive - just a decent little second-hand camera (Film, of course - digi was only a dream at that point!).  He was patient and explained all the techie stuff to me.  I always understood it when it was explained, but, like mathematics, as soon as I tried to Use the information, I got in a terrible muddle.  No idea why - I'm not stupid and should really have been able to cope, but I simply never got the hang of it.  My photos were always mediocre... with the occasional "quite good" one.  That's why I've stuck with point-and-shoot since then - it's easy! 
I have developed a better knowledge of how to make the most of lighting, how to frame a shot, how to position my items / subject for a half-decent photo.  I even have a little pop-up light box and a mini-tripod, to make my photos easier to take. 
They are still not good enough.  They're too grey, even if I try hard with the lighting.  They're not sharp enough, even if the light is good and I take the shots with a tripod.

So... A New Camera had to be bought.  Scary thought!  I put it off for months... and months.... After all, a DSLR was what I needed, wasn't it - and they cost Hundreds of Pounds!

But I still needed something better.  Another point-and-shoot, only better? Blah! I didn't think that would do.  Friends recommended a few DSLR cameras which would be good.  They all cost £400-£700.  I didn't have that sort of money to spend.  And I was saving up for a Plan Chest. And a Book Press. And a Relief Printing Press.  So I really didn't want to spend £400. 

A bit of Research was required.  I discovered Bridge Cameras!  These are designed to "fill the gap" between the little point-and-shoot snapshot cameras and the large, heavy, sometimes unwieldy - and sooo expensive DSLR cameras, with their special sets of interchangeable lenses, super-powered image sensors and amazing processing power.  
A Bridge camera has a single lens, which is designed to be versatile, so it will take good shots across a wide focal range.  So, you can take "normal" range photos - shots of a room, portraits, pictures of the garden from your window - that sort of thing; then you can also get fairly decent close-up (macro) photos and also good distance photos. 
Many of them have a long zoom distance (a lot of point-and-shoot cameras have stuff like 10x zoom - but that is Digital Zoom, which is actually done with the camera's internal software, by just framing the shot "close up" in the viewfinder, but not actually magnifying what the lens sees - so those shots are grainy and lose definition). 
A Zoom Lens uses Optics to magnify the image - so it really does give a closer-up view and you get a more crisp and well-defined image.  A point-and-shoot may have an optical zoom lens feature, but it won't be able to give the magnification available on a DSLR camera, as the lens is too small and the zoom too short. 
A Bridge camera has a larger lens and can have a much longer zoom lens too, so it gives far higher quality images, although they won't match up to what's possible with a good DSLR, which could even have a huuuuuge specialist zoom lens fitted and get mega-magnification (at a cost of hundreds, even thousands of pounds!).   
Bridge cameras often use the same, or similar sensors to their more fancy (pricey!) DSLR cousins, which means that potentially they can be very good cameras for many types of photography.  Unless you really want/need a professional standard of camera, you may be able to manage very well with a good Bridge camera, rather than paying out for a DSLR.  Of course, it is all down to choice, as well as pocket money - some people would far rather pay the extra and have that super-duper extra special DSLR quality.  I don't see the point in my paying hundreds of pounds for a camera, then more money for a special macro lens, just so I can shoot most of my pictures on Auto; or get myself all worked up and miserable trying to crack the puzzling f-stops and things, so I can take decent pictures for my shop.  I am hoping that I will get a good enough improvement in image quality, without the expense of DSLR!

So there you are - that's what I learned about Bridge Cameras vs. Point-and-Shoot and DSLR.  Follow the link above, if you want to read what Wikipedia has to say about them!

After some more Research, I came up with a short list of cameras that had good reviews overall, seemed to fit my requirements and also came within my budget. 

And I bought this:
The New Camera: A Nikon Coolpix L820. (In Plum!)
It's not top-of-the-range. I couldn't afford the hundreds of pounds.  Neither is it cheap - it's in the middle, had very good reviews and sounded as if it would do what I need it to do.  I am hopeful!

It arrived this afternoon and I've been trying it out.  The photos above were taken with The New Camera.

This is what it did:
Self-Portrait: "Lizzie-in-the-Mirror, with New Camera!"
Our (messy) new room, on a dull day...
Portrait of Tom-the-Cat 
- see his whiskers?!
(by the way, Tom did not wish to smile at the silly, shiny new camera... he wished I would go away and stop disturbing him)  

All these were taken on the standard Auto setting - point-and-shoot.  Minimal photo editing done - just a bit of colour correction or brightening, as it was a dull day for indoor photos. 

I'm not sure yet, whether the quality is any better than The Old Camera, but I think it must be - I don't think I could have got all that detail in Tom's fur, with the little Fuji camera - not in a dark corner of the room.  Certainly, the original SOOC files are twice as large as the old camera files - which means that when they're condensed down, the detail can be retained more easily.  (I think?)   Yeah, I'm pretty sure I have got much more detail in these shots - especially the two portraits - than I could possibly get with my Fuji camera. 
So, next I have to set up a Shoot of some of the books in my stock, then replace the photos in my shop listings.  We will then see how good this camera can be!

Yay for the New Camera - watch this space!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Liberty Photo Albums

Three small concertina Photo Books, covered with Liberty prints!
The green and light pink fabrics are called "Capel" - one of my favourite designs.  The red and pink pansy pattern is "Ros" and it comes in other colourways too.
The albums measure 7.5" x 5.5", which means they will hold photos up to 7" x  5" in size. 
There are 28 pages, using both sides of the concertina (30 if you used the inside of each cover).
The pages are stiff white cartridge paper, which means photos can be fixed to both sides of each concertina page...
... but you can open the concertina like a "normal" book, by leaving the ribbons fastened at one end, or the other - or it can be opened out into a continuous strip, with photos both sides.

The books look really nice with a label on the front, which I can print with one or two lines of text... these!

And look what arrived in the post today!  
 New Liberty Print fabrics!  I love them! 
 I already have plans for more small photo albums... 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Paper Cutting

A long time ago, in a village far away (well, about 5 miles away from here actually), I used to make papercuts.  I started papercutting when I was at school and made some fun Christmas cards, using coloured papers and foil (from sweetie wrappers!) to fill in cut-outs and make The Three Kings' robes and gifts, stars, stable scene etc.  They were well received by relatives, but I never really made much after that, as I had studying to worry about.

I had another try about 10 years ago, cutting pretty paper doilies, decorations and pictures, mainly using a tiny pair of sharp scissors, but sometimes also a scalpel.  And, again, I gave it up because Life got in the way.

Recently, I've been admiring the lovely work of a couple of very accomplished papercutters, Louise Firchau (aka Paper Panda) and Jen (My Paper Cut Heart), who have pages on Facebook and sell their very beautiful cuts online. 

So, I decided to have another go.  I sat down with paper, pencil and scalpel, to make a paper cut! 

I made one on Friday evening and a second yesterday. 

This is what I made on Friday:

A Springtime Tree, with lots of wildlife. 
Cut from chocolate Murano art paper, with a scalpel.  Measures 14" x 9.5". 

I found this quite tricky to cut.  The scalpel went blunt quite fast and snagged on the mat.  But overall, I'm quite pleased with this.  It's not bad at all, for the first effort in ten years! 

For the second cut, I discovered that using my glass cutting mat makes the blade go far more smoothly, cutting through the paper like butter - and saving the blade too. It was a lot more comfortable to cut onto the glass, rather than the self-healing cutting mat.  

Saturday's effort:

Butterflies and Daisies! 
Cut from a piece of aubergine Murano paper, with a scalpel, on my glass mat.  Size A5 (8" x 6")
The first picture is going to be a Mother's Day present for my mum.  I bought a frame and I want to mount it onto nice paper and frame it up.  I have thought about trying to cut a duplicate (I drew the design onto tracing paper for the first attempt), but I'm still quite pleased with how it turned out, so I don't think I need to cut another. 

The second picture will be a Mother's Day card for my MIL.  Dave's very pleased with it, so I'll mount it onto some plain Murano paper and put it on a card base.
I'm very pleased with the results of my first attempts. I really enjoyed making these - something a bit different.  It's nice to have a change and try something new (or almost new), now and then. 
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In case anyone else really fancies a go at this lovely papercraft, Paper Panda sells a comprehensive kit for beginners, complete with instructions and practise pieces.  You can buy the full version which includes a cutting mat, scalpel and blades, instructions, paper and practice pieces; or if you have these already, there's a version with patterns, paper and instructions only.  Louise has posted pictures of beginners' efforts and it seems to be a great way to get started.  She sells these kits through her online shop at Big There are also individual patterns, for those who are already confident enough to have a go by themselves. 
Happy cutting!


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