Documenting the every day

Instagram book

We all take pictures on big occasions.

Graduations, birthdays, weddings. During life’s major moments, we’re out there with our cameras — some big, some small — trying to capture it all. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a photographer, we all take snapshots. Pictures are our way of freezing time. If your family is anything like mine, photos from the past emerge regularly — and are a source of great comedy. And joy.

I’m biased, of course. My mom has had a camera glued to her hand since my parents welcomed me. I can’t think of an occasion without visualizing Mom with her Canon. Her pictures tell my entire life story — and our life story: the story of our family. Photos are important. We both take lots of them.

It’s not enough to document the big moments, though. As important as holidays and birthdays are, our lives are comprised of tinier moments — the everyday ones. Lunch with friends, a walk before work, our dog asleep in a warm patch of light. And with the advent of portable technology that’s always within our grasp, many of us are take pictures with our smartphones.


Though an iPhone picture isn’t quite the same as a DSLR capture, the pictures I’ve snapped with my phone are just as meaningful. My friend Guy constantly says, “The best camera is the one you have with you” — and he’s absolutely right. For as much as I love my Canon, it’s big — and heavy. I take it out when I plan To Take Pictures. That is: when I have an event or a time or a place. But I’m usually out and about sans camera, doing my thing, and the iPhone is the camera I have with me.

And that’s where Instagram comes in. As 2012 drew to a close, I knew I wanted a way to reflect back on what was both a momentous and tough year. I started a Shutterfly book in February, planning to update it with my Canon photos as the months went on, because I was tired of thinking about all the “little” pictures — the ones not tied to any set event — that were getting lost in the shuffle. I wanted a year — an entire year — in one photobook. I wanted to document the ins and outs, the highs and lows, and have everything in one.

Oh, I was so innocent.

I take a lot of pictures, friends. A lot of pictures. Like 2,000 on a single vacation, for example, and I travel as much as I can. For as much as I love Shutterfly books (and they’re not paying me to say that!), you can only include so many pictures in a book before you just . . . run out of space.

Bridalveil Fall

I figured out early on that I would just barely fit all of 2012 into one book before hitting the 111-page cut-off. My 2012 year in review book is almost finished, but I didn’t include any of the photos I’ve come to really appreciate: my Instagram snapshots.

So I made another book — and this one is just for phone pictures. Though some are grainy and the colors can be wonky and, you know, they’re not going to win me any awards, they’re my pictures. These are the photos I take on a random Tuesday, and they’re often of the things I value most.

I called the Instagram book “Day to Day” — because that’s how most of us are living, right? Taking it one thing at a time.

Or one snapshot at a time.

Heart in snow

When blurry photos can be a good thing

At some point in my adventures as a beginning photographer, I got completely obsessed with bokeh. Defined as “the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image,” the Japanese term basically means . . . little circles of light. And when you look for them, they’re everywhere.

I manage to capture bokeh — all the time, and pretty much everywhere — by changing my lens to manual focus, then twisting until everything in my shot is blurry and out-of-focus. (This is all very scientific, I know — bear with me and my technical prowess, please.) When I see little circles everywhere, I press the shutter. What translates in the image is often what I see through the viewfinder — but occasionally not, too. And that’s what I like about it.

Christmas is an awesome time of year to experiment with bokeh photography. Strands of multicolored lights, sparkly presents, light reflecting off wine glasses, Christmas trees themselves — all excellent things and moments to capture in bokeh. I take my camera out at night and shoot pictures of the house. I document everyone’s Christmas trees, then prowl around the office snapping holiday decorations.

Bokeh comes out best when it’s dark — nighttime, or just really dark in a room — so look for the contrast of your tiny lights against a black space. I’m no expert, so I refer you to a good tutorial and information on bokeh — and some stunning examples of the technique.

If you’re tired of your run-of-the-mill holiday shots this year, trying experimenting with something new! I guarantee you’ll impress your friends and get some interesting photos to show for it.

Who knew blurry shots could be a good thing?

New York weekend: What I saw and how (much) I ate

So. We’ve talked books, conferences, bloggers, friends and a big ol’ bookstore. And that’s all fun and we all like to read, etc., and so on and so forth, but let’s get serious: if there’s one thing I’m all about on vacation, it’s the food. More specifically? Eating it. Lots of it.

And there was no shortage of good eats in New York City. While I didn’t venture too far off the beaten path with my food choices, I did manage to get to a few unique places, have some authentic New York-style cheesecake and pizza, and basically act like a glutton. That’s sort of my vacation MO.

I’m going to say something bold, and I don’t want you guys to freak out. I realize this isn’t a statement I should bandy about lightly and trust me, I’ve given this some serious thought. So, without creating a Big Dramatic Build-Up, I’m just going to say it: I had the best dessert ever in the city. Ever. Ever ever. Like, my love for this dessert was the sum of my love for pumpkin spice lattes, gingerbread-flavored things, Peeps and hugs from my boyfriend. I’m that serious. (Sorry, Spence; you’re still my boo.)

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We have all day, right? I mean, you don’t mind sitting there while I wax on and on about delicious desserts I’ll probably never have again — but the memory of which is seared in my pink brain forever?


So. Food. Places. Things I did. Well, I arrived in Penn Station from Washington, D.C. (or “downtown,” as I inevitably refer to it) with my parents and sister late Thursday night, and from there? It was a hop, skip and a jump over to our hotel: The New Yorker. It was plush, big and very, very busy. We were on the 27th floor. And as someone with a mild fear of heights (read: a penchant for freaking out when I can’t easily rest my feet on the ground and see it far, far below me), I was a wee bit nervous punching that button on the elevator. But, hey — we made it! Our room was small but nice, and fine for a weekend.

From there it was off to Ben’s Deli, a traditional Jewish deli a few blocks from our apartment. As soon as we walked in, I knew I’d be digging the place — mostly because I’m obsessed with stuff like pickles, pastrami and sauerkraut. After we shared an appetizer of pickles and coleslaw, my order of the “Deli Double” arrived: two sandwiches, one pastrami and one corned beef, on fresh, warm challah rolls.

Um, basically? I could have curled up and lived inside those sandwiches, eating my way out for the next ten years. They were delicious. And if I could find something like that in my small Maryland hometown, y’all better believe I’d be their Patron Of The Year.

Friday you already know all about, considering I was at the Book Blogger Convention until 5 p.m., and after that it was back to the hotel to put down my awesome swag bag and charge my phone, terribly depleted from so much live tweeting at the event. Once I’d recovered, I hailed my very first cab — all by myself! — and headed over to Bloomingdale’s to meet up with Stacy. Almost a precisely a year after I went to visit her for a fabulous weekend in London, my favorite city, I found Stacy and we headed to Cabana, a restaurant she recommended. After a delicious meal of grilled chicken which, sadly, I have no photos of, I ordered The Dessert.

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Vacation snapshots

beachBack from another grand adventure — this time to North Carolina! I stay at a beach house with my extended family each summer, and we always have fun riding the waves, reading, eating out, chatting and generally lounging about in the sunshine. It wasn’t quite as warm this year as it has been in years past — it was a record 100 degrees in N.C. this time last year! — but that didn’t bother me so much. That just meant I was sweating less which, let’s face it, is a good thing!

One outstanding moment of this year’s trip? I went boogie-boarding for the first time with my sister and cousin! My idea of “spending time on the shore” usually includes me with a book in hand, dipping my toes in the water and dodging an errant wave that dares to actually get my bathing suit wet. But this year, at my uncle’s urging, I actually submerged myself in the water (after getting my book to safety first, of course!) and had a lot of fun “swimming” around (read: kicking my feet on the sandy bottom and using the board as leverage). I don’t have any photographic evidence of this activity, but my mom — an outstanding photographer — got snapshots of that and other adventures, including one to prove just how far my nose was in Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings!

I managed to only finish one book while I was away: Hyatt Bass’s The Embers. Ironically, this was the only book I didn’t mention on my beach reads post! It was a review copy I was struggling to finish, and I tossed it in my bag at the last minute. I figured I give it my undivided attention while at the beach, a requirement for me to able to polish that one off. I was right — I found the book difficult to get through. My review will be posted tomorrow, which coincides with its publication date! I also worked my way through McCafferty’s novel and started Sarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride, which I’m enjoying so far! I didn’t get to the others, I’m sorry to say.

And now — the good stuff! Random vacation snapshots. All of my favorite photos can be found on my Flickr page.









The woods are lovely…

IMG_5537…Dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep…

It was about impossible to get Robert Frost’s famed poem out of my head on Saturday! Mom and I recently joined a local photography club, and our first outing was to shoot photos in the woods at on a trail at the American Chestnut Land Trust. We kept giggling about how we weren’t exactly “nature girls” — um, I’ll take the air conditioning and a nice glass of iced tea over a hike any time — but we’re trying to be adventurous, spontaneous and improve our photography.

And it was awesome! Everything was so lush and green, and we really enjoyed hanging out with the club members and learning some new techniques. I’m looking forward to attending the June meeting and getting a little better with my PowerShot G6! Yeah, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing… but I’m having fun. And I got to spend some “pensive,” reflective time thinking about poetry! And communing with nature, sensing my place in the universe. How very existential.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.