My top ten tips for getting the best photos of your kids.

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We all want precious photos of our children.  Luckily, most of us have great cameras on our cellphones which help make it easy and convenient to always have a camera nearby. However, we all know that just pointing and shooting a camera does not always yield the best results. As a photographer – my main goal is to connect with my subject. If you are photographing your own children you have a head start. But here are some pointers to take your skills up a level.

1. Get down to the child’s level. Pictures are fine from adult height. But switching up the angles and getting low and close can add a lot of interest to your photos. Get eye to eye with your subject and see what happens.

2. Be aware of the light and where it is coming from. I like to shoot with the light either behind me or over my shoulder. I don’t want the light shining right into my subject’s eyes and making them squint – but I do want to see that sparkle that can make a picture feel magical. Once you have caught the light in someone’s eyes, you can really draw the viewer into the photo.

3. Focus on the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and also the heart of every photograph. Tip one and 2 are leading you that way – but never lose track of your subject’s eyes and making the eyes the focal point.

4. Avoid harsh light. If it is a gorgeous sunny day – it is instinctual to want to shoot in direct sunlight. Fight that instinct. First of all , the light at sun-up or sun-down is much more flattering than harsh midday sun. If you are shooting in midday – look for a covered area. Be careful if you are standing under a tree – the leaves can throw horrible shadows.

5. DONT SAY CHEESE! Do whatever it takes to get your subject to smile – but do not say, “say cheese.” Play, make funny noises, tell a joke. If you tell your subject to smile, you will end up with a series of fake, uncomfortable smiles. Use any silly method possible and make it fun!

6. Take a gazillion photos and don’t try to edit and look at them while you taking them. You risk losing the moment. Take a lot and look later on. On the flip side – don’t just keep pushing the button. Take your time, see what is happening in the background and around you, change angles, try moving around.

7. Don’t try to force it. Every time I go into photo shoot with a plan in mind – it falls apart but I still get great photos. Sometime you have to go with the flow and follow your subject’s lead. It will be unpredictable but fun and you will learn new things. What good is a perfect portrait anyway?? You want a fun slice of life.

8. Try to avoid flash. Even if you are inside, you can get a good photo without a flash. Unless you are really good at flash photography, which is an art unto itself, try to avoid it and maximize the natural light. Get close to a window and experiment.

9. Timing is important. Don’t try to force a session when your child is tired or hungry. You will all end up frustrated and unhappy. Take your time. Plan a photo session for when everyone is relaxed, fed, and rested.

10.  Have fun. If you aren’t having fun, your subject won’t have fun. Take it easy and you will end up with some amazing photos!

And bonus tip 11 – if you master all of that – try not to cut off fingers and toes in the photos! Remember to use your entire picture and get close, but be aware of where the hands and feet are. Better to crop it out later than have an odd missing limb 🙂

Hat Maker Extraordinaire

In a brief departure from photographing blooms and families, I had the real pleasure of photographing a friend and extraordinary milliner. She makes the most amazing hats and kindly modeled them for me. Not only that, she made her dresses, too. A special woman with so many talents. If you need a one of kind hat – she is the person to call or email! (moniquexp10@hotmail.com)

Magnifying Mirror Woes

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Don’t look too closely in the magnifying mirror!
During my recent travels – I learned a very important life lesson in well-being- DO NOT, whatever you do, use the hotel magnifying mirror.  And if you have one at home that you like to use – you are a stronger person than me!  That tricky little mirror, attached to the larger bathroom mirror – is not my friend.  I have lived my many years without one of those things, and certainly no good came of spending a week alone in a hotel with that magnifier staring at me every time I went to brush my teeth.  I realized I look much much better from a distance, perhaps with sunglasses on, when you are squinting in just the right light.  Contemplating every pore , blemish, and stray hair is not for the faint of heart.  I quickly learned to avert my eyes and only glance at the dimly lit mirror on the closet door.  I looked a heck of a lot better when I wasn’t staring myself in the face, up close and personal.  From the normal mirror – I could consider myself, if not decent, at least not a freakish.

Which brings me to this week.  I was washing the dishes on Sunday.  Washing the dishes happens to be my favorite, meditative household chore.  I like standing at the sink and letting my mind wander.  Washing and mind wandering, I was really trying to think of what I am good at, my strengths – and then it occurred to me – I am great at navel-gazing.  (I just looked up the definition of navel gazing: “self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.”  Yup, that’s me!)  But really, is it good to be good at that?? Just like the magnifying mirror – every thing looks so harsh from up close.  It is easy to focus on the small things and forget the big picture.  As much as I like to have something I am good at – I may have to give that one up.  So I am going to give up the navel gazing skill and take to heart the lesson I learned about the magnifying mirror – DO NOT be tempted to use it!  Better to take the the long view.  And if there is a bit of fog and mist, so much the better.  And pro tip #1: if you are using a camera, choose the softening/blur filter!  Used wisely – it is a great great friend.

Chocolate babka

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I am coming up with a common theme in my life right now, moving is hard.  So I am baking…again.  I have been a baking whirlwind since moving.  My latest creation (not counting the cookies I made tonight) was a chocolate babka.  I am posting a picture because it was exquisite in taste and appearance and I am so damn proud of it.  But more on that later.

Back to moving.
I am currently reading Eat, Pray, Love -yes I am behind the curve on this- and as I read it, one passage sticks with me.  Elizabeth Gilbert recounts, “My Guru always says that only one thing will happen when you come to the Ashram – that you will discover who you really are.”  Well, I don’t think you have to go to an ashram to discover that – just move…across town, across the country, to a new continent, by yourself, with kids. Just move – and then you will discover who you really are.  Making new friends, helping your kids make new friends, starting a new way of life – even if it is exciting and what you wanted, isn’t easy and forces you to dig deep within yourself.  I have moved 9 times in the past 20 years, and I know people who have moved more.  For me, it doesn’t get easier.  It may even get harder as kids get older and you get a bit set in your ways.  It is especially hard if you have to leave a place you feel is really home,a place you love, have wonderful friends, and feel most yourself.  Someplace your kids feel is home. For all of those who have moved, are moving, be gentle with yourself and give it time.  Other than that, I don’t have any particular words of wisdom. And for me, while I am waiting to feel settled (i.e I have no friends to hang out at cafes with) I have been baking.  It is something comforting, something I know I can do. And that brings me to babka – my fear of yeast and pushing out of my baking comfort zone.

I bake, but I don’t like to use yeast.  It is a tricky little living organism.  If the water is too cold, it won’t proof, and if the water is too hot, you’ll kill it.  In my spare time I decided, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.  As I was searching for a recipe to combine two of my favorite flavors , chocolate and cinnamon, I found the babka recipe on Smitten Kitchen.  I couldn’t resist.  So, I gave yeast a chance.  And it worked, not only was the babka lovely – it was delicious.  So, on to my small aha moment.  We are like yeast, especially during a move,  sometime you have to experiment with getting settled, test the waters a bit, not too much not to little, give it some time, but finally you will rise!

Mrs. Misadventures – La Grande Dune du Pilat and St. Emilion

La  Grande Dune du Pilat
La Grande Dune du Pilat

 

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La Terrasse Rouge – La Table du Château La Dominique. I loved the red gravel terrace which mimicked walking on grapes and called to mind the gravel paths of yesteryear.

 

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Scenes of St. Emilion

 

This past weekend a friend and I went to the Bordeaux region and it made me realize why my kids don’t want to travel with me any more.  I sometimes come up with ambitious ideas that are super fun but can be, let’s say, a bit overwhelming.  They think adventure is code word for “crazy.”  So – I had to find a friend to join me on my next adventure, La Grande Dune du Pilat and St. Emilion.  It started off great: arrived early to the train, settled into our seats, chatting about the weekend ahead – meals to be eaten, wine to drink, wine to buy, more food to eat, etc.   The ticket lady comes around – and low and behold, I have forgotten to bring my discount card, so we both have to pay an additional fare on the train – a minor annoyance, but nothing can bring us down.

We roll happily along for another hour or so until I hear a disturbance near the door as new passengers board.  I look to see an older gentleman struggling with his old, overweight cocker spaniel trying to drag him up the steep stairs and onto the train before the doors close.  I rush to help and make fast friends with a very old and very stinky cocker spaniel who proceeds to stare at me with his rheumy eyes for the rest of the trip.  Knowing that this older fellow will have trouble getting the dog off of the train, I volunteer to carry my new best friend off the train. Now I am feeling good about myself – I have done my good deed for the day.  Surely this is a good omen.

We descend in the town of Arcachon for our several hour visit to the La Grand Dune du Pilat before proceeding to St. Emilion.  There were no cabs to take us to the dune – but luckily there was a bus that went directly there! Hurrah!  Well, 30 enormous Dutch men had the same exact idea so my friend and I were stuffed like sausages onto a hot, small bus to make the 30 minute journey to the dunes.  That is when her motion sickness really started to kick in – but by gosh, she wasn’t going to let it stop her.  Oh- in the rush of all of this, we forgot to leave our luggage in the train lockers and instead are carting it around with us.  We’re strong – no problem.  Until we see the dune. The  tallest dune in Europe – which we will now be climbing with our weekend luggage – 110m meters high, straight up, in sand.  Not ones to shy away from a challenge , or take the stairs, we start our slow ascent. This is our Everest – except hot, sandy, and no sherpas.  We toy with the idea of paying someone, anyone, to carry our bags. There was just no way we were going to leave that large Vera Bradley bag at the bottom.  Small kids cheered us on as they whizzed past.  We huffed and puffed our way to the top and  I swear we could have happily stayed at the top of the dune overnight – but we had a schedule!

After our major accomplishment – we paused for some photos and a quick rest,  then off we went – over the other side of the dune to hopefully find the restaurant were we planned lunch.  Again, with our luggage but without a clear idea of where we are actually going, but certain there is no way we are going to walk up another dune.  Since there is no obvious (or authorized way) path to exit on the other side of the dune – we hike through some scrub brushes and climb through a broken fence and finally make our way to the road and luckily find the very posh hotel/restaurant.  The hotel is a spectacular.  We trudge in with our luggage, our outfits and hair slightly worse for the climb, the sweat, and the ocean breezes.  We hope to fit in at this lovely Philippe Starck designed terrace and have a refreshing drink and meal before heading back to the train station .  We get there too late for lunch service and instead order the only available cold snacks from the bar.  We order a pâté and saucisson – and that is exactly what we got.  A saucisson on a plate and a CAN of pâté,  Served IN the CAN.  If only my cocker spaniel friend was still with me – this was his kind of treat.  Poor friend, still suffering from motion sickness decides the pâté might help – it didn’t.  Please note, do not eat pâté from a can if you have a stomach ache.  It doesn’t won’t make you feel less queasy.

Snack finished – we forge ahead to get back on the bus for the train station – now everything is going like clock-work.  No more large Dutch men, no dogs to carry, refreshing snack eaten.  Until the bus is 20 minutes late.  Now we are cutting it close -but there is still a chance we can make our next train. We are thrilled when the bus arrives and we get the last two places.  Hurray again!  We are quickly making our way towards the station, when and old lady waves down the bus and proceeds to yell at the driver about being late and full.  The nice young driver promises to come back for her in five minutes.  Of course we think this is an expression (pardon our poor understanding of French) and he really means another bus will pass by in a five minutes.  Well, it was not an expression.  At the next stop, he drops off a couple of passengers, then proceeds to turn around and go back for the lady – all the while my friend was pointing to her watch and gesturing loudly about missed trains.  The driver is oblivious to her concerns.  He will not be deterred.  Well, I guess he was doing his good deed of the day.  We picked up old lady – she was happy – we continue to train station – and have missed our train by a good 10 minutes. There is a later train – so we jump on it and have a small layover in the town of Bordeaux.

While in Bordeaux, the wine capital, we decide to stop at the “Terminus” – an aptly named bar just outside the station- to have a  nerve calming glass of wine.  No wine menu needed here – white, red,or rose.  I order the rose, which I am sure was a mix of leftover red and white from last night’s service.  So much for the wine capital.   Finally, finally, we make our connection and get to the hotel in St. Emilion- tired, sick, and maybe a touch cranky.  The hotel is lovely, but apparently, when we reserved bikes a month ago, they forgot to write it down and have since given our bikes away to other guests.  We throw a slight fit and they kindly promise us a complimentary taxi for our Chateau visit the next day.  A look of relief washes over their faces when we go to our room.

A look of horror crosses their faces when I showed up at the desk at 7am the next morning.  They thought the were rid of us demanding Americans but I was determined to get sick friend some medicine, so I needed to find a pharmacy on a Sunday, in a small town in France. We still had chateaus to visit and more wine to drink.  They did get rid of us for the day – but we called them numerous times with restaurant changes, shifting plans, and general questions.  I like to think we helped them improve their English skills.  Needless to say, it was a trip we will never forget!  For your next adventure, call me and I will give you some tips for seamless trouble free travel.

Post Vacation Bliss/Blues

After returning from a peaceful week in Southern France, where the sun drenches everything including your soul, it is time to regroup back in Paris.  Not too many words today, just quiet reflection on spending time with family and feeling blessed.

 

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France
Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

 

Nice, France
Nice, France

 

 

Nice, France
Nice, France

 

 

Cours Saleya, Nice, France
Cours Saleya, Nice, France

 

Cours Saleya, Nice, France
Cours Saleya, Nice, France

 

Sun drenched Nice, France
Sun drenched Nice, France

 

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France

 

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France

 

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France

 

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat, France

Macaroons the American way, comfort and coconut

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Coconut dark chocolate macaroons

 

 

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I get the macaroons on a plate to take a picture and some teen was already grabbing one.

 

 

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And one for me. I need it.

 

Today I am making macaroons, of the American coconut variety, for my older son who graduates high school in two months.  I have been telling everyone around me I won’t be one of those parents crying at the graduation ceremony; instead you may find me doing cartwheels across the football field.  But the closer we get, the more weepy I feel.   I see a Facebook post about Senior year coming to a close or a reminder about caps and gowns and the tears start flowing.   I might not be able to wear mascara for the next two months.

Yesterday, I saw a video someone posted on Facebook of seals being released into the sea.  And I cried.  Those little guys awkwardly flopping/hopping across the sand to somehow miraculously dive smoothly into the ocean.   They were hit by a few waves but kept going until they hit their stride.  Isn’t that just how our young adults are?  Awkwardly flopping towards adulthood and as much as we want to help them and push them along their way, they will find their stride all on their own.  Setbacks will come, waves will hit them, but they will swim merrily into adulthood whether we are ready or not.

If this batch of macaroons is a bit salty today, sorry.  I think I shed an extra tear or two making them.

 

* recipe from David Lebovitz  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2005/06/an-american-mac-1/