Christmas Card Out-Take

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This year, we decided to skip the studio session for our annual family portraits--which is to say, our annual Jason portraits--and instead opted to have me take the pictures. This was a bit of a money-saver, of course, but it also gave me another opportunity to practice my technique and how to run a shoot. Plus, this way we could get the more natural style that you get from a location shoot. It turned out to be fun, and a good exercise for me as a photographer. I still have a ways to go, but I'm getting there.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/1250 (+1EV, matrix metering), ISO 400. No post-processing.

Thoughts for improvement: For being straight out of the camera, I'm pretty happy with how the lighting and color came out. Compositionally, I'd get rid of the people in the background and position Juliette and Jason so they weren't lined up one behind the other.

My Latest at Life As A Human: The Popculturist Looks Back at Jackson Browne's The Pretender

"The Popculturist Looks Back at Jackson Browne's The Pretender":

When I was a young child, my mom had to work several jobs in order to make ends meet, and what with affordable childcare being hard to find, a lot of my memories from that time are of the back seat of her car as she drove from one workplace to the next. What I especially remember is the music. My mom always had a kind of weirdly eclectic taste in music — riding around with her back then you be just as likely to hear Ángel Parra as Lionel Richie. But one staple album that she listened to over and over, and which I’ve repeatedly returned to as I’ve grown older, is Jackson Browne’s The Pretender.


I've been a bit ambivalent about Disney movies for a while now, and particularly with Disney princess movies. Like everyone, I grew up with the Disney classics--Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, as well as the newer ones, at least from The Little Mermaid through The Lion King. I loved those movies as a child, and like most bits of entertainment from my past, they'll always have a special place in my heart.

As I've grown up and revisited some of the movies with adult eyes, I've noticed things about the stories and characters that don't sit well with me. I've talked about my issues with Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid before. It all boils down to Disney's general tendency toward facile storytelling, which has become ever more obvious since the arrival of Pixar in the mid-nineties, who continue to show how much depth you can achieve with "children's" movies.

So, going into this movie--Disney's new take on the Rapnuzel story--I didn't have very high expectations. But since I only went as an experiment in family movie-watching, I didn't really care much about what I was seeing. Surprisingly--and I have to wonder if it's precisely because of the comparison with Pixar--but Tangled turned out to be both very entertaining and rather nuanced.

Structurally, Tangled has a lot in common with most other Disney princess movies. You have the wistful girl singing about what she wants, the dashing, handsome male lead who leads her on a transformative journey, and so on. And, like the other modern Disney animated movies, you have the wisecracks.

Where it's different is in the characterizations. Here, instead of being a damsel in distress or a rebellious teenager, Rapunzel finds herself in her predicament mainly out of a sense of duty. And rather than a cartoonishly villainous antagonist, the "evil stepmother" here turns out to be merely selfish. This sets up a dynamic between the two that is both more plausible and considerably more interesting.

Of course, no story, however well written, can work as a film without good acting, and here Tangled does very well. The movie is essentially carried on the shoulders of the three leads: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy, and each of them executes perfectly. The humor never feels forced or desperate, nor do the emotions ever feel dishonest. What's more, the animation is simply brilliant, with so many details of the facial expressions and body language being just spot on.

My only difficulty came with Levi's performance, but not through any fault of his. No, he did a wonderful job here, but after watching him in Chuck for two seasons, it was just too difficult for me to separate his voice from his character in that show, which in many ways is the polar opposite of his Flynn Rider in this movie.

Of course, it's possible that my opinion of Tangled is colored by the fact that it was the first movie outing I took with my son. On the other hand, the fact that it kept him entertained for an hour and a half does speak to its quality. I'd say that whether you have kids or you just enjoy solid animated entertainment, this one is well worth your time.

Viewed: 12/4/2010 | Released: 11/24/2010 | Score: A-

IMDb Page

Past and Present

Past and Present

It often feels to me as though Jason has been in my life forever, but from time to time I'm reminded of just how short a time it's been. His baby years are already starting to fade in my memory, yet it's only been two years since his first Christmas.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, and Vivitar DF-383 flash (with Gary Fong Lightsphere). Manual exposure mode and TTL flash mode (-1 EV). Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/500, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: slight curves adjustment; polarize brush over the ornament; burned over Jason's head and shirt.

Thoughts for improvement: I could do without some of the stuff in the background, though the round highlights in the bokeh are nice. Otherwise I really like this shot.

That's Mommy and That's Daddy

That's Mommy and That's Daddy

Jason is fascinated by photographs of people he knows, especially ones of me, Juliette, or himself. Just this morning he was shouting excitedly about the background image on Juliette's laptop, which is a picture of him that we took at Legoland. When we were decorating the tree on Saturday, it was very important to him that I know that one of the ornaments had a picture of Mommy and Daddy.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, and Vivitar DF-383 flash (with Gary Fong Lightsphere). Manual exposure mode and TTL flash mode (-1 EV). Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/500, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: cropped out elements below and to the left; slight curves adjustment; polarize brush over the tabletop and central ornament.

Thoughts for improvement: The composition is a little cluttered and I'd like for the wood grain in the table to come out a bit more, but I like the little bit of storytelling here.

At the Movies With Jason

Long-time readers (and, most likely, if you're reading this, you're a long-time reader) will know that I'm a big fan of the movies. Going to the movies used to be my and Juliette's main weekend activity. In 2004, for example, we saw 56 movies in theater--a bit of quick math will tell you that that's more than one per week. Indeed, it wasn't unusual for us to pack in three in a single weekend, not even including the times we spent an entire day at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

But then we had Jason and we had to change our habits, temporarily, at least. We still go, of course, usually when a parent is visiting and wants to provide free babysitting--it works out to about one movie every other month or so.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my son and not only do I not regret our decision to have him, but I have found the experience rewarding and enriching (and sometimes challenging and aggravating) and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Still, I do miss being wrapped up in film culture the way I used to be. I used to know the release schedule weeks or even months in advance--these days I not only don't know what's playing, but even when I bother to check I still don't recognize most of the titles.

This past Saturday found me with a mixture of excitement and apprehension as we decided to take Jason to his first movie: Tangled. Excited because of the prospect of finding a new way to connect with my son, to introduce him to something that had been such an important part of my life. Apprehensive because, well, he can be kind of a handful.

Some people don't seem to care if their kids make a scene in public, but that's not me. I remember once sitting through a movie--I think it might have been Batman Begins--during which an infant in the audience screamed the entire time, and the father's only response was to get up from his seat and stand in the aisle. That guy? Not me.

Nor would it have been me this time, if Jason had decided to throw a fit. No, Juliette and I agreed that if he didn't behave we would just take him out.

Now, Jason does have some experience watching movies and TV at home, so we were hoping that he would be ready. On the other hand, he also has a tendency of getting up to do something else thirty minutes into a movie, so it was hard to say how this was going to go. We did our best to prepare him, telling him that once the lights went down we all had to be quiet. We picked a relatively short movie and didn't get there too early and give him extra time to get bored. And we made sure we got enough snacks to last him through the film. Even with all that, when the first preview started, I held my breath.

Turns out I needn't have worried. The previews rolled and he didn't make a peep. He didn't get scared by the monsters in the trailer for Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He didn't even get vocally excited during the preview of Cars 2, despite the fact the Lightning McQueen may just be his favorite person. (Or, as Jason calls him, "Mata Teen.") The movie started and not a sound. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen. I looked over and there he was, eating his popcorn and paying rapt attention to the screen. I was so overcome by pride and happiness at being able to share this with him, I actually got a little misty.

The movie was good, too, and I'll have a review up this week. But for now I'm still basking in the glow of a successful family movie outing. Hopefully, the first of many.



We got our Christmas tree on Saturday morning and decorated it in the afternoon. Jason was an enthusiastic participant, though his sense of Christmas tree aesthetics doesn't yet include concepts like spreading the ornaments around the entire tree. (Juliette had to do a bit of redistribution after Jason went to bed.)

This little guy is one of my favorites of our ornament collection. He looks so jolly, out for a little Christmas stroll. Right on, I say.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/30, ISO 800. Post-processing in Aperture 3: cropped out a bunch of stuff to the right and above; slight curves adjustment.

Thoughts for improvement: I went back and forth between this shot and another that had a slightly different angle. I decided on this one because the angle was better on the subject, but the bokeh in the other one was much nicer, with nice, round highlights. In this one, the background looks a little muddy. The focus is also a little soft on the subject.

Glass Must Be Full

Glass Must Be Full

"Glass must be full." I don't know what that is supposed to mean in the context of a gas pump, but taken--probably completely incorrectly--as an optimistic directive it's kind of nice. Especially considering the grayness and cold temperature of the day.

But this is an accidental interpretation, one that I didn't notice until I came back to the image several days later, and that I'm now forcing onto it. Really, I just liked the texture of the paint on the gas pump and hoped I could find an interesting angle. I wonder how often the meaning we find in art is like that--accidental, forced. Often? If so, what does that mean?

OK, now I'm really wandering. I'll stop.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/8, shutter 1/30, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: curve for highlight recovery and contrast.

Thoughts for improvement: Couple of things here. First, the sky is very uninteresting. This is in part because by metering for the pump, the sky was overexposed, and although I was able to bring it back down because I shot in RAW format, it's still very flat. It's also in part because it was a cold, gray day, and the sky was actually boring. The other thing is that this would probably have been better with a wide-angle lens--18 mm or shorter, most likely.

Well Worn

Well Worn

Next to the center where Juliette's sister-in-law, Colleen, works is a small farm, and she included that in our tour. Jason was very interested in the goats and sheep, and at one point as we were walking past a little pond he announced that he saw a duck. (I didn't see one, but his eyes are sharper than mine.) On our way back out, we walked by this old tractor garage and the red gas pump next to it caught my eye. As I lifted the camera to my eye, Colleen mentioned that her daughter had taken the exact same shot for a photography class project. I guess that means I'm not terribly original, but I'm OK with that.

Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/250 sec, ISO 400. Post-processing in Aperture 3: cropped and straightened; curve for contrast; burned over the roof in the background.

Thoughts for improvement: As with yesterday, I'm pretty happy with this one. I like the contrast of the red gas pump with the wood of the garage. I like the way the square window works in the composition. I like the textures in the wood panels, the red paint, and the grass. I think I like pretty much everything about this picture.

My Latest at Life As A Human: The Popculturist Hears WTF

"The Popculturist Hears WTF":

There’s something about funny people that has always been fascinating to me. A truly funny person has that combination of intelligence, insight, and charisma that is immediately recognizable and impossible to ignore. I think, too, part of the allure is the recognition of a skill or talent that I don’t have, myself, but that I respect and admire in others.