RNI Films- An App Review

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Recently, when I posted my review of some iPhone photo editing apps I love, here, a guy (@daveday on Twitter) tweeted asking me if I’d ever heard of, or tried RNI Films. I hadn’t, but now it’s one of my absolute favorites. (Thanks, Dave!)

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My usual go-to remains, VSCO, despite shorter-lived favorings of Litely and Mextures. I still love the latter 2 apps, and use them, but I love film-emulators, and VSCO just has so many options, beautifully-toned filters, and endless possible adjustments. I always go back.

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However, this time, something is different. I had my usual obsession with RNI Films, went back to VSCO, and then something strange happened: I went back to RNI Films again, and use it at least 50% of the time. Previously, my go-to for black and white filters, especially when I wanted them to truly look like film, was BLACK App. I love it, and I’ve reviewed it before, but RNI has more black and white film filters, and they are beautiful.

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RNI stands for Really Nice Images, and it’s true. Also, the app is free in the app store. I can’t even believe this beautiful app is free. With the free download, it offers a good amount of filter selections already, and allows you to purchase more selections via in-app purchases: 2 negative films packs, a black and white films pack, a vintage films pack, and an instant films pack. Each pack is $3.99, which I believe is well-worth it, yet you can get by without purchasing any of them, and still have plenty of nice choices. There’s also one pack, that you can get for free if you share it on Facebook. Initially, I only purchased the black and white pack and the negatives packs. It’s within the last week, after loving the app so much, I bought the rest.

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The film filters truly look like film emulsions. The resulting images are richly-toned and beautifully-textured. It offers film stocks from Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, Rollei Digibase, and Fuji. There are 5 types of film presets divided up into categories: Negative, BW, Vintage, Slide and Instant. I use the Negative and Black and White packs the most often. My favorites of the filters for color in the Negative group are the Agfa Optima 200, the various Fuji Superia options, and the Kodak Portra options. My favorites for black and white in the BW group are Agfa Scala 200, Ilford Delta 100 HC, Ilford Delta 400, 800 and 3200.

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The app is simple to use. First, upon opening it, you load your image, and it asks you whether you’d like to straighten or crop. Then you move to the next screen, where there are 4 simple icons to select from. Click on the little arrow to go back to the previous, first screen. Click on the film icon to select an emulsion, on the wrench and screwdriver icon to fine tune, or on the arrow to export back out to the photos folder. It’s intuitive and clean, no library of previously-edited images to wade though, gallery to publish to, or shop to accidentally click on, a la VSCO. It’s purely editing.

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The fine-tuning features are similar to VSCO, with the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, clarity, grain, shadows, highlights, pre-warmth, post-warmth, pre-tint, post-tint, saturation, sharpen, vignette, fade, and dust, all on a sliding scale, which I appreciate, and prefer to VSCO’s tick scale. I rarely, if ever, use these features, and if I do, it’s mainly opting to up a little brightness, contrast, or sharpen a touch. I’d like to think it’s because my images don’t need it past the filters, but I think RNI just does a really great job with their emulsions as-is.

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It would be easy to say that RNI makes my images look like film, because I shoot with a Fujifilm X100T that already makes my images look like film. But, even my iPhone photos end up looking like beautiful, authentic film. Every one of the images in this post, is shot with my iPhone 6S Plus, save for this last one, which was shot with my iPhone5.

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Of all of the film-emulating apps so far, this is my favorite, and I believe it’s the best when it comes to capturing a true film look.

You can download RNI Films here in the app store.

Fujifilm X100T- A Camera Review

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“Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take pictures.” -Helmut Newton

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This quote is perfectly how I feel about photography, and why I feel unfit to give a super-techinal review of any camera. I believe it’s more about the eye of the shooter, than the gear that takes the shot. I am an avid iPhone photographer because it’s a great camera that I usually always have with me. I occasionally dabble with film, but it’s not as convenient. Recently, another camera has stolen my heart. The Fujifilm X100T is an incredible tool, and I now use it about half of the time, using my iPhone6S Plus, the other half.

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I’m not into all of the stats about the camera, but there are plenty of reviews out there to tell you all about that part of it, if you like. For me, it’s less about the numbers and settings, and more about the art. It’s about how simple it is to use to get a beautiful result. I really love that this camera is small without tons of options, has a fixed lens, and isn’t intimidating like a DSLR could be to someone just getting into photography. It has a 35mm equivalent, f2 lens, and a hybrid viewfinder, which means I can get a decent portrait, and I can go old school and hold it up to my face to shoot, or use the screen on the back.

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Things I Love

The camera is digital, but the results are made to look like film, and it has film filters built in that I can select before I shoot a photo. I love the look of film, so this is a huge bonus in my eyes. The tones and colors are nicely dynamic, with lots of detail captured in shadows and highlights. It’s not exactly the same as film, but it comes close enough for me to enjoy that part of it thoroughly. And, the fact that it’s digital means I get the immediate gratification of having my photos right away. It’s the best of both worlds as far as getting a film look, without the wait to develop the roll. I still usually edit my photos in post, but honestly, I don’t have to with most of my FujiFilm X100T images if I don’t want to: they already look beautiful straight out of the camera.

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It’s so easy to use. Even not knowing all of the technical rules about cameras and photography, a person would be able to get fabulous shots using this camera. There aren’t a lot of settings that I need to tinker with, so I can have a basic understanding of how a camera works, and get the shot quickly, without much thought toward the set-up. I like to shoot in aperture priority mode, which means I select the aperture and let the camera select the shutter speed, based on the light, and focus on the moment at hand, instead of on my camera settings. I do this because my subject matter is often wiggly kids, and I want to be able to capture them in motion, quickly and easily. I could also set it to shutter priority and set it to the speed I want, and the camera will select the aperture for me, or I could shoot with everything set to A, or conversely select each setting myself in M mode. I love how many options there are to use this camera depending on comfort-level, type of shooting I’m doing, and the look I want, and I think it increases basic camera knowledge at a less-intimidating pace.

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There’s also a really handy exposure compensation dial that allows me to go up or down by 3, and I use it a lot, by knocking the exposure down -1 to increase the shutter speed if I’m working with low light. I also knock it down sometimes just to get an end result that’s a little more moody and darker, with more detail. In my opinion, sometimes the camera shoots just a tiny bit lighter/ overexposed than what I want, so this dial corrects that, with the added bonus of increasing my shutter speed.

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A really awesome feature: I can wirelessly transfer my images straight to my devices. For me, that’s my iPhone, where I do all of my editing. It’s so simple, and fast, and makes it really easy to send images to friends and family, almost instantaneously.

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There is a macro setting that allows me to take some nice, close detail shots, as well as an ND filter. These two features are useful, but to be honest, I rarely use them. I find I mostly don’t need to, even when shooting outside in bright light, or up close. They are still nice to have available, just in case.

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Lastly, the camera is a really nice size for my hand, though I could see it being a bit small for larger hands. It’s not too heavy, so it’s quite easy to tote along on an outing, and it has a nice, grippy texture, so I’ve never dropped it. I can’t say the same for my poor iPhone.

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Caveats

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The battery life is abysmal. I cannot leave my house without at least one spare, and I usually bring more. It’s honestly so bad that I can’t even get through an hour of shooting without changing the battery.

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I love that it’s fixed lens, but I also don’t, because as I become more and more comfortable with the technical aspects of photography, I find myself wanting to use alternate lenses. There are lens adaptations I could buy for it, but I feel like that’s not the point of this camera, and in that case I should buy a different camera that’s made for interchangeable lenses.

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It’s expensive. Retailing currently for about $1,100, it’s much more expensive than my Nikon film SLR for sure. But, I don’t have to buy film for it.

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Final Thoughts

I truly love this camera, and love how much it has taught me, all the while giving me some great keepsake photos along the way.

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I get a little aggravated with the question, “what camera do you use?” Not because I mind sharing, quite the contrary: I love to share all of my photography processes and help anyone get photos they love, and I truly and absolutely love this camera and think almost everyone would. It’s a frustrating question because in the end, it’s implied that the gear makes the photo, and it’s just not about the gear, it’s about the eye, perspective, and personal touch of a shot. It’s the ability to tell a story with an individual look into your world, that no one else quite has in exactly the same way. It’s the ability to capture and express a feeling.

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Ansel Adams shot with gear far “inferior” to the technology we have now, and his photos still hold up. It just wasn’t, and isn’t, about the gear. That’s surprisingly a draw to this camera, because it is so simple, I spend less time thinking about settings, lenses, etc., and live in the moment to get the shot, and get it well. (This is not to knock DSLRs, which are wonderful tools, just different.)

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It’s a throwback to simpler days of using a camera as it comes, and learning how to do so skillfully, focusing on the shot and the message, rather than relying on the gear to do the artistic work.

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You can purchase the Fujifilm X100T here.

*all photos in this post, except for the image of the camera itself, which was taken with my iPhone6S+, were taken with my Fujifilm X100T.

Mextures, Snapseed and Pixelmator

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

I’ve already reviewed a few of my favorite mobile photo editing apps, here, here, here, and here, and now I’m going to share some additional apps that I’ve been using with more and more frequency. VSCO still has my heart, but it doesn’t do everything. (I edit all of my photos on my phone, even those I take with another camera.)

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iPhone6 shot, edited with Mextures

First, is Mextures, which is $1.99 in the app store. Initially I was a little turned-off by the app. I’m not sure why, but it seems I balk at every new photo-editing app at first (except for BLACK app which I loved immediately). Mextures can give a VERY processed look, and usually I’m not a fan of that, however, the cool thing about the app is you can adjust it thousands of ways. There are preset filters (light leaks, textures, adjustments) you can layer and adjust, and create your own formula. There are also preset formulas made up of multiple layers, that you can adjust and customize in myriad ways. Once you’ve created your own formula, or adjusted an existing one and made it your own, you can save them in the app and use them again. Many Mextures users also love to share formulas with each other.

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Shot with iPhone6, edited with Mextures and VSCO Cam

I’ve had to change my thinking a little bit. I think what I dislike is a poor-quality photo, adjusted to the max, but I hadn’t realized how many truly beautiful pieces of art can be created, even if it’s obvious the photo has been adjusted. Take these two images below, that almost look like paintings once I applied the Mextures formulas I used. It’s obvious they’ve been processed, but I still love them. My intention was to turn them into Degas-inspired pieces.

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures
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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

I’m also obsessed with taking photos of the sky, and Mextures formulas do some AMAZING things to skies.

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iPhone6 shot, edited with Mextures

The X-Film formulas, and the Atmospheric formulas, as far as the pre-set ones go, are my favorites, because most of them have a lighter touch. With all of Mextures’ filters, you can adjust the intensity up or down, so it’s easy to fine-tune a shot without making it look over-processed.

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures
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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

Basically, I use Mextures when I want a bolder, more colorful look, or if I want my photo to have some texture.

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iPhone6 shot, edited with Mextures

Next, is Snapseed, which is free in the app store. This app does a few things, and has some filters, but I prefer VSCO Cam and Litely’s filters. What I LOVE about the app is the Brush. With the Brush feature, you can dodge and burn in parts of your image, or paint different areas with different adjustments for exposure, saturation, or temperature. It’s incredible! I love taking photos of the sky, and I often use the burn tool to burn my cloudy skies in. I haven’t played as much with the other brush effects, but the dodging and burning tool alone is worth it to have.

Raw iPhone6 Image:

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After burning the mountains in with Snapseed:

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Then Filtered with VSCO Cam:

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I also think the transform feature on Snapseed is pretty cool: it allows you to adjust the angle of your photo by either tilting it on a horizontal or vertical axis, or by rotating it. It also fills in the sides when it rotates, usually decently accurately. The Selective feature in Snapseed is one that I haven’t used much yet, but it’s also really cool: it allows you to adjust sections you tap, in your photo, and bring the contrast, saturation, or brightness up or down, in just the specified area, leaving the rest of the photo alone. I don’t know if any other apps let you do this, so it’s definitely a feature worth noting.

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iPhone6 shot, edited with Mextures, then tilted on a vertical axis, backward, using Snapseed’s Transform feature.

One thing I don’t like, is I’ve noticed once I use Snapseed, my entire photo, not just the adjusted parts, is more line-y…which isn’t a word, but it appears slightly more pixelated or something, to me, which can be pretty noticeable depending on the image and how much adjusting I’ve done. That has led me to use it less-often, because I don’t love it when my images look overly-grainy or processed (unless that’s the particular look I’m going for as in my Mextures Degas-inspired pieces).

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

Snapseed offers a healing feature, but in my opinion, there’s a better app for that.

Enter Pixelmator, at $4.99 in the app store. More pricey than the others, but worth the cost for all of its features. Before finding this app, I used Touch Retouch for removing unwanted flecks, spots, power lines, etc, from my photos, but Pixelmator does it so much better. It guesses what the space should look like without the item you’re removing, and it usually gets it right, or close. If it doesn’t, it’s quick and easy to tap undo, and try again.

Before– Distracting background buildings and the bottom of a cup in the top left of the frame:

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Image straight out of the camera, Fujifilm X100T

After:

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Used Snapseed Repair tool to remove cup at the top left of the frame, and the buildings in the background. Then filtered with Litely.

I really have only used Pixelmator for that feature, which is a shame, because it’s packed with some powerful editing tools, but they’re more for advanced editors. You can use layers, distort images with things like warps, twirls, and bumps, it offers a nice vignette tool, and color adjustments, on a sliding scale so it’s easy to adjust it exactly perfectly (versus the tick scale on VSCO that doesn’t offer any in-between stops for its adjustments), and tons of brushes and erasers, available in lots of options and adjustable sizes and opacities, to fine-tune. It also offers some filters, but I prefer VSCO, Litely and Mextures for filters.

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures
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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

I tend to be a person who wants my editing to be simple, and fairly quick, especially for an image taken on my phone. So Pixelmator’s more in-depth, advanced features, just go unused by me. The app is worth the Repair tool alone, though.

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

Overall, these are 3 apps worth having and playing around with. I find myself learning from them, simply by shooting things just for the purpose of trying out new features and capabilities.

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Fujifilm X100T shot, edited with Mextures

iPhone 6s Plus

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I got the new iPhone! And I even went for the Plus! I went bigger solely to have the best iPhone camera possible. I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said in tons of reviews written by more techy people, but I will say that I love the camera, and the video is CRAZY smooth. I absolutely notice a difference in photo quality between my iPhone 6, and my iPhone 6s Plus. The images I get are cleaner and richer, just more beautiful.

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I thought the large size of the phone would bug me: be too big for my back pocket, my little wristlet purse, and my hand, but I’ve found that it fits in all 3 just fine. I love how much larger the screen is because I do so much reading and photo editing on the device. I might just be a permanent Plus convert.

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Somewhat recently, I had been wooed by the FujiFilm X100T, and strayed from taking all my photos with my iPhone, but the new phone has me using it at least 50% of the time I take photos, if not more.

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I also wirelessly transmit all of my Fujifilm photos to my 6s+, and edit them entirely on, and with my phone apps.

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I have a longer post for tomorrow on some new (to me) iPhone editing apps I love, so for now, I’ll let my photos taken and edited with the iPhone 6s Plus do the talking.

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The BEST Chocolate Cake EVER

I don’t get to bake as often as I like, but when I do, I typically go all out. Yesterday, my oldest daughter Sloane really wanted to help me bake something, and I had just the thing. I have a go-to recipe for chocolate cake, and a go-to for frosting, but this time, I wanted to do something extra-special. I had come across this recipe for a Ding-Dong cake, and couldn’t resist the idea of making one myself.

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I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe linked above, instead of the one the Ding-Dong recipe calls for. I just can’t not use it: I’ve tried so many, and this one just has the best, richest flavor, comes out delicious every time, and somehow retains moisture, and even gets a little BETTER for about 5-6 days! I vary it just ever so slightly, so I’ll put my version below:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of a shot of espresso and hot water/ strong hot coffee

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Instructions

1.Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.

2.Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.

3.Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add the hot coffee to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter. (Full disclosure, I dump everything in a bowl except for the coffee, mix it, add the coffee, and beat for 1 minute. It works great and uses fewer bowls.)

4.Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

5.Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.

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I noticed the Ding-Dong cake recipe actually called for my favorite frosting as the filling, so you can follow either recipe I linked above. You’ll want to start the first part of the frosting recipe while the cake is cooling, because it also has to cool for a while before continuing. Here is the frosting recipe:

Ingredients

  • 5 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 cup Butter
  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar (not Powdered Sugar!)

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Instructions

1.In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk first, and then heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very very thick, like brownie batter.

2.Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. It MUST be completely cooled before it’s mixed with the other part of the frosting.

3.Stir in the vanilla to the flour and milk mixture, once it’s cooled.

4.Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left, so beat it for quite a while, until it’s smooth.

5.Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat it into oblivion. Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.

I layered that amazing frosting goodness in between the cake layers, in a super-thick layer. Make completely sure the cake is totally cooled, or this frosting melts and won’t be pretty.

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And then, lastly, I used the Ding-Dong recipe’s ganache, and it was SO easy, and so beautiful. It also tastes great. Here is the ganache recipe:

Ingredients

  • 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Instructions

1.Place chocolate chips in a large measuring cup.

2.Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it’s boiling, being careful not to scorch it.

3.Add the hot cream and butter mix to the chocolate chips by pouring it into the mixing cup.

4.Wait for 5 minutes, and then stir the mixture until it’s completely mixed, and creamy.

Pour the ganache over the cake right away, very slowly, and then chill the cake for 4 hours before serving.

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My little helpers agree it’s the best cake I’ve made so far.

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(I took all of the photos in this post with a Fujifilm X100T camera.)

Winning a Trip to SF and a Role in a Documentary

It’s only been in the last year or so, that I’ve gotten really into photography, and even more recently, within the last 6 months, gotten into participating in daily photo challenges on Instagram. I opened up my private profile around that time, and now post a few times a day, often as entries into contests.

My favorite IG community is also the largest, JJ Community, and they have a fun challenge every day, that has really helped me push my skills and to try new things. It’s also really inspirational seeing how other photographers take on each photo challenge, and the community is really supportive and inspiring overall. It absolutely fits the description of ‘community and not competition.’

In July, JJ Community hosted a daily photo challenge that was a bit extra-special. They’ve done challenges with prize rewards before, but this time, the winner of the challenge would receive a trip to San Francisco, from Neighborhood Film Company, to meet up with Ricky Staub (from Neighborhood Film), Eric Ward and Craig Hensel (who are crazy-good photographers and big Instagrammers), at the end of a cross-country road trip they were taking, in which they spent documenting how Instagram is truly a real-life community.

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These guys travelled across the entire U.S., camping out, going on adventures, sleeping in Eno hammocks under the stars, doing crazy stunts with a couple of Jeep Renegades (that’s me sitting in the Jeep in that pic!), participating in Instameets, taking amazing photos, meeting friends in person, who they had only ever connected with previously on Instagram, and documenting it all, to prove that social media, contrary to what many say, fosters community and real-life connection. In winning this challenge, one person would have the opportunity to participate in this documentary!

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To take part in that day’s challenge, #jj_connecting, each entrant had to find a photo, and write a caption, that showed and explained how Instagram had helped them connect, in real life. Many entrants submitted extremely moving stories about making real-life friends, having support during tragedy from friends made on IG, and I read through so many of them that reduced me to tears. I felt inspired to submit that day, but I put a little twist on it: I wrote about how photography was a factor in helping get past my postpartum depression, by allowing me to see the beauty in my life with my children, through an outsider’s perspective, and it allowed me to connect with them, and with my own life. Then, sharing those photos on IG allowed me to connect with other parents and creatives, in a really meaningful and supportive way. I truly didn’t think I would even be a finalist in the challenge, but it felt really wonderful to share, and the supportive comments from community members were, as always, lovely and just what I needed to hear after sharing something so personal that day. It was healing to share it.

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(I’ve written here about my PPD journey once before, but I shared it in a different way that day in July, and focused on how I came out of it through photography, being creative, gaining a different perspective, and connecting with my kids. You can see my winning Instagram post here.)

So, I shared my post, hash-tagged it appropriately, read and commented on some fellow entrant’s submissions, and waited to see who won. Nothing was posted that day, and I thought to myself, “oh, maybe they told the winner privately and they’ll announce it when the documentary comes out, or something.” But, I kept checking over the next day. I had poured my heart into my submission, and even though I truly didn’t expect to win, I wanted to see who would!

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Then, a couple of days later, Ricky, Eric, and Craig all “liked” my submission. I thought, “hm, that’s cool! They must be doing that to some of the submissions as an acknowledgement and a thanks for participating.” Then, Ricky and Craig both commented on my photo submission telling me they were moved by my story, and were reading it on the road at that moment, out-loud in their Jeep as they had just embarked on this epic road trip. I thought it was so nice of them and then I knew: I hadn’t won, but they had appreciated my entry, and that was cool.

BUT, then, a little while later that day, I got a direct message telling me I was a finalist and they wanted to Face Time interview me! It was one of those hectic mom days where I had barely managed to brush my teeth, have half of my coffee, and put clean sweats on, while I juggled 2 clingy kiddos, so, I frantically gave my girls their lunches, ran to my husband’s in-home office to tell him I needed his help for a minute with the girls, ran to my bathroom, and slapped some makeup on my face so I didn’t look quite as exhausted, just in time for the FaceTime call.

When I answered and Ricky switched it to visual, the 3 of them were literally driving on the road, in motion, in the middle of the country! Eric was in the passenger seat and I saw about half of his face. Craig was driving and started talking to me first, and I saw mostly a lot of beard, and Ricky was in the back middle and until he had his giant camera up, I saw him the clearest.

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They all said some really nice things about my submission, and my mind and heart were racing because it was a little weird talking to people on FaceTime who I had never met before, and I knew they knew a really personal story about me–which made me feel pretty vulnerable. They asked me to tell them a little bit more about my story, and I started absolutely bawling. Here I was, this frazzled mom, sobbing in front of 3 strange dudes, as they were driving down the road. And THEN, Ricky took out his giant camera and started filming the crying FaceTime session! I could have been so embarrassed, but the 3 of them were so kind and made me feel comfortable being candid. Once I finished with the waterworks, they looked at each other and said, “should we tell her?” “Yeah, let’s tell her, YOU WON!”

I freaked out. I was so exited. Then, both Kevin Kuster and Josh Johnson of JJ Community contacted me personally, just to congratulate me, offer support, advice, and make sure I was comfortable with everything. Kevin took the time to call me and make sure I knew how to contact him if I needed anything during the trip, and I was so touched by that. Josh congratulated me and also directed me to a post where he had shared his own personal story about battling depression from a few years before. I should have known that the positive community of JJ would be led by such kind people!

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The next week, Ben and I flew to SF for one overnight stay, and it was a crazy-fun whirlwind. We started with an Instagram meet-up and it was freezing. Craig was so kind to me, and gave me his sweatshirt off his own back, and froze the rest of the time himself, so I could be warm. At that meet-up, Merrell provided some delicious food and I got to meet some cool Instagrammers from SF, as well as take a couple of foggy shots of the city.

Then, that night, Ben and I got to shoot LATE into the night with Craig and Eric. We did some really cool light-painting shots by the Golden Gate Bridge (like the one I linked above with the Jeep), we were crazy and got out of the car in the middle of a tunnel, twice, to take some shots, like this one (that’s me, too!) and then were chased out by some joyriders. As we sped out of the tunnel, Eric realized with a sinking stomach that he’d left his iPhone on the ground in the tunnel, because he’d had it lighting up one of the Jeep’s wheels for a shot. We waited for the joyriders to clear, and as we drove back in, in trepidation, knowing it was probably crushed, but holding out hope it wasn’t, we saw the faint flashlight light of the phone, beaming upward, a little bit pathetically. It was indeed smashed. It still functioned though! Although, weirdly, Siri gave us some odd directions–I think she was angry she got forgotten and then injured. The best part was, the next morning, Eric, with such a positive attitude, stated, “that was so much fun, I don’t even care my phone got broken.” I completely agree, though that might be easier to say for me since it wasn’t my phone!

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The next morning, we met up for breakfast, and then the amazing Eliu Cornielle took me to film my documentary interview, along with the also-talented Ryan Geffert. The guys are total pros, and I felt comfortable being interviewed by them, if just slightly dorky when I was “acting” for what they call B-Roll. I had to walk down stairs, sit and look out with a forlorn expression, walk to a corner, take out my iPhone and snap a photo and then smile, etc. Even not speaking, it was hard! I don’t think I’d make the best actress. I did my interview, on such little sleep from shooting the night before, and cried a bit. They tell me it was great, I hope it made sense through the tears! I felt connected to Eliu right when I met him at the meet-up the night before, and he completely put me at ease when interviewing me. He and I bonded because he said something in Spanish, and I, the red-haired, white girl, replied to him in Spanish. He told me about his family, his own children, showed me a couple of lovely films he’s made, and he worked hard to get me to laugh during the shooting, so I would feel at ease. He’s a very compassionate soul.

Then, we got to drive to Instagram Headquarters (at Facebook HQ), and we were given a tour by Jeffrey Gerson! Jeffrey might be the nicest guy ever, and hospitable: he pretty much forced us to partake in Instagram’s micro-kitchen offerings, which we definitely did! That place is incredible: I don’t think anyone goes there without wanting to work there/ move in. There are restaurants, there is an ice cream shop, there is an arcade, there is one of those little phone-booth lending libraries, there are micro-kitchens in each building, and so many more things. It looks like its own, sweet little town. Apparently there also used to be a sideways room at Instagram, and I was completely bummed they had taken it down shortly before we visited.

Then, almost as soon as it started, the whirlwind was over and I was headed back home to my girls. Overall, it was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to meet and befriend such deeply talented, warm, kind and creative people, learn from them, and I feel totally and completely blessed to have had the experience. I’m so looking forward to seeing the documentary!

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There are 2 teasers out so far for the film, and you can see them here and here, if you’re interested!

 

 

 

Summer– Disney World

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What a Summer! I have so much to share, but I’m going to start with our first family vacation, which was a trip to Disney World! (I of course had my iPhone6 with me, and snapped and edited all of the photos in this post, with it.)

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First of all, we aren’t crazy. We wouldn’t normally select a trip across the country to be our first family vacation, with our 2 very little kids in tow. How this happened was, we went to a school auction late last Spring. It was to benefit the school our daughters will attend in the future, but they don’t attend yet because they are only 1 and 3 years old, so when it came time to bid on a week to Disney World, no one was biting, because everyone had already gotten in bidding wars over their children’s classroom projects. We didn’t have classroom projects to bid on (or tuition to pay yet for that matter!), so we saw the deal and ended up raising our paddles and winning the trip, for less than half of the value! We recruited the grandparents to join us, and all 6 of us had a blast!

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What we didn’t realize, however, in the excitement of winning such a deal, is that the trip was over the 4th of July. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that July in Orland, FL is HOT and HUMID. And surprisingly, that doesn’t deter people, so it was also extremely crowded. Every ride line in the Magic Kingdom was at least an hour wait, usually 2 hours.

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We stayed at the Saratoga Springs Resort, which was walking distance to Downtown Disney, and a short bus ride to every other Disney property. We spent most of our time at Magic Kingdom, spent a really fun day at Epcot, did a Frozen sing along show at Hollywood Studios, and spent a couple of the hottest days at Blizzard Beach water park. The only bummer about the days we selected to do the waterpark, were that each day, we got poured on, there was thunder and lightening, and the park closed for a couple of hours while we waited the storm out. We spent one afternoon at Animal Kingdom, but it was so hot and crowded, that it was honestly a bit miserable, and we left without seeing much.

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The fireworks show over the 4th was absolutely spectacular. I have never before seen a show as good!

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A really special moment was our day at Epcot. In the Norway “country,” our 3 year old Sloane saw a Queen Elsa dress. She wanted it in the worst way. We told her we’d think about it and continued exploring Epcot. At the end of the day, my husband Ben ran back and bought it for her. When we got back to our hotel, he surprised her with it, and she was in complete awe. It was the cutest moment.

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We were late for our dinner reservations, but Sloane really wanted to wear her dress, so we brought it with us with promises she could wear it after dinner. So, after dinner, I took her into the restroom and helped her into her dress. She ran out of the stall, toward the full-length mirror, gasped at her own reflection, got really close, and excitedly whispered to me, “MOM! This is really beautiful!” She spent the bulk of the remainder of the trip in her gown, twirling and feeling lovely, and the Disney staff greeted Queen Elsa, or “the princess” and thanked her for joining us, wherever we went. A Disney bus driver even stopped, opened his window, and waved at her. Her eyes were ablaze with the magic that is Disney, and it was worth the entire trip just to see that alone.

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Our 1 year old, Adrienne also loved it. She LOVED the Teacups ride and would sign and beg “again again!” once it was over. She and Sloane giggled and giggled the entire duration of the ride, and it was so sweet to get to experience that wonder and joy with them.

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The heat really was exhausting though, and anytime we passed a fountain, or something squirting water, we were in it! We all were tired out by the end of each day, but it was so worth it!

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Disney really is incredible for families with kids. The staff are accommodating, understanding, helpful, kind, and excited about their jobs. Our first night there, the girls were jet lagged, and because we hadn’t made dinner reservations prior to arriving, we were waiting for dinner for over an hour, at 9 PM at night. Once we were seated, before we could say a word, the waiter had brought out slushies and french fries for the girls, to keep them happy and busy. It really is a magical place!

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Sloane did NOT want to leave. I didn’t either!

Advice for doing Disney World:

  • There is surprisingly a LOT to do, even for really little kids
  • Don’t go in July
  • Stay on one of the Disney properties because the free bus shuttle system between each one is so convenient
  • Get Fast Passes for rides *before* you go on your trip. If you wait and try to do it while you’re already there, you won’t be able to
  • Make dinner reservations before you leave for your trip, unless you enjoy eating dinner at 9-10 PM
  • Don’t do Stitch’s Great Escape. Just don’t.
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Silhouettes

Lately, I’ve been into capturing silhouettes. I find them so interesting to look at, especially if they can tell a story without even being able to see the person’s (or animal’s) face. I think I’m drawn to them because they have an air of mystery, and they feel candid and serene. I like that.

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My top tip for capturing them would be to really pay attention to the background, and make sure that the person’s profile is framed by something light enough, or is lit up by enough light, to make the profile stand out. For example, if your subject is in front of a window, move your camera until her entire head falls within the backlight of the window.

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I also like capturing silhouettes in ways that aren’t so obvious, such as the photo below, of my daughter in a grassy field.

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I like to do them in black and white. That’s definitely not a requirement, and I’ve seen some gorgeous ones captured in front of colorful sunsets, I just like the classic look that black and white gives them. Black and white also makes the light the focus of the photo, which is cool in photos where just the profile is illuminated by light.

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Here are a few more that I’ve shared here before, but love:

In this one, I moved until I got her entire head framed by the window light:

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I did the same with this photo– moved until her body was nicely framed by the window light:

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I noticed the sun gave interesting backlight here, and that my husband’s face was a nice silhouette against the light sky, and my daughter’s face was nicely lit by light.

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Same thing here, I noticed the sun gave my daughter’s profile an interesting and beautiful glow:IMG_5737

I saw this deer, and moved my camera down, until the light sky was perfectly behind it:IMG_9757

My favorites are the ones that wouldn’t be considered traditional silhouettes. I think it’s fun to explore the boundaries and find interesting ways to capture them.

All photos were taken and edited with my iPhone 6, as usual

 

A Journey through Darkness into Moments of Bliss

Warning, very personal post.

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Over the past 4 years, I’ve gone through some very difficult struggles. Pregnancy doesn’t agree with me, and makes me horribly ill for the entire duration of the 270 days. So ill, that commercials with food made me cry and vomit. So ill that hearing the word “hotdog” sent me into a tailspin of vomiting. So ill that just moving an inch could make me vomit. So ill, I had to be medicated with Zofran, and I still felt like death. So ill that I cried at the very thought of riding in a car. So ill, I dreaded every single day. So ill, that in my darkest moments, I wished away the very pregnancies I prayed desperately for. When you are lying on the bathroom floor, heaving your guts out, just praying for a moment without feeling ill, for 270 days straight, you think dark things. I did this twice, within 22 months.

On top of that, my first child had colic. Terrible, unabating, screeching non-stop, for 6 months. I was reeling. I didn’t know what to do. I had suffered so deeply to bring her here, and she hated me. I withdrew from everyone except my daughter, who I held, bounced, swung, walked, rocked, pleaded with, and cried with, night and day. I somehow bonded deeply to her, even through what was later diagnosed as postpartum depression. I tried to see the beauty in motherhood. I LOVED her with my very soul. But, it was so hard. It seemed harder than it should have been, and I didn’t know why. I thought the problem was me. I wasn’t cut out for this motherhood business.

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I lashed out at everyone. I felt everyone had failed me. I needed support, why couldn’t they tell? My husband and I struggled so deeply, I truly feared our marriage wouldn’t survive.

Our daughter ended up unable to nurse well. She hit, flailed, arched, screamed, and bit me, every. single. time. I nursed her. I thought it was my fault. I felt deeper failure. I just couldn’t do any of this right. One day, when she was 5 months old, she refused to nurse at all. I was terrified–my baby was starving and wouldn’t accept nourishment. I began to research, and came across information about tongue tie. I cried and cried. I knew this was what was going on. I told my family–they told me I was crazy. What didn’t help is that they didn’t know I already felt crazy.

It turns out, I was right. We got my daughter diagnosed with a posterior tongue tie and an upper lip tie, took her to have it surgically fixed, and things calmed way down. I started to feel better. She was happy; we began to be happy again. Then, when our first daughter was 13 months old, I got pregnant again.

I was so hopeful I’d feel better this time, that the sickness would skip me. Surely it wouldn’t be fair to have to go through that twice. My mental state had just begun to come out of the fog, and I was so excited we were going to add to our family. The day I hit 6 weeks pregnant, the vomiting returned.

This time, it was worse. I had no idea how it could even possibly be worse than the first time, but it was. I had to get an IV because I was so dehydrated. I couldn’t stop vomiting and my husband was terrified. I was on Zofran again. I still felt horrible, and this time I couldn’t sleep to escape it, I had a 1 year old to take care of. If I had thought the times the first time around were dark, they were nothing compared to the second pregnancy.

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I managed to gain 18 pounds my entire second pregnancy, and began to lose again at the end. I begged my OB for an induction. She obliged. I ended up having pre-eclampsia in labor, hemorrhaging, and clotting. It was a terrifying ordeal, and my mother, who was in the room during delivery, still cries if I bring it up. She was afraid she was going to lose me.

Postpartum the second time, I was determined to get it right. I knew what to watch for with PPD, I knew the misery of pregnancy was behind me. I thought I could set my mind to skipping the darkness this time. I was wrong.

The second baby was calm at first. I thought “YES! This is how it’s supposed to be!” Then, she started screaming 3-4 hours straight every single night. No matter what I did. No matter how I rocked, bounced, swayed. The things that had worked with our first daughter did nothing. This went on for most of her first year of life.

I also struggled to bond with her. I tried, but I just didn’t have that same cosmic pull that I had had to my first daughter. There were times I wanted to leave. She would scream, my oldest would join in, and I wanted to walk out of the front door, and into a truck. I truly felt like I couldn’t handle my life. I knew how lucky I was to have a supportive and present husband, 2 beautiful and healthy daughters, a beautiful home, security, comfort. I knew all of these things, but it didn’t change how I felt. It also didn’t help when well-meaning people reminded me of these things.

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The depression took ahold of me this time. It was so profound I thought I wouldn’t survive it. Waking up in the morning, I felt such a heaviness. Such a despair. It was a monumental feat to get out of bed. Brushing my teeth felt exhausting. Many days,  I barely brought myself to do so. The pressure of caring for 2 high-needs babies was just too much for me. I had many terrifying suicidal thoughts. Some days, I couldn’t walk into the kitchen and be near knives. I told this to no one, besides my husband, who was grasping at straws trying to protect my confidence, and hold our family together. He is a rock.

Making matters worse, I was angry. Sometimes depression does that. And when you lash out at people you love, they rarely are able to have the empathy for you that you deeply need. I felt so alone, but also guilty because I had done it to myself. I felt unworthy of love. Unable to love. Why go on?

The most confusing part in all this, is some days wouldn’t be so bad. Occasionally, I’d wake up and feel pretty good. I’d have energy, I’d feel some dulled happiness. I’d take the girls and go do something fun. I’d do my hair and makeup and feel pretty. I had plenty of honest moments of love and happiness with my babies, even during the darkness. I’d think, “I’m beating this! It’s going to get better!” I even sold my beloved business that I had built myself, to try and protect my sleep, knowing that sleep hugely affects mood. I put myself in therapy. I tried so hard to see the good in my life. To bring myself all the way out of it. But, I just couldn’t fix myself. There was nothing wrong with my life, yet many days, I didn’t want it.

Finally, I knew I had to get real help. I started a temporary medication. I continued with therapy. It’s incredibly humiliating to admit that, but it shouldn’t be. Postpartum depression is chemical. It’s a brain thing. Those who suffer, suffer more, because they feel they can’t admit that pregnancy has not only ravaged their bodies, but their minds as well.

I began to take photos of my kids. It allowed me to see them, and my life, through an outsider’s perspective. To see the beauty in my life with them. It allowed me to be creative and feel a renewed sense of my purpose. It allowed me to learn something new, and practice a new art. Photography has helped save me.

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I began to fall deeply, and madly in love with my second baby. Just all at once it hit me that I had an entire new heart, just for her. My girls began to bond. They giggled together, and I found myself giggling along with them. I started to feel a lightness I didn’t know was possible. I could get up in the morning without wishing the day was over. I started to feel hope. My husband and I connected.

It’s been such a long road, and none of this was immediate, rather it happened in small bursts over the past year. I have felt great for a while now, but lately I’ve noticed these moments of the deepest bliss I’ve ever felt. They’ve taken me by complete surprise, and taken my breath away. I truly had no idea how badly I had gotten, until I got better, and then even better. I had no idea so much true happiness was in store, and someday I wouldn’t have to fake it anymore.

I have no idea why I’m sharing this. Maybe just pure catharsis. Maybe to remember to have empathy for when my loved ones may face the same, so they’ll know I’m a safe place. I am well-aware that many may see this as a repugnant overshare. However, if I can reach one mom, who is struggling as I did, and help her know that there is happiness on the other side, it’s worth it to lay my own soul bare.

In the end, isn’t that what we’re here for? To hold each other up?

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