Author Archives: greydarrah

Check Out Our New Website – My Gift IQ

mygiftiq-large-app-icon-512I know…another post that’s not really related to photography, but we just got this new website (and an Android App) launched, and I really think it’s awesome for everyone that has ever given or received a gift, and it’s FREE!

The site is called My Gift IQ and it solves a problem that comes around a number of times each year…”What should I get (insert friend or family members name here) for their birthday, Christmas, anniversary, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Valentines Day?”  We make the phone calls to ask, they give us vague answers that are rarely helpful.  We wonder what size they are, can’t remember if it’s dark or milk chocolate that they love, is their favorite wine from France or California, does little Johnny like Star Trek or Star Wars, and on, and on, and on.  My Gift IQ is an app that allows a user to create a personal profile (as well as profiles for their children) listing all the things that they love.  It’s broken down into categories that cover almost any type of gift imaginable.  In it, you store all the things you’d like to receive.

But it’s not just about what you want, or what your children want.  You can search for your friends and family’s Gift IQ profile the next time their special day approaches and feel great about giving them the perfect gift.  For many of us, giving a wonderful gift is even better than receiving one.

My Gift IQ is about smarter gifting, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for women.  How many men out there are caught driving home from work and realize that their wife or girlfriend’s anniversary/birthday is just around the corner (like tomorrow)?  Now you can pull out your phone, launch My Gift IQ, look up her Gift IQ profile and find something she really wants in seconds.  If she’s posted links in her profile, you can even order the item right there on the spot.

From now on, when your Mom calls asking what she should get you (or your spouse or children) for Christmas or for a birthday, tell her to check out your Gift IQ.  You’ll never again be put on the spot having to come up with some lame gift idea that you hope you can figure out a way to return.

Join others in sharing your favorite things for perfect gift giving and receiving. This is where you list your favorites of everything…a great new perfume you just found, your favorite flower, that perfect pair of shoes you saw online, a watch you love, your favorite bourbon, the best raincoat ever, running shoes, chocolate, cigars, authors, tools, cookware, the cutest umbrella you’ve ever seen…you love it, you list it. If you want to get real specific, copy and paste a web link to exactly what you want. If you choose to use it, there are even places to put your size so your friends and loved ones don’t have to guess. This makes everyone happy.  Not only do you receive gifts that you truly want, but the giver has that wonderful feeling of having given you the perfect gift. No more guessing! Be sure to encourage your friends and family to sign up as well so you can use My Gift IQ to search for their Gift IQ Profile. Then you can be as great a gifter to them as they’ll be to you!

Smarter gifting with My Gift IQ.

Check out our Android App here.

Check Out Our New Cameras And Equipment Reviews

After many subscriber request, I’ve added a Cameras And Equipment Review page.  For starters, I’ve included one of the most popular camera subjects, Point And Shoot Cameras.  It covers cameras from the best in high end to the best in budget, and a really sweet one that falls in the middle.

If you’re in the market for a new point and shoot camera, I highly recommend checking out the page, but if you’re a “meat-and-potatoes” type, I’ll summarize with this…If I could only have one camera to carry around, and money was “somewhat” of an issue, for about $275, I’d grab a Nikon Coolpix S9900.  It’s an outstanding camera, fully featured, at a great price!

Be sure to check back with this page frequently, as I’ll be reviewing new items as often as possible.

Don’t Let The Cold Weather Get You Down

Getting motivated to go out in the cold weather sucks!  But you’ve got to do it.  The better you feel about yourself will improve everything else you do…better work, better play, better time with the kids or significant other…everything is better!  Get out of the house and run.  15 minutes after you start, you’ll be glad you did, and 30 minutes after, you’ll be elated.

And by the way, even I can take a crappy photo.

Snow Beard

Here’s a great example of distortion from a cell phone camera.  With my dogs nose so close to the tiny lens, her head looks bigger than mine.  But it’s OK…sometimes you just need to document that it happened!

Now go get some exercise!  Photographing your life is going to require you to be in decent shape.


10 Months Into A 1 Year Beard

So, my wonderful wife agreed to me growing my beard for 1 full year…no trimming.  It’s been wonderful (for me, anyway).  I’m kind of a messy guy, so letting it go has been a real joy.  Unfortunately, I’m 10 months in, with only 2 to go before a clean shave ravages me.  I thought I should document it while testing out a knew background I just got from David Maheu (of Backgrounds by Maheu).  I really moved myself and the lights away from the background, to keep it on the darker side (it’s a pretty light, but warm yellow) and just put a spot light in the center.  It came out pretty nice.



More Editing Of Cell Phone Images

We’re back with another editing tutorial of a cell phone image.  Before we look at the original and edited image, I want to take a moment to discuss the cell phone camera.  What’s not important is the specific phone that you have…iPhone or Android, if it’s less than 3 or 4 years old, it’s a fine cell phone camera.  I’ve taken great shots with too many different devices to believe that one is significantly better than the other.

What is important, is that you understand the advantages as well as the limitations of your phone.  It’s greatest advantage of all is that it’s the camera that is always with you.  It’s greatest disadvantages are the smallness of the lens and its lack of any lens hood (providing protection from glare…even glare from a white cloudy sky or the reflection of a brightly colored nearby building).  The glare issue (giving your image an overall washed out look) can be cured by simply using your free hand to create a shield, or shading, over the top of your phone.

As far as the smallness of the lens is concerned, this can create distortion or perspective issues, particularly when taking more of a close-up shot.  What that means is if you are photographing a child sitting in a chair, and that child’s feet are pointing straight out towards the camera (making them closer to the lens than is their face, it’s going to make their feet look noticeably larger than they really are.  One solution is to have the child sit with legs crossed (criss-cross-applesauce).  Now the knees are closer to the lens than is the body/face, but not as significantly different as with the feet sticking straight out.

What I chose to do, to completely remove any distortion/perspective issues, was to have this child get up on her knees, turned sideways, so that everything from her head to her toes are all on a flat plane to me and my cell phone camera lens.  To further perfect this flat plane, I got down on my knees to take the shot so that the camera/phone could be held in a perfectly vertical position when the shot was taken (on the same level as the subject).  If I had been standing up when I took this, being taller than the sitting girl, I would have had to tilt the phone (and its lens) downwards, creating a distortion/perspective problem.

Here’s the before image, meaning just as it was shot by the phones camera.  It’s not bad at all, but a minute of editing can make a not bad shot turn into something truly beautiful.


And the after image, cropped and edited on my phone using Snapseed (a free app for Android and iPhone).  WOW…what a change!  This now looks like something you could print and hang on the wall.


This edit would normally take about 1 to 2 minutes to complete.  The tutorial video below is a few minutes longer because I was explaining what I was doing.  I apologize for the vertical format of the video, but it’s the only way can figure out how to video record whats actually happening on my phone’s screen.

Editing Cell Phone Images Using Snapseed (a free app)

This is the first, with more to follow, video tutorials on editing cell phone images using a free app called Snapseed.  I’ll post the link to the video below, but first…here’s a before shot that I took on my cell phone of my dog jumping in the ocean (after a floating bumper) near sunset (meaning low light).  The quality of the image is not what I would call perfect, because it’s of a fast moving subject shot under low lighting conditions, but it’s a great example of how you can take a sub par cell phone image and make it much better.

The before shot…


And the after shot…


Here’s the link for the “How-To” video:

I’ll add more tutorials later describing some of the other editing features.

A “Founder of the Internet” says we really need to be printing our images!

Vint Cerf, a “father of the internet”, says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost.

This is a really smart guy telling the world the same thing I’ve been saying here…don’t just save your images, print them!

Currently a Google vice-president, he believes this could occur as hardware and software become obsolete.  He fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st Century as we enter what he describes as a “digital Dark Age”.  Mr Cerf made his comments at a large science conference in San Jose.

His focus now is to resolve a new problem that threatens to eradicate our history.  “Our life, our memories, our most cherished family photographs increasingly exist as bits of information – on our hard drives or in “the cloud”. But as technology moves on, they risk being lost in the wake of an accelerating digital revolution.  Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.  And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.”

“We have various formats for digital photographs and movies and those formats need software to correctly render those objects. Sometimes the standards we use to produce those objects fade away and are replaced by other alternatives and then software that is supposed to render images can’t render older formats, so the images are no longer visible.”

“This is starting to happen to people who are saving a lot of their digital photographs because they are just files of bits. The file system doesn’t know how to interpret them, you need software to do that. Now you’ve lost the photograph in effect.”

“If there are pictures that you really really care about then creating a physical instance is probably a good idea. Print them out, literally.”

Best Chocolate Substitute EVER!


The other day, we were at Costco and picked up a bag of granola to try called Love Crunch, made by Natures Path.  OMG, this is the best stuff ever, and it’s actually good for you and all organic!  If you like chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate covered raspberries, you’ll love this.  It’s rolled oats granola with a little cocoa mixed in, then they add some small chunks of dark chocolate (I’m really a milk chocolate fan, but these work perfectly here), and freeze dried organic strawberry and raspberry pieces.  The combination is heavenly to the taste buds.  As sweet and satisfying as it is, it’s only got 6 grams of sugar (the real enemy in managing weight control) per serving.  Although I may still eat an occasional Hershey’s Kiss, this is a great way to cut down on all the bad sweets that are so hard to give up.  Just make sure you grab a handful and walk away.  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself holding and empty bag.

I have no financial interest in this company, but I do love their product.  If you can’t find it a local grocery store, I saw that Amazon carries it.

Getting Fit For Photography

That’s right, I’m writing a fitness article in my photography blog.  Why?  The nice way to say it, is that we could all benefit from being in shape to chase after our kids and pets while snapping away with our camera.  The brutal truth is, we’re a country full of fat (I could say “over weight,” but fat is so much easier to type) people.  Some of us are a little fat, and some are more, but most all of us could stand to lose some weight.   I’m not an advocate for skinny people, but none of us need to be carrying around an extra 30 to 100 or more pounds.  It’s not my intent to offend, so if I have not yet upset you, read on and give me a few more opportunities.  I’m writing this because I was 50 pounds over-weight 2 years ago and decided I want to be around for my grand-kids.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t take 2 years to lose 50 pounds.  That’s just where/when I started.  I lost 30 pounds in the first 3 months while eating everything I wanted to eat.  Instead of gaining the weight right back, like you do on any diet, I continued to lose another 20 pounds over the next 4 to 5 months (still eating everything I wanted).  Then my body hit 175 to 180 (a normal weight for a 6′ 1″ male), and stayed there.

According to the CDC, more than one third of U.S. adults are obese (still more letters than “fat,” but that’s what the CDC calls it).  Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.  The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.  That’s a lot of dough!

So, how do you know if you’re fat?  Ask your spouse…not really, it’s in their best interest to lie.  It’s determined by your Body Mass Index, or BMI for short.  You can go here to find yours.  If your BMI is 25 to 29, you’re chubby.  Over 30, it’s official…you’re fat.

There might be a number of reasons that we gain weight.  There’s the official ones…a “thyroid problem”, or “my family has big bones.”  The thyroid thing might be true for maybe 1/10th of a percent of the population, but if you’re like me, the truth is, we have horrible eating habits and don’t get nearly enough exercise.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be about getting you on a diet.  Food deprivation never works.  You might lose a few pounds like that, but then you binge (from being deprived) and gain it all right back…then you quit.  This also is not about joining a gym and and trying to find an hour a day, seven days a week to lift weights and join a spin class.

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Grey Darrah, where did you study fitness and nutrition?  Why should I listen to you?”  Here are my qualifications…I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, nutritionist, or even a professional trainer, but I have a brain.  That’s really all that’s required to know that if you eat too much and exercise too little, you’re going to gain weight.  The solution is just as simple as the problem.  I’m about to sum up (in 4 words) every book ever written about dieting and exercise…hundreds of books…thousands of pages and thousands of dollars.  I’m going to eliminate the need for every piece of exercise equipment you’ve seen advertised and forever rid you the need of a gym membership.  No pills, no drugs, no diets.  Ready?  Here it goes…


I know it sounds simple, but that’s really all you need to do to lose weight (all that you want to lose), stay healthy, and enjoy food.

First, let’s talk about the eating part.  So you know that I’m not a diet nut, here are some of the things I eat on a regular basis:

  • Ice Cream (with heavy whipping cream poured over it)
  • Chocolate
  • Red Meat (burgers, steaks)
  • Fried Chicken
  • Fried Fish
  • French Fries
  • Blueberry Muffins
  • Cake
  • Fudge
  • Cookies

I could go on and on, but basically, I eat anything I want.  That doesn’t mean this is all I eat, but I enjoy plenty.  I confess to having changed some of my eating habits.  I’ve cut back on the amount of sugar I consume.  Notice I didn’t say I cut out sugar…I just cut back.  What does that mean?  First, I pay attention to what I drink.  I got rid of most sugary drinks, including sodas, fruit juices and coffee sweeteners.  It’s amazing how much sugar we consume in liquid form.  Now I drink a lot of water.  Not as exciting, but the fact is, there’s nothing you can drink that’s better for you.  I’ve also reduced my portions a little.  Instead of a giant bowl of ice cream, I dish out a little less.  Instead of eating a candy bar, I eat a few Hershey kisses, or a granola bar, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Both peanut butter and jelly have way less sugar than other sweets, but taste good and satisfy your sweet tooth.  I also eat a lot of fruit.  It taste good, it’s good for you, and it does a great job of filling you up.  The biggest thing to take away from this, is that you don’t need to give anything up, just have a little less of it.

Now for the running part.  Before I get started, notice that I did not say walking.  You’ve got to run.  Walking is what doctors recommend because we have become so lazy, it’s the most they feel we can be persuaded to do.  The problem with walking is that it doesn’t work.  Want to question that?  Just think about the people you see walking in your neighborhood or near your office.  You’ve been seeing the same ones walking month after month and they look exactly the same as they did 6 months ago.  It might be better that sitting at home, but it’s such a minimal form of exercise, it’s not going to change your weight situation.  Let’s sum it up like this…if you can smoke a cigarette and eat an ice cream cone while doing something, it’s NOT exercise!

If you’re not a runner, then I’m guessing that the idea of running is not something that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  We’ve all done it before, probably in high school PE, and it most likely brings back unpleasant memories.  But the fact is, there is no other form of exercise that minute for minute, burns as many calories as running.  It’s also the easiest form of exercise a person can do.  Simple is good!  Complications make it too easy to quit.  Here’s how simple running is…put on running shoes, walk out your front door, run for 15 minutes in any direction you want, turn around and run back home.  That’s it.  The distance and speed (pace) that you run is irrelevant for now…just put in the time.  Run 30 minutes a day, 5 or six days per week (I like to run for 3 days in a row, then take one day off and repeat).  You don’t need to drive to a special running trail/track, that’s a complication (which makes it easy to quit).  You don’t need a trainer, or special equipment.  Walk out the door, run 15 minutes, then run back home.  Then eat whatever you want.  It can’t get more simple than that!  You don’t even need to learn any special running techniques.  You know how to run.  As Nike says, “Just do it.”  Will it be fun?  Probably not at first.  But as time goes on, the weight falls off (quickly), and you enjoy eating whatever you want to eat, you’ll find yourself liking it more and more.  In the beginning, you’re going to be sore.  Muscles will ache,  your knees hips and feet might hurt some, but it goes away…just keep running.  If you need to, run slower, take shorter steps, don’t lift your feet as high (kind of gliding along), do whatever you need to do, but keep running.  The pains go away, and so do the pounds.  Of course, if you’re experiencing severe pains, go see your doctor (I have to say stuff like that so you can’t pretend to be hurt and sue me).

The truth is, getting started running sucks.  In the  first 5 or 10 minutes, you can barely breathe and your legs hurt so bad, you’re certain that death is only a few seconds away.  But a few minutes later, still alive, you’re halfway finished, you turn around, head home, and already you’re feeling better…Woo Hoo!  The first couple of weeks are the hardest, but it gets better everyday and you’ll be amazed at how quickly the extra pounds falls off, even though you’re NOT dieting.  This is the biggest reward, although every day when your finish your run, you will feel fantastic!  It’s what they call the “runners high.”  Unfortunately, you have to suffer through the run to achieve it.

If you really want to find out how much you hate running, jump on the treadmill.  It has to be the most boring exercise device every created.  It can sound like a good idea…watching TV while running in a climate controlled room.  But it’s a trick.  The workout is not nearly as effective as running down the road and it’s far too easy to quit.  Despite the weather, get outside and enjoy the world.  See the trees, the city, your neighborhood, dogs pooping…anything is better than staring at a wall.  The only thing a treadmill is good for, is hanging a jacket on the hand rails.

Before you start coming up with some reasons (excuses) as to why you can’t do this, let’s address the most common:

Running is not bad for your knees.

Not only is running not bad for your knees, it actually stimulates cartilage growth, it increases bone density and reduces the incidence of arthritis in the knees.  If you want to do your own research, you can start here.  The number one cause of knee problems in the United States isn’t running, it’s obesity.  Will your knees hurt, maybe, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t run.  As your body sheds weight and becomes acclimated to the exercise, it gets better, just don’t quit.  In addition to being good for your bones and joints, running is good for lowering cholesterol, increasing lung function, boosting immunity, lowering the risk of certain types of cancer, lowering the risk of a heart attack, losing weight, relieving stress, eliminating depression, and prolonging life.

Before some of you get offended and start emailing me from high atop your soap-box (I don’t read past the first line of those emails anyway), I’m NOT promoting skinnyism.  If you’re overweight and love it, then, although I can’t imagine why you’ve read this in the first place, stay that way.  We all have the right to be the person we want to be.  But, if you’re tired of it…RUN.

So here’s the summary:

If you’re overweight and or in poor physical condition, eat less and run more.  Keep it simple.  Walk out your front door, run for 15 minutes, turn around and run home.  If you’re at a busy place in your life, get up 30 minutes earlier and make it happen.  Don’t worry about stretching or warming up (more relevant for longer distances at much faster paces), just walk out the door and run.  If you’re sore or tired, don’t stop, don’t walk, just run slower, but get your 30 minutes in.  Fire up those saggy butt cheeks and let them push you to feeling better.  Don’t wait for New Years or your birthday to get started, walk away from this screen right now, get out the door and run!  You’ll feel better, weigh less and be able to eat and enjoy all the things that normally make you feel guilty.  Plus…for the girls, there are a ton of really cute outfits!

Before I go, let me give you one last piece of information.  I’ve been running for three years now, so I can affirm something that all runners know…the first mile of every single run you do sucks.  It hurts the most and makes you constantly question why you’re doing this, as well as consider quitting more seriously with every step.  Don’t do it, don’t give in!  As your body loosens up and the endorphins start to flow, you feel better.  If nothing else, the weight you’re going to lose, combined with the great food you’re going to be able to eat are a great enough reward to suffer for a measly 30 minute a day.  I’m telling you this because it’s easier to deal with these negative feelings if you know what to expect.

If you’d like to know a little more about why we runners run, along with some comic relief, check out this site.

When Should You Use Your On-Board Flash?

Never!  Just in case that needs a little more explanation, Never, Ever!  It doesn’t matter if your using a cell phone camera, or a $5,000 DSLR, if you use the flash that’s on the camera, your picture will look like crap. If you’re close enough to a subject to actually use your flash (they typically work out to about 6 to 12 feet, so it always cracks me up when I see them going off in the bleachers of a stadium) then you flood them, straight on, with a ton of white light.  It’s a horribly lit, horribly flat shot.  The “flat” part means that it has no perception of depth, which is created by having some shadows.  This is why any time you’re photographed in a studio, you’ll notice that the photographer typically has a light set off at an angle to your face.  This creates a subtle shadow that gives us the perception of depth…letting our minds interpret the photograph into a 3 dimensional image of the captured subject.

The only thing your on-board flash is good for, is proving that a picture of someone was taken.  For example, if you decide to become a kidnapper, it would be perfect for taking a picture of your kidnap-ee holding up a newspaper to prove that you have them.  I guess you could also use it for taking mug-shots at the police station.  That’s it…it’s good for nothing else.  OK, maybe if you become a spy, it works well for photographing documents.  Notice how nothing it’s appropriate for is related to taking pictures you would want your friends to see.

So how, you might ask, can you take pictures indoors or under low light situations?  A semi-complicated solution is to buy an external flash unit, commonly referred to as a “speed light.”  You can set this up on a small light stand, off to the side of your camera, and fire it remotely to get away from that “flat” look.  The problems with this is that it adds $$$’s to your set up, extra gear to carry around, and a greater technical understanding that most people aren’t interested in.

Depending upon your camera, the best way to handle low light is to increase your ISO setting, increasing the cameras sensitivity to light.  Most cameras allow you to manually adjust your ISO.  Where a “normal” ISO setting would fall in the range of 100 to 400, many cameras can go as high as 3200, 6400, and even higher.  At these highest settings, you may start to see some noise in your images (also known as a “grainy” look), but that depends on the camera.  Some can go well above 3200 and show little to no noise.  Even with the “potential” noise, it may be worth it to get an overall better image that doesn’t resemble a mug shot.

So don’t wait until you need to get a low light shot to try this out…grab your camera, adjust the ISO higher (way higher), and take a few shots!