Conversation

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This morning over a bowl of Special K, David turned to me and said

D: The panda lost her baby.

*Background – Tian Tian the giant panda at Edinburgh zoo was artificially inseminated in April and was expected to give birth this autumn at the Edinburgh Zoo. There was a bit of a media frenzy over the summer – it seemed that after the birth of Prince George the whole nation had baby fever.

Me: I know. Well at least I figured as much. I mean it’s all gone quiet and I figured they would have kept reporting it on the news if she was still pregnant. Like reporters camping out for 24 hour ‘panda watch’ coverage. That’s such a shame. I was looking forward to seeing the baby panda. I’ve never been to the zoo and I thought it would be a good excuse to go, once the crowds died down and everything. We could’ve made a day of it and gone to that Chinese restaurant that your mum recommended. What happened?

D: She lost the baby

He is a man of few words.

Some of the Whole

This gallery contains 15 photos.

  Instagram and I are becoming friendly. We are somewhere between strangers and BFFs, progressing toward the latter. I would love to do a regular Instagram update post – however I haven’t yet mastered the art of turning the ordinary … Continue reading

The Boom of Summertime

 

We had a spate of good weather in Edinburgh, late May into early June. It’s gone now, for the time being, but its return is keenly anticipated – like waiting for a bus to round the corner whilst standing freezing at the bus stop.

This will be my eighth Summer in Edinburgh. To say the weather is temperamental implies that there are good days and bad days which is incorrect. There are bad days and worse days. I will say, though, that when the sun shines – nevermind when it shines three days in a row which is utterly unheard of – there is no lovelier place. And, like prisoners on day release, you can be sure the people here make the most of it.

After one of the coldest Springs on record (less of a cold Spring, more of a never ending Winter) Summer arrived in an instant. Blink and you’ll miss it, they say.

And all around us, the boom of summertime

This Ben Howard lyric is so befitting of Summer’s sudden arrival.

The trees went from barren to luscious… Boom.

The sky went from gloomy grey to brilliant blue… Boom

The gardens went from being empty and quiet to lively and vibrant, full of colours and people, music and laughter…Boom.

But just like a great big firework which fills the sky first with dazzling drops, with a crack and fizzle it departs, leaving a trail of smoke behind before the sound has even registered… Boom.

People here aren’t used to summer, as evidenced by the peculiar wardrobe choices. I saw many summer dresses paired with black tights and boots (no), ensembles thrown together as if to say “these are the only three items of clothing I own that aren’t made of wool”, and of course flesh – too much of it. Ranging in colour from milk bottle blue – to streaky terracotta fake tan that far more resembles filth than a sun kissed glow – to red raw from overexposure. It’s a bizarre contraditction that the shelves of every shop are devoid of sunscreen and yet no one seems to be wearing it.

I did more than my fair share of baking and basking, breathing it in at a cellular level. The term ‘soaking up the sun’ is no joke. Senses become heightened as if awakened from a wintry slumber: the scent of cut grass and burning charcoal smells pungent and provocative, the hiss and pop of a beer can opening sounds crisp and acute, the heat transferred from his arm touching yours as you lie side by side in the grass feels palpable and absolute.

Isolated days of sun have a tendency to turn me selfish – unable to give in to the enjoyment and choosing instead to bitterly point out how rare these occurrences are, how cheated we are I am living here. But after a few days you start to forget that it’s ever not like this. You start to forget what cold feels like.

I guess that’s the beautiful thing about seasons – they don’t last.

Baby, you’re the one

A few weeks ago (once again grossly behind with my blogging) I threw a baby shower for my good friend Vanessa. Apart from the obvious wanting to wish her well in preparing for and welcoming her new babe, I knew that it would appease my desire to plan something… to fill the small wedding-shaped hole left in my schedule.

It was the rainiest of days which quelched any plans for Pimms in the garden, but we made the most of it by gathering in Linda’s (Vanessa’s mother in law) beautiful living room. Perfect for chatting, playing a few games and supping Champagne. We played  ‘guess the bump size’ and ‘the price is right’ with various baby related items. Hilariously, there were some new mums there who performed rather badly at both.

The catering was AMAZE! Linda put on quite a spread including prawn cocktail, bruschetta, and spanish chicken with roast veg and garlic sauce. I brought a broccoli salad and these turkey & goats cheese wraps.

Vanessa & Nick are keeping the sex of the baby a surprise so I went with a gender neutral colour (which also also happens to be my current fave) seafoam green.

Photo creds:

1. Ikea plant pots tied with seafoam ribbon with a couple of hydrangea blossoms = easy affordable decor. I printed a Welcome sign on light pink cardstock and put it in the frame we used for the Guest Book table at our wedding.

2. I made a banner by creating large striped seafoam triangles in Word and printing on white card stock. I attached them to ribbon using double sided tape and secured with close pegs to introduce a subtle baby element! I also brought fun paper straws in a seafoam chevron pattern and napkins to match. Unfortunately I cannot lay claim to the gorgeous silver Champagne bucket.

3. Some of the lovely guests, including Kerry (right) who came up from London for the celebration. I first met Kerry on Vanessa’s hen weekend when she was 7 months pregnant – she was glowing then and even more so now (aided only slightly by the steady supply of bubbles on offer!)

4. Teddy wearing a seafoam bow tie was my gift for the new arrival. Nick and Vanessa relocated from Glasgow to Toronto a mere 3 weeks after the shower so gifts (especially bulky ones) were a no-go. But I couldn’t resist this classic bear who is just.so.soft.  Plus, the invitation that I knocked up in Word had a Teddy on it too – another subtle homage to baby without going overboard.

5. The gorgeous mum-t0-be opening gifts. Ok, so a few people broke the no-gift rule but it’s so hard to resist beautiful baby things…

6. I had planned to bring cupcakes but as a last minute addition brought on by my own massive craving, I knocked up some rice krispie treats. Pink, star-shaped ones of course.

7. Lovely ladies – glamorous grandma to be in coral.

8. Homemade cakes. I printed mini pennants with a B for Baby Barratt and attached them to toothpicks with double-sided tape. I sourced the cupcake holders here – unfortunately butter from the butter cream frosting soaked in and discoloured them a bit but they tasted good!

9. The sheer awe on this little one’s face when she got to play with the balloons was (almost) enough to sway me.

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April Lust-Haves

One more day of April left… I’m still not convinced that Spring has arrived, but there is evidence of denial everywhere – in the flesh coloured tights or (shock!) bare legs and peep-toes that are starting to appear. Brave, brave people. I am still freezing my tits off. In honour of it almost being Spring, here are a few on my seasonal wish list.


1. See by Chloe – gorgeous scent with fresh notes of bergamot, apple blossom, heart of jasmine and ylang-ylang. This confirms that I love-love ylang-ylang.

2. Marc by Marc Jacobs cross over bag. Discovered this perfectly sized gem while browsing at Heathrow last week and haven’t stopped lusting after it since. I know ‘mint’ is having a moment but I’m still partial to a nudey-pink.

3. Lush Amandopondo Bubble Bars – my favourite affordable indulgence. For the price of a Starbucks latte you can bathe a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Yes really, that many bubbles. I’ll take the latte too.

4. Necklace from Next. Perfect pop of colour, embracing the fluro trend this Spring without blinding your friends and loved ones or resembling a traffic cone. I would pair it with a plain cobalt top.

5. Sherbet coloured taxis. How delightful! I saw a few lavendar coloured ones in London and they made me smile.

6. Safari top by Ted Baker. Symmetrical giraffes. What else is there to say?

7.Pompeii by Bastille. Such a catchy tune, no?

8. Pied a Terre jumper. Slouchy jumper with a touch of lurex but still cozy and soft.

9. Mint feather fascinator – thinking of rocking this with my mint peplum dress to a wedding in May. I’m too tall for a sticky-up fascinator (think Big Bird).

Keeping up appearances

 

 

The makings of our trip to Paris began about two years prior. I had read an article about Christian spirituality finding its way into mainstream music, which inevitably led me to a review of Mumford & Sons’ debut album ‘Sigh No More’. I downloaded the album on a whim and there, sitting on the number 26 bus on the way home from work one night, I listened to the title track and instantly fell in love. Not since my first encounter with Dave Matthews Band had I felt so attached to a band and so compelled to ‘spread the word’ about their music as if it was the Gospel itself.

Love; it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you

It will set you free, be more like the man you were made to be.

There is a design, an alignment to cry of my heart to see

The beauty of love as it was made to be. 

What does this have to do with Paris? I missed Mumford & Sons three times in Scotland – first in Edinburgh, then in Glasgow, then in Glasgow again (by this time, they were playing big stadium gigs). Each time the tickets had sold out before I’d had a chance to stake my claim. Determined, I signed up for their mailing list and thus caught wind of a European Tour in Spring 2013, opening night at Le Trianon in Paris, 27th March. Mon Dieu! C’est Parfait! It seemed only fitting to combine the romance of Paris with a Mumford gig which to attend, I’d heard, can resemble something of a religious experience.

We’d been looking forward to the trip for ages… David because he’d finally get to ride the Eurostar! And eat snacks on the Eurostar! Me, I had planned to become MUCH more acquainted with my camera so that I could snap art-y photos, stroll the boulevards in my trendy Wayfarer sunglasses before stopping for an espresso in a too-good-to-be-true Parisian cafe…

I don’t even own Wayfarers. And I don’t even like espresso. But you get the idea – we (especially I) had lofty ideals about how the trip would pan out, based on abstract moments that kept playing through my head like an old film reel.

Here’s the thing – it wasn’t a great trip. It was a good trip, just not a great one. The train was crowded and noisy, David somehow misplaced one of our tickets so we had to fork over an additional £152 to a grumpy conductor, the Metro was dirty and unfriendly, despite our best efforts we never did find the perfect pain au chocolat and to top it off the weather was cold and grey the whole stinkin time. And I might have fallen out of love with Mumford & Sons – something about that gig… I don’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it. So, needlesstosay, Paris didn’t feature much on my Instagram or Facebook feed – I didn’t post a bunch of pictures with quirky only-funny-to-me captions. I wasn’t even going to bother blogging about it.

Then I came across this quote from an article, aptly titled ‘Stop Instagramming Your Perfect Life’.

When you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, the majority of your friends probably aren’t doing anything any more special.

But it only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.

There has been a lot of chat lately, in the cyber world especially, about the responsibility of the originator versus the recipient of online material. I find it fascinating – if not a little scary – the fact that we are all journalists and photographers now thanks to the internet. We are wading into unchartered territory when it comes to how we communicate and form relationships through social media. Is it my responsibility to post the bad/gross/mundane details as opposed to (or in addition to) the good/delicious/interesting ones just so you don’t feel bad about yourself? Or should you be wise enough to know the difference between my sporadic Facebook quips and real life?

Do I look at other people’s’ photos or comments with envy? Sometimes. Do I post things myself because I am trying to compete? Maybe… I think it’s more from a desire to let people in, but maybe.

So here we are – I don’t have any photos of us standing under the Eiffel Tower on a glorious sunny morning, or kissing on the Lovers Bridge. We walked over the Lovers Bridge but didn’t pause for a photo as I was mid-tantrum following an unbearably long walk in search of breakfast. There were good things – like the unbelievable dinner we had the first night (soup a l’oignon, duck a l’orange…come on they’re a (quint)essential element of any debut trip to Paris), strolling up the Champs Elysee amidst the only 20 minutes of sunshine we saw the whole 3 days… It doesn’t mean I won’t go back. I am still kicking myself for not getting a picture of those gorgeous macarons in every colour at Laduree…. but I saw them, I savoured them, and I don’t need an Instagram to prove it.

And I trust that you out there would have taken some momentary delight in a photo of such cheerful, whimsical tea-time cookies without examining my ulterior motives, especially now that they are tempered with a vision of me stomping down Rue de Lafayette following the now infamous pain au chocolate search which culminated in my scarfing a paltry, rather soggy bun that I paid approximately 7 euros for…

Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is grand.

Center image credit: http://darlingmagazine.org

All other images are my own.

Growth

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Did you know that cut tulips continue to grow in water? It’s particularly evident when they’re in a mixed arrangement with other flowers… their cheery heads will stretch upwards above the others. The speed at which they grow is really quite incredible… up to an inch in a day.

Humans, as it turns out, change much more gradually. Day after day, year after year, those tiny incremental growth spurts go unnoticed, until you bump into someone you haven’t seen in 10 years. Or encounter a previous incarnation of yourself.

Let me elaborate.

Last week I visited my parents in Cologne – a twice, sometimes thrice yearly occurrence. While I always look forward to these visits, this one held a unique sense of anticipation. A few rough weeks (ok, months… ok years…) at work culminating in a major burn out/ blow up meant I was in dire need of a break. That and it might have been my last visit ‘home’ to Cologne, in the sense that ‘home’ is defined by a) where I live and b) where my parents live (which means I have had many homes throughout my life and at any point in time have more than one home).

Given that a) has never applied in the case of Cologne and b) my dad’s imminent retirement means that they will most likely move within the year, I am preparing myself mentally for a new home. Or new homes. This time, mum and dad are laying down the law: no more moving my crap around the world with them. School notes, art supplies, Barbies, Christmas pyjamas, summer dresses, yearbooks, photo albums and diaries. They belong with me in my cupboards or they belong in the bin. Take your pick, they said.

I arrived with one nearly full suitcase so the option of choosing there and then to bring it all back with me was a non-starter. I was spared the job of sifting through my things and rescuing the worthy keepsakes, a la super market sweep, with the promise that I would figure something out before the next time, which will definitely be the last time. But I had a quick rummage, during a rare 45 minutes alone…

Flicking through photo albums and diary entries, rather than feeling whimsically nostalgic I felt… a bit uncomfortable with the person I was peeping in on. The person being me, the former me. In some respects I did not recognise her, in others the similarities were strikingly apparent. For one, she was not the lanky, pretty, bright-eyed teenager I remember. She was a bit puffy, a bit spotty, a bit …homely. Second, and much more disturbing was the rampant self-loathing and general anguish depicted in her journal entires, which focus primarily on the misery of unrequited love(s). To say she had her fair share of heartbreak would be an understatement – that I knew and remembered well. What came as a shock was how much of it was blatantly self-inflicted. Wallowing shamelessly in the humiliation and hurt of rejection, time after time, boy after boy. I didn’t like her, this girl.

What has changed since then? Small things, mostly. Subtle things that add up to big things. For one thing, this one came along:

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My friend Tuomas, a giant handsome Finnish lad (who was also incidentally the subject of one or two lamenting diary entries), once told me whilst we were sitting in his kitchen drinking tins of beer and smoking cheap cigarettes that if a boy man likes you, really truly likes you. You’ll know 100% and never question, wonder or worry about his intentions. Check! This one never left my side – devotion in abundance from day 1.

Not that finding love necessarily changes you…quite the opposite in fact, it took the weight off so that I could stop trying to change and focus on growth. They’re not one and the same you see. All growth is change but not all change is growth.

I’m facing a ‘big’ birthday later this year and I can’t help but wonder whether my thirty-something year old self will look back on my twenty-something year old self and recognise her. I hope not – she still has a lot of growing to do.

Catching up… November/December

It’s about time!*

This January, as with many previous Januaries, I am wrestling with my attitude to productivity. I don’t like being (too) busy, but feel guilty when I’m sitting still. Yet for someone who feels guilty sitting still, I do an awful lot of it. A vicious cycle, really. So I am trying to deepen my understanding that ‘resting’ is not synonymous with ‘wasting time’. Come bedtime, I am trying to celebrate the things I have achieved that day (acknowledging that achievements need not be limited to chores but can include quality time and happy memory making) rather than reeling over a list of unaccomplished goals.

One of the things that often causes to me to spin my wheels is feeling like I can’t move on to the next task(s) without finishing x,y and z first. Case in point: start a book, don’t love it, struggle through a few pages at a time, reeeeaaaally want to read something else but convince myself that I can’t until I’ve finished my current book, resulting in me not reading at all. And hating myself. See?

This post is born out of recognition that if I don’t write something, anything about November/December I will continue to stagnate in January. So hold on tight, here we go.

In November our office participated in ‘Movember’ or at least a few hardy (foolhardy?) blokes did. To end off the month with a bang a bun, there was a bakesale. I baked cupcakes using the same recipe I posted here, ditched the pink food colouring and added some impromptu moustache flags – just drawn on white paper and affixed to toothpicks with a prit stick. Genius! (Sarcasm)

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Next up… Christmas cards. Last year I made my Christmas cards and quickly realised that each one took over an hour to make – the return on investment was too low. I made 19 in total and supplemented the rest with charity cards. This year, before I had even decided to make my cards, an idea popped into my head that I know would work without taking (quite) so long per card. It started with the phrase ‘merry and bright’ which I turned into a stamp via this website.

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Add some glossy bright red card stock, a snowflake stamp, white embossing powder, and embellishments (diamante gems and 3mm ribbon)…

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And voila! Home-made Christmas cards. I didn’t break it down into minutes-per-card but these were definitely faster than last years. I’m happy with the way they turned out.

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Continuing with the snowflake theme, I attempted for the second year in a row to make my own wrapping paper. The benefit of 364 days passing between Christmases is that one forgets how crazy busy things get without introducing the added complication of homemade wrapping paper. Thus I found myself furiously measuring, stamping, cutting and taping into the wee hours to finish in time for Christmas no.1 at the in-laws’.

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I went out of my way to find boxes to fit those awkward shaped gifts which made wrapping a whole lot easier and a whole lot prettier. I like how they look all stacked together, full of unknown promise! This year we spent Christmas day with my parents in Cologne. It was just the 4 of us and, as David experienced on Christmas day 2 years ago when he proposed, we tend to linger over present-opening. Each gift gets its own mini ceremony… no ripping or tearing. I chose a theme: “Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read” meaning each person got 4 gifts. I found the theme helped me to focus on choosing gifts that were  thoughtful, meaningful, or at least useful without going too overboard. Although, for his “Something to wear” David got a Superdry leather jacket which he was very pleased with. A happy day all round.

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One last craft project to round up December… a wedding photo collage for my sister-in-law and her husband. 2012 was ‘The Year of the Wedding’ as both of us tied the knot 3 months apart. The previous Christmas was spent in anticipation of the year to come, musing that ‘this time next year it will all be over…what will we talk about?!’ This Christmas was sweet in a quietly contented way… our first as newlyweds but with the excitement around that stage in our lives gone forever. I wasn’t quite ready to let go.

I can’t lie… even to you (whoever you are). This idea did not originate from some inner craft muse. Alas, it was on a flier in Hobbycraft. I made one a few years back when my friend Naeeda departed Edinburgh for Bangkok. I also made one for my Ruth, full of nature-y photos and a few sausage dogs for good measure. I think they’re a nice way of capturing memories in a not-too-tacky way (but I’ll let you be the judge).

For one not-too-tacky photo collage, you will need:

  • Box frame (I chose to make a larger version using this Ikea frame)
  • A collection of photographs/images. The design requires 21 portrait and 3 landscape oriented pictures.
  • Hi-tack glue (or a prit stick will work fine)
  • Sticky foam pads, found in the paper section of the craft store.
  • Self-adhesive tape
  • Ribbon, buttons, mementos, etc to embellish

The first step is to choose photos. Import them into MS Word and adjust their size by right clicking –> format picture. Untick the box that says ‘lock aspect ratio’ so you can set the dimensions to exactly 6×4 cm (or 4×6 cm for the landscape oriented ones). Next, print them out on normal A4 paper using the highest quality print settings. Before cutting out, I painted over the page with gloss varnish to make the pictures look like more like mini photo prints. Of course you could just print on glossy photo paper, but that was before we had a printer so I had to make use of available tools (i.e. the printers at work – aren’t I cheeky). Cut out the pictures and arrange them to your liking (note the balance of colours particularly if you have a mixture of colour and black & white shots).

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Begin sticking the photos down (a faint pencil line drawn in with a ruler would not go amiss to keep things straight). Leave gaps for a few photos in sporadic locations – I chose 1-2 per row. These photos will be added in later, attached to the sticky foam pads to give a 3-dimensional effect.

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Finish off with a few embellishments – bows, buttons and the like. Affix your artwork to the mount that comes with the frame using double-sided tape.

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Finished product! It was well received. I might make myself one… now that I’ve finally finished our wedding albums (like I need an excuse to pour over wedding photographs again).

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*Draft last edited 15th January… Le sigh. Need to get this one done and out the way as it’s proving to be a creative cork so to speak. Keeping all the effervescence from bubbling out and into the blogosphere!

Advice

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I have a million (okay maybe 3-5) blog posts brewing in my mind. Brewing actually suggests that they are developing, bubbling along with life and prospect. In reality weighing on my mind is a more appropriate analogy. I’m fond of analogies.

What I’m getting at is a constant lack of time and as a result, the pressure I put on myself. I envy my husband for drifting off to sleep literally moments after climbing into bed. Most nights I lie awake, berating myself for all the things I didn’t get done today. There is just never enough time… and this is from someone with a fairly empty schedule and no children. Five plus years on and I’m still struggling with work-life balance.

Anyway, I digress. This post is about advice and I’m writing it now as opposed to the other million 3-5* that I had intended (am still intending) to write because it seems important.  Now.

It started with a question that popped into my head. What qualifies someone to give advice? At what point does one go from being a “good listener” with occasional insightful thoughts to being a Life Coach or Therapist? At what point does one go from being a novice to a teacher?

This is particularly relevant in the Blogging world where all people do is give advice. Even when said bloggers don’t realise it, they are constantly advising people on how to set goals, how to bake bread, how to decorate your house, what gifts to buy (popular this time of year), how to knit a cowl neck scarf… You can tell what kind of blogs I read but you get the gist. Even by simply sharing a personal experience you are potentially influencing (another, perhaps subtler word for advising) others. Following your recipe for a blueberry-banana smoothie with a disclaimer saying ‘Note I am NOT a nutritionist’ doesn’t really negate this fact – you are (whether you like it or not) recommending something to people who may very well make your blueberry-banana smoothie. And drink it. Even though they are allergic to blueberries. And bananas.

It’s a lot of responsibility isn’t it?

Or maybe I’m making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. I am self-deprecating by nature and have a tendency to assume that I have nothing new or particularly intelligent to offer. I assume people already know what I know. Seriously, I sometimes force myself to say something out loud at work and expect to be met with a metaphorical eye-roll (yes, we know that already stop wasting your breath and our time…) But sometimes, a lot of the time actually, my little offerings are well received. Praised even.

I am coming to terms with this as a new manager. It does not come naturally to me to manage someone else – especially someone who is the same age as me, and male. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that of course I have learned something in the past five years, things he couldn’t possibly know yet, and that it’s ok to pass some of that on without fear of sounding patronising or arrogant. It’s actually been an encouraging experience to realise I have made progress. I am making progress. In my career day job and hopefully as a person.

So that’s what this blog is about, really. I don’t really know how to do the things I blog about or intend to blog about. I certainly don’t feel qualified to offer advice on them. But by documenting the process and sharing it, I guess that’s exactly what I am doing.

*In case you’re curious they are about moustache cupcakes, framed photo collages, home-made Christmas cards, and roasted sweet potatoes with a bacon, shallot and thyme glaze…  Coming soon!

Motion in Photography

I am recovering from the bitter disappointment of having missed the enrollment period for a beginners’ photography course at the Edinburgh College of Art. The course is offered twice a year – from January to March and from September to December… the thought of waiting until next September elicits a big sigh.

The consolation is that there is plenty of material on the internet, including this interesting post I came across last week.

I am beginning to understand the ‘magic triangle’ of photography – comprising ISO, shutter speed and aperture (f-stop). What I didn’t realise, or at least pause to think about, is that there are six combinations of ISO, shutter speed and f-stop for every shot that will deliver the same amount of light to the exposure. As far as the light meter is concerned, there are six ‘correct’ ways to set up a shot.

The key in choosing between them is motion. If your shot has any motion in it, you’re best with a quicker shutter speed (unless you’re looking to achieve a blurred look to show motion for artistic purposes). Ok, I get that… but what if your shot is completely still life? There is camera shake to deal with, but beyond that the more blurred you want the background to look, the slower the shutter speed ought to be. This blurred frame of reference is also referred to in the photography world as ‘motion’.

So. I took some shots – all with different settings but keeping the light meter more or less centred (sometimes favouring slightly left of centre as I prefer a warmer colour temperature for indoor night shots).

Ansel Adams I am not.

Not the correct shutter speed to capture this wriggly little monster! She would not. sit. still.

Sam, on the other hand, is a perfect, lethargic little model.

And I finally figured out how to shoot in black and white.