DSLR video tips

Recently at work we bought a fancy DSLR camera for our marketing efforts. I’m super excited to use it, but a bit unprepared — haven’t used an SLR since my film photography art classes in college. (HOW can it be 10 years since I was a freshman??) So I brought the camera along on a hike over the weekend to practice. I’ll post photos soon of beautiful desert flowers…

But today I want to share what I learned during my first event as “press.” Although I knew I’d be photographing the event, it wasn’t until a few days before that we decided to also make video for our company blog. I’ve never in my life videotaped an event. So you can imagine how intimidated I was to find myself sandwiched between real news crews from local channels 5 and 8!

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photo by event staff — don’t I look out of place in between those two professionals??

Even though my DSLR makes lovely hi-def video I felt soooo intimidated by the cameramen’s superior equipment and skill. They were super nice — gave me some tips and even let me join in on an interview with a VIP who I hadn’t figured I’d get to tape.

Fortunately I ended up with some usable clips, but I learned a lot of lessons for next time:

  • Rent or buy a microphone. My audio turned out faint and full of background noise.
  • Use a zoom lens. I love my 50mm prime lens for photos. But with video, where I can’t run around as much because of the tripod, I was too close for the outdoor VIP interview and too far for the event remarks (but just right for an indoor interview in an office). Changing it out would have made me miss moments.
  • Prompt interviewees to include the question in their answer. So instead of answering “Yes it does!” which isn’t very useful out of context, they’ll say “Yes, the project really meets our goals!” as a self-sufficient clip.
  • Extend the tripod to eye level. I didn’t realize until later that there’s another crank so I could raise the center post. That’s (one of the reasons) why I look so silly in the photo above.
  • Bring an extra memory card. I bought a 16GB card with the camera, which seemed HUGE until I realized how much storage HD video devours. A four-minute clip took up 1.43GB!
  • Capture B-roll (aka supplemental footage). Now that I’m editing the video I notice how boring it is to stare at the interviewee’s face for the whole 60 seconds. I should have filmed shots of the location, crowd, and key project features to edit in while the interview audio continues in the background.
  • Adjust focus manually while filming. I figured my camera would autofocus when I panned around, but nope. That setting is available but not default on my camera.

Overall it was both stressful and rewarding. One thing I love about working at a small business is the wear-many-hats variety of the job, but it can sometimes leave me feeling unprepared… I’ll chalk it up to professional growing pains. At least now I can add videographer to my resume, and video to our marketing arsenal at work. And I hope these tips help somebody else figure out how to film with a DSLR!

Cinnamon Bundt Coffee Cake

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When company was coming, my mom often baked this coffee cake. And now I do too. In all my life, I swear I’ve never met anyone who could stop at one piece! We’re hosting two friends this weekend and I wanted to make sure they were well fed.

This cake has quite a reputation — Dan got excited the moment he saw the ingredients sitting on the counter. My cake carrier was one of the things that broke in our move (the movers were so bad they even broke plastic), and it was the first thing Dan replaced without even asking. Neither of us could face the idea of a future without bundt cake!

Dense and soft and swirled with rich cinnamon, this coffee cake’s browned crust is brushed with an irresistible glaze. Pudding in the batter is the secret to the moistness and texture. Bake it in a fluted bundt pan for a lovely presentation. It’s based on a cake mix so you can have it in the oven quickly and done in just over an hour.

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Cinnamon Bundt Coffee Cake Recipe (should serve 16, but usually serves 8)

Cake:

  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 1 instant vanilla pudding mix (the smaller box — 3.4 oz I think)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp butter extract (don’t ask, just do it… sold near the vanilla)
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp butter extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Beat cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, milk, and oil 5-8 minutes with an electric mixer. Mix in vanilla and butter extracts. Remove 1/3 of the batter to a small bowl. To it, add cinnamon and sugar. In a well-greased bundt or angel pan, alternate regular and cinnamon batter in layers. Bake 40-45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or cake holder. While warm, poke holes all over with a toothpick or fork. Whisk together the glaze ingredients in a bowl. Brush the glaze all over the cake (it’ll take several layers to use it all up). Keeps fresh for several days on the counter in an airtight container.

A Fresh Mexican Dinner Party

Last night Dan and I had six friends over for dinner, drinks, and games. The food turned out great — but even better, I had such a good time and I think everyone else did too!

Planning the menu was lots of fun. My goals were to make food that each person, including vegetarians, could customize to taste. Feature tons of fresh produce. Make everything from scratch for extra deliciousness and creativity in the kitchen. And use recipes that could mostly be prepped ahead of time, so that when friends arrived I wouldn’t be frantically cooking. Burritos seemed a perfect choice.

I knew ahead of time I might not take photos at the party — plus it wouldn’t be daylight for pretty images — so I had a bit of fun with my camera after the grocery store.

Cocktails: fresh margaritas with 100% agave tequila, fresh-squeezed lime and orange juice, agave nectar, and fleur de sel for the rim

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Munchies: chips, fresh guacamole, and salsa (I buy Tostito’s medium chunky salsa)

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Dinner: build-your-own burritos with grilled veggies

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…slow-cooked Mexican pulled pork (can I call it carnitas?)…

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…and cilantro-lime rice, seasoned black beans, and all the fixins.

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Dessert: Mexican flan (which turned out well despite me spilling a third of the custard mix down the crack between the oven and the counter so we had to scoot the oven away from the wall after baking to wipe up the nasty eggy dust bunnies… GROSS)

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If you throw this kind of party, you can totally do most of the work ahead of time. The night before, I put the spice rub on the meat, baked the flan, and squeezed 50+ limes and oranges. Make sure you have a competent juicer tool. In the morning I put the pork in the crock pot, cut all the veggies, and prepped the guacamole. That left only a few cooking tasks for the hour before dinner.

I highly recommend making a timeline/checklist so that you don’t forget things — my list helped when I almost forgot to start cooking the rice. Another thing that helped was re-calculating my recipes ahead of time to serve 8 people. Some were meant for 4 or 6 or 1, so doing the math and writing down the new ingredients amounts in advance helped me avoid blunders at the grocery store and in the kitchen.

At party time, Dan and I spiffed up the apartment, put a few leaves in the dining table, and scrounged up eight mismatched chairs. We all barely squeezed around the table for dinner since it’s almost too big for our apartment when expanded. Then we sat around the coffee table for hilarious games of Bang and Catch Phrase (go Team Pal Bears!). But other than this pre-arrival shot of the margarita station, I didn’t take photos at the party.

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This is something I’m always conflicted about. I don’t want to detract from my own presence “in the moment” by focusing on documentation, and I don’t want anyone to feel awkward about being photographed. The less well I know someone, the more awkward I feel. On the other hand, I love both the artistic and memories aspects of photography. What do you think is an appropriate balance? Do you feel weird when friends photograph you, especially if you know they might put (tasteful and well-edited) photos on Facebook or a blog?

Anyway, it was a great night with good friends and delicious food. I would fully recommend every recipe (except with a warning that only dedicated and careful cooks should attempt the flan… it was really tricky and kinda kicked my butt). I hope someone out there can use these recipes and tips to throw a great party of your own!

Gearing Up

By nature I’m not a big spender, especially on clothes. I don’t enjoy shopping. I hold onto clothes as long as possible, like that t-shirt from preschool that was originally my dad’s, or the shirt from horse camp the summer I was eight. (To be fair, I only wore them to sleep… they’re super soft… and they’re now retired so they don’t disintegrate in the wash.)

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But recently I’ve been spending tons of time outdoors (thanks, San Diego!) and my gear just hasn’t been cutting it. My feet hurt after hiking 12 miles in my six-year-old bargain store cross-trainers. I rotate my only two workout outfits every other Zumba class. Even though I love cycling, I left my WalMart bike in Cleveland (it really wasn’t worth moving).

Eventually I came to a breaking point. It’s time to invest in the active lifestyle I already have! Don’t I deserve to have functional gear that helps me get outside and move? So a few weeks ago, armed with some Christmas money I’d been hoarding, I made my first visit to REI to buy some real hiking shoes.

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The store was overwhelming and inspiring all at once. Just the shoe section alone made my head spin with decisions. Fortunately I’d done some research beforehand, and the salespeople were helpful. There was even a fake stone slope where you can try out how the shoes feel during a climbing hike.

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I ended up with these badass Keen Alamosa hiking shoes in the coolest color name ever: “Gargoyle/Allure.” The staff told me I didn’t need ankle-high boots unless I planned to carry a 25+ lb pack. Yeah… not anytime soon. After deliberating about breathability I opted for waterproof shoes so I can hike in any terrain and weather, not just the nearby deserts.

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These socks came home with me too. Apparently you’re not supposed to hike in standard cotton socks because they retain moisture and cause blisters. Wool or a wool/synthetic blend is recommended because it wicks the moisture away and allows sweat to dry quickly. Like the inside says — feels good!

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The shoes were an instant success on our hike to Cedar Creek Falls. My feet felt fully supported, protected, and comfortable. Oh and look — new clothes, too! I went shopping on my lunch break one day and bought my first workout clothes in a few years. Real athletic fabric is way more comfortable to sweat in than free t-shirts from college.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I was so pleased with the success of those shoes that I decided to replace my old cross-trainers entirely.

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Have you ever heard of barefoot shoes? Apparently barefoot running is a thing right now, mainly because of how your running posture improves without the interference of shoes. Now companies are making shoes that approximate the benefits while not making you look/feel so weird. I wasn’t looking for this style but after trying on these Merrell Bare Access shoes I was totally sold because they were so lightweight and fit so well. Don’t get ahead of yourself though, I still won’t be running! They work great for dance exercise classes and vigorous walks by the bay.

I’ve already got my sights set on my next purchase: a hydration pack with extra room for a lunch and lots of sunscreen. We’ve got various backpacks around the house but nothing lightweight and functional for hiking and biking. Right now for our desert hikes we fill four random water bottles, nestle them in a lunchbox with an ice pack, and stuff all that into the bag I used to backpack Italy after college. No bueno.

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How to choose??

Turns out I’ve acquired so much gear recently that nearly 600 words later, I haven’t even told you about the bike yet. So stay tuned for next time…

Weekend update

Due to recent inquiries from my adoring public (haha) I realized that it’s been 12 days since I posted anything. When life gets busy I start ignoring things — first laundry, of course, and then this blog. But this afternoon I finally have some quiet time to throw in a load of darks and publish a few updates.

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It was a nuts two weeks at work. I don’t like to talk much about work online because I prefer to keep separate my private and professional worlds. But to summarize, I had two major deadlines that required a lot of focus and some overtime. Both turned out well but came down to the wire and left me super drained. I’m really good at working quickly and efficiently to meet deadlines but I am NOT good at working long hours. With no sunshine or exercise, and no time to cook or get enough sleep, I turn into a cranky zombie.

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Did I mention not eating well? In the middle of all this overtime, our apartment sink backed up and started leaking. I sent this photo and explanations to our landlord and he came right over the next day, but our building water was shut off for a separate maintenance issue so he wasn’t able to fully fix it until the following day. And the dishes just piled up and up and up.

But don’t worry, lots of good things have happened too! Like Friday, when I got off work early, got the whole apartment clean, read a book on the balcony in the sunshine, and met friends for pizza and wine at 4:30pm. A great start to the weekend.

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Last Saturday I made fluffy blueberry muffins. The ratio of fresh blueberries to batter was awesome, but they were much more biscuity than cakey and not very sweet. We decided they were almost like blueberry shortcake. Would’ve been great with sweet cream.

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Dan and I took a beautiful sunset walk around Lake Miramar. The east part of the five-mile path is full of nature sounds and lush vegetation that’s rare in San Diego, while the west part crosses a tall dam with sweeping views of Mira Mesa.

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And yesterday we visited another local reservoir, Lake Ramona in Poway, with two new friends J & A. We were introduced by one of Dan’s coworkers, joined them at their place last Sunday to watch the Oscars, and met up again yesterday for a hike and lunch at the Mission. The hike wasn’t too challenging but with 90 degree temps and very little shade, we were wiped out afterward. K – sorry you couldn’t come… we didn’t end up doing the one I told you about… but even though we had fun this wasn’t one of my favorite hikes!

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I’ve saved the best for last. We got bikes! Real, nice-looking, well-made bikes that should last us for thousands of miles. And we found them in our perfect sizes for a good price on Craigslist. I think I’ll write a separate post about them soon, so for now you can just enjoy this blurry photo of them in their new home in one of our building’s overcrowded basement bike racks. They’re the two blue ones closest to the camera.

That’s all for now, folks. This week I hope for a more sane schedule and a return to good cooking, good sleep, and good friends.