women on boat to england

Why You Need to Scan Your Negatives and Slides Now

“Oh, that is so disappointing!. What happened? I remember the images as being so much more colourful.”

My mother said these words during our recent scanning project.

Unfortunately, time and temperature had not been kind to her slides. They had indeed lost almost all of their colour and they had also acquired yellow stains of water damage. It’s a common occurrence for all prints and slides if they are not stored properly. And, just like my mother, most people don’t realize this can happen until it’s too late. The best way to prevent it from happening, other than specific storage conditions (cold and dry), is to scan the images right away.

Our memory of an event is stored in the elements of an image. Should that image change, become damaged or even lost, affects how we remember the time it was taken. And we take pictures to capture our experiences so it makes sense that we would want to protect that memory. 

Not many people still shoot with film, let along slides. But back in the days when every image had a cost, slide film was cheaper than print. And when we wanted to travel and shoot as much as we could, slide film was a must. And my parents travelled a lot. They must have over 1000 slides.

This winter we made the commitment to scan all those slides. It’s a daunting task but when I discovered how many slides she actually had, we made sure we made the time.

We started out sending a few images out to be scanned by a company in our area; Digital Treasures. This is a good option if your time is limited. Each slide or print worked out to be about $0.25. Having someone else do the scanning saved us some of the effort and the process was relatively straight forward. But what we did discover was that even after the images are scanned, you still have to download, rename and organize the images on your own computer. That takes a lot of time. 

Considering the scope of the project ahead of us, we decided to review and scan the images ourselves.

As a professional photographer, I have a scanner for just this purpose. But while it is a good (if somewhat dated) machine that can customize each scan in great detail, each slide takes a few minutes. That time can really add up. Plus we decided we wanted to share the reviewing process with the family. The best way to do that would be to show the images on our large flat panel tv.

After some research, we decided to buy the Kodak Scanza Digital Film Scanner for about $200.

There are many similar products on the market and this article isn’t a review of this scanner though I would recommend it. The resolution is 14MP (22MP Interpolated), the process is simple and it comes with an HDMI cable so you can connect it to your tv. (We did purchase a longer cable, however, to make the living room viewing more comfortable.) The scanner comes with multiple holders for slides and negatives up to 35mm in size.

kodak slide and negative scanner

The reviewing process turned out to be a lot of fun. We set a recurring time on the weekend before dinner and we generally review and scan about 100 images. The process is simple; I insert the images into the slide scanner, we all exclaim at the dated clothes, the cars, the cute kid pictures, and then my mother shares the story behind the image. We then decide whether to scan it or not. The scanner stores the images to an SD card and after our review session, I copy the images to a computer where they are renamed and organized into the date and event-related folders. As part of the photo management process, the photos are backed up to an external hard drive and then to a cloud service where we can share them with other family members. 

For the most part, the slides for the past 50 years were in good shape. It was truly disappointing to find that the images from her trip in 1956 were damaged. This trip had been family lore for years. It was truly epic.

Five Canadian women in their early 20s travelled across the Atlantic by boat to England and then rented an old London cab and drove across western Europe together. At the end of the trip my mother met up with my father and they hitchhiked and camped across the Mediterranean. Back in the early 2000’s we had scanned one or two of the images from this trip so I knew a little of the story. To see the other images faded and stained was such a shame and just brought home the point that to preserve these memories properly, we should have scanned them all 20 years ago.

2 versions of same image of man hitchhiking
The image on the left was scanned 20 years ago. The image on the right was scanned, as is, just recently.

Luckily, technology and skill were on our side. The Kodak scanner has some ability to adjust the colour and brightness of typical slides but for these damaged images, I decided to rescan them with my professional scanner and I was able to fix many of the issues. For the water damage stains, the images had to be brought into Photoshop for more extensive editing. Not impossible, but not easy either. I’m just glad we caught them before the damage became worse.

before and after image damaged by time
Image on the left was scanned recently. The image on the right was rescanned and restored in Photoshop.

Whether you choose to scan your images or send them out to be scanned, I highly recommend that you edit them first. Don’t pay to have your blurry or boring images scanned. 

To recap:

WHY do you need to scan your prints and slides now

  • Save them from the degradation that time and temperature can cause
  • Protect your memories in case of an unexpected flood or fire damage
  • Ensure that the stories and people in the pictures are not forgotten

HOW to scan your prints and slides

  • Send them to a professional scanning company. There are usually some in your area but a simple internet search will give you options near and far.
  • Scan them yourself with an affordable automatic scanner.
  • Ask us to manage the scanning and organizing process for you. You can trust us to protect and organize your images so you can enjoy them for generations to come.

 

Bonus Observation

As you review your images with others you will discover which images resonate with people. We tend to take a lot of pictures of the scenery but having a person in the image always made the picture more powerful. Something to keep in mind as you continue to take pictures of your own travels and day to day life.

Organizing Tip

As I mentioned, my parents travelled extensively throughout their 60-year marriage and the slides are scattered across many boxes. Before we put them back on a shelf, we will make sure they are labelled properly and moved from boxes to archival slide page holders and binders.

slide holders in binder

There are a couple of ways to store slides but this is one that suits our space the best. When you hold them up to a light, the plastic pages allow you to quickly review 20 slides at a time without touching the actual slide. Of course, once the slides are scanned, we shouldn’t need to review them again, but, you never know.

Maybe down the road, we will want a higher resolution scan to print. Perhaps scanning technology will improve. As my grandmother used to say about sewing your own clothes; never throw out the extra fabric until you have finished wearing the garment. In other words, always keep the original. And, until someone figures out what to do with old slides and negatives, holding on to them keeps them out of the landfills for a little bit longer.

Women in London Taxi in 1956
Five women travelling around Western Europe in a used London taxi in 1956.
A field of dandelions

When Technology Fails Creativity

This Spring my camera died.

Just when nature started to wake up from a long winter, just when the sun started to warm up the land and the flowers started to burst with colour and drama, my FUJI XT2 failed me.

More specifically, my camera batteries stopped working. It didn’t make sense. I never had trouble with batteries before. But now, just as I would set up another macro shot of a tulip or daffodil, my camera would shut down.

I was only getting 10 or so images to a charge. It was mystifying. At first, I thought it was just that particular battery. I always have two for these moments so I switched it out with a fully charged battery.

The same thing happened. Ten to fifteen pictures in, my camera would stop working. It got to the point where I wouldn’t leave the house without both batteries, even if I was just going to take a couple of shots. Forget about shooting video.

I’m a pretty good problem solver so I went online to see if anyone ever had a similar problem. Now the FUIJI XT2 is known for not having great battery life but I knew that when I bought it. Because it is a mirrorless camera vs a DSLR, the XT2 only gets on average 340 images per battery charge. The Canon professional cameras typically get 900. This was a serious consideration for me as I planned to use the camera for travel.

But it came highly recommended by people I respect so I figured it was worth the risk. Back online I learned that there were many tricks to save power with the FUJI including,

Turn off the LCD monitor on the back (I didn’t even know you could do this)

  • Turn the camera off after each image taken
  • Auto turn off after a short period of time
  • Turn off IS in Manual Focus mode

I tried them all and still, my batteries wouldn’t last. My frustration and anger were increasing each time I had to shut down my creative impulse and wait for my camera batteries to recharge.

But then I thought, even though they are only 2 years old, maybe my batteries have run their course. Not wanting to risk faulty third party batteries, I invested in two new FUJI batteries for around two hundred dollars. I charged them up, headed out to shoot and once again, ten to fifteen images in, my camera died.

I started freaking out. Even if I don’t shoot every day, not having a working camera was unnerving. I’ve been shooting for 35 years. I have always had a camera by my side. And not just any recording device like a smartphone. I actually feel lost without a “real” camera. It’s my primary source of creativity. It would be like a writer not having pen or pencil.

But my biggest worry was that I had chosen the wrong camera.

Life presents many challenges to creativity. By 2015, was shooting less and less, and I had lost what I call my mojo or my inspiration. My real camera, a Canon 5D Mark ii was gathering dust in my studio. Every time I thought to take it out, it seemed like overkill. It was too big and cumbersome. When we travelled, it required its own personal bag.

I decided I needed something smaller and lightweight. Something to suit my new life. Since the 90s, I have been a Canon person. I liked how they were set up. Unlike Nikon, they made sense to me. All the buttons were in the right place. But by 2018 my Mark ii was getting long in the tooth.

I knew I couldn’t justify the expense of the next level up (Mark iii or even the iv) and the smaller Canon cameras lacked the features I wanted. So with great sadness, I took my Canon and all my lenses into the store and traded them in for the FUJI XT2. I figured with a smaller, mirrorless camera, I would use it more. I knew that with a camera I could just leave in my day bag, I would feel more inspired to take more thoughtful, creative shots, rather than the snaps I had gotten used to with my smartphone.

And it worked. My desire to shoot grew every day. I even dusted off my studio equipment and got back to work indoors during the colder months. Working in the studio was not without its hiccups. I was starting from ground zero again, new camera, new systems. I wasn’t even sure if it would work with my old lights. I wasn’t sure I could shoot tethered. I spent a lot of time just learning how the new camera worked. But I didn’t mind.

Playing around in the studio is one of my favourite things and one day over the winter I decided it would be great if I could shoot remotely or trigger the camera without having to touch it. This is very valuable as touching the camera during long exposures can cause camera shake and fuzzy images.

Low and behold I learned that FUJI had an app for just that task. Theoretically, the app allows you to not only send images from your camera to your phone (in case you want to share them immediately) but also, to remotely trigger the camera. I downloaded the app, set up the FUJI specific wifi connection and pushed lots of keys. I read the manuals, followed the instructions, but I never succeeded in getting it to work. I felt totally stupid. Other people seem to make it work. All the Fuji techs I talked to had no problem. But further research revealed that,

The Fuji Camera Remote app has a rating of 1.5 stars on iTunes, which shows how bad it really is.

In the end, I gave up. I was spending more time trying to make it work than actually enjoying the craft of taking pictures.

For a couple of months I was busy with other projects and it was when I went back to my camera in the Spring that I discovered my batteries weren’t working anymore. After all online research was exhausted, I asked my husband to take the camera back to the place I purchased it to see if they could figure out the problem or maybe send it to Fuji for repairs if need be.

As it turned out, they found nothing wrong with either the camera or the batteries. Everything was working fine. Again, cue the feelings of total stupidity and frustration. But my husband had an idea. He is not a photographer. His career has been in Information Technology. He has spent 25 plus years getting computing devices to talk to each other.

When he got back, we started asking different questions. What was the one thing that was different when he took the camera to the dealer? I wasn’t with him, nor was my phone. What is something that will wear out a battery super quick?

A wifi loop.

His solution? Delete the Fuji app from my phone. Once the app was deleted, not just turned off but actually deleted, my camera batteries started to work normally again. Like literally, in the next second.

Our theory was that even when the app was off, lying dormant on my phone, it was still trying to communicate with my camera via wifi, in the background, like some demented robot. And that was wearing down the camera battery.

My relief and joy when this problem got solved were immense.

There was no more frustration over broken technology, there was no more worry over whether I made the right choice.

My camera and I were on the same page and the creative juices started to flow again.

Dandelion in Vase

And what did I learn from this experience? Technology is not always a friend of creativity. Remember when your camera battery lasted years, not days? Cameras have become computers and computers have become cameras. When your needs are simple, like capturing a group selfie of your friends, a smartphone is all you need. But when you want to stretch that creative muscle and play with the ideas in your head, technology often just gets in the way.

I am certainly not against new technology for cameras and the studio. If I was, I would still be shooting film with a Pentax K1000. But perhaps we need to keep things simple. I shouldn’t need a computer science degree to make everything work. I really don’t want to spend hours understanding how digital science works. I would rather spend hours shooting.

And perhaps, a big multinational corporation like FUJI could put more time and effort into developing an app that works for photographers and not against them.

building in Paris, Jardin de Luxembourg

How to Ruthlessly Edit Your Photos

Unless you are a diligent scrapbooker, editing images is a skill most people don’t take time to learn. As a result, most of us have boxes full of printed images that never see the light of day. And with the advance of smartphone cameras, it’s even easier and cheaper to take hundreds of images. How many times have you seen a friend post 40 plus images of their trip on their Facebook page? I like to see travel images but I don’t need to see ALL of them. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality. To stay on top of our photo inventory, we need to learn how to ruthlessly edit our images so that the best ones can shine through.

Around the world, over 1 trillion digital pictures are taken every year. That’s a lot of images cluttering up phones, hard drives and cloud accounts. If you have limits to your cloud storage, not editing your images means you pay more each month. But even if you choose unlimited storage with Google Photos there are costs to having so many images. Not only do they take up precious space on your cell phone, all those images clutter your mind and suck up valuable time when you are trying to find a particular image. Getting used to editing and sorting your images into albums on a regular basis will make it much easier to share and create content and it may save you some money down the road.

Getting started is easy but first I should say that before you get into hardcore editing on your computer, it is good practice to back up your images to a temporary folder on your desktop. When you are finished editing and sorting the best images and are certain you have kept only the ones you want, you can delete the temporary folder.

If you are editing images on your iPhone, even if you delete them, Apple puts them into a Recently Deleted album for 30 days so you have a chance to change your mind. If you are certain that you don’t want to keep those images, you can go into the deleted photos album, select the images and delete them permanently. Or you can just wait the 30 days for the application to delete them automatically.

Step 1:

Get rid of all of the images that are too dark, too light and most important, out of focus. If you only look at your images on your phone you might not see that they are out of focus – the joys of a small screen. Zoom in to be sure. Or better yet, edit your images on your computer.

Step 2:

Get rid of the duplicates and research images. Often we will take many shots of a group of people to make sure that everybody in the shot is smiling. Pick the best one and DELETE the rest. If your camera takes an extra HDR image, pick the one you like and delete the copy. Same goes for Boost shots. I will often take pictures of products I am thinking of buying. Once a decision has been made, these images are deleted.

If you are editing your images on your computer, you can use software like PhotoSweeper for the MAC or Duplicate Photo Fixer for the PC to review your folders for duplicates. Of course, sorting the images into chronological or event-based folders makes this process much easier.

Step 3:

Separate the wheat from the chaff. Now you need to pick the best images, the ones that really express what you saw. This is of course, highly subjective. Some people think every image is important and that’s o.k. The point is to remove the images that are just taking up space and that will get in your way later on.

Depending on the software you use to review your images, you can move the lesser images into a separate folder or you can tag the best ones and change the view to sort by rating. It all depends on your personal work preferences and what you plan to do with the images in the long run.

As I mentioned in this post, understanding the WHY of picture taking makes it easier to manage them. Are you going to share them with friends and family? Are you going to make a travel book? Are you planning on printing and framing them or even make a movie? Essentially, will you want to look at that picture again in say, 5 years? Does it effectively express what was happening at that time?

In 2008 my husband and I visited Paris and we were quite shocked to realize that the grab and go coffee culture doesn’t exist there. Parisians love their coffee, but they like it at the bar, talking with friends, taking a moment in their busy morning before they head to work. Within two days we succumbed to the pressure and slowed down. It was an important part of our trip so we shot a video of the experience.

These are the things that you keep. The things that tell the story of that trip, of that day. They show where you were, who you were with and what you were feeling. Everything else is just filler or white noise.

Of the 20 or so pictures we took of the Jardin Luxembourg in Paris on that warm Spring day, the featured image for this post and these two images show perfectly not only the gardens but also how the Parisians love to enjoy the space.

The beautiful thing about reviewing your images is that the more you do it the more you will recognize the images that work and those that don’t. The next time you may think to try a different angle or to take more time to make sure the image is in focus. You may set up your group shots to make sure you can see everybody’s face, or you may include a close-up perspective to complement a wide-angle shot. Or maybe, you will remember to shoot video as well as stills.

However, editing does takes time and focus so you have to be committed and motivated. It’s kind of like exercise for a lot of people. Initially, you don’t want to do it but after, you are happy that you made the effort. And just like exercise, it works best if you put it into your schedule. As the award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis says, it’s not that you don’t have time, it’s just that you haven’t made it a priority.

Do you have a long commute? Reviewing your images on your phone while you sit on the bus is a good time saver. I like to do it while watching tv at the end of the day. Give yourself an hour a week to edit and back up your images so that when the time comes to share or organize them into a book or video, you will know exactly where to find them.

If you need a bit more inspiration, check out this post on procrastination. But if you are overwhelmed by how to start the process, you can contact me for a free initial consultation.

Portrait of man sitting at White Sands National Park

How to Take More Meaningful Pictures

“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography

Every day thousands, if not millions, of pictures are being taken around the world. With each advent of new technology, it is becoming easier and easier to record every tiny event or thing around us. But just because it is easier doesn’t mean we are taking better pictures, it just means we have less room on our hard drives. So how do we make sure we are taking more meaningful pictures? How do we take pictures that we want to keep, share or even put up on our walls?

We need to start asking why we are taking pictures in the first place.

I remember traveling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”.

So it wasn’t surprising that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that, they got back on their bus and traveled away.

 

This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is about getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there” t-shirt, before rushing off to the next attraction.

Travel isn’t just about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about being present in the moment, being mindful of the environment and taking a moment to breathe.

Photography is the same. When you stop to take in a scene before you snap a picture, you get a better feel for it and you can start to see what makes it special. Spin around, crouch down, look up. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.

Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to take a picture. What compelled you to stop there? Understand why that person or element caught your eye. What do you want to say about them? Once you know what you want to express, you can choose the camera settings that you feel do that the best.

I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations, not just travel. Even when you are shooting friends and family at home you can ask yourself questions before you press the button. What is it about that moment that you want to save? What makes it special? Is it the fact you are all together, the uniqueness of the place, or the crazy weather? Taking the time to think it through will allow you to set up the shot in a way that not only records the event but also expresses what you are feeling. And those are the images you will want to keep.

Man on beach in Tofino, BC

Sometimes you need to take a few shots before you see your vision. I am not saying don’t take as many pictures as you need to express the moment, just start with the Why before you jump into the shooting. As David DuChemin says in his book, Vision Driven Photography,

Before our photographs can say we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

The more you consciously make decisions about your photographs, the more you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. As a result, you will take more images that have meaning for you and that you will want to celebrate and share.

A starter guide for taking more meaningful pictures:
  • Be aware of the things that pull your eye, what attracts your attention
  • Don’t judge yourself or compare – shoot what you want to see
  • Play and take risks. Use settings you don’t normally use.
  • Look at other photographers’ work as well as paintings. See what compositions and lighting appeal to you
  • Practice, edit, practice, edit
  • Delete all images that don’t meet your vision
Still life of gun shot shells on reflective black background

The Real Enemy of the Environment is Bad Product Design

Every day I walk my dog and every day I pick up garbage that has mysteriously never made it to the garbage or recycling bin. It pains me to see what humans so mindlessly pitch waste out their car windows or drop by the side of the road. Every day I think humans are disgusting and lazy and they deserve to die out.

On better days I think, not ALL humans are horrible. Some are trying to change the way things are done. It’s just easier to see the actions of the nasty ones then it is to see the ones that are doing good.

Over the Holidays I had the pleasure of reading a fascinating book called The Upcycle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. This is the follow up book to their first collaboration, Cradle to Cradle.

Each book outlines their drive for a new way to design for the planet. Designing for Cradle to Cradle or C2C “means that a material or its component chemicals could be reused endlessly, safely.” It is the opposite of our current way of thinking where everything can just be thrown away. To a certain extent it encourages recycling, but smart recycling. It means making products with the whole product cycle in mind. Not just its first purpose, but the second and maybe the third until it breaks down into smaller particles and starts all over again.

Composting is nature’s C2C. Food grows from the soil, we consume what we need, the leftover bits are then allowed to decompose and eventually nourish the next generation of food. Bill and Michael argue in their books that when designing a product or service, companies must think about the bigger picture, not just the immediate gain. The question should always be — what’s next and where are we going with this?

This book was brought to mind recently with the huge press coverage of Terracycle’s new initiative called Loop — a program of ordering products online in reusable packaging that can be returned to the manufacturer — aka, the Milkman. It was introduced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Terracycle “is an innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste.”(1) They have worked with some of the largest companies, encouraging them to change their packaging to include recycled materials.

However, the recycling business is not going well. Overall, about 91% of all the plastic waste ever created has never been recycled — a statistic so “concerning,” the Royal Statistical Society named it the 2018 international statistic of the year. (2) The Chinese have drastically reduced the amount of recycled materials they import from the west and this has left recycling companies struggling to figure out what to do with all their collected waste. This brings to mind what people like Annie Leonard of “The Story of Stuff” have been saying for years; that recycling is not the answer to our waste problem.

Recycling alone will never stem the flow of plastics into our oceans; we have to get to the source of the problem and slow down the production of all this plastic waste. Think about it. If your home was flooding because you had left the faucet on, your first step wouldn’t be to start mopping. You’d first cut the flooding off at its source — the faucet. In many ways, our plastics problem is no different. (3)

We are consumers of products who love the convenience of going to the store and bringing home things in easy to carry packages. But, as Leonard says, “not long ago, we existed in a world without throwaway plastic, and we can thrive that way again.”(4) Which makes the Terracycle program so interesting. Bring back the Milkman, modern style, by ordering online and having UPS pick up the reusable packaging in reusable boxes. It seems like it might fit the C2C mentality of looking at the full cycle of a product’s life. Except in this case it only addresses one aspect of the product, the package, It does not address the contents, and it hints at a bit of green washing.

The companies that Terracycle has brought into this experiment are the ones that can afford it; Coke, Nestle, Unilever among others. All of these companies currently face serious backlash for being the biggest contributors of plastic waste. They are in fact on Greenpeace’s Top 10 of the Worst Plastic Polluters.(5) The Break Free from Plastic (#breakfreefromplastic) movement was created to shame these producers of plastic by posting images in social media of trash with their logos lining the streets and waterways.

And it’s working. These companies know they need some good press and perhaps they think the Terracycle program is how they can get it. But as consumers, we need to look at the bigger picture. What exactly are these companies producing? What chemicals go into the production of antiperspirant, Coke, and Clorox disinfecting wipes? How are they produced?

A product is more than just its package. It’s also what happens to the contents when they wash down the drain or get thrown away. Some antiperspirant contains known carcinogens that have been banned in Europe, the chemical make up of coke has been well documented, and Clorox wipes are not biodegradable. In addition, the CEO of Nestle has stated that he does not believe that access to water is a human right and so Nestle continues to drain essential aquifers for profit.

One of the mantra’s of the Break Free From Plastic movement has been its high time we put the responsibility for pollution back on the manufacturers. Changes in how they produce products will have a much higher impact on the environment than me carrying my own shopping bag or coffee mug. How we as consumers can make a difference is by not buying their products. By showing them over and over that not only do we want better packaging but we want better and safer products that don’t harm us or pollute the planet at every stage of production. So while I applaud Terracycle’s program, I will never participate because I don’t shop from any of those companies. On the other hand, I know I am a niche consumer, one who buys organic, doesn’t mind seeking out independent grocers who sell in bulk and who buys or makes only all natural cleaning products. Most people don’t care.

The challenge for Terracycle’s Loop program will be to get those consumers who do currently buy those products to take the time to order a few products online and organize shipping of the containers back to the manufacturer. To become “niche” as it were. But if it succeeds perhaps it will set the stage for new developments more in line with C2C.

The advantage of a C2C mentality is that, when applied across the economy, no one has to be niche. No one has to be inconvenienced or go out of their way to protect the planet. The system and the products it creates would already be doing that. There would be no waste to manage because everything is produced in a way that can be reused or repurposed continuously. This utopia may seem overly optimistic to some but the model works and the book describes ways that the authors have helped companies change how they think and work in order to create new and exciting systems and products. And while the cynic reading this might think it could never be profitable, the authors’ experience has been just the opposite. They found that as each company seeks out new ways of doing things, there is a ripple effect that stretches out to their suppliers and competition. To quote the book,

And this gives me hope because I know that until we are truly faced with a catastrophic, in your face, environmental crisis, people are more likely to respond to things that are simple and make them feel good. It is much harder and takes more thought to be an advocate for the environment. I know I will continue to curse the trash I pick up every day but it is good to know that people are making a difference somewhere. Humans are essentially innovators, we are constantly seeking out new ideas, new ways to solve problems. The Cradle to Cradle philosophy encourages us to solve our current problems with more thoughtful design that supports us and the planet. It’s not easy but no one ever said it would be. And frankly, at this point, what choice do we have?

To learn more about the book click here.

To read more about the C2C certification and institution click here

Further reading about Loop

Abandoned Bike

What To Do With Old Stuff

Landfills are full of our old stuff. Even gently used products are thoughtlessly thrown away. But we are running out of space for all these things we don’t want anymore. We need to find new ways of managing our waste.

One of my favourite songs by Tom Waits is Old Broken Bicycles.

The lyrics start out,

Broken bicycles,
Old busted chains,
Rusted handlebars
Out in the rain.

Somebody must
Have an orphanage for
these things that nobody
Wants any more

September’s reminding July
It’s time to be saying … good-bye.
Summer is gone,
But our love will remain.

Like old broken bicycles
Left out in the rain.

As a result of this song I started noticing all the bikes that people left behind for some reason. It became a bit of a photo project.

In a big city you will often see them, still locked to a pole, slowly being stripped of the essentials. It’s incredibly sad. As I photographed them I would often think of the possible back story. Who left the bike behind? Did they move away, did they just stop wanting the bike, stop caring?

This song came to mind lately as I considered what to do with a lovely set of antique dishes sitting in my garage. The set was designed by Theodore Haviland and is called Limoges. It was quite the thing in its day. The set I have was my grandmother’s good set for special occasions. While it is quite pretty it is also very delicate and not appropriate for modern living, meaning no dishwashers. I have held on to it for sentimental reasons but I was afraid if I started using it the pieces would fall apart in my hands.

So I thought maybe it might have some value and a collector would want it. Selling on Ebay was a total bust. Not even a nibble. I tried an antique dealer that specializes in dishes and even they were completely not interested. So what am I to do with an incomplete set of antique dishes?

In the end, I have decided to just start using them. If they break so be it. If the gold edging comes off in the dishwasher so what. At least they will be put to use. And when they do start to break, I will use the pieces to create flagstones throughout my garden.

Like my antique dishes, the world is full of things that people don’t want or can’t use any more and most of those things will end up in a landfill. But this behaviour is completely unsustainable. Yes, we need to change how we make new things but we also have to figure out what to do with the stuff we’ve already produced. Remember the movie Wall-E? We can’t keep using and disposing of things until there is no place left to put them and then fly off to Mars.

Our oceans are drowning in plastics and we are quickly running out of places to stuff our garbage underground. In my dreams, someone designs a way to take ALL the garbage, both buried and being produced and turns it into fuel or building materials or something.

In the meantime, there are some cool things happening around the world.

There is a mall in Sweden where only recycled goods are sold. You can bring things in to be recycled and shop for something else that is recycled or repaired.

There are repair shops opening up where you can not only bring in things to be repaired, you can learn how to fix them yourself. We need more and more of these types of places.

And there are initiatives like Precious Plastic,

“Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online, for free.

or this one in Columbia where they have turned old plastic into building blocks for new houses

and finally, this one in Ghana where they are recycling plastic into roads and roofing materials.

I love to read about initiatives like this but if we are to make a difference moving forward, these things have to be done on a mass scale. There has to be a global change of attitude toward the production and use of everyday things if we are to get our waste issues under control.

As Tom Waits writes….

“The seasons can turn on a dime,

Somehow I forget every time;

These things you’ve given me

They always will stay

They’re broken… but I’ll never throw them away”

Piles of Clothing

Our Obsession With Clothing Is Killing The Planet

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.

Wait. What?

From the production of fabric to clothing disposal, this billion dollar industry has a devastating effect on the planet and it’s being fed by our need for cheap, convenient and trendy clothes. Everything you see in the malls is now called Fast Fashion. It’s opposite, Slow Fashion just might save us.

I don’t remember when I read the term Slow Fashion for the first time. It was probably on Pinterest. You see I was researching what to do with old jeans. We had about 10 pairs where 90% of the fabric was still good. I couldn’t give them to charity. They were unwearable. Every instinct in me told me not to throw out so much fabric. As a seamstress, I had this feeling before. There are always ends or leftover fabric from a project. Through my research I found tons of creative uses for left-over jean fabric on Pinterest. People are so creative. In the end I made a lovely quilt.

 

Quilt Made of Jeans

But the research led me down a very interesting path of recycled and re-worked clothing that inevitably led me to the world of sustainable or Slow Fashion.

I was instantly intrigued to know more. I have struggled with the fashion industry for some time for many reasons, mainly sexism and impracticality. And I have known for a while about the issue of cheap labour in Asia but I think things really started to come to the forefront of my mind with the tragic clothing factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013.

The problem with the Fast Fashion industry starts with the fabric. The production of cotton, one of the most widely used fibres, requires huge amounts of water and pesticides. For example, one pair of jeans requires 1600 gallons of water. Most clothes are made from cotton or a combination of cotton and polyester. Polyester (in its various forms) is made from oil and is completely non-biodegradable. In addition, the dyes used in clothing are also not biodegradable and are seldom disposed of properly.

To save costs on labour, clothing has been made in Asia for many years. Though the economists call this a win for globalization, the reality includes horrible conditions, un-livable wages and of course, terrible fires and loss of life. After the clothes are produced they are then shipped back to the west on boats that spew copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.

Finally, we have the fact that Fast Fashion is driven by the production of new styles of clothing every three months. We used to have 4 seasons or cycles of new clothing in stores. Now people are encouraged to change their wardrobe constantly. And with the advent of stores like Forever 21 and H&M the clothes are sold very cheaply. But they are also very low quality which means people throw out clothes after only a few washes. Estimates say that the average citizen throws away 80 lbs of clothing a year. Current US records show that only 15% of clothes are recycled which means 85% are thrown into landfills. The 15% that are reused are often given to thrift shops. But often the clothes that are not sold in North America are sent to developing countries “in need” and if not sold there will end up in their landfills.

So is nudity the answer? Should we just stop buying clothes completely?

Honestly, the more I learned about this industry and its environmental crimes, the more shocked and concerned I became. But what are the alternatives? We still need to clothe ourselves.

The good news is that there is an incredible growing movement of Slow Fashion designers. There are some big name designers who have been leading the way for some time such as Stella McCartney, and Eileen Fisher. And with the help of celebrities like Emma Watson who is known to sport sustainable fashion at very public events, the word is starting to get out.

But what can we do to make a difference?

1. Buy less:

First and foremost, really ask yourself if you need that new top or pair of jeans. Start to question why you want it. Be a practical shopper not an emotional one. Companies respond to demand so the less we buy, the less they make.

2. Buy better:

Do some research into the brands you normally buy from. Shop for sustainable and or ethical clothing. Look for clothes made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp. A few years ago it was hard to find this type of clothing and most of it is still online only. But things are starting to change.

3. Fix your clothes:

If you aren’t handy with a needle find someone who is. I mean really, they are selling jeans with huge rips in them. Surely you can go out and about with wearing something that has been repaired or altered. Be different! Define your own style.

4. Have a swap party:

Invite your friends over to swap the clothes you no longer want or never really fit well.

5. Donate your clothes to charity:

Many charities have clothing drives at special times of the year. If there is a special cause you want to support find out when their next drive is. Value Village is also a good place to donate your clothes. Find charities that explain what they do with clothing that is not sold.

6. Look for textile recycling in your area:

Some neighbourhoods have special clothing boxes at malls and gas stations but make sure they are legitimate companies. Clothing can be recycled, even your worn out socks. Create a bin or bag for your torn or worn out clothing. Polyester for example, unlike used cotton can be recycled (broken down and spun back into new fibres). Other fabric can be turned into rags and the rest can be used for carpets and car cushions.

7. Cut up those old t-shirts for rags:

I use these rags instead of paper towels to clean my windows. They work great and can be washed and reused.

Slow Fashion isn’t easy but then nothing of real value ever is. It also costs a bit more. That too is like most things of true value. If you can’t afford to buy new, shop at Thrift Stores as reusing clothing works just as well. We have become too accustomed to a disposable society. It is better to spend a little more and get something that lasts, something you will cherish, then to buy the latest trend that will fall apart after one wash.

Truly the message once again is be aware, buy only what you need and buy smarter.

To learn more about this and other unsustainable product cycles, watch The Story of Stuff on YouTube.

Still life of lock on photo album

How to Protect Your Images

It all starts with a gasp. A tightening of the chest, prickly skin, perhaps even a cold sweat.

No!

What happened to my images?

If you are like me, your smart phone is never far from hand and you take pictures daily. Sometimes it’s just a shot of a pretty flower or interesting shadow. Other times it’s of something you don’t want to miss, a reunion with friends, a child’s first step. Whatever the images on your phone, they are important, precious. What if your phone suddenly died? What if you no longer could view your images? It’s almost incomprehensible. Not to worry, there are simple ways to protect your images from loss.

The most important thing when it comes to your images is to make sure they are backed up to some device other than your phone. Phones get stolen, they get lost, and yes, they get dropped into toilets.

I have been a photographer since I was 15. I have taken many, many photos. You would think that I had my process down pat and that I was a paragon of virtue when it comes to backing up my images. Nope. I also get distracted by life and I put off the simple tasks well, because I would rather be out shooting. If you have been procrastinating about your photos, you may find this article useful.

If you are ready to move forward, as the diagram below shows, it starts with getting your images onto your computer and the cloud. 

Graphic showing how to back up images

1.Make sure the images on your phone are backed up to either the cloud or your computer. 

If you are uncertain what the cloud is, check out this article.

2.Collect all your digital images from SD cards, hard drives and old computers and put them on a primary reliable computer.

3. Scan all prints and slides from the era before digital and add the files to your primary computer.

4. Back up all your digital images to your cloud account.

5. Save a copy of all your digital files to one or two external hard drives. Regularly update these hard drives. Store a hard drive off site, either a bank vault or a friends place.

Get this done and all your photos will be protected. Whew!

But before you pull a Flaming Elmo or run away, keep in mind that the extent of your photo management process depends on how you take pictures.

I like to think that there are three different types of photographers. I call them the Socialite, the Adventurer, and the Pro.

The Socialite

The Socialite likes to record her social activities and share them on social media but she doesn’t use any other type of camera. She may have photo albums from the distant past when she used a film or digital camera.

For the Socialite, making sure her images are backed up to the cloud and keeping a copy on her computer is a good start. Scanning her historic images is something she can do over time.

The Adventurer

The Adventurer takes pictures with her phone but she also has a digital camera and she travels with both. Sometimes she has hundreds if not thousands of images to deal with after her vacation. If she was organized in the past, she has many scrapbooks to show for her travels. 

She needs to gather all of her images onto her computer. She needs to copy her SD cards and scan her historical images into digital format. Once all her images are in the same place she can rename and organize them. From there she should save a copy to the cloud as well as an external hard drive.

There are many types of Adventurers and that will determine what software they use to manage their photos and how many places they back up their files.

The Pro

The Pro already knows what to do and isn’t reading this article. They are the Adventurer x10 and because they shoot for clients, there are legal and security protocols built into their process for managing photos.

Whatever type of photographer you are, the fundamentals don’t change when it comes to protecting your images. We all need to back up our photos to one or more places other than our phones to make sure they are safe.

Ways to describe avoiding a task

How To Stop Procrastinating And Get It Done

Why do we put off things we know we should do? Whether it is exercising more, clearing out the garage or managing our photos, we have an idea of what we need to do but the thought of going through the actions of these tasks can seem overwhelming, distasteful or pointless. Even knowing that putting off certain tasks could hurt us later, we will still hesitate. So how do we stop procrastinating and tap into motivation when we need it?

When faced with a decision to make or a task to complete, we usually rely on our self-control in order to push ourself to get things done. Furthermore, our motivation, which is based on the expectation of receiving some reward for our efforts, can support our self-control, and make it more likely that we will get things done in a timely manner. (1)

Procrastination happens when our motivation to finish a task is weakened and the rewards are abstract or negligible. Not having a clear objective, being told to do something, or just being too tired at the end of the day are all things that can weaken our desire to complete a task. Fear is what often helps us finish a task. It’s what drives us to buy home or car insurance because we fear we won’t be able to afford the outcome of a disaster. The reward is knowing that most of the costs are covered if something horrible does happen.

But not all things are so straight forward. Recently my brother experienced a terrible flood in his basement due to freak rainstorm. Four inches of rain fell in 1 hour in an area that typically gets 3 inches over the whole month. As a result of the flood, my brother lost many possessions that were ruined by the 4 ft of rain that turned his basement into a swimming pool. Insurance would cover some of his belongings, but not the photo albums filled with pictures from the days of shooting film.

In addition to rebuilding his basement, he is now faced with going through his waterlogged computer and soaked albums to see what, if any images are salvageable. Insurance doesn’t cover photographic memories.

From a photo management perspective, my brother was on track to do everything right. He had backed almost all of his digital photos to the cloud but there were still some images on his computer and all the prints in the albums remained unscanned. He knew what needed to be done but he just hadn’t finished the task because there was technically no urgency and as such, no real motivation. Flooding of the type he experienced is still extremely rare.

The “just in case” tasks are often the hardest to complete. For those, we definitely need a plan.

Quote about Time

How to stop procrastinating

1. Have a clear objective

The first step to overcoming procrastination is to have a clear objective – the absolute WHY you need to do the task in the first place. I hate cleaning my house but I love a clean house. My objective is a clear. I am motivated by the discomfort and anxiety that a chaotic house brings. To encourage me to get through this loathsome task, I treat myself to a cold beer when I am done. With photo archiving, the objective is to preserve and protect past memories. And potentially, share them with others. The motivation is that in their current state they are vulnerable to time and moisture. Scanning 25 years of prints however, is a daunting task.

2. Understand your type of procrastination

The second step to overcoming procrastination is to understand why you, as an individual, are avoiding the task. This excellent resource can help you figure this one out. It could be lack of energy, not sure where to start, or fear of doing it wrong. It could be that the task, like photo archiving, is too big. One option could be to break it down into smaller parts.

3. Create a plan of action with measurable and obtainable goals

The key to this step is to create a schedule that suits your personality and lifestyle. Look at the overall objective and break it down into smaller more manageable tasks. Set a deadline for each task. Fit those tasks into your day. For example, for photo archiving, review one album each night while watching tv, or decide on two albums a week but pull them out and leave them on the kitchen table so you can review them whenever you are in the room. Make it as easy and enjoyable as you can. Turn on your favourite music, pour a glass of wine. Whatever reward you can think of that will motivate you to finish the task. Try to get into a flow of work by eliminating distractions and creating a comfortable work environment.

4. Set deadlines that are concrete yet reasonable

It’s important to set a completion date, as it constrains how long you work on a task. But it is also important to decide on dates that are reasonable for your day to day life. When you are just starting to exercise, don’t plan on working out every day. Start with two days a week and go from there.

If you are sorting through your photos, set a date for the completion of each stage: reviewing, scanning, and organizing. Allow yourself some flexibility but not too much. Create some form of accountability with a friend to check in with you.

5. Reward yourself

I like to save my desert until after I finish the dishes. That way I am motivated to get them done and I get to relax over something yummy. Figure out what will motivate you through the steps, not just at the final completion of the project, but at all the milestones along the way. Whatever your objective may be these steps can help you get it done. The key is to remember WHY you are doing the task. Write this objective down, put it on a post-it and place it where you will see it every day. Or set reminders on your phone. The key is to stay focused and not fall off track.

And if this still seems overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is strength in knowing what you are good at and what will just take too much of your time and effort. Sometimes it just makes sense to hire a bookkeeper or a handyman, or in my case, someone to clean the house.

When it comes to photo organizing, I can help guide you through the process. Feel free to contact me here.

a woman sitting between statues

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Family

It’s summertime and that means vacations with family. We have always taken pictures of our friends and family and now it’s even easier with smartphone cameras. But are we taking better pictures or just more pictures? Are we editing down the unflattering ones or cluttering up our hard drives with terrible pictures. Taking people pictures or portraits is not easy. It takes planning and thought because not every moment is a Kodak moment.

Selfies and posed images might record the moment but they do get a little boring after a while. If you want to take it up a notch this summer or really, any time you are taking pictures of people, try to keep the following in mind.

 

First, the basics:

Don’t take pictures while people are eating

picture of man eating

Wait till everyone has finished chewing as it’s never a good look.  Having your subject holding a drink can be a personal call as it either adds to the story or takes away from it. A table full of messy half-empty glasses doesn’t always make for a good atmosphere.

Photos taken during conversations are more casual but still problematic

A posed shot can be nice but I like the informal nature of shots while people are talking. However, with talking you get lots of hand movement, closed eyes, and twisted mouths. Use the continuous shooting approach (Burst mode on the iphone) and then pick the best of the bunch.

Watch your backgrounds

The best portraits focus on the person and keep the background neutral. Look for solid walls, a blanket of trees or water for the background. Watch for poles, trees or branches that might look like they are coming out of someone’s head. Use a short depth of field (portrait mode on your smartphone) or use the software in post to put the background out of focus.

Watch out for high contrast

We love those sunny, hot summer days but they also produce very high contrast that puts people’s faces in shadow. Look for shade when you can but watch out for coloured umbrellas. Red, blue or green tints are never flattering. Sometimes it is best to shoot in the early morning or wait till late in the day when the light is warm and soft.

Remember the sunglasses

Unless you want to make the glasses an element of the image, it’s usually better to see people’s eyes.

 

And then, when you want to have some fun:

Change your perspective

With pets and children, get down to their level. Eye to eye is a much more pleasing vantage point. With adults, it can be tricky. Generally, people look better looking up than down but each perspective can change how that person looks. You don’t want to spend time posing people so often it is better if YOU move to get a more flattering angle.

Different perspective portrait of Mother and Son

 
Try some action shots

Perspective is everything in action shots. Move around to get a variety of images. Get out on the water to shoot people jumping off docks. Get in the middle of the path and have people bike past you. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Get into the action and either shoot in continuous mode or shoot video and select the best image in post.

Boy on Swing

 
Not everyone has to be in focus

Out of focus Portraits

Of course, most portraits work with people in focus and the background blurred out, but it doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule. Sometimes the shape of people is what makes them interesting. With smartphone cameras, if you want the subject to be out of focus, tap on the screen in the area around the person or blur the image in post.

Fun with Posing

When posing family or friends don’t always ask for the line up. Look for different levels, chairs, ask people to sit on the ground. Think about the dynamic of the group and break them out. Have fun with it. I like to ask for the Vanity Fair pose…if you were a celebrity, how would you position yourself?

Family Portrait

 
Silhouettes

If there is no shade to be had, or the sun is setting, or you find yourself around a bonfire, seek out the silhouettes. Make sure the subject has space between their limbs so that you can see their shape. Try for profiles of a face or ask the person to walk in front of the camera.

Silhouette image of young boys
 
Close ups

Who says the whole face has to be in the image? With real cameras, you can get quite close with a regular lens or you can use a telephoto. When using smartphone cameras, watch out for the extreme wide-angle distortion effect. The closer the camera to the subject the more the distortion. Sometimes this can be a fun effect, especially with pets, but more often then not, it is unflattering to humans. Get as close as possible then crop the image in post.

Closeup Portrait of Woman

 
Play with the background and foreground

Think outside the box and look for fun patterns. There are no rules for creativity.

Woman in front of graffiti

 
Double exposure

double exposure of woman and tree

And the final challenge is double exposure. There are all sorts of possibilities for this one. It’s best to search online for some examples of the effect with people and see what type of images you need to take. Sometimes it works to combine a silhouette with another image to get a pleasing effect. Play with the story a bit and see what happens. Depending on your camera, you can shoot in camera or play around in Photoshop during post. For smartphone cameras, there are apps such as these that allow you to create all sorts of special effects on your phone after you have taken the picture.

I hope that this post has given you some ideas to play with when documenting your visits with friends and family this summer.

Remember to edit out the bad images, celebrate the successes and of course, always remember to back up your image to hard drives and the cloud.

Memories are precious, make sure you take care of them.