Off the Deep End: Going Pond Swimming

Hello, dears!

This is a sad subject to talk about, but the truth is… we are in our last month of summer. *SNIIIIFF* As everyone knows, summer is for swimming, but as not everyone knows,¬†we have sadly only gone swimming three times this year. The only pools we have are ponds and streams at our new farm, and one of those ponds is a mudhole while the other is usually covered in duckweed. Yay. However, we still managed to get wet and have fun!

So, in case you ever thought about going swimming in a pond or lake but simply didn’t know how to go about it, NEVER FEAR. I have gleaned much wisdom from the past three swimmings that I’m sure will come in handy. *nods gravely* XD XD XD Ahem. Continue reading

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How to Edit Photos, Part 1: The Basics

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Hey, guys! ūüėÄ

Grace¬†recently¬†wondered if I could do¬†a tutorial on how to edit photos, and I thought that was a great idea! I¬†decided to make this a mini-series,¬†covering¬†basic photo editing, adding effects, touching up¬†photos of people, and maybe a little bit of graphic design¬†and collaging too.¬†I’m really excited!

Anyway, let’s get started. Today I’m going to go over the basic photo editing tools and then show you how to use those tools to fix two¬†common photo problems.

Introduction

I use¬†PicMonkey for pretty much all of my photo editing, and I highly recommend it! It’s very easy to use, and it’s¬†free –¬†although you can pay to upgrade to Royale¬†and get some extra features. (I have Royale, by the way, and I would definitely recommend¬†it¬†if you edit photos a lot. I’ll talk¬†more about Royale¬†later in the series.) But don’t worry about that for now. All the tools I’m going to go over today are completely free.

So, open PicMonkey, and hover over the bar at the top of the page where it says “Edit.” Open the photo you want to work on. The¬†section of¬†the editor that pops up is called “Basic Edits,”¬†and that’s what we’ll be using today.

Basic Edits

  1. Crop: The first tab of the “Basic Edits” section is “Crop.” Cropping is quite a valuable tool that allows you to¬†cut out¬†ugly surroundings from the corners of your pictures, make the composition of your photo more interesting, or simply zoom in closer to the subject.
  2. Canvas Color: This just covers your whole picture¬†with one color.¬†You¬†won’t use it to edit your photos, although it’s great for graphic designing.
  3. Rotate: The rotate tab allows you to flip your picture any way you want. It also allows you to straighten your photo, which is very helpful¬†if you were accidentally holding your camera crooked and your subject looks like it’s sliding off the picture. ūüėÄ
  4. Exposure: In my opinion, this is the most important tab in the Basic Edits section (well, maybe it’s tied with¬†“Crop”). You can work wonders simply by adjusting the exposure of a photo, and we’ll be using this tab a lot, later in this post.
  5. Colors: This tab includes sliders for saturation and temperature, as well as¬†a mysterious button called “Neutral Picker.” Actually, it’s not that mysterious. ūüôā Basically,¬†when you click on the parts of your photo that should be white, the Neutral Picker¬†auto-adjusts the temperature to turn those off-colored spots white again. Temperature controls how warm or cool a photo is – in other words, whether it has a red (warm) tint or a blue (cool) tint. And saturation, as you probably already know, makes the colors of your photo more saturated and bright.
  6. Sharpen: Sharpness and Clarity actually ARE different – just a bit. My unscientific description is that Sharpness yields a more subtle effect and focuses on sharpening the details, while Clarity is bolder and boosts the contrast of your photo while giving it a gritty effect at the same time.
  7. Resize: This simply downsizes your photo to a smaller file size so it takes up less space on your computer (or blog). Anywhere between 800 and 1280 (and even a bit larger) would be a good size for sharing online. One thing to keep in mind is the smaller the size, the lower the quality of the picture.

Using Your Tools

Now that you know what everything does, let’s put your tools to use! I’m just going to show you a few examples and walk you through what I did. (Note: the “before” pictures are on the left, and the “after” pictures on the right. Just in case you couldn’t tell. ūüėČ )

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Isn’t it amazing what the Shadows slider can do? That’s seriously all I did. I moved the “Shadows” slider to -44, and that’s it.

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This is a more subtle edit, but I think¬†the “after”¬†picture definitely looks more vibrant.¬†The photo on the left is kind of drab and gray, so I upped the saturation a bit and adjusted the exposure. I also straightened the photo so the ocean isn’t tipped to one side like that. (And hmm, I might have lowered the temperature also, but I can’t recall for sure. Oops. XD )

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The main difference in this photo is that now you can actually see the cute wittle kitten instead of losing him in the surrounding scenery. I told you cropping was¬†a helpful tool! ūüėÄ I also straightened the photo so the kitten wasn’t falling off the face of the earth, upped the “Sharpness” slider, and adjusted the exposure just a tad.

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Wow, so much better! This picture was¬†washed out¬†to begin with, but by lowering the brightness and shadows, and adding a little bit of contrast, it looks bright and beautiful again like it’s supposed to. And speaking of over-exposed photos, we should move on to the fixer upper part of this post. (By the way, I l‚ô•ve the show Fixer Upper! Have you ever watched it? It’s sooo good. Ahem…)

How to Fix an Over-Exposed Photo

An over-exposed photo is one of my most common problems. But thankfully it’s easy and fun to fix!

This is the photo we’ll start with:

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Eh. The¬†content is good, but the lighting is off:¬†it’s too bright and has a sort of bland grayish-white wash over everything.¬†We must rescue this poor photo in distress!

Pretty much everything you need to fix an over-exposed photo is in the Exposure tab, so go ahead and open that up. The two main things to do for an over-exposed picture¬†are to¬†lower the brightness and lower the¬†shadows. Here’s a screenshot of what I did:

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You can tell from the sliders that I lowered the brightness and shadows significantly (to -14 and -18 respectively) and added a tiny bit of contrast and highlights. And that’s pretty much it! (Note: I¬†did also use the “Burn” tool to darken a few spots in the photo, but I’ll talk about that¬†more in another post. For now, just concentrate on using the “Exposure” tab.)

Before and after. So much better!

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How to Whiten a Photo

Sometimes photos have a weird yellowish or bluish tint, especially on the light parts of a picture.

Like in this photo:

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This really isn’t a bad picture,¬†but you can see a slight orangish tinge over everything, which makes¬†it look dingy rather than fresh and clean. It’s especially important to get good, clean-looking photos of products you sell, and this owl just so happens to be in my Etsy shop. So, let’s clean him up a bit, shall we?

First, open the “Exposure” tab.

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The main thing¬†you need to do here is bump up the highlight slider, but I also messed with the brightness and shadows slider a bit too. Here’s a tip: use mostly¬†highlights instead of brightness to brighten up a photo, because too much brightness will make the photo look washed out. “Highlights” brightens just the white parts instead of the whole photo.

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Next¬†I¬†opened up the “Colors” tab. Since my picture is too red, I moved the Temperature slider down to -10, which added some blue to even it out.

And here’s the before and after. A subtle difference, but do you see how the one on the right looks cleaner, fresher, and more appealing?

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Well, I guess that’s it! I give you a pat on the back and a virtual bag of chocolates if you read that whole thing. O.o XD

Heh heh. I hope that was helpful¬†to you! Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments if you didn’t understand something. ūüôā

Have a lovely day, lovely people!

***Allison***

How to Use a Grain Bin for Acrobatic Training

Have you ever played in grain bins? If not, you are missing out.

Since I’m guessing most of you have in fact never played in grain bins, I have kindly¬†compiled a tutorial¬†to show you how it’s done. ūüėÄ (Even though the pictures are *ahem* not my best – the grain bins don’t have what you’d call perfect lighting.)

First, you must find a grain bin. Fortunately that’s not too hard for us since we have several on our farm. You’ll need to find one that has corn in it, or the fun will be considerably diminished. (Although empty grain bins are good for letting your dog catch mice in.) Make sure the¬†bin isn’t too full¬†so you’ll have plenty of room for your acrobatics.

An example of a good grain bin choice: (Fun fact: did you know this grain bin can hold about 45,000 bushels of corn when it’s full?!)

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Next you must enter the grain bin. Depending on how full it is, you will either need to climb in through the door or else climb a ladder/staircase and enter through a trapdoor. We chose the latter. (But not the ladder. Heh heh.) Some advice while climbing: don’t look down and try not to¬†dwell on the seeming frailty of the staircase.

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Now comes the hard part: getting in. This takes a good bit of courage the first time, because you’re pretty much looking down into a cavernous black hole. Also the trapdoor is usually rather small. But be brave – adventure awaits!

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Climb down the ladder. Once inside, the grain bin looks quite light, and you shouldn’t feel claustrophobic anymore. In fact, you wonder why you were worried. (You remember again when you climb out.)

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Time for the fun to begin! One of the best things to do in a grain bin is practice your acrobatic skills: in other words, jump off the ladder a lot. It’s kind of like jumping off of a hay loft into hay, only more… corny. Plus you get an added bonus of sinking up to your knees in corn kernels!

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If you’re wondering what all that annoying bokeh comes from, the answer is corn dust.

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If you tire of acrobatics, you can always bury your friend in the corn or throw handfuls at the metal wall to make a satisfactory ringing sound. It’s also fun to play “Whales.”

Whales Instructions: fill someone’s socks (preferably your sibling’s/friend’s) with corn, and tie off the top. You have made a “whale.” Now divide up into two teams with equal amounts of whales per team, select a battle cry (“FOR NARNIA!”) and throw your corn-filled aquatic mammals at the other team, making sure not to cross the¬†invisible middle¬†line. Each participant is out after being hit three times. If you catch a whale, the person who threw it loses a life. Whichever team has the last person standing wins!

HA HA HA that was so fun to write. XD I hope you enjoyed this helpful how-to, and I trust you will refer to it if the need arises. XD

***Allison***

P. S.¬†You have only¬†day to enter my giveaway! (Thank you soooo much,¬†everyone who entered so far!)¬†I will post the winner on October 29th. I can’t wait to see who wins!

How to Be Invisible: a Writer’s Guide

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{background image via unsplash.com}

¬†With NaNoWriMo coming up, I thought this would be a great time to post some writing tips and tricks! ūüôā Of course I’m certainly not a professional writer, and I make these very same mistakes all the time.¬†I’m simply sharing some tips¬†and suggestions that I hope will help you and me to improve our writing. ūüôā (BE WARNED: This is a veeery long post! XD )

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The “how to be invisible” part of my title comes from this essay I wrote for school. I’ve added a few notes, but otherwise pretty much left it as it is. I’ll probably refer to this in the rest of the post.

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How to Be Invisible:¬†A Writer’s Guide to More Natural Storytelling

You’re absorbed in a story when an awkward phrase or a misplaced word brings you up short. Was that a mistake, or did you just skip a sentence? Now you have to back up, get a head start, and read the passage all over again. The author has spoiled the paragraph by coming out of hiding, by becoming too “visible.” The best authors are masters of invisibility.

What do I mean by “invisibility?” Simply this: a good author allows the story to take the stage; he avoids self-conscious, unnatural words that highlight his voice instead of¬†his characters’.¬†The reader should be able to immerse himself in a book without being distracted by a misplaced word, a grammar error, or a clumsy sentence.

How does one become invisible? These three tips will get you started.

Technical errors like grammar mistakes, misspelled words, and faulty punctuation are widely recognized as mistakes – and for a good reason. Even a subtle misspelling will throw the reader off. Indeed, using a real but misplaced word is sometimes more arresting than an obvious typo. “Defiantly” instead of “definitely,” “aloud,” instead of “allowed,” “breath” instead of “breathe”… Do these look familiar?

Sometimes you can achieve invisibility in more subtle ways. “Said” and its alternatives are a good example of this. On the one hand, if you use “said” all the time, your dialogue drags, but on the other hand, using anything but “said” makes your dialogue sound unnatural. [I’ve especially noticed the second option in blogging world. ūüėÄ ] Both styles bring the author to the front instead of¬†the characters. Let’s take the former error first:

“I won’t,” she said.

“Jane,” he said,” I am going to win this argument if it kills me!”

“You won’t,” she said.

“Then do I have to break out the tickling squad?” he said.

Jane backed away. “You don’t,” she said.

Yuck. Now let’s look at the second error:

“I won’t!” she cried.

“Jane,” he exclaimed fiercely, “I am going to win this argument if it kills me!”

“You won’t,” she replied calmly.

“Then do I have to break out the tickling squad?” he queried threateningly.

Jane backed away. “You don’t,” she murmured.

Still no good. The writer has tried to avoid “said” at all costs, resulting in an affected and adverb-ridden conversation. So how do we strike a balance? The solution is to use both options. Don’t be afraid to use “said” once in a while – it provides some white-space for the reader. But be sure to add dynamic verbs and gerund phrases as well, as long as you don’t overload them with adverbs.

A third common error is using too many adjectives, particularly in opening sentences: [Again, I often see this in blogging world. ūüėČ I tend to do this too. It’s just so tempting to describe with all of those luscious words! But that can lead to…]

“She brushed her luxurious, raven black hair from her delicate face with a¬† slender hand, and pulled the thin gray sweater close around her shivering body. Her steel blue eyes anxiously searched the clouded gray sky for¬†something that would never return…” All those adjectives clutter up the sentences and make them sound unnatural. Instead of hearing the character’s voice, you hear the author self-consciously spouting forth¬†flowery language.

How do you fix this? The best idea is to scatter these description throughout the opening paragraphs, or even pages.¬† You don’t have to exhaustively describe your character or the setting in the first sentence. [GASP! I know, right?]¬†Let the reader get to know your character gradually, feeding them bite- sized descriptive tidbits instead of forcing down a whole chunk at once.

Becoming an invisible author isn’t easy, but it can be done. Scour your writing for any grammatical mistakes or awkward style formations that push you and your writing to the front instead of your characters. With a critical eye and some practice, your readers won’t even know you’re there.

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So basically what I mean by invisibility is writing your story naturally, so¬†your readers will hear your character’s voice instead of yours. Here are a few other tips for invisibility. ūüôā

Sentence Variation:

I often struggle with this because it’s so easy to¬†find a rhythm and use the same pattern.¬†Maybe¬†you write in short declarative sentences or two-clause sentences, or really loooong sentences. Whatever you always do, don’t. Sentence variation saves the reader¬†from monotony and death-from-boredom.¬†In general, I like to use two or three clause sentences for the most part,¬†scatter long sentences occasionally, and use short declarative sentences for emphasis. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed short sentence! It stops you cold. (See there?)

Clutter:

It’s amazing how many words you can prune from a piece of writing. I’m reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well for school, and he suggests using brackets to burn through clutter. Put brackets around all words, sentences,¬†and even paragraphs¬†that seem unnecessary, then read through your story again, skipping over the bracketed sections. You can always keep the bracketed words if your story needs them, but you might be surprised at how many words you can clip away!¬†Don’t save a word merely for its sophisticated sound.

Tone:

Make sure to keep a consistent tone throughout your book. Yeah yeah, everyone knows that. But seriously, it’s a very important part of invisibility!¬†ūüėõ¬†Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Tone can be especially tricky in first person POV. Your main character is telling the story, so make sure it’s natural.¬†(I¬†definitely have trouble with this myself.)¬†If you were¬†the narrator,¬†would you describe yourself as having “luxurious raven black hair”, to use our previous example? Depending on your character’s personality, you might, but personally I would feel rather awkward saying that. XD (Plus it’s not true¬†– as you can see from my¬†profile picture. XD )¬†It’s too poetic – it fits better in third person POV when you as the author are more removed from the story, and talking of a person other than yourself.

Another thing to watch for is the tone of individual words. If your story has a more serious tone or is set in a timeless or older setting, using modern words like wacky, fake, weirdo, etc. will temporarily destroy the mood you’ve created for the reader. This also goes for materials and objects. If your character lives in a Medieval-Age world where they fight with bow-and-arrows, ride horses, and live in thatched houses, please don’t use modern inventions like plastic, computers, or paved highways (that is, unless your setting is only partly Medieval). Nope, not a good idea.

Miscellaneous But Useful Tidbits:

Redundant Words: If your character is holding a knife, you don’t need to say that it’s “sharp” unless you have previously¬†told the reader otherwise. If your character feels like dancing in the rain, don’t describe¬†the experience¬†as “wet.” Unless the reader is a hermit who lives in a desert and thinks “knife” is that¬†bug that keeps crawling into their bed at night,¬†they can figure out that information on their own. ūüėČ

“Several minutes:” I’ve probably used this several times in my writing, but if you really think about it, this phrase doesn’t make sense. If you met someone and “we stared at each other fearfully for a few minutes,” that would be extremely awkward. Most of the time you should change this phrase to “several moments” or “a few moments.”

Two-clause “and” sentences: I learned this helpful little tip in grammar a few years ago. If you have a two-part¬†sentence where the subject doesn’t change and where the two clauses are connected by the word “and,” you don’t need to separate them with a comma. Okay, that was kind of confusing, so let me give you an example.

Wrong: John eagerly nodded his head, and gave her a brilliant smile.

Right: John eagerly nodded his head and gave her a brilliant smile.

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Phew! That was a loooong post! But I hope that was helpful, at least a little bit! Do you have any writing tips?

***Allison***