This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for June, 2009

Video 4: Bride’s Party at the Minimarket

Posted by Avital Pinnick on June 30, 2009

This video could be subtitled, “One of the reasons I like living in Israel.” In Israel, the owners of the local neighbourhood minimarket are like family. Meirav, the sister of the owner, has been ringing up our groceries for 15 years, since she was a soldier.

Some neighbours decided to throw a party for her on Friday, June 29, 2009, in honour of her wedding, which took place the following Sunday. It was held — where else? — in front of the minimarket on the busiest shopping day of the week. No, before you ask, she didn’t have to work at the cash register during the party.

Susan K. called me the night before, asking whether I’d be willing to film the party. I agreed, then realised after I hung up that I didn’t know whether she meant still photographs or video. What the heck — I showed up the next morning doing my Japanese tourist impersonation, with my old Canon Powershot S5 for video and my one-month-old Canon Rebel XSi with 18-55mm IS kit lens (light lens, but the two cameras weigh about 3 pounds of glass, plastic, and metal around my neck).

I’m jumping over videos 2 and 3 to talk about this one because last night my husband told me that Meirav really liked the video. That made me very happy. It’s short, only 2 minutes, but I think it captures the feeling of community spirit.


I don’t have any training and I’m learning as I go. Unlike photography, there seems to be little info on the Web about how to structure or edit a video. Lately I’ve been using a symmetrical structure because it seems to work neatly (I’ll abandon it when it gets boring). In this case, the structure is: (1) still photos with music, (2) video clips, (3) still photos with music.

The music was not easy to find, because I don’t have a large music collection and most of the wedding songs I found on the Web were either bands in the Hassidic Pop genre or soloists who were too intense (Nechama Carlebach, for example). I settled on an audio track that I ripped off YouTube, a concert performance by Naftali and Shlomo Abramson at Festival Kol Hamoed, Mivtzar Shuni, Pesach 2007 (hope they don’t mind!). It was light, sweet, and mellow. More important, it is divisible into 12- to 24-second segments, which is important when you want it as background for 4-second still shots.

There are 6 opening photos, with movement roughly from right to left:

  • Sign saying “Meirav, Mazel tov” in place of opening title
  • Table with refreshments, to set the scene of the party
  • View of the entrance of the minimarket
  • Checkout area of the minimarket
  • Cake shaped like a bouquet of flowers. I love the fact that the cake was stored in the freezer between the frozen pizza and corn. It was made by Atara, Bracha and Nachum S.’s daughter, who took a course in novelty cakes. Each of the “flowers” is actually a cupcake stuck in a styrofoam base.
  • Album where people wrote their greetings and blessings for the couple. Susan K. plans to mount the photos I took inside this album.

I shot 8 short video clips and edited 4 for inclusion in the video. The arrangement was symmetrical, a longer clip with singing, 2 shorter clips with talking, and a longer clip with singing:

  • Meirav arriving and hugging her mother
  • Meirav
  • Meriav’s father, Herzl
  • General scene with singing and people leaving the store with their groceries (I left out the more chaotic scenes with crying babies, car alarms, and people trying to get shopping carts through the crowd)

The video finishes with a photo of Meirav and of some of her family members (left to right: Micki, her brother; Herzl, her father; Meirav; Ronen, her fiance, now her husband). The last shot is the location information and date.

In general I was pleased with this video. I did a much better job of controlling the sound levels in the editing (QuickTime Pro), which was important because in some clips the people standing near me were recorded very loudly and might not have appreciated having their conversations preserved on YouTube.

I finally got the conversion settings under control, after degrading the quality in my last two videos by not doing the conversion properly. Moral of the story: do as much compression and formatting as you can because your results will always be better than what YouTube will do for you.

.mov to .mp4 conversion settings

I’m not happy with the fade-in of the audio track near the end of the video because it’s too abrupt. I should have cut the audio with a more generous allowance at the beginning to give me more room for the fade-in. I’ve been using MP3 Direct Cut, which is simple and does the job. I tried Audacity and found it terribly frustrating. However, it does allow multiple audio tracks and more sensitive control of sound levels, so I suppose I will have to learn how to use it eventually.


I shot 177 frames during a course of a 40-minute party (if that seems like a lot, consider that I was also shooting video; now I understand why most people don’t try to do both at the same time). My son asked why I didn’t use the same camera, the S5, for both video and still photographs. The reasons are, quite simply, the quality of the photos produced by a DSLR and the speed with which one can focus and shoot. The older S5 is a great little camera and takes very good photos, but it’s not in the same league as the Rebel XSi.

I selected 26 shots to give to Susan so that she could decide which ones to print and mount in the album. I saved only one for my Flickr collection. Meirav was an exceptionally good subject to shoot because she is so photogenic. There was hardly a single bad shot of her.


This photo was post-processed with Photoshop CS2 (photo data, since the final file doesn’t have the EXIF data: 45.0mm focal length, 1/60s shutter speed, f/5.6, ISO 200). There were a lot of people standing close to Meirav, which made the composition too busy. I wanted to convey a slightly giddy, joyous quality, while de-emphasizing the people surrounding her and making her stand out more.

I created two layers and did Filters > Distort > Motion Blur > Radial on the top layer. Then I masked the subject so that the unblurred layer was exposed, flattened the layers, and saved as a .jpg file. I seldom do this much processing on a photo but I felt that the blur would enhance the photo and solve the composition problem.

Posted in Israel, photography, videos | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What do Israelis hang in their cars?

Posted by Avital Pinnick on June 29, 2009

I did this mini photo project on June 24, 2009. I took the day off because I had too much accumulated vacation time. The idea came to me when I was walking around Maale Adumim the previous Shabbat afternoon. I don’t drive and so I don’t own a car, but it struck me that a car is a vehicle (ahem) of personal expression. It’s a portable mini-world that surrounds the driver, so it makes sense that it would reflect the driver’s (or drivers’) taste.

So what do Israelis hang in their cars? Anything from amulets to feathers to cards that say “Total Bitch” (it might be an air freshener or it might be a badge of pride — I didn’t try to interview any of these car owners).

The most common ornament was probably the hamsa, a hand-shaped amulet or symbol of good luck very popular among Jews from North Africa. The ones I saw usually had Tefilat haDerekh (Traveler’s Prayer) engraved on them.

What do Israelis hang in their cars?

Second place goes to toys — fuzzy dice, stuffed animals, ugly plastic trolls, that sort of thing.

What do Israelis hang in their cars?

Third place: various religious things. Who would have guessed that miniature Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) were so popular? One of the mini-psalms has the name and date of someone’s bar mitzvah. The boy is probably in the army by now.

What do Israelis hang in their cars?

And then there’s the stuff that doesn’t fit into any category. Some of these might be air fresheners, at a guess. The judo robe was photographed in a community center parking lot. The orange ribbon is a symbol of solidary with Gush Katif. The small yellow shield has the name of a soccer team, Beiter Jerusalem.

What do Israelis hang in their cars?

I’ve been asked whether anyone commented on the fact that I was photographing cars. I tried not to be too obvious about it. Most of these cars were parked on the street or in unguarded parking lots outside apartment blocks. So no one said anything. Focusing was a little tricky because most cars hadn’t seen a car wash for quite a while.

Posted in Israel, photography | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hello World

Posted by Avital Pinnick on June 29, 2009

That’s the title of WordPress’s boilerplate text for the first blog entry. It seemed appropriate for my second entry, which is an attempt to explain the purpose of this blog. This blog is a place for me to jot down ideas or thoughts on things I see or create or find. That’s why it has no single “topic” and why there is no easy answer to the question, “What’s your blog about?” It is about whatever catches my fancy at a particular moment.

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Video 1: How to Make Boiled Kubbeh

Posted by Avital Pinnick on June 28, 2009

I’ve been trying to make boiled kubbeh (Iraqi meat-filled semolina dumplings) for years. I even took a course, but my kubbeh had the texture of boiled tennis balls. If you recall that my early kneidlach (matzah balls) could have doubled as rubber bullets, you will see the pattern. Clearly, spherical objects are not my forte.

I made this video for purely selfish reasons. When I discovered that my office mate, Yinnon, was taught to make kubbeh by his Iraqi grandmother, I realised that this was my opportunity to film a process that is best learned by observation. I would have loved to make a video of his grandmother, but she wasn’t sitting in my office and he was (and is a fine cook), so the kubbeh video was born. We made it on Feb. 11, 2009, Tu biShvat (Jewish New Year for trees), when our workplace had huge platters of fruit and nuts in every kitchen. It was my idea to use mashed raisins as a mock-up for the ‘meatballs.’ Masha, our other office mate, brought the semolina (aka solet in Hebrew) and Yinnon did it in one take, two parts.

Strangely, there are very few kubbeh videos on YouTube and they all deal with the deep-fried Syrian version or the flat version made in a tray (kubbeh bil saniyeh). Someday we’ll make the follow-up video that Yinnon promises, which will describe how to make the meat filling for the kubbeh. That will probably have to be shot in his flat rather than in the office.

The boiled kubbeh described in this video are normally served in soup. The best known are the “sour” (khamousta) soup and the “red” soup. The khamousta version is a clear brother with lots of vegetables, especially Swiss chard, mangold leaves, or spinach, slightly soured with citric acid or lemon juice. The red soup (my favourite) is flavoured with chopped beets, Swiss chard, sometimes sweet potatoes, and is a bit more substantial than the khamousta. It is also slightly soured with citric acid or lemon juice. Sort of a Mediterranean borscht…

Someday I will provide my own, but in the meantime, here are two I found on the Web.

Le Cordon Jew – Recipe and photos for red (beet) kubbeh soup recipe archive – Recipe for Khamoustah (sour) kubbeh soup

If you have the bucks and want your Jewish cooking horizons expanded, I recommend Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food. Good recipes, lots of photos, and historical background. Her book covers far more than the usual Ashkenazi (Eastern European) gefilte fish and matzah balls. Apart from the ample collection of recipes from the Sephardic world (mainly North Africa), she includes Ethiopian and Indian recipes. Recipes are kosher.

Posted in Food, videos | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »