This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for April, 2010

Bat Mitzvah Shoot

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 28, 2010

I haven’t written for close to a week because I’ve been hit by really bad allergies, thanks to the dust and pollen. The desert is beautiful but it’s not a very friendly climate. My last posting was about Independence Day in Israel. This one is about a bat mitzvah that I photographed in the evening after Yom Atzmaut.

This was my first time as the “official” photographer at an event. It was a challenge, working with a borrowed camera body and cards, during a dust storm. I had a couple possible locations in mind for outdoor shots, but the strong winds, dust clouds, and sickly grey light put an end to that idea. The synagogue hall didn’t have any area that was suitable for portraits. The lighting was a mixture of cool and warm fluorescent ceiling lights, so I ended up shooting the portrait shots in the stairwell.

I liked this portrait shot better than the others because Shira Rina happened to be looking down. The angle wasn’t great (I was looking up) and the area was too small for me to move back, so this was what I had to work with. Shira Rina herself is very photogenic and comfortable in front of a camera. That was a big help.


I took a few shots of the family setting up. This photo below was taken in the kitchen. The youngest sister was watching the girls chopping fruit for platters and she happened to look over her shoulder at me.

Sister in the kitchen

I discovered that shooting an event like this requires skills in many areas, more than I had ever imagined! It combines formal and informal portraits, candids, food, and dancing.  The food and setting-up shots set the atmosphere and lead into the main story.

Heart Cake

My portrait-shooting experience is probably the weakest link, so I was really winging it. The family shots were after the setup shots, with the family choosing their own groupings and combinations. I had to retouch the wall in almost every shot. I feel like I’ve painted that wall twenty times over!



The dance shots were the most athletic part of the evening. I spent most of the time running around in circles or jumping on chairs and my jacket was soaked by the time I finished. I barely managed to grab this quick photo of Shira Rina drawing her grandmother into the dance circle. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t frame it as wide as I would have liked. I just managed to get Shira Rina on the left side of the frame and her grandmother on the right.

Inviting Bubbi to dance

This one was a lucky shot. Somehow I managed to get a sharp enough focus on Shira Rina’s face, without illuminating the backs of the two girls. My guess is that I was standing close enough that the flash went over their shoulders (it was tilted at a 75 degree angle with a bounce card pulled out), instead of bouncing off their backs. You can see a bit of flare on the wrist and bracelet of the girl on the left.



Photographing the speeches was a challenge because I got stuck in a far corner of the hall. I didn’t want to use a flash in someone’s face while they were speaking, so I switched to ISO 800 and a 250mm lens, no flash. It was a tough corner to photograph, between an over-sized plastic ivy and a cupboard.



I shot close to 1000 frames and ended up with 434 final photos. The early shots were done in RAW. I realised, when I got to the middle of my second card, that I wouldn’t have enough room. At that point, I switched to JPG. I initially converted the RAW files with Canon Digital Professional, the free software bundled with the Rebel. Because I wasn’t satisfied with the results, I downloaded the free beta version of Adobe Lightroom 3 and redid the conversion. It’s a brilliant program. I only wish it weren’t so expensive!

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Yom Atzmaut (Independence Day)

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 21, 2010

Happy 62nd birthday, Israel!

Israel's 62 Years of Independence

In the evening we went to the Memorial Day/Independence Day ceremony held in our neighbourhood, Mitzpeh Nevo. According to the Jewish calendar, the day begins and ends at sundown. Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers is the day before Independence Day. A ceremony for both days marks the transition between the two days. It has a haunting rhythm, moving from sadness to joy on the same occasion. It starts with memorial prayers and ends with dancing and (in the main part of the city), fireworks.

Our neighbourhood ceremony is held in a basketball court, which has become much too small a venue! I took this photo before the ceremony began, because I really liked the light. I was facing east, so the sun had set behind me, and was perched on a ledge up high, with two cameras and a folded tripod.

Yom haZikkaron/Yom haAtzmaut Ceremony, Mitzpeh Nevo, 2010

The kindergarten children performed a dance. This photo is actually an export from a video, so its size is only 640×480 pixels. I wish it were possible to operate two cameras at once, but I haven’t yet mastered the knack.

Yom haZikkaron/Yom haAtzmaut Ceremony, Mitzpeh Nevo, 2010

Unfortunately, I left before the flag drill and torch-lighting because I wanted to photograph the fireworks in the central park of the city at 9 p.m. (Last year the 10:30 p.m. display didn’t take place and I didn’t want to miss the fireworks two years in a row). Oh, well, maybe next year I’ll hang around long enough to video the whole thing. I didn’t want to stay out too late because I was photographing a bat mitzvah the following evening. This video was shot with a hand-held Canon PowerShot S5, so it’s a bit bumpy. I spliced together bits and pieces from the first half of the ceremony, ending with the dance above.

I had no trouble getting close to the fireworks display, maybe even a little too close. It was tough to frame the shot at times. Here are a couple experiments with the focus blur technique. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year!

Yom Atzmaut Fireworks

Yom Atzmaut Fireworks

I also took some regular photos. For more fireworks and Yom Atzmaut shots, go to my Flickr set.

Yom Atzmaut Fireworks

Yom Atzmaut Fireworks

Yom Atzmaut Fireworks


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Square Medallion Shawl

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 16, 2010

I’ve started a new knitting project because I need some relatively mindless follow-the-pattern knitting that I can pick up when I don’t have time to set up an embroidery frame or other craft thing. It’s also a useful thing to take to meetings (“Why do you always knit in meetings?” “So I won’t stab anybody.”).

I found a cone of what I thought was oatmeal-coloured wool, probably for machine knitting. When I started the swatch, I realised that it was not wool but some cellulose fiber, probably linen. In order to confirm that it was linen and rule out shatnez. Shatnez is the fiber mixture of wool and linen that Jews are forbidden to wear. Please note: this does not mean that all plant/animal combos are forbidden; that is a common misconception. Also, the prohibition applies to clothing and not to, say, carpets or cushions because they do not come into contact with the body, although some stricter opinions say that its better not to have them.

Here are the results of the burn test. The yarn burned cleanly, with little ash, and its smoke smelled like paper or wood. The fiber has slubs and bits of plant matter, so I’m positive that it’s linen. It isn’t smooth enough to have been spun wet, so it’s a bit hairy. Spinning flax for a smooth thread is a very messy business because you have to keep your hands wet and you end up slopping water all over the place. That’s one of the reasons why flax is not one of my favourite fibers to spin, although I have done it (after cleaning my wheel very thoroughly before and after of the wool fibers). Flax spinning is also very hard on the hands, especially when dry-spun like this thread was, although it was obviously spun by a commercial mill.

Burn test of fiber

Here’s the swatch I started of the edging. I’ll post more about the pattern later when I have more time. The needles are 2mm (size 0), which seems right for this weight of thread. I started the swatch on the Aero coated needles below but later switched to Inox nickel-plated needles because the points are sharper, which makes it much easier to knit 2 or 3 stitches together.

Swatch for Orenburg shawl


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New Moon Setting

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 15, 2010

It’s not as good a shot as I’d hoped to get but I did learn a lot about how to approach this kind of shot in the future. This photo required a lot of post-processing, so I’m very glad I shot it in RAW. You can see the shadow of the earth on the moon. This was taken during a brief window when the new moon was visible just after it cleared the clouds above the horizon. 7:44 p.m., ISO 400, f/5.6, 2″, 250mm.

New Moon Setting


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Three Things You Can Do with a Point-and-Shoot

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 14, 2010

I’m midway into the second week without my Canon Rebel XSi. I was able to borrow a camera body and cards from coworkers so that I can shoot the bat mitzvah next week, which is good news. The other good news is that I got a call from the place where I bought my camera and they think it might be ready in a couple weeks. That would be great because I want to photograph one of my son’s performances on Jerusalem Day.

I thought of three things you can do with a point-and-shoot that are not as easy with a DSLR. All these photos were taken with point-and-shoot cameras.

1. Get close, VERY close.

Of course, if you have a macro lens on your DSLR, then you have it made. And if you don’t have a macro lens, you can use extension tubes (Extension Tubes, the Poor Man’s Macro Lens). But in the time that it takes to fit a tube between the camera and lens and focus on the object, you can whip out your little pocket camera, put it into macro mode, take a few shots, and be on your way.

I particularly like this shot of a small yellow thistle because those orange streaks on the petals are the glow of the setting sun.



2. Take photos in places where you wouldn’t or couldn’t take a DSLR.

I will lie on the ground to get a good shot but I draw the line at crawling on my belly in a patch of thistles. I held the camera under the thistle heads so that I could use the sky as the background.


To photograph this unusual plant, I stuck my hand through the bars of a fence. That would have been difficult to pull off with a big camera.

Unidentified plant

3. Go for a walk or run with your camera

It is possible to carry a heavy camera while walking or jogging but it’s far from comfortable. A point-and-shoot slips very nicely into a pocket or pouch. I always take one with me because you never know what you might see, like a gazelle and a hyrax (looks like a groundhog) …

Hyrax and Deer

… or a local tarantula!

Local tarantula (Chaetopelma olivaceum)

The camera has not yet been invented that can take great photos while sitting on a shelf in the closet. So these little point-and-shoot cameras are a valuable tool. If that’s all you have, then make the most of it. Carry it everywhere, learn how to use it, and you won’t find yourself moaning, “Oh, darn, why didn’t I bring my camera?!”


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Finished Cotton Skein

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 12, 2010

Almost forgot about this project! Here’s the finished cotton skein. It’s 17 grams (about half an ounce) of naturally coloured cotton that I grew from seed, ginned, carded, and spun myself. If you want to see the earlier stages, here’s the link.

Finished Cotton Skein

After spinning the singles with a tahkli and plying with a small drop spindle, I wound off all the plied cotton onto a cardboard cup.

Home-grown, handspun cotton

At home I wound it off the cup onto a small niddy noddy and tied the skein.

Cotton yarn on niddy noddy

I forgot to photograph the finishing stage. I simmered the cotton for a few minutes on the stove in a pot of water with a pinch of baking soda. Naturally coloured cotton needs a slightly alkaline bath for the colour to develop, especially green cotton, which fades more with exposure to sun than the brown does. The baking soda bath brings back the colour and the boiling water sets the twist. I hung it up to dry overnight and then wound it into a small skein.


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Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 12, 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) Siren

Location: Jerusalem, Golda Meir Blvd and Menachem Begin Expresswayinterchange. April 21, 2009

I took this photo last year, from a balcony at work. At 10:00 a.m., a 2-minute siren sounds across the country. Cars, buses, and trucks stop and their drivers get out and stand at attention. It’s very moving to see everything come to a halt. I’ve never seen anything quite like this in the US or Canada.

Here’s a photo I took this year, from my office window. Also Golda Meir Blvd, but closer to the traffic lights. I noticed that the buses pulled over to the side of the road a couple minutes before the siren started. Good idea. It could be tricky stopping one of those things on an expressway ramp.

Holocaust Memorial Day Siren


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The Girl on the Wall Tapestry

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 11, 2010

Jean Baggott, born in the UK’s Black Country in 1937, completed an amazing tapestry (actually embroidery) on the events of her life. The tapestry took 16 months to complete and comprises 73 interlocking circles. This video describes how she started the project. She started out describing the people and events around her and then realised that the project was about her. What an amazing journal!


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First Week without the DSLR

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 9, 2010

This morning I went to the Israel Postal Company site, typed in the number on the registered mail receipt, and learned the fate of my beloved camera. It was sent yesterday morning from Har Hotzvim in Jerusalem to the store where I bought it on-line because it’s still under warranty. According to the site, the camera reached the main post office of Petach Tikvah and was sent from there to a branch post office where it’s waiting to be picked up. Whew! So far, so good.

This is my first week without the Canon Rebel XSi in almost a year and I’m feeling a little lost without it. I’ve had to borrow my husband’s pocket Samsung and relearn the controls on my old Canon PowerShot S5, so I’m dedicating this post to those of you out there who think you need an expensive camera and a suitcase full of lenses in order to take nice photos. Really, you don’t. You need to train your eye to spot a good photo opportunity and you have to learn what your camera does well.

I’m sorry, but that means you have to read the manual, too. Yes, I know that sounds about as much fun as enduring a second week of Passover, but it’s the only way you’re going to learn your camera’s functions. You don’t want to miss a great shot because you’re fiddling for the right menu or button. If you can’t find the manual, go to the manufacturer’s site and download a PDF. Reading the manual is always a good first step.

The second step is to take your camera out of its case every day and take some pictures. If you’re using a digital camera, it’s cheap entertainment. Transfer them to your computer and really look at them. Do you like how they’re turning out? If you think there’s room for improvement, do a search on Beyond Megapixels or Digital Photography School. Both sites have good articles on technique.

Training your eye is a little more difficult but not much. It doesn’t hurt to read articles about composition. Just don’t get bogged down in reading everything on the Web. The first thing to remember is that the goal is to become a better photographer, not a walking encyclopedia of composition rules (actually, this is a wonderful collection of photography composition articles but I don’t recommend it for beginners because it’s too easy to spend hours reading instead of taking pictures). The second thing to remember is that rules can be broken. If your photo violates the Rule of Thirds (which should really be called Guideline of Thirds), but it makes you really happy, that’s what counts.

Here are some photos I took today. They’re not fabulous but they’re not terrible.

While I was rinsing some uncooked black beans, I dumped a handful on a white plate. I set the plate on the kitchen counter, near the window, so that the indirect natural light shone on the wet beans. This photo was taken with a Canon PowerShot S5 IS, an 8 mp point-and-shoot in macro mode.

Black Beans

After the cooking was done, I went for a walk to and caught up on one of my favourite podcasts, This American Life. This wild thistle was photographed with my husband’s 6 mp Samsung S630, a pocket point-and-shoot, in macro mode. I stuck my hand through the bars of a fence so that I could hold the camera close to the flower. Try doing that with a big DSLR!

Wild Thistle

On the way home I passed a neighbour’s rose garden. Roses have a very short life in Israel. They are at their best in spring and early summer. By July, unless they’re receiving extraordinary care, most rose bushes look really ratty and baked out.

I love pink and gold roses. Normally I pass by this garden almost every morning when I go out for a walk or run, but the garden is on the western side of the house, so it’s always in shade at that hour. Since this was a Friday afternoon, the sun was in a much better position so that I could photograph the rose. Actually, it was a bit too bright, but the result is, in my opinion, acceptable. The sun wasn’t strong enough to bleach out all the colour. This rose would be gorgeous in the late afternoon light. However, at that hour the desert wind is very strong and I can assure you that taking macro photos in a strong wind is extremely frustrating.

Pink and Gold Rose

There’s always a trade-off in photography and most of the time you have to compromise (light vs. wind). I guess that’s the main lesson I’ve learned. I’d rather have my familiar DSLR but it’s in the shop for repairs. Now that I don’t have it, I’d rather be out there taking pictures with cheaper, less versatile cameras than sit around waiting for my camera to be fixed. 🙂 Shabbat shalom, everyone.


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Quick and Dirty Blog Backup

Posted by Avital Pinnick on April 7, 2010

I just read Sister Diane’s Archive-Along posting about blog backup. And, yes, I don’t do it as often as I should, so I exported my blog, saved it to my hard drive and mailed it to a couple email accounts as well.

I have another method for backing up individual postings. I don’t recommend this as your only backup method because it has major limitations:

  • It can’t be used for actually reconstructing your whole blog unless you are prepared to do a lot of cutting and pasting. However, it will save your text and photos. (Don’t forget to back up your Flickr account if you’re linking to photos there.)
  • It saves your posts when they are published, not when they are updated.

    It’s major advantage is that it is pretty brainless and, once in place, requires zero effort. The instructions that follow are for WordPress users.

    1. Go to My Dashboard.
    2. Click the Widgets link on the Appearance menu.
    3. Blog Archive

    4. Drag the “Blog Subscriptions: Email Subscriptions” widget to the sidebar of your layout.
    5. Blog Archive

    6. Go to your site and click “Sign me up!”
    7. Blog Archive

    8. Set up a filter in your email account to save these postings automatically to their own folder (or, for Gmail users, to label and archive them).

    One word of warning: this works even for postings that you delete. So if you use your blog to rant about your boss or your spouse and then delete the posting in the morning, your email subscribers will have already received it.


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