World Trade Inspired | Behind The Image

posted on: November 24, 2015

It's hard to think of interiors and architecture as having "moments", but this was one of those moments when several things aligned and made me geek out about an otherwise very plain image of office furniture.  

World Trade Inspired Office Furnishing Interior Photography

I knew I wanted a detail of the carpet, stools, filing cabinets, and desk, to highlight some of the designer's choices, but there were several of these to choose from throughout the office, so I kept looking until something inspired me. Then I noticed a set with the One World Trade building right outside the window- and that's when the "moment" of inspiration struck. Not only were the stools shaped like One World Trade as the edges angled upward toward a flat rounded top, but the carpet's hexagon design was a close relative of the octagon formed in the middle of the One World Trade building as its isosceles triangle facades aligned at even widths. Finally, my creative vision for making stools, carpet, and filing cabinets look more interesting.

The only problem was you couldn't tell exactly what building was out the window from the standing height normally appropriate for this desk. In a straight-on-view mid-height, the mirrored facade of OWT reflected the mid-height clouds in the sky and distorted some of the building shape.  So I squatted lower, and lower, and then even lower, until basically laying on the ground for a window perspective looking upward that allowed the crowning shape of OWT to be compared to the detail of the stools and carpet.  To give you a broader image of this scene, there were people working in this open layout office while I was there, just going about their regular office routines until spotting me essentially laying on the ground in the middle of their office to take a photo of some stools. It's probably good that I'm not embarrassed easily. When a "moment" of inspiration strikes, I'll do whatever it takes to make it work.

However, the work never stops at the capture of the image. This image wasn't actually possible in the camera itself, so if you'd like to know a little more about the technical process of creating it, read on...

First it required two different RAW exposures on site in order to get a proper exposure of the interior and a proper exposure of the exterior. From the settings below you can see these exposures are 3 stops apart (the only difference was changing the shutter speed from 1/10th of a second to 1/80th of a second). While RAW files can be pushed and pulled about 1 stop of light in over or under exposure without too many artifacts or distortions, anything beyond a full stop difference really needs to be a separate exposure.

Next was color correcting the interior image color to more accurately reflect the material and design colors without too much of the florescent orange light color cast and without too much natural blue light color cast. This is one of the most subjective parts of editing because it relies on the color sensitivity of our eyes both on site when photographing as well as our color memory when we're behind the computer.  The window exposure was already perfectly daylight balanced. If I tried to color correct after combining images, the window view would become an unnatural neon blue.

While many people think a grey card can solve the problem, it isn't very reliable under mixed lighting conditions and is highly likely that you'll still end up tweaking it in post-production to find something that balances better over the entire scene. Grey cards are great when you have consistent color across scenes as you do with studio lighting, but interiors are a messy blend of natural and artificial light, sometimes up to five different color tones of light across one space. If you're color blind, yes, use a grey card to get colors somewhere close to where they need to be. If you have great color sensitivity, you'll likely be doing the same amount of adjustments with or without a grey card.

Once my interior colors were as close as I could get to what I saw when I was on location when adjusting for various color reflections, the next step was to bring the window exposure detail into the interior exposure image using layers and masks in Photoshop. Sometimes it's possible to combine exposures with HDR software, but I've found that you end up losing a lot of latitude in highlights and colors when a software tries to average different images together.  

To demonstrate this, below is an example of the best possible detail after using HDR software on the left, versus masking in the window exposure manually on the right. The HDR software failed to pull in any of the blue sky outside, and yet decided to fill in a highlight on the filing cabinet with a blue color cast. You can also see how the HDR version reduces the amount of detail in the ceiling. Occasionally, when exposures are close enough, HDR software can be effective, but when the difference is this dramatic and selective, masking provides more control. I was also very careful not to allow the window scene to be bolder than the interior, because that would also be unnatural to the eye, and take the focus off of the interior design choices.

I believe that when an image is crafted well, you don't actually see all of the work that went into it. If it looks as natural on screen as it would to our eye in person, than I feel like I've done my job well to convey the design as clearly as the air that surrounds it.

What Would You Attempt if You Knew You Could Not Fail?

posted on: November 17, 2015

This question has changed my life many times over, so when I was invited to prepare a TEDx Talk, my answer to the question was to inspire other people to explore the possibilities beyond resistance and to pursue big dreams.  If you know of someone who is struggling with finding their path or chasing a big dream, I hope you'll take a moment to share this with them....

If you're curious about what it was like to give a TEDx Talk, here are my other posts full of insights and experiences leading up to the event:

Behind the Scenes of my TEDx Talk - the obstacles I had to overcome just before the talk and how I really felt as I stood on the stage and afterward

An Invitation to Speak at TEDx - how a rejection to speak elsewhere, created space and preparation for this opportunity

Behind the Scenes of my TEDx Talk

posted on: November 3, 2015

This is my personal experience of giving a TEDx Talk, with all the behind-the-scenes stuff no one really talks about preparing for...

About 10 days before the date of the talk, I had a moment of panic brought on by an excruciating tooth pain and feared it might mean a need for oral surgery or something worse.  A visit to the dentist became 90 minutes of examination, 3 x-rays, several vitality tests, and multiple dentists tapping on my teeth with metal things only to end in an unsolved mystery about what was causing so much pain.  I got through the days that followed up to the talk with a LOT of ibuprofen.  My biggest concern no longer had anything to do with the execution of the talk, but that my jaw might swell up or that my symptoms would get worse and make it difficult to speak at all.

Just in case something went wrong, I decided to make a recording that could be played in the event I couldn't speak.  It was probably the best version of the talk I ever gave, and I felt comfortable knowing that if those were the words that came out of my mouth, I'd be happy.  Thankfully the symptoms didn't elevate beyond the pain itself and the ibuprofen carried me through that week of work before traveling for the talk.  I decided that regardless of the physical pain I was experiencing, as long as things didn't get worse, I'd still show up and give the talk.  By all other measures, I felt fully prepared and ready.

There are always challenges that come up on the path to doing something bigger than we've done before, but it's how we handle them to continue moving forward that really matters.  I could have had a lot of moments of vanity prevent me from sharing my story.  Feeling like I should lose more weight before being videoed or getting on stage, versus accepting and honoring where I am right now and letting that be enough.  I could have felt like my teeth weren't white enough or straight enough for a close up camera shot.  I could have obsessed about not having an outfit that was flattering enough, or shoes that weren't nice enough.  I could have been distraught that I couldn't get an appointment to get my hair cut, colored, or done before the event- but those were all just vain wants that were about my ego and not about the actual story.  Too often we let these moments of vanity get in the way of showing up for big opportunities, but if we can accept that the opportunity came at THIS time with regard to who we are RIGHT now, than we can hopefully accept that who and where we are right now is actually part of the timing that makes the opportunity possible.

I also could have stood in my own way by feeling my talk wasn't good enough.  Of all the rehearsal talks I'd done in my living room or bedroom during the month before the talk, about half of them made me want to start over or change something, 40% were satisfactory enough to make it all the way through without stopping or getting completely off track, and 10% were rehearsals I actually thought were decent.  My hopes were that what would happen on stage would fall at the better end of that spectrum.

The day before the talk, I arrived in Michigan early for the TEDx walk-through.  We didn't practice our talks on stage, but we did practice getting on and off the stage, trying on the microphones, making sure our slides worked, getting to know the monitors, remotes, and stage cues, and getting acquainted with the size of the space as well as the layout of the audience.  We learned that the event had sold out and that total attendance might be around 1,000 people, which was double the initial numbers shared.  I tried not to get too worked up or excited about any of it.  Even though my talk was a personal story of my journey, at the end of the day it really wasn't about me at all.  I was just a messenger sharing a set of ideas and experiences I'd had in the hope that it might help someone else.

That evening, my voice started to get raspy and my throat was feeling swollen.  I hadn't even used my voice much, so I wasn't sure why it was feeling strained.  I didn't feel overly stressed or nervous and I didn't have a fever, so I figured my Michigan hay fever allergies may have been kicking in.  I had some echinacea tea and an antihistamine before bed in the hopes that it would help for the next day.

I woke up very early the morning of the talk, 4:44 am.  I've come to think of repeating numbers as a good luck sign, so at least the day was off to a good start.  While it was tempting to go back to sleep at that hour, I knew I wouldn't really sleep, so I moved forward with plenty of time to drive without traffic, and have some coffee and breakfast time before everything started.  My voice was still scratchy, but working, and surprisingly the tooth pain was now gone- so at least that was one less thing to deal with.  Even though my talk wasn't until the afternoon, I wanted to see everyone else's talks as well.  Aside from the inspiring or informative nature of the talks, I also wanted to observe things like how the cameras were capturing the speakers and how the lighting was falling on speakers as they moved around stage.  Note to self: don't step off the front edge of the red carpet.

Lunch was graciously provided to all attendees by Oakland University so we didn't have to leave the location.  Various TED videos were shown on screens during lunch, which had been selected by the event staff.  I knew that lunch was going to affect how I felt before my afternoon talk, and could have some adverse affects as well, so I went with an all veggie sandwich, a ton of water, skipped the chips that would make my face even more oily than it naturally is, and skipped the chocolate chip cookie that might give me red patches on my skin (because I sometimes have a mild reaction to chocolate.)  I'd indulge later that night instead.  I decided to take a long walk outside for some fresh air and to get some extra head space away from the crowd of people to clear my mind, practice a little, and enjoy the sunshine after being inside all morning.  I definitely felt more refreshed than if I'd stayed inside all day.

Everyone gave great talks, and I was cheering them on from the sidelines, and sharing how touching their stories were when they finished.  My favorite talks were the ones that had some personal or surprising elements to them.  Personal stories hit home a little harder and felt more approachable than purely research focused ones.  I noticed that the attendance in the room went in waves and while the seats never felt too packed or crowded, there was definitely a core group of people who stayed for the entire day.  I noticed a few of my former professors in the audience, one was also a speaker, and I mentioned how awkward it was to be giving a talk at my alma mater about how I basically did something completely different than what I went to school for.  It was also very freeing to know that they were still excited about what I'd done.

There were a few minor tech issues during a few of the talks, and I hope that the audio and video engineers will be able to edit through any of those issues for the people speakers who experienced them so that they can have a clean video edit.  A few times the wireless microphones acted up in different ways and one speaker had to stop in the middle of their talk to switch out a battery pack, but she was gracious about continuing after it happened.  While none of us hope any of that happens to us, we all have to roll with it, and everyone on stage and in the tech team handled it all very quickly and easily.  Some speakers ran a little longer than they'd planned, got a few warning signs that they were running over, but fortunately no one was removed from the stage- which we were told is a very real possibility due to the strict time limits to keep everyone on schedule.

I was getting a microphone put on backstage while the speaker before me was giving his talk.  I got a few hugs of support from friends and took a lot of deep breaths while waiting for the announcer to say my name and introduce me.  I actually had no idea what version of my bio he would be using to announce me, I'd written three different bios of different lengths and for different purposes, so I was surprised to see what version he used when I heard my introduction.  As I walked up to the stage very carefully not to trip, I pretty much asked God/Universe/Spirit to take over for me when I got on stage so that whatever message needed to be heard would be what came out of my mouth.

The first thing that was different than I thought it would be, was that my first slide was supposed to be my name rather than my first question.  However, because they used a different slide for my first name, when I pressed the remote to get to what I thought would be my name again, it was actually a slide I wasn't planning to show until after my introduction.  Whoops.  Not a big deal, I'll just roll with it and act like it was supposed to be that way.

The introduction that I'd practiced a ridiculous number of times somehow flew out the window when I was on stage and that was the first moment that I became an observer of myself while I was speaking.  This is a dangerous move- to observe and critique yourself WHILE you're speaking.  My first set of thoughts were, [Where did THAT come from?  I never practiced that!]  The audience was in front of me, and I was responding to the actual people who I knew were in the room, not just the empty living room and bedroom I'd practiced in.  Then I observed myself being the observer, realized how dangerous it would be to keep doing that, and made an effort to get back to ground zero and just focus on the moment and important points at hand.

Then I noticed the second biggest difference between practicing at home and giving the talk on stage aside from the audience- hearing myself in the speakers on a very slight delay after the actual words came out of my mouth.  I'd given plenty of talks with microphones and speakers before, but because this was taking place in a large arena, the echo of my own voice coming back at me a fraction of a second later sometimes threw me off.  Of course, very few people would be able to recognize that this was slightly throwing me off, because it was all happening in my head and my brain was constantly trying to course correct and stay on the path despite having an experience of essentially feeling like I was talking over myself.

I felt like my pacing was good.  I got a little off-track about something in the middle, but recovered quickly, and when I looked at the clock about how much time I had left, I fell right in the middle of all my practice times- and that alone was something I could be proud of as a result of all my practicing, despite anything else that was different.  When I walked off stage, my friends and family who were there congratulated me, said it sounded great and that I gave a great talk.  Even if those were only words of support, they really helped me just relax afterward and not get caught up in all the mind distractions I'd had on stage.  After the event ended, another speaker and I would both confess to each other that we felt like our talks weren't the best versions we'd ever given, but were somewhere in the top 70-80%, which was OK.  We also acknowledged that we are our own biggest critics and that we can always find something to improve upon.

Later, we found out that the videos are released on TED's timing schedule, so we won't know when they'll be available publicly.  My husband and I discussed possibly periscoping during the talks, but in the end, decided it would be better to wait for the professionally produced version rather than whatever the audio results might be in the arena.  There's also a chance that the videos WON'T be uploaded as well, because it's completely up to the curatorial staff at TED.

If you asked me whether or not you should do a TED event, I'd say yes, absolutely.  However, don't do it for fame or recognition.  Do it for the ideas or experiences that you'd like to share.  Don't do it to promote yourself.  Do it to inspire others to try something new, to look at the world in new ways, or to think differently about their own experiences.  As speakers and staff celebrated together after the event, we thought about how fascinating and inspiring everyone's story could be if they had the courage to share it with others.

Speaking at TEDxOU in Michigan

posted on: October 4, 2015

It's funny how life works out.  I started the year with a lot of different plans about where I'd be this October 23rd.  It was early spring when I submitted a speaking proposal to a brand new conference in Seattle, which didn't work out.  My new mantra for things not working out as planned has been,

If not this, then something better! 

Then I thought a great alternative would be getting a portfolio review at PhotoPlus here in NYC that weekend instead, but because the portfolio reviewers weren't fully listed yet, I didn't sign up right away.  Then an email from the lovely Christine arrived, asking if I'd accept a nomination to submit a proposal for TEDxOU on October 23rd!

I'd given talks on big stages before, but was I ready for a TEDx Talk?  I've always loved watching them- and because I'm a geek, I consider watching a stream of TEDx talks a great alternative to watching TV.  But THOSE people always seemed smarter than me, or that they'd achieved much BIGGER things than I had.  An invitation to do this is a gift and an honor. 

If I don't do it now, I may never get the chance again.  

The thought of potentially not getting another chance helps me leap over a lot of the other fears and insecurities about whether I'm ready or if I'll be good enough.  I never want to look back and say "What if?"  I'd much rather look back and say "I gave it my best."

Once I accepted the opportunity, I had to figure out what "ideas are worth spreading"?  Suddenly, talking about something photography-related seemed too limiting for such a broad audience.  Christine had mentioned how my journey itself has been inspiring, which resonated with my deep desire to see more people pursue their dreams, and was in line with what I had originally planned to speak about in the spring.

I believe that if everyone can make a living doing what they love, in a way that aligns with their soul, the world will be a more peaceful, empowered, and inspiring place to live.

Since the only story I'm qualified to tell is my own journey on the path toward pursuing dreams, I submitted the proposal based on my favorite big dream question: 

"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"  

The details were still a little fuzzy at that point, but I knew that several reflective questions had played a big part in helping me make pivots toward my dreams and finding the right path for me.  The proposal seemed easy to write, but once my proposal was accepted, saying yes to the actual invitation was harder because it meant I was truly committing to this message and sharing my personal story with hundreds and potentially thousands of people.  ACK!

As of today I've probably put in about 20 hours of thinking about, rehearsing, recording, and reviewing my talk.  This is where my former experience as an actress and musician come in handy- making the most of practice time.  The outline and stories were there immediately, now it's just refining my pace, tone, and fluidity.  I'm still tweaking it every single time, and probably will be until the very end, with the final acceptance that whatever happens on stage is what is meant to happen.

The article below gives a tiny intro to my talk, but if you happen to be in Michigan on October 23rd and have always wondered what it's like to attend a TEDx event live, I'd love to see you there and give you a big hug for being a part of this crazy journey with me!

Gates Hall | Morphosis Architects

posted on: September 11, 2015

Gates Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

While exploring the Cornell University Campus during a recent vacation, I had one of those drive-by, step-on-the-break moments when the lighting on a building was so perfect that I had to stop the car to get out and document it.  Never mind that the only thing I could take a photo with at the moment was my phone- when color and light align so perfectly on a structure, it's a rare treat and all that matters is freezing that moment in time because it may never happen again.

I just love how perfectly the light filtered through the glass scales and reflected back again to highlight the simultaneous translucency and reflectivity of glass.  The brilliant gold ceiling creates the perfect color contrast to the deep blues that were present in a rare clear Ithaca twilight.  I'm trying not to beat myself up about wishing I'd had my other cameras with me... and just enjoying that I caught the light when I could with what I had.

Gates Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

To learn more about this building, check out:

Cornell Engineering: Gates Hall : A New Home for CIS

Cornell Blog: Explore Gates Hall

Archpaper: In Detail > Cornell University's Gates Hall

Archpaper: Crit > Bill & Melinda Gates Hall

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