In the dark

Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.

So let’s start at the top.

My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.

For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.

Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.

It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.

Here are some examples:

Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.

Why is that one bird on a branch all by itself?

This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.

But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.

This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.

This one looks like I put a stocking over my lens to make the whole picture softer….

I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.


Time for a break!

I went on a hike even though it was 32 degrees outside. I think the cold made me a little loopy.

Potassium is taking a break from blogging (but not photography) for the rest of December. Stay tuned for more posts coming your way on January 23!

Self portrait


It feels like the eclipse was just yesterday!

The sun goes down SO EARLY now, guys. You know it’s sad days when you’re in Seattle on the first day of December and you think “Wow! The sun is up so late here!” :-/

Anyway, on Sunday, I was sitting in our office so that the last glimpse of sun hit me in the face. It was great – so warm and bright. Then I looked up and saw that the sun was illuminating my face in a reflection in the window. I decided to try to capture it with my camera. I think it turned out pretty well. I love that you can’t even see the camera. There are just some Potassium eyes hovering there. Wahaaaaa.

In case you wanted to see the self-portrait part even closer – here is a crop.

Creeeeeepyyyyyy. Where’d that Potassium come from?

Apparently it’s a creepy-themed week. On Saturday, Cobalt and I took advantage of the super low hanging fog we had to make some silly monster flicks. Then I made the creepy self portrait. And then, when I tried to photograph this weekend’s super moon, the clouds decided that it needed to be creepy too.

Going outside

Man how can you top last week’s whale post? I don’t even know. But it’s Tuesday so here we go!

Guys… it’s getting closer to winter. The sun comes up as I’m driving to work and it sets before I get home. It’s causing kind of a panicked situation for me because I spent the whole summer running and hiking outside! Now I have to leave work early, go outside, and then telework to get my hours in if I want any non-dark outdoors time on the weekdays. I’m a little stressed out about it (first world problem for sure).

So this weekend, when we woke up and it was a beautiful sunny (and not too cold) day, I dragged Cobalt out for a run. We went to my new favorite trail, which, after half a mile of uphill, winds around the side of a mountain hill and is in direct sunlight pretty much all day in the winter. Lovely. I could feel the layers of stress floating away from me as the sun warmed my skin. Happy Potassium.

Cobalt running
Go Cobalt, go! I love that this trail is cut into the side of the mountain/hill.

Then on Sunday afternoon, we headed back to hike the front of the mountain hill. We got there as the sun was starting to go down, and this epic gold color washed across the whole trail. Cobalt and I kept stopping to try to capture it on our phones. We had some success, as you can see from the that top photo this week. At least you could tell the lighting was epic. But really, I think you had to be there. The color was fantastic. Maybe I’ll post that pic again.

I swear this picture wasn’t photoshopped.

Then on our way back down to the car, the sun gave us this gorgeous wave goodbye.

Such beautiful colors… Sounds like the sunset was equally as beautiful in Colorado on Sunday night!

Winter is often hard for me – I am not great at being cold (though I had a sock epiphany recently so my feet are happier) and I like to go play outside whenever I want. I think this year, I’m going to have to come up with more of a strategy to keep me happy and healthy throughout this season.

What do you do? Does it involve treadmills? I feel so reluctant about them.

PS: Today is my friend S’s bday! Yaaaaaaay! Happy day, friend! I know it’s a big one so I hope you celebrate in a crazily amazing way. :D

Birthday orcas!

***WARNING: Photo-heavy post. It might take a while for all the photos to load but I think it’s probably worth it.***

EVERYONE. I got to see orcas for my birthday. It was amazing.

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE orcas (also known as killer whales). My love of orcas actually predates my shark love by at least 15 years, if not more. Plus, Washington state is a great place to see orcas in the wild because we have a bunch of different kinds of orcas that live around here. So ever since I was a wee undergrad in Washington, I have wanted to go and see them. But I never got the chance… until this year when I told Cobalt that all I wanted for my birthday was to see the orcas.

So he and my friend Titanium put together a trip for my birthday. And then my sister (Deoxyribolove), my sister in law (she’s going by Strontium now), and our friends M and P decided they wanted to come too! Yay whale-watching party!

So this is the story of our adventure, complete with tons of pictures. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

We got up super early. Like 6 am. Then we picked up Strontium at her hotel and headed north to Anacortes, WA. There we met Titanium and her bf J and M and P at the ferry terminal! We boarded the ferry and headed to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was a beautiful ferry ride. Not too cold, not rainy, just cloudy and cool with mountains jutting out all around us. We spent the majority of the ride outside catching up.

Strontium on the ferry.

Once at Friday Harbor, we stopped for a bite to eat. Then it was time for whales.

It was raining as we walked to the San Juan Safaris shop but it soon stopped and the rain decided to stay away for the rest of the afternoon. We met our two guides who told us about all the animals we could see on our trip: bald eagles, minke whales, orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and more! As they were talking, a bald eagle flew overhead! It was a sign…

Then we loaded onto the boat and headed out into the Salish Sea.

Titanium on the boat. So it was a little windy…
Deoxyribolove was all bundled up and ready to see some whales!!!

To give you an idea of where we were: we had to turn our cell phones to airplane mode because our they might try to pick up Canadian cell towers. So yeah, we were basically as close to Canada as we could be. At one point, we even passed the most northwest lighthouse in the United States.

Anyway, we weren’t out very long when we discovered another bald eagle. So regal up in the tree!

This seagull wanted to be photographed too. We did see other birds besides bald eagles! But most of them were too fast to be captured with my camera!

Not long after that, someone spotted tall black fins sticking up out of the water. ORCAS! Our guides quickly determined that we had found T101 (a transient/Bigg’s killer whale), her two sons (T101A and T101B), and her adopted son (T102). One way to ID an orca is to look at the dorsal fin (the one on the whale’s back). We could easily tell T101 apart from the boys because female orcas have smaller dorsal fins. But it was harder to figure out who we were looking at when it came to the boys. T102 had the biggest fin because he’s the oldest. His fin was huge and kind of wobbly (no bones in these fins!). But unless they were all in a line, it was hard to tell the other two apart.

Mother and adopted son (I think that’s T102)
I think this is T101A, but I’m not sure. He got super close to the boat so I got an up-close picture!

Time for a short killer whale lesson: there are two types of killer whales in this area: residents and transients (or Bigg’s). Residents were named because they were thought to reside only in this one area while the transients were thought to roam up and down the coast. But it turns out that both kinds can be found anywhere between Alaska and Monterey Bay, California, according to our guides. So the names “transient” and “resident” are kind of misleading. Annnnnnnyway – resident killer whales eat Chinook salmon but Bigg’s killer whales, like T101 and her family, eat everything. Especially seals. Which is what they were hunting when we found them.

So killer whales are super smart. And Bigg’s killer whales are super stealthy so they can sneak up on their prey. It was fun watching their crazy shenanigans. The water was pretty dark though so I think we missed out on most of the plotting.

They were doing all sorts of acrobatics. We kept seeing random tails stick up and slap the water.
Look at that floppy fin!

We followed the orcas at a respectful distance, slowing the boat down and/or turning off the motor when we got closer. I loved when that happened because we were drifting in our boat near these giant creatures. We could hear them breathing. It was incredible to be so close to one of my favorite animals. And I got to coexist with them. I was breathing, they were breathing. I was drifting, they were… doing whatever they were doing… It was beautiful.

At some point, we left the orcas to try to find some other critters. We saw a few porpoises but they weren’t interested in hanging out with our boat so they left. It also turns out there was a HUGE sailboat regatta happening on Saturday though so we found a lot of humans out on the water! It was fun to watch them too.

Then we found our orcas again! So we hung out with them more! By this point, we were starting to get pretty cold…

I like that it looks like this orca is hunting the sailboat.

Then it was time to start heading back to land. So we said goodbye to the orcas and tried to cram into the inside part of the boat to get warm. But the tour wasn’t over! On our way back to Friday Harbor, our guides took us past some of the other islands to look for other wildlife. We found more bald eagles, some sheep, deer, and more!

Not sure what this guy is but he looked pretty awesome standing on top of a ridge…

We arrived back at Friday Harbor tired but content after such an amazing day of hanging out with some of Washington’s finest creatures. The ferry ride back to Anacortes was filled with snacks and laughter as everyone looked over their photographs and recounted their favorite parts of the day. Everyone mostly stayed inside this time, which was good because it was SUPER windy outside. I went outside to watch the last of the sun go down and I loved the feeling of the wind on my back. It made eerie tones as it wrapped around the ferry too. It was such a neat ethereal experience to close out the day.

Well. That definitely became one of my top birthdays ever. Now it’s your turn – what’s your favorite picture? What was one of your favorite birthdays? Why was it so amazing? This bald eagle wants to know.

First Snow 2017!

Hellllooooo everyone! How are your Novembers turning out? Good I hope. Did everyone remember to vote today? Very important.

Anyway, this past weekend, Washington state got hit with its first snow of the season. On Friday, I saw a lot of pictures and videos of some wet snow falling to the west of us. But it was actually quite pleasant in the Tri-Cities. It was a little chilly but it was mostly sunny and beautiful. Then on Saturday, it was just cold. When Cobalt and I woke up, it was 27 degrees out. Yikes! Where did our brisk fall weather go? It stayed chilly all day and on Sunday we woke up to SNOW. Big, fat flakes that looked like soap suds rained down from the heavens on and off all morning. I might have lived in Colorado recently but I am still a native Californian at heart: The first snow of the season (no matter how wet it is) always makes me super excited. I jumped out of bed determined to take fun videos and pictures.

Because I lived in Colorado for 8 out of the last 9 years, my first-snow-of-the-season pictures usually look something like this. You know, with snow-coated mountains and such. We do have some hills here but I couldn’t really see them through all the haze. Plus I was intrigued by the clumpiness of the snowflakes.

So this time, I gave myself a new challenge: Photograph the fat flakes as they were falling. It was hard. I had a really fast shutter speed to capture the flakes in mid air. And I also had to manually focus on the fat clusters as they were falling. I took a lot of pictures and I still mostly missed my target flakes. But it was a fun challenge anyway.

There are a few in-focus flake clumps in this picture. Mostly I just like the out-of-focus red tree going on in the background.

Meanwhile, Tarantula was sitting on my desk chair watching the whole ordeal with annoyance. Humans… why is it so cold? And can you please turn on the sun?

Tarantula lit only by the snowy day outside. She looks so miserable. We’re going to have to get her one of those sun lamps….

Anyway, I want to point out that pretty much none of those fat flakes stuck so yesterday we were back to fall. Sort of. It was still super cold. But at least it was also super pretty…

PS: Today is my Sister in Law’s bday! Hurrah! Happy day! Can’t wait to see you soooooon! :D

Happy Halloween!

Hey everyone! Sorry you didn’t get your usual Tuesday morning post today! Things have been a little bit crazier than usual for me lately. But never fear! It’s still Tuesday here in Washington and it’s time for a Halloween update!

So a few weeks ago, Cobalt and I went to pick pumpkins for Halloween. This patch was awesome! There were perfect pumpkins in every direction! And we got to clip our favorites off the vine! How could we pick just two? We couldn’t. We brought home three delightful pumpkins.

Fast forward to last weekend: Cobalt’s and my friend L was in town. So we asked him if he wanted to come over and carve pumpkins with us. Obviously he said yes. Carving pumpkins is the best. Success – three pumpkin carvers for three pumpkins!

So I present to you a photo gallery of our happy jack-o-lanterns this year:

First up we have L’s pumpkin “Derp-face.” I can’t get over the eyes. :D

Next up, Cobalt made the pumpkin featured in the first Halloween movie. It looks almost traditional but then it gets a little creepy the more you look at it.

Finally, you know the demon fish pumpkin is mine. I’ve been carving shark/fish pumpkins for a few years now and I have to say, I really like this guy.

How can you say no to that grin?

I like him so much that you get an extra picture of him.

In addition to carving pumpkins, Cobalt and I went to Scaregrounds last weekend. It consisted of three haunted houses at the fairgrounds (get the name now?)! Unfortunately we were only able to go through one of them, called “Blackout.” It was pretty dark in there and they gave us one glowstick for the six of us. The ghosts kept stealing it but then somehow sneaking it back to us, which was amusing. My favorite part was that our friend K started the haunt by announcing things like “there’s a trap door in here so… fair game…” Then we just started saying “fair game… fair game…” every time we turned a new corner. By the end, the ghosts were screaming “FAIR GAME” back at us. Heh heh heh. It was good though. Especially because that’s not something I normally do.

Did any one dress up for work today? I didn’t go too crazy but I definitely wore some extra ears all day.

So now it’s your turn. Tell me about your Halloweens! Any ridiculous weather? Any hilarious costumes? I saw some good ones on Twitter today. Any plans for Dia De Los Muertos tomorrow?

The pumpkins say goodbye!!!!