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13 December 2017

The motto of the University of California is "Fiat Lux" ("Let There Be Light" to those of you who've let their Latin lapse). It should be the motto of every photographer, too, when you think about it. It's light we love and chase and capture.

Fiat Lux. Geppeto can get back to work in the garage now.

We're not one to complain, generally speaking, so for many years now we've labored at a work bench in our garage in near total obscurity. Illumination was provided by a 60 watt bulb in a plastic housing with a clamp. And the plastic had melted onto the bulb years ago.

A few weeks ago an old friend who happens to be a journeyman electrician changed the balast in our kitchen lighting when the light switch had to be flicked several times before it would go on. We didn't complain about that either but someone else around here did one convivial evening and he volunteered.

That turned out well (with new lamps it was such an upgrade we couldn't help but send a grossly overexposed thank you picture in gratitude) so he took a look at our garage situation while he was still on volunteer duty.

And this past Sunday afternoon he spent a few hours installing a new fixture with bright lights while rewiring the existing circuit to include both plugs and a light switch. Now we know how those guys at NASA feel when they send a command to some remote spaceship and the right thing happens.

The difference was dramatic.

We're in the habit of sending photographs as thank you notes. Sometimes the thank you's are gags, too. It can be more amusing than the usual note to see something in action.

We're in the habit of sending photographs as thank you notes.

We wrote about this in Making Thank You Pictures, which is one of the articles in our Beginner's Flash book that we give to new subscribers. And which we've reprised below.

But back to our thank you picture.

We could (and did) take a photo of the new installation. But there was nothing new about that. We'd both been staring at if for hours on Sunday, after all.

We wanted to illustrate the dramatic difference the new fixture made.

So we waited until dark, went outside and shot the light coming out the window into the dark night. Sort of a nativity scene.

What you don't see in the photo are the two very bright LED street lights directly across the street. But you can see how strongly they light up the house up the hill. And you can see they cast the shadow of a tree on the wall where our window is.

Our new light seems just as strong, casting itself out over the concrete in front of the house despite the flood of light from the street lights.

We shot it with an iPhone 6 Plus so we could text it. But then we worked it over in the newly-updated Lightroom Classic, adding Clarity, using the Upright tool and making small adjustments to the Shadows and Highlights sliders.

We liked the color version because we had the warm light of the living room above and the muted colors of the houses. It felt like a monochrome image with a little more information.

Fans of the Rule of Thirds will notice we put the window, which is the subject of the shot, on that two-thirds axis while keeping the light cast on the concrete in the frame.

That also determined the aspect ratio, which we did not reduce to 16:9 from the 4:3 we shot for the text message (see, always thinking), which we sent as soon as we got back inside.

Let there be light. And good friends. And gratitude.

Making Thank You Pictures

There are two parts to a great gift. One is the gift itself -- and that's why we work so hard around here to come up with our annual Gift Guides. But that only gets you halfway there.

The other half of a great gift is the recipient. You have to match a good gift to your recipient if you expect it to be especially appreciated. And there's nothing appreciated quite so much as a gift that reflects your own appreciation for the recipient's interests.

Now let's just say you've received such a gift and you want to say thanks. What do you do?

That's just what happened to us. And we came up with a solution we liked so much, we thought we'd share it. We call it a Thank You Picture.

Nobody (including us) likes writing thank you notes. Our handwriting is harder to break than a WPA password and you can't call or email, either. So what happens?

Well, you put it off, first of all. Until the heavy burden of guilt presses down upon you so hard that you have to scratch out from under it.

You know the drill. Or the formula. "Thank you for the lovely [insert gift]. [Say something about the gift to prove you have seen it.] It will remind me of you whenever I use it. Thanks so much."

You apply the formula. "Thank you for the stunning tie with the hand painted fluorescent cat. I really like the way the cat's eyes sparkle in the dark. Only you could have found a treasure like this! I'll think about you whenever I knot it up!"

Strangling who you need not say.

But forget the thank you note. Go straight to the thank you picture! Tie the tie, put on a silly hat, grab your digicam and zoom out to wide angle. Hold the camera down at your waist and take a shot emphasizing that brilliant cat with your beaming face behind it. Email to your benefactor.

That's what we did when our niece gave us an irreverent T-shirt this year. We put it on, added our Santa hat, stood in front of the tree she hadn't seen (living in another city) and took the shot. But we didn't stop there. We opened it in our image editing software and brushed a redder nose on Uncle Rudolph. Irreverence begets irreverence.

Our sister-in-law sent a gorgeous glass hummingbird feeder. We happen to think of hummingbirds as love birds. They're always around and they get used to us sitting on the patio reading photography books about a foot away from the planter. So she sent us that feeder. Good idea.

Unfortunately, it turns out that feeding hummingbirds is, uh, work. You have to boil water, toss in sugar, let it cool, store it, fill the feeder, empty the feeder in a day or two, clean it out, refill it. And you can't take this lightly because if the nectar you've brewed goes bad, you can poison the birds.

Then again there are those 90 mile-an-hour winds that blow off the ocean every year. They just love hanging glass vessels.

So we hung the feeder in the dining room (true to it's spirit) and snagged a hummingbird ornament off our tree. We suspended it just above the feeder, took the shot, erased the string hanging from the hummingbird and emailed it to her, proving we'd put it to work (with artificial birds).

In both cases, we resized the final images to just 450 pixels on the longest dimension and sharpened them up a little with the unsharp mask filter. That's our usual routine.

Somehow thinking up a funny picture is easier that writing a credible thank you note. And it's more fun, too. For everybody!

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