Friday 30 October 2015

The Art of Portrait Photography

Some of you are great photographers and do not only have the talent but also the expertise to produce pictures others can only dream of. You know who you are, so I need not mention any names.

My ambition when taking pictures is usually just one: To document what I am seeing at that moment. The reasons for wanting to document something are twofold. Sometimes I just want to hold on to the precious memory of a place visited, a person met, a meal consumed, a dress worn (along with the occasion it was worn for), etc. At other times, I want to document something specifically with my blog in mind, because I want to show you and share with you where I've been, what I've seen or bought.

It has never been my ambition to become an expert photographer - I rather leave that to, well, the experts. For official or business photos, that is the best choice anyway.

Take our company. When I say "our", I mean the small consultancy firm RJ founded 5 years ago. In December 2012, I joined him. In February 2014, another friend came on board, so that there are now three of us helping our customers to get things right in the areas of data protection and IT security.

This summer, we finally did what I had wanted to do for a long time: We had proper, professional business photos taken.

The photographer was one I knew through XING (a Germany-based social media platform mainly for business) but had not yet met personally. He turned out to be not only a very good photographer as such, but also a truly pleasant person. 

I can't show you our group picture properly, because RJ and our colleague would not be happy about having their pictures published here. But I have cropped it for you, so that you can get an idea of what we look like as a group. (It will also give you an idea of how tall they are - and I'm not exactly tiny at 5'8", either.)

I don't know how he did it, but our photographer did not only bring out the best of each of us in our individual pictures. He also managed to pick up our "group dynamics", so to speak, and now our group picture shows without words who we are and what our constellation as a company is and how relations between the three of us are. In other words, it shows us the way we are when it comes to work - old school and traditional (which makes us reliable and efficient), but also with a twist, because we think out of the box and often come up with surprisingly simple solutions that may not always mean the most profit for us but certainly the most benefit for our customers.

When it came to choosing our individual portraits, I was facing a small problem: Smile or no smile? Open smile or with my mouth shut? 

In the end, we went for the last of these three pictures. Personally, I like the open smile best, but it's not the best for my line of business. Women are still rare in my field of work, and some men easily overlook how competent a woman can be in that work when they see a nice smile. They don't take such a woman seriously, but tend to see her as some kind of office bunny. Therefore, the open smile picture is just for you to look at, not for my customers.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Near and Far

Every now and then, I find a few pictures have gathered on my computer which I want to share with you but don't think have enough "in them" to justify their own post. Therefore, I turn them into an assorted mix, hoping my readers will find something in the post they like, just as you'd do with a box of "Quality Street" or "Cadbury's Milk Tray".

The oldest picture first: I took this back in June -  a reminder of summer. Only another 8 or 9 months before the view from my kitchen window will look as green as this again.

This was the unusually reddish-gold full moon we saw in September. Several of you in blogland posted about it, and your pictures were so much better than what I can produce. Still, it was a very beautiful sight (again from my kitchen window), and I decided to keep the pictures.

A really daft "blondes joke" comes to mind. One blonde asks the other: "What is further away from here, London or the moon?" - "Hello?! Can you see London from here?!" (I know, I am terrible with jokes. I never remember the good ones.)

During my Yorkshire holiday in August, I came across a notebook sporting a pattern of foxes that I really, really liked. I didn't buy it, because the notebook had only about 8 pages and cost nearly a fiver - way over the top. But the effect it had on me was that now I was looking for Things With Foxes on them everywhere - the right kind of fox pattern, not just any image of a fox.
The day after I returned from England, I went into town for some errands and happened to spot this mug in a shop I normally don't visit regularly. I simply had to buy it, and find it so fitting for autumn (although of course foxes are there all year round). I've been drinking my morning coffee from this mug every morning since then, and you know what my preferred reading material is to go with my first morning coffee? Your blogs!

The last of the three dresses I brought from England. This was, I think, a particularly good find at "Monsoon" in Harrogate. It does not show properly in the picture, but the fabric is textured, and I think the whole piece has something of Star Trek about it. Couldn't I be a Science Officer aboard Deep Space Nine in that? 

That's it for now. Next up should be the woodland walk we went on last Saturday.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Another Sunny Day

The 11th of October was a beautiful sunny day, and as it was a Sunday, we had plenty of time for a nice long walk. It was too nice outside for us to want to sit in the car to go somewhere first, but instead we started directly from home.

All we really did was walk across Ludwigsburg's town centre to the palace grounds, walk around there and back on a different route - nothing "special" for most people, but always special because the park has a special kind of beauty in all seasons. 

Begonia and roses are not the first flowers that come to mind when thinking of October, but they certainly still looked great that day!

Our walk ended at my parents', where freshly baked apple cake (with apples from the allotment) and coffee were waiting for us.

Monday 19 October 2015

Read in 2015 - 29: Curiosities of the Sky

A book about astronomical phenomena, written by Garrett P. Serviss and first published in 1909, "Curiosities of the Sky" offers a fascinating glimpse into the state of science just a little over 100 years ago.

A lot of what we take for granted and as firmly established scientific facts were either unknown back then, or still unproven theories, around half a century before the first man-made satellite would be orbiting our planet.
The author never speculates but describes everything based on what was then known as facts, and whenever he is dealing with something unproven, he says so.

The book is divided into chapters about such topics as comets and meteors, northern lights, seemingly completely black and void areas in the universe, the "unfixedness" of what we call fixed stars, the violent history of the Moon, and - maybe most fascinating of all for the modern reader - the possibility of past or present life on Mars.

Remember, this was written when the only means of observing the universe were telescopes based on Earth - no Hubble or James Webb space telescopes yet, and radioastronomy had not yet been invented. But photography was already widely used in science, and the author often refers to photographs to illustrate a certain point. My (free) kindle ebook came without any, but the way everything is described is good enough for the imagination without pictures.

An excerpt from the preface reads:
"The idea of the author is to tell about these things in plain language, but with as much scientific accuracy as plain language will permit, showing the wonder that is in them without getting away from the facts. Most of them have hitherto been discussed only in technical form, and in treatises that the general public seldom sees and never reads."
This "plain language" is rather poetic at times, and makes for very good reading, easy to understand for anyone remotely interested in astronomy without necessitating a degree in astrophysics.
It was not the first time I've come across Garrett Putnam Serviss. He lived from 1851 to 1919 and was an American astronomer as well as an early science fiction writer. And it was as the latter that I first "met" him: as the author of "A Columbus of Space", a book I have reviewed here.
I have mentioned above that the chapter about Mars is maybe the most fascinating part of the book. You have, I assume, heard the name Schiaparelli in connection with our neighbour planet. If not, let me just briefly tell you that it was by the Italian scientist (1835 - 1910) that the world first heard of "canali" on Mars - presumed channels for irrigation of the dry surface, built by the presumedly highly intelligent Marsians and clearly "seen" by Schiaparelli and many others, such as his American colleague Lowell (1855 - 1916), of equally scientific minds, through their telescopes.
We have long come to learn the truth about Mars - there are no channels, and never have been. But at a time when their existence was rarely doubted within the scientific community, Garrett P. Serviss wrote that most interesting chapter.

A lot of other things in the book have since been thoroughly examined and explained with the help of modern technology. We know a lot more about "solar wind", for instance, black holes and novae, and what comets are really made of. Still, it is interesting to see how people put their minds to explaining things as best as they could, with the means they had. And who knows how our up-to-date knowledge of astronomy will appear to a reader in another 100 years!

Sunday 18 October 2015

Cookies in a Bottle

Actually, not the cookies came in a bottle, but the dry ingredients needed for baking them.
A few years ago, someone came up with the idea of offering all the dry ingredients needed for a specific recipe neatly layered in jars and bottles, with the recipe attached. This can make an unusual and appreciated gift for those people who (like me) do not want more things to clutter their shelves and lives, but rather like presents that can be worn, eaten, drunk or put on one's skin (such as lotions, perfumes and so on). 

Some time ago, RJ's mother received one such bottle as a birthday present. She already knew she would never bother to make them, and passed it on to me.

I've had it for so long I kept thinking I really should use it - or throw it away. But with dry ingredients such as sugar, flour and chocolate chips, all vacuum-sealed, there is not much risk in keeping them for rather long, and so I waited for an occasion to make the chocolate cookies that were described on the label attached to the bottle.

A few weeks ago, I was coming home from work as usual. To reach my front door, I have to walk past my neighbour's door. Sometimes, Mr. R. is outside, sweeping the pavement, doing a spot of gardening or cleaning something. He does not speak German very well, but that does not stop him from enjoying a little chat nearly every time we meet. He is a very gentle character, always friendly and polite. 
That day, he stopped me not just for a chat, but even asked me to come in for a moment - it was his wife's birthday, and I was welcome to have a cup of coffee with them. So I went in, but really only very briefly, having my coffee and then going home. Mrs. R. was in the middle of preparing her own birthday dinner, and I think she wasn't too keen on having unexpected guests turning up in her kitchen ;-) Still, she was as friendly and kind as her husband, and I really kept my visit very short.

Later the same evening, she rang my doorbell and gave me a plate of leftover cake, something I thought very nice of her.
Ever since, I've had the plate sitting in my kitchen, waiting for an occasion to go back.

But as is sometimes the case with such things, although you live next door to someone and usually see them all the time, the time is never right - you are either on your way out, catching a train, or in, tired and hungry.

Today, the weather is not nice enough for me to want a walk, and I am spending the day on my own. It has gone cold enough to enjoy the warmth from the kitchen stove when baking, and so I finally made those cookies and put them on my neighbour's plate, in order to take it next door later, and not return it empty. 

To make the dough, I had to add butter, an egg and a splash of milk:

It was all so simple and easy, and ready to go in the oven within a few minutes: 

15 minutes later, the cookies were done: 

They aren't burnt - the black bits are only on the baking sheet. In fact, the cookies are  just right, golden brown with the dark brown chocolate chips in them. 

(I know they are just right, because I kept three or four myself - had to try them, didn't I, before giving them to my neighbours! And sorry for the blurred picture.)

Now the plate is finally ready to go back to its rightful home!

Thursday 15 October 2015

A Saturday in October, Part II

As announced, here are the pictures from the second part of our visit to Rechberg.

On the path from the castle to the top of the hill:

 The church at the top of the hill:

I took the angel-picture especially for you, Mum:

A view of the church from the other side, and a close-up of the rather unusual stone cupola on top of the bell tower:

There has been a place of worship here for many centuries. The first mention of a (wooden) church is from 1424. The first stone building was erected in 1488, but became too small for the many pilgrims, and a larger church was built. The church underwent many alterations over the centuries, but much as we see today is from the late 17th century.
Originally, the tower was of wood. It burned down completely after ligthning struck in 1774, and a new one of stone was erected in its place.
On the way back down:

It really was a great way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in October, and I think I would like to come back here in spring, when the landscape assumes a different character with trees in bloom and birdsong everywhere.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

A Saturday in October, Part I

Saturday last week was a day that couldn't have been more beautiful - "Golden October" at its best. We went for a walk on Rechberg, which is one of a group of three hills east of Stuttgart called "Kaiserberge", meaning "Emperors' Mounts".
The prefix "Rech" has nothing to do with retching - it is rather a mis-spelled version of "Reh", which means doe. Many centuries ago, when most of the area was woodland, there must have been an abundance of deer living there, inducing the people to name the hill after them.

Today, the ruins of a castle are on one shoulder of the hill, while a small church sits right on its top. I will show you the church in my next post, but here are some pictures of our visit to the castle.

Zoomed in view from where we left the car at the bottom of the hill: 

The curved wall you see to the left is where a café is situated at the entrance to the castle. We had coffee and cake there in the sun:

Inside the castle (or, what's left of it) we had several options where to go first. We chose downstairs to where storage rooms and prison cells once were.

 Back up the stairs, and a walk along the walls:

Inside one of the buildings was this room where receptions are held and weddings can take place:

The gateway on the picture below leads back out of the castle. A last look back before we were going to walk up the rest of the way to the top of the hill and the church.

A bit of history: Building here was started around the year 1200, although the area had settlements long before that time. The surrounding area was subject to much warfare, plundering and bloodshed, but the castle itself was never attacked. Twice in its long history (in 1648 and 1796) it was briefly occupied by French troops. In 1865, lightning struck the castle and caused large partsto burn down. It lay in ruins after that, still belonging to the same family, the Counts of Rechberg, until in 1986 a man from nearby Göppingen, Hans Bader, bought it from them. 

Mr. Bader was a rich leather manufacturer with a keen interest in historical buildings. He wanted to make sure the ruins were being restored where possible and kept accessible to the public. Although he died in 2006, the place is still run by the Hans Bader Foundation. Admission is 2 Euros for adults and 1 Euro for children - really not much, especially considering how much there is to see and explore.