Thursday, February 11, 2016

52 Week Challenge: Week 6

This week's challenge was an artistic shot, with the theme of "candy/something sweet." The challenge creator suggested trying out macro photography, which I was all too happy to do. I first tried using a tube extender I had, but frankly the quality was poor and I just wasn't feeling it. So I took that as a sign to pull the trigger on two lenses I've had my eye on for a while: The Sigma Contemporary 17-70mm f/2.8-4 Macro OS HSM, and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro.

I bought the Sigma to be my new walkabout lens, and the main lens I take to Europe later this year. The Tamron is my first telephoto lens, and I am in love with its macro work. While the Sigma does have macro functions, I found the Sigma to be just a bit more of what I was looking for. All three of the photos below were taken with the Tamron.


That's my main image for the challenge. I used my favorite candy — a dark chocolate bar with freeze-dried raspberries in it — and some fresh berries to add a pop of color and texture. I'm not 100% on this image, either, but it's possibly the best from the two separate shoots I did.


That was from my first shoot. I got some feedback from other challenge members on it and used their suggestions to style my second portrait. Mainly it was about removing those crumbs (which I actually liked, womp womp) and adding the raspberries. I might still like this photo more. What do you guys think?


And just for funsies, here's my setup. I made my own light tent by cutting out the sides of a box and taping tissue paper over the holes. Then I set up my two flashes on their stands and put them in slave mode so they'd fire when my on-camera flash went off. (The on-camera flash had little to no effect on the image itself, thanks to the camera's distance from the subject and the brightness of the off-body flashes.) The backdrop is just two pieces of computer paper that I layered inside the box. Viola! Easy-peasy.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Verbal Mélange feature

Hi all! This week, Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge. featured me in her Style Bloggers < 3 Budgeting series. Make sure you click on over and check it out :)

Monday, February 1, 2016

52 Week Challenge: Week 5

Welp, they can't all be winners, and last week's photo proves it. I posted this photo in the Facebook group for the challenge and asked for feedback, with the intent of going back to re-shoot it. But then the snow/ice all melted and I went to a crazy wedding this weekend that left my Sunday a bit...unproductive, to say the least. So I guess I'm stuck with this. Womp womp.


I'll be the first to admit that landscape photography isn't my "thing." I've seen a ton of great landscape photos, but I have a hard time defining why I think they're great...and it's next to impossible to incorporate those unknown elements into my work.

Do you like landscape photography/take a lot of those images yourself? Any tips for me in the future? (Every third week is a landscape theme, so I have lots of opportunity to improve!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Budgeting Bloggers: January

Oh man you guys, I was bad this month. My clothes budget is $100; I spent $186.30. And I spent it all in one place: At REI's Garage Sale on January 2. I mean, I guess it could have been worse; I managed not to spend any more on clothes the rest of the month (despite several Target excursion). And I did score some sweet gear!


1. REI Co-Op down jacket. I've been wanting a midweight down for a while, and something like this is perfect for a trip to Europe that Matt and I are planning for later this fall. We'll be flying in to Reykjavik, Iceland, and eventually making our way down to Italy and Barcelona, so I needed something that would be both warm and easily packable for when it's not needed. Bam. | $60 {exact}

2 & 3. REI Merino wool socks. These were a total impulse snag as I was waiting in the 20-plus-minute checkout line. (Garage Sales get CRAZY.) But I only have one pair of Merino wool socks for hiking/camping, so they weren't an unwarranted purchase. I got one of the long pair and two of the short. | $9 long, $7 short {exact long, exact short}

4. Mammut Traleika soft-shell pants. So the whole reason I braved the Garage Sale was to find a good pair of winter-weight soft-shell pants. These babies are PERFECTION. They're windproof but breathable (with vents in the sides in case you get too warm on a tough hike) and they're super comfortable. They're great on their own when the temps are near freezing, and layered with a pair of leggings (fleece-lined or regular), they're indomitable in colder temps. They've been a lifesaver at the dog park and on walks when the thermometer is in the teens. Best purchase ever, and they're still on sale! | $70 {exact}

Not pictured: A light purple Columbia down vest that was in the Garage Sale simply because it hadn't been sold first round. Most Garage Sale mega-discounts are on items that have been returned, but not this one. It was such a sick find. And it was only $20! {similar}

(It's worth noting that in addition to sale prices, I got an additional 10% discount on my purchases because Matt works at REI and spouses get to share employee discounts. I hope Matt never quits this job, haha.)

So there you go. Way overbudget, so I probably won't spend much (if anything) on clothes in February. #worthit

How did you do on your clothes budget this month?

Monday, January 25, 2016

52 Week Challenge: Weeks 1 through 4

I'm caught up on projects for the moment (literally for the moment; I have to delve back into things later this week) so I thought I'd share my first few weeks of the 52 Week Challenge I'm doing this year. You might remember that in the past I've attempted a photo-a-day 365 challenge, and it was hard. I missed a lot of days. I'm hoping that this one-a-week format might be a little easier for me to adhere to; I plan to shoot mostly on the weekends when I have a little more wiggle room in my schedule.

Each week, I'll take either a portrait, landscape or artistic shot, with each category featuring a smaller set of guidelines to follow. I'm the most confident about the portraits, because that's 90% of my paid work, and I'm least confident about the artistic shots because that's about 1% of the work I've done since getting a DSLR.

Week 1 (portrait). Theme: Selfie.


Verdict: Not a bad shot overall, and I achieved most of the look I wanted with the natural light coming through my glass storm door. Could have used more fill on the right side of my face via a reflector, but somehow I managed to nail the focus (which is hard to do with a remote).

Week 2 (landscape). Theme: Traditional landscape.


Verdict: Great sky and reflection, though I wish I'd had a wider lens on me to avoid cutting off the bridge on the left and the reflection at the bottom. Also, I could have made the grass a touch greener in post-processing. Shadows are a bit harsh, but my only chance to shoot this scene that week was on a lunch break during a work day.

Week 3 (artistic). Theme: Red.


Verdict: My first-ever attempt at light trail photography. I loved making this photo, though the limitations of the bridge I was on were pretty frustrating. I wound up having to kind of dangle my camera on the tripod out over the freeway, which was terrifying. I could do without those headlight artifacts in the red lane, and I really wish I had been able to stand directly over the tail light section of road instead of off to the side.

Week 4 (portrait). Theme: Headshot.


Verdict: My favorite one so far. This is my awesome friend Emily, who obliged when I surprised her with a photo shoot at lunch. I added the steam in post-processing, which was another first, and I think I got the angle a little too harsh in an attempt to avoid covering her eyes. I kept the rule of thirds but intentionally had her looking out of the frame to prevent the photo from being too rule-following. Overall, a really nice shot.

This week is landscape/black and white. I shot a few frames this weekend, but I'm not 100% sure I love them. We'll see how they turn out, I guess :) Have you ever done a photo challenge like this? Any words of wisdom to share?

(P.S. You can follow along in real-time via my photography Instagram account, @elfiephotos. That's also where you'll find highlights from all my paid photo shoots!)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Where to go from here?

Hello out there in blogland! I hope everyone's been doing well since the last time I popped in with a post. Did you have a lovely holiday season and a sparkly New Year's Eve?

I wanted to take a moment to type up some thoughts I've been having lately about Verbal Mélange and blogging in general. I started this blog in April 2011, when I was not-quite-23 years old and about six months in to my first Real-World, Big-Girl job. I had practically zero sense of style and almost zero budget to expand said style. (True story: When I got my first RWBG job, I opened a New York & Company credit card and frantically threw $200 of semi-professional clothing on that I ended up barely wearing because I had no idea what I was doing.) My point is, I needed to figure myself out, sartorially.

Now, I'm nearly four years in to my second RWBG job. I have a semi-carefully curated closet of easily mixable business casual basics. I have a decent clothing budget, but over the last few months I've been using it on a few high-quality "investment" type pieces instead of trendy flash-in-the-pan statement pieces. I started this blog, in part, to help define my style, and I think I've done that. (Not that I could put it into words for you, but I know what it is and I like it, so that's all that matters to me.)

The other reason I started this blog is because for the first time in my adult life (really, since I was about 15 years old), I had a lot of free time to fill. I was working full-time and doing a small amount of technical freelance writing on the side. I needed a hobby.

When I changed jobs in 2012, my main hobby became freelance writing for the magazine I had just left. And I loved it. Then I took up photography as well the following year, and I loved it even more. Now, when I'm not at work, doing housewifey things like cleaning, taking Cam for a walk or to the dog park, or cooking (another hobby of mine), I'm usually working on a magazine article or taking and editing photos, either for my portrait business or just for funsies. Blogging has very much taken a backseat for me, particularly style blogging.

So where does that leave Verbal Mélange? I'm really not sure. I don't want to let it go just yet, mostly because of the fantastic people I've met (virtually or IRL) because of this blog. And if I'm being honest, I also just like talking about myself. #sorrynotsorry

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you come here just for the outfits, you might be disappointed. That, I am sorry for. But if you come here for my rambling, and for weird little peeks into my life like what I made for dinner or how I redecorated my living room or the weekend trip I took with Matt and Cam, then I guess you're still in luck. Because I'm always down to ramble. (And who knows. From time to time I might get really excited about a random outfit and decide to photograph/post it.)

That said, I feel that I'm freeing myself up quite a bit here to showcase my photography. Yes, I have a blog over at my professional site, but I think I'd like to keep that less personal for now. So you can expect to see more of my funsies photos around here, from trips to the local botanical gardens to the 52 week photography challenge I started this year. (More on that in a future post.) And if there's anything in particular that you think would make a nice addition here, let me know! I like knowing what you guys like reading.

So...that's it, I guess. Thanks for reading this rant all the way through to the end, and thanks for sticking around as I figure out what I'm going to do with my little corner of the internet.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Budgeting Bloggers: December

Another month, another Budgeting Bloggers linkup! This month was more or less on target, though considering how underbudget I was last month, a little wiggle room is fair to me. Shall we, then?


1 & 2. Forever 21 sweatshirts. Why yes, those are identical to the sweatshirt I bought back in August. It was just so comfy and all-purpose, I had to have more colors. I like dressing them up with a pretty, delicate necklace and skinny jeans (outfit post to come, whenever I get around to taking some photos). | $10.90 each {exact}

3. Hunter fleece boot socks via Nordstrom. I wound up replacing the Original Tall Hunter boots I bought back in September with a pair of Huntress boots, which are made for gals with wider calves. Turns out that rock climbing gives me big calves in addition to big biceps. Who knew. Anyway, these Original Tall socks should still do the trick this winter. | $30 {exact}

4. Target sunnies. Because I love my cat-eye sunglasses so much that I'm constantly losing/breaking them. | $16.99 {exact}

Not pictured: I hit up the "seven for $27.50" table at Victoria's Secret, but no one needs to see that. I also bought a $5 pair of yoga pants at Forever 21, which promptly ripped on the side seam. I'm still wearing them, because the hole is small and I'm lazy, but it was annoying nonetheless.

Grand total this month: $108.24, just a few dollars over my $100 budget.

Usually, I end these posts with a "So how did you do on your budget this month?" thing, but today I'm going with a different question. Do you guys enjoy these posts, or are they kinda boring? I'm not sure if I feel like keeping up the series in 2016, though if you all find them interesting I'll obviously do so. Let me know :)