Keys to Success From Abby Wambach and London 2012

I’m catching up on sleep. My blood pressure has returned to normal. I haven’t wept in at least three days.

That is to say, the London 2012 Olympics are over, and slowly but surely life is resuming its normal rhythm.

This year we did our best to watch as much of the Olympics as possible, recording events happening during the day, following on Twitter, and watching primetime coverage in the evenings. We took it all in: the success, the defeat, the joy, the heartache, the triumphs and failures. We watched again and again as Olympians had their moment to shine. Some of them did so, flawlessly, and others struggled under the immense pressure.

And the whole thing got me thinking. What makes these Olympians, or anyone for that matter, able to rise to the moment? What makes them able to pick themselves up and start again after crushing defeat? What can I do to be more like them?

I think it boils down to three elements, none more important than the other, each equally essential to success:

Do it.
Understand it.
Believe it.

Whatever “it” is that you want to accomplish.

How successful is the diver who skips out on practice? What becomes of the world’s fastest woman if she doesn’t understand the physics of how to get out of the starting block efficiently? How does a team come back from being down a goal — three times! — to win in the final seconds of overtime?

Perhaps at this point you’ve heard about the infamous semifinal women’s soccer game between Canada and the U.S., the game in which a rarely called free kick was given to the U.S. because the Canadian goalie held the ball for too long. And it’s possible you’ve heard that leading up to that call, Abby Wambach, veteran player for the U.S. team, was counting, loudly, near the ref each time the goalie held the ball to bring attention to the matter. Finally the ref called it – and the free kick resulted in a handball that resulted in a penalty kick that resulted in a goal that equalized the score for a third time. And then the U.S. came back to win in overtime with a fourth goal — the latest goal in Olympic history.

Do it. Understand it. Believe it.

You see all of these elements at play in this situation. First, Abby knows the rules of the game inside and out and how to use them to her team’s advantage: a goalie shouldn’t hold the ball for more than six seconds. It’s a rule, so is there any harm in pointing it out when time is most certainly of the essence? Second, she is fit enough to play — hard — for more than 120 minutes. Guess how she got there? She practices and practices and trains and practices. And finally, when her team was down a goal for the third time, Abby didn’t resort to stepping on other players’ heads (see: Melissa Tancredi); she simply kept believing that winning was possible. And guess what? It was.

Now apply this to me, or you, or anyone. If you want to do something, or be something, or accomplish something, then do it, understand it, and believe it.

Get out there and take photos. Get the best training you can afford and start learning how to mix songs better. Take a deep breath now and then and tell yourself that you’re courageous, you’re talented, you’re capable, and you’re ready.

My success, my desires, may never result in a gold medal hanging around my neck, but achieving them would feel just as good. (Deep breath: I’m courageous, I’m talented, I’m capable, I’m ready.) Thanks for the inspiration, Abby, and London 2012.


It’s my 1-year anniversary!

So here I am, already one year into my big adventure new life. OK, I took a break from the blog for the last several weeks; it’s true. I’ve been busier than… well, you know. Fill in your own favorite colorful simile here, because all of mine are a little too colorful. 🙂

How has it worked out, this first year? Not too shabby. I’ve had music used on ABC, BBC, VH1, G4, The History Channel, Animal Planet, Univision and TLC, plus the Breaking Bad webisode I mentioned in an earlier post. And those are the ones I know about; it can take six or more months to find out about placements.

My writing partner, Clementine

My writing partner, Clementine

As for my writing goals, also not bad. Just by coincidence with this anniversary, I’m two tunes short of having 100 pieces of music represented by various publishers and libraries in the film/TV arena. When I’m not teaching (summer and winter breaks), I’ve been meeting my original goal of producing a piece per day, and I’ve found that pushing for that pace has sharpened my focus and built my confidence. It’s been a fantastic first year, really.

Other updates:

  • I’ve been picked to score the independent feature film Roswell FM. I saw a rough edit last week and it’s a funny, good-hearted film that fits some of my favorite writing styles to a T.
  • I’m just finishing up teaching an online music technology course for UNM for the first time; it’s been fun and – as with any new challenge – full of learning experiences.
  • I’ll be doing my more experimental electronic stuff at the opening reception for the ISEA2012 conference, which will be very cool.
  • I’ll be teaching my same two in-person courses this fall plus a new one with a wonderful UNM colleague.
  • I’ve got a theater-scoring gig this fall too, with a great local company focused on teens who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to theater training.

I’ll be stretched a little thin, but I’ll make it work.

Clementine helping

Clementine helping. Please notice who’s in the comfie chair and who’s not.

I’m trying to think, right now, whether I feel different. Yeah… calmer, strangely. I wonder if it’s sort of like getting  married: There’s no lightning bolt that says, boom, you are forever changed; yet there’s this underlying, awesome feeling of home and fulfillment.

Yep, it’s a little like that. It’s all kinds of great.

Going Home.

I was born in the Pacific Northwest.

Not really. I was actually born in Texas and grew up in the Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. But when I graduated from college I moved to Seattle —trading drought for damp and chiles for blackberries.

The landscape of the Pacific Northwest was so different from anything I had experienced. A big city with buses and ferries and mountains unlike anything I had seen. Water and boats and bridges, rain and clouds and more rain.

I was young, and I was living far away from my home and my parents. I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. I felt free to push myself creatively, free to allow myself to change, free to reinvent myself, free to make mistakes. I dove in headfirst, taking in the city and the surrounding landscape, making friends, falling in love, falling out of love, changing jobs, staying up too late, creating art, and generally trying to figure out who I was going to be.

So in a way, I was born in the Pacific Northwest; I became someone new there. It is as embedded in me as the Southwest: my two homes.

When I left Seattle, it was because I felt like I was done there. I had accomplished what I needed to accomplish. I had a better sense of the kind of person I wanted to be and it felt right to leave the Pacific Northwest behind to pursue new things.

But I’ll always go back.

To revisit the city is to revisit myself, to see how much I’ve grown and changed and to embrace that young person who was so hungry for life, but so uncertain where she was headed.  I’m happy to tell her it’s all going to be wonderful.

To read about Seattle eats, go to Buried Carrots.

The Big Day

I am one day away from my first wedding shoot. Saturday is the day. The anxiety dreams have begun in which I’ve already filled my memory cards, have forgotten my tripod and am alarmed when the wedding ceremony begins in the swimming pool.

But in reality, I think I’m ready. I rented a lovely 85mm prime lens and have been practicing with that and with my flash. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I simply don’t have time to master everything I would like to master in terms of technical skills before the wedding date. So I’m turning my thoughts toward the things I do well.

Test shot with the 85mm rental lens

Again, I’m grateful that I have been learning and applying editing techniques in Photoshop. I would certainly prefer to take photos correctly the first time around, but I’m glad I have such a powerful editing tool to help in case I don’t capture exactly what I’m after.

Here’s what I’m taking:

  • Nikon D5000. It doesn’t have a full-frame sensor, but it’s what I’ve got. I’m comfortable with its controls.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. This lens allows me some versatility and range, but it is heavy, so I’ll need to use it in bright conditions with fast shutter speeds or with something to stabilize it.
  • 85mm f/1.4. This is the rental lens and probably what I’ll use during the ceremony and for the posed shots. It’s really great for portraits, does well in low light and gives lovely Bokeh or blurred/out of focus areas to the image. The closer focal range will allow me to be further away from the ceremony and still get some nice, close shots.
  • 35mm f/1.8. I’m taking this because I have it, so mostly it will be a backup lens, but it is a really sweet little lens that I use a lot for food photography. It is also great in low light, so it might come in handy for things like shots of the wedding cake or other food shots.
  • 18-55mm f/3.5 and 50-200mm f/4-5.6. These are my kit lenses. I’m taking them as backup and hope not to need them, but they’re there if I do.
  • Two flashes: one manual and one with TTL metering capabilities
  • A whole bunch of AA batteries
  • A whole bunch of memory cards
  • Tripod
  • Stepstool
  • White foam core for bouncing light if necessary
  • Two camera batteries and charger
  • An “assistant.” Basically, my lovely spouse is going to follow me around, hold stuff, and keep an eye out for sweet moments I might be missing if I’m focused on something else.
  • A list I found online of “not to miss” wedding shots

A lot of what I’m packing I might end up not using, but I don’t want to be caught without something I need, and I absolutely don’t want any dead batteries or lack of memory storage.

another 85mm test shot

All that’s left at this point is to pack up the car and get there, then do what I do: take pictures. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m thrilled. A big day for the bride and groom. A big day for me too. It will be beautiful, I’m sure.

Here I go!

School’s out – time for learning!

Phew! The school year is over – at least til summer school starts – and although I love teaching, I’m sooooo excited about that.

Because I want to kick back and relax? No! Because I want to devour the last several months’ issues of Electronic Musician, work through hours and hours of tutorials on a bunch of pro music software packages, and get back to my schedule of producing a piece of music per day. I’m also teaching a new online course over the summer, which will be a great experience.

Sitting on the patio, catching up on industry magazines

Learning time – on the patio, on a beautiful summer morning. Rough!

A piece per day. When school’s not in session, I’m all over it; I manage it. But once school ramps up, it’s pretty tough to pull off. So another goal I have for this summer is to better organize my teaching materials for the coming school year so that I minimize my weekly prep time once school is in session.

It’s the old “chip away at it each day instead of cramming” thing, and since I preach it to my students, I oughta practice it too.

Here’s the thing: I’ve pretty much got my act together. But I pressure myself to improve my classes each time I teach them. So I don’t just pull out the same thing from last semester; I typically review and rewrite/redesign each module to fix what didn’t work, add new findings, and so on. And that’s the right thing to do. But I could do more of it in advance, which would allow me to spread out the work hours over months instead of days. It’s the old “chip away at it a little each day instead of cramming” thing, and since I preach it to my students, I oughta practice it.

So here’s a sampling of what’s on my plate for the summer:

  • a wad of tutorials at – no matter your discipline, you can probably find valuable training there
  • the full set of MSP tutorials (I’ve used the Max side of the legendary Max/MSP suite for more than a decade but have only a little experience on the MSP side)
  • a big dive into Numerology, an amazing step-sequencer made right here in ABQ, for which I’m beta-testing a top-secret new module (eee!)
  • a similar dive into Xewton Music Studio for iPhone, for which I’m also a beta tester; I use it as a sketch pad currently and want to explore a little more with it
Xewton Music Studio Screenshot

Xewton Music Studio for iPhone does Apple’s own GarageBand several better.

  • teaching an eight-week, online music technology class during June and July, and prepping for teaching my regular classes next year
  • initial work toward a Working Classroom theater production that will go up in mid-September
  • prepping for the opening concert of the ISEA2012 Conference, which should be very, very fun…

It’s amazing how much energy you find when you love everything you’re doing.

What do you have on tap for this summer?

Great Websites for Photography Techniques

As I mentioned in the previous post, I recently visited the site where my first-ever wedding shoot will take place. It is a bed and breakfast in Ribera, NM.

The venue is lovely, and the ceremony will take place outdoors overlooking a beautiful vista. The reception will be indoor/outdoor and will last well into the night.

The view from the ceremony terrace. Plentiful New Mexico sunshine.

My visit was valuable in that it allows me to know ahead of time what kinds of photography challenges I will face so that I can prepare for them accordingly. Here’s what I learned:

  • The outdoor setting is BRIGHT, fully exposed to the sun. That means there is a lot of potential for high contrast and lots of shadows. And that in turn means I’ll need to be prepared to use a bounce card or a fill flash for posed photos, and think carefully about shot angles when shooting the ceremony. (As a side note, I have to say that after seeing the venue, I was pretty happy that I’ve been working so hard on my Photoshop skills. I’m confident that with the powerful Adobe software I’ll be able brighten shadows in post if necessary.)
  • The Bride and Groom will likely be placed with their backs to a wall of windows during the meal. So, again, I need to be prepared not to overexpose the windows and underexpose the couple. But on the plus side, there is potential for some creative silhouette shots.
  • The ceiling of the indoor reception area is wood, i.e., not white, meaning the color of my bounce flash will be affected.

So, all of that said, here are a few websites I’ve been visiting a lot lately:

  • Tangents, created by Neil Van Niekerk, is FULL of valuable information on a wide range of photography subjects. He even has several posts specifically about wedding photography – even as specific as “shooting in bright sunlight (wedding).” THANK YOU, NEIL!
  • The Strobist has a lot of valuable information – especially about understanding equipment. But a lot of the focus of this website is about off-camera flash, which I am just not prepared to use for the wedding shoot.
  • Digital Photography School has a lot of great general tips about photographing a wedding for the first time. Most of the tips then have links to other articles about the techniques necessary to achieve good results.

The Internet is, of course, as big and deep and wide as the ocean, so I know there is a wealth of other sites out there, but these have been three of my favorites so far. They’re the ones that have made me breathe a sigh of relief to know that I’m pointed in the right direction, I’m learning the right things, and gaining confidence with knowledge.

the ceiling: wooden beams

The wall of windows: possible exposure issues, but also potential for beautiful side light and silhouettes.


Flash Challenges

With my first-ever wedding shoot just a few weeks away, I took some time to drive out to the wedding venue and check it out ahead of time. It is a beautiful bed and breakfast in the tiny (and I mean TINY) town of Ribera, NM.

I brought my camera and new flash, which I’ve been practicing with and learning how to use. The flash is manual, meaning it will not meter through my lens. Since Nikon Speedlights that do have through-the-lens metering capabilities are fairly expensive, I chose a cheaper, well-reviewed manual zoom flash thinking I would learn how to deal with Flash Exposure Compensation on my own.

View from the terrace of the bed and breakfast

Some things don’t work inside my brain… and the concept of Flash Exposure Compensation is one of them. I don’t get it. I simply don’t get it. I’ve read, practiced and read some more, but I’m not making any headway. Will I keep trying? Absolutely. But right now, I have a job to prepare for and I can’t take my chances on equipment that I don’t understand.

Coco, the sweet B&B dog, was happy to help me take some test shots.

So I ordered another flash. I still didn’t spend the hundreds of dollars needed for a Nikon Speedlight. Instead, I found a third-party flash that offers through-the-lens metering. Had I known that such off-brand flashes existed, I would have never purchased the manual flash in the first place.

Live and learn. Anyone need a manual flash? Barely used?