Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My day at Warner Bros., and a dream come true.

Last week I went on a journey with my friend Mikki that took me to places that rest deep inside of my dreams and heart: Friends locations on the Warner Bros. lot. She sent me a message telling me she was going on a Warner Bros. tour and asked if I wanted to join her. It sounded like a lot of fun, and some of my favorite things are from Warner Bros.! Harry Potter and of course Friends. I hopped online and bought my ticket, then headed out the next morning to meet her. I ended up getting turned around a few times trying to get to her house, and that set us back about twenty minutes (whoops!) but we made it to the lot just in time to get into our tour!

Group B! What a group to be in.

Going to the Warner Bros. lot was really interesting. Being in the Hollywood area affords all sorts of new and surreal sights and opportunities. When Andrew's movie Mr. Popper's Penguins came out, we went to the Fox lot to see it in one of their theatres. It was so interesting being among the buildings that serve as sets for so many movies and shows! The same experience was present at Warner Bros. Seeing the water tower was crazy awesome and I sent a picture to my sister right away. For those of you that don't know, Friends means a great deal to my mom, sister and me. It is our favorite show, and the three of us watched new episodes together until the end of the show. 

There's something so bizarre about seeing it in person.

My sister and I both have the series on DVD, and we watch all the time. We use them as background noise for all occasions, and whenever we're together we're constantly quoting the lines to one another. It's our "thing", and I very much wish that she could have been on the tour with Mikki and me! I'm currently conspiring to get my sister down here for a weekend, perhaps we'll go on the tour together...! :D

But I digress! 

Upon entering the gift shop/tour starting area (which was full of incredible merchandise) we were greeted by super tall statues of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I felt so gleeful! The tour started with a ten minute video on the history of Warner Bros. studios, as well as clips from their most famous movies and television shows. After that we were loaded into our little trams and the tour began! Our guide asked us to cheer for our favorite Warner Bros. properties, and I made sure to yell my head off when she said, "Friends". 

I wanted to hug them.

We were carted around the lot and she talked about the history of the studio, including fun stories and tidbits of information. We stopped at multiple locations to unload from our tram so we could be shown in-depth aspects of the sets and buildings. One of the first stops was a "street" of New York that hosted scenes for films such as The Mask, and a bunch of other ones that I can't remember, hehe. We rounded the corner of this "street" to be presented with a location from Friends(!!!) and the fire escape from the infamous Spider-man upside-down kiss scene

 Left: from season one, when the Friends sing "In the Jungle" to Marcel 
on the set of "Outbreak 2: The Virus Takes Manhattan". Right: me standing
where Monica and Rachel stood while talking about Jean Claude Van Dam.

Our tour continued on to a room full of cars from Warner Bros. movies and TV shows. The Gran Torino was there, as well as the Mystery Machine and a sampling of Batman vehicles. Most exciting to me was the presence of the flying Ford Anglia from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! Mikki and I learned that there were twelve different versions of the Anglia made for the film, each in a different state of destruction. The car present at Warner Bros. was the final stage after being beaten by the Whomping Willow. This was thrilling, of course, but I have to say I was disappointed by the lack of Phoebe's yellow taxi!

 Left: me thrilled beyond absolute belief. Right: Mikki representing Harry Potter pride.

The latter leg of our tour took us to the prop department, which was awe-inspiring; crammed floor to ceiling with every item imaginable. There were famous pieces on display, such as the couch from Carrie's apartment from Sex and the City. It was a lot of fun to wander the halls and take in all of the fun furnishings, especially all of the lighting. There were innumerable amounts of fixtures, it was like the lighting department from Home Depot multiplied by ten. Also a lot of old fashioned pieces such as wardrobes and desks. They were so ornate and fascinating. 

Now, the pièce de résistance of the tour (for me, at least) was the surprise unveiling of the Central Perk set from Friends. I believe that our tour guide kept it as a surprise for my sake, because I heard another tour guide explaining to his group what it was ahead of time after we were done in the set room. I certainly appreciated her not spoiling the surprise ahead of time! 

Central Perk in all of its shining, preserved glory. *cue angelic singing*

The set has been kept meticulously intact in the prop department behind an inconspicuous large black door. This came as a wonderful, fabulous, dream-come-true shock to me. I've watched the behind-the-scenes of the season ten DVD set, and I watched with tears in my eyes as the sets from stage 24 were torn down. My sister and I mourned the loss of the sets we loved, and the loss of opportunity to ever see them in tact and in person.

 The menu board and the espresso machine.

Behind the counter. I could practically see Gunther.

The sign is so iconic and comforting.

I simultaneously wanted to scream, cry and pee my pants when the door opened. I wanted to call Cassidy right then to bring her as close to the experience as possible. I took as many pictures as I could, and shook with delight when the tour guide told us we could sit on the orange couch and have our photos taken with Central Perk as the backdrop. I wanted so badly to wander the whole set and sit at the coffee bar, the tables, the bench seat near the window. SIGH. We were confined to the couch area though, so I simply looked on with longing and took it all in.

 Left: a close up of the window to the right of the doors. Right: the front doors.

The whole tour included a few more stops, including the sound stage for 2 Broke Girls and a museum of Warner Bros. props and costumes, with the entire second floor devoted to Harry Potter items. Mikki, another huge Harry Potter fan, and I made a beeline for the second floor. We had only a scarce twenty minutes to enjoy the two floors, and we spent the majority of it wandering the Harry Potter items. The costumes were so ornate, and there was a giant spider that was positively terrifying. We also had a chance to be sorted, which was thrilling. I can't wait for Pottermore to open next month!

Happy, shocked, disbelieving smile on my face. So glad Mikki invited me!

At the end of the tour we decided to spend a bunch of time exploring the gift shop. There were sections for a bunch of major Warner Bros. productions, as well as general Warner Bros. products. I fawned over the Friends section, hemming and hawing over which item I simply couldn't live without. Mikki spent as much time in the Harry Potter section and came away with a jealousy-inducing amount of items xD I eventually decided on a Central Perk t-shirt for myself, and a FRIENDS emblazoned coffee mug for my dear sister.

 Left: location of Joey's movie premiere. Right: the Central Park mock-up
where Phoebe runs weird and Rachel runs into a horse.

I have to thank Mikki again for inviting me along, and Warner Bros. for the preservation of Central Perk. It was a magical day.

Stage 24, the house of Friends for ten long years.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Following a blog, never miss out again!

Hiya everyone. This week's post will be unlike any that I've presented before. I'm taking a one-time (well, most likely it's a one-time) break from my normal posting to give a little tutorial on how to follow a blog! I figured this would be a handy guide for my own readers as well as anyone who happened to be stumbling through the internet trying to find this information. I've had a few people ask me how they can follow my blog posts to make sure they don't miss any updates, and I thought this was the best solution for everyone. Prepare yourselves for an illustrated guide!

There are a few different ways that one can follow a blog on the great wide internet. I'll cover them here and you can decide which is best for you!

First option is simply checking the blog website regularly. This option is OK in certain circumstances. For instance, I have a few websites that I visit with extreme regularity so I never forget to check them. I know which days they update and I've been reading for so long that it is now a habit. I don't suggest this option for most people. It's easy and common to forget to check a page, or forget a website URL, or go on vacation and slip away from the digital world surrounded by nature and a lack of electricity. Perhaps you ran off to Narnia for a bit and you ate some delicious candy and when you came back home you couldn't remember that you'd ever read a blog. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of scenarios where one will forget to check a blog. Let's move onto some better ways.

Another OK option is to create a Blogger account. From there you can choose to 'follow' any Blogger/blogspot.com blogs. You must simply click the 'Join this site' button present on almost all Blogger hosted blogs, and you will be taken to a confirmation page. From there, all updates from any blogs you choose to follow will appear in your Blogger login homepage. Pretty simple! The only issue here is that not all blogs are hosted on Blogger. There are many different host sites, and a lot of folks do their own hosting as well. If you're interested in following only me, then this option would work wonders for you since my blog is on Blogger! Keep reading for the best option.

After clicking "Join this site" you'll be taken to a confirmation
 page. Be sure to confirm! It's easy, I promise!

What your blogger.com login will looks like once you fill it with
RSS feeds. So many blogs to read!

Best option? RSS readers! In case you're wondering, RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication", which I think is a hilarious name. RSS readers are used to publish frequently updated webpages, such as blogs, directly to you (the reader) through your RSS reader of choice. This may sound a little complicated, but bear with me because I promise it's "Really Simple" hahahaah-ahem. Sorry.

My personal favorite RSS reader is through google! Wonderful, integrated, friendly google. You will need a gmail account in order to use this service, but I don't see why you wouldn't already have a gmail account! Google has so many amazing and great services that if you don't have a gmail account and you make one because of this post then I just opened the door to many amazing internet things! You're welcome.

After taking these screen shots I realized my own google reader
was a jumbled mess, so I organized it. Feels good to be streamlined.

Anyway, more about google reader! Google reader is one of the many off-shoots from the main gmail account. You can access it from your gmail login page, there will be a link along the top menu bar, or you can go to www.google.com/reader. From there, you click on "Add a Subscription" (upper left corner of the page under the "Google reader" logo) and enter the URL of the webpage whose updates you wish to follow. So, click that little button and enter "http://mjphotolife.blogspot.com". Once you've entered the URL of the blog that you wish to follow, click the "Add" button. Your RSS reader will refresh itself, and the newly added blog will appear! Voila!

Once the page refreshes your newest addition will appear at the bottom.
Click on the tiny arrow on the right hand side of the blog name column
and you'll get this handy little pop-up menu.

You can do this for as many websites that you'd like to keep up on. Even if you are away from your computer for an extended amount of time, the blogs and webpages will simply queue up and wait patiently for your return. No more missing out on exciting posts! Another great feature is that you can access your RSS reader from any internet connected computer. It's the same as checking your e-mail! There's no need to remember names of blogs and web addresses, the RSS reader will do it for you. Isn't it wonderful when things run so smoothly?

And finally you could always follow me on Twitter, I update there when a new blog post goes up :]

Just for fun I'm going to throw in a little bit of extra information here.

Did you know that you can access google reader on the go? It's true! Android and iDevices have an application for google reader, making it easy to keep up with your favorite news and blog sites. Just a nice added bonus for those equipped with savvy smartphones.

Lastly, here are a few suggestions I have for you to add to your budding RSS reader family! TheBloggess, you will not regret reading about her adventures. Wil Wheaton, entertaining man and Geek insight. Little Chief Honeybee, an inspirational blogger who makes things happen for herself!

Do you have any suggestions for me? I'd love some more blogs to follow!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest post: Eating with Andrew

Hello everyone! This week's post is a special guest post for one of Andrew's blogs, Eating with Andrew! Be sure to visit his page as well because I'll be posting additional images there.

Just to make sure we're covering all the bases, let me tell you a little bit about his blog! It is actually one of many that he has in an effort to cover a bunch of his interests. His most popular is Drawing with Andrew, although he hasn't updated it in a little while. I've been attempting to encourage him to continue it, but we've been busy with a lot of other things. In Eating with Andrew, he cooks a large meal for a group of friends and has someone (in this case, me) photograph the cooking process as well as the finished product.  Andrew then gives a rundown of his process and shares the finished photos.

I was quite pleased when he asked me to take photos for him on Labor Day. We invited some friends over and had a fun cooking and hanging out session. Andrew made some delicious burgers and an impressive vegetable spread. It was very attractive and fun to photograph.

Homegrown cucumbers! Courtesy of my garden :)

The afternoon started off with the cutting of the vegetables. He picked a lovely selection of onions, mushrooms, red peppers and tomatoes, as well as cucumbers from my garden. Just to be clear, only the cucumbers were home grown, the rest of them came from the store. It'd be amazing to have a garden like that someday though!

Andrew chopping the cucumbers. 

The cucumbers were divided between the large tray of vegetables to be grilled and a dip that he prepared from a recipe he found online. I don't have a photo of the dip, but it turned out nicely. It was light and thin and tasted very fresh. Since he made it we've used it as vegetable dip, salad dressing and sandwich spread. Very diverse!

The finalized grilled and seasoned vegetables.

The tray of vegetables were set aside to be grilled in a new wire basket that we bought from Crate & Barrel. Andrew was very excited to use it, and it served us well. We consider it a good purchase. Between preparing the vegetables and starting the patties, he mixed up a delicious and fruity concoction for everyone to drink while we socialized. He fancied up an orange to put into the new pitcher (also from Crate & Barrel!) and added all manner of random fruits, juice, soda and alcohol. He's such a good host, and was sure to refill it whenever it ran dry (which was often haha).

Partaking a bit for himself! haha

As the vegetables slow cooked on the grill and the cucumber dip thickened, Andrew began preparing the burgers. He prefers to buy ground beef and shape them himself. I'm used to pre-made patties, but shaping them is nicer because we can cater the sizes and thicknesses to suit our current needs. For his birthday he made sliders, which was great for how many people came over for the party. On nights when it's just the two of us he favors patties that are a bit heartier, and for our cookout and guests he made plump, slightly smaller than average burgers.

The main course cookin' away!

The next step for the decadent spread that he created for everyone was potatoes! Oh how I love potatoes. He made an enormous amount and we have been eating them all week. They held up well over the days and he's been re-grilling them each night so they retain their flavor and consistency. They were particularly wonderful on the day they were made, of course, seared on the oven top and seasoned to a light flavor.

Andrew gettin' fancy with the frying pan.

Once the potatoes were finished there wasn't much to do except for chat, drink and wait for the burgers to be finished. When they were, we had a large and beautiful spread to choose from. Everything was so fresh and vibrant, I really love to photograph produce! The whole endeavor was fun and satisfying, and perhaps the best part was the amazing dinner afterward! I'm really pleased with how the majority of the photos turned out. The design of our kitchen made for the occasional lighting issue, but I think I was able to fix most of the problems in post.

Believe me, it was as tasty as it looks. I'm hungry.

I hope you'll tune in for his next Eating with Andrew post!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Would you like to see my creepy face? Keep reading.

It's almost one p.m. and it is eighty-three degrees outside. That's not even as hot as the high for today. No matter what I do I am too warm, even just sitting here! The doors and windows are all open, and any breeze that crawls through the house is stagnant and warm. This is California, apparently.

While I work away on today's blog post and accompanying photos I attempt to distract myself from the heat with tasty snacks and ice cold soda. It's not really working. At least sitting at my computer moving only my hands helps to keep the heat levels down. Thank goodness for the small things.

Neat looking building downtown in Culver City. I like how the
colors turned out! We tried to get the back side of the building
as well but, unless we wanted to step into traffic, there were
too many trees in the way. Oh well.

But enough with this downer talk! I have a jam-packed post for you today! This week saw quite a few photo opportunities, thanks to Andrew, and I have a lot to share. This is one of those marvelous times where I have to leave out photos so the post isn't too image heavy. Isn't it great having good "problems"?

I don't believe I mentioned it here, and if I did then clearly I forgot, but I have a new system for making sure I have fun photography experiences each week. As a way to familiarize myself with the area and the city, in addition to photo taking, once a week I'll be picking up Andrew from work and the two of us will go exploring! We started this grand new tradition last Thursday and it was a lot of fun.

Left: Andrew standing in front of the building used for Flynn's Arcade
in Tron! It's some sort of fancy coffee shop. Right: The pizza place
where we had dinner. Yummy garlic knots! (Click to enlarge)

Our plans are very loosely outlined, and the goal is only to find somewhere to take photos. Last week I was in a serious mood for pizza and I told Andrew so when he got into the car. He didn't know of any good, inexpensive places in the area, and my phone wasn't finding anything either. So we called a friend and were directed toward a really good place in Culver City! The pizza was delicious and inexpensive. Once we ate we were geared up to walk around and take photos of some buildings. It was very dark by the time we started, and we left the tripod in the car, so the pictures are fairly noisy. I was able to take things down a notch in editing, but that's just the way things are.

This is the first shot I took to show him what could be done
with zooming during a long exposure.

We went back to the parking garage to head home when Andrew suggested we grab the tripod and take a few panoramic city shots. They weren't turning out all that well, so we directed the camera toward some brightly lit buildings. It was then that I remembered how ridiculously fun it is to spin and zoom and move the camera during a long exposure. I showed this to Andrew and he was immediately excited. I know I have a fairly limited range when it comes to creative endeavors, so it's absolutely fantastic to work with Andrew and get to glean off of his brain. He went ape and did so many fun things. I really look forward to our adventure for this week!

Pretty sure this is a shot that we took together. One of us
rotated the tripod and the zoom, while the other rotated
the focus ring.

At this point I am totally comfortable with the Canon, so familiarization phase is over. The tripod is new though, and very sophisticated, so it's been nice to use that and learn a new piece of equipment. He bought one that is versatile for video as well as stills. We've only used it for video once, a silly thing of me gleefully riding my bike back and forth, but I imagine more moving pictures will happen soon. Maybe I'll even post them here!

This one is my favorite. Another one where we worked together
to rotate the tripod, zoom and focus. 

Last night we had an incredibly fun and impromptu photo shoot based around painting with light. I don't think Andrew had ever done it before, and I have only ever dabbled. He, of course, had a bunch of wonderful and interesting ideas that I had never thought of before. While I simply waved a flashlight around in the dark, he incorporated movement and a variety of dim light sources to great effect. Some to intensely creepy degrees. It felt good to go off of his creative leads in order to do new things.

He makes for a most pensive and calculating wizard.

However, the star of the night was definitely our wizard photos! While we experimented with lighting up one another and adding in magic type shapes and ideas, he suggested I grab my wand (yes I have a wand). This prompted a whole slew of photos of us posing dramatically with light and stars shooting out of the wand. So. much. fun. He has even more ideas, many that I never would have even dreamed of. I'm really excited!
This is my new favorite picture of myself. Taken by Andrew.

The third fun photo opportunity of this week occurred yesterday. For Labor Day we decided to have a bbq and invite some people over. Andrew asked if we could use it as an Eating with Andrew entry, and I happily obliged. He has one entry up so far, but he'd like to do more showcases of his cooking (complete with photographs). I think it's pretty great for us to team up together because it can be content for both of us, practice for both of us, and dinner afterward! I just love happy endings.

Food photography is interesting considering the fact that most 'food photography' is fake food, or non cooked food that is painted to look cooked. I remember learning that instances where one is shown images of hot corn on the cob with melting butter on it that in reality, the corn is cold and the pat of butter is hot. Weird.

Homegrown cucumbers from my garden! Four monstrous ones!
I have a bunch of new sprouts too. Gardening is super fun.

I knew that my goal in helping Andrew was close ups and bright lighting. The first few shots I took looked plastic-y and had gross harsh shadows. I decided to pull out the big guns, so I grabbed my light stand and one of my silver umbrellas. This helped to disperse the light really nicely. Parts of the kitchen are still dark though (which is where a secondary flash unit would be wonderful) but on the whole I think they turned out well.

Most of the problems that I ran into revolved around poorly planned work space (not enough counter area to move other prep items so I could get a clear shot of him working), and also his hands moving too quickly for the camera to focus on time. For a few instances I asked him to pose, which feels awkward, but it achieved the desired effect.

Here's a preview photo for Andrew's upcoming Eating
with Andrew post! Many more will be included there.

He'll have his entry up soon, and I encourage you to take a look at it! Can't wait to see what we find this week :)

Oh, I wanted to ask how people felt about the coloring in the first image. Is it too purple? Is it an OK amount of purple? Is the photo believable, or is the purple too unrealistic? It's how the picture turned out and I like it, but I am very curious to know the opinions of others! I'd love to hear!


Bonus creepy image for those of you that stayed for the whole post!

Monday, September 5, 2011

A schedule tweak

Hello all.

I know things have been a little wonky lately with a bunch of phoned in posts from my phone. I started my scheduled blogging in April and since then I've kept up with it fairly well. This blog (and my others) mean a lot to me, and I spend a lot of time thinking and planning for them. With that said, I have some changes that are coming. Part of that process includes some schedule shifting to suit my needs.

My Photo Life posting is officially being moved from Monday to Tuesday. Tomorrow you can expect a full post that details the adventures Andrew and I had last Thursday night. We ended up doing some super fun camera experiments in Culver City on top of a parking garage. Can't wait to show them to you!


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