Archive for November, 2007

10 Tips for Teaching Digital Cameras to the Absolute Beginner!

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Roman statue in morning light by Sheree Zielke.Do you have someone in your circle of friends and family who has just gotten a new digital camera? But they are clueless as to its operation, and they have looked to you for help? Don’t despair!  Here’s a quick and easy guide to assist you in teaching someone else how to use their digital camera.


Have you ever been asked to share your knowledge of digital cameras with someone who just got a new digital camera?  They don’t have a clue how it works, they barely know how to turn it on, and now they want you to teach them all the ins and outs of their intimidating digital device.

The first thing you must deal with is their fear.  Most new users experience anxiety over their digital camera’s odd controls and terminology.  Their fear stands in the way of real learning, so it must be laid to rest.  The only way to do that is with HANDS-ON training.

Here are 10 tips to help you easily teach a novice to use his or her digital camera: 

  1. Assume the person/student knows absolutely NOTHING about digital cameras.  I have made the mistake of assuming that most digital camera owners have at least a very basic understanding of their equipment.  But they do not. 
  2. Start at the beginning.  This may sound ridiculous, but start with the POWER button.  Show them where it is and how to turn the camera on and off.  This is your opportunity to give them a warning about digital memory cards.  New users of digital cameras do not know their camera must be off BEFORE removing a memory card.
  3. Now show them the slot that holds their memory card.  Again, this is a mystery to many.  Show them how to remove the card.  SAFELY.  At this point, I talk about memory cards getting their brains addled when pulled out of a camera while it is still ON.  This tends to stay with them.
  4. This is a good time to teach your student about their camera’s shutter button.  Many new users punch down on the shutter button without ever allowing the camera to do its job of focusing, and light metering.  Ask the student to take a picture; show them how to delete this individual image. 
  5. Now teach them about the difference between “delete,” “delete all,” and “format.”  Many new users mistake the term, format, for delete, and wipe out their memory card images.  I assure my students they cannot accidentally erase their images if they pay attention. Once they find the format option, I teach them how to back out of the menu without formatting their memory card.  I also teach them that if they can’t remember how to back out of the format menu, they should turn their camera off.  This way they will never accidentally wipe out all their precious vacation photos.
  6. Introduce the student to their manual.  In many cases, my students arrive to class, their manuals untouched.  I have them open their manuals to the Table of Contents.  I’ll point out a few terms like “format” and “program modes,” “flash options” and “picture quality,” terms they must know if they are to use their camera more efficiently.I always tell digital camera owners to photocopy their entire manual.  I also tell them to put the original manual away for safe-keeping.  Using only the photocopied version, I suggest they bend pages, make margin notes, and use a hi-lighter pen to emphasize details they might forget.
  7. Next show them the physical control features (dials, buttons, and screens) on the exterior of their camera.  These dials can be very confusing and frustrating for the first-time digital camera user.  Be patient.  They’ll get it after awhile.  Make THEM turn the dials, rock their camera’s rocker switch, move their tiny joystick, or use the arrow buttons.  Many students, especially seniors, are afraid of doing something wrong.  Assure them it is okay to play with the controls as long as they don’t “format” their memory cards. Camera features you should emphasize (depending upon the make and model of the digital camera) may include: how to open the flash, flash option button, LCD screen display or info button, menu, self-timer, macro option, scene modes, video feature, priority options (program, manual, shutter, aperture), and the camera’s picture reviewing icon.
  8. Now that your student is feeling a little calmer manipulating his or her camera, it’s time for them to perform a few tasks; show them how to set the clock and the date, and how to choose the camera’s resolution or picture quality setting. As to more advanced settings like White Balance and ISO, I tell my students to leave their settings on AUTO, until they are ready to alter these settings knowledgeably.
  9. Show your student how pre-programmed scene modes work.  Show them the icons (face, mountains, moon and star, running man, etc.) imprinted on the body of their camera (if any), and then show them how to enter the camera’s menu or function menu in search of other scene mode options.
  10. Now it’s time to delve deeper into the camera and explore its inner menu.  Patience is a definite must when heading into this territory.  Ask the person to follow along in their manual.  Bend pages to assist them in finding the references later on.  This is the time to introduce, that’s INTRODUCE (you don’t want them to run screaming into the night from information overload), evaluative metering, exposure compensation, bracketing, drive modes like burst, and the self-timer feature.  Then again, maybe your student is not ready to do any more delving.  And that’s okay.  As long as they are feeling a little more comfortable with their camera, your job is done.

Following this simple tutelage, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Marge or little sister Sarah, digital camera users of any age, will be able to use their digital camera with a new confidence.  The only fear left will be yours; you know the night will come when they invite you to view the 3,347 shots they took of their bus trip through Idaho.


Sheree Zielke

Photographing Children While Traveling: Shoot With Caution!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

She was a cute little thing, this tiny Mexican miss, but something felt amiss.  After taking pictures of many charming waifs while traveling, this one just felt wrong.  She seemed willing to have her picture taken, but she also seemed uncomfortable. I didn’t snap the shot and instead asked the preschooler where her parents were.  Who was taking care of her?

She understood my question and told me she was with her cousin.  She indicated a ditch to her left.  At first I saw no one, but then the head of a young teen popped up.  The teen shot me a guilty smile and I realized then, with disappointment, that it was a routine.  The little girl was being exploited for photographs by her older cousin, who skulked in the ditch awaiting the exchange of her compliant pose for a dollar.  The joy of capturing a native child in her natural environment fled and I was left with a hollow ache of pity.

The poor in parts of the world like Roatan, Jamaica, and Mexico have figured out there are many tourists with expensive cameras and pockets full of money who will happily fork over a buck or two for a shot of a little native cutie.  I am content with that arrangement when the unspoken agreement is in your face like the beggar woman with her baby outside the Vatican, or the street smart boys in Roatan, Honduras, but not when it is done furtively, like the teen in the ditch.  That is too much like prostitution.  Or worse.  Child abuse.

The famous National Geographic Afghan Girl shot happened a long time ago.  Things have changed dramatically since then, with capitalism replacing innocence.  And with the high incidence of child abuse around the world, innocent photographers must be careful not to be part of the problem.  So, I usually don’t take a picture of a child unless I have some form of permission, or I am in a very public setting and the child is part of that setting.  Like on a pier or at a parade.

My concerns would end at the crafty teen making a few bucks off his little cousin were it not for his more questionable fellow natives.  While in Acapulco, my husband and I were approached a couple of times by both men and women shoving photo albums in our face filled with pictures of children.  We couldn’t quite understand everything they were saying but we were definitely not being sold a picture; we were being offered children.  We were stunned.  And I vowed that as a photographer I would not encourage the exploitation of these children.

Teaching digital cameras and photography allows me to share my views with students.  I encourage those in my class to resist the urge to snap and run.  I suggest chatting with children first, getting down on one, knee eye-to-eye with them.  I also suggest talking with their parents, if they are around.

In many cases, children will be alone, especially in the port towns.  The children who hang out at the pier are unafraid of strangers and expect to be photographed.  Many parade about like miniature street vendors with packs of gum or small toys for sale.  But they know the tourist with the camera is really after a photo.  And they will oblige.

I always travel with American dollar bills or Euros depending upon which continent I am on.  I think it’s fair to give a child, especially the poor ones, a reward for posing.  But I conduct this transaction in public places only.  And I usually do this in the presence of a parent; usually an adult woman whom I guess is the mother.  No grey area that way; your actions will be viewed as completely above board.

Sometimes, I take family pictures as you will get a better photo of a child after developing a rapport with the child, parent or both.  Avoid dealing with a child off the beaten track; stay to the more public places.  Understand that children in the heavily touristed areas are both poor and jaded; they expect to be paid, so pay them.  

And ask yourself a few questions when you meet up with those very willing children.  Are they there of their own volition?  Do they see any part of the dollars they are given for posing?  Do they stand for hours and hours waiting for the kindly ignorant tourists to arrive?  Have they been set up by a family member to obediently wait like seaside doxies the arrival of photographers?  Are they being exploited?

Now do you still want the shot?

Sheree Zielke

Got the Shakes? Tips for avoiding blur when using your digital camera.

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Got the shakes? Don’t confuse out-of-focus blur with artistic blur when shooting with your digital camera.  Artistic blur can be quite pleasing especially when shooting action photos.  Panning while shooting sports or street scenes can yield some highly dramatic shots, but blur, due to a poorly focused camera, is not acceptable; it’s simply bad photography.

Tips for setting your camera under LOW LIGHT conditions!

Do you like shooting sunrises?  Sunsets?  In the bush shots?  Nighttime events?  Concert hall shots?  Due to the camera’s need to open the aperture and slow down the shutter speed, under low-light conditions, blur is unavoidable if you are hand-holding your camera.  Here are some tips to help you achieve better photos.

Tip #1: Get your camera out of your hand.  If you don’t have a tripod then “jam” your camera down onto something like a bean bag or a balloon filled with sand.   Set it on a fence railing or a flat rock, anything, just to get it out of your hand.  Then use your self-timer.  Select the option in your camera’s drive menu, focus your camera with a half push on the shutter button, and then a full push to activate the self-timer.  By the time your camera takes the picture, it will be perfectly still.

Tip #2: Hate carrying around that cumbersome metal tripod?  Try a mono-pod, or better still, a cool twistable tripod called a, “Gorillapod,” or a “Bottle Cap” tripod.   The Gorillapod is an ingenious device that allows a photographer to twist the bendable legs onto any surface, like a tree or fence post.  While it’s not strong enough to hold a very large camera with heavy battery pack, it is perfect for most other digital cameras.  The Bottle Cap tripod, on the other hand, uses a simple pop bottle as a stand.  Here’s a great review on both devices.

Tip #3: Change your ISO.  This is your digital camera’s “film” speed.  Of course, you don’t have any film, but this is the digital equivalent of old-fashioned film speeds.  Set your ISO to 50 or 100 in bright daylight, but opt for larger (faster) speeds like 400 or 800 in low-light conditions.

Tip #4: Slow down your camera’s shutter speed, after placing your camera on a tripod or a firm level surface.  Select “shutter priority” and then allow your camera to automatically set the camera’s aperture opening.

Tip #5: Open your camera’s aperture wider using a SMALLER F-stop number (remember the smaller the number, the wider the opening).  Opt for “aperture priority,” set your F-stop, and allow your camera to automatically set the shutter speed.

Tip #6: Choose one of your camera’s scene modes like sunset, or night scene which is normally represented by a crescent moon with a star icon.  The camera will set all the necessary parameters, but you must still jam the camera or set it on a tripod.


Modern day digital cameras are very clever with all their bells and whistles, but a photographer is still better off making some decisions on his or her own.  Remember the issue of digital lag?  The more the camera must decide, while in AUTO mode, the slower the camera’s response will be.

In addition, some things never change.  People shake!  No one can hand-hold a camera in low light, and expect in-focus shots.  A tripod was a must with film cameras and it is still a must for digital cameras.  And with the advent of clever devices like the Gorillapod and the Bottle Cap Tripod, there is no excuse not to have clear well-focused shots under lowlight conditions.

P.S. If you aren’t using another clever device called photo management software, you are missing the boat.  PicaJet will assist you in locating a specific digital photograph weeks, if not years later.  Give this award-winning software a try.

Sheree Zielke

Oahu, Hawaii: How to Have a Great Time with Little Cash!

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Flight and accommodations have been paid for and now your wallet is feeling a little light?  No problem.  Here’s how to spend a week in Hawaii and have a great time with very little cash. 

Giovanni's famous shrimp truck on Oahu's North Shore by Sheree ZielkeMoney Saving Tips for Vacationing in Hawaii 1.    From the airport, opt for a hotel shuttle or bus instead of a cab.  If taking a cab, you’ll need $35-40 to get from the Honolulu airport to the Waikiki Beach area.

2.    Get settled in…throw on your bathing suit and then stop at an ABC store (they are on almost every street corner). Essential Hawaiian beach equipment by Sheree Zielke.Buy an air mattress for $3.00…pay an extra 60 cents to have it blown up.  This is both your beach mat and your ocean toy.  It will easily last a week as long as you don’t tear it.While at the ABC store, purchase a 4-day bus pas for $20.  Best investment ever.  No need for a rental car because this pass will get you anywhere on the island as many times as you like.

3.    While you are walking, grab several tourist mini publications like “The Best of Oahu” booklet.  The brochures are full of great maps, both city and island.  In addition, you’ll find lots of coupons like “two-fer” specialty coffee drinks and Beard Papa’s cream puffs.  4.    And speaking of food, if your accommodations have even a tiny fridge and or microwave, use them.  Stock up on essentials like butter, eggs, cheese, bread, and juice at an ABC store or the Food Pantry on Kuhio Avenue.  If you are really feeling adventurous, do what the perennial tourists do and head to a major grocery store.  A quick call to “The Bus” and you will know exactly where and what bus to catch to get to Foodland or Safeway or Wal*Mart.

5.    As to Wal*Mart, there is no better place to buy cheap souvenirs, bathing suits, towels, and other beach essentials you may have forgotten in your rush to get away from the snow.  But if you can’t get there, an ABC store is always near by and they are well stocked with oodles of clothing and sundries. 

6.    Want a free ride?  Hop on a Hilo Hattie shuttle.  You’ll be chauffeured in an open air trolley all the way to the main store.  Here you’ll be greeted with shell lei…and fruit punch.  Wander through the store and exit into a bus depot.  As long as you are wearing your shell lei, you will be taken back to Waikiki for FREE.  And if you managed not to spend anything in the store you will truly have had a free ride.7.    Love to window shop?  Board a #8 or # 42 bus on Kuhio Avenue and travel to the Ala Moana shopping centre.  This gorgeous open air mall has everything from Prada to Longs Drugs.  The food court covers every taste from Asian foods to great cheeseburgers at the Cheeseburger Factory.  If you want a bus map, ask for one at Customer Service.Waikiki Beach sunset by Sheree Zielke.8.    Nighttime entertainment?  Watch the Waikiki Beach sunset for free and then make your way to the Banyan Tree by the police station right on the beach.  There is always a free hula show.

Or go to the Waikiki Town Centre or the Waikiki Mall for more free hula shows.  Excellent entertainment and it’s all free.

9.    Want tropical drinks but the prices are ridiculous?  Make your own in your room.  ABC stores sell everything from wine to beer to Cognac with Passion Fruit juice.  Just add your own choice of juice, ice, and enjoy at a fraction of the cost.10.                       Ready for an adventure?  Then grab that bus pass and board a #52 Circle Island bus from the Ala Moana shopping centre.  Put up with an hour of city driving and finally you’ll be in the Hawaiian countryside heading for the North Shore.  Hop off and hop on as many times are you like as the buses run on a 30 minute schedule.  Make your first stop the charming village of Haleiwa.  North Shore of Oahu Hawaii by Sheree Zielke.Ride up to Waimea Beach, Shark’s Cove, and Sunset Beach.  Pack a picnic lunch and your Circle Island trip won’t cost a dime.  Oh, and be sure to pack your camera, bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen as some of the most beautiful beaches in the world line this coast.

Hint:  If you can afford to splurge at least once, you must budget $12 for a plate of garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s shrimp truck in Haleiwa.  Absolutely delicious!  Sign his truck while you are there.

11.                       Continue around the island towards beautiful Kailua or catch the bus back in the direction you came and make your way back to the Ala Moana shopping centre.12.                       Want to snorkel?  If you have your own gear, take the #22 bus to Hanauma Bay.  This ocean preserve is a great place to see all kinds of bright tropical fish and green sea turtles.  If you don’t have your own gear, Snorkel Bob offers a complete snorkel kit for $9 for the week.

And there you have it!  If you can’t have a good time in Oahu, Hawaii following these instructions, then your pleasure meter is busted.

Best advice:  Use sun screen or budget your time in the hot Hawaiian sun.  After all, do you really want to lose 2-3 days to a nasty sunburn?  That’s one terrible and completely unnecessary price to pay.

Sheree Zielke

Cruise Ship Buffets: Tips for Feasting Without Gaining Weight!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

(Gaining weight while cruising is a hot topic on the cruise boards, so I thought I’d share an eating plan that works for me.)

Are you planning a cruise ship vacation, but you are worried about falling victim to the siren cry of the cruise ship buffets, and the subsequent weight gain?  Or have you cruised before, so you’ve already packed your “fat” pants for disembarkation day?  Well, you’re not alone.  Many travelers, men and women, gain weight during ocean voyages.


Weight gain, following a luxurious ocean voyage, can outweigh the joyful memories of your last cruise.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here’s a simple controlled eating system for piling up those wonderful cruise ship memories, without piling on the extra pounds.  And the beauty of this system is that is doesn’t require severe changes in behavior, just slight moderations to the way you eat, and the way you think about eating.



Cruise ship in Italian waters.(Note:  If you are under a doctor’s care for weight or other health-related issues, then the following plan may not work for you.  Remember, you should abide by medical advice given you by professionals you trust.  If, however, you are an average Joe, simply prone to over-indulging, then this controlled eating plan may be perfect for you.) 

Change the way you THINK about eating first:  Stop thinking like the child you once were.  You don’t have to try everything; you don’t have to eat vegetables if you don’t want to; you don’t have to eat everything on your plate; and you can eat your dessert at any time you choose, even at the beginning of your meal.  If you are craving protein, then eat an entire meal of just protein.  You’ll make up the difference at another meal.


But be on guard against white foods (pasta, bread, rice, and anything made from white flour or white sugar).  These are high carbohydrate and calorie rich foods.  Select these foods with care, and in reduced amounts, much reduced amounts.  With that in mind, hit the buffet.


Plate sizes:  This is your first line of defense.  Where possible, use a smaller plate; avoid the platter-size plates offered by most cruise lines.  Go to the dessert area or the salad bar, and use one of those plates instead.  A smaller plate means less room for food.


Portion sizes:  Cruise ship buffets offer very tempting desserts but just because cakes and pies are cut into wedges, it doesn’t mean you must take the portion size offered.  Instead, cut the piece in half, or share a piece with your traveling companion.  It also helps to keep a quick calorie chart in your head.  A large fruit muffin is 400 calories.  A wedge of chocolate cake is easily 500 plus calories, while two shortbread cookies are about 160 calories.

Eat desserts WITH the main course:  This is one of the most sensible things I have ever done.  How many of us (especially the chocolate freaks) eat a full meal, and then can’t resist at least 2-3 desserts like gooey fudge cake, chocolate mousse, or pecan pie?  And because we want the yummy flavors so desperately, in spite of being full of the main course, we cram in the desserts. 

Go for a balanced plate instead (that’s ONE plate).  You know you want the sweet stuff, you know you are going to eat it anyway, so add it to your main course plate and eat it at the same time as you eat your roast beef, your broccoli, and your salad.  You will sate your sweet tooth, your cravings, and you won’t overeat.  Try it—it really works.  (Note to Baby Boomers:  Forget what Mama taught you—eat your dessert during your main course.)



Eating frequency:  Come to the buffet because you are hungry.  If you are there because you are bored, you are in trouble.  Bored people who eat are also people who will gain weight.  Come to the buffet only when you are hungry, REALLY hungry. 

Ignore what you’ve learned about “three squares” a day; instead opt for five smaller meals.  Thin people tend to eat smaller meals, but they eat more often.  It’s a smart behavior to emulate.

Explore the buffet:  Don’t start loading your plate until you have perused the entire buffet.  Don’t put a single thing on your plate until you have decided what you would like to eat.  In other words, don’t graze.  Be very choosy, and select only those items you absolutely must have. Once you have decided what items you are truly craving, begin loading your plate, with items from everywhere including the hot courses, the salad bar, and the desserts.  It works like this:  You have limited space in your stomach.  If you overeat on the main courses, and you are still craving dessert, you will cram in that yummy chocolate cake, no matter what.  It’s what we overeaters do.

Slow down:  Once back at your table, remember you are not on a timetable.  You have lots of time to eat—slowly. Try to drink a half glass of water laced with lemon (makes the water more palatable and it acts as a detox) in between food portions.  Once you’ve finished your plateful, drink more water, and then evaluate your desires.  If you are still hungry, if you are still craving something, go ahead and eat, but keep the portions small. 

Midnight buffet:  Let your eyes feast all they want, but don’t touch.  Better still—avoid this caloric-rich temptation altogether.  Go dancing instead.  Or take an evening stroll.  Luckily, for those weak of will, many cruise lines are now eliminating this unhealthy, albeit highly delicious, midnight fiesta.

Walk and then walk some more:  Use the stairs, if you are able.  Avoid the elevator—the waiting time is usually long anyway.  Take in the view from the panorama deck, or jog around the track if you are up to it.  Just be sure to move.

Quick guidelines for controlled eating onboard a cruise ship:

  1. Make several trips to the buffet, with a smaller plate.  It’s fun to browse and select only a couple of foods at a time.  Besides the walk will do you good.
  2. Slow down.  Select your foods carefully and thoughtfully.  Eat slowly.  Drink lots of water as you eat.
  3. Reduce your portion sizes.  Take only a partial serving where whole parts are offered.  Have half a piece of cake, half a pork chop or half a bun.  You just want the flavor anyway; you won’t miss the other half.
  4. Arrange your food on your plate so that one type barely touches another.  Keeping visible space between your foods helps keep down the calories.  And it looks more appetizing, too.
  5. Select wisely—for health, of course, but for taste, too.  Don’t take a food just because it’s part of the suggested food guide.  Select a food only because you are craving that flavor.  You aren’t a baby anymore; choose what you want—just try to opt for better food choices like a mix of fresh vegetables and lean meats.  In smaller quantities.
  6. Think—don’t just shovel!  Do you really want that second half of your potato?  That piece of beef?  That pecan tart?
  7. Water!  Drink lots of water during your meal.  It will help you to feel fuller, without the calories.  Give your body a chance to metabolize this smaller meal, and then have another, a few hours later.
  8. Skip a meal if you are not hungry.  Add meals on days that you are hungry. But keep them small.
  9. On shore excursion or port days, eat a hearty breakfast onboard, a light lunch on shore, and a hearty dinner back on the ship.  During “at sea” days, skip the first breakfast, eat an early lunch (brunch), and an early supper, with a couple of snack times in between.
  10. Ignore what you were taught as a kid.  Stop eating when you are full, leave food on your plate.  No one will hold you accountable for uneaten mashed potatoes.  I promise.
  11. Above all, eat for pleasure, and because you are hungry, not just because the food is sitting there.


Sheree Zielke

Travel Planning? Pay Yourself by Opening More Browser Windows!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Travel Planning? Save Hundreds by Using Your Browser Windows!

Hotel Giorgione - Venice, ItalyYour flight cost is only a small part of your vacation travel budget.  What about hotel room charges?  You might get a cheaper plane ticket because you will stay overnight (especially a Saturday night), but if you don’t get your best price on a hotel room, that hot deal airline ticket may no longer be a bargain.

Bound for the Big Easy!

My husband and I have planned a springtime trip into southern Texas where we’ll be staying for a week.  Our destination is 2500 miles away from our home town, so we figured we should do a little more travel while in the South.  Then we remembered New Orleans; we hadn’t been there in a long while, and we would like to see how the Big Easy has recovered from Katrina.  

We booked all lengths of our flights through Expedia, and got great deals. But while our Texas condo was covered because we traded a week in one of our vacation properties, we needed accommodations in New Orleans.  So, a trip back onto the Web was required.


Follow Bill Shatner’s lead – Visit

I had heard a lot about and I am a big fan of William Shatner, the front man in Priceline advertising, so I thought I’d give Priceline a go.

I took Priceline’s quick tutorial which made the search process very understandable and easy.  I brought up several options, which all looked good.  But I knew hotels in New Orleans are still going at bargain prices, so I thought I’d take advantage of Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” feature. 


Helmsley Park Lane - NYC.  In-room wireless Internet.Again this feature was very easy to use: I selected the French Quarter as my area choice, I opted for a 3.5 star hotel (at Priceline’s “good deal” suggestion), and then I offered a price.  I got as far as the page requesting a credit card number, with the advisory that stated that if my offer was accepted, my credit card would be charged, and there would be no going back.  That’s when I thought I’d do a little more research.  I opened another browser window–and I am glad I did.



Open another browser window, or two!


I hit on a site dealing in New Orleans boutique hotels; among them was the Ambassador, the same hotel I had seen on  But the prices were extremely different.  While Priceline’s price looked good, the boutique hotel site’s prices were awesome, less than1/2 price.  I was just about ready to book when I remembered my other ace-in-the-hole: TripAdvisor.  TripAdvisor is a great site for quickly checking out properties before booking.  Many other hotel guests post candid reviews of their stays.  And in the past, TripAdvisor has saved me from booking into substandard properties; I opened another browser window.



When TripAdvisor came up, I noticed some negative reviews, but there were also several positive reviews.  I studied the negatives first and found they were a little one-sided, kind of unfair.  So, I pulled up several of the positive reviews.  On average, most people were happy staying here, so long as you asked for a 2nd floor room that faced the street, and you didn’t mind having Harrah’s Casino directly across the street.  The property was acceptable, so I clicked on further info.  TripAdvisor came up with a quote, too—slightly higher than the boutique hotel site’s quote, but quite a bit less than Priceline’s quote.  I now had confirmation on a normal good price for this property.



Straight to the horse’s mouth—not such a good deal! 

So far, so good.  But I could still open another browser window.  And so I did.  And went straight to the horse’s, er, Ambassador Hotel’s website.  I had heard that sometimes better deals can be had by calling the hotel directly—it was NOT the case this time.  I was quoted double the rates showing on both TripAdvisor and the boutique hotels web site.  Even with an AAA discount, the rate was still nearly double the other quotes.  So, if we were going to stay at the Ambassador, for a reasonable price, we had to book at a third party site online.  But, it only takes a second to open another browser window; I logged on to


One more browser stop to make! mirrored the higher rates quoted by the hotel’s reservation clerk, so once more both the boutique hotel site and TripAdvisor were offering the absolute best prices. We finally settled on an entirely different property, a hotel with a higher star rating, and an even better price, relatively speaking.  We felt thoroughly confident about our choice, having first done the research to confirm what constituted a good deal.


Bottom line?  Pay yourself hundreds of dollars for a few minutes work!

It’s true the whole search took about a ½ hour, but it was so easy, so informative, and so money-saving, especially if you don’t jump at the first great-looking price.  Open a few more browser windows and check out a few more web sites.  You’ll soon know if your great price is really great, or if it is average, or if it’s downright lousy.


Next time you are planning your vacation, remember that a few more browser windows, a few more searches, a few more minutes can mean a few more dollars—in fact, hundreds of dollars, will remain in your pocket.



Sheree Zielke

Digital Camera MEGA Memory Card Tips

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Oh the JOY!  And the GRIEF!

Camcorder users must have memory cards with LARGE capacity memory storage.  But the average still digital camera user—does not!  And in fact, using a memory card with a storage capacity of over 1GB (gigabyte) is foolhardy. 


With Sony’s release of its mega memory 8 and 16 GB memory sticks for videographers, can mega memory cards be far behind for digital cameras that shoot still photographs?  Apparently not.  Other camera manufacturers are peppering the marketplace with bigger faster memory cards like the SanDisk 16GB CF Extreme III.  But my caution is to think before you leap up to these massive capacity memory cards.  Here’s why…



Digital camera memory cards come under a number of titles, with the most common being:  Compact Flash, xD Card, Memory Stick, SecureDigital, SmartMedia, and MicroDrive.  And while these miniature hard drives differ widely in name, most offer increasing memory capacity.  And that’s good news for professional photographers, but a nasty temptation for the average point and shooter.


It sounds like a magnificent idea, doesn’t it?  Plug in a massive memory card and then fire away.  Select a reasonable resolution and compression level in your camera, and the average Joe photographer could load thousands of images to a 2GB card.  But it’s not the memory card’s memory size that is a problem; it’s the card’s physical size.


This weekend, my grandkids haphazardly managed to lose my Nintendo DS Brain Age game card—it just disappeared.  I could hardly blame them because the darn thing is so tiny.  So are digital camera memory cards.  Some memory cards are so tiny you could pick your teeth with them.  So, what does the average photographer do when, towards the end of his vacation, he loses one of his tiny memory cards?  Cry? Hit something? Curse?  Probably all three.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 


Keep your digital images safe—don’t put all your eggs in one basket!


1)                Buy several smaller memory cards (512, 1GB).  Split up your photographs so that if a card goes missing, you haven’t lost all your photos.  Hopefully, you haven’t lost the card with the prize-winning sunset shot.

2)                Don’t fill your MEGA (2GB, 8GB, 16GB) memory cards to capacity.  If you need the larger cards because you are saving some of your files in “raw,” fine, but share your digital images among several memory cards.  Use a memory card storage case, like the iPorter xSD or just a simple plastic storage box; turn over your used cards, inside the case, so you know they are “full.”  In an emergency, you could always grab one, and add a few more shots.

3)                Clean your camera’s memory cards every night.  Travel with your laptop, or a small external drive like a Wolverine.  I ensure I never lose my photos by loading all photos to my laptop’s hard drive, and a second set to my Wolverine.  I carry my laptop onto the plane; the Wolverine is packed in my checked luggage.  One way or the other, my digital images make it home.



4)                Re-format your memory cards (in your camera ONLY) once you have cleared them of photos.  Digital camera memory cards are tiny drives—their brains (bits and bytes) get addled just like a computer’s hard drive.  And like a computer, the cards need defragmenting (re-formatting) to keep them working properly.  Or, they will act up.  You’ll know you have card error when your digital images overlap each other.


As an average shooter, don’t be seduced by the mega memory cards—buy several cards with smaller memories instead, and a memory card storage case.  When one of your memory cards goes missing, you will breathe a sigh of relief because you still have the others.


And be sure to manage your photographs well—use a photo filing and indexing program like PicaJet to make your photographs easily accessible.




Sheree Zielke

Shopping for Travel Deals – Start With a Good Email Filing System

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Gather as Much Information as You Can!

I love shopping—any kind of shopping: Flea markets, garage sales, window grazing in New York City, small foreign bazaars, cruise ship boutiques, or Internet sites like eBay. But my absolute favorite shopping is travel shopping. In fact, I am addicted to travel shopping. And the Internet caters shamelessly to my addiction.

Like a real addict, I must stay connected to my suppliers. Thank goodness, the Internet makes that so easy. But there are so MANY travel web sites: sales, airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruise ships. How can one keep everything straight and more importantly, accessible? That’s where a good filing system comes into play.

Organize Your Incoming Information!

My husband’s email “Inbox” is deplorable. He allows hundreds of emails to pile up with no real attempt to deal with them other than a quick read. He plays a frustrating seek-and-find game when he needs information from one of the emails buried in his massive stockpile. But there is an easier, and much faster way to keep emails in order, especially travel site emails—set up a filing system in your email program.

I am a stickler for keeping information well filed, so I set up files in my Outlook Express. I right-click on “Local Folders” and then I select, “New Folder.” I then use a common category like, “Travel,” as my first word. This is followed by a hyphen and then a word or two identifying the travel site. For instance, an airline would appear as “Travel – Alaskan Air.” That way, any email from Alaskan Air gets filed here. You might decide to file all airlines under, “Airlines.”  For example – “Airlines – Alaskan Air.” And that’s fine, so long as you remain consistent.

Be Selective – Choose Travel Sites Wisely!

As I visit different travel sites, I determine its validity to my situation (city, travel destinations, pricing) and then either abandon it, or I register. Once registered, I opt for email updates, sales, newsletters, etc. I am never worried about spamming because if I ever tire of a site, I can either unsubscribe, or I simply block the emails in my spam catcher. My favorite sites (as a Canadian traveler) include the following:

Expedia (travel deals, my trips planner, insurance, activites)

Travelocity (hotels, flights, cars, or a combination – great deals)

Travelzoo (collection of all kinds of last minute sales)

Cruise Critic (outstanding info shared by other cruisers)

Cruise Web (hot deals on cruises)
Escapes (last minute hot deals)

Trip Advisor (my absolute favorite for trip planning and reviews)

Flickr (awesome site for showing off vacation photos)

Frommers (deals, tips, cruise news, travel advice galore)

Fodor’s (deals, tips, contributor reviews)

World Airport Codes (fast access to 3-digit airport codes)

Trick for Remembering all Your Travel Site Log-ins and Passwords!

I am just too absent-minded to remember all my log-in names and passwords. Writing them down is useless because I forget where I wrote them down. So, here’s what I do.

As soon as I register for a new site, I send myself an email with the site’s name in the “Subject” line. In the email, I identify the email address I used for the site, my log-in name, and my password (I usually use a clue to my password as opposed to the actual password). As soon as the email comes into my Inbox, I file it into the site’s file. I never have to guess at a site’s log-in; I just open my email file and there it is.

File Systems – Good for All Aspects of Travel!

Aside from organizing travel site emails, a good filing system is simply a great idea, especially when it comes to vacation photos. If you are not already using a photo management system for filing and retrieving your photographs with ease, try award-winning PicaJet. It’s an easy-to-learn program that will help you access any photograph weeks, months, or even years later.


Sheree Zielke

PS If you would like to follow along as I plan my next adventure, a cruise to New Zealand and Australia, click HERE!

Photographing Cats: How to Avoid the Glassy Green-Eyed Monster

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

A Great Trick for Photographing a Cat!

We all have pets we love–pets we love to photograph.  But it’s so difficult getting a well-exposed shot without an ugly glassy-eyed stare.  In addition, pets (especially an I-do-as-I-please-when-I-feel-like-it cat) tend not to cooperate with our picture-taking efforts.  But you can trick them into cooperating.

This is a picture of my cat, Winnie.  Winnie by Sheree ZielkeShe is a contrary old beast who will sit still long enough for me to set up my shot, and then as if responding to some inner psychic voice, she moves off,  just as I snap the picture.  Wretched animal! 

In addition, since she is an indoor cat, I must use additional lighting–like my camera’s flash.  That usually results in an ugly glassy-eyed shot, worse than any red eye.  Because a cat’s pupils are so wide, the flash hi-lights the light receptor cells in the back of the animal’s eyes…and that just isn’t pretty.  Photographing her was a huge challenge, until I discovered this trick.

Cashing in on Winnie’s natural curiosity and cat instincts, here’s how I got this picture.  I lay back on my bed, with a bedside lamp beside me (one of those natural daylight lamps).  I forced my camera’s on-board flash OFF.  I set my ISO to 200, left the white balance on AUTO,  and then waited for her to become interested in what I was doing.  That was the easy part since cats like light, especially light that moves around. 

So, while handholding my compact digital in one hand, I used the other hand to wiggle the lamp.  As a result, Winnie turned her complete attention to the lamp, and since the lamplight was beaming down on her, she was completely lit.  That meant I didn’t have to worry about low light conditions, a slower shutter speed, and resulting camera shake. I easily snapped this pretty picture. 

Another thing that helped was shooting the picture at an angle to her eyes; angles definitely help to avoid a greenish glassy stare. 

More tips:  Use your exposure compensation–especially when photographing an animal that is largely all dark or all light.  Here is a good rule of thumb: 

  1. White cat against a darker background?  The cat will be overexposed so decrease your exposure compensation.  (The problem is that the camera metres the dark background and decides more light is needed in the photograph, thus blowing out the white cat.)
  2. Black cat against a lighter background? The cat will be underexposed so increase your exposure compensation.  (The camera decides less light is needed because of all the light, thus underexposing the dark cat.)
  3. Opt for “spot” metering (as opposed to center, average, or matrix metering) when shooting the above subjects; it will help, but will not entirely correct the situation without an exposure compensation adjustment.

Sheree Zielke

Digital Camera Image Files: The Raw Truth!

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Low-Down on RAW Digital Photo Files – In Simple Terms!

My students are often confused by the file options (RAW or JPEG) in their cameras. Without going into huge detail, I generally suggest my students opt for a medium to high JPEG file because the majority of my students have no interest in adjusting their digital images at a later time. 


But if you want more control over your images, you might want to opt for RAW files…read on…


RAW or JPEG — what’s the difference?   

RAW photo files, like a raw carrot, await a brilliant cook/artist to do something to them.  But, unlike a raw carrot which can be perfect as is, pictures printed from RAW photo files can be much better after manipulation—RAW files are meant to be adjusted before being saved as JPEG prints.


Years ago, before the advent of digital cameras, a film photographer had to visit the processing bath in his darkroom before being able to show off his photographs; that’s where he’d turn his negatives into prints.  In this sense, RAW files are similar to old-fashioned film negatives–that’s “similar” because unlike old film negatives, a RAW file can be printed without manipulation.

Jim McGee, with, writes, “It’s important to understand that a print of the raw file without any changes will look identical to a high resolution JPEG file captured at the same time. What you’re getting with a RAW file is the ability to make changes later on.”

In fact, when shooting in RAW, your camera will totally ignore any previous settings you might have opted for like a particular white balance, color saturation level, or decreased resolution.

So, what’s a JPEG file?   

JPEG (Joint Photo Experts Group) is a computer formula that digital cameras use to compress RAW information into smaller more manageable files.  But as this data compression or processing takes place, some digital information must be sacrificed (lossy compression).  Setting a camera’s “picture quality” setting and/or “resolution” will determine how drastically information is cut from each image.

In addition, every single time a JPEG file is manipulated, or saved, information is lost leading to a lack of sharpness.  This doesn’t happen to a RAW image file because it remains in it original state.  And remember, too, unlike a RAW image, once a JPEG image is created, the information lost—can never be regained. 

The good news, however, is that JPEG files, while reducing file size, have the uncanny ability to maintain the visual quality of an image, in spite of dumping excess information.

What can a photographer do with RAW images?  

RAW digital image files allow the photographer to later tweak his images in his digital darkroom, using the largely unprocessed information (a little processing does take place in the camera) saved to the memory card during shooting.  A photographer can set a different white balance, he can adjust his exposure compensation by a couple of stops, and he can adjust the image’s finer points like sharpness, contrast, and color saturation.  In short, he can alter his photograph’s “original” data to an adjusted JPEG image, ready for printing.

Why would a photographer choose RAW over JPEG? 

In a word, or two—it’s creative control.  When shooting in RAW, a photographer reserves the right to “fix” his images long after the fact (post-processing), something that can’t be done as efficiently on a compressed and processed JPEG image.

And no matter what, a photographer will always have the option to return to his RAW digital images, months or even years later, and adjust them to his heart’s delight.

What are the drawbacks of choosing RAW over JPEG? 

The biggest drawback is a loss of speed as the camera processes digital images to its memory card.  Fast action shots will be impeded by opting for RAW files.

Also, you’ll need to invest in larger memory cards; uncompressed RAW files use massive amounts of memory per image.

In addition, depending upon your computer’s processor speed, the huge RAW files can cause your computer to freeze up.  I did this once on a photo shoot in New York City.  I was breaking in a new Olympus eVolt 300, and had shot in both JPEG and RAW.  My older laptop couldn’t bear the processing burden and resorted to the blue screen of death.  I was barely able to recover my files upon returning home.  But the lesson was learned–I bought a new laptop with a bigger and faster dual processor.

Note:  You may see RAW files referred to as NEF by Nikon, as CRW by Canon.  Also, you simply cannot fix a poorly-taken photograph.  An out-of-focus image will remain out-of-focus since camera shake is recorded regardless of whether the camera is saving in RAW or JPEG.  So, in low light situations, use a tripod.


And another note:  “RAW” isn’t short for anything.  It should actually be written, “raw.”  But I’ve capitalized it throughout this blog, just because I like it capitalized–looks better that way.  IMHO


Sheree Zielke