[Lessons Learned] Wedding Photography

Random Observation/Comment #418: Wedding photography is a different beast from event photography. There’s so much more to learn…

see lemons wedding photograph

Weddings are beautiful. You’re there for a ceremony celebrating the beginning to a (hopefully) everlasting bond of teamwork and friendship. The opportunity to record such an emotional event is certainly a privilege. While obviously stressful to get those perfect shots, I think there’s so much more to the profession of wedding photography than meets the eye.

Lessons learned:

  • Know your bride’s requests. Let’s be honest, the photos are really for her and the groom doesn’t really care. From what I’ve seen, the relationship with the bride will solidify the entire wedding. You want to have them trust your judgment and creativity. Cut them some slack because they’ll most probably be bossy and stressed out. You’ll want them on your side because that’ll make the whole process easier.
  • Know the full agenda and venue. As with all photography, know what you’re working with and get there early to scope out where you can do the extra photos. Logistically, you should be as clear with the schedule as the event organizer. Take into account the weather and where the sun will be during the main parts of the shoot. Map out where to stand and work with other photographers to cover all angles. Know who the main people you should capture and who you shouldn’t.
  • Know your equipment. Needless to say, you’ll need to know how to photograph and not have to spend 5 minutes adjusting your camera. The camera should be an extension of your eye. Make sure you have the right lenses and equipment for the job as well. A prime f/1.8 50mm, telephoto 28-135mm, and flash with extra batteries should cover you for 80% of your shots. Multiple bodies and SD cards will help with faster switching. Lighting may also be necessary for additional shots. These can be taken with poses before dinner and drinking.
  • Take charge and tell people how to pose. When I’m doing event photography, I rarely tell people to change their positioning because I want to focus on capturing the moment. In weddings, especially for posed shots, you can move them around and make use of your limited time. It’s actually a good thing to treat your subjects like little kids and give them the direction and motivation to crack a smile. This presence really separates the amateurs from the seasoned.
  • Keep things interesting. There are clearly the set 100 types of shots (dress, make-up, hugging, crying, laughing, drinking, altar kiss, first look, first dance, cake cut, cake feeding, old nana, etc.) you take at a wedding, but to keep it fun and spontaneous, it’s important to always look for the opportunities. Stay creative and have fun with it. The photographer’s mood also has a big affect on the resulting photos, so be happy (queue happy song).
  • Be friendly and interactive. Some people automatically label you as “the help”, which is technically true, but can be a painful experience. In fact, as a recommendation for the bride and groom, it’s probably a good idea to keep your photographer happy. The photographer will certainly do their darnedest to give you their best work and make you happy. The way business works, it’s certainly much more of a word of mouth gig, so really be flexible and reasonable on both sides.
  • Have a quick turn around time. It’s always important to have photos by Monday or Tuesday (if the wedding is on Saturday). Everyone wants to see photos and even if it’s a first glance of 70, it’s good to show it first and then give the other 300 or so later. I firmly believe in quality over quantity, but everyone likes to get their money’s worth.

I’ve often stayed away from shooting weddings because I’ve found it so stressful to capture every moment for the bride’s most important day. It’s daunting how every shot matters because if you miss a first look or ceremonial kiss shot, you’re out of luck. Some things just can’t be staged and you just need to be on point the entire time.

That being said, for a photographer, there was a certain level of excitement that reminded me of traveling to a new remote location. There are just so many stories to tell while you ninja through the wedding and capture the story in still memories.

~See Lemons Shoot Weddings


[Lessons Learned] Table Tennis Mentality

Random Observation/Comment #417: I love table tennis almost as much as I love mashed potatoes. That’s a lot of love.

see lemons tt

I don’t have a gym membership, I just go to SPiN NY on weekdays after work (5:30-7:30pm) and play with the usual table tennis (TT) junkies.  It covers my cardio, core, legs, and overall mental focus for the day. I use it as pseudo-meditation and it’s the key to my stress relief and overall happiness – something that is priceless to my work-life balance.

As with getting better at any sport, it takes dedication in physical endurance and mental visualization. I think about table tennis much more than I should, and I try to watch/dissect the game videos that flood my youtube subscriptions. Those crazy rallies that happen in-game or during practice keeps me hooked and looking forward to that next shot.

Each successful stroke is instant gratification, like making a swish in basketball, completing a throw in football, or hitting a run in baseball. The satisfaction and measurable improvement in accuracy from the immediate feedback/results just makes every serve a new puzzle and every return a new sequence to add to my muscle memory.

Needless to say, it’s a wonderful feeling and I’ve learned quite a few things after devoting much of my time playing. These principles also apply to early career advice as well:

  • Get the basics right. Everyone has their own style of playing, but to get to that next level, you have to be able to consistently return shots and read spin. At the more advanced levels, you’d want a compact shot that efficiently lets you reset and make the next one with deadly accuracy. This can only be achieved if you practice good habits and adjust to each shot. In life, we shouldn’t fortify bad habits or false information – relearn it from the beginning if you have to!
  • Learn the game. Obviously, know the rules, but also think about the strategy. As with most things, if you understand the way it’s played, you can then stretch your own limits.
  • Reset and be ready. Each serve comes with a sequence of expected returns, so really think about what you’re expecting back and be ready to make the next move. Everyone has their muscle memorized set-up shots where they expect a pop-up ball and get an easy kill. As the person expecting the 3rd ball kill, you should be ready to adjust and learn from earlier mistakes. Getting ready and expecting returns is the key to then return where the other person doesn’t expect it. In your work life, always expect the next move from your colleagues. Things will always need to work in parallel for efficient productivity.
  • Get into the zone. Mentally, visualize your win and think positive thoughts. High level players all have shots that they can make flawlessly, so it’s really the strategy that separates out the best from the best. Try to get into your own rhythm and get into your comfortable pace. In work, I think it takes at least 15 minutes to get into the zone. I often block out times in my calendar devoted to working on projects without meeting interruptions.
  • Play to your strengths / Play to their weaknesses. When going through your serve sequences, make sure you’re analyzing the other person’s weaknesses and memorizing the particular combinations that get the point. You will probably use these at important points of your match.  When you know what works, you can adjust your game to beat the opponent. Make them play your game. In management, it’s important to see everyone’s potential. When I manage my interns, I don’t always just assign them based on their past experience. I give them a chance to improve on their weaknesses.
  • Don’t underestimate your opponent. I play with different levels of seriousness to keep the game fun, but if it’s a serious match, I use Brett’s “no mercy” rule. I treat my opponent as my equal so I keep the fight going.
  • Ignore the score – play it one point at a time. Points are won one at a time, so play each point without bias from how the previous point went. If you won it and you’re ahead 8-3, that doesn’t mean your opponent can’t come back. In fact, if you don’t take your lead seriously, you will most likely lose careless points. If you lose too many, the opponent can get motivated and magically get the momentum they need to catch up.
  • Motivate yourself. I’m as guilty as every other TT junkie for talking to myself after each point. In between points, I coach myself into thinking what I did right and wrong about the previous point. I give myself a pep talk and point out the other person’s weaknesses to remember it moving forward. When I do this, it’s not to stress myself out for the next point, but instead keep my energy up for a positive approach. It helps with visualization and it makes a difference.

For more in-depth analysis of table tennis mental game, read “Get Your Game Face On” by Dora Kurimay. She’s certainly experienced with the game and gives a lot of practical advice.

See you all on the courts! I’m always open to challenges.

~See Lemons Love TT

[Lessons Learned] Being a MOUSE Mentor

Random Observation/Comment #416: Mentorship is a two-way street. I often learn as much from the students as they learn from me.

see lemons be a mouse mentor

Recently, I was given the opportunity to participate in a semester-long mentorship with the MOUSE program at Baruch College Campus High School (BCCHS).  Each school has a slightly different program, but our set-up is driven by a history teacher who just wanted to help her students get exposure to more hands-on technology classes.

The DIY project provides HS students with an early glimpse at college engineering/design product classes. Here’s what makes this program unique for High School students:

  • “Work experience”. As mentors, we have completed many projects that range from software to our own side projects. What classes don’t usually teach is the actual “work experience” of directly facing issues with planning, preparing, and executing these projects.
  • Company-style responsibility. Instead of telling the students what to do, we let them choose their own projects and set their own expectations. The mentors are consultants more than a manager for each 5-person group. We’re invested in their deliverables, but not controlling the way they run their projects.  We offer guidance and ask the right questions so that students can have that “ah-ha” moment of seeing how complex projects can become when one unravels all the different aspects.
  • Defined roles. Each student is assigned a role: Designer, Engineer, and Marketer.  These roles in real life pull at each other with their own interests. We try to teach the students to consider all perspectives and have each of them take stake in their own deliverables. This means that if you think like an Engineer, you should think about what you can actually build for a prototype that balances the goals from Designer and Marketer.
    • For example, Marketers tend to aim big and try to enter the market with a unique project; Designers draw based on user needs, but probably only meet half of the marketer’s scope; Engineers need to pull that back even further because the designs may not be buildable; and Project managers need to pull everything together to make sure we set expectations for what’s finally delivered.  I think this dynamic is hard to explain without experiencing it firsthand.

Hopefully, this type of classroom dynamic with corporations will be implemented with other school programs. I really find hands-on projects more fun and realistic. If we challenge students to take ownership of their idea and grow with it, I think we’ll all be surprised at how incredible these projects can become.  Even if they don’t design the next kickstarter million dollar idea, I think they get more exposure to real-world thought processes and teamwork.

~See Lemons Volunteer

[Lessons Learned] Presenting to HS Students

Random Observation/Comment #415: The reward of educational influence can be obtained without a formal “job” in academics. While I’m growing in my career, I will always find time to be a mentor.

see lemons present

In March 2014, I was given the opportunity to speak to 60+ high school students at Baruch HS for an hour session. What did I talk about? Pragmatic Presenting.

I’ll write a separate blog entry about the specific material I spoke about, but I want to focus this post on my lessons learned and general presentation tips for HS students.

  • Know your purpose. I was there to help them with an upcoming conference within the school, so I wanted to give practical and pragmatic advice that they could clearly use for their upcoming presentations and future endeavors. I focused on communication more than public speaking. Remember that this can’t just be a passing idea, but rather an obvious theme throughout your presentation.
  • Know your audience. High school students are a very fickle crowd with a short attention span and probably stray random thoughts (I barely remember anyone who spoke to me when I was in High School). I used visual aids, videos, direct tips, and interactive sessions to keep their attention. I made sure the analogies were something they could relate to and I tried commanding their attention like a teacher would.
  • Use visual aids. Presentation Zen worked very well here. I spoke with as little text on the slides as possible and tried to make each slide clear with a single photo or one word on the screen. I literally used photos of Jerry Seinfeld and Morgan Freeman in order to relate it to my speech. (for Seinfeld I told the joke about how public speaking is the #1 fear and death is #2…so you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. And for Morgan Freeman, I said that you should use voice inflections unless you have a voice like this guy.)
  • Make it interactive. Do not make it a one-way presentation. Make it a story, interactive workshop, and conversation. I called students up (specifically seniors who have submitted essays or prepared for interviews) and tried to change the dynamic of just having someone stand up there. Pragmatic examples were key.
  • Speak to them like adults. Knowing your audience does not always mean treating them with bias. I’ve found that treating students with respect and providing them with responsibility actually encourages them to step-up to the challenge.
  • Relate to them. Remind them that we’ve all been in those chairs and we’ve all wondered where things go. When someone asks me “What did you want to do when you were growing up?”, I’d say “I still don’t know what I want to do.”  Career paths are not straight lines – even the ones that seem that way were filled with hundreds of milestone decisions that could have gone in many different directions. Let them know that grown-ups are really not that different.
  • Have fun. The best presentations I’ve seen are where the presenter is passionate about what they’re talking about and clearly want the room to learn for the sake of learning.

It’s not like we’re up there so they can pass a test – we’re up there sharing knowledge and inspiring the next generation. I never realized it when I was on the other side, but that’s truly something special. Thank you to all the teachers (parents, volunteers, and mentors) out there. You’re all fucking awesome. Keep that shit up.

~See Lemons Present to HSs

Ideas to Improve your Toastmasters club

Random Observation/Comment #414: Toastmasters is an opportunity to take ownership and use your creativity to grow a community focused on self-improvement in communication.

see lemons lead

We can all be leaders. The opportunity is always there to foster a community and organize events.  Toastmasters clubs are self-sustaining groups run by their own members who want to help others improve in communications skills. As a previous President and VP of Education, I can tell you that it’s not always easy keeping a healthy club and maintaining the same enthusiasm from all members. We have to be creative and we need to keep everyone engaged.

Here are some ideas I’ve learned from officer trainings and brainstorming with our members:

  • Themed/Special meetings. It’s always good to have meetings that revolve around current events, seasons, or the specific speakers’ topics.
  • Body language meeting. Extra points for acting out speeches and using the stage space
  • Clearing Filler words. For those who want it, they can opt for a cruel and unusual filler word punishment (e.g. people will throw papers at you if you say a filler word)
  • Session on 2-minute pitching / elevator pitches and their structures
  • Special on Networking and how to be a better speaker daily
  • Interviewing better by communication
  • Practice technical presentations
  • Acting advice (one of our members is a former actor)
  • Guest speakers from managers of toastmaster members
  • Partnership with internal groups. If you’re a corporate club, it’s very likely there are other networks and groups internally that can work together. If a group is holding an event and someone needs to speak, a toastmaster can certainly help.
  • Marketing Campaign. Sometimes people just need to know these meetings exist and regularly meet. If you have consistency, then guests will come and practice.
  • Internal newsletter. Add your toastmasters group to an internal newsletter. Write your own newsletter and share it.
  • Add to new hire process.
  • Website updates (tweets of meeting times with reminders)
  • Transparency of recognition and awards. Send messages to toastmaster members’ managers of their milestones to improve communication skills.
  • Physical poster in the lobby reminding people of the meeting for the day.
  • Mentorship program. Officers who are more advanced speakers can take on mentees and meet with them to complete their goals.
  • Assign mentors and mentees and place some structure around the objectives
  • Mentor packet: A 1-2 page packet for beginning mentors. This will help mentors give some common tips and tricks to mentees.
    • What are some techniques to remove/reduce filler words?
    • How do I gain more confidence in my speech?
    • How do I memorize my speech?
    • How can I tell better stories?
    • How can I think faster on my feet for small talk?
    • How do I make meetings more interesting?
  • Video/Recording – It’s always a great motivation to improve your public speaking when you see/hear a recording of yourself. You are your own worst judge.
  • Guest packet: A 1-2 page visitors material with an FAQ. Some questions may include:
  • What is toastmasters?
  • What is the meeting format?
  • How do members benefit?
  • What is the CC?
  • What is the CL?
  • When does toastmasters meet?
  • How do I join?
  • Polling the Guests. It’s been a tradition in our meetings to have everyone stand up, introduce themselves, and answer a random poll question.. Some of these questions have included:
  • What is your personal tip/trick for public speaking?
  • How do you stay productive and stop procrastinating?
  • How do you relax?
  • What are your new year’s resolutions?
  • How do you feel about snow?
  • Which books have you read recently?
  • What is your favorite costume idea for Halloween?
  • Name an activity you’ve done outside your comfort zone
  • What is a website/app you think everyone should know about?
  • What is the best/worst gift you’ve ever received?
  • What is your most valuable possession?

Whichever combination of techniques you choose, just be creative and have fun with it! Practice will help you get over your fears of insecurity and make you a more confident speaker. Worst case: Fake it ’til you make it.

~See Lemons Share Toastmasters Ideas

[Travel Advice] My Favorite Layover – Narita

Random Observation/Comment #413: The Bad Idea Bears are not foreign to layovers and have enough experience to make the most out of the transfer in a new country.

see lemons love narita

Layover trip planning is a completely separate beast to regular trip planning because TIME is the largest constraint. In most cases, you want to err on the side of caution and stay within the international terminal as to:

  1. Not miss your connecting flight and get screwed staying in your random layover city
  2. Not pay for the visa if it is required for certain countries
  3. Not to pay extra money on transportation into the city to only spend a few ours there before rushing and returning to the gate
  4. Not exchange foreign money

All of these reasons are quite valid and usually sway us to stay in the airport, but there are exceptions:

  1. Layover is longer than 6 hours and there’s something close-by to see or eat
  2. You’ve never been to the country and you want to get a passport stamp

Due to this compulsive desire to make our passports look badass, we at least go through security to get the passport stamp and just walk right back into the airport. We’ve done this on multiple occasions for Turkey, Japan, and Nigeria (or at least tried).

By far, my favorite layover destination is Narita Airport in Japan. After exiting the terminal, the Tourist Information center was extremely friendly and helpful to provide us with a 2-3 hour typical itinerary for layovers that worked extremely well.  Here’s what we did:

  • Take the Keisei Main Line one stop (7 minutes – cost 250 yen). This train comes every 20 minutes on the 10/30/50 of the hour when going West.
  • Eat amazing sushi at Edokkozushi Sandohonten.  Prices are very reasonable and the servings are filling. Even just for this, I’d do this layover every time.
  • Take a walk through the Naritasaan Shinshoji temple. If you’ve never been to Japan, this temple will be a nice treat for you. You can hear the wind blow in peace and I think it’s the perfect introduction and lure for Japanese culture.
  • Head back and eat ramen. Because it’s so hard to find reasonably priced Japanese food in NYC that matches the quality, we actually sat down and had a second/third lunch ramen. It was so fresh and delicious that I didn’t care I had a 13-hour flight back to Chicago.

Alternatively, it looks like the eel is very famous in this location. A nice bowl of eel and rice would have been a lovely treat as well. Alas, I only have room for so many lunches.

The whole layover experience took 2.5 hours max and we were so glad we did it. Even if you just miss the train both ways, you have: 20 min train wait + 7 min commute + 30 min eat sushi + 13 min walk to temple + 30 min relax at temple + 13 min walk back + 20 min train wait + 7 min commute = 140 min.

If you’re ever in Narita airport, spend the 500 yen for the train round-trip commute and go have some 2000 yen sushi with a relaxing walk. It’s certainly worth the extra time and effort. Also note, you can leave your bags at the airport storage for 500 yen. Ask the tourist information area for more details.

~See Lemons Love Narita Layovers

[Travel Advice] Beijing

Random Observation/Comment #412: Smog is smoggy. Looking at the Earth as an organism, humans are definitely the worst disease the Earth has ever caught. You need to stop with those one night stands, Mother Nature.

see lemons in the forbidden city

Things China Does Great:

  • Great Wall. It’s pretty great and epic. Certainly worth every penny to go and see it with your own eyes if you can stand the touristy stuff around it. Once you’re up there though – Wow.
  • Inexpensive and delicious food. Definitely try the lamb hot pot, street baos, hand-pulled noodles, Peiking duck, and dumplings (nom nom nom all the momos). There’s food in Flushing that is on par, but there’s something about having it come from a local kitchen with local (probably polluted) water that makes me happy.
  • Clean, efficient, and incredible infrastructure. It’s not as clean as Japan, but the streets are swept nightly and the metro can get you almost anywhere.  I think they used the same metro designer as in Hong Kong, so I naturally love it. The roads are also very smoothly paved even into the smaller cities.
  • Quick day trips to peacefulness. I’m not really a big fan of over-populated cities with tourist traps. I like the local places, so it’s nice for me to see some small day trips to little towns like Chuandixia and the Great Wall to mix it up a bit.

Things that are Slightly Annoying:

  • Spitting and hocking louggies. It’s not the spitting, but more of the deep hocking sound that you occasionally hear in public. It universally makes people shiver, but old people still do it and I think it needs to stop.
  • Lack of Patience. I’ve found people to be a little rude when getting on subways and waiting for their time to do things. It’s these super aggressive selfish personalities that overall make me feel like people are very distrustful of the public.
  • Scamming. Although this never happened to me, I would beware of people in public who are too friendly. There have been a number of crazy scams for tourists, including:
  • Aggressive Haggling. The Chinese shop owners are actually really bad hagglers. They will give you a hard time in the beginning, but if you walk away and come back, you will most likely make the sale. Just know the value of what you’re buying and I think you should be fine.  I don’t like their haggling because sometimes they grab and set prices close to 20x the regular value. You can literally start at $1 and slowly work your way. Remember to just walk away because they are highly competitive with the 30 other stalls selling exactly the same thing down the line. I think it’s huge sport.
  • Smog. Smog is real and actually quite scary. Check this site for the day’s Air Quality Limit (AQI). Anything below 180 is considered reasonable. I don’t know why a safety limit even exists for the amount of arsenic in the air, but when the Chinese government says “You should probably stay at home today” because the 320 out of 500 pollution scale indicates there’s twenty (20) times the safety limit of arsenic in the air… I think there’s a problem.
  • Bureaucracy. You know how airport security is mostly just added process and security because people wind up sneaking through bottles of water and random things anyway? Well – these security checks happen often around tourist locations. Uniformed guards will randomly stop you and pat you down with a wand to prevent terrorist activity in crowded errors. This could have specifically been heightened for us due to recent events, but I honestly don’t see it doing anything.

Lessons learned:

  • Have a local bring you around. Besides the obvious language barrier for taxi rides and restaurants, it’s always good to have a local to bring you around China. I think they can spot deals a little bit easier and avoid scamming in general.
  • If you don’t have a guide, have someone write down the main places you want to go on separate pieces of paper in Chinese. At the very least, you will be able to hand them a piece of paper of the location.  The subways are very English friendly, so that’s always a route.
  • Learn the necessary vocabulary. I would focus on the main things you need to know on ordering food, giving taxi directions, some general yes/nos, and numbers.
  • Bring your passport. Due to the frequent checks, it’s important to have a form of identification on you at all times.
  • Rely less on credit cards. Most of Beijing (besides larger restaurants) do not accept credit cards. It’s important to have enough cash on hand to pay for train tickets, quick meals, tickets into tourist locations, and taxis.
  • Hire a driver. We hired Mark to bring us around for our day-trip to Mutianyu Great Wall and Chuandixi. A regular bus or even tour bus would have been cheaper, but with 4 people, the split cost was well worth the flexibility and nicer ride. Most importantly, there weren’t any stops to touristy shops and you get a lot of private advice from the driver.
  • Use face masks. As mentioned earlier, smog is real and I certainly felt the weight on my chest and lungs when I went out for a day of walking and wandering the streets while it was higher than 250 on the pollution scale. It’s certainly a good idea to bring your own face mask and wear it. I saw that most locals do not wear them unless they are sick themselves, but I would ebb on the side of caution. Check the AQI site for advice.

Itinerary (Beijing in 5 days):

  • Day 0 – Most flights land at night so just settle in and get some sleep to get over the jet lag
  • Day 1 – Tourism village, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, National museum, and dumplings. We woke up early to get to the tourist locations to avoid the touristy crowd, but alas they were all there soon enough. Go early and try not to go on weekends.
  • Day 2 – Rented a driver to Mutianyu Great Wall (first half of day), hand-pulled noodles, Nanlouguxiang, Hou Hai, lamb hotpot dinner. Mutianyu is clearly the less touristy spot to go. Definitely try the hot pot!
  • Day 3 – Lama temple, Summer Palace, Wangfujin for scorpion street food and buying goods, Peiking Duck, Slowboat for a beer. I love the Lama temple for its authentic Chinese feel. It has much more culture than the typically touristy things around the city. Peiking duck is definitely delicious, but it was hard to tell the difference between this one and the ones in Chinatown. I think I also like the steamed buns as an outside instead of the flatter wraps.
  • Day 4 – Rented a driver for ChuandixiaPanjiayuan market. It was very refreshing to get out of the city. Chuandixia is about 2 hours away and basically looks like a very old authentic town with some English signs nailed on. It’s clearly a new tourist location for buses, but if you can go on off season and walk around, it’s a really nice break from the fast city pace. The Dirt Market of Panjianyuan is crazy… I think it’s certainly a place to check out where locals barter.
  • Day 5 – morning return flight

There isn’t a shortage of places to go and things to do in Beijing, but the large number of tourists and overall unhealthy atmosphere left a bad taste in my mouth about the city. I certainly appreciate the nightlife and street food though. It seems to be a very lively city and an interesting place to visit.  That being said, I’m not so sure I’d put this high on my list of cities to revisit. I’ve personally found more temples in Kyoto/Tokyo and better food in Hong Kong.

~See Lemons Like Beijing