Monday, July 27, 2015

The Gap Year

It has been almost a year since I finished my first, and what I vowed to be my last, 365 photography project.

I feel like when I started that project on September 1, 2013, I was not a particularly good photographer. Looking back through my 365 album for that project confirmed, at least in my mind, that conclusion. It wasn't a total bust, there was a good one here and there, but that was mostly due to pure luck, not skill. Most days I was taking a picture of something, anything, just to cross that action off of my to-do list for the day.

The thing I was missing the most that year though wasn't skill, it was intention. I rarely had a plan, I mostly just pressed the shutter and called it good.

In this gap year, I have learned a lot. I have learned a lot about photography from endless reading, and video e-course watching, but mostly I have learned from practicing, still almost daily practice, but practice with intention.

I have brought my composition skills to new heights, following the rule of thirds almost religiously. I did a 100 day project on Instagram showcasing leading lines. It is amazing what you can see when you look with intention.

I still have so much to learn about post-processing, but it is only with daily practice that that skill will continue to improve. I am currently in a black and white phase, and I am working on mastering converting my images myself instead of relying on a preset. Somedays, as beautiful as some of those presets are, they just can't give me what the photograph is asking for.

In the last half of this gap year, I have been learning a lot about myself. For the first four months of 2015, I pursued writing whole-heartedly, only to learn that my passion truly is photography. Sometimes you have to take the longest route possible to find your way home.

Since February, I have been intentionally immersing myself in self-portraiture work. I have learned so much about light and shadow, angle and movement, about myself and my camera since beginning this self-portrait adventure. I see my own unique style starting to develop, I know where I want to take my style, but as Ira Glass says in his famed You Tube interview "there is still that gap" from where my work is and where I want it to go.

All that being said, my next project has found me. On Saturday, August 1st, I am going to start a 365 project of self-portraiture. The project idea found me this past Wednesday, and by Thursday I had almost talked myself out of the project, thinking this is a crazy idea that I will never stick with for a whole year. What was talking was fear. I am reading David duChemin's book The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs and I came across this quote as I was reading "Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the act of will to act in the presence of fear. So, to be blunt, either work up the courage to do it, or don't. For most of us our fear is strongest where we have the most to lose, so hold it lightly."

No matter what, I am going to come out of this next year stronger, and hopefully a better photographer, but I will never be either of those things if I don't at least try.

Inspiration Sources

Great Video E-courses

Thursday, July 23, 2015


"Ultimately, your theme will find you. You don't have to go looking for it."
                                                                                                                 ~ Richard Russo
I love this quote by Richard Russo, and it is so true. On Tuesday, July 14 I finished an amazing project, #the100dayproject. It was a project that began on Monday, April 6 on Instagram, hosted by @ellaluna and @greatdiscontent. The premise of the project was this: 1) Choose an Action - Like creating a recipe, taking a photo, drawing your dreams. 2) Starting April 6th repeat this action every day up to and including July 14, share all 100 days on Instagram. 3) Tag your posts with #the100dayproject, so we can follow your project. I almost missed the boat on this project, but thanks to some wonderful friends on IG, I jumped on board just in the nick of time. Since I decided on April 6 to do this project, I hadn't really thought through what I was doing to do for my 100 day project. But like the quote says "Ultimately, your theme will find you."

I initially thought I was going to do a 100 days of paths, but it became clear very quickly that I was not going to find a path every day to photograph. Then I really looked at the photos I had shot and immediately saw my project #100daysofleadinglines. 

 I have so many favorites from this project, but I will share just a few with you, if you want to see them all, and you are on Instagram, you can type in the hashtag above and it will have all 100 days of my project.

One of the best things is looking back at all the places I have been in the last 100 days. This was taken in the back alleyway of the winery at the Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore Estate has been on my bucket list forever, so I was thrilled that I was finally able to go there on our vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Some are filled with sentimental moments, like this one of the empty chairs before the graduates filled them at Northern Michigan University. What a proud mother moment watching our beautiful girl graduate from college, and this project helped me to document something I might not have otherwise.

Another favorite moment documented, the view from our master suite loft in our cabin in the Smoky Mountains, we would definitely would stay here again.

This project taught me a great deal, but mostly it showed me how much I love photography.

Leading lines are forever in my blood now, and I will continue posting leading lines shots on Instagram at #beyond100daysofleadinglines. Although, I am happy to take a little break from looking for them every day.

For now, I am patiently waiting for my next project to find me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Being Your Own Beloved - June Edition

We often hear the phrase "intentional relationship", which means we purposefully choose to create a rich, lasting relationship with someone. In the month of June I chose to have an intentional relationship with myself through the process of a self-portraiture class.

I just finished Vivienne McMaster's June session of Be Your Own Beloved. I first took the class in February when winter was in full force here in Michigan.  I wanted to take the class again partly because I wanted to do the prompts outside in warmer weather, without layers and layers of clothing on. But the main reason why I wanted to take the class again was because I wanted to be more intentional with my shots this time, planning and staging exactly what I wanted to do. Some would say this is counter productive to the class, the class is about excepting yourself as you are and photographing yourself in the moment. Well, honestly I don't dislike my body, sure there are things I wish I could change, doesn't everybody have that. For the most part I except my body the way it is. What I wanted to continue to learn was how to best photograph myself, finding the right angle to stand, finding the best light, giving the camera the least amount of body surface space, this naturally makes you look thinner. I learned so much about photography and photographing people when I did the class last time, I wanted to continue to hone those skills. Sure I could do this anytime, I don't need class prompts to go out and take self-portraits, but there is something about the community in classes, especially photography classes that motivates me more than I can motivate myself alone.

One thing I found interesting with this session of BYOB, is that I did almost all full body shots and very few body parts only shots.

I don't think there is any particular reason for this, other than I knew what I wanted to do this time and where I wanted to take my shots. I wanted to include myself in the landscape and in the areas that I love to explore.

I loved finding my reflection in old windows and doors on my walking explorations.

I probably used my Canon T2i on a tripod about the same amount as I used my iPhone 6 on its little tripod in this session. I have gotten very good at walking fast to my marked spot because the remote for the Canon doesn't have the range that I need it to have. 

For the shot above, I probably looked like a homeless lady lugging my gear along the boardwalk in a tall, brown, plastic clothes basket that was strapped to a collapsible luggage cart. But it works great, the clothes basket is tall enough to hold my two tripods, one to put my camera on, one to use as a place holder for my body, that makes it so much easier to focus the camera. I was also lugging around some photo props, and an old yoga mat to lie on if I wanted to set the camera on the ground for a shot. 

Doing self-portraiture is also great for getting new profile pictures for my social media accounts, ones I know I will like. 

I plan on continuing to build this intentional relationship with myself. In fact, I just started Vivienne's latest class - Be Your Own Light - working with light and self-portraiture. I bet there is still room if you want to join us... 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fernwood Botanical Garden - A Hidden Jewel

Back in May, we were on a road trip to The Great Smoky Mountains for a week long vacation. We were almost to the border of our great state of Michigan when I spied the coffee brown highway sign depicting a local tourist attraction. I am always on the look out for those brown highway signs, always looking for new places to explore with my camera. The brown signs hold a promise of something spectacular, unlike the cheap and tawdry billboard signs that advertise cheap and tawdry tourist attractions. As we passed the sign, I grabbed my phone, opened up my Day One Journaling app and wrote down "Check out Fernwood Botanical Garden off US-31 near the Indiana Border". I am much more likely to remember things if I write them down, and the phone is the handiest place of all to record things.

A couple of weeks ago, I come across that journal entry when I was scrolling through vacation notes. I mentioned to my daughter, Mallory, that I wanted to take a trip to Fernwood on one of my adventure days. She begged me to wait until she could go along. Last week she surprised me with a trip to Fernwood as part of my Mother's Day gift, which has loving become known as One More Thing Day. One More Thing Day started back when she was in high school, my husband had given me a new robe for Mother's Day and Mallory's part of the gift was a pedicure. She had typed up this adorable note titled One More Thing, which listed out the pedicure, a picnic lunch and ice cream afterwards. Every year now, all I want is a One More Thing Day, a day she plans out for us and is filled with priceless time together.

Every year begins with a note, listing the places that we are going to go for the day. Instead of reading the note in the car this year, we decided I would read the note at a nearby park.

These are the activities listed on this year's note:

  • a morning chai at your favorite local coffee shop
  • an afternoon wandering the gardens at Fernwood Botanical Garden
  • an evening dinner out at The Stray Dog
We started the morning at a "new favorite" coffee shop of both of ours, Lemonjellos.

Since it was a special day, I decided to deviate from my usual chai latte and trying something new. Mallory raves about the lattes here. I settled on a Chocolate and Blackberry latte and a Chocolate and Raspberry muffin. Chocolate and sweet juicy fruit, how could I go wrong. We spent a leisurely hour sitting at one of the outside cafe tables sipping our lattes, eating our muffins, and discussing life. 

At the top of the ten o'clock hour, our lattes gone and all that remained of the muffins were a few crumbs on the plates, we decided it was time to set off for the gardens. Mallory was a little apprehensive about this part of the day, being a history major she had done some research on the gardens, she found their website a little uninspiring. I think this is the case more often than not for small places with no budget for a full-time, or even part-time website and social media manager. They get by the best they can, with what they have, and what volunteer power they muster. So don't be too quick to judge a book by its cover. 

Fernwood Botanical Garden was a precious jewel waiting to be discovered.

As soon as we entered the gardens, we spied an amazing herb garden. Mallory has been the keeper of our ever expanding herb garden at home this year, so she instantly fell in love with this impressive collection.

Eventually, I was able to tear her away from the herbs so that we could continue to explore. I saw a sign for the Tallgrass Prairie area and led us off in that direction. I love prairies. I think it is all that open space, the colorful wild flowers, and the big blue sky that call to me. 

The TallGrass Prairie also provided a great backdrop for some photos of my beautiful girl.

So many beautiful things to see here. I definitely want to come here in the spring for the lilacs, and in the fall for autumn color. Fernwood is open year round, but I think I will pass on winter. 

There were some trails that we wanted to explore, but those will definitely have to wait until fall, once all the blood sucking mosquitos are dead. 

By this time it was near two o'clock and we were getting hungry and definitely thirsty. We thought we would stop at the cozy on-site cafe for some lemonade and iced tea before hitting the road for our late lunch/early supper at The Stray Dog. Our very friendly waitress seated us outside on the patio, and then proceeded to tell us about the special of the day, a house made veggie burger on a pretzel bun. I love anything on a pretzel bun, so it didn't take too much convincing for us to decide to stay in this lovely, quiet spot for lunch and save The Stray Dog for another day.

It was the best decision of the day. The veggie burger was so good. We finished our lunch by splitting a piece of carrot cake, delicious. Sorry I didn't get a photo of that for you. You will just have to imagine lush carrot cake, with pineapple mixed in, a sweet but not too heavy frosting, with toasted coconut sprinkled on top. The perfect way to end another perfect One More Thing Day.