Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Scene & Story - Bonus

Ever year as I review the photos I have taken over the course of the year, I always come across a few that I love but never made their way into a blog post for whatever reason.

This would be one of those photos.

This was taken in July when Glen and I were in Toronto on vacation. We had spent the day following a bread crumb trail a.k.a. the Downtown Toronto Discovery Walk trail that led us to various parks and green spaces throughout the downtown area. We had just come full circle to our starting point, St. James Park, when I spotted this colorful lady sitting on one of the park benches. I knew I had to photograph her. I love street photography but am not brave about doing it. This sweet lady was too good to let get away. Thankfully in front of her was a grouping of lavender. I crouched down in front of the flowers pretending to photograph them and then would occasionally lift my camera to photograph her as well. She never gave me any notice, absorbed in her crossword puzzle and enjoying the sunshine.

When we got home and I loaded the photos, I loved what I had of her. I even started a short fiction piece based on her. There are a multitude of stories within this frame.

Scene & Story 2017

Many of you have asked and Lee (Sea Blue Lens) and I have discussed, for 2017 we will be hosting a link up party for Scene & Story. The link up will be the first Sunday of each month, except for January which will be January 8 (the second Sunday). The link up will remain active for one week.
The link up will be hosted here on my site. I have never done a link up before so be patient if things are a bit sticky the first month.

Criteria - All you have to do is post a favorite photo from the previous month along with a short story about it on your blog and then add your blog to the link up once it goes live. The story can be anything you want it to be: why the photo touched your heart, the process you took to take it, a funny story, a fiction story, etc. Please visit the other link up participants and spread some love.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Photo Album

Nothing puts things in perspective faster than realizing it is the second week of December and yet again I haven't started on the family photo calendars. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just our family's calendar I had to make, I could milk that out for another week. But I also make one for my dad every year filled with photographs of barns, covered bridges and rural landscapes, my side of the family's Christmas party is Christmas Eve. So it was time to sit down at the computer and get it done.

Going back through the year in my Lightroom catalog tends to be a painful process for me. I am always a better photographer by the end of the year making me love everything I took October through December and hating disliking everything I took before that.

This year as I started at January 2016, I tried to keep an open mind and an open heart and look for the photographs that spoke to me each month. It was interesting to see the change in my work over the course of the year. January through March (the cold, snowy months) I spent a lot of time indoors working on still life projects.

April brought the arrival of a new furry monster grand puppy to the house. There is nothing more challenging or more rewarding than photographing a puppy.

May saw the weather finally warm up and a return to day long photographic adventures for me. 

June the Farmer's market was in full swing and our favorite stop every Wednesday and Saturday was Lemonjello's coffee stand and our visit with James, the man behind the airpots. Many meaningful conversations involved books, photography, jobs and job searches while pumping Six One Six or San Sebastian into our to-go cups.

In July my husband and I were able to get away for a couple of short vacations, one of them being northward.

August saw a return trip northward. My husband had business and I had freedom.

September signaled an end to the unbearably hot summer we had, finally I was able to explore the fields and meadows with my camera.

October brought heartbreak with the loss of my beloved Scout.

November found me committing to a 52 week photography project that is setting my creative world on fire.

And here we are December, the last month of 2016. The return of snow and cold couldn't deter me from spending a morning at the beach.

Each of these photographs is my personal favorite from each month, none of them made it into the family calendars. While each is different, they collectively tell the story of my year, my life, my journey.

Yesterday I finished my book club book a week ahead of schedule.  There is one book I have been meaning to read all year, but something else always distracted me, yesterday I couldn't stop thinking about that book, so I plucked it off of the huge pile of unread books on top of my bookcase and settled on the couch with it. On the last page of the introduction I read these two paragraphs...
"Ten years ago in my Harvard lectures, I tried to listen to a single day of my life in such a way. What I propose to do now is to try listening to my life as a whole, or at least to certain moments of the first half of my life thus far, for whatever of meaning, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear. My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.
For the reader, I suppose, it is like looking through someone else's photograph album. What holds you, if nothing else, is the possibility that somewhere among all those shots of people you never knew and places you never saw, you may come across something or someone you recognize. In fact -- far more curious things have happened -- even in a stranger's album, there is always the possibility that as the pages flip by, on one of them you may catch a glimpse of yourself. Even if both of those fail, there is still a third possibility which is perhaps the happiest of them all, and that is that once I have put away my album for good, you may in the privacy of the heart take out the album of your own life and search it for the people and places you have loved and learned from yourself, and those moments in the past -- many of them half forgotten -- through which you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness of your own journey."
I want this last part to be my mission.

The book is The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Finding My WHY

As a child I had three outstanding characteristics, two of which are desired by women their whole lives. I was tomboy thin, I had a mass of unruly curly hair, and I was quiet and well-behaved. While these traits are admired, they do nothing to make a girl stand out from the crowd; I blended in well. I wasn't good at sports, I wasn't good at drawing or painting, and I was an average student, only excelling in English and reading. The one thing I did seem to have a flair for was wandering in the woods surrounding my house.

My dad is the one who stood out in our family. Everybody loves Jim. He is always there to lend a hand or a tool, or go out of his way to help someone. My dad is also one of the most humble people you will ever meet, he would never want praise or the spotlight. Still his shadow was a hard one to live in.

I got married young to another outstanding man. A man who everybody loves because he is outgoing, friendly, slightly wacky, and really good at everything work related that he does. I had found a new shadow to live in.

For the first twenty-five years of our married life I always identified myself as Glen's wife when introducing myself to people. And if I wasn't introducing myself as Glen's wife, it was as Mallory's mom.

It wasn't until 2012 when I began my first blog that I began to emerge from the shadows of other people. I committed myself to learning photography, discovering the art of writing along the way. I joined on-line groups, started making connections. I made friends that shared the same passions, people that didn't know my dad or my husband, people that only knew Sarah the blogger, photographer and writer. With these connections came confidence. I could finally go to my husband's Christmas party and no longer cling to his side the whole time. People wanted to talk to me about my photography, about my writing, about my adventures. I lost track of where my husband was in the room.

Recently I read a post by Kate Densmore titled Finding Your Why. She writes about finding her Why, why she loves and does what she does. The next morning I posed this question to myself in my Morning Pages journal "What is my Why?".

I think I have danced around my Why for a very long time. Eluding to it now and again, but never naming it. That morning in my journal I finally named it. My Why, why I do photography and why I write, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much I want to quit, is because they have given me my own IDENTITY. I can't quit because then I go back to living in the shadows of others. I have found that I love being in the soft glowing light.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Scene & Story - November 2016

I knew from the moment I saw this photo on my computer that this was my pick for November's Scene & Story.

I often struggle with showing a feeling other than solitude in my photography. This photo is brimming with feeling and emotion, and it may be the turning point in my work.

The scene involves my daughter, her 8-month old golden retriever, Findley, and a hike in the woods at a family favorite state park.

Now you tell me the story...

Joining my friend Leon of Sea Blue Lens for our monthly collaboration.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


This is my 366th post in this space. On January 1, 2017 I will have been blogging for five years. I honestly never expected to make it this far.

We are only a few days away from entering the last month of 2016. While this year has been filled with change, loss, and frustration, those things have also made me stronger and more determined than ever to do something with the gifts and talents I have been given.

As much as I dislike change, I am also feeling the need for it. I always harshly judge others who stay stuck in the same rut, doing the same thing year after year, so why should I be the exception to my judgement.

I am not sure I want to continue in this space in 2017. Five years is a long time, maybe it is time for a big change. Maybe it is my renewed focus on photography this year that has stirred this need for change. Maybe it is the unexpected joy that my 52 week photography project is bringing me.

Maybe it is seeing how good my photographs look in a story telling space like Adobe Spark. Maybe it is my need for more photos and less words.

Maybe it is signing up for a year of Kelby One photography training, or a year of Vivienne McMaster's self-portrait photography classes that fuels the fire for change. Maybe it is reading an e-book like Stories of Home by Kate Densmore that makes me want to explore documentary photography.

Maybe it's a deeper exploration of self. Maybe it's just that time of year.

Maybe it is time to create my own website. Maybe it is time to finally get that portfolio done.

Starting Monday, December 5, I am going to be Celebrating Impermanence with Kim Manley Ort for three weeks. I am going to explore the resistance to change, the need for change, and some of these "maybes".

The end of December could have me exploring a new space, or slipping back into this one. Either way I will continue to change.


Sunday, November 20, 2016


"Dance like no one is watching,
Sing like no one is listening,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Live like it's Heaven on earth."
~Mark Twain

I love self-portraiture photography! I LOVE the shocked look on peoples' faces when I tell them I am taking a self-portrait photography class.

Last year I did quite a bit of self-portrait work with Vivienne McMaster and the various e-courses she offers on the subject. I loved the challenge of figuring out best body angle for the camera. I loved figuring out the technical stuff, i.e. focus, depth of field, perspective, post-processing. I loved the confidence I gained in my skills and myself by doing the work.

So many of the self-portraits I took last year I treasure deeply, especially the ones I took with my dog Scout. Although he is no longer with us, I have these precious photos forever.

This year there hasn't even been a hint of self-portrait photography, not that Vivienne hasn't been offering classes, she has, and I have been tempted by a couple of them, but in the end I always said "no", I wasn't ready. That all changed at the end of October when an email from Vivienne popped into my inbox. She was offering a new e-course called Embody - Getting our whole body into the frame. I personally would prefer to have my whole body in the frame, that fits the story of my photography.

I read the email and immediately signed up. The course started November 1st and ran for fifteen days. The perfect amount of time. The course came with daily encouragement emails, a prompt to work on for the day, and a private Flickr group for sharing our work. I love community.  But I always feel like a masquerader in these groups, I don't struggle with the body issues that many are working through. But...if I am completely honest with myself, I signed up for the full body self-portrait class because I would rather shoot my whole body, positioned the way I know I can to make it look thinner, than take a close-up of my face. Maybe I do belong in this community after all.

Self-portraiture photography is a lot like riding a bike, once you learn you never forget, so it didn't take me long to get back in the swing of it.

It was interesting once I finished the course to look back and see the progression in myself. I started out wearing the same Patagonia fleece everyday, most often either in hiking pants or yoga pants, which given that I am an active outdoor person is a true reflection of me. I incorporated the daily shot into my normal daily routine. But by Day 4, I picked a location with intention, brought my tripod, used my past experience to get great light and good focus. Then by Day 7, I was setting up scenes and picking outfits. The wardrobe selections continued to ramp up from there, the last day I wore one of my favorite outfits. Once the class was done, I went shopping. I shopped with intention, thinking about how an outfit would look in a self-portrait.

I have been toying with the idea of a 52 week self-portrait challenge for 2017, although I had convinced myself this week that that was a dumb idea. I already had a 52 week photography project I was working on, I didn't need two. Then, of course, the next email arrived. Vivienne is doing a year long self-portrait photography class called Body Peace. I am an epic fail at year long classes. But...self-portraiture photography is the reason this blog began in the first place. What if 2017 was the year that I finally completed a year long class because it was the right year long class...

I guess I will be working on those close-up, face issues in eight 15 day e-courses over the next year, or I will be wearing a Burqa for a whole year. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 13, 2016


As I prepared to drive north, I plugged my iPhone into the cassette adapter and tapped on the audible.com app. I knew exactly what I needed to hear on my two hour drive - the words of Brene Brown. I pressed start on her book The Gifts of Imperfection, which I also read a few years ago. As I pulled into the Starbucks drive-thru lane I stopped the book. The book wasn't narrated by Brene, I needed Brene's voice as much as her words. Instead I chose The Power of Vulnerability - Teaching on Authenticity, Connection and Courage. Only four months had passed since I last listened to this, but I am a different person than I was four months ago.

My drive north would bring me to a place filled with memories - Ludington State Park. I had been to the park only the week before with my daughter and her dog, Findley. Before that it had been almost a year and a half since my last visit, and before that at least a couple of years, which seems utterly ridiculous for as close as I live.

Being there had awakened all my old loves of the place. The only problem with last week was that it went too quickly. On my agenda for that day had been the 1-1/2 mile trek out to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, where I hadn't been since 2011. But my daughter, being the stickler for family traditions had insisted we do the walking loop around the dam, followed by our packed picnic lunch. After lunch, when Findley would be slightly tired we could take a leisurely stroll on the Lost Lake Trail. At eight months Findley's two speeds are fast and faster, so there was no leisurely stroll and I barely had time to raise my camera and take a few snapshots. But even with Findley's fast pace it was still four o'clock by the time we returned to the car. The journey to the lighthouse would have to wait for another day.

Only a week later, on a perfect early November day, sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60's, I was suppose to be home doing house projects while my daughter and Findley were gone for a few days and I had the house to myself. It is hard to get big cleaning projects done with a puppy running around. But instead I found myself in my car driving back to Ludington State Park and this time I would get to the lighthouse.

Even though I have been coming here for over thirty years, the drive into the park never fails to take my breath away. The summer homes and trees abruptly end and all that's left is the road, the dunes, and wide open space.

I pulled into the beach parking lot at 9:30, still early enough to catch some good light at the Big Sable River outlet to Lake Michigan.

Satisfied with my photographic captures thus far, I set off down the gravel two-track path to the lighthouse. About a half mile down the road, I came upon a sign that said Historic Shipwreck and the arrow pointed over the dune toward Lake Michigan. Hmmm...I didn't remember this from five years ago. Over the dune I went. As I came over the first dune this is what I saw...

Not a shipwreck, but it did give me that fluttery feeling inside. The bench begged to be photographed but it also beckoned for me to come and sit. I took off my camera backpack laid it on the bench and settled in for a therapy session with nature.

In Brene's sessions that I listened to on the way up she talked about the year she spent in therapy, therapy she needed to deal with her own issues that were arising from her work on shame and vulnerability. Maybe that's what I needed, a year of therapy to figure some of my crap out. But as I sat on that wooden bench surrounded by sand dunes, blue skies, Lake Michigan and lot of open space, I realized that photography is my therapy. I have access to it any time I need it, not just in scheduled fifty minute sessions. It may not talk to me in a physical voice like a therapist would, but it does have its own language, and I can hear it if I am only aware.

A few people commented on my last post about how self-aware I am. I am because I intentionally try to be. I want to figure myself out, where I am, and where I am headed. It is not a straight and narrow path, it is a constantly winding switchback without an end in sight.

One of the questions I asked myself as I sat on that bench. Why am I always anxious to travel and explore new places? Especially when places so close to home are amazing and filled with wonderful memories. Too often when I go to new places I feel rushed, always looking for "the shot" and usually not finding it, leaving me disappointed in the trip. But then I come to a place like this park, one that I know well and I can find all kinds of things to photograph, still not always "the shot" but the memories carry just as much weight here as perfect light.

I need to stop chasing the new and exciting all the time and instead seek the familiar places that I love. I think my photography and my writing will be stronger because of it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Scene & Story - October 2016

2016 has been a creative wasteland for me. 2015 was a fertile wonderland.

Those of you who have been with me for a while may say "but Sarah you have had three magazine articles published this year, you have blogged more regularly than ever, and your photography is rock solid". And you would be right, all those things have happened. But 2016 has also been filled with constant ground shifting change. The only thing that has carried me though this year is what was in the storehouse from last year's bounty.

2015 was filled with self-portraiture work, adventures across the land to meet other bloggers and photographers, and the fertilizer of true growth for me - projects.

In the last month two things have revived my barren creative soul. The first is Lenswork magazine and podcasts. The editor, Brooks Jensen, is a huge proponent of photography projects. Lenswork has a new photography book out - Seeing in Sixes, six image projects from Lenswork Readers. I promptly ordered the book and have been devouring the pages since it arrived two weeks ago. Seeing the vast variety of photography projects/stories told in just six images started tilling the soil in my creative mind and heart. I have considered some ideas for my own project: a 12 X 12 project, one theme each month for a year, but eventually discarded that one, too dull. A 52 week self-portraiture project, I am still on the fence about that one, if it happens it will start January 1st and I am considering reviving my old blog, Becoming A Finisher, if I decide to undertake that project. Then THE project came into being - 52 weeks of retail excursions.

I am not much of a shopper, but I do have to go to the grocery store every week. I probably would have been content to photograph all 52 weeks at the grocery store. But as I sat down at my desk to compile a list of 52 photo prompts to use for motivation and inspiration, other seeds were sown. I wrote the word metal and thought of the 1970's era hardware store in my town that I have always wanted to photograph. I wrote high heels and thought of my friend's clothing boutique, knowing that she would be only too eager to help with my project. With each prompt I wrote, the location ideas continued to blossom.

Week One is complete. I will admit I felt a little weird taking my big dSLR out at the grocery store, but since I have 52 weeks to get comfortable, I am sure I will get there. This shot turned out pretty much the way I envisioned it, always a good feeling for the start of a project. I am exploring Adobe Spark to use for this project.

The second thing that is providing nourishment for my creative soul is David duChemin's newest version of the book Within The Frame - The Journey of Photographic Vision. His words always fill me with hope and inspiration.
"As you experience life, your vision changes. The stories you want to tell, the things that resonate with you -- they change and so does your vision. Finding it and expressing your vision is a journey, not a destination."
Words spoken directly to my heart. I feel the soil growing rich and fertile once again.

My friend Lee of Sea Blue Lens and I are sharing our favorite photo from the previous month in this new monthly practice Scene & Story.