Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ten Things

Heeeeeey. Remember me? I didn't drop off the face of the earth, just this corner of the internet. I've been quite busy with things that aren't writing, but I'm feeling the urge to write again. Which of course means the things I've been busy with (photography, home schooling, painting my house, folding laundry) are going to be ignored. I can only ever focus on one thing at a time. And sometimes that time lasts months.

Lately I feel like there's so much to write about that I can't focus, so I'll start with a ten things post to get the ball rolling.

1. I feel overwhelmed. Not buried (yet), just barely keeping my head above water when it comes to the things I need to do. The summer was extraordinarily busy, and it has bled into a fall that is extraordinarily busy. Maybe life just gets busier and busier and I need to learn how to deal. It's a process for sure. I'm not great with being out of my house a lot or with variations in the routine. The first thing to go is always housework, which leads to me feeling anxious and stressed because of clutter. I feel like I need a couple free days to focus on getting things back in order.

2. Seth is about halfway through paramedic school, and he's doing great. School may be partly why things feel a little scattered around here, because the schedule is so different. But it's worth it because it's making a huge difference in his career and he will love being a paramedic.

3. Actual busyness outside of the house has been accompanied by major busyness inside my brain. There's a lot of info swirling around right now and things certainly don't feel quiet and peaceful in my thinking. World events, politics, theology, counseling, parenting, education, deep existential's all part of the clutter that needs addressed. Hopefully writing helps that. Or it could make it worse. We'll see.

4. Six episode X-Files event in January. Spread the word.

5. Seth and I just celebrated 20 years of history and 14 years of marriage and that makes me feel a little old but also awesome.

6. Plans are in the works for my mom and hopefully both my sisters and I to go "home" soon for a visit to Illinois where we lived for 21 years. We haven't all been back at the same time in over ten years. I'm already cooking up photo ideas. I dreamed last night that we went and I forgot my camera. Talk about a nightmare.

7. I'm planning to attempt October Flash Fiction this month. As of right now, I have no ideas or inspiration, only an itch to write. Hopefully something formulates.

8. I haven't read a good book in awhile, and now that the weather is changing, I'm really jonesing for a day in bed with pumpkin flavored coffee and a good read. Little things like that are very rejuvenating for me.

9. The other day, we were playing a spelling game in the car on the way home from church. I cannot describe to you how good it felt when my dyslexic son spelled "shoulder" correctly on the first try. Those moments make all the hard work and stress of homeschooling melt into the background. It may seem so insignificant to get all excited about one word, but if you've ever worked long hours to deal with a learning disability, you know how huge of a victory it is. Progress.

10. We no longer have any children in the nursery wing at church. Talk about feeling old.

There. The writing dry spell has been broken. Hopefully more to come.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Moving Forward

I am not a very creative person.

[No, I'm not fishing for compliments. I promise. I hate when people do that.]

I'm not very imaginative. I don't have bursts of original ideas. I can't easily envision things that don't exist. My brain just doesn't work that way. I'm definitely a thinker, and I like thinking deeply and excessively, but I just can't do thinking originally.

What I am good at is finding inspiration and then imitating it.

I can look on Pinterest and easily figure out how I'd like to decorate my house, because it's all right there in front of my eyes. Now, my own imitation will probably vary from the original, because I shop at Ikea and Marshall's and not [insert fancy home store here], but there will be a definite flavor that isn't inherently my own. The way I assemble it is mine, but the source of inspiration rarely originates with me.

I've been musing on this idea for awhile now, and truly, I think most of us are in the same boat I am. We find what we like and it inspires us to make our own. There are of course creative geniuses out there, the ones from whom the original ideas flow easily, and their names become synonymous with forward thinking and groundbreaking ideas, but for the rest of us plebians, creativity is drawn about by what others have done before us.

Some might find this discouraging. I know I definitely have. Especially when it comes to artistic endeavors, we want to be The First to attempt an idea. Perhaps because art is so personal, it feels cheapened when we know the creation was born from an outside influence and not our very souls.

But I'm not so sure it's such a bad thing anymore. The last week or so, I've been under the weather with a cold, and therefore I've been immersing myself in documentaries about photographers and photography itself. I've learned more in this last week than I have in long time about this craft. I learned about wet plate collodion photography from the incredible works of Sally Mann (and other artists I found on youtube). I've revisited film photography and developing at home, and daydreamed about having my own darkroom. I've delved into the world of studio photography and lighting. I've learned about how to make 3D images. I've perused just about every niche and technique of photography there is or was. It has been the most glorious cold I've ever had.

And something has happened to me during all this education. I'm feeling inspired. I'm feeling passionate. And I'm feeling a definite push into the art side of photography.

Something that has always felt like a weakness was that I had no desire really to do photography professionally. I don't want to do posed family shots. I don't want to be a wedding photographer. And those are the most obvious ways to make money in photography. It's not that there's anything wrong with those careers, they just aren't my niche. I've been asked to do a wedding and couldn't decline fast enough. I've shot dozens of family portrait sessions, almost all for free and for friends. Those were good experiences, because they taught me how to use my camera, but I never felt a sense of purpose or satisfaction in those shoots. I did them because people asked me to, not because I wanted to.  But I think I'm at a place now where I should be more selective in what I shoot. I don't want to spend time running around shooting family portraits, because as a homeschooling mom, there's just not a whole lot of time to spare. I can't really justify finding a babysitter, driving all over town, shooting for an hour, and then spending time post processing for shoots that I have no passion or interest in. It's not fair to my kids, my babysitters, my "clients", or to the many talented portrait photographers who desperately need customers. 

So consider this my "resignation" from that area of photography. (Except for that one last shoot I have to do--don't worry Amy, I haven't forgotten! :) 

I want to make images you'd find in a gallery rather than a Facebook cover photo or a family album. I want to hire models instead of having clients hire me. I want to tell stories in a way that feels personal to me. I want to learn to speak through my photos. Not for recognition, not for compensation, not really for any other reason than I feel like there are images in me that just have to get out.

And above all, I obviously don't ever want to make any money. ;) 

I know this probably seems a little maudlin and perhaps I am taking things a little too seriously. And don't think that I imagine I can accomplish art with the snap of a finger just because I have declared I'll do it. But the way my brain works, when I'm passionate about something, it takes over. I obsess. Like, for real. Every free minute is filled with devotion to the object of my passion. No, I haven't found a niche, and honestly, I probably never will. Because I feel a pull from just about every kind of photography, and I've decided to just embrace that. I have a new project I'm stewing where I'll be able to pursue all kinds of images and techniques in a way that I'm really excited about. It makes me want to not shoot anything else but the project. I'm hoping that it forces me to learn and really tread the deep waters of photography. I feel like for the first time, I have a purpose and a goal, at least for the foreseeable future.

Of course, I still have my year long project and I still need to take pictures of my kids. So hopefully I come up from the euphoria long enough to shoot the things around me too. But that euphoria is such an awesome place to be, where my normally non-imaginative brain keeps having specific photo ideas popping up. And it's not that my work will necessarily be original, but it will be me. It will be my take on art. 

And that's something to be excited about. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Anonymous People

The internet's a funny thing.

I have a very, extremely small, minuscule really voice here on the vast ocean that is the world wide web. To be honest, I like it that way. I like that mostly, only people I know in real life (and a very small percentage at that) ever even glance my blog's way. Being introverted means I don't really write here for strangers. I write because it's one of the ways I learn and process.

A few times in the last eight or so years of blogging here, I've had strangers comment. And nearly every single time, anonymous comments meant disagreement--often angry or condescending disagreement.

And almost every time, they've been deleted.

Perhaps that's selfish of me, but whatevs. That's the perk of having a blog. Total control. Mwahaha.

If the disagreement came from a person I knew in real life, I allowed the comments and often there was a spirited, yet respectful debate. And while I obsess over things like that, they can be very useful in the big picture for getting me to think outside my box and hear someone else's opinion.

The anonymous comments are usually snippy, condescending, angry, or disrespectful of my faith.

It's almost funny actually. How do people have the time and necessary energy to read stranger's blogs and form cranky comments about them? I mean, I read a lot of blogs and articles, and I may even read the comments, and lots of times I strongly disagree. But when did an angry comment on the internet ever help anyone change their minds? Except maybe to make them more defensive? Trolling says a lot more about the troll than anything else.

Today it was a bitey comment about a post I wrote a few years ago about firefighters. Apparently "Anonymous" found it demeaning that I wrote that firefighters drink a lot, swear a lot, ogle women a lot, and divorce their wives a lot. They also took it personally that I found closer relationships in my church than in the fire department.

Well, to address Anonymous' concerns, now that Seth is at a permanent station (and a really great one at that), we have had the chance to form some more solid relationships with other firefighters and their families. Seth's captain is a gem of a guy with a good heart and a personality a lot like Seth's. There are a few other guys that he considers friends now. He'll talk to them outside of work and very occasionally will hang out with them, (usually as the designated driver). And we have seen the "family" mentality, especially when a fire fighter is in trouble or dies. Everyone helps out in those situations. I have no doubt that if something happened to Seth, there would be hundreds of firefighters ready to honor him, and his captain and friends would look after me the best they knew how. Still, these relationships have not surpassed the ones we've found in our church (sorry if that bothers you). As to the other stuff about firefighters, they still drink a lot. They still curse and ogle women a lot. They still get divorced a lot. They still stress out and don't take care of themselves very well. They still often make poor choices or have immature attitudes. Perhaps that could be said of a lot of jobs where the stress level is high and the workers spend a lot of time together. We're just thankful that we found a good place for Seth with mostly great guys who look out for each other.

One nice thing about long term blogging is that I can look back and see how things have changed, how I have changed. I'm glad I don't feel like an alien in the fire department anymore. I'm glad Seth was able to get out of the stations where the drama was high and the morals were low. I like liking the people he works with. I definitely feel more positive than I did when I wrote that post. I also like seeing how some things haven't changed. Seth still loves loves loves his job, and after waiting so long for just the right place for him, that is a wonderful thing.

To all the Anonymous ones who occasionally drop by, you are welcome to read, disagree, and be irritated with my thoughts and feelings if you'd like. I admit that sometimes I am wrong, and I change my mind slowly. It's okay for you to disagree, I may even disagree with myself by now. But don't expect a platform to preach on here. That's for your blog.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On Editing

When I started out in digital photography five years ago, I had a sour feeling about editing. It rankled a bit that there seemed to be less skill needed for photography these days, because all ya had to do was put the camera on automatic and then add the pretty on the computer. Art could be contrived and mass produced, and it made it ten times harder to stand out.

I still feel like photography is almost a little too accessible these days, and not because I don't think the masses should be able to photograph. I appreciate that cameras capture moments in our lives that fifty years from now we might not remember otherwise. That is valuable. My grandmother shot hundreds of Poloroid photos, not for the sake of art, but for the sake of memory. Everyone should have access to that. But the age of digital photography has definitely convinced a lot of people that they could totally make a career out of this picture thing just because they have some fancy equipment and programs.

I don't want to sound too judgmental, because I understand that we all have to start somewhere. I look back on a lot of the stuff I shot five years ago and cringe, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But all that trial and error (and hours of research) pushed me to learn how to effectively use my camera and get closer to the images I envisioned in my head. Of course, I still get photos I hate sometimes. And I'm sure five years from now, I'll look at my photos with the same feeling of "what was I thinking?"

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I took this a few months after I got my camera. I spent a long time heavily editing this photo, removing the background, adding the mother of all vignettes. But all that editing didn't make it interesting. I hate this image.

I think at it's heart, art has to begin with a vision. An idea. An inkling that blossoms into a need to create. If it's art, it will nag at you until you get it right. It's not something you can be easily satisfied with. If it's not work, if it doesn't push you, if you don't learn and deepen the process, it's probably not art.

And dang it, I wanna make art if it kills me.

Through the years, I have learned a thing or two about editing as it relates to photography. I've learned to appreciate its wise use. I've discovered that it can be as hard to learn as photography itself. It takes hours and hours to get it right. I've found that since the dawn of the medium, photographers have been using tricks and methods to make their photos have more meaning and appeal. Editing isn't new. Dodging, burning, combining, selective angles, poses, filters--they've all been around for centuries. Smart artists learn how to smartly use the tools. It's not really trickery, it's a skill. It's what separates the photographers from the fauxtographers.

Editing should lessen distracting elements, enhance the feel of the photo, narrow down its meaning. Just like a writer uses adjectives and a painter mixes colors, skilled photographers will drive home their point in a way that makes the viewer unaware of any editing, or so captured by it that the editing isn't the focus.

I've grown to love editing a little bit. Don't get me wrong, I love when I capture a shot that is appealing straight out of the camera too. That can be very satisfying, especially when I'm just shooting for our family or doing a shoot with lots and lots of photos. (Less editing = less time invested!) But I also know that I can give my photos a little flavor that is all my own through editing. I want to use editing like a signature. I want to use it to enhance what the moment feels like, because quiet honestly, sometimes cameras are just not able to capture that on their own, no matter the photographer's skill. The camera is a machine. It doesn't care how the photographer feels when the shutter opens. It will record exactly what you tell it to, but it's not perfect. It may need a little human touch to get it right.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

There were literally dozens of fireflies in my yard the other evening, and Homegirl (a firefly enthusiast) was dancing around the yard at top speed. I wanted to catch her and the fireflies at the same time, but it was proving quite difficult to get the shutter speed slow enough to catch multiple flies and still get her sharp. Not to mention the white balance was giving me trouble. I finally got one with her still enough, but only a few fireflies.

Not super inspiring, but a little brightening and firefly cloning to the rescue:

That was a lot more editing than I was comfortable with (and there are still parts that bother me) BUT I managed to get how the evening felt....minus the mosquito bites. (You're welcome.)

Or take this one of Seth that I took for my photo project this year:

The settings were all just right, the concept was what I wanted, execution was fine, but the feel needed some help.


When I shot my sister and her family, this was my favorite from the whole day:

With a little nudge from editing, it has become by far my most viewed photo on Flickr.

Editing can't make up for poor quality, that I have definitely learned. And in order to be effective, I have to understand the tools. If something looks too iffy to me, it will leave me with an  uncomfortable feeling in my gut and I fear everyone pointing their fingers at me and screeching "You lie!" It's a weird balancing act. I feel like I've earned the "right" to edit now though, because I shoot consistently in raw and manual mode, and I know all the settings and buttons. But not editing sometimes feels like presenting someone with bland toast. In fact, I'll put a naked photo out there about as often as I'll go without makeup.

As in, it's only okay at Wal-Mart or Mom's house.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


I had a really cruel dream last night.

I dreamed Dad was alive. Like, the whole death thing had just been a big mistake. He'd been rescued by a funeral home worker and had spent the last year getting better before he could come home. And there he was, sitting in my sister's kitchen like nothing had ever happened. I could hug him and talk to him and watch him with my mom and everything was just perfect. The details were so vivid. I can't even fully describe the feeling of it. It was as if every wish humanity could ever wish was fulfilled in that moment.

There was one tiny negative thought in my mind during the dream though. It occurred to me, that even though he was back now, there would come another day when he would leave us again. And the grief would renew.

Even in my magical dreams I'm quite the realist.

I was sad to wake up from the dream and come crashing back to reality, where this Thursday marks one year since he really did leave us. I've been thinking lately how naive I was before we lost him. I thought that grief had an expiration date, that time healed all wounds, that being strong meant eventually you put the loss behind you. Now I know that, though time does lessen the pain, true loss stays with you. It's always in the back of your mind. It changes you in good and bad ways. It makes you long for Heaven.

It dawned on me this morning that I don't have to be depressed about those perfect dream moments slipping away when I opened my eyes. Because one day, those feelings of superb fulfillment and perfect healing will occur when I open my eyes in Heaven. For now, I have that hope to hold on to--to know that what I dream will one day be reality, that there is a definite resolution to my grief. All because of Jesus!

To grieve with Jesus is to know there will be an end to all grief. And knowing that is enough.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Favorite Photos of 2014

At the beginning of 2014, I told Seth that I wanted to spend the year really studying photography. I had exhausted all I could do on my own, and I had developed a desire to learn. Not just technical things for taking better photos, but the works of other photographers as well. If there's one thing I find myself really enjoying, it's studying something I'm passionate about. So, I did just that (and I'm still at it). I read hundreds of books and blogs, started my own notebook of things I wanted to remember, perused thousands of photos on flickr, pinterest, and my dad's overflowing stash. I even watched hours of tutorials on youtube.

My goal was to see a difference in my photography from last year to this, to perhaps see if this is something I want to pursue as profitable hobby instead of just a enjoyable one. I've learned a few things about the whole process and myself as a photographer. Not only can I see a difference in my photos, but I feel so much more confident and satisfied with photography, and that is probably more important to me than the actual photos themselves. I feel like I generally know what I'm doing now, whereas before, half the time I was going on a gut feeling and a prayer.

I have learned that I am most pleased by photojournalism style photos, especially in black and white. These are also probably the most challenging for me to shoot, but I enjoy pursuing the photos in my head. I've learned that part of being a good photographer is poring over other people's photos and finding inspiration and learning from them. I've learned that Dorothea Lange is my favorite photographer, not only because of her moving images from Depression-era America, but because she was also a deep thinker and wrote beautifully about the art of capturing photos. I have learned that photography is a better way for me to express myself than writing (alas, poor blogs!). When dad died, I couldn't form words about it, but I could shoot what was in my heart. I've also learned how to do fun things like long exposure shots and different flash techniques and reading the histogram and editing in photoshop (even though I still don't have photoshop).

I'm excited about 2015 in this area. I'm going to start saving for a full frame camera. We're planning to update my poor, literally hanging on by a thread laptop to a better computer for editing. Once that's done, I'll start working with Photoshop (still intimidated by that one.) I have a new external flash to learn. I've got a list of potential projects and photo essays I'd like to work on. And still on the horizon is the possibility of getting into stock photography. We shall see!

And I'll still be checking out a constant stream of photography books from the library.

Here are some of my favorite shots from this year.