Photo Projects

Week 1 Wrap-up from Picture Spring class

When I return to the classroom, everything else seems to fall by the wayside—writing, playing/practicing piano, housework, even photography and other creative outlets. This past week, I did return to the classroom for one class a day with six students (yeah, can you imagine that?). And I have kept up with my Picture Spring class that began on Monday, and the project I started on May 1. Even my mini-album is up-to-date with prints!

My writing, though, has lapsed. Even today, when I have the house completely to myself, no interruptions or distractions, I have not written anything except my daily morning pages, and even then I wrote only two pages.

What I have been doing, though, is soaking up the Word of God, and watching the little birds—house finches—come to the bottle feeder outside my window.

untitled-3 They may not be as flashy as the cardinals that feed at the larger feeders, but these are beautiful birds, too.


I wish the gold finches would come back. I know they are out there. I’ve seen them!

I think, since my words are few this morning, I will just give you a collage of images from this past week’s Picture Spring prompts. As usual, I’m using the collage maker at It’s an easy to use online photo editor. (I wish they would add a print button!)

Week 1 Collage

Day 1: Beginnings—blackberries, bottom center

Day 2: Stepping Out into Spring—thirty steps, left

Day 3: Morning Rituals: beginning with the Word, center center

Day 4: The Sky’s the Limit:  clouds, right

Day 5: Ground Level: roses, top center

I still have to process Days six and 7!

contemplative photography Photo Journal ReFrame

While I Was Not Looking

THIS happened:


Things started blooming.

April 17 collage

I have “prided” myself on being observant, of seeing the world, but somehow, all of this happened, and I didn’t notice.

I’ll blame it on

getting ready for Aaron and Sherry’s beautiful wedding on April 1.

going back to work and writing lesson plans and grading papers on March 20.

being “busy.”

getting ready for Easter.

coming down with bronchitis and sinusitis.

You get the idea. I have a million and one excused for allowing all this beauty to go unnoticed. Yet, there it is. I noticed it Saturday, the first day I went out of the house for a reason other than necessity. I saw the white bloom of the blackberries, but I didn’t have the camera. I noticed it.

On my way back to the house (coughing, short of breath, thanks to the bronchitis), I saw the yellow and red of the trumpet vines (or whatever they are). I noticed it.


And the red Knockout roses are in bloom.


I noticed it.

This morning, I went out with the camera, and I noticed other things—holly berries, wildflowers, dandelions, even some honeysuckle. It’s all there.


And today, I noticed it.

What did you notice today?

contemplative photography Photo Journal ReFrame

He Said, She Said


I posted some pictures of “spring” that I received during my walk through the Dreher Island State Park on Thursday. Folks, it’s FEBRUARY, and I was wearing a short sleeved T-shirt. Temperatures are almost 80 degrees! It was gorgeous. My “fan club” appreciated them; I received a few “likes” and “Loves” and “Wows” and a couple of comments. And then, there was this:

You are an artist, lady.

This comment came from a colleague with whom I had taught for quite a few years. He taught chemistry and physics, and, interestingly enough, he has degrees in theology as well. And he said, “you are an artist.”


My first response was (in my head), “Boy, do I have you fooled!” My written response was, “Well, thank you. It’s a passion.”

Like so many others I know, I have trouble accepting that label: “you are an artist.” I tend to compare my work to the work of other photographers, both amateur and professional, friends in-person, and friends on-line; and I feel that I come up short.

Last night, I stepped back a bit. I looked at the images I created. I thought a bit about what art is. And here is what I’m thinking this morning, at the edge of a weekend. Art is the way we share our vision of the world. For some, that sharing comes through painting or sculpture or sketching and drawing, through cooking and recipes, through musical compositions or performance, through writing poetry or novels or essays or nonfiction or drama; through acting, through designing and building—I’ve discovered there is an art to hammering a nail straight into a board! (I don’t have that art.)


I choose to see beauty in the world, and my photographs receive that beauty. I, like so many, can get caught up in the “big picture”—the sight of that majestic pine that has stood in place for years and years and years; the expanse of water where it meets the horizon, a whole field of sunflowers or grain. . . . But then there are the details, that cluster of “baby pine cones” (did you know they are pink?), the end of the stamen covered with thick yellow pollen standing out like spider legs, the amazing depth of blue sky, white clouds rimmed with gray (for contrast!).


I suppose I am an artist. I have “the art of seeing” and receiving those images reminds me that there is beauty everywhere.

Photo Journal

“Traveling” Light

In the first chapter of The Soul of a Pilgrim, Christine Valters Paintner recommends that the pilgrim travel light. I’m not sure you’d call a walk through Dreher Island State Park a pilgrimage, per se, but I tend to travel light when I do walk through the park. Today was no exception. My only “baggage” was my Canon 7D with the battery grip and the very lightweight Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 optic installed. I did carry my cell phone and car keys as well. No camera bags, no other lenses. Just those items.

One of the challenges I give myself when I walk with the camera is to limit my gear to what I can carry on the camera and/or in my pockets. There’s a reason for that, really. I have to figure out other ways to get the images I want. With a zoom lens, I can stand at a distance and use the lens to capture the image, but with a fixed, or prime, lens, I have to move. I have to step closer or farther away. I have to change my position physically rather than rely on the camera and lens to do the work for me. The results can be better as a result.


The Lensbaby optics add still another challenge. The Lensbaby is fully manual—manual focus, manual settings. And it’s a soft-focus lens as well as a tilting lens. The sweet spot of focus is not necessarily in the dead center of the lens. It takes a bit of practice to get acceptable results from the Lensbaby system. I deleted quite a few  images before I was satisfied.


One of the things I especially enjoy about the Lensbaby system is that it sometimes yields results I didn’t quite expect. By shifting the lens to the extremes, the results can be abstract. At least the results are not quite realistic.


The credit card commercial asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asking today, “What’s in your kit?”

Photo Journal ReFrame

Thin Places

In Celtic spirituality, thin places, or thin spaces, are those places where heaven and earth are closest. We have places that feel sacred and holy. “The Wall” honoring the Viet Nam soldiers in Washington, D.C., is one of those sacred places, even though every time I have been, it has been crowded with people—women, children, men, soldiers, tourists. It is “sacred ground.”

Arlington National Cemetery is the same. It is sacred ground, in part because it is a cemetery, but because it feels different somehow from other places.

It is easy to find these “thin places,” or sacred places, when we travel, but the challenge is to find the thin places at home in the “known world.”

I thought about the idea of thin places today after reading a Pacebook post from a friend who lives in Atlanta, a sister photographer and photographic artist. I went out seeking my own thin place. I have written so much about the ponds and have photographed them so often. I hesitate to guess how many images of the pond and the area around it I have in my archives. Yet, no matter how many times I walk around them, there is a thinness there that is at once isolated from “the world,” and yet very much a part of it. While I am walking, I feel as though I enter a different kind of space. Yes, today, the ground was a bit mushy and soft after several days of rain and downpours. It was breezy, but it was comfortable. There was still traffic zooming past up and down the road.

I am thinking now about the “meaning” of thin places, and how they manifest themselves to me. For now, I am content to know that they exist, and that they are welcoming places, places that are holy and “set apart” if only for a few minutes.


Photo Journal

Divergency? A Thoughtful Thursday

I went for a walk today at the state park. It was a beautiful morning—temperature outside right at 70 degrees (in January, no less!), blue sky, breezy, but not so breezy that I felt as though the wind were pushing me down the road. I was in a thoughtful mood, trying to figure out what I wanted to “say” with my images today. I received an email from David du Chemin, one of my “mentor photographers,” even if he doesn’t know it!, announcing his next project about storytelling in photographs. I has some ideas of things I wanted to look for.


I wanted to explore the idea of openness again since the theme for Adventures in Seeing—The Book is openness. I was also looking for light and shadow and contrasts—and anything else that presented itself to me.


What I found was “divergency.”  I thought of Robert Frost’s poem that begins, “Two roads diverged in a wood.” And the idea of divergence as splitting apart into more than one way came to mind. How often do I come upon situations wherein there is more than one way to get to the same point? As an educator, I thought about divergent learners who do not always follow the linear path we teachers set for them. Again, the idea is that there is more than one way to reach the same destination. And, of course, there is the book Divergent, which I must admit I never quite finished. I noticed as I received the images today, that my photographs are definitely “divergent.”untitled-48

One thing that focusing on the concept of contemplative photography has taught me is that I have to be open to new ways of seeing even when I am seeing the “same old, same old.” I thought about that as I walked through the park. I have walked there regularly for a whole bunch of years, and the road I follow has not moved; the curves are still in the same places. . . . Yet, each time, it is different. The camera helps me see the new things.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” – Ansel Adams


And then I saw this “story.” One of the very first poems I found that has stayed with me (besides “Nothing Gold Can Stay”) is Tennyson’s poem, “The Eagle.” I can imagine an eagle sitting in the top of this tree overlooking the lake, waiting for the precise moment to release his talons and dive for his prey.

The Eagle


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Photo Projects

Weekend Roundup

We are here at the first full weekend of the new year—already. Have you get your photography goals yet? I’m still working through mine. I know that top on my list is NOT to enroll in more online classes than I can handle at one time! I’m a glutton for great photography classes, though, and there are so many. For the first quarter at least, I am going to concentrate on the exercises in Kim Manley Ort’s book Adventures in Seeing and the lessons from Emma Davies’ A Year with My Camera. I’ve ordered the book, and I’m waiting for it to come at the end of the week. In addition, I’m reading Julieanne Kost’s book, Passenger Seat, in which she describes how to go about starting and completing a personal photography project. She uses the example of making photographs while riding in the passenger seat when traveling. The idea began when she went to see the autumn leaves in New England.

untitled-20So, t

his week, I’ve given some thought to personal photography projects, and I think I’m going to take on one: photographing the area around the ponds in the backyard for a year. Now, what I can’t decide is whether to use one photograph a month or one per week when I produce the final product, whatever it may be. At this point, I’m not in a hurry to make the final decisions about the end product. I plan to focus on the process first.


I’m also working toward the 365-project. I am not following prompts necessarily because sometimes the prompts aren’t speaking to me. As I read in the introduction to Kim’s Adventures in Seeing, though, sometimes the prompts that don’t speak at first have more to teach. I keep them to think about and ponder. Perhaps something will come to mind later—when that “teachable moment” arrives.

What more formal projects are you considering this year?


Pictures and Words

When I was new to scrapbooking, I followed Ali Edwards’s blog. Her philosophy of scrapbooking is “pictures and words.” Together both tell the story of our lives. I no longer scrapbook in a formal kind of way although I may start again. What I have found, though, is the importance of letting photographs and images convey stories. And I’m rediscovering my love of poetry.

Last week, I was walking around the ponds with the camera. It’s winter here in South Carolina (even though the temperatures are not very winterish). But I was out in the coolness, bundled in my son’s Marine Corps sweatshirt, looking at whatever caught my eye. And this cedar caught my eye.untitled-16

And as I looked at the cedar, and then later at the image, Robert Frost came to mind:

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

Remember that poem Johnny quoted in The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton? I read that book way back when I was in seventh or eighth grade. The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” has stayed with me for more than forty years (yes, I’ve been out of high school for almost 41 years!).  The gold tips of the cedar reminded me that this gold will subside into green as the cedar needles continue to grow. Perhaps if I were to go back to that same tree on the other side of the pond, take a picture of the same branch, those gold tips would be green now. Time passes; youth become adulthood. . . .

The gold of autumn, too, has subsided. I’m waiting for my grandmother’s camellia to bloom in the next month or so. I’m still waiting for the sasanqua camellia to bloom as well. I think I saw some golden buds on the bushes last week. . . . .

This week, look for the gold. And look for the beauty.

contemplative photography Photo Journal

A New Way to Create Art

I enjoy playing with textures in Photoshop. I like the way layers of textures can transform an image to tell a new story. I have been looking at the art created by Tennessee photographer Jai Johnson, who also creates the Daily Texture collections. I’ve seen who she uses texture backgrounds with her images to isolate elements, and I wanted to figure out who to do that, too. By watching her videos, I learned that she uses Topaz Labs software for much of her work. However, I tried to do something similar in Photoshop. It’s not easy, and my results are not consistent—yet.

I’ll show you the original and the final product.


I began with this image of the butterfly and the zinnias. I took this at the end of October. I really am not crazy about the background of dead grass and weeds.

I did something a bit different. I opened a new document and set the size as 10 by 8. Then I used the Place Linked command to open the background texture. Next I used the File Linked command to place the butterfly image over the background.

Next, I used the lasso tool in Photoshop to outline the butterfly and the flowers with the stems and leaves, and then used the Select-Inverse command. I added a layer mask, The background texture is revealed behind the image of the flower and butterfly. I thought the pink flowers were a little too bright, so I desaturated the image slightly and brushed back in the color of the butterfly.

I cleaned up the edges with a soft round brush, adjusting the size and the opacity of the brush as needed. Then I added another texture on top of the image at the soft light blending mode at a reduced opacity to tie the image together.

The final result is this.butterly-with-two-lil-owl-textures

It’s different, but I like it. My younger son says it’s really cool.

EDITED: Okay, I still had to play with more stuff. I created one more “look.” I really like this one!


Photo Journal

The Last Day—Write 31 Days is “Officially” Over

I made it to the last day of October. While I managed to write most days, I did not write every day. Life sometimes gets in the way, and sometimes the inspiration, motivation, and desire just up and leave me high and dry. I am working on that latter bit, though, and learning to “show up” to do the work whether I am inspired or not. Sometimes, just showing up is the only thing that I can do.

This morning, I went out for a quick walk around the yard with the camera. The zinnias are beautiful in their last bit of autumn loveliness. The butterflies are covering them. I could sit on the ground and watch them for hours, I think. And yes I found that one butterfly with the dry, papery wing that’s beginning to show its “age”. It’s a subtle reminder of the impermanence of things. And yet, it’s still as beautiful as the butterflies that are still perfectly whole.



I did go out this morning with an idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I chose my 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fixed lens. If I “zoomed” in on something, I would have to do it with my feet! I also took my extension rings to work on some macro, or close-up, photography. I wanted to get close up for detail and to create some kind of abstract of the subject of the images. It’s harder than one thinks! And I was not satisfied with my results. Still I found some things I liked.

I started with my hibiscus.


This image, of course, is taken without the extension rings. I just love this flower. Then I started focusing on details.




I love the curves and the yellow on the underside of the petals.

There are other indications of autumn all around the pond as well. Of course, I had to take the picture of the fallen leaf—just one—lying on top of the green grass.


So much texture and lines in this image of the leaf.

While I had some intention when I began this walk, I also went out with an open mind to see whatever presented itself to me. One of the principles of contemplative photographic practices is to approach the world with an open mind, to see what is there without judgment whether the subject is appropriate or beautiful or photogenic. The idea is to see what is there as it is.

This walk was just what I needed this morning, too, as it put me in touch with creation and its beauty as it is, even the broken butterfly.