Sea Blue Lens


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Still-life in Motion – Week 51

This week’s Be Still – 52 lesson was about creating a sense of movement in a still life — in other words, how to keep the viewer’s eye moving around within the photograph.

I’ve recently been inspired by Kim’s “Table and Chair” series to begin a similar series of my own featuring my antique maple writing desk and very old, mended Windsor chair. For this still life setup I added an armful of lilacs cut from the hedge at my daughter’s place and an assortment of treasures from that wonderful old house.

DSC_9362-2Workspace

 My starting point, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight from my southwest facing window.  It’s a good thing I wasn’t really trying to concentrate on reading or writing. The scent of those lilacs was more than a little distracting. It was all I could do to keep my mind on my camera.

DSC_9363-2Moodswing

This little book is titled, in full, The Ladies’ and Gentlemens’ Letter-Writer, and Guide to Polite Behavior, Containing Also, Moral and Instructive Aphorisms, for Daily Use. It was published in Boston and does not have a copyright date, but the sample letters printed within it all bear the date of 1859, leading me to think it must have been published in or near that year. It is smaller than you might think from the photos, only 3-1/2 by 5-3/8 inches by about 1/2 inch thick, but packed full of oh-so-useful advice.

DSC_9360-2Guide to Politeness

The section the book is open to reads “Rules for Polite Behavior for Ladies and Gentlemen, with Instructions for Dress. Also, Brief Rules for Daily Use.” There follows a long essay on “American Etiquette” which covers clothing, personal grooming, table manners, conversation, etc. The “Brief Rules” include such advice as “Avoid egotism” and “Avoid rude expressions.” It’s quaint and utterly fascinating. All I can conclude is that society in the mid-nineteenth century was much more polite than today’s is. But oh, so many rules! While I’d love to see more civility in civilization, I don’t think I’d want to be as regimented as the culture of that day was.

DSC_9373-2Shadows

 Kim’s Shadows preset really made magic happen with this one.

DSC_9372-2Resting My Eyes

It’s interesting how some presets just seem made for certain images. I’ve tried Kim’s kk_BeStill preset on quite a few photos before, but didn’t care for it. When I applied it to this one it just popped — it was exactly what I wanted before I even knew I wanted it!

DSC_9338-2Nocturne

Still one of my favorite presets — kk_Moody-ish. I liked this image but it felt a little flat straight from the camera. Now I love it!

My own eye finds movement in these images. I’ll be interested to see if yours does, too.


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Unique Vessel: Be Still Week 47

I’m going to be working here for a while (rather randomly) on some Be Still – 52 lessons I need to catch up on. For Week 47, we were challenged to find unique vessels for a still-life setup. Kim’s example included a ball of twine as a holder for a dried flower.

Here’s my “unique vessel,” another treasure unearthed from that old house where I lived for a while:

Photo May 18- 1 45 28 PM

This is a Victorian mustache (or moustache) cup. According to Wikipedia:

The moustache cup is a drinking cup with a semicircular ledge inside. The ledge has a half moon-shaped opening to allow the passage of liquids and serves as a guard to keep moustaches dry. It is generally acknowledged to have been invented in the 1860s by British potter Harvey Adams (born 1835).

Photo May 18- 1 36 02 PM

But this is one of the most delicate, feminine-looking pieces of porcelain I’ve ever seen. It looks as if it could be crushed like an eggshell by a careless masculine hand. The colors, the delicate pattern…does that look like something designed for a man? In any case, I thought it would make a nice container for a little bouquet of pink and white lily of the valley.

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What did I tell you? Totally feminine.

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This handkerchief consists of an eight-inch square of linen, so sheer you can almost read through it, bordered with three rows of exquisitely delicate lace edging. It was only when I put it next to my little bouquet-in-a-cup that I realized the lace is embroidered with lily of the valley! In all the years I’ve had this family heirloom, I had never noticed that before.

DSC_9222

Then this afternoon, as I was actually preparing this post, my eye lit on something on the bookshelf that gave me an idea I wanted to try. These were quickly set up on my dining table and photographed in natural light with my iPhone. The first and last are straight out of the camera, while the middle one is cropped a bit and had some slight clarity and exposure adjustments made to the background in post-processing.

IMG_1538Sea and Sky I

IMG_1540Sea and Sky II

IMG_1548Sea and Sky III

I love the soft, natural colors of these. I think that last one might be my favorite of all.

In her video for this lesson, Kim demonstrated a couple of new features of Lightroom 6 that tempt me to get it. They’re not the “big” features that are being widely promoted, but a couple of small things that I’ve actually wished for in the past, like being able to apply the brush tool to modify the graduated filter. Thanks, Kim – I got a lot from that video!


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Quietly Looking Back – Be Still Week 49

When I signed up for Be Still – 52, my life was in a state of chaos and change. I had always admired Kim’s lovely, peaceful still life images and her kind and gentle teaching style. The idea of taking time to sit quietly, breathe, and express a sense of peace and stillness through creating still life photographs was very appealing.

Our year of Be Still – 52 is now drawing towards its close. Life has settled down. I wish I could say that I’d internalized a regular habit of quiet meditation, but that’s not the case. There have been moments during this still-life journey, however, when I’ve gotten caught up in that timeless “flow” state where everything else seems to disappear. I’ve also gained an appreciation of the still-life genre itself, and have created some photographs that I’m very pleased with.

For last week’s prompt, Kim asked us to look back over our almost-a-year of Be Still images and share a few of our “quietest” ones. I discovered that the images that give me the strongest sense of “quietness” were the ones that were the simplest in their subject and composition.

DSC_6110Luminous

This image was created early in the class, and was one of my first attempts of the “top down” point of view. I was also experimenting with shallow depth of field. I love the pattern on the tablecloth created by the sun streaming through the lace curtains on the window.

FinishedFinished

One of my favorite lessons was “Laundry Time.” I’d been gifted with a pile of vintage linens, and though it may sound odd, I found the whole process of painstakingly treating ancient stains, washing and drying the old, embroidered pillowcases and towels, then photographing them to be very calming and meditative. So was post-processing the images. This image is just one of many that I loved from that week.

But not all of my quietest images are light and airy.

DSC_7485White Pitcher

One lesson challenged us to find a still life painting that we liked, and create a still life photograph inspired by it. This was my first still life photographed against a dark background, and I still love it for its simplicity and the way the pitcher seems to glow in the dark.

IMG_5266Autumn Equinox

That white pitcher has become one of my favorite props. Here it is on another occasion, when I was playing with some late afternoon sidelighting. These hydrangeas appeared more than once during the year, too. They are from the same plant as the one in the first photo in this post, just later in the year. I’m still using the dried blossoms in photos.

DSC_8103Breathing Space

This image is from a lesson I really struggled with. I was not feeling peaceful or still at all when I began it, but by the end I’d found my stillness after all. This was my favorite photo from that assignment, and it still reminds me of how good it felt when I finally captured the mood of that quiet place I wanted to be in.

I haven’t published the next two images before. They were made for the assignment called “The ‘Unstaged’ Shoot,” meant to portray a rumpled, “real-life” still life.

DSC_6794In the Morning

This one couldn’t be more unstaged; it’s simply an image of my robe tossed onto the end of my unmade bed. Exactly how I found it, glowing in the soft morning light. It’s one of my favorites, reminding me of how grateful I am for the simple joys in my everyday life.

DSC_6801Reflections

The last one is equally unstaged, though more deliberately thought out. That same unmade bed is reflected in the mirror of the antique, marble-topped dresser that has been dragged from one side of the country to the other more than once in the 40-plus years that it’s been in my possession. Every object in this image reflects something about me, my life, and my personal and photographic style.

I’m a sentimental person, with a longing for a simple life and a nostalgia for times gone by. My own “still life” style is to take them as I find them, rather than deliberately setting out to create them. But through the weeks of Be Still – 52, despite my struggles with some of the prompts, I’ve learned to enjoy that deliberate creation, as well as to appreciate even more the serendipitous ones that catch my eye and my camera’s lens.


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Springtime at Laurel Hill

You might remember that last October, during the peak of fall color, I took a photo walk in Laurel Hill Cemetery and wrote about it here.

Though I didn’t blog about it, I visited in January, too, when I had to climb a snowbank to capture this view:

P1040616Winter “Wonderland”

This week I went back to catch a bit of the glorious spring that we New Englanders waited for so patiently (or not!) during a very long winter. Now the trees are lacy with new leaves, and from the same spot, the view looks like this:

DSC_9123Spring Wonders

I’ve been here many times before to photograph the daffodil display in April and early May. In fact, I’d gone a few days earlier with my friend Susan. We talked about how, even though neither of us really needs any more daffodil photos, it seems a rite of spring, a sort of victory celebration, to go take them every year. Another winter has passed and we survived!

DSC_9054The Clearing

It’s so hard to cconvey the feeling of it — the sheer scope of whole hillsides covered in yellow and white blossoms. Or maybe it only seems so overwhelming because the world has been black and white and grey and cold for so long.

DSC_9078Magic Carpet Ride

DSC_9074Tree Hugger

Aside from the little guy above, there was no one else around, and so I wandered about, shooting more daffodils with my Nikon. (It’s hard to stop — they really are irresistible.) Then I made my way down to the bottom of the hill and saw them from an angle I’d never seen before.

DSC_9102Flow

I took this photo and a couple of panoramas, including the one in my header, with my iPhone. These feel like I’ve come closer than ever before to capturing that broad sweep of flowers against the background of river and trees that I’ve always wanted.

SpringFlowers_LHPatchwork

There are hundreds of thousands of bulbs here, and I’m sure there must be hundreds of varieties. And wildflowers, too. The mosaic above is only a small sampling.

IMG_1022Sweet Violets

Tearing myself away from the daffodils, I wandered among the old grave markers, marveling at the beauty everywhere I looked. Grass that was carpeted with colorful leaves last fall and blanketed with snow all winter is now sprinkled with violets.

gravestone flowersLove Still Blooms

Many graves are planted with beautiful spring bulbs and other flowers.

DSC_9119Not Forgotten

 Others have been decorated by Nature’s own hand.

IMG_1003Preview

The crabapple trees were just on the verge of bursting into full bloom.

Laurel Hill Chapel 3SeasonsThere Is a Season….

Of course I had to stop by the chapel again, to marvel at how different it looks now from October and January.

DSC_9132Undressed

The building looks bare wearing only a tracery of vines without their customary covering of shiny, dark green leaves.

DSC_9136The Tower

Soon the tulips will be gone, the rhododendron will have bloomed, and those vines will hide the grey stone walls and try to cover the windows of the old chapel with leaves.

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I’ll leave you with a look down the same lane I closed with last autumn . . .

DSC_9017‘Til Next Time

. . . and one last peek at the daffodils as the sun goes down, a view that won’t come again for another year. The comfort is in knowing that it will come, no matter how long the seasons in between. The cycle goes on.

I love coming here in any season, for the solitude, the peace, and the natural beauty of this special place. I’m already planning to bring my camera back in full summer, when the trees will be in leaf and the grass filled out and deep green. I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises await me then.


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Spring Break and Be Still Week 48

Apparently I’ve been on a blogging break for the past few weeks. It wasn’t intentional; it just seems to have turned out that way. It’s not that I haven’t been taking photographs, or even sharing them — just not on my blog. For example, I participated in Susannah Conway’s April Love 2015, but my responses to those daily prompts were posted in the April Love 2015 Facebook group.

Also in April, I took Vivienne McMasters’ new Double Exposure Love class, which was so much fun! Those got posted to Instagram. Here’s a sampling:

DoubleExposures-1

This is one of my favorites:

IMG_0727Double Vision

These were all created on my iPhone or iPad using the Diana Photo app. Some of them were paired randomly by the app, and some were pairings I chose. Vivienne showed us other ways to make double exposures using PicMonkey and Photoshop, but I’ve been having so much fun with Diana Photo that I haven’t tried them yet.

Be Still – 52

I also took a break during April — again, not deliberately — from Be Still 52. I have a few lessons to catch up on, but I did get this week’s done. Our assignment was a still life featuring two or three things: coffee or tea, change, from above. I remembered some coins I brought home from my last trip to England and decided to use them to create a travel theme.

DSC_9166Keepsakes

This image includes a few photos I took in London on my first trip to England. Yes, that is Her Majesty, and yes, I really was that close to her. It was pure chance and stunning good luck that put me in the right place at the right time on my last day before flying home.

IMG_1212Travel Planning

Plotting how I can get back to spend those coins!

DSC_9168Travel Dreams

I dream of returning to England some day, but at this point it seems likely to remain only a dream. Still, I have wonderful memories and some pretty amazing photos to back them up. And, thank goodness, I can still have scones and tea right here at home…and there’s one more season of Downton Abbey to look forward to!

[Be Still notes: The first image was processed with kk_hazydazy Lightroom preset. The second was just cropped a bit and some vignetting added in Lightroom. The last was processed with Kim’s Pastelhaze preset. I did try some of the darker, more dramatic presets with these photos but didn’t care for the results.]


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Pastel Perfect

I love color. I love bright colors, flower garden colors, but I’m especially drawn to pastels. This week’s Be Still assignment was to create a still life featuring pastels, in honor of springtime and Easter. I thought about dying eggs, but it didn’t interest me much. And it would have required buying things — white eggs and dye to color them with — specifically for the photo shoot, which is against the “rules” I have set for myself regarding Be Still, to use what I already have.

Besides, I had other ideas. A couple of them.

The first was fashion, something that relates both to Easter and spring, right?


IMG_9881-2Pearls and Lace

IMG_9880-2Pastel Pretties

I used my desk chair for all the photos in this post. It was backlit by the living room window, with a linen curtain pulled closed to filter the light. Rather than spot-metering, I overexposed the images to compensate for the bright back light. Both of the photos above were processed in Lightroom with Kim’s “Pastelhaze” preset. What it did to the images felt like magic!

Well, now that I’m all dressed up in my Easter finery, how about a nice springtime tea?

DSC_8946Simplicitea

I found this irresistible little bird creamer the other day, and thought he’d pair well with my porcelain butterfly teapot, and that they would work nicely together for this pastel photo shoot. (See how arbitrary my “rules” are? But I loved him in his own right, so I wasn’t buying him just for a photo prop; therefore, it was okay. Besides, he was less than $3. I love TJ Maxx.)

DSC_8952-2Tea for Me

Both of the tea set images were processed with Kim’s “Breeze” preset. It gave me just the soft, glow-y mood I wanted.

I have actually learned quite a lot because of my silly, self-imposed rules and other logistical limitations. They have caused me to think creatively about how to adapt Kim’s prompts to my own life and style, and to come up with solutions for space and light problems. And I love finding ways to feature and highlight some of my own favorite possessions. It makes me happy to see my old keepsakes and everyday utilitarian objects become art!


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Put to Good Use

Finally, I found a use for the old milk crate I rescued from “the dump guys” who were loading up junk to haul away from the old house I lived in last year. Our still life assignment this week was to play with light and shadow in, on, and around a crate, box, cupboard, or what have you. I remembered that old crate, which has been sitting in my laundry room, just waiting for something to do, ever since I moved into this apartment. It would be perfect for this!

Or would it? Once I got it out and took a look at it, I was a little less optimistic. I’d forgotten that it has a metal bottom, perforated with a grid of holes, plus handles cut into all four sides. Here’s what I started with:

Crate duoIt Has Potential

I put my little desk at right angles to the bedroom window and put down a piece of black poster board to protect it from the rough crate. Then I propped a piece of black foam board behind the crate to block the light from those holes.

I gathered a couple of props — two little ceramic birds I picked up at Michael’s yesterday for a dollar apiece, and a little ivy plant from Home Depot which I popped into a pot I had bought at the Acton, California, farmers market a couple of years ago. I tried a few shots with my iPhone to see how well the crate was going to work.

Testing…iPhone FourOne, Two, Three, Four

Okay, I can work with this. I got out my Nikon to shoot the setup “for real.” Kim’s suggestion to underexpose by a couple of stops if I wanted to go for a shadowy image worked out well. I found that by starting off with underexposed images, much less post-processing was required to get the effects I wanted.

DSC_8815-soocStraight out of the Camera

DSC_8815With Kim’s new Shadows Lightroom preset

DSC_8796Also processed with KK_Shadows

DSC_8794-2Processed with KK_Moody-ish. This is one of my favorites of Kim’s presets.

DSC_8811KK_Shadows again

DSC_8814KK_MoodSwing — Another of my favorites. Are we sensing a theme here?

All of this dark and moody processing makes those holes in the bottom of the crate virtually disappear. However, looking over the unprocessed images from my photo session, I found that I actually didn’t mind the holes. They can add a bit of interesting pattern, as you can see in the second photo in this post, the SOOC image. I suspect I’ll be using this beat up old crate for a photo prop again in the future.

Thanks, Kim! This was a fun one.

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