Sea Blue Lens


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When Life Gives You Lemons

Our theme for this week’s Be Still lesson was citrus with a side of story-telling and some height. The “story” was pretty easy — I had an idea right away. The hardest part was acquiring one special prop needed; that required two trips to the store because they didn’t have what I wanted the first time.

I did this shoot during our last snowstorm, which I spent at my daughter’s house. I packed up a basket of props to take with me, but I didn’t have anything available to add much height variation to my setup.

These are the two images I liked best:

DSC_8223If Life Gives You Lemons . . .

DSC_8239-2. . . Eat Pie!


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In the Background

I hope you can stand one more Be Still – 52 lesson in a row. This one will bring me up to date with my class.

This assignment was to photograph a still life with different backgrounds. I tried to use my tripod as Kim suggested, so that every photo would be the same except for the background, but found that didn’t work very well for me. In this apartment, it’s more about bringing the still life to the background than vice versa. But I kept my subject very simple and tried to frame the images as identically as possible.

DSC_8158Antique desk against ‘landlord-neutral’ painted wall

DSC_8159-2Black foam core leaning against wall (processed with Kim’s ‘moodswing’ LR preset)

DSC_8166-2Setup moved in front of window — lace curtain background

DSC_8169-2Subject moved to dining table — linen curtain background

After downloading and processing these, I felt like there must be something more I could do. I knew I had other things that would make nice backgrounds, if I could only figure out how to actually get them to go (and stay) behind my still life. So I went back upstairs and recreated my original setup with the little desk in front of the wall. Then I tried wrapping and draping fabric over the piece of foam core.

DSC_8175-2Foam core with tablecloth drape (with Kim’s ‘darklight’ preset)

DSC_8182Lace curtain added

DSC_8189Black foam core with lace curtain drape (with Kim’s ‘litely’ preset)

Thanks to this assignment, I’ve realized I have more background options than I thought I did. It’s funny how the less I expect to get from any particular lesson, the more I seem to learn from it.

And now I’m caught up at last. Bring on the next challenge, Kim!


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Off the Hook

Task: incorporate a hanging bottle with “a posy” into a still life. I struggled with how to fulfill this assignment. I have a few old bottles, and I could tie some sort of cord around their necks, but where would I hang them? I live in a very plain apartment with limited light. No architectural details or interesting hooks. As for posies — well, it’s midwinter in Maine, so there’s nothing growing outside even if I had a garden, which I don’t. Nor did I have the extra funds this week to run to the store to buy flowers.

So after grumbling to myself for a few days (so much for breathing deeply and being still!) I decided to see what I could do with what I do have. I tied a piece of ribbon from my gift-wrap stash around the neck of a favorite antique bottle. I filled the bottle with water and tucked in a sprig of greenery from my lavender plant, and a couple of tiny flowers from my potted Oxalis (also known as shamrock plant). Then I started walking around the house looking for someplace to hang it.

DOF borderI suspended it from a window latch and experimented with depth of field, but didn’t care much for the result. Kinda boring. Next?

DSC_8112Out of the Closet

Hanging on the knob of a folding closet door. Still not very interesting.

DSC_8061Surprise!

Oops — maybe a little too interesting. This one includes half an unplanned selfie and the reflection of my unmade bed. I did like the light, though.

 DSC_8053Mirror Mirror

Better. This is the frame of my dresser mirror, adding some contrast and the warmth of old wood.

 

Then . . . finally . . . this:

DSC_8103Breathing Space

This photo makes me happy. Once again it combines everyday and favorite things — an over-the-door hook on the back of my bedroom door; a 20-year-old fleece shirt I keep there, ready to throw on for a bit of extra warmth and comfort at the end of the day; a little bottle I’ve had for 45 years. It’s a reflection of who I am, and also of the serene, still person I aspire to truly be on the inside.

 

Best of Props

DSC_8078Resting Place

This chair is one of my favorite props from the past year and will no doubt appear in many more photos in the future. I needed a desk chair, and I bought this one specifically because I thought it would be a great photo prop. It’s old and a bit rickety, and someone has done a pretty sloppy job of “antiquing” it. The paint is drippy, cracked, and chipping. But it does the job at my desk, and it photographs beautifully!

My goal has been to avoid buying things just for photo props, because I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not acquire more. But I have to admit that when I’m shopping for something I do need, the first thing I notice now is its potential as a prop. (Wait til you see the dish towels I just found at TJ Maxx!) I’m really enjoying using what I already have to create my still lifes for these lessons. But if there’s one photo prop I’m secretly lusting after, it’s that turquoise half-dozen egg crate at Anthropologie. I have absolutely no need for it, but oh, isn’t it pretty?!


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Farewell and Hail

Out with the old and in with the new. Time to wrap up 2014 and look forward to 2015. I know, I know. That was so two weeks ago. I’m still catching up.

Best of 2014

BeStill2014FavesBeing Still : 2014

Trying to pick some favorites from the still life photos I took last year was more difficult than I thought it would be. Not because I didn’t like them — just the opposite. I liked so many of them so much that it was difficult to choose . . . like trying to pick your favorite child.

So I quick-collected a couple dozen of them in Lightroom and tried to organize them in some sensible way. I noted a number of themes: simplicity, soft colors, garden flowers, bits of nature, favorite antiques, everyday objects, food and drink. And light. It’s always about the light.

The images in the mosaic above are not necessarily “the best” or even my true favorites, but they are representative. I’m developing an appreciation for the genre. I love the way it helps me exercise my creativity and see my same ol’ stuff in new ways. And it’s a wonderful way to practice photography when below zero temperatures and wind chills make going outside an unappealing prospect.

A Fresh Start

New BeginningBeginning Again

2015 marks the fourth year that I’ve kept this little five-year journal. During that time, I’ve missed only an occasional day here and there. This is an accomplishment of major proportions for me. There is little written here that’s deep or profound, but it has been consistent, and that makes me very happy.

As I head into this new year, the word I’ve chosen to guide and inspire me — yes, and to prod myself with — is Complete. It’s time to finish those things I’m always complaining about needing or wanting to do. It’s time to fulfill commitments I make to myself. It’s time to realize that some things in my life have already been completed as much as they ever will be, and to let them go.

My little journal reminds me that I can do it, once I set my mind to it. It lies on the nightstand, waiting for me to write a brief summary of my day before I go to bed. And I do it, no matter how tired I am and how much I want to let it go just this once. If I can complete that small task, then I can complete bigger ones, one step at a time.

Here’s to getting things done, and getting the most out of them while doing it.


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A Whole Lotta Catching Up . . . Again

I’m not sure how it is that I get all caught up in my Be Still class homework, then turn around a moment later and find I’m six weeks or so behind again. So here we go — again.

Vignettes

DSC_7862-2Where the Heart Is

Assignment: A vignette with something substantial and tallish, using pieces I love.  I do love these particular treasures. The old tin pitcher came from the barn of the house I lived in last winter. It was headed for the dump when I rescued it. The heart rocks I found on the beach, the cardinal’s nest came from a shrub in my daughter’s front yard, and the book (which I’ve wanted forever) was a surprise gift last summer from my lovely friend Becs of Catching Sundust.

DSC_7854Love Nest

Three Things, Part 1

DSC_7886Preserved

Assignment: A chair, a window, and backlight (with or without any additional props). These hydrangeas were a pale cream-to-pink when they were freshly cut. I was amazed when they dried to this gorgeous purple.

DSC_7945Petals

Most of my favorite images from the shoot didn’t actually include the window.

DSC_7917Pure Pleasure

I tried several setups using different objects and even different chairs. The day was overcast, and in this shot the light seems much less directional, even though the window was directly behind the chair.

DSC_7876Bowl of Apples

Same chair as the first, different props, different mood.

Three Things, Part 2

Outtakes-2Outtakes

Same assignment as before, but with sidelight instead of backlight. I had some trouble with this one. Low chair + high window = NO light. Finally I tried raising the chair up by sitting it on a large plastic storage bin.

IMG_6560Nana’s Wren

That worked, and I was really happy with the pretty light shining through the leaves. This little bird was a birthday gift from a dear friend, and is all the more precious to me because it was her grandmother’s. I feel honored to have it entrusted to my care and keeping.

IMG_6568Lady Lavender

This is the plant that grew from the lavender seeds I was given for Christmas a year ago. They were slow to germinate, slow to grow, have never bloomed, and look like no lavender plants I’ve ever seen before. But the leaves themselves have that wonderful lavender scent and I touch them to release the fragrance whenever I walk by.

One of the things I am really enjoying about this still life class is the way each “prop” brings its story back into my mind: memories of where and when I got it, who was with me, what was happening in my life at that time, what has happened since that concerned that object. It’s fun to look at things anew and put them together in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

More to come . . . .


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On Being Still

I’ve mentioned before that I’m taking a class from Kim Klassen called Be Still – Fifty-two. We’re just past the halfway point, and this is sort of a catch-up post. I’ve been doing the lesson each week, but for various reasons, haven’t gotten around to publishing my results.

I’m pretty sure I’ve also mentioned before that still life is not a genre with which I feel comfortable. Doing setups for these lessons and “styling” a photograph is hard for me, and when I see the beautiful work done by other students, I feel that mine isn’t quite “right.” So I hesitate to put it out there.

OK, so that’s silly. First, it’s not a competition. Second, Kim encourages us to find and follow our own style, so there is no “right” that I should be worried about. And third, no one has ever been anything but kind and supportive about my photography. Therefore, after giving myself a good talking-to, I’ve just finished posting my “homework” for the past month or so to the class’s Flickr group, and thought I’d share a few of those images here.

White Pitcher Red AppleWhite Pitcher

Assignment: Create a photo inspired by a still life painting. My inspiration was a painting called White Vase by Neil Carroll. This was the first time I’ve tried photographing against a dark background like this.

DSC_7498Pear on Plate

Assignment: A composition using only two objects, such as a pear and a bowl.

DSC_7528Pair

Another take on the Two Objects challenge. As you can see, I’m rather captivated by that dark background effect.

Butter & Eggs Cooking for One

Assignment: A still life with butter and eggs. This one was fun. I’ve had that book for a long time, hoping for an opportunity to use it as a photo prop. And my daughter and I had to go antiquing to find the perfect butter dish, especially for this assignment.

Strong teaStrong Tea

Assignment: Square format, looking down, with two sides of the frame left open. This was  taken with my iPhone and processed with Laminar Pro.

And that brings me up to date, just in time for the lesson that arrived today!

Now, if I can just keep it up going forward . . . .

 


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Hunting and Gathering

Inspired by this week’s Be Still – 52 lesson, I took a couple of nature walks to gather materials for creating some still life photographs. My first impression, as I thought of “gather – drop – place and prop,” was that Mother Nature does such a fine job of gathering and dropping that she doesn’t need any help from me. All I needed to do was “place” my own two “props” and snap away:

IMG_5376 Fall FeetMagic Carpet

However much fun that was, it didn’t really satisfy the requirements of the lesson, so I set off to collect some autumnal miscellany around the neighborhood. There can be hazards to this kind of still life photography. Did you know that if you bring certain dried wildflowers into your house, you will soon have seeds of said wildflowers everywhere? The Queen Anne’s Lace was so messy that I didn’t use it after all, in spite of its fascinating structure. I’m still vacuuming up prickly little seeds. My basket of goodies also contained other unintended “organic matter” that was inclined to make itself at home in my home, but don’t worry, I put the little spiders safely back outside.

Anyway, after gathering a basketful of colorful leaves, berries, seeds and twigs, more than enough for a dozen still-life photo shoots, I came home to arrange and photograph them. I’m still working on where and how to set up still lifes in this apartment — finding space, light, and clean backgrounds is a challenge. My workspace for this project was an antique folding sewing table set up by the living room window.

DSC_6941 work spaceMy Garden and Reflecting Pool

DSC_6942 fallen leaf pondFallen Leaf

DSC_6926Autumn Joy

This was my final composition, taken from above and processed with Kim’s moodswing Lightroom preset. Okay, assignment done, I thought.

But then . . . Sunday I woke up in a melancholy mood. Thinking it might be interesting to try the assignment with odds and ends I could find at the beach, I headed to one of my favorite places, the Audubon Walk at Biddeford Pool. Five minutes of sea breeze and sunshine, and I was a new person. It works every time. I must remember this!

P1040477 Wood Island LightWood Island Light

I took my usual path, which was more overgrown than I’ve ever seen it before, probably due to the very rainy July we had this year. The only birds I saw were sea gulls and chickadees, but there were lots of butterflies and bees on the wild asters.

P1040389 butterfly-bee-asterAutumn Feasts for Tiny Beasts

I came home with over 100 photos in my camera and a much lighter heart. Oh, and a few bits of this and that in my pockets.

DSC_6961 beach treasures_aboveA Day at the Beach

Some granite eggs, a few shells, a bit of old brick and scrap of wood, seaweed, three hearts (I only asked the Universe for one!), and two tiny bits of sea glass. I was amazed at how many red-berried trees and bushes I saw. These were only one of at least a half-dozen different kinds of red berries I discovered. The yellow ones are bittersweet berries. There are tons of it out there, but it’s not quite “ready” yet — the outer casings haven’t yet opened to show the orange berries inside.

DSC_6971 beach still lifeBe Still, My Heart

Lesson learned from this week’s still-life photo assignment? I must get out more. Literally out: outside, into nature. I need it as much as I need food, water, sleep, and air to breathe.


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Man of Mystery

This week’s Be Still – 52 project is still-life family portraits . . . creating a photographic “portrait” of a person without the person! That sounds impossible, but I liked the idea and knew immediately that my subject would be my father.

This past June marked the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death. Twenty years! So hard to believe it’s been that long. Dad was a complicated man, and also a somewhat mysterious one. As a child, I knew nothing about his background except that he was from the Midwest. We had no extended family. I once overheard a snippet of adult conversation saying that his name, the name I knew him by, wasn’t his real one. But I was a shy child who didn’t ask questions, so I tucked it away in the back of my mind and mostly forgot about it. I sensed it was something I wasn’t supposed to know about, anyway.

My sister, who is ten years younger than I and much more direct and outgoing, challenged Dad in his later years to record his life story for her. She gave him a tape recorder and some tapes. After his passing, I found notes he’d jotted down about his early life, and one tape that he’d begun, expanding upon those notes.

And that was how we finally learned a bit about who our father was, by following clues in those notes and doing some detective work on Ancestry.com. It wasn’t a spy-novel-secret-identity sort of story after all, just a sad family drama that caused a young boy to run away from a troubled home at age 14, in the middle of the Great Depression. In the same way that we didn’t know where he came from, his family never knew where he went. He took the name of his biological father and changed his birth date to appear four years older than he actually was. It must have required all of his intelligence and ingenuity just to survive in those hard times.

How I wish we had known all this while he was still alive! Sometimes I wonder if he would be pleased that his secrets have been revealed. We are pleased, anyway. My sister and I have been able to connect with both sides of his family and have learned we have a plethora of cousins through both his maternal and paternal sides. We have so much more understanding and compassion for the more difficult aspects of his personality, now that we know something about his birth and early years.

DSC_6564_DadFragments

The still life I created in Dad’s memory is comprised of some of the few items I have that were his. Even they are mysterious! I have no idea of the source of the pewter box and the larger jade elephant, but remember them being around all my life. They were the only things I really wanted of Dad’s after he died. The “Birthdays ‘Round the Year” book was a gift to him from a woman (not my mother) on his birthday, two months before I was born. There’s an inscription with her signature, “Jhana,” inside the cover. The poetry clippings were inside, dated in his handwriting. The book is filled with dates of births, deaths, weddings, and divorces in various handwritings. Dad’s own death is recorded there in my own hand.

Those are his World War II draft registration and ID cards, with that incorrect birth date. The cuff links remind me of the white dress shirts he wore as a bartender, leaving for work each night as we children were getting ready for bed. I found the handful of tarnished old coins, mostly foreign, in the bottom of an old cigar box. Dad loved unusual coins, and always checked through his tips carefully for anything of interest. One of these is a United States seated liberty quarter dated 1842, worn so smooth that it’s barely readable.

This is such a tiny part of who he was, and what he was. It says nothing of his warmth, his beautiful singing and speaking voice, his sense of humor, his love of books, his talent as a gardener that he turned into a second career after he retired from bartending. It also says nothing of his demons, his alcoholism, his delight in shocking and aggravating his neighbors, his ability to build up and tear down with his words. As I said, a complicated man. I loved him and sometimes I hated him. But he was my father, and in the end, it’s the love that remains. I miss him very, very much.

Image processed with Kim Klassen’s textures bestill and appreciate.


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Out and About

Yesterday my daughter and I took a little drive down to Kennebunkport to see what we could see. It’s one of our favorite things to do, and this is one of our favorite times of the year to do it. The summer crowds are gone and the weather was cool, clear, and perfect.

IMG_5086Peaceful

As we walk from the public parking lot back into the village, I always stop by here, where the road crosses over the river, to take a few photos.

IMG_5095Into the Blue

I love the sight of New England’s cupolas and spires against the intense blue sky.

IMG_5093Touch of Autumn

It is early yet, but we did see a bit of color here and there.

IMG_5099Vacancy

This bird house is awfully close to the street, and I don’t know if it is ever occupied or not. But it’s cute, anyway.

IMG_5116Times Past

There are two kinds of antique shops I love. One is the junk-store kind, where you can prowl to your heart’s content in hopes of unearthing an unexpected (and cheap) treasure of some sort. The other is this kind: like a museum, except you can touch the precious things on display. If you have the money, you can even take them home with you. I do not have it, but I love looking (and touching) anyway.

IMG_5103Pooh Corner

When I looked back over the photos I took during my 365 project, I noticed that I actually do take quite a few still lifes. This was a surprise to me. But I also realized that this is the kind I take — found subjects, rather than ones I have gathered and set up. I just never thought of them as “still lifes.”

IMG_5106To the Loft

What can I say? I love these stairs and that light bouncing around at the top. And I was drawn irresistibly up.

IMG_5107View from the Top

IMG_5108Illumination

IMG_5109Horse with Girl

The tag said this was from China. I have no idea if it’s antique or not, but I thought it was charming.

IMG_5112Little Green Apples

Back downstairs. Though I’m not generally a fan of the chipped paint look, I liked this worn blue table a lot. I can see it in back of my couch. In my dreams.

IMG_5113It Was a Hot Summer

IMG_5121David by the Water

Outside, if you duck and go through a little passageway, you find this surprisingly formal small garden tucked away next to the building.

IMG_5147The Good Earth

Another of our favorite shops. The floors are so tilted it will make you dizzy. All of the pottery here is made by the husband and wife who own the store. My favorite mugs came from here.

IMG_5139Fresh Picked

Another of my “found” still lifes.

IMG_5142Deck with a View

From this deck we could smell seafood, and it was time to seek out some lunch. Clam chowder and warm blueberry pie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream — which, as usual, I never even thought to photograph — and then it was time to head for home.

So glad we went! Today it is raining . . . and that’s good, too.

Note: All photos were taken with my iPhone 5S.


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Something New

For the past few weeks, our Find Your Eye lessons have had us exploring our photographic inspirations and becoming familiar with our favorite subjects. This time, the assignment was to photograph a new subject – something different from our norm.

I take most of my photographs outdoors, of subjects as I find them, such as landscapes, trees, wildflowers, birds, old ruined buildings, and so on. So for this challenge, I decided that I would try still-life photography, deliberate setups that I would create in my own home and capture with available, natural light.

This seemed like the perfect plan, since with the predicted arrival of Hurricane Irene over the weekend, it didn’t seem a propitious time for an outdoor excursion, and I was happy to have a plan that didn’t require leaving home. Friday after work, I headed for the supermarket to stock up on bottled water, TP, and canned tuna . . . and fresh fruit and flowers for my photos-to-be.

Irene's rain

To set the mood . . .

Sunday morning dawned – or rather didn’t. I hadn’t reckoned on how dark it would be with the sky solidly overcast and rain coming down. I was actually dreading this whole session, to be honest, because it seemed so contrived and felt very awkward. But after some procrastination, I gathered together some odds and ends and headed upstairs to turn my bedroom into a temporary studio.

I thought I’d have trouble taking the required 100 photos of my new subject, but that wasn’t a problem. Once I got started, I had a blast arranging little vignettes and photographing them from various angles, then moving things around to try other ideas. I spent a couple of pretty intense hours taking almost 200 photos, and I never even got to the flowers. By that time I was hot, tired, and hungry, so I gathered everything up and went downstairs to refresh myself by consuming some of my props.

Here are three of my favorites from this photo shoot.

Sunday Morning

Pair + Pear

Lemon Lime

In the end, I loved this assignment, and I love some of the images I got. To my eye (ohmygosh, I do have one, don’t I?) they seem quite characteristic of the images I “find” when I’m out taking my normal sort of photos.

What do you think?

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