Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Let's Discuss - Orientation of the Frame

I have a wish. My wish is that we could all gather for coffee at my favorite up north coffee shop. Steaming white ceramic mugs of black pour-over coffee, and lattes clustered in front of us on the pushed-together round wooden tables. Canons, Nikons, Fujis, Sonys, and iPhones would rest next to each of us as we discussed photography, travel plans, and life. But logistically and monetarily it must remain a wish. The next best option is a blog post.

I have always, always shied away from criticism of any sort; either asking for it or giving it, constructive or otherwise, self-critique or from peers. But what I am learning from The Compelling Frame course is that I have been missing valuable information, missing the way others see life. So I'm  glad that I did the post on Orientation of the Frame, I am also glad that I asked for your thoughts, and delighted that many of you were brave enough to give those thoughts.

After the first few comments I began to worry that everybody would have the same opinion. This then made me think maybe I had skewed your vision that way because of the way I felt about the scene. Thankfully then someone stepped up with a different viewpoint, and valid reasons behind their viewpoint.

This from Lisa: All four photos are beautiful ! I like the horizontal versions of both scenes better..I love your choice of the beach as subject..In the horizontal orientations, I see that the amount of negative space (leaves and grass) framing the walkways is more generous..IMO in both cases, this extra negative space makes for prettier compositions...

I LOVE negative space. If I could put it plentifully in each of my photographs I would be very happy.   As I delved into the negative space aspect, I realized I will orient the frame to which ever option will give me the most of it, eliminating clutter and chaos. I know - match your frame to your lines, but honestly I match my frame to negative space. 

Donna made me so happy with this comment: I have to agree there is something about the horizontal that you get to see more of the area it doesn't feel as cramped. Love the golden color, I'm so happy that you are willing to share your excursions with us, I feel like I'm on a late evening walk right before dusk and want to take time to enjoy but also want to get home before it gets dark out. Winter is coming.

Donna added her story to it. Story and feeling are things I continually work on, and am excited to explore in later lessons of this class. 

Teresa says: In the first set of photos I like the vertical shot. For me the focus is on the path and the possibilities it presents. I like the horizontal shot in the second set because the path disappears into the landscape inviting the viewer to imagine what lies beyond the immediate path.

Teresa sees the possibilities at the turn of the path, she wants to keep going. The very reason I love paths, to see what is around the next bend, it could be boring, but it could be spectacular. 

From my dear friend Leon: I definitely prefer the vertical of the first set, because it emphasizes the path itself, which is clearly the subject. When I first viewed this post on my iPad, I also liked the vertical of the second set (the stairs), but now that I'm looking at it on my computer screen, I really like the horizontal one. I think the including the grass on each side of the stairway adds dimension and a sense of place to the shot. Also, I have to say, your other photos in this post are wonderful! 

Interesting to note the device you view these on can influence your opinion. 

My Thoughts:

The first one - I love the horizontal version. I think, as much as, my intended subject was the path, it was just as equally the sky. We don't often get interesting clouds like that. The eye moves down the path towards the openness. I think this openness translates into the freedom I felt standing on that path: no worries, no responsibilities, no guilt. If I didn't have the opportunity for freedom, the tighter constraints of the vertical image may have more closely matched my feelings. Sure I could have made the sky more dramatic in Lightroom, but I like the calm fading away feeling. 

My friend Jessica, who is in class with me, suggested that I try standing diagonal to the path for even more interesting lines. I wonder how that would affect my feeling for the sky, the feeling of freedom. Sounds like the perfect reason to go back. 

The second one - the more I look, I don't really like either. The vertical feels too tight, and the horizontal, I agree with Roxi's comment: The last one I'm picking the portrait view because it pulls the eye up. The other brings to mind bug legs and I don't think that part of the structure is necessary to tell the story.

I don't like how stairs make me feel: out of breath, burning thighs, and many times an aching back the next day, maybe that comes through to me in my photograph.  Not adventure but pain.

Thank you to all of you who voiced their thoughts. Next lesson is Line and Shape. After doing my homework I may be back to ask for your help again. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Orientation of the Frame

"For the working artist, the very best writings on art are not analytical or chronological; they are autobiographical. The artist, after all, was there."
                                                                                              ~ David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

This statement struck me as I read the book Art & Fear. This is the reason I write my blog, I was there and I want to share it with you. It's about taking you on the journey with me, sharing what I learn, and hopefully inspiring you to go out and take your own adventures in the process.

This blog is also my scrapbook and my journal, showing me where I have been, and how far I have come. And with over five years of content, I have visible proof that I have come a long way.

In the spirit of forever being a student, I signed up for David duChemin's photography class The Compelling Frame in September. It was an investment, but still way cheaper than taking a college level course, one that I would also have to drive to. This class I can take in the creative open air space of my porch, and in the comfort of my pajamas. And you all should know by know, I am self-motivated enough to finish the course. This course is changing my life, both as a photographer and as a writer.

There are 19 lessons and it is taking me about two weeks per lesson, so this course should carry me through the long boring months of winter.

In the first lesson we had to choose what we think are our seven best photographs and then answer ten questions about each one, you can understand why this took me two weeks, but what an eye opening experience. Some on my "best" photographs had many layers of meaning in them, others not so much. The average viewer might just think that it is a pretty picture and move on...or they might find some layers in it for themselves if they linger long enough, different layers than mine, but layers nonetheless.

I am currently on Lesson Three - Frame Orientation. On my adventure day this week, I spent a lot of time shooting scenes both vertically and horizontally. I thought I would share comparisons:

This beach was a new discovery for me, which always makes the shooting experience more exciting.

I could tell you what I think about these, but I am curious to know your thoughts: which do you like better vertical or horizontal? Why?


Sunday, October 8, 2017


My elementary school days were filled with riding my pony, reading in my treehouse, swimming in the neighbors' pool and playing in the woods. But once I hit middle school, and my dad had a life-changing accident with a table saw, there was no time for play. A lot of the household responsibility fell on me, including helping care for my younger brother.  Being a first-born, guilt and responsibility are attached to me like a heavy ball and chain. So taking a day and wandering in the city with my camera, which definitely falls into the category of play, is something that is extremely hard for me.

It is Monday morning, I should be at the grocery store wandering the aisles, trying to figure out what to feed myself and my family for the week. I should be loading the washing machine with the weekend's exercise clothes and Sunday best. I should be waiting for the grass to dry so I can fill the lawn mower with gas and walk behind it for two hours, listening to my book, and sweating through another set of exercise clothes.

But instead I am sitting at a little cafe table in the city, chai latte in front of me and camera beside me. It is the last week of ArtPrize. ArtPrize is an independently organized international art competition that takes place each fall, it is free and open to the public. This is the ninth year of this heavily visited art extravaganza. It has been a few years since I have attended, the years of my daughter being away at college and visits to her for her birthday seemed to take the place of ArtPrize. Last Friday though, my husband and I had a date day and we came to ArtPrize. With over a thousand entries, we didn't even come close to seeing it all.  My husband is out of town for a couple of days, with nobody needing me, the guilt and "shoulds" have been displaced until tomorrow.

ArtPrize is the justification to come back and play, but what I really came back for was to stalk this building with my camera.

At the top is the ugly glass exterior that was on the building, put on by some misguided souls in the name of modernization, probably in the 1970's. Underneath is the original and glorious brick. I was enthralled by this find on Friday, but didn't have the time or the right light to grab more than a few quick shots. Today, I am back in time for morning light. Fortified by my chai latte and gluten free bar, I walk the entire perimeter of the building, documenting every perfectly preserved ghost sign.

Buoyed by my stalking and capturing of treasures, I set off to find more art. I will revisit a few favorites from Friday, seek new favorites from the previously unseen, cast my vote for my favorite from the pool of top twenty, enjoy lunch in a rooftop restaurant, and eventually go home and mow the grass.

Old guilt is hard to shed, but I am slowly learning to play again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Scene & Story - September 2017

September marks the start of my favorite season ~ the Learning Season. I never enjoyed it as a kid, but I loved it as a mother.

I was not an outstanding student, especially in math, there I slipped to the bottom of the pool; but English, English was my life saver. I understood and excelled in reading and given time, I probably would have excelled at writing as well.

When September started this year, I felt compelled to get back to some writing exercises. I scoured my board on Pinterest that held photography/writing prompt lists and picked the one that felt right. Conveniently it was a September Photo A Day list, but I picked it because I loved the first prompt - Music. On September 1st, I sat down at my desk with my word and revived a writing exercise I learned a couple of years ago when I took Laurie Wagner's writing class Telling True Stories. The writing practice is called Wild Writing, fifteen minutes of continuous writing on your chosen word or phrase, pen never leaving the page. Don't try to make sense or correct or edit yourself, just write.

I spent the first two days writing about how I didn't want to write, how I would rather go check the laundry or wash the dishes. In the final two minutes, I would write something about Music. On the third day, I had cleared all that other junk out of my head and could focus on writing something about music. I stuck with the topic day after day as more and more memories continued to emerge. The best one was remembering music class in elementary school, and the blue milk crate that contained the fun instruments like finger cymbals, maracas, and my favorite - the little silver triangle with the silver striker. I even remembered my music teacher's name, which led to a Google search. I learned she had passed away in 2008, had never married but was an awesome aunt, and spent most of her years teaching 2nd grade, not music.

While I dip my toe in and out of writing, I remain fully submerged in photography, so I thought it would be fun to find a little silver triangle and striker and have my daughter hold it so I could photograph it to go with the story I was writing. Of course, I couldn't have a brand new triangle, which I am sure I could have easily found. Oh no, I needed a vintage silver triangle, so off to the antique store I went, and after five antique stores I still hadn't found one.

About this time an email came into my inbox from Laurie Wagner. She was starting a brand new, self-paced e-course called 27 Days of Wild Writing. A daily video with a daily writing prompt for 27 days. Well sign me up, I wasn't getting very far on my own. I am currently on Day 19 and when I finish, I plan to start all over again. What I wrote last month on a prompt will be completely different than what I write this month. That's the beauty and the frustration of life, it is always changing.

So what does the photograph at the beginning of this post have to do with this story? Absolutely nothing, or maybe everything...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Merry-Go-Rounds and Backroads

Exiting off the highway onto Stony Lake Road, I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. The morning rush hour traffic had dropped off a good ten miles back, but still I had a death grip on the steering wheel.

I had left the house at the first sign of daylight, as soon as I knew I would be able to see a deer paused at the side of the road. The very last thing I wanted to do was hit a deer, especially after my husband just had my car detailed two weeks ago. The morning held the promise of overcast skies, which made me feel less rushed, not having to hurry to my destination before the sun was too high. In fact a few rain drops hit the windshield as I drove northward, taking the backroads until I had to get on the highway.

The held breath could also be contributed to the book I am listening to: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Great book but... I strongly dislike one of the main characters, Turk Bauer. I tense up every time his voice announces the start of his chapter. Now that his chapter is done, I push stop on the Audible App on my phone and eject the cassette tape adapter my phone is connected to. Safely off the highway and on one of my very favorite country roads, I want all my senses engaged with the drive. I discovered this road four years ago on one of my early backroads adventures.

Learning from my solo adventure last week, this week I had a destination in mind, the summer people community of Stony Lake, and the playground that lies at the heart of this tiny hamlet. When I first drove through this little community four years ago, my attention was drawn to the lake. As I turned my head from the lake and noticed the playground I had to do a double take: was that really a wooden merry-go-round? Three point turn and I was angle parked, grabbing my camera from the back seat and kneeling in the worn circle of dirt surrounding the merry-go-round.

I have tried to figure out what it is about the merry-go-round that captivates me, I think it boils down to being a treasure hunter and scarcity. I don't think I had ever seen a wooden merry-go-round in real life before that day, and there it was in tiny Stony Lake in all its chippy paint glory.

Lost in memories while I drive, I suddenly notice a crudely lettered sign for some haunted acres, and I want to stop and get a picture, but the fear of the sun emerging and taking away the lovely diffused light keeps me speeding along.

I angle park in the empty parking lot and notice that my merry-go-round sits in the shadow of a very large oak tree. Still, the overcast skies are creating such lovely soft light. My merry-go-round is still here, still the same, chippy paint and all. My intention is to do some self-portrait work here, capture myself with this treasure, so I unload the tripods, the camera body with the articulating screen, the remote shutter release, and the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens I am using for my 365 photography project. I also have one photography prop with me, an old vintage camera from my collection, I figure I can use that to set focus. Focusing for self-portraits is no easy task.

I spend lots of time with the merry-go-round, walking round and round it, looking at it from every angle. Some shots I will like, some I won't, and some will be surprises.

Last year when I made this autumn drive and visited the playground, I explored beyond the merry-go-round and discovered a series of docks that were hidden down an embankment. This was about the time that my Canon 70D that I was shooting with decided to no longer work. I think I got all of two shots off before it froze up (I never travel without two camera bodies now). A lover of wooden docks, hmmm maybe wood is a theme here, I wanted to do some self-portraits here too. I need to invest in a longer range remote shutter release, because when I finally get the remote to work, I end up with a shot like this...

Not quite the tranquil, reflective moment I was going for. Glad the lens wasn't set any higher.

For this autumn season I am reviving my backroads adventures, I am having too much fun not to. So let's pray for an amazing October and a gentle November.

If you are curious about that first blog post I did at the playground, here is the link to it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Solo Adventure

"Traveling for the sheer joy of it down a country road is a sweet search for things that are elusive; a quest for yesterday's pace and peace. Adventure for the sensitive."
                                                                             ~Doris Scharfenberg, Country Roads of Michigan

Four years ago I did a series here on the blog called Back Roads Adventures. I took a detailed map of all the different counties here in Michigan and began plotting different drives. All the roads began with the initial M (Michigan Road) or B (which probably doesn't stand for back road, but I can pretend). These roads were desired over roads that started with US (United States) or the worse of the letters, I (for Interstate).

Some of these M and B roads have become dear old friends, and I try to drive them at least once a year, usually in the Autumn so I can enjoy a fall color tour at the same time.

The one that calls me the loudest is B-35; a drive through small farming communities, past muddy cow pastures and golden corn fields. Even though it seems like just a scenic drive, there is a destination on this road, an old school house that is slowly, or quickly depending on the year, falling into decay. I pray every year that it is still there, so I can photograph it one more time, document the changes.

Four years ago, I would turn down any back road I came across, but I have found myself getting more hesitant to go out on driving adventures. It is so easy to just stay around home and not venture very far. But at forty-nine, I don't want my world getting smaller already. So I made a hotel reservation for an area of Michigan I haven't been to before, one night away seemed a good way to ease into it.

Last week when I set off on my first solo adventure since driving to Pennsylvania two years ago, my destination was east, across the state of Michigan, but somehow I found myself driving north first. Mainly to avoid those nasty US and Interstate roads, but also to set the mood for this solo adventure. The night before I left, I had a vision for the self-portrait that opens this blog post and I knew the perfect place to take it, the gravel road next to the decaying school house. The captured image turned out pretty close to what I envisioned; first time for everything.

There are a few things I will change for my next adventure:
  1. One night wasn't quite long enough, so next time I will do two.
  2. Less driving; spending more time in a few specific locations.
  3. My favorite images from this trip are the self-portraits, so I will do more of those next time.
  4. More research on a area, so I will know specific locations I want to explore.

There probably won't be any more solo overnights this year, but I am going to go out on some day adventures this fall. Getting started is the hardest part, now that that is conquered I know I can do more. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

At First Glance

At first glance, and let's be honest that's all we will give it, the culture of fast scrolling and double tapping so ingrained in us, we see a dog resting peacefully on a brown couch.

But as we scroll past and do a double tap, did we note what kind of dog is was? What was the material of the couch the dog rests on? Where was the light coming from? What time of day was it?

Twenty pictures further along in the feed, will we even remember we saw the dog?

Trust me, the finger I am pointing at you is also hastily scrolling on the screen on my own device. But  in your haste, in my haste, what are we missing? Are we missing the story, the hint of what lies deeper?

As you scrolled and tapped did you wonder how old the dog is? Did you wonder what his name is? Would you guess that this is a rare moment, the sweet adolescent for once sitting still long enough for me to manually focus on the catch light in his eye? Did you notice his catfish long whiskers?

What about the hint of what lies beyond the dog and the couch? Are you curious enough to run your eyes around the edge of the frame? Curious enough to linger?

I have been trying to be more intentional in my own social media browsing, taking my time to drink in the details, run my eyes along the edge of the frame. Is there something there that intrigues me? I will never know if I scroll at the speed of lightening.

My daughter's former boss and her husband are taking an extended road trip, exploring back roads and local small town eateries. I want to follow their trip. I'm curious to see where they go, make notes for our own future trips. I need to slow the scrolling, take time to linger, see where people are going, read their stories. I want to invest in their stories, I want to invest in my own story.

I want to find my way back to curiosity.