The Sound of Silence

Trees

Have you ever heard the sound of silence? I did over Thanksgiving break. For about 5 minutes I was able to stand here in the snow, surrounded by trees and lake and listen to absolutely no sound. There just is no way to describe it. Utter and complete stillness. Like the only thing you hear is the sound of the melting snow. It’s slightly unnerving and it’s beautiful and wonderful. I highly recommend it.

 

 

North in Winter

Winter is not my favorite season…yet. I must admit though, that when it comes to photography, it is definitely climbing the charts. It’s peaceful. Magical, when it snows, and lets face it, the ‘no bugs’ thing is a huge draw. Being able to walk through groves and forests without face planting into a spider web is awesome!

I know, the snow and ice wreck havoc on people’s driving abilities and the cold can be downright bitter but if you have to endure three to four months (and in some cases 5-6) of this stuff, why not try to find a bright side? Is there any better time to curl up with a warm blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate and watch White Christmas?

With the popularity of social media, snowman building has taken on an art form, sitting in front of a crackling fire and sipping hot apple cider brings back some of my favorite memories and watching kids (and some grownups) light up with excitement as they create snow forts or a sort of luge track, as was the case this last week, all make the inconvenience of some bad traffic and donning the extra layers so much more worth it. At least for me.

Capturing a bit of the magic in a snow filled photo is just the icing on the Christmas cake.

Tree of Green2

 

Chicago Taught Me That

Why are fails a must? Why should we embrace the moments that don’t work out like we hoped or planned?

This past weekend I traveled to Chicago for their Open House Chicago event. Armed with my itinerary, maps, and a backpack full of healthy snacks, I ventured into the city like it was my first visit. 8 hours later, I was back on the train, exhausted, sore and to be honest a little defeated.

Fast forward two days. The weekend is over and I’m packed up and heading home feeling, well, just a little sorry for myself and struggling to understand exactly what went wrong. In all fairness, I had a great weekend. I got to wander the streets of Chicago and discovered wonderful little suburbs with amazing parks and shops, all on my own. (This introverts happy place.) What was missing was the hundreds of photos I had anticipated collecting along the way. Oh, I took pictures, lots of them, but I didn’t “make” anything. Downloading my camera each evening I found myself promptly deleting a majority of what amounted to snap shots at best and just bad photography at worst.

I headed west towards home and tried to console myself with the idea that while photographically speaking the weekend was a bust, I did get some much needed time to myself and had really enjoyed the city and all it’s fascinating character.

Having lived outside of Chicago (many, many years ago), I was familiar with it’s Federal Preserve areas in Cook County. Forest, lagoons, prairies, etc. After stopping for a cup of coffee near Schaumburg I decided on my route home and began what would turn into an 8 hour drive. Still completely frustrated with myself I made an unplanned pitstop at Poplar Creek Equestrian Trail. At first glance it wasn’t anything special. A forest area with a few interesting trees and a couple worn down trails running directly through the middle of the preserve. Not know exactly why, I changed into my rain boots, grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out on the lowest lying trail. Several steps in I realized that I wasn’t really even looking around me. Instead I was caught up in the negative gremlins running amuck in my head. I was upset and near tears because I am still learning and am not always able to get the shots that I want and patience with myself, is not one of my virtues. For a few moments I stared at my camera and contemplated just getting in the car, scrapping my planned route and just jumping onto I-80 and getting home as fast as possible. I was tired and missed my family anyway. It was that moment that I finally looked up and took in my surroundings.

It had rained that morning and the sky was full of rolling and brewing clouds. It was cool but not cold. It was perfect, actually. The tree line directly in front of me wasn’t exactly bursting with color but the gray skies made the best of it. I was too low in the field to get a good shot of the tree line so I found a trail that took me up just a bit higher and gave a vantage point. Along the path I came across a small hill about two feet high and maybe three feet wide, just wide enough for my tripod and narrow enough that I had to watch my footing or I would slide down or knock my camera over. After taking a few test shots I stopped thinking and just let myself relax. The photos still were not perfect, there was nothing terribly exciting about the scene in front of me except that I felt utterly and completely at home in it.

I truly enjoy exploring downtown Chicago but it does not compel me to lift my camera to my eye and push the shutter button. It draws me in with it’s fascinating architecture and history. The energy is contagious and the crowds of diversity that ebb and flow around me remind me of what an amazing world this is. At the same time, it’s hard edges, honking horns and constant movement make me feel slightly on edge and unable to focus. It inspires me but it leaves me tired and searching for something a little less…demanding.

Standing on that little hill in the middle of a prairie preserve, there were no thoughts about the city, the people, the buildings…or anything really. I was right there, in that moment, feeling of the cool, damp air and witnessing the awesome beauty of the rolling clouds and listening to the sound as the breeze rushed over the trees and into the hill beyond. I have often dreamed of the opportunity to travel to some amazing location like New Zealand and what it would be like to photograph such brilliant landscape but the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it’s there or my back yard. We live in a wonderous world and beauty surrounds us at every turn. My desire is to seek it out and embrace it and share it. I admire those who find it thrilling to photograph architecture and I will continue to enjoy their work but I will never be one of those people. Chicago taught me that.

Chicago Taught Me That

Stepping Out On the Edge

Stairway To

Changing my eating habits has been a challenge but I’m only on day 6, so I’m hopeful that it will get easier. In the meantime I have had days that were surprisingly easy and days when I was ready to pick up a case of Coca-Cola and peanut butter cups and give in to the cravings!

After two days of good energy, a clear mind and no strong cravings I woke up yesterday morning, lethargic and foggy headed. I desperately missed my morning coffee with sweet, French vanilla creamer and I absolutely had no desire to go to my scheduled workout but I went anyway. I got through it and then I fought to urge to drive straight home to bed and instead stopped at the book store and then the grocery store to pick up new “good choices” for the coming week. Gratefully, there’s a Starbucks in HyVee and they offer, no sugar syrup lattes, which I sipped on and savored like it was my last meal. šŸ˜‰

Heading home, I was beginning to feel more myself but my bad start had given an opening to the negative voices in my mind and I was finding it difficult to shut them up, so I took a small detour and stopped at a garden and landscape center not far from my house for a little inspiration that turned out to be a divine intervention of sorts. My bad morning was not just a matter of sugar deprivation, it was a culmination of frustration and impatience, and not being able to medicate with unhealthy food left me no choice but to deal with myself.

Struggling between my day job, that I love, and working on my passion, is not new. I’ve been doing it for a couple years now and lately I just have sort of given up and lived in a limbo. I go to work, I come home, I spend time with my family and I sit at my desk staring out the window. Maybe my dream to be a photographer is just that, a dream. Maybe all I’ll ever be a hobbyist. I’ll never be good enough or smart enough, or have enough business sense to ever make anything of it. (i.e. the negative voices in my mind).

Taking a moment and listening to my heart, and being willing to make a connection that I shy away from way too much, was exactly what I needed to do to help renew my enthusiasm and hush up the negative tape playing over and over. Sitting at my desk now, I have a purpose, a plan to work on. It may or may not work out but how will I know if I don’t try?

When Everything Makes Sense

Purpose

Standing here today it all makes sense. I’ve listened to the stories of how so many photographers were given their first camera as a child and I’ve wondered if maybe I’m just too late since I didn’t actually get into photography until I was well into adulthood but I’ve actually been training for this my whole life. A daydreamer at heart, I always found the outdoors to be so much more interesting than games or tv. A mostly solitary pursuit, photography suits my introvert tendencies and brings a certain peace to my spirit.

I might have stumbled into this a little late but I think I found it exactly when I was suppose to.

Unexpected Success

IMG_6506

Why do I want to be a photographer? What is it about what I do that brings me so much joy? I don’t know that I have words to answer those questions, instead I have…well…photos. Even when my camera is not with me I find myself framing a composition, watching how changes in the location of the sun can change one setting several different times within the span of an hour. The color, the textures, the shadows, the spaces…it all draws me in and then when I’m behind the lens I find myself completely absorbed into the small square scene.

While it is my passion, I still find myself struggling to actually make time for it. I procrastinate. I spend time reading about it or listening to other photographers talk about their work, all the while avoiding doing any real work of my own. It is a battle that I fight every day and too often I lose but some days I am able to overcome my own obstacles and find sweet victory. Other days, even though I manage to prevail, I come away with no real spoils, just ruins. What I have learned, however, is that even on those days I’m winning. Those days are my teachers, my builders. Those days make me want to try harder. They remind me that no matter how much I might improve I always have opportunities for growth and improvement.

Determined to develop better habits I have begun to carve out time on my calendar each week, along with a general plan and location for what I want to shoot. Today was Greenwood Park, water lily’s and reflections. It was a bit of a rocky start with some bad lighting and spotty rain but when I got to my chosen locale, not even the school bus full of 6-year-olds managed to dampen my spirits. I was, after all, at the Des Moines Art Center, a popular field trip location. My ultimate goal was to take the advice from a podcast I had heard over the weekend and spend some time just getting to know the location. With increasingly worse lighting conditions and little humans in bright yellow t-shirts roaming in semi-organized groups, I could feel my resolve weakening. It was difficult to concentrate and the couple photos I had managed up to that point were hideous at best. I had not even come to see the rose garden but was finding it comforting and peaceful, so I put my camera back in my backpack and strolled around the circle sections until I began stopping every other step to admire another amazingly beautiful flower. Then I saw it. A gorgeous, bright red, half-open bloom with two tiny little water droplets hiding along the inside of a petal. I don’t have a macro lens but I pulled out my camera and started working. I spent the next hour just photographing roses! When I finally moved on to the park area that I had come there for, I wasn’t even upset that a small group of lounging adults were camping out on the very spot I needed to capture the photo I was after. (Okay, I was a little upset.)

I did not get the photo I had planned on. I did not have the light I had hoped for. I was not able to avoid being bitten several times by mosquitos the size of a small bird but I did get some very unexpected, and surprisingly good pictures that make me just a little bit proud.

My Voice

Compelled Confidence

Today I submitted photos to the Iowa State Fair Salon. I was going to let it pass quietly because I was lacking confidence in my chances of any of the photos actually making it through. Then I remembered my whole reason for entering in the first place was not so much about winning a spot in the show but to learn and develop confidence in my work.

It is my hope to one day run a successful photography business. I have no idea right now what that will look like or exactly how it’s all going to come together but I know that in order to get there I have a lot of work to do. Starting a business is terrifying to me because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing but far more daunting is the idea that others will appreciate my work and find value in it. Much like the idea that you cannot expect others to love you if you do not love yourself, how can I possibly expect others to love my work if I lack confidence in it?

After I dropped the photos off and collected my receipt I walked to my Jeep and felt the sting of a much harder lesson. My lack of confidence was not so much about the photos I submitted but more about the one I did not. It’s ironic how much we allow the negative voices in our heads to detour our confidenceĀ  but when it comes to actually finding and sharing our true voice we so easily ignore it. I have been drawn to the photo above since I first captured it earlier this year. It isn’t anything I can explain except that it pulls me in and makes me wonder at it’s charm. I had included it in my initial selections but then decided against it, then changed my mind, then changed my mind back. My final decision was made based on the fact that I had another photo of a tree that others reacted to more positively. Instead of letting my voice be heard, I let doubt steer my course. I love and appreciate the feedback I get from the people I trust and care about but I also need to learn to take my own advice and start listening to my own heart.

It is highly possible that none of the photos I submitted will make it through but the truth is, what I have learned through the process is priceless.Ā  Trust yourself. Believe in your work. Use your mind but listen to your heart.