With the crazy weather we’ve had this spring I’m dying to get out and practice all the wonderful lessons I’ve taken in over the winter. Unable to do that as quickly as I would like, I decided that the birds who visit the feeders outside our living room window might make for some interesting opportunities. So…I removed the screen from the window and at least once a day I camp out there with my camera. The crazy thing is that with the screen gone, suddenly the birds seem to have no qualms about just flying right up to, and in a couple of unfortunate incidents, smack into the window. A woodpecker has taken to clinging to the window frame and ever not-so-gently pecking at the glass. And not to be outdone, our cat has taken to tapping on the window to signal his return and “could you please let me in to eat?”
I’d like to say that I’ve been able to put all this pent up knowledge to good use, and honestly, I have actually found the exercise somewhat useful. I’m getting much better at anticipating crash landings. I’ve saved a couple small finches from death-by-cat and in all fairness, the birds are oddly entertaining. I often catch myself laughing out loud at their antics. I have been witness to what I can only describe as a nail-biting reenactment of David and Goliath when a small finch took on a bird twice its size.
I may not be perfecting my posing or exposure but I am being reminded every day that there is value in the moments of our lives when we choose to be present and appreciate even the small things.
For me, one of the best ways to cleanse your soul and clear your mind is to get a little dirty. Sitting here tonight I cannot describe how bone-aching weary I feel. Nor can I begin to relay the contentedness of my heart. I just spent the day heaving, lifting, sliding and pushing some of the prettiest potted trees and plants my eyes have seen. Now, that may seem an over exaggeration and I agree I might be looking through rose colored glasses, so to speak. Spring has not exactly made itself know yet around here, so its easy to get carried away when presented with cart after cart of beautiful, colorful plants and several hours of sunshine and a temperature that doesn’t make me want to jump into my sweats and back under the covers.
A year ago I made some huge decisions that quite honestly terrified me. I walked away from a job that offered definite financial benefits but left me drained and sad. I started my own business and took on a part-time job to help relieve some of the financial pressure. Today, that part-time job has turned into an enormous blessing and unexpected inspiration. When I made the choice to leave behind cubicle walls I promised myself that whatever else I did I would never compromise or settle. That I would be true to who I am and that my work, whether my photography or other employment, would be a true and accurate representation of me and my values and my passions.
Today, standing amid an array of arborvitae, spruce and juniper, feeling the ache in the tips of my fingers and in my feet and back, I felt amazing. I know it isn’t always possible to do work that brings you joy and I am so completely grateful for all of the people in my life who have given me the encouragement and opportunities to do what I do. I know this would not be possible nor would it be the same without my family and friends and co-workers who inspire me every single day.
Now, a word of warning. Tomorrow morning if you see me and I don’t seem so…”joyful”…bear with me…my body likes to keep me humble and remind me that I’m not a kid anymore.
I am going to just put this out there and say that even though I’m a photographer, I do not like having my picture taken. I often joke that I’m behind the camera for a reason. I do not think I’m photogenic in any way shape or form, and 99% of the time the pictures that I see of myself confirm that. So, last night when I finished my Marketing Jumpstart class by Katelyn James and realized the very first thing I really needed to do is take a more professional picture for my website and social media, I closed my browser and went to bed.
When I woke up this morning to another cloudy, cold day I was quick to make the excuse that I couldn’t possibly get the right picture on such a day! The minute I had the thought I heard a little inner voice challenge it…”Oh really?” So, I set out to prove my own self wrong! It needs a little work but honestly, if you could see my first attempt at a professional head shot about 6 years ago you’d understand just how far I’ve come. (Maybe I’ll get brave enough to share it sometime.) For now I think I’m going to take another one of Katelyn’s suggestions and share a few things you might not know about me.
I believe the smell of eucalyptus and spearmint is the bees knees. My mouth actually waters at the thought of QuikTrip ice with a little splash of pineapple papaya tea. I have broken my right wrist twice; once when I was eleven and again when I was thirty-two, both times while rollerskating. My favorite city is Chicago but in the name of full disclosure, I have not been to many big cities. I adore the soft socks from Altr’d State. All-time favorite vacation…Niagara Falls. I hate horror movies or anything violent for that matter. Gilmore Girls will forever be my go-to series. I will never get tired of the sound of rain on a metal roof and my favorite form of escape is my camera, a gravel road and good music.
April…why has thou forsaken me? Okay, so I’m being a tad dramatic. If we really take the time to remember back a little bit, this weather is not all that unusual. We’ve just been spoiled for a few years. So…I’m continuing to do my upmost to make the best of it.
I’m currently taking a class from Katelyn James. She along with her husband is a wonderful wedding photographer and she just has a beautiful spirit about her. I’m so excited about what I’m learning and since the weather is not offering much opportunity for outdoor practice I decided to spend some time at home today applying a few things I have been picking up. Lighting is something that I knew I wanted to work on and I have no issue geeking out about how much fun I had experimenting with difficult lighting situations.
I love our home but it is rather dark, especially on cold gray days like today. Normally I don’t mind turning on a lamp here and there and just enjoying the cozy feeling but when I’m trying to take photos the space can be very frustrating. Today, however, I felt like I was discovering my love for photography all over again. I felt like a kid playing around with ways to use what light I did have (no lamps, Katelyn’s orders). I have one window in my living room that, on days like this, affords me any usable light. So, I needed to find a secondary source or reflector and spent over an hour playing around with a piece of white backboard that I just happened to have in my craft closet. I do have an actual reflector but I love the creative aspect of photography and honestly, enjoyed the idea of thinking outside the box and coming up with other solutions.
This photo is far from perfect but I love it because when I look at it I know the effort and creativity involved in making it. And the impact the process will have on my skills and how that will translate to being a better photographer is priceless to me. So if this gloomy spring is getting you down, challenge yourself. Find a way to use it to your advantage. Get creative. I know, I hear people say all the time, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Nonsense. Everyone is gifted in some way with creativity and no it is not always artsy in nature. Solving problems involves creative thinking. Planting gardens, building decks or any sort of building really, or even just planning your week can, and probably for many, involves a great deal of creative thinking and juggling. The weekend is here, why not find new and unexpected ways to enjoy it.
April 3, 2018…it’s 27 degrees and feels about 19 with the wind. More than once I’ve looked out the window today to watch snow showers bathing the buds on our beautiful front yard maple tree. I’m almost positive my magnolia buds are burned by the cold but in an attempt to not let the weather turn me cynical I decided to throw on my coat and see if I can turn mother natures bitterness into something to smile about. I desperately want to be spending more time outdoors, putting into practice all the hours of webinars and online blog reads I’ve soaked up over winter.
Walking across the yard and under that wonderful maple I watch as several small birds and a couple blue jays scatter and then disappear into the brush that runs along the ditch next to our yard. They seem to not mind the wet and cold at all as they chirp and flutter about and cheered a little, I follow. For a moment I’m mesmerized by a pair of chickadees as they fly about in an amazingly graceful dance through the thick branches. A sudden wind reminds me that while it’s spring on the calendar apparently not everyone has gotten the memo. A cold drip lands squarely on the middle of my neck and sends a shiver to my toes. Standing in the squishy grass that looks as desperate for warmth and sun as I do, I’m grateful to have put on my rain boots but know that the small nail-sized hole in my right boot will soon betray me and my sock. I glance up at the offending branch and decide I’ve found my subject for today.
I’m a photographer. I am a photographer. Hello, my name is Tina and I’m a professional photographer. I’d like to think that anyone who has started their own business, especially in a creative field, might understand why saying those words out loud…to people…can be daunting and at times terrifying. Why is that? When I turned sixteen and got my first job at Sonic, I was never nervous to tell people I was a carhop. When I was a secretary I had no issues with telling people what I did. Now, as a photographer, put me in a room with people and suddenly my voice gets shaky, my palms sweaty and I’m stammering something incoherently about taking pictures and then…clear as a bell…” and I also work at Earl May.” Sometimes I don’t even mention the photography, I just go straight to my day job and then, if conversation lends itself I may mention something about being a photographer. I love my job at Earl May but I know, deep down, my heart is behind the viewfinder of my camera.
So, why the trepidation when I hear that question, “What do you do?” Is it fear? Insecurity? Lack of self-confidence? I know, to some extent it’s all those but more than that, for me anyway, it’s this overwhelming concern that the person or people I’m talking to hear me say, “I’m a photographer,” and they automatically start making judgments. ‘Oh, a photographer. So you just walk around and take pictures. Isn’t everyone a photographer these days? Huh…my aunt’s cousin and her sister are photographers and so is my neighbor, and my wife’s uncle Fred also takes pictures of squirrels and birds on their back deck.’ Now, do people really have these thoughts? Yes, I’m sure some do, maybe more than I really want to know but why is it that what someone may or may not be thinking has so much control over how I feel about my work? Honestly…I have no idea. Now, I have listened as people poked fun at the idea of taking pictures for a living and I was raised by a conservative grandmother who had strong opinions about what real work was but when my adult self is standing in front of someone, shaking at the knees and trying desperately to sound confident, I’m not thinking about my grandmother and her opinions. I’m thinking about the person in front of me and their opinion. Why?? They are not living my life. They do not have my dreams, my passions, my specific desires. Most of the time, they hardly know me at all, yet somehow they command a great deal of control over how I feel about what I do.
Here’s the thing. While people do matter to me, their opinions are just that…THEIR opinions. They are influenced by their own backgrounds, experiences, dreams and talents and unless they have my history, my talents and my specific point of view then their opinions about what I do are probably going to differ from mine and that’s okay. That’s okay because the only opinion I should be concerned with…is mine. Not the opinions of my loved ones, my friends, my acquaintances and certainly not the opinions of total strangers. I’m the one who should be commanding control over my own dreams. I think it’s wise to seek out advice and input from those I trust and, while I cannot say that I don’t value the opinions of those close to me, it is my humble opinion that when overcoming fears such as this, mine is the only opinion I should be focused on.
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Eleanor Roosevelt
In just a little over a month I will be celebrating the 1-year-anniversary of my fledgling photography business. I have had no regrets and no big surprises but I have struggled. While everything is going as I thought it might, I am being painstakingly honest when I say that there have been, and still are, moments when I feel completely and utterly lost and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. It feels eerily similar to being blindfolded and trying to feel your way through a maze. Exhilarating when you find an opening and then painful when you run headlong into another wall.
Winter has been especially difficult as I wait out the weather and try to map out the next steps of my journey. (Not easy to do when you’re not exactly sure which direction you are suppose to be headed.) Sitting at my desk one night, staring at the blank pages of the next weeks calendar, pen poised inside the little box under the heading ‘Monday’, I broke. I had nothing. Nothing to write. No “next step”. Not one single thought about what I could, should or might do to get me any closer to my dream. And was it any wonder? I laid my pen down and starred at the neat little piles of unsorted papers, half read books. Sticky notes of random thoughts, songs and recommended books to read, webinars to watch and YouTube videos that would spell it all out in six easy steps. My winter hibernation had brought me to information overload and what I really needed and wanted was to just take pictures.
Starting my own business, for me, means that I still have a day job so I don’t have the added pressure of money issues. For some people that’s a great motivator. For me, it’s a give me the paper bag, I’m going to heave. Anyway, the following day my prayers were answered in the form of a text giving me the option to have the day off. After a quick prayer of “Thank you’s and hallelujahs!!” I sent back a response of “thank you, I really could use the day.” Then I loaded up my camera and soon found myself lost on a gravel road, singing country songs at the top of my lungs and snapping pictures of anything that looked remotely interesting. I was a crazed photographer who had been cooped up for way too long and needed to just do. No more reading, planning, guessing, wondering…just letting myself remember exactly why I started this journey at all.
I had only been out for about an hour when I saw a cool mailbox that I wanted to get a picture of so I could show it my husband and see if it might be something we could put in our driveway. Trying to get turned around, I eased into a little grassy drive and forgot all about the mailbox when I spied this sweet little abandon camper. Looking though my camera lens I remembered comments from a conference I had attended about how pictures tell a story, or at least the good ones do. What story would this photo tell? The story of how someone had come there with the dreams to build a home only to have them dashed by money problems or the loss of a loved one? Or maybe it’s not a dream abandoned but a dream-in-waiting. Maybe it will become someone’s project, someone’s labor of love and it will be restored and given a new life.
That’s the joy I find in photography. It’s not about the planning and paperwork, though those things are obviously important. It’s about seeing beyond what is in plain site, (i.e. a home for raccoons and other unsavory characters) and daring to see more. It’s really about sharing the beauty that I see and letting the story be told or imagined through the eyes of those who are willing to look.
As beautiful as winter can be, about the middle of February I’m simply over it. I long for the days of being out wandering through parks and city streets, my camera around my neck, smiling back at those who are willing to take a brief recess and turn their faces away from their devices to enjoy the blue skies and sunshine. I’m tired of making lists and reading about marketing and strategy and setting goals. I want to take what I’ve learned during these cozy months and get out there!
This past weekend I did just that and nature did not disappoint. Greeted by flocks of geese, bevies of swans, chattering squirrels and even a robin or two, I was giddy as I meandered through several parks in Warren County, Iowa. My only real difficulty being finding sufficient restroom facilities as most state park restrooms are still closed this time of year. Fortunately, I am an Iowa girl and I’m not above finding a good tree to hide behind but I was extra lucky and happened upon some very well kept kybo’s at Lake Ahquabi. It really is the little things.
Days like this one are simply to far and few between and I cannot amply express the gratitude I felt throughout the day. All the complaints of winter melted away with each click of the shutter. Taking the time to appreciate the ability to see, hear, touch and smell the beauty around me all make me love spring even more and help me to understand the importance of winter.
This is my happy place. Out here…camera in the passenger seat…very little traffic…the sun as my watch and the radio tuned to whatever music inspires me in the moment.
This past weekend I attended the Professional Photographers of Iowa Winter Conference. It was three days of eating, breathing and sleeping photography. Surrounded by some of the most talented photographers in the state and even in the country, it’s a dream. From the speakers to the entertainment to the wonderful group of ladies I had the privilege of sharing the experience with, it was an amazing weekend for me. I have wonderful family and friends who support me but being surrounded by so much talent and the chance to really talk about something I’m passionate about with those who share and understand that love is just too good. These people have lived or are living the struggle if starting their own photography business and their willingness to share their wisdom and encouragement is motivating and inspiring. The mass of information, tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts, can all be very overwhelming but in the midst of it I also know they appreciate that everyone’s journey is not going to be like theirs. There’s space in the middle for my own successes and failures, highs and lows, twists and turns.
On the last night of the conference I was sitting at a table with the three women that I have come to call friends and four sweet young ladies who recently graduated from college. As the awards began I felt so privileged to be a part of something that can land me in the middle of so many different and amazing creative people. People of varying backgrounds, beliefs, ages and strengths…so many collections of ideas, dreams and talents. In my photography I am often ‘out here’, alone in my happy place. I love it. I know exactly who I am when I’m behind my camera. Sitting at that table, laughing, talking and sharing the moment, I’m reminded that it’s okay to be out there. To not conform but to contribute. To step outside my fears and share my perspective the best way I know how.
Shortly after we moved to Missouri in 2006, Chris started hauling cattle over-the-road. This meant that he would be gone for one or two weeks at a time. It was a huge adjustment for our family but as we settled in and we began to find ways to keep occupied and entertained. In the summer and on weekends when Chris was gone the kids and I would load up in the car and head out on an “adventure”. We became frequent open house visitors and when we could no longer drag Jake to those we started finding more adventurous locations; hiking trails, parks and forts became our escape of choice.
These days, Amannda is living on her own and spottings of her are few and far between. Jake is long past pretending to hunt bad guys in the trees of the local arboretum but he’s still up for a little adventure from time to time. Yes, it often includes a little bribe, like the promise of a stop at Quik Trip to grab a slushy but it’s a small price for a little time away from devices, video games and TV. Today, due to some bad weather, Jake was dismissed from school early and I desperately wanted to take pictures of something other than my home office, so we decided a short drive through the beautiful snow was in order.
It’s obvious that Iowa, or at least this part of Iowa, has not seen large snowfalls in the past few years and not surprisingly some drivers may have forgotten how to handle it and younger drivers simply have not had the privilege of the experience yet. We drove a couple miles behind a girl who was so scared she barely made it up to 10 miles an hour and nearly stopped my heart when she started driving on the wrong side of the road. Thankfully we didn’t have to go far before we came across this barn surrounded by what I like to call it’s friends and what others lovely refer to as junk. Just off the main highway, these untouched roads looked so serene covered in the light, white blanket of snow. Shifting into four-wheel drive we took our time and took it in, stopping long enough to capture just a few shots of this barn and it’s neighbor, a really cool corn bin, on the same property (I’ll share that one later).
It was only about an hour but it was the best hour of my day. Getting to photograph barns always lifts me up but spending time chatting with my kiddo, that is priceless.
I have lived in many houses but few ever really felt like home. They were always just a temporary place to sleep and keep the few belongings that I had. Then, in the summer of 1981, under unlikely circumstances, I found home, only it wasn’t a house in the traditional sense. I was 11-years-old and despite my most sincere objections at the beginning, I was attending Sunday services here with my family.
Shy and extremely introverted I was not initially interested in leaving the church we had been attending for four years. Fortunately, God knows better than I and I was soon befriended by a couple of the older girls from the youth group and found myself begging to attend Sunday evening and Wednesday services. Weekends were no longer spent sitting in my room reading books alone. Whenever possible I was out with the youth playing wiffle ball, going to Ev’s for ice cream, attending high school football games or just hanging out at the church.
It was here behind these doors that I began let go of my difficult past and heal. For so long I had prayed to just be loved without condition but within these walls, where I have laughed till I cried and wept till the tears ran dry, I grew up and discovered that loving others unconditionally was far better. The people I met here became my extended family, riding the waves of the difficult teenage years together, sometimes fighting like brothers and sisters but always finding our way back on Sunday morning to line our favorite pew and share a few precious moments in prayer, song, sermon, and a laugh or two.
Today I still count many of them some of my dearest friends. They will never know just how grateful I am that God saw fit to send the kind pastor to our door many, many years ago. Or how glad I am that my grandma insisted against all my objections that we go. This would be the bright spot in my young life. This place…this faith…these people… would save me over and over again.
As I continue my series on The Town That Built Me, I am going to fast-forward just a bit. I hope to come back and share a couple places at a another time but for now I’m just not ready.
I want to pick-up my story in the summer of 1982. My brother, sister and I are all still together and living with my Grandmother, her sister Sally, our dogs Fifi and Lemon Drop and a stray cat or two. These days I was spending more and more of my time with my little sister playing house and dressing up barbies. In the winter we would spend entire weekends lost in our own little world, only coming to the surface of reality when school beckoned. Things are good. These are days I look back on with fondness and sometimes miss with my whole heart. We were kids and for maybe the first time in our lives we were getting to be just that. We road our bikes, played baseball with the neighborhood kids, in the summers windows were left open and we fell asleep to sound of crickets. I had a best friend that lived just down the street and we would have overnighters and listen to records of Rick Springfield and Blonde. For some reason I was obsessed with the idea that I would soon be turning 12, a number that I apparently thought was much more grown up than it actually was.
That summer brought about the great church standoff in our house. For a few years we had been attending a small church just outside of Marshalltown and I loved it. I had good friends there and even the adults had become dear to me. Living so far away, however, was taking a toll on my grandma and we were getting there less and less. When another pastor from a church in town happened to stop by and visit it was decided that we would attend services the following Sunday. I was having none of it! I already had a church. I was comfortable there and I didn’t want to make new friends, again. Being eleven did not carry much weight in these decisions so that Sunday I was there with the rest of my family, shyly hiding in the back pew and almost near tears the entire time. It would take a couple more visits and the persuasive befriending of a couple of the older girls from the youth group to finally bring me around. Turns out, it would be a change that would bring me more happiness and love than I could ever have believed. It would change everything.