The holidays offer a fantastic time to work on photography skills as there is so much to see, from winter landscapes to Santa in the mall to glimmering photos of Christmas trees.
I belong to a photo club that establishes a monthly theme to help spur creativity all year ‘round, and December’s theme is “anything holiday.” Since my fellow photographers tend to capture pretty traditional holiday photos, each year I like to work hard to come up with something a bit more unique.
I ask myself, “What is a creative take on the holiday theme?” and see where my mind takes me.
It started with the photo in the header of this story, titled “We Three Kings.” It was shot at dusk in the parking lot where I used to live. The concrete and brick wall paired with the dried pine needles against the colorful ornaments struck the right sort of modern look I’d visualized.
So the next year, I had to up my game. Since I had made those ornaments look so pretty, it was time to clear a corner in the studio and gently apply a hammer.
I’m often asked how I got that photo and I say “I had a lot of fun, and it was a lot of mess to clean up.” The cheapie ornaments I bought didn’t smash as much as splinter, sending tinted glass shards skittering across the floor. It was far longer to cleanup than to set up, but smashing those ornaments was a fantastic holiday stress reliever. (Some friends have told me seeing these broken ornaments increases their stress)
This photo was well received and was hung as part of a gallery show at a local library here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The next year I felt I had said all that I wanted to say about ornaments, and I had to think a bit harder about how to show the holidays in a different way.
Since I love to photograph ordinary objects to show the beauty in the mundane, I turned to my baking drawer and pulled out some cookie cutters.
This photo was taken to satisfy a Flickr group’s theme of “photos by candlelight.” The yellow glow from the flame lit up the copper colored metal of the cookie cutter and produced a very satisfying warm orange glow.
In that same shoot, I also did one in black and white, still using the candle flame. This has more of a German expressionist feel to it. Or a police lineup.
Whereas the star is a warm glow of home, the black and white is more stark. Exploring that dark side of the holiday imagery is a lot of fun.
Last year I decided to go a bit more traditional. With the help of a theme of “stick” from my photoclub to get the gears turning in my creative mind, I looked to my spice shelf and pulled out the cinnamon sticks. I found some glitter ornaments in the box of holiday stuff and had my background.
It took a while to organize the cinnamon sticks in an interesting way, and as I was shooting, I was not sure I’d produced anything interesting. Then going back through the photos, I found this one to be intriguing and now I love it and feel like it perfectly captures the holidays in a new way.
And so here we are again in December and the holiday theme is upon me. Time to put some thought into how I visualize the holiday season for 2019.
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me” — Stuart Smally
For those of us of a certain age, we remember the Stuart Smally pseudo-self -help skits by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live.
The catchphrase became an oft quoted in regular conversation, both joking and more than a bit serious.
In reality, there are an awful lot of resources out there that tell us about self-talk, about taking a strong stance, about giving ourselves positive affirmation phrases to bolster our courage and bring us to great heights.
Good words are all well and good, but do they actually work?
Here’s the thing, all the pretty words in the world are not a replacement for the discipline needed to actually take that first step.
Mohammad Ali told himself and the world that he was the greatest fighter that ever lived, then he went out there in the ring and proved it.
He did that not because of his hype words, but by putting in the training work well before the fight. The kind of work that’s less pretty words and all the more necessary.
What I’m saying is: The road less traveled doesn’t get traveled until you strap on your boots and walk it.
Self-care and self-discipline matter a whole lot more to your success than the perfect laser cut vinyl words stickered to your wall.
Live, laugh, love is all well and good, but you have to live by taking care of yourself, drinking enough water and for god’s sake eat a salad now and again.
You have to laugh, even when you are in such a dark place that laugher feels hollow. Sometimes it takes work to find anything funny, but once it’s there, the laugher soars.
And love, a lovely romantic notion but real true love takes hard work, which is, unto itself, cotton candy words. We all talk about “how hard” it is to make a marriage work, but you have to commit yourself to actually doing the work, to sticking around when everything in your brain says to run, to firmly holding that trash can while the love of your life barfs their brains out three days before the wedding.
Okay, that last one may be just a bit too personally specific.
How about this one:
Huh, really? Pretty sure that is impossible. There will ALWAYS be someone more than happy believe the bad stuff about you, even if you were the best person that ever lived.
Shouldn’t it be more like “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, it might make you sad for a little while, and then maybe you get a little drunk or eat french fries about it. Then you either hold on to that pain for a lifetime or you talk to your therapist about it and find a way to move on.”
I know talking about “doing the work” isn’t crazy cool, fun, and sexy. It doesn’t look cute on a shirt with butterflies and shooting stars. But that is how you get where you want to go, and by that I mean real, tangible results take effort.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t have some fighting words in your pocket to inspire when it is go time. I’m trying to say that catchy words are fine, but they don’t get the work done, so don’t get so lost in the memes, wallpaper or the “inspirations” aisle at the craft store that you forget to focus.
I mean, if you want to chant a phrase to get you fired up, get you off the couch and augment your inner motivation, then by all means!
I myself love to watch YouTube videos of tribal Maori doing a Haka dance. The strength and passion gets me fired UP to go out there and kick some butt.
I am not Maori so I try not to appropriate anyone’s culture, but I admit sometimes in the bathroom before a big presentation, I’ll stick my tongue out to my reflection in the mirror and make my best Haka face. AAAAGH!
Then I go out there and do the work. I stand tall and get it done. If I succeed or I fail, it wasn’t because of my affirmation phrases or my faces, but because I put in the time, dug deep, and did the work.
A little cocoon, snug in a fur coat, warding off the shiver. A magnolia blossom, in very early stages. What is gray and fuzzy now will soon be creamy pink, fragrant and bold, seemingly overnight. Soon. But not yet.
In that one corner of the yard, I’d forgotten the daffodils that grow wild. Their leaves have come on bold and green with the promise of emerging stalks soon carrying butter yellow blooms. Soon. But not yet.
I stop and smile. I remember that December 21st was the shortest day of the year, a milestone that now lies in the past. Even though this weekend promises torrential rain (which the California soil will gladly drink up), gray skies, and gloom, the fact of the matter is that Spring is on its way with rush of color and fresh leaves, activity, joy and warmth.
The sunshine of my favorite season will soon come to push back the gloom and cobwebs in my mind and replace it with tulips and lilacs and California poppies.
I will photograph and paint and pick and sniff all of the riotous wildflowers that California has to offer. I will smile when I see them growing in the unlikeliest of places.
Oh so very soon I will bask in the Spring warmth and smile at the clear skies and feel happy as the sun sets later and later each day.
My baseball story! Published in April! During Spring Training!!
So why am I telling you this in June?
Well, it came out in the print version in April and I decided to wait for the issue to be loaded up online before sharing. Well, Issue 13 is online, however…..my story is listed in the table of contents but it’s not printed in the online version.
I’ve sent a few notes but I think the editorial team is off on summer vacation.
While I love the folks and SLAB and am so very, very grateful they published my story, I don’t really want to wait anymore to share my little story with the world.
So I scanned that bad boy and you can read my little baseball story today, a few weeks before the All Star Break.
In addition to my weekly forays into macro photography, I also am a part of a photography club where I work. We have a monthly theme each month and for February the theme was water.
Ah water, necessary, essential, and in California a bit scarce. We’ve had some good rains lately but it’s never enough.
The water theme was to support some research in process by my buttoned up scientific fellow photo club members. While they submitted perfectly rendered landscapes of lakes, exquisite macros of a single droplet on a perfect flower, and velvety moving streams, I submitted, well, this:
I fell in love with and bought the champagne glass for a dollar at my local salvage/thrift store. It was the only one there, and I loved everything about it. Since purchasing, I have been looking for the perfect project to incorporate its voluptuous curves. Turns out this was it.
Lately I have been exploring photography of drips, drops and splashes. Without a speedlight, the action of the water in this photo is not frozen, but I actually like the movement.
Also, it’s unintended, but doesn’t it look like a 1970’s liquor ad? I love that about this photo. Not sure what I mean? Try this, this, and this.
I showed it to one of my photographer friends, a very metropolitan millennial, and he declared it “sexy AF” and “just waiting for a vodka ad.”