For the Love of Photography: Composition Tips

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I have one tool that snaps me into the present moment like nothing else: my camera.  It my passport to living in the “now.”  As author and photographer Jan Phillips wrote so eloquently in God is at Eye Level: 

“We heal ourselves in the act of photographing by being fully present to the moment at hand. When we stand on the edge of that which is, we are released from the yoke of what has been, detached from the fear of what might be. There is only the moment, the light, the matter of our vision.  All is peace in eternal now.”

In case you are interested in exploring photography this year, this post might be for you!  I am sharing composition tips, my favorite books and including a list of teachers who inspire me.  Of course, I am not a professional photographer.  I am simply on a journey to find sacred in the ordinary.  I hope you find something that resonates – whether you use your phone’s camera, a point and shoot or a DSLR.

Five Composition Tips

1.) You don’t always have to include the entire subject to create a beautiful image. Experiment with capturing only a part of your subject.  Sometimes a shadow, or other simplistic elements, evoke the viewer’s imagination.
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 2.) Play with creative positioning.  We tend to want to center our subject and make everything symmetrical, but altering the position of our subjects creates beautiful images.missy
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3.) Change up your perspective.  Shoot low or shoot high (I stand on tables or lay on the ground sometimes!).  I love the altered view from shooting low.

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4.) Frame your shot.  Framing is the process of using objects within your photograph to frame your primary subject.  It brings depth to your picture drawing your eye to the photo’s main subject.  Photograph a face through a window frame. Or use tunnels, gates, natural elements or whatever you can find.

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5.) Use leading lines to guide your viewer to your subject.  In my photos below, the fence and the child’s arm gently guide your eye to the image’s primary subject.

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Five Admired Photographers / Teachers

I was honored to participate in a Vision Quest Workshop led by Douglas Beasley last year. He teaches all over the world, offering a wide array of photography classes like Shooting as a Spiritual Practice.  He emphasizes the creative process over the mechanics of cameras.  To read more about Douglas, click here and explore his spectacular portfolio of images.  His work is featured in galleries throughout the world.

And then there is Ashley Anne… If a photo is worth a thousand words, an Ashley Anne photo is worth 10,000 words. I participated in her online DSLR class.  In the course, Ashley gently guides you off Auto to shooting in Manual.  She is gifted in helping you find the extraordinary in the mundane and documenting your everyday.

I hope to one day participate in a class led by Lynne Harty, an Asheville, NC based photographer.

If you haven’t been inspired by Elena Shumilova – promise me you will click here to get a glimpse of her artistic portfolio.   She captures light and natural elements like no other.

Finally, I love Instagram and discovered Jill Emmer’s whimsical photos via her account – creatively named @shineonyoucraydiamond!  She inspires me with every single post.

Five Favorites: Shooting with Soul

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I highly recommend each book featured in the photo above.  Perched on top is my current favorite: The Unforgettable Photograph, by George Lange.  George believes that “to take truly beautiful photos you must be truly living in the present moment.” He is the Elkhart Tolle of photography.

If you prefer a technical read with details on suggested settings for various situations, dive into a Scott Kelby book.  I love how he talks technical but manages to weave humor into his pages.

The Jan Phillips book was a recommendation by Douglas Beasley.  It is a holy book on the power of connecting to the sacred.  In her book Jan says, “The real thing about photography, is that it brings you home to yourself. Every step in the process is a step toward the light, an encounter with the God who is at eye level, whose image I see wherever I look.”

Please note I am not an affiliate and if that ever changes, you will be the first to know. 
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Giveaway Update:

In my most recent post, I talked about jumping for joy and a giveaway!  I found five issues of the Bella Grace winter issue to gift to Kathleen, Sarah, Jasmine, Michon & Karen – those who commented through 1/27/16.  I will be in touch with you to confirm shipping details.  I am humbly honored to be featured on page 42 of the winter issue.

The Joy Journey, My 2016 Word and A Giveaway!

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I hope you’ve had the blessing of spending the holidays and the New Year surrounded by friends and family; in the space where life begins and love never ever ends.

You might have read about my belief in the power of one tiny little word* and the practice of inviting it into your life over the span of a year.  Just one word.  As I type about it now it sounds like a slothy way to spend a year.

I honored my first word in 2010 and I still have a sweet spot for that year (breathe).  The truth is, these are the only resolutions I have ever kept.    Here is the line-up: breathe, capture, create, shine, intention and in 2015, joy was my guiding light.

I don’t know how a simple word can manifest its way into one’s life; but I wholeheartedly believe in the power of this practice.

Did you select one little word* for 2016 and invite it along for this trip around the sun?

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I wrote about joy last January and it is funny to return to where my heart was 367 days ago.  I defined mantras to propel my 2015 word.

Find Joy in the Ordinary

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Unleash Joy

Choose Joy

Create Joy

Jump for Joy

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I worked hard on the joy jump.

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But the real gifts weren’t as a result of the mantra list.  Joy unveiled itself in ordinary moments and soulful encounters with people.  I never imagined I would meet new people named Joy in 2015!  Last February, while freezing on a cold Manhattan street I struck up a random conversation with someone from New Jersey.  We were shivering and patiently awaiting Kelly & Michael to let us into their studio.  About 15 minutes into our conversation, she gave me 4 hand warmers.  In that moment I finally asked her name to properly thank her.  Joy!  And, don’t get me started on Joy, the dental assistant who cured my fear of the dentist in 2015.  Of course all the impactful people in my life this year weren’t literally named Joy, but they were definitely joy conduits offering priceless gifts of kindness, wisdom and new perspectives.

Several theme songs emerged during the year.  Garden, by NEEDTOBREATHE, offers the best lyrics for introducing the second interesting outcome on the joy journey of 2015.

Let the songs I sing
Bring joy to you
Let the words I say profess my love
Let the notes I choose
Be your favorite tune
Father, let my heart be after you.

Stone’s Under Rushing Waters, lyrics by Bo Rinehart and Bear Rinehart

I finally started to intentionally dive into His Word and the lessons on joy are profound.  Particularly in sustaining joy in the midst of fear, disappointment, trauma, worry and the natural ebb and flow of everyday life.  I struggled to carry “joy” alongside enormous worry as friends suffered unbelievable health challenges this year.  Exploring this topic (joy) inside the Bible was powerful.

It seems sometimes joy is perceived as being trite.  And that the more miserable we are, the more profound (or artistic) we must be.  I am learning that for those who put their trust in God, they are filled with joy. Even in the eye of the storm.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.” – Psalm 27:5-7 (NIV)

ordinary creative joy transfer to wood

The first step in this transfer project was printing my message using the mirror or reverse setting on my inkjet printer.  Once printed, I flipped the image and attached it to a clean piece of old wood.  I added a light application of water over each letter using a small paint brush.  The trick is you don’t want to make your paper very wet or the ink will just spread or the paper will disintegrate. A thin layer of water enables the ink to release from the paper.  The goal is to transfer or burnish the ink to the wood.  I had to fill in a few letters that didn’t transfer well with very diluted paint.

A Bella Grace Giveaway!

Please share your 2016 word in the comments.

Or, if not a word, your favorite resolution or your dreams for 2016. Or your theme song!  Comment away please because for the first time… I am hosting a giveaway!

Everyone who comments will be entered to win a Bella Grace magazine!  I am giving away two copies of the winter issue (two winners)! Humbly honored to be featured on page 42!  Bella Grace overflows with joy and I believe it is the most creative magazine available today.  I promise you will want to step inside its pages and stay awhile.

Bella Grace, Issue 6

Without further ado…my 2016 word!

G R A T I T U D E

*I discovered the one little word project via Ali Edward’s blog.

The Giving Tree: DIY Fireplace Project

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Once upon a time I worked in research for a large healthcare organization.  I wore a suit and analyzed data.  One of my first assignments was a Driving Miss Daisy mission.  I was selected to drive a visiting PhD from NYC to a dozen hospitals as he conducted one-on-one interviews with physicians.  At the time I had no mobile phone, no GPS and I drove my parents hand-me-down blue Chevy, complete with six-figure mileage.

I vividly recall the route to the airport to retrieve Mr. PhD and the thoughts of unworthiness that danced in my head.  It was the late 90’s after all and Wayne & Garth had given birth to the unworthy gesture. The initial awkward vibe soon dissolved and we spent two days canvasing southeastern Wisconsin.  Our freeway conversations covered a range of topics.  He had built his career analyzing “stories” so of course our conversations had depth and circled around connecting the dots of life and work.

At the end of our assignment, Mr. PhD requested a bookstore detour.  I pulled into Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop and waited curbside.  He returned with a gift.
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His gift went beyond Shel Silverstein’s wise words: the real gift was the handwritten affirmations on the inside jacket from Mr. PhD.  He explained how we are all connected and we can choose our impact on one another.  A lesson I carry like an invisible tattoo.  Impactful people deliver life lessons in the most spectacular ways.  I never saw him again; but I will never forget.  I also felt Stuart Smalley’s nurturing affirmation was somehow included in his conviction that my gifts have value.  Click to this link to hear Stuart Smalley’s words wash over you.

I hope this flashback reminds you of encounters in your life.  The small chapters where someone planted a seed, provided support and perhaps changed you or your path forever.  And, perhaps you can recall a situation where you were that someone for another.

I love that the main character of The Giving Tree is a wise tree who finds happiness in giving.  Trees are glorious and consoling and change with the seasons with greatest of ease.  They are earths ultimate yogi’s:  rooted in the earth while expertly bending and stretching.  They remind me that change is inevitable and to let it go and let God.
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With my dad’s assist, we created this project honoring fallen trees from his cabin.  We built something to bring a little tree energy inside my house.
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Two very enthusiastic songs to layer with this love letter to trees.  Both offer compelling lyrics and an angelic melody.  Please check out Dream or In a Tree by Priscilla Ahn.  Here is a little slice of lyric heaven from In a Tree.

Chaos in the streets,
Lonely hearts bear lonely beats,
In a world carved with steel and stone.

Miscommunication leads to fear and hesitation,
And it won’t leave me alone.

But now in my tree,
I’m living free,
As any child would wanna be.

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The End.

Happy Pumpkins: 10 DIY Pumpkin Projects

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Please examine this pumpkin stem and tell me what you find. Don’t you love finding magic in unexpected places?  In the cracks and hiding in negative spaces.

IMG_9634When I was a young (maybe 8?) my dad’s sunset photo was featured on the local news.  The honey-colored sun aligned itself perfectly on a railroad track while my dad honored the scene with a shutter click.  Just one snap on a roll of Kodak film. And then we waited.  We waited to finish the roll (he didn’t waste frames) and we waited some more when we brought the film to Osco for developing.  But, the point isn’t about patience.  It’s about the magic.  If we had to categorize my dad using Einstein’s equation, he sees “all miracles, all the time.”

ordinary sunrise miracle quoteI think he was born with an enlightened appreciation for simple wonders.  I remember arguing with him as a know-it-all-teen about his fascination with autumn.  Falling leaves remind me of tears; mourning summer’s death.  I was dramatic in pleading my anti-autumn case.FullSizeRender-4

In honor of my dad’s love of this season, I am using pumpkins as a creative canvas.

In the process of creating, I am slowly falling in love with autumn.

IMG_8515Enhance a natural pumpkin with moss and succulent clippings.

IMG_8539Use moss to cover a no-carve pumpkin.  I hope it will last many seasons.

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IMG_8555 IMG_8568The three preceding pumpkins were covered in tissue paper using Mod Podge. The next three were all painted (silver spray paint for the glass encased pumpkin and acrylic paint on the others).

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IMG_8586Create a topiary tower!

IMG_0087 My youngest teen carved this Vineyard Vine’s inspired natural pumpkin.

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3 x 3 heart leaves

Song tip: Kate Nash’s Pumpkin Soup.

Go Gold: It is a Verb

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If you reading this on September 30th* you still have time today to Go Gold.  It is a verb.  A call to action.  Paint your heart gold and honor September for its noble place on the calendar.  There is still time to fill the final box on the September grid.

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Let me introduce you to someone who can explain it all better than anyone I know.  Please take a peak at this video; I promise it will be the best few minutes you spend online today.

Annie’s message of hope will inspire you to find a meaningful way to back her mission: for everyone to know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  As awareness rises, hope soars.  Let’s propel Annie’s mission forward with final flurry of action.  A collective march before the calendar flips to pink.

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A few ideas…

Donate to a pediatric cancer charity in your area or support Annie’s million dollar goal.  Research is the path to a cure.

Whisper sacred prayers of resilience for kids affected. And then pray for their nurturing families.

Follow Gold in September on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

Pray for the medical teams providing treatment or conducting research.

Contact your local Children’s Hospital to inquire about items they might need (books?) or inquire about volunteer opportunities.

If you are able, consider donating blood. Or volunteer at a local blood drive.

Wear G9 apparel (available at goldinseptember.com) or purchase one of Sevenly’s meaningful shirts.  This collection of Sevenly t-shirts supports patients and families as they battle childhood cancer.

Write your representatives in congress requesting government’s funding of pediatric cancer research.

Support or launch a childhood cancer initiative in your backyard.

Set up a lemonade stand.

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Listen to Rachel Patten’s Fight Song or Taylor’ Swift’s song, Ronan.  Maybe by next September someone will write and record a Gold in September anthem (song).

And, maybe, just maybe, these statistics will shift.

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I would love to hear what you did this September.  Especially your Go Gold ideas!

*Of course we can carry a heart of gold all year;

and find meaningful ways to support this cause every day.

Summer Forever

IMG_5720According to Oscar Wilde, “And all at once, summer collapsed into fall.”  I have seen a few autumn leaves fall like summer tears.  But, if it looks like summer and it feels like summer, then let’s just call it what it is.  At least for today.

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I created this t-shirt in defiance of autumn. You can easily make one just like it.  Stay tuned for the recipe below.  I have a few more photos to prove my theory that summer reigns in the heart of the Midwest.
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These tiny creatures seem to whisper my mantra… summer forever.  and ever.

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Tonight feels like a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Well said, William. Well, said.  “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

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The T-shirt Recipe

1 light colored t-shirt

1 sheet of Avery Light Fabric Transfer Paper

1 iron

2 minutes using PicMonkey to create your message

(I used the Special Elite font on a transparent background)

Print your text image in reverse (or as a mirror image). Cut out the design, leaving a narrow margin around the image.  Place the printed image face down and iron the entire transfer paper for 20-40 seconds.  Allow the t-shirt to cool and peel off the paper backing.

Of course, I recommend Billy Currington’s track Summer Forever.

And these two lovely tracks:

I Need the Sun to Break by James Bay

and

Romeo’s Tune by Pajaro Sunrise.

Shaken, Stirred or Blended?

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James Bond* famously asked for his martinis “shaken, not stirred.”  To shake or stir? That is the question.  Or so I hear. When it comes to making hand-crafted cocktails I understand there are rules that apply to layering the liquids.  But I don’t know a thing about hand-crafted cocktails.  It seems Bond’s line omits another popular mixing option:  blending.

But this post isn’t about cocktails.

Today’s topic is photo blending.  Or the art of two photographs being more powerful than one.

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When blending, there appears to be a fine line separating what is visually appealing and meaningful, versus… well, just weird.  I walk the line and teeter on both sides of it.

The teens in my house declared I am Made of Sky (the image below) officially off-the charts “weird.”

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But they both gave Chasing MomentsWise Words enthusiastic nods of approval.  Maybe they saw the layers of love I applied.

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Let us spend our lives chasing the tiny moments of grace that hide in borrowed breaths, stolen glances, and the last instant before smiling lips come to rest.

-Tyler Knott Gregson

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There was a fierce fail signal after I revealed to them the image below (Rooted).  But just between you and me… I kinda love it.  Call me a weirdo.  It won’t be the first or last time.  A friend recently sent me this text greeting:  weirdmaste:  the weirdness in me honors the weirdness in you. Love!

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Now on with the blended recipe!

1.) Consider buying this song by The Daylights as your blending theme song: I Hope this Gets to You.

2.) Pop to PicMonkey and light a candle.  Sip sweet tea in your copper mug.  Or don’t.

3.) Select the edit icon on the top of the PicMonkey home page.  Next you will be prompted to choose the photo you will be editing.

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4.) Use the magic wand symbol to play with editing effects. I recommend you test all the “tried and true” and “basic” tools that PicMonkey offers.  Creating the best canvas or base layer using the editing tools.  I have a sweet spot for the dark edges option. “Apply” the effects that enhance your base layer. (This is an optional step).

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5.) Now the fun begins!  Select the butterfly icon on the left side of the screen and you will see a pulldown menu at the top offering the option of selecting your own image. Click “Your Own” and you will have the option of selecting your second image (the top layer in the blend).

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In my example the tree branches were my base layer and the typewriter was my “own” image via the butterfly click. (Of course, technically both the tree and the typewriter photos are from my own photo collection.)

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6.) Grab one of the circles on the edge of your second layer (typewriter image in my example) and stretch it to cover the base image (the tree).

7.) Drumroll…  this is where the magic happens.  Select “overlay” under the blend mode and watch as the top image (typewriter) transforms to translucent, allowing the tree to shine through from underneath. Play with color or other PicMonkey features to achieve the significance and style that appeals to you!  I added a text layer (the dreamer lyrics).  Play and save your masterpiece when you love it.

For an official and in-depth tutorial, I found this one.  PicMonkey refers to this technique as double exposure instead of photo blending.

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Is it weird that I name my blends?  Maybe the Moscow Mule is regaining popularity because of its clever name.

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Shine On

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*If you want to hear about the time I met James Bond (Pierce Brosnan)…well, message me.

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