Thursday, July 21, 2016

Photography: The Process (Dedicated to My Friend, Barb Black)

I have taken tens of thousands of photos in my lifetime. Photography has never grown old for me. Sometimes I'll take extended vacations from it. Those breaks always bring with it a fleeting thought that maybe my weekend hobby has come to an end but that's a voice I've learned to ignore. The pattern interrupt is necessary for rejuvenating. In those times, I do something else. I read. I write. I cook. I take a road trip and leave the camera home. 
Photo documenting life has been in my blood since high school when I was on the yearbook committee. They used one of my photos in my graduating class book. I'm not sure I even have that yearbook any longer but I remember well the image of my hometown (Haines, Alaska) from a distance across the inlet. The skies were blue and it was a perfect picture, in my mind. I have a few photos from those days and all the days since then. Now with digital photography, I have to make an effort to get my favorites printed to go in the heap with the others. I use a lot of my prints to make greeting cards in hopes that my work will sit on your counter for longer than a minute before it gets thrown in the trash. Maybe you'll even frame it. That is the best compliment a photographer can receive.

The longer I stay with this craft, the more I learn about it and myself. This last couple of years has been a growing experience for me. Mostly for being brave enough to ask people to sit for me so I can practice my skills. I've met new people and pushed myself past fear. Picture making has given me way more than I've given it.
You see, when I'm in the zone with my photography, I am never happier. With digital photography, I'm always 20 minutes away from that great moment when I open up my image files to see what I've captured. I imagine ... no ... I know it's like deep sea fishing where you've set your hook into a big fat lunker on the bottom of the ocean and you work hard to bring up your catch and that moment you see how big it is when it reaches the surface ... that's what it's like to open files after a shoot. Or, for you non-fisher people, it's like opening a beautiful, unexpected gift that you've always wanted. My husband humors me when I yell for him to come "LOOK WHAT I GOT!!!!!!"
Often I get great surprises. I've come to rely on them, actually. I am always nervous when I go out on a planned shoot. This last two years, I have said yes to anyone who asked me to do a session. This has included two weddings, two newborns, and countless friends of friends wanting family photos. The weddings: I only said yes because my friends had a zero budget for a photographer and as it happens, that's exactly what I charge. No expectations. No disappointments. Well, not yet that I know of. I don't want to take the fun out of it. I don't work any less than I would if I were paid. I take each project seriously. I don't know how wedding photographers manage the stress.
I wish I could tell you how I feel when I am in the process of making images. It is a process. The excitement starts when I get the idea for what I'm going to shoot next or make a date with a friend or total stranger for a shoot. I've had to go outside of my comfort zone to do this. Nothing is ever gained by sitting on the sidelines. Once I've made a date with someone, I start thinking about all the details like time, light, location. I always confirm my dates and am only mildly disappointed when a shoot gets canceled. Of course, I can use that time for something else but having somebody new to photograph is such a treat. Shoots typically last only 15 to 20 minutes. The real time is in the editing.

Over the last two years, I've learned to delete a lot of photos that are not desirable. This is really hard for me and it takes discipline. On an average shoot, I come home with about 200 images. I delete the obviously bad ones. Even then, deleting is what I find the hardest about the process. Over the years, I've learned more and more about editing and I can go back and tweak old photos that I formally thought were useless. Blurry photos get deleted. Photos where mama looks bad get deleted. I read once that it is the woman in the crowd whom a photographer must please. There is a lot of truth to that. Still ... once you hit the delete button there is no turning back. I feel invested in the work I've done so you can imagine it is hard to dump it.

Some photos, like the ones I am posting here, have a ton of sentimental value to me. I forget a lot of things on a daily basis but I never rarely forget details of my favorite photos. They're like children to me. Let me explain.

This photo was taken at my second wedding shoot. I was invited to come out for the rehearsal and I have to tell you this is right up there as one of my top 10 favorite photos EVER! Our friend, Brent, is so smitten with his wife and this photo shows a side of him I had not seen before. I had never met her before this evening and I found her to be warm and loving. You can tell she is both of those things in this photo. I must mention they both have a great sense of humor. And, doesn't that look like Bill Engvall behind them? That was the preacher. I smile every time I run across this in my albums.
This is an image I shot at a pet adoption day. It is as candid as a long lens will allow me to be. The look on this puppy's face says it all. Won't you be my forever person? It kills me every time I come across it. I think this guy and his wife adopted this baby. At least, that's the story I tell myself. I don't know that for sure. This one really gets me in the feels. 

This is my photo walking buddy. We have spent many Sundays walking places to find something to shoot. The remarkable thing about this image is this was taken several months after she survived Guillian Barre syndrome. That she was walking on a narrow pathway was a miracle. I fought back tears as I lifted my camera to capture this. She wasn't sure she was going to live through that episode of her life, much less be back on her feet again. We don't really talk about it. We've got pictures left to take and we're grateful for the time we both have left to spend together finding new things to shoot. I love this woman. 

I love this simple photo because it marks a great weekend I spent with two high school girlfriends over in Montana. Brenda has a beautiful garden and it was fun to capture the colors and here I loved the water dripping from these freshly cleaned carrots. Gardening is as much a passion for her as photography is for me. It was one of the best weekends I've spent with good friends in a long time.

Anyone who knows me knows I love dogs. These beauties belong to an acquaintance who invited us out to the country to see his new house. I love the action in this photo. There were other dogs there that night and it felt a little like what I imagine dog heaven to be, a place where dogs can run free.
So, I wonder.
I wonder what your passion is? How does it make you feel when you are participating in your life, doing the things you love to do? Do you have a "process"?  Do you get "in the zone" and what is that like? Is there a fear factor?
Tell me. I want to know!
love, susan

Friday, July 8, 2016

Be a Spreader of Joy

Rain in July. That's what we woke up to this morning. It is fitting for the kind of week it has been in America.
Shootings everywhere.
I can't wrap my mind around such hatred. It's not where my heart lives.
This morning, instead of walking in the rain I watched the news. I should have walked.
So many questions. I think I know the answer.
Just love.
Today, I'm going to listen to people a little better. I'm going to hug a little longer. I'm going to be a spreader of joy.
Yes, it's fitting that it is raining in the desert in July. It doesn't seem right that the sun would shine today.
love, susan

You Made My Day, Dude!

A couple weeks ago while I was driving back to Portland after spending the night on the Oregon coast, we came up on some road construction ...