Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind

Christmas Morning

Sanibel Island, Florida
December 25, 2008

"Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind."
~Mary Ellen Chase

Santa must have decided I'd been a very good girl this year; Christmas morning was weighted down with gifts. My early morning photo adventure on Sanibel Island looked quite unpromising at dawn. Heavy gray skies overhead and thick, humid air made me think the stocking might have coal in it after all. But as we crossed the causeway onto the island, the clouds began to break up as the sun began to rise. It's a pity these blog photos are small. The lighthouse light is glowing yellow, like a big bright star, in the large version. It's a sight that brings a smile because you just know in your heart that good light is in front of you and the day will be blessed.

And it was. The tides were perfect, the skies soon cleared, and birds were abundant. I saw more yellow-crowned night herons in one mile than I saw all year last year. To say that this is a stellar bird year is an understatement. Pure joy. It's just pure joy when white and pink and blue plumage spreads out before you like a carpet, stretching for as far as you can see.

Earlier in the week, I helped my eight-year-old neighbor make a necklace for his mom. We ran out of beads the first day and he was on the phone to me by 7:30 the next morning, asking when we could go to the bead store for more. Off we went, where he completely impressed me with his math skills (buying beads is high finance, after all). We had to have a discussion about sales tax, which he seemed to grasp quickly, asking only, "but how do I sent that tax money to Florida? In the mail?"

Later, he explained Santa to me. See, according to Chris, Santa is dead. "Everybody knows that, M.E. That guy was OLD!" Old, indeed. Yes, it seems that Santa was born sometime just a few years after Jesus. Maybe they even knew each other. Nobody really knows for sure. But what everybody knows (and this was said with a raised eyebrow aimed at me, I kid you not): "Reindeer can NOT fly."

Silly me. I guess it all comes full circle. The older I get, the more I tend to believe in all sorts of crazy things. Why else did I get perfect light, hundreds of beautiful birds, merry jolly passers-by, good company, a coupla keepers in the photo bag, and a day full of joy and peace, just like I asked Santa for?

I swear that night heron was named Rudolph.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 80-400 VR

Monday, December 8, 2008

Acts of Love

Bud Belanger

"I think photography is an act of love."
~Jay Maisel

In the late 90's, Bud Belanger and I became great friends. It was a really fine friendship and brought many gifts and amazing lessons to both of us. Bud and his wife, Lynne, grabbed hold of my dream of photography right along with me, and were the hosts for my very first solo show. Bud would hire me to teach him cool things on his computer and without fail, I would leave our lessons have learned a thing or two myself.

Those lessons were often nothing short of amazing and courageous. One summer, nearly five years ago, Bud suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. For a long time, it robbed Bud of a great passion of his - golf. And then one day, Bud called me and told me about a new golf cart he'd purchased, along with some new clubs. Bud, in his own unique and intrepid way, had found a way to play golf: one-handed. He could do it the cart, swing and hit the ball into forever and drive on to the next shot. About the only thing he needed help with was to tee up. He invited me along one late, cold winter day a few years back. I brought along a lightweight camera/single flash setup and off we went.

I walked, he drove. It was fun. It was fascinating, watching all that concentrated strength and focus. It was a completely unique skill. I was in awe. I was watching an act of love. I was watching a man following his passions, totally in love, completely unaware - no, unaccepting - that the odds were stacked against him.

Bud loved people. He was one of those guys who just had to connect with people. Since the stroke, he'd taken to handing out those little squeeze lights that fit onto key chains. People loved them and he handed them out like candy. Friends, family, kids, service people of all kinds, complete strangers. Hundreds of them passed hand to hand. I have my own little personal collection of them and they've saved me a few times in the dark with the camera. I stood up at his memorial service last week and told the bulging crowd that I like to think of him like that...squeeze him and so much light poured out that it lit up all the dark places.

And so it struck me, standing there, saying goodbye to an old dear friend with so many of his other friends, that this is what makes life so textured and's all these little acts of love in each of our days.

I miss you, my friend.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 24-120VR, Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanks & Giving

Twilight at the Pool
November, 2008
Naples, Florida

"What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?"
- Erma Bombeck

All photographers pray for good light at each photo shoot. Me, I throw in a little extra something to the angels of coordination, asking that I don't trip over something, break something, lose something - or worse, forget something. At a recent photo shoot, I did manage to avoid burning the place down, but I left the L-bracket that secures the camera to the tripod at home, and battling traffic 30+ minutes both ways meant losing the light, so I ended up tripping all over myself in apologies to the home owners (who were so kindly well-prepared, as I should have been), and rescheduling for the next night. Thankfully, November nights in SW Florida this year have been relentlessly clear, so a reschedule, while embarrassing and inconvenient, was at least doable.

And so it was. The light was generous the next night, as were the homeowners, who sent me home with thanks, two boxes of votive candle holders and a plant press for making prints. All this, despite me kicking one of their poolside candles into the deep end as I (blindly) trotted by it with the camera as the light was dying. Ahhh...graceful me. Maybe in another life.

It's been a great gratitude-holiday this year, filled with nearly a dozen friends gathered around a table, food everywhere sharing top billing with laughter and love and magic tricks. Everyone left full and sleepy, carrying enough leftovers to last a good while.

And now, we're rounding the bend to Christmas. Last night, we headed to the beach for my annual Christmas Card photo op. The light was incredibly delicious and the beach incredibly full of sun-soaked tourists. I'd previsualized my setup for this year's cards and spent the last two months combing thrift shops and garage sales for the appropriate props. My next art sale is in a week - about time to get it done!

One logistic I'd neglected to consider was the crowds. Not only was there no cool sand ripples (the closest we come to sand dunes) for Santa and his sleigh sled to fly over, but there was not even one single 2x2 patch of untrampled sand to be found. That's the fun of photography, no? Learn to love improvising, because for sure, one detail or another will trip you up.

Lacking pretty sand, I found shell dunes and was able to "comb" them into some kind of untrampled shape. Beachwalkers peered at me strangely as I crawled through the shells on my belly, trying to get a good angle on Santa. A few raised eyebrows. And a few asked what on earth was I doing. So I did what every photographer worth her salt does in today's market: I gave them directions to my next art show.

Santa Sleds Shells
November, 2008
Barefoot Beach, Florida

Christmas Star
November, 2008
Barefoot Beach, Florida

Good light, a gorgeous beach, wonderful clients and loving friends, a busy work schedule doing what I love, a freezer full of turkey and even a little time to play (as if it wasn't all play). Gratitude abounds.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 12-24 (home photography), Nikkor 18-200 VR (beach shots)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Hide & Seek Sunrise
Turner River Road, FL
October 13, 2008

"Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art."
~Ambrose Bierce

It was still dark when I fired the ignition in the car, woke up Daniel, my GPS companion, then turned to a new friend accompanying me on this adventure day, and said, "We're off!"

And indeed we were. Sunrise caught us near the intersection of Turner River Road and Wagon Wheel Road, one of my favorite photo spots, where we flushed out a small flock of sandhill cranes just before it rained on us. We played with light and birds and water and flowers until the sun was too bright and the wind played too hard with the grasses and blooms to make sharp images.

I punched Loop Road into the GPS and we were off again, but not before a few more stops for some red-shouldered hawks and fire ants. Happy about the former; not so much the ants. I don't easily attract mosquitoes or other winged insects, but fire ants...those nasty creatures will find me on a sidewalk. In fact, the other night, listening to some live outdoor music locally, they did! They came crawling out of a crack, ignored a dozen other people and made a beeline for me. Peculiar. This would make a funny story except for the craters they're making on my ankles this year.

Loop Road was a testament to the amazing rains we've had all summer. We weren't too far down it's narrow and bumpy gravel surface when we came upon a turn-around, a bunch of orange cones blocking further passage and a big sign: "Washed Out Road - Local Traffic Only".

We looked at each other silently for a bit. I mean, I'd been talking about exploring this road for a week! It wasn't that I couldn't understand "Washed Out Road". It was just that the kicker at the end, "Local Traffic Only" was just too hard to resist. I mean, I'm "technically" local, aren't I? I patted my trusty Toyota Avalon with a smile, and after quick adjustment of two orange cones, we were off.

We did pretty well for a few miles. Puddles, yeah, but nothing bad. And then puddles gave way to sheet flow across the road. Still, we passed "Sweetheart Strand" where an older gent and his grandsons were quietly fishing, high and dry. Encouraged, we pushed on. Birds waded the puddles ahead of me, and honestly, the palmettos and scrub was so thick on either side of this one-car-width gravel river-road that photography was pretty impossible. Still, we pushed on. And then a few miles later, I looked at my friend and casually said, "are your feet wet?"

"No, but from the sounds coming from under this car, they should be."

Isn't there some cliche about changing horses in the middle of the stream? Yeah, I can make another one up about trying for a 9-point about-face in deep water in the middle of a one-car gravel road. Even Daniel the GPS was asking for a life vest.

Outdoor photographers are typically a hardy bunch. We go the distance to get the shot - or at least a *shot* at the shot. Add Toyota Avalon to that group. For an old girl, she stays the course. She even has the sense to make squishy, wet-feet noises that convince her driver to head back to the barn.

D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quiet Roads

“I do it for the joy it brings, cause I'm a joyful girl. 'Cause the world owes us nothing, we owe each other the world.”
~ Ani DiFranco

Some weeks, you just have to pinch yourself.

I traveled to South Carolina a few weeks ago to photograph several custom homes for a client. It was a great trip and great job. Both the weather and "it's all in the details" angels were along for the ride. The job went very smoothly, I met many great new folks, got to spend time with a dear friend, and the rain held off until I left. Who could ask for more?

Ashton Model
Lakes at Plantation Pines
Little River, SC

The days were all just fun. I did my scouting and detail work in the mornings, along with a few of the exterior shots I needed. Then took off until late afternoon to explore the area on my own. Little River, SC, is just north of Myrtle Beach and spittin' distance from the North Carolina border.

It's also home to the most confusing road system I've been on in a good long while, and so, after getting lost way too many times just trying to find job sites, I passed a West Marine store, put on the brakes, pulled in, and bought a nice little Garmin Nuvi 750 GPS for the car. I set it to Daniel, a nice, deep, English accent voice and off I went.

Daniel and I traveled many back roads and explored the lips of quite a few beaches during my stay. He was a wonderful traveling companion, speaking only at the most appropriate times, always reassuring, patient and nonjudgmental about my erratic "drive-by photographer" driving, and he never seemed to get lost. Didn't hog the iPod either.

I especially loved exploring the back roads of both South and North Carolina. Life was quiet there. Traffic was minimal. No one seemed in very much of a hurry and neither was I. Old barn, old cows, old fields, old fences, old roads. I even found an old roadside stand selling boiled peanuts, stopped to buy a scoop and called a friend in California who has family roots in these parts and always misses the boiled peanuts most of all. We had a good laugh, me in the car with Daniel and boiled peanuts, telling her stories about all the crazy signs in front of churches that dot every corner. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Preaching To The Choir
Hickman's Crossroads, NC

Wide stretches of tobacco fields gave way to marsh land as I made my way west, then east again. I drove around most of Lake Waccamaw, then back to the coast, Daniel guiding me gently with suggestions for places to eat and fuel up. If only he knew a bit about photo ops in the area, he'd be more than perfect.

Spruce Trees Behind Tobacco Fields
Old Dock, NC

I passed one old barn that made me back up and pause alongside it. I was intrigued by the weathered wood next to a slapped-on, newer lean-to. And the GW Bush for President sign next to a lonely red lawnmower for sale for just $200 was almost too much. I have a secret love of tractors and lawnmowers. I want to drive them all. The scene seemed such a sad statement, somehow, all things considered. But the next church sign put it all back into perspective.

Old Barn
Somewhere ouside Whiteville, NC

And then I was off to the beach! Oak Island, Caswell Beach, Long Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach. At Caswell Beach, I stopped to visit with a couple of grungy old locals sitting on the boardwalk, trying to make an equally old pair of camo binoculars work. They'd just bought them at a garage sale, they told me, and were just figuring out that the ten bucks they paid was about ten bucks too much. We talked about storms and the history of the place and politics. I told them Alaska stories and they told me NC shrimpin' stories. Fair trade, I'd say.

Caswell Beach
Oak Island, NC

Beach Cross
Sunset Beach, NC

Marsh Walk - Vereen Gardens
Little River, SC

And then the job was done and it was time to leave. I had two days ahead of me and only a 12 hour drive. After much deliberation (and consulting my near-constant companion Daniel, of course), we turned south, stopping in Murrell's Inlet to tour Brookgreen Gardens, then we headed for a plantation I'd read about near the Ace Basin in the South Carolina Low Country. This plantation, sitting in the heart of some of the most enduring southern plantations AND the live oak tree made famous in the movie, Forrest Gump (of course, Daniel guided me there but I was the one to play the movie soundtrack), is an oddity. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Oddities intrigue me, and I was very anxious to see it. But aside from an awkwardly leaning fence and some outbuildings that resembled Forest Service cabins, it was hidden from sight.

No matter. Tunes and hours of episodes of "This American Life" were playing and the sky was clearing and there were dirt roads lined with stately live oaks to explore and good light to play with.

Stocks Creek Road
Ace Basin in Green Pond, SC

Wild Grasses
Ritter Road, Ritter, SC

Then, just like that and all too soon, it was time to join the river of southbound travelers on the interstate. A few tributaries and pit stops later, I was home.

And that was a very good thing, too.

All photos: Nikon D2x, Nikon 18-200 VR

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunset Hush

Saturday Fades Away
Bonita Shores, Florida
September 13, 2008

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see."
~John Burroughs

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200VR

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Journey...

Pull Chain
Bonita Springs, Florida
September 12, 2008

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~Lao Tzu

Come dawn Sunday morning, I'll turn the ignition in the car and point NE to Little River, SC, for an week-long architectural photo shoot. Road trip on the horizon! Life is very good.

Mere moments ago, the UPS guy delivered my new Nikkor 18-200 VR. It's a lens I've wanted to add to my arsenal for some time, rounding things out with a great, general purpose zoom. This photograph - my desk lamp's pull chain - is the first image it has captured for me. I love it already.

All week, I've been preparing for this shoot, as well as paying homage to the weather gods to keep storms away. So far, good on both counts. I've loaded Enfuse into Lightroom - superb software for this kind of photography. It'll speed my workflow tremendously. The rest of today will be devoted to cleaning the gear and packing. Why does packing for big jobs seem so daunting!

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 18-200 VR

Monday, September 8, 2008

Intentional Serendipity

Ghosts in the Sunset
Bonita Beach, Florida
Photo by Shelby Woodsmith

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon."
-E. M. Forster

This summer, I have been teaching two teenagers how to use a camera. It's been a very cool experience. This age group is so quick and so ready to learn. Tonight, after a continuation of our lesson about depth of field, f/stops and shutter speed, they draped both my DSLRs around their necks and we headed off to the beach.

Early storm bands from Hurricane Ike, pushing up from the southeast, were flying by overhead. We dodged rainstorms and found the beach remarkably quiet and the nearshore water unbelievably calm. It was gorgeous. We had ripe light for a short while. I spent some time with them, working out distance/focus decisions, and then I turned them loose. "You're free until dark. Let's see what you can do. The only rule: don't limit yourself. Be creative!"

Looking over their bounty later, I found this image. I smiled proudly as we talked about why Shelby's mom appeared three times in this capture.

There seems no greater gift than watching a little lightbulb turn on.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 50mm 1.8

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All In A Night's Work

The Bartolini Model
Lithia, Florida
September 3, 2008

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."
~John Quincy Adams

I was away for a new architectural assignment yesterday. It was a great shoot and I had the honor of an unexpected assistant - one of the owners of the custom home company that built this home - Jim Fowkes. I couldn't have had a nicer, more helpful assistant. We both chuckled about the remote for the many fireplaces in this home. Imagine a fire with a remote.

Photographing homes is never without its challenges. Crazy lighting situations, clouds, rain, candles and props that are sitting in your garage 150 miles away (or my usual trick of lots of candles and no lighter), doors that don't want to open, fans that seem to have no off switch...and that luminous magic blue light that comes and goes so quickly you literally run to catch it before it leaks out the doors and windows as the day bleeds away. Each new assignment brings some new lesson.

Last night, I added insects to my list of challenges. I ran outside for this last exterior elevation shot at just about the end of twilight and set up the tripod in an empty lot across the street. In the dark, I found a tiny hill in the ankle high weeds and thought, cool! I can perch the tripod on this. Thirty seconds later, an army of fire ants was swarming across my sandaled feet. Two seconds after that, they were all biting at the same time.

Like any intrepid photographer worth her salt, I got the shot. And easily thirty or more bites on both feet to prove that I've paid my outdoor night shot dues.

I drove the long drive home, watching a fingernail moon dance with the clouds, thinking, I have a very cool job. Ants and all.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 12-24

Monday, September 1, 2008

Passing Storms

Barefoot Beach, Florida

"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."
~John Muir

Hurricane Gustav passed by some 300 miles or so off the coast of SW Florida where I live yesterday. The eastern side of the storm is wide and brought strong wind gusts and heavy downpours throughout the night and day. In a slim slice between storm bands, I headed to the beach for a walk with the camera. Clusters of shorebirds were dodging the building surf. High tide pushed holiday hopefuls up into the dunes and off the beach entirely. It was one of the few times I've seen the beach fully underwater for as far as I could see.

The wind blows. Seas churn. Birds congeal in swarms of nervous feeding. Water steals sand in hungry handfuls and carries it out to sea. There is something exhilarating in the loud presence of a storm passing by.

Nikon D2x, Nikkor 24-120 VR

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Birthday Presents

Fledgling Pelicans
Estero Bay, Florida
August 28, 2008

“Man who waits for roast duck to fly into mouth must wait very, very long time.”
~Chinese Proverb
I slept in on my birthday this past week. I was tired and lazy and completely undecided about which direction to head for this self-designated day off. After much procrastination, I ended up throwing the kayak on top of the car and driving north along the thin road that connects the barrier islands in my neighborhood. I found a likely spot to pull off, launched the boat, and paddled into Estero Bay, grumbling because I'd forgotten my iPod and good grief, paddling just isn't paddling without music in my ears.

In the middle of my grumble, two manatee surfaced next to the boat and continued to play alongside me for close to thirty minutes. They dared me to be grumpy with such goofy looking creatures in my presence. It was pretty darned magical and worth losing my funky mood.

A bit further along, I came up to a large rookery key that I often visit. Usually, it's just a haven for scores of pelicans, but this day - my day - it was alive with cormorants, egrets, herons, and the loud, hungry protests of a dozen or more fledgling pelicans. What a find! I haven't ever seen pelicans this young in my travels before; these guys were unable to leave the nest yet, although some where clumsily trying, falling through the mangrove branches with loud crashes.

The water, still abnormally high from Tropical Storm Fay, flooded the inside of the key and I was able to maneuver the boat quietly into the center, and through a veil of mosquitoes, capture these two staring down at me with quizzical looks.

Sometimes, the best birthday presents wear feathers.

Nikon D100, Nikkor 80-400VR

New RSS Version Of f/stops...♦

"Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need."

It's been a long time coming, but I've finally scraped knuckles knuckled down and hammered out a real blog, complete with RSS feed interactivity. Nothing like being about two years late. Such is the life of a photographer at play.

So...enjoy. The old archive hasn't gone away. You can find it at the link on the right.