Posted in everyday musings, Photographers, photography

Photographers: enough of the emotional blackmail already.

We photographers can be a depressing bunch. I mean how many more ways can we remind people they need to get photos of their family members because soon they’ll all be dead.

Dang, people.

Yes, it is true we want to have photos of family members before they pass from our lives but enough with the emotional blackmail already. How about we just suggest people capture their memories in photos or video so they can share the memories with each other in the future? How about we stop depressing people into buying packages or spending more money than necessary by using fear tactics.

“Grandma will be dead next year so you better buy this $300 canvas for your wall.”

“Grandpa has been in and out of the hospital. You’d better spend that full tax refund on 18 different poses of you all together and the digital files that you’ll have to take a loan out to get. He will probably be dead in a few more days and you’ll want those memories of him forcing a smile for my camera.”

I think one reason I can’t push myself to market myself as a family photographer is I can’t bring myself to play the mind games of marketing small businesses 101. If I see one more Instagram post that talks about how glad a photographer was that she took photos of a relative at the last family gathering because a few months later they were dead and then ends with a sales pitch, I will scream. If you want to say you were glad you took the photos and then end it there, fine. But the sales pitch too?

No.

Please.

Stop.

I swear family photographers are becoming the car salesmen of the creative world.

Tell families they’re going to love capturing their moments together, fine. Tell them they will love looking back at the photos of their children as they grow. Tell them they will treasure these memories as the years pass.

But, please, stop threatening the deaths of their family members so you can line your own pockets.

It’s depressing and morbid.

Posted in everyday musings

Please, Grandma, get off the ladder

My cousin and I  were talking about whatever teenage girls talk about when I heard a clattering on the roof outside the upstairs window of the bedroom we were staying in. A quick look outside the window confirmed the source of the noise and it didn’t take long for my brain to register who the tuft of gray hair just above the edge of the roof belonged to.

I ran out of the room, down the stairs, through the dining room and the kitchen and out the front door. To my right was a ladder and on that ladder, luckily only about two and a half feet off the ground, was my 88-year old grandmother. She had a bucket on the porch railing near her and she was cleaning out the gutter. I didn’t want to startle her, but I knew  I needed to get her off that ladder before she fell and broke her hip, or worse, her skull.
Before I spoke a word, I did what any good granddaughter does – I walked slowly back into the house and grabbed my camera. 

“Um…grandma?” I spoke softly so I didn’t startle her and send her flailing backwards in shock and over the porch railing to the ground below.

She wore a hearing aid but she still heard us fairly well. My mom used to joke that she couldn’t hear anything unless we talked about something we didn’t want her to know about, like that time we spent $300 on our cat that was hit by a car and he died anyhow. We were pretty certain she would have told us, “Back in our days we threw them in pillowcases and drowned them or just shot them. $300 on a cat. Ridiculous.”, which is why my mom made us whisper about the cat or speak of it only when Grandma wasn’t in the room. Eventually, she did learn about the cat and her response was one of expected incredulous shock. Luckily she didn’t suggest we should have shot him.

Grandma heard me fine when I called to her from the bottom of the ladder but didn’t turn to look at me.

“Yes?” she said, continuing to pull slop from the gutter and toss it into the bucket.

“Um…what are you doing?” I asked, walking over to hold the bottom of the ladder and keep it steady on the concrete porch floor.

“I’m just cleaning out this gutter,” she told me, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your dad said he could get to it after work but I figured I wasn’t doing anything else so I’d take care of it.”

I assured her Dad would finish the job when he got home and urged her to climb down. My cousin and I were at home alone with her and I couldn’t imagine how much trouble we would be in if we simply let her climb ladders and fall off and break a hip.

The photo of the moment wasn’t high quality since I took it quickly and on a simple point-and-shoot camera. I barely took time to focus out of fear I would capture her mid-fall. Had I been married at the time I’m sure my husband would have said what he has said about some of my photos of the children.

“Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and helped your 88-year old grandmother off the ladder instead?” he might have asked, much like he once asked, “Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and taken the dog food out of our son’s hand?”

Of course the answer to those types of questions is always ‘no, I should not have put the camera down.’ The photo is almost always worth more than a thousand words used to describe it, though sometimes words also help. In my defense, the baby didn’t eat the dog food and my 88-year old grandmother didn’t fall off the ladder.

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Posted in everyday musings

The urge to laugh when I probably should be crying

The pastor who officiated at my aunt’s funeral in August did a wonderful job reminding us we are all going to die soon.

She prayed: “Remind us how limited our time is, Lord. How we are but a breath away from our last. How our days are numbered.” And then she prayed some other encouraging lines to never let us forget that we should keep the funeral director on speed dial.

I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just say, ‘remind us, Lord that we are at death’s door and we live our lives with one foot in the grave.’?”

I know the tone of the message was making me uncomfortable, so I couldn’t imagine how the rest of the room felt when many of them were closer to death than me, based on their age and the oxygen tank being carried by at least one.

I sat in the back row and found my brain filling with inappropriate thoughts and reactions to what was going on around me. I kept staring at the amazingly large ears of the elderly man three rows ahead of me and wondered if they had always been that large or if they had drooped and stretched over the years, much like women’s breasts, as they age. At one point I almost giggled out loud as I mentally checked off how many more ways the minister could describe our impending deaths.

I looked around the funeral home and realized it was the same one we had all sat in the day of my uncle’s funeral more than 15 years before and it hadn’t changed since then, or maybe even since the  1950s. The mint-green paint was chipping in places, the air conditioner sounded like a cat had got stuck inside and I was fairly certain the floor had never been replaced and someone’s foot might shoot right through the boards when they stood up to leave.

A glance at the ceiling made me wonder if parts of it might cave in our heads, creating more business for the funeral home director, a man who had unwittingly tortured me when I’d worked as the hometown editor at the local paper, always sending obits riddled with typos, typed on either an electric typewriter or maybe a computer so old that it filled one half of a room. He always sent them by fax and I had to transcribe them into the computer since the way they were typed made it impossible to scan them in to the computer”. Other funeral homes would email their obituaries, leaving me to merely copy and paste them to be published in the next days newspaper. No matter the hints I dropped, though, this director seemed blissfully unaware that his failure to upgrade made my work nights even longer.

As I sat there in the funeral home, in a metal chair that squeaked or made fart sounds when I shifted or breathed, I knew that all these giggling-inducing thoughts were a type of self-protecting hysteria, my internal self-defense mechanisms kicking in to keep me from breaking down. I couldn’t help feel guilty for not being more serious during such a somber time. Luckily, the urge to giggle dissipated when family members, including my dad, stood to speak.

I often find myself laughing at the wrong moments – giggling when my son trips over his feet and lands on his face (as long as he gets back up again and isn’t bleeding) or when someone trips and spills what they were carrying (again, as long as they are uninjured). These moments of fighting to hold back inappropriate laughter make me think of an episode of the British sitcom “Coupling” where the characters struggle to hold in their giggles at a funeral and the scenes switch between the actors at the funeral and a metaphorical tower of glasses about to tumble.

Sitting in the back of that funeral home, straining to hear the kind words being spoke about my aunt over the grinding of the dying air conditioning unit, I fought to keep my own internal tower of glasses from falling. I knew that my urge to laugh was simply misplaced emotions, my brain’s way of trying to claw toward numbness so I could feel less of the pain of having suffered another loss in our family in less than a year.

I welcomed the humor, the pushed down giggles, because it was like a mental release valve for my mind, a way to keep me sinking beneath the surface of depression, with no chance of coming back up to breathe the air of joy again.

Posted in everyday musings

The balancing act of being a parent

There is a children’s musical entertainer named Tom Knight who visits the local libraries and summer concert series each year in our area. While his songs are, of course, aimed at children who are around the preschool age, sometimes the lyrics hit home for me.

One song, in particular, caught my attention when were listening to the CD in the car one day. When Knight sings the song The Juggler live he roams through the crowd of children while juggling a few balls, throwing them under his legs and high in the air as he walks and sings.

Well the juggler is a strange one. He does his tricks for his own fun. And the people gather ’round him. To see the tricks that astound ’em.
But when the juggler is in danger of losing all he has. Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”

“So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment. And it’s worthy of the time spent. Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one. It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too.
It’s easy just count one two three four five six.

So why would a song about an entertainer throwing objects in the air and catching them again hit home for me, a simple, stay-at-home mom with only two children?

Because, I, this mother of “only” two children, see a double meaning in the lyrics. I relate to the juggler because I feel like I am the juggler. In fact, I think we all, parents or not, feel like we are a juggler, at one time or another, in our lives. We are all always juggling something in life – if not relationships then work if not work then home life, if not home life then general life “stuff,” for lack of a better word.

Many parents definitely feel like they are juggling about a hundred things all day long. We are juggling requests, tasks, whining children, work, cooking, laundry, and thoughts – almost losing our balance, but able to somehow get back on track.

Throughout the course of the day, I feel like my head is constantly spinning, with thoughts jumping from one subject to another. At the same time my 4-year old daughter wants me to play with her and her stuffed animals I need to cook dinner. At the same time I’m cooking dinner my son wants me to see something he has created on Minecraft, the dog needs to go out and the cat is sitting on the island giving me the evil eye because I’m not petting her.

So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment.

When dinner is done my daughter still wants me to play but there is writing I need to do for a freelance assignment and photos I forgot to edit for a client, keywords to plug in for stock photography, laundry to fold, dishes to wash, parents to call, friends to message and God to try to hear over it all.

Now it’s bedtime and the dog is terrorizing the cat again, I forgot to fold the laundry because I was distracted with writing a blog post, I never responded to the friend’s message, and the dishwasher is only half loaded.

And God? Well, I can’t even hear what He wants to say because I’ve thrown all the pieces of life in the air and I’m trying to juggle them all by myself.

But, if I would just let him, God would take each one – each worry about homeschooling, each stress about finances, each rushed and anxious feeling about all that needs to be done, and he’d take care of them and tell me that I no longer need to be The Juggler.

“Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one,” Tom Knight says. “It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too. It’s easy. Just count one, two, three, four, five, six.”

Yes, the balancing is hard.

There will be bad days, then good days, fast ones and slow ones where we have to wait until we take the next step; those waiting days where we feel like we can’t throw even one more ball up amongst the others.

Some days it is hard to keep all the balls sailing, but even on the hard days there is joy, hope and a Heavenly Father who is reaching out to help us slow it all down and trade the balancing act for his steady hand.

“Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”

Posted in photography, photography tips, raw

Advice for shooting photos in low light

Since I live in the north and our winter months are often cold and dark, the key word being dark, I’ve learned to adapt to shooting in low light so I can photograph my family even when we are stuck inside during the depressing winter months.

Over the years I took a couple of classes on Clickin’ Moms, searched the YouTube archives and scoured the internet for articles to learn how to do improve my low light photographs, something that has proven to be beneficial for freelance assignments, in addition to personal photos.

I thought I’d share a couple of low light tips here, after being inspired by YouTuber Peter McKinnon. Remember, these are all simply tips, and not a list of “rules.” Your photography is your own.

1) Shoot manual.

If you don’t know how to operate your camera manually, I suggest you take a class, or simply look online, and learn how to do so, because being able to adjust settings manually is key to capturing low light images. Knowing how to adjust your camera manually allows you to adjust your aperture, your ISO and your shutter speed, setting it where it is needed to capture your subject, no matter the lighting situation. Most importantly, learning how to operate your camera manually (which is the “M” stop on your camera dial) gives you unfettered control of your photography.

As a self-declared control freak, this fact is a welcome one for me. It’s one of the few times in my life I feel like I have been given control over something and at times I find myself wild with power – adjusting settings like a convict running through the streets after they have just been released from prison. Okay, that was a horrible analogy, but you know what I mean. I like to have control over my photography because when I do I have freedom to create the images I see in my mind.

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2) Open wide that aperture.

The wider the aperture, the more light is let into the camera, which is basic photography knowledge. Widening the aperture is one of the best ways to grab amazing bokeh during brighter lighting situations, but in lower light, it’s the best way to capture a scene without it being underexposed. Using your light meter in the camera can help you to determine if your scene is too dark or too bright. Your aperture is adjusted by your “f-stop”, if you’re new to this photography stuff.

3) Increase your shutter speed.

If you’re finding you are getting a lot of blur in your low-light images, because the wide aperture is narrowing your depth of field, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed to help capture movement. This is especially helpful for parents photographing their children. Increasing your shutter speed, however, will, of course, make your scene a little darker.

You may ask how you can increase your shutter speed if your aperture is open so wide and the answer to that is your ISO, which you will need to increase to help brighten a darker scene.

4) Increase your ISO.

Your ISO is like your film speed, if you were using a film camera, but you’re most likely not because this is 2018 and everyone has a digital camera at this point.

If you want to get a brighter scene in a low light situation, you’ll need to raise the ISO, which can cause some grain, or noise, in your image, but grain isn’t always a bad thing. Grain can add character, or a more documentary feel to the image. And if you don’t like grain, hopefully, you are using a camera that either handles noise well or lets you shoot in RAW, which brings me to the next tip: shoot in RAW.

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5) Shoot in RAW.

While the goal should always be to get it right in the camera, there are going to be times the situation doesn’t allow for perfect lighting,, or the right settings. And for those times there is the RAW setting and luckily most advanced digital cameras today have a RAW setting.

For more information about what RAW means in relation to photography, check out this link.

Shooting RAW allows you to adjust your image in post-processing without causing damage to the quality, since RAW is simply the digital information for the photo, not the actual image. When a JPEG image is edited, repeatedly, for example, it degrades the image to the point of ruining it.

When you photograph in RAW you can take an underexposed image like this, for example,

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and raise the exposure in post edit to end up with a final image like this:

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without losing too much quality. If a great deal of noise remains you can use the luminance slider in Lightroom, which Peter discusses in the video below.

There are definitely more tips out there for low light photography than I am mentioning here, but the biggest hope is that by having a few tools under your belt to shoot in low light, you won’t shy away from doing so and will feel free to capture moments in your life no matter the lighting situation.

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To see Peter McKinnon’s tips on low light check out his video, below…

Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments. If I don’t know the answer we can look for it together!

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For more photography tips or simple rambling about photography, rural life or motherhood, be sure to subscribe to my blog on the right sidebar. You can also find my photography at http://www.instagram.com/lisahoweler

Posted in 10 on 10, photography

Finally some fall colors: 10 on 10 for November

We waited for it patiently and that patience finally paid off this past week when the leaves on our trees finally changed from dreary brown to bright yellow and then scattered the ground, creating a blanket of bright for us to walk in and inspect.

My daughter and I spent part of a day picking up leaves and tucking them away in her bicycle pouch if we (or rather she) deemed them pretty enough.

We still have one tree that hasn’t changed yet, but always changes late. The tree blesses us with amazingly beautiful and uniquely patterned leaves even as the cold weather sets in and the snow starts to fall.

This post is part of the monthly 10 on 10 blog circle where a group of photographers share ten photographs from the previous month on the tenth day of the month. Find the link to the next blog at the bottom of this post.

DSC_7581DSC_7601DSC_7629DSC_7655DSC_7661DSC_7670DSC_7688DSC_7759DSC_7771-2DSC_7662To continue the blog circle, please visit Erika Kao.

Posted in books and reading, Tell me More about

Tell Me More About . . . Maureen Wright, children’s book author

I remember the first time my son and I read a Maureen Wright book. It was “Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep,” the sweet story about a bear who is being reminded by Old Man Winter that he needs to sleep for the winter, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear him, so instead Big Bear ends up on a middle of the night adventure.

Each night we read it, we couldn’t only read it just once. My son would ask for it to be read again and again and it was one of the few books I didn’t mind repeating. The story is creative and catchy and the artwork by Will Hillenbrand is mesmerizing. Flash forward to now and there are now three Big Bear books and a collection of other books by Maureen that I now read to my 4-year-old daughter. Her current favorite is also Maureen’s best seller, “Sneezy the Snowman.”

What’s special about Maureen’s stories, beyond the fact they are a delight to read and the artwork is so stellar, is that they are written by someone who lives in the town my children and I now live in. Even though I’ve seen her often, either reading her book at the library, or selling her copies personally at local events, I still feel like I’m meeting a celebrity each time I see her, maybe because her stories have been such a part of the bonding time with my children.

I’m so thankful to Maureen for taking a few moments to answer some questions for this weeks Tell Me More About . . . feature and that I’m able to introduce her special books to my readers.

45095165_166161841001041_1170191499384586240_nCould you tell us a little bit about yourself, such as where you grew up, family, etc. ?

I grew up in Athens, PA. I met my husband, Don, at Main Elementary in Athens in fourth grade. We have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and three little grandsons We live in Athens Township in the old farmhouse his great-grandparents built in the 1880’s.

When did you realize you enjoyed writing?
I was in third grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer I was doing a writing homework assignment. I even remember where I was sitting in the house that I grew up in when this feeling came over me — an awareness that I loved to write.

 What made you decide to write books for children?

I loved reading books to my children when they were young It was my favorite thing to do with them.

What inspired you to write the Big Bear series?

I am a lot like Big Bear. We both usually think we are right and most of the time we are both wrong!

Which of your books seems to be the most popular among children?

“Sneezy the Snowman” is my best seller. I recently received a framed copy of the book from my publisher because it has sold over 100,000 copies. It was totally unexpected. At the time, I was waiting for my niece to mail me a picture frame. When I opened the package, I wondered, “Why did Anna put “Sneezy the Snowman” in the frame?” Then I read the plaque on the frame.

 What authors have inspired you over the years?

I have been inspired by any well-written rhyming book.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?

If I have a story I’m working on, I am excited to get out of bed in the morning to work on it. I read aloud my stories dozens and dozens of times to get the rhythm right. Whenever my cat Juanita hears me, she runs to my side and sits on the arm of the sofa. She is always the first one to hear my stories.

Do you have future projects coming up? Books or otherwise?

My next book is “Super Rooster to the Rescue” due out in August of 2020. Rob McClurkan is the illustrator. It will be my tenth picture book.

 Anything else you would like people to know about you or your books?

I love reading to children and encouraging them to follow their dreams. I was rejected by publishers for twenty years before an editor, Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish, took me under her wing. I will always be grateful to her for pulling my story out of “the slush pile.” (Unsolicited manuscripts on an editor’s desk.)


Do you know someone you think would be great for my Tell Me More About . . . feature? Maybe that someone is you! You, or the person you suggest, doesn’t need to be from my area to be featured. You can send any suggestions for features to lisahoweler@gmail.com or use the contact form at the top of the page.