Posted in creative tuesday, everyday musings

Creative Tuesday: Just take the photos already

So many people want to be a photographer but are stuck on the idea the photo has to be technically perfect. They want their child to sit just right or the light to hit just so or the moment to be simply perfect and if they can’t do that then forget it – the photo isn’t taken.

Maybe because I like to photograph moments more than poses, and had to focus on them when I worked for newspapers, the lack of perfection in a photo bothers me less than it does some photographers. When I look back at my photos over the years I sometimes mentally scold myself for a technical error, knowing my aperture was set wrong or my ISO could have been raised or lowered, but normally my attention is on the moment captured rather than the technical aspects.

I don’t want to look back at my memories from a special time in my life and pat myself on the back for nailing focus. I want to look back at those photos and remember how I felt, what was happening, who was there. I look at photography in a similar way to art – it’s about how the art makes me feel not how it was made.

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DSC_0290-2DSC_0008A local art teacher recently shared a photo of a painting by a student of his on Facebook. The painting was of a woman singing and I actually scrolled past it but then flung the cursor back up to take a better look at it. As I stared at it for a while I found it left me with a relaxed, easy going feeling, something I needed in the midst of a stressful week. I could hear the smooth jazz music and the velvet tones of the singer’s voice and imagined a cup of hot tea in front of me.

Someone else could have looked at it and said they saw technical errors (I doubt many would have) or that the singer wasn’t as “realistic looking” as some might think it should be, but none of that mattered to me because what was important to me was how the painting made me feel. What if that young painter had given up on her work because she decided, in her own mind, that her work wasn’t good enough? What if she had decided that because something didn’t look technically right, the painting could never touch anyone emotionally? She would have been wrong and if she hadn’t finished the painting she would have robbed me of those few moments of respite I was given that day by looking at the painting.

But because she picked up that paintbrush and painted what she felt, not only what she saw and knew, a soul, my soul was touched.

So pick up that camera.

Pick up that paintbrush.

Pick up that pen.

Put those fingers on the keyboard.

Just paint the painting, take the photos, write the words, create what you feel in your heart, not only what you know in your head.

You may not touch millions or thousands or hundreds or even fifty people but if you even touch one – isn’t that worth it?

For more inspiration to get out and create already check out YouTube entrepreneur and photographer Peter McKinnon talking about the power of an idea.

It's better to create something

To follow my work you can catch me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or at my photography site at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

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Posted in authentic, everyday musings

On the eve of her fourth birthday

And there she was, drifting off to sleep on the eve of her fourth birthday. There was pink in her hair and I wondered what it was since we’d just washed our hair together tonight in the tub. Then I remembered she’d got paint in it a week before and apparently I hadn’t got all of it out in the bath that night. I thought about how much I loved noticing those little details of her childhood.

The day before she’d been sitting on the hill, in the grass and fallen leaves, outside her grandparents’ house, wearing a shirt on backward, since she still hasn’t mastered how to put them on the right way, with rainbow pants and chocolate smudged on the corner right above her upper lip, left over from the brownie cake her grandma and grandpa had made. After her bath, the day before her birthday, she put on an adorable, felt looking pink dress, as if she was preparing to wake up the next morning ready to celebrate her official birthday, one I couldn’t believe was already here.

She was the baby we never expected and the one we never knew we needed.

She delights us, surprises us, aggravates us and most of all she completes us.

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Posted in everyday musings, farmers, The Farm Project

The heartache is real as family farms start to fade away

It was a humid August night and the field next to the now defunct dairy barn was full of equipment and maybe a couple hundred people. An auction trailer was set up off to one side and to anyone driving by it might have looked like some sort of community festival, complete with hot dogs and drinks and baked goods. But this wasn’t a party or celebration; it was the end of an era.

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The Robbins family had been farming this land and milking cows here for more than 40 years but debt and the inability to survive financially forced them to make the hardest decision in their lives – sell the farm equipment and the livestock. If that sale didn’t cover the debt they’d sell the barn, house and property too, Billie Jo Robbins said, admitting she was unsure what the future held for her family but that her faith in God’s plan for their lives was helping to lessen some of the anxiety.

She had taken a job at the local bank the year before to try to help the farm stay in business, but as milk prices dropped and operation costs rose, the family couldn’t plug the holes fast enough. Her husband, Paul, recently took a job at the local cheese making factory and the dream of passing the farm on to their two sons, Matthew and Kevin, is now gone.

The loss of a family identity and business is heartbreaking but even more heartbreaking is that the Robbins aren’t alone in their struggle and forced life changes.

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“Local dairy farmers forced to auction off farm.”

It’s a headline that should be in more newspapers and on more news sites than it is because it is real and it is happening in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, where the Robbins live, but also all across the country.

It isn’t only dairy farmers being forced to close their doors. Farmers of all types are being crushed under the blow of low product pricing, but dairy farms are being hit the hardest and according to various media outlets the hard hits are coming for a variety of reasons, one of those an oversupply of milk. Some question if the push for people to drink less dairy and more plant-based proteins is one reason the dairy industry is suffering, but this seems unlikely with Americans love of ice cream, pizza and milkshakes still going strong.

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And even worse than the farms closing down are the suicides of farmers who collapsed mentally and emotionally under the weight of the pressure and the feeling of failure.

According to an article on the National Public Radio (NPR) site, one co-op had three out of 1,000 farmers commit suicide in three years, and while those stats might not seem alarming by quantity the fact they are happening at all when at one time they weren’t, is frightening.

Even here in Bradford County farmers are receiving letters from their co-ops, first with dismal news about the future of dairy prices and the information for suicide hotlines and how to find counselors.

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DSC_9324_1DSC_9268Standing in that field the day of the Robbins’ auction one has to wonder who these buyers are. Local farmers? Corporate farmers? Farmers barely getting by themselves? Billie Jo wondered too and admitted it felt awkward selling their equipment to farmers who may be struggling the same way they were. She didn’t recognize many of the people there but others she knew because they were there for something more important than buying.

“Many came here simply to support us and that means so much,” Billie Jo said.

Farmers support each other, which is one reason many farms in this area of Pennsylvania are surviving at all.

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Sitting in a truck, waiting for her husband, a farmer from Troy says she doesn’t know what the main reason for milk prices dropping so low is but she feels before long the Bradford County landscape won’t be dotted with very many family farms anymore. She and her husband, now in their 70s, own a dairy farm and can’t imagine doing anything else. They’ll keep farming as long as they can.

Knowing they aren’t alone in their heartache or their struggle helps the Robbins deal with their situation easier than some might. Their faith in God keeps them trusting that beauty will come from ashes.

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To read more about the struggles of dairy farms in Pennsylvania you can visit my posts on The state of dairy farming in Northeast Pennsylvania: tangible struggles, palpable heartache and immeasurable joy and The Farm and Tell Me More About . . . Mark Bradley, Sayre Pa Dairy Farmer

Posted in authentic, everyday musings

The soldier’s hat

I remember the day Harry gave my son the VFW hat.  We were at a celebration at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars where they were honoring Harry because he was moving from the area to live with family.

I had taken Jonathan with me so I could grab a photograph for the local newspaper, but also so I could say goodbye to Harry, who I had interviewed years ago about his service during World War II. We had visited Harry at a nursing home a few weeks earlier while also visiting my aunt. My son, Jonathan, was 7 at the time.

I told Jonathan that Harry had fought for our country during World War II and to free the Jews during the Holocaust, something we had been talking about one night when he had asked me some historical questions. I remember how horrified he was about Hitler treating the Jews so awful and because of his age, I left out the worst of it, mainly only telling him how much the Nazis had hated the Jewish people and how wrong it was. After I introduced Jonathan to Harry, who was in the hallway sitting in a wheelchair, Jonathan, without prompting, saluted him.

Harry was touched and overwhelmed. As I sat and chatted with Harry, often having to almost shout since he had lost some of his hearing by then (he was almost 93), Jonathan drew a picture of Harry in the war, jumping out of airplanes and fighting in the Phillipines. Again, Harry was touched and impressed with Jonathan.

A week later when we attended Harry’s farewell celebration, we were surprised and emotional when Harry asked to see Jonathan and handed him two of his VFW Commander hats. Harry was thrilled to see Jonathan and smiled and talked to him, thanking him again for the salute and the picture.

We were definitely sad a year later when we heard Harry passed away. He had dedicated more than three decades to the local VFE post, where he served four years as post commander, 20 years as post quartermaster, 10 years as district quartermaster and three years as district commander. During his time at the VFW he had been named an All-American post commander, an All-American quartermaster three times, and also received several awards through the VFW.

DSC_4820DSC_4821-Edit-2When Harry passed away the  new post commander, Dan Polinski, told the local paper about the countless times Harry and others of Harry’s generation had stood in all kinds of weather to honor veterans who had passed away. Dan remembered one specific day where the rain was coming down, cold and stinging, against their faces.

“The younger of us, and I use that term loosely, said to Harry, O.C. Spencer, and some of the other World War II guys, ‘Listen, you guys, don’t stay out in this.’ The wind was whipping and it was brutal,” said Polinski. “Harry, and O.C., and all of the old crew — all of the old World War II guys who had stood with this Color Guard guy at many other funerals — just said, ‘No. He would do this for us.’” (Morning Times, Sayre, Pa. August 1, 2014)

I can attest to Dan’s story because I remember those rainy Memorial Days (in fact, I remember more rainy Memorial Days in Bradford County than sunny ones. It seems it always rains when there is a parade or a ceremony to honor veterans here.) I covered a few of those ceremonies for local newspapers and when I first saw Harry, and fellow World War II veteran O.C. Spencer, standing out in inclement or sweltering hot weather, I wondered why someone didn’t get them a chair or an umbrella, or usher them inside. Looking back I know it was because they stood not only to honor the fallen and those who served but to honor our country. They did what so many of us don’t, or won’t, do. They did what they’d done years ago when called to fight; standing when others turned or walked away.

DSC_5342_1We keep Harry’s hats sealed inside the clear plastic case he handed them to Jonathan in and we keep them in an honored spot next to a sealed American flag given to Warren’s family after his great-grandfather passed away. And when we do pull the hats out we not only remember the man who stood at every Memorial and Veterans day service, no matter the weather, in full uniform, honoring those who served and those who fell, but the man who came home from war, worked with troubled youth with his wife for a decade, worked hard at every job he did, and also showed us how to persevere during the toughest times in life.

It’s hard sometimes to look at the local Color Guard during Memorial Day services and not see Harry standing there, rifle propped against his shoulder, back straight, jaw firm, gaze steady. I find myself choking up at the memory of the dedication he showed and how a new generation is missing out on the lessons of perseverance his mere presence there taught us.

What is important, I remind myself, isn’t that he isn’t here anymore, but that he was there at all and that there are people still around who will work to keep his memory and legacy alive.

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Posted in everyday musings, photography tips, photography tips for moms

Five places to capture memorable photos of your children

DSC_3155You’re thinking to yourself right now – I’m sure you are – that your house is too dark for photos of your children and that your flash is unflattering and makes your children look albino (which isn’t bad if you are an actual albino, of course.)

So, where can you take photographs of your children that you will cherish for years to come if you don’t believe you can take them at home? (And actually you can take them at home and I’ll tell you how in my next post.)

There is nothing better than being able to distract your child, and maybe even you, with something fun so you can photograph them while they are in action and you are all relaxed. Here are five ideas where to take your children for some photographs of them that you will want to frame and put on your wall or print out to place in your scrapbooks.

1) A local playground. Here is the key about taking photographs of your children at the local playground: don’t try to pose them. In fact, not trying to pose them anywhere is probably the biggest key to child photography. Strict posing of young children often results in disaster and that disaster usually includes tears. Sometimes tears are acceptable for photographs, if you want to capture the emotion of the moment, but minimizing them is always desirable.

If you want photographs of your children as they really are, let them play and photograph them as they play, whether that’s getting messy in the mud or sliding down the slide. Are you looking for a photograph of them looking right at the camera? Well, then get that camera ready because without a doubt they’re going to need mommy or daddy at some point and they are going to turn and look for you and, consequently right at you. And if they don’t? Calling their name once or twice will, sometimes, result in them turning their face toward you. The moment they turn is when you snap the photo you want because as all parents know, asking for them to stop and pose for you may result in cheesy smiles or, worse yet, shakes of the head.

 

2) A hiking trail.

Not only are you all exploring and experiencing nature but the natural backgrounds and soft lighting created on many hiking trails is the perfect setting for memorable images of your children. If you’re a homeschooling parent, and even if you’re not, you can also make the excursion an educational one by learning more about the plants and trees and animals you encounter.

A couple tips: make sure to protect yourselves from ticks (as Lyme Disease carrying ticks are very prevalent in many areas of the United States, especially Pennsylvania and especially in 2018.); wear protection from the sun; bring water, a snack and a first aid kit; and read up on what those poisonous plants, like poison ivy and oak, and poisonous snakes look like!

One other tip for hiking trails: expect a mess at some point so try to grab your photographs early in the hike if you’re looking for photographs of “clean” children. I have no concept of a “clean child” in my family so this one isn’t a concern for me, luckily, and I just roll with the mud and the wet moments that are sure to occur.

_DSC08493) Museums.

Your local, or even not so local, museum is a great place to learn about history or art and photograph your children. Not only can a museum provide dynamic and interesting backgrounds but it can also provide faces looking up at paintings (great lighting and a good look at the face for the scrapbooks), colorful backgrounds and children engaged in hands on learning experiences.

Visiting a local museum is also a great way to support local art, history, science, whatever the museum features. Tip: be sure to double check for any signs that might prohibit photography in certain areas and again, like other excursions, take snacks (if they are allowed) to be sure you aren’t stuck with photographing hunger-induced meltdowns.

 

4) Small fairs or art shows.

Almost everything about a small, community fair or art show lends itself to stellar photographs of your children that capture their true personalities. There are rides (laughing faces), games (winning faces), food (messy faces), and sometimes animals (sweet faces). Yes, you may have noticed a theme in that previous sentence because capturing the face of your child is what this is all about after all.

As is the case in other locations, be sure to watch your backgrounds so you don’t end up with the creepy looking dude at the fair standing in the background of the smiling image of your little one.

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5) Ice cream stand.

Nothing makes a kid happier than dairy and sugar, unless, of course they are lactose intolerant. Actually, in all seriousness, my son is lactose intolerant and he takes enzymes that allow him to digest dairy, so the lactose intolerant still can enjoy a trip to the ice cream stand and you can photograph your children while they are in one place, slightly confined and entranced by their frozen treat. Fun images to capture are their ice cream mustaches and their first few licks when the ice cream is bigger than their head.

Bonus: if the ice cream stand has a miniature golf course with it! Even more fun photos can be taken while they play through the course a couple of times.

A couple closing thoughts to keep in mind before you head out the door for photographs with your children:

– make sure your camera battery is not only charged, but in the camera.

– make sure your digital camera has a memory card.

– If you are using a phone, make sure you have a full battery charge or bring a car charger with you.

– try to get yourself in a couple of the photographs so your children know you were there too.

And last, don’t worry if your child doesn’t look at the camera in every photograph. Photographs of children not looking at a camera but still having a good time, laughing or loving each other will still provide great memories for them and their family as they grow.

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Posted in Ordinary Moments

Oct. 4, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens PA Photographer

This is part of a new project called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

I’ve been trying to get more photos of my son lately. Oops. 

Posted in Ordinary Moments

Oct. 2, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens, PA Photographer

This is part of a new project I’m doing called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

 

Oct. 2, 2017

It was her birthday. She made me wrestle her out of the shirt she’d been wearing since yesterday but giggled during the process. Then suddenly she was mad at me. I wanted her to get dressed again so we could go pick her brother up from the bus stop. She didn’t want to. So she stood and sulked and glared at me around the door as the minutes ticked down to when we needed to leave. I asked her why she was mad but she wouldn’t answer. Finally she said “mama, you say sorry?” I had no idea why I was apologizing but we were on a schedule so I did and she smiled again and threw herself into my arms. She happily put on her dress and we headed to the van as if nothing had happened. Apparently her third year of life is going to be even more confusing than her second year.


Posted in honest stuff, keeping it real, motherhood

Don’t stop asking if you can hug me

There we were driving over the back roads to the small Christian school my son attends and just like that summer was over.

Sure we had one more day before school officially began but on that humid summer night I felt a tight feeling in my chest and knew it was because the carefree days when I could hug him on a whim anytime throughout the day had come to an end for another year.

Here we were – his fifth grade year.

Fifth grade.

 

I felt a catch in my spirit. I mentally reached out for an imaginary lever to slow it all down but like usual the lever wouldn’t work.

I was sure it had only been a few weeks since I’d walked him into that school for the first time, him frightened and crying because he didn’t want me to leave. I cried too, all the way home, and at home.

At the end of each day I picked him up and he ran fast to me across the gym with his arms wide open and the widest, most excited smile on his face.

His hair was soft against my cheek and I loved the way he leaned into me, his comfort at the end of a long day.

On this night, a parents night to learn more about the new year and meet new staff, he ran away from me to see what was new. He’s independent now, excited for a new year and in some ways he doesn’t need Mom anymore.

But then there are those nights I hear him at my bedroom door and he tiptoes into the darkness and I ask what’s wrong.

“Can I have a hug?” he’ll ask, like he often does throughout the day, no matter where we are.

 “I just need a hug,” he says, and I know he wants to sleep next to me for the rest of the night.

I give him the hug and let him sleep next to me because I know one day he won’t want me to hug him or hold him, at least not very often .

I kiss his head on those nights and I feel his hair soft against my cheek and I close my eyes.

I breathe it all in because for these few moments, maybe a few hours, he needs me to be his comfort again.