Even fat moms read the Bible

Recently I didn’t have any models for my stock photography so I decided to make myself a model, as uncomfortable as I was with that idea. I plopped myself in front of the camera with my intention to capture only my hands holding my Bible or at least being able to crop it that way.

But when I looked at my arms in the photos I thought “Oh gosh. I’m so fat. I can’t believe how fat I’ve gotten.”

And it’s true.

I’m fat.

Partially from poor decisions and partially from auto immune conditions I can’t seem to get a handle on. Five years ago I lost 30 pounds in three months and I’ve only recently re-started the lifestyle change that helped me get there, so we’ll see how this latest journey goes, but until then, I’m just fat. Not running myself down. It’s just where I am. Not big boned. Just fat.

Many of the photos in the Christian stock agency I submit to feature young, skinny women reading their Bibles, I guess because the idea is that only young, in shape women need God. Of course I know the photographers or stock agencies aren’t really thinking that when they take or approve the photos but the thought is there, subconsciously, even in my own mind: fat women don’t sell.

We just don’t. Right?

But guess, what, maybe we do because not every woman out there is a size four. Some of us are struggling and we may know we need to lose the weight but no matter what we do it isn’t working. Maybe it’s a medical issue blocking the weight loss or maybe it’s emotional pain but either way losing the weight is a battle and we are in the middle of it.

And what I thought when I saw those photos, after the initial depression and decision that I wouldn’t submit the images, “well, even fat moms read the Bible.”

Though the agency I work with is fairly diverse and offering a few more photos of the old and the fat, I don’t know if some in the Christian advertising world have caught on yet. So many are focused on catering to the Millenials, they’ve forgotten that there are a huge segment of Christians who don’t know what a Instagram is. There is also a segment (notice I left out the word “huge” here) of Christians who are struggling with their appearance in a world where they are told constantly they are only worthy if they shop a certain place, wear a certain size or have a certain amount of money.

DSC_6864This is where we are right now – us women who fight with our weight – and we need to read that Bible as much as the 21-year old skinny girl does. That 21-year old blond may look like she has it all together but she’s in need of a savior as much as the fat mom who cries in the closet with a pint of Haagen-daz when she looks at photos of herself. The only difference is the fat mom may find a bit more judgement because of how she looks and how she has “let herself go.”

Christ loves us no matter our size or what the world thinks of us, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that when a large majority of the Christian images we see in Christian or church publications are of young men or women wearing skinny jeans and hipster hats. Does the Kingdom belong only to the young and fashionable? I tend to think not.

DSC_6932While the youth of today may dismiss what they see as the old fashioned and out of touch ideas of the older generation, the older generation are also a driving force of the Kingdom.

And that younger generation will one day be the older generation and they will one day have to deal with the sagging chests and the expanding bottoms and, as author and speaker Lysa Terkurst says, the missing “thigh gap.”

No matter our size or our age we are all a part of the kingdom of God.

Maybe it is time the Christian advertising industry started to reflect that a little better.

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Photography for parents: Five tips to photographing your children inside your home

The other day I offered tips on where you can take your children outside of your home to capture memorable photographs of them. Today I want to assure you that you can also photograph your children inside your own home, no matter how dark or cluttered you think it is.

DSC_9625The key word in this post will be “light”, because no matter what your house offers in the way of light you will need light to make your photographs dynamic and interesting. Luckily you can almost always find a way to add more light to a situation and document the moment naturally unfolding before you.

Here are five ideas how to capture better photographs of your children inside your own home:

1) Move them to the light. If you can move them without ruining the moment that is even better. One idea is to encourage your child, or children, to move to an area of the house where there is more light before they begin their activity. This can be in a more lit room, near a window, by an open door or next to a lamp. Of course there is no need to share with them why you are asking them to move their activities elsewhere because, like most children, then they won’t do it.

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2) Get more light on the situation.

You can add more light to your scene in a variety of ways. A few ways include adding a speed light to your camera and bouncing the flash off a light colored surface (preferably white so you don’t pick up the hue of the wall or ceiling), increasing your ISO, widening your aperture, or simply opening some curtains or pointing a light in the direction of your scene or subject. Turning the lights on in a room won’t always provide flattering light, but this is an option. In some cases turning the light on in a room will actually cause your photos to look even worse because you will pick up what is called ambient light (the light in the room) and it could give your subject odd colored skin, either too orange or too blue depending on what kind of light is used to light the room.

DSC_1444-EditWhen it comes to flash, I rarely use the flash that came built into my camera as it often creates unflattering, blown out images of subjects with red, glowing eyes. Instead I use a speed light and bounce the flash off of a wall or ceiling to better light the scene. To learn more about using bounce flash you can read here or watch here.

Of course, if your skills are even more advanced you can use strobe lights or another form or off camera flash or lighting, but that is another post for another day.

3) Watch your backgrounds.

Don’t stop the action but if you can stealthy move the distracting element from behind your subjects then do it, even if you have to ninja roll to push the lamp out of the way. Of course, if you are like me and were born without the athletic gene it might be more distracting if you attempt to move the item and lock your back up in the middle of the ninja roll and start screaming in pain. In the instance where you can’t move the item try to move yourself so the object is out of the view of your camera. If you’re knowledgeable in Photoshop then you could also clone the object out of the background.

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5) Get in close or move further back and try different angles.

Don’t be afraid to move in closer to your subjects, but moving further back (if there is room where you are) can capture environmental portraits or show the viewer what is really happening around the subject. Trying different distances and angles can help add unique and eye catching images for the viewer but also help you to really remember the moment and the details around it.

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Bonus tip: let go of your expectations of perfection

This bonus tip is the most important of all the tips and is one you should keep in mind no matter where you are photographing your children. It is also the most difficult tip for me to put into practice, even though I know how important it is.

Children are never going to do exactly what we envision when it comes to photographs of them so we need to accept that our photographs won’t always come out the way we envisioned it in our mind. Sometimes the photo may be even better than what we imagined.

Letting go of my expectations is hard for me because as a photographer I see what I want to capture in my mind and if it doesn’t unfold the way I imagined then I may begin feel discouraged and disenchanted with the moment.

Unfortunately, if we focus too much on our concept of a perfect photo it can lead us to miss precious, camera worthy moments.

Approaching photographs with your children while having the mindset that you are there to document moments, no matter how they unfold, can help make photographing your children more relaxing, enjoyable and memorable for you and them.

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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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The Farm

The little boy was leaning nonchalantly  against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”

I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.

I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.

Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.

Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked.

I said he was and doing a good job.

I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.”

Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.

His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.

It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.

And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.

“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

It’s not a job.

It’s a lifestyle.

It’s a labor love.

So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.