Category Archives: Making Pictures

Bokeh

January.

I don’t really make New Year Resolutions. Resolutions – or rather, things I’d like to try to do – come to me all year long, and I take a stab at them, and some stick and some don’t. Most don’t. I always aspire to write every day. I aspire to make room in my schedule for a regular yoga and meditation practice. Exercise goes in waves of on the wagon and off the wagon. Sleep rarely gets the prioritization it needs or deserves. But even so, I think we can’t help but think about a new year as a chance to start, in one way or another. To start new. To start fresh. To make change. I mean, each year we have to get used to writing the new year instead of the old year. If we can adapt in that way, why not others?

Personally, my themes haven’t changed since last year. They’re pretty simple.

  • Create space in my life and schedule for creative pursuits.
  • Continue my photography practice.
  • Write (every day, most days, some days) (and if not, at least write one sentence a day in a gratitude journal).
  • Be present. Focus on the joy in the now, instead of being saddened by the past or possible future.
Subject matter = meh. Bokeh = happiness. Bokeh in photography is the way the lens renders out of focus points of light, like the pretty white globs in the upper right of this photo.

That last one looms larger this year than in years prior. In some ways, I’ve spent the last couple of years in a sort of recovery phase, both physically and emotionally. As 2014 dawned, I’m more aware than ever that much of the pain I feel now is self-inflicted and comes largely from my wantings or longings for my future, not from any present condition. If I sit down and take stock of the here and now, there is absolutely zero basis for pain. My arthritis is well controlled. My work is challenging and engaging. My personal life is full of love. My home is full of light and music and laughter. And – to make a photography analogy – I tend to see the world with a shallow depth of field. If I focus on infinity, then I miss focusing on what’s right in front of me. Why not shift my focus to the beauty and joy that’s right here, up close, and let what’s beyond blur to glorious bokeh?

More bokeh, glorious bokeh.  Christmas lights on a tree, San Francisco.

So as conventional resolutions go, I do have one: I’m participating in #365infocus, shooting and sharing one photo a day for the entire year. So far, I’m 13 for 13, and am really enjoying the challenge. It sounds like a little thing – to snap a photo of one moment a day and share it – but it’s incredible to me how challenging it can be to make room in a life for even that few moments of mindfulness. And I’ve always remembered my life through my journals – my memory is faulty. I’m enjoying having a photo album of the days of the month to keep my rememberings more fresh. If you’d like to keep tabs on the #365infocus project, my username is TwoEggBreakfast on there.

I had the epiphany on the bus to work the other day that I do what I do now because at some point in my past I started DOING it.  Sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s true.  So why not start making time and energy for the other things in my life that I’d like to be doing and … well … start doing them?

I’m also getting SaraGraceTakesPictures.com up and running so that I have a place to share my favorite photos outside of social media channels. It’s funny to me that I keep finding myself in this spot, where people in my life have feedback on whether and how I “split” my personalities: photographer, writer, professional, used-to-be-climber, when I’m the sum of all of those things and would rather just be a whole person in these channels where I share stories and information.  That said, this blog platform didn’t allow for me to easily setup the type of photography site I had hoped to, and another platform did, so while my photos will naturally make appearances here, I didn’t want to make this a “photography blog” since this is my “life blog.”  Starting another site just made sense.

Back to the point, and, time to go to work.  Sending wishes for your new year to get off to a nice, fresh, productive start.

Where is YOUR focus for 2014?

He calls me Grace.

pagoda“Hello, buttercup,” the slouchy young man with oversized glasses says into his phone.

Buttercup.  I like that.  I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.

I’m sitting in the airport doing what I do in the airport: peoplewatching.  The comings and goings, the sources and destinations written on people: their apparel, their hats, their faces.  The majority moving through the place as I am — solo — a few clicks faster than the couples navigating as a team.  We all wind up the same place, the solo ones just go in the right or wrong direction with slightly more conviction, it seems.

It’s been a really nice few days in San Francisco.  Too quick (always), and not enough time to see friends since I was here for work.  Every time I’m here I remember and then forget again why I love it so much:  I love moving around this city by myself.  It’s one of the happiest places I visit to set out by myself with my Clipper card and/or a comfortable pair of shoes and follow my nose and eyes.  This trip I was staying in Japantown.  I knew nothing about the area when I arrived, but — with conviction — walked out the front door of my hotel into the night to meet friends my first night there, not having researched the relative safety of the spot.  I made it about fifteen steps from my hotel when I saw the first of many single women out walking by themselves — my entire walk to dinner, that’s the demographic I saw — which set me loose the rest of the trip to just explore.

I shot two rolls of film of nothing in particular.  I’ve been enjoying shooting pairs… as I try to zero in on my theme for my final photo project Ryan suggested the idea of “Twins.”  I like it.  I might make it “Fraternal Twins,” since that’s what my niece and nephew are, and shoot images of pairs of things that are slightly different than each other.  Like the two pigeons I saw earlier today, looking like they were kissing each other beneath the Pagoda in Japantown.  I managed a couple of photos before they changed their angles; my attention, perhaps, triggered their modesty.

My first morning in town I wandered down the street for breakfast.  A couple walked in and sat a few seats away.  I sized them up quickly, before they’d even said a word:  newlyweds.  Her slightly scrunched eyelash extensions were a dead giveaway.  As if that wasn’t enough, her slept on updo was still intact; smudges of the day before’s makeup still visible around her eyes.  He called her “Sweetheart,” with every sentence.  They reminisced about the night before — stories about friends and family, mostly — and discussed where they’d like to plan their next trip.  I wanted to take their picture but found myself suddenly too shy to ask.

I wasn’t too shy to ask the couple I’d seen at Seatac on my way out.  I got a cup of coffee, and the older woman ahead of me in line headed with her cup to the bar where the milk and cream was.  I heard a wolf whistle from the other side of the cafe — her husband, trying to get her attention.  Big smiles on both of their faces.  Big smiles as she sat down and they unpacked their lunch.  Big smiles when I asked if I could take their picture, and he said “Yes,” tentatively, slightly confused.  They smiled a posed smile, apart from each other across the table, and he asked what I’d use the photo for.  I explained that I’m a student, and that I heard him whistle at her and it made me happy so I wanted to take their picture.  The light wasn’t great; my shutter was wide open; I had to decide quickly to shoot my very narrow depth of field focused on him, with her slightly in the background.  He was, after all, the one who’d wolf whistled.  Shooting strangers is a challenge… they’re less understanding of and patient with the pace of my student manual photography.  Shutter speed, light meter, aperture, focus, shoot.  He laughed when I said that I’d heard him wolf whistle and it made my day.  They both laughed.

I’ve been practicing my technical street photography skills… hyperfocal focusing, making quick decisions about estimated exposure, moving quickly and efficiently so I don’t miss the shot I’d intended to catch.  I’m still missing about 80% of the shots I see in my mind’s eye… I spot them coming, and either I don’t have my camera out, or I’m not quick enough with my composition or settings to actually deploy the shutter.  But I see the images in my head, and I’m excited to keep practicing and to increase that percentage.

The night I got in, I found my way to the Hotel Carlton, where I met friends for dinner.  There was an out-of-place DJ in a glittery shirt and sunglasses spinning tunes, while people mulled around with glasses of wine.  And there was one couple.  An older man, his white hair peeking out under his cap.  His lady, with short-cropped red hair and a big smile on her face as he spun her around the lobby like it was a dance floor.  I did get a picture of those two — happily dancing, not minding the snap of my shutter.

It was a nice few days here — sunnier than most of my San Francisco visits —  and even so, I’m quite happy to be headed home.  I miss my man (who calls me Grace) and my dog, and my bed.  And I’m looking forward to spending weekend time in the darkroom, watching the magic of street images from another city materialize in front of me.

Making pictures

As if by design, I'm starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that's full of still life opportunities.
As if by design, I’m starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that’s full of still life opportunities.

It’s quiet in the house. It’s just me and a sleeping Gibson, who occasionally lets loose a deep sigh, or shifts a paw from its resting place in her repose on the sofa. She’s been sick — again — or injured, it’s hard to tell which, although we’re rooting for sick since then another round of antibiotics will do their work and she’ll be back to normal. Sleep, I believe, heals, and she’s certainly getting a dose of that medicine while I plunk away at the keyboard and click away at files as they move from one place to another, the faint whirr of my laptop hard drive and old-fashioned-sounding click-rattle of my external hard drive as they trade information the only other sounds coming from inside the house.

I’ve been shooting digital since 2007. After never really shooting a camera much, my ex-husband bought a Canon DSLR and I shot with it frequently until the day I packed my law office files into a laundry basket and loaded my camping gear into the roof box of my Jetta and pulled out of the driveway.  While my divorce entailed a great deal of loss, that camera may have been the inanimate object I most missed as I started putting the pieces of my life together again. I had a little pocket point and shoot that I pointed and shot until one of my rock climbing adventures scrambled the little camera’s brain. I have few photos from that in-between time — most of the ones I do have, are from my friends’ cameras, and were it not for those, I’d have no photographic proof of that free, hungry, wild phase in my life.

When I started preparing for my Nepal trip in early 2009, an indestructible little point and shoot (cold tolerant down to 14 degrees) was one of the first essential gear purchases I made. I wanted so badly to take a “real” camera to Nepal, and knew I didn’t have the budget for it (and it just didn’t seem wise to take anything that may be potentially less cold-tolerant and less shock-resistant than myself with me for that particular adventure). So my little scuba-diver-looking point and shoot started going everywhere with me. Up and down mountains. Up and down rock climbs. On road trips and eleven hour flights involving passport stamps. And I’m grateful to my past self for having the judgment to spend my grocery budget on that little point and shoot, since the photos from my travels during that time still give me plenty of sustenance.

And then, in 2011, the techtonic plates seemed to slow. I’d found myself a nice stable job, with a nice stable paycheck, and I knew exactly what I’d do with my first not-earmarked paycheck: I knew I’d buy myself a camera. Early on in that job, I’d worked a tradeshow and toted the office’s Panasonic Lumix and it was love at first click. I didn’t love the photos: they were of outdoor gear, under fluorescent lights, with either too much or too little flash, and I didn’t even peek at the manual so I shot the entire show in widescreen. But I loved the camera. The feel of it in my hands, and the click of the shutter, its pancake lens — there was just something about it. I looked at a few other options, but the Lumix was it for me, and thus began my relationship with this finicky, not at-its-finest-on-automatic little camera.

The first photos I have from it are of Ryan, and of a huge old tree dripping with moss, from a very early on car bivy of ours, on our way out to our first backpacking trip together on the Washington coast. The photos are terrible and I love them because he’s wearing his Rainier t-shirt and I had it bad for him before that trip, but good god I had it worse for him after that trip. And we shot trees and paths and starfish and rock cairns and the ocean and each other and I had an inkling of just how much I may have hit the jackpot and I can see that in those photos, even the ones of the world around us.  And that first summer and fall together I snuck photos of him that I love.  Back then, he just smiled shyly when I pointed the lens at him.

Now, two years later, he makes funny faces when I pick up the camera.  We know each other so much better now; we’re no longer on our best, most charming, most attractive behavior at all times.  And my heart still skips a beat when he walks through the back gate after the work day and once in awhile I can catch him off guard through the camera lens, and sneak a shot of his now-relaxed smile, before he raises an eyebrow or stands on his head or otherwise converts my portrait sitting to an action sports shoot.

And I’ve had friends who shot film — now that I’m learning a little something, I’m guessing my friend and climbing partner Shawn was shooting slide film of our climbing trips, and some of the most beautiful photos in my stash are his.  Tuolumne.  Red Rock Canyon.  Smith Rock.  And that film, and his eye, and that lens even makes Vantage look like a dream of a destination.  But I never really took the time to ask him about his photography process — I was too busy seeking other types of wisdom at the time.  So years later, Ryan’s stories about his friend Deann put film on my radar, but I was still trying to figure out how to shoot my Lumix with any degree of consistency and style.  The camera has taken some nice images; but it reminds me of my second horse, Danny.  He wasn’t a babysitter:  he was a teacher.  I had to work for my learning with him, and I’ve had to work for my learning with the Lumix, and I’m only still a novice at it despite coaching and good advice from photog friends.

I’d always lusted over a macro lens setup, and never had an opportunity to pick one up.  One quiet night like this one, I clicked around and found a cheap Holga lens adapter, that would allow me to convert my expensive digital camera into a sensor with a shutter behind a plastic lens — and by so doing, open up my world to Holga lens accessories, including the object of my affection: a macro kit.  Yes, it’s a plastic lens.  But I figured, around $80 or so for an adapter lens and a variety of accessory lenses?  Heck – why not toss in the Holga itself, and shoot a couple rolls of film for shits and giggles.  For just over $100, I could try out a little bit of macro shooting, play with a toy camera, and have the $600 additional I’d have spent on the real macro lens I’d been eyeing to — I don’t know — adopt a puppy and sign up for puppy kindergarden with.

And the Holga adapter has been on the Lumix approximately three or four times, but I’ve lost count of how many rolls of film have wound through the Holga, itself.  And that lead to a risky eBay purchase on which I trusted my gut, that yielded a lovely antique medium format camera that my hands knew how to operate automatically, as if the knowledge was inherited since it certainly wasn’t learned.  Perhaps from my Grampa Ed, or by osmosis from the many photographers in my life.  And while we were having that camera serviced, why not have Ryan’s step-dad’s old 35mm cleaned up for us to play with as well?  And then instead of a yoga retreat, like I’d planned for this birthday, I’m signed up for a Black and White film photography class and my gift to myself was a light meter and camera bag that can haul three of the four cameras we’re now routinely shooting, and I’m finally starting to learn how to shoot my Lumix in manual modes, since the mechanics of the film cameras somehow made everything make more sense to me than the pages of manuals that came with my digital camera ever could.

Brace yourself for photo studies from school.  I’m already on a cliche depth-of-field flower photo kick, and about half of my shooting is of Gibson, since she may try to evade the camera, but she doesn’t intentionally make funny faces at it.  I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been a writer.  And I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been not-an-artist.  And I’m really enjoying the increasingly blurred boundary around the idea of being a storyteller, and the chance to allow myself a little bit of artistic experimentation, even if it seems silly or self-indulgent or hipsterific … which brings me to the short, sweet reason I sat down to write today (speaking of self-indulgent)…

I saw a few things this week that I wanted to share with you.  They are:

I Am an Object of Internet Ridicule. Ask Me Anything

I’d never identified with the label “hipster,” but my affection for Instagram, film photography, and record players is making me rethink my inattention to that subculture.  I loved this blog post by C.D. Hermelin: partly, because I just watched Before Sunrise for the first time, and thought, when the busker wrote the lovers a story, that being a story-writing busker would probably be a nice way to spend some time.  Partly also because of this strange place that I occupy, doing what I do for a living and seeing everyday how the good and bad of technology and connectivity and our instant interconnectedness operate in my life and the lives of those around me.  And I read this story on my iPhone on the bus, thinking about the old pink IBM Selectric in my dad’s old office, and how much I loved that typewriter.  So enjoy.

A Portrait of America, Today

Shot by 3,000+ high schools students, this is a breathtaking snapshot of life in each corner of America, today.  I’m blown away by the talent some of these kids possess, and the enthusiasm of others.

Bosom Buddies:  A Photo History of Male Affection

I loved this post the moment it loaded after clicking through from author Lissa Rankin’s Facebook page.  I thought, as I flipped through the photos, about how different my niece and nephew’s generation may see the world, growing up in an era where (at least in Washington) the wedding photos won’t all be of women in white dresses and men in conservative suits.  And I feel thankful to be surrounded by men who buck convention and share their affection for and with each other.

And if you’re not reading my friend Thom’s blog, and you enjoy words, you’ve really got to get on that.  Like, sit down with a nice glass of wine tonight, and start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’re caught up.

That’s it.  Gibson’s sighs are becoming more frequent, so it’s time for a brisk walk in the fresh cold air of now-Fall, with the leaves starting to crunch under my toes.  If you’ve got a favorite photo blog (or, blog that you love the photography on) I’d love to add it to my inspiration file, so speak up, will you please?