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Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Your Relaxation Point

Summarizing today's post: Finding your relaxation point, appreciating the little things, & doing what you love.

photograhy, sky, outdoors
shot at 18mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/320th of a second
Sometimes you have to get away from all the stress in life and simply find your happy place for a while. I call it your relaxation point. Its the place you go to deliberately cancel out all of the negativity that tries to swallow you up day after day, hour after hour.

I have several relaxation points that I rely on. Primarily, being with my family. I can always recharge my batteries after a couple of hours of relaxing at home with my wife for example. But sometimes our schedules can be so hectic that we don't get to spend the time together we want. So I rely on other simple things to bridge the gaps.

You must learn to appreciate the little things all around you to achieve contentment. At least I think so. I love nature, and I especially I love taking photographs of the sky. It can be so relaxing. 

photography, sky, outdoors
shot at 20mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/800th of a second
I have posted photos of the sky and clouds before (see here for a nice one of the sunrise) so this idea is nothing new. It's such a simple thing that brings me a lot of joy to capture.

You ought to take notice the next time you see a nice sunset, or a neat little cluster of clouds on the horizon. You can at least enjoy it for a moment. Or better yet snap a photo of it, you don't have to be a professional photographer. Your smartphone camera is more that capable of taking a nice shot for you to enjoy later.

Your relaxation point is probably not the same as mine (and probably is not...we are all different). The point is to find something you love to do and do it more often. To identify what gives you peace, so that when life gets a little rough, you know instantly what you can do to get to a place of quick as possible. 

With all the things that can bring you down in the course of a day, its important to have little things you can rely on to help you get thru those not-so-good times. If nothing else, you can simply think about those little things until you can experience them again. I keep photos I have taken (of simple things like the sky in these examples) handy that I can view quickly when I need a quick shot of contentment. 

Have a nice Friday and thank for reading.


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Friday, January 16, 2015

In Your Element

Summarizing today's post: Being in your "element", doing what makes you happy, and going back to basics.

photography, family, park
shot at 36mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/100th of a sec, ambient light only
One way contentment can be defined: Being in your "element". Ever heard that phrase? It simply means to be somewhere, and to do something that comes natural to you. Some place, some thing, some task that naturally brings you to a happier state of mind.

Like a fish in water. A dog curled up at the feet of his master. A painter at her canvas. The list goes on.

I just love being with my family. They are my world, my reason for getting up in the morning. I love spending time with them, and I feel like I am in my element when we are together. In the photo above, Pinky is about to 'release' Little Bud to go play on the playground at a local park. I told him I needed a smile first before he went :)

These little trips to the park (or simple walks together around the neighborhood, etc.) are extremely special because of several reasons. Namely, it increases our bond together and puts us all in a happier place. I wonder why that is?

The reason is this: we are all in "our element" at the same time. Gavin is in his element, playing on the playground, hollering at us to join him. Pinky is in her element, laughing at Gavin running around and chasing him. And I am in my element, for sure. Watching them play and snapping photos of them. (It's a double-whammy for me actually...I'm combining my two passions, my family and photography.)

It's important that you catch the fact that we are all in our element--our natural state of contentment--at the same time. This is how bonds are formed between people.

I challenge you to do something with your family this weekend that you all enjoy doing at the same time. It could be something as simple as watching a movie, playing cards or a board game, or going for a walk. Get back to basics. Get into your element together and let the sense of happiness that comes over you wash away all the troubles of the workweek. 

Don't forget the camera...take a moment to capture your happy times while you are at it (more on that here).

[Sidenote: Everyone's family is different. Your family might just be a special friend or two. That's okay, the point is to spend time with the people who are important to you.]

Thanks for reading and enjoy your Friday!


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Friday, January 9, 2015

Our Loyal Companions

Summarizing today's post: Overhead, off-camera lighting using our loyal companions (the pussycats) as models.

Photography, off camera lighting, pussycat
46mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125th of a sec, off-camera lighting using softbox overhead
Who are your companions...your true everyday loyal followers? I say followers in the literal sense because I'm referring to the pets that most of you have. And, yes...they are followers, especially puppy dogs and pussycats. If you are home right now as you read this, look beside you: You probably have a pair eyes looking at you. 

Right now our sweet ole pussycat is sitting beside me watching me work, completely satisfied with just a simple scratch on the noggin every few minutes. "Kitty", as she is known by, is shown above in one of her traditional positions. She's almost 18 years old and been with me since she was a kitten. She is a true companion, we love her dearly.

I love to take photographs of our kitty cats in there natural state. They make such good models because, for the most part, they don't move! If you ever wanted to play around and develop your photography skills, I highly recommend using a pet as your subject when they are just lying around. It's just hard to mess up, and you can shoot and shoot a hundred times until you get your lighting right. 

It's all about lighting you know. Photography is basically painting with real time. I have spoken plenty of times about off-camera lighting and you get can get the basics by scanning my past posts (start here). If you want to let your creativity shine, you need to move your lighting source off-axis (away from your camera). It's a wonderful way to turn a snapshot into a photograph.

In the photo above, I moved my strobe (I call my flash a strobe when detached from my camera) directly above Kitty. Moving your light source from side to side, over and above, behind or in front, all effects the mood of your image. One of my favorite positions is directly overhead. It really creates a dramatic effect.

cat, photography, off camera lighting
48mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125th of a sec, off-camera lighting using softbox overhead
Off-camera lighting truly does add a different perspective to your photographs. It adds a 3 dimensional aspect that's hard to manufacture any other way. The positions of your light source is infinite, and is limited only by your imagination. 

Here's another shot of Penelope, our other loyal pussycat, all curled up in her bed. This is where she spends a lot of her time. She blends right in with the bedding, and its hard to get a good photograph. I captured this image using the same off-camera lighting technique, but my strobe was off to one side slightly. The lighting setup gave dimension to an otherwise flat image. Try it.

What to do if you don't have a "fancy" camera and equipment? That's no excuse, you can still play around with off-camera lighting using your point-and-shoot camera or cell phone. Here's how:

First turn off your flash. Find your subject (a worthless pussycat will do just fine). Have an assistant shine a flashlight over your subject, but filter the light by shining it thru a piece of copy paper. This will change the color to a nice white and also soften the light. Then back up a few feet and shoot away and see what you get. I bet you'll be surprised.

You hear me talk about how happiness is linked to photography all the time (see here). When you look at your results, I bet you can't NOT smile. It's so fun to play with lighting.  Put your pets to work and go try this, you can't mess anything up...except maybe naptime.

Have a nice Friday and thanks for reading!


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Friday, January 2, 2015

The New Year Is Here! Any Goals for 2015?

Summarizing today's post: Making a plan for 2015, a quick resource guide for you, & developing your photography skills.

2015, happy new year
graphic courtesy of (artist info)
Today is the second day of 2015, hard to believe the new year is here! I hope you didn't make any "new year's resolutions" this year, but instead made a goal or two for yourself. Resolutions (95% of them anyway) dissolve by February. Goals are real. So don't jinx your plans by calling them by the wrong title.

What's the difference? A resolution is something made on a whim without much thought. It's just something you say. A goal is something you write down. Then make small, measurable steps towards achieving it. It's not a pie-in-the-sky dream, it's something that can really happen.

Don't know what to shoot for in the form of a goal?

Here's the quickest and easiest thing to get you started: Start reading something in an area that excites you. Search out resources that line up with your interests. Join online communities that talk about things you are interested in. You don't have to set the world on fire (as I said here), just start doing something a little different.

With that in mind, I wanted to give you a few links to some resources that you may find interesting. These are some of my personal favorites that I refer to constantly to help better my own life.

  1. Joe McNally's blog, found here. One the best resources for developing your photography skills, written by a professional photographer.
  2. David Hobby's blog, found here. One of the best sources of free information about off-camera lighting in photography.
  3. Seth Godin's blog, found here. He is a marketing guru that gives practical advice on achieving your entrepreneurial dreams.
  4. Michael Hyatt's website, found here. He talks about this very idea of developing goals for yourself, and also building a platform for you to speak from.
  5. Dan Miller's "48 Days" website, found here. Huge inspiration on generating ideas and developing plans to better your professional life. He also offers a podcast as well.
  6. Lastly, Dave Ramsey's website, found here. I can't leave him out. He has truly been a life changer for me in the way I view finances. He's a Godly man who gives practical instruction on how to get out of debt and win with money. He offers a multitude of free information via his radio show and podcast. 

I will stop with these six for right now, but there are many more I could list. My resource list go beyond the heading of photography, but I list them because they help me in other areas my everyday life. I thought you'd benefit, so I wanted to pass it along.

The important thing I want to get across to you is that you need to rely upon some good quality resources in order to help you achieve your goals in 2015. Don't try to do it alone. We all need help. Make a plan to do something this year.

I truly do wish you a happy new year. It's going to be a good year, I can feel it. Can't you?

Have a nice Friday and thanks for reading!


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Christmas

Summarizing today's post: Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas.

Christmas, son
snapshot using Samsung Galaxy II
I have tons of photos of Christmas past, like you do I'm sure. It is so much fun going back and looking and them...they bring back such wonderful memories.

I ran across this simple snapshot of Gavin this morning and wanted to share. It was during Christmas 2012. He was all excited about going to see Santa in the mall, and he was patiently waiting his turn in line when I snapped this photo. Sweet boy :)

It does my heart so good to go back and look at fond memories like this. Two years have gone by since this photo and Gavin has changed so's hard to believe. I like to capture every stage he's in with simple photographs.

I haven't even gotten a chance to look at all the photos that we took this season, I can hardly wait. It's always fun when I go thru them a few days after Christmas.

Sometimes during all the hustle and madness of Christmas we forget to take those simple shots that later bring us so much happiness. I'm as guilty as everyone else. It's important to pause and remember to make memories last forever with a photograph. 

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your family and that you captured your happiness along the way with your camera. I'm reminded this time of year especially of how photography amplifies my happiness. I bet you can see and understand this as well when you go thru all your family photos that you took yesterday...while smiling.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Friday!


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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Tradition

Summarizing today's post: Christmas traditions, using photography to amplify your happiness, & photo tips using off-camera lighting.

photography, christmas
35mm, ISO 400, f/4.2, 1/30th, off-camera strobe added
Christmas time is here again, ready or not! So hard to believe another year has gone by and now Christmas is right on our door step. It's this coming Thursday, you realize?

The best part about this time of year is getting together with family. While its nice to give and receive gifts, that's not what it's all about. [You and I say that all the time, but do we really mean it? Think about that for a moment. How much effort do you put into gift-buying just because you know everyone else is doing the same.] 

No, the reason for the season is very simple: To reflect on God's perfect gift--Jesus--to this world, and to fellowship with our loved ones. That's it. Everything else comes second.

I'm not quite sure how the tradition of giving gifts to one another started. It is certainly a fun, fulfilling family event. And believe it or not, it can be done without "breaking the bank" and without the credit card bill hangover in January. 

photography, Christmas
36mm, ISO 400, f/4.2, 1/30th, off-camera strobe added
Remember, it's all about good quality familytime.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you one of our long-time Christmas traditions. Every family seems to have their own.

Ever since I can remember, my mom and dad would snap pictures of me and my 2 brothers as we opened our Christmas gifts. They would always have the camera handy as we tore into all the glorious packages.

And the tradition has carried on. Of course I had to jump on board too when I got my first camera long ago, but I never have been dedicated like them. Every single year, mom's camera comes out when we sit down to open gifts to one another. I jump in from time to time and get a few shots with my camera when she actually sets her's down for a moment.

Pictured above is Mom and Dad after they opened one of our gifts to them last year. Then next is my sweet wife as she opens a skillet that she asked for (look at those smiles, will you?).

photography, Christmas
20mm, ISO 400, f/4, 1/30th, off-camera strobe added
Here's one of Dad opening a watch he asked for. I love capturing that happy look on his face.

One thing to notice. He's actually not looking at me (as Pinky was not as well) as I snap the photo. Why? Because he's looking at Mom, of course, as she's taking her own barrage of pictures. Ha, I love it.

Priceless stuff right there :)

Here's a photo tip for you this coming week as you bring out your camera. If you have the ability, point your flash straight up at the ceiling (if you have nice white ceiling above you) instead of directly at your subject. It will soften the light a bit. Better yet (as detailed here) move your strobe off-camera for nice 3 dimensional, real-life look. 

As we part this week, I leave you with an outright snapshot made with my cellphone. (Hey, sometimes you have to take the photo with what you have available!) 

photography, Christmas
snapshot of Dad and Gavin with HTC EVO
Here's a nice photo of Gavin as he tries on his hulk costume his grandma and grandaddy gave him. He was so excited..sweet boy. Happiness amplified with photography? I think so...I'm smiling right now.

Remember...Christmas is about Jesus, about being with family, and about cherishing the time we have with them. Remember your camera this week for goodness sake.

Have a wonderful Friday and a Merry Christmas.

Thanks for reading!


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Friday, December 12, 2014

A Time To Be Born & A Time To Die

Summarizing today's post: Reflecting for a moment on the seasons of life, the importance of photography, & a few tips for taking photos of aging structures.

photography, firetower
shot at 50mm, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/400th of a second
Driving past the old firetower in Winterville, NC a few weeks ago, I decided to stop and take a few photographs of the old decaying structure. 

Placed in service many years ago, the old beat up tower just stands there, blocked off to keep the public from venturing too close. To keep it company, about 25 yards away, stands massive tree...decaying as well. Appropriate, I thought.

I love taking photos of old structures--barns, buildings, and old houses. They seem to tell a silent story without anyone there. Once a vibrant part of the community full of life, now they are forgotten. Sad...and worth a moment of your time.

The best time to capture images of structures such as these is in the late afternoon, about an hour before sunset. You need to do nothing special, the sun low on the horizon will be all the special effect that you need. Position yourself so that the sun is at your back, or over to the side slightly. Then click away. You'll be surprised at what you can produce. 

I feel that I am paying respect to an old abandoned house when I pause and bother to take a photo of it. So many just drive right past it (including me 99% of the time) without even a glance. Just think of all the time and energy put into building it 100+ years ago. Now the creation is returning to earth gradually to join it's creator.

In Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, the good Lord gives us some powerful words. There is a time and place for everything. Seasons of life. "A time to be born, and a time to die" ring in my mind. They were read by our pastor during my grandfather's funeral just last week.

Grandaddy "Rudy" Thompson followed my grandmother to heaven only 3 months after she passed (see here). We all loved them dearly and miss them terribly. Words cannot express my emotions, so I'm not going to try. But I know they are in a much better place, free from pain and with God. And we will see them again real soon.

Going thru my recent photos, I thought of Grandaddy when I found the photograph of the old abandoned firetower. They are alike in the sense that they are both at the end of their lives ("...a time to die"), but totally unalike in the way the old tower has been left to decay all alone.

I am so glad for our mom and dad, aunt (my dad's sister) and uncle, and the core group of caregivers who were there with him during Grandaddy's last days. He was nothing close to "abandoned", and I thank God for giving these family members (and yes, we consider the caregivers as family) the heart to be so close to him. He, along with our grandmother, where given the respect and love they deserved at the end of their lives.

Give notice to the aging buildings and decaying structures on the roadside as you drive past them today. Keep your eyes open, and camera with you of course. Taking a photo of them might give you a new appreciation.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend,