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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,



Friday, December 5, 2014

Where Are You Going?

Summarizing today's post: A quick look at the path your life is on, whether or not you are finding happiness, & (of course) some photography tips.

photography, cotton field, road
shot at 24mm, ISO 200, f/3.8, 1/5000th of a sec
Let's take a moment as we approach the end of 2014 to look at the "road less traveled". (The phrase has just about reached cliché status, but I still like to refer to it.)

Before we head into a new year in just a few weeks, it's a good idea to look back and see where you have been during the year. A time for reflection is always healthy. If you like where you have been, that's awesome. You can't ask for better...don't change a thing in 2015.

What do you see when you look at the above photograph? I see a road not too many people would bother to go down. It's a little rocky and uneven. It would certainly be a much smoother ride to stay on the highway, wouldn't you agree? [I took this photo in Wilson county a few weeks ago after driving thru what seemed to be miles of cotton fields. It was a beautiful sight. It was late in the day, with nice spotty cloud cover, which made for a nice photograph.] 

Here's what I see. 

I see a road/path with potential written all over it. I see absolutely stunning views all around...on both sides of it (in the form of bright white cotton) and in the sky surrounding it. While, yes, the road is a bit worn and weathered, it is not my focal point. I would definitely spend some time driving down this road. I believe the reward is worth the bumpy ride.

So has 2014 been good to you? Are you happy at your job? Spending as much time with the family as you like? Is your health where you want it to be? Are you saving enough for retirement? Spending enough time with God? Are you making room for some ME time? In other words... Are you happy?

Lots of questions. We are all on a different path in life, so there are many questions to address. It's important to reflect. And then if you see an area that needs changing, then--by all means--develop a plan to make things better. 

Have you ever thought about diverting off the highway? 

Make a plan today to make small steps towards a happier existence in 2015. You don't have to set the world on fire, or make a radical move. Simply make small adjustments to your daily life...5 or 10 minutes a day...towards whatever it is that would ultimately give you a better quality of life.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Camera Recommendation for 2014: A Review Of My Top Pick

Summarizing today's post: My recommendation for a starter DSLR camera, Christmas gift ideas, & enhancing your photography skills.

With Thanksgiving behind us, we are officially into the Christmas season. Indeed! Hard to believe it's here already. We now have a little more than three weeks to prepare our gifts for our loved ones. Have you decided what YOU want for Christmas this year?

With that in mind, I wanted to give you my camera recommendation for 2014. My top-pick for a starter DSLR camera. If by reading my blog over the past year you have been inspired to start picking up your camera a bit more, and you are ready to make the jump from a point-and-shoot camera, this review will interest you. You might even forward it to Santa. Or, you might know someone who wants to take their photography to the next level.

I have decided to limit my pick to the Nikon family, mainly because I feel they have the best camera system in general. I have been shooting with a Nikon camera for almost 7 years now (see more here), and have been very pleased.

camera, photography
Nikon D3100 (Image courtesy of
My recommendation for the first-time DSLR user, is the Nikon D3100 camera system. Released in 2010, it is a tried and true model with excellent reviews. It can be purchased from Amazon or from many other online retailers for under $400 with the 18-55mm Nikkor lens (which is truly remarkable).

camera, photograpy
Nikon D3100 top view (Image courtesy of

I use Amazon for a lot of my purchases, but also I use it to read reviews about items, gadgets, name it. You can get all the info on the D3100 that you would ever need (including 3rd party reviews) by clicking here. This link will carry you straight to the Amazon page detailing out the features and benefits. 

I will list the highlights that I think are important here:
  • Modest 14.2 megapixel DX format CMOS sensor
  • 3 inch LCD display on the back with liveview
  • Ability to shoot at 12800 ISO (good in low-light situations)
  • 11 point autofocus shooting system
  • Built in pop-up flash
  • EXPEED 2 image processing system
  • Active D-lighting for in-camera image touch up
  • Can shoot up to 3 frames per second for great action shots
  • HD video capability (in my opinion this is a novelty, but still nice to have)
A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera is much different your point-and-shoot compact. The main difference is the ability to expand. The most noticeable feature is that you can use multiple lens...a priceless option. Also, the fact that there is almost zero shutter lag (when you press the shutter button, the picture is taken right then) is wonderful. You can only get this with a true DSLR camera.

The most important 2 features (while not exclusive to this model) are this: 
  • The ability to put the camera in manual mode, and
  • With the camera's hotshoe, you can start to dive into the world of off-camera lighting
There are plenty of other very good cameras out there...hundreds of good choices in fact. I selected this one for it's ease of use and low cost for first-time DSLR camera enthusiasts. It is a powerful machine for the price. (You can even find refurbished models on Amazon or eBay in the $200-300 range...just incredible.) 

One thing to note about a DSLR. It is NOT a pocket camera. This the only disadvantage I can think of. So keep your old point-and-shoot for casual snapshot usage if you step up to this type of camera system. The reliable compact camera is great for birthday parties and hiking trips (and whenever space is a priority).

The whole purpose of moving up to a camera system such as the Nikon D3100, is to take your photography skills up a notch and to let your creativity explode. As with any hobby, you have to put the time into it to enhance your skills. It's not all about the toys and gear. 

If you find a camera this Christmas that you are considering buying for someone else (or one you are considering asking Santa for yourself!), feel free to contact me and I will give you my honest opinion about it. Find my contact form here:

I hope this has been a helpful review to you guys. Let me know if you all have any questions.

Wish everyone has a wonderful Christmas season!

Thanks for reading,


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Beautiful Fall: Our Favorite Season

Summarizing today's post: Using your photography skills to capture this beautiful fall season, peace and contentment, & carrying your camera with you always.

fall photography
shot at 48mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/320th of a sec, ambient light only, morning sun
Nothing comes close to the beauty of the fall season. We look forward to it every year, and this year has been especially nice. The exquisite colors produced by the vast amount of trees in our area have been prolonged by several weeks of mild weather. Other years I remember the season being cut short by an early frost or a period of heavy rains (which knocks the brittle leaves off their branches).

fall photography
shot at 150mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250th of a sec, ambient light only, morning sun, WB set to shade
There have been so many opportunities to take photographs of the beautiful foliage around central and eastern NC. It has been hard to know what to shoot, and when to shoot it, honestly. There are times that a camera doesn't do the scene justice. When those times come about, it is best to simply take a "mental snapshot" and just enjoy the moment (more on that here).

I preach all the time to my readers that if they...YOU...will learn to use that dormant camera of yours and shoot things that naturally bring you happiness, cool things will happen. Such as? Your level of peace and contentment rise. And in such a busy life today, we need all the little nuggets of peace we can get. Amen? Yes.

On that note, today I thought I'd share a sample of the photos I have taken over the past few weeks. These are images that have made me happy, and that have brought me peace and contentment.

fall photography
shot at 75mm, ISO 400, f/5, 1/800th of a sec, ambient light only, afternoon sun
The two best times to photograph anything outdoors (if you have your choice) is either early morning or late in the day. When the sun is low on the horizon, you'll get the best results, every time.

The first two images at the top of the page were shot early in the morning just after the sun had peaked over the treeline at our home. Notice in the second photo, you'll see the steam rising off the roof as the early morning sun starts to warm things up a bit. Nice little effect. 

fall photograpy
shot at 24mm, ISO 400, f/11, 1/25th of a second, ambient light only
These last 2 photographs were shot late in the day as the sun was setting. I literally had to pull over on the side of the road while driving one Sunday afternoon to "take in" the beauty of the treeline. And since I had my camera with me--of course--I was able to capture what I saw. [Read the Camerawith! Challenge here for more on taking your camera with you all the time.] 

I certainly hope that you have taken the time to appreciate the beauty in nature with the fall season this year. If not, there's still a little time left. Take a drive down a long stretch of highway this weekend. Bring your camera and give yourself a little extra time. Test your photography skills a bit and just play. 

When you get home, you just may find that you have increased your level of peace and contentment...if only ever-so-slightly. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great Friday!

  Wow, look at made it all the way thru my post! I really appreciate you as a reader. Don't forget to register your email for automatic updates up at the top. Please pass this blog post on to your friends using the Tweet, Facebook, and Google+ buttons. That would be awesome.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Happiness In The Little Things

Summarizing today's post : Finding happiness in the little things, family time, capturing these awesome little experiences with your photography skills, & some photo tips for outdoor shooting.

photography, picnic
shot at 32mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/250th of a second, on-camera fill balanced with ambient light
A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to go on a quick little picnic. It was a gorgeous 65-degree day with hardly any clouds in the sky. We took advantage of the opportunity and headed down to the "Town Commons" in Greenville, NC.

photography, picnic
shot at 36mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/250th of a second, on-camera fill balanced with ambient light
When we arrived, we immediately headed down to the water's edge (Tar River) and found a nice spot to spread out our blanket. Since we had a stiff breeze coming out of the north, we situated ourselves so that we were mostly in the sun. Nice and comfy

I, of course, had my camera with me hoping that we might see some early fall colors, but none to be found just yet. That's okay because I had a couple of models right ready to pose for me :) 

I put my camera to good use and captured our fun day. Talk about happiness in the simple things... nothing could be simpler than a picnic, yet it turned out to be so much fun

pinic, photography
shot at 70mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/320th of a second, ambient light only
I have touched on taking photos in fun-on sun before (see here) and I utilized some of these same techniques here. In the 2 images at top I added a little on-camera fill lighting from my flash to lighten the shadows across Pinky and Gavin's faces. Nothing fancy, just something to balance the ambient light.

picnic, photography
shot at 18mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/250th of a second, on-camera fill balanced with ambient light
My sweet Pinky had to grab the camera and play a little herself, as she couldn't stand for me not to be in some of the shots. She did an awesome job in capturing Little Bud and I horse-playing a bit, don't you think? I think this photo of Gavin's expression is the best of all, so natural and not forced. 

It was such a fun and priceless day. Simple and inexpensive fun with the family.

When was the last time you went on a picnic? You ought to try it as we still have some nice fall days left before heading into the winter months. Carry your camera of course and capture YOUR happiness along the way.

Thanks for reading and have a nice Friday!

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