Pure Joy

It is hot in the city now and so children play in the fountains. They run, they jump and splash and dash for no reason other than it is fun. While photographing them at play, I realized I often get so busy working at my photography to make it good, I forget to just enjoy it. To just pick up my camera for fun and photograph anything that brings me joy.

I forget again and again, what I know to be true. When I simply photograph what I love, there is a quality in the image that has nothing to do with technical expertise and everything to do with heart. When we see with our hearts, something fresh comes to life in the image. You know it when you see it because you feel more awake and alive. Today I invite you to take up your camera and go out and play! Forget about “likes” and go for LOVE.

Bad weather makes for good photos.

Walking in the rain.

Walking in the rain.

This April we had 21 days of rain in Boston. This record breaking stretch of “bad” weather kept the forecasters busy with their colorful charts showing one storm after another moving toward Boston. As a photographer, I love rainy days, but I learned to keep that opinion to my self.

Rain creates many special photo opportunities if you are open to them. Next time it rains, look for the reflections on the road surfaces, or water drops on flowers, or try photographing through a rain covered, steamy window.

I use manual focus for this shot in the San Francisco Bay Area (yes it rains there too). This way I could control the amount of blur and create an abstract image. Doing so amplifies the effect of the moisture on the window but allows the subject to be enough in focus that the viewer can imagine what it is.

The viewer may have to work at it but that is good. It means they are engaged longer with your image. And the longer they look, the more they will see. My favorite part of the image is where the water trickled down making a clear path through which we can see the stripes in the umbrella. Sometimes a small detail like that is what makes the image more enjoyable.

Looking forward to the next rainy day and hope now you are too.

Suzanne

Bringing into being.

fresh out of the nest

fresh out of the nest

Many of my students want to take "more creative" photos. At first this may seem like something you can do by applying a colorful filter or by shooting at a quirky angle. But eventually these “creative techniques” fall sort and when the novelty wears off you are back in your visual rut.  This is because you have remained one step removed from the true creative process. I can tell you how I step into the creative flow. It is simple  and you can do it if you take the time. Creative photos come from connecting to your subject. How do you do that?

First step is to be fully in the world. Being in the world takes time. Slow down and settle into your surroundings. Take three whole minutes to really see where you are without expectations. What do you actually see in the distance, mid range and close to you? What catches your eye? What touches your heart? What do you feel? Stay with that. Observe it, appreciate it, connect to it. Don’t photograph it.

From this point of connection you will notice something fresh and can bring into being an image that expresses your new experience of beauty. In his book The Courage to Create, Rolo May tells us that creativity enlarges human consciousness by bringing something new into being.  You can do this by simply bringing your being into your seeing before you click. You will see the creative difference in your photos and in your Self when you take time to create a connection by being with your subject. Give it a try!

depth of field depth of feeling

Students often ask me how they can create more of a feeling of depth in their images. Photographing a meadow across from my home in PA I suddenly realized why I have photographed this same scene a thousand times. Because it has depth. It attracts and holds my attention in three ways.

1. interesting subjects in foreground, mid ground and back ground.

2. three levels of details, small blades of grass, medium size flowers, and large trees.

3. psychological depth, the dark area of the forest in the distance evokes a feeling of mystery. For me is a bit scary, and I wonder what might be lurking in those woods. Perhaps a bear?

The technical challenge in creating a sense of depth is to use a small aperture (large number) so the details are in sharp focus in the foreground, mid ground and background.  To accomplish this in the soft early morning light, you might need a tripod. The smaller aperture setting will let in less light, so you need longer exposure. 

You can see I also used the rule of thirds in my composition, one third meadow, two thirds forest. When you are successful in creating a feeling of depth, the viewer wants to visually walk right into the image and explore. Rather than feeling flat, there is dimension.

Spring is the perfect time to practice your landscape skills. I invite you to find a spot, sink in deeply and capture the deeper feeling of the place. Visual and emotional depth are a perfect mindful antidote to our fast pace daily life. Enjoy!

Photograph the essence not the incidental.

Photograph the essence not the incidental.

Leading a class on photographing blossoms in Boston the other day I encouraged students to reveal the spirit of the thing, not just the physical reality. As Robert Henri says, “Low art is just telling things; as, There is the night. High art gives the feeing of the night. …. be interested not in the incident but in the essence of your subject.

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Seeing One Thing Becoming Beauty

Spring Bud.jpg

Spring is just arriving in Boston. Slowly, slowly, small buds are appearing and possibilities are emerging. I really love to photograph nature in this state. What will it become? Will this bud be a leaf, a blossom, a branch? It does not really matter. I just want to see it for what it is in this moment. I won’t be back on this path again so what it is becoming will remain unknown to me. I only know what it is today. And that is more than enough.

I love to isolate my subject so I can really focus attention on one thing at a time. To do this I simply stop, center, start. Stop and appreciate what is right in front of me. Center my breath and attention, and then start to focus my camera on the simplest subject possible. Try using a shallow depth of field setting like f4.5 so the background will blur out. Remember, you need to have your camera close to the subject and the subject far from the background. It is also helpful to use manual focus since the camera may have difficulty locking on a single stick.

I love the subtle gradation of color in the background of this image. There were thousands and thousands of sticks just like this one that I blurred into a soft background. Next time you are in the middle of many flowers, many trees, many people, see if you can choose just one and simply see that one living thing becoming beauty before your very eyes. Magic.

Sometimes what is in the way, is the way.

I am out in the Bay Area this week and the weather is wonderful. I have be able to get out and do some nature photography of salt marshes, and the bay. I happened to be in a parking lot under a bridge just as the sun was setting yesterday. I tried and tried to find a spot to stand where I could get an unobstructed view of the setting sun.

It was impossible with the bridge in the way. I was running out of time as the sun was setting quickly. Suddenly it occurred to me the bridge was not in the way, it was the way. The way to capture the beauty of this specific sunset. The bridge supports were actually strong, simple shapes, so I stopped trying to work around them and used them to frame the scene. I then started photographing the bridge instead of the sunset and liked those photos the best. (see on instagram)

So here is an idea for you to try. Next time you can’t get rid of something from the scene, or life, see if you can turn it to your advantage. Shift your mindset and vantage point to see it as essential to what makes this moment unique. You can see more of my photos from this trip on my instagram account so follow along there.

Have a great weekend! Suzanne

instagram: curioussoulphotoschool

Private photography course enrollment for the Spring 2019 series is now open. Contact me for course information and tuition. 4 spaces available.

Ambiguity engages imagination

Charles River Boston

Charles River Boston

Here is an idea for you to try. Rather than showing us everything in the scene, leave something to the viewers imagination. Leave space for us to fill in the blanks, connect the dots, or guess at what is just beyond our visual grasp. This will invite the viewer to linger, look deeply and really savor the experience rather than just recognizing the scene and moving on.

Just as I am always encouraging you to slow down and take your time when creating photos, the same advice holds for viewing images. Take your time. Slow down an participate in the scene using wonder and curiosity. I invite you to try it out with this image. Click on it to view full screen and then just relax your gaze and look beyond the obvious to see the invisible.

Some tips for creating ambiguity: over expose, use weather like fog, snow, or rain, shoot through windows, use reflections, soften your focus. Just be sure your are not creating visual confusion. What you are going for is revealing the subject layer by layer in collaboration with the viewer. Give hints, and nudges but let them find the soul of the image in their own way based on their own life experiences.

Looking Forward Looking Back

nightportraite.jpg

Since it gets dark so early now, I have decided to focus on night photography for a while. I love to seek out existing light at night and see what can be created. You do need fast glass to do a shot like this, that is a lens with capability to open to F 2.8. This allows enough light in to shoot without a tripod. You have to push the ISO up to about 2000 which creates a gritty feel, but I love that.

This image has not be photo shopped. It was taken by a security light on a building in an empty parking lot. I had my subject face me with the light striking just one side of her face. But the right eye was totally in the dark so I had her turn just enough until I could see the catch light in both eyes. Then I took two shots and we were done. I used my Sony Alpha 6000 and my F1.8/50 prime lens.

I like the feeling of the face being half in the light and half in the dark. Feels like the moment we turn from the past to the future. Perfect way to begin the new year. Looking forward to spending more time in the dark while looking toward the light. Happy New Year to You.

Suzanne

Nothing Special

Minimalist Composition

Minimalist Composition

This morning I woke up to fog and snow. The perfect combination for my favorite type of photography. Macro minimalist. To just slow down and focus on a single detail is very relaxing. I love to just stand still in one spot and slowly scan the area for any little thing that can become the center of attention. I use a shallow depth of field like 4.5 to blur out everything except the one thing I want to appreciate. And suddenly, the most ordinary thing is transformed from nothing special to a show stopper. Yes, one leaf on one twig is photo worthy.

And the best thing is it is a mindful moment that requires nothing but your full attention. I wish you happy holidays and hope you find something special to enjoy every day. I am taking a few weeks off to focus on my photography and design new programs for next year. So check back in a few weeks and see what’s new. Suzanne

Information - Knowledge - Wisdom

Night Photography Class Cambridge MA

Night Photography Class Cambridge MA

Do you ever feel stressed by information overload? There are thousands of tip, tricks, filters, fixes, and gear to help you take better pictures available through YouTube videos, classes, e-books, and more. But if you don’t put into practice what you already know, you will never feel happy with your photos. You will keep jumping from one technique to another in search of ….. something else.

It may seem like a contradiction for an educator like myself to say learn less, but what I mean is go for QUALITY rather than QUANTITY of information. Then turn that information into knowledge by practicing it and applying it until you don’t even have to think about it.

Then knowledge becomes wisdom. You intuitively sense how to simply BE a photographer when you SEE something that takes your breath away. And you will see beauty everywhere every day. It is this experience of BEING IN SEEING that offers the greatest reward, we discover something about our world and our self in the moment we click.

What is one thing you learned this year you can focus on and practice, practice, practice?

If you would like to spend some time with me focusing on what matters most, I am now scheduling private sessions for 2019. I can help you create a learning path that cuts thru the clutter and keeps you growing forward as a photographer step by step. Contact me directly suzanne@curioussoulphotos.com

Gift Certificates also available for purchase on the Curious Soul Photo School website.

Will You Take Time to Walk in Beauty?

Gestalt Composition Mount Auburn Cemetery

Gestalt Composition Mount Auburn Cemetery

Greetings Photographers! I hope you are as excited as I am about the Fall Foliage Photo season. Boston reaches it peak color point this week so I want to encourage you to take time to enjoy a photo walk. Slow down, take a deep breath and just be in a state of appreciation for the beauty of this season.

One thing I have noticed with my students this time of year is how they struggle with composition when there are many subjects in the scene. What I suggest is trying to find a single element that pulls it all together. This will create a feeling of wholeness (gestalt) rather than chaos. In the image above I primarily depend on the color to unify the scene.

Then I used the lovely path of light to lead your eye deeply into the setting. As luck would have it, there is a subject at the end of the path that is even lighter. So it all comes together. There are many subjects in the frame, trees, leaves, statues, graves, a person, a path, but because of where I stood, I was able to create balance between all the parts. Balance comes from the placement of the parts, and a unifying element (color) pulls it all together.

I hope you will get out there this weekend and create something beautiful. If you are interested, there are 4 classes coming up this month including one at the location featured above.

Suzanne

Suzanne@curioussoul.com

http://www.curioussoulphotos.com

https://www.meetup.com/TakeBetterPictures

instagram.com/curioussoulphotoschool

https://www.facebook.com/curioussoulphotoschool

What is Photo Worthy?

Small moments

Small moments

What is Photo Worthy?

Last week while on the train from NY to Boston I was taking some photos out the window. I love to get the window seat in the Quiet Car so I can enjoy the view of the coastal wetlands and marshes. Most of the photos are blurry because of the train motion but I like that since it is how I am seeing the scene.

Out of the corner of my eye a flash of color caught my attention so I turned my camera in that direction and clicked. Yes, true enough it is just a photo of someone with pink nails using their iPhone. And yet, I felt this small moment was as photo worthy as the breath taking scenes flying by outside my window.

This is an example of mindful photography. One of the guiding principles is to be open to seeing beauty everywhere all the time. The unexpected small glances that result in a fresh image are of equal value to the long studied composition choices of an expansive landscape.

Try this: Next time something small catches your eye, don't hesitate, or think, or decide if you should take a photo or the moment will be gone. As soon as you see it, shoot it. It will be perfect enough. And worthy of your photo.

Seeing With Heart to Take Better Pictures

Even the most ordinary subject becomes beautiful when seen with the heart.

Even the most ordinary subject becomes beautiful when seen with the heart.

Often in my photography classes I encourage you all to capture a feeling or mood in your photos. This can sound vague and you may not have a clue how to do this. You have to see with your heart. True, it is a more subtle skill to sense the feeling a subject can evoke but you can do it with practice. Feeling is activated when we connect to our subject. One way we connect to our subject is to observe some human quality in our subject.

A flower can have a quality of tenderness, determination, or resilience for example. Or a landscape can have a quality of expansiveness, or wildness.  It is all a matter of how you experience the subject and then use the visual elements to translate your experience into an image.

 Here is a basic three step process you can use to express more of the essence of a subject.

  1.  Stop and really spend time being present until something about the subject catches and holds your attention.
  2.  Ask yourself what you love most about what you are seeing, is it the color, the light, the texture etc.…
  3.  Use your composition skills to amplify the essence of the visual element you love.

Try several different compositions until you feel a click of satisfaction. It is like when you are playing tennis or golf and you hit it just right. You will feel that with your photography too. It will happen more and more often with practice. In the photo above you can see that anything, even a feather, can evoke a mood or express a feeling if you take the time to really see it with your heart. Why not give it a try next time you pick up your camera. I would be curious to know how it goes for you. Suzanne

Why your silent pictures speak volumes.

 Suzanne Merritt©

A picture is worth 1000 words, but silence is golden.I have been thinking that silence offers a welcome and needed respite from the noise of daily life around us and within. Especially following the 4th of July!

 As I explored the 7 forms of silence described by Paul Goodman below, I became curious about to create a silent picture. Then I realized I already had created quite a few. As I looked through my files of favorites, many spoke to me in a whisper that satisfied my deep longing for quiet and stillness.

The visual qualities these images seem to have in common are monochromatic colors, minimalist style and soft lighting. I invite you to read the passage below and then try to respond with a silent picture of your own based on which ever form of science speaks to you…..

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.” Paul Goodman


I have set up a new group on my Facebook page called the Curious Soul Camera Club. You are invited to join and post your photo of silence there.
https://www.facebook.com/curioussoulphotoschool/


 

Welcome Beauty

red door suzanne merritt copy.jpg

This week a new member of our group sent me a link to a fascinating article. (Thank you Meg) I felt it did an excellent job of describing some aspects of mindful photography so I wanted to share it with you.  I really like the idea of welcoming beauty.  What could you do this week to open the door and welcome more beauty in your life? Love to hear from you.

“Stéphane Barbery, a French photographer living in Kyoto, whose photographs capture the mono no aware and hors-temp aspects of reality according to Japanenese philosophy, has emphasized photography as a process of "welcoming" soul, world, and beauty.

This is a poetic way of thinking about mindfulness in photography. It is a state of mind that is welcoming, receptive, and opening up to the beautiful visual possibilities within the world, as well as to the many dimensions of our mind and soul that enables us to see those possibilities.” From Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche by John Suler. http://www.truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/mindfulness.htm

Mindful Photography Class 3 Tips to Try

Fern in the sunlight. Arnold Arboretum

Fern in the sunlight. Arnold Arboretum

Here are three simple things you can do to bring mindfulness into your photography today. But what is mindfulness and how exactly could it improve your photography?
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat - Zinn as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.”

When you apply this mindful practice to your photography you can create images that translate your experience of beauty into an image that is more deeply satisfying and surprising. It will simply delight you and those you share it with.

It is so easy to do, why not give it a try next time you pick up your camera. The only difficult thing about it is remembering to do it rather than just clicking away. Let me know how it goes.

 

  1. Stop before you start. When you arrive in a location with the intention to DO some photography. Don't just start doing. First stop and just BE there. Take one minute to physically stand still and be in this place.
  2. Next center your self by slowing your breath. Just focus on each inhale and exhale making each one a bit slower and deeper. This will result in helping you relax into a deeper state of awareness of your surroundings.
  3. Notice what attracts your attention from this deeper state of awareness. Is it the color? The quality of the light? The textures? Begin to explore this slowly and in a playful, open way staying fully present to what is there.

Simply allow yourself flow into the moment. When you feel a deep connection with your subject and then and only then click. Connection can take form of a sense of wonder, love, appreciation, or sheer joy.  How you connect is up to you. But you feel something. You know something. You discover something new about your world and your self.

More mindful methods can be found in my book Flow-tography available for ipad on the itunes bookstore or in PDF form for pc users on my website. You are invited to take a look and see if this method could help you improve your photography and take your photos from like to LOVE.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/flow-tography-better-photos/id499049037?mt=11&uo=4

Seeing something new in old familiar places.

Rockport MA Lobster Traps

Rockport MA Lobster Traps

Next weekend I am leading a photo field trip to Rockport MA… again. Several people have, signed up to go because they have never been there before. They are excited to see a new place camera in hand. Other people are joining even though they have been there before. They join because I will take them to new places in Rockport they had not discovered on their own. Going with a guide will be an adventure.

And then there is the third group, the type of photographers that have been there many times, know all the secret spots, and yet, realize that it is never  the same place twice. The light is different, the colors are different, and they are different. This third type of photographer is learning to really see creatively and be present to what shows up.

By this I mean to look at something they have seen many times before but notice something new and fresh. In this noticing and appreciation, they are able to translate an insight into an image to share with other. At this third level, photographers start creating images that reflect something of their inner experience or the of the spirit of the place.

I noticed this little bird inside a lobster trap feasting on the barnacles and bits of shell inside the trap. I had been to Rockport at least 30 times before and yet, I had never observed this before. Who knows what I might see next time.

Why not revisit a destination this summer you have been to many times before. Try to go with out expectations of what you will see. Just slow down and take a path you never wandered down before with your eyes. You are sure to discover something new in this place and in your self.

Sometimes it is just about the Ahaaaaa.


I hesitated to post this photo because it was so darn cute. My creative critic voice said, "don’t post this sentimental, spring cliche photo of a gosling. What will people  think. "  I am a serious photographer and I don’t do cute. I photograph rusty pipes, man hole covers, old tractors or urban grit. Oh and flowers. I do love flowers. Most of all I love to teach people who are serious about becoming better photographers.

In fact, the story behind this image is actually the blossom petals on the ground. I was working with a private student by the Charles River. We were there to photograph the Cherry Blossoms by the lagoon. One problem, the previous night there had been a violent rain storm in Boston and the blossoms were no longer on the trees, they were on the ground.

I suggested my student “photograph what was there” and forget about what she expected to see or how she want things to be. WE were presented with a pink and green carpet so

But you can only take so many photos of petals on the ground. We were just about to head to the Boston Gardens and a family of geese showed up and started nibbling on the grass. Right on cue, the little one at my feet picked up a blossom.

Ok I could not resist the click.  Blossoms + Goslings = Seriously Cute.

Advice for the serious photographers out there this week, lighten up! Take photos just for the joy of it. You may not win a contest, but you might create a smile.

Daily Dozen

Taking soup out of the frig.

Taking soup out of the frig.

Here is something new for you to try. For one week, starting now, take 12 photos a day with you smart phone. Photograph ordinary things that catch your eye. Don't judge if they are photo worthy. You could take all 12 first thing in the morning like the Julia Cameron practice of morning pages. Or you could take them during the course of the day.

The purpose is simply to shift your attention so you are noticing visual elements all the time everywhere, and acting on it by capturing an image.  To BE a photographer is to SEE. And to see is something you don't just do when you pick up your camera. You can see like a photographer by noticing the small magical moment presented to you every day.  Why not try it and let me know how it goes for you.