Photo-Heart Connection: March 2014

It’s all in the light. Beautiful, heavenly rays of sunshine through the blossoms.

Spring Tree Blossom Oregon Kat Sloma Mobile Photography

I photographed a lot of tree blossoms in March. As I looked through the photographs, I realized the photographs were of the blossoms, yes, but they were also of light. Sunlight in the evening, sunlight after rain. The sunlight created the beauty, as much as the blossoms on the tree.

So many of these images were taken in what now seem to be fleeting moments. A chance encounter: Me, my camera, and the right light at the right time. A week or two later, the blossoms are now fading and the rains have returned. As I look at this dazzling beauty from a couple of weeks ago, I am full. Full of gratitude, for that brief moment in time, I was able to be fully present. Full of awe, for what I was able to create out of the experience. Full of hope, the hope that spring always brings along with it.

This is what life is about, isn’t it? Brief moments of time, lived to their fullest. Noticing the sunlight on the blossoms, when it is available. Being present and active and engaged in what life offers up, every day.

This moment in time is all we have. It’s where we choose to be; what we choose to see, to capture, to do with the moment that matters.


 
This month’s Photo-Heart Connection brings me an important reminder. I so often live in the future, asking myself, “What do I have to get done next?” No matter what I’ve completed, there is always, always something else on the list. But this morning I’m reminded by light on blossoms, blossoms and light now long gone as I write this, that I can’t always be thinking about what’s next. I need to be present in this moment, living fully in the here and now, to appreciate and see what life is bringing me. This is hard for me. So very hard. I think I’ll print and hang this image of light on blossoms in a prominent place to remind me of this month’s message: Be present.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection this month? Have you been seeing the light on the blossoms, or are you struggling through some darkness? Whatever the message, it’s important to listen to your heart — it’s speaking through your art. I hope you’ll share what you find with us.

Growing Slowly

I want you to look back, for a minute. Look back at where you were in your creative journey one year ago. Five years ago. Ten years ago. Where were you? What were you doing? Could you have imagined being where you are, today, from that distance in time?

One year ago, I was still in the throes of learning mobile photography, trying to figure out how it fit in with my photography practice. This month a year ago, I was in Singapore for two weeks and the Redwoods for spring break. I was in love with trees and the freedom of mobile, but had not yet let go of my security blanket of dSLR. I still toted it along with me everywhere.

Five years ago, I was getting ready to move to Italy. I was probably just back to Oregon after a whirlwind trip finding an apartment in Italy. and in the throes of figuring out what we were going to ship to Italy vs store for the duration of the assignment. I don’t think photography was anywhere on my mind, except maybe just the occasional picture of our lives in chaos. I had no clue what the future had in store for me, creatively or otherwise. But I knew I was at the brink of an adventure.

Ten years ago, I was probably just trying to keep everything together as a mom of an almost-three-year-old little boy. It’s hard to remember that time, it seems so long ago. My spare time (what little there was) would have included lots of playing with photographs as I created scrapbooks. Photographs mostly of family and events, documenting our lives. A few artistic photographs, that I didn’t know what to do with. Photography was a growing interest, but not the primary art form for me at the time.

Could I have imagined, five or ten years ago, that I would be here today? That I would be teaching photography online and in person? That I would be exhibiting my work in galleries? That I would be a keynote speaker at a photography conference? No, I could not have imagined. One year ago, the seeds were being planted for this year’s growth, so these things were within the realm of possibility. But five, ten years ago? No clue.

It’s been a journey of long and slow growth. I think “slow” is the natural pace of artistic growth, at least for me. This is what it needs to be. There are creative growth spurts for sure, I can point to a couple of them in the last five years alone, but these are balanced out with periods of slower growth. The slower times are needed for me to integrate what I’ve learned and figure out what I’m going to do with it.

Spring Tree Blossom Oregon Kat Sloma Mobile Photography

Growth takes time, often time where it looks or feels like nothing is happening. I look at the trees blooming right now, see their amazing blossoms, and think WOW! It seems as if all of a sudden, the buds appear and the flowers burst forth. But it’s not all of a sudden, is it? The tree was working toward this, for months. All winter long, while the tree appeared quiet and still on the outside, it was working.

Artistic growth is like that, too. It’s hard to internalize, because we might not see this part when we hear about successful artists. We might see an artist with seemingly overnight success, and wonder how they got there. As I meet and talk to more and more artists, working artists who are making their living with their art, I can see that true overnight success is very rare. Most artists achieve their success through hard work, over a long period of time. Their art is growing and changing, as they are, preparing themselves for the big break, if it ever comes. They may experience a lot of rejection along the way, but they keep working, keep growing. So when an artist appears to be “discovered,” when we finally become aware of them, they have likely been working for a long time to get to that point. It only appears as if they burst forth onto the scene suddenly, like the blossoms on the tree. The work to prepare for their success was going on, behind the scenes, when no one was looking.

There is an element of luck in artistic success too, don’t get me wrong. I heard this segment on NPR which talked about why some art becomes popular while other art doesn’t. The conclusion of the study was that there is some minimum level of quality, and beyond that, there is an element of luck and crowd influence that determines which pieces of art or artists become popular or successful. That makes sense. Haven’t we all seen art that is fawned over and said, “But Sally’s work is just as good. Better even. Why is that artist so successful while Sally isn’t?” It could just be that element of timing and luck.

Now, in all of this discussion, I don’t want to imply there is one definition of success here. Fill in your own definition of success. That could be making a living as an artist, or gaining some notoriety, as is implied above, or it could simply be creating art that expresses your vision. “Success” is a personal thing. Defining what “success” really means to you is part of the growth process, too.

So what can we do, to be ready for that success, however we define it? How do we prepare, if there might be an external element of luck or timing involved? All we can do is continue to grow. Continue to do the work of becoming better at our art. Continue to take one step after another on this creative journey. Slowly, surely, moving ourselves forward. Looking out for opportunities that may arise, taking risks, and trying new things. Showing up. That’s all we can do, day by day.

Sometimes, when the growth is slow, it may feel as if nothing is happening. But it’s when we look back — one year, five years, ten years — we can see how dramatically things have changed. And we can see where our hard work made that change happen. How our effort and growth got us to where we are today, artistically or otherwise.

So let yourself grow slowly. Be the tree that is getting ready for spring. Don’t worry if the tree next to you is blossoming, bursting forth into spring, and you are not. You are still getting ready. Your time to bloom will come.

Never the Same Place Twice

Some old friends visited me recently. These are mutual friends you and I have, I’m guessing. You probably know them too: Doubt and Fear. Do they ever visit you? I would bet they do.

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For me, they show up anytime I’m doing something new. No matter how much I’ve already accomplished or become comfortable doing, they like to come and whisper in my ear, “What do you think you are doing? Who do you think you are?”

There is a difference in my response these days, though. Instead of stopping me in my tracks, or paralyzingly me in place, I wearily say, “Hello, guys. I should have known you’d be along anytime now. Why don’t you sit over there, in the corner? You can watch me work. I’m busy here and don’t have time for you.” I know I can’t get rid of them, at least until this new project is over. But I can acknowledge them, then ignore them and move ahead. There is no use paying attention to them. They sing the same tired song every time.

This part of growth is inevitable for me. The Doubt-and-Fear part. Just like spring comes around every year, doubt and fear will come along every time I stretch myself into something new.

There is that one big difference though… Now that I’ve been doing my art for a while, since I’ve stretched myself over and over by doing lots of uncomfortable, new things over the last few years, their impact is not as great. They don’t hold the power over me that they used to.

Inevitable, yes. Powerful, no.

That’s the amazing thing about growth. When the cycle comes around again, you aren’t in the same place. You can look back at where you’ve been, where you were the last time you heard those voices and say, “Huh, guess you weren’t so right after all. Why should I listen to you this time?” Your response and your capacity to manage the doubt and fear grows too.

Take a moment today and think about where you are now. Is there a direction you are going that is bringing up the doubts and the fears? Then look back a year, two years, five years. Look at how you’ve changed. The things you’ve done. How you’ve grown. So when our mutual friends of Doubt and Fear show up at your door, you can banish them into the corner too. Because you know you don’t have to allow them power over you.

You’ve done it before, you can do it again. With less doubt and fear, this time.

Beyond the Boundaries

 
There are many reasons I love mobile photography, but this morning one of them is really coming to the fore: I don’t have to sit at a computer to edit photos. I can, and do, create my art sitting in my comfy chair. Knees up, tablet resting, stylus in hand… It feels more like drawing or journaling than it is traditional photo editing.

My creativity benefits.

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As does my body.

I’m sitting here this morning with a heating pad on my shoulders because they are sore. It’s been an intense week at my corporate job, with 7-8 hours a day on the computer for some analysis work I’m doing. Lots of mousing. Last time this happened, it was triggered by a photography project, creating the video for last year’s Liberate your Art postcard swap. It doesn’t matter where it starts, the end result is the same. My body tells me it’s too much, by hurting. I need to listen.

I know the drill… Make sure I’m using good posture and ergonomics. Lay off the intense computer time for a while. Go to yoga and stretch. Take care of myself, and don’t push it any further.

The beauty is… With mobile photography, I can still create my art. Where “staying away from the computer” used to mean staying away from editing photos, now it doesn’t. Because using a finger or stylus on a tablet, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have the same effect on my body as using a mouse. I can create and share, anywhere, without hurting myself.

To be honest, I was primed and ready for this shift. It’s probably one of the reasons I’ve taken to mobile photography so strongly. I’ve never loved how much time digital photography required on the computer. I always felt I spent enough time sitting at a computer for my corporate job, so I didn’t love sitting there even more at home. It just doesn’t feel like a creative place. I accepted it as part of the process though, and adapted my expectations. I learned to enjoy the outcome, if not the process.

But it did temper my creativity. I didn’t learn Photoshop, with all of its creative possibilities, because of the time investment. Spending even more time on the computer was not what I wanted.

I am amazed though, at what was waiting for me, when I found the right tool to fit me. Look at the creativity in my art that has blossomed in the last year and a half. The tools of mobile photography have enabled me to get beyond the boundaries I had, both mental and physical, which limited my creativity in the medium of digital photography. What a beautiful thing.

Photo-Heart Connection: February 2014

Who knows what the future holds?

Winter Snow Tree Corvallis Oregon

I don’t. It’s but a faint line on the horizon. I can see the here and now, what is. I can see possibilities for the future, what might be.

To reach the future, I have to move into uncharted territory. Into the blank, unwritten part of my history.

I have plans and goals, but where the path I start on will end is still unformed. And that’s ok.

It used to be, I needed to be able to see the end before I started. I needed to know how it would all come out. But that road of expectations led to disappointment, more often than not. Because the end didn’t look like I had envisioned. The path didn’t always turn out to be the one I really wanted or needed to walk on.

Where I used to want predictable outcomes, I am ok now with a faintly formed outline of what might be. I am ok with changing my direction partway through. I am ok with not knowing.

Maybe this is a by-product of age; of maturity. Maybe it is a by-product of experience.

Because now I know, the end is often more interesting than what I could envision. And the journey is where all of the fun happens anyway.

I don’t need to know what the future holds. I just look out at that faint line on the horizon, and go.


My Photo-Heart Connection this month puts into words a change that has been slowly creeping over me for the last five to ten years. Turning from a driven, goal-oriented go-getter, always striving for the next achievement to someone who enjoys the journey and doesn’t mind winding my way along. Someone who doesn’t mind changing or abandoning a goal if it no longer suits. I’m now more in tune with myself, and what my heart wants. I don’t live my life for others, or for dreams of the past. I see all of that in this photograph, with it’s clear foreground tree and faintly visible horizon. I love that I can pull this out of my art, my heart.

What is your Photo-Heart Connection this month? What is your heart connection, in any art form? Here’s my approach to finding the Photo-Heart Connection:

  1. Identify all of the image I worked with this month. I don’t look through every single image I captured with my camera, but the ones I decided had potential and I edited. The sorting through of the raw images to edit throughout the month is really the first step of my Photo-Heart Connection, I don’t need to do it twice.
  2. I place them all in one location, in this case it’s a special folder on my hard drive where I export copies.
  3. Then, in the quiet of the early morning, I look through them on a black background and see what kind of emotional response I have. If there is no emotional response at all, I delete. Generally, the first time through more than half are eliminated. There are always a few that start to bubble to the top.
  4. As I get to these few that “bubble up” as having a stronger connection than the rest, I usually take a break. Go refresh my tea, and see what sticks in my mind. What words come out to describe the feelings that are coming with the remaining images.
  5. When I sit down again, it’s usually with a top two or three. I look through them, feeling each one and the words that come. From there, I can usually tell which one is coming out on top, from the feeling of both image and words.
  6. I start my blog post, add the picture and usually start with the few words that were with me as I made my decision, and then I write. I let the story emerge, as if I’m telling it to myself. What you see in the posts is the result.

Your approach to the Photo-Heart Connection is likely different. That’s ok, there is no right or wrong. Maybe this month, as you go through and do it, you can share your approach with us along with your February Photo-Heart Connection. Then we can all learn a bit more… about you, and about this wonderful process.

Quiet, Revised (A Mobile Tutorial)

Hello, hello! My data is back, my computer is all up and running on my new hard drive, and I’m excited to be sharing a mobile tutorial with you today. Turns out, these Mobile Tutorial posts are easier to prepare on the computer than on the iPad, which I didn’t even realize until I was in the throes of my hard drive crash last week. Now that everything is back and running well, I can share a new tutorial with you.

I posted another version of this photograph last week, called Quiet. Later I started playing with a new-to-me app, Fragment, and discovered that there was more to do with this image! Here is the new version, called Quiet, Revised.

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I’ll step you through the process of creating it. Here’s the original image, captured using ProCamera 7, on a walk during our big snowstorm two weeks ago. I saw this bird perched atop the tree and got as close as I could without scaring it away. Of course, without a zoom he’s pretty small in the original image:

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So the first step is a crop, using Snapseed:

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I like the placement of the tree and bird in this much better now! The next step is still in Snapseed, using a Vintage filter to start to shift the color, add a bit of texture, and create the vignette that works so well in this image, highlighting the bird atop the tree:

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I was liking the vignette and texture, so I pulled it into XnView FX for some more texture work. I liked the addition of one texture:

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But I wanted more. I liked where this was going, but wanted more dramatic texture and color. I played around with it in XnView FX for a while, looking at more color processing and textures. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what I did within the app in sequence to share with you. The details aren’t so important, because if you follow this recipe you will have a different image and need to do different things. The important thing to take away is the incredible functionality that exists within a single app to transform your photographs. I know people who use only Snapseed to create amazing photographic work. XnView FX is another app with an amazing range of options for processing. Here’s the final image out of XnView FX:

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This is Quiet. Originally, this is where I thought I was done. I loved the way the tree seemed to pop off the background. I loved the hushed feel, as if I was holding my breath, trying not to scare the bird away. Since I had cropped pretty substantially, from the 2448x2448px original to ~1700x1700px, I ran it through the Big Photo app to increase the resolution to ~3000x3000px. Having a high resolution file gives me flexibility in my printing options later.

Turns out I wasn’t done with this image, though. I purchased a new app, Fragment, which looked interesting for it’s ability to add geometric shapes to an image. Since I love to play with the combination of geometric and organic shapes, it seemed a good fit. I pulled “Quiet” into the app, just to play with its capabilities. In this app, the shapes you add are filled in with the original image you are working with. You can change the sizing and rotation of this “ghost” image within the added shape, which allows you control over the graphic impact of the shape relative to the original image.

As I played, suddenly a new version of Quiet emerged:

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I loved the way the square shape framed the bird yet also creates some different dimensionality within the image. While the tree was popping off of the background before, now it is placed behind the frame. The rotation of the image within the square frame provides some great light/dark contrast against the background and some interest against the tree. You can’t quite tell what’s going on at first glance, and have to look closer. I like that. All in all, I think it added a nice dynamic element to an otherwise quiet scene. For me, this elevated the image from “nice” to “interesting,” but still with a peaceful, harmonious feel.

Here’s the mobile recipe for this edit, to remind you of the steps. You can download and save this recipe for later inspiration:

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I am constantly amazed at how I can continue to create a wide variety of effects with just a few different apps. Find those apps you love, and really get to know them. It will pay off in the quality and consistency of your work.

I want to leave you with one final edit I did to this photograph, but discarded in the end. I took the original “Quiet” into Image Blender, and blended the new “Quiet, Revised” on top of it with blending mode Normal at 100%. Then I masked the frame over the tree:

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I thought it would make the tree pop off of the background better, which it did. But it also lost it’s “interestingness” to me. In “Quiet, Revised,” the visual impact of the lines moving into and through the tree, and the bit of visual confusion it creates, make the image work for me. This last version doesn’t quite have the same energy, and goes back to “nice.”

Which version do you like best? Would you choose “Quiet,” “Quiet, Revised” or “Quiet, Discarded” as your favorite? Why? You know my choice, but take a moment to make your own, and sort through the reasons. Comparing similar images like this is a great way to discover your own personal aesthetic.