What’s on Your List?

Be passionate and bold. Always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don’t learn. So the last part to me is the key, especially if you have had some initial success. It becomes even more critical that you have the learning ‘bit’ always switched on.       –Satya Nadella

No, not “that” list … Not the “what I want for” list. I’m talking about the OTHER one–the one you make that holds all the things you want to do or learn or master. Whether you have it written down on paper or in your head, we all have one. My list continually grows, ebbs and flows. In fact, so do all my lists. I have at least two lists–one with things I want to learn and another with reminders. I don’t refer to either of these as my “bucket list.” That’s another one entirely.

Soft peach azalea blooms blended with lace curtains. The azalea image was taken in Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC. The lace curtain image was taken in Canada. Experimenting with the paring of unrelated images.


I have one list with just words to keep me mindful. You can call this one THE REMINDER. This list has had one word at the top for the last three years. The word? INTENTION. I keep this word in my mind and bring it out when I’m photographing. Often, I find that asking myself what my intentions are in the field is helpful. It keeps me on track and focused. The other helpful word is OPEN. It’s easy to have the best intentions, but when the results don’t match, being open to something different is incredibly helpful. Another word that helps keep me sane and focused is PATIENCE. This one reminds me to be patient with the elements (like wind and light) and with myself. There are times when everything comes together smoothly and others when nothing seems to be working. Having or practicing patience can make a world of difference. There are more words, but those are my favorites.


So, what’s on that other list – the one that has that I want to learn or master? You can call this one THE LEARN AND GROW.” This list never ever gets shorter. One thing I know for sure is that there is never nothing to learn. When we stop learning or think we know it all, we stop growing. That is why this list will never end …

Blended images of Baptisia blooms. The background images is a portion of a motion blur of the same flowers.

Therefore, my favorite list keeps getting bigger and longer – even though I check things off now and then. Many different things land on this list, and there are many ways that it grows. For starters,everything on it begins with inspiration. I’m continually amazed at the creativity that abounds in all things from photography to art and beyond. Visual artistry in photography is an evolutionary process. It begins with a subject or an idea and an approach and incorporates an attitude of openness. The words “should” and “can’t” are not allowed in. Guiding light comes from words like, “what if” and “I wonder.” And the learning lessons come from trying and doing. So, back to the list … Here are just a few things I’ve been exploring more deeply.

Blending flower ruffles with rust. With this image, I pulled two completely unrelated images and played to see if there was something I could do in the blending of them that was pleasing to me.

Textures and Image Blending  – I’ve been watching what others do and am amazed and often in awe. I’ve been learning and practicing and exploring more of this in the last year and plan to keep moving forward. What I know is that I haven’t even tapped into more than the surface of potential in this area, but I am excited and inspired. A lot happens in the doing. It also helps tremendously to refuel with the knowledge and experience of others who have been digging deep in this area. When I ask myself, where can I go from here, the answer seems to be “anywhere you want.”

Teddy on my sister’s handmade blanket. Textures helped to hide a busy sofa background.

Lightbox WorkIf you love flowers like I do, it’s likely you may have seen the work that Harold Davis does with translucent flowers on a lightbox. I love it and am inspired to learn how to do it! This explains a recent purchase of a large, flat-panel lightbox. I haven’t had time to do much with this large one, but made a few attempts on a small one from the “slide-viewing” days.

Pink bloom on lightbox and interpreted with Topaz Impression, Van Gogh

I am eternally in love with flowers. And, I see tons of potential for creative interpretations with this tool. I plan to play, experiment, learn and master “the box” so I can open up even more levels of creativity in my work. As this happens, I will discover that there is more to learn. I am open and excited.

Focus Stacking – Now, this is a more technical technique that has its own level of potential in the macro world as well as the larger landscapes. Since one of my passions is macro and close-up photography, I see this as an area to study and practice more. And, while my style of macro is more “interpretive” and leans heavily toward selective and soft focus, there are subjects that simply “need” focus stacking to achieve the maximum level of depth of field. One thing I’ve learned, so far, with some of my spontaneous efforts is that one likely needs more slices of focus (more images) than one would think for the optimum results. I know. I’ve tried, and I’ve learned.

Close-up of fucshia and gold orchid with focus stacking (11 images) Lesson learned was that this subject could have used even more images in the stack.


Those things above are just three of the many things on my “Learn and Grow” list. Among other items that are waiting in the wings (or just not first in line) is to learn more about still life and working with black backgrounds. I’ve been playing with the black backgrounds more than I thought and lately had a race with light, black fabric and dahlias.

Dahlias cut and arranged on black fabric.

And as one who does not sleep much, night photography is on my list. Surprisingly, I feel the call to rekindle my relationship with my flash and will answer it this coming year. (I used to use it all the time in my macro work in the film days, then veered in the direction of diffusers, reflectors and flashlights. Time to revisit the other light possibilities.)

Another surprise to me is that I’m feeling the urge to equip myself with the proper tools to engage with the birds and wildlife. There are plenty of worthy subjects within a few hours of where I live. And even though I think the bears get the memo that I’m coming and hide on me, I plan to add some bigger glass to my bag. Perhaps, during one of my trips to the refuge, they will have missed the memo. And when that much longer lens gets in my bag, I’ll have no excuse to excuse myself from the party. (It’s been very easy to opt out ever since I sold my “big glass” 200-400mm lens to a bird photographer many moons ago. I wasn’t using it all that much and only periodically missed it.) Recent travels have inspired me to reconsider . . .

Egret preening at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia. Just one of a series across the channel. Paying attention to light and shadows and behavior.

I encourage you to examine your list. I find it helps to write things down. Then again, I love the thrill of the highlighter … you know, when you run it across an item on your list that indicates “complete”. I might have to color-code the highlighter system to indicate progress rather than completion. I’ll keep you posted on the highlighting.

What is on YOUR list? Get going! As Jim Clark would say, “You’re  burnin’ daylight!”

Doe and fawn at water’s edge at Lake Mattamuskeet NWR – interpreted with Topaz Impression.

Arrangement of male and female crab shells. Photographed near fish house, edited for black background in post.

Fall leaves caught in a stream and interpreted with texture, masking out portions of the leaves.

Wasp in Nest – A perfect candidate for focus stacking.

Dahlia and the Lightbox still life

Falling in Love with Velvet

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.‑ E B White

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The fluid dance of maple wings with Lensbaby Velvet 56

There’s a special kind of dance we do when we fall in love. It happens in the mind, but mostly in the heart. And we can’t always explain why we love, just that we do. It used to be that when I heard someone say the word “velvet,” it conjured up memories of my childhood and family vacations. Remember the “Velvet Elvis” and so many other people, critters and scenes painted on black velvet gathered together in a roadside market? Not very romantic really, just a curious sight that sticks in my mind. Or how about those lusciously soft and luxurious velvet dresses in black, red or green that were work in winter … to church or special parties? Fancy stuff, but not at all about love.



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Softness in the edges and points of a cactus with Lensbaby Velvet 56

No, I’m talking about the new Lensbaby Velvet 56 manual lens. You see, from the moment I saw the images being created by “Miss Velvet”, I knew I had to have her. There was music and dancing in my most visual mind and heart. It’s kind of like touching and feeling the fabric . . . there’s an emotional, visual and tactile response that happens when I would run my hands across the velvet dress. It’s distinctive and has varied degrees of smoothness and texture depending on the direction of the rub.

We all know that the world of love is not about straight lines or direct routes. There are curves, twists, turns and always some rough edges. It’s about going with the flow and letting things happen . . . and rejoicing when a moment catches our breath and we capture it in a frame or two. The Velvet 56 offers that magical combination of smoothness and texture, ease and challenge. It offers one a world of creative possibilities that embrace the world of soft focus and ethereal imagery with its wide f/1.6 aperture. For someone like me, a lover of macro and close-up photography, the minimum focusing distance of 5″  and 1:2 macro capabilities is awesome. Even better? I can add my Nikon 6T close-up diopter to get in even closer to the magic. This lens is solid, yet sleek and smooth in its feel and movement through the focus range.

Going with the flow of peony petals with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Going with the flow of peony petals with the Lensbaby Velvet 56

Suffice to say, I LOVE (and am in love with) this lens. It awakes the dreamer and the seer in me, opens my mind and heart to all the possibilities. It allows me to capture the moments that catch my breath and make me stop. If you have the opportunity to try one, you won’t want to let it go and you won’t be able to deny the magic or the music.

Nothing more magical than finding a "Perfection" pull on a Williams Pipe Tone Organ and capturing with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.

Nothing more magical than finding a “Perfection” pull on a Williams Pipe Tone Organ and capturing with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.

(Lensbaby has been kind enough to provide me with demo units of the Velvet 56 and other inspiring optics for my New Life Photos workshops. Wonderful opportunities to dance to a different beat and discover hidden treasures within your own creativity.)