After an amazingly successful G+ Photography Mentorship… I was ecstatic to start my 2013 taking my photographic transformation to the next level by participating in the G+ Mentorship Program for Phototgraphers Advanced Photography Mentorship with Ron Clifford. This post contains the full story… enjoy.
Mission 1 : Letter to Ron
It is an honor to ‘meet’ you and have the opportunity to share my answers to your wonderfully introspective first mission of your Advanced Photography Mentorship hosted on Google+ through the G+ Mentorship Program for Photographers. As a bit of background, I will begin by sharing the history of my artistic expression. Truthfully, art did not appear in my life until I was 10 years old, prior to that I was being raised to practice the beliefs of Jehovah Witnesses’, and ‘art’ taught in school is most commonly centered around the holidays, which that tradition does not recognize and/or celebrate… so I logically removed myself from the lesson. It was at the age of 10 that I began living with the foster parents that raised me and my mom had a love of art, taught it at a local community college even, and my best times with her centered around arts-n-crafts. It was during those years I also spent time with my father as his volunteer son and got to apply my artistic eye to our remodel projects. At school it didn’t take long for teachers to discover my strong grasp of math and science, so I was always encouraged to pursue that. I have to admit to sketching all over my biology notes, that my assignments (especially back in the day of handwritten work) always LOOKED good… it was my subversive expression of my artistic side. I remember vividly jumping for joy the last semester of my middle school year and senior year of high school feeling like I was having way too much fun, when I had literally maxed out all of the advanced math and science classes and got to take shop, calligraphy, stage craft (building sets for the drama performances) and a drawing class. I considered those classes as a reward for working so hard, which shapes my art as more play than work. Although photography called to me, other than the times I borrowed my dad’s camera and snuck away to crash the photography class lab in high school and rebelled with a B&W photography class for one term of my freshman year of college… I did not truly connect with a camera until I was 30 years old. The rest is documented in photographic history on my hard drive and to have the opportunity to take a really hard look at that part of me through this mentorship is an amazing gift, so let’s get started…
What has me pick up my camera…
For years it was about capturing the moment, which went through a progression of first taking photos of EVERYTHING, retelling the story, til the concept of less-is-more took over and I began to see the story has nothing to do with the experience. Now when I have my camera along, which there are times I intentionally don’t to give myself full freedom to just BE present, I find I am either on a relentless hunt for the captures that express my deep thoughts and/or feelings, commonly getting caught up in the shot, to the point of standing on my head if I thought it would make the tiniest difference, or flowing along with perfect opportunities arriving effortlessly. I also find myself envisioning something I WANT and staging shots more… actually have to thank the first mentorship for that.
No matter the impetuous, my camera over the last few years has become an extension of my mind/heart/soul, I can tell a complete story in one photograph, contain all the emotion of a person in one look, and represent profound thought in a solitary frame of nature… all of which is my self expression fulfilled.
When I choose, what do I shoot…
Honestly… everything I shoot is by my choice.
If time and money were of no concern, what then…
I will take this to mean, I had a never-ending supply of time and money… and admit I would own far better equipment/tools, to include what other photographers may consider essentials. I currently can fit everything I have in a bag smaller than the right cheek of my rump… either that means I have very little equipment or a big bum, I will let you make that whatever you will. I would also travel more and use majority of my time/resources to give back/make a difference in the world.
Discover ‘the ties that bind’…
What I’ve naturally been drawn to capture or create is expressed in a few formats, in addition to photography, I do a fair amount of interior design/crafts, and a bit of sketching/painting. In all of those, I see more realism and bold color/contrast, than the softness/dreaminess my eye can appreciate. After acquiring a DSLR I got to dive into playing with depth of field and have a special magic there, so my creativity these days lean in that direction. I find my landscapes are commonplace and recognize that as a future place for exploration.
I dove into this assignment with gusto… I had never thought to seek inspiration from others, silly I know. I intentionally spread the exercise over multiple sessions/days, selected different times of day, even forced myself to pin when I wasn’t in ‘the mood’ to do so, and had one instance in the middle of the night when I HAD to search out gems.
What I uncovered was the more I looked, the less I liked and I have very strong interests/themes. Beyond the obvious flowers, moon, trees, leaves, waterdrops, waterfalls, flowing water, gems, clouds, waves, etc… I saw a pattern quickly emerge of sharp color, reflections, silhouettes, depth of field, perspective, and a general feeling of warmth.
(Photos pinned found here).
What I want ‘help’ with…
I would have to say, offer me a soft place to land. I have not related to myself as an artist, had not the freedom to express, and/or share the depth behind my art. I see this mentorship as the perfect space for me to find peace in sharing, a much needed call for community, and a chance for me to see myself as a ‘photographer’.
I can’t thank you enough and I embrace the journey with all my heart.
Mission 2 : Just Shoot It!
Habits… we’ve all got’m. Rather than share all the ones I have, the ones I like, the ones I make wrong, I will instead dive right into the one selected for development through this program… my voice. Somewhere along the way through life, I lost my written voice. Don’t get me wrong, its silence served me well in my environmental report writing and emails with engineers, yet in the process left me personally unexpressed. Now I have full freedom in the world to share, both literally and figuratively, and expressing is the hardest part.
Ron Clifford is 100% right, you have to ‘just do it’ for ‘nothing changes… if nothing changes’, and ‘focus on the focus’. Intentional habits not only take that extra effort to get moving, they also require a surrender… a surrender to the uncomfortableness of doing and just doing. Intentional doing, the kind where you find the action that will make the change, conquer your personal resistance, disregard the resistance of others, and DO. Coincidentally, that theme is active in my life in general. I have begun strengthening those muscles and even went as far as creating an Intentional Planner, showcasing my photography, appropriate quotes, leading questions, with space to express my intentions in life and am going to offer it to others. I just uploaded the final draft to self-publish, have a proof copy on order, and in the near future I plan to offer it to the public.
When it comes to the ‘doing’ of photography, I couldn’t be more focused. The day I decided I wanted to pursue photography in July of 2010, I enrolled in a local community college class that had us take our DSLR camera/manual to ‘learn’ the features, and since that class I have taken close to 40K pictures. I have developed the habit of climbing into another dimension when I am shooting, although there are times my eyes are looking around without the camera lens before them, I am still seeing the world through that eye. I have a clear vision of what I hope to create and simultaneously keep myself open to what presents. I am so tenaciously focused in the moment, in my camera, in the vision, I don’t have time and/or the inclination to look at the LCD screen, yet am constantly surprised at how amazing the results can be… I consider each a gift. Don’t get me wrong, I do look when I adjust my exposure compensation, I have to, the results don’t show in my viewfinder, only post capture in my LCD. So I take occasional peeks to fine tune my eye… all it takes is a couple glances at each level to have a ‘feel’ for what each point creates and I am set. Beyond that I pick my priority, shutter or aperture, and the rest is intuitive magic.
For this mission I seized the opportunity of a couple hours to enter the dimension of a winter frozen foggy day. I went to a local park and explored… walking away with almost 1,000 captures. I knew I wanted to exploit the fog in the bokeh, play with the sun shining through it, and was a giddy-school-girl at the discovery of each new frozen waterdrop. I don’t own a ‘decent’ tripod, never’ve even seen a monopod, and have a shooting style that resembles a persistent butterfly… so everything was captured ‘by hand’ and boy did those ‘hands’ hurt afterwards. Although many were breathtaking straight out of camera and prior to last fall I would’ve shared them proudly without post-processing, I did process all of them a bit to create more of the feeling I was present to in the moment and bring them closer to my vision.
I jenuinely hope you enjoy my Frozen Fog Series…
Mission 3 : Focus Thru Bubbles
To deepen our mentorship’s discussion around ‘focus’, Ron shared the story of his teacher placing him inside a refrigerator box… no joke, he was/did, ask him to tell you the story. He shared how focus is commonly a struggle for creatives and drew an analogy between mental focus and camera focus… how we’ve come to believe a ‘good’ picture is ‘as sharp as possible’ and that brought to mind the bubbles we ALL live in. How now more than ever, we create our own realities, place ourselves inside a bubble with a few key strokes, Google searches, and POOF everything we believe comes to be… yet it all lacks clarity. So of course being me, I took the analogy further and challenged my camera/photography skills to focus on the symbols I use to find mental clarity through BUBBLES.
Unlike other creatives (maybe)… I had to be taught to ‘let go’, to surrender to the distractions. I still don’t do that so terribly well. Being a single mom and building a business, although infrequent, there are times I am neck deep in concentration and I cried the day my daughter finally GOT it when I shared how it can be painful to break away from what I am focusing on… we agreed, that any time I was in that state I would say ‘brain block’ and she would know it had nothing to do with her as to why I could not turn my attention away from what I was doing.
In school I developed amazing organizational skills to give me the freedom to focus on the moment, I sat in the back of the class, took the whole scene in like a snapshot… I got things. My teachers loved me, my classmates marveled, and I commonly sat in silence begging the class to FOCUS so we could move on to the ‘good’ stuff. I doodled, wrote notes to friends, even did my homework, not out of distraction, just boredom, and then when I couldn’t take it any longer… I raised my hand and filled in the gaps with opening statements like; ‘so Mr. Cromley, did you mean… blah, blah, blah’ and prod the discussion along with; ‘and, what about…’ Yeah, I was THAT kid… please don’t hate me.
Not to loose focus on the topic of this mission… I crafted a niffty set for my treasures I aspired to capture, I used a 10-gallon empty fish tank placed on it’s side on my kitchen counter, and aquarium lights to keep my shutter speeds within a blink of an eye and my ISO’s down low. I intentionally had my aperture set to ‘eyes wide open’ and I challenged myself to switch between auto and manual focus without looking… can you say ‘awkward’? I took notes as I went of what each capture enlightened and named each photo accordingly. Being someone who is comfortable ‘breakin the rules’ I didn’t balk at using the LCD screen exclusively given the angle I was working at… and used my arms as a pseudo-tripod resting against the tank.
I am pleasantly surprised at the results… and although Ron walked us through creative sharpening via post processing, I have to admit, that’s where this mission’s bubble burst. I have much more growth in that skill set and share knowing if I were to actually hang these in a gallery, I would focus better on sharpening the bubbles… is that even possible? Ron?
Have Faith in IT
Possibility Will Be Between Two I’s
May The Lie In What You Believe Be Turned On It’s Head
Fall In Love
Angel Swirls Within
Mission 4 : Four Prospectives
Okay, this Mission took a long time for me. I drug my heels like never before, had the commitments in my life exponentially explode (in a positive way), and got to have a breakthrough in grasping although my body demanded more rest/therapy than usual (might as well be honest… I lost use of my right arm due to pain) it does not mean I am broken. To take it a step further, I published these photos in my mentorship community over three weeks ago and it’s time to publish Mission 5… so although the thought of sharing them public still stifles me, here it goes.
At the source of my discontent… I kept having this nagging feeling I was doing something WRONG (ironically, the story of my life… another breakthrough whoo hooo). Now I know what was at the root of my unease… a series Jen, you were suppose to do a series. Dang, duh! Instead of implementing that ideal, I took the assignment as an opportunity to dig into what few folders I had imported into Lightroom to find a diverse range of the types of photos I’ve taken and PLAY with them. Something I’ve never done. And although I was limited to free downloads for presets and still haven’t figured out an alternative application to run cool filters on and/or learned those nifty tricks in Photoshop… I did the best I could to dink around with the FEEL of images I had fallen in love with as I had first created them. Some emotions I had during the process were… ‘WOW! Cool, yet HELL NO!’ all the way to ‘Did my heart just melt? I swear it melted… I never knew it could look that beautiful.’
To say this mission rocked my photographic expression is an understatement… and I mean that in the nicest way.
Ron‘s instructions were to present One Image – 4 Specific Ways. I organized them in order of Collage – RAW – B&W – Color Enhanced – Filtered/Artistic… more for effect, than anything else. I completed four and I have my favorites… I’m just not gonna tell, until you do.
Mission 5 : Intentional Jen
For the first part of our Mission, Ron had us decide what we were going to shoot, how we wanted to shoot it, WRITE it down and share it with our mentorship community… THEN go and get it!
This was my shared intention:
Maybe not the same as having a place in mind, yet for me it requires a lot of intention to shoot a selfy… so I am going to take on creating a self portrait. Not just A self portrait… something that captures who I am at heart, expresses a passion, and reveals more about being Just Jenuine. I have to be honest and admit… I have not formulated WHAT that shot is, I am just sharing my intention and having faith that as intimidating as that is for me, I will produce something jenuine.
This was my final share:
Although I wish I had time to produce more, this series offers a peek into what it is to be Just Jenuine… from stopping to smell the flowers, to the hours I relax my back reading and/or being amused by the dumb stuff my smart phone displays, and of course the mornings I awake to discover, yet again, one of my social networks moved my stapler… thereby obliterating my day’s schedule. Yes, the expression of my face is ‘are you f*$%ing kidding me?’… something tells me a few of you might be able to relate.
I have to be honest and say these took a ton of INTENTION and have me revealing more about myself than I am used to… so welcome to my world.
Stoppin To Smell The Flowers
Relaxin The Back With Some Light Fiction
Just Great GoogbookweetIn Moved My Stapler… AGAIN! (Watch the Perfect Parody)
Mission 5 : Spontaneous Spring
The second portion of the mission Ron had us… ‘Go out with your camera and just shoot……whatever catches your fancy!’
So for this series I literally spontaneously walked out my front door and captured SPRING… the best part, I managed to produce a similar feel to my winter fog series and I definitely didn’t plan it that way. Two seasons complete… how cool is that!
Final Mission : My G+ Story
It might come as a surprise to some, yet not to me, Ron Clifford’s final mission for our Advanced Photography Mentorship was to ‘Get Over It’… a refocus on how it’s all about the journey, it’s not a destination. His one instruction – embrace the process. He reminded us everything, especially our artistic expression via photography, is a decision and it was time to take a reflective look at our ways that may not be allowing our potential the freedom to grow. He asked us to make a commitment to personal change, to change one thing that will allow our inner creative to play and to embrace whatever the conditions are that we face. He brought the mentorship full circle and had us ‘look the situation in the eye and decide to find a way to create images from what is before you. Consider what is prominent and embrace and emphasize it.’ Little did he know his mission was to be a prominent theme in many people’s lives over the course of the following weeks and that as my life would have it… my final mission brought the journey of My G+ Story full circle.
My story began close to one year after my dad died, my marriage ended, my daughter received a diagnosis of a ‘high needs’ condition, my employment was suddenly terminated, and on top of all that I had yet to heal from a broken leg, which had all occurred within a 5 week period the fall prior. I was finally beginning to accept the physical hardships I swept under the rug while working in the feast or famine consulting world of environmental remediation were not going to fit well into single-mom-hood, and that I needed to find a new journey in making a difference on this planet. After nearly a year of searching and interviewing for jobs, I ‘got over it’ and for the first time in my life… I embraced my creative side. I declared myself a professional photographer and began changing my life. When what should arrive in my world… an invite to G+ BETA and the rest is history in the deep dark depths of what is called ‘the internet’.
Instantly I saw the network’s potential, I got how social relationships were the future, and was amazingly embraced into the photography community. I made the commitment early on to take it one step at a time, to challenge myself to actually LIVE and LEARN what a camera was capable of producing, to identify my work as Straight out of Camera for that was what it was, to celebrate it, and to give myself the freedom to grow at that level until I had gained strength and confidence enough to call myself a ‘photographer’. This permission also allowed me peace in not having the funds to buy the latest tools… to embrace my life conditions.
I literally started as a nobody online, I began at zero… I had a few friends and family I shared with in very tight circles and that day I joined G+, I took the leap of faith into Public. It has been a steady progression, I have witnessed more than I can wrap my mind around some days and a future of amazing proportions has come alive in my mind. Then one day in the spring of 2012 the members of the photographic community offered an opportunity for online mentoring, I bravely raised my hand, and I was ecstatic when Ron selected me for his G+ Photography Mentorship. A couple weeks later, I watched as photographers gathered that June for Anniversary Photowalks all around the world and I knew my journey was well on it’s way.
After rocking my world to the next level in the first mentorship by introducing me to Lightroom and moving my work outside the camera, Ron’s inclusion in his pilot Advanced Photography Mentorship was the final leg in that journey and it was only fitting my final mission aligned with a spring Seattle G+ Photowalk. It had me look at what ways I needed to artistically grow and in sync with my own personal transformation away from believing myself not good enough… I reached the recognition that I had retreated from everyone during my hardships, that I had created the pattern of ’playing’ alone in my home, hid behind my computer, and that I needed to make a personal commitment to return to the world.
So mission in mind, I arrived at my first photowalk… and what should immediately surface, my camera’s not good enough. No joke. Here I was face-to-face with REAL photographers like Jake Johnson, Jacob Lucas, Michael Riffle… people I had gained oodles of respect for, their cameras were HUGE, they owned tripods for Pete’s sake, and we were photographing a well known landmark. GULP! I felt like a freshman walking into the varsity football locker room for the first time at state finals and it took me all of a millisecond to realize, my camera could not compete. I have to admit, it took me awhile… then BAM! I heard Ron’s words… ‘Get Over It!’ ’Look the situation in the eye and decide to find a way to create images from what is before you. Consider what is prominent and embrace and emphasize it.’ So, I centered myself on my commitment of creating connections with the world, people, peers… everything and I embraced the moment. I felt light and I PLAYED.
The day was amazing, I made new friends, I found playful angles, I enjoyed the sights, and when I began processing my photos in Lightroom… it dawned on me how far I had come on my journey. It hit me how much Ron’s mentorships had changed my life, how I never wanted a destination, that his connection and the others I have met along the way meant more than words could express, and that my life as a creative had only just begun. It seems only fitting the day offered a sense of celebration, that my photos couldn’t help but capture.
Thank you Ron Clifford. Thank you Google Plus. Thank you G+ Mentorship Program for Photographers. Thank you World. Thank YOU.
And to show how far I’ve come… a before and after