20 spontaneous things you can do for yourself today

1.  Have your favourite food for one of your meals.

2.  Buy that book for yourself that you've been meaning to buy.

3.  Take a moment to crank up an awesome tune ...

4.  ... and sing along at the top of your lungs ...

5.  ... while you dance.  With abandon.

6.  Have dinner by candlelight.  Put some quiet, relaxing music on while you dine.

7.  Spend 5 minutes creating a comfort list:  a list of things you find soothing.

8.  Take a different route home.  A scenic one.

9.  Walk into a high-end jeweler and pretend you're interested in buying the most expensive watch or piece of jewelry in the joint.  Try it on.  Then look bored, smile ruefully, and tell the clerk that it doesn't look as flattering as you thought it would.  Thank her, and then walk out.

10.  Pass someone a note.  Fold it like you did in high school.

11.  Start an "atta me" file:  get a manila folder, and print out any emails where someone complimented you.  No emails?  Think back to the last time someone made you feel like a million bucks -- said something kind, opened the door for you, noticed a talent you have.  Jot the memory down on a piece of paper.  Shove it in the folder.  Do this every time someone makes you feel great.  Then pull out the file and look through it every time you need a boost.

12.  Take a photograph of something pretty.  Use your cell phone, if you don't have a camera handy.  No camera phone?  Sketch what you see, to capture the memory of the beautiful thing.  Just make a lovely image to look at later.

13.  Take five minutes and go outside.  Sit and breathe.  When you feel extra calm, return to your day.

14.  Walk outside to the sidewalk.  Try to balance along the curb as you walk for an entire block.

15.  Blow bubbles.

16.  Take an unreasonably long bath, if you're a bath person.  If, like me, you're a shower person, take a shower with the water about as hot as you can stand it.  Do it long enough that you run out of hot water.

17.  Drink water in a wine glass or a champagne flute in the middle of the day.  Just to feel fancy.

18.  Howl at the moon. 

19.  Jump on your bed.

20.  Buy yourself a bouquet of grocery-store flowers.  Peonies are in bloom right now.


Image:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.

SongBohemian Rhapsody by Queen. You know, in case you're seized by the urge to do numbers 3, 4 and 5 right this very second, but can't think of an appropriate song.

become everything you're meant to be

If Javascript is disabled browser, to place orders please visit the page where I sell my photos, powered by Fotomoto.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.  We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and famous?'  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you.  We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us.  And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

~ Marianne Williamson









It's a holiday here in the United States, so we're having some intense family time for another day.  If you're also having a day off today, please make it a safe one.

And everyone, regardless where you may be, remember:  go play big.


Images:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.  Also, incidentally and related: for the first time ever, I entered a photography contest.  If you're so inclined, I'd love if you'd vote.  Voting is limited to once per day. Thanks much!


Song: Better way by Ben Harper

bonus shots: houston

Last night, Marcus and I decided to go out for an impromptu dinner with our friends Ken and Helen.  We drove downtown and walked around for a bit, before finding a good place to eat.

Trinidad will always be the country and culture with which I identify; however, I have to say Houston does make a decent home-away-from-home.

Images:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm lens


SongTighten up by Archie Bell and the Drells.  According to the Houston Press, this is the number 1 Houston song of all time.


Yesterday evening, after I put Alex to bed, I grabbed my camera.  It was about 7:30 p.m., and the water sprinkler had just been turned off.  I just walked around our garden, looking for things to shoot.




As I wandered, I remembered once speaking to this woman who told me that I should do more meditation: "But not necessarily the sitting-in-a-quiet-space-chanting," she said.  "It could be journaling.  Or running.  Something where you can be alone with your thoughts."

She was right of course, and I've done all of these things to some extent.  But last night, listening to the crickets begin to chirp, and feeling the heat of the day beginning to break, I realized that just looking for subjects, being mindful of the light, adjusting the settings on my camera, looking through the viewfinder and holding my breath as the breeze moved the flowers or leaves or even the insects in and out of focus before I squeezed the shutter ... this is another form of my meditation, as well.




I think it's good to have a daily meditation practice, but maybe it's not necessary to have just one meditation practice.  Maybe it's just important to ensure there's some quiet time every day:  a time when we just forget about our to-do lists, our daily routines, our usual obligations and just be really present for 20 minutes, mindful of exactly what we're doing, and what's going on around us.  And it occurs to me that photography totally does this for me.




If you have a time when you really love being alone with your thoughts, I'd love to hear about it.  After all, we can all use some meditation inspiration.

And on that note, have a great weekend everyone.


Images:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens, in and around our garden.


Song: Hide and seek by Imogen Heap.  I think this song is extraordinary.

love thursday: graduation

Today Alex graduates from Kindergarten.  We are, naturally, very proud of her, and have no doubt that she's ready for First Grade.



 We are a little concerned, however, that First Grade might not be ready for her.


Happy Love Thursday, everyone.


Images:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 50mm manual lens, in her bedroom yesterday afternoon.


Song: Take California by Propellerheads.  It seems random, but this kid loves this song.

random thoughts: graduations, wanderlust and making plans

Yesterday afternoon, as a favour to Alex's teacher, I was sitting at our kitchen table writing in the names of Alex's classmates on the "diplomas" to be handed out at her kindergarten graduation in a few days.  While I was doing this, the emotions I was experiencing were complicated, but best I could figure, it was a combination of (a) amusement that kindergarten graduations even exist; (b) sadness that my little girl is growing up (do you realize that at age 6, she's pretty much 1/3 of the way out of our home?); and (c) mild bitterness that I never had a kindergarten graduation.  I realize that they didn't really do those when I was a kid, but still:  I'm feeling a bit ripped off.

Related:  I wonder if I could find Miss Saunders on Facebook. I bet she'd sign a kindergarten diploma for me decades after the fact.

* * * * * * *

I'm suffering from an extreme case of wanderlust.  The feelings come in waves:  sometimes it's as intense as a strong desire to move to another country; at other times, I merely wish to drop tens of thousands of dollars to attend a two-week workshop in Myanmar led by one of my photography idols

Neither is likely to occur anytime soon.

So instead, I obsessively research cheap vacations to places which are short flights from Houston.   I want to go somewhere, somewhere cheap, just the three of us.  We haven't had a vacation alone, without family or friends, in 6 years. It's time.  And besides, if I don't go somewhere soon, my head might blow clean off my body.

Did I mention it needs to be cheap?



My disappointing news from last week has resulted in eliminating the need for the next book I write to be memoir-y.  This is actually a good thing, and a fact which floods me with relief:  I was never particularly comfortable with writing a book without my images.  So while I'm in the middle of brainstorming creative ways to promote and market my current book between now and the rest of 2010, I also can't help but fantasize about what my next book should look like, what it should be, what it should say ...

... and what images might help me express what I want to express.

Maybe it should be a photo book detailing kindergarten graduations in exotic, cheap locales. 

Or something.

I'll keep thinking.


Images:  Photographs of continued spoils from number 64 of my life list, above, taken with Nikon D300, 50mm manual lens.  Photographed yesterday, on our kitchen table.


Song: Fly like an eagle, as performed by Seal

7 photography tips for anyone who really wants to learn how to shoot decent pictures

If Javascript is disabled browser, to place orders please visit the page where I sell my photos, powered by Fotomoto.

Every now and then I receive an email from someone who is interested in getting into photography on a more serious basis -- would like to know how to take better shots, what kind of camera he should buy, what some of the biggest mistakes new photographers make, that sort of thing.  Since these emails are coming with a bit more frequency lately, I figured in a rather unorthodox change of pace, I'd share some thoughts on how to improve photography skills, in the off-chance that some of you might be toying with the idea of picking up photography as a hobby.

So, without further ado (and with apologies to David Letterman), my Top Seven Photography Tips for Anyone Who Wants to Learn How to Shoot Decent Pictures:

7.  Buy a digital SLR.  They say that it's the camera that makes the photographer, but I disagree:  it's the photographer who makes the photographer.  That said, nothing can teach a photographer more about photography than an SLR camera (read: the kind of camera where you can switch out lenses).  Point-and-shoots, while admirable in their capabilities, often do most of the work for the photographer -- which is great and all, but it makes it difficult for a photographer to have more control in the end-product.  If you really want to learn about photography, an SLR camera is the only way to go.

Even so, this does not mean that you need to spend an arm and a leg to buy an SLR camera.  There are reasonably priced new ones; in addition, there is absolutely no shame in buying a second-hand camera (my first camera was 15 years old at the time I bought it 16 years ago, and I still use the lens to this day).  I would, however, suggest going digital rather than film -- while the quality of film is beautiful, it can be very expensive while you're learning.  Much cheaper to delete digital images and try again.

6.  Take the time to learn about ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  All cameras, regardless of make, model or type, use ISO, aperture and shutter speed.  While most point-and-shoots make decisions on how to adjust these attributes for you, the truth is that being able to manipulate these three characteristics is where the power of photography truly lies

An admission:  these three things -- ISO, aperture, shutter speed -- sound really technical, but it's really not as complicated as they first appear.  So after playing with your SLR on automatic for a while, consider tinkering with the manual settings, so you learn how to adjust these attributes.

(Some time ago, I wrote a post for Gadling on what each of these things does -- perhaps it might provide a good starting point to learn them.)

5.  Pay attention to the light.  Photographers will tell you that the trick to good photography is to "look for the light" -- and they're right, as strange as that phrase may sound.  "Looking for the light" doesn't just mean identifying where light source is, but actually paying attention to how the light is falling:  is it dappled?  Is it casting shadows? Is it early morning light?  Golden evening light?  Blue dusk?  High noon? 

By paying attention to the light, it will tell you how to adjust the settings in number 6, above. 

(Also -- just because this is probably the most common question I get  -- the reason some photos might not "look right" is because different light has different tonal qualities.  The most natural looking light is, obviously, daylight.  Indoor incandescent lighting will make your photographs look yellow; fluorescent lighting will make your photographs look slightly green.  So when you're just starting out, consider using natural light as much as possible first, or at least until you're comfortable with the "white balance" feature on your camera.)



4.  Look for inspiration everywhere.  Take a photography course if that's your bag (and admittedly, while I've never taken a photography course, I imagine that the right course can be invaluable in teaching you the technical side of photography), but when it comes to inspiration, the best thing you can do is study -- I mean, really study -- the images of photographers whose work you admire.  I'm not just talking about famous photographers, either; I mean any photographer, whether they're internationally known, online photobloggers, or simply people in your everyday life who you know have a passion for photography.  Buy their books, find their websites, the magazines that feature their work, their personal photo albums.  And keep referring back. 

What you'll find is that no matter how good you get, you're always going to find a photographer who shoots in a way that completely inspires you. 

(Incidentally, for what this is worth, these are some of the photographers who are currently blowing my mind:

Wedding:  Akil Bennett, Nate and Jaclyn

Portraiture:  Steve McCurry

Food: Helene Dujardin

Landcape: Uwe Eischens

Photojournalism:  Stephanie Roberts)

3. Take your time getting into Photoshop, or any other processing software.  Don't get me wrong:  I've mentioned before that I am a wild, unabashed fan of Photoshop.  But the truth is, if you start using Photoshop before you really understand what your camera is capable of doing, you may end up using Photoshop as a crutch, rather than as a processing tool. Play with your camera for a while first, get comfortable with it, and then Photoshop will blow your mind.



2.  Consider starting a photoblog.  Now, I'm not suggesting that you go out and publish your photographs for the entire world to see (although, really, who would I be to judge?), but I have to tell you, it's been incredibly educational having a place where I can go and scroll through archives and see my progress.  And the best part is that there are lots of free blog publishing platforms out there, and they can ALL be set to private -- you can keep the site solely for yourself, for your own education.  Think of it as your personal diary of your photographic work.

And finally, my number 1 photography tip for anyone who's just starting to learn photography:

1.  Shoot, shoot, shoot.  Whether you take a course or not, whether you actually get a degree in photography or not, trust me, the only way you are going to learn how to take photographs is to take photographs. Also?  Every single photographer, including the most famous one you can think of, took crappy shots when they first started out -- but they just kept at it.  So take photos constantly.  Take them of everything.  Take them of your family, of yourself, of your teacup or your shoes, of whatever.  Do not stop shooting, and do not get discouraged.  Just shoot.




And that's it!  I'll open up comments to any questions you might have -- but also, for those of you who are already confirmed shutterbugs or professional photogs, feel free to leave your own bits of advice in the comments below. 

Because I'm always looking for ways to improve my own photography as well.


Update:  BlogHer, quite flatteringly, asked if they could syndicate this post on their site.  I was thrilled to oblige.  Read it here.


Images:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 50mm manual lens


SongStart from scratch by Galactic

the bloggess and her red dress

About a month ago, my friend Jenny called me.  "Hey.  I have an idea."

I love Jenny, but the truth is her ideas make me nervous.

"What's up?" I asked, tentatively.

"I'm going to be getting this amazing red dress, from an independent designer here in Texas," she said.  "And I want you to photograph me in it, for a blog post I've been mulling about writing:  it's on the theory that every woman should own an outrageous red dress, one that makes her feel beautiful.  Would you do it?"

Are you kidding?

"Are you kidding?" I answered.  "I'd be thrilled to.  Where do you want to shoot?"

"In a graveyard."

Of course.

So this morning, at daybreak, I met Jenny in this incredible cemetery -- the one where Howard Hughes is buried.  And risking public indecency, Jenny changed right there, out in the open, into her beautiful red dress. 

And I started shooting.





And because she's Jenny, she asked me to take a shot of her looking like we'd stumbled on a crime scene.  I obliged ...



 ... but the truth is that Jenny is one of the most alive people I know.  While online Jenny is outrageous and irreverent and perhaps even a bit frightening, she is also a brilliant writer, a fiercely loyal friend, and one of the kindest people I have ever met.

And I have a theory of my own:  people who are kind, who actually actively seek out ways to do good every single day of their lives, people like, well, Jenny, exude beauty.  They do it without intending to, without even trying.  They can't help it.  It's simple physics. 



So if an outrageous red dress helps make people like Jenny feel as beautiful as they are, well, then, I'm all for it.


(Read Jenny's post here.  And see the entire set here.)


Images:  photographed with Nikon D300 and 70-200mm zoom lens


Song:  Fever as performed by Joe Sample and Lalah Hathaway

friday chookooloonks life list update: number 80, taste 50 types of rum

If Javascript is disabled browser, to place orders please visit the page where I sell my photos, powered by Fotomoto.

Last night, I met a friend for dinner.  We made it an early night, and as I was returning home, I realized that I hadn't done anything on my life list this week.

I also realized that I was about a mile away from one of the more popular liquor store chains in Houston.

So I called Marcus.

"Hey," I said when he picked up, "I'm on my way home.  If I stop and buy a bottle of some cool rum on the way, will you share a glass with me tonight?

"Absolutely," he said.

And that, my friends, is why I married him.

I pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store and went in.  The guys behind the counter smiled.

"Good evening," they said.

I smiled back.  "Hello," I said, walking past them.

One of them called out after me.  "Are you over 21?"  I looked at him.  He was serious.

I laughed right out loud.  "Bless you," I said, thinking how great it was that the liquor store obviously had an employment outreach program for recruiting the blind.

The one who called out to me came over to help.  He wasn't blind, it turns out, but very kind.  He helped me pick out this rum: Ron Barceló.  It's from the Dominican Republic,   I chose it because of the golden colour of the rum. 

Also, I liked the bottle.

Also, it wasn't expensive.

The verdict:  surprisingly good, given the low pricetag.  Marcus agrees.  On a scale of 1 to 10, we'd give it a good solid 7.5.

We finished sipping our glasses while Alex slept in the other room, and Law & Order SVU reruns played on the television.

And I was grateful for my simple life.

And on that note, have a great weekend, everyone.


Image:  photographed with Nikon D300 and 50mm manual lens. And that's Number 6 down.  Only 44 more to go.


SongPapa was a rollin' stone by The Temptations.  We've been teaching Alex the classics.