For Love or Money

When I used to shoot professionally, amateur photographers would often come up to me and ask how they too could make a living off of photography. Traveling all over the world to visit and photograph exotic places and beautiful things sounds like a dream job and for some it is, but it wasn’t for me.

I love to explore. I love to travel, to see and experience new things. Working as a professional photographer allowed me to do that, but I was often alone, and my travel experiences were often limited to creating beautiful images. I didn’t go to fancy restaurants for dinner, because dinner was too close to sunset and good light. I never experienced the night life of cities I went to, because I always had plans to wake up early, before sunrise, to photograph each morning. The beautiful settings I visited and things I saw were shared with strangers or no one at all. My destinations revolved around photographic opportunities instead of cultural or spiritual ones, and I’d skip out on a visit to a monument or other attraction if photographs were better elsewhere. The whole point of photography is being able to “see” the world around you, and sometimes I found that being a professional photographer so focused on creating sellable images was like traveling with blinders on. I saw only what I could photograph well, and missed out because of it.

Last week, I went on vacation to Arizona, a place I have never before visited and one that is filled with natural beauty and wonder. I went with a person I care deeply for, and we went to have fun, to get away from New England’s stick season, work, and everyday normal things. I brought my DSLR, but ended up taking photos exclusively with my iPhone, many taken in bad light or from the window of a moving car. I demanded selfies. On the days I was awake for it, I watched the sun rise from bed wrapped in the comfort of warm sheets and loving arms.

Not taking photos allowed me to see and experience more than I would have if everything I did revolved around creating a new image for my gallery collection. We went on hikes, saw shooting stars, admired art, and ate delicious food. I ran a mile or more each day, usually with company, keeping my streak alive (I’ve been running at least a mile a day for the past 379 days and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon). We slept in and relaxed. I took photographs, but for the sake of capturing memories and moments, not creating art. It was a real vacation, and probably the first one I have taken in a long long time.

Photography is a wonderful thing, and I love that now photography has become so accessible to so many people. Most people have a smartphone with a built-in camera on them almost all the time providing unlimited chances to take photographs of spontaneous moments and everyday things. I’m very glad I had my iPhone with me to capture memories from my vacation, but there is a big difference between having the photographs you take dictated by your activities and having your activities dictated by the photos you want to take. I’m not anti-photo, not at all, but getting wrapped up in taking pictures or becoming obsessed with sharing them on social media is an easy way to miss out on actually living and experiencing life.

My favorite photographs from Arizona are the ones where I’m next to this wonderful person and we are both smiling. We’re on vacation and happy and it shows. Maybe you can see the landscape behind us. Maybe not so much. But those are the ones most likely to end up printed, framed, and displayed somewhere where I can see them regularly, not so much the snapshots I took of red rock landscapes and desert flora.

I’m happier now that I don’t pay my bills with money I make from photography. If I sell a print I have some extra spending money, which I can put towards a fun trip or exciting adventure. I still enjoy teaching workshops and sharing photography techniques with others – teaching photography is one of photo gigs I get the most joy from – and when I get to do that it’s fun and rewarding. I admit it is hard not to feel pressure to go out and shoot on days with beautiful weather or ideal conditions, and I still feel guilty from time to time for not capturing peak seasons or making more of an effort to update my blog, website, and Facebook pages with recent work. But I know that my ideal career is not one of a professional photographer, and the only way for me to be passionate about photography is to let it happen at its own pace. So I’m trying to be patient with myself, and I hope you can be too.

I used to think that life got in the way of me taking pictures, but now I think it’s the other way around. So I’m out there, living and doing the things I love. Sometimes photography is a part of that, sometimes it’s not, and that’s okay with me.

Abstraction Series

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I am unemployed for the first time since 2009, when I quit my job to spend a summer biking 4000+ miles across the United States. Before that, I worked all through college and before that, summers in high school. It feels like I’ve never not had a job, and I certainly have never owned a house before and not had a job. The uncertainty of my future is both exciting and terrifying. I can do anything, which is pretty incredible to think about. I can crash and burn, or I can fly.

There’s a song called “Dreams” by Life of Dillon, and there’s a line that goes: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” Do you know how many dreams I’ve crammed into this head of mine, and how many of them scare the piss out of me? I guess now is the time to see what I can make of myself and those dreams I have. I only have to pick which one to go after.

I’m a big believer in the goodness of the world and in humanity. I believe that things always work out. I believe you need to take one day at a time. I believe that the things you struggle for and that challenge you are immensely more rewarding than those that come easy. I believe every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. I believe in the power of people and ideas and hard work.

I am so lucky. So freaking lucky to have a good head on my shoulders and heart in my body. So lucky to have been raised by parents who taught me how to be a good person, how to live on my own and take care of myself. I am lucky to have a mom that supports me and believes in me. I am lucky that I grew up in a town with outstanding public schools, where I received a good education from caring and compassionate teachers, who pushed me, challenged me, and encouraged me, and gave me the tools I need to be successful in life. I am lucky to have incredible friends, who enable me to be the best version of myself possible. I am lucky to have supported myself by doing jobs that I love, that have inspired me and allowed me to build positive relationships and make a difference in my community.

Right now, I’m unemployed, but that doesn’t mean I’m useless or bored or even broke. I am rich with experiences, knowledge, and friendship, and I have plenty of things to keep myself busy while I look for new work. Being unemployed gives me the opportunity to reevaluate where I am and what I am doing and pursue whatever it is that will most bring me joy and fulfillment. So many people working dead end jobs just to make ends meet never get that chance.

So as bummed as I may be to have lost a job I really loved, I’m excited for the opportunity to do something even better. What that is remains to be seen, but there is time to figure that out. 😉

In the meantime, I’m playing with photos again. The series below, called Abstraction, is from a trip in 2013. I was scouting for possible photography workshop locations, and snapped these photos while driving around the backroads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (disclaimer: I was in the passenger seat, not the one driving). I really like how processing them in black and white allows the feeling of motion to come through, and it captures how being in the woods always makes me feel more free.

Abstraction1

Abstraction2

Abstraction3

Abstraction4

As always, you can shoot me an email if you wish to buy prints of any photo (I think Abstraction #4 would look amazing printed on metallic paper or screened on aluminum). Between posting on my blog, website, Facebook page, and stock site, sometimes I don’t always have a quick purchase link readily available, but am happy to work with potential customers on any photo purchase.

Low Blow, High Spirits

On Tuesday, I was told that the position where I work was being eliminated and August 21st would be my last day of employment. While it saddens me to leave the many things I loved about my job (the many awesome people, great sense of community, working with incredible teens, and helping to connect members of our local climbing community) there are a few things I’m more than happy to leave in my rear view window. So it kinda sucks, but its also a chance for a new beginning, and frankly I’m feeling pretty darn optimistic about the whole thing.

If I wanted to focus my energy on the negative aspects of this whole situation there would be plenty of opportunity, but that’s not going to help me move on from this point, so I’ll choose to cast my worries elsewhere. I don’t post profanity online, but seriously, #$%& it. I’m good. Life is going to go on just fine.

I always have photography to fall back on. Or my writing skills. Or teaching. Or guiding. Or any number of things. Maybe I’ll be a greenhorn and make a ton of money catching crabs on the Bering Sea. Why not? I’m considering it.

Anyway, one exciting thing I do have coming up is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Fall Photography Weekend at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Last year, my group had a great time, and I’m already excited about this year’s trip. It’s October 2-4, and the leaves are always gorgeous that time of year. For more information about the weekend, check out the AMC’s website and definitely go ahead and shoot me an email if you have any questions.

And you know what less time stressed out at work means? More photography, more rock climbing, and more adventuring. Don’t worry about my bills. They always get paid. Adaptation is my game. I have two mottos, “Adversity builds character” and “Perfection is boring” (and “I’d rather be crazy than boring” but that’s kinda a spin on #2 and maybe not entirely relevant here). This is just an opportunity to embrace them both.

Life sometimes has a funny way of being awesome.

#keeponkeepingon

Facebook is No Friend of Mine

I am the Facebook generation. Facebook became a thing my freshman year in college. That means I was one of the first to use the online social media platform. Since 2004, I have had a Facebook page and lived my life, or at least part of it, through an online profile.

I never had a MySpace profile because I found them too creepy. Facebook, in it’s infancy, was different. When I joined, Facebook was limited only to those with college or university email accounts. This automatically limited the audience of my profile to those similar in age and pursuing an advanced education degree – this exclusivity made it seem safer to me somehow. While my first connections were friends and classmates who I interacted with in person on a somewhat regular basis, today my Facebook friend network includes more than 1500 people, plus I am an administrator or contributor to at least a half dozen each different pages and groups. I also have accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest, and have tried three different online dating platforms at different times.

Facebook is by far the worst. Rarely does a day go by where Facebook is absent from my life. I connect to it constantly, even when I don’t mean to. Sometimes I just type “facebook” into my browser window without realizing it, or tap the app on my phone by default. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I spend hours on Facebook more days than not. Some of it is useful – I get my news from Facebook and it reminds me of birthdays and upcoming events – but most of that time is a waste. While I appreciate Facebook’s convenience and how it has enabled me to stay in touch with or reconnect with friends from past chapters in my life, I often wonder how much more productive I would be – and how much better I would feel about myself – if I could quit Facebook.

I admire those without Facebook accounts – I really truly do. I suspect those people accomplish more with their day and feel more fulfilled in general. I think Facebook and the internet in general is a paradoxical wonder. Strange it seems that these platforms simultaneously connect and disconnect us from one another. Digital connectivity means that young people are spending more and more time “living” through media than being present in the real world. I think it’s sad.

Take the typical weekend night out for a single 20-something. Dinner with friends at a restaurant, followed by a trip to the bar/club. Just fifteen years ago, this would have been accomplished without much of a fuss, maybe a call or two to a friend to confirm a location and time, or to arrange a meet up with other friends later. Today, at a restaurant there is the obligatory check-in on Facebook, checking texts or likes during dinner, swiping left or right on Tinder en route to the bar, and at least a couple Snapchats posted while grabbing drinks or hitting the dance floor. Today, millennials and younger document their every move via social platforms. Post about it or it didn’t happen.

What we do and don’t post to social media paints a distorted picture of what our lives are really like. Everything on Facebook, like photos posted to Instagram, has a filter applied. The one I use most often is “happy.” I post mostly about things that make me smile and feel good. I don’t do it to try to make my life look better than anyone else’s (the not so subtle humblebrag), but I generally try to post positive things because that’s how I’d like to see myself – positive, upbeat, and generally hopeful, not whiny, complaining, or criticizing. Like everyone else I have good days and bad days, but I’m unlikely to share the negative ones on such a public forum. To me, those moments are more private and intimate, and ones I’d prefer to share with a select audience of friends and trusted souls.

My choice to share my finer moments is not a deliberate decision to overshadow others experiences or to disregard my own pain and sadness. I’m not competing, I’m just trying not to look like an a$$hole in public.

The truth is, despite all of the conveniences, I think social media is a burden. Which is why I want to quit Facebook. Unfortunately, social media has become so heavily ingrained into our society that quitting has become a great sacrifice. Not participating in social media is just not an option for many small businesses or organizations that rely on Facebook and other platforms for marketing and communication. So far the reason I haven’t managed to quit Facebook is because I use it for work and my photography business. Deactivating my account would leave me unable to post to those pages, and I don’t have an alternative solution for that.

What I do know is that Facebook causes me to sit at my computer more, which means I am less active and less engaged in my life outside of the digital world. I stare more at my computer screen than my garden and sometimes spend more time chatting with friends online than with friends in person. Chores that need to be done, such as sorting through moving boxes, mowing the lawn, making the next days meals, and cleaning, don’t get checked off my list in a timely manner. My workouts, which I depend on for my sanity and well being, get cut short and delayed because Facebook distracts me from being able to efficiently manage my time. I get headaches from staring at my screen for prolonged periods and also allow myself to get dehydrated from drinking too little water. I rarely get eight hours of sleep a night and often have trouble falling to sleep, no matter how tired, run down, and sometimes sad I feel.

Facebook is no friend of mine.

I wonder what life will be like without Facebook. Will my photography business suffer because my photographs won’t instantly pop-up on followers’ feeds? Will I miss out on important milestones in friends’ lives? Will I not get invited to parties or included in events because I cannot be invited to them with a single click? Will I never see the photos my friends take of me? My mom lives several hours away and we see each other for short periods of time only a few times a year when I go to visit her. She has never seen my house or met a single one of my friends who is active in my day to day life right now, but she has seen pictures on Facebook. I can’t text my mom photos because she doesn’t have a cell phone and the firewall on her computer at work email attachments and messages inconsistently, so Facebook is the easiest way for me to share pictures with her. In fact, the only reason my mom has Facebook is because I invited her so that I could show her photos (specifically, those taken of me but posted by others on Facebook and not shared publicly) – she never posts anything or “likes” or comments. I wonder how disconnecting from Facebook will affect my relationship with her. Will the distance feel farther without photographs for her to see?

Sometimes I long for the good old fashioned days of my childhood, when I entertained myself with balls and books and dirt instead of an internet connection. Even though I can disconnect my Facebook and turn off my computer, it will be hard to voluntarily remove myself from a world that others rely so heavily on. Just because I might choose not to use Facebook doesn’t mean that others won’t, and by removing myself from the social standard, will I, in a way, make myself obsolete? Will the peace of mind I gain from taking a break from Facebook and the computer outweigh the consequences of not posting for work and isolating my photography from the Facebook crowd? Will leaving Facebook help me feel less overwhelmed? Will my social life suffer or benefit? Will I be happier?

For a decade, my life has had a Facebook profile attached to it. My entire adult life has been documented, photographed, liked, and hashtagged. I’m not sure I want that anymore. I’m not sure I ever did, but back in 2004 I had no idea that the exclusive college networking site I was signing up for would become the monster that Facebook is today. If Facebook had been then what it is now, I might never have given it another look.

A world without Facebook seems foreign to me, in a romantic kind of way. I find myself drawn to the idea in the same way I am attracted to the old time-y rural setting of books like A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Yearling, and Copper Toed Boots, where boys go hunting and fishing in the woods and bond with animal friends. Times when everything seemed so much more simple, when there were fewer distractions and pleasure came from simple things. But like my other favorite genre of books, the dystopian novels of 1984 and A Brave New World, Facebook has created a society where everything we do is watched and recorded, where our “free” world seems strangely suffocating. On some level, when we opt to participate in Facebook we are plugging ourselves into what is essentially a soulless machine. Maybe Facebook is really just Big Brother by a different name.

I am starting to think that all of this digital technology makes the world too bright. There is beauty in the darkness that you just can’t see when you are blinded by LEDs. Much like light pollution from cities spoils our ability to observe the night sky and the stars in all of their glory, being constantly connected to Facebook means that we miss out on the beauty in the real world. The subtle things. The things that really matter, that really make a difference, that bring us joy and happiness.

They say, only in the dark can you see the light. For me, the time is near when I hope to turn technology off for a while. Not all of it, just the parts I can’t seem to manage while managing everything else, like Facebook.

I’m ready to go dark.

Outdoor Ethics and Nature Photography

Today, I had an interesting online debate with a couple of peers of mine from grad school. As you may know, I’m an avid rock climber and have a graduate degree in environmental studies with a focus in environmental education. So while out for a run, I discovered a large glacial erratic big enough to climb on and posted an iPhone photo of the boulder on my personal Facebook page. In the caption, I mentioned that the boulder needed some cleaning, a term climbers use to describe removing debris and sometimes mosses and lichens from the surface of a rock to make it suitable for climbing. What ensued was a lengthy debate of the ethics of rock climbing and bouldering, where two of my grad school classmates (both environmental studies students with a concentration in conservation biology) argued that cleaning a boulder to climb on was selfish and destructive and that climbing in general was an activity detrimental to the environment. We went back and forth a bit, respectfully, and it’s possible that some feelings got hurt. The reason I bring this up is because in our discussion I noticed something very interesting. While my classmates were so quick to critique my mention of cleaning a boulder, they’ve never criticized, critiqued, or even questioned my other actions that take place in nature, and in the whole scheme of things, cleaning a single, easy to find boulder not far from a well used (and heavily impacted) pathway is really low on the scale of things I do with potentially destructive environmental impacts.

For years, my main source of income came from nature photography. To make that work, I spent countless hours in the field, interacting very closely, often intimately, with wildlife and natural landscapes. Yet rarely does anyone ever question the impact of me doing so. People don’t ask me if I trampled native plants or disturbed an animal to get a shot. They just ooooh and ahhh at the aesthetically pleasing results of my work and only rarely question the methods I use.

I know the general public is unaware of what goes into a nature photograph and potentially how much manipulation, impact, and destruction are a part of the photographic process. Issues like moving branches or rocks, using calls and sounds to mimic other animals in distress, stalking feeding or nesting areas, and attracting wildlife with bait probably don’t occur to most people. But most people probably think little of the impact rock climbers have either, so why should two educated, environmentally minded people worry about my relatively isolated and infrequent climbing impacts while ignoring my photographic ones.

On my Facebook page, I wrote:

[If] I shared a photograph of a loon (which I will at some point soon) I doubt you’d question whether I got too close to the loon and disturbed it, or if I sanitized my boat for milfoil and other organisms that could be transported between waterways and contaminate “pure” ecosystems before plopping my kayak in the water to take that picture. No one has ever asked if I baited the owl in that beautiful snowy owl shot I have that everyone loves (for the record, no I didn’t, but a lot of snowy owl photos you see are from animals that have been lured with the promise of a meal of pet shop feeder mice). You trust me enough to be a responsible and ethical nature photographer (or maybe you just never thought about it). Please trust me to be an ethical climber too.

The truth is I try to be responsible in everything I do in the outdoors. I’m not perfect, but I realize that my existence impacts the environment around me every day. When I am hands on in the environment, be it rock climbing or taking photographs, these impacts are more direct. I step on and crush plants! I startle and disturb animals! I make noise and track toxins and species from one location to another. My presence in the environment undoubtably changes it, but I do try to minimize my negative impacts as much as possible. So I look where I step and give wildlife its space when possible. I stick to well worn paths or wander off trail on surfaces that can best handle the pressure of my feet, avoiding the rare or intermittent plants in favor of rocks, bare ground, or hardier, more commonplace species. When photographing animals, I carefully watch their behavior and back off if I sense I am distressing them or making them upset. I leave a trace, but I try to leave as small of a trace as possible or otherwise ensure that the overall impact of my presence is a positive one instead of a negative one.

I am aware of my influence on others as well. As a rock climbing instructor and an important person in our local rock climbing community, I know that how I act and behave while climbing or in the outdoors sets an example for other climbers, particularly the young ones who first venture into outdoor climbing under my guidance. As a photographer who teaches photography and sells my work, I know that my actions model my values and tell others how it is acceptable to behave when photographing nature.

I feel it is important to bring awareness to this very issue. As nature photographers, we (and all outdoor enthusiasts) need to think about what we do, and how and why we are doing it. We do impact the environment, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively, usually both. We also influence each other. Do your actions reflect your beliefs and values? Are they what you hope others would do? When given the chance, are you educating and encouraging others to act responsibly and respectfully? I hope so.

As a photographer, I believe in full disclosure (of techniques, not so much of locations). For me a good rule of thumb is if I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone how I got a particular shot, then maybe I shouldn’t do it that way. In the past I’ve used bird calls to attract territorial birds during mating season and crossed over fences that clearly said to stay on trail. These days, I’m not so proud of those type of actions, so I avoid them and instead stick to more natural settings and following posted signs and warnings. I’m more aware of my actions now and the potential consequences of them. Occasionally, I mess up. I’m human and inherently flawed by nature, but I try to be virtuous and most importantly, I try to be honest. And I genuinely do care.

Call me old fashioned, but I still think there’s value in that.

Let These Roots Grow

Lupine Sunrise : Prints Available

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) stretch across the hillside of Sugar Hill, New Hampshire as the sun rises over the nearby mountains. Each year Sugar Hill hosts a "Lupine Festival" celebrating the beautiful wildflowers.

Spring is my favorite season. You probably know that by now because I say it every year.

This time of year I open my windows for the first time in months and let in the fresh air. It smells of damp earth and later will carry the sweet scent of blooming flowers. The songs of birds float through my window on a warm, gentle breeze. You can actually feel the energy in the air as new life bursts out of its cold winter shell. Pretty soon there will be more colors than Crayola has names for painting the flowers and trees and little critters will be scurrying about in reverent joy. Right now it is still too early for the stinging and biting insects that plague summer so there is absolutely nothing to stop me from enjoying it all. Everything about the natural world is ripe for enjoyment in spring.

This will be my first entire spring in New Hampshire because this year I won’t be taking a two week trip to Baltimore and West Virginia like I have for the past five years. I will visit my mom in New Jersey for a couple weekends, but I’ll mostly be in New England and I’m so excited about it! By the end of May, which is only about six weeks away, I will officially have owned my home for a year and will have gone a whole year without boarding a plane. It may sound silly, but that milestone means so so much to me.

I didn’t grow up traveling. I grew up in a modest house in suburban New Jersey never going anywhere. My first time on a plane was when I was fourteen, and it wasn’t until late college that I began to travel and explore regularly. Just a few years ago, I spent nearly one third of my time on the road, in other countries and other states. I experienced and saw many amazing things on my travels, but eventually, I got to the point where I just wanted to be home again. I grew tired of missing things and saying goodbye to people constantly, so I traded in my travel bags for some house keys and gave myself some roots.

I quit being a self employed full time photographer and landed a normal full time job working with teens at a local non-profit. I LOVE my job, but its one of those jobs where 40 hours a week never quite cuts it and leaving work at work is impossible. So I take photographs far too infrequently because I’m tired often, and I’ve sort of made a habit of staying home and sleeping in on weekends because I actually really like my house and days off are only time I get to enjoy it.

The funny thing is, even though I seem to be doing far less photography than I used to, I like being a photographer in New England so much more than being a photographer anywhere else. New England photographers are pretty cool! For the most part the nature photographers I’ve met in New England are humble, ethical, friendly, and make pleasant company. They generally know a lot about the subjects they photograph and treat those subjects with respect. They are polite and kind to other photographers, even going so far as to encourage and help each other. They know how to create incredible images in challenging conditions, and work with lesser known icons with a craftsmanship that rivals the work of well known photographers who travel to and photograph in exotic locations. They tend to stick closer to home and develop an intimate connection with the landscape and wildlife that they photograph and because of all of this they inspire me in a way that other photographers can’t.

So even though I’m shooting less than ever before, I’m proud to call New Hampshire home and be able to shoot with the likes of Jerry Monkman, Jim Salge, Jeff Newcomer, Adam Woodworth, and so many others when I do actually pull out my camera. I hope I’ll get to meet some of those New England photographers I haven’t met yet, like Mark Picard, who is so passionate and knowledgeable about his favorite subjects – moose and Baxter State Park – that his photos of them are unrivaled. New England is a magnificent region with is no shortage of inspiring subjects and even after five years here there is so much more I want to see, explore, discover, and photograph.

So hopefully this spring I’ll get a moment or two to enjoy the place I call home and maybe even take a picture or two to share. Being busy with other things does have its downsides, but at least it keeps me home and there’s no place I’d rather be.

Remembering Daddy

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On this day, seven years ago, the first man I ever loved slipped into darkness. I remember the day well. It was raining in New Jersey. I called my mom a couple times that morning, saw my first robin of the year, and drove home from college for the weekend. When I got to my house, there were cop cars, the front doors were wide open, and I knew right away that something bad had happened to my dad.

Seven years later, and this day still haunts me. It always will. His birthday, my parent’s anniversary, and the holidays are all also difficult. I doubt that will ever change.

Every year, on the anniversary of my dad’s death, I change my Facebook profile picture and cover photo to one of me with my dad. In a small way, it helps me cherish his memory and cope with his passing.

The photos are ones taken mostly by my mother, when I was a little girl. My family lived a pretty simple life – a comfortable house, modestly furnished, two cars. We never went on family vacations or went out to dinner and rarely participated in particularly momentous occasions. Yet my mom prioritized capturing everyday memories of my childhood. She had a little 35mm Kodak point-and-shoot camera – it was a very basic model, with no zoom, and when I got older it started to break periodically. Every time it broke, my dad found a way to fix it. Our photos were developed at Kmart, and my mom put them in albums.

As I got older and more independent, my mom less often took a part in my every day adventures, and as a result there were less photos of me, of my dad, and of our family in general. The photos I have from my middle school and teenage years rarely depict my family, and long gaps exist between captured memories.

Every year on this day, I find myself looking at the same photographs of my dad and I. In the majority of them, I range in age from toddler to middle school. There are ones of us on the Fourth of July, at Halloween, mowing the lawn and raking the leaves. In one, I am on his shoulders behind the old Grand Union and Kmart. In another I am sitting with him on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle. Of all the photos, I think there is only one of us anytime after I hit puberty – my dad and I are wrestling the cork out of a wine bottle and neither of our faces are visible. It was taken one Thanksgiving while I was in college.

I am so grateful to my mother for being an engaged and active parent. I cannot thank her enough for photographing my childhood as frequently and often as she did. Growing up, I know we didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom made sure that some of that went to buying and developing film, so she could capture those fleeting memories. Now, as the years pass and the memories become less vivid, I rely on those photos more and more. They help keep my dad alive in my heart and soul, even if he is no longer here with us in the way we all wish he still was.

If and when I ever have kids, I will photograph them often. I will capture their smiles and laughter on the most ordinary of days. I will photograph them with messy hair, stained shirts, and mouths full of food. I will photograph them with their father, their grandparents, their friends, and their pets. I will take selfies with my kids, and I’ll encourage them to use the camera and capture their world from their perspective. I will let them photograph what is important to them and take their photo when they ask me too, even if I feel too busy or too tired.

So often I focus on photography from a creative, technical, and artistic perspective. But rarely do I focus on photography’s most distinctive and unique quality: the ability of a photograph to capture a fleeting moment, a memory, and help that split second last forever. It’s magic.

If my mom hadn’t taught me that lesson long ago, today would feel a lot more empty.

Thankful

Tis the season.

Holiday time tends to inspire strong feelings from people. They either love or hate the indulgent parties, extravagant spending, abundance of rich foods and strong drinks, festive decorations and overall cheer of the last months of the year. I’ve personally always enjoyed more the more intimate and understated aspects of the holidays. As a child, my favorite traditions involved a ratty old stuffed animal named Santa Paws, driving around with my parents to look at Christmas lights, the animated Christmas displays at the now extinct Fountains of Wayne, and tubing down the hill behind the old Grand Union. Of these, only Santa Paws remains, and the Christmas tunes he plays when you squeeze his paw have slowed and saddened. His Santa hat clings on to his weathered head by mere threads, but his floppy ears and light up nose are still charming. Now, sometimes, when I press his paw, I cry.

Christmas has changed. I no longer sneak out of my room at 3am to find presents under the tree, then wake my parents in a flurry of excitement. The days when my father convinced me that Santa was tired of milk and cookies and that we ought to leave him pizza and beer instead are long gone. I’m an adult now, I live in New Hampshire now, and I live alone now.

Old traditions have been replaced with new ones, like a caroling pub crawl with the local rugby team or holiday parties with my eclectic assortment of New Hampshire friends. This is my first Christmas completely solo, and tonight I set up a tree, my very first very own tree. It’s a fake one because I knew I wouldn’t bother with a real one even though that’s all I’ve ever had my whole life. This tree is pre-lit with plain white lights and doesn’t make a mess or require me to water it. It also doesn’t smell like wonderful Christmas, but it’s easy and that’s all I have the time or energy for because I’m on my own. I own exactly two Christmas ornaments here in New Hampshire, so I decorated my tree with those and a set of Black Diamond nuts used for rock climbing.

Christmas alone is an interesting concept. On the one hand, it seems kind of lonely. I didn’t think I’d enjoy decorating alone, because as a kid, my dad and I did the lights together and my mom and I did the ornaments. In other living situations, my housemates and I cut and set up our tree and decorated together. There were presents, ribbons, bows, lights, wreaths, candles, garland, ornaments, music, cookies, and eggnog. Two years ago, there was even this very odd antique wind-up monkey that brought entirely too much pleasure to my housemate and I. We made these really awful videos about it.

Now it’s just me in a sparsely furnished house with mostly bare walls and a plastic tree.

Sometimes being alone feels lonely, but then I realize how freaking awesome, brilliantly beautiful, and rich my life is. I am not alone. My life is full of many amazing people. I have close friends who I see maybe a few times a year if that, but are there for me if ever I need them. I can share my naked soul with them without fear of judgement. At my ugliest, they love me. I have people in my life that are an everyday unwavering beautiful presence. My coworkers and friends here are absolutely incredible. We share stories and laugher, and although they may not know my deepest darkest secrets, they bring light to my life every day, just by being in it. Most of the people I surround myself with on a daily basis ooze goodness out of their bones. Yes, there are grumpy people who come to my work, but they are few and far in between when you look at the big picture. Besides, I think that a little suffering each day is good for you. Adversity builds character. I am strong because I have lived through days and events that have quite frankly sucked, but even when I faced those challenges alone, I was never isolated from the beauty of the people around me, who have loved me and supported me through good times and bad.

I like to think that I am a pretty grateful person. I’m not one who limits showing my appreciation for all of the wonderful people in my life, giving thanks for my many blessings, or expressing gratitude for everyday touches of beauty to just the holiday season. I say I love you, openly, honestly, and often. I smile and say thank you frequently, daily throughout the year. Sharing such sentimental feelings of joy for all I have seems a little cliche this time of year, but today, I just can’t help myself. I am thankful.

My life is beautiful. And so is my Christmas tree.

My very first very own Christmas tree.

I Remember When

I remember when I used to regularly wake up well before dawn to go somewhere to shoot sunrise. In college, I would pack all of my stuff the night before, so I didn’t wake my roommate at 3am. I’d plan entire days or weekends around photography and spent all day out in the field, sunrise to sunset. I couldn’t afford fancy hotels or exotic trips, so I usually planned long day trips or camped. I was constantly shooting and seeking out new subjects to photograph. Hardly a week went by when I didn’t spend at least an hour or two burning through a memory card, even if it was only in my backyard or at a nearby park. I discovered really wonderful things about my local environment through photography, and amazed friends and family at the beautiful images I managed to capture so close to home.

Pine Barrens Treefrog,Hyla andersonii, Green Wood Wildlife Management Area, New Jersey, treefrog

Pine Barrens Treefrog : Prints Available

In college, I'd take one of my days off to go for a hike, visit some bird feeders, or go herping. That's how I found and photographed this guy, an endangered Pine Barrens Treefrog.

I now live in a place most would argue is far more beautiful than where I grew up or went to school. One might think that I should be shooting more, but I hardly shoot at all now. This year, I’ve probably only done a half dozen or so shoots. Now there are other things that are just as or more important to me than photography. I have more money and more independence, but I have less time and more responsibilities as well.

Photography is still my passion, but it’s not my only one. I love my job, which has nothing to do with photography, but takes up a lot of my time and energy. I recently bought a house and have taken on caring for a foster dog. I love to work out and I need to exercise to stay sane and happy, so trying to squeeze in a hour of cross training or some lifting and cardio gets in the way of spending a morning on a photo shoot. Still, I manage to get out and shoot every now and then, and when I do, I always remember how much I miss it.

waterfall, Chesterfield, New Hampshire, waterfall

Sugarbush Falls : Prints Available

I think its fair to say that, as a whole, New Hampshire is a far more beautiful state than New Jersey. This was in my backyard at the apartment I rented for the past three years, before purchasing my own home earlier this year.

New Hampshire Reflections, Part 3: Closure

During workshops I keep participants busy and tend to keep myself even busier. I’m no stranger to long hours and longer days, so I’m ready for action dawn to dusk if need be. During workshops my clients are my number one responsibility and I tend to prioritize their needs as much as possible. They way I see it, there is so very much to learn and so little time to fit it all in, so I encourage clients to let me know what they want and need and to pick my brain as much as possible during our time together.

I met my group Friday morning. After some brief introductions, we headed out into the field almost immediately. Friday was sunny and calm with mild temperatures while Saturday’s forecast looked unpromising, so we wanted to maximize time in the field when we had good weather. After visiting a couple nearby locations, we returned to the Highland Center for lunch and an afternoon program, took a short break, and then headed back out into the field for sunset. Bold colors and fancy clouds never materialized, and the wind had picked up significantly in the afternoon, but we still managed to capture some great moments.

All of which I deleted promptly when I accidentally formatted the memory card in my camera while answering a question. Multi-tasking is not my forte. Oh well. (Don’t worry, I have sent the memory card to a friend who specializes in data recovery. We are both hopeful that the images can be salvaged.)

SIlver Cascade

The next day was dreary. I woke up to heavily overcast skies and encouraged the photographers to sleep in a bit longer to wait for brighter conditions once the sun had risen a little higher in the sky and its light was better able to penetrate the clouds. Conditions had barely improved by mid-morning and were only predicted to get worse, so instead of venturing to a location in dismal conditions, I took the group for a walk around a trail near the Highland Center and showed them some of New England’s cool flora. I showed them hobblebush, a plant with leaves that often turn a patchwork of colors in autumn, and discussed the cool evolutionary adaptations of paper birch. We sniffed at yellow birch and tea berry inhaling their minty fragrance, and I pointed out the differences between the leaves of sugar maple and red maple. I introduced them to the many plants I recognized and they photographed details along the trail, finding images in even the least photogenic of the places we would visit. In a way, the rain helped us connect even more deeply to the land and the experience it provided. In lieu of the grand scenics of the White Mountains in their full autumn glory, we focused on the smaller components of nature that are the building blocks of this vast and beautiful landscape.

We spent the rest of the day in the classroom, reviewing programs and critiquing images. Winds picked up and rain fell, making photographing outdoors a tricky and unpleasant experience. While I strongly encourage photographers to explore a variety of conditions and embrace nature in all her forms, there are some times when the rewards and are hard to come by. I’ve never had much luck photographing in wet and windy conditions with little light.

By Sunday morning, the weather had subsided a bit. At sunrise, the clouds were still too thick on the horizon to let in any light, but by mid-morning some of the lower clouds had started to burn off and the sun began to shine through. We spent the morning capturing some great scenes and visited a handful of locations. At one spot, at the Silver and Flume Cascades along Route 302 in Crawford Notch, I ran into another photographer friend of mine, Adam Woodworth. Then, before we knew it, it was time to return to the Highland Center, pack up our stuff and check out of our rooms, eat our last meal together, and say goodbye.

Goodbyes can be tricky. Sometimes people linger. Sometimes you feel as if the time passed too quickly and the goodbyes come to soon. Sometimes, goodbyes seem to come before the end does. In this case, the workshop felt complete. Sure it would have been great to spend more time in the mountains and hang out with the kind folks in my group just a little longer, but I felt satisfied. I felt happy. I felt whole.

I finished up my final paperwork (and placed the folder on the roof of my car just in time for a stout wind to blow its contents all over the driveway – thankfully a kind AMC employee helped me track down all of my runaway papers), said thank you to anyone I could find at the AMC that had helped throughout our visit, and started back on my merry way home. I stopped in Bartlett to look at small cabin for sale (a girl can dream, right?), swung by the White Mountain Cupcakery to pick up a dozen maple bacon cupcakes for a friends’ party (best cupcakes ever and totally worth getting stuck in North Conway Village leaf peeper traffic), and passed through the Squam Lakes region to see if I could capture fall color in a different area (it hadn’t quite arrived there yet and there was not a cloud in the sky by the time the sun set). With all my stops and detours on the way, I ended up making it home well after dark, tired and ready for bed. But of course, when I lay down, the wheels in my head wouldn’t stop spinning.

Into the Woods : Prints Available

A dirt road winds through the woods in Sandwich, New Hampshire, past trees just starting to turn yellow with the first signs of autumn. Image ID: KP141005-1624040.

I am lucky. I truly am. Every day, I do things I love. Whether it be playing games with kids in a field, teaching teenagers to rock climb, or sharing the experience of nature with others through photography, I am usually having fun. I realize that for many others, their reality is quite different. Many work long hours just for the chance to play on weekends. For me, work is play. My work is exercising my body and mind, laughing, breathing fresh air, creating and building relationships with people, challenging myself, and capturing the beauty of everyday life, in words, in images, and in memories. My day to day experiences are so rich, I rarely think much about the money I make (not much) or the hours I put in (a lot). Most days my work is truly a pleasure, and it fills my life with a sense of purpose and a profound and genuine happiness. Most days, work is worth it.

Sometimes I need a trip to the mountains to remind me of all this because I’m not perfect. Because I care so deeply about the work I do, I put my whole self into it, and sometimes that means I don’t always make time for me and get burnt out. When I feel overwhelmed, I’m snippy, sassy, and impatient, and let unhealthy habits surface. I am not my best me, and I don’t like myself very much. But all I need is a little reminder of the me I am proud of, the me that is deeply grateful for all of the many opportunities I have been given and the fantastic people in my life. Usually all that is needed to set me right again is a dose of whatever it is I have been missing. In this case, it was simply an adventure in good company, exploring a land that speaks to my heart and soul, that is both familiar yet at the same time filled with new and excited undiscovered surprises – a reminder that I am home.

This is the third and final installment of a short series of blog posts about my experience leading the AMC Fall Photography Weekend. Read Parts 1 and 2 here. I will be updating all of these posts and my website with more images from the weekend, once I manage to get them recovered.

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