Talking ’bout Generations

Generation 1 grinning from ear-to-ear while hugging generation 3--I love grandma's smile

Generation 1 grinning from ear-to-ear while hugging generation 3–I love the smile

Upon reflecting on spending Saturday morning with Great-grandparents, Grandparents, Parents, and child, the continuum struck me as profound.  I now have five close friends who are grandparents.  Everyone of them says being a grandparent is the best experience in the world–they don’t actually have to say that, the look on their faces says it all.

Perhaps it brings a sigh of relief knowing that you can pass the baton and let your child be the one who does all the hard stuff while you sweep in to blow raspberries on baby’s belly or to spoil a toddler with cookies at breakfast or let a ‘tween do something they’re not allowed to do with a wink and a shared secret never to be told to your children?

Sleepy face on Generation 4

Sleepy face on Generation 4

I am reminded of my own grandparents.  My father’s parents were born before the turn of the century–the 20th, that is.  My father was a late comer in their lives, born when they were in their 40’s.  By the time I arrived on the scene, they were nearly 70.

They were still fun people, albeit moving slowly, until I was about 12 or so.  We saw them twice a year, living about a 10-hour drive away.  Grandma always baked for us.  She made fancy homemade cakes for my brother’s birthday at Christmas.  But what really got us excited wasn’t the cake.  It was her marshmallow treats.  We had never had them before my grandmother made them for us the first time.  She set the standard.

My grandmother also made the best strawberry preserves I ever ate in my life.  Grandma’s strawberry preserves were so darn good, I still drool whenever I think about them.  I used to regret not learning from her how to make them, but now I think the memory of those preserves is sacred.  Grandma’s secret ingredient in all her recipes was an infusion of love.  Eating her goodies was like a sacrament–the embodiment of all that she hoped to pass down to us.

Generation 3 holding generation 4 and looking like only a proud papa madly in love with his baby girl can look

Generation 3 holding generation 4 and looking like only a proud papa madly in love with his baby girl can look

My grandfather did not bake.  Rather, he was just downright silly.  He was world-class when it came to horse play.  Whether it was chasing us around the house (irritating Grandma with our shrieks of joy), bouncing us on his knee, or pretending to steal our noses, Grandpa’s genuine goofiness was a crowd pleaser.

The most poignant moment of visiting Grandma and Grandpa always came when we waved goodbye.  Armed with a bag of candies to get us safely home again, we waved out the back window of the station wagon and watched Grandma bury her tear-streaked face in Grandpa’s shoulder as we disappeared from view.  I asked my mom once why Grandma always cried when we left.  Mom said something about Grandma missing us when we’re gone.  I didn’t figure out until many years later that it was because every time she said goodbye, she thought it would be the last.

Generation 4 rebooting

Generation 4 rebooting


Events and Portraits


Elle finds a rock–or maybe it was a feather?

I am not excited by event photography.  Every time I review my photos from an event, I realize that this is apparent in the images.  I have not found the energy to learn anything about event photography other than individual portraits, which I interest me after landscape, wildlife, nature, architectural, macro, and sports photography.

In spite of this, I regularly shoot events for the Chattanooga Audubon Society and I feel bad that I can’t deliver better results than people who know nothing about photography, like this one:

The kind of event photo that makes me cringe with embarrassment

The kind of event photo that makes me cringe with embarrassment

I have dozens and dozens of images that look like that–random groups of people poorly arranged not paying attention to the camera and often caught with strange expressions on their faces.  I am very good at capturing the moments no one wants captured during an event.

My latest endeavor was at the 69th birthday party for the Chattanooga Audubon Society.  People were sitting in chairs or standing in lines around the walls of a large room.  They were eating cake and ice cream and talking.  When I would attempt to shoot small groups of people, they often either hid their faces or moved out of the frame.

Elle showing me a leaf

Elle showing me a leaf

This led to stealth shooting of the whole room.  Which, in turn, resulted in images like the one above.  I was quite relieved when one of the young guests needed someone to take her for a walk–she was a much easier subject.

I did manage to sneak up on the cake.  The cake is rather funny.  I ordered a cake with an outdoors theme and asked for trees and birds.  I’d never ordered a cake from the place I got it, but since the place I planned to get it from stopped making sheet cakes and I was ordering 1 ½ days ahead, I didn’t have a lot of choices.  I crossed my fingers and hoped they would come up with something good.

Elle pausing to pose for me while looking for the next interesting find

Elle pausing to pose for me while looking for the next interesting find

They did a lovely job creating a lake–they said they “didn’t have any birds.”  I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for people to create a bird outline in icing, but I didn’t ask.  The funny thing is that while the Audubon has 3 properties–an island in the Tennessee River, a property with a mixture of a stream, woods, and open meadows, and a wooded mountain property–none of them have a lake.

The cake--that's about all that can be said about this photo

The cake–that’s about all that can be said about this photo

I’m sure there is a more artistic way to capture a cake, but I feel like the straight-on, from-the-top framing that one might expect from the average soccer mom at a kid’s party is completely appropriate for this cake.  Perhaps with a spot light and some fog it would be possible to shoot this cake artistically, but there wasn’t a fog machine handy.

Oh well.  I would start reading up on event shooting, but I think I’m going to leave it on the bottom of my “to-do” list until it’s time to prepare for the next event.

One last image of the endlessly curious Elle

One last image of the endlessly curious Elle


Gina and the Magnolia Warbler

This Magnolia Warbler remains perched all day

This Magnolia Warbler remains perched all day

The next hardest part after getting someone to agree to pose for you is to find a setting to shoot them in.  Lucky for me, the ravine at the end of Gina and Gill’s street provided a lovely backdrop.

After seeing the critters that had been collected in the ravine that day (see yesterday’s post), we paused to check out Gina’s bird under the overpass.  A group of people had gotten together to raise money to have a mural painted under an overpass in the ravine.

Gina's Magnolia is a bit bigger than life-sized

Gina’s Magnolia is a bit bigger than life-sized

The idea was less about making it pretty and more about preventing people from touting whom they love in the not-so-public forum of graffiti on rarely seen walls.  Interestingly, graffiti artists do not usually graffiti over top of someone else’s art.  So, putting a mural on a space that gets graffitied a lot can be effective when it comes to combatting the problem.

I am particularly fond of the bird mural in Gina’s neighborhood ravine.  Gina and Gill sponsored the painting of a Magnolia Warbler.  They didn’t know they were sponsoring a Magnolia Warbler until after it was done and they were informed of what type of bird they had funded.

What's that birdie on your shoulder?

What’s that birdie on your shoulder?

The Magnolia Warbler is partially responsible for growing my interest in birds sufficiently that I started learning more about them.  My mom had tried to get me interested in birds for many years.  I did have some interest, but not enough to go out and learn much beyond feeder birds.  Then, I met a woman at work who asked me to sponsor her in a fund raiser for the local chapter of the Audubon.  This is when I first learned to open my ears and eyes and see birds I would have sworn I’d never seen before.

With a little more flash

With a little more flash

One spring, I was working from home back when my office window looked out into several trees.  As I sat at my desk diligently working, I looked up briefly–just long enough to notice a beautiful small bird sitting on a branch.  I watched it as long as I dared.  I was torn between running upstairs for the bird book to identify it and staring at it for as long as possible so I could sear the image of the bird into my brain and identify it later.

Creating a little drama with a Snoot

Creating a little drama with a Snoot

Realizing I didn’t really know (yet) what to look for and probably would have forgotten the bird by the time I got to the bird book, I decided to make a run for it and see if I could get the book and get back before the bird flew away.  I didn’t, but I did manage to remember what it looked like.  Of course, it took both looking it up in a bird book and talking to my friend the next day to confirm that it probably was a Magnolia Warbler I’d seen before I believed it.

It was such a surprise to learn such small, beautiful birds are really a common sight.

What a beautiful day in the park

What a beautiful day in the park

Family Planning

Tisen's collection of squeaky toys seems to have grown quite a bit since October

Tisen’s collection of squeaky toys seems to have grown quite a bit since October

This was the majority of the collection in October--the family is getting out of control

This was the majority of the collection in October–the family is getting out of control


There’s a reason people recommend planning your family carefully.  I believe it’s because after so many family members, it becomes difficult to fit everyone into a camera frame.

While we successfully kept the human side of the family to plan, the canine side didn’t go quite how we expected.  Our plan was not to have any more dogs until we had settled down somewhere.  Our goal was all about mobility.

Tisen inspects the family portrait pose

Tisen inspects the family portrait pose

But as things changed and we exercised our mobility less and less, I found myself home alone way too much.  Working from home is not the same as actually being around other people, even on days when I’m on conference calls for 10 straight hours.

Black and white Hipstamatic version using the D-Type film

Black and white Hipstamatic version using the D-Type film

Not wanting a long-term commitment, I decided to foster dogs for a local shelter.  Tisen was my 3rd foster dog in Chattanooga.  I am what is called a “foster failure.”  That’s what it’s called when foster mom and dad adopt the dog they’re fostering.  I can live with that kind of failure.

My boy kept stealing family members--Baby Beaver had to be omitted from the group shot to get Tisen to settle down

My boy kept stealing family members–Baby Beaver had to be omitted from the group shot to get Tisen to settle down

But, having failed to plan the permanent addition of Tisen to our family, it follows that I would be equally less deliberate about planning the additions Tisen would bring home.  It started with the discovery of his love for squeaky toys.  For the first year we had Tisen, he had no interest in treats.  Only squeaky toys.

Tisen licks his nose after being reunited with Snake makes him sneeze

Tisen licks his nose after being reunited with Snake makes him sneeze

As a result, we kept getting him more squeaky toys.  Soon, it became a tradition every time we went to PetsMart, Tisen gets to pick out a new toy.  He carries it so proudly through the store with the tags still hanging off it.  Usually, he tries to prance straight out the front door with it.  He hasn’t quite gotten the “we have to pay for it” concept down yet.  So far the store manager has been very understanding and hasn’t prosecuted Tisen for attempted shop lifting.

A more traditional image of the family yielded a pile of jumbled colors

A more traditional image of the family yielded a pile of jumbled colors

Today, I decided, was the day to find out just how large the family had grown.  I haven’t attempted a family portrait since October, when Cow Ball joined the family.  I was a bit shocked when I gathered up all the family members and piled them on the sofa.  This actually took two trips!

Tisen isn't quite sure what he's supposed to do with the huge pile of toys on the sofa

Tisen isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do with the huge pile of toys on the sofa

I got out the last inventory list I’d made and checked off the toys as I found them.  Each and every one of them was accounted for, plus about 10 news ones added since October.  There was even one extra–White Ball.  White ball doesn’t belong to Tisen.  He “borrowed” it from Twiggy, his girlfriend.  It’s probably some ploy he’s using to try to get her to come over–she likes to play it cool.

Close up of Big Dog, Red Dog, Artie (the Armadillo/'Possum), and Puppy Luv cuddling

Close up of Big Dog, Red Dog, Artie (the Armadillo/’Possum), and Puppy Luv cuddling

I had a little trouble fitting the entire family into the frame.  I’m a little worried they’ve started multiplying on their own–how did we end up with 3 bears?  Last time I checked, we only had Minnie and Eddie Bear.  Now we have Flat Bear, too.  This is why family planning is so important.

Had great fun with an overexposed shot--after much adjusting, it ended up reminding me of a crayon drawing

Had great fun with an overexposed shot–after much adjusting, it ended up reminding me of a crayon drawing

Tisen’s Turn

I imagine our day from Tisen’s perspective.  If Tisen were writing this post, what would he say?

“Mom put antlers on my head.  I’m felt stupid, but Mom kept smiling, so I pretended I liked it.  As long as I had my fluffy bed and Jack, I really didn’t care about the antlers.

Mom also put a snug sweater on me.  It was warm and felt like a hug.  Daddy rolls his eyes when Mommy puts it on me, but I kind of like it.

They left me in the sunroom with my breakfast and a rabbit.  I gobbled down my breakfast before the rabbit could get out and steal it, but then I was in the sunroom all by myself with that rabbit.  It kept watching me.

Eventually, they came back and took me outside.  I got to sniff and pee on some of my favorite spots, and then, JOY!  They finally let me back in the van.  I love the van.  It takes me places with Mommy and Daddy.

We didn’t go very far before we stopped though.  Mommy and Daddy met up with Uncle Paul and Aunt Megan.  I watched them walk into a building.  It was so windy, Mommy’s hair flipped up like a toupee in the wind.

They were in there a long time.  I got worried.  I decided I’d better take shotgun position so I could keep a closer eye on the door.  It was getting cold in the car while I was sitting there.  Mommy left me a blanket on my fluffy bed, but I was determined not to take my eyes off the door, so I stayed put.

Eventually they returned.  Mommy got in the seat with me and let me sit on her lap while Daddy drove around for a little bit.  Mommy was so warm.  She pulled the blanket over my cold ears and paws and cuddled me while Daddy went somewhere.  When Daddy came back, I had to get in the back on my bed.  I didn’t want to leave Mommy, but she insisted.

Mommy covered me with my blanket and then we drove for a really long time.

I was getting too warm.  I had to get out from under my blanket.  Then, we stopped and Daddy took off my jacket and walked me around in some nice grass.

After that, I got to sleep in the back for a long time.  Mommy was sleeping in her seat, too.  I was a little worried about her because her head kept tipping over, but every time I checked on her, she was OK.

After a long time, we were in my very own parking lot and Mommy took me for a walk around my very own park.  Then, we went inside and I found Tiger, Blue Dog, Skunk, and Big Dog all waiting for me.  I told them all about my adventure, but I’m not sure they believed me.  Especially the part about the rabbit.

A Little Whimsy

I’m in the mood for some whimsy.  And what better place to find the whimsical than Key West, Florida?  I am not there.  But, I have photos from the last time I was.

We went to Key West the long way.  We drove from Columbus, Ohio through Shenandoah National Park over the Blue Ridge Parkway to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, to Everglades City, to Key West.

I am not one of those people who goes to a city and immediately wants to know where all the art museums and galleries are.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy art.  But I’m easily overwhelmed.  Even more so when the art is violent and bloody.  There are entire eras of art that I prefer not to know about.

The Custom House in Key West might be the only art gallery I’ve ever gone to where I managed to walk through the whole thing and still felt so fascinated, I peeked in at an upcoming exhibit that wasn’t open yet.

What kept me interested was whimsy.  If ever there were going to be a place with an art and historical museum full of whimsical wonders, Key West would be the place.  Even before we made it inside, we were amused by the life-like sculptures outside performing day-to-day tasks ranging from sweeping trash to taking pictures.  We kept getting confused as to who was real and who was art.  I guess that means we were all art.

Inside, we found more life-like sculptures, all by Seward Johnson, of scenes from some of the most famous photos ever.  Like the WWII guy kissing the girl at the end of the war.  Or Marilyn Monroe with her white dress over an air duct in the Seven Year Itch.  Can you tell who doesn’t belong in that image?

There were also several sculptures based on famous art.  The girl with the pearl earring was there (not pictured) along with The Landlady (based on L’Arlesienne by Van Gogh) who was hanging out on the porch of the Custom House.  She was even more amusing because of the plastic outdoor chair positioned on the porch next to her, implying that she had just been visiting with someone.

But, above all, my favorite sculpture was called “Day Dream.”  This was a bigger-than-life sculpture of the Matisse painting called “Dance” but with the addition of an adolescent boy laying on the ground as the naked ladies dance in a circle above him.  At first, I thought the boy was real, perhaps because there were real people going in and out of the sculpture as well.  I thought it was rather bold of a guy to lay on the ground in the middle of a sculpture of dancing naked women.  Turns out being bold was what the artist had in mind all along.

Portraits without Flash

Having spent several hours on post-processing more images from my latest attempt at portraiture, I thought I would do a second post from this shoot.

I mentioned some of the challenges I was unprepared for in my previous post on this topic, but what I didn’t talk about was the flash.  Several month ago, I had the realization that I needed portable lighting while shooting the same couple.

At the time, I had recently invested in some studio lights.  When, however, the couple who volunteered to model for me wanted to shoot outdoors, I was stuck with nothing but the built-in flash on my Canon 40D.  In other words, no lighting at all.

So, I invested in an off-brand, all manual flash and started learning how to use it on a flash stand.  But, when I subsequently upgraded my camera, I got distracted relearning the things I thought I already knew how to do and the flash sat in a corner, unused.

I had started taking an online course on flash photography and learned that maybe my off-brand manual flash wasn’t the best equipment to start with.  That led to me delaying purchasing radio controllers for the flash, thinking I might end up buying the latest, built-in radio flash unit if I figured out what I was doing and decided it made sense.

All of this led to me continuing to use a long cord from the flash stand to the camera when I wanted to us my flash.  And, in case you thought I was never going to get to the point, led to an accident involving knocking over my light stand with the cord when I was attempting to light a mimosa tree a couple months ago.  What I didn’t know was that the adapter broke when the stand fell over.

Having put off scheduling this follow up shoot for so long, I hadn’t had my flash unit out for many weeks.  And, of course, we had a last minute invitation to have dinner with friends before they left to go out of town.  So, in a nutshell, I was rushing to get ready for the shoot before racing off for an early dinner with our friends and then racing back to meet my models for the shoot.

Which means, I didn’t discover the broken adapter until I got to the location and was trying to figure out how to make it work.  After fiddling around with it enough to get it to mount sideways with the flash twisted back to the front, I realized I wasn’t going to have enough power to light both of my subjects from far enough away to shoot wide enough to capture the setting, which my models wanted in their images.  So, after waiting months to shoot them outdoors with a flash, I was stuck with natural light after all.

This is a really long way of saying being prepared might be a good idea.  🙂


I haven’t used the flash in many weeks.

I actually bought the flash because I needed it when trying to shoot a couple for their “Save the Date” announcements.  The plan was to do a follow up shoot to get something they can use for a decorative idea the bride had for their wedding reception.  However, it took weeks for me to get the flash unit and figure out how to use it.  Then, I had the new camera I was trying to learn to use and they were busy.  Finally, we scheduled a date but then it rained.  I would love to shoot in the rain, but I don’t think that’s what they’re looking for.

At long last, this Sunday I pulled out my flash stand and flash again and we went off to the Nature Center and Arboretum.  Assignment:  Get a shot of the happy couple in a natural setting that reflects how much they enjoy the outdoors.

Fortunately, they are members of the Nature Center so we were able to shoot up until dusk.  This was very helpful.


When we arrived, the first problem was the weather.  It was so incredibly hot and humid.  It hurt to breathe.  I felt a little sorry for myself lugging around so much equipment in the heat, but the bride-to-be was wearing what looked to be the most uncomfortable dress, so I stopped feeling sorry for myself and was grateful I didn’t have to wear anything hot.

The second problem was the insects.  I know my precious birds wouldn’t survive long if there weren’t a gazillion insects for them to eat, but I really resent that insects find me so tasty.  I guess better me than the bride.

The third problem was the sun.  It was far too bright when we arrived, leading to many squinty pictures.  We moved into a shady area to shoot until the sun started to drop, but this led to the fourth problem:  the place was completely surrounded by trees.  The sun went from too high and bright to too dark in a matter of minutes.

But the final, and most difficult problem to solve was me.  I find myself having no interest in thinking of interesting poses (or looking for poses on the internet).  I’m so focused on the subjects faces that I have to force myself to notice anything else.  I’m looking for a moment of expression when the muscles relax and just do what they really do.  Sometimes it’s very subtle.  I don’t really care if the hair is perfect or if the clothes are smooth or anything else because all I want to see is that split second when the muscles of the face sink into an unforced expression.

I find I do care about the out-of-place clothes and hair after the fact, unfortunately.  They make a difference when they distract, I find.  I just wish they would distract me a bit before I shot the photo.

When Wrong Goes Right

We have been taking a break from hang gliding for several months now.  It’s one of those things–first we were taking a break so our knees could heal.  Then, Pat started working every weekend getting his new guitar-building business going.  All work and no play was getting old.

Then, when Pat’s family came to town to celebrate Pat’s milestone birthday with us, we managed to talk his sister into going for a tandem flight.

Talking someone else into doing a tandem flight is different from deciding as a couple that it’s something you want to do together.  There is a completely different sense of responsibility–probably heightened by the fact that this was Pat’s baby sister (never mind that she’s now in her 30’s and more than capable of making up her own mind).  While I felt obligated to make her aware that there were risks, I didn’t want to scare her out of it because it’s one of those experiences you keep for a lifetime.

As we headed out to the mountain for Pat’s sister’s flight, I had one of my mental glitches that caused me to take us completely the wrong way.

As we drove as fast as was allowed in the wrong direction on a lonely 2-lane highway, we spotted a large dog staggering toward us in the middle of the lane.  We also noticed it had a collar, so we swerved around it and started looking for houses, assuming its home had to be close–it was barely able to walk.

Pat’s sister immediately wanted to stop and pick up the dog.  I think we were all thinking the same thing, but we didn’t want to steal someone’s dog.  As luck would have it, we soon realized we were going the wrong way and needed to turn around.  By this time, we realized there were no houses in the vicinity and there was no way that dog had gotten there on its own.

When we got back to where it was, it had collapsed in the middle of the road.  We blocked traffic with our car, got out Tisen’s water bowl and gave the dog water.  Then, we managed to urge it to get into our van, although Tisen wasn’t so happy about sharing his ride.

Since our safe-harbor dog shelter didn’t open for hours, we went ahead and took Pat’s sister to the flight park.  When we finally got Pat’s sister signed up for her flight, we asked if anyone wanted a dog.  It looked like a poorly bred Mastiff.  Her hips were so bad, she could barely walk.  She was dirty and smelled like she’d been lying in poop.  She had ticks and probably fleas.  We were certain she’d been dumped.  No one was interested.

Pat’s sister took her flight full of joy knowing that the dog was safe. She said the tandem flight was 2nd to rescuing the dog on her list of things that made her trip.  She wasn’t alone in her thinking.

On the Subject of Cooking

On the subject of cooking (which, believe me, I will have nothing more to say about after this), as I was digging through old photos for evidence that I can cook, I stumbled across this series of action shots.

My nephew, already a better cook than me by the time he was 10, was having a birthday and I just happened to remember that I’d seen the perfect recipe for his birthday cake. It was a cat-box cake.

Given my nephew was a big fan of those nasty jelly bellies that came in favors like vomit and boogers, I figured the cat-box cake would be quite the hit. He got very excited about the project.

My sister-in-law, always a good sport and often an instigator, got fully behind the plan to serve a cake that looked like a cat box desperately in need of a cleaning. She even went to the store and purchased a brand new litter box and scoop for the purpose of adding authenticity.

Then, my nephew, with me reading the recipe to him just so I could feel like I was helping, proceeded to grind ginger snaps and sugar cookies to make the “litter,” mixing some with green food coloring for the “fresh crystal” look. Then, the crumbs were mixed with pudding to make them moist and hold it all together. After assembling the whole thing, the coup de GRAS was the tootsie rolls warmed in the microwave enough to allow them to be formed into a disgusting “plop” shape.

When my nephews friends finished dinner and at long last were ready for dessert, my sister-in-law made an offhand comment about needing to change the litter box and headed back toward where the real cat boxes were kept. She had cleverly hidden the cake in a very separate place that was in the same general direction. Then, much to the boy’s shock and dismay, placed the fake cat box on the table.

Everyone stared, clearly with wheels rapidly turning, trying to figure out why Megan had just set a dirty litter box on the table. They’re bright boys–they suspected some kind of joke.

Eventually, it became clear to all that this was not a cat box at all but an actual, edible dessert. Then, the boys all dug in, taking great joy in being as disgusting as possible while eating the offensively shaped tootsie rolls.

I was my nephew’s favorite aunt for at least half an hour.

I took pictures of virtually every step of the process. My nephew hammed it up for the camera, too. But the shot I love the most is of my nephew gnawing on a disgusting looking chunk of tootsie roll that has cookie crumbs stuck all over it. I guess it’s true about what they say when it comes to photography: in the end, it’s not about the exposure, composition, or number of pixels. It’s about the moment–even a disgusting one.