The Long View

Unlike +Me2 I am not ready to let go of summer and head to frozen Pluto. So before I rush head long into the future, I have one last summer post to get out of my system. Please bear with me. 

A little souvenir we picked up at the gift shop nestled in some freshly planted moss. 


I have a hard time separating my artistic life from my every day life. The overlap is so great it can be hard to differentiate. I don’t need to be a good artist to be an engaged mother or visa versa. But sometimes my two selves come together in unexpected ways.

A few weeks ago my kids and I took a road trip to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother-in-law who is working there for a couple of months. We decided to meet at the Portland Japanese Garden a place none of us had been before. My son and I were awe struck the instant we arrived.

We were the worst guests possible as we excitedly pointed out that cool bamboo fence, were awe struck by the amazing water features, admired the use of white crushed rocks, checked out the incredibly pruned Japanese maple trees or exclaimed at the reflections on the water. You get the idea. 

Did I tell you about the moss? OMG, the moss! Entire carpets of the lovely stuff…under trees, growing on rocks, growing everywhere! The garden is a beautiful, serene and wonderfully spiritual place. It is one that both Noah and I want to go back to and view during the different seasons. There is much to explore in this truly special place and we babbled about it all the way home.

The next day Noah and I started transforming our own backyard into a mini Japanese garden. We trimmed trees, pruned shrubs, hacked at vines and created a nearly blank slate to work from. We also hauled bags and bags of debris out of our yard. Then we scampered off to the nursery for moss and shade plants to help us realize our vision.

We still have to add a few rocks for accent, build bamboo fencing (harvested from our own bamboo) and create paths to protect our existing moss. But we are on our way. Of course we will need to be patient, it is going to take a few years for this project to start taking shape. But we are the patient types. 

You are probably wondering what this has to do with my photography. In addition to exploring my city through macro photography I also take many of my Lego photos in my own yard. I consider our hard efforts in the last few weeks as an investment in my own personal outdoor photo studio. Maybe a little more curated than it once was, but there will still be plenty of lovely moss and rocks to create interesting set ups.

And like all great art projects, we are taking the long view. 

~ xxsjc

What was your favorite photographic related memory from this summer?
Do you plan your photos hours, days or years in advance?

The Best Laid Plans…

Today did not go according to plan.

I was supposed to work; it’s Monday and normally I am chained to my desk. I had a great blog post I wanted to write about Big Inc plus my to-do list is a mile long. But I didn’t do any of that.

I played hooky.

Or to be exact, I grabbed my mini figures, camera and headed into the mountains for a lovely hike with a friend. The day was beautiful, the photo gods were smiling on me and I even got back in time to pick up my son from school. It was a glorious day.

I guess this is why I don’t work for Big Inc.

~ xxsjc

Stay tuned, tomorrow we will post another amazing guest blog on the universal question of  “Why?

Staying Motivated is Hard to Do

I don’t think there is any skill harder to develop than the ability to stay motivated. No matter what you are doing, taking photographs, building your latest MOC or writing the next great novel, staying motivated is hard.

It’s easy to get distracted by day to day obligations, or worse yet just quitting altogether, because creating art is hard. But there is a trick to not quitting, make friends with people who share your passion. Surround yourself with supportive excited people who like to do what you do. Get together on a regular basis and share what you’ve been working on. Geek out, it’s fun!
I know that toy photography is a rather specialized photo niche and Instagram can be a great substitute for a local photo club. It can function like the most amazing and supportive group of fellow photographers you could ever hope for. Plus by getting in the habit of posting once a day, every other day or whatever you can commit to, you will be getting better just by shooting consistently. It is also a great place to make friends who share your passion for toy photography.  
So get out there and shoot some photos with your camera, your phone, your fancy DSLR…it doesn’t matter what the photo looks like. Some days your photos will be awesome, other days, not so much. It goes with the territory. Post your photo to Instagram, get some feed back and do it again tomorrow. It’s doing the work that is important. Of course the real fun begins when you look back over your feed and see how much you have grown. 
And THAT will feel much better than quitting. 
Do you find it hard to stay motivated?
How do you stay motivated

The Basics (pt 2)

I did a post for the Instagram Group Brickcentral a few months ago passing along a few tips for better outdoor macro photography. I thought it might be a good idea to go over these tips again to make sure we are all on the same page as we move forward to better photography. 
 
1) Pay attention to scale – the beauty is in the details. This is especially true with macro photography. You can reveal a new and fresh look at our world by getting up close. 
 
2) Keep your composition simple. To place maximum attention on your subject you will want to eliminate unwanted clutter. This includes small leaves, pine needles, bits of garbage, stray grass…these seemingly little things will distract from your composition. You want to emphasize what is important, minimize everything else. 
 
3) Take your time. Take lots of photos of the same set-up and check your view screen to make sure you got what you were looking for. Great photos can’t be rushed.  
 
4) Keep the camera level. Ok I admit it, this is a personal pet peeve. In my opinion crooked horizon lines are only interesting once. 
 
5) Use the “rule of thirds”to help your composition. (Please see earlier post for a full explanation.) 
 
6) Use a tripod. Even though hand held is convenient, you can’t always maintain good focus. You will also want to use the manual focus setting on your camera. Most cameras have a very hard time finding the correct focus point much less maintaining that focus on these small figures. If you have the money, invest in a lens with Image Stabilization.
 
7) Change your perspective. If you’re struggling with your set up, change your point of view. Sometimes an unforeseen angle is the best one. Also try to get below your figure. When shooting these small toys, I find that shooting up at them seems to help them feel more majestic. 
 
8) Take advantage of the “golden hour”. This is the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. Amazing things can happen!
 
9) Experiment. Try different things, try things that make you uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to push yourself. 

~ xxsjc

Do you have any tips you would like to pass along?
Where is your favorite place to photograph your toy friends?


Next up I will share a few tips especially suited for macro photography. Stay tuned

For the pure joy of the photograph.

Sometimes I want to just pull a Vivian Maier and take a million photographs and never do anything with them. Just take the photos, nothing more. There is nothing so satisfying or glorious as the physical act of taking a photo.

For me the processing, editing and printing is a one long down hill slide.

My husband is always telling me I take too many photos. Or maybe I just post too many? He says I am too prolific and so will never be able to sell my work because there is no scarcity. Maybe this is true? I don’t really know.

But I do know that taking them is were all the fun is, everything else after that is just work.

I think Vivian Maier was on to something.
While I continue to mull this over, I have some pictures I want to post to the internet.

When was the last time you actually enjoyed taking a photograph?
How much effort do you put into promoting your work?

If you have not checked out the story of Vivian Maier I urge you to do so. It is an amazing story of a nanny living in Chicago around 1950 who shot 1,000’s of photographs and never developed them. They were essentially discovered by accident in 2007 after she died.    

Out of the mouths of babes…

I was editing photos from this weekend’s photo shoots and I showed this image to my daughter. Her response caught me off guard. She said: “I like it, but why?” I looked at her blankly and she continued… “You have aliens on bikes and swamp monsters in swamps, why is the swamp monster on a bike?”

Personally I really liked the image but I understood what she was saying. What was the story? What was I trying to say?

I am continually torn between a good image and a good image that also tells a story. To me that is where the magic happens. If only I could figure out how to take photographs with more intention, rather than photographing like a blind folded darts player.

Do you think about the story you are trying to tell? Or are you like me, and just surprised and happy when it all works out?

~ xxsjc

What are you doing this weekend?

My husband is constantly telling me that “If you want to know what someone wants to do, then just look at what they are doing. ” Normally he isn’t very perceptive…in this case he is.

I have a wonderful weekend planned that involves a trip to the toy store for photo props, a “photo safari”with three awesome fellow toy photographers, videoing Rodrigo y Gabriela for KEXP and a wonderful dinner with my family for that dreaded US Hallmark holiday, “mother’s day”.

Yup, this weekend is filled with so much awesome, just thinking about it puts a stupid grin on my face.

I haven’t always been this blessed, for much of my life I didn’t even know what happiness was. When you are completely miserable there really isn’t any where to go but up or out.

So I urge you to hang with your friends and whoever you choose to call your family this weekend. Play with your toys, take a few photographs and think about what makes you happy and then go and do it.

~ xxsjc

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” – Katharine Hepburn

The Toys Are Alive

One thing that +Me2 and I agree on is that a good image is one in which the viewer makes an emotional connection with the image. As I look back through the last six months of my images I wonder if I can tell the difference. What makes one image of a small plastic person look more alive than another?

Is it the tilt of a head, is it particular movement of the legs, a small gesture of the curved hand or maybe just a trick of the light? It’s not like Lego is a particularly moveable, expressive toy figure. Yet some images seem alive while others just lie flat on the screen / paper.

+Me2 and I also agree on the importance of the eyes being in focus. Yet, not all the images I deem to have been successful include faces and in some the eyes are obscured. So while I know this is a part of the equation, I don’t think it is the answer.

This may seem like an inconsequential question but I have always approached my toy photography as an attempt to “bring the toys alive”. As a young girl my toys were very real to me. We chatted, they listened, they went every where with me and for lack of a better description, they were my friends. I want my viewer to feel what I feel while I document the lives of my little plastic friends.

As always some images are more successful than others and I cherish the ones that achieve that emotional element. I think I would be happy if I could crack the code and help people see how alive my little plastic friends are to me. Until I do, I will keep taking photos and hope people will connect with them as I do.

If you have any tips to help bring the toys “alive” I would love to hear them.

~ xxsjc

A Brave New Future!

We will definitely get back to the Pandoras Box alluded to in the last couple of posts. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves I want to back track a little it.

When I mentioned earlier that I had left both Facebook and Twitter in the same day, I probably didn’t mention that it was in one of those self destructive moods I occasionally find myself in. I certainly don’t regret the decision to essentially explode my social media life, but I realize in hindsight it was absolutely necessary. 
As an artist I like to occasionally reinvent myself. First I was a fine arts photographer for 20 years (back when that actually meant something), then a rocktographer and then a videographer. All those iterations of myself have created connections. I felt constrained by these connections and I wanted to rid myself of them. I have faith that anyone I have a meaningful connection with will find me again. 
So for three weeks I was blissfully free. No twitter, no FB, no one metaphorically looking over my shoulder. This has ended rather suddenly and I am back on Twitter and I have replaced FB with Google Plus, all for a good cause. I am committed to growing #StuckinPlastic into something meaningful and of course making a few new friends along the way. 
I want to thank everyone who has already connected with us via FB and G+. Our community is growing and I couldn’t be more pleased. If you are on Twitter, please look us up there too. 
So here is to exploding the past in the name of moving forward into a brave new future. 
– xxsjc

Fundamental Truth

“…there’s a fundamental truth to our nature, Man must explore…” – Dave Scott

Exploration and discovery is often a matter of perspective; danger is relative and more often than not just around the corner. Are we the watchers or the ones being watched? This is a journey with no destination and no guaranteed answers. I hope you will stick around to see where we end up.

 – xxsjc