What I’m learning about myself through Photography

Photography exposes more than just what was captured with the click of a shutter. It shows what the person who took that photo finds interesting enough to capture. And when you look at a collection of photos taken by one person, that collection as a whole starts to expose elements of whom that person is.

Self-portrait (Second Attempt)

At the beginning of this year I started getting more serious about taking photographs on a near daily basis. That’s really not something all that new for me. But this year I wanted to be more intentional about the photos I took, and then be more reflective about my general photography style, so to speak. What are the common themes that I find in my photography? What kind of moments cause me to take out my camera? What kind of light is common in my shots?

What does my photography say about me?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself so far this year.

To be able to answer that question, I decided that I needed to understand what the photography of the masters that have come before me says about them. I knew I needed to learn from them to truly understand what my own photography says about me.

Nana at 99

So I’m currently on a journey of both creating photographs, while also digesting the photos from the masters of the past (and present). So I have been watching documentaries and reading books about many of the top tier influential photographers. I’ve gotten a number of photo books filled with incredibly inspiring photos.

I have been learning so much about photography. About light. About composition. About portraiture. And it seems the practice of studying the masters and then going out to take photos myself, then studying my photos, then going back to the photography of the masters has been a great way to do it. It gives me a bit of validation of what I see as good photography, and challenges me to notice what makes a great composition. What makes a photo stand out compared to others.

Playing with light

So far I’m learning that photography is something I find therapeutic. I’m introverted, so taking photos gives me a way to express myself to the world in a controlled and intentional manner – just the way I like it!

Thankfully I’m not deeply motivated by follower or subscriber counts, or by how many likes a photo of mine gets. I simply love the process of taking a photo of a moment that interested me and then sharing that moment with the world.

I often get excited to go out simply because of the possible photo opportunities that may arise. I have my camera with me pretty much 90% of the time anymore just in case there’s a moment that presents itself that I would want to capture.

Sarah in the hotel room

My camera challenges me to be brave and interact with other people. But at the same time, the camera is a tool for me to realize that even though talking with strangers can be intimidating, other people often want to be noticed and appreciated. A huge challenge I have for myself this spring is to get out into the streets and take photos of random people. Some candid, but my real goal is to ask for posed street portraits – probably my favorite genre of photography.

For the longest time I didn’t know what my camera and lenses were capable of. What were my limitations? Would the photo I want to take be possible with what I have? And I’ve come to realize, eh, that was just an excuse. I’m never going to have photos that look as great as the posed large format film portraits of celebrities with great lighting. It’s about capturing moments and people and things that catch my attention in this world. I can ask to take a photo of someone, and they can say yes, or they can say no. And that’s about it.

I have various chapters within my photography journey. I think I’m in a new chapter, pushing forward with more boldness. As I’ve watched the photographers that have given me so much inspiration, I’ve noticed how they were unfazed by people’s reactions of them taking photos. I think that’s been one of my issues for the longest time. I didn’t want to seem rude or weird out in public with friends, family, or even around strangers. But the moments that get captured are much more important than any reactions I get out while taking photos. Keeping that in mind is the key. There’s not a worse feeling to me than wishing I would have had my camera with me so I could have captured a specific moment. That regret is way worse than any reaction I might get for taking a photo.

And so, I press on within my photography journey, challenging my own boundaries so that I can get the sorts of shots that I want and notice all around me.

me in the mirror

Forgetting to be happy

I like the feeling of being happy, but I sometimes forget to be happy.

It’s not hard for me to experience happiness because my life is filled with blessings. But for whatever reason the pull to be grumpy and annoyed is weirdly strong. I say weirdly because being grumpy isn’t fun. There’s nothing fun about it. And sometimes all it takes for me to not be grumpy is to simply remember to be happy.

How can I forget to be happy? Why do I forget to be happy?

Emotions are so fickle. I’ve written and pondered about this before, but they are frustrating things. It’s amazing how quickly I can go from happy to angry and from angry to excited and from excited to sad and so on.

Anxiety is a happiness thief.
I hate that.

I was sitting with a group of friends on vacation the other day. One of my best friends was there with me and as we were sitting around chatting and laughing I was thinking about how much I enjoyed being there in that moment. I felt like I belonged, I wasn’t just trying to fit in.

One of my best friends was in the mix of people there. He’s been working at Boys Town for over 18 years now. As we talked and laughed about stories of the past, people would mention previous couples who had been here.

Someone mentioned, “You were really close with them, weren’t you?” and he said, “Yeah, I was.” And I immediately went from feeling happy to feeling anxious and like I didn’t belong. Was I just another one of the couples that has come into his life, and will leave eventually, and just be someone mentioned for a few seconds as someone that he used to be close with?

I’m not sure what it is exactly about that thought that makes me feel so uneasy and sensitive and anxious. But whatever it was, it caused me to forget to be happy about the moment I was in. I was with my friends, enjoying life, telling stories. And I forgot to be happy.

The next day I found out that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. I didn’t know a lot about him, but I know enough that I was still shocked by it. Reminded again how powerful the change of emotions are in shaping our behaviors and decisions.

There are moments recently that have made me very happy:

  • An incredible morning boat ride on lake Okoboji in Iowa. The waves were super choppy and at full speed kept hitting them letting tons of water splash us inside of the boat. We did this for nearly two hours. It was so much fun.
  • Simply being one of the adults at a camp made me happy. Throughout my entire childhood I went to camps and gathering in which I was never in charge. But now I’m one of the adults making the decisions, leading groups of teenagers. And sometimes I would simply pause and take in that fact with deep satisfaction. Whether it be in the dinner line, or as kids walked up to me to ask me if I would drive them on a boat. What a life I have!
  • Seeing Ezra play on the beach and keep himself entertained was so much fun for me. To see how joyful and happy he was made me so happy.
  • Being with my wife, Sarah, and having a group of six teenage girls with us that we together call a family.
  • Having three other guys there with me who understand what this job is like, and the challenges and joys that come from it.
  • Riding in the van hearing the girls laugh while dancing to songs on our Okoboji playlist.
  • Seeing an amazing sunset the first night while I rode on my Boosted board.
  • Great food.
  • Seeing one of my girls win “Camper of the Week.”
  • Taking pictures and video of moments with the girls on the trip.

Those are a handful of moments that helped me remember to be happy. To be grateful.

The struggle is to continue to remember to be happy because there are great blessings all around me.

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Giving up or Giving in?

This past Saturday my two boys, age 3 and 5, made a mess of epic proportions in our kitchen. There are no words to describe the apocalyptic level of desecration and destruction that occurred. This is what I was referencing in my previous post as “the adventure.” But I still cannot describe the event because, well, I just can’t. Emotionally. I just can’t.

But what the adventure has triggered is a number of resolutions of life changes.

In general recently I have been more reflective. I’ve been reading a number of books. I’ve been listening to a lot of great podcasts. I’ve been journaling more. I’ve been trying to be present throughout the moments of my days.

I am a person who enjoys ritual. Honestly, not religious ritual all that much, but like rituals that become almost religious (because everything is spiritual). Things like making coffee. Or showering at a certain time. Or journaling. Or making a certain type of breakfast. I like those sorts of morning rituals. But I’ve convinced myself that I like my fake sort of sleep/rest in the morning where I wake up at 5:30 when my boys do, and then go between checking my phone every few minutes and trying to get a few minutes of sleep in. But it’s not restful and the posts I read aren’t insightful or helpful to my health in any way. I’ve made a ritual out of this, but it’s not life giving at all.

I’m already up for the most part by 5:30. There’s no reason to stay in bed and look at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram over and over while drifting asleep when the boys are in the next room playing or getting into mischief.

So I give up. Or is it that I give in?

I am giving up on the social media morning routine and deciding to make my ritual more life-giving and helpful to my overall health. I’m already up. I might as well make use of that time to be reflective and productive.

I’m always thinking about writing. Always trying to notice the metaphors and parables around me. But I rarely take the time to write, and it’s really too bad.

So as of the last two days I’ve started the new routine and ritual of getting up and being with my boys as I either write or read. Not Facebook or Instagram, but an actual book. An actual journal.

For some reason I have it in my head that I won’t fully be able to do this until I have a desk at which to write. Currently I have a table that has my computer on it. And my pens and things. But it’s not a desk made of solid wood. Something warm and inviting. Something that makes me want to write.

I am giving in to the desires of my heart to be thoughtful and to write. To make my morning rituals meaningful.

I am giving up on trying to protect my image or the perception of who I am. I avoid confrontation most of the time with nearly anyone, especially in the professional setting. I avoid telling certain stories that perhaps makes me look not the greatest. I am constantly thinking about what other people think of me. But I’m kind of done with doing that. It takes too much energy. And it’s not good for me in the long run. It makes it so I slow down my own personal growth.

When I feel happy or joyful about something, I’ll say so.
When I feel sad or angry about something, I’ll say so.
When I feel miserable or worn out about something, I’ll say so.

Today I think I’ll head over to the furniture store to look at some desks. Maybe even a futon. I spent all day organizing and cleaning out a room that we had been using for storage so that it can now serve as a reading room, an office, and a second guest bedroom. That room is going to be my sacred space for morning ritual and reflection.