Monday, October 24, 2011

A TEDX Talk - Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

You know TED, right? Ideas worth spreading? Even if you don't know TED, I'm going to pretend that you said, "Yes, of course!" while you drop everything to redeem yourself here. I've found so much inspiration for my photography work and life in general from the talks I've come across on TED. Today I want to share a TEDX talk by Brene Brown entitled The Power of Vulnerability. It's been almost one year since I watched this talk but I recently came across my notes and was inspired once again. The TED website describes her talk like this:

"Brene Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.

The talk is about 20 minutes long and I don't think you'll regret watching it:

Here are some of my "take-aways" from this inspiring talk:
  • Let go of who I think I should be in order to be who I am.
  • Fully embrace vulnerability.
  • We can't selectively numb emotions. When we numb the bad ones, we numb the good ones, too.
  • Am I losing my tolerance for vulnerability?
  • Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love, belonging, creativity, and faith.
  • I can practice vulnerability by 
    • Practicing gratitude and honoring what's ordinary in my life
    • Allowing myself to experience joy & love.
What do you think about being vulnerable? Do you think it's a good or bad thing to be vulnerable? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Fall! As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to find photographs with people more interesting. There are times, however, when I'm only drawn to shape and color (and the absence of people). In general, I tend to love designs that are curved and flowing (or that contain circles) and I am very drawn to the color red, sometimes yellow, and displays of bold color in general. There was a time in my life when I only loved neutrals - black, gray, white, cream, beige, etc. After I crossed the line into color in my wardrobe and decorating style, there was no turning back.

I came across some giant displays of fall on a recent trip so I decided I wanted to focus on small sections of these giant displays to create graphic photographs consisting mostly of color, line, and texture. I hope you enjoy these images of fall:

©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tourist Attractions and Their People, New York City

Whenever I watch a movie set in New York, the movie cannot end without my proclamation of "I want to go to there." Since I had never visited this great city before last week but had seen it portrayed in countless films and documentaries, I dubbed it the most familiar unfamiliar city I have ever visited. Just last week my husband and I met some friends in New York for our first NYC experience.

There was so much I wanted to photograph that I felt a little overwhelmed and often traded the view through my lens for simply experiencing the city with my camera tucked away in my bag. Don't get me wrong, I made plenty of photographs, but in retrospect...not as many as I would have liked. At one point, my friend even commented that she was surprised I hadn't taken more pictures. The thing is...when I am on a trip, I will often make pictures of landmarks or touristy things, but I am much more interested in photographs that also contain people. Sometimes the arrangement of people seems "messy" to me (too many in one place, or not arranged in a way I think would make a pleasing composition) and I'll pass up the opportunity. Other times I'll spot something I want as a backdrop (a landmark or tourist attraction) and wait for someone to enter into the right spot or to arrange themselves in a way I find pleasing within the frame. Here are a few such photographs from my recent trip to New York City:

American Museum of Natural History - Hall of Ocean Life
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

American Museum of Natural History - Hall of African Mammals
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

American Museum of Natural History - Hall of African Mammals
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

The Central Park Mall
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

Lobby of the Empire State Building
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

Washington Square Park
©2011, Leslie McDaniel. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prepare, But Be Ready for the Unexpected

When I am hired for an assignment, whether I'm hired by the University, a business, or a family, I mentally prepare by visualizing the types of images I might make and what the experience will be like. This doesn't mean the photographs I will take are set in stone, but it's just my way of prepping myself for what I might encounter (emphasis on the might). I imagine many photographers do this to some extent, as do people in other fields. Sometimes, I even go as far as sketching out my ideas. Other times I just visit the location in advance to think about options. 

I do this mental preparation with the understanding that there will still be "unknowns" and surprises. This is a good thing because it allows me to create images spontaneously. Somehow, this mental preparation for what I think I will encounter helps me better prepare for the unknowns. What do I do, then, when the situation I had mentally prepared for doesn't actually happen? This is when I rely partly on my experience and knowledge, but mostly I decide to be flexible and just go with the flow to capture the new situation.

I recently had this experience while on assignment. I had mentally prepared for a certain type of image-making but when circumstances prevented that from happening, the client asked if I would play the journalist role to capture the event as it was happening. My response? Sure! How did I mentally prepare for this? Well...there wasn't much advance mental preparation I could do for this. My job became keen observer. Watching, waiting, anticipating and absorbing what was happening around me.

How does mental preparation help in your work? Does this advance prep help, even if the situation is nothing like you had imagined? I'd love to hear your comments!

You can see more images from this assignment here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ricky Padilla - Brown Water Coffee

This is Part II of a new portrait project about people in Bozeman who are doing great things. Please check out Part I here.

Clean water. It's something so simple that we never even consider it unless it's taken away from us due to a natural disaster, flooding, etc. These circumstances are pretty rare for most of us so it's more than likely we will never experience the inability to have clean water during our lifetimes. If we do, it will be for a limited time. Imagine, though, if one of your major daily struggles was to locate, gather, and transport water for your family that is dirty and contaminated and puts your family at risk...but you have no other choice. If you are a female, you will begin this task at a young age and will likely lose the opportunity to go to school to perform this simple task.

Ricky Padilla and his wife Tana are passionate about helping people have access to clean water. The mission behind Brown Water Coffee is to provide a high quality product to its customers while also funding non-profits for clean water. Brown Water is set to launch this Friday, August 26, 2011 with a line of ground and whole bean coffees. From every 12 oz. and 1 lb. bag they sell, they will donate $2 to help a community get clean water. They have decided to use these proceeds to fund Living Water International who take a sustainable, community-based approach to provide mechanical wells and pumps so communities can have access to clean water. 

Each bag of coffee you purchase will be made to order and shipped within a timeline that provides optimum flavor. The tagline for Brown Water Coffee is "Drink brown water so others don't have to." Be sure to check out the launch of Brown Water Coffee this week!

Ricky Padilla, CEO Brown Water Coffee
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

Ricky's office is decorated with photographs from Living Water International that serve as a reminder of his mission
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

The office of Brown Water Coffee
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

Ricky's favorite blend is Guatemala - check for it online Friday!
©2011, Leslie McDaniel
Ricky demonstrates the taste-testing process of the beans he has just finished roasting and grinding.
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Guest Blogger - John Felkins

Today I'd like to introduce you to John Felkins. I have known John for many years and have only recently learned of his love of photography. John is an amatuer but he is like a sponge for photography knowledge. I try to answer as many of his photography-related questions that I can and he's definitely asking the "right" questions - things that really matter and that will help him to improve his photographic skill and vision. His main interest in image-making is landscapes and since his somewhat recent move to Nashville, TN, he has taken an interest in photographing a Hackberry tree right next to his house. Today he shares with you his personal project and his goal to capture this tree in a variety of lighting and weather situations while also using it as a subject with which to experiment and try out the things he learns about photography. I hope you enjoy his project and maybe it will inspire you to start your own personal photography project!

The Laboratory
by John Felkins

Behind my house is an old Hackberry tree. When I say old I mean about 40 years old which is how old I am so it's not really that old! But like me it's a gnarly old tree and has some good character - worthy of photographing. My photography is in it's infancy and as such I'm still exploring "my style". The old Hackberry tree has provided me with a great subject on which to try different techniques and has kinda become a teacher to me. Everything from different lighting situations, different perspectives, and even painting with light have been attempted. 

The tree is so nearby I can walk out the back door and just try something new. I like exploring new areas all the time but it is nice to be able to just go out the back door and start making photographs and the Hackberry has been a good canvas for that. It helps me to make pictures as often as possible. Daily is great. At first I thought I'd get bored with one tree but as I began to photograph this one tree I started to notice things a lot more. The sameness of the tree accentuated the changes around it. Light, seasons, and weather all became a lot more apparent to me. It was like I was paying closer attention without being told to do so. I felt more connected with what was going on around the tree and that encouraged me to look closer and find new ideas about how to photograph the tree.

I started with closeups and worked towards photographing the entire tree. One night a saw a lot of lighting bugs around the tree and had to get some pictures. I ran out the back door, forgetting to spray my legs with insect repellent, and started shooting away. Setting up my tripod and shooting as the sun went down, I ran out of options when it got dark until I thought of something I had seen in another picture. I yelled for my daughter to bring me a spotlight and I tried painting with light a little. I got some cool shots that and sadly I also got a good batch of chigger bites! 

©2011, John Felkins
©2011, John Felkins
©2011, John Felkins
©2011, John Felkins

Monday, July 25, 2011

From Homelessness to Home: The Hill-Smith Family

For the fourth installment of my Homeless to Home project, about families who have sought help from the Family Promise program and who now have their own home, I photographed Crystal and her two children. After losing her home, Crystal immediately called Family Promise on the recommendation of someone who told her about the organization. Thankfully, they happened to have exactly three spots open - perfect for her and the kids. At first she was scared about the limit of a 3-month stay. She wondered how she was going to make a turn-around in 3 months: find a job, become financially independent, and find a place for her and her kids to live. However, at the very end of her three months, someone called Family Promise and wanted to donate a trailer. Gloria, the Executive Director at Family Promise, knew she had the perfect family for the trailer. She wanted Crystal to go check it out first because the person donating it mentioned that it was in very bad shape. Luckily, someone offered to fix it up by replacing the flooring. Crystal and her kids moved into the fixed-up trailer but then the 2010 hail storm caused extensive damage. Just two months ago, Crystal and the kids were able to move out of the two bedroom trailer into their current three bedroom apartment.

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel
©2011, Leslie McDaniel
©2011, Leslie McDaniel
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

So, which of the family portraits do you like best? I threw in the silly one because the kids wanted to do "funny" pictures and I think it shows that they have a lot of fun together. However, I'm more likely to use the first or third photographs as the one whole-family portrait. 

For the kids, I kept trying each of these in black and white for some reason, but then settled on the color versions. Of the three choices for Shanna, which do you prefer? And finally, which portrait of Zeke do you prefer?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Andrew Babcock - ROC Wheels

I met Andrew Babcock last Thursday for my first portrait in my new series. Although I've tossed around a few ideas for a title of this series, none have stuck. As with all my projects, I believe this one will become more narrowly focused as it progresses. For now, I'm simply seeking people in Bozeman, MT who are doing cool or interesting things that make a difference.

Andrew is the Executive Director of ROC Wheels in Bozeman, MT. Prior to the suggestion from a friend to photograph someone at ROC Wheels for my project, I had not heard of the organization. After checking out their website, I got really excited about the work they're doing. They not only assemble and provide wheelchairs for children (or very small adults) in developing countries, they also include educating the public and the recipients in their mission. The pediatric wheelchairs are specifically designed to be durable in the countries they serve. By providing the Bozeman community with the opportunity to volunteer as wheelchair assemblers, ROC Wheels educates the volunteers and also gives them a sense of ownership in the process of helping others by providing mobility.

ROC Wheels was started by Wayne and Lee Ann Hanson who began with the idea of Kid Kart and prototypes of jogging strollers. Kid Kart grew quickly due to demand from parents and therapists to best serve the needs of their children. The company was then sold to Sunrise Medical where Wayne worked in R&D. Eventually, he would found ROC Wheels with the focus of designing & distributing pediatric wheelchairs for children in developing countries.

Andrew, who when asked what his job responsibilities are smiled and said "everything", earned a business degree at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. After graduating, he moved to Montana and spent time as a self-professed "ski and fishing bum" and enjoying outdoor life in this beautiful state. He eventually felt a gnawing desire to do something more with his life...something that would allow him to help people and in his own words, "get back to using my brain". After searching for the right position, he settled in as Executive Director at ROC Wheels six years ago. Andrew does everything from working with volunteer groups to visiting the current manufacturing facility in Morocco (and later this year, the facility in Iraq), to working with their established networks in the developing countries they serve. According to Andrew, coordinating a wheelchair distribution can take 8-12 months. A team of 6-20 volunteers (and very rarely more than two staff people) spend 8-14 days traveling to remote areas to custom fit 20-40 people each day. The actual amount of mobility products distributed during this trip can range from 100-400, depending on the need in the area and the available funding.

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel
The two portraits above obviously have a very different feel to them. In the top one, I wanted to express Andrew's passion for his work and for helping people. Therefore, I directed the light onto his face with a 10° grid over the strobe. I'm still deciding if I like the resulting effect and shadows. For the second image, I wanted to create a a confident feel with Andrew's stance and the camera angle. I chose to use a 60" umbrella on this photograph in order to light more of the background. Working in a warehouse type setting where some of the wheelchair assembly occurs did have its challenges but I'm fairly happy with these photographs.

After photographing Andrew on Thursday last week, I came across a little card on Saturday that said "Make your career matter." That's exactly what I'm trying to do and it's what brought Andrew into this type of work. 

How do you make your career matter?

Monday, July 18, 2011

My First Opportunity to Photograph Dance - IndepenDANCE

IndepenDANCE, an all volunteer, non-profit organization, was formed three years ago to give dancers over the age of 18 an outlet for dance and choreography. According to the group, there are not a lot of opportunities for dancers to showcase their talents outside of the university. I was hired as the photographer for the organization's annual show on June 23, 2011. This was my first time to photograph dance, but I really loved it! Since I was not familiar with these specific dance pieces, or dance in general for that matter, it was a lot of fun to hear the music and to anticipate the moves. It was a challenge to work with the pre-determined lighting sets, but the challenge was a good one. There was a total of 18 dance pieces, all of which were unique. 

Here are a few of the photographs I captured from the event:

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

If you are interested in seeing more photographs from this event, post a comment with your email address and I'll email you the link to the gallery. Prints are also available.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guest Blogger: Photographer Juliette Osen

I recently asked Juliette Osen to write a guest post about her 365 Project. I cannot say enough positive things about this mature and amazing 17 year old who aspires to become a professional photographer. I first came to know Juliette when I contacted her family about participating in my adoption portrait series and multimedia project. You can see my portraits of Juliette and her family here and here which were part of my Forever Families project. Her already large family adopted two boys from the Philippines and Juliette's mom has home schooled all of the Osen kids, including the older ones who now live on their own. Juliette also recently passed her second degree black belt test in Taekwondo. She is so very hard on herself and she pushes herself to excel in everything she does. Enjoy Juliette's post and be inspired by her work.

Project 365
by Juliette Osen

I look at the pictures I take as a way of documenting parts of my life, as a looking glass that will bring me back in my life years from now. So to me the idea of documenting a year of my life with a picture every day made perfect sense. 

I started my 365 project on New Year's day. At first the project came easily to me and didn’t seem challenging at all. It forced me to work on concepts I had thought of but had never taken the time to work on. It was exciting to photograph every day and to actually have a purpose. 

Soon though, I ran out of juice and ideas. I had lost all interest in the project and landed in a rut. I was bored with my life so taking pictures to document it bored me as well. I realized, though, that completing this project was important to me and would be a major accomplishment. I am naturally not a quitter and I'm extremely dedicated to anything I start.  So, I made the commitment to finish the project, no matter how impossible it seemed.

Before long I regained my enthusiasm for the project. I again felt that passion, and strove to make each image beautiful and to represent each day well.   

There are still days when making that picture seems nearly impossible so the result is a far from perfect picture. Other days though, I get an idea and I'm so excited I want to try it immediately. Whether or not they turn out the way I want them to, I am still trying and experimenting and delving deeper into the world of photography. 

Today is day 179 of my 365 project and I have yet to skip a single day. This project has helped me work through stuff in my personal life and is teaching me so much about photography. I can see the improvement in my work since I started and I'm so glad I've stuck with it. 

I plan on continuing the project, making a memory for every day.   

Day 54 - ©2011, Juliette Osen
Day 141 - ©2011, Juliette Osen
Day 160 - ©2011, Juliette Osen
I encourage you to check out the remainder of Juliette's 365 Project on her Flickr stream here. Also, feel free to leave her a comment with a word of encouragement to keep going.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fundraising Photo Booth

Photo booths at weddings and other events seem to be very trendy now. When I was recently asked to run a photo booth for an adoption fundraiser, I thought it sounded like a fun way to contribute. Since there was already an admission price for the music and art fair, we chose to offer the photo booth pictures for a small additional charge. Several people let us borrow costumes and accessories so people could dress up for their picture. If you are planning a fundraising event, I would highly recommend adding a fun photo booth!

Me with one of my assistants in front of one of the costume racks


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Emergence of Spring in Polaroids

Spring in Montana is really just an extension of winter. Late spring can be a cruel time of rainy days punctuated by a few warm, beautiful, and sunny days. The cruelty comes when the rest of the country is enjoying consistently warm, actual spring-like days and we are still having rainy (and sometimes snowy) days. When the sun arrives, the entire town is out enjoying the day. On one of these recent beautiful days, I carried my Polaroid SX-70 around my neighborhood to record a few glimpses of warm weather. When I lived in Memphis, Tulips and Daffodils would often arrive in February. Here in Bozeman, MT, Tulips are still in their prime now in the first part of June. The trees have just recently begun to be covered in green. These pictures are a reminder to me that on the cloudy, rainy, and cold days, the sun will shine once again. 

Blue Skies and Green Leaves
©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

©2011, Leslie McDaniel

I chose my SX-70 for this little outing for a few reasons. First of all, I love square photographs. Secondly, I love actual prints so the SX-70 would immediately satisfy both of these things. Also, I love the color and slightly fuzzy style I get from my camera. Before I headed out, I knew I wanted to capture these glimpses of spring and summer. I also know that my style tends to be fairly "clean" in that the subject either fills the frame or is carefully and thoughtfully arranged and would work well within a square format. All of these things helped me to decide to choose my Polaroid SX-70 camera over any of the others.

It sounds like a big part of the southern U.S. is steaming hot today. Wherever you may be, what are you doing to enjoy YOUR weather?