Friday, December 16, 2011

One Year Ago, Today...

...I stepped out on a limb and made a video to submit for the SOAR scholarship. Thanks to some great friends, Mike and Robin Parma, I had learned about the program a few months before and had been eagerly awaiting the application notification, checking the SOAR website randomly. Somehow, I found out about it when there were only six days left to apply. Once I realized the application process was open, my mind was blank. I could not come up with the words to say to express my need for confidence. Or my desire to change an aspect of my life that was not right.

As I've written about before, the words came to me while driving to work, listening to a song about not letting the colors and moments of life slip away. God spoke to me through the song that morning, and a peace came about me as I realized what I wanted to say.

So I wrote a script, and on a Friday afternoon after throwing my son's Kindergarten class the most awesome Christmas party ever held - in the history of all Christmas parties, I stood on my back porch and filmed myself talking. THAT was nerve wracking. I felt totally out of my element, not comfortable at all. I understood then, that this was both the biggest test and biggest accomplishment in the application process. It did not matter if the judges liked my video, or selected me, what mattered the most was simply making the video. Because it was FOR ME.

As my friends and family, you know that I wasn't selected for the SOAR scholarship. You also know that this past year has brought me a lot of changes and blessings. One of the most important blessings to mention was the gift of time, to be with my children on a full-time basis. This gift of time also allowed me to figure out what things are right, what things need work, and what makes me happy.

Turns out, photography is one of the things that makes me happy. Sure, there's a lot of pressure behind capturing someone else's life (and making it look like they remember it feeling). But I can handle pressure. My problem, causing the confidence issue, was that I could not wrap my brain around the art and science of capturing light - which is, by definition, photography. ISO, f-stops and shutter speed made my heart race and brain shut down. You throw in difficult lighting situations and I was a mess. For people who "get it," it is hard to remember NOT getting it, I now understand. For me, even though I had heard the explanations and read the explanations over and over, it wasn't sinking in!

And then, in November of this year, I went to the Confidence Workshop put on Me Ra Koh and her husband, Brian. I've decided that these two are either magicians or that God truly works through them. They took more than twenty women, of varying backgrounds and abilities and camera models, and in two days' time, taught us how to "shoot outside the green box" (auto mode, for you non-camera enthusiasts), effectively changing each of our lives. I know it did for me, and for so many other awesome women I met that weekend. I finally GOT IT!!!! I kept thinking to myself, "Really?! That IS it!" I walked away from that weekend with confidence for sure, new friends, a skip in my step and a determination to do more.

{just one picture from the Confidence Workshop - here's Me Ra, in the pink, giving us tips on using natural lighting, even indoors, with a beautiful baby as our model}

I have had so many great opportunities to take pictures of families this fall, and the biggest obstacle has been juggling all the balls of life. I found that I committed myself to too many sit-down-at-a-desk kind of jobs, for a Mommy of a 4-year old at home and a 7-year old. I found that I miss having an office to go work in. I found that I miss having co-workers. I found lots of ways to fill my schedule, between volunteering, photography, and running Mommy School. Said my sister, "You are the busiest unemployed person I know!" I found that I love, love, love doing this. But I know that this isn't something I can sustain for the long term, not as it currently is.

Please visit my website to see all of the great families I've been blessed with capturing this fall - the galleries are mostly locked, but there's a slideshow at the top of some of my favorites. (not all of my favorites, so if you're not on there, please don't be sad!)

If I don't get to post again before Christmas, Happy Christmas, everyone. May God be with you and your families during this special time of the year. And take some great pictures of all the fun things you do!

Love, Heather

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finding My Niche

I credit Mrs. Schulle, my elementary school Challenge teacher, with teaching me this word, "niche." Since 3rd grade I've had an appreciation for "finding my place," all because of her creativity and the fact that our school district failed to give us a classroom. She emptied out an 8'x10' (...maaaaybe) cubbyhole in the Carl Schurz Elementary School library for our classroom and never once complained about lack of resources. In fact, she turned it into a lesson for us. I remember her definition of niche - which, by the way, I pronounce nich, not nesh - as "a place for everything and everything in its place." She encouraged us to find our place.

This word popped back onto my radar last week, when I took my boys to the Witte Museum in San Antonio. In their Texas ecology exhibit, they had a sign that had her definition and an explanation that said (paraphrased), "Each species has a job and a location. A species' job, and where it does its job, is called its niche. Each species has a unique niche. This minimizes competition... allowing a variety of creatures to live in harmony."

This explanation really struck me! Applying this in my life, I could infer it to mean that if/once I find my niche, I could not only find my own happiness, but bring others around me, harmony?! As a born people pleaser, this made my day.

I looked to Merriam-Webster later to see if they had any insight for me. There are several distinct definitions and uses of the word "niche":
1. a : a recess in a wall especially for a statue
b : something (as a sheltered or private space) that resembles a recess in a wall
2. a : a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted <finally found her niche>
b : a habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species
c : the ecological role of an organism in a community especially in regard to food consumption
d : a specialized market

So, from that I see that a niche can be a specific place, an activity, an environment, a responsibility and even an economic or business matter. There is so much involved in this five letter word!

The past two months, I have been blessed with several opportunities to grow in my photography. (one of the big reasons I haven't been posting here much) A few things have fallen in my lap, but other things, I am pursuing. I pursue those things that I believe are right for me. Speaking in regards to photography, this means what my subject(s) will be. At a conference I attended this summer, some seasoned photogs gave the following advice/caution:  "When you're first starting out, you will be enticed to take any and every job. This will not help you. This will spread you too thin and dilute your brand. You want people to seek you out because of the work you do." 

I love taking pictures of children and families. I started out in my hobby years ago taking senior pictures for my cousins. I wasn't sure that I was good enough to be competitive in New Braunfels (and that will remain to be seen), but maybe it's not about being competitive. And a few recent photo shoots have bolstered my confidence there... I enjoy taking pictures of couples and maybe some bridals, but I think there are people out there who are made for event and wedding photography. I don't think that person is me. I mean, I can and I have, but it doesn't bring me joy the way capturing children's smiles and babies' peaceful expressions and families' display of love does.

I recently talked with my friend and fellow photographer, Mikie Farias, about this. In my opinion, he is SO gifted in sports, event and wedding photography. He recently did some really great work at Gruene Hall and I told him, "That's your niche, Mikie!" That and sports. He's very good with everything he works with, but man, that work of his shines. And he's getting noticed for it.

So, finding my niche means realizing what I'm good at and not good at, where I'm able to work and how I'm able to be sustainable and marketable. Piece of cake.

I think I'm making some progress. Being competitive in the photography business is hard. There are a lot of great photographers out there! But I'd rather look at it like this: I'm here to do the work that makes my heart glad and that preserves memories for families. I'm not in competition with my fellow photographers... I'm just finding my niche.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Mommy School" is Open and Accepting Enrollment...

It is 10:35pm. Spencer is still awake. He is so excited about "Mommy School," as he has named it, that he might end up sleeping in on the first day if he doesn't hurry up and go to sleep!

After a crippling mix of relief, anxiety and grief, I have quit my job. To stay at home. To pursue... something. It's funny, because everyone expects that that something is photography as a career. And maybe it is? I think I said in my resignation, "to stay at home with my boys and work on photography" and the telephone game turned that into "pursuing photography part-time," and then, "bravely starting her career in photography" or something like that. The City Manager even included in his speech at my send-off party his approval of my pursuing "my obvious talent" and said he was envious of my ability to do it (quitting my job to pursue a passion). I'm really appreciative of those apparent votes of confidence, because quitting my job ranks up VERY high in the Top 10 Hardest Things I've Faced In My Life List. But, I'll be working very hard to use these next few months to find what's right for me, next. I have to recognize that what's right for me next may not always be what's right for me always. But, I'm really looking forward to trying some things out.

The most important thing is having more quality time with my boys. I am so looking forward to these next few months with them. The Mommy School syllabus is pretty simple: each week we'll discover food and activities that begin with a new letter of the alphabet (thanks, Heather Garcia, for doing this with Cameron before), with a side of healthy eating and exercise. Game playing, book reading, house tidying will all make an appearance. As will TV watching, in moderation. When Cameron starts First grade in two weeks, Spencer and I will walk him to school and pick him up the same way, weather permitting. I'd much rather sweat a little or get rained on (hopefully soon!) over the 2 blocks than idle my Suburban on Walnut Avenue for 15-30 minutes twice a day. After we get back home, Spencer and I will have all day to lounge and do nothing. Oh, wait. Hmmmm.

I do hope to fit in some me-time in the schedule. Time to visit with my sister again, and friends who I don't see from work or church enough. Time to work on turning my hobby into a business. Time to take a class or two, or maybe do some contract work. Time to prepare for an epic journey with two of my best friends next May. Time to volunteer, to serve my community in a different way than before.

I was lucky to have a good dose of me-time this past weekend. Three of my friends and I participated in a photo safari/scavenger hunt around town that raised funds for rebuilding bridges in Landa Park. 2011 Gruene Lions Club Safari on Facebook Here's my favorite photo of my team, The Amazon 4. We really got into it! Too bad there weren't points awarded for style, because we brought it.

This was taken by my friend and fellow photography hobbyist, Jim Collier. (hope you don't mind me using this here, Jim)

Anyway, I've taken my time writing this and can definitely hear the sweet, soft snores coming from the bottom bunk of the boys' room. Here's to a great first day of Mommy School! Thanks for reading.

Love, Heather

P.S. You can now sign up for email notifications when I post a new entry. Look at the upper right hand side of the page, just above my profile and followers list.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Small Things Are What Make Life Worth Living

I am a detail person. I also believe that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, so doesn't it follow that the parts hold greater weight or more significance than we usually give them?

When it comes to storytelling, I have a (bad) habit of getting lost in ensuring that my audience understands exactly what happened, when, where, what it looked and smelled like, who said what and how the breeze felt blowing on my skin... I just have a desire for people to understand and experience what I did. And I have a memory like a steel trap. In fact, my girlfriends jokingly (sometimes) defer their storytelling to me. "You do it better, Heather." Or when I jump in and say, "...and then you said (insert inane detail here), remember?" they say, "How do you remember all of this?" or, "You weren't even there - I told you the story once!" This is usually accompanied with a gentle eye roll. The details are important to me! Aren't they to everyone?!

Even though I remember - and am compelled to share - every detail I can, this doesn't make me a good storyteller. There's so much in the timing and delivery that I don't have. Maybe that's why I prefer to capture the story visually, with photography?

The next few SOAR photography exercises that I'll post are on sharpening my storytelling. The first is about defining details. I didn't exactly follow the assignment in its entirety, which by the way, was from back in March. But I still want to share with you what I did. Capturing something important to the subject at their stage in life is what I was able to do. I was supposed to have two subjects, one young and an older one, shoot as low an f-stop as I could and at about 50mm. This forces you to fill your frame. I like this type of work; it reminds me a bit of the macro egg and flower work my mom did with her 35mm camera when I was little.

I was really looking forward to my young subject being Otto, my friend's day-old son, who was born right after the assignment was posted. But life doesn't revolve around SOAR assignments, it turns out. As I was pulling up to the hospital to do the newborn session, running through the poses and settings I planned on using, I learned that he was being airlifted to San Antonio because of some complications with his intestines. Otto's mom, Devon, is one of my oldest friends, so I quickly switched into sister-friend mode, said a prayer for the AirLife team flying to New Braunfels, for baby Otto and for the family, and went upstairs to hug my friend's neck and do what I could to help. Otto spent a few weeks in the hospital in San Antonio, had a necessary surgery, and is doing great today! We have plans to do some 6-month pictures of him, and I'm really looking forward to that!

Instead, for the exercise, I used one of my favorite subjects: my 6-year old. He is fascinated with building things. Legos, Beyblades, these weird Lego people called Hero Factory (seen below). One evening, he was playing on the floor of our living room, lining up his Heros like trophies, or perhaps preparing them for battle. This is a detail of his life right now that I wanted to capture, and not just because of the exercise. So I got down on the floor with him, asked him to tell me about each one and what made them special to him. These are moments and details I'll be able to remember forever now, or as long as I have this picture. I love that this picture has so much warmth in it - it feels like I'm sitting in my living room.

27mm ISO 800 f/2.8 1/6 sec

For my older subject, I chose to do what was suggested and use my husband. He loves cooking and is lucky to have me to cook for (ha). Actually, he's lucky to have parents who gifted him some amazing Shun knives this past Christmas. So I captured this part of him, cutting up a Meyer lemon I grew. If you look closely, you can see the waves in the metal, caused by the folding of the steel during the blade sculpting process. (but maybe not, since the picture size Blogger lets me display isn't very large)

52mm ISO 1000 f/2.8 1/40 sec

I have a couple more posts in the works, so I'll see you again soon!
Thanks for reading.

Love, Heather

Friday, July 15, 2011

Teach Me To Number My Days, Part 1

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 NIV

These words are what inspired Revive band to write the song, "Blink," that inspired the name of my blog, and inspired me to take a step of faith to do more with my passion for photography. If you haven't listened to the song yet, please scroll down to the bottom of my blog and listen!

I remember driving to work one morning last December, listening to this song for maybe the 20th time, and it was as if my brain was really hearing it for the first time. I was stressed about my short deadline for my SOAR application video, and I didn't have a firm plan for how it would go. I had my two kiddos in the car, taking them to day care, so that someone else could raise them for me. After dropping them off, I would go to my office to work for someone else's mission and vision for anywhere between 8 and 10 hours, go home and microwave some dinner, pretend to have quality time with my family, escape my reality by reading fiction, watch The Daily Show, pass out, then rinse and repeat.

As I let the words of the song wash over me that morning, I realized for the first time in a long time how unhappy I was.

Teach me to number my days
And count every moment
Before it slips away
Take in all the colors
Before they fade to gray

I don't want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there's no stopping time
What is it I've done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

When it's all said and done
No one remembers
How far we have run
The only thing that matters
Is how we have loved

It happens in a blink (x4)

Slow down
Slow down
Before today becomes our yesterday...

I was missing so much! Most of all, missing my children. There is no way to regain the time I've already lost with them. Cameron is 6, going on 10, and Spencer is now 4, but should still be 2. Here's one I took of of them from last fall, at the Markley Family Farm.

Where has the time gone?! And what in the world am I doing in my career? Do I even really have a career, or am I just working? How did I get to where I am right now? Am I happy? I don't know anymore. But I am generally a happy person! I firmly believe in waking up in the morning and choosing your attitude - a good attitude! And invoking grace in the face of others' bad behavior. You know, killing 'em with kindness. Maybe even trying out what my sister suggested, "faking 'til I feel it."

But there were so many things not going right, not feeling right. I've asked myself - is it just that the grass is greener elsewhere? Or is there something better out there for me? Is it worth the risk to find it? My answer was and is absolutely yes, there is something better out there, and yes, it is worth the risk. But how big of a risk? And at what ultimate cost? What is my vision for my life? For my children's lives?

Not really being that big a fan of risk-taking without allowing myself an out, and definitely being an over-achiever, I set out in January to find my happiness and define my new vision while still holding down the fort (full-time job, mom of the year, serving in two ministry teams at my church, being the friend to others that I want and need to have myself, multiple Bible studies and small groups). What I think I've worked myself into is a new shade of crazy, with matching earrings. I'm sure as my friends and family, you've seen several shades of crazy on me, but this one... it's special. You would think I learned after ending up in the hospital last October, not to burn my candle at both ends, but I guess it's hard to break old habits. Anyway, I'm not sure that this crazy is a bad crazy - only time will tell.

And time is what I've been given. Lots of time. Four weeks ago, my father-in-law came to me and gave me the offer of a lifetime (so far, at least): take 6 months off, on him. Enjoy the boys, rest, relax, figure out what my next step is. He told me several things that I'd like to remember.

"Life is both too short and too long to be unhappy. And if you're staying in a job that makes you unhappy because of money, I'd like to help you with that. I'm not a rich man, but I'm a blessed man. You're my family, and we take care of our family. This will be your inheritance anyway one day, and I'd rather be able to see you enjoy it while I'm alive! Figure out what your next step is! If it's photography, and you need a financial backer, you know who to come ask. If you need more time, let me know. Honor me, and accept this."

Would you say no? I didn't. I took that ball and ran it into the end zone, did my happy dance, pointed up to heaven and thanked the Lord for blessing me. Even though I love what I do at work, love working with the vast majority of my 500+ co-workers and LOVE serving my community, I was unhappy at work. Let's just call it personality issues. So, the next week, I turned in my two-weeks' notice with an option for more time to wrap up projects. We agreed to five weeks. I have two weeks left. It is such a bittersweet parting. There are so many people who I've spent the past 6 years and I'll miss living my life with.

But I am very excited to see what is next for me, and to get to spend more time with my awesome children. I'll be keeping Spencer at home with me and walking Cameron to and from school every day. I'll be able to spend time with friends during the day, take a class or two, build my photography business (maybe?), finish projects I've started, start new projects, and find what makes me happy.

I'm not sure that what I'm planning on doing is really slowing down - as the song instructs - but I think it's a step in the right direction.

I plan to write more on learning to number my days, later on, hence the "Part 1" of the title. I plan to post the results of an overdue photography exercise this weekend. Thanks for reading.

Love, Heather

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thinking is an Action, Right?

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. ~ Henry Ford

I saw this quote recently and it got me thinking (shocker). I must be a really hard worker; I am a constant thinker. I never "check out" or take a break. Even in the middle of the night, I wake up, unable to turn my mind off. If you stand close enough to me during the day, you might be able to smell the smoke and see the heat waves coming off of my brain. Those cranial gears are constantly working, moving, analyzing, formulating. Sometimes, my brain moves so fast that I don't stay on a single thought for more than a fraction of a second. Problem there: sometimes my mouth relays that partial thought and gets me in trouble. And, people tire of my tangental conversations...

But the bigger problem is that I can very easily get wrapped up in my head, and I just think. I don't do as much as I'd like. I want so badly to DO. Don't get me wrong, I get stuff done! But my thinking:doing ratio is maybe off a little.

I didn't have the opportunity to ever meet Mr. Ford, but I'm going to guess that he was a do-er. His success speaks of thought AND action. Perhaps he's right, thinking through things is harder than just acting rashly. But I've found that for me, following through on the thoughts I have is harder than just thinking. There's a lot of excuses I can come up with for not doing, but if I'm perfectly honest, it's because I'm a perfectionist. I want to make sure that what I do meets my personal standards. But I've been doing some thinking lately (...I really crack myself up!), and I'm tired of being crippled by this.

So, I've made the decision to DO. And I've been pretty busy. Here are a few projects I've worked on lately.

Tyler's Senior Portraits - My friend Stacey asked me to do her son's senior portraits in May. He was a fun subject and a good sport! We played around in Gruene a bit and got some good shots.

Scott Family Easter/Spring Portraits - My friends have some cute kids... Don't you think?

Civic Center and City Attorney Portraits for websites

Civic Center Event Coordinator Mary Ann Labowski

Civic Center Manager Mandi Scott

Interim City Attorney Paul Isham

New City Council members sworn in - May 23rd

Council member Bryan Miranda

Council member Steven Digges

Mayor Gayle Pospisil
I love my job. Really, I do. And I love that I've been able to give the City the benefit of my dabbling in photography.

New Braunfels Puppy Playland Doggy Dash - a friend asked me to help her take pictures at this first time fundraiser, benefitting New Braunfels' future off-leash dog park! I was, of course, happy to help. And I made a few new four-legged friends...

The rest of the Doggy Dash pictures are on my SmugMug site.

CommUnity Resale (CIS) Fashion Show - this is such a great event put on by our local resale shop. Kat, the store manager, designs outfits that are "frugally fashionable" for about 20 local kids who have been identified as needing a little something extra. After they get a mini-makeover and model the outfits on a runway for their adoring fans, the kids get to keep the outfits! I got some really great pictures of the kids, but I did not get model releases signed (CIS did, and can use the pics that I've given them). So instead, here's a couple of pictures of the two great women who made it happen, Kat and Amanda!

*Note: I wrote this months ago! Reason for not posting? Loading pictures from my office computer through our wireless network, onto my iPad and into a blog post is extremely time consuming. So... And my priorities have been elsewhere... Something else I'd like to share with you is from James 1:22-27. This is a call to action, if I've ever heard one!

Thanks so much for still reading.

Love, Heather

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Busy, busy bee...

Sorry for not having anything to post lately. Been really busy with work this last week - best part is that I've been working on taking pictures of the diverse and incredible work we do at the City of New Braunfels for a special project. It was a lot of work and took a lot of courage to set up and stage these shots. I felt very honored to be able to tag along with our great City employees. Here's a selection of what I took:

Building and Fire Inspectors, Doug, Billy and Matt, at the future NBISD middle school site.

Our very photogenic Emergency Dispatcher, Elva, in our 911 Center.

Nathan, our Watershed Program Manager, on the Comal River.

Connie, our Real Estate Manager, in front of the North Tributary drainage. (you should recognize her from a previous post)

Octavio and Eric, Assistant City Engineer and Construction Inspector, on the massive Walnut Avenue Expansion project.

More from Walnut Avenue.

Chad, Equipment Operator II, on the motor grader doing a street overlay on Simon Street.

Coty, one of our great Police Officers, at Fischer Park.

Dwayne and Kyle, our Airport Maintenance Technicians, fueling an aircraft at the New Braunfels Municipal Airport.

More from the airport.

Alex, a Parks Maintenance Worker, preparing a concrete pad for a water fountain at JAWS Skate Park.

Sandy D, our Sign Shop Technician, maintaining a way finding sign.

Fred, one of our Mechanics, changing an air filter on a solid waste collection vehicle.

And last but not least, our 100 foot aerial truck at Central Fire Station.

So apparently, at least for this set of pictures, I prefer a left heavy thirds composition. My next photography assignment will be posted this Tuesday, so I'll work on it for a while and then share with you. Thanks again for following.