The Butterfly

What photography has taught me is probably not what you would think. I hate to read so I don’t read. I don’t even follow what new technology is out or what people are saying about it. I often feel lost when I’m talking to my fellow Louisiana Photographic Society members, I’ve learned a lot from them but totally lost 50% of the time. I definitely love hands on classes and have learned way more from just a 3 hour basics class than I’ve learned in years (my own fault). I guess the truth of the matter is I really don’t geek out over photography like I feel like I should.  So what on earth have I learned if I’m not really learning about photography? Yesterday I had an experience that helped me to answer this question.

Yesterday I grabbed my camera to capture a photo of this bright purple dragonfly. I tried but just couldn’t get the photo of the dragonfly that made me smile. My pup kept putting the tennis ball in my face and scaring the dragonfly off.  I couldn’t sit and focus on the camera for more 20 seconds before my Roux would be back in my face. I tried for a few minutes but lost my patience and gave up on the dragonfly.  The following is the best I got during that time.

Even though I had lost my patience in the backyard with the dragonfly I was still very much in the mood to photograph. So, I decided to head out front and poke around the woods.  I noticed this orange butterfly bouncing around in the gravel so I slowly headed his way and started snapping photos in hopes that I would get a shot before he took off. Dragonflies are hard enough to capture but butterflies… much more difficult. So I sat down and started shooting.  Nothing spectacular just photos of a butterfly.

After watching him for about 15 minutes I realized that he wasn’t afraid.  So that little voice inside me won and I quickly told myself to see if he would let me hold him. Sure enough,  I put my finger out and touched his legs and next thing I knew he was hanging out on my hand. He would take off every once in a while and then just land right back.

He stuck around so long I was able to walk him into the yard and call my step daughters out to see him.  We decided to see just how trusting this butterfly was. He was trusting enough to even let both of the girls hold him several times. The only thing I could think of is how much I live for those moments.

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I thought about this moment a lot yesterday.  Several things came to my mind.  First of all I am very curious to know what it is that allows me to connect with nature’s most fragile creatures like I can.  Then I thought about my patience. I taught preschool,  I loved it,  but keeping my patience was near impossible. At work, again, very low patience and easily frustrated. I do my best to either keep it to myself or find a way to make the situation less frustrating as quickly as possible but it’s still low patience. At home,  same thing, quickly and easily frustrated. In fact, I spent triple the amount of time writing the first half of this blog because the dogs were causing trouble, fighting with each other, putting tennis balls in my lap, Roux even erased several words because he couldn’t stand that I wasn’t paying attention to him. All of this,  very frustrating,  low patience.

So to answer my initial question,  I’m learning to be patient. I’m not sure that it’s translating into the rest of my life just yet but I’m hoping that it will. I’m at least learning that it is possible for me to be so patient that I get that photo. That photo that I can’t stop looking at,  that makes me smile and feel at peace. So what was that photo you ask…

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Houmas House, My Love

Houmas House Plantation and Gardens is a beautiful privately owned plantation home in Darrow, Louisiana. The current owner lives in the home and opens it up to the public for touring.

If you have ever been on a plantation tour or other historic site tour, you know that most times, you’re stuck behind ropes and only allowed to walk in certain areas. You also, probably get a very monotone boring guide who hardly smiles. At least that had been my experience prior to my tour at Houmas House.

My first trip to Houmas House was September 21, 2008. I had only been in Louisiana for three months and this was my first plantation tour ever. I had my film Canon Ti. The original camera my dad got me for my high school graduation.

This plantation tour is like no other I have been on still today. Your entrance fee includes insurance. This means there are no ropes, you can sit on the furniture, you can play the piano you even get to walk through the owners own bedroom. The tour guide is dressed in period time clothing. They have personality beyond belief. Every time I have taken the tour I have learned something new, it’s not a constant never changing script. They make it interesting, lively and fun.

Quickly, Houmas House became my … happy place. I’m not really sure what to call it. It’s the place I run to when I’m feeling down, when I need to think, when I’m looking for inspiration, or just want to relax. It’s my Louisiana version of the Henry Ford Estate in Dearborn, Michigan.

In the last nine years I have visited several times. Each time my photos are different, some times good, some times not so good. Regardless of the photo outcome though I always leave feeling renewed.

September 21, 2008, my first trip ever. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this trip. I know I went with the guy I had moved to Baton Rouge with, we were in awe at how huge the live oak trees are (they are three of the oldest live oaks in Louisiana, over 500 years old). I was using my film, Canon Ti, which means fewer photos and praying that you got something half way decent. Below are a few of those photos in digital form.

My second trip was the following year, July 11 2009. I took this trip with another boyfriend. This was a fun trip because both him and I were photographing. He was using a Canon PowerShot digital full body camera and I still had my film Canon Ti.  I remember laughing at myself because I stole his camera several times to play with it since I was still using film. It allowed me to take way more photos then I could with my film. The bad part was, when we got home, I didn’t know which were mine and which were his. In fact, when I was going through the album to pick out photos for this blog, I didn’t use any of the digital ones because I didn’t know if they were mine to credit or not. The one thing that really stands out to me from this trip was our tour guide. She was so animated and played her part so well. She sat down at one point and played the piano and I remember being blown away by her playing and voice. Absolutely beautiful! Below are a few of my favorites from that trip, again these have been converted to digital format from film.

That was the end of the film trips. After that it was always digital. I won’t bore you with discussing every single trip I took. I will however share a collage of photos from those trips with you below.

Yes that is the chicken that attacked me from my earlier post. I made sure that when I went today, I was prepared for him, told myself if I saw him that I would not go near him nor would I stick the camera in his face.  Thankfully, I found him in his chicken coop today.

So today’s trip to Houmas House. I went for one reason and one reason only today. I saw on Facebook that they had just completed the addition of their reflection pond to the grounds and of course I had to see that. How do you not take photos of that? So, I got up, checked that my camera had battery power and I headed out. Yes, I know, I’m a horrible photographer, I did not have a battery charging, its a flaw of mine. But not to worry it was at 100%! So I got there, and with the grounds still all ripped up from construction, I got my photos plus some.

A small side note about the Houmas House. As you see there are a few dogs. These are the owners dogs. After the current owner bought the house he threw a large party. It was a wedding. This wedding actually holds a world record for one of the largest weddings. He married his dogs. This is not a joke, you can look this up and it is part of the tour!

Of course Houmas House has become more than just a place I love to photograph. It’s also a place I like to share with those in my life. Here are a few fun shots of myself and family enjoying the ground with me. PS, I can not take credit for all these photos my friends and family have helped me to capture these great moments.

Before I end this post, I want to share a very fun, special moment I had at the Houmas House. When I got engaged and decided to have my wedding in Louisiana I knew that my dream would be to get married at The Houmas House. Well, let me just say my dream came with a very HUGE price sticker. No to worry I compromised. I decided that it was ok not to get married here (after all I didn’t want anyone to go bankrupt), so I had my bridals taken here. My bridal shoot was definitely my favorite trip to the Houmas House still today. Let me share a little with you. My photographer, Steven Schaefer,  had not yet photographed here. He did an amazing job doing some homework and getting ideas, which was great, but that wasn’t the best part. I had decided to pay to be able to photograph inside and outside of the house. So, I got there, I got changed and they sent me on my way with my photographer, one of my bridesmaids and a “babysitter” who works for the Houmas House. Like I said before you can sit on the furniture and all but they tend to mean that as a chair or sofa. Well we followed that rule until Steven made a declaration that the pool table was furniture (which let me mind you is insanely old and none of us would ever be able to replace). He picked me up, laid me on the pool table and our Houmas House “babysitter” turned her cheek and pretended she didn’t see anything. Steven did an amazing job capturing my love and passion for this happy place of mine in these photos. With full credit to him, below are my favorites of my bridals from that session.

If you have never visited Houmas House, I highly suggest it and I hope that you find a little joy and happiness in it like I do!

 

Solar Eclipse 2017

First, let me start by saying that I, in no real way knew what the heck I was doing. I was not at all prepared for the eclipse like any passionate photographer should have been. That being said, I had so much fun with the photography adventure that my unprepared self created.

For starters, I did not take in to consideration the eclipse when I booked our vacation to Panama City, FL, so we were driving back from Florida as the eclipse was taking place. I was smart enough to make sure my camera was with me in the backseat and easily accessible, but that was as prepared as I was. I didn’t google anything, I didn’t even read the article that a fellow Louisiana Photographic Society member was kind enough to send out to us all. I was on vacation, I was relaxing, I wasn’t at all thinking.

So after a 2 hour nap in the backseat I woke up and realized we should be able to start seeing it. At first the sun was completely covered by clouds and then we hit a storm so I was really starting to think I wouldn’t be able to see it at all. On one hand I was ok with that but on the other hand I was disappointed. Not too long after the storm broke our friend who was with us was able to see that the eclipse had started to crest using his sunglasses (none of us had eclipse glasses). So I pulled out my Sony a6000 and thought surely I had to be able to make this work. I put the zoom lens on it (210mm) and set all my settings to make it as dark as possible. Total failure. The below is the best that I could get.

So then I thought, lets try putting a sunglass lens over the lens of my camera and see what happens. Made for a cool photo but still a failure.

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I don’t know how, but the smarty pants, creative side immediately came out in me and I remembered that if you take a piece of paper and punch a tiny needle hole in it you can view it in a way that reduces the harmful effects on your eyes. It’s also a trick for people who wear glasses (such as myself) to help them see in a pinch because the tiny hole forces the light to focus more. So then I thought what if I put that on the end of the lens. But I’m just in the backseat of a pickup truck, how on earth am I going to figure this out. I saw the 8.5 x 11 piece of paper that they printed our hotel receipt on, then I saw the hair tie around my wrist and finally I remembered that in one of the bags sitting next to me, I had earrings. So I ripped the receipt in half, punched a hole in the middle of it with the earring and then used the hair tie to attach the paper to the lens of the camera.20170821_133222-01

The Sony a6000 has a digital viewfinder so I was not afraid to look through it straight at the sun. I took a few shots and I could finally see the crest. It wasn’t perfect but I was getting somewhere.

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I finally decided to add the sunglasses back to the top of the paper and see if that helped with the last little glare any. That made for my final solar eclipse set up.

And what would you know….it worked. I actually got photos of the eclipse!!!

Because of the direction and when we were driving this is the most we were able to see, it never even got dark on us. I seriously enjoyed my little backseat adventure jerry-rigging my camera to photograph the Solar Eclipse of 2017. Got a few shots to remember it by and made for a very fun memory and story to share!

Finally Some Inspiration

I was just telling someone how I loved blogging but I was really lacking the inspiration for posts lately. Due to that I have gone an entire month without a post. That saddens me. It’s sad for 2 reasons. The first reason being that I feel like I failed a little on a goal I had to blog once or twice a week. The second reason being that I have gone an entire month without feeling inspiration for my photography. This has my asking myself, why? Why wasn’t I inspired. I’ve taken some great shots since me last post.

The week after my last post I went on a field trip with my Louisiana Photographic Society. We were challenged to use several different elements to create new and unique photographs. Or at least I decided to use it as a challenge for new and unique things. I tend to stick to two main things, macro detail oriented shots and black and white shots. During this field trip I explored color, background, shutter speeds, a whole mixture of elements. I was very pleased with the results. I even found myself loving my work without any editing. Below are my shots from that field trip.

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After that field trip my husband and I went for a short hike at the Port Hudson Battle Ground. This hike was short but in the small amount of time we were there it was spider haven. Although taking photos of spiders always freaks me out (I fear they’re going to start crawling all over me while I’m photographing one) I got some great shots of the creepy crawlers. So why didn’t they inspire me to blog. I think it might actually be a catch 22. I blog because it helps me learn, helps me relax, allows me to destress, I enjoy being able to put my thoughts down that I some times otherwise struggle to communicate. But then at the same time when I’m stressed I find it hard to get my mind in the right place to blog and often just end up spacing out. At the time I had taken the photos of the spiders I had just been an accident, I was supposed to be taking a trip home to see my family and now couldn’t and work was starting to hit it’s most stressful point of the year. I’m sure for these reasons, I just couldn’t get my mind in the inspiration mode. Nonetheless, I did end up with some very cool spider photos.

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That brings me to now…my inspiration. In the past month I have found myself hiding from my stress by playing in the yard. Even the smallest amount of time just watering my potted plants or planting one new item or even picking my fruits and vegetables. Last weekend I took three small clay pots I was no longer using and a hanger and I filled them with bird seed and hung them in the crape myrtle in the back corner of my yard. The birds quickly found the seed and I noticed that we now had a decent amount of wildlife hanging out in our yard. This is something I have been trying to accomplish for the last five years we have been in this house. I quickly grabbed my camera and sat at the end of the patio (which was about as far as I could get without the birds taking off). Currently the largest zoom I have is a 210mm. This was not enough zoom to get the photos I was hoping for. Somehow, out of no where, I remembered that my Sony a6000 has a built in remote with live view on my android phone. After a quick google search I set the Sony a6000 on the tripod and connected my app to the live view remote. I set the camera at the base of the crape myrtle and focused on the pots. I calmly sat on the patio until the birds came back and then I snapped a few shots.

The first few shots I took were very boring but effective and it only took a few minutes for me to know that this was something I would play more with. Below are a few of those first few boring but effective shots.

So yesterday after a long day of chores, the birds caught my attention again, so I set the camera up, but this time I focused on only one pot at a time. I sat on the edge of the patio with the live view remote set up on my phone and I patiently sat and watched. It wasn’t but just a few minutes after sitting down that I found myself so focused on the birds that I couldn’t even hear the dogs barking at the door trying to get outside to be with me. All I heard were the birds, all I saw were the birds. It was so relaxing. This time the results were more fun. I still have a lot to learn but I was very pleased with the result. I am so excited to continue to play with this feature and explore new ways of using it.

Lesson learned the hard way during this experiment…. always have a second camera on you. Although the photos you’re taking through the camera and live view remote are fun and all, you miss a lot going on around the area your camera is focused on. For example…at one point I had a bird hanging out in my camera lens hood. I used my phone and tried to get a photo but let’s face it, if the 210mm zoom wasn’t enough to photograph them well from where I was sitting, there was no way I would get a photo of the bird sitting on my camera with my phone. But I tried. Below is the phone photo of the bird sitting on the lens hood as well as a photo I took of the pots with the bird sitting on the hood.

I ran in the house, grabbed my Sony CyberShot and sat back down hoping he would do it again so I could get that super cute awe moment photo. Of course after I grabbed the CyberShot not a single bird even showed interested in the camera. I did however get a few simple and nice shots of what was going on around the pots in the tree.

I learned two very simple things during this experience yesterday. First, I learned to always have more than one camera on hand. Second, I learned that my high amount of patience for photography mixed with my love for nature makes for a much more calming and relaxing experience than most other methods of relaxation I have tried.

A Sunday of Learning

Today my husband and I went adventuring. This is something that we do often. We try to come up with new places but there are times we revisit places as well. So today we went to a few places.

Something that the Louisiana Photographic Society has been drilling into my brain is to not just take photos but to learn about where and what you are photographing. I’m going to start that today. Tonight I will take you all on a tour of our day and share whatever information I have found on the places and objects I photographed today.

Stop One: Cohn Memorial Arboretum

We started our day at Cohn Memorial Arboretum. The Cohn Arboretum is a BREC park here in Baton Rouge, LA. It’s over 16 acres of land with over 120 different species of trees and shrubs all native to the area. It was a beautiful place. We tend to like more natural, woods like parks but this still made for an interesting trip.

I saw a ton of these small little brown dragonflies. I love dragonflies and photograph them often. I learned that these little guys are called Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera).  I learned that these dragonflies stay small. To keep from getting eaten their bodies have yellow stripes and then when perched they wiggle to make themselves appear like hornets.DSC02054-01

While I was photographing these little guys, my husband got all excited, he had found a woodpecker. We were too far away to get a photograph that I would display but I got one good enough to share the story with you. This was a red-headed wood pecker. A beautiful bird. I learned a few really interesting facts about the red-headed woodpecker tonight. The red-headed woodpecker is monogamous mating for several years at a time if not life. They’re extremely territorial and they eat both meat and plants, eating more meat in the spring than any other tie of the year. He was very active today and really made us work for the few photos we did get.

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One of the most interesting creatures we came across at the Cohn Arboretum were these funny little bugs that we only saw on this one plant. They were in large groups on almost every stem of the plant. I tried to search and figure out what kind of bug they are but I couldn’t find anything that matched them. I thought they were cool because they have this little spot on their backs that look like tiny white hearts. I would love to know more about them if anyone has information.DSC02085-01

Below are a few more photos I took before we left the Arboretum that I wanted to share.

Stop Two: The Baton Rouge Capital Building

Every year Baton Rouge honors our fallen heroes with a beautiful display at the capital building; The Garden of Flags. The Garden of Flags is a display on the capital building grounds of 11,000 flags which are brought in by the National Guard and veterans. They march the flags over 6 miles through the LSU campus and the downtown area before several volunteers plant all 11,000 flags. I started a few years ago making it a tradition to view the garden. All though I have visited the capital gardens on many occasions, the atmosphere is very different for the Garden of Flags. It’s a very very powerful sight.

I got slightly irritated with a man today. I was waiting off to the side to try and get a special shot. I was patiently waiting for another woman in front of me to finish taking her photos. She was taking her time and working to get her shots and didn’t care who was waiting. I didn’t care. As I stated before most of photography is patience and the absolute truth of the matter is the Garden of Flags is not there for our photographic entertainment. It’s to make a powerful statement and honor those who give us the freedom to photograph anything we want. This man next to me kept bitching about how people were waiting and she was taking too much time. It really bothered me that the man couldn’t even stop bitching long enough to admire the sight he was attempting snap a photograph of. This brings up another point. Photography is supposed to tell a story. It’s hard to tell a story if you cannot feel an emotion from the scene you are photographing.

Today I took a photo that I believe really shares the impact of the sight (see below).DSC02103-01

Below are a few more not just from today but from my previous visits as well. I hope that my photos can help to give you a feeling of overwhelming honor that I feel when I visit each year.

 

Final Stop: Afton Villa

Afton Villa is a place I had heard about, told it was beautiful by many. Last weekend I was supposed to go on a field trip with the Louisiana Photographic Society. I made the wrong decision to pass because it was supposed to storm all day that day and I had no way of keeping my camera gear dry. It never did rain. So today my husband and I went. We didn’t know anything about this property before we went. But after an interesting little tiff with the gardener on staff we decided to look it up. Before we get to that, lets talk about the actual most interesting thing that we saw on this property. Side note, we personally didn’t​ feel this property was really worthy of the money and time but the story I’m about to share with you might have made it worth it today. So we were walking around the grounds and as we were walking by a tree my husband noticed something falling from the tree and into the weeds growing from the side of the tree. It was 2 snakes at least 4 feet long. Once again our photography superpowers kicked in and we both got close and had no idea what else was around or possibly crawling around or falling from the tree. We’re not entirely positive but we think they may have been Texas Rat Snakes.

So earlier I mentioned a tiff with the gardener. That took place after the snakes, so lets get back to that. We were hoping there were more to the grounds because we were rather disappointed with the little we had seen. So we start following the trail further into the property and as we’re passing the gardener he tells us that the house is private. We thanked him for letting us know and then asked him if the trail in front of the house was private as well. His exact response, “No, it goes in to the large woods”. Well the “large woods” is exactly the kind of stuff my husband and I like to explore so we started walking that way. The gardener yells at us not to go that way. So I say “You said it wasn’t private” he yells back with “I said it went to the large woods”. So again, is it private or not? We decided not to fight with the old man and leave. But I’m still curious to know what’s in those damn woods.

After our tiff with the gardener we decided to look up the Afton Villa and learn a little about it (really wondering more if the old gardener was just the grounds guy or was it possible he lived there). Turns out Afton Villa was a large, Gothic antebellum mansion that was destroyed due to a fire in the 1960s. The gardens are supposed to make you feel haunted. Today, we felt annoyed but not at all haunted.

 

Finally, my husband and I learned one more rather simple thing today that for some reason never clicked before. Make a list of places we see or hear about that we want to check out. First thing on the new list, Port Hudson Civil War Battlefield.

Photography Gives Me Superpowers

When photographing Avery Island, I learned something about myself. My camera gives me a false sense of security. It tends to also make me feel invisible. I know that having a giant camera at my face actually makes me stand out more than not, however, when I’m behind the camera and all I’m seeing is what’s through the view finder the rest of the world completely disappears. I have been known to hit people in the face with my lens as I’m shooting because everything just fades away. Let me share a few examples.

Alligators of any size in the wild should most likely be left alone. Yet there I am as close as I can get without them moving sticking a long zoom lens in their face. But that’s not the worse of it. Sitting in it’s face with a camera while your husband throws rocks around it to make it jump is probably even more stupid than just getting too close. Don’t worry we weren’t throwing rocks directly at him, we love nature we don’t hate it.

Another example. A few weeks ago I went to Houmas House, as I’m walking around I notice a chicken just hanging out. So I sit on the ground and start shooting. The noise of the shutter starts to catch his attention and he starts to tilt his head back and forth like a dog. I thought it was cute and didn’t think anything of it. Note: that apparently is a chicken’s cue that they’re irritated. So I decide to walk past him to move on. As I walk passed him the darn thing starts to chase after me, literally screaming and kicking at me. All of a sudden my inner superhero says “You Got This!” So I immediately stop, face the chicken as he is jumping and kicking at me, stick my zoom lens in his face (bad idea, I do not suggest that) and loudly holler at him like he’s a dog in trouble. After doing that twice he finally left me alone.

I realize that standing on the edge of a swamp in an alligator’s face with a camera does not make me safe, but for some reason I’m just not nearly as anxious or scared of life when I’m behind a camera.

Above are the alligator’s from Avery Island. Below is the chicken the attacked me at Houmas House.

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Mulberry Grove

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of touring Mulberry Grove plantation. Mulberry Grove is a privately owned plantation in Donaldsonville, LA. This beautiful plantation was originally built in 1836. It is currently a private residence and a working Sugarcane plantation on over 800 acres. I had a wonderful morning touring the property and learning more not only about the house but about sugarcane farming as well.

It’s really hard to walk through a property like this and not come up with hundreds of questions. I was constantly asking questions about every little thing I saw. It was also very difficult not to look around and just wonder if the walls and tree could talk the stories and history they have been through.

I truly appreciate the Noel Family for giving me this opportunity!