Eastern Tibet Retreat Slideshow

We had so much fun on my Eastern Tibet Photo Retreat this June! We spent 11 days exploring the “Rooftop of the World” with our cameras - and folks came away with beautiful, heartfelt photographs. I thought I’d share a slideshow of images created by our lovely participants. The rich colors! The light! The landscape! You’re going to love it. I mixed in some group action shots too, so you can get a real feel for our experience on the road. It was the trip of a lifetime!

Get ready to see some gorgeous images by photographers Patricia Hogan, Garrett Jones, Alan Mela, Marta Topolska, Jacqueline Walters, and Ingrid Wehrle. Thanks for sharing your images, folks - and thanks for making it a great trip! Thanks also to Extravagant Yak, our wonderful tour operator, for planning every last detail.

Click on the first image to open the slideshow. Enjoy!

Honor your inner compass

 
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Folks often feel pressured to take other people’s opinions into account when making photographs. So, you’d lift the camera to shoot and then think: is this aligned with what curators/jurors/publishers/critics like these days? Is this stupid or too off-trend to be taken seriously? You might have an idea that really floats your boat, but you nip it in the bud because it’s not “safe.”

The poet William Stafford gave some great advice to blossoming poets. He said, “If you have any qualms, veer towards what feels good. Why oppose the only compass you have?” Fabulous, right? That compass is your artistic voice talking. That's the thing everyone wants to find. But, it's one of the easiest things to give away. Follow it, though, and your vision gets stronger and stronger. Your unique perspective gets stronger. Your joy burns brighter and the ideas flow faster. That's how you become an artist with something to say. Play it safe and you wind up getting bored with what you’re making. It feels blah, average - it doesn’t stand out from the mix. There’s a real irony there. You might pressure yourself to conform...but then feel completely dissatisfied because your images look like everyone else’s. Why do we do that to ourselves? It’s empowering to just notice this pattern, isn’t it?

I want to move in the direction of joy. I want to experiment and play and follow up with wacky notions, because that’s what feels good. I want to champion originality. I want to stand with my back to the view and photograph the weird beam of light in the corner while people give me funny looks. Why oppose the only compass you have, right? Let’s honor the compass and reclaim our creative agency. Free your mind and your art will follow (...paraphrasing Funkadelic just a smidge). But really, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Onward!

 

It's okay to go with the flow

 
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I saw the light glowing through the shower curtain and asked my sweetie if he'd put his hand behind it. I never really know why ideas occur to me, but I reserve judgement and follow up with creative whims. That's actually my highest practice - follow the whims. It's always served me well. The thinking mind follows up later with a little analysis. But in the moment...pixels are free, you know?

Here's something that feels important: you don't need a rhyme or reason to make art. Your work doesn't have to refer to art historical movements or critical theories. It doesn't have to be by the book to count. It doesn't have to align with contemporary tastes in the art world (seriously, that just makes your work blend in, and who wants that?). Oh - and you don't have to come up with a well defined, compelling narrative or issue first and then create images to comply with it. You can, if that feels juicy to you. But if it feels burdensome? No problem! Let the images lead the way. See what they have to say for themselves. That's a powerful insight practice, and it often ends up being more interesting than a carefully mapped-out project, anyway.

It's okay for art to be intuitive. It's okay to go with the flow. It's okay to play and experiment with wacky ideas. And, it's okay to not know what the heck you're doing until after you do it. There really are no rules in art. Isn’t that freeing and fabulous?

Onward!

Less time fiddling, more time looking

 
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Want to know something kooky? I use one camera - and I just own one lens (a Sony A7riii with a 35mm prime). I’m not shooting my twin-lens much these days because I moved to the boonies and don’t feel comfortable shipping my film to get processed (and I 86'ed myself from darkroom chemistry after two decades splashing around in the stuff). You’d think I’d be geared to the gills as a professional artist, but I intentionally keep things REALLY simple.

Ansel Adams said something like: "If you have fewer lenses you lessen your chances of choosing the wrong one." Having one lens means it’s the perfect choice every single time. Winning! You also internalize the focal length when you look through the same lens every day. So, when I see a lovely subject, I intuitively walk into position for the framing I want. I don't have to pick up the camera, look, rethink, and reposition. Overall, there’s less fiddling, less second guessing - and that leads to a lot more visual confidence. Basically, I don’t want to spend time thinking about my gear, you know? I want to spend time looking deeply and picking up on the energy of the scene, so I can make images filled with mood and emotional resonance. I feel like being truly present is the best thing I can do for my photography practice.

Camera companies tell you to buy multiple lenses (and new gear every 18 months), but if you hop on that bandwagon, you constantly feel awkward with your tools. If you're shooting specialty subjects you'll probably want a specialty tool or two. But if you're really honest with yourself and you know you’re not going to be doing espionage or shooting pro basketball, microbes, whales, explosions, or spreads for Architectural Digest where you need a tilt-shift lens…take a deep breath. The ads are trying to sell you confidence, but true confidence comes from familiarity. Familiarity is worth WAY more than fancy new gear, every day of the week. Photography doesn’t have to be super expensive or cumbersome. It’s all about vision. That’s free, lightweight, and you have the most updated version inside you all the time.

A little introduction

 
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Hi, lovely friends. This is me - photographer, beach lover, curator, dog mom. I begged my mom for her camera when I was 5 and made wonky pictures of my stuffed animals (and put them in an album with backwards crayon numbers in the margins...I'm really proud of that). I grew up in Asia and moved to Seattle for high school. I was SUPER out of place culturally (even though I'm an Irish/Italian girl from Brooklyn by birth) and the darkroom became my sanctuary space. I basically hung out in the dark, playing with light, and that's how I found my voice as a young woman.

Fast forward 27 years (gosh, that went by quickly!) and I've built a whole life around this beautiful art form. For many years, I was the program director at a photo school. I basically spent all day dreaming up fun classes and finding artists to teach them. I curated shows for our gallery, too - and started serving as a portfolio reviewer at photo festivals. Then, I worked @Photolucida, where we helped photographers connect with gallerists and publishers. I taught my first photo class to "at-risk" teens when I was just 19 (and so tiny I probably looked 12), and I've been teaching ever since. Photography has always been my guiding passion, my soul food, my growth edge, my insight practice.

Here's what feels important: I believe there are no rules in art and vision matters way more than gear (WAY more!). I believe art is rich practice for life. It teaches us to say what we really think, to show how we feel, to tap into subtler emotions, to find joy in things we'd otherwise overlook (the light is seriously amazing on my foot right now). I believe strong images are the ones that make your heart sing (they're not the ones that dutifully follow rules, so if you're knocking yourself out trying to get it "right," you can take a deep breath and recalibrate back to your own gorgeous inner knowing). I believe you already are the artist you're waiting to become - and you can step into your full power at any time. Like, today. You’ve got this. Anyway, I just thought I’d show up here and introduce myself. Thanks for sharing this journey with me. I'm happy you're a companion on the path. Love and light to you!

Open heart, open mind, open eyes

 
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I've been thinking about how hard it is to answer the question, "What kinds of things do you photograph?" I always come up with something to say, but it never feels quite right (even though I've been answering this question for 25+ years).

I had a little epiphany the other day. I realized the reason it's a hard question is because it's all about the content - and I'm never on the hunt for specific subjects. Even after I've made the images, I wouldn't say they're about their content. I'm looking for something that feels so much more important than that: light that makes my breath catch in my throat, a feeling of mystery, visual poetry, depth of emotion, a sense of the sacred. I turn a bend on a path and see a gorgeous red pomegranate in a thicket of bare branches, glowing on a hillside in Bosnia...I hold out my hand to participate in the scene, because the light is just so pure and lovely...I make a self portrait that expresses something like fragility, strength, and the beauty of impermanence...and I realize my sweater matches the scene perfectly? Holy moly - it's a little slice of magic. THAT'S what I'm looking for - that's what I'm staying open for.

Open heart, open mind, open eyes. I never know when magic will happen, what it will look like, or what subjects will be involved - and that's part of the profound beauty of the process, you know? That's what makes me fall in love with photography over and over again.

What's photography for?

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Yesterday, I chatted with a lovely artist who told me he sometimes grapples with questions like: What's the point? Why make photographs? What's it FOR? And...is photography a selfish pursuit? It made me think about meditation. You know, you basically sit on a cushion in silence. What's the point? Is it selfish?

In my meditation tradition, there's a little chant at the end of each sit, "May the merits of this practice benefit all beings and bring peace." I meditate alone in my bedroom - it's a little highfalutin to think I'm benefiting "all beings" with my practice.

And yet, I now think there's a whole lot of truth in it. Sitting and breathing is nourishing. Photography is nourishing. If I take time away from my obligations and crazy inbox - if I look at the light, open my heart, and make images I love - if I add more meaning and beauty to my life with my art - I'm able to listen better, support better, understand better...and smile more.

Fill yourself up and you have more to give. You can be a better human if you're inspired, delighted, and whole. That matters. I like to think that art is a fertile training ground for life. It teaches us to lean in to emotion, to get comfortable with vulnerability, to be present, imperfect, exuberant, tenderhearted, and brave. I think the world needs more of that, don't you?

Crafting a Gorgeous Portfolio

I spend almost every day talking to photographers about their goals and challenges, helping them refine their vision and make images they’re really proud of. One set of challenges comes up over and over: photographers feel like their images are “all over the place” and they really want to figure out how to create a more cohesive vision. I LOVE helping artists move beyond common misperceptions and transcend practices that hold their work back. There are some big misperceptions on this topic - and some really common strategies that only add to photographers’ frustration. These conversations are some of the richest I have with people. So, I thought I’d record my thoughts, to help you gain clarity and confidence around these issues, too.

You’ll get a lot out of this talk if:

  • You’re annoyed by how random your image catalog looks

  • You feel like you lack clear, personal vision

  • The galleries on your website are a constant source of frustration
    (What to include? Everything?? Nothing? Argh!)

  • You can’t figure out what to enter into photo competitions (greatest hits??)

  • You wish you could exhibit in a gallery but you have no idea what to submit

  • You’d love your Instagram account to look like it was shot by one savvy, brilliant photographer - instead of a bunch of different photographers with wildly diverging visions

  • You’re tired of making “student work” and you’re ready to find your true artistry and SHINE

If any of that sounds like you…this talk will really help clear things up.

I hope you enjoy it!

Creative Resolutions

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As we look ahead to the new year, I thought it would be fun to share some thoughts on resolutions…creative resolutions.

I made a little audio recording for you, chatting through three helpful questions you can ask yourself to align your practical goals with your deepest intentions. I'm doing this for my own art practice, and I wanted to share with you. 

The beautiful thing? This will make your photography practice more fulfilling, whether or not you meet your goals.

I hope it's helpful! 

Traveling Light

 
Everything for a one-month trip (except what I’ll wear on the plane)

Everything for a one-month trip (except what I’ll wear on the plane)

 

You might know that I’m not a gear gal. I like to go light - as light as possible - in everything I do. I shoot with one camera with one fixed lens. I zoom with my feet. I don’t use a camera bag. When I travel, I like to pare it down to the bare essentials so I’m free and flexible.

Travel guide extraordinaire Rick Steves once quipped, “There are two kinds of travelers, those who pack light and those who wish they had.” Words to the wise.

I’m packing for a month-long trip right now (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Italy), and I thought I’d show you what my ideal suitcase looks like. All of this fits into one small carry-on and a medium-sized purse. I never check a bag, no matter how long I’m traveling. The total weight of the two, fully-packed bags is 21.5 pounds. Freedom! None of the links provided here are sponsored, by the way. They’re just items I own and love.

Ok, here’s the rundown from the top row, left to right:

  • Water-resistant, lined snow coat (I’ll be wearing this on the plane so I don’t have to pack it)

  • Light down puffy jacket for layering

  • Pajamas for cozy lounging (light pants, tank top, long sleeve top)

  • Swimsuit

  • One pair long underwear bottoms

  • Three tank tops for layering

  • Three long sleeve quick-drying shirts (two are identical Boody shirts - my favorite) and one long sleeve Smartwool shirt

  • One wool sweater (I’ll be wearing another on the plane)

  • Two pairs of jeans (I’ll be wearing a third pair on the plane)

  • One pair of boots (I’ll be wearing a second pair on the plane)

  • Three pairs of regular socks (I’ll be wearing a fourth pair on the plane)

  • One pair of fuzzy, comfy socks to use as slippers

  • One cashmere wrap (good as a scarf or a shawl)

  • One wool scarf (unnecessary, but I’m willing to splurge on space for a little variety)

  • One older model cell phone (I keep an old one on hand just for travel)

  • iPhone/iPad charger

  • U.S. to European plug adaptor

  • Two battery packs for charging electronics during long travel days

  • Passport with Global Entry number written in it

  • Pen

  • Sony battery charger for my camera with one additional battery (the other battery is in my camera)

  • Sony to USB charger cord, just in case

  • Hard shell camera case, so I can toss my camera into any bag without worry

  • Sony A7rIII with 35mm prime lens (yup - that’s it). I’m going totally digital this trip.

  • Mini iPad 4 with keyboard case (minis are super cheap right now because Apple is discontinuing them! I love mine because I can run my entire business from it and it’s great for viewing images and light image editing. With the Kindle app on it, it’s also my “book.”)

  • Keyboard charging cord

  • iPad to SD card reader, so I can upload larger image files to the iPad (rather than the compressed files sent via Bluetooth). See more on this method below, under Random Tips.

  • Fleece hat

  • Toiletries (including aspirin, cold meds, echinacea, just in case)

Not pictured:

  • My underwear (three bras and five panties). Thought you probably didn’t need a visual.

  • Seven 64GB SD cards (they fit in a little pocket in the hard camera case)

  • The outfit I’ll be wearing on the plane

  • Set of three compression bags for all the clothing

  • Travel packets of clothing detergent

  • Earbuds

  • Fleece lined mittens (a little elf told me I’m getting these for Christmas)

  • I think I might get one of these, just in case I pick up gifts or souvenirs on the road. I’ll be able to fit my purse and extra purchases into this bag so I’ll still just have two carry-ons on the return trip.

  • Small wallet with credit cards (ones without foreign transaction fees), cash, Priority Pass for airport lounges

  • Money belt

  • A plastic bag or two for my camera, just in case it rains. I don’t use anything fancy - just old shopping bags.

My Digital “Suitcase” (apps I love):

NOTABLE OMMISIONS:

  • I never bring a tripod. Unless you plan to do night photography or shoot long exposures of moving subjects, save yourself the trouble and leave yours at home. You can always prop your camera on a handrail, lean against a telephone pole, or fashion a tripod out of books or chairs if push comes to shove. The exception would be if you’re shaky for some reason and can’t handhold your camera even at faster shutter speeds.

  • I never bring more than one lens. If you’re shooting wildlife from afar, you might want to bring a telephoto, but other than that, it’s nice to keep things simple. I think it was Ansel Adams who once said, “If you have fewer lenses, you lessen your chances of choosing the wrong one.” Have just one lens? You win every time. I never have to guess where to stand to get my shot - my framing is internalized because I know the lens so well. When you’re intuitive with your gear, you spend less time fiddling and more time seeing.

  • I never bring a camera bag. I like my camera to be at the ready or tossed into an unassuming purse (with a zipper top) in a small, hard case (see above). Obvious camera bags, especially bags with company names emblazoned on them, are never a good idea. They’re a great target for thieves.

Random tips:

  • As I mentioned above, I upload larger image files to my mini iPad with an SD card reader dongle. This is not a strategy for uploading everything, because it’s not that fast. But, when traveling without a laptop, it’s my favorite way to backup (and play with) my favorite images. Bluetoothing (is that a word?) the files from a camera to an iPad will compress them substantially, so it’s better to go the dongle route here. After the images are uploaded to the iPad, they can be uploaded to the cloud (if you specify that in your settings). I have a larger cloud subscription to accommodate, and it costs me something like $0.99 USD per month. Not too shabby. Special note: if you have an older iPad, you might find that your image uploads (via dongle) are compressed. My mini iPad 1 compresses the images to about a quarter of their original size. My mini iPad 4 is much more robust and accepts the full resolution RAW files.

  • A friend just turned me on to this nifty gadget for backing up from an iPad. I haven’t tried it yet, and can’t order one in time for my trip, but wanted to list it here since it’s such a compelling option.

  • Book AirBnBs with clothes dryers. Outside of the States, dryers are not a given. You can filter AirBnB locations by dryer availability. If you end up needing to air dry your jeans in a cold, humid climate, it could take days! It’s never fun to wear (or pack) damp clothes when you’re on the move between locations.

  • Quick-drying fabrics are ideal.

  • All clothing items should match so everything is 100% interchangeable.

  • I always get travel insurance from World Nomads.

  • Coats/jackets with inside pockets are the best!

  • Don’t buy a heavy carry-on bag. Some of them sound great, but they’re 10 pounds (or more!) when empty. The carry-on I linked to above is just under 5 pounds when empty. See here for additional lightweight options.

Hope this was helpful! Wherever your path may take you this winter, I’m wishing you well.

Onward!
Laura

p.s. Did you know I teach a travel photography e-course? It’s called Traveling Light. It’s all about the creative side of things - how to make truly unique, personal images when you travel (as opposed to touristy shots). If you have a trip on the horizon, join me! Or…if you’re itching to get a trip on the calendar, join me for my upcoming retreat in Eastern Tibet! If you’re staycationing this next year, join me for Gathering Light - one full year of weekly photography lessons, creative prompts, and meaningful conversations about the heart and soul of photography. It kicks off January 1st!

Tibet Photo Adventure!

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I'm really happy to announce that I'm teaching an 11-day photography retreat in Eastern Tibet this June! I'm teaming up with Extravagant Yak Travel Company to offer this trip - and I'm over the moon about it. I'd LOVE you (and your camera) to join me.

One our trip we'll...

  • Explore breathtaking landscapes

  • Wander among nomad camps on the Tibetan grasslands

  • Join religious pilgrims at ancient sites

  • See gorgeous light filtering into temples and monasteries

  • Poke around bustling, vibrant markets

  • Meet local artisans (and photograph them in their studios!)

  • We'll immerse ourselves in photography and conversations about art and creativity

  • You'll build an incredible new portfolio of images

  • Plus, we'll have lovely accommodations and knowledgable local guides to finesse every last detail of our trip


Daily photo discussions will include topics like...

  • Moving beyond conventional, “touristy” images

  • Widening your definition of “the perfect subject”

  • Making relaxed, expressive, authentic portraits (instead of sneaky snaps from across the street)

  • Showing mood and deep emotion in your images

  • Wholehearted, authentic image making (finding your true vision)

  • Letting light (instead of subject matter) guide your visual choices

  • Connecting with people even when you don’t speak the language

  • And so much more!


You can see the whole itinerary and all our fun trip details HERE.

Is Eastern Tibet calling to you? Do you need a little more adventure in your life? Come join me! It's going to be the trip of a lifetime and I absolutely can't wait!

LEARN MORE

Gratitude & Sanctuary Exhibitions

 
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Some fun news - I just juried an exhibit for LightBox Photographic Gallery here on the foggy Oregon coast, and I’m jurying another for PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury Vermont (call for entry details are just below).

The exhibition themes are wonderful: gratitude and sanctuary.

“In Gratitude” will run at LightBox from November 10th - December 5th, with the exhibition opening on the 10th from 5-8pm. I’ll be there and would love to see you if you’re in the area! The images I selected are filled with heart and soul - it’s definitely a feel-good show.

If the theme “sanctuary” is calling to you, the PhotoPlace Gallery call for entries is open until December 17th. You can learn more about the theme and submit your images right here.

Not only will there be a beautiful exhibit at the gallery (February 7th - March 9th), but there will be a permanent online exhibit, and two photographers will be awarded a portfolio review with me (via Skype). I’m so looking forward to seeing the submitted work. Last time I juried for PhotoPlace, we had the most gorgeous selection (you can see that show here).

I always tell my students that it’s best to enter competitions run by organizations with missions you really support - the kind of organizations you’d happily give donations to. When you do that, you feel great about your contribution whether or not you get into the exhibit, and you feel like you’re actively contributing to the kind of world you’d like to live in. More healthy arts organizations? Yes, please.

Hope to see you (or one of your beautiful images) at the shows!

Wholehearted, Soulful Creativity

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I believe in soulful, delicious, heartfelt, connected, insightful art making. I stand for art as meditation, photographs as poetry, artists as visionaries and healers. I love images about deep personal subjects, vulnerable subjects, human subjects. I love it when artists put their hearts on their sleeves and their souls on the line - and how that makes us all feel more connected, safe, and heard.

I love how photography is a space where we can practice being open and brave and emotional - and how that can translate into making the rest of our lives better. I believe in innate brilliance. You don’t need to learn it. You already have it. And when you cultivate that inner voice? She gets stronger, and stronger - and stronger

Sure, photography is about pressing a button and making pretty pictures. But really? Really, it’s a direct portal to charged living. It’s a way in to what really matters. The daily churn of obligations, the media, showing up for work, tucking in our bra straps - that’s the peripheral stuff.

It’s raining outside - the first long, wet day here at the Oregon coast. I’m sitting here with a candle lit, listening to soulful music, my dog at my feet, and I’m thinking about how quickly life passes by. I’m already halfway through mine (optimistically).

Mary Oliver asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I want to “burn, burn, burn” like Kerouac wrote. I want to feel deeply connected - to what feels sacred, to my authentic voice. I want to sit quietly and watch the light change over the landscape and feel completely present. At peace. I want my images to bring me home to myself, to help me love more wholeheartedly. I’m ready - and I’m holding my hand out to you, beautiful artist. It’s time to go deeper. 

Are you in?

Love and light from the Oregon coast,
Laura

What Really Matters

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If you’ve been hanging out with me for a while, you know I talk a lot about photography. But, here’s what I really care about: I care about you trusting your vision. I want you to run with it, believe in it, and feel absolutely assured that you’re on the right track.

Your vision belongs to you. It’s your deepest truth. No one else can tell you what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. You don’t have to edit yourself to be “palatable” to others. You are the highest authority when it comes to your own work. The loud voices out there shouting about the “right” way to make art, grading your images with percentage points, making you feel less than, making it clear you’ll never know enough, that you’re an outsider in the “real” art world?

They’re doing it wrong. 

It feels like there are an awful lot of voices out there right now telling us to be small. Telling us to quiet down, telling us our truth doesn’t matter. But your heart, soul, mind, and vision? Your art? It’s not about anyone else. And, you aren’t small. You’re amazing, shining, and brilliant. Now is the time to really believe it. I mean NOW now. Like, right now. 

The longer we go believing the stories other people tell us about how capable we are, the father we get from our core vision.

Now is the time to recalibrate. 

I hear a lot of stories from artists who risk opening up about their challenges, self doubt, and fear. I carry them with me every day, and I put all my energy into reframing them, turning them into tools for empowerment. Because, the cracks are where the light gets in, right?

When I think about all my teaching, you know what my guiding mission is? To help artists become their own teachers. I don’t want you to do things my way. I want to support you, celebrate you, hug you, and cry with you while you find your own beautiful way. I want you to know in your heart that you’re uniquely capable, that you have powerful stories to tell. I want you to trust that when you’re in the zone, intuitively and emotionally responding to the world, making images that bring you alive, for no other reason than that it feels good - THAT’S doing it right. 

The Beauty of Being Lost

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The other day, I was chatting with a sweet Lyft driver about her childhood in Puerto Rico. She told me about how her dad would take her out for drives and they’d wander around unfamiliar roads together, just checking things out.

Remember what life was like before GPS? If you made a wrong turn, if you drove off the map - that was it. You just had to drive around until you happened to get back on track. But, there was a real beauty in that, you know? I feel a sense of loss about being lost.

We know where we are just about all the time now. Even worse, we think we SHOULD know where we are all the time. So, being lost feels like a real problem when it happens.

This kind of thinking impacts the creative process, too. We expect to know exactly what we’re doing at all times. Our next steps as artists shouldn’t be a mystery. We think we’re failing if we don’t see a clear path forward. This is causing a lot of artists a lot of pain.

But...what if being lost was an ESSENTIAL part of the creative process? After many years of being an artist, I really think it is (and not just because I have a ridiculously bad sense of direction). Because, being lost is a place of possibility, adventure, receptivity, and...creativity. Having everything figured out at the outset? Or, thinking you do? That’s like putting blinders on.

Wouldn’t it get totally boring to know everything and make predictable images all the time? No spontaneity. No happy accidents. No magic. No discovery. Art would be like putting square pegs in square holes. I know I’d lose interest.

I’d rather be an adventurer! I’d rather make the images I’m most called to make, and then look to them for direction and guidance. I’d rather get lost in my creative work, explore weird side roads, and see what arises to surprise and delight me.

If we could let go of the idea that being lost is bad, and see it as a vibrant, vital, charged experience that sets the stage for creative discovery - maybe we’d all be healthier as artists. Maybe we’d be able to let go of the shame of not knowing exactly what to do next.

So, if you’re feeling lost right now? You’re exactly where you need to be.

Adventure on!


Reclaiming Our Artistry

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What do you need to make better images? You don’t need a fancier camera (truly - you can make amazing images with a camera made out of an oatmeal box). You don’t need to take another Lightroom class. You don’t need to understand hyperfocal distance (seriously).

When we believe we need all this, that we can’t be artists until we have it all dialed in - that takes our power away. Because, our hearts and souls aren’t in the equation when it’s all about gear and technique, you know?

I hear a lot of photographers talk about how bad they feel about their gear, how inadequate they feel about their skills, how they don’t measure up to Photoshop pros with more expensive kits.

It breaks my heart because I know these things are a TINY part of what it really means to be an artist. Tiny.

It’s transformative to take a deep breath and let go of all this so we can focus on the things that really matter. The important stuff: the people and places we love in the world, the experiences that make us laugh and cry and jump with delight, the things that connect us more deeply to life, love, and the human experience. The things that bring us home to ourselves.

That’s the good stuff.

When we focus our energies there, that’s when we start making images that really go above and beyond.

So, it starts with you. It’s about who you are - what you bring to the table as an artist. You already have access to that. It’s just a matter of digging deep, looking inside with an open, honest heart, and making images that reflect what you find there.

If you’re ready to let go of the distractions and develop a more intimate, nourishing relationship with your art, join me in my e-course Candela: Finding Inspiration Through Photography. It starts tomorrow. Candela is six full weeks of guidance, support, and conversation (and lots of gorgeous images!). It’s so much fun, and I can’t wait for it to start!

Learn more and sign up here.

We’re going to reclaim our artistry and start making images that light us up inside. Would love you to join me!

Exhibit Your Work with Confidence

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I remember the first time I had a big exhibition of my photographs. I was showing a portfolio about my family history. It was about the beauty and nostalgia of childhood - as well as the shadows.

I'd worked on the series for about a year and a half. I photographed alone, edited alone, imagined and envisioned alone. I was in a little creative bubble - making work that meant the world to me, but not showing it to anyone.

I used to go to the photo center where I worked every morning at 6am to work alone in the lab. I made print after print after print while listening to This American Life and watching the day lighten outside.

There's a lot of solitary time on the creative path, and I spent 18 months alone with those images. In a way, I was listening to them - figuring out what they needed, and learning how to take them there.

I put so much heart, soul, and effort into birthing that series.

When the gallery opening finally rolled around, I was a bit of a stress case. I actually remember not wanting to go, if you can believe that. I had an unfortunate pimple on my chin and I'd spilled something on my sweater at the last minute. But I did go, of course...and it was such a profound experience to see my work on the walls.

I was surrounded by family, friends, and kind people who didn't care about the ridiculous stain or the pimple. People were looking at the work deeply, talking about it, responding to my vision - and truly seeing me as an artist.

I often think about threshold moments in life - those moments when we step into a new version of ourselves. That first big gallery opening was a threshold.

After that night, I had the confidence to call myself an artist without fear that it sounded pretentious. I claimed it. I felt it in my bones.

I made heartfelt images that filled me with joy, I shared the work with a beautiful, supportive community - and I stepped into a stronger version of myself.

Making work is powerful stuff - sharing it is even more amazing.

I would absolutely LOVE you to have an experience like this. If you feel called to put your work on a larger stage, to connect with people who can move your work forward, and to fine-tune your skills so you're truly ready for wider exposure, I'd love you to join my new e-course, Exhibition Masterclass: Bravely Showcasing Your Photographs.

Registration is open.

I'm going to share everything I've learned from 20+ years as a photographer, curator, competition juror, and portfolio reviewer.

I'm sharing it because I want to empower photographers to exhibit their work with excellence and confidence. If you're ready to take that next step, please join me.

Learn more and sign up right HERE.
 

Begin Today

 
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I made this self portrait oh...maybe 18 years ago. The sweet Polaroid I'm "shooting" was actually broken - so it got a second life as a prop. When I made this picture, I was 22-ish, head over heels in love with photography (still am), and doggedly determined to make it the center of my life.

My parents are supportive of what I do now, but when I was young they encouraged me to focus on "something serious" instead of photography. I'd tell my mother about my photo projects and teaching and she'd say, "Hm...I don't know, Laura. How are you going to make a living doing that?" I had lovely friends and family, but no one ever thought my passion was terribly worthwhile or realistic. They said it would be better to think of photography as a hobby - that it would be smart to get a "real job." (I'm making a mental note here to never say this to a passionate young person).

Despite all that, and despite the fact that there's not a clear career path for artists, I kept at it. Looking back, I think there's one thing that made it work out for me. Idealistically, naively, and completely ridiculously - whenever I wished for something (more photo community, an exhibit, a fun new class), I'd just go out and create it. For whatever reason, I never felt I had to wait for permission or find someone older or more experienced to lean on - I just cobbled together what I could and naively put it into the world. 

And, I'm not talking fabulous, amazing stuff here - I'm talking scrappy, unsophisticated, raw stuff. I'm talking exhibitions in weird warehouses and apartment building hallways (hey, invite your friends, serve cheap wine and it's a gallery opening!). I'd come up with wacky class ideas and then just dive in and teach them (I guess I still do that). I put up fliers at grocery stores with my phone number on tear-off tabs - advertising a critique group I decided to form. All it took was some construction paper, markers, and scissors. And people called. And we started a group. It was innocent, organic, and free. I never waited around for someone to hand me the keys - I just...started. 

Since there's not "one right way" to do things in the arts, anyone can do this at any time. It's actually much more possible in the arts than in other fields (you know...because you can't decide to give brain surgery or jet piloting a whirl on a whim).

I'm deeply passionate about this working method: want something? Make it. Start now. And this:  "A year from now, you'll wish you'd started today." Yes, yes, yes. 

Photographing Gratitude

 
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I made this image during a meditation retreat at Deer Park (a Buddhist monastery started by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh). It was the last retreat he gave on the west coast before he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2014. After reading his books for years, it was incredible to listen to his talks and walk up the mountain with him (...and a million other retreat participants) each morning.

I'm thinking now of the way we'd walk, silently, SLOWLY, taking care with each step. When we got to the top of the mountain, we'd sit and Thay's attendants would pour him a cup of tea. He'd sit facing us, sipping the tea, with an expression of complete peace and joy on his face - and we all just breathed together, looked around at the hillside, and blinked in the lovely light. We just soaked it all in - having tea with Thay. Nothing to do, nowhere to go - just sitting, breathing, enjoying. I didn't have the nerve to make any photographs. But, I carry the experience in my heart - and I think that's more important sometimes.

This sign greets you as you enter the monastery. It’s a reminder that, as long as you can breathe, you're alive and you have so much to be grateful for. If you're sick, injured, or emotionally pushed to the breaking point - - you're still breathing. You can still experience beauty and access peace if you look deeply, if you remember to be kind to yourself. I don't know how many times this idea has saved me - it's a lot.

My upcoming photography e-course is very close to my heart. I created it during a challenging year that included divorce and a really sick, hospitalized father. It was a doozy. I wanted my photographs to bring more peace and beauty into my life - so I started photographing all the things I was grateful for. It was so simple - but so incredibly healing.

Meditations on Gratitude is a 6-week e-course about cultivating happiness and hope through photography - photographing through a lens of gratitude. If you're struggling right now (with the news cycle, with personal challenges) and you're aching to be calmer, more present, more in-tune with your creative work, please join me.

Class starts on April 9th.

Light, Love & "What Else"

 
Clarendon House, Tasmania

Clarendon House, Tasmania

 

Every winter, when Oregon is a drippy, dark, freezing mess, I like to head to a warmer, brighter place for a couple weeks. Seasonal affective disorder therapy. Change of scenery. Ideally, I'm off grid for most of that time. No ringing and dinging. Just light, breathing room, and creative space. It does the spirit good - and when I get home, I can channel all that energy and creative juju into new projects. 

This year, we did a little Pacific Rim tour - Korea and Australia. I grew up in Korea, so it was fun to show my partner around Seoul. Australia was uncharted territory for both of us. We explored the southeast and spent a few days in Tasmania. It's wacky to look south from there, to know that Antarctica is just a quick flight over the water. It's also lovely to look north, to imagine the rest of the world stretching away beyond the horizon.
 

 
Looking north from Tasmania. Hello, world!

Looking north from Tasmania. Hello, world!

 

I feel strongly that photography is less about what we photograph and more about how we do it. The things, subjects, and scenes matter less than our treatment of them, you know? It's especially easy to forget this when traveling, I think. It's easy to spot novel things and snap pictures without considering light, mood, emotion, or meaning. Pictures that simply show what something looks like are a dime a dozen, though. So, even if we're only in a place for a short time, it's essential to dig deeper, to look for "what else" is there, as Minor White would have said. Sure, it's a painting hanging over a couch in a historic home - but what else is there?

The first time I made the image at the top of this post, I just photographed the reflection of the light on the frame. On my second pass through the room, I noticed my silhouette in the glass and realized that was the stronger shot. It captured a little more of the "what else" - especially because the volunteer guide started chatting about ghost sightings just after I made it. 

Now that I'm home, I'm sorting through my images with "what else" in mind. It's a great way to edit. Is this too straightforward, too guidebook-like? Does this have a sense of mystery about it? Does it go deeper than the surface level? Does it pull at the heartstrings? If so, it's worth a more serious look. If not, I take a breath and let it go. Sometimes, that means I have to "kill a darling," but it's worth it for a stronger overall body of work. It's worth it to have a collection of images that really means something, instead of a collection that's watered down by images I'm trying to convince myself about. Shoot passionately, edit ruthlessly! It's the advice I always give myself - and it has served me well.