SECOND steps: simple ways to improve your photography 

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The first step is the hardest but the SECOND step isn’t always easy either. Getting a camera is step one.

What’s next?

This was a question I’ve asked myself time and time again when it comes to education and equipment. So here are simple recommendations from a still developing amateur. These are all things that helped me step up to more than just point and shoot. 


 

  1. Take lots of pictures!– This is the best way to improve: practice. Be deliberate in your practice. Don’t just snap photos and hope for the best. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that photography is actually a technical skill that involves knowledge of composition, light, camera capabilities, editing and so much more. Great photography rarely happens by accident.

  2. Take a class (or two)– Don’t go crazy trying to choose the perfect workshop or course, just take one! A great way to learn anything from the basics to advanced techniques is to interact with seasoned photographers. I also recommend YouTube, they have endless tutorials. I always pick up another nugget whether it’s repeating a basics course or clicking through online videos. Learning new skills and tricks helps you be more deliberate in your practice.

  3. Make friends– Friends are great to have but especially friends who are interested in photography or ones whose work you admire. Whenever I have questions related to photography I reach out to my friend Kyla. I constantly find myself on her webpage envious of her photos. Lucky for me she is not only talented but willing to answer my questions! Her advice always helps me, friends are better to have than simply relying on contradicting websites that you can get lost in. Those classes and workshops that are good for learning are also great for connecting with aspiring photogs too!

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  4. Get yourself a tripod- For anything from a point and shoot compact to a GoPro to a full blown DSLR, tripods are worth their weight in gold. There’s always an argument on what the best piece of equipment is. I’m here to tell you that a cheap tripod is still better than no tripod. Invest what you can, when you can. Once you become more time-invested in photography then it makes more sense to invest in a more expensive, better quality tripod or other costly equipment. Just having a tripod will expand your capabilities by giving you more stability for things like low light photography and macro shots. I personally have a lightweight, super compact travel tripod. I’ve learned that anything you buy is useless unless you are willing to take it with you.  A small tripod is sufficient for what I like to do, if you are going to use it more often then a heftier one might suit your needs better.

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  5. Lenses trump camera bodies– This applies to cameras with interchangeable lenses, mirrorless cameras or DSLRs. The quality of lens you have will improve your shots more than an expensive body will. So if you have to choose between upgrading your body or your lens, I would personally pick lens first. If you aren’t ready to take that dive into high end lenses a great starting point past the kit lens is an inexpensive fixed focal point lens. You can also find a lot of equipment second hand whether eBay or Facebook communities for cheaper and just as good, depending on the purpose. I was able to get a 50mm f/1.8 for about $150 on Amazon.com. This quickly became my favorite to shoot with. Enjoying it made me want to take more pictures, so the investment paid off. Another option is renting the lenses for a few days. This lets you test drive a bunch of different ones before you commit to a price tag!

There will always be something to learn and take away from your experiences. The best way to improve is to be deliberate in your development. Whether that development is for better pictures of your daughter’s second birthday or trying to make a career out of it, you have to start somewhere.

Never stop learning. Never stop exploring. 

~cheers~

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bring a SECOND pair of shoes

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Travel to a cold country, lesson number one: bring a SECOND pair of shoes, or maybe just one pair of really warm ones!

Exploring Copenhagen on foot over Christmas is magical. It is also extremely cold. While you traipse around slushy cobbled streets I guarantee that slush will seep through the bottom of those Converse All-Stars and leave you shivering til the sun comes up. There’s nothing attractive about blue shivering lips. Comfort trumps fashion, trust me. Once you learn this frosty lesson Copenhagen is quite lovely during the holiday season.
Downtown is easy to get to from the Airport, it’s a quick 20min train ride that connects straight from the main terminal. We arrived early evening on Christmas Eve. Copenhagen was our first AirBnB experience. AirBnB is a great alternative to hotels and hostels especially when travelling in a group. It can be cheaper and more comfortable plus you get a unique peek into local lifestyle. It can also be a crapshoot since you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you turn that key and walk in. I convinced the husband that it would be nicer to spend our first Christmas together in a house rather than a hotel, even if it was one in a stranger’s house in a strange city. Luckily it turned out to be a great choice! It was a five floor walk-up in the hipster neighborhood of Vesterbro with no creepy host hanging about (I’m looking at you weird lady listening through the door in Brussels). We pack light on our trips so the top floor wasn’t an issue and it afforded a beautiful view out across the snow-capped rooftops.


 
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Not sure if you realize this, but on Christmas Eve everything is closed. Thank goodness for hipster living! We were a few blocks away from a couple “red-light” district streets and a number of middle-eastern restaurants so we were bound to find some establishment that was open. We successfully navigated to a warm Pakistani restaurant which turned out to be the first Pakistani restaurant ever opened in Copenhagen. This would be a theme of the trip as we also ate in the first Chinese restaurant ever opened in Copenhagen. Both served delicious food and were solid choices! I wouldn’t have imagined that the best sesame chicken I’ve ever had would be in Denmark.
After satisfying our hungry bellies we were warm and happy again. This led to our decision to take the long way home. We weaved through the vacant streets and reveled in the silence. As we passed through the neighborhoods the soft glow of Christmas trees poured out onto the sidewalks. Peering inside, much to my surprise, that soft glow was cast from legitimate candles hung on the trees! Open flame, real, waxed candles! I’d say this was an anomaly except that house after house displayed this fire hazard! Perhaps it’s that added element of danger that made it that much more beautiful.
Waking up Christmas morning we found a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. Beautiful to the eyes, torture to the toes. We were ill prepared, to say the least and I will take responsibility for the husband’s misery, I picked out his shoes… We walked a lot! This is one of our favorite ways to see the city particularly because it affords us the freedom to escape to the side streets. Tourist attractions are nice to see but once we’ve laid eyes on the famous we expedite our exit from the crowds. A positive of sightseeing on such a popular holiday is that the majority of the world is nestled up in cozy rooms tearing into mountains of presents.
A great way to see Copenhagen is obviously by boat. With all the canals that wind through the city you not only get a nice perspective on the beautiful architecture but you get the stories of the impressively multi lingual (5 languages to be exact) tour guide to go with it. A bonus being that you get to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa under a glass topped boat away from the bitter winds. We saw the far reaches of the city including the famous Little Mermaid statue and the colorful street of Nyhaven. Just a heads up, or more like a heads down, bridges are low across the canals. At high tide even the flattened boats barely skate through with only inches to spare. The boat captain yells at unaware tourists standing at the back of the boat to duck in hopes that they don’t become decapitated. Copenhagen is one of the husband’s favorite waterfronts thanks to the crisp architecture that seamlessly turns into the sea.


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Still frozen after a long day of touring we found ourselves at the gates of Tivoli Gardens. Face pressed between the iron bars, I stood amazed, just in awe of the multitude of lights. It was magical. The streets of the park were lined with displays of Nordic craftsmanship. I wanted everything! I settled for just touching everything from the reindeer leather gloves to the fluffy sheepskin rugs. We bought our tickets and took off screaming on the roller coasters. Tivoli is centered in downtown Copenhagen so that coaster gave us an amazing view of the city. The sunset streaked wintery sky fell across the twinkling lights of the city. It lasted only a few seconds before we plummeted down the tracks but it was amazing! So we went around again. The park was spectacular at night. We strolled along the park’s lake admiring the trees draped in crystal lights and finally settled into a waterfront bar to enjoy a Carlsberg.
 


 
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Copenhagen was our first Christmas together. It was the most untraditional Christmas I’ve ever had, no ham at Grandma’s, no presents under a tree and no morning cinnamon buns with Mom’s hot cocoa. I don’t think our toes ever actually unthawed during that trip but it was perfect!

Just me and the husband bundled up in the Scandinavian cold. What more could I ever ask for?… well maybe a warmer pair of shoes.
~cheers~

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not enough SECONDs on that fancy swiss watch

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Since there isn’t a lot of time in a day then there’s not nearly enough time in a weekend! Two day weekends are what we consider “short”. From 5pm on a Friday to 630am on a Monday doesn’t seem like enough time to traverse the continent and immerse yourself in a bubble bath let along a whole culture! I admit that it’s hard to get much out of a short weekend escape, particularly when airport security is involved but you need to go anyways!
If you wait for the perfect time to call your brother who lives in Japan or the right weather to take a proper British walk, you’re gonna wear a hole in your couch! Short weekends are all the husband and I get. Between our busy schedules and lack of vacation time we try to make the most out of the weekends we are together.

That’s why we spent 32hrs in Switzerland.

Lausanne looks like a mini Parisian, lakeside escape. Quiet enough to relax but bustling enough to shake the boredom. We stayed in the Agora Swiss hotel. This is one of those upbeat hotels that doesn’t take it too far (I’m looking at you Brussels hotel that had glass walls to the bathroom). The Agora saved their glass for better use. With a glass domed breakfast room that gives the most perfect panoramic views of Lake Geneva, our day couldn’t have started any better.
We decided to stick to the trains this trip (which were conveniently located a block from the hotel). This train to Diablerets gave glimpses of the towering mountains around Lake Geneva and the picturesque towns that dot the shores. Eventually we switched trains onto a much smaller, much more rickety version that climbed up the mountains, hugging the ridge the whole way.
Apparently I am a true Marine’s daughter because anytime I see a hill I want to be at the top of it. Luckily on this day there was a gondola to take us to the top of Diablerets. Here we found ourselves at the base of this breathtaking white expanse. The glacier gently rolled across the mountain enveloping it in it’s frozen glory.

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The Tissot Peak to Peak suspension bridge was our target for the day. It was conveniently located on two peaks that were adjacent to the second gondola stop. I’m not a fan of heights especially ones that involve freezing side winds on icy metal bridges. I mustered the fortitude to cross it, after all the whole thing was my idea. The views were definitely worth the freak-out.
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Since that took way less time than anticipated we trekked across the glacier to the bar on the other side. There’s nothing quite like drinking a glacier chilled beer under fur blankets overlooking the swiss alps. This is a must do if in Swiss territory.
We finished the day with the typical dinner and thawing out in the hotel sauna. It may have been a short weekend, whopping 32hrs in country, but it was nothing short of a remarkable journey! So take advantage of those short weekends! There is so much potential and possibility! Don’t miss out on something amazing just because you don’t think you have time. I promise you do!

You may come home to a messy house and loads of laundry to catch up on but what are you going to remember in 30 years, a beer with the love of your life on the side of a mountain or separating darks from lights?

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~cheers~

 

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SECOND star to the right

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…and straight on ’til morning

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The second star to the right

Shines in the night for you

To tell you that the dreams you plan

Really can come true

The second star to the right

Shines with a light so rare

And if it’s Never Land you need

It’s light will lead you there

Twinkle, twinkle little star

So we’ll know where you are

Gleaming in the skies above

Lead us to the love we dream of

And when our journey is through

Each time we say “Goodnight”

We’ll thank the little star that shines

The second from the right


There are a lot of inspiring men and women out there. More recently I’ve found it in my sister, my new found friend Morgan and two little blogs known as World of Wanderlust and Meg Courtney Photography.

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The Sister in Seattle

It can be, and usually is, quite intimidating seeing so much success around you.    It’s even worse when that success is the  picture perfect image of what you want! The little jealous green meanie inside of me just wants to hold up in that crack in the wall (maybe not the one I’m currently looking at since my hotel room is infested with cockroaches right now, eek!) and pout. The hardest thing for me to do is to stand up and fight for that dream. I finally asked myself- If they can do it, then why not me too?

The reality is that these individuals are beacons of hope for us dreamers. So there is no reason to be jealous! We should celebrate their success and learn. It’s not easy, as I’m sure many of them will openly admit, to reach that success. As in all things if you want it, then it’s worth it. So buckle up, warp speed… engage! and go make your life happen! Tell that star to twinkle for you, grab some pixi dust (and no that is not a reference for drugs) and think happy thoughts!


This is my SECOND star where my dreams really can come true. Now I just gotta hang on to those marbles.

What is your dream? Where is your SECOND star? Tell me in the comments below!

If yours isn’t twinkling just yet, let me share my star with you and we can dream together!
~Cheers~

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two SECONDs on Photography

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That’s too much. That’s not enough. What was she thinking?! And it’s ruined.

That is a stream of thoughts that have rushed through my head and I’m sure those of other critics when

a) looking at other people’s work

b) looking at my work

Photography is a form of art. It is also a form of documentation. It is many things. It is whatever you want it to be. Remember that. I think we get too caught up in what criticism is thrown around because we want to be accepted, normal, well liked. When it’s a business that you’re after with your photography, then yeah, those things matter. On the flip side though, you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (Also a great new song by Kacey Musgraves btw)

 
It’s important to stay focused on what you are trying to achieve with your work. I used to think it was wrong to do any editing to a photo, I was a hard hitter on that side of the fence for a while. Then I realized through talking with other photogs and attending some workshops that editing is natural. What used to happen in a dark room now happens on my laptop. Technological advances allow us to perform much more post editing miracles than dark room enthusiasts ever could have imagined but at it’s core it’s the same principle.

An instructor I once had talked about how the camera captures a world that we will never be able to see. It was then I realized I had been thinking about my camera as a tool that I needed to manipulate to capture my perspective. That’s a very singularly minded perspective. Camera is capable of slowing time down to capture the galaxies above and accelerate our world to lay hummingbird wings motionless. They are amazing tools that help us push the boundaries of plain sight. With a single image we open imaginations to things unseen.

                   It’s a beautiful thing.

I’m still not a fan of heavy photoshopping, swapping heads is a no go for me. I have learned to appreciate enhancing photos in order to convey my world to others. My perception is not like yours, so to come to a commonality I create mine in a 4×6 box for you to share. Sometimes it is rather realistic and plain but other times it is vibrant and alive.

Appreciate your work for what you want it to be. The only photographer you should be comparing yourself to is the one you used to be.

 

~Cheers~

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a SECOND in Scotland

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If you haven’t been to Scotland, GO!

Every inch of that country is perfection.

You know those trips where you just can’t help but ask “are we there yet?”, well the there is everywhere. Even being confined to a tiny mousey engined automobile is suddenly tolerable because of the views that it affords you. It took every inch of my being to not ask the husband to pull over so that I could take a picture. This was one of those trips where I didn’t come back with massive amounts of photos but the ones that I did were true treasures.
We started off in Edinburgh, fresh off a six hour train ride. The streets look like London but feel like home. If London were NYC then Edinburgh would be Boston, and not just because they talk funnier. Life is a bit slower up here. No slower isn’t the right word. Relaxed. The world is just waiting for you and it’s in no rush. Scotland is a place that knows its beautiful and doesn’t feel the need to convince you of the same.
Calton Hill
After a short trip up Calton Hill to catch a glimpse of that epic view we jumped in that    mousey engined car and set off for Glasgow. Now Glasgow would be the Detroit of Scotland. A little more unkempt with remnants of glory days gone by but nonetheless enchanting with hidden gems. We strolled down to the waterfront which falls underneath the shadows of beautiful bridges. Bridges might be my favorite right next to train rides. There is so much of a city thrust behind the making of them that you can’t help but feel the stories cemented in them.
From Glasgow we ventured north. We wanted to explore and explore we did. The husband is a man who likes to conquer. It just so happens that the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, exists in the Scottish Highlands. Guess what we did. Yep. We climbed it. You’d think I’d learn to prepare for such ventures by now. Luckily I brought running shoes which is an improvement from the thin shoes I traipsed around a wintery Sweden in, but that’s another story right there. Nevertheless we conquered that mountain! In only 3 hours! Granted it’s no Rocky Mountain or Olympic Range peak but for only a 15 hour notice I’m pretty dang proud.
We set off at the perfect hour where the clouds were still lingering in the valley. Perfection. That’s the only way to describe it. Don’t believe me, take a look for yourself….

Perfection

On the way up we passed a waterfall and a lake that settled itself between the two peaks. At the top we relaxed with our packed lunches and just took in the views. There’s no greater satisfaction I have found that soaking in well earned views. We put on some bagpipe musical selections as we traversed the rocks back down. That paired with the kilted, shirtless hikers we passed on our way back down gave me the epitome of Scottish experiences that I could have every hoped for!
On our way back down we took a slight detour over to that lake and went for a dip! Spread out across the blanket I had so smartly decided to bring we let the sun dry that refreshing swim off of us. If you’re looking for a solid travel blanket that supports a great thing check out Sackcloth and Ashes. For every blanket you buy they donate one to a homeless shelter in your area. If you’re gonna buy a blanket, why not make a difference while you’re at it, too easy.

We ended our trip back where we started. Edinburgh. Before being swept back south by another train we stopped in to the Scotch Whisky Experience just outside the Edinburgh Castle. It was very educational. Ah who am I kidding, we went for the booze! But it was educational for both our brains and taste buds.

A little boozy and definitely happy we found our way back to the train station and on our way home.

 

~Cheers~

 
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not just SECOND best

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Second.

We strive to be first. Being number one is synonymous with being the best. Whatever the race is, whatever the prize, we want to be first. What about the second guy? What if you aren’t number one?

2nd is a wondrous place to be! Getting second helpings of dessert? Yum! Second chances? Yes please! Second try? Bravo for not giving up!

From day one I have been the “second” one. I’m the second girl in my family and the runner up in much of my childhood accomplishments. Often I feel like I am sitting second in life, always one step behind so many amazing people. Now I have become Mrs. Smith and happily that makes me the Second Smith.

So here it goes! This is another go at living my dream and leaving it here on the world’s doorstep.

~cheers~

 


 
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