Thursday, February 21, 2013

When opportunity comes knocking...

About a month ago I received an email from the folks over at, Sam Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett, asking if I would be interested in participating in a panel discussion at their upcoming Persistent Vision seminar and if I would also consider providing portfolio critique(s).  Upon reading the email, I first swore out loud – out of glee and fear – and then quickly wrote them back to say, ‘YES…before you change your mind!’

I first met Sam and Darwin a few years back when I attended a Scott Kelby WorldWide Photo Walk that they led.  Over the past few years we’ve come to know each other a little and I consider them friends, and I consider myself lucky to call them friends!  We’ve shot together, we’ve had beers and coffees, on an evening walk/landscape shoot I participated in their oopoomoo launch video (a shot from that same night accompanies this post), we’ve shared struggles and successes with each other (mostly me & Sam over lengthy latte dates!), and I simply think that they are wonderful people & photogs who also happen to provide tremendous resources to the photographic community (their work, workshops, eBooks, life views, and sidewalk banter are all terrific!).
After telling Sam & Darwin that I didn't think I was a 'landscape photographer'; Darwin took this shot, unbeknownst to me, to prove I could I am using filters and everything! :)  (Note: if you know that you are going to be photographed as a silhouette, do yourself a favour and ditch the warm hoodie and pocketed filter case!)
When announced in March 2012 that they were hosting a seminar with guest speaker David duChemin I immediately (after checking with the bank/husband!) signed up…which was quickly followed with a post to my Facebook wall saying that this seminar would be an ‘un-missable’ opportunity if you were interested in photography!  I knew that being in the same room as Sam, Darwin, and David, would be of great value toward my goal of continually bettering myself, both individually and as a photographer. 

Flash-forward a year and you find me beyond thrilled by their recent invitation; however, I was also concerned (read: intimidated!) about being a live-and-in-person-example of ‘which of these things is not like the other’, given that the panelists consist of photographers whose lengthy bios include multiple awards and publications!  That said, maybe the fact that I am so different, at least in experience and my chosen photography path, is a worthwhile addition to the panel?  And so, as happens often, I find myself contemplating all the psychology and philosophy that I have come to believe in...I choose to remind myself of the encouragement that I would offer a friend if she were in a similar situation…something along the lines of: “Stop asking yourself, ‘why you?’ and instead ask, ‘why not you?!”  Why is it that we treat ourselves differently than we treat our loved ones?  In reflecting upon this opportunity I recalled a quote of Albert Einstein’s, “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”  Indeed, reaching and dreaming toward being our most robust selves serves our own life purpose and, in turn, our families, communities, countries, and, ultimately, humanity.

My friend Bruce Kirkby, accomplished adventurer, author, photographer, and, speaker, has been encouraging people to push past their fears and perceived limitations for years…this is absolutely an occasion when I have heard his encouraging whispers as I step outside of my comfort zone and wait for the ‘magic to happen’! 

And so it is, with utter humility and gratitude, that I will lend my voice to this discussion.  I am honoured to have the trust and respect of people whom I trust and respect, and I look forward to this incredible opportunity being gifted to me.

Life is beautiful!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

“Quick, we need a headshot!”

Last December I was thrilled to participate as a guest ‘expert’ at an accessories boutique’s 'Get Glam for the Holidays’ event.  The opportunity presented itself without a tonne of notice, which happens often, and they needed a headshot from me for their marketing.  Although I take seflies on my iPhone somewhat frequently I didn’t have a professional looking headshot.  I only had two hours (they could have extended the deadline but I was happy to try and make their lives as easy as possible) and so I sent them a headshot that I’d done for our family Christmas card the year before (the card had been 'Brady Bunch’ style with separate headshots of our entire gang, furry kids and all!).  The headshot I sent worked out fine and, in fact, suited the opportunity in that I’m wearing a fabulous accessory in the shot!  That said, I swore, that day, to not be caught again without a professional headshot.

Well, that was in early December, and we were en route to Mexico for a friend’s wedding...then came Christmas...then it was early January after WAY too many delicious meals...and then it was early February when I needed to have minor surgery to remove Basal Cell Skin Cancer on my cheek (I blogged about this and encourage you to read that post to learn more about what type of sunscreen you should be using!)...and then, recently, I was approached for an upcoming opportunity and they needed a headshot, and I STILL didn’t have one!

So, this past Wednesday (knowing I needed to send my headshot to someone on Wednesday!) I set up some lights, readied my assistant (mannequin), and was LUCKY to have my truly lovely friend and talented HMUA, Sarah Byrne, do my hair and makeup (I had intended to do my own but she, being the generous soul that she is, insisted on helping me!).

In approaching this self portrait shoot I waffled a little with how to light it.  I knew that I couldn’t, or maybe shouldn’t, try to do anything too moody/technical for two reasons: I don’t think the average headshot is moody (and I wanted to portray my happy self!) AND it’s tough enough when you are shooting alone to get things right and so fiddling with the light hitting me was going to make the process that much harder.  I opted for clamshell lighting (which is flattering (I'm not 21!) and I knew it would be easy to make sure I was in the light), with a boomed hair/rim, and a tall piece of Styrofoam.

I used Principessa, my assistant, to stand in for me whenever I changed lenses or camera orientation, so that I could get a crisp focus.  Despite being a lover of shooting wide open I knew that it wasn’t really necessary given that I had a plain, black backdrop, nor could I risk the focus; I shot, on my Canon 5DMII, at f/11, 1/125 second, at ISO 100.  I started the shoot using a Sigma 85 f/1.4 but found that I liked the ease of a zoom in this scenario; therefore, majority of the images with a 70-200 f/4.0.

After focusing on Principessa with the studio lights on, moving her out of frame and the stool into position; I turned off the primary studio lights (to avoid any colour contamination) and used my camera’s, which was on a tripod and aimed at subject in the small space in between the two umbrellas, 10 second self timer to fire the shutter.  I was using Pocket Wizards to fire my Canon 580 EXII flash, which was modified with a large umbrella in front of subject and angled up; the flash then triggered two strobes: one situated in front of subject angled down and modified by the same size umbrella as on the flash, and another strobe that was behind subject, camera right, situated on a boom facing the subject’s back/hair, with a 40 degree grid in the reflector.  I used the Styrofoam on camera left to help reflect back some of the hair/rim light from the boomed strobe to help add some separation on the subject’s right side.  It’s noteworthy that there are some shots that I could absolutely see the difference that the rim light provided and others that I couldn’t; inevitably I know that I moved a little when moving the stool to position Principessa for focus and then moving her back out of frame, together with the fact that I was moving in and out of frame for each shot...this was a somewhat tedious process and I only had an hour and a half until I had to do my afternoon school run!

I situated the two umbrellas so that you can see them in the diagram, they were actually in line with each other, with the camera in between them and directly in front of subject.
I knew that I wanted a really clean shot and had hoped for a headshot that was simple and without fancy clothes…after all, what I most love when shooting women are those shots that really show THE WOMAN as opposed to the fancy clothes!  The following are a few of my favourites from this adventure.  I really enjoyed the process (although I did swear a few times :) ), and would encourage any photographer to tackle their own self portrait!  

Life is beautiful!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zero Regrets, Infinite Gratitude & a Dash of Knowledge

I would first like to acknowledge that this is not a photography related post.  My work is derived consciously and subconsciously from my perspectives, experiences, values, and life; bear with me as I sometimes feel the desire to write about those influences.  I also believe in posting words that are optimistic, sincere and that, hopefully, make at least one person’s life better in some way.  So…

This week I had surgery to rid my cheek of the dreaded 'C' word!

I had what I knew wasn’t a pimple on my cheek for a few years.  It would sometimes be more inflamed and look almost infected (like a zit) and other times it was just a little bump.  My dermatologist had looked at it before and was not concerned; she said that it could stay or she could remove it for me.  I finally became tired of the damned thing (this is where vanity can be your friend!) and booked an appointment for my doctor to remove it.  It was at that appointment that she thought it looked suspicious and proceeded to take a biopsy.  With a diagnosis of Basal Cell Carcinoma, (which is a common, slow growing, non-aggressive, and non-fatal form of the disease) she referred me to Mohs (pronounced Moze) surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Dawes. 

Mohs sugery, named after Dr. Frederic Mohs who developed the procedure in 1938, is actually pretty incredible...they first gave me a local anesthetic and then proceeded to make the first incision, taking only the area they were confident was cancerous.   I was then escorted back to the waiting room while the doc put my ‘offering’ under the microscope to see if the perimeter was clear or if they needed to take more tissue.  This process was repeated until the doctor was satisfied that the perimeter was Cancer and inflammation free, with a 2mm-3mm margin of healthy tissue around the lesion.  I had to have three sessions under the scalpel before they were satisfied they’d gotten every last offending cell and with a safe margin taboot!  This careful and methodical process ensures that they take the least amount of tissue possible – I love modern medicine! Once they had removed all of the cancerous and inflamed area they patched me up (Dr. Dawes described it much more eloquently than that ;)!). The nurses commented that I was lucky that my lesion was quite small (didn’t seem super small to me!) and it was in an area that is relatively easy to repair, versus other areas where perhaps a skin graft would have been required.

Taken with the iPhone 4S the day after my surgery.

Clearly I knew, during my youth and beyond, that sunscreen was important and that even sun tanning was likely not the best idea; please know that I am not now standing on any soap box, I’m not.  I have ZERO regrets about my past, including the wonderful time I spent on the beaches of Brazil or diving off the boat in Fiji and I have every intention of playing in the pool for many summers to come!  That said, my surgeon taught me something that I didn’t know about sunscreen which I want to share with each of you…

I have long relied on a high SPF thinking that I was doing right by my skin; however, I never understood that the high SPF didn’t necessarily mean that I was protected.  Turns out that, for example, a “broad spectrum, SPF 100” sunscreen may prevent a sunburn from UVB rays but it may be ineffective against the UVA rays (which cause the quiet, cumulative, and aging damage and which were likely most to blame for my skin cancer).  This is because many sunscreens rely primarily on “chemical filters that can break down light, rather than more effective mineral (physical barrier) ingredients”*.  They suggest, for the most effective protection, that we use a mineral based sunscreen that contains a concentration of 5% or greater of zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide.  This mineral based sunscreen should be reapplied every three to four hours.  These types of sunscreen are more expensive and so the recommendation is that we apply them to the most vulnerable areas of the body: face, tops of ears, chest, heads (gents!), and potentially arms.  You’d better believe that my kids and I will be switching!

I have infinite gratitude that my experience was only an inconvenience and that life has already returned to normal (save the giant white bandage that I’ll need to fashion for a few more days!). I remain forever grateful for the medical help I’ve received, that I live in a time of knowledge and non-invasive treatments, that the cancer I had was nonmelanoma (melanoma is VERY DANGEROUS and if you have any concerns about changes on your skin please get in ASAP to your doctor – don’t waste one second), and that I am surrounded by people who made this experience reasonably painless – primarily my awesome husband who, as he promised to do, stands beside me no matter what.

I wondered if I should share any of this but I have decided that knowledge is power.  If I can inspire one person to switch sunscreens or to make an appointment for a patch of skin that has changed or just doesn’t look ‘right’ I will be a very happy woman.

Life – and mineral-based sunscreens – are beautiful!


*Excerpt from the handout given to me by the office of Dr. Jeffrey C. Dawes MD, FRCSC

The skin protection that Dr. Dawes office sells and recommends is called Solar Protection Formula TIZO2, SPF 40 and is available by calling his office (near Westhills) at 403-571-3141.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dragonfly Wings

Last summer I found a dragonfly on our deck while we were having a bbq.  He was beautiful, serene, colourful, and a direct link to the family enjoyed talking about our little visitor, who was chillin' in and around our feet, as we ate.  The next day I found his body in the same place.

With the most care and respect I could provide, I gently scooped him up on a piece of paper and carried his body inside to our front foyer (great evening light).  I spent a few minutes trying to capture some of the details of his amazing little body (this is big for me as I am quite squeamish, but this was different, this felt spiritual somehow).

This is a favourite shot.  Look at how perfect nature is.  Look at how delicate that wing is.  Look at the beauty.

We are like dragonfly wings...unique, beautiful, fragile, and able to touch people in myriad ways.

Last Fall I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Carcinoma (skin cancer), after my dermatologist thought the 'annoying bump' on my cheek looked 'suspicious'.  She took a biopsy and called the following week with the news (while I was enjoying a beer-garita with a best friend in NYC - needless to say it was a bit of a shock to the system!).  Basal Cell is a nonmelanoma cancer, which is really lucky as it is the golden child of skin cancers, and with a small procedure this coming week I will be totally fine.

A few weeks ago a close friend visited her dermatologist because she was concerned at how the appearance of the skin on her ear had changed.  She was diagnosed with atypical cells and the doc told her it would have progressed into Melanoma - the scariest kind of skin cancer.  She will have surgery in a few weeks.

Last week another close friend wrote me to say that she had been diagnosed with early stage Breast Cancer.  She is currently attending to the MRI's, biopsies, ultrasounds, etc. that her doctor orders and is expected to have a lumpectomy and further treatment so that she may be Cancer free.

In 1995 my mom was diagnosed with fourth stage Breast Cancer (for those lucky enough to not be 'in the know' with Cancer: 4 is bad!) and, with a grim prognosis, she fought.  We were blessed with her presence for two and a half years more before she said goodbye.  She was diagnosed late, due to a lack of luck, a lack of her medical practitioners asking the right questions on routine visits, AND - now this is the one that matters most - because, I believe, she knew something was very wrong and was too scared to pursue an answer.

So, in the next three weeks, three people I love (counting myself here!) will have Cancer related surgeries.  We are all married, we all work, we all contribute to the lives of those around us, we matter...just like EVERY LIVING BEING ON PLANET EARTH MATTERS.

Treasure yourself, pay attention to changes in your body and on your skin, know that you are loved and your presence in our world matters.  It is imperative to visit your doctor, to speak openly, and to be your own advocate.  Don't ever fear knowledge for knowledge is power.

Remember that your life is as delicate as a dragonfly's wings and you must honour and respect it, there are countless people who want you to be okay!  Know that, just as our little friend's wings inspired me without his knowledge, so too do you inspire others.

Life - and health - are beautiful!