Mindfulness · Photography

Birds Of Many Feathers

black swan
Angry bird?

I am not a birdwatcher, unless you count my childhood days of watching Big Bird, Tweety, Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy on TV. However, photography makes us look at the world around us in a more detailed way and that is why I consider it a powerful too for mindfulness. You become aware of many things that could have gone unnoticed if you were not purposefully looking for subjects.

I don’t specialize in bird Photography, but it is certainly a growing part of my portfolio. It all started with pelicans at the beach, and after I sold my first one, they started selling consistently, which made me pursue it more. Then came the seagulls, many Florida birds and even tropical species from Brazil – all made their way into my lenses.

bird images for sale
Clearwater Beach, Florida

I enjoy observing them before trying to get my shots. I feel weird even saying “shooting birds”, or any animal for that matter, so I’ll go with the standard term, photographing. Hypocritical, I know, as I am not a vegetarian, more like a quasi-vegetarian? The stubborn carnivore inside is finally content with a couple of servings of chicken or fish a week. Red meat once or twice a month… That’s the best I can do for now, and my mind’s defense mechanism (defending me from my guilt) dissociates animals as photography subjects from animals in meals. Not the case with macarons, as I mercilessly and shamelessly eat such subjects after shooting them.

Less about eating and back to photography. I use a bit faster shutter speed – 1/500 and above – for “still” birds in general, to make sure focus is sharp. But for birds in flight, go faster. 1/1000 at least. Like with any animal, including the human kind, sharp focus in the eyes are essential. If they are still, very still, you can go to slower speeds, but birds move a lot, even when they seem quiet. They turn their heads quickly and often, always aware of noises. They clean feathers, practice preening and are always looking for prey. Oh, and they sing.

You never know when they will take off. It is important though to allow yourself to observe them first, before worrying about the camera. Study their habits and understand their moves. That is a tip for pretty much any kind of action photography. Because yes, birds are always in action.

Most importantly, respect them and make sure to not disturb their environment. A good telephoto zoom lens like my 70-200 mm is always helpful in getting close without being too close. It’s general consensus that feeding wildlife can be harmful and even alter the ecosystem. I choose to not do it, even fish and birds. I prefer to be merely an observer, not a participant.

I keep my aperture small for decent depth of field, around f/8, and the bigger the bird… While editing, a bit of a touch up on texture and clarity usually makes a nice effect for enhancing their beautiful and unique patterns.

The constant advice is, experiment. Try, as a small weekend project, to photograph some birdies in your backyard, at the park or beach. Observe and practice without pressure. Feel free to make mistakes and do over. Free as a bird should be.

Holidays · Mindfulness · Mixed

Once Upon a Bike – A Christmas Short Story


For the fifth time during that Holy Night, Julia checked the tree. Nothing. Not a single clue that a bicycle was in her near future. But “hope is the last one to die”, as Grandma Maria always says.

The problem is that Julia started questioning the whole Santa’s existence. There was a rumor in school that the good old man was actually just a character and something you should “grow out of” as you become a wiser kid. A very concerning rumor that meant no North Pole Santa quarters, no reindeer, no sleigh.

The girl knew that Santas in shopping centers and malls were just men dressed as the real (or not?) guy, hired to entertain shoppers. She was a smart kid and figured that out pretty early on. But the recent news was a bit deeper than that. “Your parents buy and hide the gifts.” The echo of that brutal statement has been haunting her for a couple of weeks, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask the parents, the very same people who would have been deceiving her for all those eight years. The betrayal. But the intentions were nice… Would they do that, though?

Julia had absolutely no proof of that deceit. Also, it was difficult proof to obtain, as she knew that her mom did indeed buy gifts for her and everyone else, for that matter. There was always a gift to and from everybody. The surprise gifts were part of the ritual, just like the red shiny ball ornaments resembling Rudolph’s nose, and the spinning musical angel. She even helped her mom wrap many of the gifts for others, knowing all too well that hers were out of sight – and she loved that mystery factor. Actually, one of her early detective skills was to circle around the massive tree and try to read the tags in search of “to Julia” packages, investigating shapes for possible guesses. She also liked to make sure that everyone had at least one gift to open. She should have known better by now that her mom, as the perfect hostess she was, would never leave anyone behind. How she pulled it all off – food, gifts, decor, so much planning for so many people – remained a familiar Christmas miracle. She even made sure there were gifts with blank tags, ready to be used in case of an unexpected guest showing up. And it did happen a few times. Once, a friend of her aunt’s was invited. As her family lived far away, Julia’s mom would never allow someone she knew alone on Christmas Eve. But it turned out that she wasn’t exactly all alone, and brought her fiancé along, a strong and robust guy with a nice smile:

“Jul, get me two blank-tag gifts for this couple, and a pen. What’s the fiancé ‘s name again? Oh, yeah, Peter. Grab two, any will do”, whispered her mom. Julia was a good elf in operation “Everybody’s Got a Gift”. Yes, the gifts were generic, but aimed at making all guests feel included and welcomed.  As genuine as the inclusion and welcoming were, these gifts were obviously spare ones, as everyone knew they were last minute guests and the stores were closed by the time they arrived. Presents would vary from cologne or fancy soap kits to books. Little “one size fits all” things that could please anyone – and even be used by someone in the family, in case there weren’t any extra guests. Reflecting upon it now, deception was suddenly looking like a recurrent theme during the Holiday Season, despite the noble reasons…

Blank-tagged gifts and plenty of extra food were mandatory in the home. For Julia, the fun gift exchange and her very important role as caller and delivery girl was the highlight of the night. Another organizational tactic from Julia’s mom. Everyone arriving had to place their gifts in the already packed “under the tree” space. It was like playing gift Jenga, balancing skills required. And to ensure maximum attention from the crowd to each gift exchange, so that everybody witnessed the whole process, Julia was the only one with access to the tree when the exchange started. She would then pick a present and slowly read the tag in clear and loud voice, to overpower Aunt Leah’s uncontrollable chatting ways and Uncle Henry’s hearing issues:

“To THOMAS, from LAURA!”

“To whom?”

“THOMAS! Not you yet, Henry!”

After that, she would hand each gift to each happy recipient, who then HAD to open it in front of everyone. Underwear or intimate gifting not recommended.

It was a mission Julia took very seriously, the years perfecting her speech and delivery. It also required a certain compassion practice, making sure to pick the gifts in an order that would prevent someone singled out as “the one without any gifts yet”.

That was the routine for Julia’s family, the South American tradition where everyone gets together on Christmas Eve for a very late supper. We’re talking after 10 pm here. Drinking on empty stomachs sometimes led to Uncle Fred’s somewhat disturbing and borderline perverted dance, and some Grinch-like, “hangry” snarky comments from any family member that could easily lead to an argument, depending on the Christmas spirit level in that particular year. But her mom wouldn’t change the tradition for anything, and counted on the hors d’oeuvres (she loved French words) to keep the crowd under control.

Gathering, supper, gifts at midnight, while the Papal Mass on TV, live from the Vatican, blessed the mayhem. Then déjà vu leftovers for the Christmas lunch on the next day made sure that all extra pounds were well worth gaining. That was the way, every year. That’s the way our girl knew and loved Christmas.

However, this whole Santa thing was a pickle. Julia thought that maybe the bike would bring some proof. When she first started understanding and enjoying Christmas, a very legitimate concern followed:
“Mom, can Santa deliver to us even though we don’t have a chimney?”

“Santa actually loves condos and apartments, Jujube. No need to squeeze that jello belly into the chimney, all he has to do is come through the large windows.”

“Good.”

But carrying a bike would be hard and, most importantly, she would easily be able to spot the large volume and distinctive shape under the tree.
“Dad, I am going to wait awake to see if Santa brings my bike.”

“Good luck with that. Guy is magical.”
“Or not even real”, she thought.

And so they gathered for the feast. Turkey, ham, about ten side dishes, eight choices of beverage and  seven desserts later, everyone had to loosen the belt to wait for the gifting, which would start in a couple of minutes.

Ready to assume her leading role, Julia came back from the kitchen, where she had taken her totally empty plate and engaged in a conversation with Auntie Silvia about Disneyworld wishes. That’s when she glanced at the tree and gasped. A huge, definitely bike-shaped gift, wrapped in transparent orange cellophane with a massive golden bow was perfectly placed under the already extremely full tree. But… but how?

Her mom saw her standing by the tree, looking like a reindeer caught in the headlights:

“Yeah, I know, looks like you got your wish… Santa came while you were in the kitchen. He was in a big hurry with all the worldwide deliveries, and couldn’t wait to say hi, but asked me to tell you he loves you and that you are a very good girl.” And gave her a gentle forehead kiss.

“Wait! Mom was in the kitchen with me a second ago. Dad was at the dining table the whole time, still attacking the ham, I could hear him. I left for just a few minutes. It couldn’t have been them…” thought the soon-to-be bike owner. Chuckling at her confused face, Julia’s dad reminded her:

“Told ya, the guy is magic.”

“Yes, he is. No doubt about it anymore.”

At least for one more year. Or two. Until she found out she wasn’t the only family elf her parents recruited, and that everybody had a place and a role, including sneaking in her presents – no matter how big they were – almost invisibly, while the parents were still safely in sight to avoid suspicion. That year, the unexpected and strong fiancé was the lifesaver who ended up carrying the bike from the garage to the tree, relieving a very tipsy Uncle Fred from the duty. She eventually learned about “Operation Bike”, laughing and learning from the best how to replicate the same magic for her own son Noah, many years later.

Santa exists because he can live inside of us. The bearded magical guy can remain forever as an endearing symbol and warm memory of love, joy, fun, sharing, giving and celebrating with family and all the dear people we meet in this journey of living.


merry christmas snowmen smiling

From: Luisa

To: You.

Mindfulness · Photography

Self-Gifting

I always like to get myself a little something as an early Christmas “self gift”. I started this tradition some time ago. It took me a while to differentiate being selfish from self-love. But if something doesn’t feel wrong in the heart, why force myself to feel guilt about a kind gesture towards myself? It certainly does not eliminate my giving to others. My family gets taken care of first. I try to work on compassion too, it’s a great time to be reminded of that. But if I love gift giving so much, why not put myself on the list too?

Truthfully, gifting shouldn’t be a calendar obligation, but something you want to do at whatever time. The holidays can indeed be extremely materialistic, for sure. Sometimes borderline ridiculous. However, maybe because my mom was an amazing hostess and passed the Christmas gene to me and I am stuck, I like to hop into the energy and work on thoughtfulness to get my loved ones something they would like and benefit from having. I am proud to say that most times I get it right and their smile or words like “how did you know…” make me childlike happy.

While I do love gift giving, it does not necessarily mean exchanging. I don’t care if I don’t get something back from anyone I gift – that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, of course, I just don’t put expectations, everybody has their situations going on.

I loved this shirt from etsy shop @allintheprint . I have an etsy shop and like to support fellow owners, if I can. Ok, that’s technically for my business, but I love what I do so much that sometimes it’s hard to tell apart. 🥰

Mindfulness · Mixed · Photography

Can an Old Tog Learn New Tricks?

Yes! Woof!

We are always learning in this tog’s life. Not only with new technologies, gear models, but with the subjects themselves.

Last night, I was insomniac and reached out for my phone. A notification with a message and a question from someone wanting to buy one of my pelican images. They wanted to know what type of pelican it was. Most clients are happy with my pelicans just to frame and hang in their homes or offices – even an RV owner thanked me once for one of my pelican images, now framed and traveling around with them. That makes me so happy. This time though, more info was asked before purchase, and I knew it was a brown pelican very common here in the Florida Suncoast. She wanted to know if it was the same type on her Pacific coast, so a quick browse informed me that apparently they are not exactly the same kind on both coasts, a few differences were noted.

Good to know, as my high-schooler is working on a Marine Sciences project about pelicans. I love photographing pelicans (those times when the word shooting is ambiguous so I use photographing) and that inspired him to choose them over crustaceans. As the good young man I raise, he asked his teacher if he could use my images in the project, but he wants him to make his own images, which is great. Except for the note he puts in the end that all projects will eventually belong to him. Copyrights seminar in order? Anyway, this will make for a wonderful mom and son session.

As Photographers, each subject becomes an opportunity for a learning lesson. That relentless thirst for knowledge that my photog Dad has passed on to me is something I so love about my line of work. The chance to grow as a human being is always behind the lens.

Off we went to chase the images. Even a dolphin showed up, but just before I could set my shutter speed to keep up with the restless Flipper. Blur happens.

Most of all, I loved lending my camera to my son and watching him click the big birds. I saw his curiosity, his eye developing right in front of my very own. Seeing him getting interested in what I do, and my father before me, was rewarding. My husband was chasing his images too with a smartphone and now wants a camera. My nephew is a videographer, I remember my sister turning one of the bathrooms into a dark room. The shutterbug is alive and well in this family, highly contagious. A different bug, one that makes us feel healthy and alive, connected with life, aware and in tune with Mommy Nature.

Mindfulness · Mixed · Photography

The Aging Tog

Photography most times requires a certain amount of stamina. Strength, really. Outdoors especially. My usual list includes carrying the camera, lenses, a tripod or a monopod, aka my second best inanimate friend – camera is the first. Add sunscreen and water (Floridian here, I dehydrate just by spending 5 minutes in the garage).

A large backpack or my sweet and small NatGeo bag, depending on the photoshoot. But I also must confess something terrible…

…sometimes I wear a fanny pack. The horror!

*closing my eyes and lowering my head in deep shame.*

To my defense, I am a 1980s teen. Best of all, they leave me hands-free, while making sure I don’t lose my extra SD cards, driver’s license, car keys. I know, still an immense fashion faux-pas… but comfort over style sometimes wins. I do not wear high heels either. There, said it.

Back to the struggles. We photographers walk a lot. Chasing a bird or looking for a special spot, a unique moment to click and make the unparalleled image, which will rise above the snapshot category and make the professional certificate on the wall meaningful. Even in studio, it can all be physically tiring. Well, for this 80s teen here, it has been.

This year has been quite difficult. I have been struggling with many health issues that decided to bombard my daily existence. I feel older than I am. I feel… unwell. Yet, I feel guilty and try to make sure to voice my gratitude because whatever I have, it didn’t show something serious as in tumor, for instance. On my birthday in February, I got the lab results saying that I was menopausal. Can hot flashes light 51 birthday candles?

I have seen nine different types of health specialists this year. Four MRIs, blood drawn enough to feed Dracula’s family on Thanksgiving. I have a frozen shoulder. Bad and painful for anyone, but for a Photographer it can be quite limiting. I have a large herniated disc in the neck, polyps were removed on colonoscopy, vertigo (my sister calls it the Exorcist eyes, read on BPPV and you’ll understand), cysts on breasts and ovaries, aches and pains galore, sinus issues, tinnitus, hearing loss, and the freakiest of all, the weird numbness on my face that no doctor has explained so far. I seriously feel like an 80 year-old body is carrying my 51 year-old mind. Just take a look at my pill box, now upgraded to a times-of-day slots model. I feel like a worn out backpack bought only last month. It all happened at once. Have I sounded like a hypochondriac yet?

Well, to make it funner, I have had health anxiety my whole life. Childhood trauma caused by my mom’s aggressive cancer and death at 48. And that is a problem on its own, with a cascade effect. Most people, including some doctors, tend to think it is always the anxiety talking, instead of real illness. The stigma sticks more than Gorilla glue. And I understand they have reasons to think that way. I gave them those reasons. I worried about nothing, many times, I couldn’t help it. And when you cry wolf, even if not on purpose, you are alone when the wolf actually comes. “You are not sick “; “It’s all stress related”; “Stop going to so many doctors”. Mmmk, I’ll just suffer all these pains and discomforts, self-diagnose with stress and cease to try and find help. Sounds like a plan!

I have studied mindfulness meditation, got a certificate from UCF and a coach. I know the great power of stress in aggravating issues, even causing many. But I also know sometimes we get sick, no matter what. Proof of that is this all happened at a time in my life where I was in a really good place, not stressed. Just days before all major symptoms began, I was sipping piña colada and getting caught in the rain, on the Fourth of July. Photo proof:

Pina colada at cloudy Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Yes, we took shelter after my son took this pic. Except for my husband. He is a heathen. Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Another point is that, throughout this ordeal, I have been calmer and made quite good progress in terms of mental health. Not on antidepressants anymore. No anxiety attacks. Anxiety pills actually moved out of my nightstand to my medicine cabinet, “as needed” has not been needed. Done with therapy. Learned acceptance. Found the patience to be a patient. Funny, huh? When I really needed good mental health for real body health issues, I managed it.

Still, all that is affecting my daily life, and my work. Maybe it will all improve dramatically, or maybe it is the beginning of a different time in my life when I have to accept pain and limitations. My new doctor said, when asked why it all happened so suddenly, “sorry to say, but aging can happen that way.”

Bam! Ouch! And all the onomatopoeia and curse words available to express my dissatisfaction. I am only f*@#$g 51! I am not supposed to age before 80! Well, I am spoiled to have a 93 year-old that who still sails, but it doesn’t always work that way, does it?

I know I am going to keep fighting this stuff because my love only gets stronger. Love for my family grows like a mighty oak tree, via appreciation and communication. My son is my sunshine, my husband is a true partner. They both make even the dark days filled with natural light. A Photographer needs good light, so does the person. I am blessed with a whole family of amazing individuals, both near and far. Self-love has also been on an all-time high here, I need myself more than ever for compassionate self-care. Love for others, wrapped in empathy and non-judgmental practice. Love for my work, my Photography. I had to adapt, slow down, tell clients I won’t be doing certain types of shoot anymore. In a way, I set myself free to do the kind of Photography I truly love. And that is luck many don’t have, I am thankful for having amazing support, to be able to say that I love my job and perform it as I can. It’s a spirits-lifting gift.

heart in shape of ballon

Love does save the day. More like the year. The lifetime, actually.

Kindly,

Luisa

Mindfulness · Mixed · Photography

The First Post May Not Be The Deepest

Hi, there! This is my first post on my new blog. Naturally, I will be talking mostly about Photography, my work, my images, Mindfulness, the courses I offer. However, every now and then my posts will digress… After all, I was a writer before becoming a Professional Photographer, and we are all multifaceted human beings with plenty to share. I am a 51 year-old Generation X woman who has seen, heard, read, experienced and felt quite a bit.

I see blogs as public diaries. I still remember my first one. My mom was a teacher and I started writing and reading on adult level at age 7 in Portuguese; soon to follow English. She gifted me with this beautiful pink diary that had a little heart-shaped lock and a mini key. I felt like that was a little treasure where I could put all my childhood thoughts and feelings. It was private, safe and beautiful. Well, not that private… I am pretty sure she read my stuff and that gift was also a smart way to check on me. That’s ok, I became a mom too and I know we worry by nature. People talk about kids’ privacy, but I am a firm believer in kids’ safety and well being first. So a little espionage well conducted is forgiven.

Blogging is very different. This is journaling for the outer world to read excerpts from my inner world. Even though right now, in this very beginning, “world” means pretty much my family and friends who are supportive and graceful enough to give me some of their reading time. My husband is a great source of support and he has a new blog too, check out beginkevin.com. He is a funny guy blogging about his opinions, experiences and giving his humorous take on all sorts of subjects.

Unfortunately, Mom is not one of these familiar readers, as she left this world way too soon, just a couple of years after that day when she gave me the diary. But rest assured, Mom, your purpose was achieved. I just do it now in a more technological way: the pink cover is my pink computer background, the heart-shaped lock and mini key are just a pin on a keyboard. Not nearly as pretty and whimsical, but effective nonetheless. The spirit is still there.

Hopefully this blog will grow to a more diversified audience that may benefit from some of my traveling words…

Well, it already is if you reached this last paragraph. Thank you for stopping by. I truly appreciate your visit.

Kindly,

Luisa