#1 – Peace

Peace is when time doesn’t matter as it passes by. – Maria Schell

Finding peace in the in between moments. Shot with Sony NEX-7 and Sony 20mm f/2.8

It seems I lose so many minutes waiting for the next thing to happen. Like yesterday, I was running ahead of schedule and had about 5 minutes to kill before heading out the door.

I impatiently tapped my foot. My eyes went back and forth between checking the watch and checking the clock. Were the seconds suddenly moving slower than before?

Another five minutes were fluttering away before my eyes. That’s five minutes that would never come back for me. Five minutes I could have spent telling Hubby how much I loved him in that moment, or giving thanks for this wonderful life – but all I could think about was killing time.

Killing time. I’m a murderer! A murderer of minutes and hours and days.

How often do we lose precious time during those ‘in between’ minutes? The time between getting ready and leaving the house. The time between waiting in the lobby and being seen. The time between entering the queue and paying for groceries.

How much peace are we willingly tossing aside by not being present in our own lives?

And furthermore, if WE can’t be present in our own lives, who will? No one. Those in-between minutes may as well never existed. For they were wasted and we only have ourselves to blame.

This week, I challenge you to account for the time you’re throwing away. Avoid “killing time” and instead find something meaningful and productive to do. And I don’t mean busy work!

What does “being present” mean to you?

Photo diary – Hide & seek at the lake

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Earlier this month we scuttled up north to meet with Hubby’s family and family friends. It’s a tradition to camp in the same area every year on the Fourth of July. Meals are done in extreme excess, we work on our tans, and we defend our name as ladder golf champions of the lake.

Ladder golf close up

One of the more recent past times has been geocaching around the lake. There are only a handful of caches in the area and we know them all by heart. But the locations are fun to visit when there’s nothing better to do than jump in the car, crank the A/C, and escape the midday heat.

And since boredom makes us desperate (don’t get me wrong, sometimes being bored for an entire weekend is a God send), we figured we may as well make a geocache of own.

Homemade geocache container

We spent several days enjoying the sense of recovery that the lake often brings (an increase in vitamin D production and elevated serotonin levels). It’s the same every year, and I always look forward to it.

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But this year I found something even more. Among the waves and rolling hills, I found a little bit of myself. Somewhere tucked among the sandstone and dragonflies and perfect summer evenings I found a piece of Sonya I had been searching for. I didn’t know it was missing until I found it, and maybe wasn’t even aware of finding it until I was tucked back home in bed. In all honesty, I didn’t fully understand what I had found until writing this post.

There isn’t a word for it. I guess it’s just a feeling. It’s like confidence, curiosity, and love all rolled into a single emotion.

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Sandstone formations at the top of the Milk River Observation Point

Can you spot the hiding ladybug?

Can you spot the hiding ladybug?

Hurray for engineers!

Hurray for discovery!

A very Golden opportunity – 08/52 rolls.

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Several months ago (gosh, time flies) I went on a work trip to Golden, Colorado. I declared to travel light and bring only a 35mm film camera.

This was both exciting and horrifying, as I like the reliability of digital for travel photography and I’d heard ghost stories about flying with film. But I knew low speed film would be a safe bet, so I loaded the Minolta XG-M with a roll of Ektar 100 (my favorite color film) and used as much of my free time to explore the town and take photos.

A note: do a bit of research before flying with film, but the main rules are: 1) low speed film can handle the scanners better. 2) if you must use high speed film (800 ISO or higher), buy it abroad and ship it back home through the mail. 3) avoid the scanners altogether by asking for a hand-checks of your cameras and film.

I requested hand-checks through every security point and, although the process was slower, it was worth the peace of mind. While I walked through the main security gates, a TSA official conducted a hand swab on the camera and then on my palms once I’d passed through the gates. Nothing too intense.

Some highlights from the trip…

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The incredible morning light. Sigh.

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The houses around the School of Mines are adorably historic. A lovely neighborhood to wander.

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Downtown Golden is pretty awesome.

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Lots of touristy shops and stops in downtown Golden.

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This bluff thing. There’s a way to climb to the top – I know this because I saw several people standing on top – but I didn’t have enough time to investigate further.

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Some historic buildings still stand near the river by downtown, Golden.

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A welcoming community of hipsters, potheads, and drunks. Among others.

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A friend takes a picture with her smartphone (left) and the School of Mines campus (right) in Golden, CO.

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She was a day tripper: Yellowstone

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“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau

You know that feeling when you just want to get away for a weekend? The freedom and trust that seems to overwhelm your spirit when it’s just you, your best friend, and the open road. Perhaps you’ve got a destination in mind but no plans etched in stone. You just want to go, come hell or high water.

I get that feeling a lot. All the time, in fact. Sometimes I think my soul was born for rambling but that sensation has dissipated over the past few years, especially since becoming a wife.

But still, that call to escape hums around my ears and every once in a while Hubby will indulge me. So we packed up on a hot June afternoon and took off toward Wyoming. Our final destination: the wilderness.

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Tiny wildflowers grow on the ridges of the Beartooth mountains.

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A small group of buffalo absorb the early morning sun.

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A random stone with a passage painted on it, found in Cooke City, MT. “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me.” Proverbs 8:17

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The entrance to Yellowstone National Park, 6:30 AM.

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The view from our motel in Cooke City, MT.

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The Beartooth Pass, MT/WY.

A beautiful view.

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My view on life has changed a lot in the past year.

Once upon a time I remember feeling like I had no ownership of my life, my relationships, or my choices… That was just eight or nine months ago.

And I had this nasty habit of latching on to the littlest things, trying to compensate for my complete lack of control. Having some illusion of control over life’s details – no matter how meaningless – was clearly my coping mechanism.

But when those details began to dissolve, so would my sanity. Like when plans fell through, or when the choice of restaurant changed, or even when the grocery store stopped carrying my cereal brand.

It seems ridiculous that I would get upset over those minuscule things, but they weren’t so minuscule at the time. They meant the world to me.

Somewhere along the line I learned to push people away. And by the time I got to college I had become pretty damn good at putting up a wall.

I closed my heart off. For a while I convinced myself that I enjoyed the solitude. But it was to my own detriment. I see that now, because I lost out on friendships and experiences that I can never get back.

Finally, I realized I wasn’t really living. I was just alive. Sometimes barely.

It wasn’t an instant change, but gradually I started to spread out a bit. I put aside the bad influences in my life and decided to surround myself with people who lift me up, not put me down.

Once I made the first steps toward a healthier spirit, I saw life bloom all around me.

Now, almost a year later, my life is a garden full of love and enthusiasm. My husband, my friends, and family are the water and sun. It feels so good to be here, finally. I wonder why I wasted so much time withering in the shadows but I try not to look back in regret.

I just look forward. And it’s a beautiful view.

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Misty mountain top (at 11,000 feet)

The Beartooth Highway has been called the most beautiful road in America. So I feel very patriotic (‘MERICA) to be sharing these photos with you, which I took during a daytrip to Yellowstone National Park. And yes, this IS as patriotic as I get.

But in all truthfulness these are some of my favorite images of the past year. I guess I feel a little bit triumphant because I’ve had this internal struggle with “landscape photography” for ages.

During my early exploration of photography I quite disliked landscapes. In the ocean of 500px and Flickr, eventually all the sea/mountainscapes look the same, and I fought against falling into that mold. Call it a quest of self discovery, but I just didn’t want to produce more of the same. Instead, I focused on life’s details – which you can evidently see in my early work (here, here, and here). We can refer to this time as the Age of the Nifty-Fifty.

But you can only take so many pictures of flowers at 50mm, and I began to feel boxed in by my endless desire for faster f-stops, buttery bokeh, and isolated subjects. Was I missing something important because it was simply out of focus? I needed to step back and look at the big picture.

So I bought Tammy (a Tamron 28-75mm). I started playing with wider focal lengths and forced myself to venture out of the comfortable coziness of f/2.8.

Together Tammy and I did a lot of new things, like long exposure night photography (here, here, here, and here). We even became urban explorers for a day (here and here).

Then, one day, I finally had the courage to point my camera toward a lake, and then toward a mountain. I liked the feeling but needed to improve, so I kept practicing and then practiced some more. I was not only looking for technically good pictures, but also pictures that spoke to my heart. Landscapes that spoke to ME.

And then these happened.

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I feel like I’m on the right track: the road to producing images that express my soul while displaying a strong foundation of the photography basics. And I can heartily say (with 20-20 hindsight vision) that this journey has been awesome and is worth taking. If you’re struggling, don’t give up! Keep shooting until you find something that speaks to you. And then don’t fucking let go.

 

 

 

 

Film Friday: un chat nommé Snooky.

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Here’s a random ass cat for your Fourth of July, fellow Americans! (Just kidding. It’s not a random ass cat; it actually belongs to some friends. Otherwise that would be weird. I swear I don’t creep into the neighbors’ yard.)

Hope you have a happy and safe holiday.

Beer and film. What more do you need?

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Awww, the essentials. What more do you need in a one road, small town of 140 people at an elevation of 10,000 feet?

Actually, Cooke City has a lot more to offer than JUST beer, film, and altitude sickness. You’re bound to notice the stunning views as soon as you pull into town. In the morning, the rising light hits the tops of the peaks in the most beautiful way, defining every nook and cranny in the mountain’s rough, ancient texture.

There’s some good food too. Hubby says the burger at the Miner’s Saloon was one of the best he’s had in a long time. I also had a burger, and even though I’m not a huge fan of burgers I’ll admit it was R.D.T. (really damn tasty).

We spent the night there with Todd, who thoroughly enjoyed all the new sights and smells. And since Cooke City is on the cusp of Yellowstone National Park, we woke early the next morning to venture in.

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Coming through the North Entrance early in the morning has been my favorite experience of Yellowstone yet. The light is positively fierce, forming deep dark silhouettes on anything that dares stand up to the harsh summer sun.

The fog rolled through the valleys lethargically (slow enough for me to snap pictures for a good half hour.) and created a dynamic moving composition. We couldn’t get enough of it, and watched in awe as the scenery literally transformed around us.

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We stopped mid-way through the Lamar Valley to enjoy some breakfast sandwiches we picked up at a gas station. Yummm…

A fabulous morning spent with my favorite person in one of my favorite places. Here’s to summer, memories, and friendship.

 

It’s Monday and we’re tripping on shrooms.

We’re tripping on shrooms – literally. This impressive beast of a mushroom has been growing on our lawn for the past couple of weeks. Actually, “growing” is an understatement. “Expanding at an alarming rate” is more accurate.

Anyways, I decided it’s time to officially document its progression.
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It started out harmless enough. Just a little baby mushroom minding its own biz-nass. Then boom, we got rain after rain after rain and everyone’s yard started looking like a jungle again. Our grass is tall enough that it’s tough to notice the mega-shroom unless you’re standing over the top of it. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in girth. Yikes, huh ladies?

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I’ve alerted the other tenant NOT to mow the mushroom down under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. We’re conducting and official science experiment here, people. I’m seriously considering running a 50 foot USB cable from the computer to the lawn in order to set up these tiny caution cones around the “project site”.

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Don’t forget to check out the rest of my mobile photography over on Instagram! Follow me @hellosonyamt

Photo diary – crazy weather, beer, and roadtrips

It’s been a while since I just took a step back and reflected on what’s been going on in life. It has been a memorable couple of months full of highlights and milestones. Here’s a peek into what Hubby and I have been up to…

We got married! Our closest family members joined us for an intimate wedding ceremony/get away weekend in April. It was the best day of my life!

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We’ve had a lot of storms this spring, but the craziest was last month when we got hail the size of golf balls and baseballs. Damn nature, you scary!

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I drank microbrew out of a mason jar with colleagues in Bozeman.

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I toured the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado and tasted the “freshest beer ever”. It’s true, you can’t get beer fresher than straight from the factory! But sorry, Coors, I’m still a loyal Corona gal.

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Todd got continuously smothered by children. Don’t let the frantic face or the one bulging eye fool you – he loves it.

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We spent a romantic night in the coolest small town in America – Cooke City – just outside of Yellowstone National Park. If you ever make it out, stop into the Miner’s Saloon for a damn good burger.

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Old Faithful was as reliable as ever. The park is beautiful this time of year, and we’re so lucky to have this gorgeous place in our backyard! One of the many reasons I will probably never leave in Montana… YNP, we miss you already!

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All in all, I made lots of good memories with this guy right here. My bestie!

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Garden party – Part I

DanWaltGardens-15Ok, I’m under no illusions about Billings. It’s a rather dull place, lacking in bells or whistles. Nothing really to boast about, other than our terrific rating in “The World’s Drunkest City” poll.

Third place, baby. Third place all day long.

But we do have quite a few hidden gems if you’re just willing to dig a little. Like this small botanical garden on the south side of town…

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A dear friend accompanied me on this flower-filled photo walk and we both came away with some great images. But my favorite shots will come in a later post… Teaser!

A word about tulips; I think they naturally lend themselves to photographic composition, especially in groups. You can play with layering, symmetry, color, and angle to get 10 totally different shots of the same subject. I’m particularly drawn to the way tulip petals overlap and create semi-translucent silhouettes in backlighting.

My only other advice is to stay away from those red tulips. They’re a pain in the ass. (I recall reading something about how modern camera sensors can read bright reds very well, which is why it seems like so much information is lost of you’re post processing a mainly red image. Can’t find a source to save my life though. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Round trip.

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If you travel often (whether for work or pleasure) you know that glorious feeling when you’ve come back home and finally lay in your own bed.

I was out of town this week. It was a long, long trip of less than ideal sleeping conditions and minimal amenities. First world problems, I know. But it just makes me that much  grateful to come home.

And believe me, I am SO grateful to be home. Montana, cradle me in your sweet, sweet bosom.

Tunnel vision.

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Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a tunnel you can’t escape? Sometimes you can see a light at the end but it’s far away and feels hopeless.

If you’re struggling today, take a deep breath and remember to take one step at a time. Push through the funk.

Whether you’re dealing with loss in your personal life or feeling uninspired photographically… Push through. Go back to the first subject that inspired you and approach it in a new way.

You can do it!

As seen on the side of the road.

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I found these lovely bundles of color on the side of the road near my apartment. They might be weeds, but are quite cute nonetheless. They were kind of tucked away, around a corner and under some branches – I would have missed them had I not been looking around with a purposeful eye.

Which got me thinking about the many other things I probably miss on a regular basis. If my eyes were more attuned to life’s simple pleasures I might see things like this more often. But it’s nearly impossible in a world where every street sign, advertisement, and banner is literally competing for your attention.

And yet mother nature feels no need to compete. She is content to grow beautiful things where no one notices.

Random green.

It’s no surprise the color green is often associated with healing and rejuvenation. My soul is more peaceful when I see a field of green grass or a tree full of green leaves — nature is at her healthiest, and there’s something so comforting in that.

When the world is green and bright, you can’t help but be lifted up.

Some of my favorite green things:

  • Caesar salad with fresh squeezed lemon
  • Sour apple candy
  • Cilantro soup
  • Globs of guacamole on seasoned steak tacos
  • Spring clovers
  • Clinging vines on old brick
  • Jade jewelry

With a roll of Ektar 100 loaded into the Minolta XG-M, I set off to document the many examples of new greenery…

Good company, good food, good drinks.

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After the marathon earlier this month, my sister and her friend decided to have a celebratory barbeque to commemorate our accomplishment. We were surrounded by delicious, organic ingredients and plenty of good wine.

There was a chill in the air but we bundled ourselves in big blankets until our bellies and hearts were full.

Are you open or closed? – 07/52 Rolls

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Oh, how the landscape can change in the course of 24 springtime hours.

This charming blossom tree grows outside of my office building. Each year I watch and wait for the fateful day of blooming when the tree transforms from thousands of bright pink buds into a cloud of fluffy yellow and white.

Unfortunately, we had a major hail storm this week. All of the delicate flowers were torn away in an icy frenzy. The next morning, the grass under the tree was covered in a layer of bruised petals and leaves.

These images were taken 24 hours apart. The first blossom had just opened up for the spring.

All in all, I like the rain.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. – Langston Hughes

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I’ve felt many ways about rain. For the first eighteen years of my life I was indifferent to rain. Rain was normal; rain, saltwater, and ocean spray. (If you guessed ‘Pacific Northwest’ you’d be correct.)

Then, after moving to Montana, I yearned for the rain. I never knew how much I loved the coastal moisture until I found myself landlocked. April and May were my months to rejoice.

Seven years later I guess I’ve developed a healthy neutrality. I don’t NEED the rain like I used to, but I don’t ignore it either. I smile when it comes, however rare that may be, and bathe in a nostalgic gratitude for the place I grew up.

All in all, I like the rain.

Sonya’s 3 must-have essentials for spring photography.

1. Minolta Teleconverter

With an abundance of beautiful colors, textures, and shapes emerging for spring, a teleconverter or extension tube set is oh-so important. It can mean the difference between capturing those intricate details or not.

Sure, I could digitally crop my image once I get home, but I’m an advocate of “getting it right in camera” – or at least trying.

That means not only getting my exposure correct, but also my composition. This is an important habit to develop if you shoot a lot of film!

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