The Daily Zen Explained

Last week I decided to start a new photo project for 2018. I wanted something that would challenge me to not only shoot more often, but more importantly to be more selective about what I shoot and publish. I wanted this project to not only develop my photographer’s eye, but also nourish my soul, and maybe even inspire others.

I’ll admit that the last year has been stressful for me. I got way too caught up in the negative news cycle, in the nastiness that is American politics and discourse. This year I’m determined (dare I say “resolved”) to step away from all that as much as possible for the sake of my mental and spiritual health. I’m trying to remember that my circle of influence is actually pretty small, and that cluttering my mind with upsetting things that are out of my control is not beneficial to me.

That decision led me to the theme of this project, the Daily Zen. My goal is to shoot and post one photo each day, usually with my iPhone, that represents the ideas “simple” and “minimal”. This challenges me to look for things in my everyday life that are beautiful, peaceful and uncomplicated.

I’m posting these photos to a new Instagram account that I created, zen_of_zann, that I hope you will follow. They are posted with no explanation, only the hashtags #zen, #simple, and #minimal. My hope is that viewers will find them beautiful and interesting, and that they will offer the mind some space to breathe without being told what to think or feel.

Of course, the photos will also be posted here on this blog, along with my other work as I gear up to shoot more this year with my Nikons.

So that’s the story of the Daily Zen. Hope you enjoy the series.



Back To the Beginning

Every new year calls for new resolutions, and this year mine is to seriously get back into my photography. For many reasons (I can’t really go into all of them yet), this is going to be an epic year for me and the hubby, and I want to make sure my skills and my equipment are ready to capture the moments ahead.

I recently went through my camera gear and sold a few things that I wasn’t using. I got rid of my Nikon D5000 and a couple of lenses, as well as a little point-and-shoot Canon camera that I had. I still have my Nikon D700, another point-and-shoot, a new GoPro Hero 5 Black, and my iPhone 8 Plus. Plenty of equipment and no real excuses for not getting behind a viewfinder.

It has been so long since I was really shooting a lot, and I found that I needed to go back to the basics, just to remember how the settings worked on the camera. I decided to challenge myself to do one photo or video shoot every weekend until I can feel confident enough to just grab the camera and go, without having to refer to the manual or fumble around with the buttons and menus. In addition, I’ve almost forgotten how to use my editing software (especially Lightroom), so that’s also part of my resolution for this year, to get my mojo back in the computer darkroom.

So, even though it technically was not the new year yet, I took my Nikon D700 out for a photo walk last Saturday morning, December 30, before the bitterly cold arctic front moved in. I challenged myself to shoot 100 images, and that’s what I did, walking around downtown Tupelo. There weren’t many people around, and I was there for a couple of hours, wandering through alleys and skulking around houses and businesses.

And I had so much fun! I had forgotten how satisfying it is to look for the beauty and/or interest in the everyday scenery of life. I didn’t limit myself to any one subject, I just shot things that caught my eye.

I spent some time over the past two days going through the images and doing some editing, trying to remember how to use some of my favorite tools (Curves, anyone?). Some images I processed both in color and in black-and-white (I shot everything in raw to make it more challenging and rewarding to edit). And then I picked out my favorite five (so far) and uploaded them to my Flickr site which has been sorely neglected for too long.

Here are my top five:






I’m really looking forward to more shooting this year! My plan is to take a different camera with me each weekend, including my video gear (GoPro, iPhone, and gimbals for each). Repetition and practice, shooting and editing, learning and exploring….that’s my plan for 2018!

The Living Room

Continuing the tour of the Abandoned House on Hwy 278

Upon entering the door of the old house, this is the sight that greets you.  Even though it’s sad to see a house in such disrepair, one can’t help but try and imagine what happened in this room.  Who lived here?  Were they happy?  Did something awful happen here that caused this place to be abandoned, to slowly return to the elements?

The room is coming apart, layer by layer.  Wood paneling on the ceiling gives way to acoustic tile, which gives way to insulation and wood.  Wallpaper gives way to older wallpaper, which gives way to wood. Multiple layers of flooring are peeling away, and the underlying structure is rotting back into the ground.

Only the brick in the fireplace seems permanent, although it too will eventually dissolve.

If only the walls could talk….

Abandoned House on Hwy 278 - Living Room

Shot with the Nikon D700 and my 14-24mm glass.  Six-exposure HDR.  Click on the photo and view as large as possible.


My First Wedding Shoot

My plans for this past weekend included attending the wedding of my niece, Bailey, and her fiance, Daniel on Saturday, May 26.  On Thursday evening of last week, those plans changed dramatically.  Their wedding photographer cancelled at the last minute (don’t even get me started!), and so they asked if I would be willing to take some pictures at the wedding.  Of course, I jumped at the chance….and only started to panic about twelve hours later as I started trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do.

I started out by going through all my equipment, charging batteries and cleaning lenses.  I realized that I really didn’t have the optimum lens for this type of shoot (a mid-range fast zoom, like a 28-70mm f/2.8, which is now on my Christmas list!), but I decided to make the best of what I had.  I attended the rehearsal on Friday night, and since my dad was the one officiating, I was already pretty familiar with how he conducts the ceremony.  I was able to get an idea of shooting angles and timing after we went through the ceremony a couple of times.

Saturday was a beautiful day, but it was pretty warm.  The ceremony started at 2:00, but I got there about 11:30 to start taking pictures of Bailey as she was getting ready.  I took a lot of the formal shots of the wedding party and the families prior to the ceremony, along with some shots of the bride and her party outside under some shade trees.

The wedding went off without a hitch, and then we headed to the reception for a full sit-down meal, all leading up to the decorating of the car and the big send-off.

By the time I got home, I was totally exhausted, and today I’m actually stiff and sore from all the bending, stooping, squatting, and carrying around that tank of a camera (the Nikon D700) with the 28-300mm lens.  Thank goodness I was able to use a tripod much of the time!  I’ve spent just about all day processing photos, and I’m about a third of the way through.  Now I know why photographers charge so much to shoot events like weddings….and this was a very simple, but beautiful, ceremony.  I can’t imaging shooting a large, hoity-toity event, even with an assistant or two!

Anyway, I’ll be posting some of the images later as I get through the processing.   I don’t want to post any of the “people” pictures until Bailey and Daniel get to see them first, but I’ll go ahead and share this one that I did of Bailey’s dress, processed in black and white.

The Dress

I feel so honored that Bailey and Daniel trusted me to shoot their wedding. They are such a sweet couple, and I wish them nothing but happiness and joy as they start their life together!  And a special thanks goes to my “assistant”, my wonderful hubby, Andy, who kept me calm and who carried all my equipment for me.  I love you, Sweetie!!

Tupelo Station

I pulled out the Nikon D700 and did a little shooting in the grungier part of downtown Tupelo this morning.  It was overcast and cool, with some good dark clouds for HDR processing.  Most of my shooting was done in 7-bracket sets, but there are some times when you just can’t shoot brackets because things are moving too fast.

This shot is just such an example.  I wanted to get a shot of the little Tupelo train station, so I drove over the tracks and parked at the farmers’ market pavilion next to the station.  I was just getting my camera and tripod out of the car when I heard the blast of the train horn (can’t really call them “whistles”), and saw that there was a train headed my way.

I made some quick adjustments to the camera settings, turning off the bracketing settings and changing the F/stop to get a wider depth of field,  I got the camera mounted on the tripod just as the camera came around the curve and headed for the station, and then I just started clicking.  I hadn’t even thought about how close to the tracks I was until the train was right beside me.  IT WAS LOUD!!  I could actually feel the ground shaking as the engines went by.  It was AWESOME!!

I processed one of the shots using Topaz Black & White Effects, with some vignetting added.  Since the sky was pretty much gray, I think this processing choice worked pretty well as far as conveying the atmosphere:

Tupelo Station

But then I decided to try some of the extreme settings in Topaz Adjust, just to see what they had to offer. I really liked this Solarization setting….it almost has a nighttime feel to it, but still keeps the bright colors of the train:

Tupelo Station Solarized

That’s one of the things I love about photography, and especially about digital processing–if you’re not working for a paying customer, there is really no right or wrong way to process an image.  And there are so many different ways to interpret your photos, you could spend hours or days just trying different effects.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something outrageous–if you like what you do, who’s to say it’s not perfect?

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Christmas Parades Need Veterans

Continuing my series of images from last weekend’s Christmas parade in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi:

People in this part of the country are probably a little more unabashedly patriotic than people in other locales, but I don’t know of any town where the sight of grizzled old veterans of past wars doesn’t bring a lump to the throat.  There were several veterans and military groups marching or riding in this year’s parade, but this was my favorite–the Veterans of the Korean War, known as “The Forgotten War”.

Tupelo Christmas Parade 005

There’s just something about the evident camaraderie and shared life experience that appears in the lined faces of these guys that appeals to the heart of any American, young or old. I love them all, but my favorite is the guy in the back in the green fatigues and helmet, holding the American flag. Don’t you think he looks just like Leslie Neilsen?

Leslie Neilsen

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Tupelo Christmas Parade 2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to any Christmas parade, and it’s been about forty years since I’ve been to the one in Tupelo.  The last time I went to the Tupelo Christmas parade, it was still a nighttime event, and my parents would park our car in front of the Firestone store on Main Street so we could see the Shriners drive their little cars around in circles–that was my favorite part, better even than Santa Claus!

There were no Shriners this year, and the parade was held at 10:00 in the morning, but it was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed soaking up some of the local flavor.  I carried my Nikon D700 and the 28-300mm lens.  I used a very wide aperture, not only to get a high shutter speed but also to practice some depth-of-field techniques.  I wanted to see if I could focus on particular faces in the crowd, or on certain features of the parade floats.

I wound up taking 447 frames, so I have a lot of images to go through.  Of course, most aren’t worth mentioning, but I did capture a few that I really like.  Here are the first two that I’ve spent some time on this evening.  I’m using Paintshop Photo Pro X4 and Topaz Adjust 5 for my processing:

Tupelo Christmas Parade 002

Tupelo Christmas Parade 001

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Pair of Chairs

Continuing my series of urbex shots from downtown Tupelo, Mississippi:

Why is it that we photographers always feel drawn to shoot the empty chair that’s sitting where it really doesn’t belong?  And it was my lucky day, I came across a matching pair of chairs, just sitting out on the sidewalk, next to an orange cone that was warning pedestrians of…..what?  Were the chairs dangerous?  Was the alley dangerous?

I’m not really sure.

Pair of Chairs

Shot with my Nikon D700, 50mm 1.8 Nikkor lens.  Processed in Paintshop Photo Pro X4, with Topaz Adjust.

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Magnolia at First Methodist

The more I process in black and white, the more I enjoy the way the images emphasize the textures and form of the subject rather than the color.  It’s so deceptively simple–shades of black, gray and white–but within those shades are shadows and highlights that help you feel the picture, rather than just see it.

I love this shot of the huge, spreading magnolia tree that sits on the lawn of the First Methodist Church in downtown Tupelo.  I started out trying to process the image in color, but I was so distracted by the red brick of the building that it was drawing my attention away from the tree.  So I decided to try the black and white approach, and voila!  It’s exactly what I wanted:

Magnolia at First Methodist

I used Paintshop Photo Pro X4, along with Topaz B&W Effects to process the image.  I wish the large window had not gotten blown out so much, but overall I’m still pleased with the shot.

I’m trying to build a collection of black and white photos to have mounted and hung in my home office, and I think this one will make the cut.  Very Zen.

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Dinner Interrupted

Finally! I finally got the Nikon out of the house for a few hours of shooting this afternoon. We spent some time exploring the alleys and side streets of downtown Tupelo, our new home. Today was the first day after daylight savings time ended, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the lighting would be like in the late afternoon in this part of the country. I decided to just shoot with the 50mm prime lens and concentrate on architectural and urbex details.

Downtown Tupelo has some wonderful old buildings with the original brick and mortar, some with old advertisements that were painted there years and years ago. We have been pleasantly surprised at the number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops that have been opened in these old buildings, preserving the architectural details of the brick and the wood. Lots of ambiance and good food to be had here in downtown Tupelo!

While exploring one of the alleys, we came across this table behind one of the newer restaurants, Nautical Whimsey, where it was apparent that one of the restaurant staff had been dining before he or she was interrupted. The pasta, salad and drink looked so good that we were enticed to check out their wine bar, and ended up spending two hours there.

Dinner Interrupted

The owners, Dave (bartender) and Amanda (chef and bartender) were friendly, generous and entertaining. We each ordered a beer, and then after checking the menu, decided to try their crab cakes and the bruchetta. We were not disappointed.  They get two thumbs up from us!

This shot was processed in the new version of Paintshop Photo Pro X4, using Topaz Adjust.  I was able to get the upgrade from X3 to X4 for $50, and I still think it’s a heck of a deal compared to Photoshop.  I’ve processed six shots so far from today’s excursion, and I’ll be sharing them over the next few days, so stay tuned!

If you like my work, please subscribe to this blog and feel free to offer comments. You can also find me on:
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