Inspired during “Shelter In Place”

I found myself inspired in early February, 2020. As I was exiting my nearly predictable semi-annual dry period I was invited to participate in a portrait shoot in Illinois. I’ll write about that experience soon. Spoiler alert, it was worth the trip.

The dry spell was smashed to pieces and I was back on fire. Right about then we all started hearing about a mystery illness in China. I’ll bet you’ve heard about that. Shortly after getting home the world I knew went seriously sideways. I wrote about the beginnings of this around me in an earlier post.

Shelter In Place

Like a lot of folks I have a “day job” that, lo and behold, has almost nothing to do with my art degree. The good news is that I’m one of those weirdos who mixes left brain and right brain traits. After the “shelter in place” announcement from the state of California I started seriously wondering if my new found inspiration was in danger. No. No it wasn’t.

Empty Highway 9, Boulder Creek, California
My little town on the first day of “shelter in place”. It was pretty quiet and stayed this way.

Opportunity from necessity

I took this as an opportunity and didn’t slow down. There was a wealth of subject matter under my nose, all I needed was the necessity to explore it. Walks around my rural neighborhood became scouting missions for tiny subjects. As a result I was actively seeking out mundane subjects to create interesting photographs. If anything my creativity accelerated.

California Poppy in monochrome
A Golden California Poppy envisioned as black and white

Selfie Central

Without my muse friends, my interest in off-camera flash became an opportunity for self portraits. I setup a backdrop and a strobe in my home office. Selfie Central was born.

Self portrait in my improvised home studio
A response to a “show me your mug!” challenge. Yes, it’s a chicken. I love my chicken mug.

A little knowledge, a speedlight, and a tiny diffuser became a strip light to create dramatic light for small subjects.

Dramatic lighting on a Hawaiian figure
A tiny keepsake from a trip to Maui, lit for dramatic effect.
Study of a sea shell in dramatic light
A study of a sea shell in dramatic light

This also became an opportunity to encourage friends to create. I know they’re in the same situation, or in a lot of instances recently out of work, stuck and home, and dearly needing something constructive to do. I love to be helpful so I’m glad to support and mentor.

New ideas for my backlog

I also had new ideas for post processing previous work. I have volumes of images and a backlog of portrait projects. This was a golden opportunity to look for gems and reinterpret those with new ideas. This has had the bonus effect of reconnecting and growing friendships with my model friends.

Katie Belle during a swimwear/surfboard shoot.
Katie Belle, aka @umitsonlyme

Opportunities abound

Of course this was also an opportunity to follow up on a contact with the editors of Photofocus from weeks ago. Not only was I inspired to create images, I was inspired to write. I keep using the word “opportunity.” Yeah, things are weird, hard, scary, and for many deeply tragic. Opportunity is there, you have to want to see it.

SEE Challenge Day 1 Also

Day 1 Also?

Yeah, I know. Look, I was going to title it SEE Challenge Day 1 until I discovered that my friend Elizabeth Hahn beat me to it by 4 hours. That and it’s funny.

I’m lucky to have a friend who’s a wonderful photographer, mentor and inspirer of all things. Yes I just totally ripped off a line from Elizabeth’s blog on exactly the same topic. Lauri challenged us to shoot a roll of film daily for a while. I haven’t personally developed a roll of film since college and I’m pretty sure all the chemicals are in a box somewhere in my garage. But stick with me here; limit the photos taken as if each image was precious enough to burn a frame out of a small set of possible frames. So naturally I plunked a 128gb SD card in my Canon 7d Mk II. That part was more of a coincidence since it was the first SD card I grabbed before leaving today, but again it’s funny.


I thought about this idea: precious.

My typical day is pretty mundane. Up early. Stretch, yawn, scratch, shower, dress, coffee, scratch some more, cereal, shave, out the door. Drive from heavily forested area to tiny mountain back commuter road. Tiny road to major highway. Major highway to major freeway. Crawl through Silicon Valley traffic for the next hour. Arrive in parking garage, exit to building of concrete and steel (albeit a pretty one), work at my desk (yes I have a “day job” but I think you knew that) around stuff I’m not allowed to take pictures of. Repeat the process in reverse like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.

So what was precious about any of this?

I haven’t done this in a while because I was too hurt to drive. So yeah, this was precious.

Today all of it was. Every last bit. I won’t bug you with details but over the past 6 weeks I’ve had two significant health things. One where I was’t sure if I was going to live to see the next morning. The other where I got to understand what a “10” is on the pain scale for a week straight. So simple things like driving my car. Getting gasoline. Watching an airplane land were pretty damn precious. Pardon my stroll into existentialism for a bit please.

We have a popcorn popper at work. One like you’d see at the movie theater. I was captivated by the texture, color, and the sense of fun. This was precious to me at the moment.

Popcorn. Precious, precious popcorn.

My commute home tonight brought me close to the airport. Was this moment precious to me? Yes. Do you remember a day when you looked up in the sky and there were absolutely no aircraft flying? I mean at all? I do. It was September 11, 2001. Not one airplane. I don’t take this for granted. Also think about the people on the plane. Somebody’s coming home. Somebody’s excited to see somebody else. Somebody’s terrified of the landing part. Precious to somebody else.

A Southwest Airlines jet landing at San Jose Mineta Airport

The rest of the virtual “roll” was mostly looking for a pleasing composition of the aircraft in motion. Another way of saying that is “crap” but tonight I’m OK with it.