• Standing the Test of Time

    Image: Contemplation

    I entered the digital age of cameras in 2006, which is rather late by some standards. My 12 year digital library probably has close to 20,000 images. Most days if you were to ask me how many are worth keeping, I'll answer "Maybe 10%, but I don't know."

    In our imaginary conversation, this then begs the question "WHY do you have so many images then?"

    Good question.

    My confidence in editing images (that is, deleting them forever from my library) has ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes I'm ruthless, sometimes I can't quite bring myself to hit the delete button because something quite nebulous is nagging at me when I look at the picture. The result? Pictures pile up in folders, gathering digital dust on my hard drive.

    Then comes the fateful day when I decide to take another look at an old folder of images and what I couldn't see 10 years ago, I can suddenly see.

    "Contemplation" (above) was made one sunny day on Tauras Hill in the middle of Vilnius, Lithuania in 2009. The original image, bright and glaringly green, basically looked, well...blah. For whatever reason, I didn't send it to the trash folder, and it silently sat on my hard drive for nearly a decade.

    Last week when I looked at it again, the elements that drew me to make the image on that sunny day were still there. Two women sit in contemplation next to a path; further along the path the statue of the Virgin Mary looks back into the scene. At a diagonal line to these three figures are three wooden crosses on a hill, creating a balance that pleases me.

    In the ten years since I made this image my knowledge of optimizing a photo digitally has increased tremendously. This time when I looked at the image I knew what to do. I eliminated the glaring green by creating a black and white image, I underexposed highlights, I brought in detail on the elements that were important, I added a vignette, and I smiled at the result.

    So the answer as to why I have 10 times more pictures than I think are worth keeping is...

    • If a picture speaks to me, no matter how blah it looks, I leave it. There's something there, and sometimes I just need a space of time to understand why. I've learned to trust my gut.
    • Maybe I have 10 shots of the same thing and I can't decide which is "best." Once again, time is my friend. When I return at a later date and look at the images, I can start to discern the subtle differences between images and the cream rises to the top.

    Photos capture time, but it is the passage of time that lets me know the moments worth keeping.

  • Photography is Phun!

    Image: Happy Couple in Prince Rupert on a Sunny Day!

    When photography was fresh and new around the turn of the century a French photographer by the name of Jacques-Henri Lartigue wrote:

    It's marvellous, marvellous! Nothing will ever be as much fun. I'm going to photograph everything, everything!

    I take a lot of photos - friends and family will attest to the fact that I often have to run to catch up with everyone else on a walk because I, like the proverbial crow, am distracted by a shiny thing. In the crow's case, the crow physically picks up the shiny thing and carries it away. I, on the other hand, record the shiny thing (for what is shine but light?) in my camera and then race on till the next shiny thing distracts me.

    And I have FUN doing this, which is why I adore the above quote. 

    If every time I went out with my camera it was with the intent of "getting a good photo" or making a shot worthy of a National Geographic cover, I think I'd lose the fun. 

    Let me tell you the story of the above image. My husband and I were in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, sitting in our car after finishing lunch. Prince Rupert is notoriously rainy, so this was a rare sunny day. The car was our own and had New Mexico license plates. My window was rolled down and suddenly I heard someone holler "Como estas! Como estas!" 

    A young local couple, infused with sunshine and perhaps something else, came up to the car, astonished to see our New Mexico license plate so far from home. Incredulous, they asked if we had driven the entire way. Laughing and joking with us, I suddenly wanted so much to capture this shiny thing, I asked if I could take their picture. Heck yeah was the response. They wrapped their arms around each other and gave me the best grins ever. We laughed and parted ways.

    Now, if I wasn't having fun and I was only focused on "the perfect shot" would I have even considered this image? Probably not. The light was harsh, the final image a snapshot of time.

    Yet every time I look at this image, I crack a grin if not a chortle, and just remember how marvellous and fun it was, and is, to photograph everything!

  • Finding Happiness in Your Own Backyard

    Image: Bluebird of Happiness on the Mesa

    The photographer Ernst Haas said "I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.” I would love to know where Ernst Haas actually was when he said that, and in what context, but sadly I haven't been able to find the original source (if anyone out there does find it, please let me know!). 

    I think one thing Ernst Haas may have meant was this: when we as photographers go out to make images, camera slung over our shoulders, around our necks, or tucked into our pockets - or sometimes all three - it really doesn't matter WHERE we go.

    What matters is how we use our hearts and our brains to see what is there where we are. You don't have to go to the heights of the Himalayas to make a good image. You can walk out your back door and see the sun shining on a dew drop of a daffodil and see something no one else has ever seen before. 

    We're often enticed by glossy travel brochures of exotic locales; I know that I am. If you stop for a moment and reflect, you're already living in a locale that is exotic to someone else. But when you see it day after day, your brain starts to record it as mundane. The challenge lies in seeing your personal mundane anew.

    Allow me to segue from Ernst Haas to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. At the end of her grand adventure, she clicks the heels of her ruby red shoes together three times, saying "There's no place like home." When she does this, the magic happens, and she sees her home anew.

    Perhaps all cameras should come with a pair of ruby red shoes, so we can click our heels together and say "There's no place like home" before we make our next image.

  • Backing a Kickstarter Project

    Image: Rewards for backing my Kickstarter campaign, February 2018

    A few years ago I had no clue what a "Kickstarter" project was, and when I stumbled across a project I could help fund (plus receive a really cool book), I had no idea that 2 years later I would use Kickstarter for my own creative project. If you've never used Kickstarter, let me explain.

    WHY AM I ASKING FOR YOUR SUPPORT? I created a book "Trees Are My Muse - A Tale of Love and Friendship" from a select group of photos that spanned over 10 years. It's more than a photo book; it's a story I think the trees themselves wrote. I believe in this book so much I want to get it out into the world. This creative project is all about raising the funds for a minimum print run of 100 books to go to backers.

    YOU RECEIVE A PRODUCT: You're not just sending me money for giggles. On my Kickstarter page there's a list of Rewards on the right hand side. People who wish to support me don't walk away empty handed. At all funding levels (except for the $5 level) you're buying a hardbound copy of the book. Some rewards are for the signed version, and some include a greeting card with the book. Or for the extravagant, I deliver the book and give a presentation on what this journey of mine has been like.

    YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE: Your credit card isn't charged unless I reach my project goal. Kickstarter won't send you spam emails and your credit card information is secure. I will provide email updates, but you can opt out of those. And if the goal is met, you gain a book - and my gratitude.

    I HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE (KIND OF): If the project isn't funded in the 30 day time frame, I'm not charged anything. I've invested time and energy and money for an initial printing and supplies, and that's okay. I've gained experience.

    My heart, however, well, it might be a little sad. But I'll be okay in a while.

    WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE: Kickstarter has a list of frequently asked questions for backers. Find out more at Kickstarter Basics.

    HOW DO I ACCESS THE "TREES ARE MY MUSE" PROJECT?  Click HERE to access this project until March 12, 2018 at 5:14 MDT. 


  • 3 Photo Lessons from Super Bowl LII

    Image: Last Chance Colorado; copyright Mary Lee Dereske

    I'm not a huge football fan. I do, however, tend to watch the Super Bowl. After yesteday's game I thought it would be fun to see what photo "lessons" I could take away from the game. In no particular order, here are 3 photo lessons for photographers. 

    • Sometimes you take the hit. While commentators were analyzing whether the Eagles made a fair catch in the end zone, watching endless replays of the players falling to the ground and sliding past the far end of the field, I watched in utter fascination as more than 400# of combined football players slid into a row of cameramen, tripods, and cameras. The lesson? If you're serious about your work, you have to put yourself and your equipment out there and take a risk. I bet those cameramen got a good shot!
    • Persevere. The Eagles QB almost gave up the game, then after some soul searching, came back to continue playing professionally. Now he's a Super Bowl Champion. How many times have you felt like giving up? Sometimes you just need to take a break, think it over, then get yourself back into the game.
    • Just because someone else tried it doesn't mean you shouldn't.  During the game, both QBs tried a trick play where they ran down the field to recieve. The first time it didn't succeed, the second time it did. What if the second QB had said "Oh, it didn't work. Guess it's not worth the trouble." Photography is the same - every photographer has a different take on a subject. The world needs to see your take on it. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. But try.

    So, photographers, get in the game, take a risk, and show the world who you are!

  • No More Ansel Excuses

    Image: "Cow at the Homestead" copyright Mary Lee Dereske

    I've heard it before, and I bet you have too. It's usually a photographer explaining to a non-photographer (or sometimes another photographer), "If Ansel Adams were alive today, he'd use Photoshop."

    Or this: "Using Photoshop is just the same as what Ansel Adams did in the darkroom, burning and dodging and cropping."

    Those two sentences and their ilk? They're what I call the "Ansel Excuse." And frankly, I think it's a copout and time to quit using it.

    Ansel Adams was a master at his work during the film days. As was Jerry Uelsmann. And Dorothea Lange. And Evelyn Cameron. They told their stories and expressed their vision with the tools they chose to use. For them it was a camera, a darkroom, a travelogue, a diary. I am not sure, but I doubt any of them said "If Rembrandt were alive today, he'd choose to use a camera." They stood proudly by their work.

    Does it matter if Ansel would have used Photoshop, or any of the plethora of image processing software available today? 

    Isn't it much better if photographers look only at their own work and proudly say "This is what I've created. This is my vision of the world. I hope you enjoy it."?

    I think so. Create what you want, using whatever methods you wish, and stand by it proudly and say 

    "This is my vision of the world. I hope you enjoy it."


  • Birdsong App: Harmful Imposters

    Image: "First Born" copyright Mary Lee Dereske

    Most of us have seen beautiful images of tropical and migratory songbirds. Photographers work hard, and often use insanely expensive equipment to make the mages. The majority of bird photographers are responsible and well educated bird watching enthusiast. 

    So I was surprised to read this article on and find out that some photographers are harming birds with smartphone apps! I think it is important enough to reprint most of the article here:

    "Birdwatchers who play back birdsongs on their smartphones to attract wild birds can stop the winged creatures from performing important tasks like feeding their young, experts warn. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it is receiving more reports of people playing birdsong recordings so they can photograph birds or observe them up close.

    "It is selfish and shows no respect to the bird. People should never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season," said southern Wales RSPB spokesman Tony Whitehead.

    Bird expert Chris Thain told the BBC that people would be "devastated" if they realized how much harm the use of the apps can cause to wildlife.

    There you have it. Use birdsong smartphone apps wisely! And while you're at it, follow and read the weekly diary of our planet Earth.


    (Sunrise, 12-31-2017, Placitas, New Mexico copyright by Mary Lee Dereske)

    I can't even begin to list the number of web sites that tout, promote, explain, extol, and wildly encourage photographers to take on a 365 day challenge.

    So I won't (thank GOD I hear you say!).

    I WILL cut to the chase and explain what a 365 day challenge means. It is quite simply making an image every single day for a year. And it all goes back to something we've all heard since time began: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

    So here it is, December 31, 2017, and you might be toying with the idea of a 365 day challenge. Some questions to ask yourself:

    • WHY do I want to do a challenge? Is it to improve my photography, to explore a theme, or because it's "what photographers do"? Know your reason and motivation and you will suceed.
    • HOW am I going to accomplish this? Smartphone? Or my "good camera"? Maybe you even want to use an instant film camera.
    • WHAT am I going to do with my photos? Post them on social media everyday and share? Or use them as part of a bigger project, like a book or documentary?
    • WHEN am I going to start? January 1 is an arbritrary date. Maybe your birthdate or other special date is more meaningful to you.
    • HOW OFTEN am I going to take photos? Maybe a 365 challenge to you is taking one day a week for an entire year to make images.

    WHATEVER you decide, remember the rules, constraints, opportunities and theme of a challenge are totally up to you. And whatever that is, that is the RIGHT challenge to have!

    Here's to a new day of photography for everyone!