Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chasing More Light

I wrote in my last post about chasing the light.  It's true, I spend much of my time when I'm shooting pictures watching for certain kinds of light, hoping for clouds to pass--or to appear--depending on my needs and whims.  There's a corner in my study/studio/hideaway with a small window that  I love for its northern light.  It's never a warm, glowing kind of light.  Daylight coming through a north facing window has a coolness to it that makes for moody, slightly melancholy photos.  That's just what I wanted when I took the above shot.  And it's something I really accentuated as I processed it in Lightroom.  I desaturated the photo quite a bit and added some graininess.  The three kinds of tulips in this photo were all incredibly vivid; I wanted the richness of their colors, but not necessarily the intensity.  I also wanted the light coming from the side, so that the curves of the petals would be traced by it and there would be a sense of shadow just off to the left of the photo--not darkness, but a gentle fade into shadow.  

I actually shot this at the very end of the day using only natural light (I use natural light almost exclusively).  I kept the ISO at 200 because I wanted to be in control of the grain during processing. I also let the photo be a little on the dark side, knowing that I would lighten the exposure later.  This let me take a lot of shots in the fading light, and as the room grew dark around me, the photos got better.  This is one of about 30 shots I took during that hour.  There are more that I will share sometime soon.  I'd been sick all day, fighting off a flu, but I told myself, "You've got one good hour of light left.  DO something with it."  I'm so glad I ignored my headache and chills, and did a wee bit of light chasing.

This shot was something else entirely.  I took it the week before the tulip photos in response to a lesson from the fabulous Kim Klassen in her Be Still--52 class, in which she asked us to do a backlit shot.  For that assignment, I set up a small table in front of a south facing window in my bedroom, and I took a series of photos in the mid afternoon when the sun was quite intense. Southern light is usually much brighter and cheerier--more golden than northern light.  It can also be very intense, especially in a backlit shot.  To soften the possible harshness of the afternoon sunshine and to block any trace of the view outside the window, I stretched a piece of cheesecloth across the window.  I  wanted the cheesecloth to have a bit more texture and some shadows, so I poked several white feathers into it.  Because the focus of the shot is on the silk flower, the feathers don't read as feathers; they read as texture.  I added the organza ribbon to give the image one more layer that the light could play with.  I was especially happy that I could get some shimmer off it in the right side of the frame while on the left the ribbon intensifies the feeling of shadow.  

Beneath the flower is a very old, very worn and faded piece of Irish linen that's printed with large cabbage roses.  I love using distressed fabrics in my photos.  The more worn the better.  I especially love using things like linen and burlap in contrast to light gauzes and tulles.  As with the tulip photo, I took out a lot of the saturation when I processed this.  

I think light is the single most important element in photography.  It has everything to do with setting mood and tone in a picture.  Many things can be played with in processing--cropping, composition, saturation, exposure, etc.--but light quality (I'm referring less to the how much of it, and more to the type of it) is essential from the get go.  It's more important than having a fancy camera (mine is not particularly fancy) or a bag full of expensive lenses.  Those things are wonderful and helpful, but you can take gorgeous shots with your phone or your point and shoot . . . as long as you're willing to chase the light.

P.S. I want to thank Kim Klassen for featuring my above tulip photo on her Instagram feed over the weekend, along with photos by three wonderful photographers.  I also want to thank her for featuring the silk peony photo on her blog a couple of weeks ago as one of the selections for the Still Sunday competition.  It was an honor to have my work included alongside such gorgeous photos.  

I am blessed to have found an incredible community of writers and picture makers and takers over the past six years that I've been blogging.  As that community grows and friendships deepen, I discover new opportunities for learning every week.  I can't imagine a greater joy.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Reason Why

"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive.  There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them."  ~George Eliot

I chase the light all morning, longing for the perfect shadow, the glimmer of light on a petal, the glint of sunshine on the curve of a porcelain cup.

I've come to learn that I write and I photograph for the same reason.  It all stems from the same impulse, the same need.  

There is beauty over there, just there.  There is goodness.  There is light that I can nearly touch.  I must try.  I must.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What's Inspiring You?

See that light shining through the cheesecloth in the back of this shot?  That's honest-to-goodness sunlight!  Yes!  Daylight savings did not disappoint.  I was able to set up and take many, many still life shots all Sunday afternoon while the sun poured in through this upstairs southwest window. This particular photo is for a backlit assignment in Kim Klassen's Be Still--52 class.

I want thank the many folks who tried my lemon cookie recipe over the weekend!  I received loads of notes on Facebook and Instagram, comments here on the blog, and emails and texts about the cookies.  I'm so glad that you all love them as much as I do!  They are about as easy to make as cookies get, and the taste payoff is extraordinary.  I even saw photos of some other people's cookies, and they were gorgeous!  Nothing like bonding over baked goods.  It truly takes a village to bake a biscuit.

I'll have more recipes very soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to share a few inspiring links:

~Click--A print and digital magazine by photographers for photographers.  These women make a seriously gorgeous product.  Plus, they're running a fun photography contest from now until April 15.  Get clicking!

~Sarah Raven--This is a link to her YouTube channel.  I learn so much from her gardening videos.  Champion of heirloom varieties, she is a gardening goddess . . . and a brilliant teacher.  Plus, just getting to peek at the grounds of her farm makes me want to try new ideas in my own little piece of earth.  

~Thomas McGuane--This link will lead you to an NPR interview with Montana writer Tom McGuane.  Mr. Magpie heard the interview yesterday, told me about it over a quick lunch at Becky's Diner today, and I've just been listening to it and reading the transcript tonight.  It's definitely a worthwhile listen, especially for fellow readers and writers.  "I think there's only one interesting story," says McGuane, ". . . and that's struggle."  I have to say, after years of writing and teaching writing, I agree.

If you have a moment, let me know what's inspiring you this week.  I'd love to hear what you're up to.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lemon Sunshine Cookies

Do you remember when I said that "sunshine in a bowl" was going to be the theme for me until the snow melts?  I wasn't kidding.  In fact, I've expanded my theme to include sunshine in a glass, sunshine on a plate, and sunshine in a jar.  As long as that sunshine ends up in my belly, I'm happy.

These butter cookies definitely fit the theme, plus they are a breeze to make with ingredients many folks are likely to have on hand.  Make them when you're craving shortbread with a little twist.  Mr. Magpie and I have been dipping them in our tea and coffee all week.

Lemon Sunshine Cookies

Yield: Approximately 30 cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg.
  4. Add lemon zest and lemon juice.
  5. Gradually mix in the flour until well incorporated.
  6. Roll dough into one-inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Using the back of a fork, mark the cookies in a crosshatch pattern.
  8. Bake for fifteen minutes (I turn them once midway through the baking time) until the bottoms are just beginning to turn golden brown.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar (I use a small sieve to do this).
  10. Optional: I love really lemony cookies, so I sometimes sprinkle a little more lemon juice over the top before step 11.
  11. Allow to cool, then, if you like, dust with powdered sugar one more time.
  12. Store in a cookie tin or other airtight container.
These really couldn't be faster to make, and you can freeze them as well, so you'll always have some around for tea time!

P.S. I wouldn't be opposed to dipping one half of each cookie in dark chocolate.  Just sayin'. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Hope and the Garden

Happy March, my friends!  For all my moaning about this winter (it turns out this has been the coldest February on record in Portland, Maine, and among the snowiest winters), I do love the light in March.  It gives me hope, and hope makes me dream about my garden.

I have ordered my flower seeds from Johnny's, as I plan to grow a cutting garden in one of the raised beds this year.  It will have as many zinnias as I can fit in shades of salmon pink, raspberry, and charteuse, as well as cosmos, nigellas, and so many other beauties. 

Right now, those beds are so deeply buried that they don't even make mounds in the snow, but I know they are there, waiting.  And the roses and lavender and black-eyed Susans in the perennial beds are, too.  

And then there are the hydrangeas.  I have lots and lots of them all around the gardens, and I cut loads of blooms to dry for the winter.  They keep me going until the first crocuses and snowdrops appear where I planted them in the grass.  Most years those early bulbs begin to bloom in mid to late March here in coastal Maine, but I think it will be April this year.  Spring will be short, but with all this snow, the ground will be wet, too, which means it will likely be lush.

I've got lots of veggies in mind.  I always grow tomatoes, lettuces, runner beans, radishes, peas, and lots of herbs.  This year I think I'm going to grow potatoes, too.  Let me know what else you think I should try.  What have you had good luck growing?

I'm thinking of you all and wondering how you're faring.  For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere who are at the tail end of winter, have you started planning your gardening season yet?  I'd love to hear what you'll be planting.  I'm also curious about when the growing season actually begins for you.  I think here in Maine we're kind of towards the extreme end of things in that our winters are long and very cold and our growing season is very short.  I'm always amazed by how much we actually get to grow in about half a year's time!  And, yes, for those who have asked me in past posts or on Instagram, yes, I would LOVE to have a greenhouse.  Maybe some year soon I'll have one.  Anything to give me more time with the plants. 

In the meantime, I'm loving the sunlight and the little spark of hope it lights in me for another season of green.

xo Gigi

P.S. Last week The Magpie's Fancy passed its 6-year mark.  I can hardly believe I've been blogging here for all these years.  Thank you for making it such a joy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Think Spring

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and that soothing rays of sunlight are shining down upon you. Our reality here in Maine right now is the picture above.  And more snow is headed our way tonight.  

I say, screw reality.  

I'm about ready for mojitos, crocuses, open-toed shoes (or just shoes of any kind that are not fleece-lined, waterproofed, and lug-soled) and the sight of green, green grass.  Since I can't have any of those, I'm indulging in retail therapy and food therapy both, and I don't feel the least bit guilty. If you feel like indulging along with me, click on the links in the captions to visit the sites where I found these lovely images.   

Isn't it time for some flowers and bunnies, and maybe a recipe involving eggs and lemons and fresh herbs?  

Tulip Magnolia Branches and Hungarian Storage Jars from Terrain

Little Hopper Taper Holder from Anthropologie

Bunny Cupcake Stand from Pottery Barn

Bluebird Eau de Parfum from Olivine Atelier

Okay, so the perfume is maybe more summer than spring, but as we hit record-breaking cold temperatures here in Maine this week, I think a little summer would be perfect about now, too.

Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Eggs from Smitten Kitchen

I'm going to make this recipe tomorrow for dinner.  Tonight I'm making blood orange and fennel salad. The theme for me until the snow melts is sunshine in a bowl.

Sending love your way . . .

xo Gigi

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beautiful, Delicious, and Funny Things

Hello, my chickadees!  I'm not gonna lie.  This winter is turning out to be one for the books.  Any of you who live here in the Northeastern corner of the US know exactly what I'm talking about.  This photo is one I took of the banks of the Fore River on a day when the temperatures were below zero degrees Fahrenheit and we had fifty mph wind gusts.  I processed the shot after the fact to make it feel more like a painting than a photo, but the blustery snow was very real.  Today, Mr. Magpie is down at his job in Lowell, Massachusetts, a place which currently bears the dubious honor of being the snowiest city in America, with 111" so far this year.  Here in Portland we're expecting a few more inches tonight.  I think we could deal with the snowbanks over our heads if it weren't for the bitter cold.  

For kicks, you can compare this photo of our house with the one a couple of posts ago.  We've had more snow since this shot, but we've raked as much of it as possible off the roof and broken as many of the icicle-daggers as we could.  When I look back over my gardening calendar of the last two years, I realize that we had our first crocuses in the back yard by mid March both years.  I highly doubt that will be the case this year, a fact which, if I were a pessimist, would make me very bitter, indeed.  Instead, I've decided to look on the bright side.  All this snow means my perennials are under a thick blanket of warm insulation during all this cold weather, so even my roses and lavender should be fine when spring finally does arrive in July.  Just kidding.  June.  It will be here in June.

Our backyard during a storm

As usual when the weather is this intense and we're all feeling a little stir crazy, I've been seeking inspiration everywhere I can.  I thought I'd share with you a few recent glimmers of beauty, inspiration, and/or joy.  My brother Mark once posed the following questions to me about the things we encounter in life: "Is it beautiful?  Is it delicious?  Does it make me laugh?" he asked.  He then went on to say that  if it doesn't meet one or more of those three criteria, he didn't want or need it.  Mark is one of the smartest and funniest people I know, and I've used his three questions many times since to help myself decide about making purchases, selecting films to watch, books to read, or even to make bigger life choices.  Somehow, many choices do boil down to these categories for me, especially since I think beauty can be found in a well-told story, a smart turn of phrase, a kind gesture, or the accomplishment of even the smallest of goals. 

So, in true magpie fashion, I offer this list, in no particular order, of a few beautiful, delicious, and funny things:

~ This story told by Bill Murray about Gilda Radner.
~ This recipe for Dorie Greenspan's chocolate World Peace Cookies 
~ This bike trainer, which I truly believe is the only thing that is keeping Mr. Magpie and me at all fit or at all sane this winter--and sanity is a very beautiful thing, indeed . . . as are muscles.  :)
~ This baking show, which satisfies my love of baking, my Anglophile tendencies, and, since its a competition, is the closest thing to watching sports on TV that I will ever willingly do.  In fact, I don't have TV.  I watch this on my MacBook.  I also watch The Great Allotment Challenge on YouTube, for all of the above reasons except baking.  Just replace that with gardening, and there you have it. 
~This mystery show.  More Anglophile tendencies catered to quite happily.  Plus mysteries to solve--yes!  Plus there's Robson Green and James Norton to watch.  A beautiful addiction.
~This book by Nancy Marie Brown about a Viking woman who sailed off the edge of the known world five hundred years before Columbus.  Fascinating and well written. 

And finally, just thought I'd add the latest issue of Artful Blogging to the list.  I have a little bit of writing and a photo featured in the Blogging Buzz section this time around, but I'd say take a peek for all the other gorgeous inspiration inside.  

I hope you are faring well, my friends.  As always, you can find me on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as those other crazy social media platforms listed along the right side of the blog.  Just click on the icons to pop over for a visit.  I'm now on Twitter, too, so if you are as well, please be sure to connect with me.  I love staying in touch with you.    

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