update on my donations

A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from the Stephen Lewis Foundation thanking me for the contributions I’ve raised through the sale of my photography. The letter detailed some of its funded projects and associated costs, which I thought would be good to share here:

“In Swaziland, $2000 builds a community garden, including: a reservoir for watering, and the tools, seeds and chemicals needed for the garden. The women who tend the garden will feed their families nutritious food and sell their remaining crops. Their earnings will go to school fees so the orphan children in their care can attend school.

In South Africa, $352 will fund a sewing workshop for grandmothers, including: the sewing machine, the lessons and supplies/materials needed for a year. The income generated will mean a granny can feed orphans in her care who can then focus on school instead of hunger.

In Zambia, for $140  a vulnerable girl will attend school and live in an empowering and positive environment for a year. When she graduates with vocational training, business start-up skills, or an undergraduate certification, she will have the capacity and self-esteem to build a future for herself.”

So far I’ve contributed about $100  to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Another cheque is in the mail for $50, so I think I’ll just donate the whole amount, so we will have raised enough for a girl to feel more empowered in Zambia.

Apparently, the foundation has been in operation for five years now, and in that time Canadians have donated over $30 million. That money has been spent on more than 250 projects in 15 countries struggling with the AIDS pandemic. Its kept its administrative costs at or below 10 percent. I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to support such  important work. And to the people who have bought my work: thank you!

I went to a workshop and all I brought you was this lousy post

Last weekend I went to a workshop with Ruth Kaplan in the Distillery District in Toronto. I was hoping to find out how documentary photographers navigate the ethical problems of documentary photography and also just how that kind of work unfolds, ways of working and gaining access. I was also hoping to get an introduction to using artifcial light and get some tips for working with people.

I did get those things from the workshop although in a roundabout, organic sort of way that required a few days to realize it. I really liked Ruth personally, and she’s clearly an expert. Initially, however, I was disappointed. I was hoping we’d get a sort of list of how-to’s that we’d then go and apply shooting other workshop participants. But we didn’t. We went out shooting in small groups and Ruth came along and sort of pointed out possible shots and angles, ways to get the subject to loosen up without saying, “Loosen up!”

We shot for a few hours and then went in and critiqued our work. By the time I got stuck in traffic on the way home, I had a headache, I was tired, and I felt frustrated. But in the days since, I’ve realized that I did get what I wanted from the day. It’s just that the kind of things Ruth was teaching don’t come on a neat and tidy list. She was showing us how to respond to the immediate demands and constraints of a particular subject and location, and that’s really something that can only solidify with practice.

So my goal for the rest of the summer is to set up shoots with friends and acquaintances and practice making people comfortable in front of a camera. I’m hoping to enlist some of my belly dancing friends first.

I also got recommendations for movies that might help me get over my photographer’s guilt (does anyone else suffer from that?!?) and a few more concrete tips, like:

* A lot of photographers make pictures of people acting real moments rather than the original real moments. They see a moment, then recreate it. This information inspires me.

* Ruth always scouts the location before shooting, and often just keeps a little list in her mind of possible locations around the city to use for magazine jobs that come up.

* She almost always shoots with flash because it adds sharpness. She responds to the natural light first, usually, but then tones it down with the flash. Watch for reflections from the flash in picture frames and windows.

* She’s only just switched digital for some of her work, but she’s thinking about getting a point and shoot Canon G9 because it’s less obtrusive and shoots RAW. Hmmm…

Movie Recommendations:

* The little video of Annie Leibovitz shooting the Queen, which I later found on Strobist

* The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (as a communications professional, I’ll forgive the missing s after the apostrophe)

* Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light

Here are a few of my shots from the workshop:

michelle 2
This was the workshop coordinator. She was a generous model and very easy to shoot.

(Can you tell I discovered the clarity slider in Lightroom? It reminds me of the Orton Effect.)



This was my partner in the class. I think this is my favourite shot of her; her expression is so stark. I couldn’t figure out at first why, but now I realize it’s probably the catchlights in her eyes. Not sure if it was at the workshop or in some recent online reading where I heard/saw, “Catchlights make the portrait come alive!”

on lenses and belly dance

Back in April, right before I went to Cuba, I bought a 50 mm f1.8 fixed lens. I love shooting in available light, and my f3.5-4.5 kit lens just wasn’t cutting it. I’ve been quite enjoying exploring the world through its fixed frame. Plus it’s a LOT lighter than my zoom lens and makes my camera a little less conspicuous.

Last Friday, I went to my belly dance instructor’s student recital. I took my camera and decided to stick with the fixed lens and see what it could do in very low light. I also didn’t really feel like lugging the bigger lens with it. I shot entirely without flash, and the fixed lens forced me to explore angles I probably wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Here are some of the results:



ishra sword


veil spin