The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice: Part 4, Cameras & Gear

Today’s episode of “The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice” gets into the shark infested waters of cameras and gear. But with a light touch! It’s really ALL about getting priorities straight: voice and vision first, the gear to best do the job second. Always.

Continue reading “The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice: Part 4, Cameras & Gear”

Photography Is In My Blood

I ended last year and started this one thinking about how much photography is embedded in who I am. It doesn’t define me, but it’s definitely woven deeply in my soul. It’s how I see and relate to everything; from the most poignant & breathtaking moments, to awe-inspiring, mind-expanding flashes. Photos are like flash cards to the past that have recorded life-changing milli-seconds that I want to last forever.

I’ve also been mind-blown lately at how far photography has come technologically since my humble beginnings – and can’t wait to see what comes next.


My story with photography started way before I was born. My mother had photos of the Norwegian side of our family coming to America on a big steamer in the late 1800’s. There they were… smiling, having fun, looking like people you might like to know, but from a completely different era. The prints were incredibly well-preserved, like they were taken last week. I felt like these distant relatives could step out of the photograph and shake my hand and that thrilled me to the core! That was when I knew I didn’t stand a chance when it came to photography. It’s bigger than me. It’s in my blood.


My mother documented everything with her camera. She never had a chance either, because her family documented every move she made, as evidenced by this photograph of her from the 1920’s Great Depression era in San Francisco:


I don’t know exactly what kind of camera they had in the 20’s… but I’m guessing it looked something like the ones on this page.

Through every decade of her life, my mother’s family photographed her. Small wonder; she was the perfect statuesque muse, every stitch of modelesque clothing handmade by her grandmother.

Mom_Xmas_1941Mom_Styling Nautical_RT

Best as I can tell, these photos were taken with one of the cameras you can see on these pages… from the 1930’s and 1940’s.


By the time I came along (the little one on the front), we used Brownie cameras. (I mean seriously… how can you NOT love taking pictures with a camera named after your favorite dessert??


I mean, if Ozzie and Harriet used Brownies, they HAD to be the best! This commercial was current about the time the photo above was taken with this very same camera:

My mom had albums upon albums of photographs. Pouring through them repeatedly, memorizing every image, picking out my super faves was my favorite pastime. They inspired me, excited me – made me want to make my own photographs.

Of course, the Momster was all too happy to oblige, giving me her old cameras as hand-me-downs… starting with the Instamatix in the ’60’s. TOTALLY revolutionary! And the flash cube was the BOMB!!!

It took pictures like this (that’s me in the middle):


and this:


And when I got my own Kodak Ektralite 110 I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

(Then again, I always felt like that… and so very “can do” when it came to Michael Landon):


By the time I got through high school, I determined that I wanted to be a professional photographer. I was given my favorite hand-me-down of all: The Minolta SRT-102:


I had a medium distance and a telephoto lens and they became like a second skin.  I loved that camera SO HARD!! I did all of my junior college class assignments with it and developed the images in the school darkroom, including this one for the assignment: “Self Portrait”. hahahaha!



I had a wicked sense of humor back then. I lived on a ranch and we had horses. The movie “Psycho” had come out in 1960, so by 1974 it had had a chance to become part of our culture. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: blend the “Self Portrait” assignment parameters with the “Psycho” movie vibe and place it all in my own world.

I was so excited! Staged it carefully. I set the camera on an upside-down feed bucket, grabbed the hay hooks and crawled into the tack compartment of our horse trailer… camera on timer. I had to do it a few times to get the timing right – so you can only imagine my glee when I saw the image come up perfectly in the darkroom!

I began plotting to build my own darkroom at home. Dreaming the images I’d create… both in color and black and white. Started talking to my dad (who could build ANYTHING) about where on the ranch we could create it.


Then it happened. The blinding headaches, the debilitating nausea. It was the darkroom chemicals. I didn’t give up without a fight. I tried being super organized and minimizing my time. Cutting sessions short. Skipping days in between. But it got worse and worse until even stoic Me couldn’t’ take it anymore. I had to give up photography.

I was devastated. Thought I could just take the photos and let labs do the processing. But the prints just weren’t the same. They weren’t MINE. A good portion of what I loved most about photography was the darkroom creative processing. Without that, it felt empty. I had to move on.

I followed other dreams: figure skating, dance, continued with my equestrian career, acting, singing… and teaching all of these on a professional level. I photographed all along, with whatever crappy camera I could get my hands on… because photography was in my blood. I couldn’t stop.

I watched the development of digital cameras with hungry eyes.
The first digital images I saw were garbage… but knew the day was coming when they would rival film. So I waited. And waited. And friggin’ WAITED!


Finally I jumped. My first digital camera was an Olympus Camedia, I think it was the C-900, with a whopping 1.3 MP resolution! Its specs are here.

The images weren’t great, but I just couldn’t wait any longer to see how far away Nirvana was. Meaning, did digital even enter the ball park of film yet? Answer: nope! But I was in the game and it was entertaining.

Then “Prosumer” hit the market in the form of the Sony F707 and F717. I had both. With a staggering 5 MP (you better be giggling about now!), plus then-craaaazy zoom ability of 5x (38–190 mm equivalent optical zoom)… both cameras had a 2/3-inch sensor and an articulating barrel.

I wasn’t yet willing or able yet to spring for a digital camera with interchangeable lenses. I really couldn’t afford it – nor did I think the images were good enough yet. But the price point on these prosumer babies meant I could actually feel like I was holding a real camera again!

F707 SonyF707

(Images courtesy of DP Review)

They made me want to get out and capture the world again… (here, taken with the Sony F717).


DSC03270 DSC03268


When it was time to move on from my F717, bigger still wasn’t an option for me. So I went smaller. Looked for the best lens I could find on a pocket camera. I spotted Carl Zeiss on Sony units and jumped! First, with the Sony DSC W1. Still 5mp, but LENSES! Telephoto and wide angle.  I even got a slave flash for it. Pimped to the nines!

These were the fancy pants lenses:


It took pictures like this with it:




I shot alot of flowers and macros back then. Partly because I love them – but it also wasn’t really the camera to make landscapes sing. Closer up worked better for composition and storytelling, which I was happy to work on.

I had a ski coach (I was a black diamond skier back then) who said that a good skier can tackle “any mountain, any condition.” It was an awesome goal – and I always tried to apply that to both my skiing and my photography. Any camera, any condition. I applied the rule every time I picked up my wee photo unit. Composition was and always will be king.  But I was getting an urge…  beginning to want gear that put no limits on what I could create. The artist in me was stirring.

Then my beloved W1 died. I howled at the moon! Soon, though, the 12MP Sony WX200 caught my attention. Good images, small and discreet and it would keep me humming for now. When you have a camera this small, you’re forced to move your feet, get creative and compose your ass off. I think of it as my 40 days in the desert. Only with a better camera. This is what it looked like…


And some of the results:






By now, just about every photo I took was accompanied with a resounding whine: “It’s just not what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye! I want more. I need a better camera!” Digital was getting damn good – and Photography wanted back IN to my life in a big way. I was having the visions – I wanted to see if I could make them! I waffled on my choice, I researched, I waffled some more.

Then on Christmas 2009, my husband gifted me with a Canon T1i and said… “You keep talking about the images you see in your mind… I want to see them too! Now go get ’em.” I wept. Hugged him… hard! Then headed out the door on an adventure that is still the most awesome EVER!

After the T1i, it was the Canon 5DII, the 5DIII, then the 6D… and now, my beloved Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T10 awesomeness. I feel like, over the years, my cameras have gone up and down, up and down… kind of like breathing. Or really bad weight swings. Right now, I have exactly what I need to create exactly what I want. It’s smaller… but who know’s what’ll be next? Truth is, the next level for me is already whispering in my ear.


I can’t help but I look around and marvel at how photography itself has grown. It too has expanded – in both big and small ways. No longer is it a question of “which camera is best?” Now it’s a matter of deciding what you want to do with a one, because chances are someone makes an awesome camera that does exactly that – whatever it is!

There’s brand new, jaw-dropping technology like what the Light Company is making with the Light L16. Their small camera technology has 16 built in lenses, and uses 10 simultaneously to capture the detail of your shot at multiple fixed focal lengths. Seriously?? Who DOES that? And yet… there it is. Check out their story. I love “Outside the box? Let’s blow UP the box” stories! And I’d bet there are other innovations being dreamed of and worked on as we speak!

Full frame cameras, Medium format cameras… something for every budget and need. The number of images on the internet is unprecedented. An entirely new art world has been born before our eyes over the past few years in photography… life as art!

Thanks to what technology  in photography can do now, I feel like I have a paintbrush of light in my hands. My sister is an artist, but I could never draw like her. And oh my,  I wanted to with all my heart! Little did I know, LIGHT was my real, true medium… I just had to live long enough for the brushes to get AMAZING!!

And they have. In a few short years, I’ve been able to spread my wings, see the world, carve out a niche and express the what I’ve held in my mind and heart… for all to see. Some of it is strictly photographic, some of it mainly art. To me, being able to do that with technology’s help is nothing short of fantastical! Second chances DO exist! It’s all completely miraculous to me… and the journey continues.

Finally, here are some of the images that have evolved since moving from pocket cameras to DSLRs…

Canon T1i: Truckee, CA
Delicacy of Age

Canon T1i: Reno, NVSoloist1

Canon 5DII: Berkeley, CA
Humphrey Bogart Was Here

Canon 5DII: Paris, France
The Bridge Over Seine-ity

Canon 5DII: Paris, France
Meet Me at the Creperie

Canon 5DIII: Hope Valley, CA
Sunsets Do Smile Sometimes

Canon 5DIII: Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA
Until Tomorrow

Canon 5DIII: New Zealand
Shades of Blue

Canon 6D: Croton-On-Hudson, NY
Radiant Forest

Canon 6D: North Lake, Eastern Sierras
Double or Nothing

Canon 6D: Lake Tahoe, NV
Star +One

Fujifilm XT10: Paris, France
Sun Sets On Seine

Fujifilm XT10: Honfleur, France
Café on Harbor Corner

Fujifilm XT1: Lake Tahoe, NV
Leading Back

Fujifilm XT1: Central Park, New York
Walk In The Park One Rainy Day With a Blue Umbrella

Fujifilm XT1: Lake Tahoe, CA
The Unbearable Beauty of Bench

Fujifilm XT1: Lake Tahoe, NV
Round Here

Fujifilm XT1: Truckee, CA
Around the Edge

Fujifilm XT1: Lake Tahoe, CA
Snowy Day At the Pier

Fujifilm XT1: Truckee, CA
Snow Dreams

Fujifilm XT1: Truckee, CA

How I Instantly, Painlessly Dropped 7 Pounds On The Mirrorless Diet!

Guffaw! I never thought I’d write a headline like that. BUTT… you asked. I listened.

I’ll keep it short (mark this day on your calendar!).

Hey, You Asked!

You asked: “Would you show a side-by-side comparison of your DSLR vs. Mirrorless set up so we can see the difference?”

I answered: “Why sure!” So.. here it is:

FullSizeRender Continue reading “How I Instantly, Painlessly Dropped 7 Pounds On The Mirrorless Diet!”

Fuji: My Parisienne Paintbrush

Paris Speaks

NOTE: This is a lengthier post than usual. It’s a summary of how the Fuji gear I took to France and I got along. (Famously!). It’s not meant to be camera “review”. It’s one human’s experience of being on a mission of art and heart; and the gear that helped bring it all to fruition. I’ve had a ton of questions about whether I’m sticking with Fuji after this… I think this will answer them all. 😀

For the record, I carried a Fuji X-T1 and X-T10, with the 16-55mm f/2.8, 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8, 10-24mm f/4 and 27mm f/2.8 lenses. 

Well, I’m back. Back from Paris, back from the glorious countryside of France, the incredible almost-a-month experience that began with some trepidation and ended with my not wanting to come home!

I had big ambitions to stay on top of blogging, video-ing, Periscope-ing, posting and all that ‘share every second of your life’ stuff we do nowadays. But y’know what? At a certain point I just had to surrender to the experience and let myself sink deeply into all that it had to teach me. There are times I just can’t talk about stuff; I have to live it. Words come later. This was that.

I went to France seriously in need of a break. Mostly from myself and the treadmill of self-made deadlines, high expectations; the pressure and anxiety spin cycle that I just couldn’t shake.

I’m definitely a believer in “wherever you go, there you are”… there’s no running away from yourself. But I also know that sometimes you have to change things up. Do something radical. Dip yourself in a new fondue.

So… Paris beckoned. Then it spoke; of passion, of art, of finding the wonder in all things. I listened.

Thus, filled with intent to experience miraculous and wondrous things, I departed.

Taken with the Fuji X-T10, 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 320. At the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Continue reading “Fuji: My Parisienne Paintbrush”

The Sony Mirrorless Chapter… For Now!

Where Angels Fear to Tread

I’m taking a deep breath. A really, really deep breath… because I’m going to talk about gear. Always dicey; it always incites such a ruckus, which is why I usually avoid it. Not to say I don’t have opinions! Mais non! I’m downright opinionATED, as anyone who knows me well can attest.

You may know I’m beginning a quest to find a light, mirrorless camera system that’ll lighten my gear load – but still allow me to create without compromise.  I wrote a bit about it here and here. I knew this journey wouldn’t be easy – maybe not even possible! But I have to try. Today’s chapter: Sony & why it had to go back.

Carrying the weight of my gear is becoming an issue. My backpack full of my beloved Canon 6D’s and lenses has thrown me off-balance and taken me down a few times now. I don’t find that to be all that pleasant. Clambering over rocks, standing on ledges with 1000 ft drops and other landscape-y positions in which I find myself is becoming nerve-wracking. There are times I won’t even go for a shot I want simply because I’m scared that my pack with go all rogue and toss me over a cliff to an early death. That’s no good.

This was me, all clambered up in the giant granite boulders around Lake Tahoe. I had a smaller pack then and I had to be super careful… mine’s even heavier now!KarenOnTheRocks

Continue reading “The Sony Mirrorless Chapter… For Now!”

THE CHAT: Frederick Van Johnson and Gordon Laing talk Sony!

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a big Sony DI event in Nashville, Tennessee. Amidst a group of other ‘influencers’ as they called our conglomerate group of about 40 photographers, press, bloggers and journalists, we tested the new line of mirrorless cameras and video gear. I focused on the A7, A7r and RX10 for my purposes, that of writing a featured blog post for Trey Ratcliff’s famed travel/photography blog Stuck in Customs.

The other Big Thing I wanted to do was an episode of THE CHAT with the ever-awesome Frederick Van Johnson and Gordon Laing. My original vision: a rapid-fire round table, Chat-style conversation about OUR first impressions of these impressive Sony cameras, shot on one of the new cameras. It would be tight, informative and fun.

What I didn’t count on what NO time to prepare and almost no time to shoot! Nor that the only place to shoot would be an incredible echoey (albeit lovely) room, that the air sound from the big storm outside would factor into every bit of audio we recorded, with or without lavalier mics and that it wouldn’t work out to use one of the new cameras (thus, shot this on Fred’s NEX-5r). But I knew I was dealing with pros (I call them my Wingmen 😀 ), so I knew if we just sat down and started, something fun would happen. And it did! Sometimes you just have to let go and jump…

Oh and ummm… outtakes at the very end. Silly, silly outtakes.