Tag Archives: noticing

Things Not Photographed

I’ve written frequently about the ways that photography helps me see what I would not ordinarily notice.  Today’s post is about all those things that I notice when I am taking photos that I simply cannot capture or do justice to in a photo.

It was just a few days ago that I came across this quote from Dorothea Lange:

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.

And that has been true for me.  Yesterday I was out taking photos with my youngest son.  We explored the Huntington gardens and museums and old Pasadena…and I took some nice photos.  But there were so many things I saw that I simply was unable to photograph.  The Japanese gardens were extensive and gorgeous!  The harshness of the midday sun was a challenge for photography.

japanese bridge

And while I love this shot of the bridge, I wasn’t able to do justice to the vibrance of the koi swimming below the bridge or capture the beautiful blossoms of the lily pads floating in the water.

As we moved from the Japanese gardens to the Australian outback and into the desert, I was captivated by the hummingbirds.  There were the usual Anna’s hummingbirds…the larger variety common to my area.  But there were also these tiny hummingbirds, flitting and swooping from blossom to blossom…moving almost before you could see them, much less frame a photo.  I did capture these beautiful cactus blossoms though.

cactus flower

To cool off, we headed inside to the art gallery and the library.  Even though this space feels unfamiliar, I am sure I visited this place as a teenager on a field trip.  The only thing I can remember about the visit is seeing the paintings of Blue Boy and Pinkie.  But walking into the gallery reminded me immediately of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland!

I found myself thinking about curation and exhibition as I walked through the library…noticing the stories told and the ways the displays invited visitors to experience historical events.  I also watched my son–as an adult–drawn to interactive displays, things that can be manipulated, looked though, turned, opened…  I found myself drawn to this display of lightbulbs, showing how they have changed over time.


And while this photo looks flat…like a poster, this is actually a display of the original lightbulbs. You can see the markers where someone has removed a couple of bulbs for study of some sort.  I didn’t notice those until after I had taken the photo.  I wonder what kind of study you do with old light bulbs.

The conservatory is a big greenhouse filled with plants.  And as we headed towards it, I was fascinated by the light blue and white of the building and light blue and white of the sky.


And what I didn’t capture was the interesting ways that plants are adapted to their surroundings.  The tiny fibers of the carnivorous plants, the special adaptations of seeds, and even the special slime of the slug we found slithering down the wall.

With his fancy camera, Nick was able to capture this grasshopper I noticed as we walked through the children’s garden.  (Photo credit to Nick)

grasshopper Nick

Old town Pasadena also offered an interesting view of the world.  Pasadena conjures images of the Rose Bowl parade…streets lined with people.  Streets with iconic names, like Colorado Boulevard.  We decided on lunch at Russell’s…an establishment that advertises existence since 1930.  (They definitely make a great California BLT!)

Russell's Pasadena

And what I didn’t capture was the stiff and proper waiter and the bright red interior…including the velvet curtain that separates the hallway where the bathrooms are located from the rest of the diner.

I noticed a clock tower as we drove to find parking.  So once parked, we spent a bit of time exploring on foot…and found the tower.  What isn’t captured is the way that downtown areas are an interesting intersection of poverty and affluence, those with no permanent place intermingling with those exploring that same place.

clock tower pasadena

After dark, as I drove home, the large orangish harvest moon lit the way.  As I drove I thought about the beauty of the moon…and how hard it is to capture it in a photograph (at least with my equipment).  When I pulled into my driveway after a long and wonderful day, I did take out my phone a take a couple of shots anyway.

Moon through palms

And all day today I’ve been thinking about how much I see when I set out to take photos–more than I ever capture through my camera lens.  For me, my camera has truly become a tool that helps me see far beyond the lens.  I pay more attention to the world around me, even those things that I haven’t been able to capture in a photographic image.  I’m still hoping to catch that insect in flight, the landing of a raindrop, the surprised expression of a loved one, light that caresses an image perfectly…  But even more importantly, I am seeing those things even when I don’t get the photographic image…and that is priceless!


They’re Back…

Last school year we planted milkweed in the planter box in front of our classroom…and had a front row seat to view the intricacies of the monarch life cycle.

As the school year continued, what was left of the milkweed (after the caterpillars had decimated it) died away and a native volunteer took over the box.

A week or so ago, a classroom mom came by and cleared out our box and replanted milkweed.  And before even an hour had passed, a monarch friend had already visited.  We’ve all been on the lookout for evidence of eggs and caterpillars since.

This week, they made their presence known!  Teeny tiny yellow, green, and black caterpillars have made an appearance and are busily chomping away at the milkweed.


It is amazing just how quickly they grow from almost invisible to the eye, to plump little crawlers.


These are actually much smaller than they appear in the photo thanks to the magic of modern technology and cropping techniques!  But you can see they have been quickly devouring this plant.

And so now we wait.  Will these caterpillars survive long enough to grow to the size where they form a chrysalis and transform into butterflies?  Is there enough milkweed there to sustain them?  What predators will they have to avoid?


These beautiful creatures are fascinating to watch (and photograph), and seem to thrive in our school environment.  I love that we don’t need to buy a butterfly “kit” to have our students learn about the majesty and wonder of the insect world.


I always find that the more I learn about something, the more I appreciate and notice the natural beauty right in front of my eyes!  What critters sit outside your door for you to learn more about?

Photo-Inquiry…Art, Science, and Writing

I’ve been taking pictures every day for more than a year now.  Some days it’s a struggle, other days it’s pretty easy.  But one of my favorite things about being a photographer (albeit, amateur) is that it makes me pay attention…and ask lots of questions.

Yesterday I was up in our local mountains enjoying all that fall brings…colors and pumpkins and apples…on a warm fall day.  As I was photographing some beautiful leaves turning orange and red and yellow, I noticed this beautiful pine tree.


Looking closely, I was fascinated by the texture of the bark on the tree.  And an even closer look revealed all these tiny holes…with many filled with acorns or other nuts.


That observation set off a million questions…how does this happen, what animal does it? Does it hurt the tree?  Is it squirrels?  And then I noticed this nearby fence post.


So it’s not only about trees…it’s about wood.  I noticed the nearby utility pole also had holes and nuts.

With all these questions running through my head, we continued our adventure and I continued to look for interesting subjects for my photography.  A while later, at the edge of a little pumpkin patch I looked up and saw a beautiful blue bird with red markings high up on a utility pole.  I thought it might be some kind of jay, but my husband was quick to point out that it was tapping the pole…a woodpecker!

We watched closely, listening to the persistent tapping as it pecked into the top of the pole.  I attempted several photographs…but one thing the iphone camera is not good at is long distance photos!  Here’s an attempt.


If you look closely you can see a tiny silhouette at the top the pole.  As I watched I started to make connections to the pine tree and fence post I had photographed earlier.  These holes with the acorns in them were the work of an acorn woodpecker!  A little internet search today led me to this information:

The group will guard their territory, and will often have a single tree in which they store their acorns; known as a granary. A single granary may contain tens of thousands of acorns. The acorns themselves are placed individually into a hole drilled into the tree. Acorn Woodpeckers also feed on insects (including aerial flycatching), sap, and fruits.

I love that photography always ends up teaching me interesting things about nature and about the world.  It makes me pay attention, notice details, and ask questions.  It makes me curious…and makes me wonder…a perfect tool for inquiry!  And as I write this on the National Day on Writing, I get to share my photography and learning with you!  #write2connect in action!

How do you write to connect?  What do you learn from the activities you love?

Ordinary: A Photoessay

When I get busy I don’t take the time to pursue my personal interests, instead I get bogged down with the intricacies of my work and the demands of my schedule.  When I finally get a chance to catch my breath, I also find myself needing to tend to demands of ordinary life…you know, housework and errands and such.  And my exercise routine also falls to the wayside (even though I know that exercise is essential to energy, health, and well-being).  So today I decided to do two things that have been neglected…take a walk and take some photos.

And continuing my theme over the last few days of ordinary…this was an ordinary walk.  I threw on my tennies and took a walk around the neighborhood.  And while I was walking I was also taking a close look at my surroundings…alert for interesting images.

Lots of people in my area have hibiscus bushes with beautiful red or yellow flowers.  As I walked by one house today I noticed this blossom with snails nestled up in the center of the blossom!  While I’m sure it isn’t good for the flower, I love the idea of the snails becoming the center of the flower.


I often hear about how people in other locales have four seasons…and we, in southern CA, don’t.  (Somehow our temperate weather gets construed as sameness)  As a native to the area I feel like the seasons are quite distinct…and fall is definitely in the air!  There’s a difference in light, in the way the air feels (even warm feels different in the fall), and in the foliage.  We do have plenty of evergreen trees…but there are deciduous trees like this too.


Sometimes when I walk, I find myself “in my head,” not really paying attention to my surroundings.  But today I was alert and tuned in to the dragonflies flitting by, the abandoned Santa toy wedged in the ground cover, the granny smith apple in the gutter, and this tiny lizard that skittered in front of me.  He was cooperative enough to stop and let me take a photo…unlike the dragonfly!


I’ve been noticing the variety of palms in my area.  I commented just yesterday about the fact that the banana leaf palms are pretty uncommon…and then I saw one on my walk today.  And as I headed back to my house I noticed this palm with all these little berries at the center.


I love the way the ordinary…a neighborhood walk…becomes something more when you take the time to pay attention and notice details.  And I feel refreshed and relaxed…ready to tackle another busy work week.  I’m sure I will need to remind myself to take time to notice, to tune into the ordinary, and enjoy the moments in the moment!

Making Art

Participating in photo-a-day means that I am always on the lookout for an interesting photo opportunity.  And even though this whole month is themed writing, that doesn’t mean that I don’t take and post other interesting photos.

Driving to work is one of those times when I keep my eyes peeled for promising places to return to for a photo or two.  Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a house not far from my school that seems to be made of concrete.  It’s huge, looks over the ocean, and has floor to ceiling windows…obviously designed for maximum visual impact, from inside and from outside.

And today as I drove by, I noticed skeletons and zombies and other creepy things through the windows and on the deck.  I knew I would stop by later and take some photos.  When I stopped on my way home I struggled to get a photo that captured what I could see with my eyes.


So I took this photo and used an editing app to play around with it.  Could I pull the photo in and see those full sized bodies standing on the deck?  Could I see through the windows?  Here is what I was able to produce from the picture above using the app Tadaa and the filter otherland.


I love that moment when a snapshot becomes a piece of art.  I wonder if that is what the owners of that house also had in mind?

Informational Writing

I’ve been noticing that my world is filled with text, much of it informational. When I look around I see signs that explain rules, warn me of danger, remind me of safety, let me know what is going on, and more.


I’ve noticed that much of the informational text I see includes icons or images, sometimes even diagrams. It makes me wonder if this kind of text is meant to be read or merely noticed. By noticed, I mean put on warning that there are rules or dangers to heed…and the presence of the text implies that the risk, whatever it is, is yours. A notice of liability, of sorts.

This sign I saw in the Sacramento airport car rental center seems the kind of informational text that exists to fend off questions and complaints.


I wonder who writes the texts like this. Is it someone’s job responsibility? Does it go through an revision and editing process? Who determines the clarity?

And what about something like this?


Is it informational or just entertaining?


As I walked across the parking lot toward my office today I heard a crow cawing. I looked and noticed it sitting in a tree at the edge of the parking lot. It was loud and totally unconcerned that I stopped to take a photograph.


Thinking about that crow made me realize how much attention I pay to the crows in my life. Those that are loud or otherwise command my attention get more of my time and energy than those that are quieter and less assuming.

Too often that’s true in my classroom too. How often do I seek out the quiet, still child? Instead, all too often I am drawn to that loud voice or the wiggly body that can’t seem to keep in its own space.

I’m glad I stopped to photograph the crow today. I want it to serve as a reminder to look for and notice the quieter beings–the roly polies, the snails, the chickadees and sparrows– that blend into their surroundings and go about their lives without calling for attention.

What am I missing when I only see the crows? What can I learn by tuning my eyes and ears and other senses to the quieter students in my classroom? I’m going to find out…

Some Macro Play

I love using my macro lens on my iPhone…but it’s not easy.  I have to take my case off and attach the lens to the magnetic ring…so I don’t take macro shots spontaneously, I have to think about using this lens and make the necessary preparations.

I definitely have days when I feel at a loss for what to photograph.  Things feel ordinary…or I feel like I have already taken those same shots some other day.  Today I headed out to my backyard with plans to sit in the shade and read for a while.  But when I headed out there, I noticed the aloe plant that has gone crazy!  It started as a small house plant…and now is obviously loving the growing conditions in the back yard!  This week on #sdawpphotovoices our photo-a-day focus is #scratchy…and what could be scratchier than aloe spines?  I took a photo with my regular lens…and then headed inside to attach my macro lens.

I love the way the sun behind the plant makes the spine tips glow!

In the same big pot with the aloe there is also a cactus that outgrew its tiny indoor pot and ended up in the backyard.  The long, thin, needle-like spines create interesting flower-like patterns.  I love that the top spines are a brilliant yellow, creating a beautiful sunburst!

These ordinary cactus almost look like exotic sea creatures when you get close!  My attention turned to the lavender plant–the one I wrote about here–that was almost killed due to neglect! The plant continues to improve, although it is not in full bloom right now. There are a couple of beautiful blossoms…and some buds developing.

And I wasn’t quite done…I noticed a “volunteer” plant–one that planted itself in a pot of dirt on the edge of the patio.  It was green, but in the last week it has turned to a rusty red-orange color.  I’m not sure if it is dying…or if it is a natural cycle of growth for this plant.

All of these photos are unedited…and I love the colors and the way the sun creates glow.

I decided to take one last photo…of a spiderweb down in a hole where my husband is fixing the sprinkler.  As I moved my lens in close, the web began to glow, catching the sun.


Playing with my macro lens today helped me see the ordinary things in my backyard in a new way.  The colors popped, the patterns emerged, and the light created beauty that’s hard to see without looking closely.  And, as I always notice, opportunities to play and make help me find my creativity and the fun that is so often right in front of me.  And best of all, all this noticing piques my curiosity and wonder at the world around me.

Have you taken time to play today?

Looking Beneath the Surface

I suspect my neighbors thought I was crazy as I crawled around the lawn in my skirt when I got home from work today.  I had spotted some new mushrooms growing this morning and noticed that one had a hole where you can see through to the inside.

After unloading my work bag and feeding my cats, I attached the macro lens to my iphone and set out to get a closer look at the underside of the mushrooms.  One had been kicked over and lay with the underside exposed.  It was already turning brown on the exposed texture that is in such contrast to the smooth outside surface.


And then I got down on my hands and knees to look through the hole along the edge of the mushroom top.  I peered through first with my eye…and then with the lens of my camera trying to capture the interesting layers I spied beneath the surface.


These mushrooms remind me that what I see on the surface doesn’t always capture the complexity of what lies beneath.  My classroom is like that too.  There is so much about each of my students that isn’t visible unless I take the time to bend down and look carefully beneath the surface.  And sometimes I need a special tool, like my macro lens, to bring those interesting layers into focus.  Sometimes that tool is those informal conversations that I have with the students near me as we walk in lines.  Other times it is the opportunity to listen into a discussion a small group is having about a math concept or a story we have read.  Oftentimes it is through my students’ writing that I learn the most.  Their stories reveal their interests and their experiences…and show me what they know about reading and writing and science and sometimes even math and social studies.  Looking at a piece of student writing is like looking at the underside of a mushroom.  When you take the time to get beyond the surface, there are layers and layers that unfold and reveal new information that helps me know my students and helps me help them learn.

What have you learned from a student lately?

Playing with Perspective in the Garden

We’re lucky enough to have a school garden thanks to support from our school district, our local community, and a non-profit developed by a couple of teachers at my site called Scrumptious Schoolyards.  My students had time with the gardening teacher today observing how the garden has changed over the summer…before it is harvested and cleaned up for fall planting. While watching them and listening to their comments and looking at what they noticed, I also had time to snap a few iphone photos.

I’ve been playing around with perspective and point of view, trying a variety of angles–looking up, looking down, getting down low.  Here’s one looking up into the “face” of a sunflower.


I purposely got close, wanting to capture the texture of the sunflower’s surface.  I love the bright yellow-orange of the petals around the top…and you can see just a hint of the chain link fence around the bottom.  This photo is unedited and not cropped…it’s just as I took it.

Another unedited and uncropped photo I took today is this one of squash blossoms.  I love the slight shadow on the blossom and the peek at the squash growing in the background.


I also played around a bit with cropping and filters on this photo of the pile of watering cans. Only in a school garden would so many watering cans be sitting together just waiting to be used!


We also have a small corn crop growing tall!  With this photo I cropped to focus the photo on the corn and not on the background…and wanted to move the viewer’s eye upward to emphasize the height (while including beautiful blue sky!).


There is so much more that I noticed in the garden today–and saw through my students’ eyes that I wasn’t able to capture in photos.  I love their wonder and fascination with bugs and plants.  They uncovered caterpillars, carefully held ladybugs (both with and without spots–how I wish I had my macro lens handy!), avoided those big green beetle bugs, and noticed the dragonflies darting overhead.  They were astounded by the size of the tomatoes (heirlooms as one student pointed out) and the pumpkins.  And they can’t wait to literally dig in and get to the real work on gardening!

What did you see today through someone else’s eyes?  How does that change your perspective?