Life and Photography

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams

I was looking for inspiration today and came across this fabulous quote by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. His thought expresses a concept I have explored before and one that I shall be revisiting on my second Spring Photography Walkshop.

The relationship between your inner world – your thoughts and feelings – is one that must reflect your creation of a version of the outer world – the photograph, if you are to create a great photograph. You cannot separate the photographer from the person. The photographer is the person, and if your photographs are to say something of how you find the world then you have to allow that to shape and influence the photographs you create.

The photos I have included to illustrate this post were all created yesterday whilst practicing mindful photography. In that practice my intention is to remain (or return) to the visual whilst my mind shoots about. In that continuing practice I quieten and become more attuned to my outer world. The hope is that in this still place a connection between what I perceive and how it makes me feel is established. In that moment I press the shutter.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Guest Post – Kim Manley Ort

Photography and the Web of Connection

I spent the summer of 1976 living with my Dad in Windsor, Ontario (Canada), a place I’d never lived before. He’d moved there a few months earlier and was able to get me a job where he worked.

My second part-time job that summer was teaching figure skating at the local arena. A few weeks in, the skating club had a “test day” – where skaters perform before judges to see if they’ve achieved the required skills to move to the next level. The cold and cavernous arena was filled with the chatter of skaters, coaches, judges, and parents all gathered for the big day. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air. When someone passed a test, you could hear joyful sounds of celebration and when they didn’t, you heard groans.

While I had been warmly welcomed by the skating community, it was clear on this day that I was an outsider. I didn’t belong. At least, I felt like I didn’t. Most of the people there had long established relationships that would continue long after I left. Surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt very alone.

Sometimes, we feel the most disconnected and lonely in a crowd.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Since I was a young girl, I yearned to connect in a way my family members and closest friends could not always satisfy. It wasn’t the kind of connection met by conversation or through sharing experiences or memories. It was another kind, but what was it? It took me years to realize what I was missing and how to fill it.

In fact, it wasn’t until I began to photograph that I discovered the very connection I was missing. When that first image of winter trees in my backyard appeared in the solution so many years ago, I felt an aliveness I’d never experienced before. The photograph was a tangible representation of my connection to a place. Those intertwined branches represented the inherent way everything is already connected. My camera was showing me how to be fully in the moment and to connect through my photographs.

“All my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world. I am always weaving it because it was once broken.” (Anais Nin, Winter, 1942)

Ever since then, I’ve practiced reweaving my web of connection through photography.
My camera teaches me how to slow down (pause), pay attention (focus) and then connect with what’s there (click the shutter). It teaches me about myself, what I’m drawn to and what I turn away from. It teaches me how to engage, and most importantly, how to trust what I must share.

Every photograph is about relationship – between photographer and subject or between subjects within the frame.

I believe that we live in an interconnected, interdependent world and that the quality of the world and of our lives depends on the quality of our connections and relationships. We are unique individuals, but we are not islands. We are connected. We belong. Photography then becomes not simply a way to express myself, but that connection. A photograph is a symbol of relationship. It’s a visual Namaste, where something deep inside of you connects with the essence of your subject.

To give you an example, while in Chicago, I walked along the river one cool and rainy morning. Colours often stand out on these types of days. This was certainly true on this day as I found myself drawn towards two small, fuchsia pink leaves glued to the back of a lime green bench. They were slightly overlapping and covered with big, fat raindrops. The scene felt so tender, like one was comforting the other. The contrast of the two bright colours accentuated the feeling. I moved in close to focus on the two leaves against the lime green bench.This simple and minimal image shows what I saw and hopefully, what I felt.

10 Ways to Connect through Photography

1. Pause and notice what’s resonating inside. What stopped you?
2. Focus by looking closer with a soft and loving gaze.
3. Notice any judgments that come up and let them go.
4. See everything as a worthy and potential subject.
5. Open to new possibilities by changing perspective.
6. Welcome the unexpected. Let the photographs come to you.
7. Use all your senses in the experience.
8. Notice what you’re feeling.
9. Trust yourself and what you value.
10.Share yourself generously.

We are all forces in this world with the potential to connect and contribute. Each one of us has something to offer. Get to know what you value and what matters most and you will begin to live out your purpose. Nothing needs to be added to make your life more interesting. Instead, eliminate what’s not important and follow your instincts. Your life will be richer and more rewarding, and you will have a greater impact on others. Everything you do and say and create matters.

Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and workshop facilitator. You can connect with her through her website, Facebook page, or on Instagram. The photographic exercises in her book, Adventures in Seeing: The Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus, and Connect with Life, will help you to tap into a deeper awareness of yourself and the world around you. You’ll rediscover your own connection with a world fully alive, a world where you belong and have a place.

Using photography to express how you feel

One of the key areas I explore in Mindful Photography is how mindfulness opens a door to a connection with your feelings, and how you can choose to communicate those feelings with photographs. The short answer to how you can do this is twofold. Firstly, develop a knowledge of how to apply visual design principles to convey an emotion or mood. Secondly, through allowing an intuitive response to what you photograph to inform your choice of how to frame your photo.

The long and detailed answer is part of the landscape I will explore in my forthcoming Mindful Photography Online Course. In the meantime I leave you with a question. How can you learn and hold all the technical and compostional ideas for great photography and also allow a connection to how you feel about the scene or experience before you? It is in your answer to this that you will create photographs that truly say something about you and your life.

By way of illustration I include here a few photos from my recent retreat in the Brecon Hills. How do they make you feel? Why do they stir those feelings in you? I will be reflecting on my retreat experience in a future post.

 

Guest Post by Alan Wood

The following post has been generously shared by Alan Wood and details his own exploration of mindfulness and photography

A Personal Journey to Mindful Photography by Alan Wood

I have been a photographer since, as a child of 7 or 8, my grandfather gave me his box Brownie camera. Over time other cameras followed but I eventually found that work and then family commitments were such that there was very little time, or perhaps energy, for actual photography. But I did read books and magazines about photography, its equipment and techniques. I would daydream of being like my photographic heroes, going where they went and capturing the sort of images they did. However, when I did get out with my camera the reality seldom lived up to the dream and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was frequently disappointed with the results. I became increasingly frustrated until, after many years, there came a moment of crisis.

I was on holiday in Devon, out for an early morning walk with my camera before the rest of the family woke up. I stood on a footbridge across a stream in a beautiful wooded valley trying to find a composition for a photograph. But my mind was in turmoil, thinking, thinking, thinking about the camera, its settings, the lens to use and the right technique, and beyond that to where I was going to go next, what I was going to have for breakfast when I got back and on and on. I felt as if I were not really there, completely separated from my surroundings. Even the camera in my hand seemed to have become a physical and mental barrier to my being able to see the reality of what was in front of me. The frustration became unbearable. I stopped and there and then vowed that I would not take another photograph until I learnt to see and to be truly present with what I was seeing. I kept that vow. I put my camera away and also stopped reading the photographic books and magazines through which I seemed to have been living vicariously.

There was of course more going on in my life. The relentless pressure of my work, amongst other things, brought me close to breaking point. Then, one day during a lunchtime browse through a bookshop, I came across a book, called “Teach Yourself to Meditate” by Eric Harrison. On the back cover I read “Many people are turning to meditation as an effective way to relax and bring inner peace.” I thought that I could certainly do with some of that and bought the book. I soon established a practice of daily meditation. I would get up early and in the quiet of the morning sit for 20 minutes, following the breath as my focus. I quickly found it invaluable as a means of calming the mind and becoming grounded and ready for the day ahead (although I have since discovered that meditation goes much further than that).

After a couple of years I decided I would like to go on a meditation retreat. That brought me to Gaia House, a retreat centre in the Devon countryside for my first silent retreat. I was nervous to start with, fearful in case my self taught meditation practice was wide of the mark. Fortunately it wasn’t and I benefited from the deepening of my practice. There then followed further retreats including a one month silent retreat attended during a sabbatical from work, a prelude to a run down and eventual early retirement.

Influenced by my meditation practice, I was finding that I could now go for a walk and, being mindful, see and experience more directly what was around me, aware too of my emotional response, to be present in my surroundings.

I wondered then if I was ready to pick up my camera again. I did and tentatively started to re-engage with my photography. The camera no longer appeared to be a barrier to seeing and I found that I was able, not only to use the camera to reflect something of my response to what I was seeing, but also to be more focussed on that seeing and to be more deeply engaged with it. I am grateful for that and am enjoying my photography more than I have ever done. I don’t see the final image so much as a goal in itself (although I do get a sense of satisfaction if I produce an image with which I am happy and if that image is appreciated by others) but rather as part of a process from the mindful seeing, responding and then using the camera and even the post processing on the computer to reflect that response.

I am now at a point where, as well as it being a reflection of my response to what I see, I would like to use my photography to explore how my inner world affects that seeing. And who knows where that will take me.

Below are three simple images from one of my retreats which I feel reflect something of my emotional response to the seeing.

Aber Taiko

Aber Taiko are a community drumming group based in Swansea. They were founded in 2015 and have over the last year been on a year long journey to discover and develop their Taiko soul.

Last night they performed with their teachers, collaborators and friends at Volcano Theatre to a sold out enthusiastic audience. Fortunately I was invited by my friend Yannis (one of the group) to create a visual record of the night and my favourite dozen photos accompany this post.

The evening was a great success; the drumming echoing through our beings to shake roots and fire imaginations. If you get a chance to see them perform do go along, or if you are interested in drumming then visit their website and drop them a line.

 

The camera with you

In these smartphone days the camera we always have with us is usually the most pocketable one. I do have a high end compact phone and a brick of a DSLR. Sometimes I do have one of them with me. But I always have my smartphone camera.

I get it. The best camera is the one we have with us and smartphones do have pretty reasonable cameras, limited but ok in reasonable light. I post a smartphone photo a day to my Instagram account. I like the creative limitations imposed by the phone, it’s wide angle and levels of technical control make me think about innovative composition.

All the photos below were created with my compact Xperia Z3 and edited using Snapseed. Fancy sharing your favourite recent smartphone photo?

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The Snapshot Girls

A while back I was invited to share some ideas around Mindful Photography with local photography group the Snapshot Girls. I met one of their founder members Hannah at the Peg Talks and we got talking about photography. A couple of months later I spent a fun evening with them at their monthly meet up at the hip bar Noah’s in the Uplands of Swansea.

The Snapshot Girls were formed in 2012 with the intention of sharing ‘Fun, Photos and Friendship’ and they love all forms of photography and photos whether they’re blurred, brilliant or both!

I spent an hour or so talking through an introduction to what Mindful Photography is and how I came to apply and develop mindfulness through photography. Then I set them a little mindful photography practice and they shared their favourite photo from the practice.

I finished the session by setting them some ‘homework’ which was another mindful photography practice and they were encouraged then to complete it and share their experiences with the group. Yesterday Hannah sent me everybody’s favourite photo and they accompany this post.

So, if you are female, live in or around Swansea and love photography why don’t you get in touch with them?

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1 to 1 Tutorial

Seeing in colour

I had my first 1 to 1 tutorial for a while last Saturday. Mia is a 15 year old interested in art and photography and her Mum felt that my approach to photography might be something what would help her.

We met on a very wet morning at the bandstand in Porthcawl and spent the first few minutes discussing what she knew and how we could progress whilst the heavens opened. Mia had brought along her sister’s robust compact camera, so I decided I would swap cameras with her. This meant that I was able to set the DSLR up so that she had to use the viewfinder, not the screen and could not review the photos she had just taken.

The first task I set challenged Mia to create photographs that had colour as a theme. I asked her to think about how a camera sees, not knowing the name of anything and respond instinctively. Meanwhile I followed the same task with the compact camera. I was really enjoying the creative limitation when the battery failed! Meanwhile Mia carried on and after a while we reviewed photos at a shelter near the harbour.

These are some of my favourite photos from Mia’s photos

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Mundane can be beautiful

After the review I set the next task and asked Mia to create 20 photos, no more or less, of anything within the vicinity of the shelter. She had 15 minutes for the task, could not see the view screen and was challenged to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). She then, after reviewing her photos, was allowed to choose one favorite. This is it.

It is interesting to review someone else’s photos, see what they like and consider what they are drawn to create and what might be missing. I am looking forward to our next exploration in seeing.

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I did the same challenge, but this time with my mobile phone camera. I do like a creative limitation! Here are my favourite photos from the task.

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Tree

Funny this word should come up today as the WordPress prompt. Last night I dreamt that I was walking along a path with friends and found a young tree in my hands. I turned to my friends and passed it to them. They dropped it and it lay abandoned on the floor.

Those of you who like a metaphor could have a field day with that one. But I was left more with the thought that we take trees for granted. How would our world be without them? It would not exist. We would not exist. Trees are the lungs of the world, the breath of all life.

So I decided to look at my recently uploaded photos to this website and include the last 10 photos that show trees in all their variety, invisibility and vibrancy. Here they are.

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Still Point

There is a still point between the in breath and the out breath. And another between the out breath and the in breath. Each is milliseconds in length. Each is a time when the world is in balance. You may not be aware of their arrival and passing. But they are always there, always available.

The in breath requires us to do something; our body has learnt to drawn in breath, to extend effort and air is drawn into our lungs. The out breath is a release, we let go and air passes back out through our respiratory system. In between the effort and the release, the release and the effort are the still points.

I am writing a book on Mindful Photography at the moment that is about paying attention to the still point. Staying with that moment when all is in balance. It is about developing a way of extending its influence throughout every breath, in and out. It is about paying attention to the effort that has brought us to this point and paying attention to what we can release. It is about paying attention to our life, our choices and the ripples of consequence that resonate through our being and beyond.

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Mindfulness is paying attention

This paying attention has become known as mindfulness and it is all the rage. But whilst it may provide the media with regular column inches, for me it is more than just a fad, it has become a way through tremendous personal difficulties and a practice that is now central to my life.

Mindfulness is intended to be a way of living through every aspect of our life. The suggestion is that we pay attention to what we are sensing, thinking, feeling, and doing. Through that practice we learn to respond in ways that support us, rather than instinctively reacting in ways that cause us stress.  Most mindfulness books provide philosophy and guidance that allow us to apply the practice to our life. They are often written by Buddhist sages or learned psychologists. I have no such claims. However, I have learnt through personal experience how mindfulness can support a greater understanding of myself; my choices, my habits, my behaviours and the full engagement in every aspect of my being.

I have lived through the study, the reading, the courses, the sitting, the dreaming. I have thought that I was applying the philosophies, the practices. I have imagined that I was mindful, that just because I meditated that I was ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. It took ten years before I began to recognise that this mindfulness thing is an ongoing practice. I knew that’s what it was called; a practice. I understood the idea intellectually, but I was not living it. The possibility that you never really crack it, that there is nothing to achieve, that it is a lifetime’s practice was a slow coalescing realisation. One that occasionally seems obvious and at other times remains elusive.

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A Personal Approach

My book takes a personal approach. It draws upon my midlife experiences of choices and consequences, of striving, of not paying attention and of the health challenges that developed. It focuses upon a particular application of mindfulness and shares methods, practices and activities that I have found of immense help.

I do not claim to be a mindful master, but I have found an application for mindfulness and a way of continuing to develop a mindful approach that I believe is quite unique and may be helpful for others. I call it Mindful Photography.

We are all photographers now. Most of us carry a smartphone with the capacity to create and share fabulous photographs of our world. Many of us also have a digital camera. The potential for creating a visual record is now part of our everyday life. My book is for everyone who wants to create personal and resonant photographs: photos that say something of who we are, what we think and what life is like for us. However, it is not just about how to create profound, expressive photos; it also is about living life, making mistakes, facing unexpected events, understanding ourselves and responding, rather than reacting to life’s difficulties.

In the book I will reflect upon the habits and behaviours I developed in my thirties and the midlife choices I made later that impelled me down the path towards a chronic health condition. Sometimes I may shed a little light on the culture at the time, but this is not shared as an excuse for my choices. It is more an attempt to unravel the impact our modern life and behaviour has upon our well being. I contrast these life experiences with the ideas and attitudes that underpin a mindful life.

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Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about paying attention. My life choices clearly demonstrate that I was not paying attention. However, over ten years the message begins to percolate my consciousness and I start to incorporate mindful activities into my life.

Have I got it all sorted? Do I live a mindful life every day, every minute? Don’t be daft. Mindfulness is an ongoing practice. However, mindfulness and mindful photography have changed how I live. Mindful Photography offers a path to becoming a conscious and fully awake photographer, and because we cannot separate the photographer from the person, it also investigates a way of being. Balancing photography practices that develop mindfulness with an exploration of how life’s choices are determined, I will share an intimate and truthful map of our midlife travels, arriving at a midlife manifesto that is my work in progress and could be yours.

Mindfulness has changed my life and developing this practice through photography has been and continues to be one way in which I have explored how I live now and how I can continue to live with authenticity, truth and love. Once you pick up a camera and start using it in the ways that I suggest your life may never quite be the same again.

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Mirror of my soul

It doesn’t take much encouragement to get me to create a selfie. Not only is it a genre I regularly explore, I’ve also done a monthly photo project with FB friends (Beyond the Selfie) and I am just about to write the last chapter of my book about Mindful Photography; and that’s all about me!

So when I saw this weekly photo challenge title from The Daily Post I determined to create a selfie and write a post today. Even though my camera is tucked up at home.

And no, you should know that I am not self obsessed. Any more than the average egocentric human being. But I am fascinated by this thing we call the self.

The Self in the Selfie

There are many interpretations of what the self is, they vary from the classically psychological to the philosophically challenging. But one thing is certain. If you cut me open you will not find it. The core essence that you think that you are, your beautiful self, is not a pearl to be discovered residing in the oyster that is your mind. Perhaps this is what the Buddhists mean when they explain that there is no such thing as self; that it is not a physical thing, not something you can point at.

The explanation of the self that resonates for me is that it is a constantly evolving, multi-layered, and infinitely possible reflection of all that you do and all that you are.

So it seems entirely apposite that the mirror reflects an image of me, but I know that this is merely a physical and momentary sliver of the whole. All that I am and all that I can be resides in the possibility of the evolving self.

Exploring the Self

There is an inevitable consequence of living a mindful life. The more you practice, the more you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, the better you get to know yourself. Sometimes stuff arises that you thought long forgotten. Sometimes you are unaware that you have drifted away down a side stream of thought, far way from the days happenings.

Other times you begin to notice some of your habitual thoughts. Maybe you notice that small nagging voice that criticizes what you are doing, or how you are doing it, or what you have not done! Or maybe you start to become more attuned to how you feel about the people in your life, your job, how you spend your spare time.

I find that it is an inevitable consequence of meditating and practising mindful photography that I become more self aware, more attuned to how I am in the moment right now. And in that moment I know myself a little better.

The Final Chapter

The final chapter of my book is all about the personal photo project I have been following throughout the last 12 months of my life. Every three months I have spent one week creating only one photo each day. Each photo is intended to represent me, how I am, what is happening and how I am being. It is not easy only creating one photo, and I will be sharing some thoughts on how to best do this, but it is challenging and fulfilling.

As the photos build up over the week, months and year a story begins to emerge; a visual storyboard of the year, one week at a time. So far I have completed the practice 4 times and therefore have 28 photos. It is these photos that I will be sharing in the final chapter and telling the story of the last turbulent and marvellous year.

Many of the photos make use of metaphors to represent a thought or feeling, some document what happened and several make use of reflections. The mirror of my soul!

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September – the second new year

I like September. Do you? I like it because it is a start of new beginnings in the West; it feels a little like a second opportunity at the New Year. Another chance to review where we are at, how we are living, and consider how we might change things.

Of course the truth is that every day brings us that opportunity, but we get so wrapped up in the doing, the striving to keep everything on track that we loose track of the important stuff. Immersed in our tasks and activities we forget to be compassionate for ourselves. We only see what we are not achieving, not completing.

Instead let us take this month, with its new start, to stop a moment and breathe. Consider for a moment all that you have achieved over the last twelve months. Reflect upon the moments of joy and love that have lit up your world. Hold gently those times of difficulty and confusion and know that through it all you are loved and that the sun will still rise tomorrow.

Try a little photography workshop this September

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Faye and Jamie’s Wedding

I recently had the pleasure of being asked to be the photographer for Faye and Jamie’s wedding. I have known Jamie most of his life as the son of my good friend Simon, who I have known for many years longer. The wedding was held in the heart of deepest Sussex and we were blessed with a dry and warm day, though it did pour down once we got under cover and there was a little shower as the bride and groom left the church. But that just provided an opportunity for some iconic umbrella shots.

Here is a small selection of my favourite photos.

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An Afternoon Tea Party

It is not often I get asked to create a visual record of an afternoon tea party. So I was delighted to be asked by Liz to attend her joint birthday celebration with her Mum recently. The weather was kind and I managed to survive all the formal photo requirements necessary on these occasions!

Actually, one of the photos of the large formal group is included here because of the tale it tells. It may not be technically perfect, but for a record of the moment when I said to the group, “Shout something inappropriate” and the youngest child took me literally, it is perfect. I bet that you can identify the Mum. Can you guess what he said though? It is the last photo of this small set.

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Cal Smyth Photoshoot

Cal Smyth is an author of three books who lives in Swansea. He specialises in thrillers and one of his stories is set in Swansea, which as we all know is a den of iniquity! I know Cal from playing 5-a-side football at the local college on a Friday afternoon and he knows my interest in photography from a particular photo I created of him after football a couple of years ago. I’ll include it here after the more recent photos.

Cal wanted a new set of profile photos for personal and promotional use, so we agreed a location and date and set to it. The selection I have included here are my personal choices; apologies to Cal if they’re not his!

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Swansea in the sunshine

Canada – The Okanagan

Crossfit Open 2016 – Summerland

Canada Trip – family favourites

It seems appropriate to start sharing my favourite photos of Canada with a family collection. After all the main focus of the holiday was to spend time with Ma, Sis, her hubby and those terrible daughters of their’s. There will be later collections of the Okanagan Valley (the gorgeous area of British Columbia that they live in), Crossfit events (Kim is a very keen member and it was international tournament time) and some mindful photography practices. But first up, the family.

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That crazy Mexican dachshund, Stanley who is settling into his new home just lovely

Kim and I spent a day up at Apex, a 45 minute drive from her house. Whilst this photo makes her look like she is a terrible skier the truth is we were pretty similar in ability; averagely competent!

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Mum will not be over delighted to see photos of herself here, but I have chosen ones not too close! The photo above is of her completing a Mindful Photography activity near the Okanagan Lake. The one below is at the Kelowna Marina.

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The following three photos were all taken on Easter Sunday during the Easter Egg (chocolate) hunt that the elderly kids still insist on doing.

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We all took a walk out around the hills surrounding the lake with Kim’s friend Lindsey, who has a dog business. She had 12 dogs with her on this jaunt.

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Kim and I visited the restaurant she works at, Poplar Grove Winery, just outside Penticton. It is a fabulously located venue with some lovely wines

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The photos above and below were both taken on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. This old rail track has been turned into 600km track through British Columbia. We managed a 2 hour walk!

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Mum in front of her favourite mountain, outside of Kelowna

Laura took part in beer league hockey over the Spring Break. Not sure if that’s the right title for what was going down, but it involved hockey, ice and beer and was enjoyed by participants and audience

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These three photos were taken at ‘the trestles’ in Summerland and star Kim, Morgan and the hound Stanley

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Spring flowers down near a lakeside beach in Summerland

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Those lovely women plus hound almost walking on water at the lakeside

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The irrepressible Laura K!

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Mum, Mike and Morgan at the Crossfit. Favourite photos up next!

A little bit of light relief

I have been very slack of late. Perhaps the unrelenting rain and general drabness has smothered my creativity. Oh no, that can’t be right as I have been posting daily Instagram photos from my phone. No, I have to face it I have just been otherwise occupied.

However, the wall to wall sunshine today got me out and about early this morning, with both my camera and dog. Ah, what a little bright light does for photographic opportunity. I was drawn to the colours, the shadows and the frost on my mindful photography practice.

Here are my favourite few photos

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