Tag Archives: discover challenge

Travel Photography: Portraits

Here’s a young guy I met at the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis.  Love all those rings.

While I’m on the topic of travel photography….Portraits–don’t even get me going on what a challenge I have getting good portraits of people I meet while traveling. Yet, there’s nothing more interesting than faces. Portraits are worth the effort because photography lacks a greater sense of place without them. Sure there are beautiful landscapes, artistic still lifes—food!—and some fun shots of people from a distance but those close-up photos of faces are what really tell a story and give an impression of the folks who inhabit any place—from Minneapolis to Morocco.

A resident of the Acoma Pueblo, “Sky City” in New Mexico.  This face tells a thousand Native American stories.
The concentration on Chuck Berry’s face shows what a challenge it was for the aging rock n’ roller to play his famous tunes.

I’m kind of chicken. It’s hard to get right up close to people you don’t know, but that’s what it takes for a good portrait. Up close, the subject may become more stiff and self-conscious so sometimes I take the photo from a distance, maybe when they’re not looking, and just crop the heck out of it later. If I’m lucky it won’t be blurry.  Ultimately, it just takes a few extra seconds–and a little bravery–to get a better shot.

Not the best portrait, but I want everyone to know I really was this close to Girard Butler.

Also, there’s the etiquette and ethics of portraiture. I’m getting better, but it’s a challenge to ask people that may not speak my language if I can take their picture. Some people just hate to have their picture taken, sometimes for religious reasons. Often, the more exotic looking (or sometimes the more downtrodden looking) the person, the more dramatic the photo.  Am I taking advantage of them or invading their privacy? In Morocco, I was told not to pay children for their pictures because it encourages them to forego school for money-making photo opps.


One way I’ve found to get good portraits is to buy something the person is selling or simply put a few coins in a street entertainer’s music case. And, if my potential photo subject is in business, like a bartender or shopkeeper, they’re usually happy to cooperate.

The folks at Lake Drum Brewing in Geneva, New York, were happy to show off their bar and their beer.
The owner at Prison Brews in Jefferson City, a delightful brewpub right next door to the infamous Missouri State Penitentiary.
I always question how much of a person’s environment to show….


Version 2
…more or less? as with the case with Giuseppe, an artist from whom I purchased a little Leaning Tower painting in Pisa, Italy.

When all else fails, animals are usually very eager to pose for a portrait, no questions asked.

A noble hound at Chateau Cheverny in France.



Home Office Habits

When you work at home, no one knows you’re eating chocolate and butterscotch chips.

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” That’s the caption of the famous New Yorker cartoon in which two dogs are sitting in front of a computer. Similarly, I would say, “If you work at home, no one knows you’re still wearing your pajamas.” You can present whatever image you want to the world and nobody know the difference because there are no witnesses. I work at home, I know.

But now, my husband is going to work from home, too.

I was about 99 percent comfortable with that concept until I read Ben Huberman’s “Witness” challenge today and I’m starting to worry. My spouse usually comes home from his downtown office and asks about my day. I whistle, wipe my brow and say, “Wow, really busy.” I stagger through the kitchen, lean on the counter and say, “You just wouldn’t believe it.” I embellish about what interesting people I talked to, writing projects in the works, and the burden of deadlines, then quickly change the conversation.

In my own defense, I must say, I don’t spend the day in pajamas. I spring out of bed, get dressed and eat breakfast. Then, bidding my husband “Have a great day!” I sprint upstairs to my office, a converted guest room that I call “world headquarters.” My assistant, Mr. Macduff, follows me. That’s my dog, Duffy. Half in jest, I’m creating a facade like the false fronts on the buildings in frontier towns, made to make them look bigger and fancier than they were.

I do my best work in the morning so I really do stick with it until at least noon. But studies have shown that we all have a limited reservoir of self-discipline–seriously, it’s not just me. My reservoir usually runs out after lunch. That’s when I daydream, flip through magazines I’d like to write for or succumb to the siren call of a sale at Macy’s.

But now someone else will be here to see that I’m not working like a dog all day.  He’ll witness all the weird things I do, learn that I listen to strange New Age music, find me rummaging through the pantry cupboard for a few chocolate chips to eat. He’ll see me snoring on the couch, catching the occasional view of “Ellen” and he’ll be standing there when I try to sneak in with the bags from Macy’s. I’m so busted.

Yet, when I think about it, the situation works both ways when two people work at home. What will I witness? This is a man who I think will happily work in his undies. He’s inclined to talk to his computer and gripes at length while searching for affordable airline reservations. (So much swearing, so little time.) Worse yet, he’ll probably beat me to the leftovers I planned to eat for lunch. Clearly, boundaries must be drawn.

So, friends, readers and fellow bloggers, I implore you to send your advice on how to maintain a happy home (office). Write them in the comments box next to this post. Please respond quickly before my cover is completely blown.