Perfectionism and Photography

In the Dolomites near Ortisei, Italy

These last few weeks have been a mental killer as perfectionism has made it’s way into my proverbial driver’s seat more often then I’d like to experience. It got me thinking about what activities or elements I haven’t ruined with perfectionism. What I landed on interestingly enough is photography, which really has the potential to be a perfectionistic feast but for whatever reason hasn’t been engaged like that for me.

So I got to thinking – why not? As far as I can tell, it was all about perspective and expectations on myself. This more “laid back and emotional freedom” is called “Type B” mentality by some authors (see Daniel Pink’s Drive) whereas I have lived predominantly in a “Type A” mentality until my mid-30’s and it’s been difficult to completely replace, especially when I’m trying new things or exploring.

In the Dolomites

At one time I loved my perfectionism because it drove me to succeed and finish many milestones (doctorate, licensing, walking 39 miles, etc.). However, I realize that perfectionism comes with a joy robbing harsh judge and though I’m not coming from a binary perspective of believing this well-developed quality isn’t good, it’s much more complicated than naming it bad. Perfectionism can be both good and helpful as well as mentally taxing and stressful. What I’m trying to learn is how to approach life with high standards that aren’t paralyzing or joy killers but also stretch and grow me so that the standards themselves become an opportunity for me to learn something about myself. (I HAVE NOT found this balance with writing my book, which is why it hasn’t appeared yet – ugh! the perfectionism there can be paralyzing but that’s for a post on another day.).

Siena, Italy

Recently, I had the opportunity to wrestle with my perfectionism as I explored new territory and skills professionally. My autopilot categories are great and not good, which essentially as binary as winner and loser. Not the creative, exploratory mental playground I want to live in. I do not want to live in fear of underperforming and have been struck by how regularly this can happen to me. It got me thinking about areas of my life where perfectionism hasn’t shown up to spoil my exploration or invoke shame of being a beginner. What’s became clear is my journey with photography has been the most enjoyable learning and “crafting my skill” experience I’ve ever had. So I decided to invite you along this analytic and artistic journey to help me name and uncover the possible antidotes to my perfectionism around exploration and “the unfamiliar.”

Capturing a Moment Fly Fishing with My Dad
Piazza Navona, Rome

Like many good things in my life, my children were a catalyst to improving pictures – after all, who wants “just okay” photos of adorable children! Interestingly enough, this desire to improve didn’t bring with it a fear of shame or self-doubt about my abilities. There was no question in my mind that I was never going to be a professional photographer so I needn’t aspire to be one. Posture number for for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s set – expertise not expected or needed. “I’m good enough” was simply that, “good enough” which gave me space to explore and play without needing a professional photograph result.

Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ

My starting point as a photographer:

Theme – ignorance is freedom for I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Eden and her Cousins — Centered
because of course the subject is supposed to be centered, right!?!

The above represents how I thought every picture should look – centered. Then, I attended a short photography workshop at a mother’s group and learned about composition and thinking about the picture in thirds. I started there – vertical and horizontal thirds but kept pointing and clicking whatever struck me – I absolutely refused to judge each picture by this new framework BUT I did began getting some pictures like this –

I practiced this for many years before adding anything. Posture two for drowning out perfectionism – allow the “unfamiliar” the time and space it needs to become familiar – without rushing it.

Still Working with the Third Concept

Besides buying a digital SLR camera, in 2011, I attended a one night beginning photography class by my good friend and professional photographer, Dane Sanders. I walked away with two different concepts that would later become internalized. Regarding composition – look at the lighting. Notice different aspects of the light in terms of light and dark/ shadow as potential friend. And in terms of the camera, I moved off the auto setting to “scene” setting. I did began playing with all the individual settings (like aperture and shutter speed) but I didn’t use them enough to integrate ANY of that knowledge and felt fine about all of it -after all, I’m a hobby photographer. No need to stress – just play around with switching up the scenes and notice new lighting consideration. Posture three for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s seat – accept your limitations and enjoy your abilities.

The following pictures were taken within two months of the workshop:

Jelly Fish Babies, Oregon Coast
Tiffany Lake, WA
Tiffany Lake, WA
“Not great” pictures like this one are part of photography but by learning some techniques I began trying shots that seemed interesting. In the editing process, my critiquing mindset (noticing what worked and didn’t work) would be turned on, which helped me become a better hobby photographer the next time I shot and could help me make adjustments to get something like this looking “great.”
Sometimes there’s just plain good luck with the subject matter…

As I’ve honed my craft as a photographer, it has unearthed a playfulness and curiosity about the visual world around me. I love playing with lighting, composition, angles with not one care about mistakes or getting it wrong. It’s the process that’s soul giving rather than the outcome and pride of a job well done that’s feeding my soul. Sure it feels good to nail a shot but it’s like the cherry on top – not the primary “dish.” The focus on process rather than outcome is the fourth antidote to my perfectionism.

Pasadena with my iPhone

Then last April, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic Photographer, Stephen Matera, and my learning and play factor took off. (Read about the trip here – Seizing the Moment, Part 2)


I learned about “golden hours” – catching sunrise and sunsets.

Golden Hour Light
Other side of Wood as Pictured Above – Mid-day Lighting
Sunrise – 5:30 am – Val Gardena, Italy
Sunset on Val Gardena from Ortisei

I learned about white balance adjustments which can have a significant impact around color. See below:

Then this…notice color difference
Watching a professional like Steve at the workshop, I got a taste of the artistic eye, skill and persistence it can take to get a great shot. This particular shot took 188 photos to get the lightening strike and even at that I felt extremely lucky to get it.

I learned about editing in photoshop or Lightroom. Due to the skyline, this picture shown above was much darker unedited. However, using Lightroom helped me bring a bit more perspective to this spectacular wood carving up on the top of a mountain in the Dolomites.

In terms of composition, Steve really helped me “extend” my lines because I was cutting things off or not giving them “space to breathe.

Playing with Lines
More Lines and Layers

As I think as evidenced in the pictures taken post-workshop, getting instruction from Steve really changed my ability level on multiple accounts. Since we were together for several days it was so much easier to internalize the techniques and knowledge being taught because I then had to remember the next day what I’d learned from the day before. What’s exciting to me as a perfectionist is that it didn’t turn me in to an outcome driven/ best shot photographer. Instead it gave me more tools to play with, which I’ve done with none of the perfectionistic thinking I’m so used to experiencing inside of me. It gives me hope that I might be able to decrease my self-torture around other artistic and creative endeavors like in my professional work. In this spirit, I’d name the last antidote for perfectionism is getting feedback by a grace-filled expert so that grace and generous spirit around performance can be internalized.

I love following good photographers on Instagram because it helps me keep an eye out for potential shots and helps me get an idea of why certain photographs are pleasing to my eye. Also, it’s encouraged me to be ready for pictures like the examples shown below.

This set of pictures was captured by shooting a snake as it came off the water near us while we were fishing on shore. I began shooting it for fun, trying to catch a shot that was interesting – like this one with its tongue out.

Having my sights on it, set me up to capture this food grab that was buried on the lakeshore sand.

Notice Now the Body Expansion

Some reflections for your own process: What keeps you from being playfully creative? Do you have a creative outlet that captures your artistic side? Does perfectionism rob you of enjoyment or even getting started with a creative hobby? How might you navigate it?

Thank you for coming on this journey with me. It’s a blessing to be able to share.

February Reflections

This month was a blur.  It’s hard to believe we are already into month 3 of 2016.  I swear time is speeding up with age.  It was a month of trips, hockey games, and a front yard transformation — from grass to drought tolerant.

Photo Review:

From this…

IMG_4257 To This….IMG_4237IMG_4246IMG_4213Hockey in Two Different States…

Dallas Stars…

IMG_4314Anaheim Ducks…(A win in overtime!)IMG_4325And as mentioned in my previous post, Lake Tahoe…

IMG_4296Quotes/ Poetry Worth Chewing On:

Don’t Worry

Things take the time they take. Don’t


How many roads did St. Augustine follow

before he became St. Augustine?

— Mary Oliver

What This is Not

This is not just surprise and pleasure.

This is not just beauty sometimes

too hot to touch.

This is not a blessing with a beginning

and an end.

This is not just a wild summer.

This is not conditional.

— Mary Oliver

“Though bias seems like bad news all around, it’s a basic human trait.  It’s part of our wiring for survival, explains psychiatrist and professor Daniel Siegel, codirector of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center….The point is not to get rid of bias altogether — an impossible mission — but to get to know what biases we hold, acknowledge the damaging aspects, and learn to see, and do, things differently.  — Karin Evans Unconscious Bias:  Fear Less, Love More In Mindful Magazine, August 2015

“Self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.  Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

— Parker Palmer

“When the satisfaction or security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one’s own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists.” — H. S. Sullivan

Songs on Repeat Mode:

Beautiful Addiction by Nate Feuerstein

7 Years — Lukas Graham

Hold Me Down — Halsey

Alone Together — Fall Out Together

Ugly Love — Griffin Peterson

On My Nightstand

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

The Meaning of Marriage Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work by John Gottman with Nan Silver

Felicity by Mary Oliver

February Reflections

February was a blessed month with times of meaningful connection and reflection.  I am so blessed by my friends and family.  My life is full, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Photo Review:

IMG_1866I took the plunge and chopped off some locks.

While I realize this is still long hair to some, this is the shortest I’ve had my hair in probably 20 years.  It took a bit to reacquaint myself with my hair, but now I’m enjoying the convenience and look of shorter hair.


I went to a contemplation retreat at All Saints Church with Dr. Dan Siegel.  I love Pasadena!IMG_1948One thing I’m trying to do this year is look at life through different lens and from different perspectives.  Here’s my attempt to do that through my camera (with the wall).

IMG_1951IMG_1947Lil e lost another top tooth.  This phase goes by so quickly.

IMG_1867I actually kept an orchid alive so it rebloomed!!!  This felt like a miracle (albeit small) to this black thumb.

IMG_1972A Self-Portrait protest to God about the beheading of my Christian brothers by ISIS.  This is much too tame in emotional expression but I took this picture with people near me so I felt unable to do what I wanted, which was scream and yell.

IMG_1885This is a picture of some lovely birthday flowers given to me.

IMG_1985I ended this month with a self-directed solitude retreat, a present to myself.  It was really rough.  Take a look at the scenery.

IMG_2044 IMG_2038 IMG_2032Quotes Worth Remembering:

“No matter how much insight and understanding we develop, the rational brain is basically impotent to talk the emotional brain out of its own reality.”  p. 47  — B. Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

“Silence is frightening because it strips up as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life.  It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God.  And in the quiet, what if there turns out to be very little between us and God?”                                                                                     — Dallas Willard

“Perhaps the deepest and hardest to articulate fear is the fear that this God whom we cannot control will not meet us in the way we want to be met.  Sometimes this expresses itself as a question: “What if I show up and God doesn’t?”….In the vulnerability of love we risk saying, “Here I am.  With my whole heart, soul, mind and body I am here, ready and willing to move more deeply into relationship with you.  I make myself available to you, and I will wait for you.  There is nothing I can do to control the outcomes.  There is nothing I can do to force your response or make your response what I want it to be.  All I can do is put myself out there and wait.”  And that is a fearsome place to be, but oh so necessary….In many of us, the fear of not getting what our heart longs for has led us to develop an unconscious pattern of distancing ourselves from our desire in order to avoid the pain of its lack of fulfillment….your desire for God is the truest and most essential thing about you.  It is truer than your sin, it is truer than your woundedness, it is truer than your net worth, your marital status or any role or responsibility you hold.  Your desire for God and your capacity to connect with God as a human soul is the essence of who you are.”  (pgs. 49-51)  — Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence

“There is a trait I recognize now in the child I was then, a curiosity about my own physical composition, an obsession bordering on fever.  Perhaps that inquisitiveness is common to children of mixed parents.  You till, you dig, you paw, searching for bits, scrabbling at roots, eager to learn to which tribe you belong.  Are you more like one or more like the other?  Are you one way when you’re in one country, but another when you’re not?  You dangle from that precipice, wondering where to drop.”  — Marie Arana, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood

“Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil.  They aren’t evil at all.  They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).  And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough.  That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth.  To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.  — Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

“The gospel is for everyone and everything.”  — Reframe video, Episode 1

Songs on Repeat Mode in January:

I Don’t Want Your Love by Five for Fighting (How could I miss this song before?!)

Give me a Song by Will Reagan

Set a Fire by Will Reagan

Losing Your Memory by Ryan Star

Where the Island Ends by Ryan Star

Where will your feet direct you this month?


Vegas, Baby, the Second Time


We spent part of our Christmas break in Vegas.  I definitely had a bit of trepidation before going…Vegas may have lots of kids’ attractions, but it isn’t exactly kid “eye-friendly” if you know what I mean.  Thankfully, it was one of the coldest weeks on record so we saw no one inappropriately dressed!  Divine intervention?  Perhaps, it definitely answered my prayers surrounding inappropriate flyers or attire but regardless, of divine or not, it definitely worked to keep all the body parts that should remain hidden in public, hidden in public.  Even the showgirls on the strip posing for photographs were wearing fur coats!  This mama bear was extremely happy!

I’ve gotten several requests to take you, the reader, through our kid-friendly vacay so here it is.


Day 1 — before we hit Las Vegas:  Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan and Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Hoover Dam We walked on the bridge…definitely felt a bit tingling, not for those afraid of heights.  This bridge is massive.  Then, we toured the dam informally in the museum/visitors center.  Since we were there at peak visitation, the wait was too long for us for their generator tours and such.     IMG_3681

Every day — Dennis cooked us a great breakfast in the room that lasted until mid-afternoon so we not only saved money, but saved calories for those who need saving.

Day 2:  Dennis and I bought the 3 for $57 deal (which was a choice of 6 different options).  First stop, Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.  This place was fabulous for us.  Highlight — Lion roaring at us when were were only two arm lengths away.  You can see where my love is…no dolphin pictures (though they were cool) but here are some highlights from our visit.

Even though lions and large cats are nocturnal, many of the animals were active with the exception of the white tiger.

IMG_3694Aren’t these 9 month old cubs, fabulous?  There was a trainer in the cage playing ball with them.  I will say, the posters have them much smaller so lil e was greatly disappointed and said, these were the same as adult cats.  No amount of “look at how big their paws are, they still need to grow” changed his perspective.  IMG_3739 IMG_3753Shadow the Black Panther — the only name I noticed. Shadow the Black LeopardSome play?!  Again, we were super, super close and these lions roared at us.  We loved it! IMG_3787Since Dennis’ breakfast aren’t supernatural, we needed food mid-afternoon.  There is no better place to break bread, then Serendipity 3 at Caesar’s Palace.  A missed picture opportunity — their desserts.  You MUST, MUST save room.  R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S.   Serendipity 3Following lunch, we went into Caesar’s Palace for a free showing of the Fall of Atlantis.  An 11 minute show in front of a very cool aquarium.  Now this show, lil e loved, being in pictures like the one above, not so much) IMG_3838 IMG_3839Then we called it a day and watched FOOTBALL back at the room!  (Just so I’m not redundant, we watched football every night back at the room!)

Day 3:  Adventuredome all day (part of our package of 3 for $57) and Cirque Du Soleil

IMG_3843 IMG_3849 IMG_3868 IMG_3870Me after the roller coaster ride where even my part is confused.  Here, I’m imagining anything other than puking.  I went to the car and laid down for an hour Laser tag was my next ride choice.  IMG_3875 Frog Hopper…lil e went on it about 10 times.IMG_3898Cique Du Soleil Show.  We got a great family 4 pack deal and saw yet another fabulous show by them.  I’ve seen 3 of their shows and have never been disappointed. IMG_3916 IMG_3930 IMG_3932Day 4: Exploring the Strip — getting our daily walk on in

At the Cosmo — my next car…

IMG_3936The Bellagio is spectacular this time of year with their flower displays.  These polar bears are made of carnations.    IMG_3940These log cabins are made of chocolate logs, mini wheat roof, and variety of candy canes.  They took two people 4 weeks to make.IMG_3958IMG_3941This is the world’s largest chocolate fountain.  Forget Disneyland.  THIS is the happiest place on earth — Jean Phillipe PatisserieIMG_3983IMG_3984 And here are two examples of what made our stomachs and taste buds happy indeed. IMG_3979IMG_3978 This was New Year’s Eve, which we celebrated in our room after watching a Nathan Burton comedy show at Planet Hollywood AND the free rainstorm show (worth missing).  We all stayed up and enjoyed the fireworks coming up from Planet Hollywood.  Kids weren’t into going out in the freezing weather to catch the fireworks from anywhere else so we obliged, after all they were spectacular to us!

IMG_4002 IMG_3999Day 5 – Sleep in and spend the day watching football with good friends who happen to live in Summerlin (outskirts of Vegas).

Day 6 — Shark Reef in Mandalay Bay — FABULOUS (the last part of our 3 for $57)

WAIT — This isn’t a shark!!  Who said there would be something bigger and better?  A DRAGON!  He looks like he wants to eat me.

IMG_4007We love the Long Beach Aquarium but Shark Reef has a SIC shark reef.  There are a half dozen or so different kinds and it goes over and under you in parts, plus the mere size of the green sawfish combined with the teeth of the sand tiger shark makes it intimidating and almost scary — which is what it’s about really.IMG_4035 Now, this was a spectacular surprise, our nocturnal friend here was awake.  I stayed here while the rest of the family finished the exhibit about ten minutes just watching this beautiful Pacific Ocean Octopus.  This one is four years old, which is old age for an octopus.  In order to get food, it must solve puzzles, open boxes, etc. because Octopus’ are incredibly smart and in captivity, they still need to work for their food.  They are also little Houdinis so their tank is the only one that actually has a lock on it!  IMG_4036 IMG_4042 Love Lion Fish.IMG_4050 Day 7: Day Trip to Red Rock Canyon and Red Rock Casino

We started the day with a buffet, actually the only one of the trip.  Before touring the beautiful hotel in the Red Rock Casino.  We’ve already determined we’re staying here next time.  They have a 60 lane bowling alley, a Kid’s Klub, and an arcade.  Also, should we want to gamble, they even have some smoke-free slots.  A real treat in Vegas.

Here is the beautiful lobby chandelier.IMG_4064 A view from the $3000 a night room we will be getting next time.  (Or not) IMG_4065Our second choice suite — $750 a night IMG_4068 My favorite part of Red Rock Canyon besides the red rock itself were the tortoise crossing signs. (Which sadly I failed to get a picture of)IMG_4080 IMG_4102 IMG_4103 Temperatures were a bit chilly — froze the waterfall.  IMG_4174 We did see some wild burros which were too far away to get pictures of but other than that, all the animals were probably around a big bonfire trying to stay warm.

And that’s our trip to Vegas!  We had a blast, which delivered nothing in the way of personality change (see lil e) but delivered laughter and goodness to our souls.

And in the words of lil e, “When I get to play technology, then I sleep better,” the drive was a piece of cake thanks to Tablets and motion sickness armbands.