Looking forward, looking back

It’s New Year’s Eve, and most of us are wondering what next year will bring. We make resolutions to somehow live a little bit better, and we look back to try to understand what counted most about the year just past. I will start afresh and make my own goals for next year, but I am also thinking that no matter how much planning I do and no matter how much I try to make 2016 unfold in the best way possible, one thing is for sure: there will be surprises.

Looking back on last year, I can identify with a smile the joy that came into our lives most unexpectedly on May 1 — our Australian Shepherd puppy Sophie. As the new year dawned, I had no idea that we would be adding a puppy to our busy lives. Although, it was a major life changing decision, it was an impulsive and emotional decision. It was a good one. Sophie’s sweet and genuine presence has brought me an my family much joy.


More on resolutions later. For now, I wish you happy surprises in 2016. I wish you love. The more you give, the more you get.

The jade bracelet, a family thing.

Jade bracelets are a Chinese custom, but we adopted them within our American family after a 2005 family visit to China. Because jade absorbs body chemistry, it becomes one with you if you wear it 24/7 — thus the evolution of the theme of family continuity in a jade bracelet. Each jade bracelet is unique, yet we all feel a bond to each other as each woman in our family wears one.

This photo commemorates a family reunion with my mother, now 96, myself and two of my daughters — three generations of strong, loving women in my family.  The diamond art-deco ring is another family heirloom passed down from my mother to me.

Do you share symbols of solidarity in your family? Perhaps because we live in different cities and at times each of my daughters has lived overseas. We find both comfort and joy in having our own unity symbol.


My daughter’s wedding dress

Watching my daughter Courtney try on a wedding dress for the first time was a joy. She invited her sister, her dear friend Ella, and me for this special day.  We heard another customer whisper, “That girl brought a professional photographer with her!” referring to me. Funny. Well, she did, but I’m also her mom, and it’s not a paid gig.

Courtney shared this thought about selecting a dress. “All the dresses are beautiful, but I want to select a dress that expresses who I am. You don’t want the dress to wear you. You want to present yourself honestly.”

Do you agree, or do you think a wedding dress creates a fantasy — the fulfillment of a childhood dream, a Cinderella moment, a day to be a princess?

I can’t share photos of my daughter in the dresses. Her look will remain a secret until her wedding day.  But I will share some macro views of the dresses hanging in the sunlit windows of Gabriella’s salon in Chelsea, New York City. I shot with natural light, f /2.8 which allowed me to have selective focus on one dress in the row.




Christmas Lights

WickleyCandles-4944adjLRPhotographing Christmas lights at dusk presents a technical challenge: having the lights just bright enough and the unlit part of the scene visible enough to look good. The practical challenge of photographing Christmas lights is taking the time out of your busy holiday schedule to carry off the shoot, right at dusk. This year, I had just the push I needed: a challenge from one of my photography clubs to submit a photo on the theme “through the window.”

Now, I pass on the challenge to you! (Hint: this is way easier than the ice bucket challenge!) All you have to do is make time at dusk and go outside with your camera. I’ll share a few tips that guided my shooting and processing of my house photo.

My family takes an understated approach to Christmas lights by putting simple candles in the windows of our Victorian house. For my photo, I attached my Nikon D800 to a Really Right Stuff Tripod. (Any tripod will do as long it is sturdy enough for your camera. The best camera for the job is one you can set manually.) I had an overcast evening, but snow would make the scene even nicer. With the D800, ISO 400 is pretty noise free, and I set the lens for f/16, hoping for a little star effect on the lights. I began on Aperture preferred mode for one frame, and then changed the mode to manual and bracketed the exposure higher and lower, so that I could choose later the best exposure for the house, the sky and the lights. The sun was setting in front of me on the left, which was not ideal, but didn’t cause a major issue.

When I imported the exposures into Lightroom, I chose the one-second exposure. It really wasn’t necessary to tone-map multiple exposures in Photomatix or Photoshop, because I only needed to bring the exposure of the house up a little, and the sky down a little. In Lightroom, I adjusted the shadows up, clarity up, white balance toward blue and lens correction vertically (to correct the look of the house leaning back).

Exported into Photoshop, the image was ready for some dodging and burning to lighten the white trim on the house and darken the edges of the frame. Since the image would benefit from a strong darkening of the sky, I used the multiply blend mode on a duplicate layer and a mask to isolate the sky.

One more sneaky trick you may enjoy: Three windows did not have candles in them, but I was able to clone stamp candles in them for a more complete look. Here is my final image.

If you need help making a memorable photo of your home with Christmas lights, feel free to contact me. There is no place like home in any season.


Note: Cathy Kelly is available to shoot your house, your front door and garden in the Sewickley and greater Pittsburgh PA area. She makes notecards and tiles with those images, as well as large prints. These images make wonderful gifts!  For more information, contact Cathy at  cathykellyphotography@gmail.com

Back to Rockefeller Center

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is it the children’s Christmas play? The choir concert at your church? Caroling with your neighbors? All of these activities are close to the top of my list, but my #1 choice this year was visiting Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City.

The “gi-normous” (gigantic and enormous both) tree covered with tiny colored lights towering above the gold statue of Prometheus and the busy outdoor ice rink are iconic for me — larger than life, and understandably the scene draws a solid crowd. I was able to take a long exposure of the tree and ice rink by sitting my Nikon D800 on the stone pedestal and using “live view” to frame the shot and focus. I propped the lens on my eyeglass case (gotta use what you have on you!) The one-second exposure allowed the skaters to blur for a more artistic effect.

RockCntrTree-4965 copy

The pedestrian corridor leading from Fifth Avenue to the ice rink is adorned with lacy angel sculptures, and the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue (just across Fifth Ave.) sets the stage for a clever holiday light show.  This shot was handheld, but I edited the image in Photoshop to de-emphasize the crowd and make the overcast afternoon at 3pm look more like dusk.

I consider myself blessed that my three daughters have settled in New York City. There are so many fun and fascinating things to do there. This year, the balmy weather made our weekend too good to be true. We walked, we Ubered, we ate very well and spent our money. See you next time!


Reflections on a sunset

Sunsets, and especially sunsets over  the water, give us a rich feeling of satisfaction. You may have witnessed the sun sinking into the lake in front of your summer cabin or the sun sinking into the ocean from the west coast of just about any island or continent around the Globe. But why, have you wondered, do you cherish those opportunities to witness this daily event whenever you can? I can think of so many reasons — so many threads that weave a complex and rich tapestry in our minds.

Evocative sunset from Kona Coast of Hawaii, 2012
Evocative sunset from Kona Coast of Hawaii, 2012

First, you may notice the complimentary colors of orange and blue dominating the image. These colors are very pleasing to the human eye. Here, the sun sets at a great distance — as far as the eye can see on the distant horizon.  As humans, we feel a great sense of freedom and safety when we can see a long distance and see that the way is clear and without threats. Without thinking about it, we know the sun as an enormous source of energy, warmth and life. Without thinking of it, we know that water is life giving, always in motion and often signifies the journey we make through life. Without actually thinking about it, we see the clouds in motion, sometimes obscuring our view, in other places offering a window for us to see more light and more color.

We are passive observers. We cannot make this happen. We do not make this happen. Nature is powerful, very powerful.  We are not so powerful.  I am one person of billions on Earth, very small and rather fragile. As we quietly watch the sun set, we don’t have to act. We can just experience the sunset. For a few quiet minutes, we can just enjoy it. We have a few minutes to pause our busy day and reflect. This day is ending. In endings, we see beginnings. We believe the sun will rise again, and continue natural its cycle. We think about Time. Each moment is unique. Before our eyes, the view changes every moment. We can see it: each moment is fleeting and won’t be repeated. Time marches on. For how long?

Longest and shortest day all year

Yesterday around 5 p.m. in Pennsylvania, I watched the a super sun (the larger than usual orange ball) sink into the horizon, which was fringed with the lacework of bare treetops. Alas, it was time to leave the dog park before darkness descended. I thought about how short the day was, and that we are approaching the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, December 21.

For my daughter, who is has been living in New Zealand for the past year, the opposite is true. December 21 marks the longest day of the year. Last December, I visited Erin in New Zealand and enjoyed those long days and late sunsets. In Milford Sound, watching the sunset means watching the clouds and snowcapped mountains reflect the setting sun. Waiting alone at the water’s edge with my camera and tripod until 10p.m., I was rewarded with my first ever glimpse of alpenglow.

#longestday #NewZealand #sunset #MilfordSound
Alpenglow at Milford Sound, New Zealand