Birds of Little Oak Island, SC (1)

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Pair of Ibis

Pair of Ibis                                                      f6.3, 1/125s, ISO 100, 55-200@200

Just before crossing Folly Creek onto the Edge of America, there is a little strip of land called Little Oak Island.  Developers of the gated community built marsh-front villas and beautiful water-front homes.  In the center of the island is a rookery that boasts a diverse population of egrets, pelicans, herons, ducks and other birds.  Recently, I dropped in on the birds and found this pair of Ibis and a black crowned night heron.

I usually shoot my Nikon D-5100 with Nikkor 35mm lens, but inspired by UK blogger Mike Hardisty, I tried a few shots with the Nikkor 55-200.  Birds are challenging and Mike has some masterful images.

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron                                                          f6.3, 1/125s, ISO 180, 55-200@200


man pinched by crawfish

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Photo Projects

I’ve been thinking about this expression, how it relates to my life, and most recently, my work. In a previous post, I mentioned that I was contributing images to the James Island Messenger, our local weekly newspaper. Before long, I was writing stories, creating graphic design elements, and performing general editorial services. It’s exhilarating to use creative gifts, revisit a broad range of experiences, and contribute to a greater good. My work was well received by our readers and the staff appreciated my skills. But, just because you can do many things, doesn’t mean you should do them all. So, once again, I ask: What am I supposed to be doing, right now? What is the life lesson? The answer, for me, is to reconnect with this blog, with A Reasonable Family Photographer.

As a Reasonable Family Photographer, I think telling a good story requires careful research, active listening and disciplined editing. And a photograph? Well, I prefer telling a story with at least one. Here are a few more images captured from of some of my favorite Messenger stories.

[UPDATE: Effective June 16, 2016, James Island Messenger Editor Katy Calloway announced the suspension of the publication.]

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Christmas Lights

20,000 Words in 10 Weeks

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Erroneously credited to Confucius, it was actually newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane who said, while speaking to the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, in March 1911: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

Just before Thanksgiving, I happened upon an advertisement in our local paper, The James Island Messenger.  The free weekly is a reincarnation of newspapers that have served our town for more than a half-century.  The current transmigration is under new management.

The tabloid format presents a modern style for community newspapers in an era when many people consider digital, social media reliable sources of local information.

Posters on Facebook and Twitter reveal lots of personal details (often a bit too personal), but the images and stories are quickly absorbed into the ether of cyberspace.

That’s why I still believe in community newspapers.  My experience researching family history would have been quite sterile without the details I found in them.  Seeing a loved one’s name or picture in the paper is still special—particularly when it’s a good news story.

So, when the new editor/publisher advertised for part-time contributors, I applied. In just ten weeks, the paper has printed 20 of my photos, including six images illustrating cover stories.  Community news fits my approach to candid portraiture and welcomes my storytelling style for events.   In addition to showcasing some of my work, it’s a privilege to contribute to our community’s history.

[UPDATE: Effective June 16, 1916 James Island Messenger Editor Katy Calloway announced the suspension of the publication]

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Family History Keepsake Book

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

In an earlier post I described how much I learned from the research I compiled for a family history. The original project was completed in 2008. It was “published” in-house using my desktop photo printer and presented to each of my siblings in a three-ring binder.  Recently, I revisited the project. I included some newly found information, polished up the photo retouch/restoration and published it through  This little video shows the final preview on captioned with some of the work involved in creating a Family History Keepsake Book.

Inspirations: Generous People and the New Media

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

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Perhaps it’s a reflection of my life experience, but I never cease to be amazed at the opportunities of the new media.  Just think of how the shopping experience has changed since the explosion of the internet.  Successful retailers add value to their products by engaging, entertaining and educating customers.  One of my favorites is Adorama  (where I buy most of my equipment). Another great find is Creative Live, an interactive, free, live broadcast for creative professionals.  Recently, I was particularly inspired by the multi-talented, award-winning photographer Sue Bryce. Generous and authentic, Sue turned me on to a simple method of sharing some of my work. I had no idea how simple it is to create a QuickTime video of desktop work! Incorporating the one hour photo retouch demo into  iMovie, I was able to compress it into 10 minutes.  Amazing!  You can see the full 10 minute video here:

Digital art wedding gift is a Courtship Souvenir

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Boy meets girl and the courtship begins.  Through a series of romantic dinners and casual picnics, visits to amusement parks, movie theaters and quiet walks on the beach, their love blooms. One day, he pops the big question and soon, wedding bells ring.  That’s not always the way but often enough, it is.  And many couples enjoy sharing their courtship memories with their wedding guests.

For this digital art project, I was commissioned by the bride’s aunt to create a different take on the photomontage poster.

Inspired by a vintage postcard design and armed with some of the bride’s best dating pictures, I layered the images with a “greeting” and their wedding date.  To “paint” the fantasy beach, I shot the sunset image near Folly Beach South, SC imported the sand from the shore of a Caribbean island and created a silhouette of the couple from one of the dating pictures.

The couple displayed the keepsake canvas print at the wedding reception.

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Climb Aboard Dream – Digital art project

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Four-year-old Nick is in love with the US Navy Blue Angels—the famous demonstration squadron of sleek blue jets.

Lucky Nick. He lives in Pensacola, Florida—home of the Blue Angels–and just minutes from the National Aviation Museum. There, Nick can visit “historic and one-of-a-kind aircraft, both inside the Museum’s nearly 300,000 square feet of exhibit space and outside on its 37-acre grounds.”

At the museum, his beloved Blue Angels “dive” in diamond formation inside a seven-story glass and steel atrium. Nick sees them eye-level from the Second Deck.  Even better, he can climb aboard the cockpit of a “real” jet.

For his bedroom, I created a poster in the vintage style of  illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith. This Philadelphia artist was best known for her covers on Good Housekeeping magazine, like this one from May 1932.

Nick’s poster is a combination of two images, reworked in Photoshop. In addition to removing the background and transferring the image into a “painterly style,”  I also deleted the distracting gorilla on Nick’s t-shirt.  I shot the sky-high clouds from the window of an airplane – not one of the famed Blue Angels, but nicely diverse in the color and cloud formation.

For me, the finished poster represents the same imaginative possibilities I see in the Jessie Wilcox Smith poster.  To Nick, it’s a picture of a dream.

Preserving Old Photographs

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

What archivists say about the preservation of photographs


  1. Avoid dampness. It causes photos to stick together and promotes mold growth.
  2. Give them a good home.  Above ground interior closets maintain fairly constant temperatures throughout the year and make a good choice for storage.
  3. Copy them now. Color dyes used in photographs printed before the mid-1980s irreversibly decay with time–and fade dramatically when displayed. When stored in boxes or albums they might last only 20 years.  For older photos that we hope to keep for future generations, the National Archives recommends they be copied now and printed onto the more stable color photograph papers.
  4. The National Archives website provides a lot of information about caring for family archives.  

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Retouching faded or scarred photographs is particularly challenging and time consuming, but worth it for a cherished family heirloom.  Watch a time lapse video of my retouching here.

The good news is that since the mid-1980s and especially since 1990, major photographic manufacturers have developed more stable dyes.  These photo prints are not likely to fade over a lifetime–and if properly stored, will last perhaps 100 years.

Life Lessons: Documenting Family History

Photo Projects, Preserving Old Photographs

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The process of restoring old photos is time-consuming and requires an artist’s eye and hand.  But it’s well worth the effort when you’re holding onto the surviving images of a cherished loved ones.  This is my father as he looked when he met my mother.  He was 12 years old.

Isn’t it ironic that the older we get the more interested we are in history?

At least that’s the way it is for me.  No doubt typical in my adolescence, I found the subject a boring mish-mash of names, dates and places, which seemed to prove that people just keep doing the same things over and over.  Greed. Repression. Famine. War.  Escape. Exploration. Followed by more of the same.  Greed. Repression. Famine. War.   Who cares?  Nobody seems to learn anything from it, so why should I?

Little did I know that my youthful nescience was proving philosopher George Santayana’s observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I didn’t have any idea who George Santayana was.  I recently learned the sentence following that quote in Santayana’s 1906 volume Reason in Science reads: “In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children…”  That was me, all right!

My father cared about history.  For him, it was a fascinating story of the human family.  He saw the slow progress of humanity as an unfolding of wisdom. And he understood that the key to success in any era is simple:

Be kind.

It’s no wonder, then, that my foray into documenting family history began with our Dad.  Since I did not begin the process of sorting through the photos and papers until after Mom had also passed, I relied on memory, oral tradition and some original documents like military records, their first mortgage and some family photos going back two generations.

Since I have eight siblings, I wanted to prepare something that could be easily duplicated.  Duplicating the photos and scanning the documents was the obvious first step.  The challenge in dealing with old materials is complicated by the lack of care they have received over the years.  Retouching photos is time-consuming and requires an artist’s touch.

While tracing his family roots through census records, reading historical maps, newspapers and even text books, I learned of our family’s escape from repression and the Irish potato famine, exposure to the Tammany Hall Riots and conscription into the American Civil War.  Subsequent generations were laborers and nurses, some ancestors were sent to live in a ‘home for the destitute’, others joined the Navy—as did my father.  His service was brief, but it was active during the early years of the Korean War. My dad was the first of his family to graduate from college.   On his modest salary he fed, clothed and educated nine children.

The project of documenting Dad’s family history was fascinating.  I learned a lot about a man I thought I knew.  And typically, I found there was much more I would never know.  It was the kind of history lesson that only Dad could give.