"photo essay" #hdmoment #shuttersisters #sscolormonth #ssdecember #sselevate #ssmoment #thewrittenwords abstract adventure aperture archives art autumn babies beauty black and white blur bokeh books business camera bags camera gear cameras camp shutter sisters celebration, change childhood children cityscapes classes color community updates composition contests crafts creativity creatures details diptychs discovery documentary documentary dreams elevate equipment events events events everyday exposure expressive photography fall family fashion featured products film flare flash focus food found words found words framing fun gallery exhibitions gather giveaway giving gratitude guest blogger healing heart holidays holidays holidays home inspiration instant interviews interviews introspection iphoneography iso jump kitchen landscape landscapes laughter leap lenses life light love love macro mantra medium moment moments moments, mood motherhood motion muse nature nature negative space night photography Oasis one word project patterns perspective pets photo essay photo prompts photo walk, picture hope place places play poetry polaroid portraiture pov pregnancy presets printing process processing processing project 365 reflections savor self self-portraits sepia series shadow shop shutter speed simplicity sisterhood skyscapes soul spaces sponsors sports spring step still life stillness stillness story storytelling, inspiration style styling summer sun table texture thankful time tips tips, togetherness travel truths tutorial urban, video vignettes vintage vintage effects visual poetry water weather weddings weekend weekending windows winter words workflow you
« pay it forward | Main | Love Thursday: March 6th, 2008 »

Everyday Risk


Everyday in my little urban neighborhood, I see things that totally delight me. Huge gangsta-looking guys carrying their babies in Baby Bjorns. Salvadoran women balancing enormous parcels on their heads. Little kids hanging out of their strollers hoping you'll stop and chat. More than anything else, I wake up every morning convinced I have to find a way to capture my neighborhood and celebrate all the ways it hums and sings like magic.

Doing so, however, requires that I photograph people. People I don't always know. I feel silly snapping away like I'm some kind of professional when I've only been doing this for five minutes! Who am I to interrupt someone's day for an informal photo shoot? The internal dialogue goes on and on. So, off I go on my walks, camera in hand, coming home instead with 200 pictures of flowers, produce and the shape of a house against the cool blue sky. You know how it is. :)

Of course, there's nothing wrong with this. But I also know that my very best work as an artist comes when I go straight to the edge of what feels comfortable and dive right into that uneasy, sticky place where I don't know if I'm being brilliant or totally ridiculous. That place where you have no idea if anything will turn out all right, where the only thing left to do is pour your heart out and let yourself play. Outcomes and foolishness be damned.

Yesterday, the Universe decided I must be ready for a little nudge in the taking-pictures-of-people department, because I walked out of the grocery store straight into a parade of people singing and following a float down the street--believe me, this is not an everyday occurrence! I had no idea what called for so much celebration, but it seemed to be religious in nature, and the crowd of maybe a hundred or more danced into the street, obviously happy. If there was ever a moment where it might be totally okay for a bystander to take a picture, this was it.

I held my camera up tentatively, as people swirled around me. Can I do this? Is this really okay? I wondered, feeling a little bit silly. And then the older woman in the picture above made eye contact with me and smiled kindly as if to say "Yes!" Just to be sure, I asked out loud, and then click.

With her help, I did it.

What risks are calling out to you today? It looks different for each one of us, and no one but you can tell which shot really represents your leap into unknown territory. That's the beauty of growing and developing as a photographer--we each do so at our own pace, facing our own unique challenges. Is there a particular thing you've been longing to try, but need a little nudge to do so? Tell us about it in the comments. Do you have a shot that marks a first for something new to you? Leave us a link below. I'd love to know what risks you're taking, as I forge ahead with my own.

Photo and post courtesy of the newest member of the sisterhood Jen Lemen. We're thilled to welcome her as a regular contributor.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: Baby Einstein
    Babies are beauitiful.

Reader Comments (47)

oh Jen, such a lovely picture. it captures a moment. i feel as though, somehow, some way i can see into her....the wrinkles around her eyes have wisdom, the smile lines show her history....thank you for this post. its beautiful.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi
This post is really timely, as I have been debating about whether to do the 100 strangers project. I know it's time for me to push my photography in that way, but I am sooooo nervous about it. Thanks, and welcome!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjen maiser
I've actually come across this website by chance and been following in awe for a few weeks. This blog actually expresses how I feel in so many ways. I've talked of moving home and retaking up photography professionally, which means investing in a new camera... which once I've invested means I need to act! Everything inside me urges to take the leap, however the teeny-tiny part says wait... this is too risky. So just as you took a risk to snap a photo (a beautiful photo at that!) of a stranger, you've inspired me to blog more, write me, experiment more, take photos more, and on top of all that, not be afraid of the risk because there may just be a beautiful result! Thanks so much!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbrittany
That is an awesome photo. Such character shown on her face.

I recently took a risk by starting a photography business specifically for seniors (that is the elderly variety, not high school) and hospice patients. I am really new to photography and have so much to learn, so it felt a bit ridiculous to be starting a photography business....but I saw a need and wanted to fill it. This photo is from my first ever photo session. My first time shooting someone other than my family. It was kind of scary. I know I need much improvement, but they were pleased with the results, and that made the risk worth it.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermel from freak parade
Absolutely stunning.

March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDanaB
100 Strangers Project? Somebody fill me in! That sounds sooo great right about now!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjen lemen
What a gorgeous photo! What a face! Thanks for sharing it. Right now I don't get out too much with my toddler, so there's no risk in taking pictures of him and the flowers in my yard. In the past I have done some traveling, and I did take a few risks in taking pictures because I desperately wanted to chronicle my experiences. (Unfortunately, I did not have a digital camera back then!) But while traveling in Japan, India and the Philippines, I think I could come off as a crazy tourist. I think it would be much harder to take those risks here. But thanks for inspiring me to try.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShelli
I recently had a friend who wanted a specific picture but was too shy to take it. I told her I would do it and carved time out of my day to do it for it. I have really been letting go of shyness when it comes to taking my picture. I no longer think it makes me look like a tourist, I'm just enjoying my hobby. I even move things to get a better picture, so I think I have really conquered the shyness hurdle. :-)
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteralli
definitely taking pictures of people on the street. i long to do that, but it scares me to death.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermaya
you capture the emotion {perfectly}.
i am so excited about this post and finding through the comments to this post.
it is serendipity.
it feels terrifying and exhilirating at the same time, but you are so right: "my very best work as an artist comes when I go straight to the edge of what feels comfortable and dive right into that uneasy, sticky place where I don't know if I'm being brilliant or totally ridiculous."
i am ready to take a risk.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpen
What a terrific entry! As I read this, I felt just like I was standing in your neighborhood. How great to see such wonderful and interesting people around you everyday. You have inspired me to be less afraid with my camera. This is something I have always wanted to do. Thank you for the inspiration!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
For me, I am not terrified of strangers, but people I already know. It feels like so much pressure to snap a picture of someone that will see it.
That's a beautiful picture Jen - so many stories in that face.

Anyway, my photo is not a risk, just a question :)
I thought this photo was fitting - it's a question that runs through my mind constantly...
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternatala
That picture is FANTASTIC.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Rebecca
I'm "shy" (ie scared to death) to take pictures outside of my comfort zone (ie my house). I had to take some pictures the other day for my husband of some buildings he built and I literally jumped out of the car, snapped as QUICK as I could and then jumped back in the car, at one I even tried to shoot out of the sunroof! You (and the above comments) have inspired me to *gulp* step out of my comfort zone and not care what people think of me!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLynette
Ahhh...and this is one great example of why I love this site so much. I feel the tug of everyday risk each time I put a new photo up on my photoblog or into the flickr pool. I worry that the photo won't be "good enough" or appropriate; I worry what people will think. I feel vulnerable.
It gets easier the more I do it, and I am learning that yep, sometimes the picture will miss the mark. And I am learning that it's okay to miss the mark. The point is to learn and grow - not to stress about always having the perfect picture.
Thank you thank you thank you for this post. The words and the photo speak volumes.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Eaves
Ooo. This is a good one. Nice and uncomfortable.

Weddings are one of my photography passions. I was never a romantic or gushy girl when it came to love and intimacy, and because I've struggled with intimate displays of affection (especially in front of people) including my own, I used to shy away from doing the infamous "engagement" photos that tend to come with the territory of photographing weddings.
Alone time, with the eye of the artist fixed on the display of a budding romance of engaged lovers... my initial reaction was once a firm, no thank you. =)

Over this past summer I did a senior session with a young lady who, unbenounced to me, showed up with her long time boyfriend to be included in some of her photographs. Unusually, the three of us were alone in the large park we shot, and much to my surprise, I not only found my place as a photographer of love, but I also found comfort and inspiration, letting go of my inhibitions in acting on my passion for my own husband.

I've since welcomed working with couples, and very much enjoyed capturing their affections and adorations from behind my lens. I think that learning to love that people love each other has been very healing and freeing for me. =)

Thanks for the opportunity to share.
Here is a photograph that I took of a beautiful couple who will be marrying in a couple of short months. I’m proud that they are so pleased to have photographs that capture this special time in their relationship, all thanks to a sneaky senior. =)
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlora
incredible shot and your writing is equally stunning and moving. I really enjoy reading about your process and about how you want to be in the world.

I'm pushing myself to get away from a cubicle job and make a living doing the things I most love (cooking, gardening & writing). I'm terrified and thrilled at the same time, and having probably too many ideas that I'll need to narrow down and focus. Using my camera to do that really helps in a strange way.

This 100 Strangers Project sounds intriguing.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
Incredible! It makes me want to know her story. Thanks for sharing!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteramber
this is an absolutely beautiful photograph! wow, those smiling eyes! i love the story and i feel the same but still have not got up the gumption to photograph strangers. (well, one time at a renaissance festival i asked a few lute players, but they struck poses and i was looking more for something so very different, so then gave up asking but then felt like some voyeur) there is something about reality that you can get from a stranger staring at you, it shows you a bit of the world. this photograph really captures all that for me.

thank you for this post, jen. you get me thinking!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercamerashymomma
Thank you, Jen, for this post. I am truly inspired, to take more risks not only with my photography, but also in my life.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTanya
Gorgeous photo.

I'm also apprehensive about taking photos of strangers. But my biggest challenge right now is trusting myself to take photos in manual mode all the time. For so long I've relied on all the automatic settings of my camera. And, I could only get decent shots with the use of a flash. So, now I'm forcing myself to not use a flash (unless absolutely necessary) and to shoot in full manual mode -- no help with automatic settings.

It was extremely frustrating at first -- definitely out of my comfort zone, but I'm slowly starting to get the hang of it. I just wish I was faster at figuring out what settings I need for a given situation. When friends ask me to take photos of them (their kids, etc.), I still shoot some in auto mode just to make sure I get something usable...and then I'll shoot in manual mode and hope to get something great.

Thanks for the inspiration to push myself out of my comfort zone!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercorey (giggletwig)
Stunning shot. Taking photos outside my comfort zone is very hard for me. I do have a few, but not many.

This is about as far outside my usual as I get:
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLawyer Mama
that is a gorgeous picture. I bet she has wonderful stories to tell. I think so many of us, especially those of us that are amateurs, can let our fears take over us. I know I have let that fear of rejection, fear of looking silly or stupid, prevent me from taking some risks. Thank you for your post. It inspires me to get out there and get over those fears!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
Jen, as alwasy, you amaze me. Your words and your photo are wonderful.

Now...100 strangers???????? I have butterflies!!! Can't wait to check out the site.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertracey
I love this shot. I love her smile, I love the wisdom in her face. I love that you can SEE she's inviting you for something-a shot, a cup of tea and cake, a gentle arm in arm walk and chat.

March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercuzamora
Tracey, that picture is fantastic and she is absolutely gorgeous! Do you ever give your subjects your business card or number in case you want them to have a copy? I bet she would love this shot. Did you ever find out what the parade was for? Was this right there in HB? I'm curious...and yes, sometimes I see a picture that can't be missed and if I have a larger lens and I'm far enough away, I'll shoot. Otherwise, if I feel it's okay, I'll ask.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Jen, I am so happy to have you aboard on Shutter Sisters. You, who introduced the phrase "Dismantle Fear" into my life, which is why I was able to join this wonderful community of Shutter Sisters.

I too am shy about taking photos of people. Even of people at my own parties. I feel like such an annoyance going click click click with the camera--and like you said, as if I'm a real photographer or something. That's why most of my photos are of Cadence.

Your photo is breathtaking! Looks like it's straight out of National Geographic.

This inspires me because what I really love doing is street photography, esp. of people, but I just haven't had the guts. I guess it's time to Dismantle some Fear again! Thanks for this post.


March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Ji
That's so wild. When I first clicked over and saw the photo I immediately thought of Jen. Then I glanced down at the byline and saw Tracey's name and was surprised. It was a delight to find that it was indeed Jen's work when I read all the way through. It even sounded like her.

Love this. Will try to act with more courage when it comes to my art!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElaine
so glad to have found jen's website. and what a stunning photo
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAshley
I'm no where near able to photograph strangers yet, my own personal challenge was just getting out of the car. In the rural area I live in, there are no city streets or sidewalks. If I want to capture my surroundings, I must drive. So you'll find me leaning out of the window, slowing (the little) traffic behind me to take a picture of a ramshackle barn or rusted fence post.

My challenge was stopping the car, getting out, and actually asking for permission to tromp around on someone's property to take photographs. I finally did it and got shots I never would have been able to get from sitting behind the steering wheel!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkerflop
oh my......what a great capture. This is also very outside my comfort level. I am so proud of you. I'll get there someday.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCorey
the first time i ever looked at my pictures as anything "more" was my trip to NYC for The Gates exhibition in Central Park. every shot I took i loved, for once i was capturing something more though my lens, this began my love affair with shooting.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkristin
Jen.. we are so thrilled to have you as a shutter sister. This shot is amazing - totally fantastic. She wears such love on her face, seems to radiate with good spirit. Hmm.. funny. Reminds me of someone... ;)
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Absolutely stunning photo!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBetsy
That photo is... wow... beautiful.

I really dislike photos of myself. I actually asked our wedding photographer to pick out the ones she liked because I just could not discern which ones were worthy of print. Sad, but true. My risk, self-portrait. I see that just about all photographers do this. I'm sure there's some benefit to it.

Here's my risk, may not be much to others, but to me, HUGE.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLucy
The first time I was really out of my element was doing some photos for a friend of mine. She neglected to tell me in advance that they were for the book she was writing. The actual author photo, the kind that go on the jacket of the book! By the time she told me, the "shoot" was in progress and even though I'm not a "real" photographer I can't stop the photos in my head once they are there. Mostly, I stick to family friends. One author took me out of my element though.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Massie
Oh my goodness, I am going to have to spend some time thinking about my own photographs and risk. But, I felt compelled to comment because, Jen, that is a spectacular photograph! What a gorgeous, kind, intelligent face! I just want to reach out, to touch her, to shake her hand. I've the feeling this woman could teach me so much about life. All of this from an amateur photographer. Simply amazing!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShalet
I too have trouble invading, (well, that's what it feels like to me,) the privacy of others when it comes to taking photos. I went to Central Park in NYC a couple of years ago and when I was almost done for the day, I saw this beautiful bag lady, all dressed in black. She stood on a little hill like a queen, her bags and clothing blowing in the breeze. Really a magnificent sight. What does one do in these situations? Your photo of the woman in the street is fantastic. Bravo to you!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJudyOlson
my God, that's a beautiful picture!
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTek
Oh my goodness...this post is so incredibly moving. The photo itself is such a beautiful, sensitive portrait that reveals the strength and inner wisdom of this incredible woman. But then when I read your post, tears started streaming down my cheeks. Yes, timely indeed. I am in the same creative space, and now the Universe has nudged me too. Thanks to you, Jen.
March 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbarbara
Beautiful, beautiful picture. I just love it.
March 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterheidi
wow, that made me cry! That woman is breathtaking, you nailed her spirit. I wish you could find her and give her that photo!! This was post was very inspirational, you have a gift with words!!
March 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Mc
Oh Jen! Beautiful capture! I am thrilled to see you here. Now I have two places to visit you!

Thanks you for these empowering words. They are so needed to me today. Once again, you have provided a balm for my soul.

Thank you!
March 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Hi jen. I can't say anything about your photo or words that is very different from the 43 comments that precede mine. This one is very special. Someone mentioned it reminded them of a National Geographic cover. When I looked at the photo for the first time I recalled the image of NG's 'Afghan Girl' although I like the kind eyes and soft face of your subject much better.

You asked some questions about leaping into the unknown and taking risks. Well, for the first time I took a photo without using the viewfinder or LCD monitor because the faces of the flowers were close to and facing the ground and I couldn't fit my body AND the camera underneath them.

For the curious, here is the link:
It's not outstanding in any way other than it's my first time shooting so blindly.

The Lenten Rose is one of my favourite spring flowers that I cannot grow (these were in someone's front garden) and so I was determined to enjoy the blooms beyond today.
March 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElaine
This made my heart sing.

Thank you.

Welcome Jen!
March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Komar

beautiful. you have captured something that has always troubled me as a person who loves to take photos. I am incredibly shy and think sometimes I use the camera for protection. I tend to take shots of things and places and not people.

To ask permission or not has always been a struggle for me.

and the result of your first foray into connecting with people in front of the lens is simply a stunning one.

I would love to have a copy of this photograph for my living room or writing room wall.
March 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpondhopper

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.