Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: animals (Page 1 of 2)

Flashes of Perspective: The High Life of Highlights

Glacial_Highlights-AC4x6Hi, everyone! Welcome to the fourth Tuesday of October and this month’s photography lesson. I can’t wait to discuss with you one of my greatest allies in the creation of striking photographs: highlights. There is something truly magical when the sun’s rays illuminate a photograph’s subject at just the right angle. It reminds me of a perfectly pitched high note in a song. Highlights are so important in photography because they allow the photographer to draw the viewer’s eyes to an image’s subject by making that subject appear brighter than its surroundings.

Let’s Get Started

Highlights work a bit like the Photography Rule of Contrast. If you will recall, I explained in my lesson on Contrast that the color of a subject can make it stand out more than anything else in the image as long as that color directly contrasts the colors used elsewhere in the photograph. A classic example of this is a bright yellow subject against a dark purple background. Instead of contrasting colors; however, the rule of Highlights contrasts amounts of light within an image. A subject that is highlighted will always be more brightly lit than anything else in the image (except the source of the highlight itself).

There are three main types of highlights: spotlights, leading highlights, and backlights. Spotlights are the most common and simplest type of highlights. Spotlights specifically illuminate the whole front or the top of a subject to make it stand out from its surroundings. Leading lights are a bit more complicated. These highlights are shown as a literal line of light which begins at one point in the photo and ends at the photo’s main subject. The most common leading light is a ray of sunlight coming out of a break in the clouds to highlight a subject below the cloud break. Our eyes follow the line of light from its start to its end to see the subject it illuminates. Finally backlights light up a subject from behind rather than in front like spotlights. Backlights can be used to create a sort of halo-lit subject or they can be used to make a full silhouette of a subject.

Let’s Break It Down

Front Spotlights

“Gilded Autumn”

“Japanese Red”

“Stone Straws”

Top Spotlights

“Metallic Pinwheels”

“Pasta Illumination”

“Sun Dabbled Dune”

Leading Light

“Glacial Highlights”

“Heavenly Highlights, No. 1”

Backlight Halos

“Crowned Glory”

“Sunlit Spines”

Backlight Silhouettes

“Hammering the Sun”

“Sunrise Florets”

Photographer’s Note

Try to shoot your photos during times of day like early morning or late evening when the sun is low in the sky and therefore gives you a better chance of using long rays of light to highlight specific subjects. Some of the best natural light happens during the 30 minutes after sunrise and during the 30 minutes before sunset on a sunny day. You can also use man-made light for this assignment. Look for narrow beams of light that illuminate only one particular subject. Also be careful not to overexpose your photos. Otherwise your subjects will look blown out or washed out because of too much light centered on them. Play with your camera’s ISO and shutter speed to help fix any over-lighting problems. Also keep in mind that good highlights can appear and vanish quickly so plan your shots so that you can work rapidly and efficiently.


For this assignment, I want you to shoot 12 or more photos using the various highlighting techniques that I have discussed. Make sure that at least two photos demonstrate each type of highlight: spotlights, leading lights, backlit halos, and backlit silhouettes. I suggest using static subjects for this round of homework. Have fun!

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

SCRAWLS: Musings Edits, Alaska Aftermath, Book Reviews, and Other Updates

Ask_the_Owl-4x6ACThis morning found me sitting in my office chair with the sun streaming through the curtains of my window and the air outside registering a crisp 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Talk about a stark contrast from the high 90s of last week! Today would have been a perfect day to curl up under the covers and sleep late, but I think talking to all of you is far more fun.

As I have not posted an update about my general activities since July, I thought I really should do that today. As many of you know, I have been up to my eyeballs in Alaska vacation photos and Musingsshort story collection edits. And while much of my time has been spent on these two major projects, there is a lot more that goes on around the Cooke-Sears household than these. So here is the rundown of the many tasks that I have accomplished and the few chores still left on my agenda for October.

Since the last update, I have:

  • Finished all of my personal edits and completed the first round of beta readers’ edits for the novel Skinshifter. Now I am waiting on second-round beta readers to finish their edits so that I can give the book a final polish.
  • Rewrote two chapters of Dreamdrifter. I now have the rough drafts of chapters 1 through 16 completed and about 85,000 words written.
  • Continued editing and organizing the contents my soon-to-be-published Musings anthology. Anyone interested in beta-reading this or future projects should contact me HERE.
  • Read the Self Publishing Attack!: The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books by James Scott Bell. This is an informative and insightful book about the self-publishing movement and what it takes to maintain your professionalism as a self-published author.
  • Read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. This is an incredible book about the craft of writing. I highly recommend it to novices and experts alike.
  • Read One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke. This book is based on the journal of Richard “Dick” Proenneke, a man who decided to leave civilization behind for a year and a half in lieu of building his own log cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and surviving off the land. It is an interesting read for those wishing to understand what life is like beyond the hum of electricity or the convenience of running water.
  • Read Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School) by Gail Carriger. I am usually not much of a steam-punk fan, but this young adult fantasy book kept me turning the pages with gusto. All that I can say is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is anything but a boring place to learn your p’s and q’s. Even though I’m in my 30s, I’d gladly go back to school if I could attend here!
  • Read the Bible during daily devotions. I am so proud of myself for doing this because I have not taken the time to do a daily devotional in recent years. Yay for a new habit turning into a good routine! By the way, if you are a new student of the Bible, I suggest beginning with the book of Romans and then following that by reading the gospel of John. These two books will help you understand the core principles that the Bible teaches. Also, I recommend using either the New International Version or the New King James Version (NKJV) translation. In my experience, these two English translations seem far more accurate than many others. If you prefer using a devotional in lieu of studying scripture chapter by chapter, you might try my First Fruits book.
  • Posted eight SCRAWLS blog posts discussing different writing topics and showcasing excerpts of my fiction work. In case you missed them, here are the links to the story excerpts from “Chosen Sacrifice”, “Raven’s Fall”, and “What Tendrils Echo”.
  • Posted three Flashes of Perspective blog posts teaching various photography techniques and sharing over 30 pieces of my art photography.
  • Finished several commercial photography shoots for private clients.
  • Processed and uploaded about 35 photos to my photography website. Find them all HERE.
  • Reorganized the website. If anyone has any more suggestions to improve the site, contact me please!
  • Went on a seven-day cruise with my husband through Alaska’s magnificent Inside Passage. Read the blog post about the journey HERE.
  • Culled through 2700 vacation photos to find the best photographs from the Alaska trip. I am still in the process of tweaking and uploading the best, so please be patient with me.
  • Learned how to use my camera’s video recording feature. Sometime soon I hope to include a few videos on Alycia
  • My husband and I visited my parents and friends of ours in Lubbock, Texas and visited Matt’s family in Laredo, Texas.
  • Helped my husband prepare and go through his Walk to Emmaus. He loved his walk as much as I loved mine!
  • Helped my husband prepare and leave on a three-week-long business trip. I was so bored without him that I made up chores just to have something to do.
  • Helped cook lunch after the funeral of one of my church’s members. It was a sad, but good gathering.
  • Took on a part-time job to help make ends meet. The government shut down has hit our family hard.

My goals for the next four weeks are to:

  • Finish all beta reader’s edits for Skinshifter.
  • Continue to pull older photos off of the photography website as I add new photography. I expect to add another 50 photos from vacation and an additional 20 from other photo shoots before I am finished redoing the photography website.
  • Finish the last personal edits of Musings and send it to my editor for final critique.
  • Continue to write the rough draft of Dreamdrifter. I will continue working on the book during NaNoWriMo this year. Since Musings has my main attention right now, I don’t expect to get 50,000 words written on Dreamdrifter. However, I do hope to add 20,000-30,000 words to it by the end of November.

Wow, remind me not to wait so long between updates! If you made it through all of that, you deserve a cookie! In any event, I am off to write some fiction. Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Flashes of Perspective: Saturation Makes Perfect

Egg_Tentacles_AC4x6For this article of Flashes of Perspective, I thought I would discuss with all of you the photography rule of Photo Saturation. Photo Saturation is a very important aspect of photography, especially if you are going to shoot photography professionally. It was the first rule that I learned to use in the classroom and it is always the first tool that I employ in the field.

Let’s Get Started

The rule of Photo Saturation is a simple one. Basically it is the idea of photographing a specific subject several times in order to get the best possible representation of that subject. Many artists and craftsmen will create rough sketches of their work before they actually execute the final product. A writer, for example, might create an outline of a story before he or she actually writes it. Then the writer will take the rough draft and refine it correcting grammar issues, punctuation problems, consistency errors, and other mistakes until at last she has a final draft. In photography these rough sketches or rough drafts come from repeated attempts to shoot the perfect photograph (i.e. photo saturation).

Let’s Break It Down

My personal approach to Photo Saturation is to have a rough idea in my head of what I want the final image look like before I start shooting a subject. Sometimes I have a clearer image in mind that others, but always I strive to shoot a subject from as many different angles and vantage points as possible so that I can create the best quality image. These multiple images are my rough drafts. I always have to stay flexible while I am photographing because sometimes the rough idea that I have in my head is not always as good as the best photo that I actually shoot in the field. The give and take between planned photos and the spontaneous bonus images that I get on-site is the main reasons why I photography so much. No matter how much I plan a shot beforehand there are always surprises once I step behind the lens. Photo saturation helps me make the most of the surprises and the planned shots.

Most of the time I shoot a ratio of 10 to 15 photographs for every one final image that I show others. When I started shooting photography at the age of 10, I was lucky if I had one good photograph out of every role of 36 that I shot. Years of practice, better equipment, and continuous tutelage has led me to have a far better photo ratio than when I began. My eventual goal is to have a photo ratio of closer to 1 in 5, but for now I am very pleased with what I have accomplished.

When my husband and I vacationed in Alaska this last month, I purposely overshot everything I saw. My use of Photo Saturation meant that I came home after a 10 day trip with over 2700 photos. Of those 2700 photos, I will upload maybe 200 total shots to my website. I will be the first to tell you that shooting that many photos for so few publishable results is a bit extreme, especially for me, but doing going to the extreme of Photo Saturation has allowed me to bring back and showcase the very best images possible from the trip. While so many photos from the trip were very good and my photo ratio averaged about 1 in 8, I only want to upload the photos that I think are of award-winning quality. After all, I think my art collectors deserve the best quality products possible.

Last week I presented 14 photos from my Alaska trip. This week I wanted to reveal 14 more photos to further share my adventures with you. I have also included the number of photos I took before finally getting that final awesome image to give you an idea of my personal use of Photo Saturation.

Static or Slow Subjects

I took 5 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Boardwalk Parasols”.

I took 4 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Flower Pack”.

I took 7 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Ice Streams”.

I took 23 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Mountain Ice”.

I took 4 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Sawed Rust”.

I took 3 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Wall Walker”.

I took 4 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Wooden Waterway”.

Moving Subjects

I took 36 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Cumulus Pontoon”.

I took 18 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Egg Tentacles”.

I took 21 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Pale Mountain Moon”.

I took 30 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Steller Beach”.

I took 13 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Triple Starbursts”.

I took 17 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Urban Salmon”.

I took 11 rough photos before I shot this final image of “Victoria Legislative Lights”. By the way, this photo is under moving subjects because I was riding in a bus at the time I shot the photos.

Photographer’s Note

It is important to remember that different subjects often require different amounts of Photo Saturation. In some cases, the photographer may have a lot of time to shoot a subject from different angles and vantage points. In other cases, you may only be able to snap a single photo. This last situation is especially true when dealing with moving subjects such as animals or small children. Do your best in each circumstance and stay adaptable. If you have the time use your Photo Saturation techniques to practice some of the other Rules of Photography. If not, just use your instincts to shoot the best possible photo of the subject that you can.


This assignment will be an odd one. I want you to shoot 30 images or more photos of only 2 different subjects. I suggest using static subjects for this round of homework. Statues or monuments work well for this project, but you can find other things too like architecture. Make sure that you look for unique subjects with lots of interesting angles because you will be shooting each subject a lot! Work until you get the very best portrait of that subject. Have fun!

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

Flashes of Perspective: The Beauty of Alaska

Blue_Fluke-AC4x6Matt and I had extraordinary vacation this year. For our five-year wedding anniversary, we took a seven-day cruise through Alaska’s Inner Passage. We began our journey by flying into Seattle, Washington on August 17. Since our cruise was scheduled to begin the next day, we decided to spend the afternoon and evening exploring Pikes Place market, riding the wharf Ferris wheel, and eating at one of my favorite Seattle restaurants: The Crab Pot. Unfortunately, Hemp Fest was going on while we were touring the city, so we had to take some roundabout paths to avoid all of the drug dealers and their usual patrons on our trips along the piers. Thanks to the help of our intrepid hotel concierge, we survived the ordeal and enjoyed our day’s brief sightseeing excursion.

Sunday, August 18, found us sleeping in, packing, and boarding the hotel shuttle bound for our ship the Golden Princess at noon. Within an hour we were on board our temporary floating home and enjoying the view of the Seattle harbor over the ship’s railing on Deck 14. The ship itself was absolutely beautiful and delightful. It featured 18 decks complete with three dining rooms, two specialty restaurants, a theater, a nightclub, a casino, an art gallery, several shops, multiple bars and lounges, four pools, a spa, a library, a wedding chapel, a video arcade, adults-only areas, teen-only areas, children-only areas, and lots of sleeping cabins. Our particular cabin was in the upper forward part of the ship near the spa and pool areas, which came in handy for whale-watching and dining trips.

Our first day aboard ship was spent entirely at sea. That morning proved especially rough for me since I apparently do get seasick fairly easily. Breakfast proved the worst part of my ordeal and so my saintly husband went to the medical bay in search of medicine, while I stared cross-eyed at my plate. After swallowing a couple of pills to relieve my motion sickness and strapping acupuncture bands around my wrists for good measure, I was fine for the rest of the day. Our evening proved quite enjoyable. My husband and I went to a formal dinner and were treated afterwards to a wonderful magic show, followed by the dance performance of two former members of the Russian ballet.

The morning of August 20 dawned bright but cold as our ship pulled into the harbor at Ketchikan, Alaska. I was on deck 14 with my camera to see the first rays of sun break the mists of the mountains upon our arrival. It was simply an extraordinary site and yet it paled in comparison to the beauty that awaited us on shore. Matt’s and my first excursion in Alaska was a visit to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary just outside the city. While touring the forest of moss-draped alder and spruce, our tour group came across the remarkable site of a mother black bear and her two cubs hunting salmon in the stream. The salmon were swimming upstream to spawn and the bears, ravens, and seagulls were all watching their fill of fish. Our trip through the sanctuary was topped off by having the chance to feed a local herd of caribou and see a master totem pole carver at work. After a few hours of gift shopping in town, my husband and I climbed back aboard the ship and made ready to sail to Juneau.

Our voyage to Juneau, Alaska cut through the heart of beautiful Tracy Arm Fjord. I was on deck 14 and 15 for hours in the bitter cold shooting photos of glaciers, icebergs, snowcapped mountains, green sea, and waterfalls. Those who know me understand how much I loathe being cold; however, my personal discomfort was well worth the result. Once we arrived in Juneau, Matt and I took a mile hike to see Mendenhall Glacier and its neighboring waterfall before hopping a bus back to the harbor and boarding a tour boat in search of whales. We saw not one but five humpback whales feeding in the waters. Four of the humpbacks were feeding together – a very rare habit for that particular species of whale. We also saw Steller sea lions basking in the sun. The surprise highlight of the trip; however, was the moment two bald eagles locked talons just outside the windows of our boat. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear photograph of the exchange, but the image of those two magnificent birds freefalling toward the ocean will remain in my mind for many years to come.

While our excursions in Ketchikan and Juneau proved surprisingly sunny, Skagway by odd contrast was very foggy. Consequently, our bus tour of Skagway and part of the Klondike Highway was shrouded in mist and gave the inuksuks built on the mountain tops a truly mystical appearance. Of the towns we visited, Skagway is by far the smallest. While Juneau sports 35,000 people and Ketchikan supports a few thousand, Skagway is home to only about 700 people during the winter. With the town lacks in population, it makes up for in rich history. Skagway was one of the main gateway cities for people coming from the lower 48 states in search of gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. During the height of the rush, the town topped 20,000 people–mostly living in tents. Despite the cleanliness of its buildings, there is still a rough-and-tumble spirit about the place left over from those earlier times. You can see it in the rock paintings that town artists use to welcome the cruise ships every summer. I suppose a town so dwarfed by the great wilderness would have to have a bit of a gritty streak to survive.

Our last stop before heading home was Victoria Island, British Columbia, Canada. We had little time to truly see the island since our ship docked at 7 o’clock in the evening on August 24. Matt and I ran through the Butchart Gardens as quickly as we could, so that we could see as much of the colorful flowers and plants in the waning daylight as possible. While the garden is lit at night, there really are not enough lamps to properly see the gardens after sunset. I am sad to admit that our tour of the garden was a bit of a bust, but our moods brightened considerably when the garden staff put on an exceptional fireworks display.

We were back on the ship and sailing home to Seattle for the next full day. Once we disembarked in Seattle, Matt and I checked into our hotel room and then spent the rest of our day touring museums, viewing the city from atop the Space Needle, and walking through the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture gardens. Finally, a plane ride, a quick stay at my aunt and uncle’s house, and a car drive brought Matt and I home to West Texas. While Alaska was absolutely gorgeous and I would love to go back, there is one thing that Texas just seems to do bigger than that huge state: gloriously-colored sunrises.

Obviously there are many more photos to come, but I hope this journal gives you all a good taste of the beauty and adventure we encountered during vacation. Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

SCRAWLS: Story Excerpt from “Raven’s Fall”

Totems_to_Sky-AC4x6Happy September, everyone! I can’t believe that we have begun the last quarter of 2013. It seems like just last month I was finishing off my New Year’s resolution list. Interestingly enough, one of those resolutions was to have weekly blog updates instead of monthly entries. Nine months later and I am proud to say that I continue to meet that particular goal. Yeah!

I am also happy to report that my husband’s and my vacation in Alaska was absolutely spectacular! We had a wonderful time cruising from Seattle, Washington, up to Ketchikan, Alaska, through Tracy Arm Fjord to Juneau, Alaska, and on to the small town of Skagway, Alaska. In each of these towns, we had the opportunity to see a small bit of the magnificent wilderness that often makes Alaska so awe-inspiring to its visitors. We saw more snow-capped mountains and clear waterfalls than I can count along with sightings of salmon, black bears, humpback whales, stellar sea lions, and other wildlife. To top off the trip, our cruise ship docked in lovely Victoria Island in British Columbia, Canada before sailing back to Seattle. I promise to give a full report of the trip and show you a few of the beautiful photos I shot later in the month, but for now I’ll give you a teaser photo from the trip.

I shot this particular photo while in Ketchikan, Alaska. The totem pole in the photo was commissioned by the City of Ketchikan to honor the Tongass Tlingit people and depict their story of “Raven Stealing the Sun”. I call the photo “Totems to the Sky”. I think it fits well with today’s excerpt, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Today’s particular excerpt comes from the flash fiction story “Raven’s Fall” which I wrote in late 2012 and saw published by my friends over at in January 2013 as a part of author and illustrator Robert Stikmanz’s 3000 Weeks celebration in Austin, Texas. “Raven’s Fall” is a tale loosely inspired by some of the oral traditions of Native American peoples indigenous to the Northwestern United States and Canada. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had writing it!

Raven sat stone still watching light ripple and flow along the banks of darkness. She clutched the cattail reed tightly in one gray talon and pondered the light’s myriad weavings through shadow into the world beyond the Falls. Could a world of dawn be so much better than this domain of dusk? The red cattail could give her the answer, but did she dare use it?

“Well, what have you decided?” cried a voice behind her.

Raven’s black feathers ruffed up in irritation. “That this is some of your usual subversion, Wolf.”

The gray canine spirit’s tongue lolled out with his yipping laughter. “I cannot hope to trick one so wise as you, Raven.”

The great bird spirit said nothing, but continued to stare at the light winding its way out of their world into the world of light.

“I know you tire of this shadow realm as do I, High Spirit. Would it not be a great adventure to see beyond the darkness?”

“Dawn light has no place for us, Wolf. We rule the night as is proper. Only the foolish would wish otherwise.”

Wolf nodded. “Oh, indeed. I merely suggested you visit the world of light to better understand the contrasts between black and light. The red cattail will allow you to come back whenever you like.”

Raven’s eyes narrowed. “How do I know your words are true?”

“Because you know that I would never wish you harm,” Wolf’s eyes were soft as he replied. She stared at him a long while until he lowered his gaze.

“I have made my decision then. I will go and see what is to be seen. Will you wait for my return?”

Wolf nodded and stepped back to give Raven proper room for her dive into the river of light. Raven stretched out her lustrous black wings and pumped them hard to hover over the sparkling eddies. She then swooped to grab a surprised Wolf before banking toward the river. Into the rolling light they both plunged. The waves washed away their darkness as they tumbled over the falls together…

I hope you enjoyed today’s writing. Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

🙂 Alycia

P.S. – I will be reorganizing website and my photography website through the end of September. Expect to some of the first Alaska photos on the photography website by Friday, September 6, 2013. Thanks!

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Flashes of Perspective: You Cut Off My What! (More Lessons in Cropping)

IronMantisACS4x6Since we dealt with cropping in the last post, I think it is time for a little anatomy lesson in photography. When shooting people and animals, photographers must pay attention to where they crop their subjects. The reason why has to do with, believe it or not, amputation. Have you ever seen a photograph in which a person’s chest and neck are visible, but her head has been accidentally “cut off”? I have. In fact, that was one of my first photos that I took of my mother. I was about eight years old at the time, but I kept that photo in my scrapbook until well into my teens to remind myself to be nice to my subjects and not amputate their faces.

The bodies of living organisms have natural breaks. These breaks exist because we need joints to help us move. I couldn’t imagine going through life without an ankle, neck, elbow, wrist, or waist. If my bones are my body’s structure, then joints are my physical form’s means of flexibility. I can’t function without having both of these characteristics and neither can my photos.

Let’s Get Started

So how do we photographers achieve a well-cropped photo without making our subjects look amputated? The short answer is that we avoid cropping at the body’s joints. While most people are probably not going to commit my cardinal sin of cutting off their mothers’ heads in photographs, many people do tend to chop off others’ feet. It is almost like we are so focused on getting the rest of a person in the photo that we forget about including the foundation on which they stand.

Let’s say that I want to shoot a portrait of an actress walking down the red carpet at a movie premier. She is wearing the latest fashions from her perfectly quaffed hair to her breathtaking gown to her stunning shoes. I set up my camera to shoot a vertical photo of her curving silhouette and click the button. The resulting shot is gorgeous, endearing, and sure to be a fan favorite except for one thing: I left out her shoes. She was wearing one-of-a-kind lace and satin pumps and I cut off her feet at the ankles. Now she looks amputated and I look to be fired.

My sudden unemployment as a photographer will happen if I: crop out the actress’s feet at the ankles, her legs at the knees, her upper body at the waist, her arms at the wrists or elbows, or her head at the neck. Why? Because instead of following the photography rule of Leading Lines, I instead broke up the photo by cropping at natural body joints.

If I want to make my photos of the actress outstanding so that I can keep my job, then I need to shoot sections of her body that are cropped where there are no natural breaks and joints. I can shoot a dynamic vertical headshot showing of her latest hairdo, makeup, and jewelry by cropping at her shoulders so that all of her head and neck are shown. I can shoot a photo of her cute short dress by cropping midway up her thighs or at the mid-part of her calves. These crop techniques allow the actress’s body’s lines to still “flow” out of the photo without any jarring sense of amputation.

Animal photos follow the same basic principle as people shots. Do not crop your photos at a narrow part of an animal’s body like a joint. Instead try to crop in a wider part of the body such as at mid thigh or shoulder. Cropping flowers within a photo are usually harder to accomplish because most flowers are round. However, they can be successfully cropped at the widest parts of the flower’s petals if at least one full petal is shown in the photo. Please see my photos below for examples of this.

Let’s Break It Down


Cropping the legs of this gentleman at the thighs instead of the knees, allows the viewer to pay more attention to his upper body with worrying about where his lower legs or feet have gone.

I cropped this strange beauty a bit below her shoulders so that viewers would pay attention to her facial expression and her towering headdress. I did not bother showing all of her headdress because the narrowing lines of its silhouette allow the viewer to imagine that it eventually does taper to a point at the end.

During the Pecos High School Class of 1979 Reunion, I shot the hostess as she made drinks for guests. I cropped the photo so that it showed the relationship between the hostess, her actions, and the guests outside her bar’s window.


“Egret Alphabet”
This body crop allows the viewer to focus more on the graceful curve of the bird’s head and neck without being distracted by its body.

“Iron Mantis”
Okay, technically this is photo subject is an object, but I am putting it in the animal category because it is modeled after a praying mantis insect. This photo shows how you can crop the arms and chest of an upright-walking creature without “amputating” them.

“Red Roos”
Cropping in the middle of this kangaroo’s stomach allows me to use the line of his back to point viewers’ eyes to the most important part of his body: his head.

Flowers and Plants:

“Agave Spikes in Autumn”
The agave cactus’s spines are cropped at their widest width to help the viewer realize that the plant does extend past the frame of the photo.

“Bloom’s Blush”
Both the full and the cropped petals of this lotus bloom all seem to point back to its center, which is the flower’s most important part because it visually holds everything else together.

A single petal is shown in its entirety while the others are cropped close to their widest widths.

“Red Stalk”
The plant stalk in the background is shown in its entirety to help balance out the close cropping of the stalk in the foreground.


“Aqua Dust”
I have shown this photo to you in my previous post, but I want to show it again to really emphasis the relationship that cropping has with the width of a subject. By cropping at the widest part of the bottle, I have subtly drawn the viewer’s eye along the subject’s curving form into and out of the photograph. This allows the viewer to realize that there is more to the subject than what is just in the photo itself.

“Tread and Tendril”
See how the center of the wheel is in the center of the photo and in sharp focus, but the sides of the tire are shaved? This is a fun cropping trick to try when you really want viewers to pay attention to the round center of a circular subject (i.e. the circle within a circle).

Photographer’s Note

Remember that while cropping is a way to help eliminate the unnecessary extra details of a scene, it is also an aid to viewers’ imagination. I liken a well-cropped photo to a mystery novel. A good mystery novel weaves together a full story by sprinkling clues for the reader to find and use to solve the story’s crime. When a photo is correctly cropped, it too can hold mystery for the viewer. While the viewer may not see the entire scene in a cropped photo, there are enough hints left on the edges of the photo to help him or her fill in the gaps of the photo’s story.

Keep these points in mind as you begin your homework. And by all means, please refer back to my lesson on Leading Lines if you need to refresh your memory before shooting your own photos.


Shoot 20 images or more focusing on correctly cropping different parts of the body. Since I usually do not focus specifically on people, try creating at least 15 people portraits for this assignment. The other five can be animals, flowers, or objects. Challenge yourself by looking for and cropping things that are oddly shaped. Have fun and experiment. You can shoot vertical or horizontal shots for this assignment, but remember that long thin subjects (like people and trees) usually show best in vertical photos while short wide subjects (like cows or tables) show best in horizontal shots.

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

Flashes of Perspective: Get Ready for Your Close Up

Today I thought that we would discuss the photography rule that is, for some people, way too personal: close-ups. The idea behind the photographic close-up is a simple one. Basically the photographer zooms in on the intended subject so that that subject fills the photographic frame and becomes the largest object within the photo.

Let’s Get Started

Think about the close-up like this: you are standing in the middle of a field of wildflowers and you want to look at just one daisy. So how do you accomplish that? You survey the field for the one flower you really want to study and you walk over, crouch down, and inspect that one daisy up close. The whole act is simple, obvious even. But for some reason, people did not always follow this instinct when they have a camera in their hands. Instead they tend to zoom out and placed their subject in the middle of a very large scene. That is fine if your subject is a mountain, but not so useful if it is a daisy or an insect or even a human.

My suggestion for every budding photographer is, when in doubt, zoom in. So what will zooming in accomplish? Well, first, if the subject is the largest thing in the photo, then it will be easily noticed by the viewer. Having the subject fill the frame in this way works especially well to help minimize distraction from a busy and cluttered background. Second, when dealing with multiple subjects in a single photograph, you can make viewers understand which subject is the most important by making it the largest in the picture.

Some photographers take this technique to extremes and focus almost solely on getting close-ups of small subjects. These artists are known as macro photographers. Macro photographers essentially do the exact opposite of landscape photographers. Whereas landscape photographers tend to zoom out with their cameras so that they can capture as much of the scene around them as possible, macro photographers tend to zoom in on a single, small subject to examine every minute detail of that subject with their camera lens. Macro photography often requires the use of special macro lenses to capture all of the details of a subject, which is why I do not have many personal examples of it (since I currently do not own a macro lens). Primary subjects of macro photography include small insects, plants, flowers, and objects. You can also shoot macro photography of parts and pieces from larger subjects, such as the eye of a horse or the bark of a tree.

Let’s Break It Down


“Thistle Fractures”

“Nectar Cup”

“Two Tone Susan”

“Aqua Dust”


“Virgin Beauty”

Macro photography:

“The Pollinator”

“Coiled In Wait”

“Pine Flakes”

“Lacy Anticipation”

Photographer’s Note

Because of its emphasis on detail, pattern, and texture, macro photography can create uniquely beautiful results. However, something to note, whether shooting simple close-ups or the extreme version of close-ups with macro photography, a narrow depth of field (i.e. having only one small area in hard focus) is unavoidable. This actually causes a nice result because the photo’s background will appear totally out of focus while your main subject is in focus. This means you will not have to worry too much about what’s going on behind your subject as long as nothing in the background is too distracting or jarring (i.e. more colorful, heavily textured, etc. than your main subject). If needed, please see my post on “Flashes of Perspective: Selective Focus Meets Depth of Field” to review how to use the rules of selective focus and depth of field in your photos before attempting this assignment.

For more information on macro photography, I suggest reading National Geographic’s
macro photo tips or Macro Photography Tips with Example Photographs and Images by Tanya Puntti


Shoot 15 images or more with at least five photos being macro shots. You can stage a few shots with found objects if you wish, but please go out and shoot natural elements like the insects, flowers, tree bark, animal eyes, and other things that I have previously mentioned to round out your photography experience. Remember that the way you light your subjects will be even more important than usual because these subjects are so small. You will need more light when working with smaller objects then you will with larger objects. The camera’s ISO will help with increased light sensitivity as will the shutter speed and aperture settings. Also, when trying to shoot subjects like insects, it is best to do so early in the morning when cool temperatures make them a little slower and, therefore, easier to photograph.

I’ll discuss the finer points of how to crop your close-ups in the next post. Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia

Ink Blots and Tea Stains: Valentines, Secrets, and Chapter Shuffles (Archive)

LeafLove4x6ACSFirst of all, I apologize for posting this blog on Wednesday instead of its regular scheduled debut on Monday. Between travel and internet crashes, I am finding it next to impossible to meet deadlines this week. All that being said, Happy Valentine’s Day early! I have two special surprises as my Valentine’s Day gifts to you all: the first is a short story recently published as part of the 3000 Weeks festival, the second is more information about my top secret project for you all.

This weekend saw me participating in an outdoor arts and crafts show in the small town of Boerne just northwest of San Antonio, Texas. The weekend before that my husband and I went to Abilene, Texas to check on my granddaddy (Mom’s dad) after his surgery. As of this post, Granddaddy is in good health and better spirits after undergoing a risky procedure and passing through that gauntlet with flying colors. The last weekend of January found me in Austin, Texas, for the 3000 Weeks Festival hosted by my dear friend Robert Stikmanz. I have also traveled to and from Midland twice and expect to make another trip early next week. There was the possibility that I would have to go to California for a funeral, but that trip has since been cancelled with the family’s consent due to monetary constraints.

The 3000 Weeks Festival was a special time for me because it included over 50 different artists, authors, and musicians whose lives have all brushed paths with Robert’s. While some of the experimental music and art was not my cup of tea, I found the company inspiring nonetheless. Likewise, even though Boerne Market Days proved a poor show for me in terms of sales, I learned much from the other booth vendors. I am grateful that I learned so much at both venues.

For those of you interested in reading a brand-new short story created especially for the 3000 Weeks event, you can find it here at the website. The piece is called “Raven’s Fall” and it is a bit of an an ode to certain Native American creation myths. You can find it be going to and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

Oh, and speaking of stories, my Dreamdrifter novel has caused me no end of grief for the past fortnight. While driving home from Austin, I spent several hours trying to determine why I was having writer’s block during the previous week. It finally dawned on me that I had solved a problem between two characters too early in the book and thus destroyed the underlying tension that had helped propel the plot. The solution for this, of course, was to play story plot shuffle with chapters 13 through 16. I absolutely did not want to do that, but it was the only way to solve the problem of relieving tension within the story a little too quickly. So I spent most of the next week reorganizing book scenes in chapters 13 through 21 and followed it up with lots of rewriting to fill the gaps in between those reorganized scenes last week and this week. While the work has been difficult, I think the end result will be worth all of the sweat and tears.

In other news, I continue work on the “Zoo Tales” short story and hope to add it as part of my top-secret project for you guys, which I am proud to announce is an all new e-book! This e-book will be a special collection of short stories, photographs, drawings, and poetry exclusively available for FREE to my most loyal fans. I am pleased to unveil the title of this new body of work; it will be called Musings. I am asking all of you for your help with this project. To make it truly special, I would like you to tell me what type of stories you would like to read within this collection. Your feedback will help me create the tone of this project, so please email, tweet, and/or post your comments and help me make this collection the best body of work I can.

Thank you all so much for your help and dedication. Until we meet again, may your ink blots be liberal and your tea stains tiny.

[~]D Alycia

Ink Blots and Tea Stains: Dullahan and an Uncommon Cold (Archive)

NightmareHorseAC4x6The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day have been miserable. On Christmas Eve I was diagnosed with a sinus infection that left me sniffling and sneezing and all but bedridden at my parents’ house throughout the Christmas holidays. Then the next weekend my in-laws showed up on our doorstep to bring the second half of Christmas cheer, at which I continued to cough. I was finally able to breathe through my nose around midweek last week. All that said, this Christmas and New Year’s season has been far better than the same time last year in which I had to bury my grandfather and almost bury my best friend within three weeks of each other.

Despite my fortnight affliction, I did to enjoy both Christmases and even managed to clean our house between visits. I did not, however, have a chance to repaint the master bathroom. That little project is on the back burner until I can comfortably breathe through a paint mask once again.

On the writing front, I continue progress on the novel Dreamdrifter. I have also begun a new short story tentatively titled “Zoo Tales.” I am very excited about this new project because I believe the “Zoo Tales” concept is large enough to encompass a series of short stories.

We have seen snow twice in the past two weeks and that has afforded me a couple of photography opportunities close to home. While I have not had the chance to process or upload any of those photos yet due to sickness and an abysmal Internet connection, I do hope to share them with you in the coming weeks. By the way, for those interested, my work will be among those featured in Austin, Texas, as part of the 3000 Weeks celebration hosted on and featured at 8PM on January 26, 2012 at Kick Butt Coffee Music and Booze (located at 5775 Airport Blvd in Austin, TX).

Now, let us move on to today’s Creature Profile:

Creature Profile: Dullahan

Real or Imagined: Both

In Mythology:

The dullahan, also known as the far dorocha or Crom Dudh, originally comes to us from Irish legend. This dangerous fairy creature is said to appear as a headless man riding a black horse through the countryside. The headless rider usually holds his decapitated head in one hand or ties it by its hair to the pommel of his saddle. The head itself is often described as having the texture of stale bread or moldy cheese and has a huge use grin splitting the ugly face from ear to ear. The head also shines with the phosphorescent glow of decaying matter and is therefore used as a lantern by its carrier. As if this wasn’t frightening enough, the dullahan has the ability to call the name of the person whose death it heralds. It can also stop on the very spot where a person will die. Some believe that the dullahan is linked to the ancient Celtic fertility god Crom Dubh or Black Crom who is worshiped in Ireland through the decapitation of human sacrifices.

In literature and entertainment:

One of the most popular references to dullahan comes to us from Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, in which a local village man dresses up as a headless horseman carrying a flaming jack-o-lantern to scare off the village visitor Ichabod Crane so that he would cease his courtship of a certain beautiful and rich lady. I grew up with the Disney film adaptation of the short story; however, there is also a live action version of the story starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.

Another story loosely based on the dullahan legend is that of the light novel series, manga, and anime television series all named “Durarara”.

Despite the popularity of these two stories, there are relatively few other references to the original dullahan legend found in popular literature and entertainment. Even my own book Skinshifter, tweaks the dullahan legend some of these fierce dark creatures are the result of Turned centaurs (undead centaurs). Also known in my series as Gan Ceann, Dullahan are Turned centaurs whose decapitated head is speared on a pike and carried by its body as a way to hunt prey more efficiently due to its supernatural sight.

In Reality:

Dullahan is the name of a thoroughbred racing horse, which is one of the contenders for the Kentucky Derby. By Even the Score, Dullahan was bred in Kentucky by Phil & Judy Needham and Bena Halecky out of the unraced Smart Strike mare Mining My Own. Dullahan finished first at Toyota Blue Grass on April 14, 2012, and second at Palm Beach on May 11, 2012.

For more information about centaurs, please see the following links:

The dullahan as a mythological creature:
-“A Field Guide to Irish Fairies” by Bob Curran (

The dullahan in literature and entertainment:

The dullahan in reality:

Until we meet again, may your ink blots be liberal and your tea stains tiny.

[~]D Alycia

Ink Blots and Tea Stains: Centaurs and the Alpine Artwalk (Archive)

IronMantisACS4x6This weekend saw my expedition to Alpine, Texas, for the Alpine Artwalk. I joined my friend Kip Piper ( just in time for Saturday’s evening parade. We saw many different art cars, eat fried fair food, and shopped the night away at multiple artists’ booths and galleries. I had the chance to catch up with my artist friends Deborah Allison ( and Petei Caroler ( at their respective art gallery niches as well as purchase a beautiful copper chainmail bracelet from Anne VanLoon ( I had a wonderful time and hope to journey back next year as both a customer and an featured artist.

As we strolled in and out of shops and stands, Kip and I discussed multiple strategies for improving business workflow and efficiency. One of our discussions centered around speech recognition software and its many uses in office productivity. Because of that conversation, I am dictating rather than typing my blog to you today. I am using e-speaking software for this particular blog entry and while I find its speech recognition somewhat coarse with the first day’s trial, I believe it will improve over time. I chose this software over others because while its speech recognition was not as accurate as its competitors, the software was far less expensive than others on the market. Thus far it has shown excellent speech learning capabilities and has already improved its dictation capabilities as I write.

In other news, I continue my participation in NaNoWriMo this year. So far, I have written over 15,500 words on Dreamdrifter, which is several thousand short of NaNo’s usual mid-month 30,000 words goal. Despite the low quantity, I am extremely happy with the quality of the content written thus far and consider that to be far more important. Hopefully, I will be able to complete writing my personal goal of 30,000 new words on the manuscript by the end of the month. We shall see what happens.

I am extremely excited about my current art projects. I continue to upload multiple graphic art templates to my Zazzle art gift store. In the past two weeks, I have uploaded seven templates to my Zazzle site store including: “Feeling Kiwi Green,” “Lady Slipper Orchid,” “I Heart Horses,” “Martinis are Comfort Food,” “Crying Monkey in Clock Faces,” Coffee is Comfort Food,” Beer is my Comfort Food.” By the time this blog entry is posted, my photos from Balmorhea, Texas, Fort Davis, Texas, Alpine, Texas, and Marfa, Texas, will be up on the photography website. I look forward to your comments and critiques on all of the new work.

Now, let us move on to today’s Creature Profile:

Creature Profile: Centaur

Real or imagined: Imagined

In mythology:

The centaurs found in Greek mythology are male creatures that are part human and part horse, which are usually portrayed with the torso and head of a human and the body of a horse. Centaurs are the followers of the wine god Dionysus and are well known for drunkenness and debauchery.

In literature and entertainment:

Centaurs seem to be a relatively common creature among modern fantasy stories and games. They are featured in games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. They also appear in books such as the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling or Divine By Mistake (Partholon #1) by P.C. Cast. In Harry Potter’s world, centaurs are portrayed more as wise seers and astrologers than drunken beasts. Indeed one of them even becomes a regular teacher at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. In my own book Skinshifter as well as in the rest of the Metamorphosis book series, centaurs appear as a migratory race with various clans sharing the Shara Plains east of the Nyghe sol Dyvesé mountain range in relative peace with each other and other races. My centaurs are a bit different from the usual mythological creatures in that they actually have the torso and head of a nymph with the body of a horse instead of a human’s upper body. Male centaurs are bigger than females with a long mane running from the top of their heads to the base of their torsos while females have manes only on their heads. Centaurs are in my literary world are far kinder than those of the original myths. Their numbers produce many gifted warriors, politicians, and magic-wielders. Mages are usually either skinshifters or sproutsingers. Turned centaurs—that is undead centaurs—are called dullahan (a creature which I will explain in a later post).

In reality:

Centaurs are almost impossible to track down in reality unless one considers a diversified engineering company in Cambridge, England, an Indiana-based horse-racing/casino business, or a band from Virginia as part of his or her search (which I don’t).

For more information about centaurs, please see the following links:

The centaur as a mythological creature:

The centaur in literature and entertainment:

The centaur in reality:
(The band)
(The engineering company)
(The horse-racing/casino business)

Until we meet again, may your ink blots be liberal and your tea stains tiny.

[~]D Alycia

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