Lessons from my Muse

Intro by Cilla; Post by Stacey Woods

Stacey is an incredibly dear friend, whom I met just a few short years ago, but feel like I’ve known forever. We “met” online through the photography world and her beautiful sister, Amy, whom I also adore. Strangely enough turns out we went to the same high school just a few years apart and have so many of the same friends. It wasn’t until our trip to Florida two years ago that I got to meet Stacey in person and well, let’s just say my love was sealed then. She is one of the sweetest and most talented people I have ever known. I feel honored every time she photographs Bret and I and can’t wait for her to photograph my growing belly this summer…and I can’t wait to photograph hers as well:)Not to mention that she has two of the most beautiful and sweetest kiddos I’ve ever met or photographed. Every time her family is mentioned, Bret and can’t help but saying her sons name the way her sweet daughter says it. Brings a smile to both of our faces every time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I CAN’T WAIT to be in FL to give my beautiful friend a great big hug. Thank you Stacey for sharing a little bit of you with all of our readers!

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I started this journey in 2005.  My only child at the time, my son Parker, was eighteen months old and I was absolutely smitten with him.  The way his deep brown eyes sparkled just before he laughed, the tiny tufts of blond hair that he inherited from his daddy, the way his mouth would curl up in a mischievous smile, and his chubby flat toddler feet.  I wanted to soak him up every day.  I never wanted to forget a tiny bit of him, or anything about his childhood.

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When I decided to jump into photography full-force and really learned all aspects of it, I was amazed at how fulfilling it was for me.  Frustrating too, my goodness, until I learned the technical side of this work, and until I learned how to make my camera produce the results I wanted it to.

My sweet boy was my muse.  Parker was my ever-present model, for better or for worse.  I would read books and articles on photography, study techniques and light patterns and pore over photography forums and photo sharing websites… then I’d take out my camera and follow Parker around, trying to put into practice what I’d just learned.  Like most toddler boys, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with my new passion.  He was certainly irritated on more than one occasion, and all-out mad at other times!  He didn’t like to look at my camera while I was shooting, not that I expected him to, or even wanted him to, for that matter.  Parker just went about the business of playing, and all the while, I continued to shoot.  I photographed him playing with his trains, finger-painting, eating lunch, exploring the beach, learning to surf, dancing in the rain, discovering grass and flowers and all sorts of things.  I photographed him as he watched cartoons, as he built towers of blocks, and as he lined up his matchbox cars in rows.  I talked to him, joked with him, lifted my camera and shot a few frames.  I’d make him lunch, play with him for a little while, snuggle and read him a book, then lift my camera to my eye again and shoot again.  I repeated this almost every day for two years, and I actually can’t say that I’ve ever stopped.  There is always so much to learn, and so much of my darling boy to document.  He seems to change every day, and so do I.  He makes me improve.  He makes me better, on so many levels.

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Those early years of “learning photography” hands-on this way, taught me more than I can ever tell him, or you.  It taught me not only about shutter speeds, ISO and aperture settings.  But about connecting with the person in front of my camera, really getting to know them and everything they are about before I photograph them.  About seeing sunlight fall across my subject and watching it transform a seemingly ordinary moment right before me.  About the relationship between light, shadow and mood.  About being present, and committing myself to that person for those few minutes, for that hour, for that session time.  Parker taught me, while being my frequent subject, when I needed to just put the camera down and play with him, to join in that moment myself instead of simply watching and documenting.  He taught me that sometimes, the best photographs are not when the child is looking at your camera, with an artificial smile stretching from ear to ear… but when they are truly connected to you in a sweet moment, heart-to-heart, in such a way that you can’t mistake it for anything else.  He taught me that connection is the single most important element in a successful photograph.

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I’ll forever be grateful to him for being such a perfect muse.  A wise little teacher.  He helped me create and define my style, one that I wouldn’t recognize until years later.  He taught me how to treat my clients’ children, when to shoot and when to give them a little space.  He paved the way for his future siblings to be photographed in a respectful and honest way.  Parker did all of this, without ever knowing he was doing anything except playing with his mama, and  graciously “letting her” take his photograph.

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Parker taught me that it wasn’t just the predictable milestones that I should be photographing… a first tooth, a birthday party, or his first day of preschool.  Those things mattered, of course, but in the long run, what mattered more were those little everyday moments that we spent together.  Eating PB&Js, sharing a bowl of grapes, drawing and painting, discovering plants and bugs, and playing in the sandbox with all manner of bulldozers and trucks.  Our sweet talks while he was engrossed with a toy were so vital to our still being close today.  I was there, and I captured it all.

One day, when he’s grown, he will own this collection of images from his childhood.  I hope he looks back on his mama’s photographs with (mostly) fond memories and appreciation for our time together.  I hope Parker looks at these images and sees my love for him.  I hope he can see exactly what I saw through my mama-eyes when I photographed his tears, his scraped knees, his snuggles with a favorite stuffed bunny, and the quiet solitude of him lining up cars and building his beloved train set.  I hope he realizes the joy he has brought to me, just by his being my son.  I hope my photographs will testify of my love and adoration for him, when words are unable to be spoken and my arms are too far away to hold him.

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This is why I started my journey into photography, and these wonderful lessons will continue to push me forward until I can no longer press the shutter.

undefinedStacey Woods is a lifestyle child and family photographer based in the Tampa, FL area.  Her favorite subjects are ones that she can forge an honest connection with, and those who can make her smile behind her camera, not just the other way around.  Her work can be viewed in her online portfolio (staceywoodsphoto.com), and her heartfelt words and images are often featured on her blog.  Stacey is also a co-editor and contributing author for The Creative Mama, where she writes frequently about her love of photography, in hopes of sharing her adoration for this art form, and the purpose behind it, with others who are eager to learn.

Toni Raper - April 4, 2011 - 9:43 pm

What an amazing article to feature. Stacey is certainly someone to aspire to, this will resonate with me for a long time.x

alison - April 4, 2011 - 2:06 pm

Beautiful post! I think some of my favorite captures of my boys are from our simple, everyday life. Photography has taught me to be more present in the moment, whether I capture the image with my camera or just as a memory in my mind.

stacy k - April 2, 2011 - 2:57 am

I adore your work, Stacey … great article. I have so many of the same feelings with my daughter, my muse. :) She’s taught me so much about relating to people … and timing and patience … and when to just be her mom, put down the camera and enjoy the moment.

stephanie beaty - April 1, 2011 - 12:07 am

beautiful work, beautiful words, beautiful journey, beautiful YOU! Thank you for sharing + inspiring your personal story. i loved reading it. xoxoxo

Ginger - March 31, 2011 - 9:09 pm

Love this article….could relate to it on so many levels!

kaleyann - March 31, 2011 - 3:56 pm

stacey woods is definitely my favorite photographer of all time. her black and whites are timeless and take your breath away. reading this article makes me admire her even more, since I share her philosophy on capturing the everyday, unposed moments that mean so much.

Allison - March 31, 2011 - 3:40 pm

Stacey – beautiful, your work is truly and inspiration, and now your creative process, to embrace my children and allow them to shape and develop my photography skills!

ang - March 31, 2011 - 3:32 pm

stacey i adore you all the more after reading this. loved it to pieces. xo

Holly - March 31, 2011 - 3:26 pm

stacey woods is a rockstar!!!!! i’m so grateful to her for all the many things she has taught me! 😀

Dana McKinney - March 31, 2011 - 9:21 am

I have had the pleasure of knowing Stacey, her 2 beautiful sisters and her parents all our lives. This has got to be one of the most precious families you could ever hope to meet. Her dads family and my moms family grew up together in the same little town with our grandmothers being bestfriends. They are truly inspirational…..I have been learning from Stacey for many years, from listening to her sweet sweet voice sing in church since she was a small child to watching her become the fabulous photographer that she is today. She has taught me so much about photography along with her sister Amy that they don’t even realize. Their sister Trish inspires me so much with her wonderful blog everyday. They are true blessings. I know that I am a much richer person for having been able to know them…..

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