FAMILY PHOTOS – Marilyn & Garry Armstrong

It was a lovely day and we went to take pictures. But there wasn’t anything going on in the parks. It was hot — as it has been all month — and everyone is staying home with their air-conditioning.

So we took pictures of each other. We were, after all, the only people there.

Garry, upward


In black & white

Figuring out why the lens isn’t zooming


On the green lawn

Still Garry

Finally, a proper focus!

We got some nice pictures, but our plans for a cool day didn’t work out all that well. Our car ONLY went up to 99 degrees and after we started driving, it dropped down to 92. Not exactly comfortable. But we keep hoping and they keep promising!


THREE OF A KIND – OR VERY CLOSE – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Three of a Kind

Last week, it was the rule of three, but this week, it’s three of a kind. This is pretty easy because I take the same pictures over and over hoping at least one of them will be perfect.

Nothing is ever perfect!

I was lucky. Garry actually liked all of these and a few others too.


Look what that MELANIE B CEE gave me? What a sweetheart! That’s not a white elephant. That’s a saving grace!

From Melanie:

Okay, my gift recipients are … cough, cough … VICTIMS … cough, cough, cough …are the following: Marilyn (yeah I’m picking on you today). I hope you can use this.  I know I could! HEY SANTA?? You taking notes??!


A giant Christmas stocking full of cash is no white elephant!

Is there enough money to repoint the chimney? Replace the kitchen window? Maybe even replace ALL the windows!

Oh, thank you thank you thank you!

Since so many of the people with whom I am online friends, what I will give all of you is a year of health, free of fear. Where no one hates you, no one is cruel. Where you can do what you enjoy and feel free and happy while you do it! To all of you on this first evening of Chanukah … be full of joy!

This is a joyous time of year and I send you all kisses and hugs and every sort of good feelings. May your books sell, your dogs and cats be healthy, and all your remaining parts work almost like new!

And just to keep this fun, here are some portraits of the many animals on the Commons yesterday during the preparation for the parade. Goats, sheep, and Vicuna! And one photographer.

The prettiest goat!

He could come to our place and keep my weeds cut … or at least, chewed

A very attractive sheep

And some vicuna,, a little abstract to blur faces

And one last portrait … and a reminder that — AGAIN — we will be gone all day at the audiologist at the hospital because it’s Garry’s three -month audiological checkup. There are going to be a lot of tests and a lot of tune-ups of all the equipment.

Lots of domination games in the pen. Reminds me of home!

And yes, I WILL  bring a camera this time. If I don’t have time to visit your blog, please forgive me.

It’s just going to be that kind of month. Doctors, vets, and actually a few cool parties that are long drives from here, but we’re going to try to go anyway. At least they aren’t in Boston, so we might actually get there!


RDP Tuesday: Broadcast

More than 40-years in professional broadcasting and Garry still can’t post for a still portrait. He is so used to being shot on videotape or film, he feels he has to move and while that may look good on television, it doesn’t look great on a still camera.

He admits it, too. Point a moving picture machine at him and he lights up like a 100-watt bulb.

But a still camera? Nervous. Tense. Eyes darting side to side. A portrait? It’s like pulling teeth. Yesterday, to get one good show I had to move him physically into position and tell him to put his lips together and smile. Also, keep his eyes open and stop moving.

Isn’t that funny? The man who has stood before cameras for his entire career twitches in front of a still camera.

As for me? I just hate getting photographed. That’s why I keep the camera in MY hands!

ATTITUDE – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – #FOWC- Marilyn and Garry Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Attitude & #FOWC

I once took a series of pictures of Garry. All of them came out kind of dull. He looked at them. I looked at them. He said, “Why didn’t you tell me I needed to give you some ‘attitude’?”

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Someone has an attitude. Horse or rider? Maybe both?

That was, believe it or not, the first time I’d heard that expression used as a photographic term. I’m not a portrait artist. What I do best are landscapes and casual portraits, more or less on the fly. I’ve done very few “formal” portraits. Anything else has been candid, at best.

Kaity (I think this is her “good side”)

But Garry worked on television, so he “got it.” He also knew “his good side,” something about which I knew nothing. To this day, I don’t know if I have a good side, but then again, I didn’t spend forty years in front of a camera.

Good side?

I have, however, spent more than 40 years on the other side, so I probably ought to know more. I guess this is what you get for picking it all up without any training at all. You know things, but you don’t know what to call them. Terminology doesn’t come with “hands-on” learning.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – An actual portrait! I’m even dressed for the event!

Garry is the only person in my current life who seems able to take a picture of me I don’t immediately hate and want to delete. He has a knack for finding the “me” under the wrinkles and bags of age.

And also: FOWC with Fandango — Attitude

HOME AND HUSBAND – Marilyn Armstrong

I really haven’t been getting out there to take pictures. Between Garry’s surgery and the intensely hot, steamy weather, it just hasn’t been all that inviting outside.

Four orchids, still blooming

But, yesterday, because Owen had just hacked down the insanely overgrown forsythia hedge that had fully intertwined with strangleweed and wild grape vines, it was an almost respectable yard.

Still blooming after all these weeks

And then, there was Garry. I was determined to take a picture of him where he didn’t look like he was half asleep.

August woods are the darkest green of the year

Today, when we got to the doctor’s office — 15 minutes early — we were sitting on the steps waiting for them to get back from lunch and I realized Garry looked better than yesterday, so I took a few (three is a few, right?) pictures.

A bright day with temperature nearly 100 (that’s about 38 for you metric folks). Note the missing hedge. You can see the fence!

So this is our life, for the moment. The garden has gone to weeds now that the daylilies are dead. Not to worry because I have a ton more pictures of them, as well as the roses.

Today, Garry heard from our own doctor that he’s doing really well. Now, all he has to do is start to feel well. This is often harder than it seems, especially when medically, you’re doing fine, but all your body wants to do is go back for a very long nap. But his blood pressure is perfectly normal, healing is fine. All the magnets, wires, coils are perfectly placed and he has more hearing in what was thought to be the “dead” ear than anyone thought.

It takes time to feel as good as they (your doctors) say you should feel. Been there. But you get there. It merely takes more time than you think it should. We all want to be “fine” immediately. It doesn’t usually work that way.

I’m sure I took more shots of the orchids which are, remarkably, still blooming happily in their pot by the French doors.

Old wooden lawn chairs in the shade

Life in the hazy, hot, and humid northeast.


Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Close ups

There was a time not so long ago when head shots — close-ups — were standardized in black & white. That’s the way they were done.

The swan in the pond

Possibly, it was because they were typically put in newspapers which were black & white  — much less expensive to print for everyone.

Barbara Rosenblat, narrator and actor

Personally, I don’t think the quality of color in newsprint is worth looking at. They should stay with black & white.

Macro Duke in black & white

I also think that black & white closeups are more interesting and dramatic than color.




Garry and Harvey Leonard

Marilyn by Garry



And so the weeks of reading begin today. The shortest book is just over 4 hours. The longest one is 23 hours. My job? Read them, and do my best to judge them fairly. And try not to pre-judge anything based on opinions I may have from previous readings of related or similar books.

Through the screen to the setting sun

It is a very wet, grey, foggy, chilly day. A classic winter day without snow — and I’ve got about 100 hours of reading. I haven’t started yet.

Speaking of candid, yesterday, I took pictures at a birthday get-together. No one likes the pictures. Except me. That’s what they all looked like, but that’s not what they had in mind. Everyone has a mental image, a brain-scanned visual of how they think they should look in a photograph. Since all of these were groups of people — and were shot tightly on a narrow porch — with my super fast lens, they all needed at least some straightening and desaturating. And cropping. Group portraits are always tricky.

Someone will always look weird. He has his or her eyes closed. She looks furious with Gods and Men. Someone else has his jaw hanging open and another one needed to scratch her nose. At that precise second. Blinking and drooling and scratching and making strange faces … followed by group complaining.

This is the point when I turn the originals over to the people in them. Let them figure out how to make everyone’s skin human while skewing the picture straight.  I’m going to smile sweetly and forget to bring the camera next time.

Marilyn, stop being snarky.
Oh, alright. HOW ABOUT JUST a little  BIT snarky?

Seriously — don’t you hate it when people ask you to bring a camera, then complain about the pictures? I almost gave up photography because of complaining people.

January sunset through a screened porch

A friend of mine had a great logo for portraits:

“Pictures in which you look the way we see you, $5.00. Pictures in which you look the way you see you, $5,000.00.”

That’s why I love landscapes. Not once has a river ever complained.


The proliferation of cell phones and high-end, point and shoot cameras has made everyone think they take great pictures. For some people, it’s true or close enough for folk music. Others, not so much. Facebook is the place where I am constantly reminded of how many people take truly awful pictures.

This is aimed at the photographically challenged. You know who you are.

First, let’s discuss equipment. No matter what you are using — cell phone or camera — it needs to be in working order. Clean lens, not scratched. If it’s an old cell you have dropped and doused, I feel safe saying it won’t take great pictures. Ditto that old point and shoot camera that’s been kicking around your basement for years. Probably not going to give you the quality you seek.

If, on the other hand, you have a relatively new cell phone or by some miracle you have a real camera in working order? Or someone in your family has a camera you can borrow for a few hours?

If none of this works for you, consider giving up photography.

Okay. Moving on. You need light to take a picture. Flash is unflattering. Cheap cameras need more light than expensive ones. You don’t need to know why, just take my word for it. This means you should take your pictures outside in natural light. During the day.

But not bright sunlight or in drenching rain. You knew that, right? Rain is bad for cameras and cell phones. It’s the whole electronics versus water thing.

Marilyn by Garry

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Bright sunlight creates unattractive sharp shadows and burns out highlights. It means you won’t be able to see anything in the bright or in shaded parts of the picture. Nor will there be much to see in the middle. Also, it makes people look all squinty.

Bright shade or a cloudy day will do the job nicely.

Don’t pose yourself or anyone staring straight into a lens. And not so close that you can see their pores. Shot that way, everyone looks like a criminal. Just put a number under their face and you’re in an episode of Law & Order.

Bette Stevens

Have your subject turn slightly right or left. That includes you if you’re taking a selfie. Look at the screen and see if it’s an attractive picture. If not, keep moving the subject around until you like what you see.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Take lots of pictures from different angles. Let your subject move around. You can move too. If you take two dozen shots and get one you like, you’re doing well. The more pictures you take, the more likely you are to get a few good ones.

Garry and Bette

When you look in the viewfinder or screen, don’t look only at your subject. Look at the background. No trash cans. No piles of rubble. You want a neutral, pleasant backdrop. Leaves, trees, grass. A wall is good. Bricks or stone are great backgrounds. Mostly, you want the background to not distract from the subject.

Avoid flash for portraits. It is unflattering, like full sun, and for the same reasons.

If all the pictures are unflattering, unfocused, off-color, do the right thing. Delete them. No one will thank you for making them look bad. You don’t need to be a photographer to know the most important rule for people pictures:

Everyone wants to look good. Everyone. At every age. 

Remember: NO trash cans in the background. Please!


Honk if you own a camera and it works. Honk twice if you know how it works and some of your pictures are good enough to hang in frames!

I rarely bother to write about the same thing twice in a day, but this is bugging me. It must be, because I’ve written about it before and probably will again.

Photography is not about inner beauty. Photography is about an image captured and displayed to be viewed. 

I am a photographer. Not a professional, just a pretty good (enthusiastic) amateur. I don’t do photography with the precision of some people, but I do a pretty good job — most of the time.

I do two things well: landscapes and casual portraits. If you let me, I can probably find a few flattering angles at which to take your picture that will not make you feel like screaming and running from the room in horror.

As the years have progressed and I have aged, so have my friends. Where once you could just point and shoot, photographs taken of older people require a little more intelligent use of processing tools. A little softness for skin. Gentler lighting. And a certain kindness in figuring out what people want to see.

I know photographers love the wrinkles and folds of old skin. We also love photographing rusted old trucks and falling down buildings. Old things are more interesting to shoot. But friends are not “old things” and we don’t take their pictures because we want to capture that gravelly roughness of what was once their treasured skin.

We want their pictures because we care about them. We see them as special. We know their humor, their wit, their kindness. We have laughed and cried together. We know that little twitch in the lip means they are trying not to laugh … and we know they don’t want to smile because they don’t like the way their teeth look. They do funny things with their heads so the wattles or double-chins won’t show.

Is it vain? Well maybe it is, but I don’t see anyone running around in a hair shirt, either. We’ve all got a little vanity in us and there’s nothing wrong with it. If you are packed with inner beauty, a nice picture won’t erase it.

Most grownups don’t like they way they look in pictures. We also don’t like the way we sound when we’ve been recorded and are sometimes horrified that other people have to listen to that awful voice — yet somehow, everyone does and no one minds. The same with how we look. Our friends love us and they see us with love.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Which is why selfies are such an awful idea for adults. Selfies are not portraits. They are shot too close. They distort your face, broaden your nose and make your lips look blown up. Selfies emphasize the texture of skin which may have been perfect once, but time has had its way. Super closeups deepen wrinkles and enhance the folds on your neck. They even make your hands look wrinkled and worn — even if they actually don’t look that way. They make everyone look lumpy and double-chinned. We may have liver spots, but is that how we want to show ourselves to the immediate universe? Really? WHY?

The camera lens is a cold thing. It sees what it sees and dumps the information on a sensor. A photographer sees through the lens and makes other choices. I look at my friends and see the smile, the sparkle, the laughter. How they talk with their hands. How their faces change when they are animated in conversation. Those are the pictures I want.

We all need a friend with a camera who likes us enough to see us and capture the spark that makes us so lovable. Photography is not about hidden beauty. Save the hidden stuff for your writing and intimate talks with friends and loved ones.

Photography is about what things look like. But a good photograph show much more than that. It will see past the skin and catch a  special something. We are more than skin hanging on a bony frame. This is also why I so dislike people with no experience or talent selling themselves as photographers. It diminishes those of us who have spent dozens of years learning how to take pictures that are more than whatever landed on the sensor.

And if those pictures of you don’t come out well? That’s what DELETE is for. With digital cameras, we can take millions of pictures. Free. If we can take fifty pictures of an interesting tree, what’s wrong with taking a couple of dozen of our best friend?

The whole issue baffles me, mainly because I don’t know why it is an issue at all. If you own a camera and you know how to use it … go shooting with a friend. Take pictures. Keep taking them until you have a few in hand that makes both of you light up with pleasure.


I read a lot about inner beauty. I notice it most when someone posts a particularly terrible selfie on Facebook. They look dreadful. Haggard. Sickly. It is a bad picture. Typically, the subject didn’t bother to put on a clean shirt or comb his hair. Not even a smile. Direct from cell phone to social media. Yuck.

You need an awful lot of inner beauty to overcome looking that bad. Not to worry. Everyone will write to tell him or her that “You are beautiful inside.” This is how, in modern America, you tell someone they look like shit outside.

I’m not against interior beauty, though frankly, I’m not clear what being beautiful inside means. I know if the people who take those terrible pictures would make a minimal effort to not look like crap in their own selfie, they would need much less reassurance of their interior superiority. You can look good outside without diminishing your endogenous pulchritude.

With two Scotties – NOT a selfie!

Is there something wrong with looking good in a photo? I swear people take those dreary pictures on purpose, as if to make a point about “inner beauty” being more important than the outside stuff.

I don’t get it. If Garry takes pictures of me I don’t like, I delete them. If I take pictures of Garry he doesn’t like, I delete them — even if I think they are pretty good. No one needs to look ugly in photographs or even feel they look ugly in a picture. Your inner beauty can shine without bad photographs. Really, no kidding.

What is inner beauty? Does it require a repulsive exterior as a sort of bizarre contrast? If you’re really unsightly to gaze upon, you must (therefore) be beautiful inside? It’s okay to use makeup or shave the stubble. You can comb your hair. Put on a nice sweater? And maybe — if nothing else — smile?

Also NOT a selfie

About “inner beauty,” I declare I want to be inwardly beautiful like all the cool people seem to be. Generally, my inner beauty means a functional digestion. A heart that beats regularly. Not pouring boiling on my hand while draining the pasta.

Much like outer beauty, the inner stuff is over-rated. Maybe I just don’t get the whole inner beauty thing. To me, inner beauty would be a properly functioning body. This is not automatic in my life. There are many days where nothing about me seems to work.

Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of inner beauty?

I believe there are many worthy aspects of personality which lack any visual reference. Intelligence. Understanding. Empathy. Humor. Wit. The ability to talk and listen. None of this stuff reflects in the mirror and whether or not it could be considered “inner beauty” is a matter of debate. Maybe beauty is simply the wrong word for it.

Back to inner beauty. What is that? Do I have it? Can I get more on Amazon? My inner beauty is tired and needs a lift.

Beauty is a fragile thing.

For what it’s worth, if I like you, you are beautiful. I see everyone I like as attractive — and people I don’t like as ugly. I once had a really unattractive boyfriend who I didn’t know was considered ugly until my girlfriends felt they needed to tell me. I was surprised. I didn’t see it. They probably thought I was ugly too.

What I know for sure? At least smile for the picture. Comb your hair (or run you fingers through it). You don’t need to look your best — but you also don’t need to look your worst. Inner beauty will never overcome bad photography.