Why I Participate in Photo Challenges

water balloon fight

I’ve fancied myself a pretty good amateur photographer for a couple of years. I have the gear I need and I love taking photos. Sometimes I have plenty of reasons to do so, but then other times I go for long stretches without an excuse to feed my inner shutterbug.

Photo challenges are a great way to force myself to get out and take new photos. I look at other photographers’ work to be inspired to make better photos. The bonus is by participating in a couple of Facebook groups, I also  see a glimpse of people’s lives from around the world.

Heron at Delta Ponds
365 (+1) Days in Nature Weekly Theme: Greenery

365 (+1) Days in Nature (Facebook) is exactly what you might expect. Nature photos. In fact, the group rules say that your photos should have few (if any) man made elements. There’s a weekly theme, photos are generally very high quality and the participants are from all over the world.

playing in smoke bomb smoke
Photo 365 Prompt: Never a Dull Moment

365 Photo (Facebook) is probably my favorite group. Like many photo challenges, there’s a new list published each month with a prompt a day. The quality of photos varies from very amateur or professional. The moderators choose a set of “top shots” for each prompt, which is a nice recognition for a good photo.

FMS Photo a Day (Facebook & Instagram) is the first photo challenge I participated in on Instagram. I found Instagram to feel less like a community than the Facebook group, but both lists use the same list. Photos vary widely with the top picks for each day’s theme typically very high quality. But  scroll through the feed and you’ll find plenty of snapshots in the mix, too.

ClickinMoms (Instagram) is pretty kid-focused, but even if you’re not a mom, you may have young siblings or spend time with kids in your life. I love the photos the feed features; I get so many great ideas for photo composition and editing with my own kids. There’s a monthly prompt/theme list.

It’s My Week (Instagram) is a new one to me, but I love the way the moderators showcase the theme and the photos. Each week has a new theme and the featured photos are lifestyle/editorial in style (not obviously staged or posed).

FMS Photo a Day Prompt: Blue
FMS Photo a Day Prompt: Blue

Or, if you don’t want to be bound by someone else’s theme, you can try a photo challenge that gives you a little more flexibility. Two that I’ve seen on Instagram are:  #100HappyDays and the #365Project.

What do you think? How do you keep your creative muscles active?

 

Getting Smart with Your Smart Phone

Creating great content takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and effort. Every post, update, status or other online missive requires a good visual. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need expensive equipment or lots of training. Most of us are carrying a pretty good camera with us around in our pocket.

For my social media management workshop that I teach to incoming freshmen student athletes, we spent a day talking about smart phone photography. Here are my best tips:

Note: all photos in this slide deck are mine. Don’t use without permission.

PR & Riding Goals: Ready for More than Walk, Trot, Canter

My Facebook “On this Day” feature this week reminded me recently that it’s been exactly one year since I decided it was finally time to make time to start riding horses again.

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It’s been a fantastic year, moving from relearning the basics of the walk, trot and canter to learning to jump for the first time.

Recently my trainer asked me, “What are your goals for riding?” It’s an important question. I could do what I’m doing for an hour a week for the rest of my life and be happy. There are an infinite number of tweaks and adjustments you can make to get better at the basics.

Organizations have to think about this same question related to their public relations efforts. Doing the same thing that’s always worked and getting decent results is easy. Send regular press releases, post on social media several times a week, host that event that everyone loves… walk, trot, canter.

As soon as my trainer asked me that question, though, I knew that wasn’t my answer. I also knew that saying, “I want to compete,” meant more work.

It means more lessons, harder workouts and more time and money investment. It means trying new things (and probably failing a bit). It means being uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean leaving the basics behind, but building on them to accomplish your goal.

What else does it mean? I’m not sure! But we’ve set a goal and my trainer will help me work toward it.

This is very much like the role a PR pro serves — identifying a goal and creating a plan to reach it. That plan can include new audiences, new strategies and untested tactics that feel uncomfortable at first.

But when approached strategically, you can find yourself (and your organization) in the ribbons.

 

Morning Mantras & the Importance of Consistency and Authenticity

More than two years ago, in June, 2013, I started getting up early to work on a writing project. To be accountable, I would post a little quote or tidbit on Facebook to let my friend and writing coach know I was up when I said I would be (at my laptop by 6 am). The writing project is no more, but the daily posts continue.

do all things with kindness quoteI’m not what I would call “self-disciplined,” but this habit has stuck, not just for me but lots of you.

Anytime I think I’m going to stop — and there have been times — someone will send me an email or leave a comment on the post with something like, “are you in my head today? I totally needed this!” or just a “thank you for posting these. I look forward to them every morning.”

I choose the mantra every morning based on what resonates with me each day. I don’t save them or schedule in advance. Some mornings it’s easy to find a little saying that speaks to me and helps me start my day with a better perspective — other mornings it’s hard and it can take 20 or 30 minutes to find the right one.

What I’ve learned from 2+ years of sharing:

  • Give a damn. Give more damns than anyone. Consistency is important. I don’t post on weekends and I don’t post when I’m legitimately on vacation unless I feel like it. Otherwise, I try to post before 7 a.m. I never forget. It’s habit.
  • People are people are people. My insecurities, stresses, anxieties and issues are the same as everyone else’s. A little solidarity and “you’re not in this alone” goes a long way.
  • My personal values have crystalized. I see a few themes when I look at the 400+ quips, quotes and illustrations I’ve shared: gratitude, kindness, generosity, empathy, self-care (breathing, taking time for yourself) and encouragement. Turns out, those are all pretty important to me and I keep coming back to them over and over.
  • Authenticity is important. This isn’t like-bait or some sort of self-promotion thing, and choosing the mantra each morning is about me and where I am in that moment. It’s not always very deep or philosophical, but it’s authentic.

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Photos are important but you should relax

This week I took about 80 staff portraits for a couple of different websites – the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) is a client and I’m managing the launch of a shiny new website and I’m a long-time volunteer at HIV Alliance.

Taking that portraits in such short time frame brought up a couple of things that I thought I’d share.

My takeaways:

  • Man, we are uncomfortable in our skin. Too this… not enough that… “hope you brought an extra camera because I’ll probably break it.” Taking pictures always reminds me how beautiful people are. We have warm smiles and beautiful eyes, we’re friendly and genuine. Sure, we have a little gut, and our noses look weird at that angle, but who cares? 
  • It makes me very, very sad when say people haven’t had their photo taken in years. Biz portraits aren’t so important, but family/friend/life photos and capturing memories is. Your family and friends want photos of you. You will want photos of you. Document your lives! It’s nice to hire a professional once in a while to capture the great above-the-mantel portraits, too.

Continue reading “Photos are important but you should relax”

If You Could Have a Superpower…

If you could have a superpower, what would it be? 

Apparently, all “successful” people can answer this question immediately. From The Muse blog:

Tina Eisenberg says that all the most successful people she’s met have been able to answer this question immediately: John Maeda, who led the MIT Media Lab and Rhode Island School of Design, responded with “curiosity.” Maria Popova, who curates the popular Brain Pickings blog by reading 12-15 books a week, said “doggedness.” Eisenberg’s own superpower? Enthusiasm.

I agree, this is a great question. However, I’d argue that the answers she gives are not the answers to that question, but to another: If you have a superpower, what is it? Curiosity, doggedness and enthusiasm are “superpowers” that have helped each of these people be successful.

I do like this question, though. My superpower would be the ability to extend time.

What’s  yours and why?

New Year’s Resolution #1: Read More for Pleasure

This is the last in my countdown of New Year’s resolutions.

Number 5: Learn Something New 

Number 4: It’s Ok to Say No

Number 3: Ask for Help

Number 2: Get Moving

I love to read. I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. I consistently read above my grade level thanks to my parents encouragement of my love of books. 

Then grad school happened. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, academic reading and writing trumped reading for pleasure. Then my professional career. Then kids. Then… life. And, I kid you not, over the last 10 years, I’ve probably read two books a year that were totally and completely for my own pleasure. Half of those were probably audio books. I’ve read trade books, professional books, academic texts, too many blogs and articles to count… but reading for pleasure has definitely taken a backseat.

In the last five years, I’ve learned that I need input. In fact, it’s one of my top five strengths in the StrengthsFinder system. In crave input. I need it to feel strong and confident in my work. I’ve relied on the input from business, trade and academic press, but reading for fun is also part of that.

(You can learn more about how I feel about StrengthsFinder here. The short answer is that I love it.)

This quote from Stephen King, who often writes about writing, also resonates with me. I’m a writer. Strong writing is widely the number one skill required of a public relations professional.  I’m working on a book and I (quite literally) write sun up to sun down in my day-to-day work.

Continue reading “New Year’s Resolution #1: Read More for Pleasure”

New Year’s Resolution #2: Get Moving

This is the fourth in my countdown to my number 1 New Year’s resolution. You can see number five herenumber four here and number three right here.

Just about every New Year’s resolutions list includes exercise among the top ten. You can add my voice to the choir. Exercise seems like it belongs a personal improvement list, though, not a professional list. But here’s why I’m including it:

Exercise Boosts Brain Power

In the book Brain Rules, the first rule for making your brain work better is to get moving. Regularly. Like more than once during the day. Sit on a stability ball, get a standing desk, take a walk around the block. Just move. It helps you think, helps you retain information, spurs creativity – all sorts of good things, right?

You can read more about Brain Rule #1 here. 

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New Year’s Resolution #3: Ask for Help

This is the third in my countdown to my number 1 New Year’s resolution. You can see number five here and number four here.

theperfect.jpgI can be a little bit of a control freak. It’s not that I’m a perfectionist, per se. I’m really not. I have high standards, but I’m also ok with the idea that perfect is the enemy of the good. I do, however, struggle with the idea that someone else might be able to do the project in the same way that I can. Reality is that someone else can’t — but that’s not necessarily bad, right?

A colleague described trying to help me on a project as the pit crew watching a race car speeding around a track, just waiting for the driver to stop. The crew wants to help and has to hope the driver stops in time to get help.

If I can stop at the pits just a couple of laps earlier and give everyone time and enough info to get up to speed, the race will have a better outcome.

I’m looking at adding some different responsibilities to my plate this year and I need to give myself time to ask for – and get – help. Waiting to ask until I’m coming from a place of panic doesn’t help anyone.

People need two types of help — the first is when you don’t know how to do something and the second is when you have too much on your plate and need to do a good job delegating.

I struggle more with the latter than the former. I’m pretty resourceful when I need to figure out something new and tend to be able to recognize when I don’t know what I don’t know.

So my resolution is focused on doing a better job delegating and getting help to meet deadlines, project goals and my own expectations.

Continue reading “New Year’s Resolution #3: Ask for Help”

New Year’s Resolution #4: It’s OK to Say No

This is the second in my countdown of New Year’s Resolutions. If you  missed the first, you can read it here.

I’m really, really bad at saying no. Really, really bad.

I like to say yes. I like to help. I like to do things I’m good at and I know I’ll do well. I am also very good at feeling responsible for, well, everyone.

And I will still do all of those things. But I must, in the name of all that is holy, say “no” more.

I have to remember that there are degrees of no. No doesn’t necessarily mean eff off. It may mean, “I can’t do that for you, but here are a couple of potential solutions.” Or, “I am not able to add that to my plate right now, but let’s brainstorm together over a cup of coffee.” Maybe even, “I’m not the right person to help you, but I know who is; let me connect you.”

So, here’s to saying “no” more! Or at least venturing into to “no” end of the spectrum.

Any tips?

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