Category Archives: photography

Through the Window: POV

WindowThis summer, we gave our 4-year-old a kid’s camera for his birthday.  I’ve seen plenty of portraits, and too many pictures of apartments as we’ve looked for places to live.  I have an idea of what photos ought to look like, and I know what subjects I’d snap a shutter at.

They weren’t the same things my 4-year-old photographed.  He took uncounted pictures of shadows across the carpet: shadows from the box fan, shadows from chairs, shadows from blinds.  He took a dozen more pictures through the window of his daddy driving off to work.  Despite standing on tip-toe, he captured as much windowsill as parking lot in his frame.

The photos of his brother are close-up, all eyes and nose, or just his toes peeking out from the blanket at nap time.  More pictures document the window in his bedroom, looking out to houses we’ve never stepped foot in.

I was surprised by these results.  I’d expected off-focus pictures like the ones I might take.  Instead, I saw photos where he missed his father, loved his brother, or wondered about what lay beyond his home.

These pictures still make me reflective about point-of-view, or POV — the person a story is told through, whether it’s first person (“I crossed the room”) or third (“Jane crossed the room”).

In the details and tone selected, exposition can describe the POV-character as much as it does setting, letting every word pull double weight.  No two people will describe a room the same way.  The person who notices the patterns of shadow on the carpet is not the same person who frets over dust on the windowsill.  Describing mysterious, unexplored houses beyond the window reveals a different POV character than a description of the thankfully cool morning air over a quiet town.

I’m glad that, through a camera, I was able to see snapshots through my child’s view.


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Family, photography, POV


Pay Attention by Johanna Harness

I like that phrase: pay attention. It acknowledges that attention costs us something. In order to pay attention to one thing, other things must be shut down, closed out, put away. In order to pay attention, we have to pull over, stop our routine, and focus.

I admit that I want to experience much more than I have the time or energy to experience.

  • I want to read every great new book when it comes out.
  • I want to write reviews.
  • I want a radio show.
  • I want to travel more.
  • I want to do every science experiment in this new book, whether my kids will keep doing them with me or not.
  • I want to invent stuff.
  • I want to tell stories about inventing stuff.
  • I want to tell stories about the stuff I didn’t invent but claim I did.
  • I want to create worlds.
  • I want to read poetry to my children every night.
  • I want to be smarter and wittier and I want to take more and better pictures.
  • I want to spin. For no reason. Just because I’m happy.
  • I want to write a sonnet and not just free verse.
  • I want to write a villanelle because. . . well, who wouldn’t? Villanelles are cool.
  • I want to chew nine packs of gum in one day because I’m an adult and these are the kid things I promised myself I’d love about being an adult.
  • I want to climb trees and sit on my roof—and leave my fear of heights inside under the desk.
  • I want to sit behind the wheel in a parking lot and pretend I’m driving and make loud beeping and crashing noises.
  • And sometime I should crawl out of a car window again—because I got in trouble the one time I did that when I was ten.
  • I want to stand in the middle of a cheering crowd and close my eyes and pretend they’re cheering for me.

I don’t always do such a great job of focusing.

I do actually spend a lot of time spinning from one marvelous thing to another.

I even sometimes complain about this in adult language that makes me appear more responsible. (I have to get this book done for my agent and shuttle the kids to book club and work on their curriculum for the next few months. Look at me. Grrr. I’m responsible.)

But the truth is I’m really soaring through worlds of my imagination, rushing to a place full of stories and intelligent, amazing people, thrilling to the sounds of my kids singing and laughing and story-telling. I’m sitting on the floor with goo and glue and even glitter and wondering at the stars and this amazing new album and maybe quantum physics. This is such an amazing life I lead.

And at the end of the day, that small voice wants to assess. What did I produce? How many pages? How long did it take me?

I hear myself saying, “Pay attention, Johanna.” I hear an owl hooting in the predawn morning and I close my eyes and still myself and I listen. And that keeping-track voice cuts into that time and says, “You just lost half an hour. Pay attention to what you’re doing.”

And then the next day I write an owl into a scene.

I stop everything to talk to my kid about potential energy and kinetic energy and we make bows and arrows out of bamboo skewers and rubber bands and play doh. And I have this internal voice that tells me I should plan things more efficiently so I won’t spend so much time digging through recycling for building supplies.

And then the next day I write a rocket ship that looks suspiciously like empty toilet paper rolls with marshmallows smucked to the side (smucked there with spit because I could not find the glue).

And I’m starting to think that I really should pay attention to that voice a little more. I should stop everything, pull over, and really focus on that voice. And maybe if I do that, I’ll see. I’ll see that it’s a pestering, horrible voice that takes the delight out of everything. It puts hurry-up ahead of slow-down; it puts eat-this over taste-this; it puts read-this over savor-this.

It’s not so much that paying attention is a bad thing, mind you. It’s just that we have to be mindful of what we’re giving our attention. That voice? It’s going in the recycle bin. Maybe we’ll put it in the rocket and send it to the moon. But first I’m going to sprinkle it with glitter.


Posted by on January 4, 2012 in imagination, inspiration, photography


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Winter Solstice Inspiration by Johanna Harness

Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it’s no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I’m desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:

A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.”  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I’m seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it’s a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on,, and LiveJournal and I’m sure there are many more.


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don’t have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here’s the brief description: “Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash.”  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It’s a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian’s Daughter.


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The Author Photo

After I buy a book, I check to see if there’s an author photo on the back flap. As I read, I check back at the picture from time to see if I can tell anything about the person who wrote the novel I’m enjoying. Not all of the books I buy include an image and if that is the case, I’m a little disappointed; however, I’m not too thrilled with a full picture that covers the whole back of the book.

Not all publishers want a picture included in the book, and there are times when a photo may not be appropriate. Would the picture of a middle-aged man or woman, on the flap of a young adult novel, scare readers away? Would it pull the reader from the page? Then again, what kind of photo would work on a dark paranormal?

One of my husband’s favorite authors, Clive Cussler, has had pictures taken with a car he owns and that’s included in the story. The Ted Dekker book I’m reading is about a serial killer and his picture has a dark shadow to it, which I think fits the tone very well. I’ve read that Neil Gaiman has a picture of himself in an old graveyard, to match the darkness of his stories.  

How important is a good author photo anyway? According to blogger AJ, from Lulu (which is actually a self-publishing blog), states it’s very important. He says, “An author should have a good photo on hand because it makes you look more professional. The people at Book Expo America (New York) with great photos seemed better composed and more prepared. I understand that many authors have spent so much time working on their book and making it pristine, that when they’re done, the photo can be an afterthought…It helps to think of your book as a business card, and a bad photo is like handing someone a card written in crayon…A good author photo really helps with marketability. Almost always, when the media wants to highlight an author in a piece, they will ask for a hi-resolution image of the author and book cover.”

I do know that the picture you choose will be on your book for life, and it is something you need to think about. I’d only had a professional picture of myself done one time before publishing. When my first book came out in 2007, I paid $89 for 2 head shots. This month I got another set done by a photographer that advertised on Yollar, a $100 deal for $20. I don’t think I would’ve had professional pictures done if I’d not needed an author photo of myself, and now I have some nice pictures to pass down to my children and their children after I’m gone. I think I like that aspect of an author photo the best.


Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Blogs, Boise, books, photography, publishing, writers



Defining an Artist

A friend once asked me if I thought photographers were artists. I answered with a resounding yes. She didn’t agree. “After all,” she said, “photographers just aim the camera and click.”

You can say something similar about most of the arts. Almost anyone can slap some paint on a canvas, write a few sentences down on paper, or draw a rosined bow screeching across a few strings, just as anyone can aim a camera and click.

An artist is something more, though. Artists make us see, feel, or hear the world a little differently, if only for that moment. Artists create things that cause us to stop and take notice, consider what is being presented. Art entices us. Love it or hate it, art elicits a response. An artist can be a painter, musician, writer, photographer, cartoonist, dancer, actor, glassblower, cinematographer, weaver, sculptor, or potter, just to name a few.

Nature is the ultimate artist, as you can see by this photo of Idaho’s Balanced Rock.

I might even argue that the comedian that painted these street lines is an artist. It’s original, and it elicited a response from me. (Do you suppose it was his last day on the job?)

An artist is also the woodworker who creates a piece of furniture, cutting the wood so that a certain grain is highlighted, turning a table leg to create a unique design, staining the wood to intensify its natural beauty. Suddenly it’s no longer just a piece of furniture.

A gardener may be an artist. Those who design a back yard in such a way that it makes you want to be a part of it, to sit down and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors, the sound of a waterfall, and the scent of jasmine.

As a writer, you are an artist. You put words on paper that are rhythmic and enticing. You decide which scenes to include and which to edit so that you weave a tale that lures the reader into the world you’ve created, seduces the reader into committing hours to the story you have to tell.

One of my favorite quotes is by Friedrich Nietzsche. He said:

“We have art in order not to die of the truth.”

I love that. Try to imagine a world with no art — no music, no stained glass, no stories, no textile designs. Talk about bland. Conversely, art IS the truth. It records our history. It celebrates what’s important to each era by the buildings we erect, the music that dominates, the paintings we create. As a writer, you are a part of this history. Celebrate that. Celebrate the artist in you.

I’m always fascinated by the types of art people make. Please, hit the comment button, and tell us what types of art you create.


Posted by on July 7, 2011 in art, artist, Idaho, photography, readers, writers, writing


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What Inspires You To Write? by Johanna Harness

Last winter I started the first of two photography classes taught by Vivienne McMaster.  The focus of both classes:  self-portraiture!  It was the new year and I decided learning to take pictures of myself would be a good and daring challenge.  Readers want to see authors and get a sense of the writer behind the pages and I knew I needed to get over this fear.  So I held my breath and signed up.

What I found surprised me.  The assignments were playful and fun and the class members created a rich and supportive environment for one another. I enjoyed myself so much I signed up for a second class after the first one was over—and not because I thought it would be good for me.  I actually enjoyed it!

Not only did the daily photography work give me another creative outlet, but it challenged me to think of my creator-self in new ways.  Just when I was comfortable with my writing voice, I had someone asking me to describe my visual voice in photography!  We talked about how people move in the world and how we could capture those sensations in photographs and I started thinking about how I could describe many of those same things in my writing.  By observing my photographer self emerging, I learned things about my writer self.

One of Vivienne’s first assignments was the photo walk.  Today in Vivienne’s blog she describes working with a new class of students on that same assignment and she posts a photo walk of her own.

I had something else planned for this blog entry but, as soon as I saw Vivienne’s blog, I knew I had to post a photo walk here. As an Idaho writer, my surroundings influence every word I choose, every metaphor, every local phrase.  I cannot imagine a richer place to begin and end my writing days.

Today I went on a photo walk with all of you in mind.  It was a typical spring day in Southwest Idaho, storms rolling in one minute and blue skies the next.  Here’s what you find just outside my door if you wander around for an hour or so.  These things inspire me to write.  What inspires you?


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