Juniper Level Botanic Garden

My husband and I are always looking out for nearby locales we can explore together and feed my photography habit. As long-time residents of the city and frequent explorers of local parks, museums, and arboretums, it is hard for us to find previously undiscovered places.

A few weekends ago, we were thrilled to find out about Juniper Level Botanic Garden, a place we’d never heard of before, on our local TV station’s list of top public gardens in the area.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden is a 28-acre research, educational, and display garden, located in the southern part of the county, about 20 miles from downtown Raleigh. Plant Delights Nursery, which funds the garden, is located on the same property.

After making a spontaneous trek out to JLBG, we learned that visits are typically scheduled in advance unless it is an open garden day. We were lucky that there were no other events happening on the premises and the friendly front desk staff accommodated us.

The garden and nursery are quite impressive, with a rock garden, several water features, lots of sitting areas, and a gorgeous array of unique flowers and plants.

It would be generous to call us even beginning-level gardeners, but we both have an appreciation for plants and the hard work it takes to maintain landscapes. We left the premises with a plethora of imagery and a catalog chock full of information to help us learn more about the plants that thrive in our region.

JLBG is committed to expanding knowledge of horticulture through research and classes dedicated to raising awareness of best practices and dispelling gardening misinformation. Many of their lectures are available on the Plant Delights Youtube channel.

San Diego, California

A cliff overlooking the aqua and navy blue water of the Pacific Ocean.

La Jolla, California

Traveling has always been a priority for our family of three. As someone from a small town who had barely left my home state before going to college, I wanted my daughter to grow up knowing through first-hand experience that the world is vastly bigger than her immediate day-to-day surroundings.

Beginning when she was four years old, we started planning summer adventures in the U.S. and abroad. Our travels have included Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Jamaica.

Since 2020, the pandemic has forced us to take a hiatus from our annual summer trips. As we look forward to possibly traveling again this summer, this post reflects on our last family trip in July 2019. 

San Diego, California was our destination. We unknowingly booked the trip for dates that coincided with the last few days of ComicCon. We were thrilled, upon our arrival, to get a flavor of the hoopla surrounding this international event. During our stay, we visited the famous San Diego Zoo, took a day trip to La Jolla, and went to a Padres game, our first-ever Major League Baseball game.

Sunset at San Diego State Park

Besides glimpses of ComicCon and experiencing one of the best zoos in the world, I will never forget the incredible sunsets we saw. This trip was my first time visiting the West Coast of the U.S. – and I’d always heard about the epic sunsets there. The nightly sunset views from Coronado Island where we stayed, and from Pacific Beach, where we went to see the sun set over the famous cliffs, were some of the best I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime.

To see more views of San Diego, check out the San Diego gallery on my photography web site.

My Happy Place

A small wooden pier with a yellow, peach and turquoise sunrise sky overhead.

It only takes a few seconds of looking through my galleries, posts, or feeds to discern that I’m a fan of the beach. Sunrise or sunset, winter or warm weather – it doesn’t matter the season or hour. All are good times for strolling the shore, snapping pics, and clearing my mind.

When I’m struggling mentally, there’s something about looking at the vastness of the ocean and hearing the sound of the waves that puts everything in perspective for me. If it is an injection of wonder or joy I need, I can usually spot an energetic dog or free-spirited toddler frolicking on the beach.

The beach has also proven to be a source of creative inspiration. Beach sunrises, sunsets, and waves have been obvious catalysts for interesting – and commercially successful – photos that have caught the attention of buyers and national outlets like The Weather Channel. 

A Christmas tree made out of sand. It is decorated with red and tan seashells and a starfish on top.
Impromptu beach scene featured on social media

Things like piers, seagulls, shells, clouds over the water, palm trees, ships, random sandcastles, and even thick fog have also provided an endless source of photo inspiration. One of my most successful photos on social media was an impromptu capture of a small sand structure shaped like a Christmas tree and decorated with seashells.

Time by the ocean has also inspired my writing, my career, and other creative endeavors. The name of my blog came to me and my husband during a long walk on the beach last summer. Laying on the beach has also sparked ideas for essays, marketing strategies, and articles.

I am fortunate to live within a two-hour drive of the beach, so it’s an easy day trip if I’m in desperate need of a few hours in my happy place. But, even if I can’t physically get to the shore, I’ve found that looking at photos or watching videos from previous trips can have a similar effect.

Where is your “happy place”? Wherever that place is, I hope you get to spend time there soon.

Sunday Scene: Chinese Lantern Festival

One of the things I love most about being a photographer is the new experiences it has brought me and my family. 

Over the last two years, the three of us have sought out and visited state parks, nature preserves, and historic sites that we wouldn’t have otherwise visited so I could refine my photography skills. 

The Chinese Lantern Festival in my home state is the most recent example of an opportunity we wouldn’t have considered before my photography obsession.

My husband, who accompanies me on almost all of my photoshoots, read about the exhibit online and thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to practice my nighttime photography. 

I am grateful he bought tickets for us during the recent holiday break. We were blown away by the incredible artistry in these magnificent displays crafted from silk by Chinese artisans.

I especially loved the variety of structures, which included butterflies, peacocks, sea turtles, and a dragon, and how the bold colors of the lanterns glow against the dark night sky. It was an immersive, magical experience we were fortunate to enjoy on an unseasonably warm winter night.

What kinds of new adventures have you had because of your hobby?

The Great Outdoors

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

I have a confession to make: I’m not really an outdoorsy person. Odd, I know, considering I’m a landscape photographer. But, up until I started taking nature photos in 2019, I was much more comfortable in the cozy, temperature-controlled indoors. I’d take occasional walks with my family and friends, and enjoy a few beach days here and there. However, if given the choice between spending time inside or outdoors, I could always find a reason to stay inside. 

In the summer, it’s too hot out there, I’d say. Alternatively, in the winter, my excuse was “I don’t own a coat.” The fall months always seemed too busy, while spring was written off as too pollen-y.

Over the last few years, I’ve realized how much I was missing out on by staying inside. The beauty of sunrises and sunsets are the most obvious things I wasn’t experiencing regularly. I was also missing out on endlessly interesting cloud formations. On butterflies dancing among wildflowers. On how a great blue heron presides over different spots at a local lake. On the way their unique bark patterns make each tree seem like it has its own personality.

Learning to love and enjoy time outside and in nature has been one of the greatest rewards of becoming a landscape photographer. I’ve replaced my excuses with photos of thousands of these wonderful moments — so many that a quick scroll through my phone would make you wonder if I actually live in a forest.

What has been the most unexpected reward for you as an artist?

Adventures of a Soccer Mom

In addition to being Flash Mama, I am a soccer mom. Watching my daughter play goalie is one of my favorite things to do.

As much as I relish seeing her on the field, long practices, half-time breaks in the action, and odd windows of time between games also mean there are long stretches with nothing to do.

Shortly after rediscovering my passion for photography, I began filling this downtime with taking pictures. Whether it be oddly shaped trees in the parking lot, flowers along the field, or the field lights at nighttime games, I enjoy challenging myself to find something interesting to photograph.

This image was taken during halftime on a shadeless turf field located in an industrial park. With no trees, flowers, or vegetation of any kind, I was struggling to find anything interesting to photograph. I looked up to see if there were any clouds in the sky (there weren’t). But, then I saw an airplane flying pretty low overhead. 

It turned out that we were near the airport. Soon, several planes started to fly by. I managed to capture this image of one of the planes appearing to soar above the sun. 

With a pretty inexpensive zoom lens, harsh sunlight and no tripod, the image isn’t perfect. Still, it reminds me that sometimes you can create something lovely out of less than ideal circumstances!

Sunday Scene: Falling for photography

This autumn sunset scene is one of my all-time favorite landscape shots. I captured this image at a local lake that I visit at least once a week to capture a sunrise or sunset.

There are many shots I’ve taken at this location over the years that are better technically than this one. Even so, there are so many reasons why I will always love it. 

For starters, I took it during my first autumn as a landscape photographer. I’ve grown a lot as a photographer since then, and this is one of the few from those early days that doesn’t make me cringe.

I also love it because it was a throw-away shot. Like Hail Mary shots in basketball, throw-aways are what I call the last image you take out of desperation when nothing else seems to be working. In this case, I had packed up my “real” camera and was starting to walk away. I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw the geese flying overhead, and half-heartedly snapped this image with my cell phone. With a little editing, this lovely image was the result. I have it on my desk to serve as a daily reminder to “take one last shot” whenever I’m ready to give up.

Finally, even though my style has evolved since the beginning, this image still represents who I am as a photographer. With its bold, reflective colors and touch of whimsy, I hope seeing this image makes your day just a teeny bit brighter.

Shot on iPhone X

Sunday Scene: Sunflowers

With their happy colors and intricate details, sunflowers have been a steady source of inspiration since I started doing landscape photography.

I am fortunate to live near several public sunflower fields that are welcoming to photographers of all types. When I needed something to photograph from the safety of my own home during COVID-19, grocery store bouquets of sunflowers filled this purpose while also lifting my mood.

With big, open, expressive faces that practically pose for the camera, sunflowers are the perfect subject for landscape and nature photographers like me. And, the images I have taken of sunflowers have brought me a lot of luck.

Sunflowers were the subject of one of the first photos I felt brave enough to show friends, family, and colleagues. I’ve also had my eye on membership in a prestigious online photography community, and a photo of a sunflower was my first qualifying image. My first big print order — now hanging in the lobby of a medical building — included, you guessed it, a sunflower field!

This particular image is special to me because of the conditions in which the flower was growing. I went out early one morning to capture the sun rising over downtown. The spot I chose was near the site of one of the public sunflower fields, but given that it was early winter and well past sunflower season, I didn’t expect to take any sunflower images that frosty morning. Yet, this lone sunflower was standing tall, and flourishing despite less than ideal conditions.

This image serves as my reminder that no matter what is happening around me, I can find a way to thrive. I hope it can help you remember how strong you are, too.

Sunday Scene: Spontaneous Sunset View

Sunset on Topsail Island

This image was taken on Topsail Island on Mother’s Day weekend. My parents booked a stay there without realizing it meant they would be away on Mother’s Day. 

Feeling down after a particularly stressful week, I decided at the last minute to make the 6-hour round trip drive to see them so I could wake up with my Mama on Mother’s Day. 

We had so much fun during that brief visit that almost didn’t happen. One of my favorite parts was walking around the island with my Mama in search of the perfect sunset view. She doesn’t care anything about photography, but she knows how much joy it brings me to explore new places with my camera. We had so much fun talking to the people we met on the street and laughing at ourselves while we tried not to get lost. I’m so grateful for our photo walk and for the time we spent together on that quick trip. 

On this holiday weekend, I hope this striking sunset helps remind us all of the beautiful memories that can come from being spontaneous in big and small ways.

Canon Rebel T7i, ISO 400, f9.0, s 1/500

Sunday Scene: Love Where You Live

A sunset view of a small lake through the trees.
The best sunset spot in my city

While books are the primary focus of this blog, I promised I would also share a bit about my other passion — photography. Every Sunday, I will share one of my favorite scenes and tell you about the shot.

This week’s image is from the absolute best place in my city  to go watch the sunset. The thing about this spot is that I have driven by it almost every day for 20 years, but I had NEVER visited until I started taking photos.

Discovering this place has been one of many things I’ve learned since I started doing landscape photography about two and half years ago. Since then, I’ve found countless other parks, public gardens, museums, and historic sites that I wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for photography. I even discovered interesting things in my own backyard that I never knew were there. 

Fully exploring places, both the familiar and previously undiscovered, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my journey to becoming a better photographer.

What new discoveries have you made through your passion projects?

Photo taken with Canon Rebel T7i, ISO 400, f/11