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ABC_cover_smDo you ever wonder why you are drawn to certain images? It’s because every painting, photograph or movie uses light to tell a story. And some stories are more beautifully told than others. Is the light source hard or soft? Is the source positioned high or low? (Light positioned at a low level creates upward shadows that make for scary images.) How is color used?  Next time you look at a photograph or painting, try to figure out what it is that compels you to want to look at it again.

After teaching lighting to photographers for more than 20 years, I was asked to create a lighting book. ABCs of Beautiful Light (Amherst Media) is my first textbook. In it, I teach photographers and artists how to be “light detectives”.  For example, one can examine catch lights, which are highlights on shiny surfaces, such as eyes. They tell the story of what type of source was used (window, umbrella, soft box, for example). Another clue is where the shadows fall and how hard or soft-edged they are. I also talk about the art of using fill (a card to bounce light into the shadows) to subtly control the drama of the image.

My students tell me that they will never be the same after taking this lighting class. They become newly aware of light everywhere and how it can be used to tell a story or convey a feeling.

f you are interested (or have friend or family member who might be) I would love to provide an autographed copy of my book. Just email me directly at Rosanne@rosanneolson.com or send me a Facebook message. Or you can find the book on Amazon.

Are you interested in learning more about light? Let me know and I will keep you posted.

Yours in beauty,


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Patra 40

Patra_40_Inner Light_Olson Today I am am packing up this beautiful bowl, called Patra 40, to send off to a friend for a temporary visit. The bowl, one of a series of 108 bowls made by artist Lynda Lowe is part of her project called Patra Passage, based on the idea of the bowls that monks use for begging for food–and that whatever one receives is enough.

Patra 40, which was passed to me by my friend, artist Iskra Johnson, has held several positions in my life since I received her in February. For a while she sat in my dining room next to a Chinese Buddha. Every day the bowl seemed to fill with light, reminding me to pay attention, to center myself.

Then, in early May, I took Patra 40 on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon (carefully packaged in bubble wrap and Tupperware). I photographed the bowl on a travertine waterfall on the clear blue Little Colorado. And then I hiked her to the top of Deer Creek canyon where I photographed her on shards of rocks, the same colors as the bowl–which seemed to imply that she belonged there. Another lesson–about being present wherever we are.

Having something so beautiful and fragile, something that reminds me to look inward and reflect, knowing I would have to give her up–has been an interesting experience. The temporary nature of our time together made it all the more precious. Like life.

And now, Patra 40 travels on to a friend in another state, before returning to Lynda in the fall.

I am grateful to Lynda Lowe for creating these amazing bowls and sharing them with many people. It is good to be reminded of the idea that what we receive every day is enough, now matter what it is.

spring begins

140409_Magnolia_2 There is something about spring that steeps my heart in optimism. Somehow, after a record-breaking month of rain, the sunshine seems so special, like the siting of a rare bird. I walked home from Green Lake this morning like a bride along a carpet of petals. Everything is in bloom in a wild chorus of color: magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, tulips, camellias. As I stopped to photograph this magnolia blossom, spreading it’s petals open to the day,  I wondered how I could keep this spring perfume in my memory. The perfume of optimism.

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In association with Fotofest in Houston there was a city-wide exhibit of the work of 48 Arab artists. One of my favorite pieces was not actually a photograph but a sort of rough cartoon video. The artist, Sadik Alfraji, created this amazing piece, called The House That My Father Built. Part of it consisted of a tall black bent-over character with an eye that was observing everything. There is a coat hung on the wall (actually a real coat) and two photographs on the wall (actually two photographs). What takes place around these three stationary objects is a very moving story about life, death and everything in-between. The video was presented in a dark room with tall ceilings. Everyone who came to watch it was spellbound. I watched it three times and wept. I feel so lucky to have found it on Vimeo. Please take a look. Sit down and allow the imagery and music to work their magic. Just click on the picture.

fotofest 2014

fotofest awaits I just returned from five intense days of fine art portfolio reviews in Houston at the bi-annual Fotofest. Fotofest is the world’s largest portfolio review which hosts approximately 45 reviewers and 130 artists per session (the five-day sessions run from March 15 to April 27). Photographers from around the world, me included, bring their work to be seen by gallerists, museum directors, collectors, art directors, etc. also from around the world. Every day we would meet one-on-one with the reviewers at linen-draped tables in the Doubletree ballroom. Everyone had opinions. Some reviewers loved the work (of any given photographer), some didn’t love it as much. I overheard one photographer in the elevator say that one reviewer praised his work and the next one said he should throw it in the trash. (Well–that’s not a very helpful review but most were more circumspect.)

For me, this was a very helpful event. I brought my newest work, the Rapture series. I got numerous positive responses, some great feedback. I met some people whose work I loved and I hope I will see them again. Among them, Toni Greaves of Portland who has a book about clositered nuns coming out soon (Chronicle Books). And Tara Bogart whose photos of the backs of women’s hairdos, set in classic ovals, is very compelling.

Houston is an incredible city for the arts. And especially for photography. For this event there was a special photographic exhibit of the work of 48 Arab photographers. I could go on and on but, for now, you get the idea. It was amazing.

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Recently a friend sent me this beautiful poem called One Heart by Li-Young Li. It sees like a perfect way to start a new year, or to start every day. I keep it taped to my computer screen.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying

is born

out of nothing. The first sky

is inside you, open

at either end of the day.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening

one heart to every falling thing.

–Li-Young Li

I just returned from a two-week vacation with my husband, Ted McMahon, to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We sailed the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Venice on a Prairie Home Companion cruise with Garrison Keillor. Lots of music, good food and many sights to behold.

I got a chance to sit down and read a book (Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which I highly recommend). But more than anything, I got a chance to take stock of my life, asking (as I have many times): am I doing what I want/should be doing with my life? Am I spending enough time with friends and family? Am I savoring day-to-day life?

The answer didn’t (and shouldn’t) come as an automatic “yes”. It is a real question that welcomes thought and I think (hope) we all ask ourselves this question now and then.

I am grateful to have a profession in photography and teaching that has given me a lot of happiness over a thirty-year career. Sometimes it is more demanding than I would wish. But I can’t imagine NOT doing what I do.

On my trip, I resolved to tweak things a bit. Try to spend more time with friends. Try for more art time. Find some time to read and play music. But overall, I love my life and am blessed by what it gives me in return.

What do you remember of your childhood summers? I remember orange pushups, the frozen sherbet in cardboard tubes. I can still hear the ecstatic noise of kids playing at the park pool, bombing off the high-dive and splashing all the girls in bikinis. I had a favorite sundress that my mom made for me. It had giraffes printed on it and it tied in bows at the shoulders. Other: The sweet smell of rain as thunderheads moved across the plains. The parades we would put on with wagons decorated like floats and girls dressed up in glittery gowns. I was the one twirling the baton.

I recently did a photo shoot for Avanti, a card company in New York. I worked with a gaggle of adorable four-year-olds on a sultry summer evening. They brought back moments that I relish being reminded of.  Thanks, kids, for the memories!

oh summer day!

Adieu © 2012

Today is the last day of my exhibit in New York. Time has gone so fast. From Robin Rice Gallery it moves to the wonderful Iris Gallery in Boston and Aspen. My images will hang in the Boston Gallery this summer–perfect for an exhibit with water and sky.

As I reflect on the months (and stress) of putting together the show, combined with other life events, such as the death of my friend Mary and the more recent death of our dear kitty friend, Maxx, I welcome the perspective achieved by time and distance. I am so grateful for this beautiful summer day, for the opportunity to create images that people buy to hang in their homes. I am grateful for friends who support me and for the creative life I get to live.

After a little break I will return to teaching two classes this summer through PCNW in Seattle: Natural Light Portraiture and also an intensive lighting course. And a book deadline for Amherst Media–my textbook of lighting for anyone who wants to learn what I teach. Due in August.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver. I kept it taped inside my bathroom mirror for years and years so I could be reminded of its message every day, not just every summer day.

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?



small miracles

Today I stepped out the door to go for my walk. Under the pale blue sky and with no thought in mind except to walk, I happened to look toward our pink-flowered hawthorn tree where I noticed a pile of grass that seemed unusual, like the leftovers from mowing the lawn.

I turned it over. It was a nest that had fallen from the tree, a little sworl of grass and twigs vacated by the robins who had built it.

Inside the nest:  turquoise shards of egg shells from babies who had flown away. And some pink flowers.  How did they get there? Did a some person put them there after the nest fell? Or did the robin put them there?

I added some blue lobelia from our yard and photographed the nest under the the tree from which it fell. It seemed a small miracle to me.

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