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My friend Bill Vriesema continues to share even more ways photography—learning to see through the lens—can change the way we see the world. This time: seeing motion. (Part of an ongoing series on slowing down to see, entitled “Seeing Lessons.”)

Seeing Motion through the Lens

by Bill Vriesema

I often wondered what the world would like if we saw things in a different time frame. To some extent, our eyes and brains work a little bit like little film projectors where the “frame rate,” or number of individual pictures flashed consecutively, gives the appearance of continual motion. Computer screens and florescent lights will flash approximately 60 times per second (60 Hertz). Try standing under a florescent light and moving your hand back and forth. It is almost as if a subtle strobe light captures individual “frames” of your hand in motion. (It is also why having a florescent light near your computer screen can cause flickering and give people headaches!)

A camera can capture motion in an even more fascinating way that records motion within one frame rather than a sequence of frames. For example, here is a photo of a small stream where the camera was on a tripod and set to expose the water at 1 second.


The result is a smooth, milky pathway that shows the water in motion. We never see it this way with our eyes, but through the camera lens, “seeing” motion becomes doable. Let’s back up a minute. Here is another shot of a waterfall, the Upper Tahquamenon Falls near Paradise, Michigan.


This photo was shot at a faster shutter speed and stops the action much like our eyes might see it. We can see individual ripples of water and even foam flying through the air. But when we shoot at a slower speed, the water blurs, creating motion in a way that we as humans cannot see (below).


It strikes me that movement like in this waterfall is around us all the time, but we simply cannot see like this due to the human limitations of our eyes and brain. What beauty is around us all the time, but we do not even notice it?

What other ways can the camera see motion or movement in a way we cannot? This summer my wife and I went for a ride in a kayak. While she was doing all the paddling (unbeknownst to her), I was shooting photos (a benefit of riding in the back seat). I took a couple of slow shutter speed photos to convey movement.



The feeling of movement is conveyed by having parts of the photo blurred.

Doing a similar technique at night can also yield some interesting results that help us to see movement. Here is a photo of my son Jess yielding a plastic light saber in true Jedi style. The exposure was around 3 seconds—which blurred the light from the light saber, and the flash popped and lit up Jess nicely in sharp focus.


And here is my wife Judy making a circle with a sparkler on the fourth of July. The same camera technique was used as above.


This past year I was privileged to see a Korean fan dance. Although each dancer was magnificent, seeing them dance together in a unified flow was spell-binding. So, I tried to capture that movement.


How about other types of movement? Water is constantly moving. How about the wind? We cannot see it, but know it is there. Can you see the wind in this photo?


Maybe not, but you can see the result of the wind.

This photo reminds me of the passage in John 3:8 where it says “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Although not the original intent of the verse, this train of thought led me to imagine what it would be like to visually see the movement of the Holy Spirit amongst us—something our eyes are not really capable of.

But what if we trained ourselves to see with our hearts? What would we see? How might we begin to see others around us whom the Spirit “blows” or “flows” through? How would it change the way we view how much God works with us and cares for us? How would it change how we live together? It’s just a thought….

“Seeing” movement can open our minds to the vast beauty this world offers. Now we experience such a limited view of the wonder of creation all around us. One day our human constraints will be lifted and we will see God’s creativity in ways that are not bound by time in limited “frame rates.”

What if we could train our eyes and imaginations to “see” movement like a camera can? What beauty and wonder might we discover?

You can see more of my photos at my Flickr web site:


Bill Vriesema



Soccer moms, dads, grandparents, and coaches, please ignore the title of the following article and read it before this weekend’s matches:

“For Kids Only…”

And feel free to pass it along, humbly, to your children.

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In our fast-paced society, people can’t bring themselves to stop completely.

So this city is fining us if we don’t.

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In a Redbook article entitled “How to Let Kids Be Kids,” Judith Newman builds a case for prioritizing play. Here are some highlights.

For starters, she describes the temptation to sign up her kids for all kinds of great after-school activities to keep them busy, busy, busy. She admits:

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid of modern American parenting. The thinking goes like this: The sooner our children start racking up knowledge and experiences – whether it’s learning Mandarin or perfecting their sidestroke – the greater their lifelong chances for happiness and success. (Plus, there’s this dirty little secret: A lot of parenting is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring. Which would you rather do: watch your child play in dirt or cheer her on as she learns how to sing “Tomorrow” and make jazz hands at a Broadway Babies class?) Failing to fill your child’s life with stimulating organized activities is seen as – well, if not child abuse, at least a form of neglect, because a child’s self-worth is directly related to his or her ability to master stuff. The more stuff, the better. Right?

The more stuff is not the better, she argues in the article. There is, instead, an alternative to this high-achieving, nonstop approach to parenting.

Play—simpler, slower, unstructured play—can be the ticket to real learning and thinking skills (the very things we wanted our kids to gain from all of our rushing around). We think we’re preparing them for life with these packed schedules, that it’s a different world from the one we grew up in. We think that unstructured time is a waste of time for contemporary kids.

But experts disagree. They claim that too many structured activities and complicated toys can be a problem. She cites authors David Elkind, Ph.D., and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, who promote the importance of play:

“A baby who drops a toy repeatedly out of her crib may be annoying, but she’s actually learning about gravity,” explains David Elkind, Ph.D., whose recent book, The Power of Play, examines the critical role of unstructured playtime in kids’ lives. Play, writes Nancy Carlsson-Paige, in her new book, Taking Back Childhood, “is a powerful vehicle through which [kids] can make sense of their experience, master difficult life events, and build new ideas.”

The article cited some statistics from the University of Michigan on how children ages 3 to 12 spend their time. Over the past 20 years:

  • There’s been a drop of 12 hours a week of free time overall
  • Unstructured activities like walking or camping have fallen by 50 percent
  • Structured sports have gone up by 50 percent

Those statistics suggest we will have to go against the trends to preserve some free time in our schedules and leave space for unstructured activities. The article offers several ideas for how to free up our families so that kids can be kids:

  • Embrace the joy of goofing around.
    From the article: “If you live in an area where you can let your child run amok with his friends outdoors, let him; if you don’t, remember that just hanging with friends and neighbors indoors can be great too.”
  • Limit kids to one or two activities per season.
    The article said, “For her book The Overachievers, which chronicled the lives of hyper-competitive teens destined for prestigious colleges, Alexandra Robbins interviewed kids of all ages; she found some as young as 6 who complained of stress, and 8-year-olds who were carrying day planners. ‘Kids may have lots of energy, but they get as tense as adults would when they’re overscheduled,’ Robbins says.”
  • Eat dinner together.
    “Forget homework and extracurriculars,” the article states. “[I]f you really want your children to thrive, break bread with them. ‘For young children, mealtime at home is a stronger predictor of academic achievement and psychological adjustment than time spent in school, studying, sports, church/religious activities, or art activities,’ says William J. Doherty, Ph.D., a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and author of The Intentional Family. And for older kids? Family dinner is not only a strong predictor of academic success; it is also correlated with lower rates of alcohol and drug use, early sexual behavior, and suicide risk
  • Encourage more human time, less screen and toy time.
    Our children are spending bigger chunks of time with stuff and less time with people. On car rides in the past, parents used that car time to talk with their kids. Now the kids are watching DVDs while parents talk on the cell phone. As for toys, “A good toy is 90 percent child and only 10 percent toy”; that is, it doesn’t direct the play with only one way that works.
  • Introduce computers with caution.
    These, the article suggests, are not good for very young kids. Just because computers will be an inevitable part of their lives doesn’t mean we should aim for super-early exposure.
  • Reclaim summer.
    She writes, “Children and parents need that hiatus to recharge. As a bonus, if you relax over the summer, you’re going to be rejuvenated in time for back-to-school. Says Julie Bell-Voorhees, ‘When else are your kids going to catch lightning bugs and learn to play games like Jailbreak with the neighborhood kids?'”
  • Be outnumbered.
    She describes a mom who likes an ordered, scheduled life. When she had another baby, however, this woman’s older kids enjoyed more freedom and unstructured play because she simply couldn’t drive around as much to dozens of activities. If having a baby is not an option to slowing you down, be outnumbered by inviting others into your life. Instead of going places, become the hub of activity for your child’s friends—just be prepared to deal with a messier, louder home.
  • Learn to trust your child.
    “This may be the most important parenting rule of all, says Elkind. ‘Children are self-directed learners – they are naturally curious – and how they learn is through play.'”

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Returning to the continuing series “Seeing Lessons,” I invited my friend Bill Vriesema to share even more ways photography—learning to see through the lens—can change the way we see the world.

Seeing patterns through the lens

by Bill Vriesema

One of visual feasts that surrounds us is patterns. By simple definition, a pattern is a group of repeating shapes, lines, or colors. Perhaps we think of clothing, carpets, a patchwork quilt, or wallpaper most often when we think of patterns. But once you start looking for (or begin to “see”) patterns through a lens, you begin to realize that they are absolutely everywhere!

Aiming a camera at a grouping of lily pads or a bunch of pumpkins is probably not one the first things that comes to mind when you carry your camera to family events, walks in the park, or on vacation. However, the following are pretty normal scenes we can recognize and relate to.

lily pads

Patterns 2

Patterns 3

Since we heat our home with firewood, this pattern is always present around our house.

Patterns 4

The beach along the lake offers many patterns.


Or the sun shimmering in shallow water.

Lake Reflections

And a stand of pine trees in a North Michigan forest.

Pine trees

Treasures can be found in a local Conservatory where plant fronds overlap each other.


The beauty of a close-up of a cluster of pine needles shows us another world if we dare to get in close.

Patterns 7

I’m not sure exactly why shooting patterns appeals so much to me. I do know that my personality falls in line with what is labeled as a “harmonizer.” I’d rather have group consensus than own the winning opinion. I dislike competition, discussing politics, and to some extent, conflict. This is neither good, nor bad; it’s just how I was created.

Could it be that a pattern seen through the lens represents harmony in some fashion? Patterns are a “de-stresser” for me. Much of it is in order. Much is structured. Lines and shapes are dependable.  Not a lot of conflict going on visually.

The point is that once you begin to recognize repeating shapes and lines, and once you start intentionally framing some of your photos with only these shapes and lines, patterns begin to appear everywhere.

Patterns 8

Patterns 9

Gary Braasch is a professional nature photographer who published a book called Photographing the Patterns of Nature (Amphoto, 1990). Braasch states that patterns “reveal the hidden poetry that only stays hidden when we don’t take the time to look deeply enough.” Aside from the pleasure of shooting such images, shooting patterns changes the way you see the world. You begin to “see” the world for all its richness, its harmony, its dependability, its structure, its rhythm…its beauty.

Part of successful pattern photography is intentionally not including elements that detract from the pattern. But that is not always the case. Sometimes it adds a little “drama” or interest to the photo.

Patterns 10

Sometimes tilting the camera diagonally adds interest as well.

Patterns 11

It’s quite apparent that we will never exhaust all the possibilities for viewing patterns around us. Seeing a pattern through the lens is a way to take a selective part of a scene that represents the whole. For example, seeing this photo of pine bark evokes the thought of a whole pine tree.


Or this section of a fern plant.

Patterns 13

As humans, we are also a representative of the whole—the whole human race. We are individuals, but we are also part of a beautiful pattern that is also part of God’s creation.

I wonder sometimes how God sees us. Sure, He sees us as individuals created in His image. But wouldn’t He also see us collectively as a large pattern—perhaps a “hidden poetry that only stays hidden when we don’t take the time to look deeply enough”?

Maybe someday when we all live in harmony we will represent the most beautiful of all of God’s creative patterns. Maybe to some extent it is—or can be that way now—we just need to learn to “see.”

Certainly that will be the ultimate visual feast.

You can see more patterns at my web site:

Or my Flickr web site:

Or check out other photographers pattern photos on Flickr: and


Bill Vriesema

(Photo credit: all photos used with permission from Bill Vriesema)

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Quick-link references for this article:

Are we pushing young kids too hard to advance academically?

Are we expecting too much, too early?

The desire for kids to be prepared for school or excel once they are in school is causing parents of preschoolers to take action.

Some hire tutors for subjects like reading and math, to ensure their child’s kindergarten readiness and instill confidence in them as they take standardized tests and work among their peers.

The pressure is on.

Kids are working harder than ever … so much so that play time is being stripped away in favor of seat time and workbooks.

Pressure-cooker kindergarten,” an article in The Boston Globe, describes the shift away from an era when kindergarten teachers were free to create learning opportunities through play, movement, song and games; now instructors are pressured to meet high expectations and teach by the book.

Winifred Hagan, a former kindergarten teacher and a vice president at the Cayl Institute in Cambridge, said, “Kids are spending hours of their day sitting with pencils and tracing dotted lines … And we call that education? We are kidding ourselves.”

One unfortunate result of this fast-track approach is that many kids aren’t developmentally ready for what’s being asked of them. When they score low, they end up feeling stupid.

The article turned to David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and The Power of Play, for his opinion:

When children are required to do academics too early, [Elkind] says, they get the message that they are failures. “We are sending too many children to school to learn that they are dumb … They are not dumb. They are just not there developmentally.” (“Pressure-Cooker kindergarten“)

A related article at MSNBC, “Tutoring tots? Some kids prep for kindergarten,” expressed similar concerns. Play is neglected in this academically accelerated childhood, and the pressure is resulting in anxiety and emotional issues.

The article cited a report from the Alliance for Childhood entitled “Crisis in the Kindergarten.” Its premise is that children learn through play. The published report opened with a paragraph that anticipates the arguments people will raise in response to the statement that play is essential to learning in kindergarten:

The argument of this report, that child-initiated play must be restored to kindergarten, will be dismissed and even ridiculed in some quarters. In spite of the fact that the vital importance of play in young children’s development has been shown in study after study, many people believe that play is a waste of time in school.  School, they say, should be a place for learning. There’s plenty of time for play at home. (“Crisis in the Kindergarten“)

Some people will stand by the belief that school is a place for serious learning; that there is plenty of time for play at home. Some people won’t be convinced that children learn through play. “There is plenty of time for play at home,” they’ll say, as they unwrap another packet of phonics flash cards.

We live in a world where standard early education learning materials of the past such as blocks, sand and water tables, and props for dramatic play “have largely disappeared” from more than 250 full-day kindergarten classrooms studied. Most children, the study found, were given half an hour or less a day for playtime. Some got no playtime at all.

Play, which could serve as a stress-reliever from all these academic pressures, is abbreviated or nonexistent. But many experts point out that play is about more than expending energy—it’s how kids learn important skills for life. “Tutoring tots?” talked with the executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, Joan Almon, who says that play is “a critical way that children develop language, express their creativity, expand their social skills, solve problems and generally learn about their world — all important abilities that will help them in kindergarten and well beyond.”

The report published by the Alliance for Childhood explained that standardized testing and preparation for those tests were a daily activity in most of the classrooms, even though it claims that such tests are of “questionable validity” for kids under the age of eight.

“Tutoring tots?” continued:

Kindergarteners are expected to perform at the level traditionally expected of first-graders — reading, for instance, by the end of the year, despite any solid support behind the change.

“There is absolutely no research showing that children who read at age 4 or 5 do better at age 10 or 12 than children who start reading in first grade,” [Almon] says. “But there is research showing if you push 4- and 5-year-olds too hard, it backfires.”

Sadly, professionals in the health field are seeing many negative consequences of “fast-tracking” kids. Carleton Kendrick, a Boston-area family therapist for over 30 years, explained in “Tutoring Tots?” that too much pressure to perform academically “can lead to a range of anxiety-related complaints and psychosomatic symptoms in youngsters that normally wouldn’t show up until the teen years or later … School stress can cause young children to be worried, overwhelmed, ashamed, guilty and even clinically depressed. For some, the stress can contribute to headaches, stomach upset, stuttering and insomnia.”

He continued:

“The parents think something is wrong with the child — and not the parents and teachers and education system,” says Kendrick.

“As a therapist who has seen many children become mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by being placed on this out of control, educational gerbil wheel, I hope that parents will wake up and say ‘no’ to hurrying their children through preschool and kindergarten,” he says.

I hope so, too. I hope that parents can say “no” to hurrying their children through preschool and kindergarten, and say “yes” to play.

But parents may not be able to stop these fast-track trends in schools. Their 5- and 6-year-old kids may have hop off the big yellow school bus, head into their classrooms and sit through days of drills, worksheets, and standardized test after standardized test.

If so, all the more reason to preserve “plenty of time for play at home.”

In our fast-paced, high-pressured world, our kids may not have the joy of learning through play in the school setting. But they can at least have the joy of learning through play at home.

This weekend, let’s find time for our kids to play with blocks and puppets, sandboxes and kitchen sets.

Let’s make time for play.


(Both photos: stock.xchng)

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Continuing the series “Seeing Lessons,” I asked my friend Bill Vriesema to share a few thoughts on how photography has helped him learn to see—and how learning to see has helped his photography. You can enjoy other slow-down thoughts from Bill and his wife, Judy, in the pages of Not So Fast.

Seeing through the Lens
by Bill Vriesema

It has been said that the difference between a good and a great photo is not what you include in the photo—but what you leave out. This sounds a bit ironic, doesn’t it? But think about the way many of us take those snapshot pictures of family or our vacation adventures. We tend to move back to include as much as we can in the viewfinder (or now, LCDs). Somehow, the photo we see later doesn’t have quite the impact we thought it would.

When we “see” a scene, we see selectively with our eyes—or better, our brains. Our brains can help us select what to concentrate on—but not so the camera. It sees everything. So we need to be more aware of how to “leave out” those distractions that take away from the very thing that caught our eyes in the first place.

But how?

Some ways we learn to use the camera for selective seeing is done by what we include to be in focus—and what is out of focus.  Or, we can move around the subject until we can see that the background is not busy or distracting.

In this photo I wanted to capture a photo of canoeing. At first I had my partner in the front of the canoe in the photo. Good for documenting the occasion. But something about the water coming off the paddle was mesmerizing. So, I took this shot:


This didn’t quite do it for me. The cabin in the background and the tree line pulls my eyes away from the water droplets. So I decided to leave out the background, chose a different viewpoint, and here is what I got:


Many people have told me that this photo was very “evocative” or “emotional” for them.  It is something they could relate to. They have been there. But I could not create this photo without “leaving out” that which was distracting.

Let’s try another. These cosmos flowers caught my eyes at a nearby conservatory:


I like this photo quite a bit. But from experience I knew that there was more to see. So I moved in close, tried to leave out some of the visual “noise,” and got this photo:


By getting in close and putting more of the background out of focus, I began to see a very different view of the flower. This has a stronger pull to the eye and is more peaceful and glorious (in my opinion) than the riot of flowers in the previous photo. The point is not that one photo is better than the other, but had I not eliminated the background, I would have missed out on the intricate beauty of each individual flower.

The camera lens is a wonderful way to train us to notice things we would otherwise miss. As you learn to visually “leave out” more in the photos you take, you begin to see more of what you did not see before. Insides of flowers have so much visual majesty. A leaf by itself is an abundance of shapes, lines, color and patterns. Your mind starts seeing photos everywhere. How come the world is now so full of visual feasts you didn’t see previously? For me, it was learning how to “see”—by learning what to eliminate from my view.

On a personal note, this way of seeing has more implications than photography—or any visual concept. I’ve been on a spiritual journey the past few months that has worked much the same as the camera lens. I’ve been learning to eliminate distractions from my “view,” and in doing so have been seeing more of what I believe God has wanted me to see.

Typically, to try to grow spiritually—so to speak—I would try to be more active in church, do more acts of service, say my prayers more often, etc… etc… Those are all good things, and I continue to do them. But what I have been learning, with the help of a spiritual mentor, is much like what I have been doing with my camera lens—that is, by changing my position relative to God such as to remove distractions; by changing my focus so that God’s love for me is clearer and sharper; and by “moving in closer,” I am growing in my relationship to God. I am learning to see in ways I have not seen before.

Hmmm … I can’t resist. One more photo. Learning to see can bring lots of wonderful surprises. Just after a spring rain I went around my yard looking for flower photos with rain drops on them. I discovered this little fellow who graciously posed and smiled while I took his picture.



Bill Vriesema

(Photo credit: all photos by Bill Vriesema)

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In a “not so fast” life, we try to slow down enough that we leave a little space in our schedules.


Here’s one reason:

In the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.

(Henri Nouwen, as quoted on pp. 22-23 in God in the Alley, by Greg Paul; bold emphasis mine)

I don’t want to live life so fast and so full that I miss God’s activity in my life.

I don’t want to be so preoccupied with the next thing, and the next, and the next, that no space is left for something to happen that I hadn’t planned on.

I want to create space in which God can act.

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L.L. Barkat blogs at Seedlings in Stone.

I’d visit from time to time over the years, admiring her literary style that remained inspiring and accessible.

But then something quite unexpected happened. We got to meet in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing.

To prove it, here we are (er, well, here is part of us):

That’s me on the left.

While there, I bought her book Stone Crossings, in which she digs deeply into painful, hidden places while sharing deep truths from Scripture—she is a storyteller-teacher.

And I’m grateful to let her sort of “mentor” me via her blog, where she generously models and inspires how to see. You can click over and start exploring; she can be your mentor, too.

For inspiration, take her recent post “Casting for Beauty.” In it, she invites me (and you, and anyone who clicks over and sees) to join her on a beach walk, where she found lovely angles to capture shells and stones.

But she sees more. She sees poetry in the shapes, markings and colors. She makes playful connections and reminds me to look more closely.

She uses poetry to help me see, too, and respond. Here’s a recent example of how she was inspired to respond to the art of others, and in doing so—by including the process as well as the poem—she inspires others to create, to piece words together from the pain or joy of self or others.

“Art engendered art,” she wrote.


And seeing engenders seeing.

Thank you for seeing, L.L. Barkat. Thank you for looking so closely and reminding us to see more, to respond, to create.

Pt. 1 “Seeing Lessons

Pt. 2 “Seeing Lessons: Meet a Mentor

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