This is Vaughn. He is the reason I bought a "real" camera.

When he died in 2007 after 18 months of hospice for chronic active hepatitis, I thought the best parts of my life were over. For real.

I was in a bad way.

There was the Grief of his physical absence. There was the Grief of the things he would miss and that I would miss with him. There was the Grief of the unfairness of his short life.

Then there was the guilt. The guilt was more punishing than the Grief. I'll sit with Grief any day of the week; guilt I am not happy to see. I hadn't done enough. He wasn't comfortable enough. His life wasn't engaging enough. I didn't deserve him. All of these things I told myself.

The good news is that I am in a good place with his death (13 years later) and I don't carry that guilt with me anymore.

One of the unexpected pains of guilt I felt was around photographs. I didn't have enough of them. The ones I had weren't good enough. I had wanted to pursue photography as a hobby for so long, and I put it off because I was giving everything over to Vaughn's care beyond basic life stuff. The infusion appointments. The pharmacy pick ups. The special diet. The very long walks over a very short distance. And the super important work of stroking his impossibly velvety ears between my finger and thumb.

It crushed me that I didn't have better photographs of him.

Two months after he died, I bought my first "real" camera. It was an entry level SLR, and I mistakenly believed that upgrading from a point-and-shoot camera would instantly improve my photographs. I believed this so strongly that I accepted almost no responsibility for improving my skills for close to one year - instead I waited for the magic to happen. I have this camera and it should do this stuff automagically, right?

I eventually realized I needed to invest effort in learning how to use the camera, and in 2009 I started my first photography business. My photographs from 2009 were . . . not solid.

Photography became my primary tool for coping with what was bigger than me. Stressful day at work? Take out the camera. In awe of the wonders of Nature? Take out the camera. Frustrated with a project? Take out the camera.

When I held my camera, I saw the world differently. I started to notice things I hadn't before, and I wondered if they had always been like that. I documented the routine and ordinary parts of our lives. This camera time allows me to focus (ha) on something for a while and not get caught up in stuff that doesn't matter. And later, I can return to the photograph and revisit it all over again. This wasn't accessible to me before I knew how to see the world differently, because I didn't know what to look for. I hadn't given myself permission to see beyond the things I had already seen.

For me, photography is much less about the final photograph and much more about being engaged in life. A lot of people think that ducking behind a camera is escaping from life, and that may be true for some; for me it's a kind of intimacy that I had to learn about and practice, and the process of seeing through a viewfinder required that I connect with the subject in ways I hadn't thought to before.

All of this stuff is what I am bringing to my new way of offering photography guidance. I don't like group classes or workshops because I see that people don't get the most from those. One-on-one sessions are fantastic and yet impractical for a lot of people. So I'm putting what I know on reference cards as ingredients for soul-shaking photography. They aren't meant to be technical guides, but more like spiritual, wise grandmother types of things that invite you to find your own path with lots of guidance.

I'm doing it because I don't want anyone else to feel the guilt I felt after Vaughn died of a life insufficiently documented. I'm doing it because I believe that photography can be something you lean on when you don't know what else to do, and in practicing you'll learn how to see what was hiding in plain sight all this time. There will be different editions of these cards and because they are ingredients for your own recipes, you can mix and match them at will. The first edition is the basics that everyone can use. Future editions will concentrate on specific species, nonprofits (shelters and rescues), businesses, and intermediate and advanced stuff. Each set retails for $50, and if you can't find it in the shop you can send me a message and we'll work it out.