Was that an accident or on purpose?

“Did you do that on purpose?”

“Was it an accident, or on purpose?”

“Did you purposely do that?”

Maybe it is being trapped inside from extreme heat or maybe it is the fact I have 4 rowdy kids, but these days, I am asking those questions a lot. A favorite glass is randomly found broken. When spooning sugar into my coffee, I find a lego man in the canister. A certain little boy emerges from his room with a big scratch. A certain little girl’s pull up is found in the toilet.

Most of the time the answer I hope to get is that the action was not intended, it was an accident. It was not on purpose.

Then it makes me think about stuff I do. I think about photography. I would say 90% of the time, my pictures are a result of purpose. I think about the desired end result and adjust my camera accordingly. In the picture, below I knew I wanted her little eye peeking over the table. As a result, I very purposely choose to overexpose the background so her face wouldn’t be so dark. (ISO 160, 1/200, f/2.8)


In this picture, I purposely blurred the container of crayons and kept my little guy sharp. (ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.8)

I purposely choose to turn this black & white…just because I liked it that way. (ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.8)

The cropping is all weird & wrong, but I did it on purpose just to capture a real life normal moment. (ISO 400, 1/125, f/2.8)

It is natural for me to be very purposeful with my camera. I can instantly know if the end result is what I want or not. Instant gratification makes being intentional so much easier.

Sometimes it is easy to get into a routine at home with kids and forget that even the smallest parts of my day should be lived on purpose…not just passed through. It is a lot harder to “see” the end result when all I see is the mess. I don’t do a lot of “HUGE” things each day. I do a lot of cleaning. I do a lot of helping. I do an insane amount of laundry. I do a lot of watercolor painting and paper sword making at the kitchen table. I do a lot of just plain ole’ normal stuff….but I want to do all that plain ole’ normal stuff on purpose – knowing my purpose revolves around 4 (can’t wait to say 5) amazing little people.

I saw this print on Pinterest. It is by Sarah Jane Studios (love her work!). You can download it for free from her blog.

I’ve got a super fun diy tutorial in the works with it….to be shared upon completion (who knows when!)

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  • Robyn Farmer - This is my prayer each day as a stay at home Mom. I don’t just want to survive, although some days that’s how I may feel. I want my days to have meaning and honor the Lord. Thanks for the reminder this morning.

  • Jennifer - Perfect timing. With my 3 home this summer I am starting to say “Did you do this?” more and more. I might just print this out and hang it up today

  • Sarah - i love this. it is a great reminder for full time working mom’s as well. sometimes i find myself getting caught up in ‘trying to keep up’ in the evenings after working all day. tring to keep up with the laundry, cleaning, cooking, and dishes. I sometimes forget to be purposefull with my little guy when i am with him. i’m going to print this off and hang it up where i can see it everyday! thank you.

  • cailan - Exactly where my thoughts are these sweet days with little people. I want more than mere survival, I want my little family to thrive and that only happens as I am purposeful and present throughout each day. Thanks for the good reminder {and the photograph FYI sandwiched in!}

  • Rachel Schindler - This is random, but what did you use to hold your plates on the wall. I spied them in the last picture. I have been thinking about doing this, but hesitant on what to use. Also, I love firecrackers look in the last picture. Also, a few months back, I won $50 towards something from house8810, I picked out the rolling laundry cart (at least that is what I call it) and I love it! Every mother should have one. So thank you!

  • Katie @ explanationrequired - I just saw that print on Pinterest yesterday too. Love it!!

  • Debbie G - Looking forward to your diy with this. I’d love to have this hanging in my house as a reminder.

  • Rebecca - I read your blog on purpose, at work, to start my day on a good note.

  • The Prairie Hen - Dear Purposely,
    I can’t wait to see what you do with this idea… I am right there with you on needing to focus on my purpose more… I get so caught up in just “doing the next thing” that I sometimes forget the “why” in it all.

    Life is no accident in NE

  • Carrie - quickly read your post – becoming my get going in the morning routine – walked back into the kitchen where my 2 1/2 year old was finishing her yogurt. She quite proudly declared, “I made mess!” with a huge yogurt covered smile across her face. Let’s just say not much yogurt was left in the bowl, and I am not sure she ate any of it! On purpose? 🙂 So what have you taught me? I pulled out my camera! Aren’t you proud?!?!

  • That Uncomfortable Itch - The other day I found a Lego man gaurding the balsamic vinegar which sits on a shelf far too high for a 6 year-old to be. I wanted to growl since he is forbidden to stand on the counters but I couldn’t help giggling. His purpose for putting it there succeeded.

    Summer can wear on a soul but it can also lead us into some serious inner exploration. Good luck with it today. 🙂

  • colette - beautiful and inspirational. a great reminder to me today. and the pictures are gorgeous and so ‘real-lfe’. love it.

  • Katie - Ashley, I am looking to purchase a new lens for my camera. I currently have two kit lens and a 50mm 1.8 {love}. Could you recommend another one that is a “must have?” -Katie

  • Lucia - Thank you for yet another lovely post. Philosophy plus photography — in your hands, such a lovely combination.

    A question – how do you adjust your settings quickly enough to capture those wonderful moments? This little eye peeking over the table…

    I have a 13-month old and a 2 1/2 year old…and they’re faster than their mommy. 🙂

  • carina@a punk, a pumpkin and a peanut - I love this post on so many levels. I love that you have to ask that question as much as I do, and I love that you turned it into a practical life lesson. Bonus: awesome photos! 🙂

  • Emily - my new years resolution is to be more present and purposeful with my days. the small moments are magical when you’re fully present for them – even if it’s just doing the 80bajillionth load of laundry.

    I love the shot of her little eye 🙂

  • Alex - Ashley, you are truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing your life and the creativity God has given you. I’m a fairly new stay at home mom and with all the many blogs out there I’ve discovered, yours is one of the few that I come away from wanting to be a better wife and mom and just be creative with my house and time. Thanks thanks.

  • Jackie Charlebois - i LOVE that you are a REAL mom… there are LOTS of things here too that are done on purpose, on accident or just in question…. 5 kids can leave a mom on her toes and prepared for anything except what is planned 🙂 same goes for photography.
    but yeah.. there does need to be an easier solution for ALL that laundry!

  • able mabel - Yes, a great post! I agree on all points.

  • Julie B - It must be the heat, because I swear there has been an insane amount of meddling and things getting broken and put in places they shouldn’t!

  • Stephanie Anderson - This article was written by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai and the first thing that came to mind when I was reading it was you. I LOVE your blog. When I’m going through the long list of blogs that I love to read daily, I usually click on yours first. You are such an inspiration and I feel like you follow every one of Cheryl’s pieces of advice for photographers! Great work!!!

    “I get asked all the time, during workshops, in e-mails, in private messages, what words of wisdom I would give to a new and aspiring photographer. Here’s my answer.”

    – Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.

    – Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.

    – Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus.

    – Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.

    – Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.

    – You cannot specialize in everything.

    – You don’t have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you don’t have to be full time and making an executive income to be successful. If you decide you want to be in business, set your limits before you begin.

    – Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.

    – Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.

    – Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?

    – Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.

    – Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.

    – It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter. Until you can use those tools consistently and masterfully, don’t spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it. There are no magic bullets.

    – Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.

    – Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.

    – Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.

    – Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacency.

  • maja - Thanks for the reminder. As a stay-at-home mom (of 3), I often forget to cherish all the small, seemingly mundane parts of my day. They go by so quickly and it’s good to be reminded that these are the moments that I will look back on and long for. Your reminder will change how I go through the rest of my day. Thank you!

  • Marty - I would love my son to answer me the “why did you do that Q” sometimes, but he barely says “mama”… Latest was using the time I was in the shower, running away from daddy, climbing the stairs… butt naked (he left the diaper at the very bottom stair), and laughing hysterically in front of my bathroom doors. Why, baby, why the naked booty?

  • Jodi - I just read a quote the other day that said: “Asking a person (child) why they did something just teaches them to make excuses.”. Wow, huh?! This has made me reevaluate how I approach my kiddos now. Sometimes I think I was setting them up to make excuses and even lie. Good advice.

  • monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly - […] live your life on purpose (free downloadable print). via: under the sycamore […]

  • Tammia - Loved this post for many reasons. One reason: I’m taking your online SnapShops course and your blog posts go hand in hand with the course content. Thank you for sharing the details of how you composed the photo and your camera settings…I have learned so much about photography (and I really knew nothing) from your blog & your course. Thanks for taking the time to explain the little details of how to capture the stories of our lives.

  • Honor Roll | Making it Lovely - […] This was an interesting post on photography: Was that an accident or on purpose? […]

  • Shannon(8foot6) - Lovely photos…this is the first blog post of yours I am reading, but I already predict that I will be a long time follower!!!!
    Five kids? You, mom, are a ROCKSTAR! I am incubating baby two at the moment and I already wonder how much more cleaning, laundry, happy AND unhappy accidents I can take on!

  • Jenny - Wait!…. Are you expecting? Did I miss something?? No one else on the comments seems to be thrown off by the “(can’t wait to say 5)”.

  • crazy love. | common threads - […] so appropriate given my thoughts this week. i want to live a purposeful life-in the workplace, in our home, with my friends. it’s easy to lose focus on what is near & dear and simply focus on making it through another week… …i want to face each day with determination. with a thankful heart. with PURPOSE. found here via here. […]

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