Buying the Farm

The Farm
The Farm

As I get older I find myself thinking a lot about buying the farm. There are two ways to do it: one is to quit your job (if you have one) and literally buy a farm in the middle of nowhere, the other way is to stop breathing.

I know that everyone will buy the farm sooner or later and to deny it is futile, but I have to wonder what it will be like. Will it be an endless succession of meaningless working days like Sisyphus rolling a rock uphill for eternity, or will it be more like Green Acres?

I like to imagine that being on the farm with my wife Lisa will be frustrating but there will still be good times. Mr. Haney will finally sell me a washing machine that works. Sam Drucker will eventually get those seeds I ordered, and the girls from Petticoat Junction will move into the guest house (Lisa is fine with it).

And one stormy day while sitting around the general store, Eb will ask me if I think the rain will hurt the rhubarb. And I’ll smile because I learned the answer to that question long ago working with a Polish house painter. Not if it’s in the can Eb, not if it’s in the can.

The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour?
The Golden Hour?

The golden hour, also known as the magic hour, refers to the period just after sunrise or just before sunset, and its length depends on where you are and what time of year it is.

Some say that the golden hour is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. It seems as easy as falling off a log, just show up at the right time and your photos will be amazing right? No.

The afternoon is a lot easier for several reasons. You can see where the sun is and decide where you want to be. You can also decide if it’s worth waiting around or if the clouds will block out all that beautiful light. Also there’s a good chance you’re already awake.

I prefer the morning because I’m a masochist, and because it’s usually much calmer. But instead of finishing dinner and heading out late afternoon I have to set my alarm, fortunately I have insomnia so I’m already up.

If you’re taking photos in your backyard you can wake up at first light or slightly earlier, otherwise you need to give yourself a few hours. Consider the drive, stopping for coffee, reflecting on the meaning of life (should be done while it’s still dark) and time to set everything up.

So today I got up at 3:30, decided to go out at 4 and was in place with coffee reflecting by 5:00. I watched the sky get light, the clouds open up then close again before it got darker and a few minutes later it rained.

Of course you can take photos anytime, especially if you’re not shooting landscapes, you just won’t have that warm, magic light that photographers crave, you also won’t have to get up knowing it might rain on your parade.

Walt Whitman once said: “To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.” It may help to tell yourself that while waiting for the storm to pass and realizing that you could easily be in bed dreaming of rainbows and unicorns.

Note: rainbows only happen near the golden hour when the sun is low in the sky and unicorns are rarely found in the daytime, plus you need a virgin to lure them in close enough for a good shot.

Between a Fence and a Hard Place

On the fence
On the fence

I saw these huge flowers this morning which I now believe are Hibiscus, also known as dinner plates. The light was fairly good and it seemed as calm as a lake in heaven, until I set up my tripod. Then they started to move.

I’m not sure why, I didn’t shoot down on them and tried my best to show their good side, but no matter what I did they swayed back and forth slowly like a drunk sailor (no offence to sailors or drunks). After about a half hour I was about to give up when I saw one on the fence.

The dictionary definition of being on the fence is to be uncommitted or undecided in a controversy. I believe the controversy here was whether or not to let me take some decent photos and the majority decision was not to. But she was wedged in tight and we both knew it.

There’s probably an important lesson to be learned here about resistance. Suzy Kassem said: “When you keep hitting walls of resistance in life, the universe is trying to tell you that you are going the wrong way.” On the other hand, Constance Friday said: “Resistance is a sign that shows you’re going the right way”

Next time I hold them in place or find one on a fence. For a fraction of a second I considered picking some and bringing them home but that would be wrong on too many levels. Karma is a bitch.

The KKK Took My Baby Away

The miracle of a single flower
The miracle of a single flower

It was a beautiful morning as I headed to the Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant in Smoketown to visit the sunflower baby from my post Great Expectations. I was excited to see her progress over the last week and a half and expected a beautiful flower smiling at the sun.

I knew exactly where she was because last time I parked right in front of a sign that said Thou Shalt Not Park Here. And as I got out with camera and tripod to wait for the light I saw total devastation, someone had cut all of them down and left nothing but stems.

My first thought, logically, was that The KKK took my baby away; they took her away, away from me. The KKK took my baby away, they took my girl, they took my baby away. Maybe because the Ramones were just on the radio as I pulled in, but it made sense.

As I stood there dumbfounded, a waitress walked up and explained that they cut them down to put on the tables as decorations, oh. So I asked her how I could see the miracle of a single flower clearly if they keep cutting them down.

She said it was probably a good idea to appreciate them while they’re here and pointed to a small patch of new ones in between the wheat. I realized she was right, took a few photos and tried my best to see the miracle.

I suddenly caught a fleeting glimpse as the sun lit her up, and just as my whole life was beginning to change I slipped in the wet grass and fell on my butt. The flowers and the waitress thought this was hysterical, and at that moment I had an epiphany. Change is as hard and as messy as a muddy, rock filled field.

So today the only thing that changed was my pants, but tomorrow is another day and I’ll try again. Robin Sharma said that change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. I wish the waitress said that, it would have made my whole day.

Can Lightroom Presets Save You?

Thomas Gets Clean
Thomas Gets Clean

Lightroom presets may not save you but they might be able to save you some time in post processing. Even if you don’t like the effect you can learn how it was created by looking at the applied settings, then just reset and start over.

The above photo is a RAW file converted using B&W Sombre Street, which is one in a set of twelve free presets called Street-Photography by Contrastly. Another set of presets I’ve found useful are offered by ON1.

Between the two there are ten free sets contain well over 150 different presets as well as free brushes for making local adjustments. Installing and removing them is as easy as shooting a bald eagle at the Conowingo Dam with a $12,000 600mm lens, maybe even easier.

All presets work with Adobe Lightroom 4, 5, 6, and CC. I downloaded mine a long time ago for Lightroom 3, so if you need that just do a quick search for older versions. Don’t forget to apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos, they leave that up to you.

This photo is far from perfect but it took me ten seconds using the preset versus at least ten minutes to convert to black and white manually. Other than recovering some blown highlights you would never notice the difference at this size anyway.

Remember, you can’t save a bad photo; you can only convince yourself that it’s not a bad photo.

Note: Thomas is not in this facility to get clean and sober, he’s just having a bath. I feel it’s important to point this out for those who think that all trains come from the wrong side of the tracks.

Free Presets for Adobe Lightroom ON1 Inc.

Free Street Photography Presets by Contrastly

Amish Dreams

For sale-$3000 OBO
For sale-$3000 OBO

Young Jacob comes running in the door one afternoon as excited as a rooster at dawn and pleads his case: “Dad-Dad-Samuel Stoltzfus is finally selling his buggy for only $3000 or best offer! Can you buy it for me-please, please, please?

Even the Amish know that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, but he’s a good kid and it’s about time for him to have his own vehicle. So after milking the cows they go down and take a look.

Dads been around buggies all his life and he knows his stuff. He walks around slowly and looks for repairs to the body. Then he inspects the rims as well as the suspension and lights. Its bad, probably run into ground by Eli and Amos those hooligans. But Jacob sees only independence and freedom.

Dad says: Tell ya what son, at the end of the corn season you can have my old one and I’ll see about getting myself something new. Jacob is a little disappointed but in November he’ll be 16 and that means Rumspringa. He knows that patience is a virtue, and with a buggy and a little luck he might just end up with Emmas.

Were you born in a barn?

Barn find
Barn find

When I was growing up my father was very fond of the phrase: Close the door, were you born in a barn? I felt this was rhetorical so I never answered, but I always wondered about the barn lifestyle.

It must be a great place to live I thought, because for one thing you apparently didn’t have to close the doors. But we lived in Levittown, Long Island in the 60’s and there were no barns anywhere to be found.

Later we moved further East to Setauket, and in the woods behind our house was a real barn, doors open and everything. The owner was said to be insane and shooting trespassers was not out of the question so I never had the nerve to see it up close.

Here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania there are almost as many barns as soccer moms who drive like Indy Car racers. And I still wonder what it would be like to live in one. I have a feeling it’s probably cold in the winter, hot in the summer, smelly and buggy.

Of course some people renovate old barns to perfection, complete with heat, air conditioning, windows and even doors that close and lock. But I think that most of the people who can afford that were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south. The simple things I see are all complicated, I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.

If you meet the snapping turtle in the road…

Snapping Turtle-Lancaster County Park
Snapping Turtle-Lancaster County Park

If you meet the snapping turtle in the road call the turtle man. Unfortunately the turtle man lives in Kentucky so you might have to figure something out for yourself. Based on today’s experience, I strongly suggest you do not try to pick him up.

I’ve saved many turtles in my day by gently moving them across the road in the direction they were traveling, so I thought: why is this day different than any other day? And as he went to bite off my hand I realized that snapping turtles have a bit of an attitude.

When I first saw him I wasn’t even sure it was a turtle it looked so strange. So I got out to confirm this and ran back for my camera. After a few quick shots I decided to save him from becoming a paperweight, but I guess he wasn’t thinking that far ahead and resisted. Then I got my other camera.

Several drivers slowed to look at the turtle and the photographer in the middle of the road, some gave advice and some made jokes. But it only takes one person driving while on their phone to run us both over so I nudged him across.

Park rangers showed up and after a brief discussion everyone felt he was fine where he was, safely on the other side of the road in the wet grass. I was the only one that knew he was actually headed up the hill, possibly for a Slurpee, but he’s an adult and has to play the hand he’s dealt. Fortunately it wasn’t mine.