Month: February 2017

What Difference a Day Makes

Crocus 2/28/17
Crocus 2/28/17

I went back to the park this afternoon for two reasons, I have too much time on my hands and I like to watch the progress of the spring flowers. And I’m obsessed with photography and if I don’t get out of the house I go stir crazy, so four reasons.

Yesterday the crocuses were closed for the day and today they were open for business. What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours…

Nothing Is Black and White

Strasburg Rail Road
Strasburg Rail Road

In photography, a lot of things are black, white, and fifty shades of grayscale. People, animals and landscapes sometimes do look better in monochrome, but it’s also a way to compensate for the fact that the light was bad.

I took this at the Strasburg Rail Road station at 10:30am, too late in the morning for the best light. The left side, which I kept in color for scientific purposes, is pretty good but the rest is washed out, and the patch of sky on the top right was almost pure white. I liked the composition so I tried to make it work as a color photo but couldn’t. That left me with a couple of options.

I could tell myself that steam engines are awesome, and that color and sharpness don’t matter because it’s only a photo. Or convert to monochrome and call it done. I live close enough to go back and try to do better, so I converted the RAW file to black and white using Lightroom, in what could have been a ten second process using a Photoshop action.

The Strasburg Rail Road takes you on a 45-minute, round-trip ride through the tranquil Amish countryside to Paradise (Pennsylvania) and back. If tranquility is not your style but you like trains, photo opportunities are yours for the taking.

Starting in April they have trains that leave at 6pm on Saturday, and the best place to watch or photograph them is in the parking lot of the nearby Red Caboose Motel. Somewhere around 6:45-7:00 on those nights, they will be slowly chugging back to the station toward you, with amazing light low in the sky in just the right direction for a perfect trainspotting photo.

Note: it’s very easy to get excited and blow the shot completely, but remember, steam engines are awesome, and color and sharpness don’t matter because it’s only a photo.

Strasburg Rail Road B&W
Strasburg Rail Road B&W

The Search for Truth

Long’s Park Heron
Long’s Park Heron

This is one of the Herons that live at Long’s Park, and the possible murderer of the goldfish I wrote about in an earlier post. He seems to be searching for something, although it’s more likely to be a snack than the truth.

Roughly thirty five years ago I was in a topless bar ordering my third scotch. An old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin, looked at me and asked: “What is truth?” I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

Hakuin Ekaku, one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism, is reported to have said; “Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.”

Yes…of course. And if I didn’t quit drinking, I’ve have a few Yoichi Single Malts at the Seventh Heaven in Tokyo, and think about that for a while.

The Rules of The Road

Spring Bulbs
Spring Bulbs

An interesting rule of composition is called the rule of odds, which suggests that an odd number of objects can work better than an even number. For example, a single flower framed correctly (yes, more rules), can appear to have better balance than two flowers together.

Others say that by using an odd number of objects, you’re actually encouraging the viewer to create their own balance. So the whole concept is either classic genius or nonsense.

So what happens if you see some gorgeous bulbs bulbing by the side of the road in good light? You grab your camera and fire off a few quick shots wide open to emphasize that ethereal quality of flowers. Looking at them later, you see that by some happy or unhappy accident you have only two of them in focus, or as much as is possible at f/1.8.

Now what? What will your friends and family say, your art teacher, the boys at the bar choking down chicken wings, the girls at the bowling alley missing the 7-10 splits? How can you possibly explain why you broke the rules?

You frantically think of something to say, something about rules, but all you can remember is the Fight Club thing. So take a deep breath and quote Ansel Adams: “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

If that doesn’t cut it, mention the Fibonacci spiral and numbers, which of course you know like the back of your hand. That should be enough to confuse and yet impress almost anyone.

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi?
Wabi-Sabi?

Wabi-sabi represents Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature.

In this case, it’s a broken piano that was left outside the old Weavertown one room schoolhouse for over a year. I felt it was beautiful, imperfect and incomplete. As for it being impermanent, the schoolhouse is now an antique store and the piano is no longer there. Time marches on.

The Old Ones

Don and Ann's Antique Roe
Don and Ann’s Antique Roe

I used to see old film cameras in antiques shops now and then, but never so many in one place. This is a small selection that was in Don and Ann’s Antique Roe in Bird In Hand, a fantastic little shop that is now closed. He had four shelves filled with old cameras, lenses, bags, and tripods. There was even a shelf of video equipment including 8 and Super 8 millimeter movie cameras and projectors.

I wondered about all the people that loved these cameras and the places they took them. Vacations, fishing trips, birthday parties, weddings, or maybe even to photograph bald eagles at the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, where $10,000 lenses are now as common as the vultures that chew on cars.

One day I decided to capture these with my digital camera, but in a way that was reminiscent of the film camera experience. I set up my tripod in the narrow isle, moved a few of them around, and in aperture priority took a total of eight of what I felt were carefully composed shots.

I would have taken more but Don was making me nervous standing behind me whistling. I forgot to check my settings and in the dim light my camera decided that ISO 800 was best. I also didn’t realize that I was shooting JPEG instead of RAW. It was a lot like the days of using my old Canon Sure Shot 35mm, which is now considered vintage and is selling on Etsy for $90. Take a few shots and hope for the best.

These days I can take 100 shots of whatever, edit them in 100 ways, and keep the best one or two. Maybe photography is too easy now, less challenging. I’ll think about that later when I have to make the life changing decision of which method to use to convert to black and white. Note: there are as many ways to convert to black and white as there are people selling 35 year old 35 millimeter cameras online.

Games People Play

Cash4Life
Cash4Life

I’ve been playing the lottery more than usual lately but strictly for mental health reasons; I want a new motorcycle. I didn’t say that I need a new motorcycle but I want one. Will a new bike make me happy? Will $1000 a day or $1000 a week make me happy? Maybe.

Yesterday I played Cash4Life and surprisingly did not win. The odds of winning $1,000 a day for life are 1 in 21,846,048, but, and this is a big but, the odds of winning $1000 a week for life are only 1 in 7,282,016. Ridiculous yes, but I’m not the only one playing this game.

I used to wonder why older people stood in line to play these games, and by older I mean 70 and up. I guess that they, like everyone else think that money will change everything. And it will, but not always in a good way. So what is the point you might ask?

I think my point is that people spend a lot of time dreaming about the way things could be, how much better life would be if only…the list goes on and on. In Buddhism this is the essence of the Second Noble Truth, which says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness.

I told the girl at the store that I would be better off giving the money to charity than wasting it on lottery tickets. Now I know that the lottery helps older Americans in many ways but I have an alternative plan. I’m going to take that money and donate to a charity called Ride for Kids with all proceeds benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

As selfless as this might sound, they have a raffle where every five dollars donated enters you in a sweepstakes to win a custom motorcycle. And I might still occasionally play the lottery, maybe once a week or so, but only because I can use a new pair of sneakers. And a car, and a motorcycle, and a mansion and a yacht.

Read more about the Ride For Kids Project Here

The Key to Obsessive Compulsive Photography Disorder

Keys
Keys

This is a photo I took of some old keys, obviously. It was a simple matter of arranging, lighting, taking a few shots on a tripod, processing the RAW files in Lightroom, editing in Photoshop, and then a little tweaking in Photomatix Essentials for an HDR effect.

So I asked myself, am I obsessive, compulsive or possibly both? I wasn’t sure so I did some research on the five types of OCD.

The first type is cleaning obsessions, such as cleaning your camera and lenses with a special microfiber cloth kept in a special package and folded in a special way.

Next are checking obsessions, which can include checking camera settings frequently like shooting modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus points, exposure mode and white balance.

The third type is obsessions without visible compulsions, which can involve intrusive thoughts such as previsualization, and in extreme cases this is known as Dryshooting.

Not surprisingly there are also hoarding obsessions, which may involve accumulating tripods, lens hoods, filters, and new equipment of all kinds whether you need it or not (do not keep a copy of the B&H photo video catalog under your bed).

And finally, obsessions with ordering, arranging and counting compulsions, which would realistically be almost everything else involved with photography.

So in my case, the answer might be yes, but it gives me something to do and it’s much better than sitting in a recliner, drinking vodka and watching daytime TV. (I’m guessing).

Something In The Way

Left for dead
Left for dead

Kurt Cobain once sang that fish don’t have any feelings, and I wonder if that’s true. I was walking around Long’s Park a while ago and saw a partly mangled dead goldfish. My guess is that one of the Herons that live there got over ambitious and bit off more than he could chew, or maybe left to invite his friends for lunch. So I took a few pictures because I was intrigued by the whole thing.

Then the fish moved. At first I thought this was strange because dead fish rarely move, but apparently she was not quite done being alive. So being a fisherman I considered throwing her back, but the wounds were serious.

If only I was a fish doctor, if only I got there earlier, if only I won the Powerball last night, if only, well, that fish was screwed no matter what. So I watched her for a minute wondering if she was suffering. I imagined she was as I would be if I got eaten by a giant bird and left for dead like that.

I finally kicked her back into the lake in the delusional hope that she would take a couple of deep breaths and swim away with just a flesh wound, warning her fish friends to stay deep. But she floated on the top with those terrified eyes staring right at me.

It became too painful to watch and I told myself it was the natural cycle of life, survival of the fittest and all that. And that maybe fish don’t have any feelings and she wasn’t suffering at all.

In goldfish heaven there are no angry birds.