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…
Back when Vanna White was in school learning prepositional phrases, there was a game show on TV with a duck that dropped down holding a secret word for a chance to win $100. It was a common ordinary word, something you see everyday.
Living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I see the Amish every day. I see them riding in buggies, working on the farm, stepping into shoes and dipping in the pocket of their raincoats. This may be as close as you can get to the chop wood, carry water way of life.
I shot this photo of a young Amish man working on his farm that is right behind a group of kitschy restaurants and tourists attractions. Places with names like Dutch Haven, Amish stuff, and the quintessential Grandma Jack’s Gourmet Popcorn. The people that see scenes like this must think about their own lives, the choices they made and the games that they play.
There was a time when I went to meetings with many steps and bad coffee, where we compared miseries and complained. Sooner or later, someone would inevitably say that you have to play the hand you’re dealt, meaning to accept the things that you can’t change. But what about the second part of their favorite slogan, to change the things that you can?
The real question might be, if life is a game, can you try for a better hand, or at least draw a few new cards? And what about the stakes, how much should you bet? Knowing that it’s the only game in town, you have to go all in and ignore the odds; you have to bet your life.
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.
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.
These Irises are some of the first flowers to come up in a part of Lancaster County Central Park that I visit every spring. This section is on Eshelman Mill Road about a quarter mile down from the Shuts Environmental Library (look for the gates). The flower patch is at the end of the road opposite the maintenance building, with a large parking lot that’s always empty.
Blue Crocuses are already popping up and white ones will be there in a few days. Bluebells will also make an appearance a little later in the season. The best light is early to late afternoon depending on clouds, and they don’t open the gates until 8:00am.
If you have time, stop at the garden of five senses, which is only a few minutes away and well worth a look. Tulips, bleeding hearts and many other flowers are in the garden between late February and April. The garden is open to the public year round, and the paved walkway easily accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and very slow photographers.
Note: Hundreds of deer live in this 544 acre park and wander around like they own the place. Drive slowly early in the morning and late afternoon, especially near the Rock Ford Plantation where they get together to discuss which plants to eat next.
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.
I wasn’t going to post these photos because I felt they weren’t good enough. The first shot is the original; the second one is cropped and processed in Lightroom. The flower is perfect, but the photos are far from it in my opinion. “Live your life as an experiment” said Chögyam Trungpa, so I will consider that and maybe learn something in the process.
I’ve been at the garden of five senses in Lancaster County Central Park photographing these snowdrops since they came up early this month. Out of close to a thousand images I saved less than ten, because none were exactly what I wanted, none of them were perfect.
I was taught in rehab, both times, that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity, but I was not there for a photography obsession. As every photographer knows, a photo can always be better; we know this is true from all those terrible shots of Bigfoot.
So when does the search for the perfect photo go from an enjoyable hobby to an all consuming obsession? Maybe it’s a question of quality, an inquiry into values. But as Robert Pirsig found out, this is a very slippery slope.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig said; “You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.” Oh.
So no more going back to the park at dusk every afternoon waiting for that amazing light and trying for the perfect photo, been there, done that. I’ll go back at dawn when the sun is rising just over the trees tops, lighting up this little patch of miracles in a way that I can only describe as perfect. And I’ll try again.
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.
I think many of us forget that there was a time when anything seemed possible. For me it’s easy to focus on all the things that I can’t do, the things that I’m afraid to do, and with my self imposed limitations I create my own small world, my own prison.
I want to relearn that in reality, there is really nothing to lose, and that the sky’s the limit.
I’ve had insomnia ever since I was very young, my mother tells me that as a baby I sometimes woke up two or three times a night crying. I don’t remember that, but she has no reason to lie so I guess it’s true.
These days I rarely wake up crying but often have trouble staying asleep. Experts suggest things like getting up and doing a relaxing activity in dim light. So at 4:30am I decided to do just that. Checking the weather forecast, I saw that a dense fog advisory was in effect with scattered light rain, perfect.
I headed to the Columbia–Wrightsville Bridge to stare at the lights and maybe get an interesting shot of the fog rolling in over the Susquehanna River. In theory this should be relaxing, but between stumbling around in the dark over boulders and waiting for dawn it wasn’t.
The water was calm and the reflections were beautiful, but the fog was nowhere to be found. So I decided to take a couple of photos of the bridge and go home and go back to sleep. About 6:30 the fog finally rolled in and I started to get tired, but my mind was filled with what are known as intrusive thoughts. Was a 4 second exposure too long? Did I blow the highlights? Is photography actually a complete waste of time?
Eventually all of those questions were answered: no, a little bit, and maybe. But for some reason I still could not get back to sleep. Maybe it was the four cups of black coffee and the six cigarettes and maybe not. I blame Scott Kelby for insisting that if you want good photos you have to get up very early and stay out very late. Note to self-reread the chapter about shooting on cloudy days.