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…

Something You See Everyday

Amish farmer
Amish farmer

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.

Sorry We’re Closed

February Crocus
February Crocus

It’s easy to forget that flowers that were open and enjoying the sunshine yesterday may not be open the next 30 degree morning. So I decided to go back later this afternoon with a mini tripod and high hopes. But for some reason the crocuses decided to close for the day.

I set up and took a couple of photos in between raindrops, experimenting with composition and aperture. Only the ones shot wide open at f/1.8 made any sense to me. Those images had that temporary, fleeting quality to them which is exactly what a crocus is. They are tiny bits of magic that will come up, flower, and have the bees over for lunch before disappearing completely in a very short time.

I noticed the sign at the entrance and it read Kiwanis Area Pavilion 22, which is part of Lancaster County Central Park. I also discovered this morning that they sometimes open before 8am and close at sunset. No mention of what time the flowers open so be patient.

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.

But is it Art?

Red Caboose Motel
Red Caboose Motel

It might be, but in this case it’s a photo of a horse at the Red Caboose Motel in Ronks. I used the angled strokes filter in Photoshop, adjusting the directional balance, stroke length and sharpness.

There are dozens of filter to choose from, each with at least three different options, and some have even more. You can then add or adjust other Photoshop effects and layers in literally thousands of different ways, maybe even hundreds of thousands.

People say that you can learn Photoshop in 50-100 hours, but it really takes years to get anywhere close to mastering it. It would probably be faster to learn to paint with oil on canvas, but it would definitely not be easier.

Lancaster County Flowers

Lancaster County Flowers
Lancaster County Flowers

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.

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.

Perfectionism-An Inquiry into Values

Snowdrops 2/24/17 Original
Snowdrops 2/24/17 Original

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.

Snowdrops 2/24/17 Cropped
Snowdrops 2/24/17 Cropped