Month: March 2017

Photography Training

Strasburg Rail Road HDR
Strasburg Rail Road HDR

You can learn a lot photographing trains on a cloudy day by experimenting with composition, exposure and aperture. This morning I went down to the Strasburg Rail Road to see if I could learn anything new, but I found the same things that were true the last time I was there were true today.

Just like Freud’s cigar, sometimes a train is just a train, but adding a person to the photo can make it much more interesting.

Composition is probably the most important thing besides the subject, and you can only do so much with a boring gray sky.

Taking a hundred or more shots is easy to do, even though I know that I only need one good one, or at least one decent one.

Finally, post processing RAW files with Lightroom, Photoshop and HDR software will not make a bad photo great, and the time comes when a decision has to be made when to call it done and read the Sunday newspapers.

As Ansel Adams one said: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” I stood behind another photographer and watched the smoke and mirror show from a distance, and it was good enough to make the trip worthwhile. Next time I’ll shoot the conductor (not literally).

Pre-Columbian Artifacts

Pre-Columbian Artifacts
Pre Columbian Artifacts

Just to be clear, Pre-Columbian art refers to art from the Caribbean, North, Central, and South Americas, think statues and vessels. The artifacts I photographed are not thousands of years old, but they are artifacts and they are from Columbia, Pennsylvania.

What makes them Pre-Columbian is that they are not originally from Columbia. They come from attics, garages, and basements everywhere, then are brought into a consignment shop like this one.

There they sit until someone sees something they can’t live without, buys it, and sometime later it goes back into an attic, garage or basement. It’s the cycle of antique life and it’s a huge business in many parts of P.A.

These strangely beautiful mannequins are a steal at $140 each. The possible uses are endless from a passenger for the HOV lane to a model for portrait photography practice.

There was a movie in the late 80’s where a sexy mannequin comes to life, though that rarely happens these days. They do sell some online with much more lifelike features, but that’s a whole different shade of gray.

The Charnel Grounds of Columbia

Motorcycle Charnel Grounds
Motorcycle Charnel Grounds

Sometimes you find yourself in a strange place, and then try to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning to be found in the experience. So it was when I found myself in the motorcycle charnel grounds on the second floor of The Cycle Den in Columbia.

It was a depressing place, as I imagine the charnel grounds in Tibet are with the giant vultures, but depressing in a different way. I looked at those old machines and saw the people that once owned and loved them.

These now decaying bikes represented freedom, adventure and escape. I remembered the quote by Hafiz: “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”

It is said that the Buddha encouraged his students to meditate in the charnel grounds as a way of releasing the ultimate attachment: the attachment to one’s body and to this life itself. So despite the overwhelming sadness, I stayed to reflect on the impermanence of all things, and how the pursuit of pleasure is a paradox.

Dan Aykroyd once said: “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” This may or may not be true, but having sold mine last fall I am now back in therapy.

I drive there in my SUV with the radio on and the feeling of safety that comes with four wheels and airbags. It’s as close to feeling alive as playing virtual golf, with a virtual caddie and drinking a virtual martini.

Contentment and Catnaps

Zen cat
Zen cat

The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

Socrates said: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Yes, but I want more…

I was in a greenhouse yesterday looking at seeds and starter plants, it was really a beautiful place to be, and for almost three minutes I was content. A cat calmly strolled in and completely ignored me, or so I thought.

I remember Eckhart Tolle saying something about cats as Zen masters, so I asked this cat to teach me about contentment. Again he ignored me, but I watched him.

He walked carefully between the rows of flowers and herbs, and I wondered if he was telling me to take time to smell the flowers. Then he began eating them, and I wasn’t sure if this was a sign to eat healthier or to do whatever makes you happy.

After he finished destroying a basil plant he hopped off the table and headed to his favorite place, which was literally the best seat in the house. He lay down on some warm boards in front of a sunny window, and looked at me as if to say: take a picture it’ll last longer, and then went to sleep.

If he was trying to tell me something I missed it, and on the way home I thought about new motorcycles, mansions and yachts, just a few of the things I feel I need to be content.

But I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, I had enough money for lunch, and I had a picture of a Zen cat.

Charles M. Schulz said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”

Maybe that was his message; maybe I simply needed a catnap. So I went home and took a nap in my warm bed in front of a sunny window, and it was good. Now all I need is to move into this greenhouse and start eating plants.

There’s a great shade tree to park my bike under, my yacht will be moored of course, and as Elmer J. Fudd taught us, nobody really needs a mansion.

Abandoned Amusements

Rocky Springs Park
Rocky Springs Park

Rocky Springs was an amusement park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that was in operation from 1890 to 1966. The park featured four roller coasters, three made of wood and one of steel.

Their first coaster was a Figure 8, which allowed for more turns and offered riders an alternative experience. It began its run by heading through a wooden tunnel, just high enough to accommodate the passengers. There were newspaper reports of accidents from people standing and hitting their heads, but most considered that part of the fun.

Today there is a Rocky Springs Entertainment Center (bowling alley) and a Rocky Springs Bed and Breakfast. On the 17 acre B&B property, remnants include the carousel building, a snack stand, and this set of cars from the Rocky Springs 1928 Wildcat roller coaster.

Five miles away is a modern amusement park called Dutch Wonderland, with 44 acres of roller coasters, water slides, kid’s shows and campgrounds. Popular with tourists and summer locals, Dutch Wonderland is probably much safer then the old Rocky Springs Park, but I doubt it’s the same alternative experience.

The End of the Ice Age

Strasburg Rail Road
Strasburg Rail Road

I was at the Strasburg Rail Road yesterday watching them plowing the line all the way to Paradise (the town) with something called a wedge. It was a beautiful day and I could see that spring was right around the corner, as sure as I was standing there shooting icicles.

I was as sure as eggs in April, as sure as the steeple bears the bell, as sure as an obligation sealed in butter. But the Vernal Equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator, it does not mean that the fairies come out to dance.

I will be up at 6:28 am on Monday though, camera in hand, just to make sure.

Still Life with Eckhart Tolle

Still Life with Eckhart Tolle
Still Life with Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle wrote a book called stillness speaks, it’s about stillness (obviously), life, and in its own way it’s about still life photography. So since we’re having a blizzard today, I decided to look into his theories and see if I could discover some stillness with a still life.

My first thought was that taking a photo of a needle and thread is stupid, it’s not creative and it’s certainly not art. Then I remember E.T. saying: “All artists, whether they know it or not create from a place of inner stillness, a place of no mind.” Oh.

My second thought was that I needed to find a way to make this interesting, and I was having some problems because of thought one. But E.T. said: “Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” So I think that meant to tighten up my tripod.

I was really trying to make this work but was getting more frustrated by the minute. To this E.T. said: “Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.” That’s slightly confusing but probably true.

Later, I went through all the photos to see if there was one worth keeping, and I started having some crazy thoughts; the needle and the damage done, the needle and the spoon, and the fact that I’ve never been to the Space Needle in Seattle.

So once again I looked to E.T. for help, to which he said: “Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”

Right then, now if I can just sit still until it stops snowing I can go out and get some great winter shots. I will look at things in the most unserious way I can, maybe even shooting only JPEG, but I doubt it.

Life and Death at Lititz Springs Park

Gone but not forgotten
Gone but not forgotten

I was reading the Lancaster newspaper this morning, and saw an article about a duckling in Lititz Springs Park with an Instagram photo by Brian J. Wilson titled Quack! I figured it was from last year because they usually don’t show up until April, so I took a ride to the pond to see for myself.

I walked around and didn’t see anything until I got to the end, then saw a tiny ball of yellow fur floating around in deep water. A woman walked by and asked if it was real, and said he was probably abandoned, would likely die today, and that it was very sad.

It was 25 degrees and the water must have been even colder, so I reached in and pulled him out. He was struggling but I thought he would recover and took a quick photo. Gently moving him away from the ledge, I watched to see if he would shake it off and waddle away, but he didn’t.

There was nothing I could do so I watched him for a few minutes and saw that he was quickly dying. The woman was right, he would die today and it was very sad.

I thought about not posting this photo but it’s a reminder of how fragile life is, and how quickly it can end. There’s really nothing more to say.