Category: Light

Camels, Sunflowers and Perfect Light

First Sunflower-Best Sunflower
First Sunflower-Best Sunflower

I wasted almost a half hour driving around to find the N.Y. Times early this morning. As usual the cashier asked: “Is this newspaper really six dollars?” (If I go to NYC its only $5 but I have things to do). Despite the forecast of a mostly cloudy day with heavy rain this afternoon it was beautiful.

I had my camera with me and was deciding whether to photograph the baby camels that live on a local farm or a flower garden in front of a restaurant a mile away. I had a feeling the camels would either be covered with flies or out in the middle of the field but I went anyway. I was right about both so I decided I’ve got to get myself back to the garden.

I knew there were some Clematis still in good shape and some red Lilies but as soon as I walked up the path I saw it-the first sunflower of the season and it was beautiful. By this time the perfect light was gone but I took a few shots anyway, and then waited to see if the sun would come back out. It didn’t.

I know from experience that you really need great light to get the color right on a sunflower but that may not happen again until Tuesday and then there is always the wind to deal with. I told myself that nothing is perfect but my self just laughed.

Legendary photographer Jay Maisel once said: “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.”

Legendary Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said: “Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.”

Legendary God of dreams Morpheus once said: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Unfortunately I’m all out of blue pills, but I do have the Sunday papers and my bed looks like a great place to spend a rainy Sunday. As for the news, they wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.

I’ll Fix It in Photoshop

The Photo Shop
The Photo Shop

Some people understand that in photography it’s all about the light. They scout out a location, set up a tripod, check their camera settings and patiently wait for the golden hour that usually lasts a few minutes.

Other people will shoot something they find interesting when they’re standing in front of it, even if conditions aren’t perfect. I’ll fix it in Photoshop they think to themselves, sometimes converting to black and white or using a filter or special effect.

The problem is that photography is all about the light, and most of the time you can’t make a bad photo great by playing with curves, levels, exposure and all the other tools in Photoshop.

Award winning photographer Jay Maisel once said: “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.” I think that’s a little like saying there are no bad dogs, but if you watch The People’s Court cases with flesh eating Pit bulls you might disagree.

I’m posting this photo as an example of what not to do because the light was bad and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop. I can go back this afternoon with a tripod and patiently wait, maybe even get a great sunset reflected in the windows, or I can remind myself of another Jay Maisel quote: “There is no one solution to all problems. It’s the problem itself that can lead to the solution.”

I think a giant sandwich and an afternoon nap in a nice warm bed might be the solution in this case. If it’s good enough for Dagwood it’s good enough for me.

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