Category: Trains

The Great Depression Train

Train (obviously)
Train (obviously)

One night when we were teenagers my friend Jeff jumped in front of a train because he thought it was the best way to handle things at the time. A group of us had gone to the movies and as usual Jeff was out of control drunk. After another argument with his mother, a recovering alcoholic, he made his way to the tracks and waited.

Somehow he didn’t die but only broke his pelvis, and he continued to drink as heavily as before. He had his problems: two alcoholic parents, one who shot himself playing Russian roulette and a couple of missing fingers from a homemade bomb explosion, but which one caused such deep depression? Maybe all of them or maybe something else.

I lost touch with Jeff in my late twenties and watched other friends attempt to handle their depression in various ways. Most drank and did drugs as I did, and as time went by several ended up dead. After a breakup with his girlfriend my friend Cary tied a bayonet to his steering wheel and drove into a bridge. Others overdosed or shot themselves, and a former boss chose hanging.

Forty years later I still continue to struggle with depression and see many in the same boat. A photographer I used to follow, Don Graham, often wrote about his battle with Bipolar disorder and several months ago took his own life. He was in therapy and on several medications.

Depression is a fight we have with ourselves, completely created by our thoughts and we get stuck there. Antidepressants will only take you so far and often the side effects are unbearable. Therapy may help, but unless they’ve been there themselves it can seem like just words they learned from a course in college.

I think of depression like a train: Sometimes you can see it objectively, and despite all the smoke and noise you can distance yourself from it and get through the day. Other times its headed right for you, and like my friend Jeff, you stand there as it runs you over.

My favorite author, Charles Bukowski wrote: “Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it. Think about it. Think about saving your self.”

Charter Day 2018

Charter Day Blues
Charter Day Blues

Yesterday three museums in Lancaster County celebrated Pennsylvania’s 333rd birthday by offering free admission for Charter Day. Charter Day commemorates the charter King Charles II granted Pennsylvania founder William Penn in 1681.

I went back to the Railroad Museum to practice using my 35mm lens. While most people seemed to be enjoying themselves, I heard several bored kids ask their parents when they could go home. The smart ones just used body language.

Can Lightroom Presets Save You?

Thomas Gets Clean
Thomas Gets Clean

Lightroom presets may not save you but they might be able to save you some time in post processing. Even if you don’t like the effect you can learn how it was created by looking at the applied settings, then just reset and start over.

The above photo is a RAW file converted using B&W Sombre Street, which is one in a set of twelve free presets called Street-Photography by Contrastly. Another set of presets I’ve found useful are offered by ON1.

Between the two there are ten free sets contain well over 150 different presets as well as free brushes for making local adjustments. Installing and removing them is as easy as shooting a bald eagle at the Conowingo Dam with a $12,000 600mm lens, maybe even easier.

All presets work with Adobe Lightroom 4, 5, 6, and CC. I downloaded mine a long time ago for Lightroom 3, so if you need that just do a quick search for older versions. Don’t forget to apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos, they leave that up to you.

This photo is far from perfect but it took me ten seconds using the preset versus at least ten minutes to convert to black and white manually. Other than recovering some blown highlights you would never notice the difference at this size anyway.

Remember, you can’t save a bad photo; you can only convince yourself that it’s not a bad photo.

Note: Thomas is not in this facility to get clean and sober, he’s just having a bath. I feel it’s important to point this out for those who think that all trains come from the wrong side of the tracks.

Free Presets for Adobe Lightroom ON1 Inc.

Free Street Photography Presets by Contrastly

The Lesser Vehicle

The Lesser Vehicle
The Lesser Vehicle

Hinayana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the smaller or lesser vehicle. So how does this affect me, the average spiritual seeker you might ask? I’ll give you a simple yet crystal clear example, none of that finger pointing at the moon stuff.

Yesterday I was at the Strasburg Rail Road where hundreds of people gathered to ride Thomas the train. Compared with the larger steam engines, Thomas was clearly the lesser vehicle (no offense intended).

Or so I thought until I saw this miniature steam engine which actually runs on coal. There seemed to be a serious debate going on, probably about the vehicles or paths known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism.

Chögyam Trungpa once said: “We must begin our practice by walking the narrow path of simplicity, the Hinayana path, before we can walk upon the open highway of compassionate action, the Mahayana path.”

I didn’t ask if this lesser vehicle was headed for the open highway of compassionate action, but with all those little train fans running around I think it probably was.

A Stop at Willoughby

A Stop at Willoughby
A Stop at Willoughby

Willoughby? Maybe its wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things.

Or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of The Twilight Zone.

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).

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.

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