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

Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi?
Wabi-Sabi?

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.

Learning To Fly

Learning To Fly
Learning To Fly

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.

Horse Photography Tips and Techniques

Sunday morning on Ronks Road
Sunday morning on Ronks Road

When you think about photographing horses, you probably picture a naked woman riding an Arabian stallion on a sandy beach at sunset. It’s a good plan if you can manage to put it all together, but until then you may want to practice locally.

Living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania it’s easier to find horses than it is to find good lobster, and they all love to pose. If you have trouble finding horses where you live consider going to a riding stable or school.

Tip 1: They usually have crud in their eyes. You don’t have to point this out to them, but see if you can find one that has less. Another option is to get further away and avoid head shots.

Tip 2: As soon as its gets warm they are usually covered with flies. While this may not seem like a big deal it really takes away from the beautiful animal you’re trying to capture.

Tip 3: Horses are very friendly and will come up to you to see what you want. Despite the warnings, I always pet them and have never had my fingers bitten off. Your results may vary.

Tip 4: Consider converting to black and white. Unless you’re lucky enough to capture the perfect light, choose one of the many ways to do this then lie like a professional. Tell everyone how color is distracting, that black and white forces you to focus on the image, and that you were going for that aesthetic, artistic look.

Tip 5: This is the big one: you want to get a good composition, an interesting pose and ideally something in the background. Most horses have very little to do during the day so they just sort of stand there, which is good because you’ll have plenty of time to think about the shot.

Finally, don’t ask them why the long face? I’ve never met once that thinks that’s funny.

Insomnia

Columbia–Wrightsville Bridge
Columbia–Wrightsville Bridge

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.

The Old Ones

Don and Ann's Antique Roe
Don and Ann’s Antique Roe

I used to see old film cameras in antiques shops now and then, but never so many in one place. This is a small selection that was in Don and Ann’s Antique Roe in Bird In Hand, a fantastic little shop that is now closed. He had four shelves filled with old cameras, lenses, bags, and tripods. There was even a shelf of video equipment including 8 and Super 8 millimeter movie cameras and projectors.

I wondered about all the people that loved these cameras and the places they took them. Vacations, fishing trips, birthday parties, weddings, or maybe even to photograph bald eagles at the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, where $10,000 lenses are now as common as the vultures that chew on cars.

One day I decided to capture these with my digital camera, but in a way that was reminiscent of the film camera experience. I set up my tripod in the narrow isle, moved a few of them around, and in aperture priority took a total of eight of what I felt were carefully composed shots.

I would have taken more but Don was making me nervous standing behind me whistling. I forgot to check my settings and in the dim light my camera decided that ISO 800 was best. I also didn’t realize that I was shooting JPEG instead of RAW. It was a lot like the days of using my old Canon Sure Shot 35mm, which is now considered vintage and is selling on Etsy for $90. Take a few shots and hope for the best.

These days I can take 100 shots of whatever, edit them in 100 ways, and keep the best one or two. Maybe photography is too easy now, less challenging. I’ll think about that later when I have to make the life changing decision of which method to use to convert to black and white. Note: there are as many ways to convert to black and white as there are people selling 35 year old 35 millimeter cameras online.