Games People Play

Cash4Life
Cash4Life

I’ve been playing the lottery more than usual lately but strictly for mental health reasons; I want a new motorcycle. I didn’t say that I need a new motorcycle but I want one. Will a new bike make me happy? Will $1000 a day or $1000 a week make me happy? Maybe.

Yesterday I played Cash4Life and surprisingly did not win. The odds of winning $1,000 a day for life are 1 in 21,846,048, but, and this is a big but, the odds of winning $1000 a week for life are only 1 in 7,282,016. Ridiculous yes, but I’m not the only one playing this game.

I used to wonder why older people stood in line to play these games, and by older I mean 70 and up. I guess that they, like everyone else think that money will change everything. And it will, but not always in a good way. So what is the point you might ask?

I think my point is that people spend a lot of time dreaming about the way things could be, how much better life would be if only…the list goes on and on. In Buddhism this is the essence of the Second Noble Truth, which says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness.

I told the girl at the store that I would be better off giving the money to charity than wasting it on lottery tickets. Now I know that the lottery helps older Americans in many ways but I have an alternative plan. I’m going to take that money and donate to a charity called Ride for Kids with all proceeds benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

As selfless as this might sound, they have a raffle where every five dollars donated enters you in a sweepstakes to win a custom motorcycle. And I might still occasionally play the lottery, maybe once a week or so, but only because I can use a new pair of sneakers. And a car, and a motorcycle, and a mansion and a yacht.

Read more about the Ride For Kids Project Here

Impermanence

Snowdrops
Snowdrops

Every spring I visit the Garden Of Five Senses in Lancaster County Central Park to see the snowdrops. They come up in February and within a very short time bloom into the most amazing flowers I’ve ever seen, with small bell shaped pedals with just a touch of green on them. Then a couple of weeks later they’re gone, completely gone, as if they were never there.

It’s easy to see changes over time but to watch them happen this fast is really something to appreciate. Of course, people don’t want to be reminded of impermanence so it’s usually a passing thought, then another thought pops in like what’s for lunch?

Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen said this; “Intelligent Practice always deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence, the fear that I am not. And of course I am not, but the last thing I want to know is that. I am impermanence itself in a rapidly changing human form that appears solid. I fear to see what I am: an ever changing energy field. I don’t want to be that.”

Depending on how far you really get into this whole nothingness thing, you’ll find it either terrifying or enlightening, or both.

Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying wrote; “I shall never forget when Dudjom Rinpoche, in a moment of intimacy, leaned toward me and said in his soft, hoarse, slightly high-pitched voice: “You know, don’t you, that actually all these things around us go away, just go away . . .”

Alrighty then, what’s for lunch?

How To Save a Bad Photo

Save Me!
Save Me!

There are as many ways to save a bad photo as there are ways to scale a fish. If you’re shooting RAW, you can play with the file in Lightroom, Photoshop, HDR software or all three in whatever sequence floats your boat. Of course you can do this with a JPEG as well but let’s not get into that.

Then, if you’re not satisfied with the results you can very easily use a Photoshop filter for creative and/or possibly artistic results. Amaze your friends and family and insist that this was your plan the whole time. But deep down inside you’ll know the real truth. But what is the truth?

There is a very famous poem written by the third patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts’an, called the Hsin-Hsin Ming. In this poem Seng-ts’an writes these lines: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

In terms of photography this means either nothing or everything. The truth in this case, is that you took a photo that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Life goes on, but wait…

At this point you’ve not only tried converting to black and white but you did it in a thousand different ways. There is actually a book called From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man. I browsed through it once in Barnes & Noble and almost had to call my therapist.

The best technique to save a bad photo is to convince yourself that it’s not really a bad photo. No one besides you is going to zoom in on the original at 100% (or more), study the histogram, or hit the O key in Lightroom to cycle through different grid options like the rule of thirds, the golden ratio and the golden spiral.

I photographed this Alpaca at a farm near Poole Forge on a cloudy day. The light was bad, he was far away, and my composition was terrible. I convinced myself that despite everything it’s not really a bad photo (after cropping and B&W conversion). Despite the fact that he spit a mouthful of chewed up grass and hit me right in the face from 15 feet away, I consider the afternoon and photo memorable if not perfect. Adorable isn’t he?

Al Paca
Al Paca

The Struggle

The Struggle
The Struggle

Everyone struggles in one way or another, its part of living this life of illusion. Whether it’s the ten thousand things or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, there are challenges to be dealt with every day.

For the man in this photo his struggle at that moment was to inflate the balloon, for me it was trying to get a decent shot before I ran out of patience, for the owner of the United States Hot Air Balloon Team, his was waiting for the wind to die down enough to launch safely.

No big deal right? Yet some challenges are harder than others. For one person it might be your supermodel wife telling you that there is no caviar left, and that she scratched the Ferrari, again. For another it might be a denied parole and your cell mate telling you that he wants to be more than just friends.

One of my favorite authors, Charles Bukowski once said; “I don’t know about other people, but when I wake up in the morning and put my shoes on, I think, Jesus Christ, now what?” So it would seem that for some life is harder than for others. But wait…

In his poem How Is Your Heart, he reflects on the rougher times in his life. Jail, bad relationships, hangovers, backalley fights and hospitals, but looks at it in a different way. The last line in that poem is so perfect that people actually have it tattooed on their body, which is tricky because its 11 words.

He wrote; “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

At once time I considered getting that tattoo on my arm, but struggled with the choice of fonts. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The Key to Obsessive Compulsive Photography Disorder

The Key to Obsessive Compulsive Photography Disorder
The Key to Obsessive Compulsive Photography Disorder

This is a photo I took of some old keys, obviously. It was a simple matter of arranging, lighting, taking a few shots on a tripod, processing the RAW files in Lightroom, editing in Photoshop, and then a little tweaking in Photomatix Essentials for an HDR effect.

So I asked myself, am I obsessive, compulsive or possibly both? I wasn’t sure so I did some research on the five types of OCD.

The first type is cleaning obsessions, such as cleaning your camera and lenses with a special microfiber cloth kept in a special package and folded in a special way.

Next are checking obsessions, which can include checking camera settings frequently like shooting modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus points, exposure mode and white balance.

The third type is obsessions without visible compulsions, which can involve intrusive thoughts such as previsualization, and in extreme cases this is known as Dryshooting.

Not surprisingly there are also hoarding obsessions, which may involve accumulating tripods, lens hoods, filters, and new equipment of all kinds whether you need it or not (do not keep a copy of the B&H photo video catalog under your bed).

And finally, obsessions with ordering, arranging and counting compulsions, which would realistically be almost everything else involved with photography.

So in my case, the answer might be yes, but it gives me something to do and it’s much better than sitting in a recliner, drinking vodka and watching daytime TV. (I’m guessing).

Something In The Way

Left for dead
Left for dead

Kurt Cobain once sang that fish don’t have any feelings, and I wonder if that’s true. I was walking around Long’s Park a while ago and saw a partly mangled dead goldfish. My guess is that one of the Herons that live there got over ambitious and bit off more than he could chew, or maybe left to invite his friends for lunch. So I took a few pictures because I was intrigued by the whole thing.

Then the fish moved. At first I thought this was strange because dead fish rarely move, but apparently she was not quite done being alive. So being a fisherman I considered throwing her back, but the wounds were serious.

If only I was a fish doctor, if only I got there earlier, if only I won the Powerball last night, if only, well, that fish was screwed no matter what. So I watched her for a minute wondering if she was suffering. I imagined she was as I would be if I got eaten by a giant bird and left for dead like that.

I finally kicked her back into the lake in the delusional hope that she would take a couple of deep breaths and swim away with just a flesh wound, warning her fish friends to stay deep. But she floated on the top with those terrified eyes staring right at me.

It became too painful to watch and I told myself it was the natural cycle of life, survival of the fittest and all that. And that maybe fish don’t have any feelings and she wasn’t suffering at all.

In goldfish heaven there are no angry birds.

Turtle Existentialism

Turtle Existentialism
Turtle Existentialism

Every year I save at least three turtles, it doesn’t take much effort and hopefully they appreciate it. Now by saving them I don’t mean I read them a short passage from the bible, or tell them an inspirational story about races with rabbits. I help them across the road before they get run over in a senseless slaughter.

The most important thing to remember is to move them in the direction that they were already traveling. They know where they want to go, they’ve probably planned out the trip for weeks in not months, so keep this in mind.

Knowing that you’ve probably saved a life is reward enough, but now that the little guy is safe you might as well take a few pictures. Gently place the turtle in good light and try different compositions. At some point, usually after 20 or more shots they will probably hiss at you.

This is a reminder to check your settings and wrap it up. Turtles, contrary to popular opinion, are impatient creatures and want to move on.

I found this one at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and tried to capture his dignity and sense of purpose. I wanted to convey turtle existentialism and the search for meaning in all living things.

When all was said and done though, it was a hissing, annoyed turtle with a man 100 times his size lying in the road pointing a camera in his little turtle face, looking for meaning on a beautiful summer day. Stalemate.

It’s Not About Your Camera?

Eastland Alpacas Open House
Eastland Alpacas Open House

It’s not about your camera says Ken Rockwell. In his own words: “If you can shoot well, all you need is a disposable, toy camera or a camera phone to create great work. If you’re not talented, it doesn’t matter if you buy a Nikon D3X or Leica; your work will still be uninspired.” Camera stores will argue this theory and not let him in, but he may have a point.

He goes on to say, very eloquently I might add; “Many people still cling to the mystique of the tripod, even though tripods went out with film cameras.” Oh.

Continuing: “If you love your tripod then don’t let me poop in your ice cream; but if you’re carrying it around to use with your Canon or Nikon DSLR because someone else told you it made sharper pictures, think again. I make more and better pictures when I’m not weighed down.”

Now the way I see it, the disturbing part is not about the difference between a point and shoot and a Hasselblad, or even the advantages of using a tripod, but the poop in my ice cream thing is at least a little kinky.

This may be shocking to new readers, but I’m a bit obsessive (see blog name). So fancy cameras with a lot of buttons, dials and customizable options are a good thing for me. Tripods I find useful to compose and also slow things down a bit, and smaller ones hardly weigh me down.

So does Mr Rockwell have a valid point? I don’t know, but he seems like a nice enough guy and takes decent photos. Some people are happy with a small dirtbike and others want a Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro. I want both and have neither, but I have a camera that works for me and fits in my pocket.

I go to the open house at Eastland Alpacas in Mount Joy every year and see people taking pictures with everything from phones to top of the line Leicas, and most photos probably come out pretty good. Maybe after three hundred shots and hours of post processing some come out better than others. If not I will tell myself that they do.

Note to self: always shoot RAW.

Growth

Baby Sunflower
Baby Sunflower

This is a baby sunflower I shot early this morning on my windowsill. The photo is not exactly the way I wanted it but it seemed right for me today.

Maybe nothing is perfect, maybe everything is, or maybe growth is understanding that things are not always exactly the way we want them to be, and that’s OK.

It’s been said that if we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. My plan it to continue to look.