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.

Narcissus Tristitia

Narcissus Tristitia
Narcissus Tristitia

It happens at almost the same time each year here in Lancaster, one day it’s sunny and warm enough for the beach, and the next day it’s almost too cold to stand outside and fill your gas tank.

Recently, after weeks of record setting warmth, we had a cold snap with temperatures well below freezing. Although all I had to do was wear an extra sweatshirt, many plants, trees and flowers took a beating.

Some managed to hold on while others were not so fortunate. For them, it’s the end of the road. The ones that made it, the lucky ones, know that many of their friends are gone, and they seem depressed.

But this is nature, survival of the fittest and all that. Lions eat gazelles, giant tuna end up in cans, and photographers remember that it’s hard to adjust camera settings with frozen fingers.

Geraldo Rivera, best know for opening Al Capone’s vault, said: “Mother Nature may be forgiving this year, or next year, but eventually she’s going to come around and whack you. You’ve got to be prepared.” Touché.

Love and Work

The big car
The big car

I saw this car for sale in Cecil County, Maryland and had to take a look, and a photo. I think it’s a 1951 Chevrolet with a 3 speed 235 inline 6, but that’s just a wild guess.

Back in the 50’s a big car was a goal for most working men. It was a sign of success, and for many it was a very important thing to have.

After achieving that goal, other important things to have were a big house, a big pool, and a big bank account. If everything went well, one day they could retire in style and play golf, fish or do whatever they loved to do in their golden years.

If their bank account was big enough, they might eventually move into a luxury nursing home, with manicured lawns and comfortable chairs to sit on and think, think about what was important in their lives. Chances are it wasn’t any of the things that they thought would make them happy.

Freud said that successful living means functioning well in love and work. One of his quotes on this is; “Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.”

You might want to figure out what is important to live a successful life now, rather than when you’re sitting in that chair, complaining that your soup is cold, and thinking about all the things that you could have done differently.

Beginner’s Mind

Simple pleasures
Simple pleasures

In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes; “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

What he calls beginner’s mind refers to doing something without thinking about achieving anything, which could be recognition, likes on a Facebook page, or a tweet by the President and a free room for life in one of his hotels.

Last night I spent two frustrating hours taking photos of colored pencils for a piece I wanted to write called selective focus. It was to be about the way we get caught up in our own bullshit by the way we think, and what we think about. So of course the photo had to be tack sharp, it had to be perfect.

Finally I decided the whole thing was pointless and gave up, putting the pencils in an old cigar box along with some crayons I had for another project on color. I looked over and saw something that was random and perfect and nothing special (also the title of a fantastic book by Charlotte Joko Beck).

I took six photos for the simple reason that I thought it was cool. Yes, I shot RAW and JPEG in manual on a tripod, but people don’t change overnight. And it was absolutely perfect in its own way! It’s a simple photo of crayons in an old cigar box given to me by my father 20 years ago.

So at 2 am last night I had an epiphany and it was free, there is true joy in doing something just because its fun. I can’t wait to tell this to my therapist next week when I pay my bill. She might tell me that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I have a feeling she’ll read more into this than there really is.

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

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.

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.

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.

The Key to Obsessive Compulsive Photography Disorder

Keys
Keys

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).