Coming Home

Lancaster County Cow
Lancaster County Cow

An old expression that is rarely used these days is “until the cows come home.” An example is: Mike can dodge and burn until the cows come home, but he’ll never fix that photo. In my experience driving around the back roads of Pennsylvania, cows do not actually come home because they never leave.

Once in a while a brave one will decide to make a break for it, to see what’s out there besides walking around in circles and getting milked. So knowing that there’s an electric fence to keep her in, she decides that a little bit of pain is worth the pleasure of doing what she wants and goes for it.

After the brief thrill of the escape is over, she stands there in the middle of the road wondering what to do next. She has the same look that a prisoner has after being released from jail, and the same thoughts. Being where they were wasn’t exactly heaven, but it wasn’t hell either. In many ways it was safe, predictable and at times even comfortable.

So like many ex cons do after realizing that the unknown can be frightening, they go back to the life that they knew. Ordinary people also do this and it is sometimes called quiet desperation.

Occasionally, someone will escape from a place and stay out despite not knowing what to do or what will happen next. This is known as courage and is different than bravery.

The essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what’s one is faced with, but rather is the willful choice to fight regardless of the consequences.

Write that down.

A Mushrooming Perspective

Enoki Mushrooms
Enoki Mushrooms

These are Enoki mushrooms I shot one day experimenting with still life photography. If you’ve never seen them, it’s hard to appreciate just how small they are, the whole package easily fit in the palm of my hand. Up close though they look very different, which brings up the matter of perspective.

We think that things such as birth, old age, sickness and death are a big deal, but of course those things are unavoidable. Now I’ve already been born, many times I was sick, and at 57 I’m rounding third base into old age, but death I’m not too comfortable with.

So I ask myself, self, how can I put everything into perspective? How can I accept the four noble truths, my own mortality, and the fact that I didn’t win Powerball again?

Michael A. singer, author of The Untethered Soul wrote: “You’re just standing on one little ball of dirt and spinning around one of the stars. From that perspective, do you really care what people think about your clothes or your car?”

He makes a very good point, but that philosophy goes out the window when you’re flirting with the gorgeous blonde at the Mercedes dealership.

Many, many years before that, before people had cars, or even paperback books, Marcus Aurelius, an Emperor of Rome, is reported to have said: “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Well you really can’t argue with that kind of clarity, but he wasn’t photographing tiny mushrooms from two inches away, trying to get everything tack sharp, properly exposed and correct the white balance because he used the wrong color lights.

Note to self: buy bigger mushrooms next time, daylight balanced bulbs, and learn to use the perspective warp tool in Photoshop.

What Difference a Day Makes

Crocus 2/28/17
Crocus 2/28/17

I went back to the park this afternoon for two reasons, I have too much time on my hands and I like to watch the progress of the spring flowers. And I’m obsessed with photography and if I don’t get out of the house I go stir crazy, so four reasons.

Yesterday the crocuses were closed for the day and today they were open for business. What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours…

Something You See Everyday

Amish farmer
Amish farmer

Back when Vanna White was in school learning prepositional phrases, there was a game show on TV with a duck that dropped down holding a secret word for a chance to win $100. It was a common ordinary word, something you see everyday.

Living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I see the Amish every day. I see them riding in buggies, working on the farm, stepping into shoes and dipping in the pocket of their raincoats. This may be as close as you can get to the chop wood, carry water way of life.

I shot this photo of a young Amish man working on his farm that is right behind a group of kitschy restaurants and tourists attractions. Places with names like Dutch Haven, Amish stuff, and the quintessential Grandma Jack’s Gourmet Popcorn. The people that see scenes like this must think about their own lives, the choices they made and the games that they play.

There was a time when I went to meetings with many steps and bad coffee, where we compared miseries and complained. Sooner or later, someone would inevitably say that you have to play the hand you’re dealt, meaning to accept the things that you can’t change. But what about the second part of their favorite slogan, to change the things that you can?

The real question might be, if life is a game, can you try for a better hand, or at least draw a few new cards? And what about the stakes, how much should you bet? Knowing that it’s the only game in town, you have to go all in and ignore the odds; you have to bet your life.

Sorry We’re Closed

February Crocus
February Crocus

It’s easy to forget that flowers that were open and enjoying the sunshine yesterday may not be open the next 30 degree morning. So I decided to go back later this afternoon with a mini tripod and high hopes. But for some reason the crocuses decided to close for the day.

I set up and took a couple of photos in between raindrops, experimenting with composition and aperture. Only the ones shot wide open at f/1.8 made any sense to me. Those images had that temporary, fleeting quality to them which is exactly what a crocus is. They are tiny bits of magic that will come up, flower, and have the bees over for lunch before disappearing completely in a very short time.

I noticed the sign at the entrance and it read Kiwanis Area Pavilion 22, which is part of Lancaster County Central Park. I also discovered this morning that they sometimes open before 8am and close at sunset. No mention of what time the flowers open so be patient.

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 Search for Truth

Long’s Park Heron
Long’s Park Heron

This is one of the Herons that live at Long’s Park, and the possible murderer of the goldfish I wrote about in an earlier post. He seems to be searching for something, although it’s more likely to be a snack than the truth.

Roughly thirty five years ago I was in a topless bar ordering my third scotch. An old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin, looked at me and asked: “What is truth?” I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

Hakuin Ekaku, one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism, is reported to have said; “Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.”

Yes…of course. And if I didn’t quit drinking, I’ve have a few Yoichi Single Malts at the Seventh Heaven in Tokyo, and think about that for a while.

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.