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.

The Four Things

Penn Croft Alpacas
Penn Croft Alpacas

Ming Thein is a professional photographer extraordinaire, an Oxford graduate (at 16), a physicist, and a man that takes his craft very seriously. One of his many useful and practical theories is something he calls the four things.

He says; “There are four things to consider in making an image that works: light, subject, composition and the idea.” So this is how I saw the four things yesterday at the Penn Croft Alpaca farm in Lancaster.

The light was pretty good, bright but cloudy which is perfect for photographing white animals. The subject was Alpacas, those cartoon like creatures that can bring a smile to the face of an ax murderer. Composition was tricky, because I wanted a group shot with them all facing the same way. And the idea was to take a decent photo of alpacas on a cloudy day in a group.

It began well and they seemed much friendlier than usual, many shots were taken and most were well composed and sharp, but somewhat boring. Then something exciting started happening with their friends on the other side of the fence. Either an orgy or a fight, it was hard to tell, but they all went over and watched. A few more photos were shot and I knew I had what I wanted.

So does considering the four things make an image that works? Maybe. For my next experiment I will explore composition considering the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, diagonal lines and the golden spiral. Or I can just go out and take pictures.

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?