The Sun Also Rises

The waiting is the hardest part
The waiting is the hardest part

It was a brisk 25 degrees this morning so I decided to go out and photograph the sunrise. My destination was the Leacock Presbyterian Church in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Its close, I know exactly where the sun comes up, and there’s a big tree and a little shed for the foreground.

Since I was up an hour and a half too early to leave, I considered other possibly more interesting places to go. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area had potential with thousands of snow geese, but it’s further away and there’s a hike down a dark trail to the lake.

I considered various other lakes, rivers, and bridges with great views, but spectacular sunrises do not magically appear every morning, as all photographers know. So I decided on Intercourse, which is always a good choice.

The sunrise was perfect as every sunrise is, though my photos insist that it was nothing special. But I went out, got some fresh air in between cigarettes, and watched the sun come up and another day begin.

As scientists, taxi drivers and long haul truckers know, the sunrise is an illusion. To get up early, stand outside on a cold morning, and watch a beautiful illusion is worth it to me every time.

Overexposed at Walmart

Horse and buggy parking
Horse and buggy parking

As every fifth grader with a Hasselblad knows, getting the exposure right is not as easy as making a viral video of your cat. But by learning some basic principles, you can expose like a pro in just a few short years.

There is a well know method known in some circles as the golden triangle, which is not to be confused with Asia’s main opium producing area. The golden, or exposure triangle as it’s also called, is using the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed in the right combination to produce the results that you want.

Histograms can also be helpful, but like speed limit signs they are only a suggestion. The best way to learn exposure as well as other basics like metering, aspect ratio and composition is to practice.

Occasionally you may slightly overexpose a photo of something, maybe a horse and buggy in a Walmart parking lot, and realize that the effect is more interesting than all the other shots that have histograms like the Himalayas.

Play with the contrast in post processing, convert to black and white, and give it a title that suggests surrealism. Then, as if that isn’t enough, throw in a quote from Alfred Stieglitz such as: “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”

Once you master exposure, practice photographing clouds and call them equivalents.

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.

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.