Right Thinking on the Path

On the path
On the path

Right thinking is part of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is a way to achieve spiritual enlightenment and end suffering. But there is more than one kind of right thinking.

I used to hear people say: “Just expose to the right, everyone does it.” Well, everyone does not do it, and when someone says this in the shower room at the gym it can be confusing.

So I’m on the path photographing white flowers, and I start thinking about ETTR (exposing to the right). Briefly, the concept is to overexpose a bit and fix it later in post processing. Many concepts, like riding your motorcycle at twice the speed limit seem to make sense, but end up backfiring. So it is with ETTR.

Another thing I used to hear people say is: “The histogram is your friend.” He might be, but he reminds me of the friend that used to show up at my house on Friday nights, with very expensive plans and a very empty wallet.

The important thing is to stay on the path and learn these things for yourself. The Buddha said: “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

As you walk the path take time to shoot the flowers, in any way that makes you happy.

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.

Photographic Memories

Circa 1962
Circa 1962

This is a photograph of my mother in her early thirties on a trip we took to Taconic State Park in 1962. She is not that person now at 86, and in a way she is.

In her dining room there is another old photo of me at age 2 and a half. I’m sitting with my favorite teddy bear, wearing a sailor suit, and look as happy as a clam, and I ask myself who that person is.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh addressed this in his book No Death, No fear: “I have a photograph of myself when I was a boy of sixteen. Is it a photograph of me? I am not really sure. Who is this boy in the photograph? Is it the same person as me or is it another person?”

“The body of the boy in the photograph is not the same as my body, now that I am in my seventies. The feelings are different, and the perceptions are very different. It is just as if I am a completely different person from that boy, but if the boy in the photograph did not exist, then I would not exist either.”

He goes on to say: “You would not cry if you knew that by looking deeply into the rain you would still see the cloud.”

Note to self: reread this book and get a new rain jacket.

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.