“There was an air of indifference about them, a calm produced by the gratification of every passion; and through their manners were suave, one could sense beneath them that special brutality which comes from the habit of breaking down half-hearted resistances that keep one fit and tickle one’s vanity—the handling of blooded horses, the pursuit of loose women.” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Note: I did not speak to this woman so I have no idea if she’s loose.
Some people understand that in photography it’s all about the light. They scout out a location, set up a tripod, check their camera settings and patiently wait for the golden hour that usually lasts a few minutes.
Other people will shoot something they find interesting when they’re standing in front of it, even if conditions aren’t perfect. I’ll fix it in Photoshop they think to themselves, sometimes converting to black and white or using a filter or special effect.
The problem is that photography is all about the light, and most of the time you can’t make a bad photo great by playing with curves, levels, exposure and all the other tools in Photoshop.
Award winning photographer Jay Maisel once said: “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.” I think that’s a little like saying there are no bad dogs, but if you watch The People’s Court cases with flesh eating Pit bulls you might disagree.
I’m posting this photo as an example of what not to do because the light was bad and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop. I can go back this afternoon with a tripod and patiently wait, maybe even get a great sunset reflected in the windows, or I can remind myself of another Jay Maisel quote: “There is no one solution to all problems. It’s the problem itself that can lead to the solution.”
I think a giant sandwich and an afternoon nap in a nice warm bed might be the solution in this case. If it’s good enough for Dagwood it’s good enough for me.
“Trains are beautiful. They take people to places they’ve never been, faster than they could ever go themselves. Everyone who works on trains knows they have personalities, they’re like people. They have their own mysteries.” Sam Starbuck, The Dead Isle
Lightroom presets may not save you but they might be able to save you some time in post processing. Even if you don’t like the effect you can learn how it was created by looking at the applied settings, then just reset and start over.
The above photo is a RAW file converted using B&W Sombre Street, which is one in a set of twelve free presets called Street-Photography by Contrastly. Another set of presets I’ve found useful are offered by ON1.
Between the two there are ten free sets contain well over 150 different presets as well as free brushes for making local adjustments. Installing and removing them is as easy as shooting a bald eagle at the Conowingo Dam with a $12,000 600mm lens, maybe even easier.
All presets work with Adobe Lightroom 4, 5, 6, and CC. I downloaded mine a long time ago for Lightroom 3, so if you need that just do a quick search for older versions. Don’t forget to apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos, they leave that up to you.
This photo is far from perfect but it took me ten seconds using the preset versus at least ten minutes to convert to black and white manually. Other than recovering some blown highlights you would never notice the difference at this size anyway.
Remember, you can’t save a bad photo; you can only convince yourself that it’s not a bad photo.
Note: Thomas is not in this facility to get clean and sober, he’s just having a bath. I feel it’s important to point this out for those who think that all trains come from the wrong side of the tracks.
Hinayana is a Sanskrit term literally meaning the smaller or lesser vehicle. So how does this affect me, the average spiritual seeker you might ask? I’ll give you a simple yet crystal clear example, none of that finger pointing at the moon stuff.
Yesterday I was at the Strasburg Rail Road where hundreds of people gathered to ride Thomas the train. Compared with the larger steam engines, Thomas was clearly the lesser vehicle (no offense intended).
Or so I thought until I saw this miniature steam engine which actually runs on coal. There seemed to be a serious debate going on, probably about the vehicles or paths known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana Buddhism.
Chögyam Trungpa once said: “We must begin our practice by walking the narrow path of simplicity, the Hinayana path, before we can walk upon the open highway of compassionate action, the Mahayana path.”
I didn’t ask if this lesser vehicle was headed for the open highway of compassionate action, but with all those little train fans running around I think it probably was.
Willoughby? Maybe its wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things.
Or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of The Twilight Zone.
Getting on the right track isn’t easy, even figuring out which is really the right one can be confusing. For example, the track on the left in this photo is actually the right track for the returning train, and sometimes they have to switch to the middle one to get to where they need to go.
It might be easier to think of it as a path, and as you may have discovered for yourself, people sometimes go down the wrong path to get to where they think they need to go. This is true for addiction and all kinds of things that come with living in this world of illusion.
Finding the right path takes as long as it takes, if you realize you’re on the wrong one, get off and begin again, repeat as necessary. Mahatma Gandhi said the path is the goal; my goal is to find the path to freedom.
This is a line from a song called Daly City Train by Rancid: “Some men are in prison even though they walk the streets at night, other men who got the lockdown are free as a bird in flight.”
You can learn a lot photographing trains on a cloudy day by experimenting with composition, exposure and aperture. This morning I went down to the Strasburg Rail Road to see if I could learn anything new, but I found the same things that were true the last time I was there were true today.
Just like Freud’s cigar, sometimes a train is just a train, but adding a person to the photo can make it much more interesting.
Composition is probably the most important thing besides the subject, and you can only do so much with a boring gray sky.
Taking a hundred or more shots is easy to do, even though I know that I only need one good one, or at least one decent one.
Finally, post processing RAW files with Lightroom, Photoshop and HDR software will not make a bad photo great, and the time comes when a decision has to be made when to call it done and read the Sunday newspapers.
As Ansel Adams one said: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” I stood behind another photographer and watched the smoke and mirror show from a distance, and it was good enough to make the trip worthwhile. Next time I’ll shoot the conductor (not literally).
I was at the Strasburg Rail Road yesterday watching them plowing the line all the way to Paradise (the town) with something called a wedge. It was a beautiful day and I could see that spring was right around the corner, as sure as I was standing there shooting icicles.
I was as sure as eggs in April, as sure as the steeple bears the bell, as sure as an obligation sealed in butter. But the Vernal Equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator, it does not mean that the fairies come out to dance.
I will be up at 6:28 am on Monday though, camera in hand, just to make sure.