“Life is like a carnival. When you are little , everything is smoke, mirrors, and illusions. Then you grow up.” Linda Poindexter
“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.”
There really is no easy way to be free.
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.
Be a lamp unto yourself were the last words and final teaching that the Buddha gave to his monks. This often-repeated saying of the Buddha is well known but not well understood, and rarely is it put into actual practice.
This quote is by Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho:
“Be a light unto yourself. Do not follow others, do not imitate, because imitation, following, creates stupidity. You are born with a tremendous possibility of intelligence. You are born with a light within you. Listen to the still, small voice within, and that will guide you.
Nobody else can guide you, nobody else can become a model for your life, because you are unique. Nobody has there been ever who was exactly like you, and nobody is ever going to be there again who will be exactly like you. This is your glory, your grandeur – that you are utterly irreplaceable, that you are just yourself and nobody else.”
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.