Viral Image Decay

Here’s a great article that’s basically about JPEG compression artifacts: http://www.theawl.com/2014/12/the-triumphant-rise-of-the-shitpic

I like the idea of “counting the rings” to see how old a viral image is. This also opens up a question about tools like Google image search. I wonder if their algorithm takes decay into account when it searches for the “original” image.

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Lightroom Publishing Plugins

Lightroom is a tremendously powerful piece of software, but there’s no way for Adobe to satisfy all the needs of every customer. That’s where plugins come in. There are tons of plugins for giving your photos a certain look, but there are also plugins for publishing your photos. Here’s the difference between publishing and exporting, as far as I understand it:

  • Exporting saves the input picture (usually RAW format) as a JPEG after applying whatever development settings you have selected. That JPEG can be included in your collection, but it’s basically a separate file at this point. Yes, you can “stack” it with the RAW file, but that functionality is out of the scope of this post.
  • Publishing creates a JPEG as well, but Lightroom keeps track of changes to your published images and can sync changes between the published images and the RAW images in your collection.

For example, if you export 0001.raw as 0001.jpg, then upload 0001.jpg to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, 0001.jpg will remain on Flickr. However, if you publish 0001.raw to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, then 0001.jpg will be removed from Flickr. Other development settings can be synced with publish as well.

Your workflow may not benefit from this functionality, but I like working this way, specifically while publishing to my hard drive. This gives me the option of having a mirrored set of smaller web-friendly JPEG’s (3200px at 60% quality) that stays in sync with my collection. I can then sync that directory with my cloud service of choice without paying out the nose to host the RAW files. This mirrored set stays synced even if I go back and delete or edit a photo from 2008.

Lightroom’s publish functionality doesn’t mirror your folder structure by default, so I use the Folder Publisher plugin from Jeffrey Friedl. He offers several other “goodies” for Lightroom including several other publishing plugins. Check them out and see if you can’t make your life a little easier.

Stabilized World Record 41m Rally Jump

This kind of thing pushes almost all of my buttons. Image processing, photography, snow, cars and novelty. Reddit user The_Egg_came_first created this… let’s call it a panoramic gif. The steps are outlined here. The gist of the process involves extracting frames from video and then aligning them to stabilize the ground. Since the video footage panned to follow the car, the result is basically a fast moving panorama.

A similar technique was used to stabilize this ski jump. Many other examples can be found in the /ImageStabilization subreddit.

Cloud Photo Storage Roundup

The Verge has published a roundup of cloud photo storage options. Not a day goes by without a new cloud storage or photo sharing site. I use SkyDrive for backup and sharing with family and 500px for “social” stuff including a portfolio, but I’ve tried tons of others. The Verge article is very iOS and OSX heavy and it leaves out a few options, but it has some good information.

Portfolio

As an amateur in every sense of the word, I don’t really need a portfolio, but I think I can learn a lot by trying to choose the best of the best of my photos. I don’t think much is gained by uber-granular organization, so I’ve created only 3 categories: humans, nature and objects. For now, I’ll limit each category to 30 images, but I think even that is way too many. Once I go through my entire backlog, I’d like to limit each category to only 10 photos. Honestly, it’s a challenge for me to narrow things down that much. Not because I think every one of my photos is amazing, but because I have such an emotional attachment to the moment itself and the effort put into taking the photo. The internet makes it easy to share billions of photos, but that makes it even more important to edit edit edit.

I’d also like to note that my selections for the keepers are based entirely on my personal taste. It’s tempting to select my most viewed, faved, liked, starred, hearted, tweeted, or +1’d photos, but I want the portfolio to reflect myself just as much as each individual photo does. I don’t think it’s there yet, but I’m going to keep working on it. If you want to check it out, just click the portfolio link at the top of the page. Ok, fine, you can also just click here. Or possibly even here. But not here.

Cloud Photography Part 4: Conclusions

Finally, the epic conclusion to my cloud photography experiment.  In part 1 I laid out the details of the experiment in which I would pretend I was a photographer who had to live entirely in the cloud.  Part 2 described the particular challenges of using a cloud based operating system for handling RAW files.  In part 3 I discussed the various web-based photo editing software available today.

The world of cloud computing is moving fast.  After I wrote part 1, Apple announced iCloud and Google began selling ChromeOS laptops.  The argument could be made that cloud storage is pointless since hard drives have become so cheap, but cheap digital storage goes both ways.  If it’s cheap for you to buy one 1TB hard drive, how cheap do you think it is (per hard drive) for Google to buy 10,000 of them?  The biggest argument against cloud computing is the requirement that we hand over our trust to external entities (Google, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, etc).  The risks of remote storage are real and Dropbox users like myself were recently given a strong reminder of that fact.  Dropbox had a small coding bug with the unfortunate effect that any password would work to log onto any account.  Whoops.  As always, the forces of security and convenience are battling each other.  Do I really need access to my entire digital life from anywhere?  Maybe not.

The cloud, it turns out, is best in moderation.  Placing all of your data in the cloud and relying on web-based tools to process that data can be just as restrictive as working 100% locally.  I ran into one difficulty after another trying to remain cloud-only.  For now, I’d say I’m fully committed to working on my desktop computer with Lightroom.  If you do want to try living in the cloud, here are some things I’d recommend to make things as painless as possible:

  • Work with JPEGs.  Work out what camera settings you like and learn to live with them.  Set the contrast and sharpening low to give you more latitude when editing the JPEGs later.
  • Do as much editing, deleting, and processing as you can before uploading your photos to the cloud.  Google+ has the best photo gallery I’ve seen yet, but it still sucks at quickly going through a lot of photos and deleting the uglies.
  • Watch the terms of service.  This depends on how Serious with a capital “S” you are about your photos, but be careful not to give your rights away as soon as you upload photos to the cloud.
Next, I’ll go through just how much cloud is in my photographic life now.
  • Editing, processing, and exporting is done on my desktop using Lightroom with RAW files.
  • RAW files and full-size JPEGs are backed up locally and to an online backup service not optimized for photos or sharing
  • Large web-sized JPEGs are uploaded to Picasa for personal use, to flickr for sharing, or to this blog for whatever it is I do here.
  • This gives me access to the backups from anywhere and a nice collection of shareable photos that can be embedded in forums, blogs, or wherever with ease.
Ok, how’d the photos turn out?  Below are my favorite 10.  The results were acceptable, but as I said I’m not a convert.  Maybe in 5 years I’ll try again.  Or maybe I won’t have a choice…

Cloud Photography Part 3: Post Processing

This is part 3 of my epic investigation into cloud computing for photographers.  Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

As mentioned in part 2, I was unable to find a web-based photo editor that supports raw files and the size limits for all the editors prohibit the use of 16-bit TIFF files.  After wrestling the files into JPEG format in Jolicloud, I was ready to apply some post-processing.  The post-processing I’m talking about includes basic things like exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpening and cropping.

All of Them

Every single web app I tried lagged so far behind Lightroom and GIMP in terms of processing speed, feature set and file compatibility that I can’t recommend any of them as your primary photo editor.  None of them work well as part of a multi-file workflow.  If you choose to edit photos this way, you’re looking at a one-at-a-time painfully slow process.  Also, the results I got were kind of ugly.  A big part of that comes from trying to work with JPEGs instead of raw files.  However, editing a JPEG with GIMP seems to yield better results than any of the web apps.  All of the web apps I tried were free.  Big plus.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Adobe is the big dog here and I was excited to use their editor.  They clearly have the upper hand when it comes to photo manipulation software and I think that Adobe Lightroom is the best piece of software (not just photo software) I’ve ever used.  Don’t worry about any bias towards Adobe though, because I think Flash and Reader are just plain awful.

What did I think of Photoshop Express?  I don’t know.  It’s got 2GB of free space, which is good.  However, it crashed every time I tried to load a file, which is bad.  I tried Chrome and Firefox and a couple different files, but nothing worked.

Let’s recap:

  • Pros:
    • Free
    • 2GB of storage
  • Cons:
    • Didn’t work at all

Picnik

Picnik is mostly free and it’s integrated well into Picasa, Google’s online photo gallery.  The integration with Picasa makes Picnik the best web app by far in terms of workflow.  Also, Picasa now offers unlimited space for photos that are 2048 pixels or smaller.  Not good for backups, but great for online photo sharing and small prints.

First, the good.  The interface is easy to use and includes enough control for small edits.  I also like that you can export the results directly into your Picasa gallery with the option to overwrite your original file or create a new file.

On the negative side, Picnik is constantly bugging you to sign up for the premium non-free version which gives you more control and a few more presets for Lomo-ish effects.  The free version gives you controls for exposure and compensation with a few finer controls for shadows and highlights, sharpness, and “local contrast.”  Unfortunately, adjust any of the sliders more than just a bit and you’re going to end up with a muddy mess of a file.  Also, “local contrast” is a checkbox and not a slider.  Checking it makes your photo ugly.  Unchecking it restores your photo back to normal.

Overall I found it pretty difficult to get decent results out of Picnik, but the direct integration with Picasa is worth a lot.

Aviary HTML5 Image Editor

HTML5 gets talked up constantly on the web, so I was excited to try this one too.  This editor seemed more like a proof of concept than a full-fledged application.  The exposure controls were way too simple.  Also, they did nothing.  Something was broken and none of the adjustments showed up on the photo.

Aviary Phoenix Image Editor

Phoenix is Aviary’s Photoshop-esque editor and was my personal favorite.  The interface was great and the feature set was incredibly powerful.  With patience and skill I’m sure you can achieve some great results.

Two things kept Phoenix from being my editor of choice for this experiment.  First, it’s JPEG-only.  Yes, all the other apps were JPEG only also, but the Phoenix editor is so powerful that it’s begging to be used with a raw file.  All that power is wasted on the measly 8 bits of a JPEG file.  The second reason is a lack of workflow integration.  You can upload multiple images to Aviary, but it’s hardly a full-featured gallery or photo-sharing site.

The Winner

In the end, Picnik won out, but not because it was the best.  Every single web app I tested was crippled by a lack of raw support.  There’s only so much you can do to a JPEG, so you might as well use the software that’s quickest and easiest to access.  Aviary has a complete suite of web-based image editing apps and they should be applauded for what they’ve created.  However, for my purposes, it just wasn’t worth the hassle of leaving the Picasa bubble.

There was a lot of frustration, but it was fun trying out these web apps.  It’s good to challenge our beliefs from time to time and to learn what’s out there.  I now have a better feel for the state of the art in cloud computing for photographers.  Everything I tried here was free, so I recommend giving some of them a shot and seeing what you can come up with.  Coming up next is the thrilling conclusion where I’ll share the photos that I dragged through the mud just to get them on the cloud.

Remember when photography was fun?

Two major announcements have been made recently that promise true innovation in photography land.  The responses to them show a startling lack of imagination and open-mindedness.

The first is the Pentax Q system.  Smaller than a credit card, the Q is an interchangeable lens camera with a tiny point and shoot sized 1/2.3″ sensor.  Looks like great fun to me.  The lenses must be about the size of an Altoid.  At $800, the camera is not cheap, but niche products rarely are.  The internet reactions to this camera range from “it’s way overpriced” to “what’s the point of changing lenses when the sensor is so small” to “Pentax is a bunch of Nazis!”  Ok, I made up the Nazi one, but you know that comment must be out there, right?  It seems that the overwhelming response to the announcement of the Q is negative.  Why?  Nobody is forcing you to buy one.  I probably won’t buy one because of the price, but the concept looks like fun.  I’d love to play with one for a week.

The other announcement is from Lytro, a new company promising to eliminate the need for focusing before taking a picture.  Their product uses an array of micro-lenses to capture the entire light field and reconstruct an image where the focus plane can be chosen during post-processing.  Unlike the Q, the responses to this have been mostly positive.  Of course there is the predictable grumpy photographer response of “great, how easy does picture-taking have to get?  Now NOBODY will need a professional photographer.”  If the only thing you offer over amateur photographers is correct exposure and focus, then you aren’t worth your price.  The other reaction is a complete misunderstanding of the technology.  I’ve seen several comments from people hoping to use this to fix their blurry film photos from the 80’s.  Not going to happen.  The comments that actually bother me are the ones asking “what’s the ISO?  What’s the focal length?  What’s the f-stop?  What’s the shutter speed?  How many megapixels?  Isn’t Lytro just a bunch of Nazis?”  Seriously?  Are we (photographers on the internet) that blinded by spec sheets?  You’re being presented a revolutionary new imaging technique at a reasonable price (supposedly) and your reaction is “how many megapixels?”

Come on, Internet, get your excitement on like you did for the Fuji X100 before it was released and you realized that it was imperfect just like every other camera.  Photography is a fun activity and cameras are fun to play with.  Let’s encourage innovation because we have more than enough megapixels already.

Cloud Photography Part 2: Jolicloud

This is a continuation of my experiment in cloud computing as it relates to photography.  Read part 1 here.

Cloud computing is moving forward at an astonishing pace and one of its benefits is operating system independence.  If your operating system can access the internet, then you can play in the cloud.  The purpose of this experiment is to determine the viability of a “cloud only” approach to photography.  That is why I am using Joli OS for this experiment.  It was designed specifically for maximizing interaction with the cloud and minimizing local computing.  Also, I just wanted to play around with Jolicloud for the fun of it.

Installation

Trying Jolicloud is easy.  You can create an account and use it right from your browser.  After setting everything up, you can download and install Joli OS right beside your current operating system.  Setting up your computer with two different operating systems (i.e. Windows and Joli OS) is called dual booting.  In the past, dual booting could be nightmarish, but it has become fairly simple.  Just run the Joli OS installer and after a reboot, you’ll be ready to go.  When you power up your computer, you’ll see a choice between Joli OS and Windows with a timer counting down from 10 seconds.  Unfortunately, the Joli OS installer defaults your OS choice to Joli OS, but that can be fixed with a bit of searching.

Setup

Once booted, you create a device password  and you can login with the account you created in your browser.  All of the apps you installed will be there along with a few other settings like connections to Dropbox or Google Docs.  In addition to the apps you set up in your browser, there are a few local apps and access to your local storage including all the files on your Windows partition.  There are tons of limitations to using Jolicloud imposed by the cloud-only approach, but there are advantages as well.  A big advantage is that all it takes is one click to install apps and they are ready instantly.  Of course “installing” an “app” basically amounts to no more than adding a bookmark with an icon to your desktop.  Below is a screenshot of how I set up my desktop.  I took the background photo while on an airplane and I find it to be nice and literal.

Updates

Since all of your apps run on the web they are all automatically up to date.  Any data that needs to be synced locally is taken care of when you first log in.  Updates of the OS itself are done in the background.  Living with a computer that you don’t have to worry about updating is a huge advantage of the Jolicloud approach.

First Impressions

I knew before I even tried Jolicloud that it wouldn’t work as my primary OS.  That’s fine though, because it’s not intended for that purpose…yet.  It’s intended for use on netbooks, laptops, or computers “up to 10 years old.”  After installing Joli OS on at least one device, you are awarded with a “recycler” badge assuming that you revived an ancient computer from its dusty grave.  Not so in my case, but it’s a nice thought and if I had an old computer lying around I’d certainly try using Joli OS to revive it.  Of course my primary computer is a 4-year-old desktop, so maybe it’s already ancient.

So far, I think I like the idea of Jolicloud more than I actually like using it.  I like how lightweight it is, but it’s hard to get past that it’s really just a desktop with a browser and some links.  Responsiveness is a mixed bag.  Apps come up quickly, but web apps just don’t run as smoothly as native software.  Growing up with computers that run native software and maybe pull a few things off of the web makes adjusting to the cloud-only approach a little difficult.  Let me elaborate.

Getting Photos from the Camera to the Cloud

On a phone, getting photos from the camera to the cloud is easy.  On a computer with a full OS such as Mac, Windows, or Linux: also easy.  Using Joli OS: not easy.  The laptop I was using has a built-in SD reader, but when I plugged in my SD card nothing happened.  After some searching online, I found out that memory cards and USB devices work “sometimes” in Joli OS.  I tried removing and reinserting the card several more times with no luck.  Now what?  Warning: this might get a bit Linuxy.

Since Joli OS is really just a stripped-down version of Linux, it comes with access to a terminal which can be used to actually do things.  There is a normal terminal available with user-level access or root terminal with device-level access.  Guess which one I had to use to get the SD card to work…  Yup, the root terminal.  I used the following commands to do the equivalent of importing photos using Lightroom or Picasa:

mount -a (provides access to the SD card)

mkdir /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name] (for each destination folder I wanted to copy photos into)

cp /dev/a/DCIM/[folder name]/* /pictures/[destination folder]/* (copies every file from the source folder on the SD card to the destination folder on the computer.  Must be done for each folder being imported from or to)

Great.  Now I’ve got the files on my laptop’s hard drive.  The problem with this approach is it requires root-level access and that only works if you are using a computer that you own.  What happens when you try to do this on a hotel computer or your school computer?  I guess you better hope they’re not running Joli OS.

Working with RAW files (*.DNG)

Adobe’s DNG files are the closest thing to a standard for RAW files.  Support for them is great… on desktop software sold by Adobe.  I couldn’t find a single web app (paid or free) that provides support for processing RAW files of any format.  Some supported TIFF files, but upload limits and obscene file sizes conspire to ruin that option.  One of the few local apps available in the Joli OS apps directory is GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program).  The GIMP is a fantastic piece of software available for free on multiple platforms, but it doesn’t natively support RAW files.  Luckily there are plugins available help the GIMP process RAW files.  Unfortunately, none of them were available from the Joli OS apps directory.  Back to the terminal again…

The best RAW plugin I found is called UFRaw.  It has a graphical user interface (GUI) for one-by-one processing, but it also has command line support for batch processing.  It’s no Lightroom, but it will do.  Installing it required the following command:

sudo apt-get install gimp-ufraw

Once installed, all I had to do was double-click my files and they would open in the UFRaw GUI where I could edit them in all their 16-bit glory.  Unfortunately, it takes a while to load each file and what do I do with the duds?  Also, UFRaw is a native app and the purpose of this experiment is to test out web apps.  I decided to give up the fine-tuned control and I asked UFRaw to automatically spit out a bunch of JPEGs for me to upload and process in the cloud.  Throwing away all of those extra bits is painful, but the cloud made me do it.  I used this command to batch process my DNG files using the default exposure settings:

ufraw-batch –exposure=auto –out-type=jpeg /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name]/*.DNG

It took about 15 minutes to make it through about 150 pictures, but it chugged along quietly in the background.  When the conversion was done, I used the Picasa app (really just a link to picasaweb.google.com) to upload the resulting JPEGs.

It was disappointing not to be able to edit RAW files in the cloud.  If anyone has a recommendation for a site where this can be done, please let me know in the comments.

Jolicloud Conclusions

I wanted to like Jolicloud, but in the end I just don’t think it’s for me.  There’s still a lot to like, but not enough for me to consider using Joli OS as my primary operating system.  The Jolicloud developers should be applauded for taking an open, forward-thinking approach to OS design.  Jolicloud’s goal of resurrecting old computers is fantastic and I could recommend Joli OS for an old computer, a netbook, or a tablet without reservation.  On a current desktop or laptop however, it just feels like a waste of computing power.  The workarounds required for doing a basic operation like grabbing pictures from my camera shouldn’t be necessary.

Joli OS is a great netbook operating system and I would definitely use it over Windows 7 or XP on a netbook or tablet, but I don’t own a netbook or tablet.  It was fun trying it out and it was free, but I didn’t miss it too much when I went back to using Windows 7.

Tune in next time for Cloud Photography Part 3: Image Editing.

Cloud Photography

I’ve recently developed an interest in cloud computing.  As this is a photography blog, I’ve decided to perform an experiment to see whether it’s worth our time for photographers to move to The Cloud.  First, what is cloud computing?  The goal of cloud computing is to provide users with constant access to their software and data from anywhere using any device.  You’re probably already a part of the cloud just by using web-based email.  Your emails sit on a server “in the cloud” and you can get access to them from anywhere with a browser.  Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are the big players in the cloud computing arena, offering lots of free or cheap storage.  Microsoft and Google both offer an entire suite of free office software that runs entirely in your browser.  It’s up to the user to decide whether it’s worth trusting one of these companies with their data in exchange for a lot of convenience.  Convenience that lasts only as long as a constant internet connection is maintained.  Trade-offs abound.

What does this have to do with photography?
Just as there are office apps that run in the browser, there are also photo-editing apps.  Are these apps as good as their desktop counterparts?  That’s what I aim to find out.

What are the benefits of cloud computing to photographers?

  • Persistent backups
  • Instant sharing with clients, friends and family
  • No need for 5 TB hard drives and supercomputers
  • Access to photos and software from anywhere – edit photos from the computer in the hotel lobby or at grandma’s house

And the drawbacks?

  • Software choice
  • Cost – large storage plans can get pricey while good hardware keeps getting cheaper
  • RAW processing – see software choice
  • Trust – forced to trust that Microoglesoftazon will keep your data safe and private
  • Internet connection is mandatory
  • Calibration – colors on different devices vary wildly

Jolicloud
Using Windows or Linux or OSX will make it too easy to cheat and use familiar desktop tools.  Therefore, I will be using Joli OS, the installed version of Jolicloud.  Jolicloud is a free operating system based on Ubuntu Linux that can run entirely in a browser.  When installed on a computer, Joli OS is essentially just a big browser window.  There are some apps that run locally such as GIMP, but for the most part everything it runs must be a webapp.  Joli OS provides some local storage space, but I am going to treat it as a temporary place to store my data before flinging it up into the cloud.

The Experiment
I want to see what it takes to get a batch of RAW files from my camera processed and stored in the cloud using only Joli OS running on a laptop.  The only rule is that I must do the entire process from either Joli OS or a browser.  I’ll document my frustrations and my successes on this blog.  Whatever my conclusion turns out to be, I know I’ll learn a lot along the way.

Stock Photos and Pee-Filled Golf Clubs

The low low low prices on micro-stock photographs get a lot of blame for putting working photographers out of business.  Whether or not you buy that argument, it’s still a shame that even those low prices aren’t low enough for some companies to actually pay for the photography they steal from the web.  Most stock photo sites and a lot of other photographers put watermarks on the low-res preview images that they make publicly available.  The idea being that clients would rather pay for the full-resolution image without a watermark.  Putting a photo on your company’s website with a watermark over it makes you look incompetent at best.

It’s possible that I just wrote this as an excuse to link you to a hilarious product invented for golfers with small bladders: the Uro Club.

If only there was something like this for photographers who have to pee.  Oh wait, there already is!

Encouraging Exhaustive Exploration

Do you ever feel like every single one of your photographs has been done before and done better?  This feeling usually comes about once you get past the beginner stage and start looking at lots of work by other photographers.  It feels bad, but it’s a good thing because it will push you towards creating better, more unique work.

I recently visited Victoria, BC and my hotel was near the Parliament Buildings.  This was fortunate because I was able to take pictures there at all different times of day and from lots of different angles.  It’s easy especially on vacation to simply take the first shot that appeals to you and call it a day.  Zoom lenses are particularly good at enabling this kind of behavior.  The Parliament Buildings are beautiful and I wanted to make sure I didn’t settle on a  couple of boring pictures from obvious viewpoints taken at noon.

I don’t know about you, but my brain often works against me so I have to trick it into doing what’s best for me.  Some of the ways I forced myself to explore my photographic options were:

  • Use a prime lens – the only prime I had with me was a 50mm, which is equivalent to a 75mm when mounted on my DSLR and 75mm is far from ideal for capturing architecture.  However, bad is good when you’re trying to spark creativity.
  • Use film and digital – I didn’t get any film shots here, but I carried a film camera around with me.  The point here is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
  • Pay attention to the light – it’s always changing and the way you use the light can make or break your shot.
  • Pay attention to the people – some people want their vacation photos to be completely devoid of other people, but that desire can lead to boring pictures.  People can add emotion and a sense of scale.  If you want an idealized view of a location, there are postcards available in the giftshop.  If the location is crowded, show us the crowd.  Take a picture of the dad balancing precariously over a ledge to get a shot of his kids.  Take a picture of the bully photographer who just has to set up their tripod right in front of you.  Don’t rule anything out.
  • Walk, don’t drive – there’s not always a choice on this, but walking always results in better pictures

I’ve included some of my favorite shots of the Parliament buildings below.  Some are fairly standard, but I think I got a decent variety of angles and times of day.

Do you have any tips of your own for how to completely explore a photographic subject?  Any links to galleries where you’ve taken lots of different photos of the same subject are more than welcome.  If there’s enough participation, maybe I’ll even write a follow-up and share my favorite examples.

Man Balances on Giant Egg

Remember the Photoblog Alliance site that I mentioned a few months ago?  Well, the site’s been expanding nicely and has quite a few contributors now.  There’s a new photo posted every day and each photo comes with a short description and some technical info.

If you’ve never submitted your work to a site like Photoblog Alliance, I’d recommend it for a couple reasons.  First, it’s great publicity because Brian Haferkamp, who runs the site, has done as much as he can to point viewers to the photographer’s website and/or facetweets.  Second, it’s a great way to practice editing your work.  The nature of the Photoblog Alliance submission process means that you probably won’t be submitting 100 images per day.  That means that you’ll have to pick your best one photograph from your archives to submit.  The more you edit, the more you learn about your work.  Think of it like this, from least selective to most selective: import from memory card > facebook > flickr > photoblog > Photoblog Alliance > print and frame.  Of course, if you’re like most facebook users it goes memory card = facebook and that’s the end of it.

The latest photo on the Photoblog Alliance is called “Man Balances on Giant Egg” and you’ll have to click here to see it.  Be sure to read the story behind the photo also.

Traveling Camera Project

Way back in July, the Feeling Negative? blog started their Traveling Camera Project.  The concept was that a cheapo 35mm camera would be mailed from person to person around the world with each person shooting a roll of film in the same camera.  It sounded like fun, so I signed up to take part.  The map of where the camera has been so far can be found here, but I’m not sure how well it’s been kept up to date.

I received the camera from Janne in Osaka who blogged about his experience, too.  The camera being used for this project is the Vivitar Mariner, available at Amazon in a waterproof case for the extraordinary price of $100, used.  Ours was missing the waterproof case and only cost $5.  After using it I can say the value is much closer to $5 than $100.  It’s basically a disposable camera that you can reload film into.  The Mariner is fixed-focus with only one aperture and shutter speed setting.  You truly do just point and shoot.  Where you’re pointing is not so precise, however, since the tiny viewfinder covers maybe 70% of the image captured on the film.  The lens is 28mm and has the typical chromatic aberration and blurry corners of all plastic lenses.  Of course, blurry corners implies that something in the image is sharp, which requires luck.  It’s a fun camera to shoot with and is capable of some nice lo-fi shots, if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you read camera reviews of modern DSLR’s, you’ll often come across complaints about entry-level cameras having poor build quality and employing too much plastic in their construction.  They obviously have never used the Mariner.  Without batteries (batteries are optional), the camera feels like it could break at any second.  Luckily, simplicity comes to the rescue, so the only things that could break are the shutter, the winding knob, or the light seals.  I think the winding knob and the light seals were broken.  The frame counter stayed at “1” after I had taken at least 5 shots and then it all of a sudden jumped to “6” on the next shot.  Advancing the film in between shots is…imprecise.  I was shocked when all of my photos came back and weren’t half overlapping.  You can see in this shot that the camera is prone to light leaks, but this was the only picture where it showed up.

It was fun to take part in the Traveling Camera Project.  I can’t pass up an opportunity to try out a new camera and it’s fun to watch it make its way around the world.

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Eye Dominance

Free Eye and Snowflaked Lashes Creative Commons
Free Eye and Snowflaked Lashes, by D Sharon Pruitt

Most people know whether they are right handed or left handed, but do you know which of your eyes is dominant?  If you use the LCD screen on the back of your camera or if you rely on autofocus, then it may not matter that much.  However, if you use a viewfinder and especially if you are manual focusing then it is important to stack the odds in your favor and use your dominant eye for the task.  Most cameras (maybe all cameras?  Let me know if you know of an exception) are designed for right-handed, right-eyed people.  Rangefinders especially favor right-eyed people because the viewfinder is on the far left of the camera,  which means that right-eyed people will have no problem avoiding a squished nose, but left-eyed people won’t be so lucky.  Film SLR’s (digital or film) usually have the viewfinder near the center, but sometimes it’s offset to the left.  With no controls on the rear of the camera body, film SLR’s are probably the most neutral towards left or right eye dominance.  Digital SLR’s put the majority of buttons and switches on the right side of the LCD screen, so left-eyed people might accidentally push buttons with their nose but right-eyed people often smudge up the LCD screen with their noses.  It’s lose-lose when using a DSLR for those of us with larger noses.

Eye Am Feeling Silly
Eye Am Feeling Silly, by Cayusa

If you don’t know which of your eyes is dominant, WikiHow has an interesting test you can do to find out.  Click the link to get the step-by-step, but the basic idea is to look at a small object through a peep-hole you make with your hands and then close your eyes one at a time to figure out which eye the object is visible to.  I guess the test is supposed to work because you can’t see the object with both eyes at the same time, so you are subconsciously looking at the object with your preferred eye.

When I do the test, I consistently find that my right eye is dominant, but I know from experience that I often use my left eye when taking photographs.  I think it’s something I should pay a little more attention to, because I find myself switching between eyes.  I’m not sure if there is a connection between which eye is dominant and which eye has better vision.  For playing pool, you should use your dominant eye, but for manual focusing a camera, maybe whichever eye has better vision would be best.

Do you have a dominant eye, and which one is it?

Predictions about the FUTURE…

Future Or Bust!
Future Or Bust! by Vermin Inc

The future, Conan?

The only thing more fun than predicting the future is looking back at old predictions of the future and seeing where they landed.  Digital photography eclipsed film way faster than most people expected and is still progressing rapidly.  Predictions of the future for cameras usually involve the viewfinder (optical or electronic), camera size, sensor size, and the number of megapixels.

If you’ve been paying attention, the most-talked about cameras lately have been EVF (electronic viewfinder), small-bodied, large sensor (4/3 or APS-C), 10-20 megapixel designs.  Sony showed what happens at the extreme end of the small camera size large sensor with the NEX, which suffers from a poorly designed interface (not necessarily a consequence of its small size) and lenses that have to be large enough to cover an APS-C image circle.  Why Sony is releasing the gigantic 18-200 zoom for the NEX before a set of pancake primes is beyond me.  Panasonic started with a tiny 40mm-eq f/1.7 lens that makes its GF1 almost pocket-able (depending on your pockets).  They’re soon releasing a 28mm-eq pancake prime, so all they need to do now is sell a third prime in the 70-90mm-eq and they’ll be set.  APS-C DSLR’s are still going strong and make up the vast majority of the non-digicam market.  Full-frame DSLR’s are still popular with pros and some enthusiasts, but they make up a tiny part of the overall market.  Fill in the remaining gap with Sony’s SLT cameras which are fairly small with a large (APS-C) sensor and an EVF and that’s where we’re at today.  Oh, and Nikon and Canon are still selling bucketloads of heavy, oversized, but very good DSLR’s and large lenses with image stabilization as an expensive option.

But what were people predicting back in 2005?  That was only 5 years ago, but in the digital world that’s an eternity.  I was taking a look at some of the archives at Luminous-Landscape when I came across a couple of dueling predictions with some interesting thoughts.  The two authors were Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer and Michael Reichmann of Luminous-Landscape.  For readability, let’s go with MJ and MR.  The first of the articles is here.  The second and third articles are here and here.

MJ predicted the following:

  • DSLR’s will be a dead-end within about 10 years (from 2005)
  • Sensors will get smaller (than 4/3), not bigger
  • Sensors that record all 3 colors at each photosite will become the norm (similar to Sigma’s Foveon sensor)
  • Separate media cards will go away, because the memory will be built-in
  • Lenses will be smaller, even on professional or advanced cameras
  • Cameras will routinely plug into printers with the image processing done in-camera

I found this interesting:

Will cameras continue to have eye-level finders, whether optical or virtual? Probably, because there will be situations in which photographers won’t want to use a bright, glowing 2D display. But how this will end up being implemented is something I won’t guess about (except that it won’t be a flipping mirror).

Hey, he predicted the SLT five years ago!  It’s too soon to make a call on MJ’s first two predictions, but I can’t say I see much evidence that he’s wrong yet.  Olympus has all but confirmed that 4/3 DSLR’s are done for, so it may only be a matter of time for APS-C (probably a long time).  Sigma’s Foveon is still the only non-Bayer sensor, but it has yet to spread to other manufacturers.  I’m sure this has a lot to do with patents and marketing.  For some reason, cameras still don’t have any built-in memory.  Build in 8GB for an extra $20 and forgotten memory cards will be a thing of the past.  Lens size is all over the place right now, but that will trend along with sensor size because of physics.  I’d say he’s wrong on the last point because the people who would use that feature are not printing their photographs.  As for eye-level finders, they’re not dead yet.

MR’s response was that large sensors will never go away and he called APS-C the new 35mm.  I agree with this and I think the benefits of full-frame are fading fast.  DOF scales inversely with sensor size, so the question becomes how thin does our DOF need to get to have artistic freedom?  Digicams have far too much DOF, but APC-C seems like a sweet spot.  I don’t have enough experience with 4/3 sensors to comment on DOF.  My hunch is that it’s just fine.  Looking at the camera-landscape today, I’d say I agree with MR that we won’t see much smaller than 4/3 for serious cameras.

MJ makes the point in his rebuttal to the rebuttal that more DOF can be a good thing and that the benefits of smaller sensors and thus smaller lenses will far outweigh the want/need for thin DOF.  He’s right from a logical standpoint, but it doesn’t look like the market is headed towards sub-4/3 territory yet.

A lot has changed in the digital camera market since 2005.  The announcement of the micro-4/3 mount changed everything.  Prior to that, new camera releases touted nothing new but an improved sensor and some extra features, but now we are seeing true innovation.  Who knows what cameras will be like in 2015!

Long Exposure Calculations

209 Seconds, by Bryan Davidson

A photograph shows a finite slice of time and it’s up to the photographer to choose how large that slice is.  A small slice can freeze time to show the details of a hummingbird’s wings or the sculptures created by a drop of water.  A large slice can show movement over a long time period compressed into a single frame.

Long exposures are challenging, but they can create images with tons of dramatic impact because they show the viewer something he or she can’t see in real life.  The problem is, most cameras, even DSLR’s don’t meter accurately in the dark and they will only give shutter speeds down to 30 seconds.  Luckily, you’re using a digital camera, so you can experiment for free!  So, simple, just set your camera to bulb mode (where the shutter is open for as long as the button is pressed), grab a stop watch and start experimenting, right?

Well, that could be very time consuming and frustrating.  Remember that an increase of 1 stop of light requires a doubling of exposure time.  That means if your 5 minute exposure is wrong, you may have to try 10 or 20 minutes to get it right.  On top of the exposure time itself, most cameras perform something called “dark frame subtraction” which helps lower noise on long exposures by taking an image with the shutter closed for a time equal to the previous exposure.  So you take a 5 minute exposure and then your camera takes another 5 minutes after that to become ready again.  You see how the time could add up fast?  There must be a better way.

Luckily, there is.  Again thanks to the wonders of digital photography, you can set the ISO speed to whatever you want, whenever you want.  Try this: crank up the ISO as high as it will go and then take some test shots at shorter exposure times.  You probably don’t use these higher ISO’s too much because the resulting pictures often look like crap.  My camera goes to ISO3200, but new cameras go to ISO12800 or higher.  Once you’ve honed in on the correct exposure, it’s time to do some math.  You want to aim for the lowest ISO possible because you’ll get more dynamic range and less noise.

  1. Memorize or write down the correct exposure you found while experimenting (i.e. ISO3200 f/8 10 seconds)
  2. Divide the ISO value by 2 and multiply the exposure time by 2 until you get to the desired ISO (preferably 100 or 200).  For the example above, this equals ISO100 f/8 320 seconds (5 minutes 20 seconds).
  3. Set your camera to “bulb” mode (should be marked with a ‘B’, but if you can’t find it, check the manual) and set the ISO and aperture to the results from step 2.
  4. Using a remote shutter release and a stopwatch, keep the shutter open for the amount of time you calculated.
  5. Wait for what seems like forever until the dark frame subtraction is done.
  6. Print!  (Haha, who prints pictures anymore, what is this 1931?  Post to facebook.)

If the time you compute in step 2 is just too long, you can also open up the aperture by 1 stop instead of doubling the exposure time for one jump down of ISO.  Remember that a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture (more light).  The list of whole f-stops is: 1.0, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32.  Keep in mind that you’ll get the sharpest results out of your lens by setting the f-stop about 2 stops above the minimum (i.e. for an f/3.5 lens, f/8 – f/11 will be sharpest).  You can experiment during the day to get to know where your lens performs the best.

I hope this tip helps save you some time next time you’re out doing some night photography.  Don’t forget to pack an extra battery because the cold temperature and the longer exposures will both eat away at your battery life.  If anyone has any other long exposure tips to add, feel free to leave a comment.