Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eye Exercises, Part 2 - Black and White

Some more experiments from the crapcam: this time, I took some shots from my walk and stripped out the colors with the Gimp photo editing software, adjusting the white and black levels slightly to match what I'd look for in a black and white print. Shooting b&w is great fun, first, because it's easy and inexpensive to do yourself at home and is a process tolerant of failure. Second, because it's an excellent way to re-train yourself to look at shape and light as you'll lose all the color "information" along the way.

Digital experimentation is a good way to get your feet wet. Try shooting something with your digital camera of choice, then open it up in an image editor and convert it to a greyscale photo. Which of these pictures do you like better in color, and which do you prefer in black and white? My thoughts follow the thumbnails...

1) Arrows
Arrows Arrows, B&W

2) Wet Shirt
Wet Shirt Wet Shirt, B&W

3) Leaves
Leaves Leaves, B&W

4) Palms
Palms Palms, B&W

5) Landscaping
Landscaping Landscaping, B&W

My favorites:
  1. I prefer the color version of the street arrows. The red curb is completely lost in the black and white version, and I like the way the red grabs at my eye in the color shot.
  2. It's close for the shirt photo. The color shot emphasizes the distortion effects of the cheap lens more, I think, but I like the texture of the black and white photo. I'm slightly in the B&W camp on this one.
  3. For the leaves, black and white is the clear winner to me here. The washed-out colors muddy the photo in my opinion. Black and white is great for pointing out edge detail, in part because our eyes are so sensitive to shades and levels of light. It's not just that the color information is gone from the second picture, but other information is subtly boosted.
  4. Black and white for sure. Although it's one of my favorite subjects -- a cluster of palm trees -- I think the black and white is far more dreamlike and makes you work harder to guess what you're seeing. I like pictures that make me wonder a little. The original was shot in portrait orientation which is more obivous if you live around palm trees and their unmistakable bark. Showing it in landscape adds more "what is that" to the final photo.
  5. This is a cheat, since I deliberately chose this to illustrate how black and white can change a scene. The yellowing fronds in the color picture distract me, and make my eye hop around looking at them, instead of the pile o' stripes that I (the photographer) was hoping for.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scratching An Itch

I got the idea in the shower.

No, that's probably not a good way to start. Let's say I thought of it over breakfast and go from there. Thinking about Joe's woes with finding image hosting, and my own cheapskate solution, I thought to myself:

Self, if only there was a flickr group that one could safely dump all their blog images into, without fear of reprisal from the group owners, thus enabling freeloading flickr members like me to still be able to easily find their old typecasts and "other stuff" that doesn't fit into a real category. But who would be stupid enough to let that happen?
Well, duh, who indeed. I've established a new, members-only group on flickr called "Anablogger Archives" which you're all free to join, if you're running a blog friendly to the analog arts. (I briefly toyed with the idea of naming it something like "Society for the Preservation and Promotion of the Analog Arts" but thought better of it. Though that would look awesome on a T-shirt. Hmmm.)


Feel free to dump your (safe!) content in there and use it as a home for your bloggy bits. I'm keeping the membership on approval-only, since I don't want it to become a catch-all for spammers and flickr group whores. If you want to sign up, follow the "join" links on the group page with the URL of your blog and I'll let you through.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

(Not So) Confidential to Joe V

Man, you're hard to get in touch with. Thanks to some deep-seated resentment between Blogger and Firefox on Linux, I can't comment in your blog. Consider this a freebie tip to typecasters out there looking for image hosting solutions:

You're dead-on right with the space limitations of Blogger storage and the bandwidth limits of Photobucket. Flickr's free account, however, is not limited. It will only show the most recent 200 shots in your stream, but you can always link back and embed old ones, and your old blog entries won't be image-free. I'm trying to make a point of either throwing all my pictures up here on the blog where I can search for them, or dump them in a relevant Flickr group, which all offer a "show uploads from me" link.

So stand down on that credit card. You can use flickr, just make sure you grab the URLs of your old photos first. If you want the full-magilla storage option, then go pro, but if you want to use it as a handy dumping-ground for blog images (my method) then you don't need to pay.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eye Exercises

Heading out into the weather with a camera in hand? Here's five practical tips to keep in mind...

Tip #1: Remember the "Rule of Thirds"

This is a classic guideline for composition. Imagine that your frame/viewfinder/LCD screen is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, and try to put the focus of your picture in one of the intersections, or place a line (of objects, a horizon, a tree) along one of the imaginary lines.

Most modern cameras put their focus mechanism right in the center of the picture, which might encourage you to take all center-framed shots of your beloved, badly-drawn cat Fluffy. Resist the temptation! It's usually possible to lock the focus on a subject by pressing the button halfway down, then re-frame the shot as you hold down the button and then fire the shutter.

Photo tip #1: The Rule of Thirds

Tip #2: Survey the Frame

As you're setting up the shot, look all the way around the frame. Sure, Fluffy is adorable, but that garbage can behind him is decidedly less so. Best scoot over a bit and take the shot from a different angle. How many times have you see tree-branch antlers growing out of someone's head in a photograph? Just say "no" to turning your relatives into jackalopes with this simple step.

Photo tip #2: Survey the Frame

Tip #3: Count your Subjects

Humans are natural sorters and pattern-recognizers. Taking a photo of two subjects (especially similar ones) automatically invites comparisons between the two, and tends to make the picture "stable" to look at. With three subjects, though, the eye and brain hop around among them. Odd numbers of subjects in a photo generally make it more dynamic to look at.

Photo tip #3: Count Your Subjects

Tip #4: Film is Cheap!

If you're on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, don't squander the film. The cost of having a second, third, or fifth shot developed is far less than the cost of trying to recreate that moment in time. Take your "postcard shot" of landmarks, and then move around and get a few more angles. And when you're taking portraits, always get "one for luck" in there. (More if you're photographing kids.) Afterwards: edit, edit, edit. I shot something like seven rolls of film in a week at Disneyland, just to get about 30 "good" shots.

Photo tip #4: Film is Cheap!

Tip #5: Break the Rules!

Anyone who tells you there's only one way to shoot, or one brand of camera to use, or is zealously in the film-is-dead or digital-is-evil camp and can see nothing else is not worth your time. Photography is about keeping your eyes open, getting a perspective on the world, and documenting it for yourself or others to enjoy. Anyone that's making it less enjoyable for you is a bum. None of these tips or any of the hundreds of other bits of advice out there are must-dos, so do what you like, discover what works for you, and go shoot something.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rainy Day Walk

Snuck out in a lull between storm fronts to catch a few more shots with the crapcam. I was entertaining the idea of getting a new phone so I could have a pocketable camera on-hand to capture moments like this, but now I'm not so sure that I want one after all.


The Goose Ducks


Red Awning



Friday, January 15, 2010

Today's Lo Fi Highlights

More from the $5 Walgreens keychain digicam:

Purple and Orange and Red, White and Blue

Check it twice

Heap Big Bargain

No Dumping
(my favorite of the bunch)

It's a Banjo Party!

Yeee haw!

Plus, a few a took yesterday that somehow got glitched up in the camera's memory, giving them the Ted Turner effect.

Press to dial

Leaves and rainbows

Keys to success

UPDATE: here's the camera on a Post-It note, for a size comparison.

Lo, lo, lo fidelity keychain cam

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Low-Tech Challenge: Photo Collage

My Desk
In response to my own guest-posted challenge on Just Write, a first attempt at a little lo-fi cataloging of my life, courtesy a super-flimsy $5 digital "camera" from Walgreens. This is a quick survey of my desk, since I was sitting there at the time, trying to read the archaic image file format off the camera. Trying for the lo-fi, shoot-from-the-hip ethic here, instead of my usual obsessing over white balance and aperture and steady shots and focus and bokeh and... and... and...

This is a little spin around my desk area: clockwise from the top left they are...
  1. Norma Jean, my Underwood Touchmaster, still looking and typing fine in this, her 50th year. I'm also hitting a milestone this year: turning 40. Perhaps I'll dye my hair to match.
  2. My super sekrit stash of Polaroid film, snarfed from the thrift store last year. I've used up a couple of boxes now, have a couple more to go. One of them was particularly ancient, and the tiny chemical pounches inside the frame were so badly dried that only strips and blobs developed. The images are ghostly and strange.
  3. Assorted house plants in various states of health. This particular one was from a get-well basket for one of my son's past injuries. The basket sat on top of a bookcase and was soon neglected for ages before I felt pity on the plants, divided them up, and repotted them. This is a "bonus plant" that was down to its last leaf, but is thriving by being neglected on the end of my desk. I was a chronic accidental house-plant killer as a child, so I'm trying to boost my plant karma by reviving these pity cases, and by getting them away from my wife, who has an even deadlier record with plants.
  4. Perpetual calendar/pen stand. I need to swap out the nib in the pen for something narrower, as this has a cheap calligraphy nib in there right now, and so lays down an exceptionally wide line. Out of frame is the wind-up travel alarm clock. Measuring time mechanically, that's me.
  5. Mementos from my kids, this one from my older daughter. Both my daughters seem taken with art, the older one declared at age four that she wants to be a children's book author dedicated exclusively to picture books "for kids who can't read." Paper and crayons litter our house, and art and photos of my kids are all over the cork board and my desk.
  6. Actual work-related things. I still don't like looking up things online, preferring to have my reference materials in bound form. The O'Reilly books are the best of the best, in my opinion. I still lean on these now and then for reference at the old gray matter gets less responsive. Plus, covers featuring engravings of camels and rhinos fits my "Eclectic/Geek/Slob" design ethic.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Into the Labyrinth

I <3 my wife
20100107 typecast
Numerous typos left intact for maximum hilarity. Typed on a 1952 Skyriter.
Smith-Corona Skyriter c. 1952

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cutting though the fog

Jacob's Ladder
The new decade rolled in fairly typically around here. Winter fog is gracing our days right now, so everything is a flat grey at the moment. Honestly, I can't tell if there's a second sun in the sky yet, but I'll keep checking. Other than battling a head cold (a.k.a. brain fog) and readjusting to listening for the morning alarm clock, things are normal around here. Actually, that's a bit of a fib, as any working schmoe will tell you -- take two weeks off, and your return will be anything but truly "normal." I'm juggling a couple of things at work right now that conveniently went belly-up over the holidays (of course) but I expect to be back to my typecasting/photoblogging self soon. Reading around, it looks like not a few typospherians are in the same boat, trying to get back into that daily whatever-it-is-we-do-daily swing.

I have to confess to one thing, though: I did take a few opportunities to plunk out on the sofa next to the fire over break and actually start reading though the 2009 NaNo beast. At the risk of sounding smug or slightly high on cold medications (I'm both), the draft is not as terrible as I feared. Oh yes, there's a rewrite to be done, especially on the first day or two's output, where the details of the story were unclear and just dark shapes. I'm actually getting a little excited about this one, folks. I'll try not to go on about this any more, other than to say: if you happen to like hastily written, comic fantasy, I might want to snare you as a beta-reader.

Hope your New Year was a good one, and looking forward to reading and writing with you all once again in twenty-ten.

Edited to add: I should also mention that somewhere in late December I became completely addicted to last.fm, which is like audio crack for a music junkie like myself. (I need to have CDs playing pretty much non-stop while I work.) I've been enjoying stuffing my profile full of my broad/strange musical tastes, and it has not disappointed, even though it appears that artists and labels need to do the leg work on releasing their content. With the weather as blah as it is, listening to The Incredible Bongo Band play "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is like sunshine piped straight into my brain via my ears.