Archive for the 'photography' Category

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News sweep

I’ve managed to go the entire month of August without a post, due to a combination of travel, family activities, and vacations. So here’s a sweep of some of the things that I would have covered during that time.

1.0’s

The Chandler Project – Chandler has gone 1.0, so if you were put off by the version number, you can take it out for a spin. There are some good posts on the Chandler blog that describe how people are using it.

Django – Just today, the Django project had its 1.0 release. This is pretty important because there were a lot of changes in the subversion trunk that weren’t in the packaged builds. That’s all be done away with now. I expect that this will lead to even more Python webapps.

Tools

DTrace – DTrace is 5 years old today, and Bryan Cantrill has a good war story from that time. It’s amazing to me that something as good as DTrace can be around for 5 years, and still be relatively unknown. If you are on Solaris, OpenSolaris, or Mac OS X, go check it out.

Ubiquity – Ubiquity is like Quicksilver integrated into Firefox. It’s emphasizing the natural language aspects of that kind of interface. There’s also pretty good documentation on how to build additional commands, which is really important. There are extensions for Quicksilver, but there aren’t a lot of them. There are already a lot of third party Ubiquity commands. I really wish that Ubiquity could talk to other applications besides Firefox, but there are pretty nasty security problems down that path. Some of the commands are very Google oriented, like the mail and calendar, which makes it less useful for people like me who are still using desktop applications. In an event, I think that this is worth watching carefully. One unintended side effect might be additional pressure for page/application authors to embed machine-readable content (yes, that you, microformats, at least in part) into more pages. We’ll see.

Chrome – There’s a lot of buzz about Google’s Chrome browser. Since it doesn’t run on the Mac, I don’t have much to say. I’m not about to install Windows or fire up VMWare just to run a browser. One day the Mac port will be done, and then I’ll have a look. I am encouraged that the development team is doing a real Mac native experience.

Dynamic Language Runtimes

It’s been exciting to watch the progress in JavaScript runtime engines over the last few weeks. First there was Mozilla’s TraceMonkey, which is a tracing based JIT, which delivered some very impressive speedups, despite the fact that it still has cannot deal with recursion. As part of Google Chrome, a team lead by StrongTalk/HotSpot lead Lars Bak has done a JavaScript JIT called V8, which is also turning out some very impressive numbers. And of course, the SquirrelFish engine for WebKit was turning in pretty good numbers a few months back. This is great progress for JavaScript — it’s less so for the web because of the variety of deployed browsers. It’s exciting to watch the various JavaScript runtimes leapfrogging each other. It gives me the sense that JavaScript is really making some serious moves on the performance front. Of course, none of these folks are comparing their execution times to C or C++. I’d like to see those comparisons as well. It’s also great that all three of these engines are open-source, so that implementors of other languages can evaluate the internals of these VM’s. I’d love to see this kind of leapfrogging in the Python and Ruby communities.

Cameras

I’m not as interested in the camera body arms race as I once was. The Canon 50D is an upgrade of the 40D, but I’m not really sure that more pixels is better. The telltale feature on the camera is the autofocus system, which hasn’t been given much of an upgrade. That signals to me that the 5DMkII will not be the all out upgrade that many are hoping for, but what do I know? The Nikon D90 sounds cool if you want to shoot video. I have enough problems with still pictures.

I am interested in the Nikon P6000, point and shoot, but I am seriously annoyed by the NRW proprietary RAW file format for the camera. Everything about the camera seems awesome, especially the ability to do off camera flash, both iTTL and manual. The RAW thing is going to be the determiner for me. I won’t buy one unless there is Lightrooom/Adobe Camera Raw support for the camera. OS X native support wouldn’t be bad either. As a new Nikon owner, I am unimpressed by the NRW decision.

Travel

September is a heavy travel month for me. I will be in Birmingham, UK for PyCon UK, from Sept 12-14, and I’ll be at the JVM Language Summit from Sept 24-26. As always, stop by and say hello if you will be at one of these events.

Book Review: The Creative Digital Darkroom

There seem to be growth cycles that photographers go through. One of them is related to postprocessing of photographs. When I started taking pictures, I didn’t really do much to my pictures, on the belief that a good photographer ought to get things right straight out of the camera. I only shot film as a consumer, and not for very long. While I had a brief exposure to a photographic darkroom, I didn’t leave with the right impression about the role of the developing and printing process. Until I got Aperture, I never adjusted a picture. After I got Aperture, I mostly made small exposure, contrast or saturation bumps, never more than that. Now I am using Lightroom rather than Aperture, and I am still doing mostly the same sorts of things, although I’ve started to work more with adjusting the black point and contrast curves of pictures. In the last 6-7 months, I’ve started to use Photoshop on pictures. I was able to do a bit here and a bit there. I checked out books from the library, I bought a few books on Photoshop CS3 when it came out. My friend Ogalthorpe, sat with me once and showed me how he works some of his magic on his pictures.

It seemed like things were going in one ear and out the other, partially because I didn’t have a good idea of what I was trying to do or why. That made retaining the “how” pretty difficult.

I recently picked up The Creative Digital Darkroom by Katrin Eismann and Sean Duggan. This is the first Photoshop book that actually tries to walk you though the reasoning behind why you are doing what you are doing, and that does it in language that can be understood by someone with zero darkroom experience. I really appreciated the emphasis on the creative aspects in the middle of all the pictures of curves, layers, layer masks, and all the usual Photoshop stuff. The book is very recent, so it covers Photoshop CS3, and in places where Lightroom can do the same thing, there is coverage of Lightroom as well.

My skill level is such that the two chapters (out of 10!) “Toning and Contrast” and “Dodging, Burning, and Exposure Control” will probably keep me busy for a good long time. I am sure that as I start to apply some of these principles, I will grow into material in the other chapters. But for now, I am happy to have what feels like a basic footing that I can work from. Now all I need to do is spend some time making images good enough to process a lot.

Book Review: Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I got onto the list for a review copy of Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis. I’m not complaining in the slightest bit, just mystified. I’m a reader of Harold’s blog, and his choice of nature subjects is pretty close to mine, so I’ve always appreciated his photographs. This book is aimed a people who are trying to learn (and subsequently master) the basics of exposure, which puts it squarely in competition with Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, which is a book that every photographer really ought to read.

So how does Davis’ work stand up when compared to Peterson’s? The basic sections are strong, and either book is fine in this respect. I think that Understanding Exposure has more of an emphasis on the creative aspects of photography, and does a better job of helping the reader understand how to achieve particular creative effects by manipulating exposure. In particular, for beginners, Peterson gives stronger guidance on specific values for apertures and shutter speeds, that can be helpful to people that don’t have much of a background.

On the other hand, I think that Davis has a much better section on understanding and using the in-camera light meters. I have the revised version of Understanding Exposure, which is updated for digital cameras, but Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is really much more up to date for the digital age. There is a good discussion on ISO, and how to use ISO as part of the exposure control. Along with that there is an excellent discussion on noise and the use of noise in the creative process. I was glad to find some treatment of white balance. One of the easiest ways to pick out inexperienced photographer’s pictures is to look at the white balancing of the pictures. There is also a chapter on post-processing and RAW processing, a topic to which entire books are devoted, but I think it is helpful for people to understand the role of post-processing in the digital age.

As you would expect with a photography book, there are lots of pictures. As I mentioned, Davis’ preference in nature subjects is close to mine, so I really enjoyed the pictures, and there is lots of commentary accompanying each photograph. The photos in Peterson’s book are more diverse in subject matter, which is probably better from a teaching point of view.

At the end, though, I like both books. For the stage that I am at photographically, I have a slight preference for Peterson’s Understanding Exposure. I am working hard on the creative aspects of my photography, so I am in a frame of mind to be biased towards Peterson’s treatment. Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is also a very good book, and I would have no problem recommending it to a beginning photographer. I certainly got something out of reading it (and probably could stand to read each book a few more times). The subject matter in these books is so important that one of these two books should be included in the box with every DSLR sold.

Book Review: The Photographer’s Eye

Learning to lighting has done a lot for my photography. It’s not just gaining a new appreciation for light of all kinds, but also the fact that lit photographs have cause me to think about photographs differently. I used to be a much more reactive photographer – I would just be waiting for moments to happen in order to capture them. Now, I’ve become a little more thoughtful about what I want to the end picture to look like, even in situations that are fairly fast moving. Improving my grasp of composition is definitely something that I am working on.

My favorite book on photographic composition was Photographic Composition by Tom Grill and Mark Scanlon. At least it was until I read Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos.The entire first chapter is all about framing, which is the most extensive treatment that I’ve seen so far. In addition to a treatment of the usual compositional elements, there’s also a chapter on design basics, which I definitely needed some help with (and probably still do). Perhaps the best chapter of all is the last one on process, where Freeman walks through a case study or two, showing how he prepared and then composed a picture in a photojournalistic setting. Learning someone else’s thought process always seems to yield a bump up for me, much more so than just learning the straight mechanics.

Of course, with all things photographic, it’s not enough to read the book and understand it. The trick is putting it all into practice.

The big guys on umbrellas

A good way to learn something is to to hear multiple people give their views. Recently both David Hobby (the Strobist) and Zack Arias (Mr. OneLight) have written posts on the use of umbrellas with off camera lights.

Return of Guinea Pig TV…

Long time readers will know that my girls embarked on a series of videos starring their guinea pig, Chatterboy. Julie facilitated this by getting the girls a blog for Guinea Pig TV. For a variety of reasons, Guinea Pig TV has been on hiatus, until a few days ago when the crew put up a new episode, inspired by the Seattle Flickrites’ escapades with Chase Jarvis.

Zack Arias has a new blog

A little more than a year ago, I gave myself a birthday present and took Zack Arias’ OneLight workshop when it was here in Seattle. I had been reading David Hobby’s Strobist blog for some time, but there was something about the time that I spent at the OneLight that brought it all together for me. If I know anything about lighting at all it’s in large part because of David and Zack. Zack has been working on rebranding himself, and has just launched a new blog. I’ve already subscribed, and if you’re interested in lighting, you should too.

Watch out for my camera at Pycon

David Goodger asked if I would take some photographs for the conference while I was at PyCon, to which I happily agreed. So fair warning that if you come near my camera, you may end up in my Flickr stream.

Update: PyCon pictures will be tagged “pycon2008”

“The Moment It Clicks”

I haven’t been taking as many photographs as I would like recently. One thing I have managed to find some time for is some new photography books. Several of the photography blogs that I read have been talking up Joe McNally’s book “The Moment It Clicks”. McNally is a very accomplished magazine photographer, and the book is an accumulation of his experience in 30 years of shooting. There are over 100 little section in the book. Each section begins with a short quote/quip, and is accompanied by a full page photograph along with a full page explanation of the lesson, and often times an explanation of exemplar photograph.

Several other reviewers, including David Hobby, reported getting the book and then staying up way too late reading it cover to cover. I was sorely tempted to, but there was just too much information to do that. There’s an enormous amount of content and when I finished I was grateful for all the experience that I had just run by my eyeballs and brain. This is a book for working shooters, and if you don’t put the stuff to work, you won’t really get the value out of the book. The challenge for me, and I suspect many others, will be translating these short pithy lessons into a part of our regular photographic practice. Since we’re reading a condensation of 30 years of Joe McNally’s life, there’s no telling how long that will take. But at least now we have something that we can turn to periodically to remind us.

Even better, McNally has started a blog that picks up where the book left off.

Blog: subscribed. Book: highly recommended.

Seattle Flickr Strobists and Aircraft Hangars?!

Over the last several months, the Seattle Flickr Strobists have been cranking it up. This past Sunday was another crazy inflection point for us. In November, the “cheap” studio space that we had been using for shoots closed, and people started looking for some kind of indoor space to shoot in. The space of choice has been an underground parking garage. At the same time, David Hobby, author of the Strobist blog, hooked us up with A-list professional photographer Chase Jarvis. Chase hosted a bunch of us at his studio to find out what we’ve been up to and to explore ways that he could give back to the community by helping us.

So on Sunday, instead of shooting in an underground garage, Chase arranged for us to shoot in Hangar 30 at the old Sand Point Naval Airfield, which is now part of Magnusnon Park in Seattle. This was a very large event for us, 50+ phtographers, 12 models, and almost all of Chase’s crew. There were at least 16 separate lighting setups, ranging from single speedlight on sync cords all the way up to several big studio strobe setups, and everything in between. I was involved in organizing the shoot, trying to make sure that we had enough setups (this is complicated because of all the different wireless trigger systems), and arranging for enough models. It looked like there was going to be so much organization required that I basically resigned myself to not taking any pictures myself. It’s a testament to the nature of the Seattle Flickr community that the setups did end up self organizing (after a bunch of on-line pre organization), and Jennifer stepped in and took over the management of the models during the shoot.

There’s a video of some of the shoot highlights

and you can see all the shots here.

We had several surprise guests, including David Hobby himself, as well as my friend James Duncan Davidson, which made for a great deal of fun. Both David and Chase have written posts about the event from their perspectives (David’s post, Chase’s post – Chase’s folks have done a cool video also.), and Duncan has written his perspective as an “outsider”. After the shoot was over, we all went back to Chase’s studio for conversation as well as many rounds of Guitar hero. Here’s a summary from the Flickrites’ own Guitar Hero, Danny Ngan.

I feel very, very fortunate to be a part of this community, especially at this stage of its development. It feels very much like it did when I got involved in the (relatively) early days of the Apache Software Foundation. There is an incredible amount of energy, sharing of knowledge and equipment, and the blossoming of friendships. The last five months have been wonderful – I almost can’t imagine how things will be a year from now.

Since people stepped up to help, I did end up shooting after all. Seattle wedding photographer Sarah Rhoads and I were working with a model who had a formal dress that could pass as a wedding dress. I want to try my hand at shooting some weddings, so this was a perfect opportunity to do something that would be close to a bridal portrait session. After a break to allow other people to shoot on our setup, I wanted to do a different setup and pose, so I started messing around with equipment, digging in my bag, etc. The next thing I know, Chase is like “do you want me to hold a light or something”? For the next 15 minutes, Chase (and sometimes his assistant Scott) held my lights, suggested a setup change, and just generally worked with me. It was amazing just watching Chase and Scott adjusting the lights even before I could tell them what adjustment was needed. It was a great opportunity, and gave me a whole new perspective on how professionals work, and how attuned it is possible to become.

Here’s one of the shots from that session:

Seattle Flickrites shoot with Chase Jarvis

Be sure to check out Duncan’s “making of shot” which is embedded in the comments.

Thanks to Chase, David, Duncan, and all the Seattle Flickrites!