Visualizing in Monochrome

I thought that this posting on Learning in Grayscale was interesting and might prove to be an interesting thought exercise the next time I am out taking photos.

My stumbling block with this technique is that I typically find black and white photography to be sort of self conscious, stilted and one dimensional — where the photographer twiddles a color shot into black and white thinking that a B&W shot is instantly going to have more cred. B&W is not going to fix crap composition and other flaws.

I realize that this a drastic generalization. It is just that I have seen a number of instances recently with people trying to ‘legitimize’ their photos by casting them as B&W shots.

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New Flickr Stuff

The flickr blog announced this week a couple of useful new features. The first one addresses a bit gap that I have had with getting people to use flickr — how to post private pictures, but invite a select group to come to flickr to view them without having to sign up for a flickr account. This is solved by the addition of the ‘Guest Pass’ which allows you for any photoset to invite up to 50 people to view that set. You can also at a later time expire the guest pass.

I also note in the link provided for this feature a neat little trick: you can create a flickr URL of the form where ‘me’ would normally be a specific flickr username. The ‘me’ URL will take you to your own flickr sets if you happen to be logged into flickr at the time.

The other two are not as big a deal, in my opinion: they have revamped, which is the scaled down version of flickr meant to be accessed from a mobile phone. I have never used the mobile version to upload photos but find it a good diversion when stuck in an airport or some such place. Mobile allows you to catch up on comments and contacts photos among other functions.

The camera finder seems like flickr just closing the loop on external companies that were using the flickr API to mine this sort of data (as previously posted). Not to miss a trick, er, opportunity, flickr also links the camera info into the yahoo shopping site to make it easy for you to add a few dollars to the Yahoo coffers if you decide to buy.

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Apple Announces Aperture 1.5

Apple’s big pre-photokina announcement today was the release (later this week) of a new version of their Aperture photo software. There are some significant new features. One of the features I am looking forward to is the addition of a plugin API to allow extensions to Aperture. Several companies have already produced export plugins for 1.5 including Flickr and istockphoto.

I just started dabbling with Aperture about a month ago and love how easy it is to get things organized and sorted out when dealing with a virtual pile of files. I really appreciate the fact that unlike iPhoto it does keep full copies of files around whenever you make a simple change to an image. In fact, with the release of 1.5, I can see moving to Aperture as my primary photo organization software.

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Juicy Digital Photography

Lately, I have been asking myself the question when does digital photography cease to be photography in the classic, analog sense and when does it need a new name like digital imaging or even creative digital imaging? The tools to manipulate images and, indeed, the manipulated images themselves have become so commonplace that there should be some sort of rating or standard for how much manipulation has been done to an image. Some camera makers are even putting the alteration capabilities right into the cameras.

To construct a classification system for altered images, you might start by thinking of it in terms of the categories that are placed on what is nominally supposed to be fruit juice. The substance may, in fact, not be 100% juice; rather it is frequently diluted, mixed with other juices, or high fructose corn syrup or is totally not juice with only an artificial ‘juice flavor’ added to it. (I had a remarkably hard time finding the actual classification system for juice, so if anyone has a link, I would appreciate it.) So building on the juice analogy, perhaps the categorization/labeling goes something like this (with DP representing Digital Photography and DI were I believe it becomes something else Digital Imaging):

100% Juice DP Photo as it came straight from the camera with some cropping and rotation allowed
Juice DP Photo has had some contrast and other color channel adjustments
Juice Drink DP/I Photo has had significant adjustment made to it (filters, dodging, cloning, bw conversion)
Juice Beverage DI Photo original content has been altered by addition of visual elements not in the original; may actually be a composite image at this point
Beverage DI Image has been altered to the extent that it can no longer reasonably be called a photo; the image represented does not, has not, nor will likely ever exist in real life

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Flickr Adds Geo-Tagging

Today Flickr added the ability to geo-tag photos via the flash-based organizr tool. This is a great addition and one of the big features I really liked about zooomr.

Basically, within organizr you drag and drop photos onto an embedded Yahoo Maps screen. You then have the ability to further edit tags, tweak security and location information. The first time you use the map function you are asked to set a default view permission for photos that you geo-tag (this can be overridden on an individual picture or batch setting).

It’s no surprise that Flickr is using Yahoo Maps for this function (instead of the vastly superior Google Maps), the huge downside of this is that there is little or no street level information available in Europe and Asia — even trying to switch to the satellite view doesn’t help much as you frequently get a blank screen if you are at a low enough altitude. This made trying to geo-tag some of my recent vacation photos from Spain basically impossible.

You can use the Explore -> Photos on a map drop down to see what other photos have been added to a given map. You can search for a location by name or just by dragging around on the map. I was surprised to see that another photographer in my area had uploaded/tagged close to 50 photos already.

I have gotten one error in Organizr trying to use this function — it looked like the database was not available. The text of the error message was hard to make out as it was written over my photostream in a light gray font. Hitting the refresh button appeared to make everything right again.

It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time.

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Popular Cameras On Flickr

Some interesting stats were collected by using the Flickr API against ~10,000 recently uploaded photos per day that show the 100 most popular cameras used on Flickr. The top ten is made up of 5 Canons, 4 Nikons and a Sony.

What the stats don’t necessarily reflect is any true diversity of people using the cameras. By that I mean, if one person uploads 2000 shots from their camera while others are uploading only a few the numbers become skewed. Otherwise, what you are measuring is how often owners of a certain camera model upload pictures versus the actual popularity of the camera. Flickr also provides the option of not making EXIF data available, so I’m not sure how those would be recorded (or if they would be). Dunno, maybe the stats factor that in.

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Photography Tutorials

I am always trying to learn more about photography so when I came across the Cambridge In Color site, I was pleased to find some clearly written, detail discussion about photographic concepts and techniques. It was refreshing to have this information presented in a largely vendor neutral manner unlike many of the other ‘tutorial’ sites that are really just click-whoring advert sites.

There is a good range of material there covering fundamentals like bit depth, image noise, histograms; a tour through some of the image manipulation that can be accomplished with photoshop and advanced topics like HDR, panoramas and hight photography. Good stuff.

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RAW Files Explained

I came across this handy posting that explains what RAW files are and why you might want to use them on your digital camera.

I make no claim of being a great photographer (evidence here), but if I just had a dime for every time I hear someone knowingly say ‘Yeah, I shoot everything in RAW and post-process it in Photoshop’ but their in camera composition is absolute crap. Please, learn some basic camera and composition skills before you go blowing wind about your ‘post-processing workflow’. And having a $2000USD camera that you shoot everything in auto-mode isn’t terribly impressive. Oh, don’t get me started…

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Zooomr Photo Hosting Rocks

As I stated in a previous post, I checked out Zooomr this past week and now I have returned to expand on my previous brief post. Let me start with one word of advice: just make sure you go to Zooomr with three o’s and not the dirt-bag typo-squater site at the two ‘o’ URL.

One of the strongest features is the ability to easily geotag photos — it is well integrated with Google Maps and doesn’t rely on entering in fiddly GPS coordinates and using third party tools like Flickr does. This feature is a lot of fun to use, much like wikimapia, except you get to add your own photos (not just text).

Great as it is, the geotagging capability still needs a few tweaks because there were a few times that I was tinkering with it that it ‘forgot’ what photos I was geotagging when I got to the end of the process. One huge enhancement for the geotagging capability would be to add a feature that would let you save locations as ‘favorites’ so that you don’t have to go re-find them in the map display constantly. This would be a real time saver for locations that aren’t at a particular address like campsites, hike photos, specific locations inside of parks/national forests.

Another feature that I like is the ability to access various functions right from the thumbnail of an image. When you hover over a thumbnail, it is overlaid with tiny icons that provide the ability to show the geotag info (if available), the ability to lightbox the image (see a larger view) and inspect the details (among other functions). To me this is a well thought out means of reducing page refreshes while providing valuable features in a concise manner.

As you would expect, Zooomr supports the usual tagging functions; though the only opportunity you have to apply tags to more than one image is at upload. In fact, probably one of the weakest areas for Zooomr is the lack of batch editing features and the (current) dearth of bulk uploading tools. Granted, Zooomr 2.0 has only been ‘live’ for less than a week — I am sure the upload tools will be forthcoming. I would especially like to see one comparable to the excellent flickrExport plugin for iPhoto. I poked around a bit and found this info for developers regarding the API for Zooomr. They have taken the open and intelligent approach of adopting the Flickr API to make it easier for developers to support both sites — well done.

SmartSets allow you to make a grouping of all photos with a certain set of attributes (tag, location, etc) making it sort of like a live RSS feed for a given photo attribute. What you don’t seem to be able to do is to create sets of just your own photos, say to group together photos from a vacation or social event.

Oh and of course, Zooomr has all of the feed goodness that you would expect including the ability to grab a feed for an individual, smart sets, specific tags and so on.

The site could certainly use some better explanation around the terms and functions provided. These could be simple links or tooltips right where the term is used. For example, what do they mean by trackback?, zoomertations?, smartsets? What do the color circles on the tagmap represent? Soothing out these minor usability issue will definitely make it easier to on board new users to Zooomr.

As of this writing, they are still providing free ‘pro’ accounts to those who host at least one photo and link to it on their blog. That’s how I got my pro account — thanks guys! The free pro account has certainly made it easier to explore the functionality of the site. I’ve got to say that I have been a dedicated Flickr user for more than a year now and Zooomr 2 has been the first viable alternative that I have found.

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The Balloon Hat Experience

The Balloon Hat Experience is a fun site that documents, well, balloon hats around the world:

In 1996, Addi Somekh and Charlie Eckert began traveling to different places in the world to make balloon hats for people and take photos of them. The goal was to show people all over the world laughing and having fun, and to emphasize the fact that all human beings are born with the ability to experience joy. In total, they visited 34 countries and have over 10,000 pictures.

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Non Photography Day

Apparently, July 17th has been designated as Non Photography Day; a day when you are suppose to ‘celebrate the moment, don’t document it’.

Non- photography day is an effort on my part to revive the moment by putting down the camera. It is a day to think about how life exists, in essence and not appearance and to understand the inadequacy of the photograph in describing this essence, to bring awareness of the perils of living through the view finder or the display screen…

Of course, the real irony will be when a tag group appears on Flickr for people documenting the events of non photography day… Update — oh crap, it’s already happened

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