War on Photography

War on Photography is quite possibly one of the most enraging sites I’ve read in a good long while. It documents reports of photographers being harassed for no reason by police, security guards, and even random passersby. If you’re remotely interested in photography or first amendment rights (or, heaven forfend, both), it’s a quick way to raise your blood pressure about 30 points.

Detroit Book Depository

The deteriorating remains of the Detroit Book Depository

Jessica showed me this the other day, thought I’d share, as it’s really pretty impressive. The short version of the story is that they used to use a warehouse system for school books and materials, until a fire broke out, and decimated the building. Due to insurance settlements, they were never allowed to salvage from the building, and it was all left to rot.

DC Sightseeing

I’ve spent the past few days staying with Scott, Shane, and Brian down in Arlington, doing the sightseeing thing through DC. It’s been good fun, and each day I completely filled the compact flash cards I have (two 2gb cards)… this may sound like a lot, but given that I was shooting raw, that’s really only about 500-550 images total. Now that I HAVE those images, of course, I need to actually sift through them, do any post processing I feel is necessary, and upload them… which in some ideal world will be after I move to Zenphoto. So, time willing, maybe by the end of the week.

HDR Experiments

Monorail on 5th Last night, I spent a fair bit of time out and about — simply didn’t feel like going home, for a variety of reasons. I hung out at the coffee shop til they closed, and then took their recommendation on an all night diner, which was delightful, greasy, and good. Jabbered there for a bit, and then I ended up wandering down to downtown Seattle to finally get around to taking some shots for experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography.

For some quick background, let me fill in some details (CS2s “Merge to HDR” doesn’t retain exif data… which makes sense, since it’s a composite of multiple images, so which exif data do you keep?): it’s around 1:45am, on 5th Ave just north of Teatro Zinzanni. For those not aware, Seattle has an elevated monorail system that runs down the middle of 5th Avenue, connecting downtown with Seattle Center, which would be the pylons you’re seeing running down the middle of the street (and providing a handy protection from getting run over while standing in the middle of the street). This particular image is a set of 4 images composited together, each a 1/3 stop apart, with a roughly equal balance between over and under exposed. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone heavier on the under-exposed range, even a full stop apart, and opted for the “proper exposure” to act as my high end. As it was, I ended up dropping a fifth over exposed image from the composite, because I found it too “bright”. I was running at f/22, with an exposure time ranging from 13 to 30 seconds, and using my 17-40mm f/4.

Monorail on 5th The next set is a composite of around 7 images, of which I dropped two. I decided to play a bit with ghosting (go stand in frame for part of a long exposure). It’s also worth noting that this set had a few cars passing through the frame, which left those delightful light trails on the right side of the image. Again, I was running f/22 with the 17-40, and a range of 13 to 30 seconds per exposure. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll keep the ghosting (I took two shots at the same exposure, one with ghosting, one without, so it’d be easy enough to alter it without affecting the rest of the composition).

It felt really good to be getting out and about with my camera in the night again. I don’t know why I find it so appealing, but I do. Maybe it’s the introvert in me. In either case, it was rolling past 2am, so I opted to pick up and move over to a different location, further into the city. I’ve been wanting to take some pictures of the Seattle Library for a while now, as it’s this awesome conglomeration of odd angles and glass, right in the heart of downtown Seattle. (How they managed to get the city planners to approve it, I dunno, but I’m very glad they did!) Another nice aspect of doing night photography in the city is that parking is a breeze. No traffic, no passersby, plenty of spots to just kinda pull over and fiddle with things or ponder grabbing the camera. In both of these cases, I was able to park no more than 50 feet from where I took the shots.

Downtown Seattle Library This first shot is a composite of 6 or so shots, and once again I found myself dropping the higher exposures, ending up with a 4 image composite. Not that you can tell, to be honest — in the case of the Seattle Library shots, frankly I’m not gaining much of anything from the HDR process. The building is already relatively well lit, so I’m not filling detail into shadows or highlights, nor pulling much of anything in the way of a higher saturation of color (even with the heavily orange light of the streetlights). But, I still like the shots, and so I’m sharing them anyway. (This is definitely a picture-heavy post.) Again, f/22, speeds ranging from 15 to 30 seconds, with the 17-40mm. (I should also mention: Canon 5D, running RAW.)

Downtown Seattle Library This second shot is similar to the first, though from a slightly different angle that was apparently enough to alter the metering markedly, to the point that I ended up dropping down to f/16 just so I could avoid using the Bulb function, keeping my max exposure length at 30 seconds. Other than that, it’s largely unchanged… half a dozen shots, once again dropping the higher exposures (something to know for the future for the shots I like to take), taken with the Canon 17-40mm f/4. It’s such a neat building! I’d love to get in there at night sometime, to be able to photograph the interior (also trippy and fun) without pesky people all over the place. Anyone have thoughts on who to talk to about that?

Downtown Seattle Library Alright, this is the last set (I’m calling it a set despite being a single image because it’s a composite, if that makes any sense). I decided to try a different angle, and really ended up enjoying how this came out. It’s notable that you actually can see into the windows of the building across the street better than you could that night (THAT would be a benefit of the hdr merging), and the mishmash of geometry between the grid of the library and the building across the street I just found really pretty appealing. I like how you get a mesh feeling from the reflection of the library in the other building.

Overall, it was a really fun evening, and it felt great to finally get to experiment with something new. I wouldn’t exactly call any of these images exceptional, but I think they came out decently enough. I’m looking forward to heading out in the evenings some more, though given that I start work again next week, I imagine I will be somewhat curbed in my late night escapades (so unfortunate, this “needing money” thing). Days like this that I wish this work was salable, and for good enough money to do it for a living. Going around and taking late night photos of the urban landscape sounds like a pretty awesome career to me!

Oh Noes!

Yes, that’s right, my intarweb is down. I had a tech in yesterday who couldn’t even get his unit to talk to the main office from the tap outside the house, the line was so screwy. They’ll be sending out a maintenance crew sometime tomorrow to work on the line, at which point my network should be copacetic. Until then, no net at the house, and I’m STILL not being as productive as I should be (though more than I have been for the past week). I’m starting to feel that urge to try my hand at programming again, so we’ll see how long that lasts. It looks like I’ll have most of this week to work on it, at least, since I haven’t heard from work yet (I’ll be calling again saying “give me work!” soon). On the bright side, while this past week was a total wash money-wise, and it looks like this coming week may be as well, next week I start a new project on a PC title that should run for the next 3 months, Monday through Friday, 9 to 6, at higher pay (still not matching cost of living, but a HELL of a lot closer, enough so that I hope to be able to “fake it” at least). I broached the topic of heading east for a week in late July, and from initial talks it shouldn’t be a problem (will get final confirmation later this week when I go in to sign new paperwork and additional NDAs and such), so I’m currently still planning on heading back to New England for a week at Squam in July (if you know me in real life, ping me if you want to get together? It’d be nice to see people).

I was a total shut-in this past week, despite the absolutely beautiful weather. This is a shame, since I’d really like to take some bracketed exposures in order to play with HDR imagery (since cameras currently don’t take HDR images — though they’re being worked on from all rumors — the way you make HDR images is take multiple exposures (over and under expose), and then merge them via “Merge to HDR” in Photoshop. You can get some really spectacular, rich colors and fill that way. While I do often take multiple images, very few of my available shots are varied in exposure enough to really work for this purpose (not enough dynamic range), since while the time and aperture may vary from shot to shot, I’m still aiming for the same exposure level. There’s a bracketing feature in my camera that I’m going to need to explore, that should help a lot with this process, but since I’ve not played with it so far, I’m going to need to sit down and futz for a bit.

I’ve applied for this position over at Areae, and really do think it’s right up my alley — I just hope they feel the same way. (This would mean relocating, but so what? I love Seattle, don’t get me wrong, but that community manager position is something I’d really love to do. The job is totally worth relocating for.) It is (simplified a bit) basically a job where I’d be able to apply my work for Avatar and on my first thesis (Online Communities from a User and Administrator Perspective) towards creating and fostering a viable online community, and my Don Quixote nature concerning player advocacy and casuals (I’m decidedly PRO-casual players, and feel they are the core of the social element of any online game… they’re the ones who are most likely to be willing to stop and have a conversation or answer questions, rather than focus on min-maxing and a mad rush for levels… if you sacrifice your casual players, your online community becomes “just a game”).

The Sun Sets

Needle and Post

Back at Zoka, and just spent the past hour or so sifting through pictures and prepping them for upload. They’re up now (11 new images, out of 123 taken… the skyline shots do vary more than the thumbs suggest — the curse of automated thumbnailing). I took the evening yesterday and got some Thai food from Tup Tim Thai on Mercer, and kept an eye on the sunlight… as it started getting a yellow-orange saturation, I paid and headed up the hill to Kinnear Park on Olympic (Uri knows exactly where I’m talking about), took a few shots, then walked up the hill to one of the streets above (for those not familiar: Queen Anne Hill is one of the taller hills in Seattle proper, and is a honeycomb of streets winding around it). From there, I had a perfect vantage for catching the skyline and the Space Needle. Very happy with the location, and may go back at some point for future (later in the evening) shots.

Today, I dealt with orientation for my game testing position with VMC (it’s been long enough that I was off the books, so all new paperwork and NDAs and such — wheee), and got signed up for a full week of testing next week (starting Monday). I’m really not looking forward to the morning commute, fighting Microsoft traffic across the lake, but otherwise I’m pretty happy to be back working there. We’ll see if I feel the same way after getting up at 6am to be at work by 7:30 for the next week (I’m not a morning person… I know I can do it, and I will, but the first few days of adjusting are going to be a pain, especially since my current sleep pattern has been keeping me awake til 3:30 or 4 even when I try going to bed at midnight or 1).

It looks like I’m going to actually make my photographic goal this month in terms of pictures taken (fill a dvd a month with photography), but I’ve been sort of slacking on the writing… I’ve been blogging, yes, and keeping up with my “waiting for food” journals when I go out, but in terms of creative/productive writing, I haven’t done as much as I’d like. I’ve been getting a lot of brainstorms for ideas to pitch as books to publishers, but I don’t really have the credentials to pull it off (this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still write up a pitch and sample chapter and start submitting it, but it does sort of lower its priority in how I spend my time). I need to get into a better habit of writing them down and organizing them, so I don’t forget the good ones (and later separate the ones I thought were good but actually suck, and vice versa, after the initial “cool” has worn off). Haven’t decided whether it’d be easiest to carry an “ideas” book with me, integrate it into my normal journal, or what. Need to think about it. I’ll probably just integrate it… I’d like to finish up this vertical-flip Moleskine anyway (already have a normal book-style replacement waiting, just can’t justify swapping over when it’s still a perfectly good notebook, just not my binding preference).

Most of you already know that I really like watching people… it’s one of the reasons I hang out at coffee shops, to watch the interactions, to be at least peripherally involved in the social dialogue. I find that “distanced immersion” helps me focus on writing and productive endeavors. I’m bringing this up because there is a couple at the table across from me… an attractive blonde student with an accent I haven’t quite placed — initially though a light Irish, but upon further listening, I’m thinking Austrian (how could I mistake the two? *shrug*), and a guy, who gives off a general geek-frat vibe for lack of a better way to describe him. The flirting is hilarious. They banter a little bit, they physically bat at each other, let themselves get maybe 6 inches apart from each other, where it’s so obvious he’s aiming to move in for a kiss — and then she shuts him down, every single time. Maybe they’re dating and she’s just messing with him (well, regardless of the level of relationship, she’s messing with him), maybe they’re friends with some sexual tension (whether bi-directional or not), or something similar. Beats the hell out of me, but it is definitely amusing to watch.

Why Am I Still Up?

Blue Sun

I don’t really have an answer, to be honest. I started mucking around with Photoshop, not doing anything particularly special. It’s pretty simple, but I still think it’s pretty. I’ve spent the entire day in the house, working on getting a few things lined up and organized. So, no coffee, no tea, no chai, no caffeine at all that I can think of… and still I’m up ’til 3:30 (and frankly I’m still not all that tired, though I know I should sleep). While I wouldn’t exactly call it conclusive, I would say that it strongly suggests that my sleep patterns are messed up for some reason other than ingesting several cups of caffeinated beverage in the evening.

I don’t really have much else to say, but I did feel like posting my little goofy star thing. If you want real art, or real photography, there are hundreds and even thousands of sites to point out, but if you feel like looking at little random translucent objects, I’ve got you covered (as do, again, hundreds of other sites).

I’ll probably post something a bit more substantial (whether that includes an image or not is still subject to debate) later in the day. I sort of have a personal goal for myself to post more times this month than any prior month. Since the month is only a little past half over, I don’t think it’s that unreasonable a goal.

More to Ponder

I just wrote and posted my first essay on Critical Games in months. I wouldn’t say it’s my most scholarly work, but I think I make a few good points and anecdotal observations. (It regards Avatar and MUDs in general within the dicussion of virtual worlds and virtual communities.) It did feel good to get something up there, though. It also reminds me that not every post on there has to be Shakespeare or Hemingway. If I get my point across, then I reckon I’m communicating adequately enough, and shouldn’t sweat it so much.

So, I’ve been doing a fair bit more photography of late (and would like to escalate that even further), and have been thinking pretty heavily about investing in some software to help that process. I’m currently using Photoshop CS2, but it’s not native, and so can be a bit of a pain to use in a number of circumstances (largely relating to all the peripheral foo that accompanies the app… plugins, the updater app, camera raw, Adobe Bridge, etc), and still doesn’t solve a core issue of media management. Some of this would be solved by upgrading to CS3, but realistically, 95%+ of what I do with Photoshop is photographs, so it’s worth my time to at least consider a more targeted solution, since they now exist: Apple Aperture, and Adobe Lightroom. They’re fairly direct competitors, with a remarkably similar feature set, and likely either would work satisfactorily for me. Lightroom has tighter Photoshop integration, Aperture has tighter OS integration (both appealing). They cost the same (or will after April 30th, and I’m not sure if the money I’d be using to buy it will be in by then).

I think I may need to sit down and try out each of them (thankfully they both offer free trials), and decide that way, because ultimately reviews and screenshots don’t cut it — experiencing the workflow and deciding what works best for you is what’s necessary. (The point may be moot if a job doesn’t show up soon, but I am remaining optimistic that this will be the case.)

Of Many Things

Let’s just get it out there: Kurt Vonnegut died. Chances are pretty good you already knew that, given that it’s been all over the news and blogs and everywhere else. Still, putting it out there in case you hadn’t (also, because the article at the NY Times is pretty well written and worth the read).

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday on Tuesday — the day itself was pretty “meh,” a genuine non-day that I spent alone, but that in and of itself is an improvement from a lot of my recent past birthdays. So — thanks, it meant a lot to get the well wishes. I did pick up some shoes (my Keens are completely shredded, hardly a good impression during job interviews), so I swung by Wooly Mammoth in the University district and picked up some Clarks on sale. They’re pretty snazzy, though I must admit after spending the past month in sandals, it does feel weird to be back in a closed shoe. Still the toe room is good, they’re light, good insoles… they just feel light on the feet.

I’ve been sleeping in a lot lately, which isn’t really a good thing, but hardly unexpected. The anti-depressant medication helps me through the day, but the process of waking up is still a pain (even if I take the meds before bed). I don’t think I mentioned that I’m back on meds for it before, but yeah, since November or so. I was having a pretty bad depressive relapse due to fallout from my breakup and stress from finances and lack of work and just in general trying to figure out what I was doing with myself. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “better,” but the meds do help me get a grip on things. Except the sleep part. Worry about money and work is mounting, and so my “defense” mechanism of sleeping too much is rearing its head. (It’s not that uncommon, the rationalization is that if you sleep through it, it’ll go away. That the world doesn’t really work like that is irrelevant.) I suspect some low grade dehydration might also have something to do with it (it’s never good when you can actually recollect all the liquid you’ve ingested in a day, and that most of it is caffeinated — and not even much of that).

Not trying to get mopey or anything, just sometimes you have a down day.

The most recent issue of LensWork (an excellent photographic magazine if you haven’t already checked it out) discussed a new podcast they’ve launched, that offers “commentary” rather than “critique” for a particular image from one of their current issues. The article that expanded on this topic went on to explain that whether you like or don’t like an image is relatively useless to anyone but yourself, and similarly, while exploring the technical merit of a print has value, describing how you would change it is also irrelevant — you are viewing the finished product, so unless you are planning to do a variant of the image, it doesn’t really matter what you would change. So they’ve opted to instead call their work a commentary on the image, similar to the work a docent might do in a gallery or museum.

While I applaud the decision to explore the content and context of an image rather than simply review it, personally I would have preferred that they had opted to make an effort to re-take the value and intent of “critique”. Literary or Art Criticism functions exactly as they are describing, and as I’ve mentioned before, what they are describing is the core function of critique. Just because in the photographic community the term has been co-opted for what largely amounts to a technical (or even subjective!) review doesn’t mean that the term is a lost cause. Don’t get me wrong, a technical review absolutely has merit, especially within the professional community for the purposes of furthering one’s craft, but it is only one element of a wider form of criticism that is largely being ignored — ignored to the point that a national magazine like LensWork felt it necessary to divorce themselves of the term!

That said, I still really enjoy the magazine. The photography in it is exquisite, and reading over the biographies of a number of the artists is really encouraging — many start out with “I went and did something else for 20 years, and only got back into photography quite recently,” which is encouraging in that it suggests that 1) technical excellence can be gained or regained quickly, and 2) that you don’t necessarily have to work at your craft for 50 years just be start to be recognized.

It’s kind of strange, in that I feel that I still have so much to learn in terms of craft in so many fields that I wish to pursue, but at the same time feel like it’s time in my life to start leaving a mark, to create and do. It’s a weird dichotomy, the urge to create and but the need to further craft in order to do so. I don’t think I’m really properly explaining it, but this will have to do for now.