25 April, 2010

Track in Black and White

Last Friday, I competed in the vault at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational, held at UC Berkeley this past Friday and Saturday. After finishing, I started shooting the remaining vaulters, as well as some of the running events that were just getting underway.

The theme of our photo contest at work is "Black and White" this week. I haven't done much black-and-white on the blog, so I figured I'd try this post entirely in shades of gray, and with captions, harking back to days at The Tech. Enjoy

Berkeley's Jasmine Joseph leads the second section of the women's University/Open division 200m dash as the runners near the 100m mark. Joseph would fall back to third place by the finish line, completing in 24.71 seconds behind Shirley Pitts of University of New Mexico (lane 6) and Dahlys Marshall of University of Arizona (lane 7).

Daniel Turvey's tattoo mirrors his vaulting pole as he extends upward during a vault in Friday's B section of the pole vault. Competing for UC Davis, Turvey would miss this, his final attempt at 5.01m (16' 5 1/4"), to finish in second place in the section with a best jump of 4.91m (16' 1 1/4").

UC Berkeley assistant coach Mark Jellison (right) shares a high-five with Berkeley vault coach Scott Slover (left) after Jellison cleared a new personal record of 4.91m (16' 1 1/4") on his first attempt. With all first-attempt clears through that height, Jellison placed first in Friday's B section of the pole vault.

Georganne Moline of University of Arizona collapses on the grass and begins to untie her spikes after competing in the first section of the women's 400m hurdles. Moline finished in a time of 60.53 seconds, good for second in her section and second in the competition.

22 April, 2010

At a Snail's Pace

I've always liked snails. A couple weeks back, it occurred to me to try to show the world from the perspective of a snail, and over the past week I've finally had a chance to make a go of it.

It was an interesting challenge to shoot these. For the photo above, I had to wait for the wind to blow the leaves into the right orientation, then lean way into some plants to shoot, using my legs as a counterbalance.

For this photo, I was looking for a snail that was visibly upside-down. I couldn't quite find one, but I did find this snail climbing up a tree.

The snails often come out in force after a good rain, and yesterday was no exception. On the way to work, they were all over the place. Then when I got home, I spotted one and decided to take some more photos.

By the time I stuck my bike somewhere and pulled my camera out, I noticed another one in the vicinity. After a few minutes, the two started chugging along (albeit very slowly :o) toward some intersection point on the ground in front of me. As the smaller one passed between me and the small light in the background, the light filtered through its body while simultaneously casting a shadow on the ground. It's really neat that you can easily see parts of the snail's nervous system — note the shadowy bits near the top of the its translucent body.

When the two snails met, they touched tentacles and then the smaller one seemed to yield as the larger passed by. They turned in the same direction (toward where I had been kneeling) and turned on the afterburners, so-to-speak. The large one was faster, and as slowly as they seemed to be moving, they were making good progress. I was surprised that I had to pan to keep this 1/15 second exposure sharp.

09 April, 2010

Why I Do Photography

*gasp* A preface!
I'm taking a page from digitalblasphemy and running an experiment. Large versions of all of my recent photos ("Holi" and onward) are available for free download. Just click on one, click the "Download" link at the top of the next page, and save it somewhere.

Also, do you like photography? I would love to know why; it's always interesting to hear other perspectives. Leave a comment about what you enjoy about photography, be it snapshots, pro photography, or whatever else. [Added Sunday, 11 April]

Over the past few weeks, I've again found myself stopping to shoot random, neat things around the Google campus. I usually carry my camera, and when I find something that looks neat, could look neat, or really, even if it's just looking at me sideways, I'll stop and shoot. I often find that even the most unremarkable of subjects can be mesmerizing if you look at it the right way, or at the right time.

A while back, a friend asked my why I do photography; I presume he was asking in part about what I enjoy about it, and why I continue to devote time, energy, money, and whatever else is needed to be able to keep shooting.

There are a couple answers. The first is that I have an insatiable curiosity about everything. Photography gives me both an excuse and a motivation to explore the world and to try to uncover the small, exciting discoveries that lurk pretty much everywhere. I gallivant in the details.

Beyond that, my photos index memories for me. When I look at a photo I shot, it often brings me back to that instant: to the feelings I was experiencing as well as the circumstances of the moment. The process allows me to reflect and to discover new things that I missed the first time around.

For instance, look at this bee. One beautiful Spring day, I walked outside and this tree was in full bloom, with bees buzzing every which-a-way. Like the small child that I really still am, I took a few steps toward it in amazement. It had been ages upon ages since the last time I stopped to look at a bee. In trying to create a photo that would capture my wonderment, I pointed the camera skyward and tried to find something interesting.

And lo and behold, I did, although I didn't realize it until looking at the photos later. Did you know that bees have translucent abdomens? That's so cool! I love how the bee's abdomen glows with the light from the midday sun.

Another thing I enjoy about photography is the challenge. Most forms of photography are essentially problem-solving. In math, it is often considered an art to be able to craft proofs that are elegant, concise, and accessible — "from The Book" as Paul ErdÅ‘s often put it.

Photographers face a similar struggle. Whereas mathematicians struggle to find enlightening points of view from which to consider a problem, many photographers struggle to find points of view from which to capture the beauty of a scene or a subject.

In my own case, I strive to share what I find so interesting about the world by capturing compelling images. I try to create a pictorial explanation of why I stop in weird places with my camera, and struggle to show people why they should stop every once in awhile as well.

This is a plant that lives inside of my building at work. Compelled by a weekly photo contest that we have, I stopped the first time I noticed it and tried to find an interesting viewpoint. After a bit of messing around, I found that I could look up between a group of leaves, and if I played with the focus and the exposure in the right way, it suddenly looked like the canopy of a very-oddly-shaped palm tree. Neat.

Part of my satisfaction with this photo is that I was able to take something drab and mundane — a reception-area office plant — and find a way to look at it that I find both pleasing and a bit confusing, like an optical illusion.

Most recently, I tried to re-shoot and improve upon the flower photo from above. I ended up with an image that is completely different, but which I also really like. The theme of the aforementioned contest was "Out-of-Focus on Purpose," and over the past few days I think I learned a lot about the interactions of overexposure and focus.

Finally, I like that photography requires technique. As a programmer, pole vaulter, high-hurdler, and mountain biker, I find that I tend to enjoy hobbies which require practice and offer the opportunity for continual self-improvement. One technique I've become reasonably good at is holding the camera still.

For the image above, I had no tripod and had two minutes to shoot something. I sat on a curb, braced, and started off shooting at 1/10s and 640ISO. I quickly worked down to 1/3s and 250ISO (with noticeably less noise), and had some time to mess around with the composition a bit. Yay for the small victories.

05 April, 2010

BYOBW 2010: Still in control… maybe…

This was the second year that Bring Your Own Big Wheel went down Potrero Hill, and the first that it did so in the rain. As might be expected, the weather further reduced what little braking and steering effectiveness the riders might have mustered in the dry, and as a result folks went faster and, inevitably, crashed harder.

Even so, the rain and wind didn't stop participants from going balls-to-the-wall with both their costumes and their "big wheels." Pictured above is one of the crazier vehicles I spotted during my short stint this year. I suppose if the carpet dolly tipped over, the guy would just drop onto the saucer sled and keep going with no real reduction in control? I'm not entirely sure, but it was definitely fun to watch.

The similarities between BYOBW and Mario Kart are obvious — multiple Marios and Luigis were in attendance both last and this year. This was, however, the first time I saw someone with actual technology from the game. Somewhat appropriately, this guy also had a red shell which he lost (that is, "avoided") during an earlier run.

And this person was apparently demonstrating what happens when you "find" a red shell in the middle of the course. In actuality, his/her big wheel had a pretty severe case of oversteer, and basically liked going backward more than it liked going forward. This was especially comical since the alligator costume obliterated any potential for peripheral vision, and thus, any potential to still figuring out which way didn't end with more tumbling.

"Ooh, pretty" was not a thought I expected to cross my mind during BYOBW, but what can I say? I like colors, and the fan/color wheel concept was pretty neat.

Of course, the shape and location of the entire color wheel attachment remind me of the Petey Piranha character from Mario Kart Double Dash, who will always be associated with loud, repeated complaints, composed nearly entirely of profanity (see xkcd), about his height and how he apparently always blocks your view when he's driving in front of you. I'm pretty sure that's the same reason why the guy with the orange and pink wheels ran into her. Either way, stay classy, Beast.

Speaking of class… Every year, there's someone who draws your attention despite your best efforts to look away. Last year, it was the Roman "tighty whitey" warriors on their razor scooters. This year, I'm pretty sure it's this guy. He's lookin' good and the bill in his bikini bottoms lets you know he means business.

Really, everything you need to know is written on the face of the guy behind him.

And somehow, we end where we began. Those of you who read last year's BYOBW post, "Kid Tested, Mother F'in Approved" will recognize the gentleman pictured above. Much like Oscar the Grouch, he is inextricably linked to the concept of trashcans in my mind. Thankfully, this year he did not disappoint, and showed up atop his traditional style of big wheel.

So, that was BYOBW this year. If you went, hopefully you had an awesome time. If not, I hope you enjoyed your Easter anyway. Finally, an oddly appropriate line from Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go!:
"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."