30 July, 2008


Sometimes I surprise myself with how good I am at some things. One thing I am good at is panning. The image above is one of my favorite panned shots, of Nate taking his first "dive" off of a 3-meter platform. Exposure was 1/80s at f/4.5 and ISO800. (For folks who care, this was 60mm on a DX body, so 90mm 35mm-equivalent). Oddly enough, another of my favorite panned shots is of another Nate in mid-vault. I'll undoubtedly have that here at some point.

Anyway, the actual subject of this post deals with the title, which is (without the exclamation point) the title of a side project I've been hacking on tonight, instead of packing for my trip to MIT in 4 hours.

My favorite programming language, ruby, is extremely good for writing domain-specific languages. That said, a pair of quotes from #ruby-lang on irc.freenode.net explains all. The first is from two or three weeks ago:
< xsdg> philomory: talking about ruby or lolcode? :o)
< philomory> Rubylolz
< philomory> I.CAN_HAZ(CheezeBurger)
< philomory> excuse me, I.CAN_HAZ?(CheezeBurger)
< xsdg> haha
< xsdg> oh, god.  I have a horrible idea, but ruby is way too good for
        DSLs to just ignore it...
< ddfreyne> NO!

And the second, about an hour ago:
< xsdg> $ruby -rofl -e '
< xsdg> > HAI
< xsdg> > CAN HAS STDIO?
< xsdg> > VISIBLE "HAI WORLD!"
< xsdg> > KTHXBYE'
< xsdg> HAI WORLD!
< erikh> heh, you're writing a lolcode parser?
< erikh> niiice.
< xsdg> erikh: not a parser
< xsdg> erikh: that LOLCode is _valid ruby_
< erikh> oh god.

Important Aspects of Photography

Nighttime photography is fun. And it's even more rewarding when you try a bunch of things, and suddenly, everything comes together. That's sort of the story of the image above, which I shot on July 31, 2004. I was out driving around, looking for stuff to shoot around Richmond before heading up to MIT, and I stopped at the Museum of Science (well, the Science Museum of Virginia).

Out front, the SMV has a pair of Kugels, one of the earth, and another of the moon. They're at the scale of 1 foot per 1000 miles, and I believe the distance between the earth and moon kugels is to the same scale as well. They're tremendously fun to play with, especially since the earth kugel is the largest kugel in the world (if memory serves me correctly), at right around 25 tons and 2.6 meters in diameter.

Unfortunately, in the few months after I shot this photo, the ball developed a crack near the equator which grew to encompass the entire circumference, and was subsequently replaced (under warrantee!). The new ball is still awesome, but is gray granite rather than black granite.

Anyway, the stage was set to come up with a cool image. It was a reasonably warm middle of the night (just after 1:30 a.m.), there were throngs of motorcycles cruising up and down Broad St. (the street visible in the background), and it was a blue moon &emdash; the second full moon that July!

After messing around with composition and exposure a bit, and playing with the ball (a lot :o), everything clicked &emdash; the composition, the exposure, the rotation of the ball, (the reflection of me in the ball :o). The exposure was 3 seconds at f/7.1.

Why do I like this photo so much? I think one of the most important aspects of photography, for me, are the memories. I often look through photos I took many years prior (like the one above), and they immediately evoke feelings similar to what I felt at the moment I shot them. Happiness, pride, relief, disappointment, whatever; it all comes back. Having looked at great photos other people have taken of me during emotionally-charged events, I don't quite feel it as much.

I think as a photographer, I'm constantly trying to create an image that captures what I think are the important aspects of a moment. And so when I do it right, and make an image which I feel captures those details, I can look at it years later and recapture those details and that feeling of being right there. As William Faulkner once said,
"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that 100 years later when a stranger looks at it, it moves again because it is life."

29 July, 2008

Yaks At Every Corner

So, I was planning on discussing something a bit more serious, but it was not to be. It'll probably come in the next few days or so. What I've been working on instead, though, is the photo. No, it's not really any different than any of the others, but yes, it took a lot longer to get ready. Thus is the nature of Yak Shaving.

I shot the above image at a MITSO concert in December, 2007. I really like it. Exposure is 1/25s at f/2.8 and ISO640 (I'm not sure about the ISO, for reasons I'll get into soon). And by soon, I mean now.

I like cool features and doing testing, so I tend to use the development branches of software when I can. So, for instance, I wanted to try preparing the above image with the HEAD version of The Gimp. That's all well and good. So I fire it up on the image and… oh… some random gegl module has undefined references. Well, it's probably related to that big library upgrade I did last night. It probably won't affect what I'm working on, but you never know…

So I recompile and reinstall gegl. All good. We rerun `gimp-2.5` and… oh… poppler. Now, poppler is a PDF/postscript library. I'm not going to be needing any of that functionality, but, you know, there's no time like the present to keep from getting frustrated in the future. Right? So I hit the gimp compile again… oh, weird, configure isn't detecting poppler. It seems to be installed, but… oh, it's the glib version. That was easy.

So I open the image, mess with it a bit, and… hmm. How am I gonna sharpen this thing? The gimp-plugin-registry package is only compiled against gimp-2.4, and neither refocus nor smart sharpen (redux) are standard plugins. Well, it shouldn't be too hard to compile them against gimp-2.5. And all I need are those two, so I'll just go ahead and start with refocus… hmm… it's not detecting gimp. Oh, I wonder why it's hard-coded for gimptool and not gimptool-2.0. OK. Here we go… but… I told you to use gimptool-2.0. What are you doing?!

Oh well, this is taking longer than I expected. I'll just go back to gimp-2.4. Err… you know what, I should just start writing this entry, and I can deal with the photo after that's done. And I don't have time to write a serious post, so I'll make it about yak shaving. Hmm… what's a good URL to explain yak shaving to folks who haven't heard of it? Aah, this Seth guy has a nice post about it. I wonder if there's something special I'm supposed to do when referencing posts from other blogs? Some sort of ping… track… thingie. You know what, I bet someone on Zephyr knows… Oh, yeah, I guess I should've checked Wikipedia. Oh… hmm… blogger does things differently…

Man, this is taking too long. I'll just link it for now, and maybe figure this protocol out later. Hmm… I'd better check out geeqie to see what exposure this was. OK, 1/25s at f/2.8. It's probably ISO640, because that's how I typically shoot concerts but lemme check… segfault? What? Oh well… I'll just fire it up again quickly… can't open shared library libexiv2. Oh, I guess this is also from that big library upgrade.

Well, I've compiled this thing a million times, I'll just do that. Oh, hmm… there are updates in svn… Well, maybe they're bugfixes… Wait, why is there a linker error now?

If it weren't for me wanting to eat breakfast and actually get out on my bike today, I'd still be at it. Anyway, something more serious coming in the next few days. As for the quote, here's one for you bike fans, from Bike Snob NYC:
"I steer clear of political debates the way roadies steer clear of gravel."

28 July, 2008

On Technology

I'm a big fan of technology. Advances in technology often make my job of messing around, having fun with things, and amusing myself (go harvard comma!) a lot easier. And, regardless of what happens, the past is so much fun to laugh at.

I shot the above image at the end-of-year APO BookEx in May of 2007. Exposure is 1/10s at f/4.5 and ISO640. The donut was mine (and delicious). The other thing is APO's. Is it sad that I was considering adding a cat macro to this photo? Well, if you want me to put this thing on ICHC, come up with a funnyhilarious caption (I tried, believe me).

Anyway, despite being a fan of technology, I'm also a retro-grouch on many counts. Because, ya know, they just don't make some things like they used to. My continued use of some antiquated devices notwithstanding, however, there are some methodologies, technologies, and combinations thereof which I have embraced.

Open Source. I'm fairly confident that without open source, Linux would not be as widespread as it is today. I am positive that if it weren't for open source mindset, and for the UNIX tradition of combining robust individual tools into a powerful pipeline (of fury), there's no way I could take photos and (soon, hopefully) produce high-quality prints for just the cost of the hardware and paper. Consider my current (and future) workflow:
  1. shoot a bunch of photos
  2. transfer them to machine, running Debian GNU/Linux
  3. browse through them with Geeqie, which grabs previews from the NEFs with exiv2 and does color-correction on-the-fly using lcms
  4. open RAW image in UFRaw, which…
    • interprets the RAW file with Dave Coffin's amazing dcraw program
    • also handles color management with lcms
    • and passes the image data along to…
  5. The Gimp, which will soon have arbitrary color depth and format support, thanks to GEGL and babl. (As an aside, this will surpass Photoshop in some aspects &emdash; many of Photoshop's plugins simply don't work on 16-bit (48bpp) images.)
  6. (do stuff)
  7. print from The Gimp to (arbitrary photo printer) with Gutenprint (see OpenPrinting for specific support info)
And lest I forget to mention, ArgyllCMS (using requisite hardware, of course) can calibrate and profile scanners, displays (including projectors), cameras, printers, and other devices.

And when the whole deal is done, I've gone from high-quality (heh) photo to high-quality print, using only Free software. And for you non-Linux folks, the entirety of this workflow will run on OS X (and likely also on anything POSIXy that has X). Everything except Geeqie and Gutenprint runs on Windows, too.

So that's it for now. To conclude, a fitting quote from Sir Isaac Newton:
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

27 July, 2008

Things I Struggle With: Color

Back so soon? Why, yes! I shot the above last December; I noticed that the sky was pretty and took some photos. I think the image came out well, what with the cool reflections off of Kresge and snow/ice on the roof. This was taken at f/4.5 and 1/1000s.

So, color. Earlier this summer I got a Planar PX2611W, which is a great monitor IMO. Because I'm trying to get more serious about photography, and because the Planar is a wide-gamut monitor. The wide-gamut designation technically means that the monitor can display more colors than your standard CRT. Practically, it means that uncorrected fluorescent colors (pink, turquoise, some reds) actually seem to fluoresce on the screen, which is sort of weird and rather uncomfortable to look at.

To calibrate and profile the monitor, I got an eye-one displayLT (same hardware as the eye-one display 2, but $80 cheaper because of the software). Since I'm on Linux, I used the free ArgyllCMS software to do the calibration and profiling, and now things behave reasonably well.

So, now that this is sort of working, I've been reading and reading and reading. And I'm confused. As always, some of the resources provide conflicting information, others say things that don't seem to make sense, and still others talk about things I have absolutely no concept of (*cough* gamut mapping *cough*)

Some questions I have: FF3 does color-correction, but the above photo looks different in FF than it does in The Gimp or in Geeqie (which match); huh? When I try to use the linear CIECAM D65 profile from aim-dtp, I get weird color artifacts that go away when I convert to a gamma-corrected profile; I thought the appearance wasn't supposed to change?

Anyway, the struggle continues. To close, a quote from Michael Reichmann, proprietor of Luminous Landscape: "I create my photographs so as to share with others what I have seen of the world. For better or worse I bring to the task a unique way of seeing. My intent is to create a representation of what I saw, filtered though the lens of my personal perspective and coloured by the emotional, cultural and esthetic baggage that my sixty years on the planet have given me."


Hi. This blog is someone's fault. Anyway, I think I'll start off with a photo (which you presumably just saw), some commentary, a quote, and a complaint.

I hate making web designs. If anyone has suggestions/examples of some way to show photo info, like shutter speed, aperture, and stuff, I'd be interested to hear (especially if it's code I can steal). Anyway, the above was a 1-second exposure at f/7.1. I shot it around midnight on September 4th, 2004 with my D70, a few weeks/days prior to the start of my freshman year at MIT. I like taking photos at night.

The quote is from bash.org
<rush> anyone ever notice that klingons speak unix?
<rush> "Grep ls awk chmod"
<rush> "Mknod ksh tar imap"
<rush> "Wall fsck yacc"
<assassin> dude. you even give geeks a bad name.

The complaint? Blogger should let me have my UTC. Anyway, as you might expect, there is more to come. Frequency will probably be typical blog frequency &emdash; high at the outset, then a dip as I run out of things to say, then leveling off at some sort of maintainable rate; yay.