Photography

Panoramas of Wyoming: Yellowstone, Tetons

Last weekend I had a great trip to Wyoming, staying in Jackson for a bit and then into Yellowstone with a Cody side-trip.

As always, tons of photos and a new gallery of panoramic photos of the area. My last trip to Yellowstone featured poor weather and a very early (low quality) digital camera so I was pleased to photograph it again.

Check out my Gallery of Panoramas of Wyoming

One thing that was different: In the bookstores at both parks there were books on how to photograph the park. This was something quite new, and is an artifact of the great rebirth of photography that digital cameras have brought. Often when I enter an area I will ask the locals for the good photographic spots. These books answered those questions, and did more — told me when to visit the spots, or where to go at certain times of day. For example, the book told me I would get a rainbow at 9 am on upper Yellowstone falls from Uncle Tom point, and indeed I did. (It must be timed for summer.)

Everybody shoots Old Faithful — here’s the crowd around it at sunset:

Advice on what digital camera to buy

I do enough photography that people ask me for advice on cameras. Some time ago I wrote an article about what lenses should I buy for a Canon DSLR which has turned out to be fairly popular. The thrust of that article, by the way, is to convince you that there is only minimal point in buying a DSLR that can changes lenses and getting only one lens for it, even if you plan to get another lens later (after your camera has depreciated plenty without using its real abilities.)

However, many people come with the higher level question of which digital camera to get. There are many cameras, and lots of right answers, but hopefully I give a few in “What Digital Camera Should I Buy?.”

Here, the advice has some specifics and some generalities. Both Canon and Nikon are good, but stick with the major brands so you get accessories and an aftermarket on eBay. And the answer, if you are serious about your pictures, may be to buy more than one. We’ve got three — plus another 2 we don’t use.

Panorama of Marienplatz, München, Germany

Here’s my latest assembled panorama, of the main square of Munich, known as Marienplatz, taken from the St. Peter’s Church bell tower just to the south.

This is a 360 degree shot, taken just after sunset. This is a very technically difficult panorama, and as such not perfect. First of all, a tripod is not practical at the top of this tower, where the walkway is so narrow that it’s hard for two people to pass. It also has a metal grille with holes large enough for the camera but not much bigger. So we’re talking handheld long exposures.

And you must walk around the tower, which means parallax, so perfect joins are not possible. This effort has some distortions to get around that but does cover the entire city.

That’s the Rathaus (town hall) prominent in the center of the picture, and the Frauenkirche to the left of it, and the moon in the upper right.

 

Detecting bad photos in camera and after

As I’ve noted, with digital cameras we all take tons of photos, and the next task is to isolate out the winners. I’ve outlined better workflow for this and there are still more improvements we need in photo management software, but one task both cameras and photo management software could make easier is eliminating the plain bad shots.

I’ve always wanted the camera to have a display mode that immediately shows, at 1:1, the most contrasty (sharpest) section of a photo I have taken. If I look at that, and see it’s blurry then I know the whole photo is blurry, whether it be from camera shake or bad focus. If it’s sharp but not the thing I wanted to emphasize, I may realize the autofocus found the wrong thing. (My newest camera shows in the review pane what autofocus points it used, which is handy.)

Indeed, if a camera finds that there is no section of the photo which is sharp, it might even display or sound a warning. Yes, sometimes I will take shots of fuzzy clouds where this will be normal. I can handle the false warning then. It might be so dark I can’t get a good shot and will also ignore the warning, but other times it might tell me to shoot that one again.

(Nikon cameras have a feature where they take 3 shots and keep the sharpest of them. That’s handy, but I still want to know if the sharpest of them is still no good.)

The camera could go further. With more sensitive accelerometers, it could actually calculate how much the camera rotated while the shutter was open, and since it also knows the focal length, it could calculate the amount of motion blur there will be in the shot. Again, it could warn you when it’s too much, and tag this acceleration data in the EXIF fields of the file. Yes, sometimes one takes a tracking shot where you pan on a moving object and deliberately blur the background. In theory the detection of sharp objects in the field would reveal this, but in any event you can also just ignore the warning here.

For those will full flash cards, such detection could help in removing turkeys when you have to delete.

Until our cameras can do this, our photo management software could help. As noted, the first task in photo management is to divide the photos into groups. I divide into 5 groups myself — bad shots, boring shots, average shots, winners and super-winners. Winners go into the slideshow for the particular shooting trip, super winners will go into a “best of the year” category.

The photo management software could scan over the photos, and find ones that are blurry. It could then let me do a quick scan over them, either as large thumbnails, or perhaps again showing me at 1:1 zoom the highest contrast crop. I could quickly pull out any pictures I still want and relegate the others to the bad photo pile, or even delete them. The same could apply for images that are obviously overexposed and underexposed. Again, I will still scan to see if there is anything to save, and in the case of the underexposed, I can do the scan in a mode where a compensation is done to brighten them to see what can be recovered. But after that, I don’t want them in the way of my real workflow, to find the winners.

Rotating digital picture frame

Digital Picture Frames are finally coming down to tolerable prices and decent resolutions. We are about to give my mother one that’s 1024x768 and 15” on the diagonal. In part that’s because I never got around to building one out of a laptop though I still think a linux distro that turned an old laptop into a digital PF would be a great idea because the ability to do wireless networking to subscribe to flickr and other feeds is the waiting killer app for these frames. (Or frankly, I just want the wireless module for flat panel displays I have spoken of before.

However, turnkey appliances still have their attraction, and digital picture frames are one of the hot items for this year and probably a few to come.

However, one thing bothers me about them (and all other computer slide shows.) I take a modest number of photos in “portrait” mode, which is to say tilting the camera on its side to make a picture that is tall rather than wide. Of course I take many landscape too. And most digital picture frames are set up in landscape mode. When you see a portrait picture you lose half the resolution. You could get two frames — one arranged in portrait mode and one in landscape, but I propose making a frame where the panel and frame have a small motor on them. Every so often the motor would rotate the frame 90 degrees, and the frame would then switch to doing the pictures that are right for that orientation, and later switch back.

You would want a silent motor of course. It need not be very fast, and you could blank the screen while it turns, or even put up a clever animation that itself counterspins around the axis point so it looks still. It would not work if you only had a very small number of portrait photos, but should be fine for most folks.

Slow, quiet stepper or servo motors are not very expensive, much cheaper than a second frame, though this does add moving parts.

I’ve wanted something similar as well for projected slide shows. There the motor could turn the internal panel, or perhaps just a mirror. If these things existed, people might take more portrait pictures. Today, seeing most photos on computer screens, there seems to be no reason to shoot portrait (other than to get a wider field of view.) If you will always view on the computer, shooting portrait — for those who don’t understand its value as a compositional tool — may just seem like a waste. Now it would not be.

Burning Man Panoramas for 2007

I have generated several of my panoramas for this year’s Burning Man.

This year featured a double rainbow, and of course much of the week with no man on his pedestal.

News: Burning Man burns on Monday

Update: I now have a whole Burning Man area on the blog!

I’ve not been blogging of late because I’m at Burning Man, and while normally I don’t report breaking news in this blog, we just witnessed a strange event. Through accident or arson, the Man was set alight this evening shortly after totality began in the eclipse of the moon.

The man was not loaded with explosives or fireworks as he is before his planned burn, so it was a more sedate affair, and soon fire crews arrived to “save the man” — something we have been asking for in mock protests for years. They did put him out, and he still stands, a bit worse for wear.

I managed to get some photos of the burn….

Efforts to save the man…

The injured man, missing a hand and burnt, under the eclipsed moon…

Photo server being dugg

Well, this site is at a crawl now because the panorama I assembled of San Francisco in 1971 is on the digg.com front page. If you haven’t seen it before it’s on the San Francisco page, the panorama of SF from the top of the Bay Bridge in 1971.

My hosting company, Defender Hosting/PowerVPS, has been kind enough to do a temporary upgrade of my server capacity to their top level, though the site’s response is still poor. This is something that virtual hosting can do that you can’t as easily do with dedicated hosting, though virtual hosting has its own costs, mostly in wasted memory.

I think it would be nice if virtual hosting companies sold this “bump” ability as a feature. When your web site gets a lot of load from a place like digg or slashdot, this could ideally be automatically detected, and more capacity made available, either free for rare use as a bonus, or for a fee. Most site owners would be glad to authorize a bit of extra payment for extra capacity in the event that they’re subject to a big swarm of traffic. (The only risk being that you might pay for capacity when under a DOS or spam attack or when being used by crackers or spammers.)

One place this might happen well is in the Amazon ec2 service, which I have yet to really try out. EC2 offers a cloud of virtual servers on demand. In this case, you would want to have a master controller which tracks load on your server, and fires up another virtual server, and then, once it’s up, starts redirecting traffic to it using DNS or proxy techniques, or both. If a web site is highly based on an SQL server, all the copies would need to use the same SQL server (or perhaps need an interesting replication strategy if not read-only) but making SQL servers scale is a well-attacked problem.

Has anybody done this yet with EC2? If not, I expect somebody will soon. The basic concept is fairly simple, though to do it perfectly you would need to do things like copy logs back after the fact and redirect any pages which want to write data to the local server to a common server if one can. For a site with static pages that don’t change due to user activity, such replication should not present too many problems.

Burning Man 2006 Gallery

It’s way late, but I finally put captions on my gallery of regular-aspect photos from Burning Man 2006.

Some time ago I put together the 2006 Panoramas but just never got around to doing the regulars. There are many fun ones here, an particular novel are the ones of the burn taken from above it on a boomlift.

I also did another aerial survey, but that remains unfinished. Way too much processing to do, and Google did a decent one in google maps. I did put up a few such photos there.

Enjoy the 2006 Burning Man Photos.

Many new panoramas of Alberta, Banff, Jasper and Rockies

I’ve been remiss in updating my panoramas, so I just did some work on the site and put up a new page full of Alberta panoramas, as well as some others I will point to shortly.

The Alberta rockies are among the most scenic mountains in the world. Many have called the Icefields Parkway, which goes between Banff and Jasper national parks, the most scenic drive in the world. I’ve taken it several times in both summer and winter and it is not to be missed. I have a wide variety of regular photos I need to sort and put up as well from various trips.

This image is of Moraine Lake, which is close to the famous Lake Louise. All the lakes of these parks glow in incredible colours of teal, blue and green due to glacial silt. In winter they are frozen and the colour is less pronounced, but the mountains are more snow-capped, so it’s hard to say which is the best season. (This photo is available as a jigsaw puzzle from Ratzenberger.)

Enjoy the Panoramics of Alberta. And I recommend you book your own trip up to Calgary or Edmonton to do the drive yourself. I think you’ll find this to be among my best galleries of panoramas.

I also recently rebuilt and improved my shot of Ginza-5-Chome, Tokyo’s most famous street corner. While it was handheld I have been able to remove almost all the ghosts with new software.

Photo editors: Embed your text in the jpegs

Hey photo editing programs — I’m looking at you, Photoshop — a lot of you allow people to place text into graphic images, usually as a text layer. Most graphics with text on the web are made this way. Then we export the image as a jpeg or png/gif, flatting the layers so our artful text is displayed. This is how all the buttons with words are made, as well as the title banner graphics on most web sites.

So photo editors, when you render and flatten the layers, take the visible text (you know what it is) and include it in a tag inside the file, such as the EXIF information. Possibly as the caption if there isn’t already one. Let us disable this, including on just a single layer, but providing it would be a good default.

Then all the web spiders/search engines would be able to find that text. Web page editors could offer that text as a possible “alt” text for the graphic. And the blind would be able to have their web-page readers read to them the text embedded in graphics.

Digital cameras should have built-in tagging

So many people today are using tags to organize photos and to upload them to sites like flickr for people to search. Most types of tagging are easiest to do on a computer, but certain types of tagging would make sense to add to photos right in the camera, as the photos are taken.

For example, if you take a camera to an event, you will probably tag all the photos at the event with a tag for the event. A menu item to turn on such a tag would be handy. If you are always taking pictures of your family or close friends, you could have tags for them preprogrammed to make it easy to add right on the camera, or afterwards during picture review. (Of course the use of facial recognition and GPS and other information is even better.)

Tags from a limited vocabulary can also be set with limited vocabulary speech recognition, which cameras have the CPU and memory to do. Thus taking a picture of a group of friends, one could say their names right as you took the picture and have it tagged.

Of course, entering text on a camera is painful. You don’t want to try to compose a tag with arrow buttons over a keyboard or the alphabet. Some tags would be defined when the camera is connected to the computer (or written to the flash card in a magic file from the computer.) You would get menus of those tags. For a new tag, one would just select something like “New tag 5” from the menu, and later have an interface to rename the tag to something meaningful.

As a cute interface, tag names could also be assigned with pictures. Print the tag name on paper clearly and take a picture of it in “new tag” mode. While one could imagine OCR here, since it doesn’t matter if the OCR does it perfectly at first blush, you don’t actually need it. Just display the cropped handwritten text box in the menus of tags. Convert them to text (via OCR or human typing) when you get to a computer. You can also say sound associations for such tags, or for generic tags.

Cameras have had the ability to record audio with pictures for a while, but listening to all that to transcribe it takes effort. Trained speech recognition would be great here but in fact all we really have to identify is when the same word or phrase is found in several photos as a tag, and then have the person type what they said just once to automatically tag all the photos the word was said on. If the speech interface is done right, menu use would be minimal and might not even be needed.

Panorama in ad, and more on automatic reset.

I’m pleased to see that more of my photography is getting licenced for ads and web sites these days. I like the job that this PDA ad does with my 360 degree view of Shanghai People’s Square. Of course I can’t read the text very well.

By the way, I learned the hard way how valuable the feature I proposed earlier for digital cameras — where they would notice if they’ve been set in an unusual state after a long gap between sessions — while on my trip this month to Edmonton, and one of my favourite spots on the planet — the rocky mountains in Banff and Jasper. Just before the trip I had put the camera into the “small” image size mode because I was shooting some stuff for eBay, and you really don’t need 8 megapixel shots for that. Alas, I left it there, and this is one of those mode switches which is not at all obvious. You won’t notice it unless you pay careful attention to the tiny “s” on the LCD panel, or if you download the photos. Alas, on my 4gb card I can go a long way without downloading, so a full days shots, including a lovely snow dusted Lake Louise were shot in small size, high compression.

The other way you would spot this is the camera shows you how many shots you have left. My 4gb card shows 999 when it starts even in large mode. But after shooting for a short while it eventually starts counting down. I only noticed I was in small mode when the 999 didn’t start counting down with hundreds of shots.

So this is definitely a case where the camera should notice it’s been days since I shot, and warn me I’m shooting with this unusual setting. I will still get quite serviceable web photos from that day, but not the wall sized prints I love.

Cameras (Canon) -- handle reversion from specialty settings better

My Canon cameras have a variety of ways you can change their settings to certain specialty ones. You can set a manual white balance. You can set an exposure compensation for regular exposures or flash (to make it dimmer or brighter than the camera calculates it should be.) You can change various shooting parameters (saturation etc.) and how the images will be stored (raw or not, large/medium/small etc.) You can of course switch (this time with a physical dial) from manual exposure to various automatic and semi-automatic exposure modes. On the P&S cameras you can disable or enable flash with such settings. You can change shooting modes (single-shot, multi-shot.) You can turn on bracketing of various functions.

And let’s face it, I bet all of you who have such cameras have found yourself shooting by accident in a very wrong mode, not discovering it quite for some time. If you’re in a fast shooting mode, not looking at the screen, it can be easy to miss things like a manual white balance or even a small exposure compensations.

The camera already features an option to auto-revert on exposure bracketing, since they decided few would want to leave such a feature on full time. But auto bracketing isn’t dangerous, it just wastes a couple of shots that you can just delete later. And it’s also very obvious when it’s on. Of all the things to consider auto-revert for, this was the least necessary.

To my mind, the thing I would like auto-revert on most of all is manual white balancing. I recently was shooting fast an furious in a plane, and learned after lots of shots I still had the camera in an artificial light balance setting from the night before. The camera can do a good job here because it can usually tell what the temperature of the ambient light is, and can notice that the balance is probably wrong. In addition, it can tell that lots of time has passed since the white balance was set manually. It really should have a good idea if it’s out in daylight or indoors, if it’s night or day.

And I’m not even asking for an auto-revert here. Rather, an error beep which also pops a message on the screen that the white balance may be wrong. And yes, for those who don’t want this feature they can disable it. However, what would be cool would be if the screen that pops up to warn about a possibly bad retained setting, would be the ability then and there to say, “Thanks, revert” or “Don’t warn me about this again” or “Don’t warn me about this until the next ‘session.’” The camera knows about ‘sessions’ because it sees pauses in shooting with the camera off, and as noted, changes from night to day, indoors to out.

Of course it would still keep shooting. For extra credit if it suspected something wrong, it could hold the image in RAW mode in its buffer memory, and if you ask to go to another setting that only changes the jpegs, it could actually redo the jpeg right.

Now of course, photographers often shoot in manual modes for a very good reason, and they are doing it because they don’t want the camera’s automatic settings. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be reminded if, after a longish bout with the camera off, they are shooting in a way that’s very different from what the camera wants. That can include exposure. I’ve often left the camera in manual and then forgotten about it until I saw the review screen. (Of course P&S users almost always look at the review screen, they don’t get this trouble.) Again, I want the camera to shoot when I tell it to, but to consider warning me if I turn warnings on that the image is totally overexposed or underexposed. At night it would take a more serious warning since in night shots there often no “right” exposure to compare with.

A smart camera could even notice when you aren’t looking at the review screen, because you are shooting so fast. But like I said, those who want the old way could always turn such warnings off.

Another option would be an explicit button to say, “I’m going to make a bunch of specialty settings now. Please warn me if I don’t revert them at the next session.” This could extend even to warning you that you turned off autofocus. Review screens don’t show minor focus errors, so it would be nice to be reminded of this.

(I actually think an even better warning would be one where the camera beeps if nothing in the shot is in focus, as is often the case here. The camera can easily tell if there are no high contrast edges in the shot. Yes, there are a few scenes that have nothing sharp in them, I don’t mind the odd beep on those.)

Some early panoramas of the burn itself

While it will be a while before I get the time to build all my panoramas of this year’s Burning Man, I did do some quick versions of some of those I shot of the burn itself. This year, I arranged to be on a cherry picker above the burn. I wish I had spent more time actually looking at the spectacle, but I wanted to capture panoramas of Burning Man’s climactic moment. The entire city gathers, along with all the art cars for one shared experience. A large chunk of the experience is the mood and the sound which I can’t capture in a photo, but I can try to capture the scope.

This thumbnail shows the man going up, shooting fireworks and most of the crowd around him. I will later rebuild it from the raw files for the best quality.

Shooting panoramas at night is always hard. You want time exposures, but if any exposure goes wrong (such as vibration) the whole panorama can be ruined by a blurry frame in the middle. On a boomlift, if anybody moves — and the other photographer was always adjusting his body for different angles — a time exposure won’t be possible. It’s also cramped and if you drop something (as I did my clamp knob near the end) you won’t get it back for a while. In addition, you can’t have everybody else duck every time you do a sweep without really annoying them, and if you do you have to wait a while for things to stabilize.

It was also an interesting experience riding to the burn with DPW, the group of staff and volunteers who do city infrastructure. They do work hard, in rough conditions, but it gives them an attitude that crosses the line some of the time regarding the other participants. When we came to each parked cherry picker, people had leaned bikes against them, and in one case locked a bike on one. Though we would not actually move the bases, the crew quickly grabbed all the bikes and tossed them on top of one another, tangling pedal in spoke, probably damaging some and certainly making some hard to find. The locked bike had its lock smashed quickly with a mallet. Now the people who put their bikes on the pickers weren’t thinking very well, I agree, and the DPW crew did have to get us around quickly but I couldn’t help but cringe with guilt at being part of the cause of this, especially when we didn’t move the pickers. (Though I understand safety concerns of needing to be able to.)

Anyway, things “picked up” quickly and the view was indeed spectacular. Tune in later for more and better pictures, and in the meantime you can see the first set of trial burn panoramas for a view of the burn you haven’t seen.

Get a giant display screen

Yesterday I received a Dell 3007WFP panel display. The price hurt ($1600 on eBay, $2200 from Dell but sometimes there are coupons) and you need a new video card (and to top it off, 90% of the capable video cards are PCI-e and may mean a new motherboard) but there is quite a jump by moving to this 2560 x 1600 (4.1 megapixel) display if you are a digital photographer. This is a very similar panel to Apple's Cinema, but a fair bit cheaper.

It's great for ordinary windowing and text of course, which is most of what I do, but it's a great deal cheaper just to get multiple displays. In fact, up to now I've been using CRTs since I have a desk designed to hold 21" CRTs and they are cheaper and blacker to boot. You can have two 1600x1200 21" CRTs for probably $400 today and get the same screen real estate as this Dell.

But that really doesn't do for photos. If you are serious about photography, you almost surely have a digital camera with more than 4MP, and probably way more. If it's a cheap-ass camera it may not be sharp if viewed at 1:1 zoom, but if it's a good one, with good lenses, it will be.

If you're also like me you probably never see 99% of your digital photos except on screen, which means you never truly see them. I print a few, mostly my panoramics and finally see all their resolution, but not their vibrance. A monitor shows the photos with backlight, which provides a contrast ratio paper can't deliver.

At 4MP, this monitor is only showing half the resolution of my 8MP 20D photos. And when I move to a 12MP camera it will only be a third, but it's still a dramatic step up from a 2MP display. It's a touch more than twice as good because the widescreen aspect ratio is a little closer to the 3:2 of my photos than the 4:3 of 1600x1200. Of course if you shoot with a 4:3 camera, here you'll be wasting pixels. In both cases, of course, you can crop a little so you are using all the pixels. (In fact, a slideshow mode that zoom/crops to fully use the display would be a handy mode. Most slideshows offer 1:1 and zoom to fit based on no cropping.)

There are many reasons for having lots of pixels aside from printing and cropping. Manipulations are easier and look better. But let's face it, actually seeing those pixels is still the biggest reason for having them. So I came to the conclusion that I just haven't been seeing my photos, and now I am seeing them much better with a screen like this. Truth is, looking at pictures on it is better than any 35mm print, though not quite at a 35mm slide of quality.

Dell should give me a cut for saying this.

Long ago I told people not to shoot on 1MP and 2MP digital cameras instead of film, because in the future, displays would get so good the photos will look obviously old and flawed. That day is now well here. Even my 3MP D30 pictures don't fill the screen. I wonder when I'll get a display that makes my 8MP pictures small.

Burning Man 2005 Panoramas

Hot on the heels of the regular photos the gallery of 2005 Burning Man Panoramas is now up. This year, I got to borrow a cherry picker at sunset on Friday for some interesting perspectives. The long ones are around 3400 by 52000 at full res (180 megapixels) and even the ones on the web are larger than before. Use F11 to put your browser into full screen mode.

This year I switched most of my generation to Panorama Factory, which in its latest verions has allowed fine control of the blending zone, so I can finally use it to deal with moving people in scenes.

Here’s a view of the temple, mostly because it has the narrowest thumbnail.

Burning Man 2005 Photos plus Aerial shots

I’ve gotten way behind on putting up my photographs, and I realized I had never put my Burning Man 2005 shots up. We’re already planning for 2006.

So I got them up this weekend. Of particular interest to burners this year will be the aerial survey I did of the city, over 200 close-up photos of just about every camp in the city from the sky.

And yes, I shot plenty of panoramas, and I have built most of them, but still don’t have the panorama page up.

So take a visit to my 2005 Burning Man Photos.

Power through flash hotshoe

I’ll be moving soon to the Canon 5D camera from my 20D. It’s better in just about every way, but like many “pro” cameras it does not have a built in flash.

It’s not that there isn’t a reason for this. Built in flashes usually suck, and nobody would use them for any sort of serious photography, except for fill. So if you’re going out on a shoot, you would of course carry along some quality flashes and the built-in would be a waste of space.

On the other hand people use cameras like the 5D and 1Ds for more casual shooting, and if you don’t bring a flash and you find yourself wanting an indoor shot, you may find yourself out of luck with your multi-thousand-dollar camera. And, as noted, there is the need for fill. Pro flashes are big and unweildy, you don’t strap them on if you don’t need them.

So here’s a compromise. Add lines to the hotshoe for power, with a smart power bus that only applies real power when a smart flash is confirmed in place, and communicates digitally about voltages and current levels. This would have several benefits.

First, one could sell a small add-on flash that needs no batteries, it’s just capacitor, controller and flashtube, no more than the built-in flash used to be, but perhaps on a telescoping stick so it can raise up high over the camera as a flash should. In fact the camera batteries are pretty powerful, so you could consider making this a decent flash, at the cost of sucking your camera battery faster. But why not? Why not just carry more of one type of battery rather than having two different types for flash and camera? In addition, some people use a special grip on the camera that holds extra battery power.

This power bus could actually even have value with a flash that has its own batteries. You might elect that when those batteries get too low, you could switch to internal batteries. If it means getting a shot that you could not get due to dead flash batteries, of course this is worth it. In Canon cameras, internal battery is 7.2v and flash uses 4xAA meaning 6 or more likely 5 with NiMh, but a flash can easily take this range of voltages. (A fancy camera power supply might even be able to work in reverse, sucking power from the flash batteries when the camera battery is the one dead.)

Of course, I still want all the other goodies I’ve asked for — making infrared flash control standard in the camera bodies, instead of a $200 add-on. (At least with the power available the add-on transmitter could be smaller and cheaper.) And the dream we’ll never get — some standarization among vendors.

This power bus could also power other things — GPS receivers, radio transmitters, audio recorders, portable microdisks, anything people can think of.

Press fedora with built-in flash

A really geeky idea: A fedora (common hat of the classic press photographer's uniform) or other hat with a built in remote controlled flash unit in it.

As photographers know, on-camera flash sucks. You get no shadows, and the people look like washed out deer caught in the headlights. If the flash is really close to the lens as it is in small point and shoot cameras, you get red-eye. The best is to do bounce flash where you can, off the ceiling, or in the studio off umbrellas or through softboxes. Most importantly, the flash is not at the camera. It's typically 20-40 degrees away, and also elevated.

You can't have that walking around without a lovely assistant holding a slave flash. Many pro photographers buy an "L" shaped arm which puts the flash about a foot from the camera, usually above and to the right. If you can't have that you have a hotshoe mounted flash on top of your camera.

I'm suggesting some style of hat you can mount a flash in. This would not be perfect, in fact it would be only a little bit higher than a hotshoe flash. And it would be above your eyes, not off to the side like it should be. It would be controlled by IR, or even better, RF. (I don't know why they don't work out a standard protocol for flash control over IR or RF and just put a transmitter in every camera made, since such circuits, especially IR LEDs, are super cheap.)

In particular, with live preview digital cameras, you can hold the camera away from your eyes. So even though the flash is 8" above your eyes, the cameras can be off to the right, or down low, for better lighting. Of course be sure to have head facing the subject even though your eyes are looking at the camera.

The hat-mounted flash would make the camera less unweildy compared to a big hotshoe mounted one. The batteries and circuits would be inside the hat of course. You could also place the flashtube itself out ont he rim of the hat for more distance, though it would not be so unobtrusive as a hat with a small clear panel at the front. Though you need height -- light from below looks creepy, of course.

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