Photography

Glacier National Park / Montana Panoramas

In the summer we did a road trip in the northwest, up to Calgary, through Banff in the summer and then to Oregon Country Fair. The photojournal is not yet ready, but I have prepared some of the panos. First, here is the Montana section, which means the Going to the Sun road through Glacier National Park. Truly one of the world’s great roads, I’m afraid the panos don’t do it justice.

Death Valley Panoramas with wildflowers

I have been quite behind in processing my photo galleries and panoramics.

I have just now put up the gallery of panoramics from the Death Valley Wildflowers trip from March of 2005. Interesting scenery, and when you get close enough lots of fields of flowers. Of course, on most of them the flowers are so tiny that they are resolved well only when the panos are seen printed at full resolution, not when shrunk for a computer screen.

I have also done up a new layout for the panorama pages, and the thumbnails are now 1200 wide intead of 800 wide. I am hoping that most people have a 1280x1024 screen by now, if not a 1600x1200. (Everybody would have 1600 if they were still buying CRTs as CRTs that large are down to $100 it seems. LCD panels at such a res are $450 at least.)

See the Death Valley Spring Flowers Panoramas 2005

Australia photo-log now available

Earlier I posted about my panoramas of Australia. Now I have put up the large gallery of regular spect photos from the trip. We began with a short visit to Melbourne, then drove the Great Ocean Road , ending in Adelaide. From there we flew to Darwin in the top end to visit Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park.

Then it was on to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, and finally ending in Syndey for the AUUG conference. We took almost 3000 photos — the galleries contain the best 250 or so, along with captions and some stories. It’s freshly up, and may need a bit of proofing and refinement, but feel free to enjoy. Thanks again to my hosts and other great folks from Australia.

Visit the Photos of Australia.

At right: Saltie Crocodile catches a meal at sunrise in the outback.

Initial gallery of Panoramas of Australia up on the web

I took a lot of photos in Australia, including of course, many panoramas. I’ve assembled some of the best panoramas.

Harbour

You can see them in this gallery: Panoramas of Australia

As always, these are tiny reductions. Most of these can be printed to 8 to 12 feet long and still be sharp when you get up close to them. Prints are $10 per square foot. The regular aspect photos are still being tagged for galleries, as are several other recent trips I’ve been behind on. Enjoy

GPS that stuffs coordinates into digital photos

When you take pictures on the road, you would love to have the latitude and longitude coordinates of each picture stored with it. Indeed, if combined with a digital compass clever software could even tell you what landmark was in the photograph. (ie. if standing on rim of Grand Canyon looking north, it's probably a picture of the canyon.)

To attain this, some digital cameras allow you to plug a GPS into the camera, which is unwieldy to say the least. There's been talk of a bluetooth connection which is better but uses power. On a recent trip Kathryn suggested that the log from the GPS could later be matched up with the timestamps of the photos, which is a great idea -- and a web search reveals a few software packages out there do indeed do this. (And thus also allow photo organizing by geographic location, map-based browsing of photos and other such useful features.)

For the user not wanting to hook up all the devices and use software, I came up with a possible interesting design. Place a memory card slot in the GPS, or allow it to plug in USB or other memory card interfaces. The GPS could then look over the photos on an inserted memory card, read their timestamps, and use its own onboard history of where the GPS was at those exact times, and write coordinates into the files on the flash card. If it can write them on the end of the file that's easiest, if it has to rewrite each entire file that would be a bit slower.

Most digital cameras also have their own USB interface, so the GPS could simply have a USB controller and the camera could be plugged into the GPS after shooting to update the photo files with their location stamps. Most, though perhaps not all digital cameras can act like a USB drive in addition to doing camera control. Of course a standard protocol for updating locations would make this easier, but the main idea allows work with existing digital cameras. (Though they all have their own custom USB plugs and provide their own cable.)

As noted, this can give you great photo organizing. You can see your photos as thumbnails or pushpins in a map. You could link photos to google maps or satellite imagrery of the area. Directories on disk could be created by placename, or even without names photos could be grouped by each major shooting area, instead of just one new directory per 100 photos.

The cameras will eventually get smart enough to be the smart device, but for now the GPS can easily be it. Older GPSs don't have very large track log memories, but today memory is cheap and that's not as much of an issue.

Google maps pointers for all the World Heritage Sites

Everybody is having a great time these days with the new and increasing satellite imagery found at Google Maps, finding their own houses and world landmarks.

I found a database built by a Keyhole user describing all the coordinates of the 788 Unesco World Heritage Sites. With a bit of perl magic I turned the Keyhole format into a series of web pages with links to Google satellite imagery.

Some of these landmarks are very cool from above, some are totally boring. Some are in the high-res, many however (especially outside the USA and Canada) are in lower resolution so you can’t see as much. There are links to the Unesco web site for more information on the sites in any event.

You can start with the master page of Google Maps for World Heritage Sites and click to any particular country to see the sites and the links. For example you can click on the USA World Heritage page, and there you will find the link to the satellite image of the Statue of Liberty — where you should then zoom in to see the statue up close. The Mammoth Cave system is not so remarkable from the air. :-)

On pages with low res, you can usually zoom in once or twice, on hi-res pages, you can go in several times to see lots of detail. I fear you can waste a passle of time seeing many of these sites.

Thanks to Aladdin of the Keyhole message board for tabulating the data in Keyhole format.

Just as a side note — right now I am out visiting some real World Heritage Sites (3 in one week) and not correcting my own list in real time.

Doubleheaded Rear Lens Cap

I shoot with an SLR, and all lenses need a rear lens cap when not on the camera. Every SLR shooter knows the three-handed ritual. (Four handed if the Camera's not on a strap.) You take one lens off the camera. You pick another lens and remove the rear cap from it. Holding the old lens, new lens and rear cap and camera, you put the new lens on the camera, then put the rear cap on the old lens. (Or you put the cap on the old lens first, put it down and put the new lens on the camera.)

Anyway, a simple invention I have already built is a doubleheaded rear lens cap, namely two lens caps glued together. Custom-built it would be a lot smaller and solve some of the problems I have experienced.

With the doubleheader, you can take your lens off the camera and put it immediately onto the open end of the doubleheader cap on the new lens. Then with a twist you remove the new lens from the resulting docked lens pair, and put it on the camera. In theory one less hand or less dexterity.

However, the catch is the docked lens configuration tightens both as you twist one way and loosens both as you twist the other way. So you must master the art of making sure the lens you want comes loose.

How this works varies from lens to lens and how well it fits the rear cap. Sometimes pressing them both together causes one to undo reliably. The most reliable trick is to grab the old lens around the rear neck so you can get a finger on the cap, and then pull the new lens off.

It seems one might be able to design ways to make this more reliable, such as a small flange on the cap to hold with your finger to make sure of what twists off, or a ratcheting twist-off that requires a release button.

If both become equally lose when you untwist, then gravity will help you in that the cap will stay on the lower lens. You must later twist it back to stay on. I think the ideal motion would be to twist on so both are tight, then either hold the cap or release a ratchet so only the lens you want comes off without loosening the old lens.  read more »

Death Valley Wildflowers 2005

Death Valley normally gets 1.5" of rain a year, but this year it got over six, so we headed down the greatest spring wildflower show in 50 years and were not disappointed.

My preliminary gallery of Death Valley Wildflower Photos is now up. Of course I also shot many panoramas but have not yet assembled them. (I've been barely using Windows of late so I need to get a box rebuilt.) I will announce when the panoramas are available.

Image management for my common workflow

I have looked at a lot of image management programs, though not all of them, and been surprised that none match what I think should be a very common workflow. Sure, they all let you browse your photos and thumbnails of them, move them around, and rename them. And some let you do the functions I describe but usually doing them to a lot of photos is cumbersome because they only have a slow mouse interface or a poor keyboard interface.

Here's what I want to do, and right now use a combination of programs to make happen.

  1. First, pick the "potential winners" from a set of photos. That means letting me with a single keystroke copy the selected photo or mark it for later copying to a directory of the best shots I will actually put on the web. Two keystrokes here is two many. This must be done from full-screen view, not from thumbnails or reduced views. You can only truly judge a winner in full screen view. Thus, in this view, we should have basic movement on keys (space for next photo, backspace for previous is common) and a keystroke to tag/copy and go to the next, or at least to tag/copy and then I will hit space for the next. A way to go back and undo it would be nice. xzgv almost does this.
  2. Then scan the winners again and remove the duplicates. Often you will have 2 or 3 good shots of a subject that all were potential winners. So now it's time to quickly delete (no confirmations here, these are just copies) the other candidates and leave the winner. Quick switch between full screen view and a multi-photo view is a plus here.
    Because serious photographers take several shots of everything interesting, scanning for the winner often involves comparison with the other shots in the photo sequence. A perfect UI for this is hard, though a clever program could spot images bunched together in time or even (with advanced algorithms) similar in composition. A strip of thumbnails to get a sense of all the shots of an item while picking the one winner would be good. A quick switch to a tiled view of all the potential winners at maximum size, with a way to pick the winner (here mouse click makes sense) also could be good. This ability is of use not just in duplicate scanning but also initial winner picking. I tend to find that I will see an image, tag it as a winner, then move on to next image to notice the next one is even better. It would be nice to know in advance that might be so (thus the thumbnail strip.)

  3. Once I have the winners, put them into categories. Create a series of named directories, and quickly move the photos into them. Here's where a traditional thumbnail browswer which lets you select multiple photos and move them works well. Most programs do this step OK.
  4. Once I have the winners in categories, caption them. Again, it should be really fast. View photo (at least 1/4 screen size, not a thumbnail) and type in the caption. Then a single keystroke to go to next photo to caption it. Caption should go into jpeg caption, or a simple file that can be worked with later. ACDsee comes close to doing this but they use ugly keystrokes.
  5. Next, order them for presentation on a web page. Not necessarily by date or sequence number or caption.
  6. Finally, generate a web gallery or slide show based on the order and captions and sorting. Or, in my case leave available the data for my own scripts to do this.

Some programs as I note, come close. However often they use cumbersome keys (alt keys and ctrl-keys when regular letters would do) or they require confirmations on frequently performed acts (useless as you quickly learn to automatically confirm, just wasting your time and providing now protection.)

But does any system do all this, for linux or windows? Let me know.

Use for old digital cameras

Many people have old, low resolution digital cameras lying around from the previous generation. Here's a good use to put them to, particularly if you have a housekeeper.

When somebody needs to put something away, and they don't know where you like it to go and have to figure out where, have them pull out the old digital camera and take a picture of the item and a picture of where it was put.

Then every so often you can pull out the images into an online folder, ideally with a thumbnail browser.

Even though the camera is probably low res, like a megapixel, you probably want to set it to an even lower res to get a ton of photos on it.

As your memory fades in later life, you might even find this handy to do for yourself. You could just organize your stuff so everything is in an obvious place, or just take photos of all your things where they are. Good for insurance purposes, too. It won't work for the car keys or glasses, but it might work for some stuff.

Ultimate photographer's monopod

When you go out hiking and photographing, carrying a tripod can be too much, even my lovely carbon-fiber one. Besides, you want a good hiking stick on a hike anyway, you exercise more of your body. And most hiking sticks have a small tripod screw in them to use as a camera mount.

But here's a plan to make an all-out monopod/hiking stick kit to do a lot more than you can do with just the basic stick.

First, like many sticks, you want a spike end you can stick in the ground with an rubber cap you can put on it. Some monopods have tiny tripod legs that come out of the base that can be used for a light camera on level ground, which is also useful.

However, my alternate proposal takes longer to set up but would be more stable -- guy wires. In this case some retractable strong wires that can be pulled out from near the top of the stick. On the end of the wires you would find, or could attach a means to loop the wire around something (nearby tree, railing) and ratchet to pull tight the wire. You would also have a set of fine ground spikes that could be staked in soft ground and connected to the wire loop, then ratcheted tight. Finally, you cold put weights on the wires, such as rocks, your other gear or a person's foot in a pinch.

The result could be a moderately stable platform, on which you would put your ball head, or in my case panoramic head. Of course weights or thin stakes would not resist a hard shove (though being tied around railings and trees might) but it should be able to handle a fairly heavy camera, since it is the main pole which does that job.

And of course it would all collapse into something 19" long to go in your suitcase. Though you probably couldn't have the stakes in carry-on luggage.

Notes on the Canon EOS D20 DSLR

Soon as it was out, I bought the EOS D20. I sold my D60, which I had replaced my D30 with, so I am obviously generally pleased with Canon's line. The new camera has a lot over the D60 -- 2 more megapixels (or 3500 high for panoramas), much better low-light shooting ability with low-noise high-ISO, and fast shooting (5 frames/second for 25 frames.) It also has better focus, better controls, and an orientation sensor, something I've been wanting for a long time.

The orientation sensor is botched though. The menu offers the ability to rotate pictures in the display based on the orientation. Not what I want, so I turned it off. Sadly, this ended up turning off even the recording of the orientation sensor, which is stupid. You want this screen rotate off because it makes the picture half the size to do it, and it's wrong if the camera is being held in portrait mode, as it may be on a tripod. The right thing to do would be to rotate based on the camera's orientation -- if I shot in portrait and I show in portrait it should fill the screen. However, generally I don't want the display rotate on the small screen, I can just turn the camera in my hands.

Turning off the sensor recording without this mode is incredibly stupid, I hope they fix that in future firmware. Frankly, I would have them rotate the actual picture as they store it with a lossless rotate. It's a pain to have to run special software (theirs sucks) to convert all the pictures after you shoot them. Part of why I wanted the software was to get away from this annoying task.

For a decade or more, video cameras have come with a small pinhole next to the screw tripod mount. Mounting plates have a pin that goes in there to mount the camera securely. Why do still cameras never come with this hole? It would make the mounting much more secure.

The camera has a full zoom in, something the Canon DSLRs were very slow to adopt. But nobody yet has a "smart" zoom-in, which zooms directly to a 1:1 view of the highest contrast element in the scene, or alternately to one of the focus points that it did the autofocus on (though that can move.) This would let me quickly see if shots were blurry or not. If the highest contrast portion of the scene is not in focus, the whole thing is blurry. If it's in focus but was not at the distance of my subject, I know I shot the wrong thing, and can correct it now. You don't see that on the small screen.

Can't say I'm thrilled with combining the on/off for the back-wheel with the on-off for the camera. I always want that wheel on.

And yes, it's time for DSLRs to get live preview. They can do it, they already split the beam a couple of ways -- most of the light to the eyepiece, but part of it to the autofocus/light meter instruments. Low-res sensors are now cheap enough that you could put one in to perform all those roles and also allow live preview. Live preview isn't just for cheap point and shoot cameras. Yes, through-the-lens is better for composing most shots, but I love how on my G5 I can shoot in places I can't get my eye to the viewfinder, like when the camera is held above my head, at my waist, on the ground, on my knee for stability etc.

And nobody has yet imported features like Nikon's Best-Shot-Selector, a bracketing mode which picks the least blurry of a series of shots in low light. Of course you can do this by just keeping all the shots.

But as I said, I am generally satisfied, but it doesn't mean they can't keep improving.

Burning Man photos: Galleries up, new Decompression gallery added

Well, a couple of weeks ago when I announced the phone project at Burning Man, I implicitly was linking to my new galleries for Burning Man 2004. However, let me officially announce those galleries now, plus the addition of a new gallery today.

Enjoy

Digital photo lenses that distort

I like fine camera lenses, but the best quality are very expensive. There are many things that are hard to do in a good lens -- you want a sharp image, of course, over the full flat plane. Over the whole image plane you want low flare, high contrast and low chromatic abberation (ie. red and blue focus in the same spot.) And you want low distortions.

Most camera lenses try to be "rectilinear." That means they try to make a straight line straight in the image. This isn't actually natural, due to perspective straight lines are not straight.

So I wonder if we might soon see a new lens where no effort is made to fix distortions or make the image rectilinear, and all effort goes into the other factors. You are thus expected, with every image, to do digital post-processing to get a non-distorted rectilinear image. That will mean some small loss of image quality at the edges of the image, but probably a less distorted image than ordinary lens physics can deliver -- and a lot less cost -- in exchange.

Of course, this would primarily be for digital cameras, but a film user could also use the lens if they planned to scan their film for digital processing, as most do these days.

Down the road, each lens might contain within it the specifics of its own particular distortions, and the camera might be able to fetch this and either process directly or store it with the image for post-processing. Indeed, the lens might be a cheaply made lens with distortions due to the poor quality elements, or it might be a fine lens with deliberate distortions. (I have wondered if some P&S digicams might be doing this already.)  read more »

Universal underwater photography case

Generally, getting a case to use a camera underwater is expensive. The case has to be custom made for the particular camera, and it has to be full of waterproof push-through button-pushers for all the major controls. Digital cameras have helped a lot, since they can shoot far longer on a "roll" and things like zoom are electronic. They also sell in enough volume that some cases have gotten down to reasonable prices.

But more is possible because most modern digital cameras feature complete electronic control, either by USB or via infrared. This should make it possible to build a generic underwater camera case for whole classes of digital cameras of a certain size. The case itself can be very simple, with no holes or button gaskets. For cameras without infrared remote (or where the IR remote does nothing but a couple of buttons), a small USB to IR converter would allow complete control.

The box is simple, the real brains would be in an underwater-capable IR remote control carried or mounted on the outside of the case. It would need personality modules for new models of cameras but otherwise could be pretty much the same as well.

So you get a much simpler box and you get mass production because you can sell it for any camera. And you can keep it for your next camera. It's a bit bulkier, but that's about it. And it can offer more controls, even some controls that aren't even on the camera in some cases.

Zoom can be a bit tricky. You want to avoid glare off the plexi at the front when the lens isn't up against it. It's possible that might be designed to telescope when you change zoom settings, or the camera itself might gently move in an inner frame. Or it might just have a black bellows "hood" in the space between the lens and the view panel. This problem also exists in custom cases of course.

The same idea could also be applied to above-ground protection in harsh environments (snow, rain, dust etc.) for expensive cameras. There you don't need a pressure seal, just a thick bag with the same remote ability. Shoot happily in the rain.

Transit of Venus 2004

I took a trip to Toronto in part to see the very rare transit of Venus over the face of the Sun. I was lucky enough to get some great photos.

See my gallery of Venus Transit 2004 photos with notes.

Digital Photo Organizing in the future

We're not there yet, but let me write my notes about what future digital cameras might do to help us organize our huge collections of photos:  read more »

  • GPS and compass in the camera knows where it is, and where it was pointing. Thus, if standing on the south rim of Grand Canyon and pointing north, probably a picture of the Grand Canyon. Organize your photos on a map.
  • Record audio said while taking photo if special button pressed. Later, upload audio to PC where it's able to do speaker-dependent speech to text at its leisure to caption the photos.
  • Face recognition. No, I'm not kidding. While this is Big Brother technology, and not very useful in airports, one thing it can do is try to find similar faces. So once you tag your mother, it will be able to search your photo collection for other shots with your mother. This is much easier than trying to take a random person and see if they are on the FBI wanted list.
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