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Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Before and After: or, The Magic of Lightroom

My father got moderately serious about photography some years ago, buying gear and software and taking lessons and so on. I, being less serious about photography, would occasionally ping him for tips, but resisted his suggestion that I invest in a program called Lightroom, because I wasn’t interested in doing all of that post-processing on photos.

Last fall, I made a mistake: I brought a couple of my Poland photos over on a thumb drive and asked my father to show me what Lightroom could do.

I could try to describe to you all the speed with which I fell. I could recount how I told my father on the spot that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was that program. I could rave at the magic even a simple click on “Auto-Tone” can work (on those occasions when Lightroom has good ideas — sometimes I have no idea what crack its algorithms are smoking). But pictures, words, conversion ratio thereof, ne? So here’s a shot I snapped at the Asian Art Museum today. Took this with my phone’s camera, through glass, so not what you would call ideal photography conditions in the first place.

Not only is it not a great photo, it isn’t even a great representation of what my eye saw, standing there. Apart from being fuzzy, it’s too yellow, and you can barely make out the designs on the body of the pot.

So when I got home, I popped my camera pics into Lightroom and commenced mucking about. Here is the result:


Japan pictures

I guess it’s appropriate to use this icon: the Summer Queen, and boy howdy was there summer.

I have finally, after a herculean effort, gotten my pictures from Japan down to something more like a reasonable number. They’re up on Flickr, and if you head over to take a look, you’ll sort of get a partial narrative of our trip. Now that I have them posted, actual narratives will follow soon.

photo organization software

Dear Internets,

What is your preferred program for organizing photos on your computer?

(‘Cause I need something better than what I’ve been using, stat. What I have been using = uh, nothing, actually, just the Windows file system.)

Nearly One Thousand Photos From Japan

a quick open letter from the land of vacation

Dear Dad,

Thankyouthankyouthankyou for teaching me how to do the whole f-stop adjustment thing. OMG. I’m finally able to take the kind of artsy, short depth of field pictures I’ve been trying to achieve since, oh, 1997 or thereabouts. And some of the results are AMAZING.

your now exceedingly trigger-happy photographer-daughter

(P.S. to everybody else: if you have to come to Japan during the summer, aim for Obon; the special events make up for the way you melt to death in the heat and humidity. If any of my shots from the light-up at Kiyomizu-dera come out, they alone will have been worth all the suffering.)

Fifty days!

The countdown continues. Today, I share with you my research photos from last year.

It is, as usual, only a tiny selection from the whole: 39 pictures, when I took somewhere between five hundred and a thousand. But a lot of those are blurry, terrible reference shots from inside dimly-lit museums, or placards reminding me what the next photo in the sequence is, or things that wouldn’t mean much to anybody but me. I chose these to give you a sense of some of the things, places, and people that are important in the novel, with a few tossed in for sheer aesthetic pleasure, and a couple more for nostalgia.

Plus a whole wodge of shots from the Natural History Museum, because the decoration in there really has to be seen to be believed.

The rest of my photos, including those from previous Onyx Court research trips, are here.

revisiting high school chemistry class

My brain is tired, yo.

I just spent a chunk of time taking notes on a bunch of different early photographic techniques: daguerreotypes, calotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, the wet-plate colliodion process, the dry-plate gelatin emulsion, albument prints, etc. My notes are a festival of chemical terms I haven’t used since high school: silver nitrate, potassium bromide, pyrogallic acid. And I’m not yet done; now that I have all this stuff noted down, I need to figure out just how I’m going to use it in the context of the story.

What I wonder — and what my sources don’t tell me — is the extent to which the proliferation of substances and techniques was guided by an understanding of the chemistry behind them, and to what extent it was simple trial and error. I wonder what happens if I add honey into the collodion to slow its drying? What if I add beer instead? The book I’m reading points out that these things are hygroscopic, but it doesn’t say whether that was a known characteristic at the time. I think it must have been, but maybe not; guncotton (a key element of collodion) was invented when a guy used his apron to mop up nitric acid, and then his apron exploded. (Not while he was wearing it, fortunately.) Knowledge of chemistry advanced remarkably between A Star Shall Fall and this book, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t still discovering things through sheer dumb chance.

(Skills I have acquired in the writing of this series: it occurred to me I could look up “hygroscopic” in the OED to get a sense of the term’s development. It doesn’t seem to have been used in quite that manner until 1875, a good decade after the experimentation with honey et. So while the quality itself may have been recognized, it wasn’t something they were talking about in those terms — not yet.)

It’s phenomenal, though, watching the speed with which technology developed. Not quite as fast as (say) digital photography has developed today, but still pretty amazing, given the tools they had to work with. And the results are amazing, too; there aren’t a lot of photographs I can use in researching the book — what I really want are London street scenes, and those are vastly outnumbered by a) portraits and b) cartes-de-visite of random foreign landmarks — but dude. There are photographs of my period. It’s the clearest sign I have of how this book stands on the threshold of the modern age.

The White House Photographer

So apparently it’s been standard practice since Kennedy’s day to pick one official White House photographer, who then hires a flock of other photographers, and the minions shoot various public events but the head guy is the one allowed to wander around behind the scenes, snapping pics while the President is in meetings or on the phone.

According to this Daily Kos diary, Pete Souza is the current White House photographer, and previously held the post during Reagan’s second term. What’s different from Reagan’s day is twofold: first, Obama has apparently given the guy much more extensive access, and second, the White House posts his photos on Flickr.

Looking through them, what gets me is the role Souza’s work has in creating the narrative of a presidency. He’s not the only guy taking photos of Obama, of course, and photos are far from the only record we’ll have. But no matter how much you remind yourself that photos can be just as biased as any other form of art — timing, framing, post-processing — there’s still a subconscious tendency to accept them as “the truth.” And behind-the-scenes photos, doubly so: when the president is out in public, then of course we understand he’s performing a role, but surely in those moments when he’s alone, you see the real person behind the mask.

Except he isn’t alone, is he? The photographer is there. And just as the president is deciding, consciously or unconsciously, what face to show, the photographer is deciding — consciously or unconsciously — what to record.

There’s a startling amount of power in that.

When we see a shot of Obama with his feet on the Oval Office desk, it both frames him as a “regular guy” and connects him with a photographic tradition of other presidents. When we see his marked-up speech, it tells a story of intelligence and thoughtful preparation. When we see him standing alone before an event or while talking on the phone to some foreign leader, it reminds us of the burdens our nation’s leader bears; when we see him in a crowd, it connects him to the people. All of these things create a narrative, but a narrative always has a narrator, and in this case, it’s Pete Souza.

Let me be clear: I’m not bringing this up because I think it’s sinister. I think it’s an excellent idea to document these things, and given the circumstances, it’s amazing enough that one guy gets to run around in meetings and private moments, let alone the prospect of opening that up to multiple photographers. But it’s worth remembering that any documentation is always, always inflected by the person doing the documenting, and so it’s interesting to know who that person is.

Picture time!

Coming home with a cold yesterday made me forget to post the new tidbit for the countdown to A Star Shall Fall.

So here it is, a day late: pictures! These are from my research trip to London last year. It’s only a small subset of the whole (I’ve got a bunch of blurry photos from inside museums I’m not inflicting on you), but I hope it will help with envisioning the places and things that appear in the book.

more pictures

Okay, I finally got off my butt and finished sorting through my hundred and hundreds of pictures from India to cull them down to the 100MB I could upload in a month — only to discover that I’d hit the limit for publicly-available pictures (200), and if I wanted the oldest ones (the Midnight Never Come research set) to be visible, I’d have to either delete some of what I just posted, or upgrade my account. So I upgraded, and now I don’t have to worry about that 100MB limit.

Oh well. It’s probably better for your sanity and mine that I restricted my choices that sharply; otherwise this could be the Photoset That Never Ends. Instead it’s a selection of the better results. I hope you enjoy.

Since setting up a photo gallery on my own site is one of the things I intend to do with the redesign, please take a moment if you haven’t already and give me your thoughts on what the new look should be.