My Blog and Soapbox

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

iOS 7 Icon Design: Will The Shoe Stretch?

SafariDesign is how it looks. Design is how it works. And design is how it feels. These three form a unit and it's very hard to look at them individually.

In the end, how something feels, will always be a function of the recipient. In my personal library I have music that calms me down and makes me happy. And I know there are people who get infuriated by this same music.

It's all about emotion. The trick is to make conscious what evokes that emotion.

Cultural and personal background will always play into our experiences. Whether we discuss questions of spacing between visual elements, or thickness of lines, or if harmonies and rhythms in music feel right or wrong, we will always have to consider those feelings with our enormous shared and individual baggage of life-long cultural and personal experience and conditioning as a backdrop.

I'm a musician. I'm a photographer. I'm a graphic designer.

I see so many analogies between these fields, it's not even funny.

Let's for a moment explore space and color. And harmony.

In music and photography, space is a very important concept. Where we put something in a frame, how it relates to the rest of the frame, how a note is placed in a song and how long the rests around it are, is an important factor in evoking a certain emotional reaction.

Subject
The Subject

Consider a clear and simple photograph: a uniform background, one subject.

You can place the subject bang in the middle, you can take it slightly off-center, or you can put it right next to the edge. Now look at the distance the subject has to the edge of the frame. Any one of those will evoke a different reaction in a viewer.

Ask any number of people how those pictures feel to them and you'll get any number of answers, from just perfect to cramped to boring to edgy. In the end it's highly individual and it comes down to the patterns in our brains that we match these pictures to. Patterns that have been etched into us for our entire lifetime through our every-day experiences with the design around us. And yes, taking a picture, placing things in a frame is an act of design, the same way a musical composition is.

Boring
Boring placement?

Edgy
Edgy placement?

Balanced
Balanced placement?

Moreedgy
Way too edgy?

What I'm trying to say is this: not everybody will be drawn to the same picture. But if I could venture a wild guess, I'd say the majority would go with the Balanced one above. It is probably the one of the bunch that is most mass-compatible. It more or less follows the good old rule of thirds, which puts a bit of tension into the composition without over-stretching things. It takes the subject out of the boring middle and places it in an area of the picture that is a bit more daring, but still feels safe enough and is not too far into the unkonwn, i.e. the edge.

The reason we feel that way has to do with tension. And what we perceive as tension is mainly due do what we're surrounded with every day. How far to the edge is safe? Open any book and check how close the print goes to the edge of the page.

Book
Air to breathe

There is always that safe zone that frames the text on the page. A handle to hold onto. Air to breathe. Enough space for the eye to stop at the end of the line and not fall into the void, off of the edge of the world.

Magazine
Magazine cover playing it safe

The same is true for a more conservative magazine cover. Space gives the subject a frame to comfortably sit in. It's like an old pair of shoes, it's comfy.

Tension
Edgy

And if you break that, if you venture too far into the unknown, you sacrifice balance, you take the safe rug that's under the feet of the viewer and tug at it.

This creates a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of tension.

And the very same is true for the iOS 7 icons. They leave the seemingly safe harbor of previous designs and they become more edgy in the true sense of the word. The new grid emphasizes that. Be bold! Get closer to the unknown! Create more tension!

… all while staying in the confounds of a common framework, the grid.

Icon clock
Clock - pretty safe

Icon appstore
App Store - a bit more edgy

Icon store
iTunes Store - using the color scheme to mix it up even further

And if going closer to the edge wasn't enough, Apple also decided to get more edgy with their color scheme. And that is even more of a cultural pattern that we either know and click with, or that is foreign to us and thus creates tension. Simply because we don't have a reference ready at hand.

Let me give you an example: I'm German. The dashboard of most cars in Germany are black or grey. I travel a lot to the US. When I pick up a US rental car, what strikes me every single time is that its dashboard and most of the interior will be brown, beige or any other earthy tone. It strikes me because that's far outside of my normal experience. On the surface I could say I don't like it, but if I dig deeper, I have to admit that that feeling mostly derives from it being unknown and I'm simply not used to it and that creates tension. I haven't been exposed to it long enough for my brain to create the structures that turn it from an unknown into a potentially more comfortable known. But then even after having developed those neuronal pathways, I might still not like it for other reasons.

Just one potential reason: the color brown has very different connotations to different cultures - no matter if that's conscious or sub-conscious.

I prefer to turn the things that evoke these emotions into conscious ones.

The same is true with music by the way. When I listen to the title track of Some Skunk Funk by the Brecker Brothers (iTunes link), I experience waves of positive emotions. I find this music inspiring, it tickles me in very rewarding ways, it brings me a form of harmony. And I'm positive that the majority of people will hate it because it's too edgy, lacks harmony, is not balanced in their eyes and ears. It's clearly not mainstream.

Eurythmics
Eurythmics

And there were times when I would've thought exactly the same. Until I started to be exposed to more edgy music by others and expose myself more and more to it. Over time I started liking this type of music more and more, without losing my ability to also like There Must Be an Angel by the Eurythmics (iTunes link). I like to think that over time I've added neuronal pathways to my existing ones and gained the ability to enjoy a wider variety of music.

There are many more analogies I could draw between music, photography and graphic design but that would overburden this little blog post. Maybe I need to write a book one day.

Back to Apple and the iOS7 icons. What's with the grid that so many claim is too big? What's with the color scheme that so many don't seem to like?

I don't believe that these designs happened by accident, that they "slipped through". Not at a company that has one of the best design teams in the world and billions of cash in the bank. I bet an arm and a leg that they know really really well what they're doing in this respect, especially now that Jony Ive has the last word on both, hardware and UI design.

Here is my interpretation: the iPhone hardware is virtually invisible once you start interacting with the content on your device. And iOS has become very very comfy over the years. At this point it has also become the most copied design in this field. By shaking it up with a more playful, more colorful, less balanced and more edgy design, Apple achieves several things at once. It brings a freshness and lightness to the game that iOS hasn't had in a long time. It creates contrast between the subdued hardware and the user interface. It attracts a younger customer base (including those who are young at heart, ahem). It gives owners of existing iPhones the feeling of getting a new device for free, thus implicitly building trust.

And last but not least, it's a major kick in the bollocks of all the copycats, namely Samsung.

Apple has often taken a plunge, leaving old things behind, cutting ties to the past. Has it always worked? No. But usually when it has, it has worked really well.

iOS 7's new icons are a bit of a gamble. Will the new shoes fit? Not for everyone and not at first. But like a new pair of shoes, it will stretch over time, Apple will adapt things, and we ourselves will stretch a bit too. And at a point in the future not too far from today - and I'm actually willing to bet on this - the vast majority of us will look back at screenshots of the pre-7 iOS and wonder how we could have ever favored such an old-fashioned and dated design.

Either that or Apple is doomed.


ChrismarquardtChris Marquardt is a photographic mythbuster and the host of Tips from the Top Floor, the world's longest running photography show. He has taught photography all over the world. He is also a guest on the TWiT Network every now and then.


Comments

Bravo, STARCAR. AUSNAHMSWEISE.

Umzug

Hallo STARCAR,

für den Umzug meines Studios habe ich für drei Tage einen Transporter bei dir gemietet. Bekommen habe ich einen Mercedes Vito XL, ein gutes, sauberes Gefährt, mit genügend Platz für meine Ansprüche. Und trotzdem überlege ich mir nun ernsthaft, nächstes mal doch lieber wieder zur Konkurrenz gehen.

Warum? Schauen wir uns das mal etwas genauer an.

The Good

Ich habe genau das erhalten, was ich gebucht habe. Auf der Website stand Mercedes Vito XL und genau den habe ich in deiner Hannoveraner Niederlassung auch erhalten. Bravo, STARCAR. Bei den anderen Vermietern steht in der Regel das Top-Fahrzeug der entsprechenden Klasse auf der Website und im Kleingedruckten findet man dann Fahrzeug ähnlich. Und vor Ort bekommt man dann ein ganz anderes Fahrzeug. (So eben erst in Irland geschehen. Bei der Konkurrenz einen Golf (oder ähnlich) gebucht und einen Opel Astra bekommen). Bei Dir steht das zwar auch so auf der Website, aber das Resultat war deutlich besser. Das war eine gute Erfahrung.

The Bad

Ich ärgere mich immer darüber, wenn Kosten nicht transparent aufgelistet werden. Dazu gehören in deinem Fall die Versicherung und eine (später zu erstattende) Kaution. Im konkreten Fall sind das für die drei Tage knapp 50 Euro Versicherung und eine Kaution von 50 Euro. Beim Online-Reservierungsprozess hast du mir davon natürlich nichts erzählt. Oder wenn, dann nur im Kleinstgedruckten. Beim Abschluss in deiner STARCAR-Filiale fand ich dann plötzlich beide auf der Rechnung. Nun bin ich weder blauäugig, noch ist dies das erste mal, dass ich ein Auto gemietet habe. Trotzdem wurde mir hier beim Buchen ein günstigeres Angebot vorgespielt. Und das ist so nicht in Ordnung. Dafür bekommst Du einen dicken Minuspunkt.

The Ugly

Kommen wir jetzt zum saftigsten Stück, dem eigentlichen Vorgang des Vertragsabschlusses. Und der hat bei mir einen ernsthaftes Grübeln und ein sehr gemischtes Gefühl hinterlassen.

Konkret: nach dem ich online reserviert hatte und keine Bestätigung kam, hatte ich telefonisch nachgefragt, ob das Fahrzeug verfügbar sei. Nachdem mir das zugesagt wurde, habe ich nicht länger auf eine schriftliche Bestätigung gewartet. Diese fand ich heute in meinem Spam-Ordner, was schade ist und von deiner Seite aus vermeidbar gewesen wäre. Sag doch bitte deiner Technik, sie sollen sich mal in die Themen DomainKeys und SPF einlesen.

Auf den folgenden (hier sinngemäß wiedergegebenen) Austausch mit deinem Mitarbeiter hätte ich jedenfalls gerne verzichtet.

Ich lege Führerschein, Pass und Kreditkarte vor.

STARCAR-Mitarbeiter: "Ich brauche dann noch ihren Personalausweis."

Ich: "Habe ich nicht dabei, geht auch was anderes?"

Er seufzt: "Ich brauche ein Dokument mit ihrem Wohnsitz."

Ich: "Warum das denn?"

Er: "Das brauchen wir. Ohne vermieten wir nicht." Dann seufzt er wieder und fügt hinzu: "AUSNAHMSWEISE geht auch ein Fahrzeugschein."

Ich: "Moment, hole ich kurz aus dem Auto."

Ich hole den Fahrzeugschein und lege ihm den vor.

Er: "Da steht aber keine Hannoveraner Adresse drauf."

Ich: "Ich bin mitten im Umzug. Mein Auto habe ich deshalb noch nicht umgemeldet."

Er (untermalt mit einem weiteren Seufzer): "Na ja, AUSNAHMSWEISE."

Moment mal, STARCAR. Ist dir eigentlich klar, wie sich der Kunde nach so etwas fühlt? Ich darf also eigentlich nur bei Dir mieten, wenn ich den Wohnsitz da habe, wo sich deine Niederlassung befindet? Und dann darf ich AUSNAHMSWEISE doch buchen, weil du so gnädig bist? Ich darf also dank der Güte deiner Mitarbeiter, und obwohl ich offensichtlich so viele Fehler gemacht habe und obwohl ich nicht da wohne, wo es dir passt, trotzdem mein Geld über deinen Tresen schieben? Und muss noch dankbar dafür sein?

Irgend was habe ich da wohl nicht verstanden. Eigentlich dachte ich, die Rollenverteilung sieht folgendermaßen aus: Ich bin Kunde. Du bist Dienstleister. Ich gebe dir Geld. Du vermietest mir dafür ein Auto. Du freust dich, dass ich bei dir miete und nicht zu Sixt gehe. Und du zeigst mir diese Freude z.B. in Form guter Behandlung und zuvorkommender Mitarbeiter, die mich wie einen Kunden behandeln und nicht wie einen Bittsteller.

Ohne mich gibt es dich nicht.
Ohne dich gehe ich zum nächsten Anbieter.
Ich habe Alternativen.

Die oben wiedergegebene Interaktion mit deinem Mitarbeiter hat bei mir jedenfalls einen dermaßen öden Geschmack hinterlassen, dass ich das nächste Mal wohl lieber wieder zu Hertz, Sixt oder einem anderen der Großen gehe. Da ist vielleicht auch nicht alles golden, aber so etwas wie bei dir ist mir dort in all den Jahren zumindest noch nicht passiert. Und teurer sind die anderen auch nicht.

Ach ja, und Danke Danke Danke (mit Kniefall und Kuss auf die Füße), dass ich meine 50 Euro Kaution wieder zurück bekommen habe.

Comments

Sicherheitsloch: Outbank schreibt Klartext-Passwort ins System-Log

Outbank LogoIch nutze Outbank auf dem Mac für einfaches Banking und war bisher immer ganz zufrieden damit.

Nach dem aktuellen Update und der damit neuen iCloud-Sync-Funktion, die ich gleich mal ausprobieren wollte, hat sich das Programm dann allerdings auf meinem System etwas fehlerhaft verhalten und hat sich auf meinem Mac Pro beim Beenden aufgehängt.

Wie es sich für einen Geek gehört, bin ich bei der Fehlersuche natürlich auch im Sylog gelandet, denn dort schreiben viele Programme Hinweise über das, was sie gerade tun oder in welche Fehlermeldungen sie sich verheddert haben. Zu finden ist dieses Log und viele andere über das Programm Console, bzw. im Dateisystem unter /var/log/system.log

Zu meiner Überraschung (eher zu meinem Horror) steht dort jetzt mehrfach im Klartext (ja, KLARTEXT!!) mein OutBank-Passwort. Einfach so. Also ob es das normalste der Welt wäre, Passwörter unverschlüsselt in Logfiles zu schreiben.

Bin ich falsch informiert, oder ist dieses Vorgehen ein absolutes No-No? Zumindest fühlt sich das für mich wie ein scheunentorgroßes Sicherheitsloch an. Die zentrale System-Log-Datei ist kein Platz für Passwörter, schon gar nicht im Klartext!

Bis das repariert ist, kann ich nur jedem raten: Finger weg von Outbank!

Firma Stoeger IT, bitte umgehend reparieren.

Update: kurz nach meinem ersten Tweet hat sich Stoeger IT per Twitter gemeldet:


Shot340

Es bleiben auf meiner Seite einige offenen Fragen: wie schnell kommt das Update? Was passiert mit den bereits in der system.log abgelegten Klartextpasswörtern? Wird das Update von Outbank die system.log "reinigen"? OSX komprimiert und sichert über einen bestimmten Zeitraum automatisch alte Stände der system.log, was passiert mit diesen Sicherungen, bleiben die Klartextpasswörter darin erhalten?

Comments

Bilder gratis? Ja, aber...

Sehr geehrter Herr Marquardt,

wären Sie damit einverstanden, dass wie eines Ihrer Bilder für die Internetseite der black bar Fakultät der Uni black bar verwenden? Selbstverständlich würden wir Sie als Urheber benennen sowie einen entsprechendne Link bei den Bildnachweisen anbringen. Wir könnten uns vorstellen, dass dies auch eine schöne Werbung für Sie darstellt.

Es ginge hierbei um folgendes Bild, welches sich auf ihrer Happyshooting-Seite befindet.: black bar

Ich freue mich auf Ihre Antwort und danke Ihne bereits für Ihre Mühe.

Beste Grüße,
black bar

---

Das Bild dürfen Sie gerne verwenden unter Angabe "Foto: Chris Marquardt" und Link zu http://www.chrismarquardt.com in direkter Nähe des Bildes.

Schöne Grüße,
Chris Marquardt

---

Guten Abend Herr Marquardt,

leider entspricht es nicht den Richtlinien zur Gestaltung von Websiten der Uni black bar, den Bildnachweis direkt am Bild anzubringen. Wären Sie auch damit einverstanden, Sie - wie die anderen Urheber - im Impressum der Seite samt Link aufzuführen?

Mit Ihrer Zustimmung würden Sie uns wirklich sehr helfen.

Beste Grüße
black bar

---

Hallo Herr black bar,

leider entspricht es nicht meinen eigenen Richtlinien, Bilder ohne entsprechenden Link in unmittelbarer Nähe (zumindest auf der selben Seite) für eine Gratisnutzung zur Verfügung zu stellen. Ich lebe von der Fotografie und damit auch davon, dass meine Bilder mit meiner Person in Bezug gebracht werden können. Sobald die entsprechende Nennung oder ein Link in einen anderen Bereich der Website, z.B. ins Impressum, verschoben wird, wird diese Assoziation für den Betrachter unnötig erschwert bis unmöglich. Die Nennung des Rechteinhabers bzw. Urhebers in der Nähe des Bildes ist zum Beispiel in Zeitungen üblich. Falls das in Ihrem Fall nicht möglich sein sollte, müssen Sie leider verstehen, dass ich der Nutzung nicht zustimmen kann.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Chris Marquardt

Comments

Chris, when will your apps be available on Android?

AndroidEvery time I release an update or a new iPhone app, I get this question. Will there be an Android version? When can we have it?

It is very very flattering that you are so interested in these apps. I wish, it was easy to just write these apps for every platform. I would even like to be able to do them for PalmOS and WebOS. But it's a simple game of economics that keeps me from doing it.

Incident Light Meter is a hobby project, it's pretty much a very small niche app that I've written myself, in my spare time. Chances are that through app sales I won't even recoup the time that I have invested in the research.

The only reason I could do Incident Light Meter is because I already spent a lot of time to acquire the basic skills and infrastructure to write iOS apps (this includes a ton of paperwork). It was an interesting experience, and it was very much outside of what I actually love to do, teaching photography.

I actually spent time and tried to get comfortable with Android development, but got stuck fairly early in the process. Then there is fragmentation. Even if I could to develop an Android app, to make the experience as good as with the iOS PocketChris apps, I would have to have at least 5 to 10 different Androids devices lying around here for testing. Different screen sizes, different processor capabilities, different operating system versions.

The dirty truth is, most developers don't make a lot of money with their apps. None of the PocketChris apps are mainstream enough to be a big seller. And I don't have the marketing power behind these apps that others do. So in the end, they serve a small audience, and I am glad that they make just enough to recoup the development costs.

And it only works, because I do most of the work myself. Johannes might disagree, as he has written the framework for the educational PocketChris apps. But he only had to write that once. For every new educational PocketChris app, it is full writing and sorting and editing and picture editing effort for me.

So again, I wish I could do PocketChris for every single platform, but if I don't learn these skills myself, chances are it won't happen. And I don't see my core competency see in writing software, it's in teaching photography and making people better photographers.

… unless you are an excellent Android developer who wants to prove me that it is easy and that it can be done without much effort and with excellent results across different Android devices and OS versions.


Comments

Thirteen travel tips in case Air Canada loses your luggage

NewImage

So I've had this little incident where Air Canada lost my luggage. Happened to me before. Not with Air Canada, but with Lufthansa. In Germany. They got it back to me within 4 hours.

Not so with Air Canada. It's a long story, you can read the details here.

So just in case you end up in the same situation and Air Canada (or any other airline for that matter) loses your luggage, here are my travel tips in case Air Canada loses your luggage as presented via Twitter:

Travel tip #1 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: always have a spare pair of socks and underpants in your carry-on.

Travel tip #2 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: wear fast-dry trekking clothes. Helps if you need to do emergency laundry in the sink.

Travel tip #3 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: a flat iron doubles as a laundry drying device if you had to wash clothes in the sink.

Travel tip #4 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: keep any even remotely needed medication in your hand luggage.

Travel tip #5 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: if your shaver is in the luggage, pretend your beard is a fashion statement.

Travel tip #6 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: Febreze air freshener is a great stand-in for deodorant. Never mind the floral smells.

Travel tip #6b in case Air Canada loses your luggage: Go to hostel & get free food. You will look & smell like a tramp. (thanks Simon)

Travel tip #6c in case Air Canada loses your luggage: Underpants can be worn for four days. Inside out and back to front. (thanks Simon)

Travel tip #6d in case Air Canada loses your luggage: After 2 days, use fly killer spray instead of deodorant. (thanks Simon)

Travel tip #6e to avoid Air Canada losing your luggage: Send luggage using DHL or UPS, don't consign it to your flight. (thanks Simon)

Travel tip #7 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: if after wearing the same clothes for 50 hours strangers offer you money, take it.

Travel tip #8 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: do NOT check any bags. I repeat: DO NOT check any bags. Ever.

Travel tip #9 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: shaving your hair off before the trip will save you from having to wash it later.

Travel tip #10 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: now that airlines charge $25 per bag, sending via DHL might be a better deal.

Travel tip #11 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: keep your Twitter devices always with you (thanks dl1ely)

Travel tip #12 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: before you complain, make sure you actually checked a bag (thanks Sven656)

Travel tip #13 in case Air Canada loses your luggage: don't be ridiculous, there's no tip #13, airlines don't do #13

Comments

Photo Day LIVE on August 18 2pm Pacific

Tfttftwit

It's another Photo Day and Chris has made his way up to the TWiT Brick House in Petaluma to talk photography with Leo Laporte and his guests!

The theme for this Photo Day is Photography outside the mainstream.

Among many other topics, Chris will hang out in studio to talk with Leo and his guests to talk about the origins of Tilt/Shift, taking pictures from kites, digging up 1850s photo technology to create true works of arts and - of course - he'll answer your questions!

Guests include Leo Laporte (Chief TWiT), Cris Benton (Kite Aerial Photography), Paul Sergeant (Tintype Studio) and Susan and Neil Silverman (travel photographers extraordinaire).

Tune in Saturday August 18, 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern / 23:00 Central European time!

Follow the show live at http://live.twit.tv/

Ask audience questions via Twitter (hashtag #photoday2012) or at http://tfttf.com/photodayquestion

Comments

Dear Tokyo Shangri-La Hotel - I Dont Have A Budget Either

Road to roccastradaDear Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo,

when I received a Flickr mail from your Digital Marketing Manager I was positively surprised. He wrote about how they did a guest chef event at their hotel, how the guest chef was from Firenze (aka Florence in Tuscany, Italy), how he liked my Tuscany pictures on Flickr and how they would like to create a facebook album with a Tuscany theme, which my pictures would be a perfect fit for and if they could use my work in return for links and credit.

In general I'm not at all opposed to these sort of deals, I believe that there are a lot of occasions where both sides benefit from them. I've done my share of pro bono work and I keep doing it as long as it feels right to both sides. I trust my gut.

However, if the commercial interest on one side is fairly clear to me, I believe I have the moral right to ask for compensation.
So I replied to the Tokoy Shangri-La Hotel Digital Marketing Manager and told him that photography is what I do for a living and that therefore I couldn't just give the pictures away for free.

From here this could have gone several ways. The Tokyo Shangri-La Hotel could have made me an offer, or they could have declined.

They did the latter, but their reasoning really surprised me. The reply I received concluded with "We very much appreciate your offer, however, unfortunately we don't have a budget for this event."

Wait. Say that again. "…we don't have a budget for this event…" - No budget for the event? Really? Does that mean you can't pay the guest chef? And the waiters? And the kitchen staff? How about the sommelier? And the Maitre D'? No budget…

Luckily I did have a budget when I bought the camera and the lenses that I took these pictures with, when I spent years of my life training my eyes and gathering the experience that allowed me to take these pictures, when I bought the computer that I post-processed the pictures on, when I bought the software that I used to post-process the pictures with, when I bought the colorimeter to calibrate my computer's screen so the colors of the pictures would look pleasing, when I paid for my Flickr pro account that allowed me to host these pictures online, so you could easily find them and ask me if I would give you my photography for free.

Sorry, Shangri-La Hotel in Tokyo, but sometimes little things like this make me get up on my soapbox.

PS: when I come to Tokyo in January 2013, could I stay at your place for free for a few nights? I don't have a budget for a hotel and I believe you've got those rooms around anyway...

Comments

Facebook is stalking me

Back in August 2011 I quit facebook. I had asked them to delete my account and my data. And I didn't contact them in any way since, to keep them from re-activating my account. They are a bit sneaky about that.

Today I've received a mail from Facebook telling me that Fred Suchandsuch (name changed) wants to be my friend on Facebook.


I don't like to receive mails like that. But what I find outright shocking is that in that mail they included a list of other people who over nine months ago had asked to be my friends.

"Other people have asked to be your friend on Facebook. Accept this invitation to see your previous friend requests"

Excuse me? Facebook is still using the very data that I asked them to delete 9 months ago and they're playing the emotional blackmail card.

From now on Facebook mails are going to my spam folder.

Have you had anything like that happen to you?
Comments

Facepalm-worthy ads

Ad Fail

Graphic designers, please look over the edge of your screen every now and then. And people who hire them, please give graphic designers some information of the context in which the ad will be featured. Not knowing those circumstances might have a huge impact on how it will be seen. Or if it will be seen at all.

I just came across the above example where YouTube's "Skip Ad »" link pretty much covers up the company name of the advertiser. I guess that was probably not intended.

And it reminds me of when my brother (also a graphic designer) told me about a client who wanted a QR code on the bottom right side of a billboard that would be placed flush to the ground, forcing every passer-by who wanted to scan the QR code to get on their knees.


Comments

What's going on at Adobe?

Lightroom4Logo Back in early March, when Adobe released Lightroom 4, they introduced a nasty bug that would kill people's custom tone curve adjustment after the upgrade from LR3. As I use tone curve adjustments all the time, this bug hit me especially hard, which is why I became very vocal about it very quickly.

It is now May, about two months after the initial Lightroom 4 release.

What has changed in those two months? Unfortunately not a lot. Has Adobe delivered an updated version that fixes the issue? Not really. Adobe acknowledged that the bug exists, they released Lightroom 4.1 RC1, a release candidate that apparently fixed the issue, then they released Lightroom 4.1 RC2, the second release candidate added new features (32bit HDR TIFF support, better color fringing controls).

The one thing that everybody expected from Adobe and that has not happened though: Adobe did not release an official 4.1 version yet. They had two months for it. Instead they decided to add new features. Also, over the last two months, photographers who paid for Lightroom 4 and wanted to use it for the new features, had to make do with half-tested pre-release software (yes, pre-release, that's what a "release candidate" is).

Not just that, but the first 4.1 release candidate introduced new bugs, including that publishing to Flickr doesn't work anymore (which, they claim, is fixed in RC2)

Adobe?! What is going on? Did you decide to abandon in-house quality assurance and instead rely entirely on end user beta testing? Is introducing new features more important than providing a stable and working version 4.1? This all leaves an uneasy aftertaste with me.

Adobe, when can your users who already paid for the software two months ago expect a working release?

Comments

When things get touchingly nice and massively frustrating at the same time. *SIGH*

MG 3355I've got a challenge: I have several DTS 5.1 audio CDs. It's a format that isn't too common, but I have them and they have surround audio on them. Note: they are CDs, not DVDs. That's an important detail.

I want to make digital copies of the CDs onto my hard drive. On my Mac and that turns out to be by far not as easy as it seems.

My first idea was to create disk images. Disk Utility doesn't create images of audio CDs. Next try.

VLC was the next thing I went for. Partial success here, it can transcode the CD to 6-channel WAV, but VLC won't let me do individual tracks, or at least I haven't found out how to do it. My tries ended in VLC doing all the tacks and pipe them into a single file, overwriting it with the next track, then with the next track, to end up with one WAV file that contains the last track of the CD.

Also VLC apparently doesn't read the track names (which I assume are on the CD). Instead I get Track 1, Track 2, …

All it seems is that I need to find a a way to rip those CDs to 6-channel WAVs using VLC and being able to batch this somehow. I haven't found that way just yet. I'm using VLC 1.1.12 on Lion.

*SIGH* … I had that a lot in my former life as a sys admin. After having tried 100 things, it sucks to be told you should contact your sys admin.

So I asked on Twitter.

Which is probably the wrong place to go to for things like this in the first place. Everyone is very sweet and wants to help, so they google this for me despite me telling them that I've already done so. Problem is, they google based on my 140 character question or come back with assumptions based on that limited knowledge, while I've already done the googling with the knowledge what I'm looking for. And I know my Google abilities. I believe they are quite good.

So while I'm thankful for people trying to help me, I get incredibly frustrated because Twitter is the wrong medium. The only reason I'm still using it for this is because it is very fast and I don't want to wait for a few days until someone in a newsgroup or on a forum answers my question.

I guess I'll have to keep on searching...

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We Need Less, Not More

Hole by Chris Marquardt
Hole by Chris Marquardt

Haven't been up on my soapbox in a while…

I have taught photography to over a thousand of students, among them many really good photographers who often weren't aware why they were great, but I have also been surprised at times as some of the more professional appearing ones weren't even able to do basic things like setting up custom white balance for a specific light situation.

There is a part of me that loves to see all the nifty photo gadgets that brilliant people come up with, but I've also been watching the development of the camera landscape with a concerned eye.

There are a lot of automated sub-systems in our cameras. Focus, exposure and white balance are the important ones among quite a few.

But the smarter these systems seem to get, the more decisions they take away from the photographer, the more the photographers lose the ability to make the right decisions.

I've seen this over and over again this year during the workshops.

It's not the photographers' fault of course. The philosophy of the camera manufacturers is quite understandable: take as many of the complicated photography stuff as possible and make the decision (and set the setting) for the photographer. This way many of the less technically inclined people out there can pick up a camera and quickly get results, which will make them happy, and as a result they will buy more cameras.

The big issue with this approach is that even though the automatic systems get it right most of the time, the camera will never be able to know the photographer's intention. How can the camera know that I'm not at all interested in exposing for the face, but instead I want to show a silhouette? How should the camera know that I actually want this shot to be bluish cool and unfriendly instead of giving it a caribbean sunset white balance? And how should the camera be able to anticipate that I deliberately want to blow out the sky in this picture?

The philosophy of me as the photography trainer is substantially different from that of the manufacturer: if you want to tell a story (and let's face it, a good story is usually what makes a good photograph), you need to make the tools that help you tell that story do the right things. The tool in this case is your camera. And making it do the right thing means to know how to make it expose, focus and white balance in exactly the way you want.

And that's a skill set that more and more photographers have either lost, or they never had the incentive to learn.

Relying on the automatisms of the camera and getting it right 80% of the time might be good enough for many photographers.

I want those remaining 20% to be under my control too.

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Dirty little iPhone secret

Non-photography infrastructure time! I listened to the German Bits und so tech podcast the other day and they talked about apps automatically starting in the background when you boot your iPhone 4 - and potentially other multitasking iPhones.

Wait a minute.

I was under the assumption that only Apple stuff was starting up during an iPhone boot, such as the mail system, and various other daemons (that's how background processes are called in the unix world, and iOS is a unix-type operating system).

So I did a little testing using iStats, an iOS app that will give you a list of running processes.

Here are my findings - and they explain why even the very fast iPhone 4 tends to get a bit slower over time, depending on what you install:

Skype: starts up in the background automatically after reboot if it's been running at shut down time. If you kill Skype and then reboot, it won't automatically start.Pocket Informant: seems to start up in the background automatically as long as it's installed. Haven't found a way to keep it from doing that.Google Latitude: starts up in the background as long as you are logged in inside the app.


These were the processes that were obvious to me, I might have missed some though.

Fact is, there apparently is a mechanism for apps to automatically start up when you boot the iPhone. They then consume RAM and CPU without you being aware of it, which will result in some form of slowdown and battery drain.

On the one hand I am totally for making this device a black box, the user shouldn't have to know about processes, daemons, background execution and so forth. On the other hand I'm enough of a geek to want to know why my iPhone gets a bit sluggish from time to time.

It obviously makes sense for something like Skype to run in the background, so you can receive calls, but in case of Google Latitude I was under the assumption that if I didn't start it, it wouldn't run. Now I finally understand why Google keeps sending me emails reminding me that I've got Latitude running. They want to make sure this doesn't turn into some form of shitstorm.

I'm still a bit surprised that it took me so long to find out about this.
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Best app for writers. But the logo...

scrivenerlogo.pngI write. Articles, chapters for PocketChris, notes for podcasts. A lot of this writing needs to be managed, some chapters for PocketChris are in draft, some in review, some at the editor, some ready for testing. It has a tendency to turn into a real mess.

Things have been a lot easier since I found Scrivener. It helps me structure the work and it helps me track status. It helps me output my work into a clean format. It is not a word processor, it's a writing tool.

There's just one thing that keeps bugging me, one thing that I keep tripping over again and again, several times a day, and it happens while I'm not even using the application.

It's the icon.

Or rather a side-effect of it. It's not that I don't like it. This is about the way it interacts with the OSX dock.

The dock has been designed among other things to give you one important piece of information at a glance: if an application is running or not. For a while now, OSX has been doing that by placing a bright dot below the icon.

Here's the Lightroom icon with the app not running:

Dock.png

And here it is while Lightroom is on.

LR_on.png

Here is the Scrivener icon with the application not running:

Dock-1.png

And here it is with Scrivener running:

Dock-2.png

Do you see the difference? The reflection of the white dot/apostrophe/comma of the Scrivener icon almost looks like the dot OSX adds when the app is running. The placement of the reflection is almost exactly where the dot is. And it's bright enough that almost every time I look at the dock I do a double take to see if Scrivener is running or not.

It's a minor thing. It's small. It's really not important. Most people will never notice it.

It drives me nuts.

(I still love you Scrivener)

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It's the lizard's fault...

STOPI love reading Seth Godin's blog. He often puts up one of those little pieces of wisdom that make me go "oh, right, I knew that..."

This one is about the lizard brain and how it gets in the way of shipping stuff.

With shipping Seth means about anything that you produce, anything that gets out there and that can be criticized. By you, by others. It goes even beyond that, but we'll stick with this for the sake of this article.

Several years ago I underwent an important transition. I began to allow myself to not be perfect. To ship stuff that my lizard brain would've not be happy about. This lead to a lot of good things. I got more practice in shipping stuff and thus got better at it. With practice I became better at judging when things were ready enough to be shipped. And as a result I gained more experience in dealing with the things that frightened me.

I learned that people will accept it even if it's not perfect. People will even appreciate to see that you are a human being with flaws like theirs. You will not be ripped to pieces when making a mistake. As long as you own up to it and fix it.

Case in point: Today I got an email from my friend Andres in Argentina. He has an old iPod touch that is caught in iOS 3.1.3. No update possible. I though it was a good choice to release PocketChris Advanced with a minimum requirement of iOS 4.0. What I didn't account for was that iTunes on a computer will allow you to download any version of an app, no matter if your device supports it or not.

So here's a case where people potentially can spend a couple of bucks on something and then find out they won't be able to use it. Not a lot of people, but still too many.

Instead of spending a lot of time trying to think up each and every corner case that might happen, and in the process losing a lot of time, I decided to take a decision that felt right and go with it. As a result we now have a problem. But we also have an app out there that works for 99% of iOS device owners out there.

A quick conversation with Johannes who does the software dev on PocketChris and I knew we had a way to fix it.

So the fix is now in the app store, PocketChris Advanced Photography will be available on devices as low as iOS 3.1 and we'll work around the potential issues with that inside the app.

So there, lizard brain!

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Weapon Of Choice

Update: There is an audio version of this blog entry available now.

SpeedIt's not the camera, it's the photographer, dummy!

Or is it?

This is not a blog post about analog vs. digital! I still love to stir when discussions around this boil up, especially as I see myself rooted in both camps. Whoever is trying to pry a wedge in between analog and digital is trying to pry it right through my middle.

And I really don't like to be wedged into two pieces.

Jest aside, I think I have always been something of a wanderer between the worlds. Having spent almost two decades firmly rooted in the analog 35mm world, the step into digital was like a breath of fresh air. Finally the speed I wanted. Fast results. During the early years technically sub par, but catching up to the analog side pretty quickly.

I'm probably going to be beat up for this by a many of the data sheet lovers, but in my book, today's digital photography is fast, clean, reproducible, reliable, sharp, unerring, accurate and precise, whereas analog photography is unprecise, moody, messy, slow, unreliable and error prone.

Despite all this, I have rediscovered the analog world and embraced it wholeheartedly for reasons that I have elaborated many times over the last months, on Tips from the Top Floor, here on this blog, on Twitter and on many of the workshops.

But this post is not about analog vs. digital. Did I mention I don't like building camps? It is about learning new things about photography, about understanding them and in the process about why I'm adapting one of my most important pieces of advice.

In the past you could often hear me say "It's not the camera, it's the photographer!" and in general this still holds true. If you are a real photographer, the camera you use will usually be an afterthought. You will likely be able to adapt your working style with a given tool to get close to your envisioned result.

Shakespeare could certainly write with all sorts of different utensils. But I'm pretty sure even he had a favorite quill or two. Maybe he even used different tools to write different kinds of things? (I know I'm on thin ice here, Shakespeare connoisseurs. Help a brother out in the comments please!)

As a photographer it is your vision that counts and based on what you wish to create, and what circumstances you work under, you will either make your existing tool work as good as possible, or you will choose your weapon based on what you need.

And this is where I admit, my It's the photographer, not the camera! starts to crumble a bit. I adopted it while still being rooted in the 35mm world. I simply hadn't seen enough other things yet.

Now that I have explored both dry and wet photography (e.g. digital and analog), and almost every format from the small 18x18mm to the large 4x5", with over fifteen different cameras with different technologies, dating from 1926 until today, I must admit that the differences between these cameras really do influence my photography.

It starts with something as simple as the aspect ratio . The 3:2 ratio of the DSLR feels very different from the 1:1 ratio that a 6x6 medium format camera delivers. 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, ... they all speak different visual languages and they all reflect back into how you compose images.

Downside Up
Downside Up, 6x6 medium format,
camera: Pentacon six
(click for big)

Some of them will only let you focus by the distance scale on the lens. Auto focus? Pah. Rangefinder? Not really. Just a scale in feet. You do the best guesswork you can, or you measure it out. The result: not really always that well in focus. It slows you down, it makes you take more time to get the picture right. It trains your inner eye, because you have to work that grey matter to visualize what the resulting image might be.

Wrapped Tree
Wrapped Tree, 6x6 medium format,
camera: Voigtländer Bessa

Different film sizes will influence your choice of focal lengths, which in turn will influence the depth of field you get. Another reason to choose the right tool for the right job. Traditional portraiture with a 1/4" sensor might be on the difficult side. Or if your vision requires everything to be in focus, it might be the perfect tool for the job.

Right fin
Right Fin, 6x6 medium format,
camera: Pentacon six

Then the sound. Some cameras are in your face, with massive mirror slap and a sound that reminds more of a gun than of a camera, some of them are very shy and contained so that you won't even know if that click was the shutter going off. When shooting portraits, this can make a huge difference for the subject. For some people the loud ka-lunk of a Mamiya 645 is exactly what they need, whereas other subjects will appreciate the subtle sound (and size) of a Leica rangefinder (not that I'd have one).

Some cameras are heavy beasts to carry around, look at the Pentax 6x7 for example. Give it a decent lens and a pair of hand grips and the Nikon D700 will look small in comparison. Size will influence how you work with a camera. Sometimes size will dictate how you handle the film you have with you. Monika for example took her Pentax 6x7 to some indoor locations the other day. Due to the lack of high-speed material, and due to her unwillingness to carry a tripod, she decided to shoot Kodak Tri-X at ISO 1600 and attempt a push development, something a lot of people claim cannot be done with good results. I think her results are stunning! (here's an article she wrote in German with some pictures)

Even though my entire analog camera collection together has cost me less than a single full DSLR outfit with a hand full of lenses, I admit that having some fifteen different cameras to work with is probably not the reality most of the readers of this blog find themselves in. So I won't suggest that you go out to build that collection. What I suggest though is that you start building some awareness of what types of photography the camera you have leads itself to and how that in turn influences how you approach photography in general.

It's a journey.

If you have photography friends, why not swap equipment for a weekend to experience what kind of changes working with a different tool might introduce to your way of working. By the way, photo workshops (shameless plug, I know I know) are a great opportunity for that too.

What is your way of keeping things fresh and not get too comfortable in those old worn-out shoes?

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Spaß, Wissen, Lernen, Verstehen, Kreativität

Anlass für diesen Post war ein kleiner Sonntags-Twitter-"Rant", und der erwuchs mir über das Unverständnis gegenüber diversen Menschen, die das mit dem Lernen anscheinend nicht ganz verstanden haben.

Das geht nämlich so: am Anfang steht der Spaß und das Spiel. Denn nur so kann echte Begeisterung für ein Thema entstehen. Ich kenne niemanden, der durch das Lernen der Grundlagen über Blende, Belichtung und Brennweite eine echte Begeisterung für das Thema Fotografie entwickelt hätte.

Die Begeisterung entsteht dadurch, dass man das Medium spielerisch erfährt und begreift. Im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes be-greift. Mit den Händen. Ein Bild macht. Es möglichst auch noch ausdruckt und in Händen hält. Das selber machen ist hier ganz wichtig. Hat zufällig heute noch jemand irgendwas im Regal stehen, was er als Kind getöpfert hat? Wenn nicht, dann doch mindestens eine starke Erinnerung. Die hat was mit anfassen und machen zu tun. Das digitale und rein virtuelle Bild steht hier klar hinten an.

Aber hier soll es ja nicht um analoge Fotografie gehen. Hier geht es um etwas gaaanz anderes. *hüstel*

Also, die Kette geht weiter. Spaß und Spiel wecken den Wissensdurst, und so will der Mensch plötzlich an die Informationen, die ihn an anderer Stelle so nie interessiert hätten.

Und aus dieser Information wird dann durch Wiederholung schließlich Wissen. Wissen ist nicht Information. Verwechseln viele.

Immer im Vordergrund steht der Wunsch nach mehr Tiefe. Aber nur wenn dieser Wunsch durch den Spaß in die Welt kommt, wird echtes Verstehen daraus.

Und jetzt sind wir bei diesen Menschen angelangt, die etwas, was sie verstanden haben, in etwas anderes übertragen können. Menschen, die mit ihrem Wissen neues machen. Nicht da gewesenes. Menschen, die eines mit dem anderen kombinieren. Und am Ende entsteht etwas.

Das nennt man dann Kreativität. Und die erzeugt wieder Spaß und eine ganz tiefe Zufriedenheit.

Und so schließt sich der Kreis.

Schönen Sonntag noch :)

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Alter Hut? Oliver Kalkofes Keynote auf den Münchener Medientagen 2007

(this one's in German only, sorry)

Diese Keynote ist schon drei Jahre alt, trotzdem immer noch voller Wahrheiten. An sich traurig, aber erklärt sehr gut, warum ich Fernsehverweigerer bin. Definitiv hörenswert.

Zwei Minuten über die Intro hinwegspulen, dann ein Stündchen lang immer wieder nicken und vielleicht sogar Konsequenzen ziehen. Besser ist die Situation in den letzten drei Jahren nicht wirklich geworden, oder?

» Oliver Kalkofe: Keynote Münchener Medientage 2007

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Waah, I'm turning into a blogger...

pianimation20There's a really fun development going on here, and I love it. I always wanted to blog more, and now I'm doing it.

If you follow this blog, you'll know that I've been blogging more and more lately. And I can clearly see why this is happening.

Reason #1: I'm in writing mode

I've been spending so much time writing for PocketChris lately, that my brain has started developing new synapses, re-wiring parts of itself into writing mode. It's getting easier and easier to quickly jot something down, to put an idea in writing without having to think lots about it.

Reason #2: I realized that shorter ideas are okay too

There was this time when I thought a blog entry that I wrote needed to have an earth-shattering idea in it, something fundamentally big. That's just not true. I came to realize that sometimes things that I find mind-boggling are boring for others and vice versa. So it's easier for me to pick up a thought that I simply find interesting and write about it.

Reason #3: The blog content is not taking away from other content

For some reason I was always afraid that using something here would kind of render it invalid to use in other places, such as the podcasts. I now know that that's BS. Rather the opposite. By writing about something, I will think more about it, get a clearer picture about it, and be able to talk better about it. So in addition to being my soapbox, this blog has also to a certain extent turned into a bit of a testing facility for ideas that might later show up on the podcasts or in other venues.

Reason #4: The right tools make it easier

I use MarsEdit to blog. It's an offline blog editor that interfaces with Wordpress, Blogger, and lots more. It allows me to write anywhere without having to be connected to the net. It allows me to prepare multiple entries in advance, or work on several posts side by side, adding information here and there (even though 90% of my posts get written and posted on the spot). I also got myself a Macbook Air 11" and it's a tiny, lightweight, unexpectedly snappy and powerful miracle. Blogging is just one of the many things this little wonder machine does with flying colors. Compiling PocketChris on the road is another one.

Photo: zen

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Unfollow Sunday

twitter-logo_000.jpeg_bigger.pngFor a long time I've been trying to find out what makes me so mad about posts in my Twitter timeline that say "I'm at somethingsomething http://4sq.com/somethingsomething"

I follow a lot of real people, I love interacting with real people and I'm grateful that so many real people follow me. Fact is though, that these types of post make me so mad, that a while ago I have started unfollowing these people, unless there is a very compelling reason why I want them in my timeline.

After diggin deeper I think I've got it. Twitter in essence replicates a big cocktail party for me. You stand in little groups, you chat about stuff, you exchange information, you ask questions, then you hop over to a different group, do the same, then someone may do something hilarious and everyone gives them attention, then the groups go back to chatting about what they were chatting about.

It's an inhererntly human thing. Humans interacting. Real humans interacting with real humans. Any sort of automatism feels like all of a sudden a bad copy of Eliza rolls into the room on little squeaky wheels and starts spamming you with invitations to other parties in another house, maybe even in another city.

It's just wrong.

I pride myself in hand-posting each and everything that I send to Twitter. Even those posts that link to my blog. Or those that link to fun stories. I read, I find the stories, I write a short blurb, I shorten the link, then I manually press send and it goes out.

There is a fundamental difference here.

The same is also true for those who have their blogs auto post to Twitter. It's turning Twitter into an automated spam hell. And I don't like this. Manual spam I can live with to a certain extent. At least someone has put some human effort in it.

Can I distinguish the two? Sometimes I can't, but where I clearly can, I usually hit the unfollow button. Sorry foursquare, your model just doesn't ring with me. Sorry foursquare users, it's nothing personal, it just doesn't work for me at all this way.

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The Post Digital Photography Era




Because I do two shows on photography, and because I'm a very curious person, I keep close tabs on a lot of the things that go on in photography. Every day something new happens, something gets invented, something becomes popular or disappears back into obscurity. Remember the disposable flash bulb? Remember the Kodak Disc? Photography is very much alive. It has always been. Some trends will only be of interest to a select few, some will gain wider interest and some even become so well known, that you see them being used over and over.

An example? HDR became pretty hip pretty fast back when HDR processing software Photomatix was released, especially when used in the form of a way-over-the-top effect. Now, several years later, I see more and more people using it the way it was originally meant to be used: to subtly increase the dynamic range of an image. Another example? The tilt effect (also often mistakenly referred to as the tilt/shift effect) that allows you to make regular scenes look like miniatures is one of those trending examples. It has been around forever, but it only became popular a few years ago. And it already is beginning to look somewhat old and dated.

It's easy to look at these trends as unrelated events, but the sheer amount of interesting things that have popped up over the last few years makes me believe that we are actually at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how the medium of photography is perceived and how it's being used in more creative ways than ever.

The Analog Clean Room

Some of us, myself included, come from a film SLR background where it was crucial to get the best, the slickest and most reproducible results. Good glass and technique helped to make sure you didn't end up with any unwanted vignetting, and it was a sign of quality of your equipment and work if you pictures had the desired level of sharpness and contrast next to a good composition. Cropping was done when enlarging photos, but it was less practical when shooting slide film, unless you used my method of cropping the slides by sticking black electrical tape on them.

The Digital Clean Room

Then all of a sudden digital was there, and even though I gave up a lot of control, my first two mega pixel camera with its tiny sensor, its from today's perspective horrible dynamic range, and the overprocessed JPG images that it produced - JPG was the only choice - even with all that, there was something magical about the instant feedback and the possibility to try as often as I liked to get the desired result. The first DSLR followed a while later and it gave me back control. And perfection. Overexposed? Correct and shoot again. Got the framing wrong? Move the camera, shoot again. White balance off? Fix in post. Almost like a computer game where you have an infinite amount of lives. Died during the boss fight? Try again. And again.

Spray and Pray

There are a lot of situations where the spray and pray approach is the only one that will allow you to get the exact result you want. There are a lot of jobs and situations where digital is the only way to go, and I love to be able to quickly grab the camera, take a 21 mega pixel picture and post it online before an analog photographer can even get the film to the lab.

But if you take a look beyond that, you are bound to realize that for more and more photographers the digital way is becoming less and less satisfying. And I'm not even speaking of the massive backlog of pictures un-dealt with that more and more photographers fight.

Imperfections

Thanks to the fact that Lightroom, Aperture and other photography software allowed us to move the vignetting slider in both directions, a lot of photographers started to add vignettes to their pictures as opposed to removing them. Artificial grain was added to make digital black and white images more moody, more analog looking, and to bring back some of the overall grittiness that the analog world used to have. In fact my hard drive still hosts a high-res scan of a gray medium format slide, that I used to overlay on some of my pictures in Photoshop.

Lenses With Flavor

Now we have Hipstamatic, Camera Bag, The Best Camera, Lo-Mob and more. These are iPhone apps that simulate an analog look, and you find a lot of them on other platforms too.

When it comes to your DSLR, you can buy creative lenses like the Lensbaby, the Subjektiv, the Dreamagon, adapters to use a Holga plastic lens on your Nikon D700, or even stereo lenses, all optical ways to turn your camera into something entirely different. Ever shot with a zone plate instead of a regular lens? How about a pinhole? The sometimes not very predictable results that those lenses give you, make it really exciting to finally look at the pictures on your computer and be delighted with the imperfections that they add to your photography. Without using a single digital filter.

The Music World

In my other life I produce audio, and I can't help noticing big analogies between photography and the field of sound. Audio went digital quite a bit earlier than photography did, and I suspect a bit of a parallel development (pun not intended). Back in the 1980s, when the CD came out and everything in the production world all of a sudden turned digital, a lot of productions started to sport a very clean and almost analytical sound. Drum tracks turned very sterile thanks to clean quantization, removing the flawed human element. And the loss of that often went hand in hand with the loss of emotion. Consequently it didn't take the drum machine manufacturers long to introduce humanizer circuits into their boxes to get some of the feeling back. And the clean and digitally recorded sound ended up being fed through digital algorithms that simulated the warm sounding distortions of analog tubes and tape machines.

Hipstamatic anyone? I'm actually surprised neither Canon nor Nikon have introduced any effective "make it dirty" sliders in their DSLRs yet.

Today with audio,I do the same many other producers do: I add dirt by running my microphone through an amplifier that uses an actual analog tube. I do that because neither have I found an equally good sounding digital version of analog tube distortion, nor am I patient enough to spend the time it takes my computer to make all the intricate calculations to add those fake distortions. This is simply more authentic and faster. Many music producers still (or again) record certain things on actual tape machines, because the punch their productions get through the tape saturation is unparalleled in the digital world. Analog is alive and kicking in the music business.

The Right Tool For The Job

There's a really interesting shift happening in photography too, and I believe it goes beyond being a fad, beyond being a trend that will have disappeared again a year from now. At least for their creative expression, a growing amount of digital photographers is moving (back) into analog photography, and away from the clinically perfect digital world. Why? Maybe because digital photography makes you unhappy? Maybe because it is missing some of the human element? Maybe because it allows you to re-introduce a certain amount of randomness back into your art? Maybe even because photographers are too impatient to spend all the time and effort (and in case of expensive digital filters the money) to re-create a digital version of their beloved Ilford HP5+ pushed to ISO1600. Actual Ilford HP5+ pushed to ISO1600 simply does a better job. And a more authentic one at that. And if you still feel like playing, there's always the hybrid approach where you scan your negatives and continue working on them in the digital realm.

We Want Our Flaws Back It Seems

We have all seen a lot of perfect, we have been marinated left and right in crisp, noise-free and predictable digital photography. It almost seems, people want the flaws back. And that clearly shows in a lot of developments (sorry, douldn't resist). Look at all the creative films that you can get today. Some of my favorites are the Rollei Crossbird (a slide film that has been made to work really well in cross processing), the Redbird (a red-scale film that has the color emulsion reversed, resulting in some intense red color cast), and even the Fuji Astia 100F 100F slide film, which produces some pretty intense results when processed in negative film chemistry instead of its intended slide film soup. Cross processing gives you results that are somewhat unexpected, results that you probably wouldn't have achieved (or even tried) in digital, that's how different they can look. But nevertheless results that are much more likely to make you come back and look at these pictures for a second time.

The Trust in Chance

Instead of fully controlling every aspect of their work, more and more photographers deliberately introduce elements into their workflow that are hard to reproduce exactly the same way. Look for instance at some of the instant film materials you can get through the Impossible Project at the moment. Predictable results? Hardly. Or look at double exposures. Taken by different photographers. Did you know you can buy exposed film on eBay to add your own second layer of exposures, then develop it to find out what you've got? What an element of surprise! Some deliberately shoot film that is far beyond its best-before date and take advantage of the interesting characteristics some aging film materials get. Some expose the whole 35mm film, including the sprocket holes, and some even partially remove the lenses from their cameras and tilt them to achieve effects similar to lensbabies and tilt lenses - that's called "freelensing". Or the deliberate manipulation of the medium, as seen in the emulsion lift, where integral instant film is taken apart and the photo emulsion gets transferred onto a different material.

Innumerable interesting and important developments that define a new style and even more important, a new approach to photography that is much more playful and unpredictable than anything else in photography has been for many decades.

Photography goes far beyond the clean and perfect results that our 24 megapixel DSLRs and our impressive L-class lenses will give us. And even if you don't want to take a step into the analog world and instead opt to use Hipstamatic or Camera Bag on your iPhone's digital camera, at least you give the random element some level of chance.

And maybe, after a while, you're ready to spend twenty bucks on eBay for a used old brownie, you load it with a roll of 120 slide film, you shoot some fun pictures, then you drop the film off at the next drug store with the note "please develop this slide film using the C41 negative process" - and after a few days, you'll get to enjoy the prints of your first batch of cross-processed pictures ever.
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Why Digital Photography Makes You Unhappy

flower.jpgYesterday, while waiting for Monika outside a store, I had an epiphany.

Rewind. About a week earlier, we had spent three days holding an analog photography workshop and, still being in the spirit of this old and slow medium, just minutes earlier we had talked about the analog photography time we had planned for this weekend.

And then while I was waiting for her outside the store, it hit me right in the face. All the talk about reducing and simplifying, all the thought about limitation and constraint, all the ideas of slowing down and removing choice from the equation, it all of a sudden clicked into place with a massive *THUMP*.

At this point I'll have to rewind even more. It all started with Harvard professor of psychology Dan Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness. About a year ago I watched his TED talk about how external influences don't determine your happiness and how making a choice and sticking to it will make you more happy than having too many choices all the time. And about how we human beings so easily fall into the trap of making the wrong choice to set ourselves up for misery.

Here is the link to the video, if you haven't seen it, I highly (!) recommend you watch it and think about the implications of what Gilbert talks about. In the long run those might as well be the best spent twenty minutes of your life.

» Video: Dan Gilbert, Why Are We Happy?

Finished? What I write in this article will make a lot more sense after watching it. While writing this article, I have watched it again, probably my seventh time, and every time the implications of his research become more clear to me. And I can't help thinking "...now *that* explains..." over and over.

The essence of his talk is very simple, but the implications are huge: up to a certain point choice is good and desirable. But having too much choice makes us unhappy. Yes, this is pretty much at odds with the freedom that we all hold up so high. Which is why if you haven't by now, you need to watch the video. Really really.

An example: if you take into account all the different types of coffee, milk, flavorings and ways to combine them, you could come up with over 16,000 different drinks at Starbucks. And when asked "which would you prefer, sixteen thousand choices or ten?", it's almost a no-brainer to go for the larger number. More is better, right? But if you watch what Gilbert has to say, you will end up at a very different conclusion.

I'm no psychologist, but it seems our level of happiness is inversely related to the amount of choice we have. The more choice, the less happy. Yes, this sounds wrong to our western minds, after all our entire life is all about choice. A gazillion different cereals, toothpastes, detergents, cough medicines, .. something in it for everyone. We are taught all our lives that more is better. But to me, somewhere in a deeply buried part of my mind, all that choice has always felt a bit wrong.

But what does all that have to do with photography?

Whenever I talk about photography and how to get to the next level, sooner or later you will hear me bring up how limitation and constraint can help you discover new creative ways to approach photography and give your creative process a frame. I find myself more and more shooting with one single prime lens. No zoom. Or I restrict myself in some other way, working along an assignment, collecting things, trying to squeeze out the last bit of composition that a single location has to offer before I move on. And whenever I do this, I return home with a deep feeling of satisfaction. A lot more satisfaction than when I haul around seven lenses, a reflector, three filters, two strobes and two camera bodies.

Restriction leads to different results than no restriction. Some might argue that the more possibilities you have in approaching the shot, the better you will be able to capture it. In turn I argue that through limitation you will have to force yourself to approach the shot in different ways, often in ways that you would have never done any other way. Instead of doing things the way you always do, here all of a sudden you can watch creativity in the making.

But it gets better! Adding Gilbert's talk into the mix, it turns out that not only is limitation good to help you focus on the task at hand and find new approaches to old challenges, restricting your choices will also leave you more happy in general. Hey! You've just found happiness!

Digital photography is about choice. Sheer endless choice. When I'm in the mind-set of digital photography, many of my decisions come down to choice. I try to avoid strong contrast to allow for more choice in post processing. I sometimes frame a bit wider, just to be able to make the choice about the final crop later. I shoot black-and-white pictures in color, which gives me the maximum choice in how the individual color channels factor into the final result. I sometimes even shoot several different exposures of the same scene, just to bake them into an HDR and decide on the proper exposure later. When I finally sit in front of my computer and work on the pictures, I'm presented with more choices: contrast, white balance, crop, rotation, filters, black-and-white conversion .. it doesn't stop.

"But wait" I hear you say, "isn't choice what makes digital photography so wonderful?"

Sure. On the one hand you can quickly try out many different things, do several "developments" of the same picture and compare the different versions, maybe one to print, one to put online and two different black-and-white versions, one with higher contrast and one with a slight sepia tone. And then there's Dan Gilbert. Still haven't watched his talk? Here is the link again: link. It hits right where it hurts, and it'll leave you with a ton of food for thought.

I love digital photography for its speed, its surgical precision, its endless ways to get to a specific result, its low-light magic, its super cleanliness and its way of being a wonderful learning tool. I owe a lot to the advent of digital SLRs. But incorporating film photography back into my work, I more and more realize that there was this huge gaping hole that is now slowly being filled.

In the past I have talked about the different motivations that make people shoot analog. I have just added another one and I think it's the biggest one so far.

Whenever I spend time in the analog realm of photography, be it at a workshop or spending a weekend with just one camera and two rolls of film, I am making a choice. A choice for a more conscious approach, a choice to be less casual about what I shoot and how I shoot it, a choice for a type of development as the film has its very own characteristics built-in, a choice that just by the givens of the medium I will have to stick to. Analog photography won't give me as much wiggle room as its binary cousin will.

There is now a new generation of photographers who have never shot a single roll of analog film. I might sound like an old fart, but I think they could massively benefit from spending an entire weekend with one single camera, one fixed focal length and two rolls of film in their pocket.


Got something to say about what I wrote? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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My Beef With CFLs

Heya and welcome, it's geeky soapbox time again and I'll talk about one of my latest pet peeves: CFLs and photography. Sit back, relax, break out the popcorn and let's start ... NOW.

This one's about compact fluorescents (CFLs) and the completeness and smoothness of their spectrum. Or rather the lack thereof. If you want the short version: CFLs pretty much suck for photographers and videographers. If you want to find out why, read on.

Have a look at this picture:

Spectrum CFL daylight fluorescent incandescent

Illustration: Chris Marquardt (License)

I'm not a color scientist (but I play one on a podcast) - and as a photographer I'm dealing with color reproduction a lot. I love good skin tones in portraits and in general when I'm in photo geek mode (and when I'm not having an artsy phase), I kinda sorta like the colors of things to be faithfully reproduced in my photographs.

Tech information: The spectra in the above picture have been taken with a small hand-held spectroscope that is using a diffraction grating (1000 lines per millimeter) to make the light spectrum visible to the human eye. It's not a precise scientific instrument, but it certainly is good enough to show a qualitative picture of a light spectrum.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Okay, so what are we looking at in the above picture? It is the spectrum of different light sources. Different parts of the spectrum correspond to different wavelengths, and the spectrum of visible light lies in the range of about 400nm (nanometers) to 700nm. White light is a mixture of all sorts of different wavelengths.

If you shine that light source onto Kermit the frog, Kermit will reflect mainly the green parts of the light source's spectrum. That reflection then hits your eye and you see Kermit being green.

If the spectrum of your light source contains a lot of different wavelengths (a complete spectrum), chances are there will also be light in the wavelength of the color of the object you illuminate, which in turn results in the color reproduction being rather accurate.

Are you still with me?

If the spectrum of that light source contains holes (e.g. parts of the spectrum are just not there), and if those holes coincide with the color of the object I'm shining that light at, the object doesn't get a chance to reflect its color.

In terms of Kermit, this means: his shade of green will look different, and the color reproduction is out the window.

Metamerism

The effect of an object changing its color appearance under different light sources is called illuminant metameric failure. Yep, that's a mouth full. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

My super simplified and entirely non-scientific version of it is that especially under fluorescent light with it's typically very incomplete spectrum, you can almost be sure that the color you see is not the actual color. Let that sink in for a minute.

Enter Photography

Scroll back up and look at the spectra again. Notice how smooth daylight and incandescent light are, and notice the gaping holes and sharp lines in the other light sources? The picture doesn't give you any quantitative information, but it says a lot about the quality of light. The peaky-ness of some of the light sources has to do with what gasses they are filled with, or what other medium they use to produce light.

Yellow Vapors

One of the more extreme cases (and one that's not on the above chart) is the very yellow sodium vapor light. Here in Germany we often see these light sources used at zebra crossings. About 90 (!!) percent of the spectrum of those lamps lies at a thin peak around 600nm, which we see as yellow.

File:SOX.png
(image source)

Next time you're at a zebra crossing, have a look at your blue jeans... good luck trying to see the blue in them.

White Balance

How does your camera handle different color temperature light sources? The mechanism is called white balance and it is mainly the camera's way to shift the spectrum up or down. But guess what happens if the spectrum only has one sharp peak as is the case for sodium pressure lamps?

Errrrrrr rrrrrrright.. you can move that up or down the spectrum as much as you like, you'll NEVER EVER get a good skin tone out of it.

Now back to the fluorescent lights - and the CFLs, aka Compact Fluorescent Lights. They are little fluorescent tubes, made to fit in light bulb sockets. Nothing more and nothing less.

No matter how warm the manufacturers make those CFLs to resemble the color temperature of our good old light bulbs, the spectrum will still be comparatively incomplete. And no matter how hard your camera's white balance tries to shift that perforated spectrum around, it will not change the fact that parts of the spectrum are missing and some colors will just not be rendered as they should.

Back To Daylight

It's actually really really simple: If you want the best color reproduction, your best friend will always be daylight. Although rather warm, incandescent light bulbs are actually a pretty good choice too. Their spectrum might be leaning a lot more towards the red than afternoon daylight, but at least it is pretty complete and can usually be made into something very neutral with either good white balance, or with some of the profiling solutions out there.

As long as the industry doesn't come up with fluorescent light that has a more complete spectrum, you should never expect good color rendition from them.

I'm all for saving energy and being green, but from a photographer's perspective I am really sad that CFLs will sooner or later be everywhere.

And I haven't even started talking about their flicker and what that means for very short shutter speeds and for videographers...

Do you have any fluorescent light photography stories? Tell them in the comments!

Update: I have not covered LEDs yet, simply because I don't have any white LED light sources here, but their mechanism to produce light is similar to fluorescent lights and therefore peaks and holes should be expected.

Update 2: I also didn't cover flash yet, it is difficult enough for me to photograph the spectra of continuous light sources with my little handheld spectroscope at the moment. I'll try soon though.

Update 3: For many more spectra and a much more scientifical discussion about them, please see this excellent resource.
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You DON'T want to make money? Really?

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Picture by chotda on flickr


Man is it SOAPBOX time again today. Hold tight. Lean back. Get the popcorn out.


This story was handed to me by a friend. Let's call him Thomas. Thomas lives in Germany.


Thomas recently got a recommendation by another friend of mine (let's call him Michael) to check out the work of a Science Fiction author (let's call her Sue). "If you're a fan of Heinlein, Gaiman and Gibson, you've GOT to read her books, she's excellent! A real discovery!"


Being the modern guy he is, Thomas got online to buy one of her books. The original English version, not the German translation. Not as a hardcopy, but as an eBook.


With the iPad on the horizon (first deliveries in Germany will start in about a week) he also wanted to future-proof his investment. Buy it now, start reading on the iPhone, continue reading on the iPad as soon as it arrives. Sounded like a plan.


Apples iBooks app and iBookstore aren't an option here in Germany yet, so he looked into Kindle. Turned out the book in question wasn't available in the German Kindle bookstore. Bummer.


Next stop Stanza. Yes, it's not available as a native iPad app just yet, but with the Kindle app having made it to the iPad, there is a chance that Stanza will be allowed in too. So Thomas installed Stanza on his iPhone, fired up the built-in book search and lo and behold, there was the book in question, available on the BooksOnBoard store right from within Stanza. For $12.72. He hit the "Buy" button, was transferred to the BooksOnBoard web store in Safari, he registered an account with BooksOnboard, diligently filled in all his information, got to the book page, put it in the shopping cart, clicked the check out button in anticipation, and ...


"This title is not allowed for sale within your country. Item failed to add to cart! Please close this window and try again."


OUCH. BIG OUCH.


After some more research Thomas had to learn that it seemed impossible to legally buy the book in question as an English version in Germany in any eBook format.


Thomas was ready to spend $12.72 of his hard earned money for this eBook. He happily wanted to throw money at an online store (e.g. the entire chain: the shop owner, the publisher, the author, and even the government if you take taxes into account). But for some very stupid reason he wasn't allowed to. What's wrong with this picture? Everything!


And this is where Thomas had it. He wanted the book. "If they don't want my money, I'm savvy enough to get a hold of this eBook in another way."


20 minutes later he not only had a copy of this one eBook on his hard drive, but about 500 others too. Five friggin hundred. Why? Because he couldn't find the book on its own on BitTorrent, but instead had to download it as part of a ridiculously large Science Fiction book collection.


Just to make it clear: this download was not a paid download. At this point let me add a quick word about BitTorrent: No, not everything on there is illegal. By far not. BitTorrent is first of all a great technology. The telephone is a great technology too, and I don't even want to start thinking about the amount and kind of illegal activities that the telephone is being used for at this very moment...


Back to the story:


Let's do the math. Thomas was ready to pay $12.72 to BooksOnBoard, and I'm sure they would have loved to take the money and give him the book. Instead he now had 500 not-quite-so-legal eBooks sitting on his hard disk. Assuming the same price, those books summed up to over $6000 in lost sales potential.


Book industry? Government? Authors? Collecting Societies? I don't really care who's fault this is, but are you reading this? Instead of losing a sale of $12.72 you have just lost the potential to make $6000. If Thomas wasn't such an honest soul, that lost potential could have easily multiplied many times. "Look what I just downloaded, let me send you a copy..."


Imagine the amount of people searching for (not necessarily legal) ways to get a hold of digital goods, that they cannot get otherwise for ridiculously stupid reasons.


PS: Honest soul that he is, Thomas of course deleted the 499 eBooks that he had to download to get to this one book. And he hasn't shared the downloaded copy with anyone. Not even with me. He's now trying to find out if there is a way to send Sue a donation, because he loved her book so much that he wants to give her something in return. Which will probably be way more than what she would have earned if he had bought it the "normal" way.


What is your take on this?

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I Heart Posterous

posterous.jpgOkay, so I record an MP3 for the Daily Photo Tips With Chris podcast using VR+ (my favorite voice recording app on the iPhone) and send it off via email to Posterous. I've done that for a long time and it has never failed me.


Normally what happens is that Posterous picks up the email, extracts the MP3, hosts it, adds it to the according blog and then my dptwc site picks it up from the RSS feed that Posterous automatically generates for me.


When I posted the last entry, it came up without the MP3 link in the RSS. On closer inspection I found that the entry on the Posterous site was not hosted by Posterous but by some third party and that Posterous didn't include the MP3 link.


My first assumption was that Posterous had changed their process without telling anyone, and I got quite frustrated to find out that the very service that I had built an entire podcast on was now broken for me.


Had I been aware of how wrong I was, I wouldn't have gone out on Buzz and Twitter and on this blog entry to talk about it.


AvirajPosterous was quick to react on Twitter and forward it to their dev team and I thank him for this, because it saved me a lot of embarrassment in the long run.


Turns out it was my own fault all along. The VR+ recording app can send out MP3s vie email, which is why I love it so much. One feature I never used was to send the MP3 as a link, in which case they upload it to their own VR+ servers and then send the link via email. I had accidentally enabled that feature and by doing that I broke the entire process.


All I can offer are my sincere apologies to Posterous, I should have done a much more thorough root cause analysis before I went out and made so much noise about this. I like the service that Posterous offers a lot, it enables me to do so much and I'm happy that they are around.


Note to self: Social media are a great way to generate buzz about things and the companies who get it and react fast are going to be the winners in the long run. Social media are also dangerous when it comes to spreading false information. Always (ALWAYS!) make sure you check and doublecheck the facts before you complain in public or it can backfire.

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How to organize the 2010 workshops

workshops.jpgWorkshops, workshops, workshops... 2009 was such an exciting year in so many respects and I am very grateful for being able to do the things I do.


With Brooklyn Cookin', the workshop that I held together with Chef Mark, this year's season is now over, and what a great final workshop that was. Both Mark and I found that we'll have to do a workshop along the same lines again next year. The concept is perfect: the target audience is couples where one half is into cooking and the other half is into photography, and here they have a way to learn and spend time together.


Even though this year is over from a workshop perspective, it actually isn't. At least not for me. I am going to spend most of November preparing everything for a smooth 2010 launch. My goal is to have everything ready by December. And there are a lot of things to be worked on. Luckily most of my workshop locations are already nailed down, some helpers need to be briefed, and then there's the whole registration process. I have looked into offers in the cloud, but there is no workshop/seminar management system that even remotely seems to fit the bill.


All I need is to manage the registration process and payments for about ten workshops. Internationally. With deposits. And limited number of seats. For a decent price. And no, in an economy where everyone needs to think twice before spending anything, I consider taking 10% of the workshop fees *not* decent, because that would eventually increase the workshop price by that same amount.


So in short, I haven't found a good and easy way to automate this yet. Which is why I've taken things to the cloud in a different way for 2009 and why I'm going to go even further in 2010. In short: I'm using online services and forms to handle the sign-ups, I have simplified the confirmation and registration process using Services on Mac OSX Snow Leopard, I use PayPal to handle the bulk of the payments, and I use my own time to keep it all together. Not ideal, but workable. The KISS principle applies. Keep it simple, stupid. I don't need a full-fledged database to handle a couple of hundred participants. Every participant ends up in a spreadsheet with a status field depending on where in the registration process they currently are, and if I need to send out a bulk mail to all participants of an individual workshop, a simple copy/paste of the email address column for that workshop will do just fine.


The biggest item are the workshop pages on the web site. This is where everything is supposed to come together in a nice and easy to navigate way. I have spent hours and hours to design something that ties together everything from basic information about the workshop ("why would I want to come to this workshop?"), the agenda ("what are the workshop details?"), timing ("when does the workshop start and end?"), accommodation ("what hotel is near by?"), navigation ("how do I find my way to the workshop?") and pricing.


Obviously I design this once and duplicate it for all the workshops, but the content will be different for each workshop. The overview, the detail description, the example images, the example video, the FAQ. And the language.


So I guess I better get busy and finally start tying all those lose ends together to bring you not only an excellent 2010 workshop season, but also a great experience when it comes to finding the right one for your needs and going through the registration process.


If you want to be notified as soon as the 2010 workshops are ready, please make sure you are on the newsletter (get the newsletter here).


Got a way to help me simplify the registration process? Leave a comment!

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Unfreezing the iPhone 3G 3.1

6071EECF-1336-43A3-8CDB-44E2626D7D11.jpgA warning upfront: if you came here for a photography article, this one's not for you. This is about the iPhone and a little odyssey that eventually lead me to solving all my iPhone 3.1 issues. Wall, almost all of them...

I love my iPhone 3G. I'm doing more and more with it, from emailing, stats checking, podcast recording (Daily Photo Tips is entirely produced on my iPhone), calendaring, checking my bank accounts, .. you name it. It has become so important to me that I have even started to use an iPhone case to protect it. And if you know me, you know that I've NEVER used a case on any of my phones before.

I'm still on the 3G, because my German T-Mobile plan ("1st generation plan") wouldn't allow me to early upgrade the phone without having to also upgrade to the next higher plan ("2nd gen") which for reasons that most Germans on the 1st-gen plan who use the MultiSIM option know is a pretty much no-go. But I digress.

Let's start at the beginning:

The update to 3.1 and what it broke

When I updated the iPhone to 3.1, all hell broke loose. Or rather the opposite. My iPhone came to a screeching halt. All of a sudden it wouldn't react for a minute right after a reboot. Or scrolling in a podcast list would be super jerky. Or flipping the home screen sideways would stop for 5 seconds before it would resume. Or the calendar app would try very hard to open but fail and return to the home screen. I could go on and on and on. I tried a lot of things, lots of detective work, but couldn't really piece it together. When I twittered about it, I received a note from someone who seems to work at Apple letting me know that it's not 3.1 being the problem but that iTunes 9 was buggy. Well, the iTunes 9.0.1 update came along and nothing really changed on my iPhone. Still the same lack of response to so many things.

What I found out early was that it was likely to be a memory issue. Using the iStat app I could see that the amount of free memory was pretty low. Usually in the 1MB range.

The other thing I noticed was that when I hooked up the iPhone to iTunes, the bars that show you how much of its capacity is filled with music, videos and apps, had changed. The usually very small orange-colored "other" portion was much bigger all of a sudden. At this point I still didn't have enough information to piece it together.

The phone call with Apple Care

So with my out-of-warranty phone I finally gave in and called Apple Care. Got a nice lady on the phone who couldn't really help me. I managed to talk her into letting me talk with a 2nd-tier engineer and from him I finally found out one crucial piece of information: the orange bar contains calendars and contacts. I probably could've found this information online, had I know what to search for.

The calendar and its "new and improved" broken behavior

Around the same time I started noticing that all my subscribed calendars were now being synced to the iPhone. This is new behavior in 3.1 and it only happens if you sync them via mobileme. If you sync via iTunes, you can make a choice which calendars to sync.

This is especially interesting as I am subscribed to some high-volume calendars, such as Leo Laporte's TWiT Live production calendar (I'm a guest on his Tech Guy radio show and this calendar is my main way to know if I'm on his recording schedule or not), and Twistory, which is my twitter history as calendar entries. This last one is really high volume depending on how much I tweet, but I've found it really valuable at times and don't want to miss it.

The epiphany (or: what needs to come together to break things)

Here is my root cause analysis, mixed in with a good portion of guesswork:


  1. Calendar entries and contacts obviously take up working memory on the iPhone. To be able to sync and fire off alarms at the right time, I assume the iPhone calendar reads all calendar entires into memory on startup.

  2. mobileme syncs all calendars to the iPhone, even the subscribed ones. With mobileme there is no way to select which calendars to sync and which to not sync.

  3. I have 596 conctacts in my address book. Some with pictures. Most likely another memory eater.

  4. I have a bunch of high-volume calendars subscribed in iCal.

  5. Disabling mobileme or even just disabling the calendar on the iPhone brings it back to life.



This would explain why only 3G users see the issues (the 3G has less memory than the 3GS) and then only some of them (who is crazy enough to have 596 contacts and god knows how many calendar entries in about 7 different calendars?)

The solution

I spent good portions of the last weekend on finding a solution. And thanks to Monika's just recently re-ignited love to sock knitting (a lovely cherry-cream-colored pattern emerges as I type this post), this has even still been a weekend in sweet harmony ;)

1. Find a way to not sync the high-volume calendars to the iPhone

The best solution was to use Google Calendar™ to help with this:

a) Dump the subscribed calendars from iCal
b) Instead subscribe to them in Google Calendar
c) Now add your Google account to iCal and enable the subscribed calendars in the delegation tab of the account settings

Voila! The subscribed calendars don't sync to the iPhone anymore, but you still have them in iCal.

2. Move everything to Google Calendar

I could have stopped here, the above solution already does the trick for me to speed up the iPhone, but - alas - I'm on another calendar-related quest, so I continued to do my research: The search for a better calendar that helps me with my workshop planning.

But that's a story for the next blog entry.

Got similar iPhone 3.1 experiences? Share them in the comments!
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Are things completely out of whack?

iStock_000009113695XSmall.jpg

I just got an unhappy (or even upset) email from a fan. I won't user her real name here, so let's call her "Liz". She was complaining about the amount of promotion vs. content on my show. I assume she meant Tips from the Top Floor.


"It takes 30 to 40 minutes to download and listen to your podcast and read your website. Unfortunately for me, I have found that about 75% of your content is advertising for donations and workshops and less than 25% provides information about photography... therefore, I waste a lot of time to get little content. Also, I hear the same promotions over and over about your workshops when I am sure that I am not going to them. I try to skip through them on my ipod, but usually, I just lose interest and shut it off. Even though I have learned from you, I am coming close to cancelling your podcast."


Getting feedback like this always slightly gets to me. On the one hand it's great to hear from the audience, and this kind of feedback is worth more than any "great job" type of mail (please keep those coming too though, as my ego likes them ;)) because it almost always comes from a person who is passionate about what I do and who has the guts to speak up and voice their opinion.


I hear you, Liz, and believe me, I don't like promoting stuff on my shows. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one reason I do is that I get more than enough advertising on the old media. If I listen to podcasts I want them to be clutter-free too, unless the clutter is a part of the show that I like.


There is one exception where I truly love talking about things: An example would be the Everest Trek. Things that I am personally involved in, things that are a part of me, things that I'm very very (very!!) proud of.


Then there are sponsors. Apart from the current Squarespace campaign I haven't had a sponsor worth mentioning in almost a year. I'm not sure how you get to 75%, I can only assume that's what it felt like to you as opposed to that's the actual amount of time you've measured. I am über super cautious in who I allow on the show as a sponsor. The only way I believe I can make this work for both sides is to only advertise things that are of interest to my audience. Only then will it be perceived as being more of a value than a burden. Believe me, I have been offered quite a few campaigns in the past year, and I have turned down almost all of them because of this very reason: they just weren't relevant to my audience.


And let's be honest, being self-employed and spending well over 20 hours a week (probably much closer to 30 actually) producing free content in various forms doesn't really pay the bills, so I don't always have choice in that matter.


But let's get back to Liz and her email:


"Regarding your last blog about "geeks," what does that have to do with photography? My career was in Information Technology and I get a lot of content about IT from many sources. Why would I want your opinion about who is a geek? I want to learn about photography from you!!!"


In the header of this blog it used to read "This is the place where I post my thoughts on photography" but I'm not only about photography. I'm a geek, I'm a musician (I'm actually in the middle of producing a CD for a local band), I'm a podcaster, and I've chosen this place to be my personal blog where I talk about anything that interests me, anything that comes to mind and that I think it worth sharing with you: my soapbox. Tips from the Top Floor is the photography place and the photography posts here usually get linked from there.


To better reflect this, I have now changed the copy in the header of this blog to "This is the place where I post my thoughts. Usually on photography."


And this is where I open this discussion up to you, the readership. Do you think this blog should be exclusively about photography? And has my show content really gone down the drain in favor of promoting stuff?


Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Tilt/Shift 1/3 - The miniature effect

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What are your first thoughts when you hear the words "tilt" and "shift" in one sentence? Let me guess. It must be something along the lines of "making big things look like miniatures" and yes, that's one of the effects that you can achieve using a tilt/shift lens. Actually all you need is the tilt, the shift part is more helpful when it comes to messing with perspective.

I've got my opinion about this effect and it's very similar to my opinion about tonemapped HDR images with all the sliders in Photomatix cranked up all the way to the right: I'm not a big fan of them. I believe these types of effects tend to get old very fast, and whatever effect you use, it will only work great if it helps you realize your artistic vision and tell the story that you want to tell with an image. If your picture can't tell a story, or if it lacks interest in terms of its composition, the majority of viewers will probably still go "oooh" and "aaaaah" but the image will get boring very soon.

Okay, enough with the soapbox. You've got to know the enemy in order to be able to fight it, so here's your first lesson: what tilt is all about.

Guess what, these lenses actually weren't designed to achieve that miniature effect at all. In fact it all started very early, when large format cameras came along. Using bellows and all, they had everything they needed to move the lens out of the optical axis (shift) or to change its angle in relation to the film plane (tilt).

But why would I want to do that if not for a cool looking miniature effect?

Let's look at tilt first, as it's the visually much more interesting effect. If you look at the focal plane, e.g. the part of an image that is in focus, it typically is parallel to the lens and parallel to the sensor. Now tilt the lens and you're changing a few things. Most notably you tilt the focal plane. Tilting the lens forward effectively tilts the focal plane forward with it (see the Scheimpflug Principle for a more detailled explanation).

A normal parallel lens produces the out-of-focus areas of an image behind and in front of the focal plane. If you tilt the focal plane forward, you also tilt the out-of-focus areas with it. These are now above and below the focal plane. And guess who loves this? Yes, landscape photographers do. It will allow them to tilt the focal plane in a way that coincides with the landscape, and as the out-of-focus parts are above and below the landscape, they virtually disappear. Everything all of sudden is in focus front to back from very close to very far, and without the need to stop down to an aperture of F64 (which in turn creates other issues). Bliss!

Of course you can use this for evil too. Or more precisely in an opposite fashion to achieve a certain effect, the "miniature effect". More about that in a soon-to-come post on this blog.

What's your opinion about the miniature effect? Do you hate it? Do you love it? Do you fake it? Let me know in the comments!
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You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

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(click image for bigger version, click here to see the final version)

"Aaah, there's certainly some Photoshopping in this picture, right?" - if I got a penny every time I heard that...

Image manipulation. What a dirty little word. For many people this word implies fraud and deceit. It implies that the photographer isn't saying the truth with their photography. That they lie to the viewer by making something out of a picture that wasn't there. In many people's eyes it also means that nowadays you don't have to take good pictures anymore. Photoshop will fix it for you. Right?

They couldn't be more wrong. Or as my friend Robin Preston, a great illustrator and photographer, usually puts it: You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Let me get on my soapbox and then together let's have a quick look at the different techniques that are used every day in order to "manipulate" photography.

1. RAW conversion. Most serious photographers use the RAW format these days. It has more dynamic range, and it allows for much more subtlety during post processing. A RAW file is like a negative. You have to develop or convert it. And this conversion process is the point in the workflow where the photographer can and should make decisions on things like white balance, contrasts, saturation. A first step in the manipulation of images. "But I only shoot JPG, so my pictures are untainted!" Well, not quite. At the point where you look at the JPG on your memory card, your camera has already made a whole big bunch of decisions for you. It has determined the white balance, it has played with the contrasts and color saturation, it has sharpened the image and compared to the RAW file, your camera has thrown away about 90% of the image data in order to compress it to a smaller size.

In short: relying on JPG, or rather on your camera to do the post processing for you is synonymous to handing off the image development decisions to someone else, in this case the computer that's built into your camera. Not unlikely to what usually happened to the films that you handed off to the corner drug store for development.

Did analog photographers do this? Hell yeah! Developing film, enlarging the image, choosing chemicals, temperatures, durations, types of film, types of paper, ... that all had an influence on how the images came out.

2. Straightening. Yes, I'm guilty of straightening at least one out of ten of my images during post processing. It just happens that I don't hold the camera exactly straight sometimes. It has become better since I've started using a grid screen in my camera's viewfinder, but I still don't always get it right. Why do I straighten? Because I don't like that horizontal line of a building right next to the left side of the frame of my image to be one degree off and shout at the viewer "HEY! LOOK! The photographer had a little accident here!". Skewed water surfaces are even more prone to cause some level of discomfort with the viewer. Even half a degree off and the image will start waving a little red flag. And I usually want my viewers to feel comfortable when they look at my photography.

Did analog photographers straighten images? You better believe it! It's one of the easiest things to do actually. Just slightly rotate the photo paper before you expose it.

3. Contrasts. If you've ever shot in the RAW format, you will know that these images have the tendency to look more flat and less contrasty than JPG images. This is on purpose. In the RAW mode, the camera will produce images that are specifically made to be post processed. And this includes the contrasts. Contrast is extremely important. Photography is not an absolute art but has a lot to do with how contrasts relate to each other. So managing the contrasts in your image becomes an integral part of the process.

Did analog photographers manage contrasts? You betcha! Ansel Adams' Zone System is all about contrast management. Choice of film, paper, chemicals, temperatures, durations, ... all of that will influence contrasts.

4. Brightness distribution. Brightening parts of an image and darkening others? Bring out your pitchforks!! Or.. wait. Back in the analog darkroom we did the same thing. Burn and dodge. During the exposure of the photo paper that usually took several seconds to minutes, we would allow for more light to fall on those areas that we wanted to darken down (it's a negative process) and we would temporarily block light from those areas of the picture that we wanted to brighten up. Ansel Adams did a lot of that too. In fact most of the time that he spent taking (or making?) a picture was in the darkroom, managing brightness/darkness distribution (let's call that contrasts) making use of his Zone System.

5. Local contrast enhancements. If you apply a large radius unsharp mask filter (USM) to your image, you will effectively increase the local contrast. Smaller structures will appear more contrasty. You have control over this by varying the radius and amount you set for your unsharp mask. Now this MUST be cheating! Right?

Well, not exactly. At least there is nothing specifically digital about it. It's a technique which again derives from the analog world. It has been used to enhance contrasts and perceived image sharpness long before we had computers with Photoshop.

So what's the verdict? Are digital photographers cheaters? Is it wrong to adjust an image digitally? Let me hear your opinion in the comments!
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Bands and Weddings

Bass IOn the weekend, Monika and I shot a wedding. We usually don't do that for clients, but this one was different, as friends of ours got married. But what does it take to shoot a wedding? I actually get that question a lot. Most of the time the question comes in an email and it is phrased more like "What equipment do you recommend for shooting a wedding?"

[insert sound of alarm bell here] Wrong question. Entirely wrong question. If someone cooks a great meal for you, you don't compliment them on their pots and pans, now, do you? You don't need to know what word processing software (or what notepad and pen) your favorite authors use to write their books. You don't ask a painter what brushes they create their art with.

You enjoy the meal, the book, the painting for what it is.

Why is that so different in photography? "Wow, that's a big camera. You must take great pictures with it" is actually an insult. It de-values our creative side.

Little LadyBut don't worry, you're not alone, and if you are new to photography, it's very easy to fall for what the industry tells us. Which basically is this: Buy new gear from us and your pictures will be so much better.

Wrong, industry. Dead wrong! Some of the best pictures I've seen have been taken with (by today's standards) inferior equipment. A picture is maybe (if at all) 10 percent about the technical quality, about the image sharpness, about the lack of chromatic aberrations, about resolution and about the number of megapixels. 90 percent of the image is YOU. It's your eye, your sense of composition, your sense of placing things in the frame so they play with each other in a way that helps you bring out that image you had in your head before you pressed the shutter button. It's about timing too, actually one could argue that it might even be mostly about timing. Even in landscape photography, where the clouds have that tendency to not wait in that beautiful spot until you're finished setting everything up for the picture.

Drum ISo I'm not blaming you for asking the equipment question. I'm blaming the industry. Heck, even I have fallen for it, buying things that I didn't need and that didn't benefit my photography at all. I'm just glad I haven't spent $150 on a white balance device yet. And probably never will. The good old grey card ($5.95), a sheet of white paper ($0.01), or even the good old Pringles lid (unfortunately they stopped making the opaque ones, but some yoghurt lids will do the trick too) are all it takes. Everything else is Voodoo unless you get paid big $$$ for a job and need to impress your customer, or unless you really need 100% color accuracy in product photography, for print, or in high profile fashion stuff. I don't need that accuracy. Our eyes aren't scientific measurement devices. They are much more easily influenced by the light conditions surrounding us, which is why you should try to edit your images in consistent surrounding light conditions, but I digress.

How did I get here? Oh, I know, we talked about how the industry makes us buy more and more stuff, and how we forget that photography is actually about learning to see, about anticipating how the viewer will look at our picture, what will make them explore our photograph in which way and how we can guide their eye to what we deem important in a picture.

Photography is about telling stories. Stories that have arches, tensions, reliefs, and in the end it's about one of the most basic things: it's about evoking emotion! If I look a picture and it moves me in one way or the other, I couldn't care less about the technical side of things.

When was the last time you've bought something for your photography that didn't help you at all? Let us know in the comments what that was.
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