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.
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Dropping the big camera and the viewfinder

2012 02 19 150534 IMG 1039
Frog Umbrella by Chris Marquardt

It's not the camera, it's the photographer. We all know that. Do we live it? Not always. Which is why I did a deliberate "lesser photographer" thing.

Where I would usually have the iPhone in my pocket as an emergency or backup camera, this time I made a deliberate decision to go out and shoot with nothing but the iPhone. No big medium format camera. No DSLR. Just the iPhone 4s.

Our creativity strives under constraints. Some of the greatest photography has been made with cameras that some of today's photographers wouldn't even touch with a ten-foot-pole. So I went an extra step and instead of using the iPhone's built-in camera app, I used one that most people would call crippled. Its name is NoFinder and it is pretty much what the title of the app says: a camera without a viewfinder.

Now adding that kind of a restriction might initially sound silly, but it has turned out to be surprisingly good for the creative side of things. Not being able to look through a viewfinder helped me concentrate on the actual scene a lot more than if I had looked through a viewfinder. Pointing the camera without a display also left a certain margin of error, but in the end for many shots that lead to interesting and unusual framing choices that I wouldn't have made with a viewfinder.

Most of those accidental choices of frame weren't that exciting, but then there were a few that I found really interesting. And again: I wouldn't have arrived at them any other way.

The last two constraints that I placed myself under turned out to be pretty much the most beneficial ones: my decision to set the app to only take square pictures and to work in black-and-white only.

The lack of a viewfinder initially made it harder for me to judge the angle of view, but after a few shots it became pretty clear how much would be in the picture. As an added benefit I now have a pretty good idea of the field of view that I can get from the iPhone. I didn't really have that angle visualized before.

And in the end that's how Frog Umbrella came into existence. Being able to see the entire scene with my two eyes, I could watch the umbrella kid walking away from the building and while it was doing so, I fired three shots while trying to anticipate the framing.

And the third shot was the charm. That's my kind of picture - everything fits nicely, the frog's eyes are doubled in the building, every element in the photo feels like it belongs exactly where I put it. I'll be happy when I bring home one single picture like this every time I go out shooting. I'm still working on that.

» Frog Umbrella on Flickr (leave a comment)

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The DTS 5.1 conversion is getting closer

I did the sys admin thing where I'd call myself and ask what to do, and I found a partial solution to my DTS issue. I'm far from having this process completed, but I'm a few steps closer of getting my collection of 6-channel DTS 5.1 CDs ripped onto my Mac and into a somewhat useable format.

It's still a fairly manual process, but here's what I've done so far:

Step 1: rip the DTS 5.1 CD to iTunes using the WAV encoder as the input format (no MP3, AAC or similar). This process seems to get the track names right. Not sure if it takes them from Gracenote or if it reads the CD text, but the titles end up in iTunes.

At this point, the ripped files are recognized as 2-channel WAV files, and their content is DTS-encoded 5.1-channel audio. iTunes doesn't give me that information though, and it doesn't seem to be aware of this, so playing these over a normal system will result in noise. In order to play them properly, they have to be played over a DTS decoder, or they have to be decoded on the system.

Step 2: convert the ripped WAV files to 6-channel WAV files using VLC. This partially works, VLC can even be kind of coerced into converting them in a batch, using the Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, but for whatever reason VLC refuses to convert the last track.

My process: open the imported WAV files in VLC, File - Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, Transcode/Save to file, select items from playlist, only check "Transcode audio", set codec to Uncompressed, integer, 192 kb/s, select WAV, select output directory, go. Again, this process will not convert the last file in the list for whatever reason. My workaround is to add the last file twice.

The file names get messed up a bit in the process, spaces end up being replaced by 20, probably due to URL encoding.

At this point I have 6-channel WAV files that work. That's a pretty good start, because from here I should be able to convert the files to anything else I need in the future, using Compressor.

It's easy to visualize with Final Cut Pro X at this point, all 6 channels work and they seem to be even in the right order (something that surround audio fans know isn't always a given..)


Hattler Surround Cuts (also available as a DVD)

Step 3: fix the broken file names using an Automator action. Replacing 20 with a space in the filenames is easy this way, I do all other URL encoded characters manually for now. If this were a process that I'd need to do several hundred times, I would try to fully automate that. As it's now, I am okay with doing a bit of manual work here.

What's next?

Next steps: find a way to make this process simpler and more automated. It's not that I have hundreds of DTS 5.1 CDs, but I'd still like to find an easier and less error-prone way to do this. I'm also going to need to find a good way to play or re-encode those files into something that I can easily play. But the 6-channel WAV gives me at least a great uncompressed starting point to continue using them down the chain.

And then: find a way to play all this back over my existing infrastructure. Fun times!


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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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