Posts Published in October 2009

Interview with Andy Bell of Deceptive Media

Andy Bell is the photoblogger behind Deceptive Media.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Andy Bell: I’m 43 years old and live in the South of England with my partner Liz and our boys Stefan and Adam. Currently I work from home as a freelance Web Designer.

Andy Bell: How did you first get started in photography?

AB: I first got into photography pretty much at the turn of the century as digital cameras started to become more mainstream. Like many I was drawn to the instant gratification that you get from digital cameras but what really got me excited was then being easily able to edit them.

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PP: What was your first camera?

AB: The first camera I used seriously was a Sony Cybershot DSC-F55E with a massive 2.1 mega pixels.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

AB: I’ve been using the Canon 5D for the last 3 years with the following lenses:

Sigma 24-70mm f2.8

Canon 17-40mm f4L

Canon 70-200mm f4L

Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lensbaby 2

Canon 50mm f1.4

Sigma 12-24mm

Software wise I use Lightroom and Photoshop CS4 on a Windows PC. There is a little more detail on my about page.

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PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

AB: Abstract/minimalist photography concerned mainly with colour, lines and shapes, though not exclusively, I also enjoy taking seascapes and people – I like all forms of photography but mainly abstract.

PP: What is one thing you learned regarding technique that caused the biggest improvement in your photography?

AB: Fairly early on in my photography exploits understanding aperture control and how it relates to depth of field was a big step forward along with minimum shutter speeds that can be used before one gets a blurred photo, I guess this is true for many.

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PP: How about in post-processing?

AB: Using layers and masks in Photoshop, allowing a non destructive work flow.

PP: When and why did you start DeceptiveMedia?

AB: The first photo on my blog is dated 1st Jan 2004, I started Deceptive Media like others to showcase my work and get some feedback. I had been using photosig and dpchallenge before, where critics were scathing at times but this helped me learn the basics, I was hoping for more of the same from my photoblog but people don’t tend to be so critical on a photoblog., except maybe by their silence.

PP: Why did you choose the name DeceptiveMedia?

AB: Initially Deceptive Media was going to be a show case site for all my creativeness – photography, music and video, hence ‘Media’, so I was looking for a name that would vaguely describe my ‘approach’ and also was an available domain name, it took me a fair amount of time to arrive at. I wish that I had registered deceptivemedia.com also as someone else has snapped that up which has nothing to do with me.

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PP: What percentage of the comments you receive would you say are meaningful or helpful comments?

AB: I enjoy all the comments I get on my blog and they are all very much appreciated, but rarely are they meaningful or helpful, at least not in a critical way.

PP: What are some of the common questions you receive from your fans?

AB: What is it? How did you do that? That sort of thing.

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PP: Where, when, and how often do you shoot?

AB: I shoot in my makeshift home studio and outside, I don’t really have any agenda, just when I feel like it.

PP: How many photographs do you usually take at one time?

AB: Sometimes hundreds sometimes 2 or 3. It varies. I think I take a lot less now than I used to as I have more of an idea what will work now days.

PP: Can you walk us through your workflow?

AB: 1. Shoot in RAW

2. Import photos into Lightroom into folders year/month/day.

3. Photos I want to edit then get copied to a folder called “In Progress” as a PSD after a little bit of tweaking in Lightroom.

4. Edit in Photoshop using adjustment layers. Techniques I use at this stage vary depending on the source and what I want to achieve.

5. The photo then either stays in the “In Progress” folder for ages before I decide to delete or makes it to the “Master” folder from where I pick shots to post to my Photoblog or Flickr, I use Lightroom to keep track of where every things been posted.

6. I print everything that ends up in the “Master” folder as 6X4 print and put it in a photo album, hopefully these will still be around long after my photoblog has ceased to exist.

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PP: Can you tell us a little about your home studio setup?

AB: I have a little corner in my office that I can just about leave one of my Interfit flash heads permanently setup with some backgrounds and diffusers. It’s nothing special and not big enough for anything but macro or small subjects but it does mean I don’t have to keep setting everything up every time I want to use it, which in the past would have been a major reason not to bother.

PP: What advice do you have for a beginning photographer?

AB: I guess it depends on what sort of photographer you’d like to be. But I think the main thing is to try and develop your own style.

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PP: Who are some photographers you regularly follow online?

AB: Milouvision, my brothers photoblog Digital Express, CandreK, NightPhotographer, FriskyPics, Mute and many more that you can see listed on my about page.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

You could interview my mate Milou.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

AB: Thanks for reading, and if you’re a follower of my photoblog then many thanks.

Topaz Lab Bundle Winners Announced

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Our latest contest for five (5) Topaz Labs Photoshop Bundles has come to an end. We received about 187 entries via comments, 118 entries via Twitter, and 305 entries total. The question we asked for the contest was “What is your greatest fear?”. Here are the randomly selected winners:

#147: fathima_05

My biggest fear is marrying the wrong person and ending up unhappy with my life… it paralyzes me

#86: sesser (@sesser)

My biggest fear is fear itself… that and carnies (small hands, smell like cabbage).

#301: dsdphoto (@dsdphoto)

my greatest fear outside of photography, losing those I care about leading to eternal loneliness.

#11: Adam

That my photography will never be appreciated

#65: wideangle

Greatest fear is to lose the people I care the most about…

Congratulations! Please email [email protected] to claim your prize.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway. It’s always interesting to read through the responses we get. We hope to have another giveaway soon, so please keep your eyes peeled!


Image credit: How to Camouflage City Sites by Smotret.

Canon Announces the EOS-1D Mark IV

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Canon just announced the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. It’s the first DSLR in the flagship 1D lineup to offer HD video recording capabilities at 1080p resolution.

It boasts a 16.1 megapixel sensor (a 6 megapixel increase from the Mark III) and has an native maximum ISO of 12,800, but can be increased to 102,400 via a custom function. This means the camera has pretty ridiculous low-light performance. In comparison, the Mark III offered up to 3,200 ISO.

Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Vincent Laforet received a prototype of the Mark IV a couple weeks ago to try out, and quickly put together a short film. It’s pretty mind-boggling what this camera can do in low-light situations.

These features come at a steep price. The suggested retail price for just the camera body is estimated to be $4,999, so it’s not exactly the kind of camera you’d buy to just play around with.

To find out more about this camera (i.e. more detailed specs), check out the newly created Wikipedia page.

How About a Topaz Labs Giveaway?

Update: This contest is now over. The winners have been randomly selected and posted here. Thanks for participating!


bundle_boxshot_150wIt’s been a while since I’ve done a giveaway here on PetaPixel. At one time I was doing roughly a giveaway a week. The last one we had here was when we gave away SmugMug accounts.

This week, I’m giving away five (5) Photoshop Bundles by Topaz Labs, each worth $179. The software is available for both Windows and Mac.

If you haven’t heard of Topaz Labs before, check out the different products included in this bundle, or poke around on Google for reviews. They’ve gotten some pretty positive feedback from photographers recently.

All you have to do to enter this giveaway is to answer the following question:

What is your greatest fear?

Yeah… It’s a pretty open ended question.

There are two ways to respond and enter the contest, and you can use both methods to double your chances:

  1. Leave your response as a comment on this PetaPixel.com post
  2. Tweet your response, and include the following link to this post anywhere in the tweet: http://j.mp/pptpl

    As long as the link appears somewhere in your tweet, you will automatically be entered in the contest. You don’t even need to include @petapixel.

The deadline for this giveaway is Saturday, October 24th, 2009. I’ll be randomly selecting the five winners using random.org.

Good luck!

PhotoSketch Turns Your Sketches into Photo Montages

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When there’s something in the news regarding photography, like Stanford’s open source camera, I’m usually not the first to post about it. However, since I have a background in both photography and computer science, hopefully I can provide some unique insight into certain news stories.

The big story this past week has been PhotoSketch, a research project out of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. The claim is that this program can take your rough, labeled sketches of various scenes, and automatically turn them into photo montages by combining the appropriate photographs obtained from the web. The following video posted to Vimeo demonstrating the technology has gotten over half a million views over the past week.

Key Ideas

There are two main features that allow PhotoSketch to work. The first is filtering out undesirable images to obtain suitable ones, and the second is a novel blending algorithm that creates a seamless composition.

The key idea is that the user of the program actually does a lot of the hard work, making the job of the program a lot simpler. What’s great is that the user doesn’t even realize they’re doing a lot of work. A similar example might be CAPTCHAs, those security keys you type in to verify you’re a human. It’s pretty trival for a human to do, but (currently) very difficult for a computer.

Modern-captcha

Likewise, labeling the semantics of a photo is something very difficult for computers to do. If you gave the program unlabeled photographs, how would the program distinguish between a man reaching for something and a man throwing a ball, if both have similar shape and form? A computer can determine shapes and colors, but has an impossible time figuring out the meaning of photographs without human participation.

Since the user provides both a shape and a label, the problem becomes a shape matching problem, which isn’t nearly as difficult. The program only has to search through images that humans have previously labeled as being suitable.

In order to make it easier to extract the desired subjects from photographs, the filtering process actually throws away images that don’t have clear, uncluttered backdrops. For example, a tiger that blends into grass would be discarded, as would a lego piece among many lego pieces. This makes sense, since we all know an object is much easier to isolate from a photo when it’s very distinct from the background. In Photoshop you can simply use the magic wand or quick selection tools to eliminate the background.

overviewpsketch

Now I’ll briefly describe the various steps that go into making the program work.

Obtaining the Background

The main observation for selecting a background is that if you find all the images with a certain label (i.e. beach, mountain, meadow, etc…), you can group them by similarity. They assume that the largest “cluster” of similar images is probably what the user is looking for, so they choose 100 of the background images that are most similar to the characteristics of this cluster.

Next, they take these 100 images, and throw out the ones that don’t have the horizon line in the correct place. With the remaining images, they filter out images that have non-uniform backgrounds in order to have clean, open spaces on top of which the item images can be placed. At the end of this stage, they keep about 20 background images as possible candidates.

Selecting Scene Items

Screen shot 2009-10-09 at 2.08.53 PM

Once candidate background images have been obtained, the program searches for images that match the labels of the items in the scene. As with background selection, images that are too complicated or too cluttered are filtered out. The items need to be very distinct from the background in order for the program to isolate them.

The program then compares the extracted items with the shape the user drew, if a shape was provided. Images that don’t match are discarded, and the ones that do match are clustered together, just like in background selection. Images that both match the shape well and are part of a popular cluster are selected as candidate images.

Blending the Images

The novel methods used to blend the candidate images together is actually one of the main areas of research for this project. Everything I’ve explained prior to this section isn’t very groundbreaking, while everything related to this section is too complicated and technical to be easily explained. I’ll just say a lot of work goes into making the images not look completely absurd against the selected backgrounds.

Real or Fake?

What I find funny is how many of the comments found around the web regarding PhotoSketch claim that it’s fake. If it were fake, it would be one of the greatest hoaxes of all time, since the research was done at a prestigious university and will also be presented at the ACM SIGGRAPH Asia conference in December.

However, this doesn’t mean the program is as perfect as the video demonstrations and examples published make it seem. Here are some examples from the paper of when the program generates a semantically ridiculous photo montage:

Screen shot 2009-10-09 at 1.49.56 PM

Anything automatically generated will have semantic flaws that create absurd and non-sensical images every so often. The examples provided by the PhotoSketch group are simply examples of when the program successfully does what it’s supposed to do (which is hopefully quite often). Does it always create images that look as nice or make as much sense as the examples? No, but the examples provide a good demonstration of the technology.

Conclusion

PhotoSketch is a pretty amazing idea that deserves all the attention it’s getting. It’s also a taste of what’s to come with regards to computer graphic technologies. I’m sure we’re going to see more and more mindboggling research projects and commercial products in the coming years.

Though the group is still working on an online demonstration, the research group’s website contains the user studies, and the research paper.


Image credits: The images used in this article were obtained from the research website and their paper.

Interview with Manuel Guerzoni of San Francisco Daily Photography

Manuel Guerzoni is the photoblogger behind San Francisco Daily Photography.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Manuel Guerzoni: I’m in my thirties, born and raised in France, currently residing in San Francisco. I have lived in Germany for a few years before moving to the US.

I have spent many years in University studying Science trying to satisfy my curiosity for all things.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

MG: I am a very curious person. I have a hard time dealing with the unknown: I must open the box and know what’s inside. As such, I have been observing people and things for a very long time. In 2001, a photographer friend put a camera in my hands and it’s only then that I realized that a camera could become a tool for me to record those things I was so curious about, so that

I could “study” them later inspecting their picture.

PP: What was your first camera?

MG: My very first camera was a Polaroid I was given in the late 70s. I didn’t use it much because I couldn’t afford the film.

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PP: What gear do you use now?

MG: I use a Leica M8 with a 35mm lens. All my gear, including filters, a spare battery, cleaning tools and a tripod fit in a small camera bag that I have with me at all times. That’s luxury. Another set of eyes with better recording capability.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

MG: I sometimes wish I had a wider angle lens which would suit street photography better. When I had reflex cameras, I would exclusively use ultra-wide angle lenses. But I’m very happy with my current gear, I really don’t need anything else right now.

PP: What do you do for a living?

MG: Photography is my only source of income right now.

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PP: Tell me about photographing in San Francisco. How is it similar to or different from other places you’ve photographed?

MG: San Francisco is a complex blend of cultures. It is very different from other places to photograph because no single picture can accurately depict the city. People are typically very tolerant and open-minded here which, in my opinion, makes taking pictures of people easier here than in other cities. Also, because the city enjoys lots of visitors, it makes it harder to take unique pictures. Everyone seems to be walking around with a camera here. If you’re looking to do something unique, it’s not a bad idea to get “uninspired” using sites like flickr before going to shoot to see what other people are doing and try to do something different.

PP: How would you describe your photography for someone who has never seen it?

MG: Each photo I publish on my San Francisco photoblog is a piece of the complex San Francisco puzzle. I strive for the images to be narrative, and hard to be placed in time.

PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

MG: I use my camera pretty much every day, I shoot about 50 pictures a week in average.

Can you tell us very briefly how you make a living through photography? (is it through exhibitions? prints? commercial photography? editorial? etc…)

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I make a living with it, or maybe I should stay hopeful and say “not yet”. But I make money taking commercial assignments and selling prints.

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PP: What are some questions you hear the most from your fans?

MG: Most questions I get are related to the equipment I use. With the introduction of “affordable” DSLRs, lots of folks have started buying new equipment or are considering it. There’s so much choice out there, that people will ask for advice. I tend to think that the equipment doesn’t make a big difference. If you’re a good photographer, you will be a good photographer with any camera in your hand. If you made an analogy to musical instruments, everyone would agree that Jimi Hendrix would have been an amazing guitarist even he had played a guitar other than a Fender Stratocaster. My advice would be to figure out which focal length you want based on what you want to photograph. Then, you can just let your budget dictate the rest.

I also often get the question “did your subjects know you were photographing them?”. My answer to that is that I don’t talk to my subjects prior to taking their picture in order to keep the scene candid and honest, but I often do talk to them afterwards. My experience is that folks usually know you’re there with your camera. But if you act in an honest way, without hiding or trying to be sneaky, they will act normally and will also respond better to your taking their picture.

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PP: Do you have any formal training in photography, or are you entirely self-taught?

MG: I did read some books to understand the basic techniques, and learned a lot by doing things wrong. I found that if you spend as much time looking at your “bad” photos as you spend on your “good” ones, you learn quickly. I find that the hardest part is not learning the technique, it’s figuring out what you want to do especially if you’re trying to be relevant.

PP: Where do you get your film developed?

MG: I use digital exlusively now. I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

PP: Can you tell us about your workflow?

MG: I have to admit that there’s room for improvement in my workflow. I don’t keyword my images very consistently and I often go straight from raw to jpg, bypassing the tif format. I’m also horrible at doing backups… But my typical workflow consists of transfering my files to my computer, then keywording them, then going through a review assigning from 0 to 5 stars. When processing, I may make some light exposure adjustments in Camera Raw, and then will go to Photoshop for doing work like black&white conversion, resizing, noise reduction or perspective adjustments. I am lucky to own a camera whose exposure meter is very accurate and the dynamic range is great. So I don’t need to do much in post-processing. But in general, if the original image is less than 95% of what I want the final image to be, I don’t bother trying to salvage it. If I had more time or better photoshop skills, maybe I would. As far as copyright information, licensing information and other metadata, I only populate the file once I sell the image.

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PP: Do you have any personal tricks for doing street photography?

MG: My trick is being as obvious as possible and making eye contact. The faster people acknowledge you, the faster they’ll forget you’re there and will go back to whatever they’re doing. Making eye contact also tells you whether the person is ok being photographed or not. Another trick is to make eye contact again, after taking the photo, and staying cool. That has proved to avoid some negative reactions. I try to always talk to people after I took their photo, to tell them what I’m doing and ask for a model release when needed.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences from shooting on the street?

MG: I’ve had a number of unsuccessful attempts at explaining candid street photography to people I have photographed. I have perfected my pitch over time. I remember one interaction with a gentleman who asked me to delete his photo right on the spot. I didn’t mind doing it but as soon as I did, he started calling me names. I guess that for him, my deleting the photo was an acknowledgement that I should not have taken it without his prior consent. I won’t do that again.

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PP: What are some common mistakes you think people make when doing street photography?

MG: It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking pictures from the distance with a long lens. It feels safe because you’re far away. But street photography is meant to be taken very close to the subject, with a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens mimics the angle of human eyesight. That’s the only way you can involve your viewer in the scene photographed.

PP: How should one go about talking to strangers after taking their photograph?

MG: I suggest to do it as honestly and directly as possible. Personally, I usually start with something along the lines of: “Hi, I just took your picture, hope that’s ok with you, I phototograph people in the street.” See how they respond and go from there. I usually also offer to send a copy of the photo by e-mail. On another note, an e-mail exchange seems to be a more effective way of obtaining a model release than trying to get one signed on location.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers, both historical and contemporary?

MG: My favorite photographers are Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Roy DeCarava and James Nachtwey.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

MG: I’d love to see an interview of Sally Mann on petapixel…

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MG: A big thank you to all the folks that follow my photography online.


Manuel’s work will be on display in an exhibit titled “Caught in the Spotlight” at BridgeHead Studios in Alameda, California from October 9 through November 11, 2009.

MIOPS: Smartphone Controllable High Speed Camera Trigger

MIOPS is a new smartphone-controlled camera trigger that combines all of the features photographers want in a high-speed camera trigger into one convenient device.

Read more…

Current Trends in Photography

trends_logo_lgGoogle Trends is an interesting service that can provide glimpses into how popular certain things are at any given time among the general public.

I thought it would be interesting to search for some photography related keywords to see what’s rising and falling in popularity. A lot of the following results probably correspond to what you’ve already observed from looking around at friends, family, and the people around you.

First off, the popularity of DSLR cameras seems to be exploding, at least with the people I know (especially at church). Everyone seems to be getting a DSLR rather than a point-and-shoot these days. Here’s what Google trends tell us about the search volume of the keyword “dslr”:

google trends - dslr

In this case, Google definitely confirms what I’ve been observing. The search volume of “dslr” this year is about four times as large as four years ago. This is even more significant given the fact that the “camera” keyword seems to be falling rather than rising.

Another keyword with a lot of momentum is “photoblog”:

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Seems like the term is getting more popular, and that more and more people are starting photoblogs to share their photographs. Notice how, unlike “dslr”, the graph doesn’t really start until around 2003 or 2004. This seems to be about when the term “photoblog” began to become mainstream.

Something else that the “photoblog” keyword reveals is how popular photoblogging is in Poland. This probably isn’t common knowledge, but I also discovered this independently a while ago while working on Photoblog.com. Photoblogging service photoblog.pl is among the 50 most popular websites in Poland, and photoblog.com also has a significant number of Polish users.

Let’s move on to some more interesting photo related trends…

How about the battle between Canon and Nikon?

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Seems like Canon is the clear leader in terms of popularity (sometime we’ve known, right?), but also that Nikon is slowly closing the gap… at least in terms of search volume.

Other manufacturers are a little more difficult to compare since they’re not as focused on photography equipment.

What about photo sharing? Here’s a comparison between some of the more popular services:

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Not surprisingly, Flickr is the 800lb gorilla in this space (though it’s losing a little weight). SmugMug is relatively tiny, though this is probably because it’s an exclusively paid service, while a large portion of Flickr’s members use it for free.

Webshots seems to be fading away, while upstart Twitter service Twitpic has burst onto the scene in the past year.

Facebook is obviously the largest photo-sharing service in the world, but including it in the graph makes every other service appear as lines on the x-axis.

Those are some current trends in the world of photography. If you do some searches of your own and find other interesting photo-related trends, please leave a comment sharing what you find with us! Maybe I’ll append your results to the post.