Posted in Rants, Technology and Software

Instagram: Tiger by the Tail?

A few days ago I set up an Instagram account for the first time ever. Everybody else seemed to be using it, I thought, so why not me?

I haven’t been happy so far. I’m so focused on settings and problems that I haven’t looked around much to see what other people are posting.

1. There’s no official Instagram app in the iPad App Store. Eventually I discovered they didn’t make one! We can only use the iPhone app with no way of forcing it to work in landscape view. Viewing it in portrait mode is unnatural and uncomfortable, so I don’t spend long doing that.

2. I can use Instagram from the mobile browser, but it’s spartan. There are things I can’t do unless I switch to the uncomfortable sideways app.

3. Nobody seems to like the way the feed works any more. People complain that the same posts they’ve already seen and commented on hang around for days on end. There’s no logic to it and you can’t target your viewing unless you visit each Instagram friend individually.

4. You can’t hide your follower lists from anyone following you.

The real kicker, though — the most mind-bendingly crass thing — is the way it notifies people you know (mainly Facebook friends) that you have just opened an Instagram account. This happens to some degree even if you didn’t use your Facebook sign-in. As soon as I created mine, it suggested I follow various Facebook friends. I’m quite sure they could see me too, even if they happened not to receive a direct notification.

This isn’t what I want. Even if I jump through hoops trying to keep my Instagram account anonymous, I wouldn’t be able to fully trust it, because who really knows how these social media sites work? Are you sure you understand all the ins and outs, who-can-sees, and who-can’ts?

I feel like a fly floating on the surface of a big pond with very little understanding of how things work and almost no say over my visibility. I’m simply not a fan of this idea!

It’s not that I really care if family and acquaintances can see the uninspiring photos and pictures I come up with, but I feel held back. If I was in a mood and ‘liked’ a grumpy quotation, those who have closer ties to me would wonder if I was grumping at them and what the issue was!

Socializing would be a lot less fun if you had to worry all the time about who was privy to what. Your rabid SNP cousin might blow his top if he knew your political views, which is exactly why you don’t talk politics to him but might to someone else.

Or perhaps this is the idea… we all have to have very bland, politically-correct conversations that don’t move too far from the weather?

I made my Instagram account private but am considering closing it altogether because I can’t see myself using it. I felt confused from the start… “what do I post here? Family stuff or arty, self-expressive stuff?” I considered setting up a second, more private account, then realized anonymity isn’t guaranteed anyway.

These big companies may say, even believe, that they have opened up the internet, simplified it, made it easier, automated everything and connected everybody, but in fact they are closing down the ways you can productively, safely, freely and confidently use it. Everything’s so automated and ‘smart’ and omniscent that it’s out of each user’s control exactly who can see what you’ve posted and where, and I’m sure this has already led to problems for many people.

You wonder what’s the point of having these different forums anyway, if they’re all interlinked to the degree that you can follow one person from Facebook to Instagram to Pinterest to…? It seems like too much bother; just amalgamate the lot into one single interface! One App to Rule Them All.

Instagram might have been fun on its own. I could have got used to the square format and would enjoy creating the right kind of images. Unfortunately social media communicates *too* much on our behalf, and we no longer know what we’re doing. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Posted in My Cats, Photographs

Adding to the Memory Store

It’s hot and muggy, which might explain the difficulty sleeping. I sat in the garden with mother and sister, and said “it’s impossible to completely capture a place,” and they said “what do you mean?”
“If you take photographs of the garden, it’s not like the real thing.” Of course not.

The insects buzz against the deep, inviting shade; the leaves and grass shimmy, the daisies pop against the lawn. A warm scent of flowers wafts on the breeze. The sky is blue, the sun burns your skin, and the clouds move in stately pace across the sky. A beetle crawls across your foot, and the cats walk around and try not to look bored. Bring out your camera and everything is flattened and dulled; the sun goes in, the insects disappear and the clouds fade.

Still, we try. Nothing will beat Virtual Reality as an art form once it really gets going… they’ll put the bugs in too; don’t think they won’t. 🙂

I did my best with my Canon… took photos of everything that moved and a lot that didn’t, and the day went dark. A breeze sprang up, and the air felt full of incipient rain. We went inside and looked out at a thunder storm with rain plashing down. I wasn’t good at capturing that either.

I’ve complicated my photo reorganization by adding to the mass of stuff to sort through — but it wouldn’t be such fun if you didn’t get new ones to look at.

Cheeky -- when she finally looked round!
Posted in Computer Graphics, Photographs, Technology and Software

Two Things That Photographers Hate

(1) Things that move when you don’t want them to. (Especially vexing for HDR enthusiasts, who need to take at least three exposures without a pixel out of place).

Animated gif of flowers outdoors
Pulsating Pulsatillas

(2) Things that don’t move when you’re eagerly hoping for action.

Samson the cat... just sitting. Animated gif.
Cat No Motion

You wind up making your own images, as they will do exactly what you expect them to do, but I don’t think I’ll do that again in a hurry! I set up the name banner below in Paint.NET, and it took me hours of mostly monotonous work (duplicating layers, erasing, merging layers, saving layers…) Then I took it to Jasc Animation Wizard (in my old Paint Shop Pro 7). It took just 4 seconds to create the animation, all 96 frames of it, and I felt cheated. What an anti-climax! I expected it to chug and grumble and have things wrong with it that I needed to fix.

Animated gif showing the name 'Diddums' being written out.
Ow, my tooth

I have a tooth infection… tried to make a dental appointment; got fixed up for a month away! Why? She’s doing volunteer work in Peru. I don’t know if I can last… I’ll just crawl away and die somewhere.

But if it rains on my washing again, I’m going straight out there to strangle a cloud. It took my pink towel two days and nights to dry, and even then it felt damp around the edges. Peeve.

Posted in Desktop Pictures, My Cats, Photographs

Having Fun

Was just thinking about everyone pursuing their own interests and projects… Can you spot your own? They might be spread through the list:

making bags
playing and making computer games
family history
writing up old diaries
photographing cats and dogs, and enabling them to write their own blogs
photographing churches and birds
receiving friendly flower pots from men with dubious T-shirts
spending time with one’s new girlfriend
going to concerts and having albums signed
returning to one’s roots
selling prints
setting up new websites
starting new blogs
making coffee and buying beautiful coffee pots
collecting and photographing lambananas
the martial arts
seeing Shakespeare plays
indulging in DIY or general house maintenance
having building work done
running and exercising (when injury permits)
going to festivals
studying human nature (or specific weaknesses)
finding new and more successful ways to lose weight
making new Photoshop brushes and textures
creating Mandalas and Zentangles
attending writing groups
issuing (or following) writing prompts
composing verse
spotting moons and planets
listening to old tapes and records
keeping notes and quotations of what one has read
keeping a written record for one’s child to read later
watching fashion and celebrities
buying jewellery
discussing difficult issues
challenging difficult policies
driving top-down with the wind streaming through your hair
training and showing horses
Turkish history
Moomins and Moomin memorabilia
going to the British seaside and watching pale creatures eating ice cream
sewing costumes
making jam
bottling beer
spending time on Facebook, Stumbleupon and/or Twitter
reviewing books and films
cooking and baking
hiding in the woods

Those who say bloggers have no lives of their own have no idea what they’re talking about.

Then there are my own pursuits and interests:

making desktop wallpaper and inflicting it on the universe
photography (digital, for the time being)
fractal art
3D art (it’s just on hold till I get a stronger and faster computer)
blogging!! (sometimes)
keeping (and backing up) private journals
writing stories (very rusty — I need remotivation)
hoarding pens and pencils
collecting bears (and hanging out with small purple dragons)
trying out, buying and wearing new perfumes. I’ll never be a bottle collector as such.

I’m also quite enjoying making new dishes, but I’m such a slow, got-to-scrub-every-last-grease-spot-off-everything cook that I don’t experiment very frequently. The next menu I’m planning involves spring rolls with a few Thai side dishes. I don’t really talk about cooking on my blog, because they are recipes from books; I can’t publish them and say “look; my grandmother’s own time-honoured recipe!” Not to say I don’t have any… hmm, there’s a thought.

Reading… they say everybody loves reading and it’s a cliche to include it in any list of pursuits; but that’s not true, as not everybody reads. (Perhaps they don’t read blogs either, or perhaps some do!) I’m currently working through a Cleopatra novel almost as long as War and Peace, and it’s just as enjoyable.

I’m still running my snapshots through the pipe of Photomatix Pro, with varying results. Some look really good right away, but you can tease others for ages and they’re just a little brighter and more colourful than they were to start with. It’s to be expected, really.

I created a completely random HDR image on the Mac which turned out nicer than I was expecting (though a little hotly coloured in places), but then the Toshiba laptop spotted it, got its evil mits on it, and the following is the result! (Click to enlarge).

Awaiting the Magic Hour

Software used by the Toshiba was Paint.NET with some added plugins.

My sister enquired “are the crumbs not tasty?” and I said “they’ve been HDRed… they’re probably toxic.”

Posted in My Cats, Photographs, Technology and Software

Focusing on Skills

When I was still at school, Mum (who liked to throw out random pieces of advice), said “if you see a word and you don’t know what it means, look it up in the dictionary.” Sometimes there’s something you’re too lazy or tired to check; it’s just one of those things. Other times you just assume a word means something that it doesn’t! But 3 times out of 4, remembering her advice, I would make myself look it up. I never regretted the few minutes spent.

I found myself thinking of that just now when I said to Pete that the reviewer of my new lens was correct about it being light and good (I’m happy with it), but at the same time having some focusing issues with my Canon 350D. I’m in my first few days of using this lens, and have noticed that already. It doesn’t happen a lot, only when focusing on certain things (like repeated patterns, I guess). It doesn’t know what to focus on the most, and it zooms in and out helplessly, and finally, when you think you’ve stopped in a good place and try to take the shot, the camera refuses, saying it can’t focus properly.

I rather wish it wouldn’t care…

But it does. The only way to overcome that is to focus manually. To embark on that, you switch from AF to MF on the lens. We’re not supposed to manually focus when it’s in autofocus, according to the instruction manual… it doesn’t say why not. Fortunately I never even thought of trying!

The first time I tried manual focus, it didn’t seem to work; nothing at all got sharp in the viewfinder. I grumbled about that, and thought “oh well,” and used a clumsy workaround, which was: using autofocus till it got to a place I was happy with, stopping, switching the lens to MF, and taking the shot.

I suppose it was good enough for the situation, as I didn’t want to step away from where I was, but am I going to use the workaround for the rest of my days? Or am I going to check the instruction manual and figure out what I did wrong?

The second option is the easiest and most time-saving in the long run, though sometimes you have to shame yourself into doing it! I have now confirmed what I was doing wrong when failing to focus manually (using the zoom ring instead of the focusing ring; talk about confused!) There was a time when I didn’t even know why my camera was refusing to take the shot, which it sometimes did with my old lens as well. For months and years I just muddled through and did what I could. But now I’ve looked it up and understand. It’s like a weight off my mind.

Meanwhile here’s another shot of Samson through the new lens. I was trying to underexpose so that the flowers (and other pretty things) weren’t quite so washed out, but as a result the grass looks a lot darker than I’m happy with. I could lighten it in Photoshop but can’t be bothered today.

Lazy Photographer Syndrome strikes again…

Posted in My Cats, Photographs

Poppa Sam

A rather shaky photo of Samson, as he was moving quickly, but a keeper, I think. Have also been trying out some Photoshop tips from camera magazines (my sister gave me a bundle of old ones for my birthday). The problem with it is that I keep seeing other cameras and wondering if they would be better than the one I have! Low priority, I would say…

Cat licking his own nose

PS: I was reading my camera instruction manual at bedtime (as one does) and found a bit where it says if a battery is running out too quickly, it might need to be replaced with a new…. battery! Not camera! I know, bang goes the excuse. In my case I think the battery is plenty good; it’s the way I autobracket everything and use RAW files as well as large JPEGs… the cards are hard-pushed to keep up, never mind the battery. On top of that, the new zoom len uses a lot of power in image stabilizing. It can be turned off if the camera is very steady and won’t shake, but today I was lazy and left the tripod indoors.

Posted in My Cats, Photographs

Zooming Ahead

I asked Birthday Claus for a telephoto zoom lens for my birthday, and got it! It’s for my Canon 350D, and is a Canon EFS 55-250mm with image stablizer. I don’t know very much about lenses but this looked as though it would extend what my camera can do, without breaking Birthday Claus’s bank (any more than it’s broken already, that is). All I’ve been using ever since I bought the Canon a while ago is the basic ‘kit lens’ (18-55mm).

The kit lens is actually fairly wide angle, isn’t it? You can cram a lot into one shot! I was trying to pull some leafy twigs out of the way of one timed shot (sideways on), and was way to the side, trying to melt into the tree (which was probably teeming with spiders and wasps)… but the camera still caught my shoulder. My interest is going more towards landscape now, away from cats and still life and things in the garden. I would really love a nice wide angle zoom lens but they seem to cost far more than the telephoto zooms.

Meanwhile the telephoto zoom does meet a need; I can get shots I wouldn’t have managed before. Clouds look much the same through zooms… though actually they look better in wide angle shots. This was probably taken at 55mm and then coloured up in Photoshop Elements — I can never resist!:

Below is Delilah… one of those cats who gets up and comes over to you if you approach too near with the camera. The zoom is a boon in these circumstances! She is keeping a wary eye on Cheeky, who is glowering at her from the background. Those two are like warring supermodels…

Something from the garden… that blue in the background really caught my attention; wouldn’t normally take a photo of the negative space between roses!

And Samson with his curly locks, sleeping like a baby.

You can take hand-held shots with this zoom because of the image stablizer. The close-up of Samson’s face was handheld indoors… I wouldn’t have been able to do that with my zoom on the old non-digital Nikon! A tripod was a must for that piece of kit.

Another thing I’m able to do that I wasn’t able to do with the Nikon’s zoom, is share the filters used by the basic lens. The Nikon’s basic lens took 55mm filters, and the zoom took 67mm filters. Both Canon lenses take 58mm filters, so I can use my new polarizing filter with either.

It’s a very light lens; doesn’t feel any heavier than the basic one, and I don’t notice that the camera is any more eager to overbalance on the tripod than it used to be!

Something does annoy me about the tripod itself; it’s an old one I used with the Nikon. It’s how the camera attaches to the tripod that vexes me… I don’t know if it has changed or improved in any way, but no matter how firmly I turn that screw, the camera works loose again. Taking ‘sideways’ shots becomes a nightmare, with the camera eventually sagging. Maybe I should be looking at newer tripods to see if they handle that better, though the ones I’ve seen are so lightweight I don’t see that they’re any more stable than the one I have…. quite possibly less. Though it’s hardly the Rock of Gibraltar! I was taking some seascape shots the other day from a footpath, and the wind was so strong that it was causing the entire tripod to ‘thrum’. Some of the exposures were longer than they should have been, and I wasn’t surprised when I got home to find the pictures were less than sharp.

Such is life… and photography!

Posted in Current Affairs, Photographs, Political and Social Issues

Photography Restrictions

I agree with Pete on the issue of restrictions on photography in the UK. It does sound very vague, and we could be doing ourselves a disservice. Apart from anything else, recent targets of terrorism have been ordinary citizens, and I don’t see how becoming paranoid about photography will reduce such risks. While we are doing that, are we going to reduce the number of CCTV cameras counted here by Pacian? Hmm, didn’t think so.

If you are a British citizen, there’s a petition against it… so far it has over 4,000 signatures. Some of my friends have signed it as well… they didn’t need much persuading. When I was saying I’d signed it, Mum looked grim and said “GOOD.” Though she may have been thinking about stories from friends of hers who were stopped from taking photographs at birthday parties and suchlike because there were children present.

Where will it all end?

Posted in Art

Negative Space

The following thoughts are ramblings, straight out of my hat, and I’ve probably completely missed the point. Maybe someone out there has more experience with this topic and can offer a few helpful pointers?

I’ve been wrestling with the concept of Negative Space. I’m told that it’s taught at most basic art classes, and it humbles me to realize I was never at such classes (after leaving school). What I remember from school is very little; I don’t think they threw about such terms as ‘negative space’! They just said “please draw this old boot.”

There is doubtless very little ‘negative space’ in any of my fractal wallpapers. Someone (without seeing my work) mentioned ‘negative space’ the same evening I’d finished an abstract with ornate detail and vibrant colours in every pixel of it. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Perhaps I should have a sign above my desk saying, ‘Negative space? Not around here.’

Nevertheless, I’ve been on a mission to work out what it is and what relevance it has to my own work, so I’ve been Googling… and the more I read, the more confused I get. People post ‘examples’ of negative space, and I think to myself “but that doesn’t fit with the descriptions I’ve read.” Sometimes the negative space in such an example is so overwhelming, so in focus, so much part of the picture that it becomes the main subject. Meanwhile the main subject is insignificant and not that interesting, a bit like a fly on flat yellow paint. Is that an example of negative space?

(Brings to mind the lost swimmer in a storm-tossed sea at the end of The Perfect Storm. At first it focuses on the swimmer, then it draws back and back and back, so you see more and more of the sea, and slowly realize how huge and black that ‘space’ is… the swimmer is just a dot; in fact, not visible any more. Where do you cross the boundary between the sea being the ‘negative space’ and the sea being the main subject? Perhaps the sea never was negative space).

I’m told it’s all right (though not obligatory) for a negative space to become more interesting than the positive space… but there has to be a good balance. What comprises a ‘good’ balance is left up in the air; possibly it depends on good composition and whatever you’re trying to do; trying to focus on.

OK, so I read somewhere that negative space, more traditionally, is a ‘non-distracting background’ that enhances the subject, and isn’t merely non-distracting.

I like that, but then you read about studies of objects such as chairs, where you draw the spaces in and around the chair, but not the chair itself. That goes beyond ‘background’… that, to me, is something else.

‘Negative space’ must be in most (or all) pictures, but is not necessarily good, in that you might have a photo of a child with a cluttered background. The clutter in general is as much ‘positive space’ as the child is, along with anything else that distracts or holds the attention… but that doesn’t mean there’s no negative space; just, probably, that it’s not a good example of it. The differentiations, then, are only in degrees of how well the negative space works, and how uncluttered and ‘clean’ the positive space is.

Maybe one person has a view of what negative space is, and uses the term to describe this, whereas someone else has a different use for it. I wonder if negative space isn’t just what it is… the area surrounding an object… whereas the relevance it has to art tend to shift. Perhaps asking people to draw the area around an object has helped them draw better or pay more attention to background and composition, but I wonder if defining negative space by the specific value you attach to it doesn’t confuse, rather than clarify.

I wonder if there aren’t more down-to-earth ways of expressing what an artist or photographer should be looking for and trying to do?

Mum told me just now that she remembered something from her own art classes — what she said was written down so it’s not half-remembered:

“When I was taught Art at school we were told that there was no such thing as an outline. There was only contrast between background and foreground — light and dark that made objects appear to us as having outlines — a trick of the mind. So a child draws a house [draws basic house] but that’s not how it works really.”

That fits in well with the concept of the background throwing the main subject into sharp relief in some cases, or ‘accentuating’ it, but I’m not sure how it fits in with the drawing studies of what are essentially outlines… the shapes of the background being observed through and around a chair, for example. I read somewhere that children are viewed as having an instinctive grasp of negative space when they are young, but adults seem to have lost the knack. What Mum was taught about the wrongness of childish houses flies in the face of that (or does it?) Perhaps it’s part and parcel of the same perceptions… or has nothing to do with it at all.

Probably at Mum’s school they talked about contrast and balance rather than ‘negative space’.

I brought up the subject of people drawing the space around rather than the actual object, and Mum frowned and said “I’m getting an arty headache. Maybe you should sit and stare at something till the background takes it over.”

An example of negative space I’ve seen mentioned on several sites is of Bugs Bunny running through a closed door, leaving only a Bugs Bunny shaped hole. Apparently the bunny-shaped space is the main subject, and the door is the negative space. (Though in other places I’ve seen photos of objects with designs cut in them, and the hole was described as being the negative space whereas the object with the hole in it was the positive space). A lot of people seem to find the Bugs Bunny example illuminating, but it just fogs me up even more. To me the door is the main subject… or rather, the door with a bunny-shaped hole in it is the main subject. Bugs Bunny has left the building, and isn’t the subject any more. The negative space, if any, would be anything else that was in the picture… carpet, wallpaper, lamps, table, anything you probably weren’t really looking at, but which sets the tone. Perhaps I haven’t ‘got’ it yet; perhaps my attention is on the wrong things, or I’ve conjured up the wrong picture in my imagination.

There are light moments in everything, however, and I smiled when I came across something by a blogger who said he tended to post about things he only had a certain amount of interest in, but stores away items of even greater interest because they needed to be explored in greater detail. And so they never get written up, or are eventually dealt with only sketchily. (Don’t I know the feeling?) He finished by claiming that readers should read the white space on his blog rather than the words themselves, as the real value lies in what isn’t there.

See A weblog in negative space…

This morning when I woke up, the song in my head was ‘The Space Between’ by Roxy Music. It’s still there.