The Army Museum and Other Curiosities

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 20th, 2011 by MadDog
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I can hardly take in the fact that I have only three days left in Honolulu. As I’ve said already, it has been strange and disturbing to be here without Eunie, but I realise that these intensely unhappy feelings are going to be with me for a long time and I need to learn to deal with them. More distressing yet are the seemingly unending series of meetings, appearances and presentations I must take care of in order to properly discharge my responsibilities to my supporters. These were once obligations which Eunie and I attended to with confidence. Now it is the loneliest thing in the world for me.

Still, there have been some distractions which I have enjoyed. I had decided to go to the Army Museum, forgetting that Eunie and I had been there many years ago. I had a couple of false starts finding it. People kept giving me instructions like, “It’s right down there.”, pointing in some vague direction or, “Keep going until you’re almost to the water and look for the flags.”, indicating generally in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. Having finally found it I immediately recognised that I’d been there before and the inevitable weird feeling that there was something very important missing flooded over me. I toughed it out and went through the museum. You can cover the whole thing easily in an hour.

There are many well designed displays chock full of goodies for war buffs. Here is a nicely done display of all of the Japanese war planes which participated in the attack on Pearl Harbour:

The models were very beautifully constructed down to the finest details. All of them had tail numbers of planes which were in the attack and most gave the pilot’s name.

Here is a display of a period photo of Waikiki beach with a replica of one of the many machine-gun nests which were placed there in preparation for the expected invasion:

I tried in vain to find any other images of these defenses on the web – no luck.

No history of Hawaii’s role in World War II could be complete without the story of the 442nd. The motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was “Go for Broke.” It was composed of Japanese-American men, mostly from Hawaii. The tale is powerful and it is well told in the museum. These men proved their loyalty without doubt during their bloody battles with the German Army in Europe. They were one of the most successful and highly decorated units of the war. The price for this was paid in flesh. The casualty rate for the unit was extremely high.

I saw a couple of flame-thrower demonstrations when I was in the National Guard. My general impression was that I wanted nothing to do with them:

My opinion hasn’t changed at all after seeing this display once again.

I have done some wandering in other places. Here is a carefully composed image of what I not-so-jokingly call The Hundred-Million Dollar Mile:

Such naked displays of wealth can be found in countless breezy ports around the world. Honolulu hasn’t the glitz and sophisticated, snobbish class of the Euopean leisure nests, but it holds its head up when it comes to flamboyant spending.

I ducked my head inside the outer door of this establishment and eyed with great amusement the intimidating iron gate hidden just out of view of the aimless wandered. The stern warning, “MEMBERS ONLY” was enough to turn me away:

Ah, well, the Yacht Clubs in Lae and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea are much more welcoming, if not so ostentatious. The Madang Club, along with the Madang Game Fishing Association is a very friendly place where visitors are gladly welcomed. Maybe the principle here is that the farther away you get from the big money, the more hospitable the atmosphere becomes.

More in line with the common man’s reach and taste is this sort of yacht, the classic Hawaiian outrigger racing canoes:

This shot was taken on a Sunday morning. As you can see, it is a very popular sport.

I got all arty while composing this shot. It was a little tricky, because I was working against the rhythm of the small groups of canoes racing for the finish line. I wanted to capture the contrast of the small canoes, steeped in Hawaiian history, the glamorous yachts in the mid-distance and the cold, blank-faced buildings in the background. The image as it came from my camera was speechless. All of the elements were there, but the hues and light levels were all wrong:

It might surprise you that I spent more than an hour working on the image. The sky was all blotchy, pale white, so I made it blue. The buildings had an unnatural cyan cast and seemed very flat. I sharpened them, and the masts, warmed up the hue and boosted the contrast. It took a while to get just the look I wanted.  Moving down, the larger boats behind the canoes and the dock were deeply shadowed on the sides, so I brightened them up and removed a bluish cast which made them look strange. Finally, the canoes required a lot of work to make them look the way I wanted. It’s still a very ordinary photo, but it now speaks to me much more clearly. Except for the cost of a modest camera every three or four years, this hobby costs me nothing but time, which I count better spent than staring at a television set.

As my final gasp of artistic expression for the day, I’ll present Buildings and Sky:

Simplicity appeals to me, mainly because my life seems to be far more complicated than it needs to be. I looked up at these buildings against the dark blue sky and listened. Little observations, sounding much like me speaking to myself, began to whisper. . . See the faint cirrus streak connecting the tops of the buildings? See the stark contrast? See all those angled lines, some strong and some faint, barely observable? See the strong black columns intruding? See the reddish glow of the sunlight reflected from the coppery windows. The width and height of this image exactly match the Golden Ratio, which is supposed to be a most pleasing shape to the human eye. The buildings follow the Rule of Thirds.

It’s fun to see how much information can be crammed into such a simple picture.

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The Panorama Techniques or Bore Me To Tears

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m not sure why I suddenly got the idea that somebody out there might be interested in this. My brain works, when it works, in mysterious ways.

I did a two-frame exposure with my Canon G0 a couple of days ago of a mediocre sunrise. As I was stitching it together and going through the process of determining if it was worth keeping, I began to think of the steps as a sort of dance with the pixels (don’t ask). So, from that demented state, this post was born.

Let’s start at the beginning. Well, not really at the beginning. We’ll start with the image that Photoshop coughs up after you load the two frames into its Photomerge feature. Here’s what you get if you are lucky and you’ve held the camera straight and overlapped the two shots correctly. It helps to have a “Panorama” setting on your camera, because it will set the exposure on the first frame and then keep it the same for each subsequent exposure. Otherwise, you might have to set your camera on manual or use an exposure lock feature, if you can find it. Anyway, here’s the starting point for our purpose:

The two-frame panorama as stitched together by Photoshop

As you can see, Photoshop had to do some fancy footwork to make the two frames blend together as if they were a single exposure. That’s why the shape is funny. If you’re doing more that two frames, it can get a little crazy. That’s why it’s always best to shoot several sequences of the same panorama. Hopefully, one of the sequences will come out more or less straight, indicating that you were holding the camera in a consistent way and lining the shots up correctly.

You can see in the shot above that the horizon bulges down a little and is slightly tilted. We use the controls in the Filter | Distort | Lens Correction feature of Photoshop to fix these problems:After straightening the curved horizon

Now we have a nice straight and level horizon, but the image is squeezed in at the bottom. If we don’t fix this, we’ll lose part of the sky when we crop it to a rectangle.

We use the same filter as before, except we use a different control to pull the bottom of the image out toward us. You can think of it as if you were looking at the image on a canvas and you tilted the top of the canvas back away from you. Now the image is more or less rectangular. We can get away with this in this image because we have no obvious lines that must be kept vertical or horizontal, except for the horizon, which we’ve already fixed:Stretching the bottom to make the image more rectangular

These controls are very handy for images that contain architecture. You can fix those buildings that look as if they are leaning back away from you.

Now, we crop (trim) the image so that looks compositionally correct. On this image it is a no-brainer. If we were dealing with other images we might want to think of the Rule of Thirds. Here, however, we just need to grab as much detail as we can:Cropping the image to the area of interest

Notice that, because I did not want to lose any of the detail high in the sky, I had to cheat on the crop a lttle at the upper corners. That’s no problem. We can use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop to pick up bits from one place in the image and blend it in somewhere else. This is one of the coolest things since sliced bread.

It this image you can see that I filled in the missing areas:Cloning in the missing bitsWe still have the problem of the boat intruding on the image, but we can fix that also by cloning some of the water near the boat to cover it up.

Now the boat is gone and all that is needed is to adjust the final colours:

Cloning the boat out and adjusting the final coloursThe whole job took about ten minutes. That’s far less time that it took to tell you how I did it.

If you like photography and you want to look like a pro, learn to use Photoshop. It’s the easiest fake-out job on the planet.

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The Rule of Thirds

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 13th, 2008 by MadDog
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The ancient Greeks did a lot of thinking. So much thinking, in fact, that much of it still affects nearly every aspect modern life.

The Greeks thought a lot about what was good. They thought about what looked good. Greek mathematicians came up with an idea that they called the Golden Ratio. There’s a lot of fancy maths involved, but we don’t need to be concerned with that.

It boils down to the idea (hugely simplified) that square stuff and round stuff and stuff in the middle of other stuff doesn’t generally look as good as rectangles (especially the Golden Rectangle), odd shapes, and things that are off centre.

The Golden Ratio turns out to be close enough to one-third for our purposes. (Well, actually  about 2/3, but, never mind . . .)

So, how do we put this time-honoured secret of ancient artists of all stripes to work for us in our point-and-shoot camera? As it turns out, it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference what kind of camera you have, because it’s all in your head.

One gets so used to thinking about the Rule of Thirds that it becomes automatic. When I took this photo of a cute little hermit crab this morning, I wasn’t thinking, “Remember the Rule of Thirds.”I just snapped what looked good to me: (Thanks for the identification of the species Coenobita cavipes (juvenile)  from our correspondent ‘Curlz’.)

A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of ThirdsHowever, as you can see, it does comply:
A little Hermit Crab demonstrating the Rule of Thirds (with lines drawn in) - Jan MessersmithSo, what is  it?

Well, as you can see from the second shot with the lines drawn in (please don’t check the accuracy of my lines, I was guessing), the idea is that the photo will be more interesting if you place an important point of interest (usually the most important) near a point where two lines cross or along one or more of the lines.

Why is  this? Don’t ask me. It just works.

When does it work? Well, almost always:
Some guys demonstrating the Rule of Thirds by pouring cementI could have centred the workmen and the cement truck. It would have been okay.

But, look at how the negative space of the poured cement forces your eyes towards the workmen and the truck. The cement has its own story, but because there’s so much of it there and it’s so uninteresting, it pushes your attention to the real subject of the image.

Here’s another example of when it works nicely:
A young man looking out a window in Florence, Italy demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThe wall was pretty much the same everywhere. The young man looking out of the window (In Florence, Italy, if you’re wondering) is the focus of our interest. I could have cropped it differently so that the man in the window and the window above were both on intersections. I tried it. I didn’t like it.

In this shot of a blacksmith at a cultural show in Prague, I’m using two of the vertical lines:
A Prague Blacksmith demonstrates the Rule of ThirdsThere are two points of interest here: the blacksmith and the people watching him. To accent the watchers, I blurred everything but the faces that are turned toward the blacksmith. It’s easy to overdo this sort of funny business and I nearly did so here.

Here’s a shot that uses two intersections:

I'm sitting in front of the Elimo Hotel in Eriche, Sicily demonstrating the Rule of Thirds
It was very hot in Sicily that day. I had to have a rest.

Sometimes the Rule of Thirds works even if taken to extremes. The kind of cropping that you see here is extreme:

Friends demonstrating the Rule of Thirds in the Vienna Woods
The shot works. The couple said that it is one of their favourite photos of the two of them together.

I really had no choice. The couple was standing next to some other people. I had to crop very closely on the man to get rid of a beer can in someone else’s hand. It was a misty morning up in the Vienna Woods. I wanted to get the mood of the scene. The couple seemed to be almost intrusive. I took the shot anyway, thinking that I could crop them out later. When I saw it on the screen, I said, “No way.” They look as if they belong there.

It takes a little time to begin to think of composition when taking snapshots, but sometimes it pays.

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