This life in pictures.

Posts tagged “RI

Wherein I Recast Myself as a Conspiracy Theorist or, Where Did My DTV Signal Go?

As many other ‘Muricans, I’ve ditched the cable in recent years. I still have a cable modem, but no overpriced TV.

It’s been a nice experience, overall. You know, there were the normal fights to get a signal and small compromises (few channels). Once I got an external antenna, however, things really turned around. I was able to pull in every expected signal from the region and a few of the less likely ones, too. Most were local network stations, but almost all had an alternative channel that played good movies and classic TV shows. Plus, I had something like 7 channels of PBS. I could almost always find something to watch at nearly any time of day.

Then, one day this summer, things changed. A line of powerful, potentially tornado spawning thunderstorms moved through the area one afternoon. Suddenly, nearly half my channels disappeared like someone had flipped a switch… or a transmitter had been hit by a lightening strike. As the days went on and the signal didn’t appear, I spent a lot of time and endured a lot of frustration trying to dial the signals back in. As summer turned to fall, we just became numb to the inconvenience.

Two weeks ago, the missing channels suddenly reappeared. Signals, which had barely registered strengths in the teens, suddenly shot up into 80 to 90% range. It made absolutely no sense. I began to suspect that my equipment was faulty, but then I spoke with some other people in the area who were experiencing a similar problem. “Damn it, they’re onto us boys, no more free lunch… them cable companies be jamming our signals,” I joked in my worst pirate/30s gangster/dust bowl migrant worker accent.

But what if it’s not such a joke after all?

The abrupt loss and return of the signals seems suspicious. Two of the big cable providers are in serious competition with one expanding the area and the other launching a low ball pricing campaign, each hoping to grow market share in an industry losing customers daily. What if one of them decided to somehow interrupt the transmission of an alternative to their product? Could it be done? I have no idea. Seems like one of them there achievable sci-fi realities, though. Could there be an “agreement” between a cable provider and local networks to reduce transmission power? Perhaps for a modest pile of money? Could the FCC be looking the other way in order to help save a declining media cash cow?

I don’t know… seems kind of too evil, even for corporate ‘Murica. But stranger things have happened and they are pretty evil, them corporations.

Oh, and one other thing… Nearly half of my stations disappeared again last night…


Falls & Fowl: Why It’s a Good Idea to Always Carry a Camera

Falling Geese
Falling Geese

Falling Geese

I was on my way past the waterfall next to the Assembly in Harrisville, RI last night, right at the perfect moment of sunset. The light was shining right across the water and making everything perfectly golden. I was looking at the house on the shore (this one) and debating whether or not to stop and take some snaps of the absolutely perfect reflections with my phone when I caught sight of these geese just chillin’ atop the waterfall itself. I wished nothing more than to have my dSLR on me at that moment, then I remembered I did! It was sitting in the backseat in hopes of using it at the event I was heading to.

It’s really amazing how quickly the light can change at sunset. I whipped the car around by speeding through the “village”, potentially cutting someone of in spectacular fashion, and parked across the street from the falls. By the time I’d gotten across the street, the magnificent golden glow was gone. The time frame from spotting the scene to having the camera to my eye was only 90 seconds or so, but what a difference that minute and a half made. Oh well, the geese were still there, and that’s the shot I was after. See, I’ve shot all of the landmark spots in this town so many times that It’s hard to get very excited about going back. It takes a monumental change in the scene (a forty year flood, ice feature, wildlife element, etc.) for me to even bother taking off the lens cap now.

So, the shot… I was able to walk (slowly) right up to the fence at the edge of the falls. The geese were so comfortable being where they were that I probably could have run right up on them, but why take the chance? I still had the 40-150mm, f4-5.6 Zuiko attached to my Olympus E-600 from the last time I shot. I started off in my old standby aperture priority mode set to f8, then I tried opening the aperture to f5 to get a shallower depth of field.  I was hoping to blur the fore and background and get some added definition to the geese, but I soon realized that I’d rather have the water be blurred.  To achieve this, I switched to shutter priority mode and set a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. The camera selected an ISO of 200 and an aperture of f8. I kept the lens zoomed all of the way in for most of the shoot, which gave me some stability issues. In hindsight, I probably should have sped the shutter up to around 1/30th of a second (or been lucky enough to have my tripod in the trunk!).

I spent about 5 minutes taking photos. Since there were a pair of geese, I needed a bit of patience to catch both of them with their heads up and necks stretched in a pleasant way. I spent about half the time shooting with manual focus, but finished up using auto-focus, selecting which focal point to use and then using focus lock. It had become hard to tell if the focus issues I was seeing were because of camera shake or my poor vision, so this at least took one of the factors out of the equation. By the time I shot the last two photos (the one presented here and another in vertical orientation showing more of the water), I knew most of my focus issues were taken care of and I had gotten what I needed.

Today, I loaded the set of 24 images into Lightroom. I was able to eliminate 15 or so right off the bat for focus issues and/or unflattering poses. The rest I processed very similarly; adding contrast, clarity and saturation then reducing noise, warming the shadows and adding some vignette. To be honest, I really only do this to the first photo in the set when they’re all similar, then I just paste the settings from the previous photo and hit the auto exposure button. This works out more times than not.

Once all that basic processing was done, this photo stood out as the clear winner, but I was dissatisfied by how flat it looked. The answer, as is usually the case for me, was to convert to black and white. The image still looked flat after pushing the B&W button, so I had to add some more contrast. I did that by using the adjustment scrubber in the contrast and B&W mix panels. I really love that feature in Lightroom! It allows you to grab whatever specific tone you wish to adjust right in the picture and drag it to your liking. Very slick. My last step in the process was to do a bit of sepia toning using the split toning panel.

There you have it… a shot I never would have gotten if I didn’t have my camera on me. Being able to carry a camera phone around at all times is all well and good, but there’s those moments in life where you just need the real thing.

And Then There Was Aviary

Material Bias: Wood
Material Bias: Wood

Material Bias: Wood

I posted last week about some of my favorite photography apps for Android. I knew at the time that it wouldn’t be too long before something would come along to render my stated preferences, for all intents and purposes, entirely moot… well, almost anyway.

Material Bias: Brick

Material Bias: Brick

It’s no secret that I’ve been harboring a deep jealousy for the photo editing capabilities of the iPhone. I never had much of any intention to reenter the cult of mac, however. Instead, I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for some of the great iPhone only app masters to get around to noticing the huge market us Android users represent and, well… exploiting us. Largest among many of us has to be the ever present threat of Instagram finally jumping over.

Over the weekend, posted this little gem about the Instagram jump finally being imminent. I couldn’t get to the article fast enough, but I took a moment to read through the first few comments and had a bit of a change of heart. One person pointed out that we’re excited over a fad that’s 2 years old. Another clarified that the post was only telling us that we could sign up to be notified when the app actually came out and not a hard fast promise of any actual imminent realease. Then someone mentioned Aviary.

Material Bias: Vinyl

Material Bias: Vinyl

For those not in the know (such as myself a couple of days ago), Aviary is very much an Instagram knock-off, just without the social aspect. It allows for very deep fine tuning of virtually every photographic aspect of the image. Details such as exposure (brightness), contrast, saturation, cropping and orientation are easily handled using a very intuitive and slick interface. Then there’s a full featured selection of available Instagramish filters (ten are incuded with two more packs of six available for a buck each). The free and paid filters are very nice and useful. Additionally, there are quirky “sticker” effects that can be overlayed, such as fake glasses or an eyepatch (which I have no intention of ever using, but which I’m sure 14 year old girls can’t get enough of).

The best part of the app, however, is that the final images are FULL RESOLUTION! I have a DroidX, which has an 8mp camera. It really bugged me when I’d edit something in another (sometimes paid) app and the resolution has been hacked.

Material Bias: Wood and Glass

Material Bias: Wood and Glass

So, I’ve had this app… wait, I keep calling it an app, but it’s really just a plug-in. Aviary isn’t accessed as a stand-alone editor like Vignette or Magic Hour. Instead, you simply send the image to the plug-in using the share button in your gallery viewer (I use QuickPic personally). It’s all very slick and easy and (so far so good) stable.

Ok, so I’ve had Aviary installed for a few days now. I purchased the available filter packs right away (I do hope there are more in the works). Up until today, though, I’ve only had a couple of photos to test drive the app on. But today, a bit of setting sun shining across the wood fence in my driveway caught my eye, and before I knew it I had a six photo, themed set of images to put through the ringer. All of the images in this set were captured using the Quicksnap camera app, by the way.

Material Bias: Wood and Nails

Material Bias: Wood and Nails

Editing with Aviary really is a breeze. Simply select the photo in your gallery, hit the share button and select Aviary as the destination. Once there, you face a very simple and intuitive interface. I started each of there images off by hitting the “Enhance” button then selecting Auto. I know this sort of thing can be hit or miss, but each of these photos benefited greatly in both exposure correction and creative enhancement. Each of the photos also got a run through the cropper, as I wanted the set to be square. From there, it was a matter of running each through the available filters until I found the one that worked best for each and finally adjusting the brightness, contrast and saturation (something that could have been done anywhere in the process, really). Until you set a default, you’re asked what resolution you want to save in (I set mine for 8mp and there it shall stay). You can also have the image open automatically in your gallery, which makes sharing to other social sites or whatever very easy.

Material Bias: Stone

Material Bias: Stone

Overall, I am having a love affair with Aviary at the moment. So much so, that I am no longer waiting for the arrival of Instagram to Android. Sure, you lose out on access to the Instagram community, but I’m already using Lightbox, which scratches that itch just fine. The only complaint I have about Aviary is that the creative components of the filter system are not available on their own. In other words, you can’t grab the border from this filter and put it with the toning of that filter and so on. I certainly won’t let that negate the fact that Aviary is a great tool to have in your phonography arsenal.

Try it. You won’t have to pay a dime until it comes time to get the extra filter packs. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Through the Frames: Why I Vignette

I’ve been threatening this post for a couple of months now, but being slow to get back into a regular shooting schedule kept me from having the appropriate selection of images to include. The stretch of unseasonably warm and awesome weather last week got me up and out with a camera in one hand and a 4 year old in the other. While it’s true that i was revisiting all of the old haunts that I’ve grew sick of already, but the hiatus helped to give me a fresh perspective.

Anyway, the reason I’ve gathered you all here today is to talk about vignetting. More specifically, the reason why i use vignette so damn much! It’s something that more than a couple of people have made snarky comments about in the past, and I readily admit I have taken the effect too far at times. What people don’t really understand, however, that i see my world in constant vignette. I wear glasses. Worse yet, thick black framed glasses. My whole world is darkened around the edges!

Seems a simple explanation, doesn’t it? From the time I take a photo all the way through the editing process, the photo just doesn’t quite look right until I move that magic slider to the left in Lightroom.

Anywho, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the photo. My family decided to start up a new tradition of a weekly nice weather evening picnic. This happened to be the end of the inaugural outing (the weather has since turned back to seasonal for march). We had spread our blanket besides the waterfall next to the Assembly in Harrisville, RI. This photo was taken on our walk back from exploring the falls. I had my longer lens (40-150mm, f4-5.6 Zuiko) fitted to my Olympus E-600 and I decided to hang back for awhile as my wife and daughter walked hand in hand towards the glow of sunset.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with leaving the camera set in aperture priority mode with f8.o selected as a standard. So far, that setup has yielded consistently useful results and I admit guilt for not pushing myself out of that bit of complacency, but whatever… it worked out here. I manually set the white balance for clouds and nudged the exposure compensation to -1 to darken things up a bit (as I type this, I realize that shooting in RAW and editing in Lightroom probably make this bit of info less relevant). Being in aperture priority, the camera automatically selected an ISO of 800 and shutter speed of 1/200th of a second.

As I said, I was hanging back quite a bit, so I was zoomed in all the way to 150mm. On the Olympus E-600, that gives an equivalency of a 300mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Even so, I still had to crop a bit in Lightroom to get rid of some distracting elements at the edges of the frame. I tried very hard to keep this a color image, but it was just too dull. I couldn’t really get much contrast into the scene until I took the color out. I made the conversion by simply pushing the black and white button and adjusted the contrast by tweaking the curves then using the scrub tool in the black and white adjustment panel.

Once that was all done, I had to deal with a bit of noise. Sadly, the E-600 is a pretty noisy camera, and this image was pretty loud. I found that by trying to remove too much of the noise in Lightroom, I was causing the image to blur. The solution was to ease back on the noise reduction a bit, then add in some film grain to mask everything. Then I added in some ever present vignetting and I was done. I did add quite a bit of vignetting in this case, as I really wanted the it to help move the eye into the photo and up into the glowing sky.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I really like the way the sunlight is outlining the girls and the overall contrast of the photo. I really wish I could have gotten them just before their hands separated. I think that small detail detracts from the overall image quite a bit, actually. They were way too far away at that point to hear me yelling about it over the passing traffic, though, and a retake would have looked too staged, so I let it go.

I have uploaded a couple of other images from that picnic to my Flickr page. If all has gone to plan, they should be appearing to the right here (if you’re reading this within a few days of posting, anyway). Please take a moment to check out some of my other photos if you like what I do.

The Lessons We Learn…and Forget…and Re-learn…and Quickly Ignore

A View of the Claiborne Pell Bridge in Jamestown, RI at midnight.

I’ve learned a couple of very important lessons recently in regards to taking care of my prized possessions and the consequences of failing to do so. The most recent pertained to the proper humidification and maintenance practices for an expensive acoustic guitar and the irreversible damage caused by failing to do so. Apparently, I’ll never get the sweet top end back and it’s become somewhat fragile, but I still like how it sounds and plays and the bridge can be reset.

That whole ordeal got me thinking of a post I had written on my Google+ a month or so ago after my hard drive fried. It’s a bit more photography related, and since I want to post more regularly than I have in the past, I’m going to repost it here.

A View of the Claiborne Pell Bridge in Jamestown, RI at midnight.

Pell Bridge 01

“A couple of weeks ago, I experienced one of every photographers worst nightmares, my hard drive seized. Forensic recovery level seizure, at that. Sadly, my backup practices had become, well… lax. 6 months worth of work just gone. Shame on me, I know. I’ve written blog posts and berated my own parents about the virtues and ease of creating a backup regimen, but preaching it and living it proved a problem.

Luckily, I had a couple of things going for me. For starters, some of the photos from the lost months have been spread about the internets and can be recovered. Unfortunately, my piracy paranoia trained me to reduce the resolution of shared images, so the best I’ll be able to get back in most cases is a 5×7, but it’s better than nothing. The other thing working in my favor was that I actually fell out of love with photography for a good part of this year. More specifically, I came to detest the editing process, which I came to view as a black hole of unfulfilling time suck from which there was little hope of escape. Because of this, I took far fewer photos than I normally would have, therefore I lost less.

Tonight, I discovered an unsettling side effect of this loss, one that has positive and negative ramifications. While I have complete backups from much of the period while I was using Lightroom, the backups of the earlier Photoshop-only days have the unprocessed versions of the images and nothing else. This means, whenever I need to make a print of the old stuff, I have to get into an excruciating re-editing process, trying to match what was done previously with better equipment and improved skills. What a pain in the balls. The good news is that the new photos are coming out much better than the originals. The bad news is that I now have the urge to re-edit every photo I’ve ever taken.”

So, to follow up:

I’m ashamed to say that my backup procedures have not really improved all that much. Being poor is prohibiting me from getting the external drive I so desperately need. On the upside, I haven’t started taking all that many photos yet, and the ones I care about have been stored across the internet in one form or another. Also, while I have a few people asking me to produce prints to place in their shops for potential sale, other obligations have prohibited me from spending the time on re-editing anything yet. The day is looming, however.

I’ll share the good ones. By the way, to see the original version of this photo, please visit: