Thursday, June 18, 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

Finally! Perspective Control Right on My iPhone

Finally! Perspective Control Right on My iPhone

 Here's a photo I shot with my iPhone in Wisconsin Dells last month from a moving car. It used to be that if I wanted to do something like making the ramp and the telephone pole truly vertical, without converging lines, I would have to export to Photoshop -- and it usually wasn't worth it. Now i can do it on my iPhone (right), thanks to an app called Perspective Correct. (It can also be used live, while shooting.) And it's very easy and intuitive to use.

Perspective control is most often used for architectural photography, and pros normally use either a view camera with a lens that shifts or an expensive perspective control lens that can run many thousands of dollars. Software, whether Photoshop or an iPhone app, can mimic the same effect at much less expense. (The drawback is that perspective control in software creates artifacts that show up in big prints; it also involves drastic cropping.)

But if you're shooting for the web or not making gigantic prints, this software tool is a valuable resource. It can make a snapshot pop and look like something shot on a view camera, because the perspective is so unusual. It can make your travel shots of buildings look more professional. And, if your makeup, like mine, includes a bit of OCD, it's just plain fun to play with.

Now my digital-darkroom-in-a-phone is just about complete.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Medium Is the Message

The Medium Is the Message

A recent study by two economists for the International Monetary Fund connected the decline in union membership in advanced economies to the overall rise of income inequality. It is not just pushing down the wages of the working class, they wrote; it is also increasing the incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent.-- "Fate of the Union," New York Times Magazine, 6/14/15

Flip the cover of today's NYT magazine and you're in another world -- a 4-page advertising section showing glowing images of another high-rise aerie for the super rich in Manhattan. The juxtaposition seems to underscore the relationship between the decline of union membership and the rise of the super rich. (It's also a reminder of the kind of advertising that helps pay the bills at the Times.)

The story consists of a probing look at Scott Walker's track record of lies and backstabbing broken promises in passing Act 10 and the right to work legislation that followed it. And it details Walker's horrible jobs record and the fact that "Wisconsin is now among the top 10 states people move out of."

But the photos and graphic design seem to convey a different message, suggesting that unions are an obsolete part of a distant past that's irrelevant, not up to the challenges of a modern high-tech economy.

You could say the black and white images with their deep, noirish shadows have a gritty, photojournalistic look. But it's also a dated look, quite different from the color images we've come to know from recent Capitol protests, which show contemporary people -- friends, neighbors and coworkers -- clearly engaged with today's problems and politics.

The distancing effect is deliberate.The cover image could be from the labor disputes of the 1930s, As photography director Kathy Ryan puts it, "Philip Montgomery's stark photograph of pro-union protestors outside the Senate hearing room in Madison, Wis.,in February evokes labor protests of the past. The echo of earlier demonstrations is amplified by the cinematic lighting and shadows resulting from the use on an off-camera flash."

Reporter Dan Kaufman digs into the lives and struggles of the union members he talks to, but the photography seems to have a different focus. By visually associating them with the distant past, they suggest unions are so yesterday,  increasingly irrelevant in a high-tech world run by billionaires from their high-rise hideaways. And since people tend to glance at pictures more than they read long articles, this may be the message that lingers.

It's another example of how the New York Times represents a kind of concerned liberalism that's deeply uneasy about real populism.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Letting the Product Speak for Itself

Letting the Product Speak for Itself
Apple's iPhone marketing seemed to lose its way after Steve Jobs was gone, resorting to generic lifestyle advertising that could as well have been for any smartphone. With this ad campaign -- in both TV and print media -- they seem back on track. They're letting the product speak for itself by demonstrating in glossy print ads and TV clips one of the most distinctive features of the iPhone -- its amazing camera, the camera that made serious cell phone photography something more than an oxymoron. It also gave rise to a wide range of post processing apps for the phone. And it inspired a host of Android-based competitors.

For my money, it's still the best overall -- partly because it has avoided the mindless, counterproductive pixel race of its competitors. Apple's 8mp sensor hit a sweet spot for cell phone sensors.

Because I worked in print media for a long time, one of my tests of a good camera has always been, will it produce an image suitable for full-page magazine publication? The new ads clearly demonstrate that it does.

I naturally shoot mostly in the medium-wide to normal lens range, so the iPhone 5s usually meets my needs perfectly. Ideally, I'd like my camera to be unobtrusive with a quiet or even silent shutter (I can completely turn off the shutter sound of the iPhone).

For all these reasons and more, the iPhone is usually my camera of choice these days. And I'm grateful that Steve Jobs was such a lover of photography that he was determined to put a quality camera in his new phone.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Three Bright Planets Over Wingra Park

Three Bright Planets Over Wingra Park

More experimental handheld iPhonastrophotography: Saturn on the left, Jupiter in the middle and Venus on the right. They were too far apart to capture all of them in one photo, so I took two. Original images on the phone were almost totally black. I brought them up in post processing as much as I could, and if you can ignore the noise, this looks pretty much the way it did to the naked eye.

Even so, they would probably have looked better with the D90 on a tripod. But there's something about the iPhone that just tempts you to leave tripod and camera behind and see what you can do without them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Moon Over Lake Wingra

I like to take pictures with the iPhone when there's theoretically not enough light. When I snapped this in Wingra Park tonight, the screen showed just a small dot of light and everything else was black. I had to guestimate to frame it. But with some aggressive post-processing on the phone in Snapseed (equivalent to "pushing" film development in the old days), a grainy moody image appears. I like the effect, and it seems magical to make something out of nothing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Should Be Done About the Mural That Time Forgot?

What Should Be Done About The Mural That Time Forgot? Artist Richard Haas who painted this mural in 1985 is doing a talk and Q&A tonight at Monona Terrace at a benefit for the UW Foundation. Later this year the Chazen will have a retrospective of his work.

In 1985, this was one of Madison's most expensive and controversial works of public art. Critics said, among other things, that if and when the Monona Terrace were ever built, it would cover up the mural. Ten years later it was, and it did. I wrote this blog post about the work's history and how poignant it was that it had had been effectively entombed.

What, if anything, do you think should be done about it? There have been suggestions to improve the lighting to make the mural more visible. Personally, I think drive-by viewing at 45mph isn far from ideal and not very safe. What about a permanent exhibit at the Monona Terrace showcasing the art and the site as they originally appeared. After all, it's part of the history of Monona Terrace.