Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thinking about a revisionist future

Tiny pupils

I love how the sloth's face emerges from the darkness. I wish my hand was not in the photo. I am looking forward to trying the contextual fill in Photoshop CS5, but I am also torn about its apparent power to bend reality. How will we know what is real?

Don't get me wrong, I think it is fine for photo as a representation for photographer's vision, but it problematic as photography is also used as a recorder of events. The use of tricks in photography have existed since photography started, both in the recording of images and their processing. In most cases these fabrications were obvious in their creation, and those that were not required a level of sophistication beyond all but the most practiced photographers and masters of the dark room.

The advent of digital photography did not alter this balance much, the people who had the skills to create realistic fabrications might have been different people, but still a rare breed. However, more and more, the software is encapsulating this expertise in easy-to-use tools that take next to no time to use. This is not a "in my day" post. I would just like to consider how we operate in this new reality where images may be based on real ones, but have been significantly altered. Not just by a select few, but anyone with access to the software.

Now, if you want your images to be accepted in some legal cases, there are special add-ons you can use with higher end digital cameras (most higher end Nikons, and 1D series Canons). So yet another reason television shows like CSI make me cringe in their use of P&S cameras for crime scene photos, which might lead to issues of authenticity (though not as badly as representation of DNA processing is handled). Still most of these are out the reach of most photographers, and most do not care, but it would seem that having a way to mark photos as unaltered would be of growing importance.

Until our cameras mark photos as original, this will come down to ethics. We will need to note when a photo is altered, especially when that alternation is significant. I run my photos through a workflow that typically does not alter the content much, but I do often modify the saturation and lightness and contrast, but occasionally more. I have been a Photoshop user for 20 years. I have significantly altered many photos in a humorous way or for aesthetics, but I was forthright with viewers if they asked, but I know I need to do more. Ideally, this would be embedded in the file so it it is not lost if it is moved around, or perhaps even allow the viewers to see the original image. With this coming future, I think it will be crucial to have the ability to mark photos as altered in a way that the viewers can find out if they would like to know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The power of holding something in your hand

Our first cartoon model

Holding something in your hand can have a powerful effect. I hate to generalize based only on my experience, but it is my hypothesis. But, I am in good company Louis Agassiz the 19th Century naturalist said, "Go to nature; take the facts into your own hands; look, and see for yourself." In the photo is a "printed" model of a protein. I don't remember which protein, but that is not the point. The object pictured was directly fabricated from the collected data of the position of atoms in the molecule. It is rendered in "cartoon" format where the shape of the structure provides information about the structural nature of sequence presented. Anyone is able to hold onto this structure, spin it, see the relationships between to portiions of the structure, and stick a finger into the structure to literally get the feel of the stucture of a protein.

We have been making the models for about 5 years and have made them for researchers how use them to better explore the structures on which they work and share them with their peers and educators use them to teach college students, k-12 students, and the general public. And, we are not limited to building molecules. We have built models for physicians, engineers, artists, and designers. The common denominator being they have something to present that maybe significantly different to view and hold an object instead of viewing it in two dimensions on paper or a screen.

The "printer" that makes our models is not terribly common and the lowest priced version right now will cost you about $35,000, but their are models coming to market that will hit the sub-$5000 price point. They do not print in multiple colors, but they make a more durable model. I think we will come to a day where we create what we need when we need it and these fabricators will be very common, and it maybe here sooner than most of us think.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My second favorite species of turtle

In the glow of a Summer sunset

I love Blanding's turtles. They are my favorite. Softshell turtles, like this spiny softshell are a close second, despite their foul temper when caught. It's not that I blame them. Being plucked from your lake a poked at would likely make me cranky too. This female had a carapace length of about a foot, so she was medium sized for the ones I saw in this lake in the 5 or so years we lived there. They have fantastic long necks and very sharp beaks under that pig-like nose. I was trapping the lake to monitor the species in it, so when I caught her, I took the opportunity to take a picture before letting go.

The reason they are a favorite comes from the time I spent swimming with them around. During the summers we lived at Fish Lake in Michigan, I would swim almost every day for as long as an hour. These turtles hated me on land and rapidly shot away from boats and canoes, but I could swim very close to them. Watching them from the water is the only way to go. It was a fantastic few years, doubt I'll ever have a time like that again, but I only need to look at this photo to have all the memories flood back.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Looks comfy

Sleeping sea lion

The sea lion was napping on Seal Beach on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. She looked comfortable, and earned the rest. The water is very cold, and there are white sharks patrolling just off the beach waiting for the unaware animal going out or coming in. I hope that she is still soaking up the sun.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

City between the lakes

The Isthmus

I have a habit of taking pictures out the window of planes, Mostly of clouds, mountains, interesting refraction patterns in the scratched up windows, and the occasional glory. Usually when I fly out of Madison, I am leaving very early and returning late and it is too dark for photos. Every once in awhile I fly in or out during good light. I am still trying to time something so that I can use my SLR to get a really good shot, but until them this will need to do.

I think I was flying back from Denver so we came in to the south of the city, and by the isthmus. When you see it like this it is pretty spectacular (more and more, but frozen). I try to temper my in flight photography, but I am hoping for a few more good shots of the city.

I miss work that takes me outdoors

Morning on Mead Creek

I spent a considerable number of years as a field biologist. This photo was taken at the Mead Creek State Forest campground in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, late August. It was already turning chilly at night. I was making a last ditch effort to find mink frogs. Fortunately, for the timeliness of finishing my degree, I did. For getting to spend time in places like this, I guess I was not a fortunate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Something new, something old

April showers, April flowers

Timing is everything, at least with bloodroot. Bloodroot is an early blooming flower native to the Eastern United States and Canada. It is a sign of spring in our back yard. The bright white flowers pop up before most everything else, and the leaves follow soon after. The interestingly shaped leaves with the striking net venation last through the summer, but the flowers only last a couple weeks. I have tried in the past to get a photo that I like of this flower. This still is not right, but every spring I have another chance and that is something to look forward to.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What is beautiful to you?

Testing the air

A gila monster, one of two venomous species of lizards. Taken at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wi. Its teeth are under the gum tissue, but you can see their impressive chompers at this site. Their venom is not particularly dangerous to humans causing pain and local damage, but the injury and reaction to the venom can cause the bitten person to go into shock.

I was at a meeting of herpetologists when an award was being presented for lifetime contributions to the field, and the presenter spoke about the difference between taxon specific biologists (those of us who specialize in the biology of a group like herps) and other biologists who study a process like genetics or physiology. One differences she had found between the groups is that taxon specific biologists see members of group of their interest as beautiful. I went through this long explanation so viewers might understand that when I look at this lizard, I am fascinated and awestruck, and I do find this lizard beautiful.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Golden eye

Golden eye

Close up photo of a jaguarundi. From the same wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica as other photos in my Flickr stream or this blog. The cat had been rescued from the illegal pet trade. It was not clear it would ever be in a condition where it could be released. Some of the sanctuary monkeys decided otherwise, watched how the cage was opened, and used that new found knowledge. The monkey was right. The animal seems to be doing ok and they are seeing signs that it is around their property.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Viral goats

Leap of faith

You never know what is going to going to catch someone's eye. This photo is from Goat Lick Overlook in Glacier National Park, called that because goats go there to lick the rocks for the minerals. The mother was leading the kid along the cliff face to the mineral lick, and kid had to jump across a small gap. It thought over the jump carefully before proceeding giving me a lot of time to get ready. It is an okay shot, but could be better, especially a longer lens would be nice.

For some reason, this got picked up by someone on Digg. I check my viewing stats on Flickr from time to time, and it was a shock to watch a photo that had about 1000 views get 40,000 in one day. I still don't know why this became as popular, and I agreed with the commenters that it was not clear why this deserved to be Dugg, though some of the comments were nastier than was needed. For brief and shining moment I had a taste of my media going viral, and, I have to confess that I enjoyed it while it lasted.

This out of focus photo started it all

Tumbling Pandas

This is the first photo that I posted to Flickr. I liked this photo because of the moment it captured, and I did not care that it was much less than perfect. If you read the about me page, I warn that the photos that I am writing about might not be good, but instead, be special to me. This is one of those cases. I was just trying Flickr, I told myself. I love taking photos, and I thought it would be a good entrée into social networking, much like I am trying to use my love of photography to make a serious try at blogging. I was not completely sure what I was going to do with my flickr stream.

When I started with Flickr, the ideal of social networking environments was still fairly new, and I was trying to figure them out. And, I still am. I created a user name that I could use and disavow later, if I need to. For a long time, I did not use my name in association with this user name. When I started with Flickr, in the pre-Yahoo days, it was small community. If you tried hard, you could see most of the photos added each day. For the most part, people were putting selected photos into their collections, rather than dumping every photo on their camera. I communicated and became connected with people who were interested in what I cared about and what I liked to photograph. My contacts are all over the world. It was a very encouraging environment, and generally continues to be one. I have drifted away from posting as much, but I still take time to add carefully selected images and to see what my contacts are posting. My association with Flickr has been very positive, and has helped me better understand the power of social networks, and become a better photographer.

Okay, now a bit more about the photo. These two are Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the parents of Tai Shan, the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington DC. This was taken in the months leading to Tai Shan's birth. It was amazing to watch these two interact. They were wresting, pushing each other around, and more, if you know what I mean.

If you have been to the older panda enclosure at the Zoo, you will remember that it is sloped towards the viewing area, much like the new enclosure. In this photo the couple were part way up the slope, and one would give the other a push sending its mate rolling down the hill legs extended. This happened several times, and each time the one that had been pushed rolled with its legs extended. I wish this had been in focus, but I still love this image.

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