Posts Tagged‘photography’

Just How Super is a Supermoon?

It seems I can’t go too long without hearing about everyone’s favourite celestial event: the Supermoon. It’s a somewhat rare event, typically occurring once every 14 months or so, but given the amount of attention it seems to get on various news and social media sites you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s more akin to a total solar eclipse. Considering what actually happens during this event, I.E. the coincidental alignment of the moon being full whilst also being at it’s closest point on its orbit around Earth, you wouldn’t expect there to be much interest in it but everyone seems to be wowed at just how huge the moon appears when this happens.

Problem is though that it’s not that much bigger at all.

Supermoon_comparisonAs you can see the supermoon on the right hand side isn’t really that much bigger than the more regular moon on the left. Indeed if I could somehow show you both of them in the sky at the same time you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them. Still come tomorrow morning I’m sure there’ll be dozens of pictures showing the moon in all of its super glory, towering over buildings and dwarfing every other source of light in the night sky. So the question is then where do all these pictures come from and why is the moon so gosh darn huge in them.

The answer is somewhat complicated, and we don’t have an exact answer for it yet, but it comes down to something we’ve dubbed the Moon Illusion. Essentially any stellar object in our sky, be it the moon, sun or even stars, will increase in apparent size the closer it is to the horizon. All those amazing pictures you’ll see of supermoons around the globe tomorrow will likely be taken when the moon is rising when this effect is at its most pronounced. This makes the moon appear much, much bigger than it would normally but over the course of it’s full rotation it’ll begin shrinking back down to a more reasonable size. This is why you don’t see any pictures of it up in the middle of the sky, it just doesn’t look as massive as it would otherwise.

Photographers are also somewhat guilty of exacerbating the moon’s super-ness during this time by using telephoto lenses that compress the visual space significantly, often putting other objects near or in front of it to make it appear much bigger than it would with your eyes. Don’t get me wrong it makes for a stunning picture but it also feeds into the idea that the moon appears that huge at all points in the sky. The reality is unfortunately nothing like that.

I know I’m probably being a killjoy for some people mentioning this but honestly things like this fall into the same realms as those claiming we’d have 2 moons when Mars was at its closest approach to Earth. Sure it’ll be bigger than it would be otherwise but the effect is usually beyond our ability to perceive and the photos just give a false impression of what a supermoon actually is. To be fair though the term supermoon isn’t a scientific term at all (it comes from astrology) so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about the smoke and mirrors that surrounds it.

Lytro’s Illum is the Next Step for Lightfield.

I first wrote about Lytro a while back when they introduced the first consumer grade lightfield camera to the market. It was an exciting development as this kind of technology was out of the reach of pretty much anyone prior to the original Lytro. Still whilst it was interesting from a technological perspective I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one, especially not after I picked up my DSLR again. Ever since then though I hadn’t heard anything further from Lytro, neither new developments nor tales of their demise, so I was left wondering if the Lytro that I envisioned was ever going to eventuate. As it turns out whilst we might not be seeing Lytro sensors in all DSLRs we will be seeing a serious piece of camera kit and it’s quite incredible.

Lytro Illum

Lytro announced the Illum which is their first entry into the upper end of the photography market. It looks very similar to a lot of the mirrorless 4/3rds that are available now although it doesn’t have an interchangeable lens system and lacks a viewfinder of any description. Normally these would be things that would count heavily against it but the specifications of the Illum are, honestly, so incredible that if anyone else had announced them I’d say they were fake. That lens is a 30-250mm F/2.0 thats capable of doing 1:3 macro that’s made up of only 11 elements in 3 groups which sounds downright impossible when you compare it to similar DSLR lenses like the Canon 70-250mm F/2.8 (19 groups with 23 elements). The sensor has also been buffed up considerably tipping the scales at 40 Megarays which gives you a print resolution of approximately 5 megapixels. That’s well below most DSLRs available today but it’s above the crucial 4MP threshold required for a standard sized photograph. The back also sports a 4 inch touchscreen that includes a depth histogram to aide with taking highly refocusable pictures.

Now anyone who’s made the mistake of becoming interested in high end photography gear will look at those specs, mostly the lens, and wonder how a startup like Lytro was able to do something that the big lens makers haven’t been able to accomplish with their decades of experience. Lytro says that their seemingly impossible lens specifications comes from the fact that they’re doing most of what the lens does mechanically in software instead. This drastically cuts down on the element count and enables the lens to do things that you’d usually require multiple, distinct lenses to do. I’m willing to give Lytro the benefit of the doubt here but I’ll have to see one in action before I make a final judgement on just how good it is.

One thing that I find a little strange about the design is the way Lytro believes it will be used. The Illum angled body isn’t done just for aesthetics, instead it’s been designed to be used as if you’re shooting at hip level rather than at eye level. Whilst any photographer will tell you that one of the fastest ways to grow is to stop shooting everything at eye level shooting at hip level has its own set of limitations and I’m not sure that designing a camera around that idea is completely sound. Again this is something I’d want to see in action first before laying down judgement but it’s something that feels it’s different just for the sake of it.

The low final resolution is also likely to be something that will hinder adoption among more serious photography enthusiasts. Whilst you’ll be able to print the traditional photo size anything larger than that starts to become problematic. This probably isn’t a problem for those who are just viewing them digitally, which more and more people are doing these days, but it does mean that the Illum is probably one step short for the professional and likely a little too expensive for the intrigued amateur looking to move up from their phone camera. The original Lytro was in a similar market position though and was obviously successful enough for Lytro to continue development so there’s probably a market for it that I’m just not seeing.

All this being said I’d really love to get my hands on one of the Illums to see just what its capable of and whether the output from it is enough for me to ditch my DSLR for certain things. The lens on the Illum is what intrigues me the most as its capabilities are just incredible and I really want to see how it compares to similar offerings from the long standing DSLR companies. We don’t have to wait long though as the Illum is scheduled to hit the streets on July 15th for a cool $1499 and whilst I probably won’t shell out for one immediately I’d certainly be interested in borrowing one to give it the once over.

Getting Over The “Not My Kind of Photography” Barrier.

My stance on phone based photography is pretty well known (some would go as far as to say infamous) and is probably one of the only issues that causes me significant cognitive dissonance on a regular basis. You see I’m not in the hard against camp where anything below a pro-level DSLR doesn’t count but nor am I fully vested in the idea that the simple act of taking pictures makes you a photographer. It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, and I’m not going to make myself out to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t photography, especially when I firmly believe in the “Photography is 50% photographer, 40% light and 10% equipment” rule of thumb.

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Indeed I thought I had gotten over all my angst about phone based photography after my last post about it all. Heck I even spent an inordinate amount of time trying to learn my current phone’s camera, using it almost exclusively whilst I was in New Orleans in order to source some eye candy for my daily travel posts. I’ll be honest when I say the experience was a little frustrating but there was more than a few pics I was actually proud of, the above being one of them. My chosen toolset was not that of Instagram or any of its more well known competitors however as I prefer to use SnapSeed due to the flexibility it grants me (and the fact that they make some amazing Lightroom plugins as well) and I haven’t uploaded them to any of my regular sharing sites. Still for someone who had essentially written this whole area off I felt I was making progress until I read this article:

Since the launch of the original iPhone and the arrival of the App Store, the differences between those photographs taken on a smartphone and those taken on regular digital cameras have become far less apparent. Not because the phone cameras are getting better (despite the ever-improving optics, sensors, and software on smartphones, there’s still a huge difference in quality between an iPhone camera and a Canon 5D Mark III), but because of where photographs are being viewed. The vast majority of imagery is now seen in the exact same places: on smartphones and tablets, via apps such as Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Flipboard and most importantly, Instagram. At 1024 x 1024 pixels, who can really tell whether a photo was taken on an iPhone or a Canon 5D? More to the point, who cares?

There’s a lot in Bareham’s post that I agree with, especially when it comes to the way most photographs are consumed these days. It’s rare now to see pictures materialize themselves in a physical medium or even at a scale where the differences between photographic platforms starts to become apparent. Indeed even I, the unabashed Canon DSLR fanboy, still has none of his work on display in his own house, preferring to show people my pictures on their laptop or other Internet connected device. Indeed many pictures I love on my phone often fail to impress me later when I view them on a larger screen although that’s probably more due to my perfectionist ways more than anything else.

Still I’m not convinced that the introduction of the iPhone, or any camera phone really for that matter really (I had a camera phone for a good 4 years by that point), changed everything about photography. Sure it made it more accessible thanks to its integration into a platform that nearly everyone has but it hadn’t really been out of reach for quite some time. Indeed many people had said similar things about the consumer level 35mm cameras back when they were first introduced and whilst the camera phones provided an added level of immediacy it’s not like that wasn’t available with the cheap digital point and shoots before it. Indeed the act simply became more public once the apps on our phones allowed us to share those photos much quicker than we could before.

Thinking it over a bit more it’s actually quite shocking to see how my journey into photography is the inverse of Bareham’s. I had had these easy to use and share cameras for ages thanks to my love of all things technological but that creative spark simply never took hold. That all changed when I got my first DSLR and I began to learn about the technical aspects of photography; suddenly a whole new world had opened up to me that I hadn’t known about. I felt compelled to share my images with everyone and I started seeking out photographic subjects that weren’t my friends at parties or the sunset from my front porch. It has then graduated into what I do today, something that’s weaved its way into all aspects of my life regardless of what I’m doing.

Perhaps then the technology is simply a catalyst for the realisation of a subconscious desire, something that we want to achieve but have no idea how to accomplish in our current mindset. We all have our favourite platforms on which we create, ones that we’ll always gravitate back to over time, and for many people that has become their phones. I no longer begrudge them, indeed I’ve come to realise that nearly every criticism I’ve levelled at them can be just as easily aimed at any other creative endeavour, but nor do I believe they’re the revolution that some claim them to be. We’re simply in the latest cycle of technologically fueled progress that’s been a key part of photography for the past century, one that I’m very glad to be a part of.

 

New Orleans: Day 3

I’ll have to admit I was a little bit stressed this morning. I’d spent the majority of the night previously thinking about the narrative I wanted to put forward for my post for Lifehacker and the night’s sleep didn’t bring about any sudden moments of clarity. This isn’t completely unusual, indeed there are many times when I go through a similar process for my daily entries here, but the thought of not being able to deliver something (well, something that was up to my standards) to someone else for publication wore on me heavily. Still I’m not one to dwell on problems that don’t have an immediate solution so I trucked myself out to TechEd.

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My writer’s anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that the first session I had chosen turned out to be a 75 minute long advertisement for NetApp. Now usually I’m ok with sessions like this, especially if I’m interested in the particular tech they happen to be peddling, but no where on the session information did it say anything about this being all about whatever NetApp could do rather than, you know, what the session description led you to believe. Thankfully the second session I went to was with Mark Russinovich (of SysInternals fame) who’s presentation was not only great the stuff he talked about it was the inspiration for my post on Lifehacker. That’s also led onto me figuring out where I want to go with it for the next 2 that are due which just makes everything a lot easier.

The lack of a common meeting point (like the press room was the last time around) has led to this weird situation between all of us. Since we’re all in sessions for most of the day and the majority of them don’t overlap I actually didn’t see anyone else from the Lifehacker crew today. Sure there were a couple emails shot about but apart from that I’ve had no contact with them. After the experience I had travelling with DFAT it certainly feels a bit weird to me as we’d always meet up after work for dinner and a chat, something which was always fun after you got over that initial getting-to-know-you hurdle.

However this also afforded me a little freedom to do what I pleased after TechEd finished. After battling with dodgy Internet to get my post and pictures uploaded for the better part of an hour I finally made it out of the hotel and set out to look for some local cuisine. I’d tracked down a decent looking restaurant called Luke and, after walking in circles and almost giving up on finding it, settled in for a nice meal of baked oysters, a burger and an Oaked Arrogant Bastard ale. The food was quite incredible as the following photo will attest:

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I had thought ahead and brought my camera with me to the restaurant (none of the pics I’ve uploaded so far are from it, however) and afterwards I went on a bit of a tour around the area near my hotel. There was no limit of interesting subjects, at least for someone like me, and looking over the photos shows that I should have at least a couple keepers, maybe more once I get done with them in Lightroom. I was going to install a copy of it on this laptop however I don’t really have the time to go through them right now, unless I want to cut sleep out completely. It’s enough to satisfy me should I not get another chance, but I’m hoping to spend the better part of Friday doing the same thing again, only during the day.

So two days and two more posts to go. I’m feeling an awful lot better about this whole thing and I feel like its going to be reflected in my writing. Hopefully I luck into some more of those inspirational sessions as whilst I’ve got a general idea of what I want to write those kinds of posts always feel a whole bunch better. We shall have to see though and I’d better stop prattling on here in favor of getting some decent rest before tomorrow.

 

 

The Subtle Effects of Different Lighting on a Subject’s Face.

As most readers are aware I’m an incredibly amateur photographer having dabble in it on and off again for the past 5 years but only really started taking it seriously towards the end of last year. I’m still very much in the early stages of my understanding as whilst I can produce some pictures that I (and others) like my hit rate still feels incredibly low, especially when I set out to create a very specific image. A lot of that is comes from my still nascent understanding of how to light subjects properly and how the direction/intensity changes the resulting image.

Now whilst the following video isn’t exactly the greatest introduction on how you should go about lighting your subject (in this a model’s face) it does showcase just how dramatically you can change the resulting image simply by moving the light source:

Showing this to my wife she was adamant that they were splicing video together with different models as the changes are quite dramatic. It is the same person however as if you look at the eyes you can see the light source rotating at a rather impressive clip which is what gives rise to the dramatic changes in shadows. Pausing at different sections also makes it quite clear what the impacts of the direction of light are and how they are reflected in the final image.

I wonder what the effect would be if instead of moving the light they used multiple sources then just cycled through them. Hmmmmm…….

My Stance on Instagram Explained.

Ho boy, rarely have I copped more flak for a post both online and offline than my piece early last year on how the general population of Instagram made me feel. In all honesty whilst I knew there were a few people it would piss off, which was one of the reasons it sat in my drafts folder for ages, I still felt like I had some valid points to make based on my observations based around the Instagram user base at large. Many people took offence to this, arguing points ranging from “Why should that matter to you anyway?” to “You’re using it wrong, there’s great communities on there”. I was hoping that the comments section would have been the end of all of it but late last week the topic came up again and I lost an hour in the ensuing debate so I figured it was time I made my position on this whole matter more clear.

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I recognise that for every example I can dredge up of someone posting a horribly framed and filtered picture of their breakfast someone else can just as easily show me something like this. My criticism wasn’t levelled at people who use the service in this fashion but reading back over the post and the ensuing comments I never really made that entirely clear, so mea culpa on that one. However I don’t feel that the general thrust of my argument has been invalidated by that as many users agree that the vast majority of stuff on Instagram isn’t particularly great. This isn’t unique to Instagram however as any user generated content site suffers from Sturgeon’s Law and honestly the mentality of users on said sites really doesn’t vary that much but Instagram hit closer to home thanks to my interest in this particular area.

I’ve also had people try to bring me back into the Instagram fold in order to convince me that there’s something in the platform for me. Now whilst I wasn’t an active user for quite some time I did have the application installed on my Galaxy S2 for the better part of the year, mostly so I could view pictures linked to me on Twitter without having to use Instagram’s then rather shitty web interface. From time to time I’d look at pictures on there and see some genuinely good ones but not often enough to convince me that it was worth investing my time to better my feed by subscribing to said users. The fact of the matter is I already have many other avenues for discovering photographers that I like, ones that share a critical characteristic with.

Our preferred platform of choice.

For me the undisputed platform of choice is my DSLR. I’ve tried many other camera systems from high end point and shoots, film SLRs and yes multitudes of cameras in phones but in the end I always end up coming back to my DSLR. The reasoning behind this is because of the amount of control and influence I have over the final image, something which I struggle with on any other platform. It may sound weird if you prefer the simplicity that’s granted to you by camera phones (something which I do understand) but I find it a lot easier to take pictures on my DSLR, to the point where using anything else just frustrates me. I think that’s because I know that whilst I can do a lot of things in post should I so desire there are some things I simply can’t unless I’m using my preferred platform of choice.

This is somewhat at odds with the Instagram community which, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t take particularly kindly to those who take photos outside of their phone and then upload them via the service. If I was going to use Instagram again that’s the way I would use it but I’d rather not antagonize the community further by breaking the current social norm on there. For now I really only use Facebook to distribute pictures (mostly because my recent photographic endeavours have involved friend’s weddings) but I’ve been a fan of Flickr and 500px for a long time now as they seem to be more my kind of people.

I’ve come to realise that even my beloved DSLR community isn’t immune to this kind of malarkey either as there are far, far too many people who I walking around with a $1000+ camera with the shocking kit lens on it shooting in auto thinking that they’re the next Don McCullin. The criticisms I’ve levelled at Instagram apply to them as well although they’ve yet to congregate onto a platform that’s as ubiquitous as Instagram has become.

After the backlash I received I set myself a challenge to try and use my camera phone to produce pictures that I’d be proud to share and the above is probably one of the dozens I’ve taken that’s anywhere near what I wanted it to be. 6 months of trying have shown me there’s definitely a lot of effort required into creating good pictures, arguably the same amount as required by using a DSLR, but I still feel like I’m constrained by my phone. Maybe that’s a personal thing, something that I could overcome with more time and dedication, but in saying that I’d propose the same thing to all the Instagrammers out there. Borrow a friends DSLR and see the world from our side. Maybe you’ll come away with an appreciation for the technology that helped give birth to the platform you so love today.

Pushing Through The Self Hate Barrier.

I’ve been on a bit of a rediscovery of photography of late, driven by my desire to fulfil the promises that my red-wine laden self proclaimed loudly over the Internet just a couple months ago. I’ve always had something of an interest in it dating back to the time when I wanted to capture my wife and I’s first trip overseas together all those years ago. However that interest was put aside for other things that seemed more important at the time: attempting to build my own start up, trying to build 100% passive income streams and all manner of things that, more often than not, left me burnt out and wondering why I had bothered in the first place.

I’ll have to admit that my knowledge of photography was average when I first started out on this journey, although I didn’t know that at the time. Ever since then I’ve been feeding myself on a steady diet of Wikipedia articles, photography blogs and lurking continuously on the photography subreddit. In that time I’ve come to realise that many of the assumptions I made about certain things, like the reasons why people spend so much on Leicas or why the TSE lenses are actually useful, were totally wrong and that’s had me doing a hell of a lot of self reflection.

The biggest thing to come of this seems to be an incredible distaste for nearly every picture I’ve taken since I first laid my hands on my new bits of camera equipment. I should have expected this, I even blogged about this very phenomena twice in the past, but it seems that every time I set out with the best of intentions I end up looking back at all the pictures I took and feeling like I’ve wasted my time. It’s a really painful feeling, especially when you’ve hyped up everything in your head before hand.

The reality of the situation is actually something that everyone who sets out to improve themselves goes through: the stage where you realise what it takes to be the thing you want to become and the desperation in knowing that you’re no where near there yet. This isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s in fact a critical step to progressing forward as up until this point you were operating on the rush of starting out in new territory, picking up a few quick wins but still being blissfully unaware of all the challenges that lay ahead of you. This self realization is usually what kills most people’s motivation to continue on in a particular pursuit but realistically this should be the point where you push through the pain barrier in order to make it to the other side.

Unfortunately there’s no quick fix solution other than pressing on in spite of your feelings to the contrary. You’d think having been through this process twice in recent memory that I would’ve predicted this feeling of ennui and planned accordingly but for some reason I just…didn’t. Thankfully other parts of my personality, namely the fiscal one, scream loudly enough to force me to continue on. I absolutely detest the feeling that I’m simply doing photography for the sake of getting my money’s worth out of the equipment I bought but it’s enough to keep me going and hopefully enough to drive me through to the other side.

This post will also form part of the strategy for me to keep on developing as a photographer. I’ve already put myself in many situations that I wouldn’t have otherwise for the sake of photography and, whilst I might not feel like I’m doing anything of worth at the time, I have produced some pictures that, on reflection, do meet my criteria for being “good”. I keep making a promise to myself that I’ll do 1 post here a week based on my latest photographic excursions and maybe its time that I made good on that instead of getting caught up in a circle of self loathing.

Yeah, I think its time.

A Photographic Jaunt.

I had a rather fun and interesting weekend in terms of photography. As part of my whole pursuing my passions business I’ve set about trying to better myself as a photographer and part of that is challenging myself each week (or as close to that as I can) to take on a photographic challenge. The first one was something I was already comfortable with, landscapes, and flush with victory for that I decided to take on something that I haven’t really seriously tackled before: architecture. I had a few locations here in Canberra scouted out and so after swinging by the computer fair to pick up a new router I jumped straight in, looking to find that unique view of some Canberran architecture that’d catch my eye.

To put it simply the day didn’t go quite as I had expected. I figured buildings would be much like landscapes, big things that don’t move or complain so they’d make for easy photographic pickings. It’s completely the opposite of course as for landscapes you’re usually taking things from a great distance away and for buildings and architecture you usually don’t have the luxury of distance, especially if you’re in the middle of a city like I was. I haven’t had the chance to fully review all the pictures I took but suffice to say none of them really impressed me after I took them, so I definitely know there’s room for improvement there.

However during my journey I made a quick sojourn up to the iconic Parliament House as no photographic trip focused on architecture would be complete without a picture or two of it in there. As I approached it however I noticed a group of people out the front with many holding signs and a loud speaker amplifying the words of a lone spokesman. Intrigued I approached them and from what I could tell (many of the signs and speeches were in Arabic, I believe) were protesting the current asylum seeker legislation. Figuring this would be a good time to hone my photojournalisitc skills, which didn’t exist prior to this, I started snapping pictures. No one complained about having their pictures taken but it did bring back some horrible memories of stories of fellow photographers who had had some bad experiences doing the same thing.

Generally speaking if you’re on public property you have every right to take a picture of what you see, especially if what you’re taking a picture of is on public property as well. There have been numerous cases of people being harassed by police when taking photos of them (there were police at this protest too, but I didn’t want to invite trouble by photographing them) but you’re well within your rights to do that as well. There are of course exceptions to these rules as the link describes but for the most part as long as you’re sensible about what kinds of pictures you’re taking you won’t be any legal trouble.

Still it’s always something that niggles at the back of my head and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve shied away from any kind of photography in a public place.I know I’m in the right legally I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll get accosted by people when taking photos near them, even if I’m not pointing the camera directly at them. I did get a couple looks (the Canon 60D with a 24-105mm F/4L lens and a 480 EX II SpeedLite can be a rather imposing beast to look at) but no one really seemed to care that much that I was taking pictures so that feeling is probably just more of my introverted side coming out more than anything else. Maybe my next challenge should be street photography to work that part out.

I don’t have anything to show you just yet as I don’t like to shoot in JPG + RAW because it seems redundant and the codec pack I’ve got for viewing RAWs doesn’t work on the x64 version of Windows 7. I’ve bought myself a copy of Lightroom though so once I get that installed and get comfortable with the interface you’ll then be relentlessly spammed with all the photographs from the weekend and I might update this post with a few choice shots from my little jaunt. Whilst it might not have been the most pleasurable experience (it was rather cold) it was definitely a learning one and it’s something that I’ll be looking to repeat in the not too distant future.

Lytro: Light Field Technology Becomes a Reality.

One of my not-so-secret passions is photography. I got into it about 5 years ago when I was heading over to New Zealand with my then girlfriend (now wife) as I wanted a proper camera, something that could capture some decent shots. Of course I got caught up in the technology of it all and for the next year or so I spent many waking hours putting together my dream kit of camera bodies, lenses and various accessories that I wanted to buy. My fiscal prudence stopped me short of splurging much, I only lashed out once for a new lens, but the passion has remained even if it’s taken a back seat to my other ambitions.

According to posts made by Boudoir photographers in CT, one of the greatest challenges is getting the focus just right so that your subject is clear and the other details fade into the background, preferably with a nice bokeh. I struggled with this very problem recently when we threw a surprise party for my wife and one of her dearest friend’s birthdays. Try as I might to get the depth of field right on some of the preparations we were doing (like the Super Mario styled cupcakes) I just couldn’t get it 100% right, at least not without the help of some post production. You can imagine then how excited I was when I heard about light field technology and what it could mean for photography.

In essence a light field camera would give you the ability to change the focus, almost infinitely, after the picture had been taken. It can do this as it doesn’t capture light in the same way that most cameras do. Instead of taking one picture through one lens light field cameras instead capture thousands of individual rays of light and the direction from which they were coming. Afterwards you can use this data to focus the picture wherever you want and even produce 3D images. Even though auto-focus has done a pretty good job of eliminating the need to hand focus shots the ability to refocus after the fact is a far more powerful advancement, one that could revolutionize the photography industry.

I first heard about it when Lytro, a light field based startup, mentioned that they were developing the technology back in June. At the time I was thinking that they’d end up being a manufacturer or licensor of their technology, selling their sensors to the likes of Canon and Nikon. However they’d stated that they were going to make a camera first before pursuing that route and I figured that meant we wouldn’t see anything from them for at least another year or two. I was quite surprised to learn that they have their cameras up for pre-order and delivery is expected early next year.

As a camera it defies current norms almost completely. It’s a square cylinder with an LCD screen on the back and the capture button is a capacitive notch on the top. From that design I’d assume you’d take pictures with it by using it like a ye olde telescope which will be rather comical to watch. There’s 2 models available, an 8GB and 16GB one, that can hold 350 and 750 pictures respectively. The effective resolution that you get out of the Lytro camera seems to be about 1MP but the images are roughly 20MB big. The models come in at $399 and $499 respectively which, on the surface, seems a bit rich for something that does nothing but take really small photos.

However I think Lytro is going the right way with this technology, much like Tesla did when they first released the Roadster. In essence the Lytro camera is a market test as $400 is almost nothing compared to the amount of money a photography enthusiast will spend on a piece of kit (heck I spent about that much on the single lens I bought). Many then will be bought as a curiosity and that will give Lytro enough traction to continue developing their light field technology, hopefully one day releasing a sensor for the DSLR market. From the amount of buzz I’ve read about them over the past few days it seems like that is a very real possibility and I’d be one of the teaming masses lining up to get a DSLR with that kind of capability.

They’re not the only light field camera maker out there either, heck they’re not even the first. Raytrix, a 3D camera manufacturing company, was actually the first to market with a camera that incorporated light field technology. Looking over their product range they’ve got quite the selection of cameras available for purchase although they seem to be aimed more at the professional rather than consumer market. They even offer to convert your favourite camera into a light field one and even give you some rough specs of what your camera will be post conversion. Lytro certainly has its work cut out for them with a company like Raytrix competing against them and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.

On a personal level this kind of technology gets me all kinds of excited. I think that’s because they’re so unexpected, I mean once auto-focus made it easy for anyone to take a picture you’d think that it was a solved problem space. But no, people find ingenious ways of using good old fashioned science to come up with solutions to problems we thought were already solved. The light field space is really going to heat up over the next couple years and it’s got my inner photographer rattling his cage, eager to play with the latest and greatest. I’m damned tempted to give into him as well as this tech is just so freakin’ cool.

Becoming a Temporary Expert.

I don’t know if it’s an engineer thing or just me personally but I find I work best when I’m thrown into the deep end of something. I usually end up in this situation when someone asks me if something can be done and I can’t think of any reason why it can’t, and thus end up being the one developing the solution. More often than not this puts me far out of my current realm of knowledge so I end up doing extensive amounts of research in order to be able to achieve what I set about doing. I’ve come to call this process one of becoming a temporary expert as at either end of it I’m probably no more knowledgeable than anyone else on the subject, but for that brief period in the middle I’d definitely consider myself an expert.

Take for instance my on-again off-again hobby of photography. About 4 years ago I was planning a trip to New Zealand with my then girlfriend (and after the trip fiancée) and I thought I should get myself a decent camera for the trip. Before this though I hadn’t really done any kind of real photography but I knew the best kind of camera to get would be a digital SLR. The next month was filled with hundreds of online articles, reviews and guides from others who all had varying levels of opinions on what I should be buying. In the end, after digesting the massive amount of information I had shoved into my brain, I chose myself a Canon 400D and less than a week later I had it in my possession.

However as time went by I found myself no longer keeping up to speed on the various developments in the photography world. Sure the odd article or blog would cross my path but apart from buying another lens a couple months down the line my knowledge in this area began to fade, as would a foreign language once learnt but seldom used. Most of the fundamentals stuck with me however, but those extra bits of knowledge that made me feel like I knew something inside and out slipped away in the vast depths of my mind. It was probably for the best since photography is a rather expensive hobby anyway.

Most often I find myself going through this temporary expert process during the course of my everyday work, usually when I’m working in smaller IT departments. You see whilst bigger IT departments have the luxury of hiring many people with specific, specialist knowledge smaller areas have to make do with generalists who know a bit about everything. The most effective generalists are also quite adept at this temporary expert process, able to dive back into a technology they were once familiar with head first in order to become a specialist when they’re required. This process isn’t cheap however since the amount of time and effort required to attain the required level of expertise can be quite large, especially if they’ve never had any experience with the technology before.

I remember doing this quite extensively back when I was working for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. I had been hired on to revamp their virtualisation environment and a large part of that was working with their SAN. Whilst I had had experience in the past with their particular brand of SAN my last job hadn’t let me anywhere near any of their kit since they had a specialist who took care of it all. I spent the better part of a month diving through technical documents and resources to make sure what I was planning to do was feasible and would deliver as expected. The process worked and I was able to accomplish what they hired me for, unfortunately working myself out of a job. If you came to me today and asked me to accomplish the same thing I would probably have to do the same process all over again as my expertise in that field was only temporary.

I guess this rule applies to any skill you develop but fail to use over a long period of time. As someone who gets deeply interested in anything with even a slight technological bent I’ve found myself lost in countless topics over my lifetime, fully immersing myself in them for as long as my interest lasts. Then as my interest wanes so does my knowledge until the passion is rekindled again and the process starts anew.