Computational Photography Testbed Camera, the Frankencamera

Computational photography, as we have talked about it before, is a coming together of the camera and the computer to do more than the camera can do by itself. Things like HDR, increasing depth of field and much more are possible. To advance this work the Stanford University research group that has been pushing computational photography for some years has produced a camera that will make it easier for researchers to work in this field, as part of their Camera 2.0 project. Continue reading “Computational Photography Testbed Camera, the Frankencamera”

Adopt a Clean Slate with your Computer

A computer is a key part of our photography practice. It is worth keeping it healthy.

We all rely on our computers, whether you are a photographer or a digital artist. Keeping it in a healthy state is critical.

Over the years I have found that one of the keys to having an effective computer is to, on a regular cycle, do a complete reformat and reinstall of everything on the computer. This means backing up all your key data and then doing an operating system re-install doing a clean format of the disk first. Then reinstall the applications you need and then restore the files you need.

On Windows computers I see this as an important thing to do at least once a year. On a Mac about once every year to two years seems to be right.

There are many benefits from doing this. Some of these are:

  • A chance to review just what applications you have installed;
  • Removal of any virus or spyware that has somehow got past your anti-virus software;
  • A complete defragmentation of the hard disk;
  • Encourages you to update all your drivers to the latest versions and is also a good time to check for firmware updates.

In my case, recently, my Macbook was starting to run applications slowly, not helped by my tendency to have many open at the same time. I had also held off upgrading it to 10.5. I had taken my desktop to that a while back. So it was time to backup everything and do a full reinstall and upgrade.

To backup I copied everything over onto an external drive so I had a fully bootable duplicate. I then did an install with a full reformat of the disk. On the Mac things are helped by a Migration utility that will copy over just what you need. I had it recreate my main user account, with email, etc, but to not copy applications and other things over. I then manually copied over what I needed and reinstalled applications that I wanted, installing some new ones, like CS4, that I had trouble installing before because of testing the beta versions. This is a perennial problem for software and hardware testers.

By creating a complete bootable backup of my old system I could, if I needed to, simply either restore the old machine state or reboot to it for some time to get some work done while I was sorting out issues with the new setup. Windows users, of course, have their own way of making a bootable system backup.

The result is a laptop (in my case) that is running noticeably faster, is far more tolerant of lots of open applications and more available disk space. It also seems to have slightly better battery life, undoubtedly due to better management software in the new operating system version. I also know I have the latest printer drivers and such installed.

Over the years of running both Macs and PCs I have found that Windows machines benefit from this being done much more often. I know my next task like this is my daughters Dell laptop. I may take it Vista now that there have been enough cycles of bug fixes, drivers released, etc.

Practicing good computer hygiene means giving your computer a good cleanout every so often. Schedule it.

View Your Camera and Computer as Part of One System

Once images are in the digital domain there is an infinite field of possibility open to you that can move your photography to new levels. It is time to stop thinking of your camera gear and computer gear as separate things.
Digital photography is as massive a paradigm shift in photography as the invention of photography was in the first place. The paradigm shift is one in the thinking of the photographer, and many of us haven’t yet caught up with this. Let me explain.
Let us create a hypothetical ‘normal’ photographer and a ‘new paradigm’ photographer for comparison.

The normal photographer shoots pretty much the same way they did with film, though they may shoot more. They have their camera gear and they have their computer gear. The computer gear replaces their old darkroom equipment and the trips off to drop off and pickup film and prints that they were not equipped to handle in their darkroom. Their thinking is inherently two-stage in nature. They go out and shoot with their gear, then later they get into their images on the computer. When they shoot they take some heed of what they may do on the computer, just as in their darkroom days they exposed so they could get a decent print without too much prestidigitation in the darkroom. A hangover from this thinking is an effort to handle as much with the camera as possible.

The new paradigm photographer has an inherently one-stage thinking. Everything is their photography and everything is their camera gear, even the computer. They think in terms of what is the best way, within their present means, to address a particular issue. They understand fully the effect of every decision on their workflow and structure things to get the maximum quality they can out of what they have, and have the most fun doing it. So they may have a workflow that uses the best camera and lenses they can afford and use appropriate software to reduce image noise, correct lens aberrations and achieve image modifications that allow them to do the photography they want to do in a way that suits them.

On the discussion lists too often you see photographers who are struggling with the camera gear they have and limiting what they shoot because of it. Yet computational photography, as it is becoming called, opens up so many possibilities. Rather than not doing night photography because they have a fairly noisy camera and cannot afford an update, a cheap software purchase may do the trick. Likewise a cheap lens with aberrations that make architectural photography difficult can be addressed with software. Panorama stitching does not need a special camera. Likewise using HDR techniques can extend a low dynamic range camera. Software can extend depth of field in macro work and even allow you to choose the focal point and depth of field after the shoot. And the list goes on.

Beyond technological solutions there are also solutions of perception. Not every image has to be sharp and perfect. Blur can be highly effective, a soft image can add atmosphere and burned out highlights and blocked shadows can be used in creative ways.

I sometimes think we like to be limited so we have something to complain about or have an excuse for not testing our creativity. Perhaps it is an avoidance mechanism so we do not have to risk failure. Whatever it is, it is worth blocking it away and taking the risk of changing your thinking. You just might like it.