Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Tulips and Droplets

Best Shot MondayI've talked before about how I love macro shots for their ability to reveal something that even I didn't notice while taking that very photo. (From a recent conversation sparked by Futurama -- it's like having better resolution that the real world.)

This weekend I went outside to take some photos of the beautiful tulips that are opening up in our backyard (apparently, it's the season for tulip photos). This particular photo caught a water bubble, which itself reflects the whole flower bed, upside down (close crop below).

I wonder whether someday we'll be able to take photos where a "close crop" of a water droplet could contain enough resolution for us to find another droplet on a nearby stem and see what image it reflects.

Now picture having enough resolution to find an image of the world that is a good dozen droplet-levels deep. Compare that to the "real world", and it might begin to give us an idea of the difference between any concept of "actual reality" and what any given individual actually perceives.

The fun question is, just what is the shape and substance of the droplets through which you perceive the world?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Attack of the Visible Dust

When I first got a digital SLR camera, it somehow prompted stern words of caution about the horrors of dust from a number of acquaintances. One friend took me aside, pointed at the button that releases the lens from the camera, and solemnly proclaimed, "once you press that button, it's all over, you have to worry about dust".

Quick aside for those who haven't spent much time listening to photographers go poetic about their gear... A digital SLR (dSLR) uses a fixed sensor to record images, and the design allows the user to change the lens among a wide range of wallet-busting choices. However, since the lens can be removed, that also means the inside of the camera (and, thus, the sensor) can be exposed to air and whatever else may be floating in your air of choice (dust, oil, hairspray, imprecations, water vapor, etc.). Back in the ancient, ancient world of 10 years ago when people used film (yea, people used film), it really didn't matter too much if dust got into the camera. At most, there would be a little bit of dust on one frame, but then the camera would move on to the next piece of the photographic film and (assuming you weren't procuring your film supplies from some shady person in a trenchcoat on the corner) that new frame wouldn't bring any dust with it. With digital, that changed -- the sensor is the same physical bit of electronic circuitry for every single photo the camera will ever take, so any bit of dust that lands there will stay there until something else disposes of it.

Ok, that wasn't as quick an aside as I thought. But, moving on.

After clocking over 17,500 photos on my camera without any visible dust appearing on any of my photos, one will hopefully forgive me for starting to wonder what the whole dust paranoia was all about (actually, I still do, but that's besides the point). After all, that's more photos in 15 months than I'd taken in the rest of my life put together. I even remarked as much in a recent conversation.

Of course, as soon as I got home after that conversation and went out to take some photos of the new figs our tree is working on, I noticed that there was a slight dark blob on the photos that didn't exist outside my camera.

A quick, highly scientific test (also known as the point-your-camera-at-a-patch-of-sky-and-take-photo test) confirmed that, indeed, I had some of that fearful dust on my sensor. (Red circle added later, for emphasis. Though it would be kinda cool if there just happened to be a big floating red circle on the sky right where that bit of dust appears. I wonder whether this is how some UFO photos come about?)

I opened up my camera and peeked at the sensor. Sure enough, there was a bit of fuzz in the equivalent spot on the sensor, of about that shape. There's a zillion products out there (I found out) to let one clean/swipe/swab/wash/brush the sensor. There's also, unsurprisingly, a zillion bad ideas on how to clean your sensor (my favorite for actually-sounding-like-it-might-work-until-you-think-better-about-it is the scotch tape method; just like cleaning lint off your jacket, except it's your digital camera sensor that you're de-linting; having worked with semiconductor manufacturing before, take my word for it: Bad. Idea.).

Going for simple-is-better, I got myself an air blower. Going for why-not-get-the-funny-one, I got one called Rocket Air Blower. (It actually has really good reviews.) That took care of it in about 10 seconds. Repeating my test from earlier confirmed a clean sensor (for the photo-geeks out there: yes, I was using a small aperture for the tests). With a bit of luck, it will stay that way for another 17,000 photos. (Or, I'll need to clean it again after writing this post. But at least now I already have something to clean it with, and it will make for a funny story to boot.)

Blue Skies, smiling at me...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Instant Gratification

Best Shot MondayOur fig tree is waking up from its winter slumber, and along with the first leaves also appear the first proto-figs, each smaller than my thumb. The tree will work on these for the nearly six months before they're ready to be eaten by us (or, on average, by the many birds that live nearby). We'll go from early Spring, right through Summer and out the other side to early Fall. These tiny fig leaves will grow large enough that they could actually be used for clothing in a pinch. And, in spite of the (relatively) long advance notice, the figs will most likely take us by surprise (again) when they're finally ripe.

In this age when everything is competing to be more 'instant' than everything else, it's refreshing to have something that's still connecting us to the actual cycles of nature and the seasons. And, if past experience is any predictor of future performance, the figs will be well worth the wait.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Where is your gaze at?

Best Shot MondayCats have an amazing ability to gaze out a window with apparent complete and utter focus. It's as if they can concentrate their entire being into a single point in space and time.

It's only when you, say, open a cupboard (on the other side of the house) that happens to contain some cat food in it that you realize that, somehow, cats manage to pay attention to absolutely everything around them at the same time as they're focusing on whatever bird/piece of string/dust particle/potential food source/potential source of amusement.

While it would be overwhelming for me to aim anywhere near that level of utter, focused zen, watching a cat do this is a great reminder.

As we cram more appointments into our calendars, more cores into our computer CPUs, more gadgets on our belts/pockets/purses, and seemingly more hours into our days, it's easy to start thinking that we, mere humans, can keep up with more and more multitasking. Tempting as it may be, it's unlikely that one can drive to work, have breakfast, talk on the cellphone, think about the day's appointments, and compose a blog entry at the same time. (Don't try it. I certainly didn't.)

So this week's post is a reminder to myself -- focus on one conversation, one task, one thought at a time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's a Small World

Best Shot TuesdayBest Shot Monday Tuesday

I've been on vacation in the south of Brazil for the past week, so in the time-honored tradition of doing everything on when-you-get-around-to-it time, this week's Best Shot Monday happens to land on a Tuesday.

Every time I travel somewhere, it's the differences that jump out vying for my attention (humans are wonderful at seeing differences; it's what's right under our nose all along that we have a hard time seeing).

It's the way people walk slower, or stand more relaxed. It's that uncanny, locally universal need to stand in lines for the apparent need to satisfy a curiosity as to what lies on the other end (the longer the line, the more interesting it must be, right?). It's the totally different vegetation, birds and bugs. The different sounds, smells, colors.

Yet, underneath all that, what also struck me this time around is just how connected things are becoming. I remember, growing up, that movies would often come out in the US a good 6 to 12 months before they would make it all the way to the southern hemisphere. A few years ago, not all that many people had cellphones, and public phones (called "big ears" here -- really, I swear that's what it translates to) where still (mostly) functional and all over the place. Now everyone has cellphones (there are more mobile phones than landlines here now), there's wi-fi everywhere (through which my own phone can connect back its network and make calls back in the Northern Hemisphere as if I was no further away than the cafe' down the street from where I live), and public phones are generally non-functional and (still) located optimally for slamming your head into when you're walking around looking at the scenery.

The world really is getting smaller from some vantage points.

And, of course, all this also means I can still post to my blog. Eventually. :)

So, on that note, this week's photo brings me back to my world of macros. Not the sharpest shot ever, but I love the colors on the plate where this little bug was stretching its wings along with the (appropriately) Brazilian colors of the bug itself.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Big Picture

I love macro shots. It's like a game, finding the "hidden" shots within the larger landscape. It's just fun to look at pictures on a bigger screen afterward and find that the camera captured some cool detail I hadn't even noticed at the time.

But, in the spirit of regularly trying things outside my comfort zone, I picked a wide angle, landscape shot for this week's photo. It's not what I would consider my overall best shot from this past week, but it helps me make a point. :)

This weekend I was up in the mountains. All of a sudden, the world back-pedaled from early Spring to middle-of-Winter, and got all full of snow to boot. Now, I'm not a snow person. I didn't even see snow until I was in high-school, and it wasn't until college that I saw enough of it in one place to allow for anything like, say, skiing. People say the best part of skiing is getting back to the cabin and hitting the hot tub after a day's worth of plummeting towards one's doom gliding down the mountain. Yes, I've taken downhill skiing lessons, and I've gone cross-country skiing. But really I prefer to skip the skiing bit and going straight for the hot tub along with a pot of tea. :)

Given that background, one might imagine how easy it is for me to end up grumbling about the cold, about how slippery the ground is, and how it was Spring 8 hours ago. And since I often end up doing some of that (hopefully more in my head than aloud), it's good to put things into perspective...

We spend so much of our lives in the details. The chilly wind, the left boot that doesn't quite fit, the snow that is now melting inside the right one, the water bottle that is now about half an hour's walk away in the car, the dirt on the glasses that the glare from the sun now makes obvious, and wouldn't it be nice if we'd brought along a map?

Yet, zoom out even just a bit in the grand scheme of things, and all of that disappears. We now have a sunny, snow-covered landscape with beautiful tall trees. Oh, yea, and a hiker, off to the side.

Looking past the at-the-time-annoying-but-really-insignificant details, I had a great time snow-shoeing with a bunch of fantastic friends among some amazing scenery. Although I can easily see myself remembering the afternoon as "time I could have spent in a hot tub drinking tea", the memory is, ironically, warm and happy. I guess I really ought to know from years of dancing that it's important to look up from your own feet. :)

Not to say that details aren't important. They often are crucial. But details without a frame of reference are mostly useless, and it's amazingly difficult to get caught up with the unimportant ones while completely ignoring the important ones.

So, what do you see, when you look at your own experiences from a distance?