Category Archives: Photos

Photography, photos…

Sweeter As The Years Go By

Here’s something that has kept me a little occupied over the past weeks.

Howmean.com Main Page

To find out, head over to http://howmean.com. This site belongs to the couple to be, Caleb and How Mean. And no, rather than its perceived adjective “how mean!”, I hope one experience some sweetness visiting the site.

There are several talented people behind the making of this site. Graphics and concept were designed by Grace Wong, and the web design was done by Meng Lung of Gold Coast Web Design. My little contributions would be some subjective augmentations to the site and one might make intelligent guesses to what I did by spotting non-traditional elements on the site. For those who aren’t guessing, here’s a list

+ Mouse over the dandelions near the footer, and one may see little particles floating away. On most modern browsers except IE, these particles are drawn with html 5 canvas elements. In unsupported browsers, 1 pixel rendering with css are used instead.
+ Meant to be an easter egg, rolling the mouse wheel renders lighter dandelions particles around the screen.
+ Ajax calls are used for navigation when possible to prevent disruption of the background music
+ To support browsers not running flash (the iPhones and Androids mainly!), flash objects degrade gracefully
+ To degrade the photo gallery for non flash clients, the xml used by the flash slideshow player is parsed and rendered with jquery.
Howmean.com on the android
+ A small widget (which dates back to my legendary ORD count down wallpaper) is used to display the time till or from the wedding date in the credit page.

Of course all these would not be present if not for the weds-to-be.

So this’s my 1st post of the new year, and its a great reminder to reflect whether each passing day gets sweeter. A blessed new year for you readers!

Making of Focus

Watching “behind the scenes”, or perhaps directors notes on dvds, makes appreciating a film more fun (although some think reading spoilers more so). The reasons for me writing about the making serves 2 purposes, one to document some of the technicalities used, and second to reflect what went wrong and could be improved. Or perhaps bring more depth to the story.

One of the questions most asked about this video is whether I did the blurring in post production. The answer is no and a reason is that it would create too much work. The video with a wide aperture (f/4), which means the lens is allowing more light in, creating “circle of confusion”, blurring objects not in focus. In general that’s called a shallow depth of field, and helps create the “bokeh effect”.

Frame of Focus
Framing.

In this still from the MJPEG, the focus is on the mirror frame, making the mirror image like a painting. Another question asked is whether someone shot the video. If you watch the last few seconds of the video, you would have an idea but this motion still tells the story.

Behind the scenes of Focus
Crew and equipment

Lastly, the usb cable connects the canon camera 40D to the PC, and recorded via EOS Camera Movie Record.

EOS Camera Movie Record
The software/hack which make the video possible.

What could have done better? The plot, being plain boring but it is the feeling when I got watching arts film in the past. The jerkiness, which leads me to find out about but not use the hardware solutions (eg. steadicam) and software approaches (eg. deshaker).

And without saying, one might question while watching, whether I’m in focus.

Video Filming with Canon 40D


Focus – My “1st Self Documentary Film” from Joshua Koo on Vimeo.

You can watch it the high resolution version here or at the bottom of this post by clicking more.

This motion video was filmed in with my Canon 40D captured through the computer with a brilliant software called the “EOS Camera Movie Record“.

This really cool hack was created by a Russian to record videos from canon cameras which support live view (40d,50d, 450d, 5d2, perhaps 500d and 1000d too).

If you understand Russian, check out the forums and the homepage. If you understand code, check out the source from the subversion.

I used to think that the “Live View” function was much gimmicks, even trying to imitate compact cameras, in ways they excel over the dSLRs. It is true of the limitations of Live View at least in the 40D, focusing limitations, battery draining and such, but I’ve started to find uses for Live View, and capturing video is one of the extra added benefit.

I would also love it when the CHDK project gets video recording in 40D camera too, and if I wish contrast AF, live histograms etc, would be even cooler.

There are potential and possibilities with the EOS Camera Movie Record project, but even right now in its infancy, I think its pretty cool to have fun trying.

More about making of this video in a future post.
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Blending Panoramas to HDRs to Vertoramas

Its 8 months since I first used a dSLR, wandered in the world of photography, and this perhaps marks my first post on photography. Part of digital photography work flow is to “process” photos, something which requires equally or more skill, effort and work than the shooting itself.


360 degrees panorama of my neighborhood.

One of 1st photoshop techniques was blending, and I learned through doing back then when I knew little about photography. The task was to stitch a series of photography to create a panorama. (If anyone remembered seeing that panorama, it was the 360 degrees panorama of our YF youths standing around the camera in a full circle at Cameron Highlands). Then I had only access to Photoshop 7 and doing a panorama stitch meant a digital hand stitching using layers, masks and maybe lots of brushing.

These days at present, whole wide variety does panoramic stitching for us at ease. Photoshop CS especially the latest versions have simple but powerful stitching features. The free, open source Hugin Tools has all the advance feature that meets the extreme panoramic needs. The latest Windows Live Photo Gallery (free with windows) makes panoramas easy. Most software shipped with camera have panoramic stitchers and some point and shoot cameras even does panoramic stitching in camera.

Speaking of in camera processing and computation, the new compact Ricoh CX1 does High Dynamic Range (or HDR for capturing a wider range of shadows and highlights) in the camera.

With all the technology, we sometimes forget that a simple way of creating a panorama years back was just overlapping photos one on top of another. The way I see it, technology can be enabling but crippling. We might create better drawings with a computer, but not draw better if we only trust technology to do drawings for us.


My first “fake” HDR 360 degrees panorama and stereographic/planetary projection.

Not recommending ignorance to technology, I think what is important is striking a balance with technology and creativity. These days I find HDR much the hype and hassle, but constantly trying new creative ways to see and design like creating Vertorama (maybe just a buzz term now but) brings the fun to photography and learning.

My 1st Vertorama

Vertorama of Sunset at Shoreline Park while Jogging

Not a HDR, neither shot with a dSLR, but a hand stitched/blended Vertorama. (rhythms!)

I first saw the term “vertorama” in one of Daniel Cheong’s flickr photos then read more about it from Panorama_Paul Vertorama tutorial , there’s also an interesting read here. Basically Vertorama are taken by taking at least 2 landscape shots, one above another, and combined to become a “vertical panorama”. The reason I like the vertoramas is that they are more pleasant looking than HDR done badly, requires less shots, replicate what the graduated filter does, works even with the simplest auto settings, and looks great like a medium format photo with amazing lighting contrast especially taking sunset photos.

During the evening run at Shoreline park towards Adobe creek, I thought the sunset shouldn’t be gone to again and took this sequence of photos which wouldn’t stich a panorama well with my Lumix FX500. The 3 rightmost photos were used for the vertorama.
Photos that didn't stitch well for a panorama

As the photos didn’t overlap well, I did the blending by hand. The images were added as separate layers, positioned them manually to align, applied masks, blending and contrast adjustments. Applied highlights and shadows and curve adjustments but the microcontrast is too strong.

Please comment if you think the post process could be done better or differently.

Keep Going

Something I remember from a book about journals – keep writing, even in times its difficult to write. Inspiration doesn’t come always, and sometimes the motivations and goals for doing something turn dim. The book mentions a lady who was depressed after losing a loved one, didn’t have the inspiration to write about new things, but keep recording seemingly mundane actions like waking up, sleeping and eating for a long period of time, and eventually that helped her recover.

Because I started this blog initially for myself, at times, I feel apologetic to myself for not maintaining my blog. Sometimes I procrastinate when I have too many things to write about. Then times swing when I’m unsure of what to write. At least I keep a little diary where I dump my thoughts and feelings in it and 6 months after I’m here, reading them helps me measure myself.

And my photos here (or here @ facebook) these days seem to be the outlet of expressing the (almost daily) adventures I’m going through.

Have a great year of 2009 ahead, if I haven’t greeted you so, late but better than never.

2009 New Year Fireworks, San Francisco
New Year Fireworks 2009, San Francisco, from Treasure Island.

10 Photography Rules To Know & Break

From the book “Photography and the Art of Seeing” (1979), Freeman Patterson has photography rules to take note of and to break them.

#1
Rule: Focus on the center of interest
Break: Keep the center of interest out of focus; play with the blance of forms

#2
Rule: Fill in the frame with the subject
Break: Allow space around the subject; look for interaction with the environment

#3
Rule: Do not shoot between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. (golden hours)
Break: Shoot on any day, at any time

#4
Rule: Do not shoot against the light
Break: Photography only against the light for a month

#5.
Rule: Hold the camera steady
Break: Shoot while jumping up and down or spinning around

#6
Rule: Follow the “rule of thirds”
Break: Vary composition. Respond emotionally

#7
Rule: Obey the light meter
Break: Disobey. Mess up the zone system. Oversexpose and underexpose by three , even 4 f/stops

#8
Rule: Photography children (and pets) at their own eye level;
Break: Move up, down on the side, all over

#9
Rule: Avoid lens flare when shooting against the sun ;
Break: Use lens flare to enhance a composition

#10
Rule: Keep camera level with the horizon
Break: Create your own horizons.

Pretty interesting stuff I thought. Here’s also a blog by photographers exercising these tricks.

My Google Maps, Geotagged Picasa Photos, GPS Tracks Mashup

Hi Google fans, mashup hackers, GPS geeks, geotaggers lovers, or anyone who has time on hand.
Here’s my simple howto for mashing up google maps, geotagged photos on picasa web albums, and gps tracks.

note: below is a screenshot. scroll to the bottom of this post for the interactive map
Google Maps, Geotagged Picasa Album, GPS tracks mashed up

motivation: As mentioned in my previous post, syncing GPS tracks is a very convenient way for geotagging photos. Our friendly giant, Google already has some fantastic services for photos, geotagging, maps but apparently we do not see support for GPS tracks.

summary: This online mashup requires mainly a web browser with a little manual work.

steps:
——
1. Upload geotagged photos to Picasa web albums & download KML (google earth) format
2. Convert gps tracks to KML format
3. Merge GPS tracks and Photos KML
4. Upload merged KML to google pages
5. Request google maps to open KML
——

pre-requisites:
You must have a google account. This is for uploading to picasa web albums and google pages.
You also know how to geotag photos by syncing GPS tracks. This has been mentioned briefly in my previous post.

Step 1.
After geotags have been saved to the photos EXIF, you see a little compass icon on photos in picasa web albums. Select the photos you want and upload them to a web album. After uploading, go to the web albums and click “View Map”. Save the “View in Google Earth” link which is a KML format.

Step 2.
Convert your GPS tracks (GPX, NMEA etc) to KML format. You could use the free powerful GPSBabel or convert it online at GPS Visualizer.

Step 3.
Open your favorite notepad/text/xml editor/ide and copy the kml data into the photos kml If you find it tricky merging the KML files by hand, try using this utility called KML Merge

Hint: If you would like to edit a little KML, you could customise what to display and perhap place tracks information (speeds, time, altitudes) in the little bubbles when clicked on.

Step 4.
We have to store the GPS tracks somewhere anyway, so the free and good way is to upload to googlepages. Under the right section there’s box call uploaded stuff. Click upload files, and select the KML file to be uploaded. Copy the url of the upload file.

Step 5.
Visit Google Maps. In the search box, paste the url where your KML is hosted. Tata, you get GPS tracks, geotagged photos on the interactive map! Click on share this map to email or embed this mashup on your blogs.

the trick: if you haven’t notice, this mashup is built mainly on the fact google maps is able to layer the google earth format (KML) onto google maps online.
To send a linked url map to your friends, append a url encoded kml url to google maps.
eg: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=http%3A//joshuakoo.googlepages.com/HendersonPicasaPhotos.kml

Here’s the result:

View Larger Map

conclusion: this is a really simple, rough mashup for google maps, photos, gps tracks but it shows some possibilities of what it can be done. i would also like to point out that everytrail has a fantastic services for gps tracks which supports google maps, and photos geotagging. Unfortunately, its photos uploading is pretty rudimentary but one would still use if everytrail if there’s no preferences for picasa web albums.

Geotagging Photos – 3 Simple Methods

What’s Geotagging?
Geotag. “Geo” + “Tags”. Tagging with geographical information or GPS coordinates.

The meaning is so simple, there isn’t a need to look up its meaning. Geotagging is one of the interesting stuff that makes me think about it, its brings more fun after having a GPS receiver, and the possibilities is really up to one’s creativity.

Lets take for example if write a traveller’s blog, you could look for posts categorised by time, by categories and by subject tags. Imagine having each post is tagged with its location, not only you know the location reading a post, you could easily navigate and search for posts by location and visually on a map. (Geojoey’s a free blog service for geotagged enabled blogs.)

Basically anything you wish to keep geographical information or data to be organise by location could be “geotag”, secret places (search geocaching), treasures, objects, animals, friends etc. It will be cool to have microblogging/status updates services support geotagging. Twitter tackles “what are you doing” but perhaps geotagging answers “where are you”.

Why Geotag Photos?
There’s should be some good reason why Google’s and Yahoo’s services supports this other than competition. When organising photos, you group them by usually by time, albums, folders etc. As the photos collection grow quickly, we need more to search and locate and there’s where descriptions, keywords tags comes into place. Perhaps with sophisticated software, we could find them by colours, mood, faces (I hope).

With the addition geotags, we know easily and exactly where a photo is taken, we could easily find photos taken in or around an area, we could layout photos over the world map and visualise where we had been before. (See SuperGeoTagged for flickr photos on google earth/maps)

3 Methods.
Likely, you need to know only 1. Make a choice.

Method 1: Automated Package.
You take a photo with your camera, and the location gets tagged to the photo automatically. Sounds simple but how? This usually requires some equipment. Either your camera has built in GPS, or you attach it to a GPS addon which is usually costly. A more practical situation is using mobile phones (and software) which takes advantage of its built in (or connected) GPS and camera. (Here’s a product for nikon cameras. Zurfer is a mobile software/service for automating and uploading geotagged photos from cameras phones)

Method 2: Map Assisted Geotagging
A little manual work but nevertheless the most affordable method. Select photos, then pinpoint it on the map on the computer to tag them. Since yahoo, google and microsoft already have their own map services, they already have services and software which allows users to do so easily. At the same time, there are software and online services and tutorials for providing such geotagging mashups. (examples: flickr, locr)

Method 3: Syncing GPS Logs
With a little work, this provides the most flexibility at affordable costs. Have a device to record GPS logs while you shoot away on a separate camera. Since GPS has multiple purposes, it would be a waste just to use it for tagging photos. With a GPS receiver, you could use it for navigation, finding directions, displaying routes and travel statistics, and while doing all these, record your tracks. With these track logs, a software would be able to extract the geographical data and tag locations to photos taken based on time contained in photographs.

My Choice.
Method 3. Since I already own a cheap bluetooth GPS receiver, I run the cool free trekbuddy on my mobile phones which tells me my location, speed, distance at the same time recording my travel tracks. The logs transferred to the computer would be synced with the photos, and coordinates are written to the photos’ EXIF and automatically displayed on maps with comptible services. The freeware I used is Geosetter, which is very good and powerful.

Photos on a boat

The benefits of a GPS Log can been seen here using Geosetter. Not only it shows you the path you took, it can shows you at exactly which spot you took the photos. On the boat, while Trekbuddy was tracklogging, its CMS can provide accurate ETA if you set target waypoint at the jetty. Click here for another screenshot.

More Examples.
Google supports geotagging in various services/products. Both Panoramio their community photo site, Google Maps (enable show photos under More) can view tagged photos, and Google Earth, Google Web Albums supports tagging. Microsoft’s softwares Virtual Earth and ProPhoto supports geotagging.
For method 3, you could purchase a gps data logger, but if you have already own a gps mobile phone, all the more its similar. A simple, free software like GPS Track could do the gps logging easily for you. Trekbuddy also provides inbuilt geotag for camera phones when u record a waypoint. (Method 1) Other free GPS software for mobile phones of interest are VlkGps and Mobile Trail Explorer.

More Links and Resources
Google’s Picasa Web Album – allows geotagging of albums
Yahoo’s Flickr – their organz feature allow you to geotag photos
Google’s Panaramio- service mainly to upload and specify coordinates. Photos on this service are shown in Google earth
Locr – A photo sharing site mainly with geotagging capabilities and location sharing (using maps by google, yahoo, microsoft)
Zooomr – another photo sharing community with Geotagging support.
Everytrail – For recording of tracks mainly but supports syncing for photos uploaded
Trekbuddy – Free powerful GPS j2me software for mobile phones
Geocoded Photo A similar article on wikipedia.

Juicing Up Photo Viewing Experience: Part I

on this blog, on your wordpress site, or anywhere else. This series is a result of my recent craze with scripting/programming and photo ideas.

Screenshot of Fotobook Highslide

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Fotobook Highslide - Mash up of WordPress, Facebook Photos & Highslide JS

1. Photo Gallery
I tried a couple of wordpress plugins in the past: Gallery2, Simple Extended Gallery, Flickr….

They were perhaps good, but perhaps complex, lacking and I didn’t seem to like it. Then I created PhotoZip and even though Photozip plugin had its short comings (eg. perhaps a little slow due to batch processing), I’m glad Tim have the interest to improve it so much better than I would.

It is only recently I found out about Aaron Harp’s Fotobook, an integration/mashups of Facebook’s photos into your blog. So I tried it, and it works.

The integration is good (since I use facebook too), the layout neat, the configuration all done with much ease. It seems like it was something I tried looking so hard before, now that I found it, I love it. My photo gallery can be viewed by clicking on the Photos tab.

2. Highslide
Tim’s improved PhotoZip supports LightBox, so does Fotobook. No doubt it gives great effect and I like it too when used appropriately. Even my cousin’s portfolio uses it to enhance viewing experiences.

However, a reason why I don’t use it? Perhaps it was due to some negativity when I experienced it on some sites. But when I come across the Highslide javascript library, I thought I would use it for the following reason
1. At the first impression it reminds of LightBox- to expand an image in the same window.
2. However, unlike Lightbox, it is less obstructive. The background is not grayed out, and window can still scroll, and the expanded image can be dragged around.
3. It seems more reactive.

Not only it good to find the right tool for the right job, it good to find the best package available. So I’m using Highslide WordPress plugin. Since fotobook was written in a way it was simple to customise it, I created a style/theme similar to Aaron’s lightbox style, except it works with highslide. Check out one of my gallery for example.

(Tip: You can use arrow buttons on your keyboard to navigate through the photos. You can also click/expand more than one photo at a time too.)

Click here to download Highlight Style for Fotobook.

Instructions:
Ensure you have Fotobook and Highslide plugin working.
Copy the highslide folder into fotobook styles folder
(eg. /wordpress/wp-content/plugins/fotobook/styles)
Select the highslide style under fotobook options.
View your photo gallery, test and enjoy!