Horizontal Banding in Untitled 29

Someone at Flickr was kind enough to point out that Untitled 29 suffered from horizontal banding. I hadn’t noticed it, to be honest, but there it was staring me in the face.

Kind of…

Actually, even after the banding’s presence was called to my attention its presence didn’t really matter to me. Still, I fooled around with the photo for a while in an attempt minimize the banding’s impact.

Untitled 29 Small

Nope, it’s still not close to perfect but I really don’t have a preference between the original version and this one. The photo still means what it means to me. It would be the same if it had been shot on film and the negative was scratched. Absent its qualities and faults I still like the photo and, to me, the photos of an amateur photographer only need to please one person and I think you know who that is.

Obviously, I’m not one to hide work that might be less than my best. I believe we learn from our successes but often much more from our failures. I try my best with each photo I take in the very same way I try to use words to precisely convey my thoughts and feelings, yet knowing my efforts will often fall short.

I once heard a writing coach say something that I think about often.

I’m paraphrasing here but this is the essence of what he said:

Let’s say that in your career as a writer you will write seven novels, three of which you will eventually regard as good. There’s a natural temptation to ask, why did I even bother to write the four novels that turned out badly? That’s missing the point: The bad novels had to be written so that the lessons that created the three good novels could be learned. Try as you might, you cannot decide or decree to only do good work. You can only work and hope for some success.

I take writing seriously. As much as I love photography, I know somewhere in my bones that I will never reward it with the kind of devotion needed to create genuinely good work. Still, that’s what is so cool about photography. You don’t always need to be that good to take enjoyable and sometimes beautiful photographs. And, sometimes, the rewards for a humble photograph come as a happy surprise long after it was taken.

And, so it is with Untitled 29, horizontal banding or not

Horizontal Banding in Untitled 29

Untitled 29 is in Flickr Explore

I missed this one somehow and now that it’s managed to catch my eye, I actually rather like it. It has a certain geometry of composition that fits with the way I doodle. It would seem that what my brain envisions as a doodle sometimes works its way into my photos.

No idea if that’s good or bad.

Interestingly, it was shot with my beloved if humble Nikkor Micro 60 f/2.8. This is a somewhat underrated lens that I find to be wonderfully balanced. It’s lightweight, sharp and the front element is set so far back from the end of the barrel that it’s never even crossed my mind to put a filter on it.

Flickr’s Explore algorithm snatched it up yesterday and for once I concur with its inscrutable judgment.

Untitled 29

 

 

 

Untitled 29 is in Flickr Explore

What’s Special About This?

Sage Park survived…

The Woolsey Fire is now all but out. The evacuation area got as close as a mile from my home. I got out toward the end of last week and saw some of the devastation along the north-bound 101.

Most of the oak trees I have photographed on many of the trails I hike have burned. They stand now like charred skeletons on the fire-darkened slopes. Compared to many of who live not very far from where I do, I was very lucky.

The fire started to the south and west of Sage Park. For days, I wondered if the prevailing winds would allow the dried grasses and oaks of the park survive the inferno and they did.

There’s always something to be thankful for and today I’m thankful for all of the oaks and all of the wildlife and all of the rare open space of Southern California that came through the Woolsey Fire unscathed.

Snapseed (1)

What’s Special About This?

I’m Old Fashioned…More on Flickr’s Explore

I confess.

I took a photo of food (a cocktail to be sure) and posted it to Flickr yet again. I try like hell to avoid doing stupid shit like this but I couldn’t resist. The Westlake Four Seasons serves up an excellent Old Fashioned during their Thursday Happy Hour. The angle of the dark tile under the glass looked good as did the filtered light coming across the hotel’s garden. Man, it was a good drink…so good that I had two.

When I got home I was impressed by the color, the lighting of the image and just how much the camera on the iPhone 8 can do when there’s plenty of light.

I also confess that I had a pretty strong feeling this photo would have a decent shot at getting onto the hallowed servers of Flickr’s Explore. It had a lot of the qualities I think Flickr’s algorithm looks for.

First, the title is unambiguously associated with the image. In other words, I’ll hazard that the algorithm has a dictionary that includes a list of cocktails (that obviously includes the Old Fashioned) and that the algorithm could readily correlate the discernibility of the image to the title of the image.

Second, the image was sharp, saturated and unambiguous.

Third, I used tags that localized and described it completely (down to the name and location of the hotel, the exact camera used and the fact that the Snapseed image processor was employed).

Old
I’m Old Fashioned (not really)

So, what does all this mean? Not much. As I have said before, any notion of knowing what a proprietary and very likely evolving algorithm values will never ascend beyond pure speculation. Still, the criteria I listed about are common to every photo of mine that’s gotten into Explore. In the end, we can deduce some elements of what appear to be valued criteria but there’s no way to know all of them or even to know whether any elements of a kind of computer-generated randomness are part of the process. What I do know and say with more than a touch of irony is this; none of my photos that I consider good have ever made it into Explore.

I’m Old Fashioned…More on Flickr’s Explore

Butterflies & Brews

Look, it came down to this. I could have written a long-winded tome on any of the following:

  1. The irony of Tesla (the car company) being named after Nicola Tesla. Tesla cars run on DC but Tesla was a pioneer and proponent of AC. Why didn’t Elon Musk call his brand Edison since old Tom was so into dynamos (because he owned a company that made them) and so advocated the use of DC pretty much everywhere?
  2. How Tesla’s marketing and party line may suggest they don’t want their buyers to operate their cars in autonomous-mode yet their wink-wink awareness is that the Tesla kind of customer is the exact kind of person who will take their hands off the steering wheel at even the slightest invitation.
  3. How ridiculous the idea of a president being able to pardon himself is. Nixon thought about it seriously back in 1974 and got the same answer Trump would get if he really pushed the idea. Some guilty folks act as if they’re innocent but this is a guy who acts guilty because he knows he is. Amazing.

But, who wants to read and write about that dreary stuff?

Let’s look at a lovely butterfly instead…

P1040397 (1)

I saw this fellow in some nice light yesterday afternoon at the Butterflies & Brews fest at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. It was a very SoCal event and I’m glad we decided to brave the Friday rush-hour traffic to get out there.

I was lucky enough to meet Simon Brown, the head honcho at Claremont Craft Ales, and gave him an earful about excess hoppiness at the expense of overall balance & flavor that’s characteristic of IPAs from San Diego. Happily, he agreed and his Jacaranda Rye IPA was superb; love that copper color and richness that balances against the 80 IBU.

You can drop by their website here.

Anyway, it was worth the somewhat grueling battle on the 210 East heading out there.

Butterflies & Brews

The surrender of the fleeting green of spring

Southern California has now played the very same trick on me for over a half century. Each spring I revel in the tall green grasses that grow on our local hills & fields.

But, just when I get used to their verdancy, they dry up and die.

It’s true these kinds of grasses have very short life spans but in an area that’s so short on green it’s always hard to see the surrender of the fleeting green of spring.

I know summer is on the way.

Fleeting
Sage Ranch Loop Trail Just Before Sunset
The surrender of the fleeting green of spring

Magisterium

I had never been the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels until last night. There was a performance of Jonah and the Whale on tap and who would want to miss that?

The architecture of the cathedral was better than I expected but it was the counterpoint of the cathedral’s warm, socal stylized exterior hardscape with the nearby monstrosity called Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts that whacked my brain the worst.

I mean, what the heck were they thinking?

Back when our office was in downtown I had a friend whose office looked directly toward the school as it was being built. I can remember him wondering out loud: “Do you think that’s gonna be a stairwell of some kind?”

Nope, not a stairwell, nothing of function or beauty; just a somewhat atypical brand of LAUSD pretentiousness. Like so many things from LAUSD it’s disappointing but not unexpected.

The one act opera was fun and mercifully short. But, for me, the real show was the pre-sunset light. I wish I had more time to enjoy it before the chill-air and the opera brought us into the sanctuary.

Magisterium

Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Big news; Flickr’s inscrutable algorithm has just chosen both of these images for Flickr Explore. It’s an exciting day for ocotillo everywhere!

Our upcoming & much-anticipated trip to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has gotten shoved back to spring of 2018.

No worries, though, we’re on our annual New Year retreat to Palm Springs and its environs. I’ve always like the ocotillo. I tried to grow one many years ago and it was surprisingly difficult to establish. In fact, I ended up killing the little guy.

The fact is that even a healthy ocotillo can look kinda dead for a good part of the year. Then, suddenly, they burst into bloom. You judge. Who is the star of these photos, the ocotillos or the rocks in the background?

The countdown is on; there are fewer than six hours of 2017 left.

Happy 2018

Ocotillo 1
Ocotillo 1
Ocotillo 2
Ocotillo 2
Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Photos of mine have been captured by Elickr’s Explore algorithm a handful of times. Each time I wonder why for a few moments before I remind myself that a computer program can’t see photos, derive possible relevance, think about or consider what the photographer may have been thinking about when the shutter was pressed.

That makes me think, why would anyone care whether one of their photos made it into Explore? I can’t come up with a reason that a photographer would be motivated to try to get his images into Flickr that could possibly relate to the quality of his photography.

After all, who could possibly aspire to impress a computer’s programming?

It’s easy to imagine one possible motivation residing in a miniature version of Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and I know some photographers who are looking for just that. At the same time, I can see Flickr’s motive in developing and refining the Explore algorithm. I don’t browse the images in Explore very often but when I do I see lots of close-up photographs of birds and a lot of huge landscapes with surreal or at least very dramatic color.

The photos in Explore are nearly always conventional in the extreme. The occasional unusual photo (unusual either in subject or execution) nearly always strikes me as something that made the algorithm experience the computer-software equivalent of bemusement, for a mere fraction of a millisecond. Today there’s a simple photo of a miniature figurine of a lion. I can imagine the data chain inside the algorithm wondering silently to itself, is that miniature lion really alive?

That question got me thinking about just how unlikely it is that the algorithm will ever be able to judge truly interesting let alone good photographs. Think of the objective differences between an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park and the millions of other images captured from the same or similar vantage points. Now think about how you would go about creating a program that recognizes artistically good light and a well-seen composition. It’s hard enough for a human viewer to get a sense of what the photographer was trying to achieve and so wholly arguable as to how well that effort or vision was achieved. The genuine wonders of artificial intelligence notwithstanding, identifying good photography is going to remain a real problem for Flicrk’s algorithm. I’m sure the folks at Flickr are doing their best but it’s not very good.

This brings me to the photo of mine that found its way into Explore.

36580067353_ff11c9ae2c_k

Crap, even I don’t like this one all that much. I took it about twenty minutes after the sun fell behind the foothills. I had been out looking for an oak I photographed back in April. Somehow, I couldn’t find it even though I though I was certain about where it was. Obviously, I wasn’t. As I hustled through the canyon, trying to beat the coming darkness, I spied this huge tangled mass of an old tree and looked at the road go on beyond it.

As I did I thought to myself, that old oak knows exactly where that road leads; toward autumn. So, I turned around and snapped this. Yes, I kept the branches of the tree on the right in the frame intentionally.

Now thousands of Flickrites have viewed it and hundreds have faved it.

Yay.

No, I’m not upset this photo is in Explore.

Yes, it’s nice that so many people are seeing it (I suppose).

But, in the end I am far too selfish to care what a bunch of people who don’t know me think about one of my more marginal photos. I’m trying, in my way, to be a better, more aware, more sensitive and more creative photographer. It’s doesn’t matter to anyone other than me if it happens. Maybe in some backhanded way having this image in Explore has rekindled that singular clarity of mission.

It could be that Flickr algorithm is better than I thought.

 

 

 

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography