Experiments in HDR Photography

Over the past few weeks I’ve mentioned the idea of HDR photography, which stands for High Dynamic Range photography. Here’s my first try, with an image I took this evening from my hotel balcony in Kusadasi, Turkey.

The basic idea is that you lock your camera on a tripod, and take three photos in a row, very quickly, with three different exposures. Then you get special software that combines the photos into a single image, taking the optimally exposed layer for each part of the photo. Then you tweak the image in Photoshop, and spit it out the end.

I decided to give it a go, but instead of using the special programs (which I may have on my laptop somewhere, as I think some kind of utility for this came with my camera) I did the below images entirely using the Gimp, the open source Photoshop project.

In other words, please don’t examine these closely! I’m just messing about with the technique, and if I like this “look” I might purchase or find the real software to make things easier and better quality in the future.

Second, here’s a photo from the burning mountain in I visited a few weeks ago:

And a single exposure of the same scene for comparison:

The effect is really noticeable in the first image, making everything look plastic and unreal compared to normal photographs. The second image is far more subtle, probably too subtle for anyone to notice. I like the second a lot better, but it’s a lot of work to put into a single image.

I’ll see how it goes.

EDIT: I noticed the wordpress theme has been resizing the images I’ve been posting here from my gallery! I wondered why the quality sometimes looked a bit off. From now on the images will be crystal clear.


Photos from my Turkey, Albania & Croatia trip

I was a away for two weeks this month, on this trip:

The trip mixed business and leisure, but even the business was quite fun. First up, I spent a week at the Sundance Nature Park for the Turkish Juggling Festival. I posted loads of photos on my blog, and daily diary too, but I I uploaded some of the more interesting photos to the sosauce.com gallery. Like these ones:


The domes at the festival site.


View from the top of Tahtali.


Awesome parrot.

Mount Chimaera
Mount Chimaera

Following the festival I joined the HAL Prinsendam, a cruise ship I’ve worked on four times now. I’ll be back on the ship for another 19 days in November too!



The front of the ship looks great, but why a photo of the rear of the ship? Well, you see the two windows on the very back corner? Those are the two windows for my cabin. The view is great, as I can look back along the wake of the ship. However, awesomeness of cabins is not just down to the view. No, there’s also the issue of noise. Modern ships use pod propulsion propellers, and these create very little noise and almost no vibrations. Unfortunately the Prinsendam is not particularly modern (though only 20 years old, cruise ship design has come a long way in that time) and the whole back of the ship vibrates when the screws turn. Even worse, when the ship is moving and they throw it into reverse gear, it REALLY starts to vibrate.

But that’s not all… look closer at the images. What is below my cabin? Yes, ropes emerging from holes. As the ship approaches a port, the deck crew prepare the ropes and cables, then wind them in and… well, there are about thousand things that can make noise in the space directly under my bed, and between 5am and 7am is the usual time for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM to be used extensively.

So, I visited Albania, but didn’t do anything that exciting. I have a blog post I want to write about Saranda, but I need to sort the photos first.

Next the ship called at Dubrovnik, Croatia. I’ve been here before, so this time I re-visited some touristy sights I’ve seen before. This time I took a walk around the city walls, which was actually a lot of fun.

At one point I came across a man taking photographs of a woman. It was obviously some kind of official photo session, but they hadn’t organised it very well. Of course, it’s a busy day; not one but four cruise ships were visiting the city. The assistants kept asking people to not walk through the shot, but they were really up against it.

As I walked past I snapped a few shots of the photographer and model, and one of the assistants (or maybe the director, I don’t know) said to me “Go find your own model!” Not in a joking way either, she actually wanted to get rid of me. The thing is, I wasn’t trying to take the same photo of the model, I was taking a photo of the photographer+model pair, a much more interesting subject than the model herself. And what do they expect people to do? If you want privacy, hire a studio, or come back when the city is a little less crowded.

Thankfully I have a zoom lens, so took this photo from a distance. Yes, contrary to what it may seem like from this blog, I do use other lenses apart from my 10mm wide angle.

I found a huge flock of pigeons in the market. Someone had thrown down corn, and they were pecking at it like made. I wanted to get a shot of blurry pigeons in flight, with some interesting market scene behind. However, the pigeons were so focused on the food on the ground that I could walk right through them and they wouldn’t move.

In the end I had to stamp my feet to get them to fly up into the air. I did this five of six times, then the market traders asked me to stop. In this case I understood their objections completely, and stopped right away. I like this photo best:

Saturday was a sea day. In the afternoon I was sitting in my cabin and suddenly “BRRBRBRBBRBRNNGNGG…” the propeller kicked into reverse. The ship was stopping. Why? Turns out we had a scenic cruising stop at Stromboli volcano, which is located just north of Sicily.

Science fiction fans out there will know this as the exit point if one was ever to go on A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Like I did at Mount Chimaera, I took some triple expose photo sets, with a view to making some HDR images. Maybe one day I’ll actually get round it.

That’s the thing with my photography at the moment: I never do any post processing. Every single one of the photos on this blog are presented exactly as taken. I don’t particularly care about getting stuff perfect in photoshop, it’s the pointing and clicking that I really enjoy. Once I get to the limits of what I can do in camera, I’ll move on to balancing things out afterward. But, you know, I’m still almost completely incapable of holding the camera horizontally, and my horizons are always tilted one way or the other. When I learn how to do that I’ll buy a copy of photoshop.

The full album is over at Sosauce.com.


Luke B’s Guide to Creating a Diabolo Routine

Over at the diabolo.ca forum someone posted a video of diabolo act that I posted here a few weeks ago. After adding a bit about the history of the routine, Marky J asked a good question:

My show is isn’t really choreographed that tightly and the tricks I attempt normally depend on the crowd, conditions, and how confident I’m feeling. How did you go about constructing your diabolo act? A list of tricks you know you wanted to get in or just trying to think what would look smooth?

I wrote the following reply (and see the original post for a few more insights):

Hi Marky J,

I was planning on writing up some workshops for those taking part in next year’s BYJOTY show, with a view to improving the standard of acts and awarding the first ever Gold Award. You asking this was a good motivation to get something about diabolo routines out there. Thanks for the inspiration!

Luke B’s Guide to Creating a Diabolo Routine:

The biggest secret in any kind of professional/successful juggling/diabolo routine is noticeable variation. So many routines I’ve seen go at a single pace, with long stretches of tediously similar tricks.

I created my act by doing (very roughly) the following:

– I wrote down a list of TYPES of tricks. Do it yourself; you’ll get something like this…
high throws (with something underneath)
diabolo circling a body part
knots
grinds
suicides
diabolo movement tricks
stupid tricks
vertax
etc.

– Within each category, write down ten tricks you can do simply, ten times in a row, without drops or tangles. If they are tricks you invented yourself, so much the better.

– From each of those ten tricks, discard seven, leaving the three most interesting. They should each be different enough so that when you do all three in a row, an unknowledgeable audience will be able to see three distinct techniques. And yet, as they are the same type, they obviously fit together in a natural way.

– Put the sets of tricks in an interesting order.

*stop* A bit (a lot, actually) about ordering tricks in routines:

– Each prop has an “essence”, a natural state in which it falls.
Clubs do single flips in the air.
Balls travel in simple paths.
Rings fly sideways to the audience.
Diabolos spin and move in a plane.
More importantly, diabolos are NOT tied to the string like yo-yos.
– When beginning a routine, you must first establish this essence with your audience.
Eg: With clubs, don’t start with reverse spins or flat throws.
More pertinent Eg: With a diabolo, make sure you do some THROWS near the start of the routine. Get the damn thing OFF THE STRING!
– Also, dramatic tension is created when an object is airborne, or in a motion that isn’t assured to land perfectly and safely. This is why juggling is intrinsically interesting to watch, and club swinging isn’t (sorry club swingers).
– Work progressively from the “home sate” of a prop to ever more different and extreme states.
– Each new set of skills should introduce a new concept or element. My routine goes like this:
Diabolo not attached to string (throw from hand)
Diabolo can move side to side, up and down, and in circles.
Can leave the string (throws).
Can be bounced on the string up high.
Can do stuff low to the ground too (I even say this when doing a “talky” show).
I can do it standing sideways (ok, not that interesting)
Round a body part (leg is really visible, and I keep this up for the first applause of the act).
Turn in circle.
OH s**t I LET GO OF THE STICK!
Pause for applause.
Cats cradle.
Pirouette
double pirouette.
Stick grind.
Two handed whip catch (used to make a point about having my arms crossed, but audiences didn’t get it, so now I move on quickly).
Pause for applause.
Ok… I can do stupid stuff using my mouth.
String around neck (done kneeling down for added height variation).
Magic knot.
Long setup with a wait… what’s coming next?
Blind behind the back one handed whip catch! On the F**KING MUSIC TOO!

Ok, that was a big trick. And how did it end? With the diabolo STOPPED and MOTIONLESS. This is the first time I’ve REALLY broken away from the essence of the diabolo. This is a VERY clear sign to the audience that they should be clapping around about now, because there is nothing else for them to be doing. The diabolo is no longer the center of attention, there’s only me, on stage, and I’m lapping it up.

Right… now in my talking version of this routine I say “Two more styles of one diabolo to finish” and go on to do:
One handed diabolo (infinite suicide stuff after a setup)
Oh, to make it really clear I’m only using one hand I take off my hat with the spare hand. If people weren’t clapping already, they do when I show them this. Why? It’s not any more difficult… but if you can guess why, you’re already starting to understand performing.
“Drunken style diabolo” (otherwise known as vertex)
Again I end right on the music. Ending a section or the routine on a musical cue is more important than doing any single trick to a musical cue.

*End bit about ordering tricks!*

– So, now you have a loooong list of tricks, maybe 30 or 35. Doing all of them will take maybe five minutes, and you want your first routine to last, at most, 3 minutes.

– Do all the tricks in order. You’ll naturally find some nice transitions between the different skills.

– Don’t make all the transitions TOO smooth. At some points break, let the audience understand that what is coming next is going to be new and different.

– If you drop on a trick more than twice in row, remove it from the routine.

– If a trick is taking too long and you don’t find it different/impressive enough, remove it from the routine.

– Keep removing tricks from the routine until each different style of trick is expressed as clearly and as cleanly as you can possibly show it.

Ok, at this point you’re really starting to get somewhere! Want to go further?

– Find a piece of music that has some clearly audible changes along the way (selecting suitable music is a whole post in itself).

– Play the track on repeat.

– Run through the routine over and over, and you’ll soon find yourself matching the different parts of the music up to the different sections in your routine.

– To make things fit better, swap around the sections, or extend some tricks.

– Whatever you do, make sure you get your first round of applause NO LATER than 45 seconds into the routine, and no earlier than maybe 30 seconds. Do this by repeating a trick until you get them to clap, or stopping (completely stopping, as in; catch the diabolo in your hand) after a trick that looks different from everything that has gone before.

– Make sure the last trick is easy pleasy lemon squeezy. You should already have removed any hard tricks from the routine, but dropping on that last catch is über-embarrassing. By “hard” I mean hard for YOU. They can be the most technically advanced tricks in the world ever to be performed on stage ever (the opposite of my show) but dropping with a one diabolo routine is unforgivable (saying that, I did drop the last time I performed this routine, but had a spare out of my prop case within two seconds).

That’s it for now! Maybe that’s a lot to think about, but I go through a similar process with every juggling routine I make now, and it serves me very well indeed.

There is, of course, a huge amount more I could say about routining, but I’ll save those for future posts.


Sunset

I watched a fantastic sunset tonight in Kusadasi. I didn’t have my DSLR camera with me though, so used my iPhone to snap this shot:

I should have known to carry my proper camera with me to dinner though, because last time I was here in Kusadasi the sunset was equally impressive. Here is a shot from May:

Can you see the difference a good camera can make?

Meanwhile, a new episode of the SFBRP is up.


Yanartas (Mount Chimaera)

Sunday was the last official day of the Turkish juggling convention, even though there are still dozens of people hanging out here on Monday. People made lots of plans to do workshops and other events, but of course most people slept in, then couldn’t be bothered to to anything.

I was one of those people.

So, instead of writing about how nobody juggled, look at this picture of a man and his parrot:

In the evening I took a taxi with Asli to a place called Yanartas, the presumed site of Mount Chimaera. Across parts of the hillside, methane gas vents directly into the air, and burns continuously. It’s one of those places that just looks wrong! No wonder it was the basis of many myths and stories.

I’ve decided to try out some HDR photography, and will process the images below when I get the right software (or find the right software already installed on my laptop). For now, quite a few of these are just the best exposure of three of the same shot… well, I’ll post the final results if they look any good.