Category Archives: Plugged in

Plugged In: Parting shots — smart use beats new gear

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

As the Redoubt Reporter embarks upon a well-deserved vacation, it’s a fitting occasion for summing up our nearly eight years exploring technology and photography.

Originally, Plugged In was a weekly computing and networking technology feature. As those technologies matured, they became quite reliable, affordable and slow to change, reducing the need to frequently upgrade hardware and software. The maturing of those computing technologies is excellent news for all of us who rely on them daily, but yields few new topics, certainly not enough to sustain a fresh weekly feature for eight years.

Enter digital photography, a combination of art and science that appeals broadly, is more accessible for most people, and still surging forward with few indications that its steady technical improvement is slowing. Even though new digital imaging products cannot break the iron laws of physics, increasingly clever electronics now produce technically superior results, sidestepping former limitations. Even though camera makers don’t seem to turn much profit, each quarter brings new and better products.

While out of state a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see a number of vintage prints made by Ansel Adams and other famous master photographers. It was evident that, judged solely on final printed image quality, digital photography is a superior technology, capable of readily producing reliably higher quality results, even when printed very large.

Used carefully with good lenses, even midlevel digital cameras using Micro Four-Thirds, APS-C and full-frame sensors have the potential to produce higher quality images than formerly made with bulky film cameras. Compared with larger format film cameras used by now-famed masters, careful digital imaging shows better controllability, higher sharpness, reduced graininess and better dynamic and tonal range. Oh, and you can have color images with no greater difficulty, and image stabilization enables quality handheld photography even in dim light.

So, if you bemoan the passing of easily scratched silver films processed with toxic chemicals in the dark, producing potentially uncertain results, then you’ll bemoan without me, and I’ve processed film for more than 40 years.

So, as this column rides off into an oversaturated digital sunset, I’d like to reflect on a few broad, enduring fundamentals: Continue reading

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Plugged In: Find photos to fit a theme, not a theme to fit photos

Illustration 1

Illustration 1

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Curating your own photos is nothing more than making the final choice of which photos you’ll show others, whether as large prints at a formal exhibition or in an online gallery. Being your own worst critic is surprisingly hard work, full of indecision, delay and second-guessing.

Although there are no easy rules or foolproof shortcuts, this week I’ll discuss the process that often works best for me. Over the years, I’ve found it helpful to have an organizing theme as a general starting point for selecting a series of related photographs that mutually enhance each other and look good together.

I’ll first tentatively define a theme or title and search my existing photos for images that may fit. That works better for me than defining a theme and then trying to make new photos to fit. Doing so feels forced and succeeds less often, at least for me.

As I go through existing photos and gather the initial batch, my initial concept typically evolves in unexpected directions or is even discarded entirely where a different approach is more in harmony with available photographs. At this point, it’s important to keep an open mind.

After gathering a large initial group of candidate images, it’s helpful to get second opinions from others whose judgment and taste you respect. That helps avoid the trap that we all face, choosing lower-quality photos that personally appeal to us because they’re associated with positive memories, or choosing “outlier” photos that don’t really fit the overall theme and seem jarringly disconnected from the others, no matter how individually good they might be.

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Plugged In: For good photos, use a light touch/touch of light

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter,

The term “photography” literally translates from the original Greek as “light-writing” — a most apt name. Photography captures light — nothing more, nor less.

The most effective photographs use light to best advantage, preferably in a uniquely personal way. That means being constantly open to how natural light makes a scene come alive or, if you prefer a more formal style, how you can artificially light a subject to make the best possible image. Although it’s simply a personal preference, I like the look and feel of natural light and images as found, rather than artificially constructed images lit by artificial light.

During the film era, photographers were generally urged to take photographs in bright sunshine with the sun behind the camera, causing subjects to be evenly front-lit. That was due to the significant limitations of early color films, not aesthetics or interesting lighting. Digital photography is more flexible, at least when images are saved in RAW format using a camera with a wide dynamic range, and post-processed with a good program, such as PhotoShop ACR, Lightroom or DXO Elite.

If you use a good digital camera’s dynamic range to best advantage, you’ll be able to take good photographs under a much wider variety of lighting conditions, while still retaining the ability to make exhibit-quality enlargements.

Beginning photographers are often urged to take photos during the first hour after dawn and the last hour before sunset. When the sun is near the horizon, the angle of sunlight is nearly horizontal, emphasizing textures and shadows that bring out maximum detail. Low-angle sunlight has a warm overall color balance that’s often very flattering. Compared to Lower-48 photographers, Alaskans and other high-latitude residents have an advantage — our winter sun is low on the horizon for months, even during midday, extending the optimum time for making outdoor photographs.

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Plugged In: Choose concept, content, style for photos

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Although technical excellence is a necessary first step in choosing your best photographs, it’s not sufficient. Your best photos should stand out for their strong and unique content, concept and personal style.

A photo’s content is nothing more than its subject and, as appropriate, the subject’s surrounding context. Documentary photographs usually include more surrounding context. Abstract ­appearing photographs often achieve their sense of abstraction by eliminating as much surrounding context as possible, focusing on only the most interesting portion of the subject and eliminating the visual cues that identify the subject.

Extensive post­-processing of supposedly documentary photographs raises a number of ethical issues. On the flip side, “Photoshopping” more abstract ­appearing images is both useful and a generally accepted path to a visually interesting final result. As with the photographs themselves, it depends on the context. The popularity of various subjects routinely waxes and wanes. As an example, documentary photographs were rarely seen among “art” photographs a decade or two ago, but are now the norm, while abstract-appearing images are currently out of vogue.

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Plugged In: Hard looks make easy work of photo curation

By Joe Kashi, Redoubt Reporter

Initially discarding technically deficient photographs is only the first step in arriving at a coherent set of consistently good photographs. Now it’s time to pull together your remaining digital files into a single location, personally curate your own work and showcase only your best images, those you’ll be proud to show to anyone other than a loyal canine friend.

Technical concerns are less daunting by this intermediate stage, but comparing and selecting your best work can seem daunting and beset by indecision. There are billions of technically excellent but supremely boring images floating in digital space. How will you distinguish yourself? Through personal curation — a process in which you methodically sort through your work to find the best images with broad appeal.

Rank beginners, including myself not so many years ago, typically inundate their viewers with every mediocre, unrelated but possibly interesting image on their memory cards, in the hope that something “sticks.” That’s unworkable. You’ll bore your viewers and fatally dilute the impact of your best work in a way reminiscent of those horror stories recounting interminable 1960s vacation slideshows.

Over the years, I’ve evolved a basic approach when sorting the wheat from the chaff, particularly when preparing a solo exhibit for viewers who are apt to be critical, such as practicing artists and art professors at various university galleries. The first step is to winnow out those photographs that only a mother — in this case, the photographer — can “love.”

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Photo editing as easy as 1, 2, 3

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

What do you want to accomplish when you push the shutter button? That’s a more fundamental question than how many megapixels your camera saves, regardless of the photos that you take.

Hundreds of billions of digital photos are taken each year, often uploaded to publicly visible social media sites. They’re not all masterpieces — nor even necessarily in focus — but they’re important to someone, whether as a personal or family memory, commercial or legal data, or as art. Whether you want your photos to stand out from the crowd or simply ensure that they meet your business and personal needs, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what you want to do and how to reach that goal.

Family and travel photos are fairly straightforward. We want to preserve memories and share them with others. What we photograph is individually meaningful to each of us and beyond critique by others as long as they’re of adequate technical quality.

Business and legal photographs require a bit more thought to ensure they meet your objective needs.

As examples, advertising and promotional photographs should show a product, location or some other aspect of your business in a positive and honest manner. Contractors need to document the extent and quality of their work, especially work that will soon be covered. Litigants need to document real property, damages, accident scenes and the like. Prior discussion with other involved persons, such as an engineer or other technical consultant or your attorney, is usually advisable in such matters.

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Plugged In: ‘Network in a box’ offers connectivity across the globe

Effective mobile computing and Internet access are now fundamental to improving education and knowledge of the world for everyone. In less-fortunate areas of the globe, especially areas without reliable AC electrical power, battery-powered computer access can be deeply transformative.

Closer to home, setting up a highly portable, battery-operated home network, storing all of your family’s photos, video, other media and family files, can be a real pleasure. It’s now easy, using inexpensive technologies that we’ll discuss this week, and one of the best ways to protect family memories in the event of a threatening situation, such as a fire.

Why even bother with any form of home or small school network in the smartphone era? Smartphones are useful, and the dominantly popular form of highly mobile computing in the U.S. However, they have significant cost and operational limitations compared to even the most basic, inexpensive notebook computers, particularly in educational environments and where large amounts of video and other data need to be stored and used by several people simultaneously.

These limitations, and the solution to them, became apparent when I and several other Soldotna Rotary members were recently asked to design and build a small, highly portable computer network for a desperately poor school in Masaya, Nicaragua. The school does not have electrical power in its classrooms and has no wireless Internet access, problems that persist not only in developing nations, but in many remote areas of Alaska, as well.

In the process, we found a rather unique and inexpensive solution for a mobile, battery-powered computer network that’s equally usable at home, at a Scout or Bible camp, and by families on a long-distance driving trip. Some minimal electrical power is required to recharge the battery-operated computers and battery-powered network in the evenings, but even rough, highly fluctuating developing-nation AC power can be used. It’s a “network in a box” — eight highly compact netbook computers that can run most of the day on a single battery charge, connected together with a battery-powered wireless network hub that includes massive central storage.

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