Archive for July, 2008

Daily Photo – ATT Crit 2008

This shot was taken at the ATT Crit in Austin on June 21st, the longest day of the year. Four square blocks are cordoned off downtown and crowds gather to watch riders loop around the short 1k course throughout the day. There are seven races total, each lasting for a fixed amount of time (40 – 75 min depending on the category). I only had an opportunity to shoot the last couple races, but the course conveniently runs in front of my apartment.

This particular shot was taken during the Women’s Pro race, as the light was fading from the day, on the corner of 2nd and Guadalupe. Despite a number of tall buildings in and around the area, there’s really nothing obstructing the view (yet) when you face west down 2nd. I could tell the sun was going to line up perfectly down the street, so I waited as long as possible before positioning myself on the northeast corner.

The riders were cutting the corner pretty tight — it’s not obvious in this shot, but they’re actually leaning over the curb. I was looking for some sort of backlit composition, with the sun poking through the spokes or the racer’s handlebars, so I sat on the ground as close as I felt comfortable and held the camera out from my body towards the racers as they zipped by (probably about two or three feet from them). I zoomed out as wide as I could: 16mm, which was effectively 21mm on the 1d due to the 1.3x crop.

I chose the 1d over the 1ds for this shot for two reasons: first, the speed of the riders meant I really wanted to do this at 10fps. I was basically just holding down the shutter and letting it fly (with AI Servo set), hoping I’d get enough in focus with the 10fps drive speed. Second, even though I was shooting into the sun, the riders themselves were pretty dark in silhouette at the 1/1600 I felt I needed to shoot at. So that meant a higher ISO, and the 1d is about 1 stop better from a noise standpoint than the 1ds. I gave up a lot of pixels though (10mp vs. 21mp).

The shot is actually a touch soft for my liking — I probably should have shot at 1/2500 or higher and ISO 1600 instead.


  • Shutter: 1/1600
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • ISO: 800
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM (at 16mm, but an effective 21mm with the crop)

Final Shot:

Original Shot:


  • The racers were still too dark, so I pushed up the Exposure slider up a couple stops (+1.71), and tried to bring some of the highlights back with Recovery (+13). But having the sun blown out behind the racer was kinda the point of the shot, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
  • I lazily hit the Medium Contrast setting in the Tone Curve and was comfortable with that. Honestly, for a lot of shots that setting is close enough it’s not worth tweaking the individual sliders; unless it looks too contrasty or there’s a specific problem with the highlights or shadows in the scene, I usually do that and move on.
  • The image was too warm for my liking, so I dropped the temperature from 5800 to 5095.
  • Adjusted Blacks by +4. I could have increased Blacks by more, but I though I might do some stuff in Photoshop where I’d lose some detail in the shadows, so I left myself some room.
  • Cropped it and sent it to Photoshop.


  • I’ve been doing a lot of tinkering in Photoshop with the Nik Color Efex plug in, and I thought their bleach bypass effect might wash the image out in a way that matched the strong backlighting. The resulting image was a bit high key — I lost detail in both the highlights and shadows — but I liked what it did to skin tones and the racer’s outfits. That’s all I did — back to Lightroom.


  • I did some very subtle changes that were so small I’m not even sure they were noticeable: Vibrance +5, Clarity +4, Orange Saturation +5, Red Saturation +5. It’s easy to get carried away with Clarity and Vibrance, but unless you have a specific look in mind, I think they make the image appear too artificial above +10.
  • I ran the Vignette slider down to -40. I didn’t want the shot to have a strong vignette, but this was just enough to darken the edges and draw a little more attention to the lead racer.
  • I still had a little room to play with the shadows after coming back from Photoshop, so I moved the Darks slider down -5 in the Tone Curve.
  • Lastly, I sharpened the image as much as I could without halos showing up (+27, left everything else default). Still not sharp enough, but probably ok at small sizes.

While I would have liked a sharper image and a slightly different sun position, I’m still fairly pleased with the end result.

July 27 2008 | Photography | 1 Comment »

Games For A 10% Attention Span

It’s a truism to say we live in a noisy media environment.

In a world where most media requires our undivided attention for a fixed amount of time, and where the quantity and access to media are at an all time high, we are forced to make some difficult choices about which content we have time to consume. 120 minutes for the latest summer blockbuster? 15 minutes for a chapter in that book? 30 minutes for a quest in World of Warcraft? Choosing between them is hard enough, but it’s compounded by the friends, family, work and other things calling for our attention, potentially interrupting us at any moment.

In this brutal competitive landscape, the response of content creators hasn’t been to adapt. It’s been to scream louder, to flash brighter, to do anything possible to grab our attention and then hold it. Bigger explosions. Brighter colors. Higher recording levels. And we’re penalized if we stray: I need to see every episode of Lost, in order, to know what’s going on.

Rather than fight some attention grabbing arms race with every other piece of content in the universe, I think there may be an opporunity to design products, and games in particular, that adapt and live in this crowded environment. There’s room, and possibly a need, for a more flexible media product that doesn’t ask people to commit, and makes it easier for them to experience it on their own terms.

So what are the characteristics of a flexible media product? It should be:

  • Interruptible
    • The rest of the world will intrude at some point, at any point. The consumer knows this in advance and will shy away from products that require a large time commitment they may not be able to give (at least, not if there’s a competing option). Or they’ll choose the product anyway but experience less of it (e.g. watching a movie while taking care of a child).
    • No death penalty (re-entry is painless). The consumer needs to retain minimal historical knowledge to jump back in and re-immerse in the experience.
  • Commitment Friendly
    • The consumer doesn’t have to lock up the next 30 minutes of their life or have to remember 50 different rules/characters/plotlines.
    • No strings attached, be they financial (e.g. required fees to play) or technical (complicated install and/or subscription process; interferes or modifies other apps unintentionally; etc)
  • Attention Span Agnostic
    • Content can be experienced and enjoyed with a reduced or fluctuating degree of focus and attention to it. People consume media from multiple channels at once: playing solitaire while talking on the phone; watching a football game while making a sandwich and listening to music.
  • Always Resident
    • While a consumer’s focus has to be interruptible, the media itself can continue to exist and function until the consumer returns to it. That is, you don’t actually have to hit the pause or save button, you just go do something else and come back to it.
    • Exist in the consumer’s world, not the author’s. I don’t log into a game and play it via some specialized client. The access point is my own blog, facebook page, a Firefox extension, etc.
    • Logging in does not mean logging out of the rest of the world. Consumers are ok leaving it up 24/7 because there’s minimal to no cost in attention or resources or screen real estate to do so.
    • Access is easy and fast, if not invisible.

To be clear: there is tremendous value in complete immersion. It’s not that people won’t make that commitment or won’t devote 100% of their attention to a game/movie/book for hours on end. They will. But they only have so much room in their lives for those kinds of experiences, and a product that dials the immersion level up and down as needed could find broad acceptance.

I think there’s a lot more to be said on this subject, some of which I may touch on in future posts (and may have already been covered by others), including:

  • Part of the attraction of games like Solitaire is that they fit this model. What else does? Some of those asynchrnous games on social networking sites? PMOG, Web Wars? What about examples from other media? Sporting events can be tuned in and out fairly easily. Music runs in the background almost everywhere we go. Others?
  • If it’s ok to come and go from content at any time, that’s one less barrier for that content’s acceptance. Does that limit the range of content that can be built? Are we talking lightweight facebook apps and simple puzzle games or is there room for something with some depth?
  • Who decides how content should be experienced? I’m not just talking about where (home/work/car/etc), on what (tv/pc/handheld/phone) or for how long (minutes/hours/days), but the experience itself. Buying gold in MMOs changes that experience and is an example of the consumer attempting to play the game the way they want to. How far down the path from authorial intent to consumer control should we go? Related to this, why does a modern consumer expect to have that kind of control in the first place, and why should they be granted it?
  • There’s a tremendous amount written about the subject of attention — almost 70 years of research on the subject — that I haven’t touched on. When you start poking around the web you naturally run into Linda Stone (“continuous partial attention”) and Herbert Simon (who pretty much nailed it on the head a few decades ago when he said “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”). Most of these folks were concerned with how we manage our attention and general purpose solutions: a work philosophy, a piece of intelligent software and so forth. If we imagine a world with many flexible media products, do they help or exacerbate the attention problem Stone, Simon, et al identified? Are we simply crowding another channel, overflowing the number of things that can sit at the periphery of our awareness?
  • Does immersion trump ease of interruption? Or does flexibility translate to a higher likelihood someone will try, and stick with, your content because you’re not asking them choose?
  • To what extent are flexible media products part of the overall trend of blurring product boundaries with their environment?
  • There was a great post recently about whether we use “on” or “in” to describe where we are. That is, we’re on facebook, on the NYT web site, on IM, on the web. But we’re in WoW, Second Life and other online worlds. How does the way we conceptualize a product as something we’re on vs. in affect our immersion and attention? And where do games like Scrabulous, Bejeweled, or The Sims fit into this paradigm?
  • The need to grab attention has led to a focus on spectacle or outrageousness at the expense of substance. That’s nothing new, but is the crowded, access-to-everything media world encouraging it? If so, what does this say about people who enjoy niche, smaller products of lower production values that better serve their particular interest (and likewise about the benefits of spectacle)?

July 23 2008 | Game Design | 2 Comments »

Daily Photo – Steph in Black and White

This shot was taken on April 25th as part of a test shoot to try out the home studio for the first time. Stephanie brought over a number of costumes, which we combined with some large patches of fabric I had on hand (both the black silk and reddish-brown/black patterned material she has wrapped around her waist in the shot). Also collaborating on this shoot were Janus Anderson and Christopher Fergusen.

Lighting and Background

  • Zeus head in 60″ softlighter camera right
  • SB800 on floor behind model to light up the background
  • 9′ white paper background, rolled out far enough to cover the floor as well
  • 4′ x 8′ black foam core on each side of the model


  • Shutter: 1/250
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • ISO: 100
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1ds mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 45mm)

Final Shot:

Original Shot:

There’s obviously a pretty big difference between the original and the final, so let’s look at the changes.


  • It was too dark. I boosted exposure about a stop, which was enough to bring up the subject as well as blow out the background. I used the Recovery slider a little bit (+4) to take the extra shine off her arms, cheek and nose (which I got back later in Photoshop).
  • The image felt too yellow/orange, so I knocked the white balance down to 5200 from an initial 6500.
  • Blacks were a little light, so I increased the Blacks slider by 5.
  • I adjusted the tone curve to increase contrast, raising highlights and lowering shadows (+10, +7, -2, -10). That really helped separate her skin tones from what she was wearing, and brightened them up a touch.


  • Removed anything in the background that wasn’t white using the brush tool (set to the same color as the background).
  • I thought this might look best in a horizontal format, with Steph off center to one side. But that would have been impossible in the original shot: the 9′ roll wasn’t wide enough, and the width of the room wouldn’t have accommodated a wider backdrop (along with lights) anyway. So I expanded the image to one side and filled it with white. I actually tried multiple compositions, but preferred the one with Steph to the right because her head and shoulders are turning to the left (into the frame).
  • At this point the color of the shot looked good with just the Lightroom adjustments. But I make a point of looking at other processing looks to see if there’s something that stands out. Converting to black and white looked ok, but I didn’t seem to be getting anything that really jumped out at me no matter how much I mucked with different channels.
  • I had recently purchased Nik Color Efex Pro but hadn’t had a chance to try it out. After sampling a number of different effects, I noticed the infrared filter, with contrast reduced and brightness boosted, produced a black and white effect I really liked. Now I could have gotten there eventually had I twiddled with different channels enough. But this was faster and showed me something I wasn’t previously imagining.

Back to Lightroom

  • Clarity (+5). Probably unnecessary, particularly at this size.
  • Sharpening. Also unnoticeable at this size, but definitely helped when I printed it later.

That’s it. The pseudo infrared filter in post really amped the contrast on the shot, dropping some of the detail out of the shadows and blowing out parts of the face, arms and shoulders. But I’ve noticed that black and white images, or washed out color ones, tend to be more accommodating to that technique. And in the case of this image, really enhanced it.

July 23 2008 | Photography | No Comments »