Archive for August, 2008

Daily Photo – BMX Aptos

This shot was taken back in April, during a family visit to Aptos, California. There’s a large dirt lot at one end of town frequented by BMX riders, although on this day over 50 of them descended on the site for an informal competition of sorts. The riders were top notch — which probably explains the 30+ photographers also in attendance (and we’re not talking cell phone cameras here…L lenses were de rigueur).

I only had 20 minutes to shoot, but the frequency and quality of the action allowed me to get a few good images. The action in this particular shot isn’t terribly interesting, but I liked the camera angle and lighting.


  • Shutter: 1/4000
  • Aperture: f/4
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1d mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 70mm)


Composition and Processing

  • Most of the photographers were trying to catch something from the side that more clearly showed what the rider was doing. I had plenty of those shots and was getting a little tired of that, so I tried to line up dead on with the riders in such a way I wouldn’t also get run over. I also wanted to catch them less than vertical, so I positioned near a small bank turn that followed a large ramp. They weren’t doing much in the turn besides catch a little air, but that was enough to isolate the rider and get this fairly tight shot.
  • If you’ve been reading these (semi) daily photo posts, you’ve probably noticed a tendency for me to shoot dark. Part of that’s habit — shooting sports or low light, I tend to push the camera to the limits of ISO, shutter and aperture that I’m comfortable with. I’m so used to darker images being standard that as long as the histogram isn’t clipped (much), I tend to be shoot underexposed even if it’s unnecessary. The remarkable shadow detail of the 1d mIII only encourages it. In this case I had a little more latitude with ISO (would’ve been fine up to 800), but I didn’t want to be any wider than f/4 because of the depth of the bike. I also wanted to shoot at 1/4000 because I didn’t know the sport and wanted to be sure the images were crisp. The histogram for the original is actually nowhere near clipping at either end.
  • Amping the contrast and converting to black and white really separated the rider from the background and accentuated the strong side lighting. I considered going to an all white background, but without the faded buildings in the back the rider would have appeared more vertical in the frame.
  • With the way the rider was turning his arms and shoulders, I wanted to get him closer to the right edge of the frame. But I had no room to work with on the left, and I didn’t like how it looked if I cropped into the subject itself. So I shortened the height of the image and narrowed it as much as I dared without turning it into column. It’s still a bit skinny, but tolerable.

August 07 2008 | Photography | No Comments »

Content Communities

I have a fairly complex social graph (or social graphs, if that’s the right way to look at it): there’s the obvious work, family, friends breakdown; but I’m also an avid photographer and I play sand volleyball four days a week. And outside of work there’s really industry, comprised of people in my field I keep in contact with on a regular basis, and not necessarily about work-related things.

A number of tools help me stay in touch with everyone: email, IM, text messaging, social networks, blogs and so forth. I can see them in person too– I run into my volleyball friends regularly on the courts, and I sometimes play board games with fellow game industry folk.

Here’s my concern: the communities I am a part of are defined by my social graph and do not map well to the structure of the web.

Take photography, for example. I have my flickr site, flickr groups, photo news sites, online stores I regularly buy gear from, photo-centric blogs and the social network pages of other photographers. Not to mention my own blog, portfolio and Facebook pages. At any one of these locations I might participate in a discussion about photography (or about anything else but with people who share a common interest in photography). Do I really need to monitor a dozen different locations to connect with other photographers, particularly when many of the same people are monitoring the same sites?

The photography community I am part of is content-centric, not location centric. It’s not well defined — the edges are very soft. I might have eight online locations in common with one photographer, but only six with another and maybe four shared between the three of us. The way the web is structured now, I have to pick a couple places and because I can only monitor so many, I’m forced to cut out a number of others. And along with that I lose a number of folks who may partly but not entirely overlap.

I’d like to see a product that treated the internet as subservient to the content communities I am a part of. Something that layered on top of the web and viewed it through a community lens: where are the people in my social graph(s), what are they talking about, how can I chat with them without having to take the conversation to one particular place. For that matter, who else is at the same site as I am, whether I know them or not, that I can talk to about this temporary, shared experience we’re both having (i.e. the news / game / video / etc we’re both looking at).

Intentionally or not, a wide range of companies are circling around this issue: site-centric mini-worlds (Lively, Rocketon), browser replacements (Flock), shared browsing experiments (Medium, BumpIn), fancy IM clients (IMVU, vSide), and so forth. Even Twitter, social networks, mashups and stuff like Delicious and Digg probably qualify. All of these products have, at best, a nice solution to a piece of the problem.

However, I suspect the reason most of those products fail to meet our larger content community needs is that they ask us to exchange our current method of social communication for something new. But in their desire to change how people interact on the web, they hamper or disregard things that already work really really well. Take Rocketon. Here’s a cool idea: avatar chat with others who are at the same web page. Visitors can even move around the page in a kind of temporary 2d space. Except they cannot interact with the page itself in any way — which was the whole reason for being were here in the first place (yes, you can toggle Rocketon off to get to the page, but then you lose the chat).

There isn’t one single way I interact with a particular community (content centric or not): I read, browse, select, chat, comment, show off, save, contribute, modify, buy, sell, etc.  What’s missing from today’s community products is a way to bring these varied interactions together around the common interest (i.e. the context) of my social graph. But I can understand why no one’s done it yet– it’s a far more difficult problem than just ditching everything and proposing a new interface paradigm.

Of course, many of these businesses aren’t even concerned with my so-called content community problem — Facebook, Delicious and smaller products like IMVU are quite successful and have no need to go in this direction. But they could be so much more if they did.

August 07 2008 | Game Design | 2 Comments »

Daily Photo – Stephanie R

Daily might be a little ambitious for these photo-related posts, so I’m going to cut down on some of the extraneous post-processing comments and focus more on the key things that went into the shot.

This was taken in early July at Stephanie H’s house. In addition to modeling, she’s also a pretty good photographer. She put together this collaborative shoot with a clothing designer (Flor), hair stylist (Melissa), makeup artist (Stacy), models (Stephanie R, pictured below, and herself) and photographers (Janus Anderson and myself). In addition, she also took photos. Follow all that?

Lighting and Background

  • Zeus head in 60″ softlighter above and to the right of the camera.
  • Second Zeus head in barn doors back right of model, point at the backdrop and with all but the near side opened up (to light the background and not the model).
  • 42″ reflector camera left on the floor and tilted up toward the model (you can see the edge of this in the original)
  • 4′ backdrop rolled out onto the floor and a 6′ scrim we had on hand behind it (more on that below).


  • Shutter: 1/125
  • Aperture: f/8
  • ISO: 200
  • Camera: Canon EOS 1ds mIII
  • Lens: Canon EF24-70 f/2.8L USM (at 55mm)


Composition and Processing

  • I didn’t want to lug 9′ rolls to Steph’s house, so I just brought 4′ ones and figured we’d shoot tight and wipe out the rest of the background in Photoshop. That worked ok for some of the vertical compositions, but clearly not for this one. We tried tucking a 6′ scrim I had assembled behind it to help with that and it almost worked except we caught too much shadow from the paper as it extended in front of the backdrop light. Fortunately, the back edge of the chair is nice and straight and made cleanup easy.
  • The clothing looked a bit 50’s retro flight attendant, and that seemed to match a strange looking high tech chair we had cleared out of the living room. Sometimes the right prop just happens to be sitting around.
  • Yeah, it’s dark. But the histogram gave me room to work with and the shadow detail on the 1ds is excellent. All I really cared about was that the background was brighter than her skin tones, which it was.
  • The barn doors were an experiment, but just flagging the light would have been better. The doors didn’t quite seal off the forward falling light and we caught a little spill onto the model.
  • A hair light would have been a good idea too, but didn’t remember til later.
  • I tweaked the ground shadows heavily in Photoshop. I find that wiping them out entirely in a shot like this tends to make the subject float unnaturally. Too much shadow can be distracting. So I lightened and shortened them just enough to ground the image.

August 05 2008 | Photography | No Comments »