I just read about an amazing new camera system that certainly falls squarely in the domain of ‘science photography’.
The system, called the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System, is currently under development at the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Uko Laboratory. What makes it newsworthy is its amazing ability to track fast-moving objects, as shown in this impressive demonstration video:
From a design point of view, this is one of those wonderful examples where innovation is achieved by taking a novel approach the problem at hand. Instead of trying to develop a system that can move a (rather heavy) camera quickly enough to track an object, the system contains two mirrors, one panning and one tilting, which can, through their combined movement, track objects moving at very high speeds. The camera system used with the mirrors can film objects at a rate of one image per 1/1000th of a second, allowing for great slow-motion playback.
Beyond its ability to track ping-pong balls in a lab environment, the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System has massive potential in the real world, particularly in fast action sports such as tennis, cricket and baseball. In addition to being a great tool for umpiring, it could potentially enable some very interesting and unique slow motion playbacks.
As a second, equally impressive, application, the system can also be used to project images onto an object, as shown to very amusing effect in the above video. I am sure this also has huge real-world potential, particularly in the marketing and promotions space – imagine a sports brand projecting it’s logo onto the ball in a basketball game, for example.
No doubt a system like this can also potentially enable be a whole new dimension in computer gaming – just imagine all the potential applications!
I just love the concept – definitely an innovation worth keeping an eye on!
It’s 13 July, and today we commemorate the death, 11 years ago, of one of the true greats of portrait photography, Yousuf Karsh (23 December 1908 – 13 July 2002).
Of Armenian descent, Karsh was sent by his family to Canada at the age of 16, where he went to live with his uncle, a photographer. He started assisting in his uncle’s studio, and quickly showed potential as a photographer himself. After a stint as apprentice with US portrait photographer John Garo, Karsh returned to Canada to start his own business in 1931. After five years he had his first solo exhibition at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottowa, Ontario. His relationship with the hotel continued for many years, and in 1973 he moved his studio into the hotel, from where he continued to operate until his retirement in 1992.
Karsh’s skill as a portrait photographer attracted many high profile clients, but it was a portrait of Winston Churchill, shot in 1941, that elevated him to legendary status. It is claimed that his Churchill portrait is the most reproduced photographic portrait in history. After this image, having your portrait done by Karsh became a celebrity status symbol – of the 100 most notable people of the 20th century (named by the International Who’s Who in 2000), Karsh had photographed 51. George Perry, a journalist with the Sunday Times, succinctly described the prominence of Yousuf Karsh as portrait photographer to the famous and important, when he said, “when the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa.”
Karsh’s mastery of studio lighting was legendary, and he has become associated with a number of distinctive lighting techniques. Lighting the face, Karsh often used two lights placed somewhat behind his subject, on either side, resulting in light bouncing off the sides of both sides of the face, towards the camera. This lighting setup resulted in distinctive highlights on both sides of the subject’s face, with the centre of the face slightly darker.
Another unique Karsh trait was to very pertinently light his model’s hands, often with a separate light dedicated to illuminating the hands. In this way he elevated the hands from being mere appendages to being ‘stars’ in their own right in the portrait.
All his classic portraits were shot on a large format Calumet camera dating from the 1940s.
Yousuf Karsh’s legacy looms large over the portrait photography domain, especially in Canada, where he has been honoured through events such as ‘Festival Karsh’, and through the establishment of the ‘Karsh Prize’, recognising Ottowa-based photographic artists.
His work has been included in the permanent collections of many of the top galleries in the world, including the National Galleries of Canada, France and Australia, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.
It’s the start of the month of July. For many in the southern hemisphere that means lots of snow, thermal undies, down jackets and snuggling up to a fire with a glass of fine red wine, while our northern hemisphere friends undoubtably think about beaches, sunblock, ice cream and a frosty lager.
An alternative approach to the month, however, is as a great detox opportunity – this month is also known (in New Zealand, at least) as Dry July, a challenge to go without alcohol for the whole month. To quote the Dry July website, “Dry July is a non-profit organisation determined to improve the lives of adults living with cancer through an online social community giving up booze for the month of July.”
Those who take up the challenge are known as DJ’s, or Dry-Julyers. You can either do it on your own as a personal challenge, or formally sign up and have a go at raising funds for the Dry July charity, thereby potentially helping those living with cancer towards an improved quality of life.
Dry July started in 2008 as a challenge among friends, but even in its first year close to a thousand people participated and more than $ 250 000 was fundraised. The initiative has gone from strength to strength, and to date more than $ 11 million has been raised.
Even if you only enjoy the occasional social tipple, giving up for a month is not easy – there are always special occasions, social events, parties and more where we typically enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. It’s all about self-discipline, for your own health and wellbeing, and to support a good cause. Not to mention the amount of money you can save by ditching the drink for a month!
So, cheers to a Dry July. I see lots of water, fruit juice, coffee and tea in my immediate future!
It’s 26 June, and it was on this day 39 years ago that an inconspicuous little pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum hit the spotlight, to become perhaps the most famous packet of chewing gum in modern history – it became the first barcoded product to be scanned in a supermarket, fundamentally changing the way we shop.
A testbed barcode system was installed in a supermarket in Troy, Ohio (near the factory producing the barcode scanning equipment), and at 8:01 on the morning of 26 June 1974, an unsuspecting shopper, Clyde Dawson, presented a packet of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum to the supermarket teller, Sharon Buchanan, who successfully scanned the product’s Universal Product Code (UPC). Sadly for Dawson, he never got to eat his chewing gum – the pack of gum, together with its receipt, is now on display in the Smithsonian Institute, representing the first commercial appearance of the UPC. (I can only assume he was well compensated for this special little item.)
The introduction of barcode scanning at the supermarket checkout introduced a number of benefits – it simplified the job of the teller, who no longer had to key in the price of each item, it reduced human input errors, and it captured a lot more sales information for the shop, thus allowing them to to achieve greater responsiveness to customer needs and buying trends. Barcodes on products have also significantly reduced the price tag swapping technique of shoplifting.
Shops in the US converted consistently over time, and by the early 80’s, 8000 stores per year were adopting the UPC. Adoption soon spread internationally, causing a fair amount of consternation among conspiracy theorists, who considered the barcode a visible and intrusive example of ‘big brother’ watching and monitoring their personal shopping habits.
From the retail sector the use of barcodes has spread to a wide range of application domains – healthcare centres and hospitals use it for patient identification and medication management. Postal services use it to track and trace mail. It is used as part of ticketing at events and transportation services. Barcodes have even appeared in art, for example Scott Blake’s Barcode Jesus.
It is certainly impossible to imagine modern life without the familiar little striped strip that appears on almost everything we deal with in our daily life, except perhaps for fresh produce. But times change, and slowly but surely so do the barcodes we see around us. These days more and more products are appearing carrying so-called Quick Response (QR) codes – probably the most popular 2D (or matrix) barcode – which can represent more data per unit area.
But that, as they say in the classics, is a story for another day…
It’s 21 June, it’s Winter Solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere, and at just after 5pm in the afternoon in New Zealand, the shortest day of the year is already dwindling fast.
And what a winter solstice it has been for the country – some of the worst snow storms in recorded history covering much of the South Island in a thick white blanket, while other areas are bludgeoned by extreme tropical storms. Over the last two days, the capital Wellington has been one of the worst hit areas, with flooding and winds of up to 200km/h.
Scary stuff, but then again, winter solstice does kind of give one that feeling that from here it can only get better – longer days, increasing temperatures, new growth, new life…
And if nothing else, crisp winter mornings are just the greatest for some amazing frosty photo opportunities all around us. That’s the joy of photography – no matter how cold, or how extreme the conditions, there’s always something amazing to photograph (often the more extreme, the better, in fact!).
To everyone in the southern hemisphere, enjoy the opportunities the cold bring. And for my northern friends, have a great summers day (hard to imagine down here, I have to admit)!
Today, 15 June, is Nature Photography Day. Originally started by the North American Nature Photography Association(NANPA) to “promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide”, I am sure it is a day that most photographers, amateur or professional, will have some affinity for.
Nature Photography Day was first celebrated in 2006, and it has been enthusiastically adopted around the world. As stated on their website, “NANPA encourages people everywhere to enjoy the weekend by using a camera to explore the natural world. A backyard, park, or other place close by can be just right. Walking, hiking, and riding a bike to take photos are activities that don’t lead to a carbon footprint. And fresh air can do wonders for the spirit!” And how true that is – nothing like spending some time in the fresh morning air, camera in hand, to capture the majesty of the natural world around us.
And you don’t have to go far to discover something wonderful – an attentive eye is all that is required to find beauty all around us – plants covered in early morning dew, insects busily at work around the garden, animals small and large, birds of all shapes and sizes.
While Nature Photography Day is first and foremost a day for personal enjoyment, meant to bring each of us closer to nature, NANPA is also hosting a Nature Photography Day Facebook Page, where anyone is invited to upload their images – the only ‘rule’ being that all photos “must be taken on June 15, 2013, within walking (or biking) distance of wherever you are.”
By the time that this blog entry is published, I will be spending some time in New Zealand’s majestic Tongariro National Park, and I sincerely hope I will be able to capture some moments of natural beauty. Irrespective of the results of my photographic endeavours on the day, however, I am first and foremost hoping to have fun doing it – after all, that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Today, 11 June, is quite a big day in photographic history – it is on this day that we celebrate the births of two great photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron (11 June 1815 to 26 January 1879) from Great Britain, and the American Jerry Uelsmann (born 11 June 1934).
Cameron and Uelsmann operate in very different photographic domains – while Julia Cameron was a groundbreaking portrait photographer, Uelsmann is known for his fantastical darkroom creations, and is considered the forerunner of the photomontage technique.
Julia Margaret Cameron was a key figure in the development of the modern portrait style. Her influence in this field is particularly significant if one takes into account that her photographic career only spanned eleven years – she only took up photography at the late age of 48 when she received a camera as a present from her daughter. She took to the discipline with great vigour and had an obvious knack for photography, quickly becoming a prominent member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. In her short career she photographed many famous celebrities and historical figures, and she is also known for allegorical works featuring religious and literary themes.
One of the innovations Cameron brought to portrait photography was cropping her portraits much more tightly than was the norm at the time. Another interesting technique she used, was to photograph her subjects intentionally slightly out of focus, and using long exposures, thus creating images that also contained motion blur. While this led some of her contemporaries to ridicule her work, she remained extremely prolific, leaving behind a very comprehensive portrait library for her time.
Besides her technical and artistic innovations, Cameron also brought her innovative nature to bear on the business side of photography – she registered each of her photos with the copyright office, and kept detailed records of all her work. This careful bookkeeping has resulted in a large number of her works surviving today.
While Cameron is an influential figure in portrait photography, her influence only came to bear long after her death – as mentioned before, many of her contemporaries found her soft-focus, closely cropped portraits ridiculous and unacceptable. Things have changed, though, with many claiming her to be one of the portraiture greats – Imogen Cunningham said “I’d like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don’t think there’s anyone better”, while Getty Images have stated “Cameron’s photographic portraits are considered among the finest in the early history of photography”.
Unlike Julia Cameron, Jerry Uelsmann’s interest in photography started at the much younger age of 14. While still at school he started landing a few minor photography jobs, and after completing his tertiary studies in photography, he took up a job teaching photography at the University of Florida in 1960.
From early in his career Uelsmann developed an interest in darkroom image manipulation, creating composite images from multiple negatives. Some of his creations, done using his large archive of negatives, were amazingly intricate, often requiring him to work with multiple enlargers during the same session. Referring to his works as “allegorical surrealist imagery of the unfathomable”, he never cared about the boundaries suggested by the photographic realists of hie time. Instead, he opted to use components of a number of different photographs to create and share the images he saw in his mind, thus developing the photo montage technique to an amazingly advanced technical level.
What made the impact of his work even greater was that he created his photo-fantasies at a time when such montages weren’t at all a common concept – photos were essentially considered realistic documentary interpretations of scenes and events. As such, Uelsmann’s avant grade photographic visuals helped to greatly expand the boundaries of photography as an art form.
To this day, despite the proliferation of digital processing tools and techniques, Uelsmann continues to use traditional equipment and his almost magical darkroom skills have resulted in works of breathtaking intricacy – a visit to his website to look through some of his works from the past decade (and earlier) is well worth your time.
Like Cameron, Uelsmann’s work was initially not looked upon kindly by his contemporaries. Like Cameron, however, Uelsmann’s work has stood the test of time and is now being acknowledged for their groundbreaking disregard for the styles, norms and trends of the time – as such playing an important role in advancing the art of photographic.
Both Julia Margaret Cameron and Jerry Uelsmann have succeeded, in very different ways, to move beyond mere photography to create original works of art – in Cameron’s case, vividly personal, yet almost impressionistic portraits, and in Uelsmann’s case, surrealistic visions from the mind of their creator.
Yesterday the Sciencelens blog reached a bit of a personal milestone – 500 followers!
After feeling quite chuffed with myself for a bit, I started thinking about what it means, and I guess it’s really one of those numbers that’s neither here nor there. A year ago, when 100 followers still seemed a distant target for me, I saw another blogger commenting about reaching the 400 follower mark, and thought it was amazing. On the other hands, many blogs I read regularly count many thousands of people among their signed-up followers.
So yes, its many, but at the same time not that much.
For one thing, reaching this landmark is definitely enough to inspire me to keep going, to keep looking for amusing topics to write about, striking things to photograph, and wacky events to celebrate.
So, to use a popular phrase of the Hash House Harriers (one of my favourite global running institutions): On-On!
It’s 5 June, which means it’s World Environment Day again. Last year the theme was “Green Economy: Does it include you?”, and I wrote about it here. This year, the focus moves from money to food, with the theme for 2013 being “Think.Eat.Save”.
The Think.Eat.Save campaign is an anti-waste and anti food-loss campaign. The message is that we should all take responsibility to reduce our ‘foodprint’ – the amount of food we unnecessarily waste in our daily lives. The latest stats from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that no less than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year. According to the UNEP website, the quantity of food wasted worldwide is equivalent to the total amount of food produced annually in sub-Saharan Africa. That is scary, and given the number of people in developing countries suffering from undernourishment and malnutrition (more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger), the figure becomes truly horrendous.
The Think.Eat.Save campaign “encourages you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empowers you to make informed decisions”. While it’s easy to point the finger to big companies who waste loads of food catering for corporate events etc, escaping the blame is not that easy – reducing the global food wastage begins with each of us, at home. By putting a little thought into your food regime – thinking about what you eat, thinking about how you use the left-overs, etc, you can save loads and eat much more efficiently.
As an example, eating processed food involves much more wastage than eating freshly produced local fare.
According to UNEP, “the global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change.”
By thinking before you eat, and making informed decisions about food usage (selecting foods with less environmental impact, buying locally, growing your own food, effectively using left-overs) you can do your bit to save your environment.
While photographing the annual conference of the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) in Christchurch recently, I had the privilege of going on a tour through the earthquake-ravaged city. It has been more than 2 years since a devastating earthquake hit Christchurch on 22 February 2011, killing 185 people, and fundamentally changing the lives of many, many more.
The face of the city has changed completely – many areas that used to house shops, restaurants and more, are now flat, empty land, used mostly as car-parks. Even residents who knew their city by heart, get lost among the open spaces that have appeared in the inner city where well-known landmarks used to be. Amongst these ugly, industrial-looking spaces, however, the most amazingly innovative use of urban space is emerging – dance floors with a twist, temporary performance spaces, mini-golf courses made from rubble, and much more. For more info on the great initiatives taking place throughout Christchurch, visit the Gap Filler website.
While a tour through the city is a harrowing experience, it is also an uplifting one, testimony to the human spirit and the commitment of a population to making the most of its circumstances. The city has a long way to go to regain its former glory, but given the tenacity and positive spirit of its residents, I have no doubt it will emerge an even greater city than before.