Focus on innovation

Anyone who's spent time in both the traditional and digital darkrooms knows that the freedom afforded to photography by digital electronics has completely changed the landscape of photography both as an art and a craft. Photography has become affordable and less time consuming. Pixels are free, as they say, and the nature of a digital medium means more time can be spent behind the lens and less time behind an enlarger and chemical baths.

One of the major leaps forward that digital technology allowed for was the ability to change ISO on the fly. Suddenly encountering a low-light situation can be compensated for with the turn of a thumb-wheel. This feature meant far less missed opportunities due to the speed with which one can change sensor sensitivity compared to swapping out a roll of film.

While digital advances allow for less time in the darkroom, they also mean new creative abilities in the digital darkroom. The current generation of digital imaging devices allow the user to change the color temperature of an image since the RAW data can be captured and manipulated in postproduction. The future of photography will produce even more creative freedom. As this video demonstrates, microprocessors now have the ability to handle so much information that we can shoot an image which contains far more information about the captured scene than ever before. When we keep this information and manipulate it through software, the image can take on many new forms.

More after the video…

I made two points earlier that may seem to be a bit contradictory:

1. Digital photography allows more time behind the lens and less time in the dark room
2. Digital photography allows for more creative choices in the digital darkroom

but I’d like to drive home an important point in regards to these statements: The Digital medium removes procedural tasks from the photographic process and provides additional opportunities that film simply can’t offer. Just like film speed (ISO), focus will become more controllable. Missed opportunities become beautiful captured moments via a slider on a GUI. I don't believe, however, that focus manipulation will be limited simply to correcting human error. Take the advent of HDR processing and the extended dynamic range of modern sensors for example. By capturing an extended range of luminance, a whole new kind of image is created. Processing a photo often times leads to a different interpretation of how the moment was originally visualized. Or, in the case of HDR, how the moment can possibly be visualized by the human eye. Focus can now be one of the tweakable variables in that creative process.

Certainly there are purists who will insist that such so-called advances will only promote laziness in photography. They're probably right, but let the lazy laze and let the creative create.


Engineering Communication and DSM

How does it work and how do I tell people? This guy knows. He wants to tell you. Bill Hammack wrote a pretty killer (and free) 68-pager on effectively communicating as an engineer, particularly using new media.

I stumbled over this book after getting back from a party where someone asked, "How does that work?" This was in reference to the all too familiar force we all know and love: Gravity. I find that people in the scientific/technological community are at a loss for words when it comes to effectively communicating scientific and technological principles. After that encounter, which resulted in a mediocre attempted at explaining classical Newtonian physics and general relativity, this book was well-received.

Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail also hit home for me because I'm very interested in demand side management. In a nutshell, it's the idea that energy demand can be lessened through efficiency measures and public education. The fifth chapter gave two hypothetical case studies, one of which was centered around the electricity grid. Interfacing with the electricity grid is one of the main challenges associated with incorporating renewable energy into our lives. It's also one of the main communication challenges an engineer faces when asked why the intermittent nature of renewables is a problem.

Hammack describes the concept of Citizen Engineering as a useful educational tool for the public and an effective information gathering tool for power engineers. The idea is analogous to programs which monitor ecological activities through collecting data contributed by volunteers. Just this summer I took part in a workshop which educated volunteers so that they could collect samples, identify specimens, and contribute to the maritime butterfly atlas. The same principle which is already applied to variety of ecological studies can be employed by engineers. In the power grid scenario, the end-user has the ability to monitor their own power usage and strain on the grid. With the rising popularity of Feed-in Tariffs resulting in more local, small scale renewable power projects, this sort of data is very beneficial for the engineers who need to accommodate these sources (Which they do need to do.) Also, something that's just as important (if not more) is the sense of knowing that is afforded to the people participating in such a project. Monitoring one's own strain on the grid gives the user a much better idea of how their lifestyle affects it.

Hammock's comments on engineering in society and youth involvement are very refreshing! He also makes makes Bill-Nye-esque youtube videos which are definitely worth a watch.