Tag Archives: Infrastructure

3592 – Electric Ladyland XXI

It’s funny. I initially gave this image the quite matching title “Tangled Up in Blue”, but then I decided to post another image in my “Electric Ladyland” series instead. It had been quite a while and I had to search my own blog to find out what was the last post. Turns out it was “3040 – Electric Ladyland XX“, and it has the exactly same subject 🙂

3039 – Electric Ladyland XIX

At the time you see this, I’ll be working again. I’ve no idea though, when I’ll have the next photo opportunity. I guess I won’t be walking outside the first days, because just that the fever is gone, does not mean I’m rid of the cough 🙂

This is part of my long-running “Electric Ladyland” series and the Song of the Day is of course “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)” by Jimi Hendix. Hear it on YouTube.

2461 – No Connection

My friend Ted Byrne commented twice on “2459 – Everybody Pays“. In the first comment he rightly questioned my choice of images. Yes Ted, the image of the two mannequins hanging outside of a shop is better than the rather boring door with the credit card signs. I could easily have talked about credit cards without sacrificing the better image. I plead guilty 🙂

Ted’s second comment was about the political rant that went with the images. There are a lot of interesting points in it, therefore I’ll quote it entirely:

OH … as to your AmeriKa the assholes rant. Well … guess you’re right. Interesting that the darling of the European Left … Nobel-Lauriate Obama, is little better than our dismal George Bush (both of ‘em) in protecting anyone from the We-Can-Do-It-So-Why-Not? psychosis of Big Government hubris. All of these characters seem to believe that as long as they are in the saddle that they can control the rampaging beast to ride the path of goodness as they imagine it. Of course they can’t, won’t, and don’t. And when we discover that our George Bush or Barack Obama’s are either fools or knaves … we become just a hair more cynical. Pity … Because cynics are the easiest for the beast to corral and herd. What we must become are skeptics. Cynics ignore facts, skeptics navigate by them. Which is why emotional arguments rule cynics, while the skeptics are fueled by the rational. We need more Spocks and fewer James T. Kirks. Not just here in America BTW… Just as you appear to feel pity for America, I gotta’ admit that there’s a lot to go around for the populations of most of the EU as well. Sigh …

Let me begin with something important: This is not Anti-American. My attitude may sometimes come across like that, but again, I have no problem with Americans. I have good friends in the USA, people whom I like, respect and completely trust. I don’t trust their government though. But note please that it is not anti-US-government either. It is just anti-government. There is no government in the world that I trust any more, my own included. If there was anything to be learned from recent events, then it is this: Though we need governments, they can’t be trusted.

Obama? A tragic figure, a man who got the Nobel Prize not for what he was or what he did, but only for being successor to the most incompetent president of the US in more than a century. We desperately wanted to like him, and he even may have meant the things he said. If so, he must have fallen in a deep depression over having failed so entirely. Sure, the Republicans did their best to keep him from everything that could look like a success, even if it meant the worst for their country, but at least he could have put up resistance. There was, for example, no reason to announce the protection of whistleblowers and then to just cynically call them traitors, in order to not have to deliver. It’s disgusting. This is of course just one point, many more could be made.

Now, if we can’t trust governments and if we still need them to do all the jobs that we don’t want to do or can’t do as individuals, what are we supposed to do?

Or is it really in our best interest that they spy after us? That THEY don’t trust US? Can we be trusted? Can I? Can you?

Turns out we can’t be trusted either. I know a lot of people who are well off and still rig the system, avoid paying taxes, in general don’t give a damn about the common good and always take without ever giving.

In a way it’s even understandable. We are individuals with a short life span and an insatiable hunger for happiness. Of course everyone tries to get the best out of that short life, and it’s the very nature of the best to be limited.

If you can’t even trust individuals, how should organizations like governments be any better?

Fortunately they can. It only needs a set of firm rules, a shared ethos, and most of all it needs transparency.

Spying on people is kind of enforced transparency – and in a way it works. We only need to make it work the other way round as well.

Naive? Maybe, but imagine a constitution that expressly forbids secret contracts. At the moment, even in countries that have “Freedom of Information” laws (Austria’s political parties just failed spectacularly in enacting one), it is easy for governments to evade their responsibilities by using contracts and even copyright to keep secret what they want to hide. Imagine a constitution that expressly forbids governments to keep any secrets at all.

But … how could we effectively conduct diplomacy, you ask? Diplomacy? You mean the kind of diplomacy where fates are decided behind locked doors? Well, if it’s dangerous for the outcome if it gets known by the public, then the outcome would most likely not be to the advantage of the public at all. Good riddance, diplomacy!

But … what about the Russians (Chinese, Iranians, …)? We surely must have secrets from them, right?

Wrong. If we do things that the people of other nations must not know, we’d much better don’t do them at all. It’s a small planet and it gets smaller by the day. There’s no reason to work against each other, and in reality we can’t even afford it as a species.

Protect us from violence? That’s indeed a good one. In a world where wars are fought (though even the ones we fight are fought mostly for questionable purposes), it may be necessary to keep armed forces and to protect them by some secrecy. To a certain extent this may be tolerable. You won’t tell your enemy what your weak points are, but instead of spanning up a cover of total secrecy, you can be open about not telling some things. Every bit more secrecy is perhaps for dishonest purposes anyway.

Skeptic. Yeah. How about that recent TED talk by Eric X. Li, “A tale of two political systems“? If you haven’t seen it, head over and invest 20 minutes of your precious time. It may make you wonder as it made me. If it’s true, it is probably a good example of a nation guided by a shared ethos. We may not be able to make it work globally (and we may not even want to for various reasons), but it may still inspire us.

And, yes, it’s so much easier to become a cynic then a skeptic. Being a cynic allows you to simply shrug off. That’s much more convenient, especially for those on the winning side 🙂

The Song of the Day is “No Connection” from Sophie B. Hawkins’ 1999 album “Timbre”. Hear it on YouTube.

816 – Starting All Over Again

Me catching up today?? Forget it! I’ve slept all through the night. Now it’s 6:50, I’ve just processed Tuesday’s few images, this one is what stuck.

Most of Tuesday was processing the Monday images, those of the trip to Krk. I did not even bother to go out. My reckoning was, that I would just take a few images at the train station, maybe on the train, or after my arrival in Vienna. After all, when you’ve been away from a city for two week, then come back and don’t find anything interesting to photograph, you’re probably not much of a photographer at all.

Well, I just made it, sort of 🙂

This is the elevator up from the underground, arriving at street level, the doors just opening. At night, when I’m out with the Sigma 10-20, I like to keep ISO low by using very slow shutter speeds. This is ISO 720 at f4 and 1/8s, handheld.

The Song of the Day is “Starting All Over Again” from the 2006 collaboration of Randy Crawford and Joe Sample called “No Regrets”. This is one of the CDs that arrived from Amazon on last week and that I’ve collected from the post office early Monday morning. I’ve found a sound sample, but the link is to a Belgian hitparade site, thus you’ll probably better hear it now, it may become unavailable any time. Sorry, no lyrics, no video.

511 – Gasoline Alley

How many layers have your Photoshop files? And what are the things that you routinely do to your images? And why are you doing them? Let’s have a look at one image of mine, shall we?

This particular place is a place that I pass by very often. It’s on my way from home to the Underground. I always wanted to take an image of this old pump, because it looks so … old, so out of time and place. Unfortunately there are only two reasons for me to take the Underground: I am either in a terrible hurry, or it rains. Both are not exactly ideal conditions for taking photographs. Yesterday morning it did neither rain nor was I in a hurry, I was only so packed, that I decided not to walk to work.

I made three shots, kneeling on the sidewalk, and this is the one that I finally used. Let’s have a quick look at what came out of the camera.

The most obvious difference is the sign on the wall. It is red, which would not be a bad complement to the other vivid color green, but it is extremely high contrast, in an awkward place composition-wise, and it is very modern, compared to the pump. Was that enough reason to throw it out and divert from the path of photographic truth?

Well, if you have followed my blog for any longer time, then you already know my stanza, but instead of repeating it, I shall refer you to my friend Ted Byrne’s classic essay “When To Sign A Photograph?“. I pretty much agree with Ted in this regard, and that’s for “photographic truth” 🙂

Now, having exposed myself as an unscrupulous forger, let me explain my reasoning for taking this sign out. I said it is in a compositionally awkward place. Why that, you ask? That’s a power point, being on the cross of two thirds. Conventional wisdom says that’s good, isn’t it?

Right, but this is an image that I wanted to take for a very long time, and the reason for wanting to take it is the old-fashioned green pump. I always saw the pump, never the sign, thus this must become an image about the pump, and the sign, being in such a lucky spot, does not contribute at all. It is modern, it is high-contrast, high-saturation, it pops out, it competes badly, and that’s the reason why it must go.

Cloning out the sign proved harder than I had thought. My first attempt was to create a new, blank layer, and then to clone with a soft brush, always sampling a bit from above, a bit from below, and that with a clone source turned by 180 degrees to avoid repeating patterns. You remember, the clone source palette is one of the innovations in CS3, and it allows you to clone as if from a rotated source. Very handy, and from near, while I worked, the result looked promising indeed, but to my dismay the cloning was clearly visible from a distance. Why that? Well, the problem lies in this particular kind of texture. It is relatively fine and it is uniform, with uniformity being the culprit here.The soft brush had made the cloned texture less crisp, and that difference clearly showed from a distance. Essentially I had replaced the sign with a blotch that obviously stood out.

I could have tried it again with a harder brush and less overlap, and probably I would have succeeded, but in such situations a simpler technique produces superior results. It goes like that:

With the rectangular marquee tool I have selected a patch below the sign, copied it with Ctrl-J on a new layer. With Ctrl-T I went into free transform, rotated the patch by 180 degrees and moved it over the sign. Then I added a mask and by painting into the mask with a small, soft brush, I began taking away from the patch until it only covered roughly the sign.

This revealed another little problem. The sign was in a place where a diffuse shadow from above began. The patch was from below, thus it was too light, at least in its upper part. A curves darkening layer in luminosity blending mode and with a gradient mask applied, the layer clipped into the patch layer, took care of that.

In a similar manner I took out a minor distraction in the upper right corner. The drain cover and some high contrast dirt were taken out by conventional cloning. Neither of them had anything to contribute to the pump. They only brought clutter and unrest to an image that was meant to give a calm feeling of nostalgia.

At this point the image was still looking flat, the colors dull, a bit too blue, and the distribution of tones did not leave much detail in the pump.

I tackled contrasts first. The tones in the dark part on the left side were OK, but I wanted to have more detail in the pump itself and on the walls. In other words: I needed to increase local contrast. I discuss local contrast in detail in another tutorial, suffice to say that I used the PhotoLift plugin again, decreasing global contrast by 20% and adding 80% local contrast.

The result was pleasing across the image, and I did not use a mask as I normally would. I only used a levels adjustment layer to set a black and a white point. This is the result so far. Suddenly we can see the blemishes in the body of the pump, and the wall textures come forward, just as the pump itself. The levels adjustment was in normal blending mode, thus I have increased saturation as well, which is OK here. Had I wanted to avoid influencing colors, I would have used luminosity mode.

What about the BP sign? It is in the same old-fashioned style as the pump, it has the same green, it would perfectly go with the pump, it only has to come forward. It needs more glow, so let’s make some glow.

The first thing I did was to add a curves layer with a steep rise in the lower tones. I used blending mode “color dodge” to boost the colors as well. This did not give me enough boost, thus I duplicated the layer. Then I made a merged copy of the image so far, blurred it with a radius of 7 pixels, applied it in screen mode at opacity 50%, and these three layers finally gave the glow.

Next comes the idea of balance. In this case it is the balance of tones, and especially tones in the corners. The right upper and lower corner needed to go darker, in order to balance the darkness of the opposing corners to the left.

This is no hard rul
e. Images are thinkable where two light corners on the right oppose two dark corners on the left, but, remember, this is neither an image about corners nor an image about opposites. It is an image about a gas pump. This particular gas pump is fairly in the middle, and therefore the corners need to be balanced.

I added another darkening curve in luminosity mode, and used a mask to restrict it to the lower and upper right corner.

At this point, in many cases I boost saturation as far as it does not burn out any channel. Of course there are images that need much more subtlety, but it is always a good idea to try and see what you get.

Well, what I got here was too much yellow, not enough red and no balance in the blues. Dealing with color, I primarily set color temperature in Camera RAW, but when I find later that I was slightly off, I often use Photoshop’s “photo filters”. They are intuitive, easy to use and can be tamed with masks. Here I used a plain red filter on the bricks to the left and behind the base of the pump. It is subtle, but it makes a difference. Then I raised saturation in general by 20%. Of course this was much too much for the pump, thus I painted in the mask with black over the pump, in effect applying the saturation on everything but the pump.

At this point I felt that the upper part needed some cooling. Therefore I used a cooling filter on the upper right corner and, for balance, on the lower left corner as well.

Of the predefined photo filters, “Cooling Filter (82)” is the most effective, but it has s strong cyan component, cyan cancels red, and that is not what I want here. “Cooling Filter (80)” is rather neutral and “Cooling Filter (LBB)” has a violet tinge. That was what I used.

As a last step I sharpened a merged copy in LAB and used an edge mask to restrict sharpness to the edges. Voilà, here we are: 15 layers.

Most of the changes that I have made were rather subtle, but in combination they have changed the image completely. Now it is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Does it show what was there? Certainly not. Does it show what I saw? Probably. In any case it shows what was important to me and made me take the image in the first place.

Coming to the Song of the Day at the end, I wouldn’t have thought that I have only one song with “pump” in its title, one “Jumpin’ In The Pump Room” by Charlie Shavers, and that clearly did not fit. Thus Rod Stewart has his second appearance within days, again from the same live album, this time with “Gasoline Alley“, my only song with “gasoline” in the title. With its backward looking, romanticizing attitude it is probably not the worst match.