Tag Archives: Photography

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What Digital Camera Should I Buy?

A lizard in the leaf litter In addition to creating web apps, doing research, and pontificating on usability and social software, I like to wander around and take photos.  Until now I’ve gotten along pretty well with a Nikon CoolPix 5700.  It has a number of features that have turned out to be really, really useful – an 8x optical zoom that makes it easier to take photos from far away, a nice macro mode for very very close shots, and a swiveling LCD display that makes it easier to do overhead shots and candid photos.

But, it has a few limitations that I find myself bumping into again and again.  No vibration reduction, poor performance in low light, slow autofocus, and it definitely does not give you the kind of manual control that traditional SLR film cameras have.  So I’m looking into getting a DSLR.

I definitely want to get a new camera before our kid is born in November.  The only thing stopping me from running out and buying a DSLR is that I don’t want to turn my minor photography hobby into a major production – I like the relatively small size and light weight of my current “prosumer” camera, and the fact that I don’t need to carry 2 or more lenses around with me at all times.

So here’s my project:  to find a combination of camera and lens that gives me a nice balance between control, portability, and versatility.  I’m not as worried about super-high resolution (by the time you hit 5-6 megapixels, you can do pretty much anything you want with the prints), or having really professional gear.  Price is also a big consideration.

My guess is that I’ll have to try to find a small, entry-level DSLR and attach a “walking around” or “vacation” lens – something with a wide range, like 18mm – 200mm.  Another thing I’ll be looking into is automating geotagging – I’m a big fan of photo sharing systems like Flickr and Picasa and it would be great to have faster, more accurate place data on photos.

This definitely calls for a spreadsheet.  I have a tendency to approach major decisions with the application of spreadsheets and/or databases.  But before I start laying out facts and figures, any recommendations?  Suggestions on brand names, specific models, etc. are all welcome.  Please post in the comments below.

Google Earth vs. Reality, Revisited

Last week I compared some real-life photos with the same scene in Google Earth.  Since I’m a bit of a computer/mapping/photography geek, I couldn’t resist doing a few more.  That actually ended up being a pretty popular post, with thousands of pageviews, which just goes to show I’m not the only combination computer/mapping/photography geek out there.

Here’s a view of San Francisco from Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.  Follow this link to see larger versions in Flickr.  This one is even better than the two from last week – look how well the streets, buildings, and Golden Gate Bridge match with the photo.

Google Earth vs. Reality - San Francisco from Coit Tower

Now I’ll go a little more international.  Here’s a photo from the site of ancient Mycenae in Greece.  This is above the famous Lion Gate looking out tat the hills surrounding the Argolid plain.  See larger versions in Flickr.  The aerial photograph that Google Earth maps to the topography isn’t as detailed as the real life photo, but even the borders of the olive groves line up.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Mycenae, Greece

These next two are not as identical as the San Francisco cityscapes, but are still impressive because of how well they evoke the real life scenes without 3-d buildings.

The first is from the Acropolis in Athens, looking out over the surrounding neighborhood.  Larger versions in Flickr.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Athens from the Acropolis

Here’s another shot from the Acropolis showing the new Acropolis Museum.  Larger versions in Flickr.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Athens and the new Acropolis Museum

If you feel like making some comparisons of your own, please let me know in the comments below – I’d love to see what other people could come up with.

Why I am sharing my photos with a Creative Commons License

DSCN0563 I do a bit of amateur photography.  I’m not very strong technically and I don’t have particularly good equipment, but I enjoy finding interesting angles and compositions.  I’ve been putting up photos on Flickr for a while to share them with friends and the public.  I also have an account on Panoramio with some photos that show up in Google Earth.

No matter the particular photo site used, sharing photos online has been a great experience.  I’ve had a number of encouraging comments on my photos and people have emailed me to ask if they could use a photo in a report for school or a pamphlet for their non-profit.

When I signed up with Flickr I noticed they had options to add Creative Commons licenses to photos by default.  I’m more than happy to let people use my photos for noncommercial purposes, so why didn’t turn on Creative Commons licensing from the start?

Part of it was the number of options available.  Creative Commons licensing allows other people to share your work but it’s not the same thing as releasing the copyright or putting photos in the public domain.  You have some options:  do you want people to be able to make money off your work, or do you just want it available for non-profits, educational, and personal use?  Do you want people to be able to alter and remix your work or just present it as-is?

DSCF0662 So I was a bit struck by the paradox of choice and decided to skip ahead and start uploading photos.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.

There’s a great page at the Creative Commons site that explains the options.  I am going to license my photos with an Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc) license.  That license covers my default attitude about my amateur photography – everyone is welcome to use my photos for non-commercial purposes, so long as they give me credit. This is, of course, in addition to fair use rights that people already have.

Another important point:  it doesn’t mean people can’t use it commercially, they just have to contact me and get permission.  Depending on the use, I might put a price on it.  And I can always sell prints or make products myself.

I might even switch over to allow commercial use as well, if I can get over my delusions of being the next Ansel Adams.

San Francisco skyline and flowers The abuse and incessant extension of copyright might not seem like a life-or-death issue, but it’s one of those issues where technology and public policy are inextricably linked.  It’s like the problem of software and business method patents.  There’s a great story by Spider Robinson that illustrates what happens if taken to extremes.

So take a look at the licenses and consider applying the appropriate copyleft to your work.