I started photography some years back. I think that the primary inspiration came from my father’s analog photography; even though most of his photographs revolved around family and friends. But he had stopped photography a long back. And all I recall is that his analog camera no longer worked. Nevertheless, this apparently inutile device left a lasting mark on my mind. And as soon as I could afford a mobile phone with a camera, I purchased one with quite humble camera settings. Here again, I followed in my father’s footsteps. Most of my initial photographs revolved around my friends and family. Family events and the surroundings of my home caught my initial attention.

Baltic Sea and Cloud, John Samuel

Slowly I started traveling, making smaller trips to nearby towns and cities. I had realized by this time that I required a much better apparatus to record my travelogues. But once again, I lay my hands on a smartphone, though this time, with much better camera settings. It had not been a difficult decision. I had done enough internet research, compared multiple smartphones and their camera settings before finalizing my travel recording device. Slowly, my pictures focused more on the objects around me than on myself or people. Trees, roads, hills, monuments became part of the majority of my photographs.

Digital Camera

Then came the big change in my life: a shift from traveling to several cities in my country to visiting various cities in different countries. Being aware of the limitations of smartphone cameras by then, I made my choice: an apparatus targeted just for the one thing: photography. Finally, after all these years, a digital camera became part of my life.

I started with the automatic mode and practiced with it for a very long time. I tried different zoom settings, now that I could zoom without worrying about losing the quality of my photographs. Slowly I started reading blogs on photography and checking the works of other photographers. It didn’t take me long to recognize the fact that I was really a novice. I learned about ISO settings and adjusting the focal length. It had taken me a significantly long time to be at ease with these settings.

I took a lot of photographs. The initial photographs were usually my first impressions on arriving at a spot. Slowly I reduced the number of photographs by first looking around the spot to find a location from where I could get a better perspective. Now when I look back, I feel a glimpse of my experiments, my learning progress. I do not consider myself a professional photographer at all. I have still got a lot to learn and still feel that most of my photographs were based on my first few moments of impression. Nevertheless, I do want to share some of my amateur experiments on photography.

Equipment

Starting with the equipment, the current generation of mobile phones can be used to take very impressive photos. Despite having a digital camera, I now use both a digital camera and a mobile phone. I have now additional lenses and depending on the context of my travel, I choose the appropriate one. I do feel quite happy with the results of my two devices.

I am still not comfortable traveling with tripods, limiting my traveling bag with my mobile phone, digital camera, chargers, and occasionally some lenses.

Photography

What exactly is photography for me? This is very difficult to answer. Yet seeing my past pictures, I guess I love taking pictures of nature and historical monuments. I focus mostly on large objects, though I do sometimes take a closer view of objects.

I make the most of automatic mode, especially during traveling. Most of my travels are for short durations and I like to capture most of the new surprises that attract me. But I sometimes switch from automatic to manual mode, especially when lighting is very less and I wish to focus on a particular object.

Colors attract me, hence I could describe my photography as color photography based on the majority of my photographs. I would not say that I did not try black and white photography. In every one of these tries, I eventually switched back to color photography after a couple of black and white photographs. I do not use any filters on my photographs before taking a picture and I apply them if needed during the processing of the photographs. I am not a big flash enthusiast, ensuring to avoid them as much as possible.

Finally, I do not store my images in raw format, especially because of the size occupied by such formats. JPEG formats are suitable for my photography experiments.

Processing

Going through the online forums, I have seen several debates on questions like watermarking, reworking on photographs, etc. Photograph reworking had always been a difficult question for me. So far, I allow myself to do some reworking like changing contrast/brightness or applying filters.

What is permissible post-production? A lot of websites and web applications allow the user to upload photographs, apply filters. But sadly after uploading, the original picture cannot be recovered (or not available to the end-user). Applying filters in such a manner to lose the original work is not productive. Different works may require a variety of color themes, but the original photograph must be protected. Consider desktop applications like darktable that permit non-destructive raw photo editing that not only lets the user specify multiple post-production features (without occupying too much of disk-space) and yet keeping the original photo intact. One would suggest to save the post-production photograph under a new name and keep the original photograph. However, it must be remembered that such an approach requires increasing disk-space.

Non-destructive photo post-production has the advantages of less disk space as well as the ability to handle a large number of images with the same post-production technique. After testing uploading some of my photographs on some of the existing web applications, I feel that I miss such an important feature. I require the ability to upload my photograph and apply different filters (or post-production techniques) to the same photograph on different occasions or events. Considering the current capability of computing devices and the advancement of web technologies, it is possible to achieve such real-time non-destructive post-production.

Uploading

Uploading photographs online is a difficult task, especially choosing a couple of photographs from thousands of photographs that one may have taken. Social media websites and photo sharing services exist, but each one of them has different limits like upload size, allowed formats, etc. Large photographs are often required to be cropped before uploading to some social media websites, leading to loss of information. Another major issue is the loss of quality when photographs are uploaded to photo sharing websites. I upload some photographs to Wikimedia Commons without any processing, i.e., in their original formats, and for other websites, I use processing like filters, cropping, etc. I am still looking for options or websites where I can have both non-destructive photo post-production techniques, i.e., the possibility to upload the original photographs as well as the versions obtained after processing.

Open Questions

Unlike texts, images consume a lot of space. I have been experimenting with version control for this blog and I use Git. However, most version control systems are not designed for images and focus mostly on texts. Storing all my photographs and the subsequent modifications on a version control system is not a feasible solution. It is often suggested to keep the size of a git repository under 1 GB for performance reasons. I am wondering whether Git large files are interesting enough for the photographs. I often wonder whether it will be better to convert the current image formats like JPEG to SVG, especially considering my megabytes-sized photographs could be simply reduced to Kilobytes sized SVG formats, by some interesting tools. One may wonder that there are several existing tools based on edge detection research like potrace that can be used to create the edges and fill the shapes. I hope we will have some interesting tools in the future in this direction.

Learning

Photography has been an ongoing learning experience for me. From time to time, I had several discussions with friends as well as professionals and I have come across diverse photography blogs. Thanks to these, I received very interesting lessons like reference straight lines, horizon, vanishing points, etc. I think photography requires lots of experimentation and there is a long way to go for me to call myself a professional photographer.

Experiment

Photography sometimes feels like there are certain definitions for a perfect photograph. Many may disagree, yet I have seen many instances where such questions prop up. We may say that there are no such rules, but somehow, we feel like asking why a particular building feels tilted in a photograph? What if the photographer wished to do so and it was their perspective and they did it deliberately. I wish to end this post by wondering why straight lines are used as references in photographs. This is one of the many such questions that I ask myself while taking pictures. Is it because I am an amateur photographer? In this age of mobile phones and digital cameras, what does it mean to be a creative photographer?

References

  1. Potrace
  2. darktable
  3. Git
  4. Git Large File Storage

Originally published at https://johnsamuel.info.

Data Science Research, Photography, Art and Traveling