Photography

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That was Bill Swindaman on the last day I saw him: June 2nd of this year, at a gathering of friends from the best community I’ve ever known: a real one, of friends living in a place. The place was called Oxbow, and it was a collection of mismatched houses on a short dirt road that skirted a pond off Mt. Sinai Road, north of Chapel Hill, in North Carolina. I lived or hung out there, and with friends who called themselves Oxbovines, from 1974 until I moved to Silicon Valley in 1985. After that, we got together once a year at a beach house until the early ’90s. One thing that kept me coming back was a letter Bill wrote called “Where the hell is Searls?”

Since then we’ve all stayed good friends and in touch. And sometimes rogue planets in our little solar system, such as I, would come through town and we’d get together. That’s what happened in June. It was great to see everybody, but there was bummage in the house, because we all knew Bill had ALS: an awful and fatal disease, diagnosed six months earlier. It was a disease that had claimed David Hodskins, my business partner and a friend for nearly as long, just three months earlier. (I remember David, and some of our business adventures, here.)

At Oxbow, Bill and I would often play one-on-one basketball (he was bigger and better), and shoot the shit about everything. I remember one story he told about his dad, a family doctor in Toledo, Ohio. When his car caught fire on the road for no obvious reason, Doctor Swindaman calmly pulled over to the side, got out, lit a cigarette, and calmly watched the thing burn down. Bill too was known for his calm and love of irony. On one of his long cross-country trips alone, Bill sent me a postcard from Tijuana. All he wrote was “Where the liquor flowed, and the dice were hot.” (Those less elderly that Bill and I might not know the reference.)

As I recall, Bill was pre-med as an undergrad at Muhlenberg College but got his masters in urban planning at UNC Chapel Hill. After that, he had a series of jobs (not in urban planing) that he used to accumulate savings for funding long trips. His last job, as I recall, was working for UNC doing something or other that doesn’t matter as much as the other vocation he took up in recent decades: nature photography. You can see his work at BillSwindamanPhotography.com. Here he is, on the job:

I recognize so many places when I look through his photographs—Death Valley, Comb Ridge, Monument Valley, Arches, Canyonlands—less because I’ve been there than because I’ve shot them from commercial flights zooming by overhead. I envied Bill’s ability to get out and explore these places, while I was too committed to other things. I also respected the quality of Bill’s work. It was, and remains, primo.

We did talk for a while about his maybe coming up to New York, from which we could go out to tidelands and photograph wildlife and other outdoor scenes. I lacked gear and skills to equal Bill’s, but it would have been fun. Alas, as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.

When I saw Bill in June, I asked if he was still in shape to keep shooting. He said no, and that he had already sold off all his gear. Yet he was still in good humor, considering the obvious fact that he was done with pretty much everything other than persisting at being his good self.

This morning came an email I hadn’t expected this soon. It was from Jackie Strouble, the wild dear with whom he hooked up back in our Oxbow days. With her permission, I’ll later add here what she wrote. Meantime I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing the photo above, which came with her letter.

And I just hope Bill’s memory for us Oxbovines will be a blessing to the rest of the world.

Let’s say you want to improve the Wikipedia page for Clayton Indiana with an aerial photograph. Feel free to use the one above. That’s why I shot it, posted it, and licensed it permissively. It’s also why I put a helpful caption under it, and some call-outs in mouse-overs.

It’s also why I did the same with Danville, Indiana:

Also Brownsville, Indiana, featuring the Brickyard VORTAC station (a navigational beacon used by aircraft):

Eagle Creek Park, the largest in Indianapolis, and its Reservoir:

The district of Indianapolis charmlessly called Park 100:

The White River, winding through Indianapolis:

Where the White River joins and the Wabash, which divides Southern Indiana from Southern Illinois (which is on the far side here, along with Mt. Carmel):

Among other places.

These were shot on the second leg of a United flight from Seattle to Indianapolis by way of Houston. I do this kind of thing on every flight I take. Partly it’s because I’m obsessed with geography, geology, weather, culture, industry, infrastructure, and other natural things. And partly it’s to provide a useful service.

I don’t do it for the art, though sometimes art happens. For example, with this shot of salt ponds at the south end of San Francisco Bay:

Airplane windows are not optically ideal for photography. On the contrary, they tend to be scratched, smudged, distorted, dirty, and worse. Most of the photos above were shot through a window that got frosty and gray at altitude and didn’t clear until we were close to landing. The air was also hazy. For cutting through that I can credit the dehaze slider in Adobe Photoshop 2021. I can also thank Photoshop for pulling out color and doing other things that make bad photos useful, if not good in the artsy sense. They fit my purpose, which is other people’s purposes.

In addition to Adobe, I also want to tip my hat toward Sony, for making the outstanding a7iv mirrorless camera and the 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens I used on this flight. Also Flickr, which makes it easy to upload, organize, caption, tag, and annotate boundless quantities of full- (and other-) size photos—and to give them Creative Commons licenses. I’ve been using Flickr since it started in 2005, and remain a happy customer with two accounts: my main one, and another focused on infrastructure.

While they are no longer in a position to care, I also want to thank the makers of iView MediaPro, Microsoft Expressions and PhaseOne MediaPro for providing the best workflow software in the world, at least for me. Alas, all are now abandonware, and I don’t expect any of them to work on a 64-bit operating system, which is why, for photographic purposes, I’m still sitting on MacOS Mojave 10.14.6.

I’m hoping that I can find some kind of substitute when I get a new laptop, which will inevitably come with an OS that won’t run the oldware I depend on. But I’ll save that challenge for a future post.

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Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack is gone. In its place is SoFi Stadium, the 77,000-seat home of Los Angeles’ two pro football teams and much else, including the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. There’s also more to come in the surrounding vastness of Hollywood Park, named after the racetrack. Wikipedia says the park—

consists of over 8.5 million square feet (790,000 m2) that will be used for office space and condominiums, a 12-screen Cinepolis movie theaterballrooms, outdoor spaces for community programming, retail, a fitness center, a luxury hotel, a brewery, up-scale restaurants and an open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

The picture above (via this Martin Turnbull story) is an aerial view of the racetrack in 1938, shortly after it opened. Note the parking lot: immense and almost completely filled with cars. Perhaps this was the day Seabiscuit won his inaugural Gold Cup. Whether or not, few alive today remember when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the U.S.

What interests me about this change is that I’ve enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of it, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on commercial passenger planes. I’ve also photographed that change over the course of seventeen years, through those same windows. Between 2005 and 2022, I shot many dozens of photos of the racetrack site (along with the adjacent Hollywood Park Casino) from its last working days as a racetrack to the completion of SoFi Stadium (with the casino’s relocation to a corner of what had been the Racetrack’s parking lot).

In this album on Flickr are 91 photos of that change. Here I tell the story on one page. We’ll start in January 2005:

At this time the racetrack was long past its prime but still functioning along with the casino. (Look closely and you’ll see the word CASINO in red on the roof of the nearest grandstand. The casino itself is the gray building to its left.) In the distance, you can see the skyline of the West Wilshire region and the Hollywood Hills, topped by the HOLLYWOOD sign. (Hollywood Park is actually in Inglewood.)

This same year, Churchill Downs Incorporated sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Company, owned by Stockbridge Capital Group, for $260 million in cash. This was good for the private capital business, but doom for the track. Bay Meadows, an equally famous racetrack just south of San Francisco, was also doomed.

This shot was taken seven months later, this time looking south:

Note the fountains in the ponds and the pavilion for members and special guests. Also, notice the separate grandstand for the Casino. The cars in the lots are almost certainly extras for LAX’s car rental companies, leasing unused parking spaces. But you can still see in the racetrack what (it says here) was “once described as too beautiful for words.”

The next photo is from April 2007:

Everything still appears operative. You can even see horses practicing on the dirt track. Also note The Forum across the street on the north side. Now the Kia Forum, its roof at various times also bore Great Western and Chase brand images. It was built in 1966 and is still going strong. During its prime, the Lakers in their Showtime era played there. (The team moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.)

Next is this view, three months later in July 2007, looking south from the north side:

Note the stables between the racetrack and the practice track on the left. Also, note how the inner track, which had turned from dark brown to blue in prior photos, is now a light brown. It will later be green as well.

(Studying this a bit, I’ve learned that good horse race tracks are very deep flat-topped trenches filled with layers of special dirt that require constant grooming, much of which is devoted to making sure the surface is to some degree wet. In arid Los Angeles, this is a steep requirement. For more on how this works, this Wired story will help.)

Two months later, in September 2007, this view looking north takes in most of the Hollywood Park property, plus The Forum, Inglewood Cemetery, Baldwin Hills (beyond the cemetery and to the left or west):

The Hollywood Hills, with its white sign, is below the clouds, in the top middle, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is in the top right.

Here on the Hollywood Park property, the casino will be rebuilt on the near edge of the property, along South Stadium Drive.

Here, a few months later, in February 2008, the inner track is once again blue:

This time take note of the empty areas of the parking lot, and how some regions are partitioned off. Ahead we’ll see these spaces variously occupied.

A few seconds after the shot above, I took this shot of the casino and club grounds:

The next shot comes a year and a half later, in September 2009:

Here the inner track has returned to green grass. In the far corner of the parking lot, across from The Forum, a partitioned section has activity involving at least six tents, plus other structures.

Almost three years passed before I got another view, in May 2102, this time looking south from the north side:

Here we get a nice view of the stables and the practice track. On the far side of both is a shopping center anchored by Home Depot and Target. (The white roofs are left and right.) Look in the coming shots at how those will change. Also, note the keystone-shaped fencing inside the practice track.

Here is the same scene one month later, in June 2012:

The keystone shape in the practice track is oddly green now, watered while the rest of the ground inside the track is not. A few seconds later I shot this:

Here the main change is the black-on-orange Belfair logo on the roof of the main grandstand. The paint job is new, but in fact, the racetrack became the Betfair Hollywood Park back in March, of this year.

In December begins California’s short rainy season, which we see here in my last view of the racetrack in 2012:

It’s a bit hard to see that the main track is the outer one in dark brown. We also see that the inner track, which had been blue and then green, is now brown: dirt instead of grass. This is my last view before the racetrack got its death sentence. Wikipedia:

On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing at the end of their fall racing season in 2013. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use”, and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable”. It was expected that the track would be demolished and replaced by housing units, park land and an entertainment complex, while the casino would be renovated.

My next pass over the property was on June 16, 2013:

The racetrack here is still verdant and irrigated, as you can see from the sprays onto the inner track, which is grass again. The last race here would come six months later, and demolition would begin shortly after that.

One year later, in June 2014, we can see the practice track and the stables absent of any use or care, condemned:

Farther west we see the casino is still operative, with cars in the parking lot:

Racing is done, but some of the ponds are still filled.

Three months later, in September 2014, demolition has begun:

Half the stables are gone, and the whole racetrack area has been bulldozed flat. Two things to note here. First is the row of red trees on the slope at the near end of the track. I believe these are red maples, which turn color in Fall even this far away from their native range. They were a nice touch. Second is the pond at the far end of the track. This is where they will start to dig a vast bowl—a crater—that will become the playing field inside the new SoFi Stadium.

Two months later, in November 2014, all the stables are completely gone, and there is a road across a dirt pile that bridges the old outer track:

This shot looks northeast toward the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and you can see the Hollywood sign on the dark ridge at the left edge of the frame, below a bit of the plane’s wing. The blur at the bottom, across the parking lot, is from the plane’s engine exhaust. (One reason I prefer my windows forward of the wing.)

This next shot is another two months later, in January 2015:

The casino is still happening, but the grandstand is ready for demolition and the racetrack area is getting prepared for SoFi.

One month after that, in February 2015, we see how winter rains have turned some untouched areas green:

Only two of the red trees remain (or so it appears), and the grandstands are still there, along with an operative casino.

This next shot is eight months later, in October, 2015:

Now the grandstand is gone. It was demolished in May. Here is a KNBC/4 report on that, with a video. And here is a longer hand-held amateur video that also gets the whole thing with stereo sound. New construction is also happening on the left, next to the old casino. This is for the new casino and its parking garage.

The next shot is almost a year later, in September, 2016:

It was a gloomy and overcast day, but you can see the biggest changes starting to take shape. The new casino and its parking garage are all but done, digging of the crater that will become the SoFi stadium has started, and landscaping is also starting to take shape, with hills of dirt in the middle of what had been the racetrack.

Ten months later, in July 2017, the SoFi crater is dug, structural pieces are starting to stand up, the new casino is operating and the old casino is gone:

Here is a close-up of work in and around the SoFi crater, shot a few seconds earlier:

The cranes in the pale gray area stand where a pond will go in. It will be called Rivers Lake.

This shot a few seconds later shows the whole west end of what will become the Hollywood Park complex:

The area in the foreground will become a retail center. The buildings on the left (west) side of the site are temporary ones for the construction project. On the right is the one completed permanent structure: the casino and its parking garage. Buildings on the left or west edge are temporary ones for the construction project.

Three months later, in January 2018, I flew over the site at night and got this one good shot (at 1/40th of a second moving at 200+mph):

Now they’re working day and night raising the SoFi structure in the crater. I share this to show how fast this work is going. You can see progress in this photo taken one month later, in February 2018, again at night:

More than a year went by before I passed over again. That was in August 2019. Here is my first shot on that pass:

Here you SoFi’s superstructure is mostly framed up, and some of the seating is put in place. Here is a wider view shot two seconds later, after I zoomed out a bit:

In both photos you see the word FORUM on The Forum’s roof. (It had previously said “Great Western” and “Chase.” It is now the Kia Forum.) You can also see the two ponds in full shape. The left one will be called Rivers Lake. The right one will pour into it over a waterfall. Cranes on the left stand in the outline of what will become an eight-story office building.

Three months later, in November 2019, the outside surfaces of the stadium are about halfway up:

We also see Rivers Lake lined, with its gray slopes and white bottom.

After this the Covid pandemic hit. I didn’t travel by air (or much at all) for almost two years, and most sporting events were canceled or delayed. So the next time I passed over the site in a position to shoot it was April 2022, when SoFi Stadium was fully operational, and the area around it mostly complete:

Here we see the shopping center in the foreground, now with the Target store showing its logo to the sky. The old practice track and stables have been replaced by parking. A few seconds later I zoomed in on the completed stadium:

We see Rivers Lake, the office building, and its parking structure are also done, as are the parking lots around the stadium. You can also see “SoFi Stadium” in raised lettering on the roof.

And that completes the series, for now.

There are a total of thirty-one photos above. All the links in the photos above will take you to a larger collection. Those in turn are a fraction among the hundreds I shot of the site. And those hundreds are among many thousands I’ve shot of ground and sky from passenger planes. So far I’ve posted over 42,000 photos tagged aerial or windowseat in my two Flickr accounts:

Hundreds of those photos have also found their ways into Wikipedia, because I license nearly all my photos online to encourage cost-free re-use. So, when people with an interest in a topic search for usable pictures they’d like to see in Wikipedia, they often find some of mine and park them at Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s library of available images. Of the hundreds you’ll find there in a search for “aerial” plus my name, one is the top photo in the Wikipedia article on Hollywood Park Racetrack. I didn’t put it there or in Wikimedia Commons. Randos did.

My purpose in putting up this post is to encourage documentation of many things: infrastructure changes, geological formations, and any other subject that tends to get overlooked. In other words, to be useful.

A friend yesterday said, “as soon as something becomes infrastructure, it becomes uninteresting.” But not unimportant. That’s one reason I hope readers will amplify or correct what I’ve written here. Blogging is good for that.

For the curious, the cameras I used (which Flickr will tell you if you go there), were:

  1. Nikon Coolpix E5700 with a built-in zoom (2005)
  2. Canon 30D with an 18-200 Tamron zoom (2005-2009)
  3. Canon 5D with Canon 24-70mm, 24-85mm, and EF24-105mm f/4L zooms (2012-2015)
  4. Canon 5D Mark III with the same EF24-105mm f/4L zoom (2016-2019)
  5. Sony a7R with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS zoom (2022)

I’m not a big spender, and photography is a sideline for me, so I tend to buy used gear and rent the good stuff. On that list, the only items I bought new were the Nikon Coolpix and the two 24-105 zooms. The Canon 5D cameras were workhorses, and so was the 24-105 f4L Canon zoom. The Sony a7R was an outgrown but loved gift from a friend, a fine art photographer who had moved on to newer (and also loved) Sony gear. Experience with that camera (which has since died) led me this June to buy a new Sony a7iv, which is a marvel. Though it has a few fewer pixels than the a7R, it still has 33 million of them, which is enough for most purposes. Like the a7R, it’s mirrorless, so what you see in the viewfinder or the display on the back is what you get. It also has a fully articulated rear display, which is great for shooting out the plane windows I can’t put my face in (and there are many of those). It’s like a periscope. So expect to see more and better shots from planes soon.

And, again, give me corrections and improvements on anything I’ve posted here.

 

A visitor to aerial photos on my Flickr site asked me where one should sit on a passenger plane to shoot pictures like mine. This post expands on what I wrote back to him.

Here’s the main thing: you want a window seat on the side of the plane shaded from the Sun, and away from the wing. Sun on plane windows highlights all the flaws, scratches, and dirt that are typical features of airplane windows. It’s also best to have a clear view of the ground. In front of the wing is also better than behind, because jet engine exhaust at low altitudes distorts the air, causing blur in a photo. (At high altitudes this problem tends to go away.) So, if you are traveling north in the morning, you want a seat on the left side of the plane (where the seat is usually called A). And the reverse if you’re flying south.

Here in North America, when flying west I like to be on the right side, and when flying east I like to be on the left, because the whole continent is far enough north of the Equator for the Sun, at least in the middle hours of the day, to be in the south. (There are exceptions, however, such as early and late in the day in times of year close to the Summer Solstice, when the Sun rises and sets far north of straight east and west.) This photo, of massive snows atop mountains in Canada’s arctic Baffin Island, was shot on a flight from London to Denver, with the sun on the left side of the plane. I was on the right:

As for choosing seats, the variety of variables is extreme. That’s because almost every airline flies different kinds of planes, and even those that fly only one kind of plane may fly many different seat layouts. For example, there are thirteen different variants of the 737 model, across four generations. And, even within one model of plane, there may be three or four different seat layouts, even within one airline. For example, United flies fifteen different widebody jets: four 767s, six 777s, and four 787s, each with a different seat layout. It also flies nineteen narrowbody jets, five regional jets, and seven turboprops, all with different seat layouts as well.

So I always go to SeatGuru.com for a better look at the seat layout for a plane than what United (or any airline) will tell me on their seat selection page when I book a flight online. On the website, you enter the flight number and the date, and SeatGuru will give you the seat layout, with a rating or review for every seat.

This is critical because some planes’ window seats are missing a window, or have a window that is “misaligned,” meaning it faces the side of a seat back, a bulkhead, or some other obstruction. See here:

Some planes have other challenges, such as the electrically dimmable windows on Boeing 787 “Dreamliners.” I wrote about the challenges of those here.

Now, if you find yourself with a seat that’s over the wing and facing the Sun, good photography is still possible, as you see in this shot of this sunset at altitude:

One big advantage of life in our Digital Age is that none of the airlines, far as I know, will hassle you for shooting photos out windows with your phone. That’s because, while in the old days some airlines forbid photography on planes, shooting photos with phones, constantly, is now normative in the extreme, everywhere. (It’s still bad form to shoot airline personnel in planes, though, and you will get hassled for that.)

So, if you’re photographically inclined, have fun.

I did a lot of shooting recently with a rented Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II lens, mounted on my 2013-vintage Sony a7r camera. One result was the hummingbird above, which you’ll find among the collections here and here. Also, here’s a toddler…

…and a grandma (right after she starred as the oldest alumnus at a high school reunion I where I took hundreds of other shots):

This lens is new, sharp, versatile, earns good reviews (e.g. here) and is so loved already that it’s hard to get, despite the price: more than $3k after taxes. And, though it’s very compact and light (2.3 lbs) for what it is and does, the thing is big:

So I ordered one, which Amazon won’t charge me for before it ships, on May 23, for delivery on the 24th.

But I’m having second, third, and fourth thoughts, which I just decided to share here.

First, I’m not a fine art photographer. I’m an amateur who mostly shoots people and subjects that interest me, such as what I can see out airplane windows, or choose to document for my own odd purposes—such as archiving photos of broadcast towers and antennas, most of which will fall out of use over the next two decades, after being obsolesced by the Internet, wi-fi and 5G.

All the photos I publish are Creative Commons licensed to encourage use by others, which is why more than 1600 of them have found their way into Wikimedia Commons. Some multiple of those accompany entries in Wikipedia. This one, for example, is in 9 different Wikipedia entries in various languages:

Here is the original, shot with a tiny Canon pocket camera I pulled from the pocket of my ski jacket.

In other words, maybe I’ll be better off with a versatile all-in-one camera that will do much of what this giant zoom does, plus much more.

After much online research, I’ve kind of settled on considering the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV. It has a smaller sensor than I’d like, but it is exceptionally versatile and gets great reviews. While my Sony a7r with its outstanding 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens is versatile as well, and light for a full-frame DSLR, I really need a long lens for a lot of the stuff I shoot. And I suspect this “bridge” camera will do the job.

So here is the choice:

  1. Leave the order stand, and pay $3k for a fully fabulous 70-200 zoom that I’m sure to love but will be too big to haul around in many of the settings where I’ll be shooting.
  2. Cancel that order, and instead pay half that for the DSC-RX10 IV—and get it in time for my trip to Hawaii next week.

[Later…] I decided to let the order stand. Two reasons. First, I’ve shot a couple thousand photos so far with the 70-200 zoom, and find it a near-flawless instrument that I enjoy playing. One reason I do is that it’s as close to uncompromising as a lens can be—especially a zoom, which by design involves many compromises. Second, I’ve never played with the DSC-RX10 IV, and that’s kind of a prerequisite. I also know that one of its compromises I won’t be able to overcome is the size of its sensor. I know megapixels are a bit of a head trip, but they do matter, and 36.4 Mpx vs 20.1 “effective” Mpx is non-trivial.

Additionally, I may choose in the long run to also get an a7iv camera, so my two lenses will have two bodies. We’ll see.

 

 

Back in 2009 I shot the picture above from a plane flight on approach to SFO. On Flickr (at that link) the photo has had 16,524 views and has been faved 420 times as of now. Here’s the caption:

These are salt evaporation ponds on the shores of San Francisco Bay, filled with slowly evaporating salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands. There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay.

A series microscopic life forms of different kinds and colors predominate to in series as the water evaporates. First comes green algae. Next brine shrimp predominate, turning the pond orange. Next, dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates, turning the water red. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. The full range of colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats.

Given the popularity of that photo and others I’ve shot like it (see here and here), I’ve wanted to make a large print of it to mount and hang somewhere. But there’s a problem: the photo was shot with a 2005-vintage Canon 30D, an 8.2 megapixel SLR with an APS-C (less than full frame) sensor, and an aftermarket zoom lens. It’s also a JPEG shot, which means it shows compression artifacts when you look closely or enlarge it a lot. To illustrate the problem, here’s a close-up of one section of the photo:

See how grainy and full of artifacts that is? Also not especially sharp. So that was an enlargement deal breaker.

Until today, that is, when my friend Marian Crostic, a fine art photographer who often prints large pieces, told me about Topaz LabsGigapixel AI. I’ve tried image enhancing software before with mixed results, but on Marian’s word and an $80 price, I decided to give this one a whack. Here’s the result:

Color me impressed enough to think it’s worth sharing.

 

 

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My parents (that’s them, Eleanor and Allen Searls) were married on 17 August 1946, seventy-five years and two days ago. I would have posted something then, but I was busy—though not too busy to drop something in Facebook, where much of the readership for this blog, plus the writership of others listed in my old blogroll, has drifted in the Age of Social Media. Alas, blogging is less social than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the chatterteriat. But that doesn’t stop me from blogging anyway.

The wedding took place in Minneapolis, for the convenience of Mom’s family of second and third generation Swedish members of the homesteading diaspora, scattered then around Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Pop was from New Jersey, and all his immediate kin were there and in New York. After the wedding the couple came east to briefly occupy the home they rented in North Bergen, New Jersey while mostly hanging at Grandma Searls’ house in Fort Lee (where Pop grew up with his two sisters), and then a short drive west of there in Maywood, where Jan and I grew up. I was born less than a year later, and my sister Jan less than two years after that.

In a comment under my Facebook post, Jan writes,

Mom from ND and Pop from NJ met in Alaska in the middle of WWII. He’d already served in the Costal Artillery in the early 30s but after D-Day came home to join up. They courted by mail after the war while he was with SHAEFE (he loved that acronym: Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Forces Europe), and Mom with the Red Cross at a Naval Hospital in Oregon. When he got home, she flew to NJ for 6 days of courtship – at a small shack at the NJ shore with Pop’s entire family! He came to MN the night before the wedding. They fell in love with the dream of having a family and future together, and always said they really fell in love with each other on their honeymoon and were devoted to each other. Mom was 33, Pop was 38, and they’d already lived lives of adventure, full of friends and family. We grew up knowing were blessed to have them as our parents.

I’ve added links. The Shack is still there, by the way.

Alas, Mom passed in ’03 and Pop in ’79. But they were exceptionally fine parents and grandparents. Not all kids are so lucky.

So, a belated toast, in pixels.

The best new phones come with the ability to shoot 108 megapixel photos, record 4K video with stereo sound, and pack the results into a terabyte of onboard storage. But what do you do when that storage fills up?

If you want to keep those files, you’ll need to offload them somewhere. Since your computer probably doesn’t have more than 2Tb of storage, you’ll need an external drive. Or two. Or three. Or more. Over time, a lot more.

Welcome to my world.

Gathered here for a portrait in a corner of my desk in Manhattan are 22 hard drives, plus three SD cards that each exceed the capacities of the drives they’re laying on. And then there’s the 2Tb one in the laptop I’m using now. That one has 357.33Gb available. Most of the others you see are also full, dead, or both. Five have FireWire connections, which my current laptop doesn’t comprehend at all. I also have a similar collection of drives in Santa Barbara, and several more in Bloomington, Indiana. (Yes, I live in all three places. This is much less fancy than it seems.)

Photos occupy most of the data I’ve stored on all those drives. Currently, my photo archives are spread between two portable drives and my laptop and total about 7Tb. I also have a 5Tb portable drive for videos, which is back in Santa Barbara awaiting dubs off tapes. The portable photo drives are among those in the picture above. Earlier today, my laptop gave me this news about the main one, called Black 4Tb WD Photo Drive:

That’s why I’m transferring its contents over to the 10Tb drive called Elements, on the far left. A progress report:

About 5Tb of Elements is occupied by Apple Time Machine backups. After the transfer is done, there won’t be room for more backups. So my project now is figuring what to do next.

I could get some Network Attached Storage (NAS), I suppose, but I’d need three of those. My experience with the option so far is with a used 2012-vintage 18Tb QNAP one that was cast off by a friendly university. It sits at the end of an Ethernet cable in Santa Barbara, and I’ve never been able to make work, except (no kidding) at dial-up speeds. (I welcome help.)

The obvious next option, of course, is to put it all in a cloud. Two problems there. One is cost, at least if you’re talking Apple, Azure or AWS. The other is that upstream speeds have been highly sphinctered by ISPs for decades. Here in New York, where our ISP is Spectrum, our speeds have long run 100-400 Mbps down, but only 10 Mbps up. However, I just checked again with Speedtest.net, and got this:

And that’s over wi-fi. So color me encouraged. But before I commit to a supplier, I’d like to hear what others recommend. Currently I’m considering Backblaze, which is top rated here. The costs $6/month, or less for unlimited sums of data. But I’m open to whatever.

[Later…] Hmm. At that last link it says this:

What We Don’t Like:

Something I should mention is that some users have had bad experiences with Backblaze because of a not-so-apparent feature that maybe should be a lot more obvious: Backblaze doesn’t function as a permanent archive of all of your data, but instead as a mirror.

In other words, if you delete files on your computer, or the drive fails and you’re connected to Backblaze’s website, Backblaze will see that those files are gone and will remove them from your online account, too.

Granted, signing up for the forever version history option would eliminate any issues with this, but it still poses a problem for anyone using one of the limited version history options.

Alas, the forever thing is complicated.

To be clear, I want more than a mirroring of what I have on my laptop and external drives. I want to replace those external drives with cloud storage. Is that possible? Not clear.

Alas, for all of us, this problem remains.

Oh, and Spectrum now only measures under 10Mbps upstream. So forget the cloud.

Tags:

On the top left is a photo taken with my trusty old (also much used and abused) Canon 5D Mark III. On the top right is one taken by a borrowed new Sony a7Riii. Below both are cropped close-ups of detail. The scene is in a room illuminated by incandescent track lighting. It is not an art shot, though it does contain photo art by our good friend Marian Crostic, whose Sony a7R she is kindly remanding to my custody tomorrow. (Her main camera is now an a7Riii like the borrowed one I used here.)

Both photos were shot with Canon and Sony’s best 24-105 f4 zoom lenses, at the 105mm end. Both were also set to automatic, meaning the camera chooses all the settings. In both cases the camera chose ISO 3200 at f4. The only difference was shutter speed: 1/125 sec on the Canon and 1/160 sec on the Sony. While 3200 is not the prettiest ISO, I wanted to compare both cameras indoors under less than ideal lighting, because that’s typical of situations where I shoot a lot of people.

One difference between these cameras is the pixel density of the sensor: the Canon’s shot is 5760 x 3840 pixels, while the Sony’s is 7952 x 5304. While that difference accounts for some of the higher detail in the Sony’s shot, it’s clear to me that the Sony lens is simply sharper, as Ken Rockwell kinda promised in this glowing review. (Also, to be fair, the Canon lens has had a lot of use.)

All the images above are screen shots of RAW versions of the photos (.CR2 for the Canon and .ARW for the Sony). Though I don’t have the time or patience to show differences in the .JPG versions of these photos, it’s clear to me that the Canon’s JPGs look less artifacted by compression. The obvious artifacts in the Sony shots have me thinking I may only shoot RAW with the a7R, though I’ll need to test it out first.

The main difference overall, at least in this setting, is in the warmth of the color. There the Canon has a huge advantage. I could say it’s also because the Sony is slightly less exposed (by the higher shutter speed); but I noticed the same difference in test shots I took outdoors as well, under both overcast and sunlit skies, and at ISO 100. The Canon seems warmer, though the Sony has far more detail one can pull out of shadows.

I should add that neither camera got the color of the wall (a creamy white) right in these photos, with the Canon leaning hot and the Sony leaning cool.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that much before I pick up the a7R, and start using it to shoot stuff in New York, where I’m headed Wednesday night after more than a year away.

 

 

What does it mean when perhaps hundreds of thousands of one’s photos appear in articles, essays and posts all over the Web?

It means they’re useful. That’s why I posted the originals in the first place, and licensed them to require only attribution. Because of that, I can at least guess at how many have been put to use.

For one example subject, take Lithium, a metal in the periodic table. Lithium is making news these days, because it’s both scarce and required for the batteries of electric and hybrid vehicles. At issue especially is how and where lithium is extracted from the Earth. As Ivan Penn and  put it in The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles (6 May in The New York Times), extraction “might not be very green.”

But it is blue. Or turquoise. Or aqua. Or whatever colors you see in the photo above.

I took that shot on a 2010 flight over Nevada. Looking out the window, it’s hard to miss lakes of bright colors on the desert floor, looking like stained glass windows into the Earth. I didn’t know at the time that the puddles were lithium, but I did know they’d be useful when I published them, along with whatever information a little bit of research would reveal about them. After I did the research, I put 17 photos in an album on Flickr titled Lithium Mines in Nevada and added the same set to another album called Mines and Mining, which is now 329 photos long.

Also on that flight, which produced 130 photos now in an album called 2010_08_06 rno-phx-bos, other topics of interest are the Shoshone Mountains, Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat (with “subsidence craters” over underground nuclear bomb explosions), the Nevada Test Site, (where hundreds of atomic bomb tests took place, among other interesting things, “Doom Town” on Frenchman Lake, Broom Lake in Area 51, Creech Air Force Base (from which military drones are remotely controlled), Grand Canyon, and Buffalo at night. None of the photos of mine at those links (all in Wikipedia) are especially artistic. In fact most of them make me cringe today, because I hadn’t yet mastered Photoshop when I posted them in the first place. Back then I shot only .jpgs, rather than RAW photos, which means I can’t go back do much to improve them. But all are useful, especially to writers and publications covering the topic of lithium mining. For example, my photos of those lithium lakes appear in—

And those are just the first six among 23,200 results in a search for my name + lithium. And those results are just from pubs that have bothered to obey my Creative Commons license, which only requires attribution. Countless others don’t.

Google also finds 57,400 results for my name + mining. On top of those, there are also thousands of other results for potash, river, geology, mining, mountains, dunes, desert, beach, ocean, hebrides, glacier, and other landforms sometimes best viewed from above. And that’s on top of more than 1500 photos of mine parked in Wikimedia Commons, of which many (perhaps most) are already in Wikipedia (sometimes in multiple places) or on their way there.

And those are just a few of the many subjects I’ve shot, posted and annotated to make them useful to the world. Which is why I’m guessing the number of photos actually being used is in the hundreds of thousands by now.

I have placed none of those photos in any of those places. I just put them up where they can easily be found and put to use. For example, when I shot Thedford, Nebraska, I knew somebody would find the photo and put it in Wikipedia.

Shots like these are a small percentage of all the photos I’ve taken over many decades. In fact, most of my photography is of people and scenes, not stuff like you find in the links above.

But apparently my main calling as a photographer is to push useful photos to the edge of the public domain, and to describe and tag them in ways that make them easy for researchers and journalists to find and use. And so far that has been a very successful strategy.

Addendum:::

So I have a camera question for the fellow photographers out there.

My main camera is a 2012-vintage Canon 5D Mark III , which replaced a 2005-vintage Canon 5D (source of the lithium lake shots), which replaced a Canon 30D of the same generation, and a Nikon Coolpix before that. All of these are retired or beat up now. Being um, resource constrained, every camera and lens I’ve used in this millennium I’ve either rented or bought used.

Now, out of great kindness, an old friend is giving me a Sony a7R that has been idle since she replaced it with a Sony a7Riii. I’ve played with her newer Sony, and really like how much lighter mirrorless full-frames can be. (And the a7R is lighter than the a7Riii.) The question now is what kind of lens I want to start with here, given that my budget is $0 (though I will spend more than that). The Sony equivalent of the lens I use most, a Canon 24-105 f4 L, runs >$1000, even used.

I suppose I could get non-Sony lenses for less, but … I’m not sure that’s the way to go. I’m kinda tempted to get a telephoto zoom or prime for the Sony and keep using the Canon for everything else. But then I’m carrying two cameras everywhere.

But I just looked at Ken Rockwell’s take on the Sony 24-105mm f/4
FE G OSS Full-Frame E-Mount
, which appears to outperform the Canon equivalent (two links back) so maybe I’ll find a bullet to bite, and spend the grand.

[25 May…] And I did that. The lens just arrived. Now I just need to match it up with a7R, which will probably happen next Tuesday. I trust you’ll see some results soon after that.

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