Posts from the ‘Personal’ category

My Three Laws to Making Photographs

There are some certainties to making a photograph:

  • seeing or viewing the scene,
  • framing the scene in the camera,
  • clicking the shutter button to expose and capture the scene, and
  • admiring the image of the scene.

But make enough photographs, and three realities make themselves known. These arrive gradually, surprising you with their frequency and constancy. But you’ll eventually recognize the universal truths behind what it really means to make a photograph.

And this is where physics is a useful analogy, without the math.

Hot and Cold

When I was at university, one mandatory course was thermodynamics, the study of relationships between heat (thermal energy) and other forms of energy including mechanical, electrical, or chemical. It’s a way of understanding how heat transfer is described, and the various ways energy can be transformed or exchanged within a physical system.

What does this have anything to do with you? Thermodynamics is a driving factor behind weather in the atmosphere, water currents in the oceans, how refrigerators, heat exchangers, water kettles work, among other applications. Thermodynamics plays a role in our everyday lives.

In words, the Three Laws of Thermodynamics are:

  1. “Energy can be changed from one form to another, but energy cannot be created or destroyed. The total amount of energy and matter in the Universe remains constant.”
  2. “Entropy, a measure of a system’s energy that is unavailable for work, or of the degree of a system’s disorder, in the universe always increases. Heat does not by itself pass from a cooler to a hotter body.”
  3. “It is not possible to reach a temperature of absolute zero.”

The poet Allen Ginsberg created theorems, restating and applying the three laws of thermodynamics to “the game of life”:

  1. You can’t win.
  2. You can’t break even.
  3. You can’t get out of the game.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, fotoeins.com

My Three Laws to Making Photographs

I attempted to photograph large waves pounding the rocks at Sydney’s North Bondi. As I hunted for the “perfect crash,” I began to think a lot about thermodynamics. In a crazy wave of thought, I got down to my “Three Laws to Making Photographs”:

  1. If you want that shot, someone already made it to worldwide acclaim.
  2. That ideal shot is a fraction of a second too early or too late.
  3. You can’t resist the urge to try and try again.

It’s good to know I’ve put some of that physics training to good use, and I’ve been responsible in raising the “total entropy of the photographic universe” by a small amount, after amassing 75000 exposures with a single camera.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I headed out to continue my futile search and photograph that elusive moment of pure clarity …

I made the photo above from Bondi Icebergs at South Bondi in Sydney, Australia on 3 June 2013. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.


Minding the Physics

Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman provides a beautiful treatment of thermodynamics in his renowned 1963 Physics Lectures, complete with the math.

Cerro Pachón: on the tall shoulders of the Chilean Andes

It’s a long road to a latitude of 30 degrees South to stand at an elevation of 9000 feet up on the mountainous spine of South America.

Over a period of 11 years, I visited telescopes in Chile to collect research data, before I moved to Chile to live and work there for 5 years. This is a brief look at the journey an astronomer makes to telescopes in Chile.

Domes on ridge of Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

SOAR and Gemini telescopes on the ridge of Cerro Pachón: view from Cerro Tololo (HL)

Recovering astronomer

I’m both amused and nostalgic for having once been immersed in the “game”: professional research astronomy, a seriously competitive human enterprise carried out in the open arena with public money. To obtain research data, I submitted and chased successful proposals to telescopes at various locations around the world; some of those telescopes are in low earth orbit. Some success meant becoming accustomed to remote locations, beautiful scenery, and the isolation.

The best places to build world-class research telescopes are not necessarily conducive to living conditions. A variety of stations scattered around mountain tops track weather conditions over a period of years. Telescopes are built at locations where there is little rain or moisture; where there is minimal effect of light pollution from neighbouring urbanized areas; and where the air flow overhead is smooth, horizontal, and laminar, producing the sharpest possible image-quality for the study of very faint astronomical sources, from low-mass stars in our own galaxy to the most distant galaxies.

These conditions are met in Chile. A number of telescopes have been built by a number of European, North American, and South American nations in the Andes between northern and north-central Chile along a stretch of the Atacama desert.

Road between Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

The mirror’s view (HL)

For most, the trip to Chile is neither trivial nor short. Most fly the overnight red-eye flight into the national capital city of Santiago (SCL), followed by a short one-hour hop to La Serena (LSC).

Leaving the airport and heading east, Ruta 41 winds its way into the Elqui river valley. Foothills appear taller, with mountains in the distance signaling the border region with Argentina. Driving past the dam and artificial lake, road signage marks a turnoff onto a dirt road heading south. The manned gate controls the flow of approved vehicles in and out of the area.

I’ve been here countless times. If I’m in the back seat, I slip into a snooze, and every straight-away, bump, turn and bend in the road will be as familiar in sleep as I am awake. I might see a few vehicles in the other direction, returning to La Serena. If I’m lucky to have the wheel, I’ll stop at various places to enjoy the view.

Sometimes, it’s me, the vehicle, and a lot of red-brown dust and dirt. I’m surrounded by smooth brown round-top hills, with jagged snow-capped peaks farther to the east. I’m accompanied by the whistling of the desert breeze; the only other company is cactus, scrub, and brush. This is either blessing for being in a remote part of the world or curse in the solitude for miles around.

Eventually, the graded dirt road comes to a ‘T': one section heads north to telescopes at Cerro Tololo, while the other section leads south to Cerro Pachón.

Road between Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Road splits to Cerro Tololo or Cerro Pachón (HL)

Observing isn’t just about the sky

I have to be aware of the road and surroundings; it’s dangerous to underestimate the desert. Knowledge of the landscape is easier over time, and years of living in La Serena have secured memories more firmly.

It’s the middle of the desert, and if there’s an accident, days might pass before encountering another vehicle. Every vehicle must have working two-way radio with gate control. Sometimes the desert reaches out and kills; accidents have claimed vehicles and lives. These dirt roads can be unforgiving with slippery switchbacks, blind curves, and sudden dips.

Driving can be “breathtakingly entertaining”, especially at night. Winter snow and ice on the unpaved surface can be challenging, and there’s several hundred meters of drop beyond the unguarded shoulder on the other side of the road.

The domes finally appear, indicating our arrival at the observatory. Up on Pachón, walking is a little slower, breathing a little more laboured, the air a little thinner. I’m at 2700 metres or about 9000 feet above sea level.

Cerro Tololo, from Cerro Pachón, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Northwest in late-afternoon light from Cerro Pachón: only road out at centre, Cerro Tololo at right (HL)

Gemini South, Cerro Pachon, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com
Gemini South, Cerro Pachon, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Dome opens at sunset in preparation for the night-sky: Gemini South telescope, Cerro Pachón (HL)

An “observing run” (or shift) at the telescope can last a few nights. Naturally, most of the work is done at night, with telescopes open to the sky and detectors ready to receive precious photons. For many, there’s insomnia, and some forego sleep in the morning hours to work on their data or their latest paper. Switching from day to night can take a couple of days for adjustment.

Often I’ll see desert foxes sleeping by day, and I wonder whose lives are easier. At the mountain dormitories, I have a room with a warm bed, and the food’s good up top. The view’s pretty damn good, too. I’m more than happy to share the desert and skies with the furry four-legged tenants of the Atacama.

Trouble comes when I leave and say “hasta luego” to the desert and mountain view.

Time and distance have provided valuable perspective after leaving astronomy at the end of 2011. I miss the people with whom I worked, and I miss the panoramic views. At present, the Pachón summit hosts Gemini South and the SOAR Telescope. A one-way drive to Tololo or Pachón is about 90 minutes from La Serena.

Cordillera de los Andes, Desierto de Atacama, Región de Coquimbo, Chile, fotoeins.com

Morning skies over the cordillera, from Cerro Tololo (HL)

Sunday TravelerA modified version of this post appeared on Maptia. I made all the photos above. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and also appears as part of the Sunday Traveler series.

My progress with Canon, from 450D to 6D

I seemed to have skipped a step, as I’ve moved from a triple-digit camera model to a single-digit model.

For over five years, I owned an entry-level Canon DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. Carrying the EOS 450D (XSi) along for the ride, I traveled over one million miles in the air and I made over 75000 exposures.

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

The shutter finally failed to close properly about a year ago as I stood in front of the television tower in Prague’s Zizkov. I made do with an aging iPod Touch for another five months. When the calendar flipped over to 2014, I’d been missing photography with a camera by a very large mile.

Leaping up to the 6D

I picked up the Canon EOS6D in mid-January under the banner of post-Christmas post-New Year’s sales. I already have the EF 50-prime and EF 70-300 lenses, and I wanted to take advantage of these great lenses with a full-frame camera body; I had the idea of purchasing only the camera body. The bundle with the preferred 24-70mm L-series lens was too far, but the package deal with the more affordable 24-105mm L-glass including an additional padded camera strap, a padded camera carrying case, and an extra battery was a decent compromise.

Canon EOS6D, by Dave Dugdale for Wikimedia

Happily, I’m no longer concerned with the 1.6 crop factor; that is, a shot with the 450D at 50mm focal length has the same imaging area as a shot with the 6D at 80mm focal length. I’m enjoying the camera and I’m a big fan; here is a shortlist of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ with the camera.

    Pros:

  • GPS, for automatic geotagging of my photographs
  • WiFi, for direct upload onto my iPod Touch (or future smartphone)
  • Much better low-light performance; higher ISO range
  • Large range of RAW and JPG sizes
  • Video capability, though I haven’t used video much at this stage
    Cons:

  • Body heavier and more cumbersome; already knew this for full-frame camera
  • Internal GPS can be slow to connect with satellites
  • Battery drains quickly with GPS and WiFi usage
  • Could use an extra card slot
  • Still no focal length displayed with aperture, exposure time, ISO

At the Digital Photography Review website, you can compare side-by-side an entry-level Canon DSLR with a full-frame Canon DSLR. For example, select and compare the 500D (T1i) against the 6D; the 450D is so ‘old’ it’s unavailable in the listing. You can do your own intrabrand or interbrand comparison(s) here.


8 with the 6D

With this post, I’ve already made in eight months over 9000 exposures with the 6D, edging ever closer to turning over the four-digit image-number counter for the first time. Below are photographs over the first eight months of the year.

(F)Light of the Columbidae, Vancouver City Centre, Skytrain station, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“(F)light of the Columbidae”, Vancouver City Centre – 17 January 2014

Chinatown Plaza, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“C is for Chinatown”, Chinatown Plaza – 23 February 2014

Caught in a web of TED, Vancouver Convention Centre, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Caught in a web of TED” (by Janet Echelman), Vancouver Convention Centre – 20 March 2014

Parking lot in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Parking lot in English Bay”, West Vancouver – 13 April 2014

Drive by, Harbour Green Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“driveby”, Harbour Green Park – 6 May 2014

Mother and daughter, sister and niece, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Mother & daughter, sister & niece” – 12 June 2014

Holiday sunrise over Burrard Inlet, Canada Day, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Holiday sunrise”, Burrard Inlet – 1 July 2014

Downtown Vancouver, construction, urban commentary, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“… at the right price”, Downtown Vancouver – 22 August 2014

What camera are you using? Have you bought a new camera this year or will you be buying a new camera soon? Please leave your questions or comments below!

I made all of the photos above in Vancouver, Canada. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Instants in tempo: Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Welcome to Berlin, signage, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“Willkommen in Berlin” | Welcome to Berlin (Instagram)

I love Berlin.

I love train stations.

These two preoccupations always converge at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station). Looming overhead is the large glass roof, like the temple of transport hanging over scurrying passengers; trains pass overhead as the shops reside below; tempting scents from baked goods and grilled bratwurst waft from neighbouring stands; calm measured station announcements and excited conversations in the air is punctuated by screeching brakes of trains entering the station.

I’ve always had a love of transport infrastructure and fascination with transport logistics. I’ll always set aside some time to hang out at the central train station. I’ll come here to observe and, even surrounded by noise, to meditate. I’ll wander through each floor, across the platforms, up and down on the escalators between levels. I’ll watch residents head out to work, going shopping, meeting friends, returning home to their families; it’s easy to pick out new visitors to the city, as they step out into the grand hall towering over the tracks, eyes wide and shiny in anticipation of their visit to the German capital.

From around the city, region, and the country, there are S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains; regional trains; and Eurocity, InterCity, and InterCity Express trains. Converging at this Hauptbahnhof focal point are trains from all corners of the country and beyond.

And if you’ve just arrived on a train and stepped out onto the platform, you might see the overhead sign that greets you: “willkommen in Berlin”.

You might wonder why your welcome is sponsored by Bombardier – they produce trains for Berlin’s S-Bahn urban rail network.

Above all, this place represents my kind of hope: a hope for people from the outside to see what an energetic place this is, and a hope for residents to accept and embrace new ideas from the outside.

Up and down, Gleis 14, Platform 14, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

Auf Gleis 14 | On platform 14 (Instagram)

Mr. Pink, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

Mr. Pink, under the S-Bahn trains (Instagram)

Platform 3, Platform 4, Section E, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“3E and 4E” (Instagram)

2nd floor above ground, 2nd floor below ground, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

2. Obergeschoss & 2. Untergeschoss | 2nd floor above & 2nd floor below ground (Instagram)

Up and up, escalators, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“Folks on the up and up” (Instagram)

Golden light, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“das Sonnenlicht vergoldet die Hauptstadt …” | golden light blankets the German capital (Instagram)

DAS ist Berlin, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Berlin Central Station

“DAS ist Berlin” | THIS is Berlin (Instagram)

I made all of the photos above with a 4th-generation iPodTouch in 2012 and 2013. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Interview with astros: Aisha Mahmoud-Perez

The Traveling Astronomer

Once, I was an astronomer, spending time thinking about and working on the formation and evolution of dwarf galaxies.

Astronomers lead busy lives, including teaching and mentoring, research-specific small- and large-scale data programming, and the near endless cycle of paperwork including research plans, funding proposals, budget reports, and paper manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals. Much of the time also involves travel – conferences, workshops, and collaboration meetings around the world, as well as visits to telescopes at observatories in remote locations around the world to collect data for projects.

I liked the travel part more than I enjoyed astronomy. When I’d said farewell to astronomy, I’d accumulated over one million miles with American Airlines, and countless more with Air Canada, the old Canadian Pacific, Lufthansa, the old Northwest (now Delta), and United Airlines. Weary feet and tired wings aren’t surprising outcomes; I know there are still many journeys and destinations left to come.

The best of Palestine and Puerto Rico

In September 2006, I moved to La Serena, Chile to work at the Gemini Observatory. The following January a number of undergraduate students from Chile, U.S., and Puerto Rico arrived at the neighbouring astronomical observatory to spend the Chilean summer on research experience. After meeting these students over the years, I’m happy to remain in contact with a number of them.

Aisha is one of the most unique people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and calling friend. With a Puerto Rican mother and Palestinian father, she successfully blends into her life the influences of two vibrant colourful cultures and two fiery independent dispositions. She loves meeting new people, learning new languages (she’s presently at five), and she loves food, travel, and knitting. She is presently a graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

I’m pleased to introduce Aisha Mahmoud-Perez. On Twitter, she tweets mostly about science, life in grad school, and the art of crafting.


I remember the hectic schedules as a former and recovering astronomer. How do you strike a balance between the professional “necessity” of traveling for research with the personal “necessity” of traveling for your own satisfaction?

AM: “As an astronomer in the making, I find it hard to reach that perfect balance between doing research and research related activities and simply taking a week off to travel, but it is certainly not impossible. In mid-June this year (2014), I traveled to Chile for a collaboration trip lasting almost 3 weeks. Most of that time was spent working, but I’d take afternoons off to walk around town and weekends off to wander around the country. I found I was more productive at work after I’d taken some time to discover places on my own.”


With your Palestinian and Puerto Rican heritage, and a large fraction of your time in America, you’ve been exposed to and influenced by a rich cross-section of different cultures. How do these influences inform your travels? What have you learned about the differences and similarities among people?

AM: “I feel very lucky to have been raised under two very different cultures. There was never a dull moment in my house. Every day I discovered how beautifully different my parents were from each other – the saga still continues today – and how much they learned from those differences. Those differences helped me to be more open and to embrace different cultures with passion and enthusiasm. I also learned that those differences I talk about are superficial – one prefers tea over coffee, prefers to dress in a specific way, or prefers Abdel Halim Hafez over Marc Anthony – and that deep down we really love and feel the same way, regardless of where we’re born.”


What and where in the Middle East would you recommend people see and experience for something that’s uniquely Middle East? What and where in Puerto Rico would you recommend people see and experience for something uniquely Puerto Rican?

AM: “As far as the Arab Middle East goes… GO NOW, ‘YALLA’! The Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq, is extremely diverse: the colours, the smells, the food, even the local dialect of Arabic is different. But there is one thing I believe unites the Arab World and that’s their hospitality. I’ve met some of the most welcoming and warmest people in these lands. I’d say a truly unique Middle Eastern experience is to “be yourself” and engage with locals. Perhaps what’s a bit closer to me is if you wander around Palestine, make sure to visit the city of Nablus and try their famous ‘knafeh’ – a delicious cake with a gooey cheese filling. No worries, you will find more many who’ll be more than glad to take you to a place to try ‘knafeh’!

Hebron, West Bank, Palestine - by Aisha Mahmoud

“Kunafeh”, in Hebron, West Bank, Palestine (AM)

Puerto Rico, on the other had, is a complex melting pot between North American and Latin American culture. Given our all-year-long summer, Puerto Rico is a constant party. But, perhaps, our biggest spectacle or where one can experience true ‘puerto-rican-ness’ is during Christmas. The streets fill with Christmas music all day long, moms and grandmas cook traditional dishes and you truly feel the happiness and the excitement of the people in the air. Do note however that Puerto Rican Christmas songs are not your typical Christmas song, e.g. “your guests come, eat, pig out, drink, and then they ask you if you have an aspirin” (No hay Cama Pa’ Tanta Gente by El Gran Combo). Also, Christmas starts right after Thanksgiving and ends the second week of January. Happy Island!”

Nablus, West Bank, Palestine - by Aisha Mahmoud

“Family”, in Nablus, West Bank, Palestine (AM)

What place or country has left the most lasting impact with you? What are those impressions?

AM: “For me, that place is Chile. Even if you love traveling, it is always challenging to go abroad either as a tourist or to stay there for a longer period. In Chile, I never had that feeling of being an “outsider”. Chileans welcomed me like one of them right away: very warm and friendly people! Their food is amazing as well!”

Valparaíso, Chile - by Aisha Mahmoud

“Barrios”, in Valparaíso, Chile (AM)

Where is one place or country in the world would you like to live or travel? What are your reasons?

AM: “I can’t pick just one. One of my travel goals is to visit the entire Arab world. Out of all the nations in the Arab world, I’ve visited five; only 17 more countries to go! I was mostly raised in Puerto Rico and was involuntarily away from the Arab World for a long time. I think that that’s why I find the Arab world so enchanting and I still want to visit and be charmed by all of it.”


Sunday TravelerThe photos above were made by and kindly provided by Aisha Mahmoud. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com, and also appears as part of the Sunday Traveler series.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,213 other followers

%d bloggers like this: