Freeing images: From the DAM to the Cloud

My photographic workflows have long been split between serious and casual. Really a split between my camera workflow and my iPhone workflow. I’m discovering that the key to bringing them together is using Apple’s native Photos app as a unified image database.

Once images are in the Photos database they are available everywhere and backed up not only on Apple’s servers, but also downloaded to my desktop Mac which backs them up to a local hard drive plus a cloud repository. A few years ago, these services were unreliable, but now we rely on them to store the photographs that document our lives taken with our phones and shared via social media.

It’s time we merge the images taken by our cameras with our phone photography in the cloud.

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Steps Toward a 21st Century Photo Workflow

I see that my photographic workflow is going to be moving to the cloud. I suspect it may be through Apple’s Photos app or maybe LightRoom, but one way or another, I doubt my images will live on my Mac any more than my music does. I can now stream thousands of HiRes albums via Amazon music anywhere and anytime. My photos are joining them there.

For years my iPhone has my most used camera because of convenience. With each new release of the hardware, the image quality improves, but that only makes me feel a bit better about using the phone to capture scenes from travel and family events. No, it’s the ability to capture images and immediately share them either via message or social media. I think of the images as living on the phone, but of course the truth is that they are on Apple servers and I’m just seeing previews on the phone. The problem I’ve had is that images from my cameras can’t get there easily.

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Exploring Photoshop for iPadOS

I’ve tried photo editing on the iPad a few times over the years, but never with great success. I have a well established workflow of ingesting RAW images in CaptureOne (which replaced Apple’s Aperture) followed by conversion to TIFF. Then post-processing general gets done in Photoshop, with assists from Nik programs. I generally just save the finished image back to CaptureOne plus export a jpeg for use on Instagram and Flickr.

For critical images I follow Vincent Versace’s guidance to use the camera manufacturer’s RAW conversion utility. This advice has only become more important as computational photography has become a ubiquitous part of digital imaging, not only in smartphones, but in cameras as well.

For the iPhone, my most used camera, RAW conversion is done on the phone itself. At this point, the latest digital cameras have conversion computers built in as well, so their jpeg output is pretty close to the conversion by the PC software. As sensor dynamic range has improved and exposure is being calculated right off the sensor, it’s occurred to me that the preview on the back of the camera is pretty close to an optimal conversion anyway.

I’ve long wanted a way to combine the iPhone and camera workflow to avoid the problem of an “Art” database on my Mac and a “Life” database in Photos. I’ve got travel and family images made with a camera that don’t get into the Photos database for digital sharing. Sometimes I remember to export JPEGs and import into Photos, but it’s not a regular part of the workflow.

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The Intimate Internet

It’s hard to convey how small the online world felt back in 1999 when this blog started. There had been online places like bulletin boards (BBS’s) which were text only discussion sites, America Online and then early web services like Gopher, all of which were quickly gone once HTTP and the World Wide Web rose and swept them all away. In those early days, discovery of sites and repositories was based on human networking, via links and pointers.

I remember so clearly the first time I tried out a new search service called “Google” which seemed magical in it’s ability to find anything that had been put up on the web. But as websites proliferated, there was still a vital part for people to play in finding and pointing to interesting content. Communities grew up as did index sites and link blogs which were hubs to consult to find new contributions to the online world.

Looking back through 20 years of internet history, it seems to me that our early social networks have grown into a huge industry of “Social Media”. We are fed streams by Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by algorithm instead of relying solely on human curated writing and links. The thoughtful writing hasn’t disappeared since thoughtful people haven’t disappeared. Sure the distraction is way greater and we’re beginning to learn how to regain control of our attention in a world online where we are all so connected. There are amazing improvements to the tools I have available to create content. I have publishing platforms available on computer, iPad and iPhone that address audiences large and small, public and private.. I have image making devices I can carry in my pocket and take photos in near darkness.

To what end? I guess the same purpose that propelled the creation of this personal journal 20 years ago. Learning how to decide. Deciding who I want to be in this particular moment.

Creative Outputs

50mm f1.8 Nikon Z7 Nik conversion

I’m starting to see a few blogs celebrating their 20th anniversary as ODB will be doing next month. At the end of 1999 the first user facing platforms started emerging and some of the early adopters are still plugging away at our little websites.

By far my most successful creative output over all of those years has been my photography. I’ve developed a voice I feel comfortable with and a set of subjects that continue to hold my interest as objects for image making. The technology of digital photography has improved enormously over these 20 years; even my ability to digitize TRI-X film is vastly better than what I had available when I started writing here at On Deciding . . . Better.

I’ve published a decent number of papers in scientific journals given my full time employment in drug development. These have been relatively intense, short term projects with my Hopkins collaborators.

Oddly the principle subject of the ODB project has been a major project for me over the years but led to very little written output here. Plenty of notebooks and text files, but the subject of only occasional posts here. It’s a personal investigation, reflected a bit here at this personal journal site. I continue to work on it though, spurred on a bit by this 20th anniversery.

The Narrative Paradox of Blogging

Blogging as reverse narrative

Blogging is a really hard way to tell a long story.

The presentation is in reverse order, the opposite of chronological.  The most recent event is presented first, so that the end of the story up until now occurs to the reader first.  Then next down the page is the previous post and so on . . . into the past. I think it’s interesting that this is how we percieve the story of our lives — with our most recent experience on top of the stack. Our most recent experiences are freshest in our memories. To go back further takes some effort.

But can blogs tell extended stories? Stories are not unprocessed records of moments, they are how we make sense of the sequence of events, putting time an causality into a rationale for how we got from then to now.

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The 50mm f/1.8 S on the Nikon Z7

This image was captured with my favorite Nikon Z7 lens so far, the 50mm f/1.8. Thom Hogan is out with his take on the lens, which backs up my subjective impression with data. It’s impressive considering what you need to pay for a Leica 50mm f/2. Now the Leica’s rendering qualities may go beyond it, but it’s diminishing returns and thousands of dollars. I agree with Thom that this is the best 50mm that Nikon has ever made and it alone justifies the Z7 for me as a companion to my Leica cameras. It may be that I end up shooting primes on the Z7 if the upcoming 20mm f1.8 is as good as the 35mm and 50mm that are available now.

By the way, at this point I find I need to use the Nikon RAW processor to get the best results out of the camera. For Leica, the Capture One converter is fine, but somethings going on with microcontrast that Nikon is pulling out of its files that Capture One and Adobe RAW can’t quite get yet.

The Nappuccino Productivity Boost

I was skeptical about Daniel Pink’s Nappuccino concept, but being the empiricist that I am, I had to give it a really try. So for the past week or so, at 2:30pm when my productivity usually comes to a halt with the mid-afternoon slump, I’ve started this practice. Continue reading “The Nappuccino Productivity Boost”

Perceptual Choices

Deciding Without Thinking

The original premise of this site is that it possible to actually make better decisions. That’s why I called it called “On Deciding . . . Better” to begin with. After all, we are the agents responsible for our actions, so who else is responsible for making better choices? I’ve written about the false promises made by Decision Theory which asserts that by making choices can be made more rational, the decisions can be more successful. The problem isn’t the mathematicl basis of Decision Theory, it’s the problem with implementing it when people actually need to make decisions in the real world. There are valuable habits and tools in the Decision Theory literature, but it’s clear to me that when our brains are engaged in rapidly making decisions, we generally are not aware of the decision process. If we’re not aware of the decisions, then those deliberative executive function mechanisms can’t be brought online as they are being made.

Perceptual Decision Making

This is the Kanizsa Triangle, created by the Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa in 1955. I like it as an example because it is so simple and yet so stable. The brain creates the contours of the second white triangle. When I first heard this kind of illusion being called a “perceptual choice”, I rejected the notion. After all, a choice is an act of will, of mental agency.

Yet calling this “a perceptual choice” makes a lot of sense from a brain mechanism point of view. A simple set of shapes and lines is projected on the retina and relayed back through the visual cortex and the surrounding cortical areas. That part of the brain makes an unshakable choice to interpret the center of the figure as containing a triangle. Similarly, seeing the face of my son, a different area of cortex decides who it is. Further, circuits are activated with all kinds of associated information, some brought up into consciousness, others not, but just ready to be used when needed.

Are We Responsible for Perceptual Choice?

If perceptual choice is like most other choices, like choosing a breakfast cereal or a spouse, it seems I’m advocating abandoning a lot of perceived responsibility for one’s own’s actions. It seems that we walk through the world mostly unaware of how perceptions are constructed and don’t have access to why we act the way we do. Actions are based on perceptions that were chosen without awareness in the first place. And it goes without saying that we have no responsibility for the perceptions and actions of everyone around us. Their brains, wired mostly in the same way as ours, chose how to perceive our words and our acts.

It seems to me that to make better decisions there have to be rather deep changes in those perceptual brain processes. Any decision tools have to become deeply embedded in how our brains work, any rules to guide how we perceive, choose or act lie as deep habits in those automatic functioning circuits of the brain. Some, like the the Kanizsa Triangle are in the very structure of the brain and can’t be changed. Others are strongly influenced by experience and deepened by practice.

On Finding Style

I’ve been enjoying A.B. Watson’s website and his strong points of view on photographic vision. This essay at the Leica Camera Blog puts it very strongly, emphasizing consistency in process, camera, lens and workflow. Watson’s work has a very strong style in what he chooses to present on the website and on Instagram.

It’s interesting that Watson works as a professional photographer doing product shots, fashion shots and who knows what else. He doesn’t really talk about it and the web is pretty clear of identifiable professional work. It’s the inverse of many professional photographers out promoting their commercial work with their identifiable style with some personal projects thrown in.

I’m fortunate to never have had to support myself with photography. It’s simply a creative outlet for me. I learned a long time ago to simply point my camera at anything that looked interesting visually. Over the years I’ve developed a habit of seeing pattern and structure in what I think of as “small landscapes”, like the curb and bag in the image here. My photography developed in tandem with my career in science which early on featured a lot of light microscopy. So I was shooting through the microscope to document my observations for publication and fortunate to have a darkroom at my disposal right through the advent of usable DSLRs.

My work as a photo-microscopist clearly pushed my style toward seeking sharpness in my subjects, valuing image quality very highly. I’ve learned to use out of focus areas in my images, but most of them demonstrate sharpness and detail that keeps them as a very real reflection of the visual reality that presented itself to the camera.

My Flickr Photostream dates back to 2005 and provides a visual history of my work. For a long time I was really taken by color, producing images that to my eye now look oversaturated and overcooked. It was sometime around 2010 that I returned to my monochrome image roots and became more cinematic in my choice of lighting and rendering. I know that Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz was published a bit before that, but I remember seeing it in the bookstore and thinking it looked crazy complicated. So it probably was around 2010 that I worked my way through the chapters one by one, followed by Oz to Kansas in 2012.

Many times over the years I’ve worried that this photographic vision was too limited. You can my little ventures into street photography and scenics on Flickr. I prove I can do it, but feel less affinity with the images. They’re me pretending to be those other photographers. The essence of personal vision is following that deep connection to the images as expression. I may not really have much to say, but the images are mine.