Making Lemonade…

I take lots of photographs. Digital cameras have made that easy to do, just hold the button down and as long as there’s memory and battery power… and for the wildlife, this works just fine. When the bird’s in flight or the fox is on the move burst shooting is often the only way to get a useful photo.

But I tend not to be quite so trigger-happy on a fixed object. And that can be a problem, especially if the fixed object wasn’t quite as permanent… as I thought.

photo-20070327-2007_imgp2282

Thus we have this, an adequate though not particularly appealing photo of St Elizabeth’s Chapel by the Sea, an 1885 Episcopal church in Ortley Beach NJ. Alas a hurricane named Sandy decided to sweep this church out to sea, so I can’t go back and get a better shot. But I might be able to make this one more dramatic.

I usually work in color – that’s the world as I see it, and I have no history of using black and white in film days (allergies kept me out of the darkroom). Thus I rarely consider the grayscale option, except in cases like this.

photo-20070327-2007_imgp2282-2

Now let’s just convert the photo over to grayscale, and pull down the luminance (brightness) channel on the blue sky… and now we get a sense of foreboding.

As observed by others, this photo is a bit “soft” – that’s mostly due to the lens used; the Pentax FA J 18-35mm “kit” lens. But at the time of this photo (March 2007) it was the wide-angle lens available.


Here’s another pairing of color to black-and-white… in color:

photo-20050420-imgp0990

The old church looks seriously forlorn in this April 2005 shot. Within a year it had been torn down.

And it’s a JPEG file. My first DSLR was the Pentax *istDS and I shot in JPEG for the first several months (this is image #990 on that camera, at about 2 months’ ownership). It’s not a bad shot, but now I would handle the task a bit differently.

Back we go to the grayscale, this time using Lightroom’s “green filter” preset as part of the conversion.

photo-20050420-imgp0990-2

I think it’s a bit more pleasing this way.

The building is the 1832 African Wesleyan church of Springtown, NJ – this Springtown being located near Greenwich in Cumberland County. I was in the area (along with Frank Greenagel) to photograph the Bethel Othello AME church, built 1838 and located about 200 yards west of this structure (shown below, April 2005).

photo-20050420-imgp1006

At the time we were not aware of any other church in the immediate area. However consulting the FW Beers “Atlas” map of Cumberland County, published in 1862, we find that there were three churches in the area – Bethel AME, the African Wesleyan, and an African Union church off to the north. I’ve highlighted Bethel in blue and the Wesleyan church in red on the map fragment below.

map-extract

 

It’s always nice to know for sure.

The only beverage used in creation of this post was coffee – estate Java, to be precise.

Organizing photos – geographically

Continuing the intermittent series on organization, today’s topic is geotagging.

As mentioned before, I tend to remember when and where I took a photo. Thus keeping a geographic record is an important part of my organizational strategy.

Ah, but how do we do this? In the days before asset managers such as Lightroom, I used notes, and tended to place said notes in the boxes with the photographs… or in text files in directories during the early digital era. With digital I often make it a point to snap a photo of a road intersection or sign (often both).

One of my cameras has support for automatic GPS tagging, and some of the time I use that (but not always since the GPS module sits in the hotshoe connector). But the other two cameras don’t support it at all.

If you have automatic systems available, use that – it’s far more accurate, and on the Pentax system you’ll even find out which direction the camera was facing. But if not, then it’s off to doing it manually… locating the position and tagging photos individually.

I’ve tried various add-on products which claim to help; several of which rely on smartphone GPS and timestamping and try to match the two up afterwards. But – this assumes the camera’s clock is truly accurate… and most aren’t really up to the task. Some of this is overkill on the part of a software designer (it’s idiotic to try to match diverse items down into the millisecond range without external synchronization), but some is also due to the differences in how various phones update position reports.

In Lightroom you can use the metadata filtering to quickly locate photos without coordinates; and the map subsystem allows you to save a handful of locations.

Pro tip: don’t let years pass by before geotagging. ‘Tis much more difficult to find locations when the roads have changed and the landmarks gone and buildings obliterated.


 

Getting Organized – photo edition!

Thus starts a series of posts on the topic of organizing photos.

There are lots of ways to organize photos, and I tend to use most of them. I use Adobe Lightroom as the principal asset manager. Lightroom is based on a catalog system. I have two principal catalogs, based on camera type – “Master” for the APS-C / scanned / Q photos, and “Phone” for the various cellphone photos. I also use a few special catalogs for book and calendar projects.

Back to the “Master” catalog. As of this writing (July 2016) there are about 20,000 items in the catalog… and how do I find anything in such a collection?

I organize this in several ways. The initial sort is done by date; with folders for each year, then each month in the year, and then by day within the month. Thus photos from today would land in “2016/2016-07-July/07-20-2016.” Note this is a physical organization (how the storage is laid out on disk).

Next up are the keywords, followed by geotagging. I tend to think in terms of time and location, thus I prioritize the geotagging ahead of keywording. Sometimes this leads to problems, especially if I didn’t take notes in the field (or a significant time has elapsed since shooting).

In addition to geotagging and keywords, there is the metadata recorded by the camera; ie. make/model of camera, lens type, and the usual exposure information. Also I use color coding in Lightroom – blue for items displayed on Facebook, green for items sent to SmugMug, yellow for special events, and purple for experimental stuff.

I’ll have separate posts on geotagging and keywords.

 

The Farm Journal Map

A persistent area of interest for me is cartography; the science of mapmaking. I have a substantial collection of maps (both printed and digital), including a few that I’ve made. However it’s historical maps which are often of the greatest interest, for those point out features which may be worth photographing (especially churches and railroad structures).

Rutgers University has an online resource for maps at the Rutgers Cartography Lab. One of the maps in the collection is a 1913 Farm Journal map of southern New Jersey.

1913 map south jersey from Rutgers
Clicking on map takes you to image source – which you can enlarge.

One quickly notices a proliferation of small red numbers labelling every road. What are these numbers?

To understand that, we have to think about the purpose of this map. It was published by the Farm Journal of Philadelphia, as a finder’s aid to go with their Directories. A directory was published for each county in the Farm Journal’s coverage region (which in 1913 comprised most of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland). For Gloucester County New Jersey, the corresponding directory is online in digital form at archive.org.

Once you see the directory, it becomes clear what the numbers are – they’re road numbers, similar to a modern [printed] map’s row-column index. In 1913 few roads outside of a town had names; and if they did, it was to name the endpoints (Williamstown-Glassboro Road) or a prominent feature (Alms House Road). Thus for a directory and map to be of any use, the publisher had to impose some form of organization.

To understand how this works in practice, an example is in order.

From the directory for Deptford Township, I’ve extracted this fragment, and highlighted one entry in yellow, two in light orange. In yellow, Chas Alley is a shoe cutter located near Almonesson on H19 (a road marked on the map). The orange highlights are for H33 near Blackwood.

farm-journal-deptford-hilite

Looking on the map, road 19 is quite visible as a segment just northeast of Almonesson; and road 33 is the stretch between Fairview and Blackwood.

farm-journal-map-hilite

The roads are numbered starting in the northwest corner of each township and ending in the southeast corner… or from upper-left to lower-right.

Curse of the photo walk…

A beautiful Saturday in October; business meeting over, what to do? Let’s go to Waterloo Village and see what’s open. Turns out this was one of the Canal Society’s “Heritage Days” – wherein the village is open and [partly] staffed… and crawling with photographers.

Apparently at least six different photo clubs decided this was the perfect day and Waterloo was the perfect place.

templink-6671
A bevy of photographers brave the Morris Canal.

I didn’t hear any splashes so apparently the boat didn’t capsize but it certainly was down a bit by the bow.

Among the various waves of photographers, this tableau unfolded:

family portrait photo
Family photo fun

Color me a bit doubtful on the use of the monoblock lamp at that sort of distance on a sunny day, but whatever. Everyone appeared happy and I’m sure it turned out well.

The surprise came a bit later. I was over behind the village church, photographing in the graveyard… I’d just taken the ‘test’ shot:

low angle photo of gravestones
Test shot for composition.

And from behind me, the ‘leader’ of a ‘photo walk’ proceeds to tell me (and his followers) that what I’m doing is a waste of pixels; the shot won’t come out at all. Ahem.

I thank him for his ‘advice’ and ask forbearance for the five-shot sequence to follow. I’m going to shoot multiple exposures which will later be integrated into a single high-dynamic-range photo… oh yes, here’s the result:

low angle gravestone photo
HDR low-angle; five shots composited together.

Guess it worked out after all.

The Church in a Barn

…and no, it’s not what you think.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, churches were important parts of a community, and thus were built of substantial materials, intended to last. As such, when a church was decommissioned, it was often sold – either to another congregation, or someone in the local community.

Juliustown NJ is a village, established 1731 when Julius Ewan took possession of land in the area, and established a weaver’s mill nearby. By 1824 the Methodists arrived, and built a church. In 1869 they replaced the original church with the one which serves today.

We set out to find the original church… Frank Greenagel, proprietor/publisher of the NJ Churchscape, had found various mentions in historical collections about the 1824 church being moved to a farm in the vicinity.

juliustown-church-2495
When we first arrived in Juliustown early in the morning, a passing patrolman stopped to see if we needed help. When told about the quest, he said “Oh yeah I think that’s Jim Haines’ barn – follow me and I’ll show you.”

juliustown-church-2512
Is this the church we seek? The dimensions are a bit… off… but maybe if you leave off that center part where the wood looks a bit different… Let’s see the interior.

juliustown-church-2497
Lath and plaster walls in a barn? Uh huh. This is a good sign that this is the church we seek. Let’s go back outside and look closer…

juliustown-church-2516
and there, under the chicken wire, is some beadwork. Nobody does this for a barn, but for a church in the 1820s it was a common low-cost ornamentation.

After an early-morning chat with the owner, and some more research… yep. This is the 1824 church.

On changing displays

One evening a few weeks ago I was busily working away on the computer and without any warning at all, there  was a sharp buzzing sound, a soft “pop” – and a blank display. I spent a good twenty seconds in the first portions of the “utility power is out let’s start shutting down the non-essentials” routine before it hit me: only the display had gone out.

As usual, the timing was impeccable. December 24th, the sales were over, ok, hook up the [garbage but it works] monitor from the server and start seeing what’s in stock where and for what price. Before long the choice is down to just a handful of items… and by 2:15 that afternoon the order is placed and the waiting game begins.


The display which died was a Dell 2407FPW – in service in July of 2006, so I got about 8 1/2 years out of it. In the summer of 2006 it was considered a high-end monitor; one of the few LCD displays with color accuracy comparable to the monster (27-inch Eizo) CRTs I’d been using. The Dell was a “pivot” monitor – which can operate in landscape (widescreen) or turn to portrait orientation (very useful for page layout work).

The video card on this box is a FirePro v5700 – nice mid-range workstation graphics, can output to DVI or Display Port with adapters for just about everything.

The choice boiled down to… Dell U2413 or Asus PA249Q.

Both are 24-inch 1920×1200 IPS 10-bit LED-lit displays. Prices are within a few dollars of each other. Reviews… the major sites are a draw; minor differences noted between the displays – mostly concentrated on preset “movie” modes – but the user reviews tell a different tale.


December 29 came and UPS brought the monitor right up to the door, and after getting it out of all the packing materials, and reading the calibration report, and re-routing the cables and getting the soundbar attached… it works!

And all is good, and now I’m running with a 30-bit color pipeline (with three programs only but this is for another post), calibrations are good, I can see clearly now…

I chose the Dell.