One Less Reason to go to the United Kingdom

Size Comparison Asus EEE PC vs Acer Aspire One vs Acer 15" laptop
Laptops might be seized at the UK border

Orgzine has an article complaining that in the UK when crossing the border you don’t get the same protections as you do within the borders. This does not surprise me since we have the same issue over here and we tend to have more robust civil liberties than our cousins across the pond. (Hence why libel suits are so often filed in England – their definition of libel is slanted in favor of the company or star while ours is the other way around) Basically, if you’re going to England you better take a burner phone and burner laptop because:

How would you feel if the police stopped you on a whim, took your phone, your laptop, your digital camera, your MP3 player, your USB sticks and your memory cards then copied everything on them?

How would you feel if they told you they were going to keep all your photographs, your documents, your address book, your financial data, your browsing history, your emails, your chat logs, your electronic diary, your music and recordings and anything else they liked for at least six years – indeed maybe they’d keep them until you reached the age of a hundred in case they might prove useful one day?

How would you feel if they then demanded all of your passwords and threatened you with years in jail if you refused to hand them over?

There are two things I have problems with. First of all, keeping the information indefinitely. While there are certain to be some exceptions, it’s highly unlikely that what I have on my laptop now would have any relevance to a crime I might commit two decades in the future. Sure, there might be stuff in there that could be used to discredit me – “OOH, he read comics!” But most people, even terrorists aren’t playing that long of a game. So there isn’t really any legitimate reason to keep it and there are many reasons for them not to do so.

The retention of data for as long as the state feels it might be useful, should alarm everyone. Everyone should have something to hide. Just because we live in a nominally democratic society right now doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Russia, ironically the first country to decriminalise homosexuality, is fast criminalising it again. Right now you would have good reason to feel worried if the Russian state was holding copies of your mobile telephone and computer data if that included evidence of your sexuality.

Exactly! What’s innocent now might not be innocent later. What might seem innocent now (having Harry Potter novels, for example) might get you killed in the future (if those people who think Harry Potter promotes witchcraft take power).

The second problem I have is with the requirement to give them my password. I’m better than the average person about not reusing passwords because I follow the tech world so closely and know about the dangers of password reuse. Even so, I am sure I have at least one password that repeats on more than one site. Although I have a problem with people being swept up without cause, I would have a lot less problem with unlocking my computer for them than giving them my password. Because if they’re going to violate the principle of innocence if not being investigated for a crime, I’d rather limit the damage by not giving them a password that could end up putting my finances at risk.

I guess it would also be a good idea to clear the browser history and cache before heading to the United Kingdom to ensure that what I thought was some innocent browsing doesn’t end up getting me in trouble.

Blog Review: Jeffrey Friedl’s Blog

Jeffrey Friedl and I share a few similarities: we both are computer programmers, love photography, and enjoy blogging. Unlike me, however, Jeff is an expat living in Japan. Also unlike me, he has a great photo blog. Jeff documents his travels throughout the islands of Japan as well as his daily life in his blog.  Ocassionally, he also blogs about technical issues or new tech toys he bought or new Adobe Lightroom Plugins he has developed.

Jeff begins nearly every post with a photo that captures the essence of his topic. Just as important as choosing a captivating starting sentence for a text essay, this first photo in the photo essay sets the mood for the following photos and text. Depending upon the subjet matter, Friedl sometimes has more prose than photography or the opposite.  Sometimes the posts are long and you could imagine them taking up a few pages in Time Magazine. Other times they’re just the tiniest snippet to let you know what’s going with his life. No matter how long it is, I’m always left longing for more.

As Jeff explained in his post about writing the blog, he often spends hours on a post including doing some research on the area. This effort is not in vain as it truly comes out in the quality of the writing. You often end up learning a lot of little details about the areas Jeff is visiting.  Jeff’s writing style is extremely accessible. It’s about halfway between a casual blog post and an officially written travel book. There’s also a documentary feel to the blog – as if you’re reading a documentary put together by PBS or the BBC about an American living in Japan. (Like a really classy reality TV show (do those exist?)) As you read more and more, you start to feel as though you know Jeff and his family and would be comfortable inviting them over for dinner.

What attracted me to Jeff’s blog in the first place was a bit of research I was doing on geo-tagging my photos. (You can see the results of my first geo-tagging outing here) Jeff geo-tags nearly every photo he places on the site. This is one of the great ways that technology is changing the way things are done. In the distant past you might read a travelogue by some famous photographer in a book. Closer in the past you might read someone’s blog with pictures. Both give you a sense of traveling together with the author, but with geo-tagging you truly get a sense of where the author is in space. It was one thing, for example, for Jeff to say in this post that he was just off the coast of Taiwan. It’s another thing to see this map of where he took the photo and then zoom out and see just how close Taiwan was (294 km!) – AND just how far the main islands of Japan were!

So, should you read Jeff’s blog and add it to your RSS aggregator? Just ask yourself these simple questions – 1) Does Japan and Japanese culture interest you? 2) Do you like travel books/travel blogs? 3) Do you enjoy great photography?  If you answered ‘yes’ to those questions, definitely check out Jeff’s blog. Personally, I think with just a tiny bit of cleanup for the change of format, Jeff could republish the blog in book form and probably do well via word of mouth. So go read it for free and enjoy it!

B&H Evenspace Presentation: Travel Photography

B & H Event Space
B&H Event Space - Where B&H holds classes on various topics
Ray Getting Ready to Speak
Rudy Winston of Canon

So the first B&H Event Space lecture I ever went to was earlier this April in a class about Travel Photography taught by Rudy Winston, an employee of Canon.  His lecture was about taking a vacation specifically to get certain photos.  In other words this was not about improving your photography while on vacation with the rest of the family.  However, I found that a lot of the tips worked equally well for either kind of trip.  Another key part of his lecture was taking pictures with the intention of loading them into a slideshow program as a means of sharing it with others.  Before beginning the lecture, Rudy showed his slideshow and here’s what I picked up from that.

  • One subject that can make a compelling photo is a set of trolley tracks running along a street.
  • Take photos to document the transportation you took – buses, taxis, subways, etc
  • you may want to take pictures of tourists to show you weren’t the only one there
  • take pictures of your tickets to get on trains or to go to certain events
Ray Winston talking about Canon Tech
Rudy begins the talk

In the talk itself, Rudy mentioned that the most important thing is to start by thinking about what you like to photograph.  In other words, do you like to photograph wildlife, nature, or buildings?  This can make a huge difference in where you decide to go.  For example, Prague, where Rudy went, has a lot of statues and buildings to photograph.  If you hate architectural photographs, you might be bored there.  Likewise, you wouldn’t want to waste the money going to the African Savannah if you hate wildlife photography.  It’s also important to decide if this is going to only be a photographic trip or if you will partake in any tourist-y stuff.  For Rudy, this was a purely photographic trip so if any location didn’t allow photography, he skipped it.  You might find it hard to skip a certain museum just because they don’t allow photography, but then you are taking away time from being able to shoot.  Finally, you need to know your goals.  What do you want to see or capture?

Winston's Cameras Taken to Prague
A selection of Canon's Enthusiast and Pro Cameras, perfect for such a trip.
Canon L Lenses
Some of Canon's world-renowned L series lenses

Next Rudy spoke about what equipment to take on such a trip.  First of all, he said that almost anything is OK.  Then he mentioned what he took.  Camera-wise Rudy took the Canon 1D Mark III and the Canon 5D.  The 1D is a camera with a sensor larger than the Canon Rebel (or XXXD) series, but smaller than full frame.  Canon calls it APS-H and it’s a 1.3x crop factor on the lens.  He got a bit ambitious and for lenses took the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS, 16-35mm f2.8L II, 14mm f2.8L, 50mm f2.5 macro, and the 135mm f2.0.  But this turned out to be impractical due to weight.  He ended up putting the 100-400mm on the 1D and the 16-35mm on the 5D.  The rest of the lenses stayed in the hotel for most of the trip.  So the first lesson is to be mindful of how much your equipment will weigh and how practical it is to lug around.  In order to maximize his ability to take photos and not waste time (and lose opportunities) changing lenses, he went around with both cameras so he could switch as appropriate.  Rudy recommended the 70-300mm f4-5/6 IS as a good lens that doesn’t cost too much if you only have one camera and want a good range of focal lengths.

Continuing on the equipment front, Rudy moved on to talk about tripods.  His advice was to only bring it if you need it for the shots you like to take.  So if you are shooting lots of late night shots or macros bring it.  If you are mostly shooting landscapes, bring it.  Otherwise, like the extra lenses, it will probably end up spending a lot of time in the hotel room.  He also mentioned that photographers tend to get hassled a lot more if they have a tripod.  Rudy also recommended bringing a flash gun.  Finally, check your equipment and make sure everything is in working order because you lug it overseas.

Testing the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L lens
Some of the fellow photographers learning from Rudy Winston

What about memory cards?  Winston says it’s down to personal preference.  You have to balance having everything on one card that can be lost or become corrupted vs having to constantly change cards.  Also, you may want to bring a laptop or other such device to backup your memory cards or even to clear them.  And if you are clearing your memory cards onto a laptop, do you bring an extra hard drive in case your laptop hard drive crashes.  Ultimately the amount of risk you take is up to you.  How much can you expect to shoot?  Rudy shot 450 frames per day for a total of 35 GB!

Lowepro Bag and Umbrella
A photo of my small camera bag with the Canon 10-22mm L

Rudy then went on to speak about shooting for a slide show.  You may want to pick one subject and then photograph from different views, angles, and with different lenses. You can also show time by showing a sequence of photos shot only a second apart. Photographing the same subject at different times of day can also be quite effective when shown one after another. Pairs of images unrelated in time and space may also go well together in a slideshow. When editing your photos, loook for variety, not simply the very best photos. Also think of categories and themes and categories from the trip. You will arrange the photos into sections based on these categories. Rudy also mentioned with a slideshow, one may wish to record ambient sound to add in. This is something most photographers don’t think about. It can be done relatively cheaply with a field recorder. I only wrote down the name of the Windows software he recommended for making slideshows since I don’t have a Mac. Rudy recommended the Photodex Pro Show Gold. The program even allows you to make DVDs so you can share your slideshows away from your computer. In order to keep the images manageable for the slideshows software, you should resize your images to a height of 1080 (HD).

Constantine - My Legacy
I was inspired to take this photograph based on a postcard.

Rudy then moved into the subject of travel planning, again mentioning the importance of determining your personal goals. Learn about the area and decide what you want to photograph. Thing about which subjects and locations will be photogenic. Previsualizing your shots can be a very important and effective technique. This way you have an idea of the subject you want to capture and the end result. Otherwise you may find yourself just staring at the subject trying to decide what kinds of shots you want. This will waste your precious time. Rudy recommended the Lonely Planet books for background information and the DK Eyewitness travel books for photo inspirations and ideas. You should also use the internet to gain lots of information about the place you’re going to. Google Earth can help with logistics planning. He mentioned that many people often don’t realize how far things are so Google Earth can help you see if the subjects you want to photograph are on opposite ends of teh city. You can also see some geotagged images on Google Earth. It can also be helpful to check stock photo agencies to get some inspiration on the types of photos others take of your subjects. My photo of Constantine is one of my favorite photos from my trip to England and I took the photo on a challenge from my wife to match a postcard photo on sale in a nearby shop.

Some other travel tips Rudy mentioned included using the internet to find driving and train information as well as any problems with getting in and out of the area. Rudy recommended using public transportation as much as possible. Also consider time of day when planning your trip. As most photographers know/learn, the best light is in the morning and evening. So plan your indoors photography for the middle of the day. Also, try and wake up early as it may help you get some photos of some heavy tourist areas without all of the tourists. Study maps as much as possible. Consider only photographing two general areas per day. Allow time to simply walk the streets without your gear. Also, allow one day to decompress and just relax in the hotel. Finally, get into shape before you leave – may take a month or so.

Rudy then moved on to packing. With respect to clothing and jewelry be sensible. You don’t want to attract attention to yourself – especially since you’ll probably be preocupied trying to get a good shot. Don’t take more photographic gear than you can handle. Decide whether you will bring a laptop or not.

Finally, Rudy spoke about security. His first tip was to not obsess about it. Just look out and be aware. Work with the hotel staff and tip your housekeepers. If you treat them well, they will treat you well.

Rudy’s presentation was great. If you can get to New York, make sure you see it – I wasn’t able to capture everything he spoke about there. Also, he took questions during the lecture and I didn’t take notes on any of those. He routinely gives talks at B&H and I’ll definitely go to another one in the future.
Big Events that are sure to make You Smarter

Airlines Getting Desperate for Cash?

On a recent business flight I took, I noticed that my tray table had become an advertisement for cough drops

Advertising on Airplanes:  Taking Advantage of a Captive Audience?

Also, a plane ticket, which I, regrettably, did not photograph, had an advertisement for Papa Johns Pizza. Has it come to this? Are the airlines so desperate for cash that they have resorted to selling ad space on their tray tables and tickets. Flying used to be a refined affair that people got dressed up for. Now we have the same airlines that charged us so much money without giving us any food to eat, advertising on the tray tables.

I think if they were clever they’d be advertising food since that’ll make you hungry and more likely to buy that crappy food they’re peddling now that you don’t even get a snack on most domestic flights. I’ve even heard that one airline is allowing food companies to offer product samples. Again, brilliant, if slightly disturbing. After all, you’re hungry and you can’t do anywhere. Why not try this free sample of product X.

I think our lives are become more and more bombarded by advertisements, both stealth and blatant. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes and industry-wide standard.