Monthly Archives: May 2009

10 Tips For People Photography

Written by Craig Ferguson Images

More often than not, it’s the people you meet that make travel truly memorable. It’s also the photographs of people that usually get the best reaction from family and friends when you return home. So without further ado – 10 tips for better people photography.

Bonus Intro Tip – Common to all genres of photography are three things. Correct exposure, correct white balance and sharp focus. Getting these right is essential. No amount of Photoshop trickery can replace these three basic points. Ensure you’re competent in these before you learn anything else.


1.Focus Points – One is better than many.

Modern digital cameras have a number of focus points that helps the autofocus lock on to the subject. For portrait photography, having a large number of points can be more a hindrance than a help. When using all the points, the camera will make a guesstimate based on the average of all the points. Sometimes this will work well, sometimes it won’t and you’ll be left with your subject out of focus and something in the background/foreground in focus. Not what you want. Instead, select one focus point only – usually done with a dial on the camera, check your manual for how to set it. The center point is the strongest, so use that one to lock your focus on what you want, not what the camera thinks you want.

2.Focus On The Eyes

I’ve mentioned this  before – the eyes are the most important part of a portrait. If they are sharp and in focus, the rest of the picture can be out of focus and it’ll still look good. Point the center focus point from 1. at the eyes, lock the focus and then recompose as necessary.

3. Shoot At Large Apertures

The aperture or f-stop is what controls the amount of light reaching the sensor. A large aperture is, sometimes confusingly, the smallest f-number. F2.8 is a larger f-stop than f16. It lets more light in, and has a shallower depth-of-field. When we set the aperture to its widest (eg f2.8), it’s known as shooting wide open. It gives a pleasing out-of-focus effect (bokeh) in the background away from the critical point, which results in pleasing portraits. The viewers’ eye is directed to the subject not the background.


4. Shoot At 70mm or Longer

At shorter focal lengths than 70mm, distortion starts to occur. It’s not really noticeable until you are below 50mm so you have a bit of leeway. If you shoot a frame-filling portrait with a wide-angle lens, your subject’s head is going to look strangely large due to the distortion. The classic portrait lengths are between 80mm and 135mm but anything from 70mm to 200mm will look good.

5. Shoot RAW

There’s really no point buying a DSLR or high-end digicam if you then go and do all your shooting in JPG. Shooting in RAW captures all the image data. Shooting in JPG means you are throwing away all but the basic data. If you make any kind of error while shooting, you can often still get usable images out of a RAW file. If you try and edit a JPG, you’ll just make things worse. If your white balance is off (or you want to creatively change it), you can with RAW. You can’t with JPG. A RAW file will be 12 or 14 bit. JPG is 8 bit. And so on.

6. Shoot In The Shade

The last place you want to be shooting is in direct sunlight. It’s harsh, it creates hard, directional shadows and it’s not at all flattering to your subject. Move into the shade and you’ll get smooth, even shadows and softer light.


7. Cloudy Days Are Your Best Friend

Professional studio photography spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on softboxes, umbrellas and other light modifiers in an effort to create soft, even light. Nature also provides soft light and best of all, it’s free. Cloudy, overcast days are the people photographers best friend. Cloud cover can help enrich the colors and create smooth, flattering shadows.

8. Learn Sunny 16

Sunny 16 is a rule of thumb for determining exposure. It’ll give you a baseline to work with. Sunny 16 simply says that on a sunny day, with your aperture value set to ƒ16, your shutter speed will be the inverse of the current ISO speed. For example, if your camera is set to ISO 100, and your aperture value is ƒ16, your shutter speed will be 1/100th of a second. On a cloudy day (or when in the shade) you simply use ƒ8 instead.

9. Watch Your Background

Pay attention to what’s going on around the edges of the frame. The last thing you want is trees or power poles appearing to grow out of your subjects head, or power lines coming from their ears. The internet is full of funny picture websites that show people in the background making funny faces, mooning or giving the finger behind the subject. Don’t let your photo turn into something like that.

10. Never, Ever Use On-Camera Flash

Probably the worst possible thing you can do when taking a photo of a person (or anything for that matter) is to use on-camera flash. This can not be repeated enough. National Geographic photographer Joe McNally says it best, “Straight flash is disaster light. Use it at 3:00am, with bodies on the highway and nothing to bounce off”. It is the most unflattering light – you are literally throwing light at the subject and instead of making a photograph, you’re making a copy. Doing something as simple as holding the flash at arms length in your left hand while holding the camera in your right hand can make all the difference.


So there we have it. Ten simple tips for improving your people shots while you are traveling. Get out there and give these tips a go and you’ll see a marked improvement in your pictures in no time at all. Happy shooting.

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Mark Twain Motivational Posters

Colllected by rtcrooks

As one of the most influential American authors of all time, Mark Twain wrote about slavery and other controversial topics. However, he was never short on providing humor and insight in tandem, passing down to future generations a wealth of quips and witty one-liners in addition to his breadth of literary work. Please peruse, absorb, and be motivated.

5 Scientific Reasons Mom Deserves Mother’s Day

Writtten by Robert Roy Britt

If you haven’t yet planned the brunch or picked out the flowers or at least mailed the card, then consider what follows the only motivation you should need. In short, mothers have it tough.

Changes in American culture have liberated women in many ways. Mom is now free to do all the chores moms have been doing for generations – such as wiping snot off kids’ noses, cleaning the house and handling all the family’s finances and social plans – and now she can work a day job or feel guilty for not having one, too.

Mom deals with all this, studies show, with less help and as much pain and stress as ever. Consider:

5. Mom Feels More Pain

Any man worth his salt realizes Mom deserves a lifetime of foot rubs for one simple reason: childbirth. She made you. And yeah, it hurt like hell. But that’s not all. Women suffer more pain than men across the board, studies find.

And it’s not just “that time of the month” pain. We’re talking about a lifetime of suffering.

A study out last week found that among people over 65, women suffer 2.5 times more disabilities than men of the same age. Among the most common chronic conditions: painful arthritis.

Even sex, which gloriously led to your conception and which ought to be the ultimate respite, can be painful for women. About 15 percent of women experience recurring genital pain during intercourse. Almost no men do.

4. Mom Gets No Help

In the old days, mothers had tremendous help raising kids and keeping house. It was, literally, a family affair, with grandparents and children working daily, willingly or otherwise, to take the load off women burdened with small children.

Today’s mom has a lot less help with childrearing and housecleaning, a study in 2006 found. Sure, fathers are pitching in, but you know how that goes. “Honey, the game’s on. I’ll finish the vacuuming tomorrow.”

In 1880, 24 percent of mothers lived with a female age 10 or older who didn’t go to school and didn’t work outside the house. By 2000, that number was 5 percent.

3. You Are Mostly Your Mother’s Child

Yeah, sure, your genes are half from Mom, half from Dad. But for some reason, scientists recently learned, Mom’s genes have a greater effect on what you become.

One stark example: While you were in the uterus, if your mother had a very stressful experience, you’ll be at greater risk for anxiety disorders. And a new study on rats, out last month, indicates that your mother’s diet during pregnancy affected your genes.

More surprising, studies are showing that what your mother ate when she was a child, the toxins she was exposed to, and other experiences before and during pregnancy affect how the genes she passes on to you actually get expressed in your body.

Another study, reported this year in the journal Child Development, shows a profound impact of nurturing by mothers in the early years, too. A child who has a strong relationship with Mom during preschool years tends to form closer friendships in grade school, the research revealed.

2. You, Child, Are Depressing

Raising kids never ends. And no matter how hard you try to be a good kid, the challenge – and the heartache and frustration that comes with it – sticks with Mom forever.

A new study finds 94 percent of adult children and their parents report some level of tension in the relationship. But it’s the parents who feel the most strain, particularly about the finances and housekeeping prowess of their grown children.

Yes, Mom and Dad both stress out to raise their children. Parents have significantly higher levels of depression child-free adults, and the problem gets worse when the kids move out, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

1. Mom Needs a Break

To be fair, Dad takes a beating, too. But the evidence is clear: Mom has it worse. Whether you agree with that or not, here’s the No. 1 reason you should do something nice for your mother on Sunday: She’s crying out for a break.

Women have less free time and feel more rushed than men, studies have found. A study out just this week found U.S. men report 40 minutes more leisure time every day than women (in Italy, it’s an 80-minute spread).

A startling study in 2005 found nearly 20 percent of working women take a vacation only once every 6 years, and nearly a quarter get one only once every two to five years.

In response, twice as many working women as men said in 2007 that they wanted to cut back on work hours, even if it means a pay cut.

Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.

Windows 7 RC1: 10 Things You Need to Know

Written by matt buchanan

Windows 7‘s about ready to come out of the oven, and now everybody can shove their hands in the warm OS pie. And really, you should. Here’s everything you need to know to dive in.

1. Where Do I Get It?
Right here! If you’re at work, don’t worry, you have until July to download it. From there, you’ll need to burn the disc image to a DVD or copy it to a flash drive. From there, you can follow our guide to installing Windows 7 pain-free (or Lifehacker’s, though I hear they smell like nerd feet). There’s a guide for doing it on a Mac too.

2. Will It Run on My Computer?

Probably. It’s run fantastically on netbooks for us, if that tells you anything. But here are the hard minimum specs:

• 1 GHz processor (32- or 64-bit)
• 1 GB of RAM (32-bit); 2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
• 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit); 20 GB of available disk space (64-bit)
• DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

3. Wait, Can I Upgrade My Current Windows Install?
If you’re running Windows Vista, you sure can-it’s designed to be easy to go from Vista to Windows 7, actually. It’s a little more complicated with other types of Windows. You can upgrade your Windows 7 Beta install if you’ve got one, but it’s not recommended, and takes a bit of skunkwork. You’re out of luck with XP and any other older version of Windows, which is how it’s gonna be with the retail version of Windows 7 too-though Microsoft has some tools to make it less painful, or you could take the long way around, just to say you did it.

4. Is It Safe?
It’s very safe. Unlike Google, Microsoft seems to be using product cycle terms in their traditional sense, so the designation “release candidate” means it’s a version that’s got the potential to go final-as long as nothing majorly FUBAR is discovered-with just a few little bugs left for squishing. Besides, the Windows 7 Beta was pretty damn solid to begin with. And if you follow one of our guides to dual-booting it, then you’ve really got nothing to worry about.

All of your hardware should work just fine, especially if it worked alright on Vista, since we’re talking mostly the same OS guts here, and Microsoft bent over backward to make stuff backward compatible with Vista. It’s possible you’ll need to grab drivers for your hardware or gadget straight from the manufacturer-or in the case of graphics cards from Nvidia or ATI, you’ll want to for the best possible performance-but you should be able to just plug and play.

Still, back your stuff up! That’s just common sense.

5. How Long Can I Keep It?

Depends on what you mean by that! It goes completely poof on June 1, 2010. But on March 1, it becomes basically unusable-it starts automatically shutting down every two hours like a dbag.

6. How Is RC1 Better Than the Beta?
Lots of stuff, actually. Just for starters, Aero Peek is better, and works with Alt+Tab now when you’re flipping through programs. Windows Key shortcuts are more logical, so pressing Windows Key + [number key] switches between apps pinned to the taskbar, rather than just launching ’em. And things just feel smoother-more fade transition effects sprinkled throughout, for instance, and there seems to be a bit more snap to everything, like a carrot. If you like carrots.

7. What’s This I Hear About XP Mode?

It’s true, Windows 7’s secret new feature is XP Mode. It’s a virtual Windows XP machine-complete with a fully licensed copy of Windows XP SP 3 installed on the virtual machine-that you can download which runs seamlessly in Windows 7, so you can do crazy things like run IE6 side-by-side with IE8. It’s meant for businesses who need compatibility for mission critical XP-only apps.

Really, don’t get too hung up on it-it’s only for the Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions of Windows 7, not the Home Premium version you’ll probably be running one day. (The release candidate is Ultimate, so you can toy around with it after downloading it here.) You also need a processor with either Intel Virtualization Technology or AMD-V and 2GB of RAM. And you can’t really do anything intense like gaming inside of it. Oh, and fair warning, it’s also probably one of the release candidate’s glitchiest features. Image via Wikipedia.

8. Holy Crap, Microsoft Is Tripping on Acid!


9. What’s Still Glitchy?
Uh, the aforementioned Windows XP Mode, for one. Some of our Steam games are still acting a little bit weird, notably with audio. Coming out of sleep can be wonky for OpenGL with UAC turned on. Occasional taskbar weirdness if you play around with the positioning. But all in all, fairly minor stuff, so far.

10. Why Should I Go Through All This Trouble?
Simply put, Windows 7 has been awesome. Whatever bad things you felt toward Vista-hate, fear, rage, apathy, bi-curiosity-Windows 7 probably solves your issue. The UI’s evolved more than it has in years, you don’t need to download a bunch of stupid codecs, it makes plugging in gadgets kind of fun, it’s more secure and generally, life’s just a lot better for anyone on a PC. While Microsoft says a pre-release shouldn’t be your main OS, we’re pretty sure it will be, almost instantly.

Why text messages are limited to 160 characters

Written by latimesblogs

Alone in a room in his home in Bonn, Germany, Friedhelm Hillebrand sat at his typewriter, tapping out random sentences and questions on a sheet of paper.

As he went along, Hillebrand counted the number of letters, numbers, punctuation marks and spaces on the page. Each blurb ran on for a line or two and nearly always clocked in under 160 characters.

That became Hillebrand’s magic number — and set the standard for one of today’s most popular forms of digital communication: text messaging.

“This is perfectly sufficient,” he recalled thinking during that epiphany of 1985, when he was 45 years old. “Perfectly sufficient.”

The communications researcher and a dozen others had been laying out the plans to standardize a technology that would allow cellphones to transmit and display text messages. Because of tight bandwidth constraints of the wireless networks at the time — which were mostly used for car phones — each message would have to be as short as possible.

Before his typewriter experiment, Hillebrand had an argument with a friend about whether 160 characters provided enough space to communicate most thoughts. “My friend said this was impossible for the mass market,” Hillebrand said. “I was more optimistic.”

His optimism was clearly on the mark. Text messaging has become the prevalent form of mobile communication worldwide. Americans are sending more text messages than making calls on their cellphones, according to a Nielsen Mobile report released last year.

U.S. mobile users sent an average of 357 texts per month in the second quarter of 2008 versus an average of 204 calls, the report said.

Texting has been a boon for telecoms. Giants Verizon Wireless and AT&T each charge 20 to 25 cents a message, or $20 for unlimited texts. Verizon has 86 million subscribers, while AT&T’s wireless service has 78.2 million.

And Twitter, the fastest growing online social network, which is being adopted practically en masse by politicians, celebrities …

… and news outlets, has its very DNA in text messaging. To avoid the need for splitting cellular text messages into multiple parts, the creators of Twitter capped the length of a tweet at 140 characters, keeping the extra 20 for the user’s unique address.

Back in 1985, of course, the guys who invented Twitter were probably still playing with Matchbox cars.

Hillebrand found new confidence after his rather unscientific investigations. As chairman of the nonvoice services committee within the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), a group that sets standards for the majority of the global mobile market, he pushed forward the group’s plans in 1986. All cellular carriers and mobile phones, they decreed, must support the short messaging service (SMS).

Looking for a data pipeline that would fit these micro messages, Hillebrand came up with the idea to harness a secondary radio channel that already existed on mobile networks.

This smaller data lane had been used only to alert a cellphone about reception strength and to supply it with bits of information regarding incoming calls. Voice communication itself had taken place via a separate signal.

“We were looking to a cheap implementation,” Hillebrand said on the phone from Bonn. “Most of the time, nothing happens on this control link. So, it was free capacity on the system.”

Initially, Hillebrand’s team could fit only 128 characters into that space, but that didn’t seem like nearly enough. With a little tweaking and a decision to cut down the set of possible letters, numbers and symbols that the system could represent, they squeezed out room for another 32 characters.

Still, his committee wondered, would the 160-character maximum be enough space to prove a useful form of communication? Having zero market research, they based their initial assumptions on two “convincing arguments,” Hillebrand said.

For one, they found that postcards often contained fewer than 150 characters.

Second, they analyzed a set of messages sent through Telex, a then-prevalent telegraphy network for business professionals. Despite not having a technical limitation, Hillebrand said, Telex transmissions were usually about the same length as postcards.

Just look at your average e-mail today, he noted. Many can be summed up in the subject line, and the rest often contains just a line or two of text asking for a favor or updating about a particular project.

But length wasn’t SMS’s only limitation. “The input was cumbersome,” Hillebrand said. With multiple letters being assigned to each number button on the keypad, finding a single correct letter could take three or four taps. Typing out a sentence or two was a painstaking task.

Later, software such as T9, which predicts words based on the first few letters typed by the user, QWERTY keyboards such as the BlackBerry’s and touchscreen keyboards including the iPhone’s made the process more palatable.

But even with these inconveniences, text messaging took off. Fast. Hillebrand never imagined how quickly and universally the technology would be adopted. What was originally devised as a portable paging system for craftsmen using their cars as a mobile office is now the preferred form of on-the-go communication for cellphone users of all ages.

“Nobody had foreseen how fast and quickly the young people would use this,” Hillebrand said. He’s still fascinated by stories of young couples breaking up via text message.

When he tells the story of his 160-character breakthrough, Hillebrand says, people assume he’s rich. But he’s not.

There are no text message royalties. He doesn’t receive a couple of pennies each time someone sends a text, like songwriters do for radio airplay. Though “that would be nice,” Hillebrand said.

Now Hillebrand lives in Bonn, managing Hillebrand & Partners, a technology patent consulting firm. He has written a book about the creation of GSM, a $255 hardcover tome.

Following an early retirement that didn’t take, Hillebrand is pondering his next project. Multimedia messaging could benefit from regulation, he said. With so many different cellphones taking photos, videos and audio in a variety of formats, you can never be sure whether your friend’s phone will be able to display it.

But he’s hoping to make a respectable salary for the work this time.

— Mark Milian

7 Totally Unique Flickr Search Tools

Written by Ben Parr

Flickr Search ImageSometimes it’s simply overwhelming how many gorgeous photos there are on FlickrFlickr reviews – sifting through them to find a picture to use on your blog or to just admire can be a chore. Luckily for us however, Flickr has an API, meaning that some creative developers have built alternative Flickr search engines.

Whether you’re just looking for a more feature-rich version of Flickr search or want to perform search in a completely different way, these seven Flickr search tools will serve you in finding that perfect photo.

Do you have a favorite Flickr search tool? Be sure to share it with us in the comments.

1. Compfight

Compfight Image

Compfight is a visual Flickr search tool that displays searched photos based on tags or text. Beyond showing you pictures that match your search, the other cool thing about compfight is that it makes it dead simple to search for creative commons pictures that you can use for your blog. It’s a simple and fast-loading interface for Flickr searches.

2. Flickr Color Selector

Compfight Image

Are you looking for cool pictures, but you really need them to match your website’s color scheme? Flickr Color Selectr searches through images on the popular photos site by differentiating by color. Just pick your color on the RGB chart.

Note: this search engine is partially in Japanese, but it doesn’t impede you from using this particular tool.

3. FlickrBabel

FlickrBabel Image

FlickrBabel is a mash-up of Flickr search and Google Translate. If you find a cool image but can’t understand the underlying text, FlickrBabel uses GoogleGoogle reviews translate to interpret the message. It also supports location-based searches. Heck, FlickrBabel even has its own Twitter account

4. FlickrStorm

FlickrStorm Image

The Flickr search engine is smart, but it isn’t perfect when you’re looking for photos related to a topic? FlickrStorm comes to the rescue. FlickrStorm pides search into multiple columns and suggests search refinements with additional related keywords.

5. Picishare

PiciShare Image

If you’re just looking for a straight-up alternative to Flickr search, then PiciShare may be one to look at. It has all of the meat – tag search, relevance, whether it’s “interesting”, and more. It also allows you to limit the number of photos that appear if you’re on a slow web connection.

6. Flickrriver

Flickrriver Image

Flickrriver is a search tool that focuses on recent and interesting pictures – specifically ones uploaded in the last day or two.

7. Tag Galaxy

Tag Galaxy

I can’t even explain to you how “out there” Tag Galaxy is as a Flickr search engine. It represents Flickr tags as the solar system. The keyword you use is the sun, related keywords are planets, clicking on any shows you a planet full of pictures. It is, by far, the most dynamic way to search Flickr.