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Photographic Techniques: Forced Perspective

Photographic Techniques: Forced Perspective

Anyone who’s been photographing for a while will already know this trick from the photographer’s grab-bag of tricks. Some of the rest of you might know what it is, if not the proper name, from gag photos taken on vacation. For the rest of us, the term “forced perspective” didn’t enter our lexicons until after Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring movies were out and we were left wondering how he managed to make the actors playing the dwarves and the hobbits appear to be so much shorter than the actors playing the humans and the elves.

Forced perspective is the trick of using the fact that the human eyeball is not all that great at judging size and distance without clear references. Knowing how to properly manipulate this bug in our eyesight is what makes the successful use of forced perspective trick people into believing that the actors playing the hobbits are so much shorter than the actors playing the humans and elves.

The way that forced perspective is used is to set the stage for the image in such a way that the viewer has no way to judge just how far away the objects or people are from each other. For instance, in this picture of the leaning tower in Pisa, the perspective makes it look as if the man is holding up the tower. We have no clear visual cues as to where he is standing in relation to the tower. His hand is off to the side with no visible gap between it and the tower to our view. Thus, even though we know that the tower is much, much larger than the man and that it is physically impossible for him to 1) be tall enough to be taller than the tower, 2) hold the tower up at all, our eyes are tricked into seeing a man holding up the leaning tower of Pisa.

Peter Jackson expanded on that trick in Lord of the Ring and hit upon a way to allow the camera to pan or move without disrupting the illusion that allows the forced perspective trick to work. How exactly Jackson did this will be covered in a future entry. For now, we’d love to hear how you’ve used this trick in your photography. Share your photos on Facebook with us or drop us a line in the comments below!

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday once again. That means it’s time to recap the biggest news stories from this past week in photography for those of you who aren’t following us on Twitter. This week has been a good one for photographers and especially photojournalists around the world. However, this weekend might not be such a great one for people in the eastern part of the United States with a winter storm projected to hit. Keep an eye on FedEx’s site in case deliveries are delayed due to inclement weather. And, remember, just because it’s clear where you’re living doesn’t mean it’s clear at your region’s hub.

Now, without further ado, let’s get on to the wrap-up, shall we?


That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again on Monday!

– da Bird


Historical Photographers: Ai Weiwei

Historical Photographers: Ai Weiwei

In the past our focus on photographers have been big names from the past. Today’s entry focuses on a contemporary photographer, the Chinese photographer Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is not only a photographer, he is a political activist who has been highly critical of the Chinese government and has dedicated much of his coverage to things the government would prefer be left unmentioned. In October 2011, ArtReview named him in their annual Power 100 list.

Weiwei began his photography career as a student at the Beijing Film Academy in 1978. That same year he founded the avant garde art group “Stars” with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng and Qu Leilei. Though the group disbanded in 1983, he has continued to provide follow-up coverage with The Stars: Ten Years in 1989 and 2007: Origin Point. In the early 1980s, he lived in New York and attended Parsons School of Design and at the Art Students League of New York. His art focused mostly on modifying ready-made objects. His works are heavily influenced by the avant garde school and have been featured in many galleries and exhibitions around the world. His preferred method is to take common, everyday objects and arrange them in fanciful ways to create a work of art from the mundane. For example, his exhibit Ai Weiwei: According to What? which condemned the Chinese government’s response to the 2008 earthquake that killed many school children, featured a snake made out of matching backpacks.

He is currently the artistic director at the China Art Archives & Warehouse which he co-founded in 1997. This endeavor focuses on contemporary and experimental art and is located in Beijing. The building housing it was designed by Weiwei who has a keen interest in architecture as well as photography.

More coverage of this contemporary artist and photographer, as well as some of his work, can be found at ThinkProgress.

– da Bird


Historical Photos: Martin Luther King, Jr. Edition

Historical Photos: Martin Luther King, Jr. Edition

Today is the third Monday in January 2013. Today is the day set aside to remember one of the most influential civil rights speakers in history: Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1963, he led a march on Washington D.C. to demand that black citizens be granted the same rights and to have those rights protected as other American citizens enjoyed. His march led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act a few years later by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The march gave the Kennedy administration the support it needed to push Congress to pass the bill.

This image, taken by a government photographer, shows the crowds gathered to hear Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. Gathering at the Washington monument, the crowds surrounded the pool and the stairs on both sides of the pool. The speech is the most famous of King’s speeches and is studied and remembered in classrooms across the United States to this day. The march, criticized by other civil rights movement leaders such as Malcolm X, was the largest march for human rights up to that point in American history. Estimates on the size of the crowd range from 200,000 to 300,000 with the vast majority of that number being black while the rest was a mix of non-black minorities and minorities.

In honor of this day, the text of this momentous speech is included below:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

It’s Friday again, bringing an end to another busy week in the world of photography. Many things may slow down during the winter months as the cold weather sets in and the days are short but photography is not one of those things. Last week’s CES saw many announcements of new cameras, updates to existing camera lines, and work on the technology within the cameras that has the potential to revolutionize the photography industry — if it bears out, that is. And, around the world, photojournalists continue to cover major events and stories, sending back images of the wider world to their audiences at home. If you haven’t been following us on Twitter then you might have missed out on some of these stories. Don’t worry, though. We’ll recap them for you below!

That’s all, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again on Monday!

– da Bird


Historical Photographers: Brassaï

Historical Photographers: Brassaï

Most well-known for his photographs of the Parisian streets, Gyula Halász — Brassaï — was born in Brassó, Transsylvania, part of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1899. At the age of three, he and his family lived in Paris for a year while his father taught at the Sorbonne before returning home to Hungary. Brassaï served in the cavalry of the Austro-Hungarian forces during the first World War. Afterwards, in 1920, he moved to Berlin where he worked as a journalist for Keleti and Napkelet. He also studied the fine arts at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Academy of Fine Arts where he became friends with Lajos Tihanyi, Bertalan Pór, György Bölöni. Each of these three would later move to Paris and become part of the Hungarian circle there.

In 1924, Brassaï himself moved to Paris. His job and his love of Paris led to his interest in photography. He began capturing photos of the streets of Paris both during the clear days and the foggy nights. He adopted the pen-name “Brassaï” meaning “from Brassó” and soon published the photos he had, until that point, been using only to supplement his journal articles in a volume called Paris de nuit (Paris by Night). Brassaï had not only captured the beauty of Parisian gardens and streets but also the seedy underbelly of the growing city and the high culture that gave it such a pleasing air — its intellectuals, its ballet, and its grand operas.

His book was met with success and he was befriended by a French family who gave him access to the upper classes of society. Brassaï also went on to photograph several of his artistic friends including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Genet, and Henri Michaux. In 1948, Brassaï’s photos, having earned him fame abroad, were the subject of a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The exhibit traveled to George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and to the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.


New Cameras Planned for the New Year Ahead

New Cameras Planned for the New Year Ahead

CES 2013 has officially come to a close. Last week, in Las Vegas, many new cameras were available for testing and tinkering with. Not all of the features in these cameras are final and many of the models were just one foot out of production. We’ll be doing a more in-depth feature on each of these models as they become available. For now, here’s a quick overview of some of the cameras we saw at CES 2013.

Canon PowerShot N: This is Canon’s latest compact camera. Aimed at the Instagram generation, this fully-automated point-and-shoot is tiny, light, and has a flip-up touch screen. The camera’s controls and zoom features are easily accessible whether the camera is right-side-up or up-side-down. The Canon PowerShot N comes with on-board WiFi making it easy to upload the images it captures onto social networking sites. With a 28-224mm equivalent 8x optical zoom lens and 12MP 1/2.3″-type sensor — not to mention the Digic 5 Image processor, this little camera performs far better than even the most sophisticated smartphone camera. The controls are all located on the ring with the camera modes accessible on the touch-screen in the back.

Fujifilm X100S: At Photokina, Fujifilm unveiled their retro-modeled X100. The X100S looks exactly like it on the outside but inside is a beast of an entirely different species. Under the hood is a 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS sensor, the all-new EXR Processor II, and an LCD screen. The menu system has been completely revamped to make it easier and quicker to find the camera setting you’re looking for. More changes are planned so we’ll be updating you as the new features and tweaks come out.

Pentax MX-1: Pentax is looking to capture more of the photography enthusiast market and this camera, complete with a 28-112mm F1.8-2.5 lens and a 12-megapixel sensor, this camera is easy to learn how to use. Though it lacks much of the customization options seen on premium pocket cameras, the MX-1 is still a good camera for those who are just getting into photography beyond the point-and-shoot stage.

Polaroid Android Camera: Though this camera has a lot of work left to be completed on it, the thought of Polaroid getting back into the market and bringing its many years of expertise to bear on digital photography is something everyone is looking forward to seeing. The use of the Android OS means that this camera will be infinitely customizable and easy to maintain the software on. And that is all of the news we have thus far on this camera.

There were several other cameras showcased at CES 2013 beyond these listed here. However, the list above provides a fairly good overview of the kinds of cameras we expect to see hit the market in the next year and the direction that the photography industry is taking over the years to come.

– da Bird


Weekly Wrap-Up

Weekly Wrap-Up

Another week has gone by and CES is coming to a close. We’ve done coverage of the event this past week and will be doing an overview and wrap-up of the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 next week. Many new cameras, photographic displays, camcorders, and other photography or cinematography gear were announced this past week. We’ll be doing reviews and hands-on guides of some of these cameras once we have inventory in stock. In addition to these major stories, photography blogs and sites around the web have been working hard to follow their resolutions for 2013 to educate a new generation of photographers and we’ve been sharing those advice columns on Twitter. For those of you not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the week in news below!

That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again next week!

– da Bird


Historical Photographers: Dorothea Lange

Historical Photographers: Dorothea Lange

Up until now, our line-up of historical photographers has been dominated by men. Though men do, by and large, outnumber women in the history of photography, that does not mean that women are altogether absent. Today, there are many female photographers of great fame and renown. In their honor, today’s entry will discuss one of their premiere role models: Dorothea Lange.

Dorothea Lange is most well-known for taking the photo “Migrant Mother” during the Great Depression. She was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895. When she was twelve years old, her father abandoned the family and she adopted “Lange” as her last name in place of his (“Lange” was her mother’s maiden name). At age 18, she decided to study photography as a student at Columbia University in New York. Once her studies were complete, she apprenticed to several well-known photographers, Arnold Genthe among them, in New York before moving to San Francisco in 1918 where she opened a successful portrait studio.

When the Great Depression hit, Lange took her lenses out of the studio and into the field. Her photographs of the homeless and the poor earned her attention from other photographers as well as employment with the Farm Security Administration. As the Depression dragged on, Lange divorced her then-husband Maynard Dixon and married Paul Taylor, an economics professor. Together Taylor and Lange recorded information in the form of both photographs and economic data concerning the plight of the poor during the Depression. In 1936, she took one of the two most famous photos of her career: the photo called “Migrant Mother.” Speaking later about the experience of taking photos of Florence Owen Thomas and her children, Lange said:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

In 1941, Lange received the Guggenheim Award for her coverage of the poor and frequently forgotten during the Depression. However, she gave up this prestigious award after the attack on Pearl Harbor so that she could document the internment of Japanese-American citizens. Working with the War Relocation Authority, she captured images of Japanese-Americans as they were rounded up and relocated to the internment camps. She also documented life at Manzanar, the first permanent camp. Her images were so obviously critical that they were impounded by the Army and kept out of circulation. They can be viewed now at the National Archives on the website of the Still Photographs Division, and at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.

As WWII drew to a close in 1945, Lange was invited to join the first fine art photography school at the California School of Fine Arts by Ansel Adams. She accepted and went on to co-found Aperture magazine in 1952. Aperture would run the photo documentary of the death of Monticello, California following the building of Lake Berryessa by damming the Putah Creek. She was originally commissioned to do the piece with Pirkle Jones for Life magazine. However, when Life declined to run the story, Aperture covered it for them.

Suffering from numerous gastric problems as well as post-polio syndrome, Lange passed away in 1965 but remains one of the most well-known photographers of the Great Depression to this day.


CES 2013 Begins

CES 2013 Begins

The Consumer Electronics Show has begun in Las Vegas and already things are looking up for the world of photography and photographers throughout the country. CES 2012 saw major announcements in photography gear including the Fujifilm X-Pro1, the Nikon D4, and the Canon PowerShot G1 X as well as the first Android-based camera, the Polaroid SC1630.

So, what’s the bet for this year’s CES? Fujifilm is currently giving an invitation-only press conference which C|Net is live-blogging. Just recently, Samsung unveiled the Samsung NX300, a camera that takes a more retro approach to design but in camera body only. The lenses and sensors are as fast as ever and the LED flat-screen display and the button menus are easy and intuitive to use.

Camera manufacturers are currently focused on the enthusiast and professional and markets instead of the casual or novice markets and bets seem to indicate that most people believe the focus will remain there as the manufacturers make their announcements at CES 2013.

Stick around and check back here Wednesday to see what photography-related announcements have been made at CES 2013!

– da Bird