Leap Day 2016

How are you going to spend your extra day today?  Given that February 29th only occurs once every four years we really should celebrate it more than simply enjoying a google doodle of a friendly fluffle of bouncing bunnies, yet we don’t. In fact for most of us it’s just an extra day at work.

So perhaps we should take a little time out of our extra work day and consider what leaps we, as individuals, should be taking. For example, is there some decision or activity that you have been putting off because you couldn’t face it? It could be something as mundane as completing your taxes, or something much more important such as calling someone you haven’t spoken to for a long time, re-establishing a connection with a friend or relative, or dealing with a difficult situation closer to home.

Quit procrastinating – now is the time to make that leap and do it!

I think this is a concept we should embrace, at least once every 4 years! Go on, what’s the worst thing that could happen?





My Boy Scout Camera Bag

It is amazing what photographic kit you can actually fit into a small camera bag that can be attached to your belt, or easily hand held.  To be more specific, I am describing my 3-year old Case Logic DCB-304 Camera Case that measures a reasonable 7.5” x 7.5” x 5” (19cm x 19cm x 13cm) when packed.

The major reason I took up the micro 4/3 mirrorless camera format in the first place was due to its compact size compared to DSLRs. By careful packing of this little bag I think I have proved my point and was able to easily carry all the equipment I needed for a hike along a river trail and a trip to the ski slopes this afternoon.

I found it a convenient way to carry the following:

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GX8

Panasonic Lumix G H-H020AK 20mm F/1.7

Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6

Battery charger and two batteries

Several SD cards

and either an iPhone or a fun pancake lens such as the Olympus 15mm f/8.0 Body Cap Lens

If you don’t believe me see the images taken in my “studio” (the basement ironing board!) when I got back from the trip:

kit and caboodle
lens in first
GX8 on top facing the “hinge”

Simply (I so love that word!) flip the hood back over the big telephoto lens and pack it horizontally in the base of the bag, then cover with a lens cloth and add the GX8 horizontally too, as shown.

Next put the charger in one side pocket, and two spare batteries in the other side pocket.

The SD cards fit easily in the inside pocket in the flap and the little front inside expandable compartment will hold either your phone (will fit an iPhone 6) or the Oly body cap lens for a bit of fun.

OK, it’s not exactly a survival kit, but it’s a pretty good compact set-up for a scouting photographer and  I think Akela would be happy enough with my efforts.



I had not suffered an earworm for quite a while. I don’t know why this is but I have been grateful for it. Then, while browsing the web last night I stumbled across a youtube video of a couple of girls (twins, in fact) playing Stairway to Heaven on harps for some unbelievable reason. Not since disgraced Aussie entertainer Rolf Harris released his version with a bleedin’ wobble board have I been so appalled. Yes, I know they play their harps beautifully but there are some things that simply should not be done. And tampering with Led Zeppelin’s STH is one of them. Anyhow, that being said. I have now had that great rock classic buzzing around in my head all day. Thankfully, it is Jimmy Page’s ‘58 Telecaster version and not harps!

Last time this happened to me for a week or so it was to Pink Floyd’s, Shine on you Crazy Diamond. At least that time it inspired me to create some artwork based on the arpeggiated chord that became know as “Syd’s Theme.”


This time, it only lasted a few hours.

So, what is an earworm?

Apparently the odd word is an Anglicization of the German “Ohrwurm” which, ironically, has nothing to do with the phenomenon and refers rather to the ancient practice of treating ear diseases by using ground up pieces of the insect we commonly call earwigs!

Very strange indeed.

The modern earworm simply refers to the phenomenon when you cannot get a tune out of your head or, more usually, a particular musical phrase. Interestingly there appears to be no definitive consensus of how or why this happens. Personally, I think it may be linked to human’s innate pattern processing that has evolved for our survival, perhaps akin, though totally unlinked, to pareidolia that I touched on in an earlier post. Most times the earworm will go away on its own, but it can also be replaced by other music or even by engaging the brain’s working memory in moderately difficult logic puzzles such as anagrams or sudoku, which seem to “wipe the biological RAM” so to speak.

In my case creating some art in GIMP did the job, and was a productive exercise too!

Now for the statistics: apparently 98% of us will experience these at some time, so be warned, and let’s hope it’s a great song at least!


A Story – The Watchtower

People had called him paranoid, and even mad when he had imported the ironworks and spent huge sums of money constructing the watchtower on the edge of his estate. They even went as far to call it his folly and suggest it would bankrupt him. Now, of course they saw that what he had constructed served a purpose, and for that they were grateful. They would soon forget though.
It was only because of the tower that the village was afforded sufficient warning to be saved. Or rather those who had listened were saved. Others, scoffing at what they thought were rantings of a madman, were not so lucky. The bright sunrise and calm sky belied the events of the night before. He had seen the signs of the impending attack and had manned the tower, safe in the knowledge that the silver cage built in the top that that been so costly would save both him and she who was so precious to him, his daughter. When he spied the ghostly riders on the horizon at sunset he sounded the alarm as he had promised to do. After all, they only ever attacked at night, as sunlight was their enemy.

Those in the village who heeded his sign had taken refuge where they could. Shutting themselves into deep cellars and being totally still was the only way to survive. Others, filled with fighting spirit and beer stood little chance. These were not mortal warriors and there was no blade in the armory that could cut them.

By morning the prophecy had passed. They would be safe for another ten generations, although the village would be counting the cost for at least two, and all would be forgotten after five. He wondered if the tower would still be standing when it would be needed again, his legacy for his descendants perhaps…


Making Sense of Sensor Cleaning – Part 1

Making Sense of Sensor* Cleaning – Part 1

Disclaimer: I am recounting only my experience and not endorsing any form of sensor cleaning through this posting. You take full responsibility for any actions you take as a result of reading my ramblings…

One of the great things about using ILC cameras, like my trusty Panasonic micro four-thirds, and also DSLRs, is the ability to swap lenses for different situations; a prime lens for street work and landscapes, or a telephoto for wildlife perhaps. This comes at a price though; namely that there is always a risk in getting the sensitive camera sensor contaminated with dust, fibers, and other extraneous crud when changing lenses.

I have been relatively successful over the last few years due to a pathological obsession with how I change the lens (ALWAYS facing downwards) and also because the GX1 and GX8 have automatic sensor cleaning on startup so generally will shake off any dust themselves. However, as is the norm, all good things must come to an end, or the honeymoon period was over, or some such other relevant idiom applied…



I first noticed an “artifact” as it is called, a few weeks back and assumed it was dust or, hopefully not, a scratch on the lens. This was easily disproved by cleaning the lens and then swapping it with another. The artifact was still there indicating something on the sensor. My initial joy at having not damaged a lens was quickly replaced by trepidation though as this meant the sensor needed cleaning.

Having never had to deal with this before this sent me into a bit of a panic, and started off a trail of research on the web to find out what to do next.  


Next step, a cup of tea and a few quiet (and ultimately frustrating) hours on the laptop. Between google, youtube, discussion boards on dpreview, fineartamerica, and other blogs I learned only one definitive thing, namely:

There is absolutely, definitively, no agreed way to clean a camera sensor “properly”. Period. For every expert that says you should do it one way there is another opining why you should not. The information is almost as useless as arguing the merits of Nikon vs. Canon, or DSLR vs m4/3 format.

There is not even agreement whether this should be done by an individual or a professional. Some (usually camera stores) say to send it to a camera store, others say return it to the manufacturer, others complain that the manufacturers make it worse. Some say it’s easy and others, even professionals, seem scared to do the job.

In fact, the only thing that does seem to garner consensus is the first part of the cleaning process, as outlined here:

  1. Confirm that the sensor is contaminated. This is done by taking a shot of a neutral object at the smallest aperture available, with the lens defocused (use manual focus). Most like to say f/22 but the lens I had on only stopped down to f/16 but was still good enough to see.  For a neutral object I used the cloudless sky as it was available that day!
  2. Use a hand air blower, such as the Giotto Rocket to clean dust off the camera body and lens. DO NOT use compressed air as it contains propellants that can contaminate the optics
  3. Expose the sensor (remove lens and lock up mirror for a DSLR, or simply remove the lens on a mirrorless ILC.)
  4. With the sensor facing downwards blow air over the sensor to dislodge particles and let gravity take them away. DO NOT touch the sensor!
  5. Re-check your sensor by repeating step 1.
  6. If you are lucky then the artifact is gone and congratulations to you on a job well done!

For me though, this was not the case, so over to stage 2 cleaning, as I shall call it, and this is where it gets interesting, and confusing, very quickly.

Several photographers state you should start with a statically charged brush such as the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly and, if that doesn’t work, move on to dry swabbing and then wet swabbing with a solvent. Others state that dry cleaning is wrong as this could scratch the sensor. Yet others preach that chemicals should not be used but rather your breath or a light steam from holding the camera over a cup of warm water!  Some say use proprietary swabs and cleaners such as Eclipse or VDust, others say use simple lens cleaning fluid, or a highly volatile organic such as methanol and swabs made of Pec Pads. The possibilities go on and on and on, each one with its evangelizing defender expounding how they have “done this for years successfully”.

The only take home message that I could really get is that should be possible to clean the sensor using a variety of methods as long as you are careful and methodical, are scrupulously clean, and do not apply too much pressure to the sensor surface when using some form of lint-free applicator!

So, like everyone else who simply uses their own experiences, I will share mine, to date:

I had begrudgingly purchased a kit from Amazon, specific to my m4/3 sensor size and I was amazed at the cost of four lint-free swabs on sticks and a tiny bottle of solvent. It really it quite staggering how this price is maintained in a free market economy. I guess we photographers are saps for this type of thing!

I followed the sparse pictorial instruction, added solvent to the pad and then attempted to wipe the sensor from left to right, hitting my first snag. Although the kit was labelled as being specifically for micro four third sensors the swab was too wide! So, with solvent rapidly evaporating I do the only thing I could do and wipe the sensor from top from top to bottom. Using my handy illuminated head magnifier (see, I knew this would be handy one day!) I could see that the mark had not been removed from the sensor. Drat! So I repeat the process with a new swab with the same result. That means I have used half my swabs and not achieved anything…

… so ends Part 1 of this saga as I consider what else to do. 😦


* Of course for the pedants out there we’re not actually cleaning the sensor in reality, but the anti-alias layer that covers it, but what the heck, it’s all the same in the end as it degrades the image

Lucy the Elephant

Billed variously as “the world’s largest elephant” and optimistically as “the largest zoomorphic architecture in the world” (hmm, if you’ve never heard of the Sphinx, or the Kakadu Crocodile Inn, perhaps?), Lucy the Elephant stands facing the Atlantic Ocean at Margate, New Jersey.

This wonderful old wooden structure, sheathed in tin sheeting, was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty and used as a tourist novelty and to show the local real estate to prospective buyers for an ever-expanding Atlantic City in the late 19th century.  The six-storey building was originally called the Elephant Bazaar and was topped with a howdah to afford views of the area.  It formed part of a larger complex including Turkish baths as can be seen from this restored PD image, taken in the 1890s:


The building picked up the name “Lucy the Elephant” in 1902 after it had been sold and was used for many purposes over the following decades.  By 1969 Lucy was in a poor state and was to be demolished, but a group of local enthusiasts banded together and saved the structure, moved her about 100 yards and repaired her  internally as well as providing a new  exterior “skin”.

She was subsequently designated a National Historic Landmark (amazing what difference a few years makes!) and is now maintained by the Save Lucy Committee who look after her every need!

I confess to never having heard of this wonderful piece of eccentric history until a few months ago, and I plan to visit her at some point in the near future and update this post with a few more contemporary images.  Stay tuned!



6 sentence story – Retirees

The friends of the wild-haired youth were grinning at him as his high score, which had remained unbeaten all summer, was exceeded by both drivers.

“You’re down to third place!” squealed his annoying younger brother who he was forced to tolerate as a member of his gang under parental duress.

He clipped him round the ear and snarled, “Don’t be cheeky, Jack!”

Turning from the controls, to look him straight in the eyes, the old man softly growled: “You should treat your little brother with more kindness, lad.”

Something in the old man’s scarred face and tone filled him with an odd mixture of shame and fear, and quietened the crowd too.

“Yessir, I will,” he whimpered sheepishly, as he reflexively bowed his head.




Camera Obscura in San Francisco

Just under a decade ago we moved to the west coast of the US and lived near San Francisco. Being new to the area we wanted to see as much of the area as possible and one sunny day, when checking out the ruins of the Sutro Baths and nearby Cliff House, we stumbled across this wonderful camera obscura on the cliff edge:


This camera obscura (literally “dark room”) uses a mirror in the pointed roof of the building to reflect light down through a lens onto a 6 ft (2m) diameter parabolic horizontal viewing table which gives a more even focus across the surface, magnifying the image 7-fold. What makes this one even more interesting is that the mirror rotates a full circle every 6 minutes giving a full 360° view of the area.

This wonderful building was built in the late 1940s as part of the Playland amusement park and was only placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 after several threats of demolition following the closure and redevelopment of Playland in the 1970s.

The images of Seal Rock and the surrounding area were amazing, especially when considering this is such relatively simple technology, first described in the writings of the Chinese philosopher Mozi in the 4th century BCE.

Even the children were impressed back then, and that takes a lot to achieve these days!



52 Week Challenge: Week 8

Week 8: Landscape: Wide Angle/Panorama – This is a great opportunity to explore panorama stitching and create a wide sweeping landscape.

Today was unseasonably warm, rising to 61°F (16°C) in the afternoon, so I took the opportunity after my Saturday taxi driving for the entire family over several hours to visit a local nature preserve while there was still some sunlight left and before the next round of vehicular collections was due.

I know the experts all tell us to use a tripod for panorama shots but, to be honest, I was in a bit of a rush, and I know I have pretty steady hands,so I initially tried using the in-camera panorama mode of my Panasonic GX8 to produce this quick image:


For everyday use I think it does a good job. The camera uses rapid fire mode and you simply pan it left to right. The only downside is that it produces an image only 1920px tall, so it’s a bit limited for printing.

So, over to the manual approach and the use of stitching software, as requested in this week’s challenge. I have used the free  Hugin image stitcher before which is very capable and allow for a lot of fine tuning. However, this time I used the much more intuitive (and free) Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE).

So the process is to take a series of shots when panning, ensuring that at least 30% of the image overlaps between frames. This gives the software a lot of ability to match elements in the images and so map them properly. By using the camera vertically I was able to get a panorama 5002px in height and 17695px wide. Big enough to do a lot with! The reason is wasn’t full sensor height was because I hand held and wasn’t perfect in holding it level throughout the series, so ICE had to crop it to get a straight edge. It’s all easy to do though.

I made several composites but in the end I chose this one, simply because I liked the texture of the corn (maize) field in the foreground:



#dogwood52 #dogwoodweek8

In the Mind’s Eye – Pareidolia

This morning I saw the face of Ted Cruz in my toast, or was it Donald Trump, or maybe Donald Duck? It doesn’t matter really as the point of today’s wittering is to discuss the familiar concept, but perhaps unfamiliar term, pareidolia.

Scarcely a day goes by without someone posting on social media that they have seen the face of the Lord (or rather that of Mel Gibson, Robert Powell, or a Renaissance depiction thereof, since no contemporary sketch of Jesus actually exists) in a whole host of everyday objects from avocados to zucchinis. Similarly, when we were kids, and perhaps even now, we’d look up at the clouds and recognize an odd shape (other than a sheep!)

So, what is this all about then?

Pareidolia (/pærᵻˈdoʊliə/ parr-i-doh-lee-ə) is the condition where the human brain looks at an object and also perceives a familiar pattern in that object that simply isn’t there (such as a face). It seems to be an innate characteristic of human beings, probably because we not only have well developed visual processing but, more importantly, because of our cognitive wiring, so to speak. It seems to hinge on us being hard-wired for rapid pattern recognition so that we have a shortcut to enable our brains to quickly identify familiar objects for binary decision making (safe or unsafe, friend or foe, etc.). Pareidolia is when this falls apart slightly and perhaps we miss the visual cues slightly. However, as the visual signal is processed so quickly against our internal reference we cannot help but “see” the object that isn’t really there..

There are many examples of this but perhaps the most (in)famous forced use of the condition is the Rorschach inkblot test which attempts to evoke this state and determine an individual’s mental state based on what the “average” person would see.

However, it also can be used for some interesting artistic effects too.

For example, I was walking in our garden one day and saw the poppy below which reminded me of an angel simply because of the way the petals fell.


Or, by careful choice of camera angle, I was able to evoke another visual interpretation of these two gray vases on a shelf 😉

One thing is for certain, it’s a phenomenon that isn’t going to go away, so why not have some fun and  incorporate it in your next artistic endeavor?


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