Lifelogging

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often today people worry about surveillance by the government with CCTV everywhere and intelligence agencies able to view what we do online (hi, Mr/Mrs NSA/GCHQ person) but there’s another side to the technology which is becoming ever more popular.

Many of us carry some form of video camera, I have a smartphone and a good compact camera that can record HD video, in fact I used this the other day to record a worker at our factory who was adamant he could cut a worktop with a saw that everyone else said was clearly blunt.  The resulting video is a possible candidate for YouTube, complete with Top Gear style “four hours later…” captions, as I joked at the time.

We now have the ability to record everything we experience in some way or another and people feel the need, or the desire, to do exactly that and share it with the world, even in their most intimate moments, as if to prove that they did it, or how good at it they were, so to speak.  It’s a standing joke that Instagram and Facebook are a repository of photos of people’s dinner but in some ways it’s true.  In any pub you go in there are groups of drinkers gurning at smartphone cameras, never again will you be able to get utterly pished without it being recorded.  I once had my glasses “borrowed” by a woman whose friend took a photo of her, wearing my glasses, with me kissing her cheek.  Months later a woman stood by me at a bar turned and said “I’ve got a photo of you on my Facebook.”  Same woman, same glasses.  Technology has made it simpler, quicker and cheaper to create a digital photo album or slide show that, without needing shelf-space or the setting up of a projector, can be virtually infinite in size, accessible anywhere, searchable and sorted by date.

The next stage is again in the area of wearable technology.  Google’s Glass project, along with other similar techie-eyewear, promise the ability to instantly record anything you can see, which has worried many privacy campaigners despite the devices clearly having a red, Borg-like, light on the side when they’re recording.

The other type of device is specially designed for recording just about everything you experience – the Lifelogger.  Two devices have appeared so far, Autographer and Narrative, which are intended to document your life while you’re wearing it of course.  While you’re not you can imagine it sitting there wondering where you’d gone.   The two have different approaches, Autographer uses five sensors to detect location and changes in light and motion to take a photo when you change location of when it thinks you’re doing something interesting like running after someone.  Narrative takes a picture twice a minute.  When downloaded you can then look through what they’ve logged and perhaps see things you’d missed or remember something you’d forgotten – which might be both a blessing and a curse depending on the event.

One day we could all be carrying a multi-sensored device that, in the event of an emergency, could log what’s happened to you and call for help – a kind of personal Black Box Recorder.  This is happening in cars already, as the Russian meteorite impact last year showed – the event captured by an unprecedented number of witnesses thanks to dashcams and smartphones.  In-car video is also useful for insurance companies, TV clip shows and YouTube, recent personal experience of idiot drivers makes me want one more than ever.

Whether the current Lifelogging technology has a use is down to whether it’ll record anything useful or interesting but the idea has been picked up by emergency services who have considered something like Glass to both record an incident and how it’s dealt with (possibly for legal, in case of being sued, reasons, inevitably these days) while also providing vital information to the medic or police officer in real-time.  Already trials have shown that police wearing body cams are seeing positive results in terms of arrested criminals accepting their guilt.

So we hurtle onwards into the recorded future, the problem could be having time to sort the wheat from the chaff of all these Lifelogged images and indeed where to store them all.

Looks like we’ll need a bigger server.

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The Fears of Street Photography

Asian Woman photographing with her digital cam...

Asian Woman photographing with her digital camera in the historic streets of Prague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good photo will often tell a story, convey a message, and to do that you need some kind of context whether it’s the weather, movement, light or people.  Street photographers are very good at images of the latter as by definition they are the subject and the context.  For many photographers, myself very much included people are a difficult subject because of a modern fear.

I stopped going out with my old film cameras around 1998 because I was getting more and more suspicious and almost angry looks from passers-by even when I had the Ricoh SLR on a tripod in an otherwise empty park shooting a landscape, there just seemed to be an atmosphere of people thinking there was something strange about photographers – this was shortly after the furore about the paparazzi in the late 90s.  Maybe it was just me but I felt uncomfortable being seen with my camera.

Having started again I still feel the same.  In my camera kit holdall I have a card that outlines the current law in this country which was given away with a magazine last year because of the number of photographers who were being, sometimes angrily, confronted by members of the public telling them that they were actually breaking the law by photographing people or even buildings – in fact if you’re in a public place you can photograph most things and people, including the police or armed forces, as long as you’re not photographing someone inside a private building where they would have an expectation of privacy.  There are today many people who do fear the motives of people with cameras.

I bought my new high-res and well-travelled compact camera last month so I could carry that with me in case I saw a picture and didn’t have my DSLR.  Yesterday I saw a lovely view down a shopping street where I live, the late afternoon sun lighting buildings in the distance, ominous grey clouds on the horizon by contrast, people doing their shopping.  I didn’t take my shiny new camera out of my pocket, I chickened out, all because I was afraid that some of those shoppers would think I was some kind of weirdo and confront me about it.  Ten minutes later I saw a group of tourists taking photos round the corner and nobody seemed to be making anything of them.

The subjects of many street photos probably didn’t even notice they were being photographed, while photographers will often even ask permission to take shots, especially close-up, non-candid shots.

The thing is that I know I’m not alone in feeling uneasy, of being afraid of the public’s potential reactions to photographers, even though I’m sure that most people wouldn’t even think twice about a chap with a camera.

The Patience of the Landscape Photographer

English: Ashness Bridge, Borrowdale, English L...

I’m in the English Lake District and I’m here to get away from work and relax but also to take some more landscape photos. As any good landscape photographer will tell you patience is something that is as important as a neutral density grey grad filter.  Sometimes you have to revisit the same spot day-in-day-out, or even week-in-week-out until the weather and lighting are just right as a landscape’s appearance can be completely altered by cloud, the angle of the sunlight and the time of year.

Patience is something that can be lacking these days as I witnessed yesterday when walking past a place called Ashness Bridge.  As I approached the bridge, coming down from the fell above, I saw a small group of men stood in the flowing stream beneath the bridge, expensive cameras on tripods, the aforementioned neutral density grey grads in place (the sky was a combination of sunshine and cloud so the grad helps to avoid underexposing the foreground or overexposing the sky).

One of the group wanted a “picture-perfect” image of the apparently famous bridge and was becoming increasingly annoyed at the other tourists and car drivers that were intruding into his shot and rather than be patient and wait he began gesticulating at a car driver, shouting at walkers and generally being a bit of a tit to put it politely.

The attitude of “I’ve got an expensive camera here, I’m a real photographer, get out of my way” was evident and it is one that gives photographers a bad name – as pretentious and inconsiderate.  No doubt the group had to press on to the next photo opportunity but this is no excuse, if they had prepared properly then all they would need to do was wait patiently for the right moment and fire the shutter, as I did later after they had gone.  I don’t mind having people in my photos as they add scale and context but if I’d waited a few seconds I could have taken a shot free of humanity altogether. I had considered pointing my own camera at the camera club when the man had started shouting, perhaps shouting back “could you get out of my way too please, I want a shot of those trees” but I didn’t as I felt the irony would have been lost on them.

As for my own patience, well put it this way I’ve waited one year, two weeks and three days approximately to reshoot two images I took last year on the summit of Walla Crag near Keswick that last year I messed up due to forgetting my neutral density grey grad filter.

This year I got the shots and I now only have to tweak them a bit when I return home before uploading them to Flickr.

Bag Fiend: Walking with Cameras

For the last few years I have been perplexed by how to easily combine two of my favourite activities – hiking and landscape photography – without expensive bags that I can’t justify buying or having to take my daysack off regularly.

Most photo-rucksacks only have room inside for the cameras, some that have a top compartment for stuff will barely contain a lightweight raincoat and a packet of crisps, and even top of the range bags with larger top compartments still have to be taken off your back to get at your camera.

I admit to being a Lowepro fan and their new Photo Hatchback AW range bags are good looking and practical, with the ability to swing the whole bag round to the front and access your gear from an opening in what is the back of the bag while it hangs in front of you.  They’re a bit out of my price range however as I wouldn’t get the use out of them to justify it.

So I wondered what I could achieve using what I have right now.  Last year I attached a couple of holster cases to my large rucksack’s waist belt but this was a bit unwieldy, with two bags in front of me as well as the fact that I kept knocking one of them off the belt so had to occasionally chase an escaping 40-150 zoom lens down a mountainside in it’s case.

This year I’ve downsized to a smaller Karrimor daysack and when I noticed that it was higher up my back I had an idea.  Inspired by the Lowepro bags mentioned above and a webbing belt I use on my jeans I thought what if I had another belt round my waist to hold the holster case, I could then slide it out of the way when I wasn’t using the camera. I bought a webbing belt with a clasp and found that my Toploader Zoom AW could be slid right round the back to sit below my daysack and pulled back round when I wanted my camera.  Perfect.