Apr 16, 2018
Now you've said your ABCs, next time you'll count 123s.
As is my norm, the reason for that opening statement is not completely clear, even to me. The poetry just flows from my fingertips and into the computer and you, patient listener-slash-student-in-detention-forced-to-listen-to-this-podcast are the lucky-slash-gawd-adults-are-such-idiots beneficiaries. You're welcome.
This episode drives to cover the basics of bytes, a drive that holds billions of them, a photographer with a lot of drive, a photo tip that might drive you crazy, and quotes from my usual collection of people who have little to no connection with photography. Plus, there's a surprise bit of feedback (on the audio only, though).
Gimme a B
The basics of digital photography in its most simplistic sense come down to ones and zeros, the foundation of binary computing. You can read reams of reports on the 'rithmetic, so my take is just to explain, ever so briefly, how bits add up to make a photo. And I don't really explain all that much.
That very short version is this:
The word "bit" is a contraction of the phrase "binary digit," and that is a two-word construction indicating a single piece of computer information, information that comes in the form of either a 1 or a 0. Here are eight bits in a row:
Pretty exciting, right? If that strings of 1s and 0s were interpreted into our normal decimal numerology, it would be 182, but computers actually don't work with digits like 8 and 2, just 1 and 0. So, it looks inefficient, but whadya gonna do. You can't fight city hall, you know?
Still, if 10110110 represents the brightness of a red photo site in a digital camera's sensor, and the green photo site next to it registers 00100101 and the blue site reads 11100001, the red's 182 is joined by green's 37 and blue's 225 to give us a bright violet.
Simple math is all it is. The brightness of red indicated by its eight-bit definition, above, plus the respective brightnesses of green and blue, when combined, results in the back ground color.
The highest possible number that can be indicated with eight bits is 255, the smallest is 0, and if every possible level of red brightness at a photo site, from 0 (black) to 255 (pure red) is multiplied by every possible green brightness, and their product by every possible blue, the total number of possible colors is 16,777,216.
That's more possible colors than human vision is capable of discriminating, but not every photo captures each of those nearly 17 million colors. Actually, few photos could capture them all, mostly because life tends not to present all possible colors at once and, for most cameras sold today, they don't even have 17 million pixels — you can't show more colors than you have places to show them.
But it's that first condition — we never see 17 million colors at once — that leads to problems. If we take a photo and never touch the resulting file, to brighten or darken or sharpen or pump the colors, then whatever we got was good enough. But if, like me, you brighten darken sharpen pump, we can run into problems when we start stretching apart the colors that we got in the shot.
Notice that what appears to be a featureless gray rectangle, on the left in the upper graphic, is actually a close-up of a riveted aluminum surface. You can see the detail in the same area of the lower graphic. Drastically increasing the contrast of the image, as evidenced in the thin white line that, instead of traversing the "Curves" graph from bottom left to upper right in a single, straight line, again in the upper graphic, that thin white line drags along the bottom of the "Curves" graph in the bottom graphic, jumps to the top by angling sharply through the gray spike in the graph, then floats along the top. The gray spike represents all the brightnesses in the actual image — not many. But when the thin white line slashes through it, the darks are made darker and the lights made lighter, revealing the rivets and the nascent colors in the aluminum. However, the histograms show how slashing through the gray spike spreads the colors much wider in the bottom image compared to the original, and breaks the single spike into multiple, separated, slivers. That's not usually acceptable in a photo.
All of this talk of numbers is just to give you a taste, however chalky, of what's going on behind the scenes as you capture and subsequently modify images. The audio covers the topic more fully, so you might want to put that in your ears, instead of this in your eyes.
Gimme a G
Those bits and bytes add up (Hah! Get it?), so you need places to put them. For images I recently shot and sent to a client I chose a G-Technology device that, by industry convention is referred to as a solid-state disk, or SSD, except, like all such devices, there is no disk in the disk.
The guts of an SSD are essentially computer chips that store the data plus the chips needed to communicate with the computer about said data. Put those in a box, give it a connection for the computer, and you've got an SSD. They are typically faster than data storage devices that do contain spinning disks both because the data moves as fast as the electrons (which are the data in transit) can move and because they can begin moving immediately, rather than waiting for a spinning disk to spin to where the data is stored and then wait for the disk to keep putting more data spots under the floating head. And, on spinning disk-type storage, the data for a single file is almost never all in a single clump, so the disk has to spin and spin and spin (which it does all the time anyway) while the head (like a tonearm on a record player) has to bounce all over the place as it jumps to all the discrete places on the disk where that data is broken up into. Sorry, that's a clumsy phrase for what is, well, also a clumsy process.
The SSD I chose for these files is from G-Technology, one designed specifically to be small and portable, with the added bonuses of extra padding and extra speed, the former being a silicone bumper into which the device can be squeezed, the latter a faster-connection base unit that can be purchased separately.
The G-DRIVE ev RaW SSD 512GB is part of their evolution series (the "ev") that, with the bumpers, was referred to internally as rugged and wild ("RaW"). SSD you already know, and 512GB means 512 gigabytes, the number of bytes it can hold — 512 billion bytes.
(And, by the way, as is covered in the audio of the previous section, about bits and bytes, a byte is 8 bits. What is not covered is that a kilobyte is a "thousand" bytes, and the quote marks are required because it's actually 1,024 bytes. Then, a megabyte is a "thousand" kilobytes, which means 1,024 kilobytes, and a gigabyte is 1,024 megabytes. All of this mumbo-jumbo means a gigabyte is not simply a billion bytes, it is 1,024 bytes times 1,024 times 1,024, which equals 1,073,741,824 (or about 1.07 billion) bytes. And, for you who really, really enjoy numbers, that is 8,589,934,592 bits and this SSD holds 4,398,046,511,104 of them.)
Listen in to hear my review, which is mostly positive. The short version? It's small, lightweight, rugged (especially with the bumper installed), but I did not get the published transfer rate when connected through its USB 3 cable, though it is much faster than a disk disk from the same company in the same form factor, of which I own several. It did, however, slightly best the published transfer rate when run through the base unit (called a dock and, remember, requires a separate purchase). The unit's list price, which includes the SSD, the bumper, and the requisite cables, is $199.95, and it comes with a three-year warranty.
You can learn more about it on the manufacturer's web page by clicking here, where you'll find it in two other capacities — 1,000 and 2,000 gigabytes.
Gimme an Hour
Actually, you have to give me an hour and seventeen minutes, but you'll be super glad you did. The reason is my guest in conversation, Joel Grimes.
Here's a guy who knew from high school that he wanted to be a photographer, was mentored and supported when it meant the most, and through hard work and high aims developed himself into a very successful commercial photographer. And now, in addition to continuing his commercial work and his personal artistic pursuits, he shares in workshops what has taken him decades to learn and develop. This conversation will give you just a taste of the enthusiasm he has and, more than that, his advice on how to make photography your life.
Here's a sampling of his work, so you'll have some idea of what we're talking about:
"Greg Wildman" Photo by Joel Grimes.
"Alia Gonzalez — Guanajuato" Photo by Joel Grimes.
"Denny" Photo by Joel Grimes.
"Bones" Photo by Joel Grimes.
"Elena forest" Photo by Joel Grimes.
Listen to the audio, duh, to hear him and me, and check out his web sites to learn more, download some tips, and maybe sign up for a workshop. Those sites are www.joelgrimes.com and www.joelgrimesworkshops.com.
Gimme Another Hour
That's right, my photo tip this trip is to spend an hour photographing a single object or scene. Take your time, look at it from different angles, through different lenses, with different cameras or different light. Look here, there, high, low, fast, slow.
Because here's the thing: if you force yourself to play for an hour, you will get bored, sure, but by sticking with it you'll also find yourself thinking about your gear and your processes and your assumptions about how to photograph this thing or place. And when you finally start going, "well, fine, you want me to just play, here! How's that for playing!?" and then just pressing the shutter button at random and turning the camera sideways and flipping the lights on and off, something interesting might happen and you'll start going, "well, huh. That's kinda different." And maybe, just maybe, you'll learn something all by yourself. No one told you to do exactly what you did; you did something all by yourself and now it's yours. You did that.
Of course, as I mentioned in a conversation with Peter Ensenberger, the most interesting result of an experiment is not, "Eureka," but "huh…that's odd."
Gimme a Quote
Tom Seaver, pro baseball player, said, "…my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end."
I see in that sentiment a corollary for photography, which is to not worry about the numbers so much. Your photos are not good or bad, exalted or excised, based on the numbers that made them — whether it's the number of pixels, the ISO, aperture or shutter speed. It's not the numbers that make them good, it's your consistent application of good technique supporting a strong vision. Indeed, how the numbers help you make images is important, but what the numbers are is ultimately just noise.
I also share a surprising revelation about numbers by the 2006 winner of the U.S.A. Memory Championship, Joshua Foer, and let author Ami Kaufman tell us what she really thinks of numbers! (Hint: it's not good.)
Gimme a Hug
Thanks for reading here and, hopefully, listening somewhere. I have more exciting guests coming up, plus lots more of my special brand of humor and insight. (Which means: come back for the guests, press fast-forward past the humor.)
And in lieu of a hug, please give me a comment, below, or better yet a comment and a rating on iTunes. Your ratings help spread the word about the show and that is good for the show, for new listeners, and for me.