Straight Up

These plants seemed so eager and ready to grow. I noticed them out of the corner of my eye as I was walking through residential areas in Reykjavik trying to not look too suspicious or touristy. I feel like I always need to be somewhat inconspicuous if I’m stopping to take photos around anything involving children like this playground here, I certainly don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, but I couldn’t let these joyful plants get away without being photographed, not with that impressive posture and all.

Wallpaper links are below, enjoy!

Flickr Nostalgia

Read with this in mind, there are exceptions to everything I mention here, I don’t speak from everyones point of view, only my own perspective, I mostly wanted to open up a dialogue and while I started to write the basic ideas mentioned below on Twitter I quickly realized how hard it is to be nuanced on that platform, so without further digression…

I have been thinking lately about how much I have missed the sense of community and open conversation found in the “good old days” of Flickr before modern social media platforms took off and changed everything. Instagram snuck in as more and more cameras attached to mobile phones started to muddy the photography waters and eventually even those shooting on DSLRs and film cameras started to jump ship to “where the audience was”.

But Instagram has one glaring problem for photography enthusiasts in that the whole service is now centered around the concept of personal celebrity rather than community. I realize there are some who somehow manage to jerry-rig the service into something that connects people but it sure is counterintuitive. A hashtag is not a conversation. A hashtag is a well you throw your work into, bottomless voids you hope to get noticed in.

(Heres the bit that my come across a little cynical, I’m not trying to be but I could see how it could be read that way, bear with me here and remember I write this from the perspective of a photography enthusiast, not an average user.) The idea of community in the Instagram age is reduced to posturing and fighting upstream through trends to make your way to the top. It’s fine for casual fun, but feels poisonous to the photographic community as a whole. Central popular figureheads and a hyper casual style of browsing photographs devalue photographic work and lead to an unbalanced, trend forward form of inspiration. Not to mention there are so many ads now it’s hard to tell if what I’m looking at is something a friend posted or if I’m being sold to. Commercial interests reach out with sly hands in attempts to influence groups of users and it’s more or less up to the integrity of those who get offered such opportunities to let in that kind of influence or not.

This is in stark contrast to the groups and forums of Flickr which more often than not, encourage contributors to learn, experiment, collaborate, and grow as photographers. I still think its amazing that my wife, YoungDoo, noticed the potential of this community early on (way back in 2006!) and created a group called “Flickr In Seoul” that drew hundreds of contributors and she helped start meet ups in different areas of Seoul where photographers could meet up and geek out in person and continue the conversations started within the online community. It lead photographers to engage with each other and learn, experiment and grow. She met countless lifelong friends around the world through her time running the group. It was a nurturing community, unlike most that I stumble into on instagram which sort of turns everyone into a wallflower, hiding in the shadows hoping one of the cool kids will notice them.

Instagram was never meant to be what it has become. It worked fine as an intermediary between friends using their iPhones to snap photos and share them with each other but through time it has become nefarious in the photography world because at the heart of its functionality it is a broken platform for connecting with a wider community in meaningful ways. Using it as a pseudo “portfolio” sometimes works as a marketing tool but it has long felt like it has too many shortcomings to be a good place to connect with others in meaningful ways.

Taking a step away from Instagram, there are places to connect with other photographers such as Reddit or other photography centric web forums like photo.net but there is something special about Flickr and the way it combines a place built first and foremost as somewhere to share our photographic work with easily accessible, interest specific forums.

I feel as though comment sections will never be able to replace a well moderated community forum. Hashtags only have algorithms to help propagate quality content and separate it from those trying to abuse a tag for personal gain, searches become messy and wildly inconsistent. I have tried to follow hashtags a couple of times but often end up with a stream of content not often related at all to the topic.

Flickr also uses tags, and has since I can remember, but a key difference is they are usually used more as a utility to share details about any given photograph such as locations or lens, camera, and film details. The substantial feature that sets Flickr apart as a platform for sharing though, is their groups feature. I have always enjoyed surfing through groups to find communities of like minded photographers to share with. There are people who try to abuse groups just as much as there are those who lay down 50 or so hashtags in Instagram, relevant or not to what they were sharing, but groups often have rules and moderators to help guide them along. While no system may be perfect, at least with Flickr there is more of a structure to help facilitate curated sustainability.

Here is an example of how I have used and loved groups in the past. Imagine, you’re interested in a camera, lens, or system, old or new. I hop on Flickr and do a search through groups to find users of nearly every camera type, system or lens you could imagine. Small or sometime large pools of users all happy and eager to share what they have been capturing with their favorite camera or film lay in wait to help share opinions good and bad. I am able to ask questions to users and explore the different types of results people are getting from them by browsing photos in the group. While there are indeed less active users today as there were in the past, it has been a truly fantastic resource for anyone in the market for a new camera or for anyone wanting to connect with other users to talk shop, collaborate, or learn tips from others using similar equipment.

This extends to artistic sub-genres as well. I remember submitting images to tightly curated groups that would focus on collecting images for zines, or groups of specific moods, locations, and concepts. It was great fun finding others who were interested in like minded shooting styles and feed off of each other’s creativity. I often miss this the most, especially when I’m feeling I could use a little inspiration.

All this is not to say Flickr is a perfect platform for everyone with a camera. I find it is best for those who are honestly excited about using their cameras, professional, amateur, or otherwise but I do hope that the platform continues to evolve and possibly grow under its latest management and change of ownership (Yahoo always felt like a weird fit). I hope to see improvements in the app they offer for smartphones and update it for smoother browsing and searching as well as smoother, more encouraged access to in their groups and communities. I would also love to see them bring user profiles back into more of a prevalent position within said browsing as a means to offer users a place to tell some about themselves, link to other places to find them on the web, and to act as a central bouncing off point to discover others with a like minded style, set of interests, or similar gear even.

Today I mostly wanted to write about what I have always admired about Flickr. If you find value in Instagram, as I do, then by all means, keep contributing there. It is great for broad social networking because it has such a large user pool. My goal here today is to encourage more photographers to rediscover what makes Flickr so great and I’m only scratching the surface here really. I am, perhaps, also hopeful that as Instagram gets weirder as Facebook continues to subtly manipulate it, those wanting to engage, share, and collaborate with other photographers will give Flickr a try either again or for the fist time. Why put photographs you are proud of on a platform that will bury them in selfies, jokes, memes, and ads then use every possible ounce of data and information about you to not only manipulate your use of the application but also use it to scrape together enough money in ads to keep the doors open?

One last question, just to toss one more log onto the fire, would you pay for instagram? If you could have a more focused feed, free of ads, with more control over what you see and how you experience the platform with less privacy concerns, would you? I Think I would, but I know that most likely will never happen. It’s just not how Facebook does buisness, their currency is people and the more they can sway to join up or use the service the better it is for their motivations. So why not try an alternative that isn’t so manipulative?

In my opinion, it’s well worth the cost of entry to support, browse, and be part of a community of other photographers without fighting through ads and the noise of everyone throwing wishes in a well.
At any rate, thanks for tuning in. Maybe I just I miss the genuine connections as we shared our craft with each other before passive browsing became so commonplace. from the chatter I have heard here and there online, I’m not the only one with opinions like these and I really hope to see more of you back over there among the conversation as well. See you soon!

Lost And Found

Back to Iceland with a new something for someone out there, you know who you are. Framed as if half way between thoughts and processed to fit the mood. I discovered this little bit of color in the grey and simply had to sneak my camera in and I wondered to myself, “how long has this bike been parked here?” as I lined up the shot. Looking back through photos to share I fell in love with the light blue, brown leather, and yellow highlights in the scene and hopefully you do too, links below to take this little slice of light home with you. Enjoy!

(Notes: “iPad” download is for all mobile devices now, still have not found time to dig in and code a new button. Also, 5k iMac etc. resolutions in member area, which is only $1 a month at its base level now because I want anyone that needs them to have access. Feel free to write if you have any questions or concerns.)

Sneaking In

There is light, and then there is light that transforms a scene into something beyond its humble self. I still do all I can to seek out this kind of light and capture it, but the key to discovering it is time and a willingness to notice and take advantage of it. It can feel illusive and sometimes this sort of light seems to hide from me for what feels like months but then, I look up, and there it is, waiting impatiently for me to find the right angle to fully take advantage of it.

In this case it was one of the rooms of a rented house sitting in the middle of an otherwise empty field in Iceland on the day we were leaving it. The sun was gracious enough that morning to sneak out from under the clouds and bathe one side of the house with a warm glow. I wonder sometimes what makes this kind of light so comforting. Maybe it’s the physical warmth that it brings to mind, or the long contrasty shadows and shifting color temperature. Whatever it is, I still love it after all these years and I’m happy to share this little moment full of it for anyone in need.

Generally Happy

While sitting down with a pastry and hot cup of coffee this afternoon, I took a few minutes to listen to some new music and watch others go about their buisness. Everyone around me seems to be generally happy in their little phone worlds. Half smiles, heads cocked sideways, a table of prayer before eating their salads. Reflecting on life and people watching feels like a luxury and spending time like this to myself often makes me feel guilty because I immediately wonder, what else should I be doing right now that is surely more productive than this?

So I opened up my laptop and decided to pivot into sharing something new here with those of you still checking in on 50ft from time to time. I appreciate you, thanks for stopping by! Unless I’m just not paying enough attention, custom desktops and photography feels a little small in the grand scheme of things online these days. I figure that’s even more of a reason to keep doing what I do around here, carry on and share like I have been for so long. A day or two ago I dug out a few new images and readied them for sharing and I am happy to be here today doing just that.

Pulling from photos taken while in Iceland late last year I am struck by how dim and grey most of my images are from the trip. A thin layer of clouds were always drifting about overhead and the sun often only snuck out on rare occasions when it dipped low enough in the horizon to escape. So here in this moment the clouds won but the landscape there is beautiful no matter the circumstance so I tried to make the best of what I had to work with when given the opportunity to pull the camera out. I still enjoy shooting landscapes like these with a small aperture and a focus on where I stood rather than the grand whatever beyond in an effort to leave that grander for daydreams and whimsy rather than being so on the nose all the time.

At any rate, thats all for today, download links below, I hope to see you again soon!

Cursory

Last November I was lucky enough to be in Iceland for just over a week. I had been invited there to photograph a wedding which was a lovely experience, pushing through frigid wind to seek out quick moments of beauty before our faces started to freeze and otherwise mirroring a couple as they explored. I felt blessed to have been asked along but I also figured I should take at least a couple of days to explore on my own so I chose to reserve a bed in a hostel and simply wander mapless through the streets of Reykjavík to see what I could find.

During this time I found myself reconnecting with a side of myself that only manages to come out when I have a clear mind and somewhere new to wander. Camera in hand I walked for miles over the course of those couple of days and enjoyed every moment of it.

Details around me have a way of glowing in my vision when I have the mental freedom to seek them out and among them was this one tiny leaf covered in dew off the side of the road along the edge of someones property. The smallest of cursory glances can lead us to such modest details full of understated beauty, and I feel as though I have nearly lost this sense lately so it was really nice to reconnect with this side of myself, even if only for a short while.

If you find solace in these little drops of water, there is of course a desktop version of it waiting on you to enjoy along with a second take of the scene. HD versions will be up on the Gumroad page for members (which has reduced price this year by the way but more on that when I have time to get to it). Links below, enjoy!

50Ft Radio Volume Eighteen

New year, new mix! How about that? I just cant give up on this series, I hold it to dear and still get emails about people discovering new music through them so it makes it all worth while. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while and finally had time between life at large to get it up. I figure this is a good way to start the year off. A year that I really am pushing myself to reconnect with the world of 50ft and see if I cant get the ball rolling again. So much unpublished content hiding in this laptop!

This episode is one I listened to a lot this past fall and slowly added the finishing touches to recently. I tried to work it out where it could loop and not feel like your missing a beat and beats are its emotional center this time around for sure. Just steady enough to turn up and dance to and just relaxed enough to sit back and enjoy or work to if thats the vibe. I quite like this music and encourage you to cherry pick your favorites and look into the artists closer if you find something you like.

Thats what this is all about after all! Spreading the word and sharing music and artists you guys may enjoy and connect with too. That said, here’s my usual mission statement on this series: This series is about the love of music and spreading that love with all of you. If you enjoy a song then by all means, look up the artist, buy their music directly from them, go to a show, shake their hand. The closer the better. They can’t keep doing what they love without us.

Links are below for direct download or the podcast feed (yes you need top copy and paste it into your player of choice to follow, but its a tidy way to have all of these in one place!) It is a mp3 file with chapters so you know who you are listening to but I have included a little screen shot of the playlist as well. Enjoy!

*Podcast Feed for your player of choice:
https://fiftyfootshadows.net/feed/podcast

Direct Link: http://50ft.me/J6W75O
Playlist (listen first! why spoil it?): http://50ft.me/wpNH1s

 

XS Computation

Oh, hello! How about we take a moment today to talk about the state of mobile photography as it pertains to the iPhone XS because it seems like its on the tip of everyones tongue as of late. Advances in computational, machine learning, super HDR, photography have certainly been blowing a lot of smoke as Apple and other mobile phone companies are trying to mimic, lets call them, full bodied, cameras using technology to overcome very clear and obvious limitations in size and physical ability.

First off, it’s worth noting, as of this writing I have only had a few days behind this camera, though what I’m going to discuss here I feel confident in my initial takes on the tech, I did want to mention this. Also, let me say up front, it’s nothing short of incredible how far these tiny sensored cameras have come through the years. Using technology and tricks to mimic and in some cases enhance the behavior and capabilities of full bodied cameras is brilliant and one can take truly delightful photographs with an iPhone, yet, and heres a key point I’m poking my head in today to address, under the right conditions.

After finally jumping in with the rest of you lot and moving to an iPhone with two lenses I am able to try and see what all this fuss is about.

I knew what to expect going in and figured I could simply take a few straightforward portraits right off the bat just to see how things faired with this selective virtual “aperture” post photo, so while at the park with my daughter I set off with my natural instincts behind a camera and went to work as though I had a 5D in hand. This is where things quickly fell apart and I had a firm realization that I had maybe slightly overestimated its abilities.

As we approached the playground little Milla was super excited to head straight for the swing and as luck would have it the afternoon sun was giving us its last several minutes of lovely golden backlight, my favorite! I knelt down low to capture the first scattered fallen leaves of the fall as she darted across to the swing set and upon an initial cursory glance at the results I thought to myself, cool! This could be pretty fun.

Next up she was loaded up on her swing and was kind of patient enough for me to snap a couple of shots before it was time to start pushing her along so I popped the phone into portrait mode and had at it. Again, at first glance, results seemed kind of nice but quickly I realized what felt so off about the shot, the chains in the swing had vanished into the backgrounds emulated blur. This and the lovely lens flare I chose to try and incorporate into the shot was totally lost to the effect.

At this point I gave her a push or two and purposefully pushed my luck trying to capture her in portrait mode while she was in motion swinging but that was far and away beyond possible. The phone made some weird attempts at capturing something but it automatically cropped it in strange ways to make the best of what I was trying to push it into and I quickly decided to give up forcing portrait mode to work with a moving subject.

A short while later she had made her way up to the top of the slide platform, another chance to have a little creative fun by framing her face using the safety bars around the top of the slide but again was quickly denied as my attempts and curiosity lead to a confused and messy algorithmic mask attempt, even with a relatively still subject, because of the shots vaguely complex nature. (See photos above and notice the confusing “focus” on the bars.)

I did this because I was curious if I could use objects in the foreground to frame my subject but because the technology is simply masking out what it thinks is in the foreground I was left in the cold as the bars and Milla’s face were sort of awkwardly stitched together into what it thought was the subject.

So then I figured I would move on to more of a softball shot, she was at the top of the slide hanging about, being as cute as ever, and i simply snapped a few shots that I figured it could handle easily. Still again the masking attempts were confused by the busy leafy green background and the bars which left a number of weird looking spots the mask didn’t quite cut out properly (on the right below). This was compounded by the failure of this tech to fully measure the distance from the camera lens to different parts of the frame leaving bits of the playground bars in and out of focus in seemingly random fashion (also seen above) as the software simply made its beat guess at what it should do. There was also one shot that left strange artifacts on her face from what I assume was mismatched layers from the auto HDR attempt (on the left).

So I gave up taking photos and simply enjoyed taking orders from a giggling Milla as she pushed me down a slide I was way to big for and left the shots to check back on later.

Using the new camera in portrait mode during this short time in a park was a pretty quick and clear reminder that while it’s a cool idea at its heart, it is a marketing gimmick and in a way a more advanced set of the same concepts brought on since the dawn of apps being on the app store which layered effects and post processing onto photos to hide and enhance the shortcomings of the cameras physical limitations. I also tried to use a couple of simple objects on my desk at work, again to see what I could accomplish with this mode or not and if you look at the corners of the book and the area around the glasses you may notice what I would call a failure. Close… but not really.

All that said, I don’t honestly think there is anything at all wrong with these results. It’s a ton of fun to shoot with the device you always have in your pocket and the more tricks they add to make it more enjoyable the better. It’s just that, like with any camera and lens ever made, there are compromises to be made in the way they can be used to the best of their ability and in this case there are a few takeaways I have from my early experience shooting with this camera that I will leave you with today as well as a few more of my attempts at finding ways to utilize the portrait mode in ways that weren’t as jarringly meh.

In general, I think its best to stick with the standard photo mode using one lens or the other, you won’t get to play with that aperture placebo slider but you will have a more stable image to work with in post work. On their own, depending on the distance from the focused subject, etcetera, there is some genuine potential for taking great photos with this alone. The way I see it (and a lot of others out there from what I’ve seen online), the smart HDR features really are the most clever and useful part of the newest advancements, not the portrait mode. Also, Live Photo’s after the fact are a really charming way to go back and revisit passing memories.

The portrait mode is really quite fun but to use the effect in a natural, realistic way its best to use it in places where the subject is in fact the singular visual focus of the photograph meaning, don’t place anything between the subject and the camera and keep a good healthy distance from the background of the subject as well for the best results. Minimizing other details and objects surrounding your subject helps quite a bit too and it’s also worth noting that the more visual contrast between your focus point and the background the better. If you have a light object or light edge on your subject and the background is also white or brightly lit, chances are that masking algorithm is going to get confused. Contrast is key here. In essence, put your subject front at center without anything else to distract at the closest distance away from the camera before the phone starts bugging you to back off and snap away.

Coming from years behind the prime lenses this technique emulates, it’s pretty easy to spot impossible depth added into photos using this kind of faked approach by looking at surrounding objects such as tables, chairs and the like but, does that really matter? Sometimes, when its really obviously wrong but usually its just a side effect that most will never notice is off. I do wonder though why they bothered to try and label the depth effect as aperture settings because its so far from being anywhere close to accurate, why not just have a slider with “more” on one end and “less” on the other?

Last but not least, it’s important to remember which mode suits the circumstance best! Don’t miss a great opportunity for a shot fiddling with portrait mode! Keep that ready for when its best use case scenarios line up and the modes namesake need is in play, a simple, well lit portrait.

Was I expecting the iPhone XS to match a full bodied camera? No, of course not, but even still, I was hopeful it could be used in quick, fun, creative ways while out and about in day to day life. Their marketing hyperbole would love you to believe otherwise but as I have been reminded here today, no matter which camera you shoot with there will always be compromises to be made and the value you extract from your camera of choice will depend on the balance between fitting your needs and the cameras ability to embody them.

I have a feeling that down the line, after a couple more years of this tech developing, we will start to see smarter and smarter realization of the portrait masking concept and the lines between full bodied cameras and mobile ones will continue to (pardon my pun) blur. For now, I for one know that I’m going to have a lot of fun playing around with a new set of tricks available but keep my full bodied cameras close for when I really want to dig in and take full control of a scene.

Also worth noting, all of the above photos were shot on an iPhone XS and edited with the built in photos app which I have never actually used much for editing on iOS and while it’s a little fiddly and limited can generate some nice, quick edits and is worth playing around with if you have not dug into it already. Can come in handy for simple little tonal adjustments on a snapshot. I look forward to seeing what else I can capture with the camera down the line and if your curious to see more mobile photo shots, my instagram feed is usually only fed with images from the iPhone. See you there!

Object No. 16

It’s been quite a while since adding to my brief “object” series of desktops. Looking back I wish I had done more with it. I started the idea as a means to encourage myself to find things to photograph even when inspiration or opportunity to shoot was running low and while wandering around my house with a camera this morning I decided it may be time to bring it out of hiding.
So what do we have today? I pulled this out of our camera cabinet, one of YoungDoo’s old cameras. I could be wrong but I don’t believe it is a functioning camera but I love the art deco like vibes of the body so it seemed like a natural choice for subject matter. I found a spot with a bit of early morning sun and here we are, with a mild tribute to time gone by. I’m thinking I may pick this idea back up and run with it. Could jump start my daily shooting habits again which as you may have noticed around here, I have been trying my best to grab onto. Enjoy!
P.S. – The iPhone download link is suitable for most all mobile devices, including iPads.

To whom it may concern,

IMAGES FOUND WITHIN FIFTYFOOTSHADOWS.NET ARE ©JOHN CAREY AND MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY COMMERCIAL USE WITHOUT PERMISSION. 

DO:

• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
• Share fiftyfootshadows.net with friends.
• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.

DON’T:

• Post desktops elsewhere online.
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• Pass them around in mass.
• Make prints.
• Use images for web banners or graphics. (send a quick email to ask, I’m pretty easy going about this with permission.)
• Use them in commercial work.

If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J

——

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All of the images contained within this website, fiftyfootshadows.net, are property of, John Carey unless otherwise posted. The images are distributed as freeware but they are available for personal use only on your personal computer, tablet, or smartphone as your wallpaper image. Any use of these images for any purpose other than this is a violation of these terms and anyone found using said images will be asked to either compensate the creator for doing so or be asked to stop using them immediately.

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Use your best judgement and we will get along just fine.

Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)

fiftyfootshadows.net

fiftyfootshadows@gmail.com