Thursday, July 26, 2012

Photosynth Cylindrical Shooting

I had read that Photosynth could be used for virtual tours, but upon more reading I found that it can also be used to create a spherical and cylindrical walk-around of a small object. After reading the cautions and advisories, I was all set to create my first cylindrical view. (By cylindrical view I mean either that the camera is stationary and the object turns on a center axis OR the camera walks around a stationary object to see all sides.

So here is my first attempt at it. For some reason, using the controls at the bottom works better with this Photosynth than trying to directly click the images themselves. It was created using 24 individual photographs. I set my camera to its lowest resolution of 8megapixels to shoot this so that there would be no memory worries. (Microsoft claims that there are no memory constraints with the online app, but I just wanted to play it safe.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Panoramic Portrait Position

I've been reading up on various photo tricks in preparation of a trip I hope to take soon. I've become increasingly interested in panoramic photos. I recently learned about Microsoft ICE (used for stitching panoramas that were taken from a single stationary position) and Photosynth (which permits the photographer to take his viewers on a virtual tour in and around a location). Both are free and both require a bit of forethought.

Normal panoramas are 180-degrees or less and those teaching the subject usually recommend a tripod. One nice feature of ICE is that neither a tripod nor single camera orientation are required. However, other customary photo-stitching programs usually expect a single orientation and this is the subject of this post.

If you try to use a tripod and a portrait orientated shot, you will get more distortion because of the lens turning on an imaginary axis that accentuates the issue. After thinking about that issue, at first I thought a monopod might help, but I can neither afford any more equipment at this time nor do I want to carry anymore equipment. One particular video made me think of a solution that may help portrait panos. Although  that video addresses camera shake and not panoramic photos, it was all I needed.

On your typical tripod, the unit that the camera attaches typically swings up (for putting the camera in portrait framing). On the leg of the tripod that is closest to swung-up position, extend only that one leg to a height where the viewer will be at your eye level. Now imagine a line between the bottom of that one leg and the lens. Position the camera so that that line sets your vertical level. My Canon 7D has a electronic level that shows both vertical and horizontal leveling. Once you have a sense of your vertical level, and your lens is flat against that imaginary plane, you need only pivot on that one leg as you rotate to take each frame.

I learned some other things from another video regarding preparing for taking panoramic images. Here is a recap of those lessons:

Good Technique for Pano Prep

Hardware: Setup on tripod. If a zoom lens, set to mid range. (Reduces distortion).

  • Photographing in portrait position (camera turned sideways) can cause greater distortions in stitching, but has added benefit of greater breadth in image. (Untested, but more overlap may help here.). One aid is simply put an object on the ground as a reference point that you hold your lens over it and rotate with lens centered above it (which means hand-held photography instead of on tripod).

  • Note: The worries associated with panoramic photos are not relevant to Photosynth photography.

Plan: Determine ahead your pan start & end points

PreScan: Scan the "horizon" of your planned pan without taking a pic to ensure that everything you want in the pan will be visible.

Exposure Averaging: Take 2 or 3 test shots: Pan-Start, Mid, Pan-End and check histogram. As much as possible determine an average that will get the whole pan correctly exposed. Reason: You want Manual mode and manual focus so that the whole pan, when stitched, will appear evenly exposed as if it truly were a single image.

  • With Auto, Av or Tv, take your readings, determine best mid-point focus and from the test shots and set your focus and exposure.

  • Start with a small aperature (large number above 10). This will ensure more is in focus than is out of focus.

Manual: Finally, set to Manual mode & manual focus and proceed to take your pan shots, remembering to include adequate overlap in each image so that alignment in the stitching program will be easy.

  • Adequate overlap is up to 50%. It is not less than 25%.

Below is a portrait pan I took. In the photo I annotated the problem areas.

Here is a simple illustration to indicate the tilted tripod method I used. The grey dash-line indicates the imaginary vertical plane against which the lens and one leg of the tripod match to. The brown line is the one extended leg of the tripod, the blue is the camera and the red the part on the tripod that connects to the camera. I tried to illustrate that the camera was in portrait.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creative Photography

I started taking pictures when I was in my mid teens. But I had never given any thought to using the camera as a means of creative expression beyond composition, framing and exposure. I recently found a gentleman who, as of this writing, is probably around 21 years old and already is running a business with his Nikon and Photoshop. His website is

I was/am very impressed with his creativity to the point that I wanted to try one of his ideas, but with a twist of my own. Although I do not believe in ghosts, I wanted to see if I could use his idea to create a ghost-like image of myself. It really wasn't all that hard to do. I used Paint Shop Pro version X2.

Here is the process for creating it:

Took two pics of my bedroom, one with me, one without me.

Layer Stack:
Me in pic
Me not in pic

With the pic of me in it, cut out me.
Deleted layer with me in it
Duplicated cutout of me.

Layer Stack:
Me not in pic

Process on the Blur Layer:
Blur pic with outward explosion
Duplicated above explosion and rotated 45-degrees right
Flattened two blur layers
Applied “Chrome” effect
Changed blend mode to Screen, opacity to 59%

Completion Process
Select Me-CutOut and change opacity to 36%, “normal” blend mode
Took eraser set to 50% hardness and step 10 and went around edge of blur.

Final product:
Top Layer: Me CutOut
Middle Layer: Blur
Bottom Layer: Me not there

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Canon Digic Processors

Its been a while since I’ve written a geek article. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been talking with a peer who is considering getting the new Canon EOS 650D (aka Rebel T4i or EOS Kiss X6i). When I got my Canon EOS 7D, he really envied me—he just couldn’t justify the cost. Well, now he is taking a cruise that will take him to the same vendor I got my 7D at (on St. Thomas island). He has had a number of questions of my experience with the 7D because it and the 650D share some similar specs.

However, we started discussing the “brains” of the cameras. Mine has two Digic4 processors. The 650D has the latest generation of the Digic5 processor, but only one. Supposedly, going tooth to tooth, one Digic5 is 6 times faster in processing the image than one Digic4. Besides speed, improvements in handling noise at higher ISO’s are also noted. There are other benefits, but supposedly those are the big two.

In reading a Wikipedia article, Canon has used those claims with each successive iteration of the processor, but not without justification & good reason. For example, the new 1D series, using two Digic5, can shoot 14 frames a second with an ISO of over 200,000 (204,800). The 650D can shoot at 25,600 ISO. The highest ISO my 7D can shoot at is 12,800, half of the 650D but it can shoot 8 frames per second, three frames faster than the 650D and 6 frames slower than the 1DX.

During my reading/research, I also learned a bit more of the process flow inside the camera. There are three major phases. The first is the image capture. This takes place on the CMOS sensor. Next is the image processing; this takes place in the logic chips (Digic processors), handling white-balance, saturation, color correction & much more. Finally, there is the image storage that writes the image to the memory card.

(The last few iterations of digital cameras, at all levels of consumerism, actually divide the "write" process into two separate pieces: First, the image goes to a buffer that is essentially "live" and "fast" memory. Second, the buffer holds the image while the much slower storage card is written to. If you turn off your camera while the buffer is clearing its contents--sending it to your storage card, the camera is designed to remain on until the buffer is cleared. Thus you are not in any danger of losing an image. If you try taking a set of burst photos, you will audibly detect that the first few shots sound very fast compared to the rest. The reason is that the buffer has become full and the bottleneck of image traffic is slowing down the operation while the data gets written to your card. This is reason enough to ensure that you buy the highest write-rating speed of card for your new camera. Especially with the new 18 and above megapixel cameras. You don’t want your burst photos or movies being ruined by write speeds.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is God Cruelly Vengeful?

In Exodus 32:10, God gets angry at the disobedient crowd that Moses is leading and suggests to Moses that he (God) exterminate the crowd and build a nation from Moses' offspring. After Moses expresses sincere concern over that idea, verse 14 says: "And Jehovah began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing to his people."

Since Jehovah is perfect and cannot make even a mistaken judgment, how can it be that after Moses appealed to Jehovah, he (Jehovah)  “began to feel regret over the evil that he had spoken of doing”? This is particularly a good mental challenge because an online Jewish Bible of this verse renders this passage as:  “And HaShem [God] repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” 

That would definitely make it sound as if God had done something wrong, which he needed to correct. The version of the Bible that website claims to be using is the Tanakh, which is the Jewish Bible. This includes all the books Christians know as the Hebrew / Aramaic writings (aka “old testament”).

However, I have a copy of the Tanakh that I bought more than 20 years ago. It was printed by The Jewish Publication Society with a copyright of 1985. It renders that verse as: “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring...” This conveys the idea of rescinding an official decree. Further, one of the reference works the online version says it used renders that verse as: “God refrained from doing the evil that He planned for His people.”

Those two works together most probably carry the closest rendering to convey the correct idea to the English reader--God rescinded the decree, held back his decision, calmed his heart. According to W.E. Vine's "Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words," the original Hebrew word, "nacham," meant to have a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of action-plan.

In complete harmony with this research is the comment in the October15, 2010 Watchtower, which states: “In Hebrew, this expression can simply mean that Jehovah did not bring about the calamity he stated that he was inclined to bring upon the whole nation.” It then cites that a similar passage that occurs in Numbers 14:20, which, according to the New World Translation reads: “Then Jehovah said: ‘I do forgive according to your word.’” Yes, Jehovah was moved by Moses' unselfish concern for the peoples and his concern that God's name not be besmeared by those that would wrongly conclude that God's righteous judgment was a sign of weakness--inability to provide for the people and control his temper. Although God was fully justified and capable of carrying out his will either way (to use Moses as a foundation for a new society or continue using the crowd following Moses), as the Watchtower notes, it more likely that God was testing out Moses to see how he would react to the proposition.

So why then do our English Bibles use words & phrases like "felt regret" or  "repented"? There are several possible reasons. The King James version is one that uses the word "repented." Perhaps in the 1600's that word was understood to merely mean a change without implying a wrong that needed to corrected. Another contributing factor is knowing which manuscripts were used in any particular English translation. It is interesting that the NIV uses the word "relented" (to soften or relax) and the Amplified renders it that God "turned from the evil" he had mentioned doing.

All this reminds me of the need each person has to accept the personal responsibility to gain accurate knowledge of God and not merely accept things at the superficial level and thus make wrong conclusions. For me, the basis I examine any confusing scripture on is the belief that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that he is dependable. (Speaking of God's stalwart determination being as solidly fixed as a rock (like the Rock of Gibraltar), Deuteronomy 32:4 says: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, For all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; Righteous and upright is he.”)

Another lesson learned: Although God is Love, and a God merciful, abundant in loving-kindness and slow to anger, he is also a God that exacts justice on those stubbornly wicked. (Exodus 34:6,7) So we would never want to turn God's patience and undeserved kindness into an excuse for behavior that God disapproves. (Jude 4)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Future Rewards

Every once in a while I come across an idea that I think would be excellent to help prove or at very least support what I believe the Bible’s teaching is regarding death and resurrection.

  • Unlike mainstream Christendom, I believe that we were created as living souls (aka “beings”), not that we have some non-physical component in us called a soul. (Genesis 2:7)
    • KJV, DRA(Catholic Douay) “became a living soul”;
    • NIV, AMP “became a living being”;
    • GNT, “the man began to live”

  • Sometime (not long) after Adam had the breath of life breathed into him and he “became a living soul,” he was told that, if disobedient, at death he would merely return to the ground, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19)
  • Jesus and indeed the whole of the Greek Scriptures (“new testament,” as some call it) attest to early Jewish converts to Christianity as already having common knowledge that being resurrected was supported and taught in the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures (“old testament”).

I felt sure that I should be able to find proof of this belief in Jewish teachings today. So I wondered: What hope of future reward or what hope for the future is there for a loyal Jew (or “Hebrew,” as some prefer)? To that end I read a few websites that cover the idea(s). Surprisingly (or maybe not), those of the Jewish faith, living as our contemporaries, do not have have one common belief.

Here are the three search phrases I used and a few choice returrns:

  • what is the future reward for faithful jews
  • do jews believe in an afterlife
  • did ancient hebrews belief in resurrection

Essentially, it seems the Jews, down through centuries of influences from peoples worshipping “foreign” deities, have had their faith compromised by philosophies not found in the Bible. Even though Jewish scripture canon has no teaching of an immortal soul, some teach that humans do indeed have such. The result of this belief allows them to adopt and adapt the unscriptural belief of reincarnation. It also has the belief of “a nonphysical place where only the intellect remains to ‘bask in the Glow of the Divine Presence.’” This quote was taken from the first link cited above. Even the author admitted: “Nobody is quite sure what this means” But one thing I could not find was any indication just what they would be doing in this Divine Presence. The author does state that: “The logic goes that if the afterlife is only intellectual, only those who used their intellect would want to be there in the first place. Otherwise, they will simply cease to exist, ….” So intellectual ones get to bask in the Divine Presence but I guess they are too much in awe of the presence to do much else than stare in amazement. My words may sound unkind or glib but I truly do not mean them that way. It is my honest conclusion from reading the links above. (In fact, after reading the notes of the first link, I actually gained respect for the objective research that was done.)

The second link at least partially supported my hopes that Jewish belief would back up my Christian belief in the resurrection. The only “pop my bubble” concern is that it is not a unilateral belief across Jewish believers. Instead it really becomes just another point of contention between me and others. They will point to Jews who believe in reincarnation, an immortal soul and other such things as proof of their roots just as firmly as I will point to those that agree with my point. So that line of proof cannot be pursued with the expectation that it will authoritatively answer the question.

Reflecting again on the article in the first link, I was intrigued by the author’s assertion that the holy canon of Jewish writings (Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures) only supported the idea that those writings concentrated on the “present.” The reward for obedience was peace with God during the immediate lifetime of each generation. He claims there was not a dwelling on what happens after death or any expectation of future resurrection. And although to the greater degree that was true--God’s message to each generation dealt with loyalty now and the resultant blessings--just because the spattering of support for coming back as a human again are minimal, that doesn’t reduce the fact that they are there, even as the second cited link makes clear.

So here is what makes sense to me:
  • God created humans to live on the earth. (Psalms 115:16 “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”)

  • Death was not originally in God’s scheme of things. As evidence of this, the faithful angels have lived for millenniums. Adam’s death would only occur if he were disobedient. Otherwise the threat of death would have been inconsequential if Adam would die regardless.

  • God would not have put all the effort that he did into preparing Earth for mankind only to abandon those plans because Adam & Eve sinned. (Isaiah 55:10,11 “For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”) (The “word” regarding God’s wishes for the earth was that man should live in a beautiful garden-like home forever. That “word” has never changed.)

  • If God had planned for obedient mankind to eventually live in heaven, why didn’t he just put them there in the first place? He had already created angels there--why not just put us there to begin with as well? (The response that we had to be tested is illogical and unscriptural.)

  • Just as a fair & good landlord evicts bad tenants but does what he can to keep his good tenants happy, God plans to evict those that are immoral and ungodly so that those that love God and neighbor can live in peace. (Psalm 37:10, 11 “And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more; And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”)

  • Those who have died and will yet die before the fulfilment of the above point are not cheated. They will come back to life as humans on earth to enjoy the life promised in Psalms 37. (Matthew 5:5 “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.” See also Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:3,4)

As a sidenote, I had previously mentioned that it appears one particular teaching of the Jews says they will bask in God’s glory but doesn’t explain it. What I have come to believe is that the small number of those being invited by Christ to heaven have a very specific purpose. (Revelation 20:6) Their rulership will be directly over those “meek” ones that will inherit the earth.