Bird on a Wire

It had to be done:

"Bird on a Wire"

“Bird on a Wire”


A few days ago a contact on flickr observed I’d entitled a photo in a rather perfunctory fashion, `A Tree‘. The tree itself is relatively characterful, branches blown according to the prevailing wind direction into an exuberant tentacle-waving display; the work that went into the processing of that image was, as usual, significant: it’s a vertorama, the presets used for each image evolved for optimum image quality, the stitching took time, and a lot of time was spent choosing the filtering, black&white conversion and toning.

One thing I noticed about competitions in photography clubs is a distinct tendency for photos to be awarded higher marks according to the literality of their titles relative to their physical subject-matter. This was irksome at the time (as I’m currently “between clubs”), but on a little thought I’ve realised there are several styles of titling photos:

  • one layer of abstraction towards a concept: “dreich”
  • literal: “sparrow”, “buzzard”, “dandelion”
  • understated – perhaps textual / ideological minimalism parallel to the photographic aesthetic
  • cynical, throw-away or orthogonal (e.g. “Untitled” or using the camera’s sequence-numbered filename)
  • outright cliché

Some photos just fall straight into the latter category. No amount of grungy texture-blending processing is going to stop people seeing my photo of the day today and superstitiously muttering the incantation, “bird on a wire”; a Google image-search brings up an entire page full of similar images, differing mostly in the number of birds involved. Similarly, there’s something in the shared photographer psyche that instantly entitles any example of wabi-sabi as “seen better days”. Googling that is left as an exercise for the reader.

More to the point, if a photographer (or their editor) has sufficient lack of background story to entitle such a shot otherwise, should it have been taken except for the sake of adding to one’s collection?

I’m up to 7 birds on the wire now and they’ve changed into pigeons.

Rocky Shores

Coastline from above Portpatrick

It makes quite a pleasant longer lunchtime stroll route with Dog – walking down into the village, out of the harbour up a few steps of the Southern Upland Way, pause and stare out to sea.
This is just a quick couple of shots taken on the mobile – a curved wall amongst the wacke rock.

Social Provisions

A juxtaposition.

Social Provision

In 1875, local blacksmith John McWilliam presented Stranraer with a well/pump, originally installed near his forge on Sun Street but now moved round the corner to Lewis Street.
In the background, there’s the peculiar architecture of council accommodation. A grim grey desaturated processing seemed appropriate…

Moved On

At a guess, I’m assuming the dental practice that was here has moved on.

A disused former dental practice building, Lewis Street, Stranraer

Perhaps the NHS should update their webpage, although the banner image serves to illustrate the former glory of the building.


sunbathing dog

Am I elegant enough? Am I?

It’s been a hard day for Dog – no bed (been cleaned), chasing birds and playing in the garden. 

Presumably the gravel is warm, but how on earth does he find it comfortable enough to snooze on?!

Delusions of Grandeur

A small scooter covered in silvery rear-view mirrors, Portpatrick harbour

You can have as many shiny mirrors as you like, but the view will still only be the thick blue smoke coming out the back. 
For the past couple of days the Lowland Scooter Club seem to have taken up residence in the village. The noise and smell of scooters passing by has been, er, distinctive…

Morning Blur

Having discovered one or two people on Blipfoto who use it, I’m finding intentional camera movement (ICM) interesting as a means of artistic expression. 

I make at least one photo per day; a few weeks ago I settled on wiggly wednesday as a theme – the results arising from multiple images taken with random camera movement, chosen for their visceral response, blended together and toned black&white as always. Making it a “Wednesday” thing is a great way to balance exploring the effect regularly with not overdoing it to the point of boredom.

Anyway, this morning I discovered it’s also viable on the mobile phone – in low light of a dull day among the trees its automatic exposures were long enough to let rip and see what happened.

Motion-blurred ferns/bracken

(two frames blended in the Gimp and toned and processed in Darktable).


I did only say this blog would be mostly mobile photography. Time for something a little different.

Thanks to a tip-off from a Facebook page and some friends in Leeds, a couple of nights ago I watched the International Space Station passing overhead for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect; the magnitude (-3.0) hinted at it being “incredibly bright”, and indeed so it was. Bearing in mind I had no idea what to expect, the less said about those attempts at photographing it, the better.

But last night, I investigated further using Heavens Above and saw another passing was scheduled for 2329hrs. Seeing the weather conditions were favourable, I chose a location toward the top of a nearby hill and stood around to wait.

Approaching from the west:

The International Space Station approaching from the west

disappearing toward the east:

The International Space Station approaching departing to the ESE


Some notes on the image processing:

The approach image comes from 6 frames at ISO800, f/4, 14mm, 15s each, taken in quick successsion; the departure image used 12 frames at ISO800, f/5, 29mm, 30s each. The high ISO was chosen partly in order to give me a chance to compose and track, partly to ensure the ISS showed up bright against the background. Both apertures are fairly wide to maximize the light captured yet give a reasonable depth of field in the landscape given the wide-angle focal lengths in use (I had pre-focussed the camera on infinity half an hour before setting out). High-ISO sensor noise is thermal and therefore random; however, long-exposure sensor noise gives a fixed pattern of hot and dead pixels. Therefore, by keeping the exposures short at 15-30s I was able to pan between shots, aiding the composition (the ISS’ path is subject to slight changes at the last minute), meaning all pixels could be calculated from more than one image with spatial offsets – stacking reduces image-noise. Finally, I took a dark frame (with the lens-cap on) to record the actual noise profile.

Initial RAW conversion used RawTherapee in order to subtract the dark-frame; images were stitched together using Hugin and enfuse biassed toward image entropy for high quality landscape and sky tones; because the averaging process reduced the intensity of the ISS’s track, I further blended the intermediate aligned images using ImageMagick and the maximum operator and overlaid the results selectively using the GIMP. Final colour toning and spatial control (high- and low-pass filters) was done in Darktable.

Update 2013-06-18: the approach photo is now available for prints or download at 500px.

Old is the new… old, really

Time for a bit of a rant, geek-style.

For about 15 months I’ve used a Samsung Galaxy Note as mobile phone of choice. And truth be told, I’ve hated all bar the first 10 minutes of it. The lack of RAM has made me reconsider what apps I use, favouring Seesmic for combined Facebook+Twitter over separate apps; it still makes it horrendously slow for running anything interactive – as an example, by the time I’d got the thing unlocked and fired-up HDR Camera+, a rainbow had entirely gone! Spontaneity, we do not have it.

What they don’t tell you is that the leverage available when coupling these large screens with tiny thin USB connectors is a recipe for disaster. I’ve bent the pins on more cables than I care to think, trying to wiggle the thing for optimum solid connectivity; just before Christmas last year it finally died and the internal USB connector broke, requiring a repair under warranty – the first time I’ve ever had to send back a phone to be fixed.

Anyway, yesterday evening it threw a hissy-fit and spontaneously discharged the battery all the way down to empty, despite being plugged in (and, given that the wiggly-connector issues seemed to be returning, I made doubly sure that the power icon said charging). I recharged the battery overnight with the phone turned off, and yet this morning it still refused to boot up. It did something like this a while ago, and leaving it overnight was sufficient to reset itself; today, it’s had all day and still isn’t powering on any more.

So this morning I dug out my old HTC Hero, the first Android phone I ever used, and flashed it with CyanogenMod and updated the radio package. After a bit lot of faffing around, hunting and installing SSL root CA certificates to allow it to talk to Google and rebooting, I’m now powered by a custom ROM and sufficiently uptodate that Google Talk has been replaced by Hangouts. Yay, geek-cred!

The Samsung problem might be as simple as a dead battery; however, after the Christmas fiasco I really can’t be bothered trying to fix it any more and will look forward to getting something better later in the year.

Unfortunately it means a few changes on this blog; the camera is down from 8 megapixels to 5MPel and I won’t be shooting with HDR Camera+ or processing images on the phone with Aviary any more. Still, it does work for capturing the odd image and I can achieve some suitably strange processing effects on the notebook with darktable if I want.

Meanwhile I’m back getting my communication and maps on the go again. And the Hero is living up to its name.

When Litter Turns Bad

Detail of an automatic mains timer switch, discarded by a passing truck.

It was disconcerting to hear the noise of plastic clattering on tarmac and look around to see this mains timer switch bouncing along the road. Fortunately it didn’t get far. Glad it didn’t hurt anybody – it could have made quite a dent in a tyre.



Curves :the road ending away into the distance beneath white fluffy cloud

Well, for small values of infinity, anyway. Can’t beat a brisk roadside walk with the dog in such sunny weather as this 🙂