Monday, September 08, 2008

Lessons in sports photography

I have always admired sports photography for the stunning action images as well as the emotions they portray. I wanted to first hand experience how easy/difficult it was to capture such images. So, on the first opportunity I had I went to the Marymoor velodrome armed with my camera and lenses. Here is an account of what I learnt, and how to take better sports pictures.
First of all, here is what I took:
- DigiSLR
- 100- 300mm (1:4.5-5.6) zoom lens
- 16- 35mm (1:2.8) wide angle zoom lens
First mistake that you notice is that I didn't pack my tripod! My lenses are not extremely fast, and to top it off, the races were held at night. I realized this as soon as darkness engulfed us, and flood lights turned on.

Lesson #1: Do your homework on the gear you will need.

As a spectator, I had visited the velodrome several times, but had never thought of the different locations and the angles they provide. Armed with a camera, I started noticing all of this when I started shooting, and looking for the angles you see on a sports publication. As I started shooting, and moving around, I discovered that most of the coveted spots were already taken!

Lesson #2: Do your scouting in advance and pick the best location.

When it comes to angles and composition, it pays to know a bit about the sport. How does it start? What happens during the event? How does it end? What do the competitors do: before, during and after the event? Knowing all these lets you pick the right spot, and be there when the action is happening. Strategize in advance.

Lesson #3: Learn about the sport you are shooting.

I shot a lots of pics from different angles, locations, and most of them turned out mediocre (see examples above). About a third of them were blurred. Many of these can be attributed to the equipment I had.

It is always a good idea to experiment and shoot lots of pics and keep good notes on the parameters used.

First of all, you need a fast lens to shoot in low light. Since you need to use fast shutter speed to freeze action (if that is the intent), a fast lens helps immensely. Image stabilization on top of it will add to the sharpness. Setting a higher film speed also helps, but there is threshold (ISO 800?) beyond which the images become grainy.

A long lens adds to the effect by laterally compressing the scene. A wide angle lens lets you capture the bigger picture, including the spectators. Larger apertures are helpful in blurring out the background.

A tripod would help, but a monopod will do better. A monopod will offer a lot of flexibility when the subject keeps moving and changing direction. I would love to take a monopod during my next visit.

Last, but not the least, shoot a variety of pictures. Keep in mind that your subject in a sporting event is not only the sportsperson during the event, but also the sportsperson before and after the event. Your subject could also be the spectators and their reaction. Your subject could be the equipment, the organizers, the concession stands. It could be anything that symbolizes the sport and the spirit of the sport.

Final lesson: Look at the bigger picture.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Airport Design

I was looking at the airport terminal maps on a recent flight for various international airports and noticed that no two airports looked similar. I had to figure out a way of transferring between two terminals in SFO in the shortest possible time. Only after I ran through the airport did I discover that I had to go through airport security once again, even though I was just changing planes! That is when I started thinking about airport designs.

Why isn't there a standard airport terminal design that is optimized for airplane traffic as well as passenger traffic?

Airports have been around for quite sometime and there are hunderds around the world. A lot of thinking goes into airport design such as environmental concerns, reuse, use of natural light, efficient heating/cooling, etc. I have seen several contemporary airport terminal designs, each expressing their own style and culture.

But, what is surprising is the fact that the terminal maps and the runways are different in every airport. I had imagined that studies had been conducted and standard designs would have come out of optimizing the operations of an airport. Most airports are built upon a rectangular patch of ground. Of course, some airports will have certain constraints, but none too great to not use a standard, efficient and proven layout.

I am all for unleashing ones creativity when it comes to the cosmetic design of the terminals. But, when it comes to efficient design of the runways, taxiways as well as the terminals, there needs to be a study conducted by an operations research scientist. I am sure someone has already done this, but I fail to see it in use anywhere.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Total Recall

I was at a birthday party a few weeks ago. The party was for a toddler and was held at a theme park. One of the attractions was a water ride in which kids rode around a water way on a small canoe. The ride was manned by a teenage girl, and what was interesting about her was her incredible memory. Kids would get onto the boats on one side of the ride, and she would talk to them and ask their names. When the boats came back, she would greet each and every one of them using their names. Remember, there were 4-5 boats in the loop. What was even more interesting was that I met her in the concession stand a half hour later, and remarked about her incredible memory. She thanked me, and went on to correctly name my daughter as well as the other kids who rode with her!!

Some people are blessed with incredible photographic memory (I think it is called Eidetic memory). I started wondering how that girl could put this talent of hers to use. Apart from excelling in her studies, being able to recall the content of any page of a text book, remembering shopping lists, remembering names, I could not think of many other uses.

Having the ability to memorize things in great detail is of not much use if the information is not used. It is similar to a database; you can store a lot of information. But, if the information is fragmented and not properly indexed, it is pretty much useless. The same can happen with people who have great memory.

One of the gifts that a human is born with is memory, especially variable storage memory. Our ability to easily forget memories that we do not cherish is one of the boons. If one has eidetic memory and holds everything down, it may be hard to forget things too. That would make their life miserable.

All in all, good memory is always beneficial since it helps one excel in studies, socially as well as professionally.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Spurring creativity...

Here is a great design for a multi-purpose container. It starts out its life as a water bottle, and turns into a toy. Great way to encourage people (in this case, children) to reuse the empty container.

Now you have two reasons to buy y-water! What a concept.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lessons in out-of-the-box thinking

I recently saw this post on how to achieve what seems to be impossible, and the lessons learnt from it.

To summarize the lessons learnt:
- Don't assume
- Question habits
- Be creative
- Look for a better way
- Impossibilities often aren;t

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"All children are born artists.

The problem is to remain one as we grow up" - Picasso.

Here is an excellant talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the importance of creativity in education. He says that creativity is as important as literacy. He talks about how we are educating people out of their creativity.

If you ever notice a little kid draw or paint, you will see the lack of self-doubt, judgement or fear of doing wrong. Sir Ken says "Kids are not afraid of being wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original".

Enjoy the thought provoking as well as humorous talk.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Future library

After writing the blog on Kindle, I was thinking up ideas on how to make eBooks an attractive proposition to the market. Here is an idea that popped into my head:

Imagine becoming a member of a new library, and the library issues a eBook Reader, say Kindle, instead of a library card. The library would have hooked up with a service provider who would have created a database of all the books that the library owns. The Kindle would be used as a library catalog. You would browse the library catalog at the comfort of your home, and pick a book to borrow. If that book is currently available, the system will allow you to download it into your Kindle. If the library owns only one copy of the book, this book would then be unavailable to anyone else. When the due data arrives, you let go of your copy of the book, releasing the license to the book to someone else.

With this idea, you don't need to go to a physical library. You can access all the books that a library and its associated libraries have to offer irrespective of geographical location.

Of course, this is still a dream until all the available books are available in digital versions, and all periodicals and publications are also digitized. But, the rate at which books and periodicals are being digitized, this could become reality in the very near future.

This brings up an interesting question:

Why should eBooks be treated as traditional paper books?

eBooks don't get torn, or wet, or age. It is just bits in computer memory. Distributing multiple copies of an eBook cost next to nothing. Sharing eBooks is as simple as emailing the bits over. So, a library could theoretically have millions of copies of every periodical/book. Wouldn't that be wonderful! No more need to 'place books on hold'.

"Hold your thought right there" the author in you says. How will I get paid for all my hard work? How will I be rewarded if my book is a blockbuster and millions of people read it? This is where we have to fall back on the physical book economics. The eBooks still need to be priced per copy sold/downloaded in order to reward the author/publisher. Or, this is where we need to break today's boundaries and come up with innovative ideas on satisfying both creators and consumers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are you Right-brained or Left-brained?

Here is an interesting test to figure it out, in case you already didn't know. Most of us have a dominant side of the brain and we fall into one of the two categories. Some people are closer to the border and it will be easy for them to switch from clockwise to counter clockwise, and vice versa. I for one, found it hard to switch directions.

Do you know which is your dominant eye? The dominant eye is the eye that directly looks at the object, and the other eye looks from a slight angle. This is what gives us depth perception. In some cases, it is useful to know this information.

An easy test you can perform to determine your dominant eye:
If you are sitting in a room, point at any object that is at least 10-12 ft away from you. Hold your arm still and close your left eye. If your finger is still pointing to the object, your dominant eye is the right eye. If not, it is your left eye. I discovered this when I started playing pool. If you do not use the dominant eye to aim the cue, you will miss your shot.