52Frames – 2020-27 – Complementary colors

The theme for 52Frames this week was Complementary Colors (I chose Red/Green) – which works particularly well with colorful board game pieces such as meeples. I grabbed a couple of these, and I saw my Rubik’s Cube in the shelf – so I threw it in the picture as well. And then I did something I hadn’t done yet: I used Lightroom to edit the picture.

I had a profound lack of motivation for this week – which means that I started shooting around 21:30, which may well be a new record. My goal was to “Just Shoot Something” and not break the streak – and the very first version was just the three meeples on the cube shot with a phone on the table. But I realize I couldn’t even manage to click “take the picture” on the phone – I felt the need to grab the softbox (which has a white background, at least) and a Lume cube (see previous remark about 21:30 – even 2 weeks awy from the solstice, it’s getting dark!). And then I tried to take the picture again with the phone, grumbled a bit, grabbed the camera and took a couple of pictures.

And then… well, then, I installed Lightroom. I’ve been experimenting with switching back to Windows after 15-20 years of Linux usage. And one of the reasons for that (by far not the only one) is “this way I can give Lightroom a try”. I’ve been using Darktable on Linux for quite some time now, and I do love the project and the software. They’re really doing a terrific job. Buuuuuuuuuuuut. I don’t particularly enjoy processing pictures (unless I’m doing specific creative edits). And I must admit that “dammit, Lightroom streamlined that thing A Lot.” I very much enjoy Darktable’s creative options, but when it comes to speed and automation of edits, I cannot deny that Lightroom does a great job, at least as far as my first perfunctory tests go. I was also expecting to fight and sweat my way through it… and I didn’t.

All in all – no, it’s not a great picture – it’s neither very creative nor technically flawless. But I still learnt more today than I expected, and it started with “I’M NOT LOSING MY 52FRAMES STREAK”.

52Frames – 2020-26 – Flashlight

The theme for 52Frames this week was “Flashlight”, with a secondary theme of “Light painting”. I will admit I cheated a tiny bit – I didn’t use a flashlight per se, but a Lume cube – because my Lume cubes have easy-to-snap-on color filters, and I wanted purple, because why not.

Very straightforward shot – setup camera in a dark room, setup long exposition, draw infinite symbol with a purple light, choose best among 12 (which was the number I managed to do before the Lume cube became uncomfortably warm), edit and ship 🙂

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Paper Abstract

The Paper Abstract theme got significantly easier when I remembered I had a fair amount of origami paper somewhere in a drawer. I had started trying to organize them along the rainbow, but the colors I had were not exactly right for that.

Then I built some color wheel type of thing, and it worked somewhat better, because I could work by what “felt” close more than what “should be” close in the context of the rainbow. And then came the assembly. I didn’t know at this time where I was going or what I was doing – the “circular” thing appealed to me, and initially I was going for some kind of wheel or half-wheel kind of picture. So for the assembly, well, I worked around accordion shapes by folding each color and using the folds to carry my structure.

The first images were made with only the folds holding the structure; at some point I got tired of swearing every time it broke, so I added a drop of glue between every pair of sheets of paper to hold them in place. Less creative flexibility, better mood 😉

And then, basically, I played with my accordion of colors and with some lights and my camera. I ended up liking a few details of a particular picture, namely the light reflection and the curve of the tiny hole at the base of the image, and that became my submission for this theme. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA 50mm F2.8 Macro
Focal length50mm
Exposure time1/80 s

Since this was an abstract, I started playing with different orientations of the picture – and liked the one I submitted best. Edits apart from that were pretty straightforward and more “RAW developing” than “real” edits in my view.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Paper Abstract Scavenger album!

#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

After making choices for the Short Story award for the Hugo, I started reading the novellas, and ranking as I went as well. So let’s talk about all the Hugo nominated novellas 🙂 As for the short stories, any one of these is absolutely worth reading; I ended up having preferences… not necessarily where I was expecting (I was honestly thinking my #2 would finish #1, and I was expecting #5 to arrive much higher… and yet.), and all the works are very different, which I enjoyed.

6. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

This is a story set in an alternative Cairo at the very beginning of the 20th century. Alternative, because djinns, magic and alchemy have been a thing enough that there exists a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. We follow Hamed and Onsi, who have been tasked with understanding the why and the how of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – as the title helpfully hints 😉 The atmosphere (including some great background about women’s voting rights) and world-building were fascinating, and I liked the character dynamic between Hamed, a fairly senior agent, and Onsi, a wonderfully enthusiastic newbie. For me specifically, it lacked something (I don’t know what!) to make it entirely memorable, which I regret.

5. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I really, really wanted to love this one. Time travelling Romeo&Juliet? Yes please. Epistolary novel where the protagonists explain in detail their medium of writing, and every single one is more wonderful than the next? YES PLEASE. Absolutely gorgeous writing, to the point of real poetry? Doesn’t hurt, and check. Buuuuuuuuuuut I wasn’t able to connect with that book to the point I feel I should have to enjoy it fully. I think it’s a matter of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – and I think it’ll be high on the list of “things I need to re-read when I think I’ll be able to connect with it more”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this one gets the Best Novella award, and I’d be happy with it; it was just not my thing this time around (and I’m sad about it.)

4. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

The Deep talks about the wajinru, a folk that lives in the depth of the ocean. The wajinru have a historian, who’s chosen in every generation to hold the (traumatic) memory of their people. We follow the story of Yetu, the current historian – who has a very hard time holding that history in herself. The history of the wajinru is haunting, and its description in The Deep is fantastically well-rendered. The story of Yetu is heartbreaking and yet very relatable. And there’s a whole lot of philosophical questions around sacrifice, and around the idea of identity versus history, that I found very interesting too. This was not a fast-paced book, but it was very impactful.

3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

The premise of this is very cool – consider a device, called a prism, that allows SOME communication between two parallel universes that differ from the point of a quantum event shown recorded by the device in question. Now, consider the use that quantum event as a “coin flip” – and boom, you have something that allows you to answer the question of “what if I had made that other choice?”. And since that quantum event has some chaotic consequences, you can find prisms in which things diverge in larger or smaller measures. On top of that setting, add some people who are trying to make profit from these communications with parallel universes, and boom, you get Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (love that title, by the way). I really liked the exploration of what worked and what didn’t in the setting, and the questions about “what is actually ‘core me'” was fascinating too. All in all, this was a very enthusing read 🙂

2. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers

This was the only novella I read before the Hugo nominations were out – because Becky Chambers, if you think I’m going to wait months before reading anything Becky Chambers writes… well. (Yes, I’m fangirling hard. Deal with it.) At the time I read it last year, I was writing: “A chronicle about a long-term space mission – 4 people on a starship, exploring 4 very different planets. It has a solid, competent crew, and science, and feels, and it feels so much longer (in a good way!!) than the small amount of pages, and it’s lovely, and am I fangirling a little bit too hard here? naaaahhh…”. I’ll keep it at that; and since it was the first I read and I loved it so much, that was a very high bar.

1. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire

My vote for Best Novella will go to In an Absent Dream. It’s about the tale of Katherine Lundy, who finds a door to the Goblin Market, where rules are important and fair value is an absolute rule (what “fair value” means is also discussed and a whole part of the book). I loved the main character, I loved the concept of the Goblin Market, and I profoundly enjoyed the fact that the more “epic” parts of the story were actually not shown but barely mentioned as “events that happened” (and that actually had important consequences!). This was a magical read – and definitely not all rainbows and unicorns, it also had a fair amount of sadness and of bittersweetness – and I loved this novella so much. Seanan McGuire (and the series of which In an Absent Dream is a part of) is definitely on the list of people from whom I want to read more stuff (… as soon as I’m done with reading all I can for the Hugo voting, I mean!)

“Hugo Award”, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

Scavenger Hunt #28 – White

“White” is the first word I shot for this Hunt. I knew early on that I really wanted a fully white picture, textured in some way; I just didn’t know which texture would be interesting and fun to shoot. It was literally a matter of “shower thoughts” – I washed my hair and saw the shampoo form a thick white foam at the bottom of the shower, and went “ooooh”. A few days later, I spent some time in my bathroom with more clothes and more camera gear, and I started experimenting with a variety of foam pictures. I lit everything with a Lume cube in one hand (and/or sitting on the border of the shower) and the camera in the other (no tripod was involved in this picture :P), shot a bunch of pictures and decided afterwards which would yield the best results once cropped and processed.

This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensHD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR
Focal length58mm
Exposure time1/50 s

As it is, it took a fair amount of rotating and cropping and editing to get a proper white foam picture, especially since I wanted to avoid the very large hot spot on the left (which was still the light that allowed me to get reasonably contrasted bubbles).

For more interpretations of the theme, see the White Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Keys

For Keys, I wanted to avoid taking pictures of my home keys, because that was boring and possibly somewhat dangerous to put on the Internet 😛 I also happen to have an Allen key on my keychain, so that was an option; then I thought about piano (I don’t have a piano), keyboard (I do have a lot of keyboards, but no fun idea with them), sheet music keys…. guitar keys!

Once the idea was there, the realization was fairly straightforward – guitar, Lume cube, dark background, SHIP IT!

CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA 50mm F2.8 Macro
Focal length50mm
Exposure time1 s

I did a first pass on Darktable to develop the raw to my liking:

Then there’s been some long and painful edit to get rid of the textured background, which I kind of liked per se, but which was distracting in the context of the picture. Keeping the small star of reflection a the bottom of the bottom key was also a large pain.

I’m not super happy with the fact that the bottom key is out of the depth of field (focus stacking may have helped, because I was already at F/10…), but apart from that, I don’t hate the image.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Keys Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Shoes

This was the last word for which I got ANY inspiration in this Hunt – although I did re-shoot another one after this one. Talk about uninspiring: I’m profoundly not a shoes person, I don’t own anything remotely interesting in this area, and this is not an area of interest. I vaguely thought about the hot shoe camera mount, but again, nothing came after that. And then I did remember that there IS a shoe token in Monopoly, and that I DO own a copy of Monopoly. So I setup a board, I even re-read the rules quickly to make sure that whatever I was putting on that board was remotely believable, and I got my shoe shot. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA 50mm F2.8 Macro
Focal length50mm
Exposure time1/80 s

Veeery straightforward edit/development – I didn’t even crop anything (which is very rare) – I did add vignetting, though, because it made sense for me for the mood I wanted to give to the image.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Shoes Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Connected

My initial train of thought for the word “Connected” was to play with an “ET-like” image, with a finger and an Ethernet cable. And then, for the first “post-soft-lockdown” walk we did, I ran into (not literally) some power lines. Which means that I have a fair amount of power lines pictures in that roll 😉 I chose the one which was the most geometrically appealing to me. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensHD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR
Focal length40mm
Exposure time1/80 s

The post-processing was a bit of crop&rotate, some exposure and contrast fixing, and obviously the B&W treatment. Nothing particularly fancy, but this is one of my favorite picture for this hunt 🙂

A friend of mine suggested I may have wanted to flip the image vertically, so that the triangles of the image would point up instead of down. This is not an option I had considered, and I’m happy he did for me 😉 I tested the image that way, and here’s how it looks:

I’m probably very biased because I don’t like being wrong, but I actually like it less that way. The cable coming from the bottom left of the image ended up coming from the top left, and that leading line consequently feels weaker. Somehow, the light on the right also feels weirder; I also like the pylon at the top more than at the bottom. All in all: I’m standing by my accidental choice 😉

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Connected Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Mirror

This is the last picture I took in this hunt, and it is my favorite. I had a previous idea which had to do with some window reflection, and the concept was there, but the image was just not satisfying – so once I got my last shot out of the way to get the set of 10, I went back to the drawing board to get a proper mirror.

Mirrors are highly non trivial to shoot – especially if you don’t really want to be in the picture ! Playing with angles can be fun, but can also be very frustrating when you realize that what you want to do will Just Not Work – because Physics Said So.

I first remembered that we had a few old hard drive platters that make very decent mirrors; after looking for them for a little while, I found them in the cellar in a bag full of steampunky paraphernalia (which we got a few years ago to attend the steampunk-themed wedding of friends of ours). At that point, I hadn’t connected these dots yet – I started playing with the mirrors on the floor, trying to get interesting reflections of the board games shelves, that sort of things. It was not BAD, but it was somewhat underwhelming.

And then I started setting up the whole “let’s have mirrors reflecting the steampunky stuff – on top of that the mirrors are round, I have a lot of circular stuff in there, this may actually be interesting. It took a little while to arrive at a convincing setup of the whole thing – essentially it ended up looking like this, from another angle:

A lot of holding, and clamps, and chains – but these actually work with the theme, somehow, so that’s great! While working with the setup, there was also the question of being able to take a picture of it while not being on the picture myself. I ended up getting the telephoto lens – had a pretty hard time managing to focus it with the low-ish distance I was able to put between the setup scene and the wall, but it eventually worked out. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensSigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 Macro
Focal length190mm
Exposure time1/15 s

The processing was slightly more heavy-handed than usual on the color side – I thought that the browner hue fitted fairly well with the subject of the image.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Mirror Scavenger album!