What to do if the best camera that is with you belongs in the crapper

With respect to the goal of not missing an opportunity, Chase Jarvis was startlingly correct with his famous quote,

The best camera is the one that’s with you.

However, it may be useful to explore some of the remaining unfortunate scenarios that occur as a result of this sage advice.

  • the sensor and optics are of poor quality (i.e. you have a wonky camera)
  • the light level is too low or lighting conditions are difficult (e.g. as a result of the gods hating you and your work, or because your karma sucks)

There is one general solution that clearly has a following. The video linked to below provides an exemplary description of the state of the Art by Mr Xavius.

The number of YouTube viewer comments from people who apparently mistook the documentary style of this video for support of its veracity suggests a certain lack of perception about the issue that is being alluded to by the folks responsible for @oldepayphone.

The following is an example of art that exists in spite of the pitfalls of photography in a universe that has quite a bit of dark energy working against us.

If this photo had not been selected for a major book of Helen Levitt’s New York street portraits then you might not be surprised if you happened to find it on a contact sheet without any marks of distinction due to numerous image quality faults. Many photographers wouldn’t have bothered to press the shutter release, since the chance of a successful image capture would be considered nearly zero.

Looking closer at the subject elements in-frame, the value the photographer placed on what can be seen is clear. The impact of the of the image on the viewer quite nicely recreates an equivalent to what the photographer most likely felt at the scene. This seems to be a perfect example of the concept as described by Minor White in Equivalence: The Perennial Trend, and vastly outweighs any of the picture’s superficial faults.

The question that comes to my mind is, can mere mortals pull this off as well? I had a chance to try recently, when, after forgetting to bring my camera, I found myself at the Art Murmur event that occurs on the first Friday of each month in Oakland. With only a cellphone camera, I was woefully unprepared for moon lit night-life and the subtle lighting of the local art galleries.

There were three pictures that came out of the effort that I think I am willing to consider as poor, but possibly useful images. One is a visual joke, the other lends itself to interesting effects in post-processing, and the third was all about good timing.

I can’t completely solve the issue of the poor optics and noisy sensor on the cellphone, but focussing attention on the subject matter seems to make an impact on viewers.

The color tone in one made me interested in making up for the poor resolution of the image in a somewhat creative way. The gallery below has the two layers I created, and the blended image.

original image resampled to 50 pixels per inch and then converted to black and white

original image resampled at 12 dpi and then used as a semi-transparent overlay for the black white image

combined layers with 67% transparency for the solid blocks of color on the 12 dpi layer, but with jpeg compression errors in this version (in order to upload to WP)

Be aware that the original version in Photoshop does not have the smudged border lines or other compression artifacts of either the exported JPEG above, or the TIFF in the portfolio.

An exported bitmap image looks perfect on my screen, but WordPress doesn’t allow it to be uploaded. So, you’ll have to use your imagination to visualize the more perfect blocky blending of the original until I find a way to upload a more ideal version.

The advantage of this technique seems to be that as I add the pure colors that attracted me to the image in the first place to the higher resolution luminosity blocks, they impart the sensation of the original moment.

With perfect color rendition from the bigger blocks and more detailed subject delineation from the finer grayscale blocks, the image is, in one sense, perfect. Although the OOC image was far from perfect, this process produced a derived image that could be printed at any size and never lose its impact on the viewer through degradation of the resolution—it is effectively fixed by the relative size of the color and luminosity block substructure.

Taking pictures in difficult lighting is one thing. Night pictures on the street are another thing altogether. Although I thought the following was a huge FAIL, someone commented that they really liked the unintentional comedic value.

Eek, what terrible lighting does to people!



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