Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good old innovation at work

You want to see something cool?  Check out the video above about what these people who run JP Aerospace did for a fraction of the cost of what the major aerospace companies are spending to do basically the same thing.  Their JP Aerospace blog is located at this link.  Look at the photos in their blog post from October 24th.  Fantastic stuff!

I really like to see these types of stories.  People thinking of out-of-the-box ways to get amazing things done that big, bloated, hierarchical companies can't achieve with ten times the resources.

Way to go JP Aerospace!  I hope these experiments lead to great things down the road!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The story of the Walt Disney World Railroad

Did you ever wonder where the trains that run around Disney World as part of the World Disney World Railroad came from, and why?  As with most things Disney, there's an interesting story behind it.

The video below provides history and footage of Walt and the Disney trains and how they came to be.  Many people don't know that Walt Disney had a lifelong love of trains and that he even had a scale model working railroad in the back yard of his house in California that he used to take people for rides on (it's shown in the video).

On a side note, the person narrating the video (Disney Historian, Jim Korkis) has a great book out called "The Vault of Walt" that's filled with tons of historic Disney information like that found in this video.  It's a fascinating read that provides a lot of insight and anecdotes about who Walt Disney was, what he was all about, and why he was driven to do the things that he did.  Very good read...

Enjoy the short video!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dark Secret Of Digital Photography - Rob Sheppard

Every once in a while I post a link here on my blog to what I think is an exceptionally good article published in one of the major photo magazines that will help people.  This is one of those times!

Here is a link to an article called "The Dark Side of Digital Photography" by Rob Sheppard.  It's one of those articles that cuts right to the point of how to easily and effectively improve the quality of your images during post-processing in photo editing applications.

Specifically, this article deals with an effective way to handle the dark areas of your photos, and why you should do it to improve the overall quality of your images.  It's enlightening reading, and it contains several example photos that match up with the simple technique (sliding one slider!).

Additionally, Rob makes some comments that I agree with about the "expose to the right" technique in digital photography.  I never really brought into that concept and I'm glad to see someone of Rob's status in the photo industry debunking it to some degree.  He makes it clear that this photography exposure technique might get you some benefits in some limited situations, but you'll often end up losing more than you gain.

Understanding tonal range and balance in your photos is a critical concept to improving the quality of your images.  Having an easy way to help with achieving that balance is great!  This is an effective article on how to understand and achieve that balance....easily.  Check out Rob's article.  It's time well spent...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apples and Autumn

"Apple Orchard"

Nothing says "autumn" to me more than the smell of an apple pie baking in the house, a slight chill in the air outside, the first fire of the season in the fireplace, and the colors beginning to change in the leaves.  All of those things are happening at about this time, so the autumn season has begun!

The photo here was taken on a recent apple picking trip that we took with some of our extended family to a farm near our house.  We hit the picking season just right because the trees were filled with apples that were perfectly ready to be dropped into pies, cobblers, and other good desserts.

I gave this photo a selective color treatment because the background was very green and intense and was distracting from the apples in the I got to thinking of just trying a few ways to highlight the bin of apples in the foreground and this is what I came up with that worked out nicely.  It also seems to make the photo a little more timeless for some reason, which black and white often seems to do.  A little drop-shadow around the edges completed it.

Another approach to this photo to emphasize the bin in the foreground would have been to partially desaturate all of the colors in the photo except for the apple bin, which is a technique very often used in commercial photography to isolate the main subject in a color photo.

Anyway....I digress.  One other food thought before I leave.  Apple cider donuts!  I can't even tell you how delicious they were at the farm where we picked these apples.  They were the best that I've ever had.  Piping hot straight out of the cooker with a little sugar on them and into our mouths.  I couldn't stop eating them!  Just that one smell alone says "autumn" to me.  I'm halfway thinking of driving back down there just to get some more!

I hope you enjoy whatever activities you're doing to ring in the autumn season.  It won't be long until the first below-freezing nights are in the forecast!  :-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photo Carousel #12: "San Angel Inn - Mexico Pavilion in Epcot"

"San Angel Inn - Mexico Pavilion in Epcot"
Here's my next Photo Carousel entry, "San Angel Inn".

One of the things that I've started to do lately is take photos of the cool places that my family dines while we're traveling.  I realized that eating is an important part of traveling, yet I rarely take photos of the restaurants that we stop at along the way.  This is a pretty big gap in the overall group of photos from any given trip because a lot of good times are shared.....while eating!  If you don't have a few photos of those dining stops, some of those memories can sometimes slip away...

With that in mind, on our recent trip to Disney World in Florida, I photographed each restaurant where we ate.  Some of the pictures are just casual snapshots to capture a moment, but the one above took a little bit of work to get right (and the subject deserved it).

If you've ever been to the Mexico Pavilion in the Epcot theme park, you can appreciate the work that went into it.  When you first enter the pavilion, there are displays of Mexican art and culture, and after you view that area and walk through the crafts section of the pavilion where artists are working on souvenirs, you enter a different (and dark!) world.

It takes your eyes some time to adjust to the darkness, but when they do you'll realize that you're standing in the center of a recreated Mexican town market with craft and artwork vendors, souvenir stands, people standing around shopping and having fun, and in the back....there's the San Angel Inn restaurant.

Off in the distance there's a scaled replica of a Mexican pyramid like those that you'll see at the Chichen Itza historical site in Mexico.  There's also a ride that has its entrance on the left side of the pavilion called "Gran Fiesta Starring the Three Caballeros".

This area is a visual feast, and it's so well done that it's easy to quickly forget that you're in Disney!  At the back of the pavilion is the restaurant in my photo above.  It's a large restaurant, but if you're thinking of going here for lunch or dinner, be warned that you absolutely will not get in without a reservation.  Plan ahead!

From a creative perspective, I was trying to capture the overall mood and size of San Angel Inn.  I feel that this photo does that by using a layered approach of showing the dining area in the front, the pyramid in the middle, and then beyond that is the background wall painting with the volcanoes.  The dining area where the tables are is somewhat more intimate and slightly darker than it appears in this photo.  I over-exposed this shot intentionally to show the detail in the seating area better, but you can still get the idea that each table is candlelit and relaxing (i.e., no overhead lighting).

From a technical perspective, the shutter speed for this shot was slow (about 1/25 second) to gather enough light from the dark scene to create a useful photo.  I didn't use flash because that would have ruined the mood of the photo.  Hand-holding was out of the question due to the low shutter speed, so I propped the camera on a railing and used the self-timer to steady it while framing the shot as best as I could.  There was nowhere else to put the camera, and that's why those two chairs are blocking the low part of the shot.  I couldn't reach over the railing to move them.

For me personally, this shot succeeds because it really captures the mood of the San Angel Inn and I think it conveys the thought of this being a relaxed place to sit and have a meal.  Because of the effort that I put into it, this photo turned out to more than just a travel snapshot.

Going back to the point that I made at the start of this post about capturing memories, just seeing this one photo reminds me of the mood and atmosphere that night at dinner, and the great time (and food!) that our family had there.

On a side note, if I do humbly say so myself, this photo blows away the official Disney photos of this restaurant that appear on their website at the links above!  Maybe I should sell it to them!  :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Disney Imagineering Field Guides

As I mentioned in the post at this link, I really like to learn about all of the details that went into designing the Disney parks, rides and attractions.  The level of detail is amazing once you start to find the little things that are hidden all over the place.  The tiniest little details were all put there for a bring a smile to someones face who happened to notice them.

I read the great book by John Hench mentioned at the link above that discussed this topic in an overall fashion, but many people don't realize that there are a few other books that discuss the details and effort that went into designing the parks in deeper detail.  These books are called "The Imagineering Field Guides", and there's one of them for each park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios).

The guides are filled with all kinds of interesting facts about how the rides and parks turned out the way they did, and most importantly why.

For example, in the Magic Kingdom edition they talk about the design and construction of Cinderella's Castle and why it ended up at the exact height that it did. It's 198 feet tall.  The reason Disney chose that height is because any building in Florida that's 200 feet or taller is required to have a blinking red aircraft warning light on top of it.  Obviously Disney didn't want a blinking red aircraft light on top of their centerpiece castle, so they made it as high as they could (with a little room to spare) so that they could keep their design and not have to spoil it with a red blinking light.  The same consideration went into Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and the other tall ride structures in the parks.

If you're a Disney fanatic and finding out those types of little facts is interesting to you, then these are the books for you!  I've had more than a few good laughs and "Aha!" moments while reading them.  Things that I always wondered about since I was a kid are explained here for the first time.

The books also show a lot of interesting photos and sketches about how the parks and rides were originally conceived versus how they turned out.  In some cases they're almost exactly the same, and in others there were key design changes made along the way.  Those design changes are explained as well.  Interesting stuff....

These guides are inexpensive and well worth the money to get some more insight into the terrific Disney design principles.  If you decide to purchase them, watch out!  They're going to make you want to go to The World to check the parks out all over again!  :-)