Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the Other Side of the Camera

I'm giving my son's kindergarten class a "parent's show and tell" presentation this week about underwater photography, so I purchased some images of myself doing just that ...

The full story from that trip can be found here ... CLICK HERE

Monday, November 10, 2008


I've just sent a bunch of stuff to the lab for printing. Take a look and see what you think ... enough said.

Click here to see stuff I just sent to the print lab ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I just spent the weekend in Colorado to visit friends, get outside, take some photographs and see the Derek Trucks Band play.

The Elk are migrating and we saw lots of them. Just outside Estes Park we saw a group of juvenile males hanging around "practicing". Just inside the park we found a larger group of females and young with one very large male.

On Saturday night we saw the Derek Trucks Band play at the Mishawaka amphitheater. Here's a a couple pictures from the show and a link to a streaming recording of the show ...

Click here to hear a recording of the show!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting the most out of your underwater photographs

We've all been there ... at least those of us who are stupid enough to drag cameras with us while we go scuba diving ... You get back from the dive, and you look at the pictures you took and you find there's that one picture that looks good ... except for that blue/green cast dominating subject and background. It looks flat and you remember thinking how beautiful and colorful the fish was when you took its picture.

What can you do? Well ... here's a method that can often return significant natural-looking color to your underwater images that have that blue/green cast. This technique works best with images without a lot of water column and lots of colorful stuff. I'm using Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but most of the effects are easy to replicate in other editors.

Here goes ... the image I'll be starting with was generously permissioned by fellow underwater photographer David Sifre - Thanks David! (David's blog can be found at

Step one ... Surprise! This step has nothing to do with color and more to do with Sharpening. I find that many underwater photographs with lots of nice textures and details can benefit from a bit of local contrast enhancement and fine sharpening that one can achieve with the application of an unsharp mask or masks.

This filter tool can be found under Filters>Sharpen>Unsharp mask. I use an amount of somewhere between 110 and 150 and a radius of 0.6-0.9 with a threshold of zero. Sometimes I follow this up with a second pass with another unsharp mask with the amount down to 20-25 and the radius up to 30-50 and the threshold somewhere between 8-12.
Don't be afraid to dial it back and make sure to preview the results in a 1:1 magnification to truly see the impact ... you don't want to oversharpen the image, but done right you can really accentuate the details of an image this way.

Ok ... Step 2 ... on to the color part.

Make a duplicate layer from your background. You can do this by right-clicking the layer in the layer control or on the toolbar under Layer>Duplicate Layer ... Next, use a Blur filter (average is best) to completely schmear the layer into a solid color field. It will likely look something like this:

Next, hit CONTROL and "I". This will invert the color field layer and should look like this:

Now look at the layer control ... each layer has pull down option that defaults to "Normal" next to another control labeled "Opacity" with a value of 100% ... the first pulldown contains the blending options for this layer. Switch this from "Normal" to "Overlay" and play with the opacity until you think the image looks good.

Lastly, I often will hit an image like this with an "auto-level" adjustment. If you want to preserve the maximum flexibility and use non-destructive techniques, you can create a levels adjustment layer and apply the auto-level that way. That can be found under Layer>New Adjustment Level>Levels ... Or, if you are happy to start the process of collapsing the image to a single output file, you can "flatten" the color layer and the background into a single layer by going to Layer>Flatten Image at which point you can apply an auto-level adjustment directly to that single layer with Image>Adjustments>Auto-level.
Here's the final result ...

This post was referenced on the front page of, a site dedicated to underwater photography. Here's a link to that article from Wetpixel.

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Jeremy Payne on underwater color correction

Wetpixel member Jeremy Payne posts a link to his technique for color correcting underwater images exposed with too little strobe light.
Here’s a method that can often return significant natural-looking color to your underwater images that have that blue/green cast. This technique works best with images without a lot of water column and lots of colorful stuff. I’m using Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but most of the effects are easy to replicate in other editors.

Posted: Eric Cheng 07.31.08 04:14 AM
Related » (discuss) (link here) (1 comments) Categories: News, Photo News

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Camera

So ... I bought a new camera ... and not just any old camera ...

A Nikon D700 ... like this one:

Oh boy is it nice. It has a lot of features, but the thing that got me to buy it is the sensor that it uses to capture the light to create images. This sensor is Nikon's foray into the "full-frame" digital camera space. The D3 was the first camera to use this sensor, and now the D700 uses it in a smaller form factor.

The images it produces, particularly in low light, are stunning.

Here's a silly example, but it was shot in a dimly lit room at iso 3200:
george first d700
There will be SOOOO much more to come about and from this camera ...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NYC Waterfalls

Around NYC's waterfronts these days are some made-made waterfalls sponsored by the Public Art Fund. At night, they are lit up and look quite beautiful.

My friend Gioel took some beautiful shots of the one under the Brooklyn Bridge with his new Nikon D3 ... here's one:

Here's one with my Powershot G9:

Not bad, eh?

Full Report from Grand Cayman

As I mentioned, I was just down in Grand Cayman for 5 days ... from June 21st to June 26th ... here's a more complete trip report.

This trip was a 10th anniversary present from my wife ... she wanted to send me somewhere I could take an underwater photography class, so I booked myself 5 nights at Sunset House in Grand Cayman and signed up for 3 half-day classes with the Cathy Church school. Cathy was actually away celebrating her birthday on a live-aboard somewhere, but I signed up to work with her staff.

The only other time I had ever been to Grand Cayman was in 1999 when I stayed for 5 days at the Cayman Diving Lodge on the East End on my very first "dive trip". For anyone that knows (or knew...) the CDL, they know how special a place it was. For those that don't, it was a really cool little dive hotel on the East End of Grand Cayman with 12 rooms, two boats and an amazing way of getting the job done. They were the best, and fortunately their traditions live on with the Ocean Frontiers operation. Ivan wiped out the original CDL, but a successor is planned for a 2009 opening. But I digress ...

I made a full plan for my five days and pretty much stuck to it ...
Saturday ... I left NYC on a 9:00AM Continental Non-Stop to Grand Cayman. By 1:45PM local time, I was checked in, unpacked and at the Cathy Church office ready to go. We spent about an hour looking at some older photographs together and talking technique topside. By about 3:00PM we were in the water ...

This was click number one of the trip:

I was in business! My teacher - a nice South African chap named "T" - gave me a crash course in both Macro and Wide Angle "basics" over the course of a nice long 85 minute dive. I didn't bring my stacked INON macro lenses on the first dive, but that didn't stop us from trying a little macro on that first dive:


We also got to see the mermaid and did a few different series of shots to show the working distance of the strobes and what kind of benefits the wide angle adapter allowed in terms of getting closer to bigger stuff. She only has two shiny bits ... as you can kinda see here:


Unfortunately, in my haste to get to the water, I left my pelican (with my INON macro lenses and some other goodies) in an office that got locked up and wouldn't be accesible again until Monday ... so much for playing with the stacked INON UCL-165s on Sunday ... oh well.
Sunday ...

On Sunday, I got up nice and early and drove out to the East End to dive 4 tanks with Ocean Frontiers. What a pleasure ... well worth the 45 minute drive. I can't say enough good stuff about Ocean Frontiers. They set a standard that is rarely (if ever) met and certainly never exceded in my opinion.

In the morning, we dove a site called "Lighthouse Wall" first ... and just like my first dive ever on the east end in 1999, there was a decent sized reef shark making its way across the wall just as I descended. I snapped one quick pic as it moved away:

Shark, sorta

The second tank was at a site called "Little House (on the Prairie)" ... a colorful reef dive with beautiful elkhorns. I didn't get a single shot of the elkhorn that I liked. It was in 25 feet of water and bathed in natural light and all my shots stink. Sometimes the best shots are in your head ...
The afternoon started with a site called the Maze ... at a certain point, I just folded up my strobes and powered down the camera ... the swim throughs were tight and twisty and a lot of fun, but didn't accomodate my strobe arms ... it was a fun dive!

The swell that day was intense ... it was reaching down REALLY deep and actually made me seasick on my safety stop. I felt so pukey after the first dive of the afternoon that I considered bailing on the second ... but a few oranges and a quick swim and I was ready again.
The second was a site called Iron Shore Gardens that I remembered from my last visit ... lots of swim throughs and tons of tarpon. I wasn't thrilled with my tarpon shots (BOY are they shiny!), but I kind like this one:


Monday ...

On Monday, I went out on the Sunset House boat in the morning. Everyone else on the boat was connected to a Scuba Network trip except for me. Quite the crew ... If Sunday was heaven ... Monday was, while not hell, certainly ... not heaven. I got buddied up with a older gentleman and super nice guy ... a physician that has been diving for 30 years and taking pictures underwater for years as well. He also had a G9 in an Ikelite ... we met at the bar on Saturday when I came up from the dive. He had lots of questions ... (probably because he doesn't have all you to help!!). That was fine ... I love to help and teach ... what wasn't fine was his diving. He was the underwater equivalent of a bull in a china shop. I spent much of my time following him around keeping him off stuff. The Sunset House boat was also not quite the same as Ocean Frontiers ... nice folks, but they had some "rules" I ddn't quite understand. My principal complaint was that while they offered Nitrox fills, they stated at the briefing that everyone was to dive the "air tables" and advised those of us that had enriched air "not to extend your bottom time". Huh? Oh well ... like I said, REALLY nice people but I doubt I'll dive the Sunset House boats again. The sites were "ok" ... but not quite as nice as the East End.

Monday afternoon, I finally busted out the INON UCL-165s for another 85 minute shore dive with "T" ... having a nice long dive dedicated to learning one thing with a teacher/buddy/assistant is really the way to go. I spent the whole dive learning the minimum and maximum focus points with various combinations of zooming, one and two macro adapters.
There were a few really good shots from this dive, but these are some of my favorites:

Christmas Trees on Sunset Reef

Anemone and Diamond Headed Blenny


Tuesday ...

Morning with Sunset House boat ... shot video with a Magic Filter ... still haven't even really reviewed the footage. Similar to Monday ...

Tuesday afternoon was supposed to be another dive with "T" ... but alas, I failed to charge my canera battery and so ... I did a nice long shore dive where I practiced bouyancy skills and sneaking up on tiny critters ... fun, but I'm still kicking myself for not charging the battery.
Tuesday night I did a night dive with Ocean Frontiers. On my previous Cayman trip, I had done the same dive as my first night dive. I've done a bunch over the years, and the first was always my favorite ... I was really loking forward to doing it there again. The first time, I basically sat on the sand next to the same coral head the whole time and played with an octopus. This time I cruised around with my camera and had fun. I only caught fleeting glimpses of a few different octopi and no good pics ... Oh well. Overall, the dive was a blast and there were a couple decent shots, but nothing great.

Wednesday .... last day ...

On wednesday, I drove back out to dive with Ocena Frontiers again ... this time on a three-tank safari with lunch at a marina and a swing through Stingray City for tank #2.

The first dive was Babylon. Sooooo nice. There is a pinnacle mount next to the wall covered with soft coral and black coral and fans and sponges ... it is a spectacular dive. I was having a weird problem with one of my strobes, but I got some really good shots here:



Babylon is about as nice as it gets in my opinion ... just so beautiful ...

Dive two was Stingray City. New regulations make it less fun than it used to be ... you now sit in a circle, the guides do all the feeding and they bring the rays to you ... 10 years ago, I swam with them, fed them ... a wholly different experience.

Here's a couple:


After Stingray City, we ate lunch at Kaibo Yacht Club ... nice fries!

After lunch, and as we motored to our third (and my last) dive, the engine of the boat died ... The captain worked his ASS off for 2.5 hours and finally got us underway again. The last site was worth the wait. It was called Omega Reef and it was like Babylon without the pinnacle. BEAUTIFUL color and pristine reefs ... such a nice way to end a great week.

This was the last click of a great week:

Overall impressions:
*** Grand Cayman ... still amazing, particularly the East End
*** Cathy Church School ... terrific!! "T" helped me tremendously.
*** Sunset House ... fun little shore dive, great bar, terrific people
*** Ocean Frontiers ... The Best. Dive with them if you can.
*** G9 with Ikelite ... impressive. Handles well, functions easy to access. Love it.
*** INON UWL-100 ... great addition ... corners very soft ... thinking about the Dome Port ...
*** INON UCL-165s x 2 ... useful, but add chromatic abberation and limit working distances. With two, you need to be REAL close to get a focus lock.

Next? Who knows ...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grand Cayman

I just got back from 5 days on Grand Cayman. I stayed at a dive hotel called Sunset House. I chose Sunset House because of the Cathy Church underwater photography school there.

Just around the corner from this guy is the mermaid Amphitrite.

She watches over the Sunset Reef and is a short swim from shore in 50 feet of water.

I spent full days diving the east end and and two full days of diving the south west end of Grand Cayman.

The whole lot can be found here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

And some more quotes ...

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 25, 2008 Sunday
Credit crunch puts damper on mergers, acquisitions

TOM WALKER; For the Journal-Constitution; SECTION: BUSINESS; Pg. 8C; LENGTH: 483 words

Among the major casualties of the near-freeze in credit have been the deal makers, especially those who used private equity and hedge funds to put together mergers and acquisitions. The value of all global deals declined by 24 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to $736 billion, the biggest quarterly drop in dollar value in six years, industry sources report. Some analysts believe 2008 could be even worse ...

"Certainly the overexuberant credit cycle went too far, which has put us in a bind," Jeremy Payne of Capital IQ in New York said in an interview. "It is as broken as I have ever seen it."

Season of economic uncertainty for businesses: Possible recession atop worry list in election year
By TOM WALKER For the Journal-Constitution; Published on: 05/22/08

A year ago, corporate chiefs in Georgia and elsewhere could look back on almost six years of steady economic growth and a nearly 5-year-long bull market on Wall Street. Little did they know this would end in the second half of 2007 ...

Meanwhile, economists have tried to make sense of the year-old financial crisis, which has kept market watchers in a state of anxiety.

"We will look back on this as the most challenging period since the Great Depression," said Jeremy Payne, senior vice president at Capital IQ, a Standard & Poor's company. "There was a massive credit expansion in this country that was run up since 1982. We had the most impressive bull market in financial securities the world has seen. We are at the end of that bull market."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Media Frenzy ...

Continuing my campaign of shameless self-promotion, see below ... I was quoted on the Wall Street Journal's website:

May 29, 2008, 2:41 pm
A Sprint Higher For Olympic Stocks
Posted by Peter A. McKay
It’s difficult to fathom the social and political significance of this summer’s Olympics to China as an emerging world power. But the research firm Capital IQ has taken a crack at measuring something more concrete: the benefit to shareholders of the games’ corporate sponsors.

Analysts at Capital IQ, based in New York, recently created a capitalization-weighted index of 14 Olympic sponsors, including such bellwethers as Visa, BHP Billiton, McDonald’s, and Anheuser-Busch. Since July 2001, when the International Olympic Committee announced its selection of Beijing to host the 2008 games, the index of sponsors is up 27%, handily beating the S&P 500, up 14% over the same period.

Jeremy Payne, senior vice president at Capital IQ, cautioned that other factors aside from the Olympics clearly affected the sponsors’ stock performance over the period his firm studied. BHP, for instance, benefited from a boom in global metals prices. But he he added: “The Olympics certainly can’t hurt a company’s fortunes. It’s clearly the kind of exposure they dream about, with billions of people watching worldwide.”

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I was on TV today ...

How crazy is that? Today and yesterday I was on Fox Business News to comment on the relationship between stock returns and which party controls the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Stuart Varney and today Alexis Glick had me on with two political operatives.

Here's it is ... enjoy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Antigua Take Two

Flickr now accepts video footage. One can upload video files up to 150MB in size, however the player will only play the first 90 seconds of the clip if it exceeds that length. One can also later re-download the original file, making it an excellent archive if you can chop your library up into 150MB chunks. Only pro users can do this, but the bandwidth and storage is unlimited. Very cool.

Here's a brief video from a trip to Antigua in January. I took the footage with my Canon G9 using a "magic filter" at 1024x768 15fps ... I cut the footage using Windows Movie Maker because for some reason, Adobe Premiere Pro wouldn't import about 1/3 of my clips. I rendered the output in 720p WMV prior to uploading to Flickr. I don't have a 100% settled video production workflow ... need to think about it some more.

The soundtrack is an original composition written, played and recorded by me ... it is called "A/G Jam" and was my first ever digital recording.


Friday, April 18, 2008

New Underwater Photography Rig

Ikelite w YS110 and YS27
So ... I upgraded my underwater photography rig. I'll try it underwater in June when my wife and I go to the Rosewood Mayakoba for a few days to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

I've got to give a big shout out to Jack Connick who helped me put together the arm system. Here's a link to his online shop:

The new setup is a significant upgrade and quite a big bigger. The case is solid and has a changeable front port that can accomodate a wide angle adadpter - as seen in the picture. This type of wide perspective is very useful underwater as it allows you to get closer and significantly cut down the water between yourself and the subject - the key to clear, colorful underwater photographs.

I also bought a new, more powerful strobe - a Sea & Sea YS-110 - to be my primary strobe. The new housing allows a direct electronic connection between the camera's hotshoe and the strobe via a sync cord. This is much more reliable than the optical system I previously employed. My old primary - the YS-27DX is now the fill and will be fired as an optical slave.

I can't wait to use it ... In June I'll be going diving both on the ocean reefs near Playa Aventuras as well as in some fresh water caverns called cenotes nearby.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dancing Bears

Here's a fun little video I cut together. I saw the same footage set to some other music while surfing the internet the other day ... and it got me thinking. So I looked around on the internet and found the raw footage on the USGS website. Couldn't resist ... they ARE dancing bears ...

The soundtrack is "The Music Never Stopped" from The Grateful Dead live at Red Rocks in Colorado on July 7th, 1978.


Thanks to J.Stetz and A.Macleod of the Northern Divide Bear Project at the USGS' Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center Glacier National Park, MT for the video footage of the bears doing their thing.

"USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center has posted images recorded with remote cameras of grizzly bears and black bears in Glacier National Park. The video and photographs are part of a study conducted by USGS Research Biologist Kate Kendall to determine the size and distribution of bear populations in northwestern Montana. Bears are identified and counted through genetic analysis of hair samples collected from barbed wire hair traps and bear rub trees. Remote photography is used to learn more about bears use of naturally-occurring bear rubs and how they respond to baited hair traps. Information from this work will be used to improve sampling methods and understand bear behavior."

My friend and former colleague Dan McKinley (who works for etsy) requested I say something about the "credit crisis" ... Allow me to do so now while I wait for blogger to chew on my video footage.

Over the last 15-20 years, there has been a seismic shift in the way private enterprise is financed in the United States and to a lesser extent the rest of the world. In the past, commercial depository banks sat at the center of the commercial business cycle. They directly provided capital to industry for investment and working capital and provided traditional banking and other services like payroll and employee banking. They were also highly regulated after the crash of '29 and numerous bank failures in the Great Depression prompted a whole slew of federal and state regulations.

The Glass Steagall Act of 1933 had separated commercial banking (taking deposits and making loans) and investment banking (creating, selling and trading securities) into two different businesses as it was perceived that conflicts of interest made such combinations anti-competitive.

In 1999, Glass Steagall was repealed. It had already been substantially weakened in 1990 when the Federal Reserve and other regulators re-interpreted portions of the act to allow commercial banks to get involved in investment banking while investment banks got into lending and other banking activities.

By the dawn of the 21st century, banks were old-fashioned wholesale distributors and warehousers of cash. "Investors" supplied the world with its needed capital through securitized structured products that literally allowed cash to move around the globe ... the sovereign surplus of Abu Dhabi could extend credit to a young couple in Des Moines looking to buy their first home. Global savers (i.e. the rest of the world and US pension funds) funnelled cash almost directly to borrowers (i.e. the US Consumer, Corporate America & the US Federal Goverment).

We went on a massive borrowing binge. We created a huge amount of debt, much of which is sitting on the balance sheets of the biggest financial institutions in the world that sit at the nexis of the "new" financial order. Some of this stuff is incredibly hard to value ... all we know is that it isn't worth what everyone thought it was worth. We know that the Federal Reserve has been effectively buying many of these hard to value assets by allowing investment houses to use them as collateral for loans. We know Bear Stearns asserted strongly that their net worth was $80/share just two days before being forced to accept $2 and then later getting that up to $10.

What comes next? I hope we are through with bad and unexpected news. I think we are stretched to the max across the board. We have very little fiscal flexibility in the US thanks to the double whammy of large tax cuts and a massive war effort. While I remain extremely optimistic about the long-term prospects of the US economy, I think we are in for good long rough patch while the financial system works out the excesses of the past. I'm hopeful that the current difficult environment does not extend past 2008, but that's just hope.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Live at the Beacon Theater

Bob Weir and Ratdog were down the street at the Beacon Theater this week so I figured I'd embed a Grateful Dead show from 1976 at the same.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


My new favorite piece of software if Foobar2000. Foobar Website

When I download live recordings, they typically arrive as a set of music files in one of two lossless compression formats: '.shn' (people say 'shorten') or '.flac' (which stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec). Neither of these formats is playable on an iPod and while compressed, still take up a lot of disk space. Included with the music files is usually a text file that contains the information about who played, the date, the setlist, etc. Before Foobar, I would download the files, convert them to mp3 or m4a files using two different applications - one for .shn and one for flac - and then import the compressed files into iTunes. Next, I would have to manually label and 'tag' each track and album ... a very time consuming process to say the least - especially once I got a 20 mbps line at my house!

Enter Foobar ... Now, I load the lossless originals into Foobar and, using a plugin called "Live Show Tagger", I can automatically parse the accompanying text file and almost instantly tag the whole show. I can then use Foobar to convert the files into a lossy compression format for import into iTunes and my home entertainment setup.

My only problem has been that the "album" field is not making it from Foobar into iTunes. Even with this shortcoming, I have just cut down the time that it will take me to get the huge backlog I have into my library by an order of magnitude or two.

I've heard of people having issues with different versions of mp3 tagging causing issues like this ... I haven't ever had this issue myself, but now I do and I fear I'm about to learn more than I ever wanted to know about MPEG meta-data ... I'll let you know what I find out.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's been a while ...

A combination of factors has led my recent absence ... a huge contributing factor being a surge in music acquisitions via bit torrent ... {cue "time warp" effect} ...

Once upon a time (80's), fans of the Dead and Jerry Garcia traded cassette tape recordings of live shows. Low generation cassettes of good recordings sounded pretty good. I had a case of approximately 250 cassettes that I considered one of my prized possessions. Some of the best sounding had come to me from my good friend Steve who went to college with the daughter of Dan Healy - sound engineer for the band for years. His "ultramix" cassettes were mixed on site from multiple sources including mics and the soundboard itself. The other "gems" were the so-called "Betty Boards" - direct reel-to-reel soundboard recordings by Betty Cantor. Many of these Betty Boards were released when the contents of a storage locker were auctioned off.

Then came the internet and digital music. Internet sites began popping up as early as 1995 with digitized copies of live dead recordings. Eventually, sites like emerged that housed large numbers of digital shows.

Soon a network of ftp sites emerged ... with a database behind it hosted at A data model emerged with a one-to-many relationship between each show and the multiples sources with their lineage ... people have tried to assign unique ids to each source. Technology evolved around this community. Out of this confluence of traders and tapers and techies came lossless compression technologies like ".shn" and peer-to-peer technology like Bit Torrent itself. Today the network of ftp servers has been replaced by a network of people sharing the music online via bit torrent.

I've been furiously collecting new stuff of late ... more on why and what and how in future posts ...

Here's the show of the week ... contains a nice Paul McCartney song in the second set called "That Would Be Something" that I enjoyed the few times I heard it ...

This is from the Philly Spectrum on 10/7/1994.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crazy New Fish

Some divers in Ambon Bay in Indonesia have found a new species of frogfish that has never been officially identified. It's a beautiful fish. If you've seen it before and know what it is, please contact Maluku Divers.

New Frogfish Species

Last month when I was in Antigua, I photographed a fish that turned out to be somewhat difficult to identify. It is clearly some kind of parrotfish, and so far the consensus seems to be that it is the nocturnal colors of a juvenile red-banded parrotfish. Please comment if you have other ideas.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Good Reads ...

Dune, Frank Herbert et al

I first read the Dune series just in time to be anxiously awaiting the initial release of Chapterhouse in 1987. I've read the first six Dune books all at least twice and I think I've read Dune three or four times. I think the breadth and depth of the universe created by Frank Herbert is just truly awesome and engaging. Unlike many critics and long-time fans, I also really like the prequels written by his son Brian.

Isaac Asimov Robot Stories

Asimov was a genius on the same scale with Frank Herbert. I think his Robot stuff is his best work, with the detective trilogy - Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn - being some of my favorite books of all time. I'm just now reading the Foundation Novels for the first time - I've been saving them.

Peter L. Bernstein: Capital Ideas; Capital Ideas: Evolving; Against the Gods: A History of Risk

Charlie Wilson's War

One the the most amazing true stories of all time. The movie was "ok" ... but the book was a revelation. I thought I knew a thing or two about the Soviet Afghan conflict ... until I read this book. Rarely has one man and his individual efforts so affected the course of global geopolitics.

Will Self

Twisted, smart and funny. I don't read a lot of "serious" fiction, but this ain't really "serious". Great Apes and My Idea of Fun are two good examples of his brand of insanity.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Another Fun Rangers Pic


I saw the Rangers beat the Sabres 2-1 in a great game on January 16th. Of course I brought my camera ... hopefully soon I'll get the 2X teleconverter which would extend my reach to 420mm (35mm film equiv) - that should get me right on the ice if I'm lucky enough to sit in such great seats again.

A couple days later, I dropped my camera on the pavement while trying to put my son on my shoulders. Fortunately, Canon factory repair restored it to "like new" for about $140 ... could have been worse. I just got it back yesterday ... phew.

This was shot at ISO 800 - and then I used Adobe noise reduction to whack, well, the noise of course. I find the high ISO stuff on the G9 (400+) usually looks a lot more palatable in B&W where the final residual noise makes it look like it was shot on Tri-X film or something.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Show of the Week

Grateful Dead at Giants Stadium, June 16, 1991

Click the link above to hear the show.

This one is another personal favorite. The second dead show I attended was at Giants Stadium in 1987 ... but this was my favorite show of the four or five I saw there.

A couple days before the show, I had had a throat culture because I hadn't been feeling well at my childhood pediatriacian's office as I had been at home with my parents ... but then I was "on the road" and not in touch with my mom for a few days. Right before the show for some reason, she spoke with one of my oldest friends - whom I hadn't seen in a while - and he told her he was going to this show. She says, "Oh yeah? If you see Jeremy there, tell him he has strep throat!" He laughed, thinking to himself, "What are the chances of THAT!" ...

Well, one my way into the stadium right before showtime, I bumped in Brian who told me I had strep ... and we sat together and had a blast at a great summer dead show. We made sure not to share cups.

Here's some excellent video from the show:

Eyes - Part 1

Eyes - Part 2

And ... here's some "filler" ... a great Peggy-O from June 26, 1994 in Vegas. I think there's good reason this is one of the most viewed Dead performances on YouTube.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Antigua Underwater Video

A little video entertainment ... this footage was shot by me in Antigua this past month, principally underwater, as both stills and video. The Canon G9 is an awesome camera to take with you scuba diving. In addition to taking great stills (particularly macro), it can shoot video at high resolution (1024x768) at a framerate of 15 fps.

The song is The Lochs of Dred by Strength in Numbers - a bluegrass "super group" from the late '80s with Sam Bush on mandolin, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Bela Fleck (banjo), Mark O'Connor (violin), and Edgar Meyer (bass). I recently saw Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer play at Zenkel Auditorium at Carnegie Hall ... they were just off the hook.

Fun From National Geographic



Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dinosaur bone

Originally uploaded by Jeremy Payne

My son loves dinosaurs. He's four. We go to the Museum of Natural History in New York a lot. I often bring my camera, but rarely get any pictures I like.

This one I like.

Support the American Museum of Natural History

Dive Rambling ...

Originally uploaded by Jeremy Payne

I shot this from about 15 feet under the dive boat on the morning of January 10th after diving the Bluff Cut on the Cades Reef off Curtain Bluff, Antigua.

I love diving ... and taking pictures. It wasn't until recently that I put them together. I've been diving for about 10 years and really love it.

Last year, in January 2007, I went diving in the BVI around Virgin Gorda and I dove the Wreck of The Rhone.* I dove with Dive BVI - great folks, would dive with them again any time. I rented a Sea & Sea underwater digital camera ... it was fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Earlier this month (January), I went to Antigua with my wife and kids. Since the trip to the BVI I had been itching to try again with a better set-up. My choice of the Canon G9 as my new camera was driven by my conclusion it was a terrific camera around which to build an underwater package. I ultimately put together my own rig with the camera in a housing, with a set of arms, two strobes and a little focus light.

It worked pretty well ... I saw this mature queen parrotfish sleeping in his muccus bag at about 60 feet deep at 6:45 PM on Carpenter's Rock just outside of English Harbor, Antigua.


* The Wreck of the Rhone is an incredible wreck off Salt Island, BVI south of Tortuga ... it was a huge Royal Mail ship that had been converted into the world's first luxury cruise ship. It sunk in 1867 in a late season hurricane and took 173 lives. It is a spectacular dive site. The boat lies in two pieces, one half laid out flat on the bottom and one half that you can swim through.

This is a shot of porthole 26 - purported to be the porthole of the only surviving passenger.

Porthole 26

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Evening thoughts ...

Shout out to my friend KP for helping me tweak and test the template for the website in such a way as to make fit on a 1024x768 monitor.


The Dead post was popular ... so popular that I've decided to make a regular "Show of the Week" posting with a link to a streaming version of the show.

I've also decided to add a permanent widget on the "left links" with all-time great shows that will always be there for the listening.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gratefully Yours

On in mid 80's I attended prep school in New England at Andover. It was there I was introduced to the Grateful Dead.

From 1987-1995 I saw the Dead about 75+ times and Jerry Garcia another 15 or 20 times with his side band. I loved and still love their collaborative, seat-of-the-pants style ... when it worked, it WORKED. Very rarely were they bad and often they were amazing. I miss Jerry a lot, but I listen to him almost every day.

The Dead played about 100 shows a year from 1965-1995 ... at least 3,000 live performances and that's probably an under-estimate. The Dead never made a lot of money selling records, and rarely got radio time .... but boy did they tour. Most of their shows were recorded - either by the band or by the legions of amateur "tapers" who were eventually granted official recognition and their own section of each concert hall after a while. Tapes circulated far and wide among fans ... Nakamichi tape decks were the standard issue for serious dead heads.

Back in the analog era, I used to tote around 250 cassettes with live recordings of the Dead.

Now I have 60 gigabytes of digitized recordings of over 500 shows stored on a multi-terabyte networked RAID array feeding a networked music server accessible to me anywhere in the world ... when my own collection gets old (hah!) I have access over the Internet to an archive of over 2,900 live Dead recordings on They have done an amazing job of cataloging the historical record. Until 2005, one could download any show willy nilly ... now (long story) you can only download shows that were recorded with microphones and not those recorded from a direct soundboard feed.

One of my neighbors (who shall remain anonymous!) is a big Dead fan as well. Over the holidays he had told me that the first show he had seen was 1978-04-14 ... so I went to the archive to give it a listen. It is too bad you can't download the soundboards anymore (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more).

Boy is it a good show ... click here to listen to the show streaming from the archive.

My Day Job

Originally uploaded by Jeremy Payne

A little more about me ...

In my "day job", I work for a company called Capital IQ. I've worked there for about 5 years now. We build and sell a web-based research and workflow platform for financial services professionals. It has been a pretty big success and an amazing experience.

At the end of the day we are a technology-driven company. We collect and database loads of information from scads of different sources ... we then scrub it and "link" it up to web-based tools that allow our clients to sift through, filter, retrieve, manipulate, display and otherwise utilize the vast quantities of data we offer in a web and excel-based environment. 10's of thousands of professionals are using our product every day at over 2,500 or so firms worldwide.

Over the last few years, I've learned a lot about modern portfolio and investment theory. I had an MBA in finance, so I had at least some of the terms down ... but the last several years spent talking to hedge fund managers, equity quants and others about the "quest for alpha" has been eye-opening ... the intellectual challenges in and around the area of active portfolio management are fascinating and the rewards for solving them spectacular. This is a theme we will explore on these pages in greater detail in the future.

That said ...

I'm likely gonna buy a DSLR at some point. I've narrowed my choices down to three cameras:

Why? Because they are fast, with superb optics available and they produce clean, crisp images. Don't get me wrong - my Canon G9 is an amazing camera and I'm not talking about getting rid of it. Every time I think I've made up my mind, or someone talks me into the Nikon or the Canon ... I keep coming back to the Olympus. I had an Olympus SLR and just loved it. Leica is making lenses for the 4/3 system. I'm tempted ...

What's the hesitation? Conventional wisdom says go Nikon or Canon for a few reasons.

  1. More "glass" (lenses) out there ... to buy, both new and used and to rent
  2. Bigger sensor = Better Image Quality - particularly in low light
  3. In-body image stabilization not as good as the in-the-lens

On 1) ... seems to be plenty of lenses out there, especially now that the 4/3 system is a "standard". My old 50MM Olympus 1.8 was an awesome piece of glass and it will fit with an adapter on the E-3, as will all my old OM lenses. Also, the availability of compatible Leica lenses is very interesting but they are apparently very hard to get and out of stock everywhere.

On 2) ... the sample images I have seen look terrific, but I worry about this. One of the big reasons I would be buying an SLR would be to get a bigger sensor ... part of me thinks I'm nuts to buy the DLSR with the "small" sensor.

On 3) ... I think 99% of of time, the Olympus in-body system should be just fine.

Dunno ... will be thinking about this ... a lot ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

My New Camera ~ Canon Powershot G9

I love my camera ... a Canon G9. It is a true workhorse. The resolution is high - 12.1 million pixels on a 1/1.7 inch sensor. At low ISO - 80 or 100 and with good light, the results are just outstanding.

The sensor isn't big, but it is bigger than most compacts. Still, at ISO 200 and above you start to see the effects of noise.

While not an SLR this is no simple point and shoot. The feature package and capabilities make this a powerful camera.

Here are some stand out features:

  • Shoot RAW or RAW + JPG or JPG
  • Two Custom White Balances - was very useful underwater
  • Two Customizable Shooting Modes
  • Hot Shoe for E-TTL Flash with EX Speedlites
  • Excellent Macro at super close focus
  • Spot Metering
  • Face Detection AF, 9 Frame AIAF, Flexizone AF
  • Huge bright 3.0" screen
  • 35-210MM 2.8-4.8 zoom
  • 3 stop optical image stabilization
  • Quality underwater (up to 40M) housing from Canon for under $200
  • Hirez 1024x768 15fps movies - looks just terrific when burned to DVD and played on TV
  • Sturdy, retro look and feel with pleasing ISO and mode dials

Takes just GREAT pictures. I use Adobe Lightroom to import and develop the RAW files. We'll talk about Lightroom another day.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Fake" Tilt-Shift

I read about the photographic technique of making "fake" tilt-shift images in The New York Times on December 9th and by December 29th, the online edition of the The Times of London had "accidentally" (mis) appropriated one of my tilt-shift images hosted on Flickr for a piece they wrote on the technique.

Too funny!

The technique involves taking real-world objects and making them look like scale miniatures by selectively blurring parts of the image. The mind is fooled into thinking the image is on a very small scale - when done right - because such a narrow depth of field so "far" from the camera lens could only be "real" if it were not "far", but merely inches away.

I use Photoshop CS3 to do the selective blurring and a couple of other adjustments to arrive at the final image. Here's a quick tutorial on how to do it:

1) Take the "right" picture ... good candidates have depth, distance and scale. Downwards looking perspectives are helpful. Open the image in Photoshop.

2) Switch to "Quick Mask" mode by hitting "Q".

3) On the Tools panel, select the "gradient tool" ...

4) At the top on the Options bar, select the Quick Mask with three bars - two dark bars around one light - so that you see this:

5) Now place, click and hold the cursor on the place in the photograph you'd like to highlight and remain in focus ... then click-drag the mouse towards the top or bottom of the image. The direction you drag will ultimately be at a 90 degree angle to the focus band you will be defining ... if you don't know what I mean, that means you haven't tried it yet ... go ahead, try it ...

You should now see this:

The red-shaded area will ultimately be what gets blurred. The thickness of the "focus band" is determined by the length of the line you draw when you create the Quick Mask. Play around ... while in Quick Mask mode, you can try over and over again.

6) Press "Q" to leave Quick Mask Mode.

7) Filters > Blur > Lens Blur ... this is only available in Photoshop CS - but I've done the technique with other "blurs" ... you'll have to get creative if you don't have CS.

On the Filter panel, make sure the Source says "None" and click the "Invert" box. Set the Radius to somewhere between 50-90 ... play around and see what it looks like. There are two kinds of preview in the Lens Blur dialogue and the one that says "faster" is MUCH faster ... unless you have serious hardware, stick with "faster".

You should now see this:

A little Specular Highlights adjustment doesn't hurt. Be careful and keep the threshhold high - very near the top of the dynamic range.

Almost done ... click OK.

8) Some optional adjustments ... like salt and pepper ... adjust to taste ...

  • Image > Adjustments > Curves ... Adjust the tone curve to give a bit more boost to the top end ... something like this:

  • Filter > Distort > Lens Correction ... Use a Lens Correction filter to add some barrel distortions ... sometimes helps to add the sense of being very close with a wide-angle lens

  • Filter > Sharpen > Unsharpen Mask ... Use an unsharpen mask with a very low radius (0.6-0.9) and high amount (90-150)