An Absence Of Mirrors

This is the suggestion in the Daily Post today:

You wake up one morning to a world without mirrors. How does your life — from your everyday routines to your perception of yourself — change?

I don’t have to imagine this. It happened to me.

I spent a few days in Ofunato, a village on the north-east coast of Japan. I picked wasabi (horseradish) with the people with whom I stayed. It was great fun.

There’s wasn’t a mirror anywhere on the place. None in the bathrooms or the bedrooms.

There was, however, a small shard of a mirror on a shelf next to the sink in the barn. I spotted it after I had been there a few days and I assumed the shard of mirror was there so people could wipe away any mud from the fields if any got on their faces.

It had been a few days since I had seen my face. When I looked, I was shocked. Who the heck was this long-nosed, narrow-faced man staring back at me?

After a few days of talking to Japanese people, my face was strange to me.

I wondered how I looked to the people I was staying with.

I hadn’t seen another Westerner in the time I had been there.

Maybe I looked as strange to them as I had looked to myself.

Turning it around, how did I ‘see’ the Japanese people I was with?

Did I ‘see’ them in a certain way – without looking properly and without seeing – even when they were so different from one another.

Would I be less able to tell two Japanese people apart than another Japanese person would?

Revolving thoughts teaching me to think again.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

A Good Year For Books

At the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, Tamara and I got to listen to among others:

Three authors talking about their illustrated children’s books;

Three political activists and their clandestine experiences in Syria;

A Guardian newspaper journalist telling Edward Snowden’s story;

A South Korean novelist talking about his novel about a North Korean ‘sleeper’ spy who had been in the South for twenty years and has to go back and doesn’t want to give up his comfortable life;

  • and many more.

A good year for books.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 2 Comments

SEO You Can Do Now, Right This Minute

Am I the only one watching WordPress TV?

When I scroll down the list of sites I follow in WordPress.Com’s Reader, I see that such-and-such a post has 50 ‘likes’ and comments.

But poor old WordPress TV gets nothing.

It’s a free resource of videos of speakers at WordCamps worldwide explaining how to do things – SEO, e-commerce, design, security, and many other topics.

It’s aimed at self-hosted WordPress sites, but there is a lot that is completely relevant to WordPress.com sites, too.

This WordCamp video is Jon Henshaw talking about SEO. His talk gets more technical later on in the video but the early parts are easy things you and I can do now, this minute.

Of course he may not be the last word in SEO, but he runs Raven Tools – which is and internet marketing software company. His site, according to Alexa, is approximately #6,000 in the list of the top 30 million sites visited worldwide – so he must be doing something right.

This is what he says about the links on your home page and the links in your navigation menu.

He says every link is fighting every other link for space – so don’t confuse Google by cramming lots of links to other sites onto your page. That includes Twitter links and any other links you can think of.

Secondly, think of the keywords you want to be recognised for, and use those in the navigation menu.

Also, treat categories like navigation links and and keep the categories listed in the menu to just a few links.

That’s it. Five minute’s work to make your site less confusing to Google and more easily found for what you want to be found for.

Posted in WordPress Tips | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dealing With Messy Backgrounds In Photographs

dealing with a messy background to a photograph -before

dealing with a messy background to a photograph -after

dealing with a messy background to a photograph - after

dealing with a messy background to a photograph - after

As you scroll up and down these images, notice how the woman in the foreground in the first photo (the one at the top) is less well isolated from the background.

It is as though she is fighting with the background for attention.

The reason that she is not isolated from the background is that both she and the background are in focus.

And the reason for this is that I used a fairly small aperture when I took the photo.

The smaller the aperture, the greater the front-to-back distance that will be in focus.

And because the woman and the people behind her and fairly near each other – and I was further away from both of them, they have kind of blended in to one overall camera-to-subject distance.

If the people behind the woman had been much further back I wouldn’t have had this problem.

The way to reduce the distance over which the scene is in focus is to use a wide open lens with an aperture of around f2. That ensures that the depth of focus is small.

However, I see from the EXIF data in the digital file for this photograph that I shot it with an aperture of f5.6.

The EXIF data tells me I shot it on 16 November 2007 with a Nikon D40, and that the focal length of the lens I used was 55mm.

It doesn’t tell me which lens I used but I know I had the 18-55mm zoom kit lens that came with the camera.

And I wasn’t able to take the shot with a wider aperture because at that focal length the lens had a maximum aperture of f5.6.

The kit lens has a wider aperture of f3.5 at the wide end of the zoom, but this reduces as the lens is zoomed out to its longest focal length.

That ‘feature’ is common in cheaper lenses because it takes more glass and more expensive machining to make a lens with a constant maximum aperture all the way out to the longest focal length.

Professional lenses are more expensive (and heavier) precisely because they are built with more glass so they can shoot at wide apertures even at the longest focal length.

Dealing With A Messy Background

So now how can I do something about the messy background in post-processing?

Blurring the background isn’t really an option. I have tried to do this before and usually it ends up looking fake.

But you can darken down the background and highlight the foreground in Photoshop with the dodge and burn tools.

As you scroll down through the shots from the top you can see that I have darkened the background.

One side effect of doing that is that it has ‘robbed’ the background of some of its colour. This has affected the apparent colour of the woman in the foreground.

So in the last shot you can see that I have boosted the saturation of the woman’s face (a bit too much, maybe) by brushing over her face with the Saturation tool in Photoshop.

Posted in Photography Tips, Photoshop Tips | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments