Earth as Art

November 27, 2010

 I think this would be a cool picture to hang on the wall, even if only as a poster. (Why is it that only children and teens are expected to put posters on their walls?) Like the other images in this series, it looks more like the work of an imaginative artist than of a satellite capturing images of the earth.

Of course, since these Landsat 7 scenes were “created for aesthetic purposes rather than scientific interpretation,” I suppose you could say they were the work of an imaginative artist. There is little information about how the images were made, though I assume that it involves some way to select what color or colors show up. (I happen to particularly like the shade of blue in the image referenced above.)

This image of the Great Salt Desert in Iran looks like someone had fun swirling different shades of brown and blue paint. This one in black and white reminds me of some fantasy-themed drawings. Some are clearly recognizable as part of our planet; others could as easily (to my eye) be microscopic views as those taken from far above earth.

I’m used to seeing satellite pictures filled with shades of green, blue, and red. But I’m curious what creates an image full of yellow and crimson, or orange, black, and white. Or how about this mostly black and grey image, with a bright streak of red running across it? 

I’ve always enjoyed seeing photos of ordinary items turned into art by the photographer’s eye. Someday I hope to have the time and opportunity to create some myself – but probably never from the satellite”s-eye view.

Bored? Check out Bored Panda

September 26, 2010 claims to be the only magazine for pandas. I would hardly dispute their claim, but among their 300.000 – 600.000 monthly visitors, I think there must be quite a few non-pandas. I found Bored Panda via First Thoughts, where blogger Joe Carter posted a link to 50 Most Extraordinary Churches of the World.

I happen to have an interest in seeing all sorts of church buildings. Visiting them in person is better, but seeing pictures on the internet is still pretty good, especially in the case of some of these highly pleasing visual images. I have actually visited two of the fifty, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, and Chapel in the Rock in Arizona.

Near the bottom of the page, I found a link to another set of photos, this one showing familiar objects made unfamiliar by magnification through a microscope. Some I’ve seen photos of before, such as red blood cells, snowflakes, and a fly’s eye. I’m not too surprised to see how bad a split end (of a human hair) looks close up, and I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the look of copy paper. In part II, the surface of the tongue and of shark skin were very interesting.

So next time you’re bored, you know where to go. Whether you like to eat bamboo or not.

Clouds over Córdoba

September 15, 2010

I remember Córdoba as one of the most beautiful cities I visited in Spain, but I don’t remember a sight like this one. I enjoyed many cloudless days during my stay in Spain, with the sky a wonderful blue backdrop for my photos of white houses, windmills, and castles. But a breathtaking view like this one, photographed by Isaac Gutiérrez Pascual four days ago, requires the presence of storm clouds.

I wonder sometimes just how many thousands of pictures a photographer has to take to get one like this. I chased the sunset the day I visited La Coruña (in northwest Spain), trying to get a shot of the sun sinking into the Atlantic Ocean. I got some pictures, but nothing spectacular. I don’t know how much it’s a matter of luck, skill, or photographic equipment. No doubt it has a lot to do with time – if I had spent a month or two there, going back day after day, I might well have gotten something more impressive.

And of course one has to be paying attention to notice the opportunities, and have the camera ready to capture the moment. As the explanatory paragraph at APOD points out, shortly after the picture was taken the birds and clouds were gone, and Venus and the moon had set.

On the other hand, there’s the risk of being so focused on trying to find great photographic shots that you miss life going on around you. Once I had kids, I had to shift from taking pictures for the sake of pictures to taking snapshots to remember special moments in the boys’ lives. Sometimes I have to get the camera out, but mostly I try to keep it put away, so I can share time with them instead of staying out of the frame with my eye behind a viewfinder.

But I’m glad Isaac Gutiérrez Pascual had his eye on the sky and his camera ready on Saturday, to share a gorgeous photo like this with the world.

A fisheye view

June 29, 2010

I suppose a true “fisheye” view of things would be from underwater, just as a bird’s eye view is from the air. But the view created by using a fisheye camera lens can give an extraordinary look to ordinary scenes. If I had the time and money, I could have a lot of fun creating photographs like these.

I didn’t start out this evening looking for unusual photographic techniques, however. I was just checking out the Astronomy Photo of the Day. Today’s photo, titled “Trees, Sky, Galactic Eye,” is a fisheye photo that shows more trees than stars – which is perhaps one reason I like it so much. The round shape made me think of my Springbok jigsaw puzzles, and a puzzle made from that photo would be a lot of fun to put together.

The text beneath the photo points out that it can be a scavenger hunt  of sorts, and suggests some items to find. The tent is pretty easy, and I’m pretty sure I see the lights of Saint Philippe. The shoreline and volcano are harder, though I think I may have identified them. Knowing how to change the orientation of Windows on my monitor (see one of my posts, from a few weeks ago, on Upside down windows), made it a bit easier to view the photo from other angles (without having to turn my head at uncomfortable angles).

Infinity in a picture

April 30, 2010

I’ve seen photo mosaics for years. When the first ones were produced in the mid-90’s, they were a technological marvel. Now they have become almost commonplace, and there is software available to create your own. But National Geographic’s Infinite Photograph takes photo mosaics to new levels.

Each Infinite Photograph is made from 200 to 500 photographs submitted by users. As you zoom in on a portion of the photo, you can see how it is made up of many smaller images. As you continue to zoom in, you bring up just one of these images. In most photomosaics, that’s as far as you could go. But with Infinite Photograph, you keep going, into a whole new set of photo tiles.

Knowing what digital technology is capable of, the fact that the software can do that is not all that impressive to me.  But many of the photos themselves are impressive. And diving through one into so many others is definitely a more interesting way to look at a photo album than just going from one page to the next.

Take a look here to explore Infinite Photographs of birds, dogs, water, “As Seen on Earth,” or one day’s worth of Your Shot submissions.

Fire and ice

April 19, 2010

My younger son wasn’t too impressed with this photo, but I think it’s pretty cool. Jagged forks of lightning on the left side, huge puffy columns of ash in the middle, and a few glimpses of fire poking out of the darkness on the right. It takes a while to even notice the layer of cloud over ice-covered rock down below. What an inhospitable place to be – yet what a stark beauty in the sight.

I always wonder, seeing photos like that, how the photographer managed to capture it. Was he in a plane, flying through clouds of ash? And how do photographers always manage to catch the lightning right as it flashes? I suppose they must take a lot of pictures in rapid succession, then keep only the frames that came out well. I have had cameras that let me do that, but I still don’t come out with spectacular pictures. I guess that’s why I’m not a professional photographer.

Optical delusion

January 20, 2010

If I had seen this picture without a caption, I’m not sure what I would have guessed it was. My first thought was of chocolate pudding with whipped cream and chocolate flakes mixed in. Or some very muddy water with pond scum swirling about. Maybe something microscopic? But on closer examination I can see that my initial impression of a wet surface is incorrect, because in places the surface has the look of blown sand.

It is blown sand, but the colors don’t match any landscape I’ve ever seen. Of course, the earth has such varied terrain, there are no doubt many amazing landscapes I’ve never seen, even in a photograph. But this one isn’t any place on earth. This photo was taken in space, near the north pole of Mars.

It doesn’t look at all like photos I’ve seen previously of the surface of Mars. They tend to be monochrome and – to my eye – fairly monotonous. What are those things sticking up in lines, as though they’re growing out of the surface? And what is the white that looks almost like snow or ice?

The white stuff is ice, apparently – but it’s not frozen H2O, it’s frozen CO(carbon dioxide). And those things sticking up? Well, they’re not actually sticking up, they’re lines of dark sand cascading down a slope made mostly of lighter colored sand.

My eyes don’t want to believe this. The lines are clearly sticking up out of the ground. I remind myself that our eyes are easily fooled, as many books of optical illusions can easily illustrate. Moreover, there is no reference point here, no familiar feature that lets us estimate the scale of the picture. Those apparent hills and valleys of sand could be the sort you make with your feet when you walk on loose sand at the beach, and the dark lines sticking up could be blades of something like grass. Or the hills could be mountains, and the apparent trees the size of California redwoods.

Of course, I know there aren’t trees or grass on Mars, and the astronomer who wrote this caption has studied detailed photos of Mars, and those really are drifts of dark sand. But I have trouble getting my eyes to see that.

I pick one batch of dark lines near the top, and try to imagine what it would look like if there were a sort of a cliff there, with the dark lines coming down the face of the cliff. The top of the cliff doesn’t look as it should – I guess the light sand is blowing over the edge too, so that no actual line  is formed to show the edge. I am beginning to see the dark streaks of sand now, instead of trees.

I pick another spot, near the bottom of the picture, and do the same thing. But when I look away, then look back, my eyes again turn the unfamiliar patterns into an earth-like landscape dotted with trees.

I suppose it’s just as well. I’ll never have to navigate Martian terrain, so my eyes don’t need to adapt to its peculiarities. They do just fine – most of the time – making sense of terrestrial landscapes.