Posted tagged ‘digital photography’


November 23, 2010

You may not have known this, but one of the fastest growing new art forms is the taking and editing/manipulation of photographs on an iPhone; i.e. using the phone’s camera to take pictures and then edit them with software on the device. There are websites devoted to the topic, such as this one (from which the title of this post is taken).

As some readers here know, I am a committed (but amateur) photographer, and also having an iPhone I have experimented with this genre. Below is a photo taken in Castletown House, Celbridge, Co Kildare.


The grade inflation show comes to the Dail

March 10, 2010

Last week during parliamentary questions in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish parliament), the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, was asked to provide information on the outcome of the two investigations he had launched earlier in the week into ‘grade inflation’. Here is what he had to say on third level results.

With regard to higher education, it is the case that the data presented indicate a trend of increasing award levels. The proportion of students gaining first class honours in level 8 degree programmes increased from 11.2% to 16.6% in the institutes of technology between 1998 and 2008, and from 8.3% to 16.2% in the universities between 1997 and 2008. Several contributory factors must be considered, including deliberate decisions on assessment standards prompted by external examiner findings aimed at aligning Irish standards more closely with international norms. Improved and more explicit assessment methods, with the development of learning outcomes-based approaches, and better prepared students are also arguably important factors.

Grade increases in higher education are, however, also argued by some to be indicative of a relaxation of standards. This is a subject of debate across systems internationally. Notwithstanding the inconclusive nature of that debate, my principal concerns in an Irish context are on two fronts. I want to safeguard and enhance the quality of our graduates and to ensure the robustness of our systems of quality assurance. The question of graduate quality is a complex one of fundamental strategic importance. The higher education strategy group is currently addressing the broader challenges involved.

It would have to be acknowledged that this statement is a a more reasoned and thoughtful response than some of the other statements that have been floating around. A couple of minutes later he also made the following statement.

We must not undermine in any way the quality of the degrees awarded by Irish institutions and, therefore, of the graduates they produce. It is because of the flexibility of our graduates and the high quality of the education they have received that multinationals choose to locate here. Continuing announcements of the creation of high-tech jobs indicate that there is confidence in our education system. We must challenge that system into the future. That is why I am putting in place a new qualifications and quality assurance agency which can go into the various institutions and compare one with another.

The first part of that last passage is sensible. The last statement – about using the new combined quality agency to ‘compare the various institutions with one another’ might give more cause for concern, not least because it would appear not to favour diversity of mission within the sector. In the end, for any high quality system of higher education, the autonomy of individual institutions must be respected, and diversity should be encouraged and celebrated. I confess I remain nervous about the future.

The art of photography?

August 8, 2009

As long term readers of this blog will know, I have an interest in photography. I don’t pretend to be a great photographer, but I have some fairly good equipment, using both film and digital SLR cameras, and indeed lenses which often cost more than the cameras. Some of my output can be seen here.

Like many people, I suspect, I started off taking photographs in a ‘point-and-shoot’ way: I would see something I wanted to remember, I would point the camera (without adjusting anything), and press the button. But over time I started looking at books of photographs, and began to see other things, such as perspective, light, selective focus, contrast, depth of field. So I started experimenting, and as I got more ambitious, I also spent time looking at paintings to see what techniques had been used, with the intention of trying some of them with the help of a camera.

And as I became more interested in artistic effects, I also became more aware of the opportunities afforded by software. The standard digital photographer’s toolbox comes in Adobe’s Photoshop – though there are also other programs such as Apple’s Aperture. But in addition there are specialist applications that allow you to conjure up certain effects, such as high dynamic range imaging; this allows the photographer to bring out details in the image, which can be taken to the point of distortion. As these digital effects are applied, the image in effect ceases to be a photograph as traditionally understood, and becomes a representation that goes beyond the literal reproduction of the scene.

There is some debate amongst photographers as to whether this is still photography, or something quite different, and indeed whether such elaboration of the original image is either artistic or desirable. It is a hard question to answer, because as in much else the aesthetics of such images are in the eye of the beholder.

As for me, I continue to take some photos on traditional film (all black and white, now), which I then do not edit in digital format, except perhaps that I might crop the image a little. I also take digital photos that I don’t edit, and others that I edit significantly. I cannot make up my mind which of these resulting images are particularly artistic. Perhaps none of them, of course.

Photography: going for retro

September 17, 2008

I have mentioned this before in this blog: one of my relatively few hobbies is photography. I should say right away that I lay no claim to excellence. I suppose that for me it was the same as for most people, we take a camera and we click it at something, the purpose usually being that we want to remember the scene, or the people, or the object. If lighting is not good, we use a flash (thereby creating the harsh light and exaggerated shadows that will ruin any photo). We spend no time at all composing the photo, we just point and click.

But then one day I decided to do some close-up nature shots, and I began to realise that photography, particularly when accompanied by a reasonable camera (and more importantly, a good lens) can be more ambitious and more artistic. A few months later, and I had bought a good digital SLR camera and two or three good lenses, and I was able to explore the possibilities a lot more. Some of the output can be seen here. There are by the way two camps in the world of digital photography, Nikon users and Canon users: I joined the Canon crowd.

More recently, I started going backwards in time – I purchased an old East German Praktica camera, bought some rolls of film and started shooting. I now vary my photography between digital and traditional, though in film I only use black and white (preferably Ilford XP2 film).

I have not yet been doing this long enough to offer advice to anyone. But three quarters of good photography lies in the composition of the image. A good photograph needs something to interest the viewer – an expression, unusual shapes,  interesting lighting conditions. These days, many other flaws in an image can be corrected with software. But a boring photo is still boring even after it has been edited.

A good photo should engage the emotions, not just the capacity for visual recognition. When it does that, it is one of the most powerful artistic devices.  But most modern compact cameras are just too easy to operate, and as a result encourage people to point at something and go. My Praktica, which has precisely zero automated functions, and which has a nasty habit of tearing the film as it is rolled thorough, still produces quite wonderful images. 

There isn’t a ‘right’ way of participating in photography, but there are good reasons for encouraging young people to take it up, and to use it to articulate a vision, and not just record a scene. But there is everything to be said for experimentation and originality, and for the idea that art need not be for the elite; it can be everywhere.