01 July 2015

WLE 2015 in... Brazil

Lajedo de Pai Mateus - Pedra do Capacete
By Ruy Carvalho (Own work) CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

This year I was invited once more to be a jury member for the Brazilian Wiki Loves Earth photo competition (thanks Rodrigo!) and it was a pleasure to witness so many wonderful images (yes, I am a bit jealous for my recent inactivity in travel/landscape photography).

Taking a look at their top 10 winners anyone would probably agree this is quality stuff, which will rightfully enrich Wikipedia. Myself, after seeing the larger (around 600 images) selection for the jury, I dare to conclusion a significant increase in quality over the previous year. And I understand the increase was also in quantity, so it looks like a win-win.

Congratulations to the organizers and all the participants!

PS: take a few more moments to admire the winners from the other countries, they are added to the page gradually, as each local jury get its work done. I still ting the Brazilian pictures are among the best so far :)

Cacimba do Padre - Fernando de Noronha
By Dante Laurini Jr (Own work) CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons

13 May 2015

FREE Firefox?

Let's assume one is a "normal" Firefox user, so based on Windows and with no knowledge about using directly the mirrors (or without intimate knowledge of obscure acronyms). And let's assume the same person wants a FREE web browser, one with no binary blobs, with source available and not blocking the content from its user.

The challenge is, going from the Firefox start page, find a way to download the FREE version, without using external websites (so no Google search).

free firefox 38

Answer: Expand the menu thingy at the top, then go to the About page, then to the blog and find there an apologising post with a deep-buried link inside.

11 February 2015

Kdenlive video formats export

A few years ago I used to regularly publish videos, so back then I started with an evaluation of FOSS video editors available for Fedora. At the time I decided the "winner" to be Kdenlive (at the time PiTiVi was useless, OpenShot unavailable and Blender unknown for its video editing capabilities), despite all the drawbacks of its KDE interface and sudden crashes.

Fast-forward, about a year ago, I needed again some video editing, this time for a home project. Not wanting to deal with KDE again (I don't want to flame KDE, I just find a GTK2 interface more friendly to use and GTK apps integrate better in my desktop), I tried OpenShot and it worked good enough.

Fast-forward again to current times, after upgrading my desktop to Fedora 21 (from F18, no less!) I needed again a video editing task, I fired-up OpenShot but it refused to cooperate (something related to creating a video clip from a sequence of images, something I used it for before), so back to the old friend Kdenlive again.

Yes, Kdenlive can do the work just fine, it just had an unintuitive UI annoyance that had me searching the web to learn where to find a simple option (I was not seeing a tree for the forest). You open the render window and there are not many formats to pick from besides MP4, MPEG-2 and Matroska. Where are the others? Not gone, but hidden behind a "Destination" drop-down.

kdenlive video formats export

I can see why they decided to split the list in smaller sections, it can be quite long, however 1: I didn't see the drop-down and surely many others don't and 2: categories are totally arbitrary: MKV is a file, AVI a media player and WebM a website? Why? Fortunately, you can add them as Favorites or learn their place quite fast (unfortunately,after you close the app and open it again, it will default again to File rendering instead of Favorites)

kdenlive video formats export

Some other issue that made me lose a lot of time is related to video quality. At first I created a video with the default format, which is MP4 with H.264, which from what I tried later is the thest regarding file size / image quality (didn't try WebM, it isn't useful for my client here, who is the type of person using Internet Explorer on Windows 8, so it has to work OOTB). Then I tried to find a set of settings for MPEG2 or AVI/XVid close to it. No luck! By trial and error (which means rendering the video again and again) I settled for one while the file size is not that large (only ~2.5X time larger) and image quality not absolutely horrible (note: my personal projects always default to WebM).

kdenlive video formats export

19 January 2015

Mist wallpapers reloaded

A while ago, a set of misty wallpapers proved to be quite appreciated. Fast forward a year and some more, after another misty morning, here's a new set of free pictures ready to be used as walllpapers.

mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper
mist wallpaper

20 November 2014

Shooting yourself in the foot, part 53326: Mozilla

Step 1: with bad design decisions one after another (Australis is a shining example of that) slide yourself into irrelevance;
Step 2: when market share goes below some threshold, the main sponsor diminishes (or suspend?) payments;
Step 3: in retaliation, hurt the users by forcing om them a sub-par alternative as a default;
Step 4: profit bleed even more angry users and go even faster into irrelevance.

Brilliant strategy Mozilla!

Myself, I am still using Firefox for the time being, but that's exclusively due to Gecko.

24 October 2014

Winners of Wiki Loves Romania 2014

Organizing Wiki Loves Monuments in Romania this year was the hardest so far. Why so? We had a bigger budget, which allowed us to be more ambitious, so on top of the free photography contest for Wikipedia we had to manage a photo exhibition, a 2 day field trip, an additional contest for juniors, a team of volunteering interns and more. But it was rewarding, the results are notable: over 8200 pictures from 216 contributors.

I will tease with the top 3 photos from the contest, you can see all of them on our website.

1st place: Bogdan Croitoru with Monumentul triumfal Tropaeum Traiani
006 MG 6430 Tropaeum Traiani Adamclisi 006
2nd place: Dragoș Pîrvulescu with Fortificație medievală
Cetatea Râșnov, văzută din șoseaua Cristian-Râșnov.
3rd place: Zsolt Deak pentru Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificat-vedere aeriana
Ansamblul bisericii evanghelice fortificat-vedere aeriana

You can also see the winning pictures, along with highlights from the previous editions and winners of the section dedicated to younger contributors in a photo exhibition opened for 3 weeks at the National Library in Bucharest. After that, the expo will move for a couple more weeks at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara.


16 September 2014

People sea wallpapers

Usually pictures including people does not make for good desktop wallpaper, one exception is images of your beloved one, which do not make sense to share, and another exception is images of scantily clad celebrities, which is some circles may be popular but in others are highly controversial. But as a photographer I prefer to take photos with people, those pictures have more soul. Still, how such pictures can be turned in generally usable wallpapers? Make sure people are not recognizable, turn them in silhouettes, is a perfectly cromulent way.

people sea wallpaper
people sea wallpaper

15 September 2014

Sunrise sea wallpapers

I was away for the week-end, so I continue clearing the summer wallpapers queue after a small gap (initially planned the climax for the Sunday). Hope you will enjoy them, no matter the timing.

sunrise sea wallpaper
sunrise sea wallpaper
sunrise sea wallpaper

12 September 2014

Sea birds wallpapers

As anticipated, today my free wallpaper series is completed with yet another part from this summer backlog (good new for those uninterested: two more parts and I will stop for a good while). Now is about birds flying above the sea and in front of a rising sun. Quite a lot of empty space to host desktop icons.

sea birds wallpaper
sea birds wallpaper
sea birds wallpaper

11 September 2014

Post-industrial wallpapers

I'm not sure why I liked to call those images "post-industrial" when the cranes in the background are from a large and very active naval yard, still I think they are a worthy addition to the series (and free, of course, as in CC-BY-SA).

post industrial wallpaper
post industrial wallpaper

10 September 2014

Beach wallpapers

As hinted the other day, there are more posts in the queue for my free wallpaper series. Today we are going to the beach! ...and if I wouldn't be so used with the one I keep using for a few years, I could see myself going with the first.

beach wallpaper
beach wallpaper
beach wallpaper

09 September 2014

Wallpapers: sunsets over the city

Now, when the summer is over, I look back and notice quite a lot of summer-ish pictures which people may want to use as desktop wallpapers. Damn! my last post in the free wallpaper series was in the winter! My backlog of picture is considerable, so there may be 3-4 more similar posts to follow if I feel there is interest.

city sunset wallpaper
city sunset wallpaper
city sunset wallpaper

03 September 2014

WLMRO 2014

I am a bit late writing about this here, but on September 1st a new edition of the Wiki Loves Monuments photography contest started globally, with 34 countries registered to participate.

It is happening in Romania too, for the 4th time (I am again part of the team) and for us the start is promising so far: in the mid of the 3rd day we are well past the 1k images mark, something which happened much later (7 to 13 days) in the previous editions. Let's see if the contributors (and this includes you, my readers!) will be able to keep up. BTW, this year our prizes improved too.

Chiajna ruine 01

01 July 2014

On Wiki Loves Earth Brasil 2014

I was invited to be a member in the jury for the Wiki Loves Earth 2014 photography contest in Brasil and I joined gladly: it was both a honor and an opportunity to see some places which otherwise I don't expect to see any time soon. Also it was an opportunity to share from my experience with 3 editions already of the similar Wiki Loves Monuments in Romania. Now, as the Brasilian contest has published its winners, I want to share a few conclusions.
First, it was a success from any point of view, from the impressive number of images (around 7000), to the exposure the team managed to receive, with presences on the most important technology and photography magazines and portals in the country. Then, a lot of impressive places I wish I could see in person, a good selection of winners and a first place image I really like and envy the photographer who took it.

Amanhecer no Hercules --
'Amanhecer no Hercules' by Carlos Perez Couto, CC-BY-SA, winner of WLE 2014 Brasil

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect and I have a couple of pet peeves about the contest. First, not once I found myself shouting in my head 'They didn't hear of the rule of thirds in Brasil?' I saw too many otherwise nice pictures with the horizon line cutting the image in half for no good reason, which could be way better with a 'correct' composition. Second, I had the feeling some participants misunderstood the purpose of Wikimedia Commons and sent unedited images: is OK to upload thereedited images as long as you do not change the reality. I encountered a lot of photos which can easily be improved with a few simple edits: framing (crop and/or rotation), color/exposure adjustments (curves, levels, brightness, saturation), sharpening and such. Some photos could made the top 10 if they had be edited as such. Fortunately, grace to the license, such improvements can be made at a later date by any contributor.
Still, the Wiki loves Earth 2014 contest didn't end: is still ongoing in a few other countries and will conclude with an international contest. Best of luck to all participants! Have good photos and all of us will win (including myself as an ordinary Wikipedia user).

30 April 2014

Pop Art

Recently I took a very colorful and quite abstract picture, which I thought would make for an interesting 'pop art' effect. The process is really basic and obvious, but I decided to share it for anyone who want to learn a quickie.

pop art gimp

So, I opened the image with GIMP. Since I want the final collage as a 4x4 composition, increase the Canvas Size to 200% on both directions.

pop art gimp

Then Duplicate the image layer.

pop art gimp

Repeat the duplication until there are enough pieces to cover the image. I need 3 duplicates, for a total of 4 pieces.

pop art gimp

Select each piece and with the Alignment Tool move them to cover the image (one right, one bottom, one right and bottom).

pop art gimp

Now the aligned pieces should fill the entire image.

pop art gimp

Leave one layer as is (if you really want, you can edit it too) and for the second open the Hue-Saturation dialog.

pop art gimp

Move the Hue slider left or right until you are happy with the new color set.

pop art gimp

Repeat for the other layers until you have something like this:

pop art gimp

Export and you are done:

pop art gimp

Here's a different use case for a similar effect: I had a single background for the water drop photos, but adjusting the Hue made it appear the pictures are more different than in reality.

pop art gimp

PS: as someone told me, I should print this at some big size and try to sell my 'pop art' creation for a ginormous amount of money.

Firefox 29

firefox 29
Probably everybody already heard there is a new Firefox release and it changes many things and already has an opinion about it. Unfortunately I don't have the audience to gather a significant sample, but if anyone runs such a poll, I would be genuinely interested.

Which Firefox user interface do you prefer?
  1. Firefox 29 (the latest, just released)
  2. Firefox 4-28 (still on long term support)
  3. Firefox pre-4 (before the "keyhole")
  4. Seamonkey (the suite)
  5. I don't care (as long at it open web pages)
Of course i am coming here from an angle: I prefer the apps on my desktop to be consistent with each other, as layout, structure, widgets placement, shortcuts, behavior( I was happy the old Firefox never got the "keyhole" on Linux.) Still, not enough to move to something like Midori , where the look and feel is totally native but the set of features smaller.

22 April 2014

Pseudo-HDR editing

Usually I don't edit much my landscape photos, not because I don't know how but I prefer them this way. Still, recently I felt the need for some more advanced processing for a picture, it enjoyed some success so I decided to share the process. The tools used were UFRaw (in the form of the GIMP plugin), Luminance HDR and, of course, GIMP.

I passed by this scene in the nearby park at the "golden hour" and it looked photogenic, but I wanted to make it more dramatic. One can increase the drama in a landscape photo by using a HDR treatment, but not having the tripod with me (for a proper HDR image you need at least 3 images with exactly the same scene but different exposures) I decided to go for pseudo-HDR. For this, I set the camera recording mode to RAW.

pseudo hdr

Note: the real purpose of a HDR image is to have details both in the shadows and in the highlights, beyond what the camera sensor can record, the improved drama is a side effect.

The RAW image was imported in GIMP via the UFRaw plugin 3 times: with normal, -1 and +1 exposure. If you really want, you can try doing the same starting from a single JPEG an simulate the exposure bracketing with color levels/curves, but I wouldn't advise: if from a RAW you can recover some lost image details, in JPEG they are gone forever.

pseudo hdr

The result is 3 JPEG images, one under-exposed, one exposed properly and the other over-exposed, which are to be combined in a HDR. For more drama, you can bracket with more than one step.

pseudo hdr

I imported the JPEGs to Luminance HDR and set their exposures manually to -1, 0 and +1 (or whatever values you used for RAW development). Then just press "Next" a few times, there is no need to adjust parameters, nor align the images (they were obtained from the same source).

pseudo hdr

Now we have a High Dynamic Range image, which can't be used or viewed as-is on a normal computer display, it has to be converted back to Low Dynamic Range, but optimized for what do we want from it (details in shadows and/or highlights, drama, whatever).

pseudo hdr

Time to pick one of the presets in the right column, one you think is the best for your case.

pseudo hdr

Then I adjusted the color levels a bit (if you prefer, the levels can be adjusted later with GIMP or any other image editing app).

pseudo hdr

Now the image can be exported as a JPEG benefiting from the HDR/pseudo-HDR treatment. You can leave it as-is if you like.

pseudo hdr

However, I opened it again with GIMP for more refinement: sharpening and color curves adjustment, to make the colors warmer. This is my end result.

pseudo hdr