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Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016
Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016

Yesterday I put together my Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar for 2016. While I missed most of the Christmas shopping days, I did get it completed with several days to spare so that folks can receive it in time for Christmas. Who knows, you may be like me and wait until the last minute to do your Christmas present buying.

Now I did not set out to create a calendar for Christmas. As it happens, over the course of the last couple months I have made available on Redbubble a number of works of photography (and derivative art) that featured various views of synthesizers. The photographs were all taken at the Knobcon synthesizer convention (see my blog post Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp). Over the weekend I uploaded my 12th work of synthesizer art/photography and it was at that point that I asked myself the question "Would these 12 works make for a good calendar?" In reviewing the 12 I realized that they would make for a decent calendar. All I had to do was create the appropriate cover art.

And that’s how my Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016 came about. Please note that for today only, Monday December 14, Redbubble is offering a 20% discount on all purchases. To obtain the discount, use the code LASTCHANCE at checkout.

The 12 works that constitute the calendar are:

You can see my Synthesizer Art and Photography Calendar 2016 here. You may also be interested in checking out my Redbubble Portfolio.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp
Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

This weekend saw me and my camera haunting the halls of the Itasca Westin again. Last time it was because of Musecon – a convention for artists, musicians, and other creative types at which I was speaking. You can read my Musecon review for more. This time I was at the Westin to attend Knobcon, a convention dedicated to synthesizers. The Knobcon web site describes Knobcon as:

a one-of-a-kind synthesizer convention… complete with performances, workshops and vendors, Knobcon allows for a fully immersive experience. Attendees can get their hands on an incredible amount of equipment and talk directly with designers of some of today’s most innovative synthesizer products.

Although I have long been a fan of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, ELP, etc.), my interest has always been that of listener rather than user or producer. The convention was brought to my attention by a musician friend of mine who was coming in from out of town to attend. And why the name Knobcon you ask? I think the following picture makes the name obvious. Frankly, the last time I saw this many knobs was in the original NASA Mission Control room at Cape Canaveral.

Synthesizer knobs at Knobcon
Synthesizer Knobs at Knobcon

I spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit hall and rooms taking photographs of the wide variety of equipment on display. In addition to lots of knobs, there were cables, lots of cables. And all those blinking lights were particularly appealing to me. In addition to being a visual feast, it was quite an auditory experience as well – walking through a large room filled with synthesizers all doing their own thing.

Knobcon synthesizer exhibits
Knobcon synthesizer exhibits

Most of the photographs I took made use of my macro lens. For the most part I kept the camera in full manual mode so that I could play with aperture and exposure time. Underexposing worked particularly well for those photographs where I wanted the center of attention to be the blinking lights. At some point I will make some of these photographs available on my web site Jim Plaxco Photography.

In addition to photography, I also used my smart phone as a digital recorder to record the cacophony of human and synth sounds I heard while walking the aisles of the main exhibit hall. My thought is to use these recordings as a sound track for some short YouTube videos that will be illustrated using some of the photographs I took at Knobcon.

While not in the exhibit hall, or one of the exhibit rooms, I was attending workshops. While many of these were not relevant to my professional interests, several were really quite interesting. One that kept my attention was The Wavewrights given by Marc Doty, identified as the king of YouTube synthesizer videos (check out Marc Doty’s Automatic Gainsay Channel on YouTube). His talk on the history of electronic music instruments, of which synthesizers are the dominant instrument, was wonderful. He talked about the relevance of inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Lee de Forest. A few of the instruments he talked about include the telharmonium, the pianorad (invented by Hugo Gernsback of science fiction fame), the trautonium, the theremin, and (with the coolest name) the Warbo Formant Orgel.

Gene Stopp Moog Music ELP
Gene Stopp of Moog Music

Another of the workshops I attended was one featuring Gene Stopp whom I had earlier met at the Moog exhibit in the main hall. In addition to being the Moog Music Product Manager, Gene Stopp was the synth (synthesizer) tech for Keith Emerson during the heyday of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. For me, ELP has the distinction of being the only major rock group that I have seen perform in concert three times. While Gene was supposed to be answering questions about Moog Music and the recently released Moog Emerson Modular, many of the questions dealt with his involvement with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Watch the following video to learn more about the Moog Emerson Modular.

Moog Music Inc: 50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer

Another program I attended was the live interview with Malcolm Cecil, who had been the keynote speaker at the Knobcon Banquet the previous evening. Malcolm Cecil is a Grammy-award winning record producer and co-creator of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band Рwhich collaborated with numerous music acts including Weather Report, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and many more.

Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer
Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer

It was the TONTO synthesizer, built by Malcolm, that was their centerpiece. TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra", which is now owned by the National Music Centre of Calgary, Canada. You can read more about the band and the TONTO synthesizer at TONTO’s Expanding Head Band on Wikipedia.

In closing, spending the weekend looking at and listening to synthesizers (and taking pictures of them) was a different sort of experience for me. And I’m grateful to my friend Fred for cluing me in on this convention.

Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon
Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon

On the subject of music innovation, I’ll leave you with this quote from Edgard Varese: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched… we also need new instruments very badly… in my own works, I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression." What electronics have done for the art of music, so too has the computer done for the visual arts.

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Photography: Composition, Color, Contrast

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Neon Waves abstract photograph
Neon Waves abstract photograph

Monday night I attended a meeting of the Schaumburg Area Photographic Society with a photographer friend of mine. My renewed interest in photography is a consequence of my decision late last year to launch a photography web site – Jim Plaxco Photography – which went live December 12 2014. Over the years I have amassed quite a large collection of photographs and at long last I summoned up the energy to curate my collection and begin to make a small fraction of it available online.

As it turns out the meeting we attended was one of the club’s regular competition nights where photographs are judged and honors awarded. Judging was done by a panel of three judges. Judges are typically members of another camera club or of the PSA (Photographic Society of America). The photographs being judged were those submitted by club members (you must be a member to participate in the competitions). The three categories of images were DPI (digitally projected images), small prints (11×14), and large prints (16×20). The special theme for the DPI images was "Water".

The judging of the photographs lasted for just over two hours. Once judging began I quickly picked up the habit of scoring the photographs myself and comparing my own scoring with that of the judges. With few exceptions the scores I gave each photograph fell within the range of scores awarded by the judges. In scoring I tried as much as possible to be subject-neutral. In other words I treated a photograph of, for example, a pretty girl the same as I treated a photograph of a park bench.

For my part, the factors that guided my scoring were composition, color, and contrast. Note that while color and contrast or value are typically thought of as being elements of composition, I address these components separately. For composition, I was making an aesthetic judgment on factors like cropping/framing, balance/weight of the shapes, spatial relationships, and line. For color, I was looking at color saturation, balance, and the interplay of color and central subject. For example in a few images the color saturation had been pumped up too much for my tastes. For contrast, I was looking at the dynamic range of brightness in the photograph and whether it enhanced or detracted from the subject. The important thing to remember is that there is no one right answer to the question of composition, color, and contrast. A particular combination that works brilliantly for one photograph can fail miserably for another. In summary the experience was a good exercise in looking critically at imagery and was time well spent.

The Schaumburg Area Photographic Society meets September through May on the second and fourth Mondays at the Schaumburg Community Recreation Center (CRC). The next meeting is February 9, 2015 and will feature a presentation by club member Bob Benson on Optimizing Images which will cover using Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Elements to enhance digital photographs.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I used is a highly cropped version of my abstract photograph Neon Waves. This photograph was make using a combination of long exposure and camera motion. The truth is that it took quite a few attempts with different settings and motion on my part before I achieved the effect I was trying for. And yes, this is a single exposure image.

Reference Links

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New Photography Web Site

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Jim Plaxco Photography Web Site
Jim Plaxco Photography Web Site

On Dec 12, 2014 my Jim Plaxco Photography web site officially went live. I have amassed quite an archive of photography over the years but never sought to profit from it. Visually my primary interest was in digital art and the creation of a variety of painting programs and generative art programs.

Prior to this my photography fulfilled three purposes. The first was documentary in nature: taking photographs of places I had visited, sights I had seen, and events I had been involved in. This is the purpose that most people pursue when engaged in photography.

My second purpose was to capture scenes for either artistic inspiration or to use as an image source for my digital art. One example of the latter is Digital Self Portrait which is an algorithmic self-portrait created by taking a photograph of myself and using that image as input into a generative art program that I had written.

My third purpose was to experiment with the creation of abstract photographs. This was the only truly "in-camera" experimental photographic work I performed. It was a quest to see what sort of unique imagery I could create by manipulating the factors of time, zoom, focus, motion, and lighting. Many of these experiments in abstract phtography were an aesthetic flop – but enough of them were successful to keep me going.

So what brought about this sudden decision to market my photography? As with many things it began slowly. I had created an Instagram account out of curiosity as to how the platform functioned. I took several photos and left it at that. It then occurred to me that I could use Instagram as an alternative marketing venue for my art. I deleted most of the photographs I had taken and began uploading my artwork.

About the same time as I had decided to start using Instagram to market my art, I discovered Twenty20 (formerly InstaCanvas) – a service for printing your Instagram photographs. So I set up a gallery on Twenty20. I wound up making available a mixture of art and photography. However I pulled most all of my work off the site when, earlier this year, they decided to offer digital downloads of all art and photography. Unfortunately Twenty20 adopted an all or nothing approach leaving artists and photographers with no ability to specify which of their works should be available for download. Not only did I remove most of my work but I have not uploaded any new art or photography since that time. In defence of Twenty20, they do offer excellent commissions on the digital downloads – better than several of the stock photography web sites I checked.

The combination of having used Instagram and Twenty20 to market my photography led me to create my own photography web site. While I could have gone with one of the many portfolio hosting services or stock photography sites, I opted for my own site on my own domain as I prefer the degree of control that provides me with. Conveniently, some years ago I had purchased the domain name jimplaxco.com but had not done anything with it. It seemed logical to use that domain as the home for my photography. I then spent the month of November and the start of December building the site and populating it with an initial set of photographs.

I completed work on the site last week and as a part of the rollout I’m offering a 20 percent discount on all available photography products. The coupon code to use during checkout is 508BD0, which will expire at the end of this year. So please visit Jim Plaxco Photography and let me know what you think.

Jim Plaxco Photography
508BD0
20% off all prints
Valid from 17 Dec 2014
Valid until 31 Dec 2014


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A Pillar of Rock at Grand Canyon National Park

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Rock Pillar, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Rock Pillar, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Twenty20 (formerly Instacanvas) is a art and photography print-on-demand (POD) service that I joined earlier this year just to see about using it as a means of selling my mobile photography posted to Instagram. That didn’t last long. I rather quickly decided to start posting artwork and my DSLR photography to Instagram/Twenty20 – rather than photos taken with my smart phone’s camera.

One aspect of Twenty20 that has kept me adding new content is their challenges in which members are encouraged to submit images to theme-based contests. I most recently decided to submit a photograph to their Rock Formations Challenge and was quite pleased when I got an email from Twenty20 telling me that my contest submission was being featured on the Twenty20 home page. NOTE: My day in the sun has already come and gone but the Rock Formations Challenge is still underway.

It took some time for me to locate a photograph that emphasized a rock formation. Actually I have lots of photographs of rock formations but finding one that I wanted to submit was the challenge. I finally settled on a photograph of a pillar of rock photographed from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Adding to the drama of the scene that day was the stormy weather – far more dramatic than clear blue sunny skies.

There are two interesting points I would like to make regarding this photograph. First, the photo I posted to the contest has a significant portion of the image cropped out. In part this was to satisfy Twenty20’s square aspect ratio requirements. The other consideration was cropping the image for composition purposes in order to emphasize the rock pillar.

The second and far more interesting point is that this photograph was never meant to stand alone. It was one in a series of bracketed exposure photographs to be used in the construction of an HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) photograph. By bracketed I mean taking multiple photographs of the same scene varying only the exposure time. I take three or more photographs: one or more under-exposed, one correctly exposed, and one or more over-exposed. The over-exposed shot reveals details in the dark regions of the image while the under-exposed shot preserves details in the bright regions. Stacking and merging three separate photographs together produces an image rich in detail and color. In Photoshop the creation of an HDR image is most simply accomplished by selecting the individual images using Adobe Bridge and then using the Merge to HDR Photoshop tool option.

Three Full Frame Exposures for Rock Pillar Grand Canyon
Three Full Frame Exposures for Rock Pillar Grand Canyon

It was the HDR version that I was going to submit to the contest. However in looking at each of the three individual exposures as photographs in their own right, I was struck by the mood created by the underexposed photograph. I happened to open up the Photoshop channels palette to check out each individual RGB channel. Individual channels are gray scale images and it was seeing the photograph in black and white that led me to desaturate the photo. To my surprise I found the black and white version much more appealing than the color version. And that is how I came to submit an underexposed black and white photograph – rather than an HDR photograph – to the contest.

With respect to the image cropping, you can compare the cropped version of Rock Pillar Grand Canyon at Twenty20.com with the uncropped version of Rock Pillar Grand Canyon at Artflakes.com

The moral to this story is to keep your options, your eyes, and your mind open when it comes to the creative aspects of art and photography. Make it a point to explore and consider alternatives. Your work will be the better for it.

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Instagram, Twenty20, and Picture Sharing/Selling

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Twenty20 Gallery Account
My Twenty20 Photo/Art Gallery

Last week I began an adventure. It started with signing up for an Instagram account back in 2013. It’s not that I was keen to share photographs of what I was doing at the moment but rather I wanted to learn about Instagram by using it. For me the most useful aspect of Instagram has been the ability to share content to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter (I don’t use Foursquare). The least useful aspect is that it is an app-based service – meaning it is only fully functional when accessed from either a smart phone or a tablet via the Instagram app. My major annoyance with the app itself is the frequency with which it crashes.

I recently learned of an Instagram-associated service – Twenty20.com (formerly Instacanvas) which connects to Instagram and allows people to purchase various products that feature the photographs from your Instagram account. There is an application process so evidentially not everyone is accepted into the program. I was accepted. This acceptance led me to create a Flickr account in order to take advantage of that service as well.

My Twenty20 Gallery

In configuring my Twenty20 gallery the first action I took was to turn off the feature that automatically adds all of my Instagram photographs as product art. My rationale is that I do want to continue to use my Instagram account as a way of sharing photographs that are not meant to be used as product art. I may yet change my mind on this as it does make my Instagram account content look less professional.

Regarding Twenty20 products, I was surprised by the range of products on which they will print your Instagram photos. Product options are stretched canvas, framed prints, photo prints, iPhone case, greeting cards, T-shirts, pillows, magnets, and prisms – which are 1-inch thick acrylic photo glass with the image laser etched within.

Photos that are published to Instagram are all reduced to 640 x 640 pixels. The image that Twenty20 pulls from Instagram is also 640 x 640 pixels. This left me wondering about Twenty20’s option to print at 20″ x 20″. In terms of pixels per inch, that is 32 pixels per inch. When I print my photographs or artwork, I print at 300 pixels per inch. In searching through Twenty20’s help section, I came across the following:

How is the quality of printed mobile photos?
About Our Products
Twenty20 galleries are only filled with photos from Instagram, so they are all 612 x 612 pixels and 72 DPI. (Note: I think the 612 x 612 is outdated information) They look fantastic on all of our products due to our proprietary print sizing technology which makes photos from your phone look great when enlarged. However, if you ever order a print that you don’t love for whatever reason, we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will refund all the costs and pay for shipping both ways.

It is worth noting that the 640×640 pixel limitation applies only to images pulled from Instagram. Photographers do have the option of uploading larger images directly to their Twenty20 account.

Instagram Sharing Review

When posting a photograph to my Instagram account, I have the option to share that photograph with Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Twitter. Not being on Foursquare, I won’t be covering that option. Note that all of the illustrations that follow have been cropped for presentation here.

Instagram Picture Post
My post as it appears on Instagram

Instagram to Facebook

The handshake between Instagram and my Facebook account is perfect.

Instagram to Facebook
My post as it appears on Facebook

The content I post to Instagram is exactly mirrored on Facebook. Nice job.

Instagram to Flickr

When shared to my Flickr account, the picture is fine and the Instagram caption field copies to the Flickr caption field. However the tags area consists of Instagram-related tags instead of my own tags. I don’t know why this only happens with Flickr and I’m not sure if Flickr or Instagram is to blame. To fix the hashtags, I have to log on to my Flickr account, manually delete their hashtags and add in my own hashtags.

Instagram to Tumblr

When shared to my Tumblr account, my content (photograph and caption text) is perfectly mirrored on Tumblr – I don’t have to do anything. Hurrah.

Instagram to Twitter

Instagram to Twitter
My post as it appears on Twitter

In creating the tweet for my Twitter account, Twitter’s 140 character limit has to be kept in mind. If my Instagram caption is more than 140 characters, something is going to get truncated. Fortunately I’ve consistently reserved the end of my Instagram captions for the hashtags so it’s only those – and not my link – that get dropped. Of course I could have limited the length of my caption to Twitter’s 140 character limit but that would have entailed limiting the amount of content on the other four social media services. So Twitter draws the short straw and I will live with the truncation problem.

One nice thing is that in posting my Twenty20 link to Instagram, it gets picked up and pulled in by Twitter and is viewable via the Twitter View Details option. A nice feature. Unfortunately, while Twitter now does support the posting of images, my photograph does not get passed to Twitter – only a link back to the image on my Instagram account. Perhaps Instagram has just not gotten around to updating their service to reflect this newish Twitter capability.

Instagram to my Twenty20 Gallery

Instagram to Twenty20
Importing Instagram to my Twenty20 Gallery

As I have selected to not automatically add all my Instagram photos to Twenty20, I must manually add them individually. This is no loss though because Twenty20 only pulls in the image file. None of the text content is carried over and in order to have your image found via a search, you need to go in and populate the Photo Details, Tags, and Caption fields.

Here is the workflow associated with each photograph I add to my Twenty20 gallery:

  1. Open Instagram on my tablet/smartphone.
  2. Either take a photograph or grab an image from my tablet/smartphone.
  3. Enter caption text and tags.
  4. Share to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Tumblr.
  5. Press the submit button and I’m done on Instagram.
  6. Go to my computer, open my browser, and log in to my Twenty20 account.
  7. Go to the Manage Gallery option.
  8. Select Add.
  9. Select Import from Instagram.
  10. Twenty20 displays thumbnails of all my Instagram photographs. I select the image I want to add and click Done.
  11. Select that same image from my Twenty20 image gallery.
  12. Edit the Photo Details field to specify a category, add the hashtags I want to use, enter the text I want for the caption, and click Save.

And there you have it. I hope you take a moment to have a look at my site and "like" my photographs and art as that will give me a boost in the site’s search results.

Jim Plaxco’s Twenty20 Photo/Art Gallery

I will be adding new content on a fairly regular basis.

Addendum

Annoying Advertisement: I just now visited the Twenty20 site as a visitor. I must say how annoying I find it that when doing a search on the site I am presented with the same “Instacanvas is now Twenty20″ pop-up advertisement on every single search results page. Note that this only happens to visitors – not to people logged in to their account.

Twenty20
The advertisement that overlays every search results page when I search the site as a visitor

For visitors the ad takes over the screen and must be manually dismissed. Someone at Twenty20 really needs to have their head examined. I’ve reported this as a problem and am very curious to see what their response is. I’ll report here what I hear back from them.

No Search Engine Results: In using Google and Bing to search the Twenty20.com site for my content I get zero search results. Similar searches for other seller’s content yields results. I’ve opened a problem ticket with Twenty20 to find out what the problem is. It may be due to the newness of my account. Granted my account is less than a week old but I would think that is a sufficient amount of time to have been found by the search engines.

I hope you found this information useful. Please feel free to share it with others who may be interested in monetizing their Instagram photographs.

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