Photography in the Abstract: Parallel Lines

= and || and # and ” and B and E and F and H and N and U and Z. Parallel lines. (Strange that there are no numbers here, yes?)

Lines are one of the main photographic lenses. When viewing any photograph, we can ask, “How do the lines interact in this picture? Lines come in three main forms: curvy, perpendicular and parallel. We looked at strange, curvy lines in a previous post on silhouette photography. We’ll look at perpendicular lines next time. That leaves…parallel lines! Like all Photography in the Abstract posts, we’ll ask the question:

What ways can you use parallel lines to compose a great picture?


Lines + Out-of-Focus

Strategy to take this kind of picture is: 1) Find close object with a straight side. 2) Align close object’s line with a line in the background. 3) Click.

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It’s nice when in- and out-of-focus object have similar/related structures (5 rectangular blocks). It’s also nice when those blocks are not simply blocks of color but have their own little details (tile has semi-perpendicular lines for example). [Hong Kong, China]

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I like it when the out-of-focus (oof) lines have different levels of depth. [Kaiping, China]


Variation on a Theme

The above photos emphasize big differences between lines using blur level. The pictures below emphasize small differences using parallel lines to keep shape constant (and thus emphasize the other small differences).

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Middle section is variation on railroad track theme. Top and bottom sections are variation on beige theme (w.r.t. middle section). [Suzhou Railroad Station, Suzhou, China]

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Variations on texture and depth. I think this is playground equipment. [Fenyang, China]


Parallelism Gone Awry

The lines in the photographs above are darn close to perfectly parallel. The lines in the pictures below are ones that “aren’t parallel, but should be”. This is different than “aren’t parallel and shouldn’t be”. i.e. There are lots of lines in pictures that aren’t parallel but the viewer doesn’t care. In the following pictures we do care (about non-parallelism).

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Like a firecracker exploded and stopped the parallel lines. [Dongguan, China]

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Same pile. Again, parallel lines are a tad off. Angled stick hurts. Sticks ending before leaving the frame also hurts. [Dongguan, China]

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Far left lines start parallel. In the middle, bait/gravity combo and reflection turns fishing lines from = into x (parallel to chaos). [Dongguan, China]


Shorter and More Dense Parallel Lines Create Perspective

Photographers will often use converging lines to create perspective. Less often we’ll use shorter and shorter parallel lines to achieve the same effect. Railroad tracks show both, so let’s look at that first then check out my pics.

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EXAMPLE PHOTO: Converging lines are the vertical rails. Shorter and more dense horizontal lines are the perpendicular wooden slats. Both imply a vanishing point. [Internet, USA]

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Top left: short, dense lines. Bottom right: long, infrequent lines. [Fenyang, China]

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Same concept here with two differences. One, lines get longer and then shorter (longest line is Line #5, not Line #6). Two, lines aren’t perfectly parallel. I’m also capturing another convergence point somewhere in the distance away from bottom right. [Kaiping, China]

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Imperfect parallelism creates tilty world vibe. [Fenyang, China]

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Variation on railroad track picture. This picture emphasizes converging lines instead of parallel ones. The parallel lines are actually the red steps. Not a constant line, but dots. Note how dots get denser in both directions. [Fenyang High School Stadium bleachers, Fenyang, China]


Nontraditional Lines Are Cool Too

‘Nuff said. Look for lines everywhere.

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[Chengdu, China]

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[Swingset, Fenyang, China]


Until Next Time

It’s 2015! I published 17 posts in 2014 after returning from China. Not bad. I definitely enjoy this. Posts that I’m most excited for in 2015:

  • Ducks
  • Texture
  • Reviewing photographer’s reviews (of my blog)
  • Using post-production (which I’ve never done)
  • B&W

Thanks to all of you who have been reading my posts! 20 followers is a non-zero number! K bye.

– Rhys

Are Chinese Kids REALLY More Cute?

I’m sorry this text is not a picture of a cute Chinese baby.

That’ll come later. For now, I want to ask why an American like myself saw and took a bunch of pictures of cute Chinese children. Are Chinese kids really more cute than their Caucasian counterparts (that I see more often)? (By the way, please don’t try to take this post as creepy. That’s not why I’m here.)


The reasons why I have so many pictures of cute Chinese children can be broken into three categories: my bias (reasons 1, 5 and 2-ish), physical characteristics of Chinese children (reasons 2 and 3), and Chinese cultural attitudes w.r.t. children (reason 4).

1. Self-fulfilling Prophecy!

I had heard the cute Chinese child stereotype, so I definitely had my camera ready whenever I saw someone under 4′ 2″. If I went around America looking for cute kids, I bet I’d find a bunch here too.

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This picture shows my constant state of readiness. Camera in hand. On the lookout for cute shit. Ah! Kid jumping! *Snap* [Suzhou Gardens, Suzhou, China]

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I love how the yellows and greens match from plant to kid. [Pinyao, China] 


2. Bigger Pupils and Eyes

Bigger Pupils: This academic article (oooohhhhh) states that cuter kids have “large eyes and pupils”. This could make sense for Chinese babies given that their rate of dark eyes is greater than in white populations [source] (not to mention the white skin dark eye contrast). This means that the line between pupil and iris is harder to define, leading to more “large pupiled” babies.

Bigger Eyes: This may seem counterintuitive to people like myself who have schooled with the “Asian squinty eyes” stereotype. In fact, this stereotype actually enhances the “big-eyed Chinese child” phenomenon. Like most stereotypes, the “slanted eye” tag is based on truth — an upper eye fold (called the epicanthic fold) is more prevalent in Asia. We are used to seeing this in Chinese adults, labeling their eyes as “small”. Children’s eyes are 75% of their full size [source], but their face is still pretty small (babies have a face-to-cranium ratio of 1:8 while adults have a ratio of 1:2.5 [source]). Therefore children’s eyes are relatively larger w.r.t. their face than they are as adults. This relative eye bigness in Chinese children might affect how often we see their eyes as “big” (as compared to “small” in Chinese adults). A compounding (and somewhat counter-logical to the last point) factor is that the epicanthic fold is harder to see (it’s 75% of its size), so we don’t judge the eyes in the “Chinese adult small” category.

Puss in Boots is a prototypical example of big pupils, BIG cute.

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Those eyes are pure black. Pupil is black. Iris is black. Pupil gets confused with iris. Pupil is perceived as bigger than it actually is. Cuteness up. Viewers win. [Suzhou Gardens, Suzhou, China]

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Again, pupil-iris conflation ftw. Phone and hand position don’t hurt. [Fenyang, China]

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Bigger eyes w.r.t. face means we don’t see them as “Asian small”, means cuter. Epicanthal folds smaller means we don’t see eyes as “Asian small”, means cuter. [Suzhou, China]


Smaller Noses

The other genetic factor at play here is smaller noses. That same academic article (above) claims that cuter kids are those with “short and narrow features” (using a small nose as indicative of small babyness). Chinese people thought I (and other westerners) were much more attractive because of our 大鼻子 (da bi zi), big noses [Data4Fun]. They said, “Ahhhhh, us Chinese don’t have big noses! We love your big nose!” It’s the classic “want what you don’t have” syndrome (light-skinned people getting fake tans, darker-skinned people wanting fairer skin). For the Chinese, this creates big nose jealousy later in life, but increases cuteness as a baby.

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The pain! Oh, the pain! [Pinyao, China]


Cuter Clothes

Moving away from genetics to culture. Did you see that panda coat two pictures above? So damn cute. The Chinese style of cute works so well on kids.

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Puffball of color. [Fenyang, China]

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Animal leash. Beach hat. Some fly J’s. [Pinyao, China]

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Face isn’t even needed. [Dongguan, China]


Pure Exoticism

The final reason is that Chinese kids are different than American kids. Just like the pull of Imperial Adventures in a movie like Indiana Jones, so too are my eyes pulled by the “other” inherent in Chinese kids (and unavailable to my nephew).

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I don’t know why they are arranging their shoes in a line, but they’re doing it together and I like that. [Pinyao, China]


Until Next Time

Well, I hope I’ve both: 1)  Argued for why Americans take lots of pictures of cute Chinese kids AND 2) Not been racist. Hope you enjoyed this more “source-driven” post (and if nothing else, the cute kids). The part of this post that most excites me personally is the whole “dressing up your kids” thing. Ima have kids. And ima make ’em look funny. And ima post it on the internet. See you then!

– Rhys

Understanding China: Pure People Part 2

People no story = people all story.

Part 1 is here.


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[Place where many Chinese films are shot, Kaiping, China]

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[Shenzhen River Delta, Shenzhen, China]

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[Fenyang, China]

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[Strawberry picker, Yangshuo, China]

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[Batman, Shanghai, China]

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[World’s first bank, Pingyao, China]

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[Harbin, China]

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[Teacher’s Day celebration, Fenyang, China]

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[Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

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[Pingyao, China]


Until Next Time

6 of these pictures don’t have faces. Backs/posture can be cool too. Hope you enjoyed this post!

– Rhys

Traditionally and Untraditionally Cute Things

The following pictures contain:

1 Puppy

1 Cat

1 Stuffed Animal

1 Blow-up Penguin

3 Dogs

1 Wet Spot of Concrete and 3 Leaves

THEY ARE ALL CUTE.


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The owner had him trained to do this. [Harbin, China]

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Kitty “in the wild”. [Fenyang, China]

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Stuffed animal squished against a car windshield. Love this pic. [Taiyuan, China]

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The Facebook of China, QQ, has a penguin mascot. (This one is 50 feet tall.) [Shenzhen, China]

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Love this pic as well. The top two dogs are so shaggy. There are spots for 9 doggies here. I’m happy the middle dog is not one up (though it would be symmetrical). [Tilamuren Grasslands, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

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I only take pictures like these when I’m really “in the mode” (i.e. taking pictures of everything). It is cute thought, right? (Right?) [Walking from Dongguan to Shenzhen, China]

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I feel like I just played a sick Rick Roll on y’all. Sorry? [Behind my school’s cafeteria, Fenyang, China]


 Until Next Time

Next time I go on a trip, I’d like to take more untraditionally cute pictures. I like personifying things. Hope you enjoyed this batch!

– Rhys

Understanding China: Pure People Part 1

People are the most powerful tool a photographer has.

Faces, more specifically. It’s a huge contributor to the power of DLSR’s and oof (out of focus). Blur the background + pop the face => great picture.

The pictures today are of people. And they’re of people in a vacuum. Save a small location caption, I haven’t written any text about them. In a way, there’s nothing to write. These pictures don’t fit into Photo Series 1: My Stories From China nor Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract. They are categorized in Photo Series 2: Understanding China simply because people combined are culture. They’re here, by themselves, together.


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[Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Suzhou, China]

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[Shanghai Museum of Ancient Chinese Art, Shanghai, China]

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[City Wall, Pinyao, China]

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[Fenyang, China]

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[Macao Musuem, Macao, China]

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[Top of stadium bleachers, Fenyang, China]

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[Xian, China]

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[City wall, Xian, China]

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[Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]

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[Gravestone painter, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China]


Until Next Time

It’s nice to write posts like these when I don’t want to think too much. No story construction. No societal arguments. No photographic analyzations. Just pictures. Hope you enjoyed the post!

– Rhys

Photography in the Abstract: Small Photography

Welcome to the 5th post in Photo Series 3: Photography in the AbstractToday’s topic is pretty damn cool. It’s about “small” photography, i.e. the kind of photography that looks better when viewed as small. Up until this point, all of the pictures on this blog have been presented in “large” form: as large as can be while still being able to see the entire picture on a single computer screen. Today there will be no large photos, only small. First, we’ll ask our classic Photography in the Abstract question: what are the different ways that you can compose small photography? Then we’ll find out the optimal technique to take small pictures. Then we’ll expand that optimal small system to optimal systems for any given mode of photographic presentation. It’s a long post (but worth it, I swear). Let’s go!


How do you compose a great small photograph?

There are many ways to take a great small photo. Today we’ll just talk about photos in which the smallness helps the subject (rather than the composition [the whole]). And remember, these are photos in which the smallness actually helps the picture — merely looking good while small is not enough. It must be the case that [small photo] > [big photo]. To truly be convinced, I recommend clicking on the photos to see them in their ugly, large state.


Smallness Turns Small Dots into Smaller Dots

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Instead of seeing a bunch of individual Christmas lights, we see a sky of stars. [Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, China]

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Like the picture above, the density is emphasized by small spaces becoming smaller, by the lights at the far end nearly vanishing. [Chengdu, China]


Smallness Creates Correct Zoom Level For Texture

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When this picture is full size, you can distinguish individual fish a bit too well. When small, this picture instead shows a wall of fish. See Finding Nemo’s school of fish: http://goo.gl/yZl3Or. [Panda Zoo, Chengdu, China]

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The reflective texture on the lightbulb wants this level of detail. Too large and you can start to pick apart its imperfections. [My House, Fenyang, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Correct Part of Shape

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The key visual idea here is how the triangles are stacked on the straight line. This level of abstraction is exactly what we want. Triangles. Lines. Black. Detail would be counterproductive. [Bridge Across Frozen River, Harbin, China]

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These are strange objects. The left seems to desire the right. Perpetual motion spurred by want. When zoomed in, we start to see the texture and need to move our eyes in order to see the two objects. Both of these hurt the emphasis on pure form. Thus, small > large. [Chongqing, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Shape of Human, Rather Than Face

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Much like the category above, the subjects in these pictures are doing something defined by a zoom level OUT. The kid here is interesting because of the excitement conveyed by his body position, not his face. [Public Fishing Pond, Chengdu, China]

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Many empty seats. Guard. Straight back. Hands behind back. Dark clothes. Chinese Red. Hat. None of those words are face. QED. [Shanghai Basketball Game, Shanghai, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Groups of Color

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The idea here is that there’s a blob of color. Blobs are amorphous and are therefore helped by the ambiguity as a result of smallness. The particular pic is pretty ridiculous. Person biking with 100+ balloons. Can’t even see him/her. [Dongguan, China]

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The idea of color, rather than specific colors themselves. This picture has 3 sections of color: umbrella and two reflections. [Shanghai, China]


Smallness Allows Blurry Mist

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Mist/pollution/smoke is difficult to take pictures of, especially in the dark. It’s possible, but you need to increase the camera’s ISO level, creating gross pixelization. Viewing the picture as small keeps the best parts of the air — the aura of gradient light, while reducing the worst — blurriness. [Shanghai, China]

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See that non-blurry reflective fog! [The Bund, Shanghai, China]

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Love the lighting here. Dust clouds illuminated in the night. [Chongqing, China]

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Same foggy night as pictures 1 and 2. [Shanghai, China]


Finding a Small Creation Medium For a Small Consumption Medium

Now that the types of small pictures have been outlined (above, dummy), let’s look at how to take small photographs. To understand how to create this work, we need to look at how it will be consumed. And that’s in small form. You (the viewer) look at it here, on this blog, as a 400×225 pixel image. I want it to look good in this medium. To look good here, I should try to take 400×225 pictures. Creation medium = consumption medium. Take small pictures for a “View As Small” medium.

I didn’t do consciously do this. I just took pictures “through” my LCD screen on my camera. I use the LCD screen as my viewfinder for other reasons. Creating “View As Small” pictures was an unintended consequence. It happened as I was going through my 10,000+ China photos. My sorting process was dictated by the goal — “Find Patterns” (those patterns have turned into the posts that you’ve read on this blog). I started to notice a strange pattern where my positive expectations for a given picture were shattered when I looked at the picture full screen. I’d get pumped by the thumbnail, only to be disappointed by the fullscreen photograph. It only happened with horizontal photos (see all the photos above) where the difference between thumbnail size and fullscreen size was greater (width is 6x greater * height is 5x greater = 30x more area for horizontal pictures vs. 1.5*2 = 3x more area for vertical pictures). Pictures were no longer “trash” if they looked bad big, they were just “View As Small”-ers. Like the runt of the litter. Just different.

And there were a lot of runts (nearly 50 high-quality photographs). Why did I take so many “View As Small” photos? It’s because every picture that I took was a “View As Small”. Here’s an example. I’m trying to get a sweet picture of a sea of white Christmas lights in Hong Kong.  I move a bit. I stretch my arm to the left. I look at it my LCD viewfinder. And…..yeah! That looks pretty damn sweet! Click. But it only looks sweet on a 400×225 pixel screen. Who the hell knows if it’ll look good at 1600×900? Boom. View As Small picture taken.


Creation Medium = Consumption Medium

I was on a backpacking trip with my brother a month or two ago and was telling him about my View As Small blog post (this). He was hatin’ on me for using the LCD instead of the stick-your-eye-to-it viewfinder. I was trying to convince him that the LCD viewfinder must be optimal for, at the very least, View As Small pictures. He wasn’t quite convinced until I gave him the larger implication: the consumption medium should always dictate the creation medium.

This idea affects the simple size of the photo. Small dictates small. Large dictates large. But we should definitely go further. If I know that my pictures are going to be viewed on a computer screen at 400×225, then I should create that environment when I take the picture. My camera should look like this:

medium-medium-blog-example

If I wanted to shoot optimal [View As Small + Be Viewed On This Blog] photography, I should take pictures using the camera interface above. (You can imagine a WordPress iPad app that has this functionality.)

As another example, let’s pretend we are Tim Cook (Apple’s new CEO) and are planning for this year’s Apple Event. We are going to showcase the new photo roll screen. This:

camera roll screenshot

If we assume that we will only see the photos in thumbnail form, then we should take the pictures with an LCD screen that looks like this:

camera roll screenshot

To go one step further, we shouldn’t take the pictures on a normal iPhone. Instead, take the pictures on an LCD that looks like this but is huge and projected onto a screen (like at the Apple Event).

This may seem a bit extreme. But I think the original concept (medium = medium) still holds and should be applied more often. To push even more to an extreme, we’d start to address the environment outside the screen. e.g. Most people read this blog listening to music through headphones while sitting on a couch, petting their cat. I need to recreate that situation to take the optimal picture (some kind of weird wheelchair contraption with a very well-trained [or well-A.I.-ed] kitty).

Another implication of this medium = medium idea comes by solving the equality from the other direction. Until now we have let the consumption medium dictate the creation medium. Instead, let’s construct the consumption medium from the creation medium. For my point-and-shoot, the blog would look like this:

creation-implies-consumption-example

And the blog would be much much lamer.


Until Next Time

I usually try to keep my blog posts to about half of this length, so I’m especially interested in your feedback on a long-form article like this one. Let me know what you think! Also, stay tuned for the second View As Small post. It’ll be more pictures and less theory.

Thanks for reading!

– Rhys