Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Amateur Photography Part I: Letter Shapes

Langford recommends an exercise of picking five letters from the Latin alphabet, and then taking pictures of the shapes of these letters found around.

 We select letters using the following Python script:

import random 
maxLetters = 5
letters = ['A', 'B', 'C', 'D', 'E', 'F', 'G', 'H', 'I', 'J', 'K', 'L']
letters = letters + ['M', 'N', 'O', 'P', 'Q', 'R', 'S', 'T', 'V', 'W', 'X', 'Y', 'Z'
for i in range(0, maxLetters):
    l = random.randint(0,25)
    print(letters[l],end=" ")
(yes, yes, I know, it does not remove duplicates).

The first output produced by the script included the following letters:

Part 0: general notes

Not all letters are born equal. Quite surprisingly, the harder it was to find the appropriate shapes, the more pictures I wound up taking. "T"s and "Y"s are abound, I only took a few pictures of each shape. "K", "S", and "W" required some looking for, so I took pictures whenever I saw an appropriate shape.

For the record, my camera is Sony Alpha 330. For this particular task I used the 55-200/f 4-5.6 kit lens topped with a UV and a CPL filter. Somewhere closer to the end of the day I put a hood on it.

Part 1: T

"T" wound up being very easy to find. A lot of man-made constructs contain T-intersections. I wound up not bothering too much. 

The picture above, and its sister image below were taken on campus near the CS building. The other T-shapes came in the form of a street sign on the corner of Serrano and Serrano Heights and from a power line pole. The latter are not the best expressions of the T-shape, as the text on the horizontal bar of the sign is distracting, and there are wires in the other shot, but will do for the government work.

Part 2: Y

 I quickly found a couple of meaningful Y shapes among the cracks in the asphalt.

Y shapes are also popular among trees. I found one that looked good and stopped there.

Part 3: K

Of the three more tricky shapes, the K shape was the easier to discover in a variety of situations.

The images are shown in essentially the inverse chronological order. I first tried experimenting with the pole and the wires, and tried for the rounded "K"-shapes with the fallen tree branches and the plastic stick. The blue K-shapes are actually 90 degree inverted. The actual object is a metal bike rack in Avila Beach.

Part 4: S

S-shapes do not come easily, and it was the last shape I discovered in a way that was satisfactory to me, but eventually I did come by a treasure trove.

My initial attempts were either pathetic (below, left) or were bordering on cheating (below, right).

The tree branches don't even form an S shape (although there are some curves. The mask is from +Chris Lupo's office, and it does not actually have an S shape, but if one cuts out the right side of the mask, it creates an illusion of one.  I took me a trip to Avila Beach to find a pavement mural that consisted essentially and entirely of S curves.

Not surprisingly for Avila, the mural itself pictures waves. Once I "cleared" the S shape with the images above, finding other S shapes got easier. Not all of them were created equal (see the ocean shot below for a really big stretch).

Part 5: W

The W shape was the first and the last pictures I took, but it gave me the biggest headache. I wound up with, perhaps, the most diverse crop of variants. Early thinking was to capture W shapes in the parts of diagonal meshes. The basketball net is from the carport of our house - saw it as I was starting to head out.  Later, in Avila, I spotted the wire fence mesh, and a wooden fence mesh.  I also spotted a diagonal brick pattern which creates some W shapes, but because all bricks are roughly the same color, individual Ws are hard to separate. All these attempts capture W shapes that occur as part of larger patterns.

The first real attempt at locating a W without the meshlike pattern around it happened as I was looking at a restaurant on the Avila Beach's boardwalk. The W shape is distinct, but it is somewhat marred by the vertical beams of the same color that are part of the pattern.  Shortly after I discovered an angle from which the top of the same bike rack that gave me a K shape could be viewed as an upside down W.

The bike rack picture is turned upside down (180 degrees).  But I still did not feel like I hit the jackpot with my Ws, until I spotted the concrete stairs that lead from the boardwalk to the beach. The sides of the stairs were exposed and gave a very clear shape, that under some angles turned into a decent W.

The final W shape (or shapes) came from a Christmas decoration (a star shape) that was adoring one of the Avila stores.


I feel like the random number generator threw a reasonable set of letter shapes at me. At first I was thinking that I got some of the hardest shapes, but then I imagined trying to discover a "Q" or and "R", and decided that I got off if not easy, then at least fair.  You can find the full set of letter shapes I took here.

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