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From the author of Assigning the Tasks

Assigning the Tasks

From this point on, I realized that each of my three cameras had its own personality. They would be like your three closest friends—each with very different tastes from those of the others—whom you invite to activities according to their predilections. Your "foodie" friend will definitely try the new restaurant with you; your favorite bookworm will of course tag along to hear that lecture at the library; and your collector friend will drop everything to go flea-marketing just about every weekend.

My Canon was for high fidelity. I carried it when I wanted to shoot fine photos (see Figures 4 and 5). It's a solid little DSLR that my father handed down to me when he upgraded to a camera with even more megapixels (the Rebel XTi has 10.1 MP).

Figure 4 A replica of Mt. Rushmore—part of the Wall Drug Backyard Picture Props—with a jumping jet fountain in the foreground. Taken with the Canon in Wall, South Dakota.

Figure 5 Pies galore at Wall Drug, in Wall, South Dakota. Taken with the Canon.

I shoot RAW with the Canon. I ingest, browse, and add metadata to files using Photo Mechanic, and I edit in Photoshop. The image stabilization on the lens and the relatively non-grainy ISO at 1600 also make for good low-light shooting. I take this camera into museums, where it's generally prohibited to use a flash. I took photos of architectural details like the expansive main hall of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., or Elvis Presley's jungle room at Graceland. If I wanted an image of a particular artwork for my own reference, I would usually just snap a shot with my iPhone. I would take a shot of the art and then get a shot of the label with artist and title information as well.

The Leica D-LUX came in handy for museum shots as well, but for a different purpose. As I mentioned, I was doing research, and I had appointments at museum study rooms, libraries, and archives, where staff members would cart out boxes of artwork by Robert Cumming for me to see up close. For research purposes, I was almost always allowed to take pictures of the artwork I was viewing in the study rooms. Robert Cumming has a lot of detail in his work—the bonus of working with the 8 x 10 view camera and making contact prints, of course. In one image I found a tiny bit of text from one of his stories pasted to the bottom of a sculptural construction. Never in a million years would I have picked up on that detail from a reproduction in a book.

My procedure was to take an overall shot of the artwork lying in front of me on the study room table (without flash). This technique proved sometimes tricky with the reflections from standard overhead lighting in the study room, even on matte photographic paper, but I was dealing with the surroundings I had at hand. Then I would take close-up shots of fine details. For these photos I used the Leica, primarily out of decorum. The Leica D-LUX, as a smaller point-and-shoot camera, is less obtrusive than my larger, more professional-looking Canon, and therefore it invariably garners fewer suspicious looks from well-meaning study room monitors. Granted, the Leica isn't so great over 400 ISO (higher ISOs produce grainier images), but the study rooms were always well lit, and I could generally shoot at about 1/30 of a second at 400 ISO with a steady hand (no tripods allowed). If I need a high-quality reproduction of the artworks or ephemera for my final thesis, I'll contact the licensing department of the corresponding museum to acquire a high-resolution file, and of course I'll seek permission from the artist or other copyright holder.

Finally, my good little iPhone—what would I do without it these days? As I mentioned earlier, I was video-Skyping with the iPhone 4; with its camera on the face of the phone as well as on the back, this is fun to do. It's even better if you have access to WiFi, to avoid eating up valuable gigabytes of bandwidth. I also used the iPhone for recording video on my trip. The Canon doesn't have video capabilities, and I found that the video on the iPhone 4 (720 x 1280 pixels) is of higher quality than the Leica D-LUX 3 (480 x 848 pixels). I think of my short videos as moving versions of photos that I find aesthetically pleasing (such as shots I took on my homeward trek through the southern states, shown in Figures 6, 7, and 8). For instance, I made short videos of a dense flock of birds over the port of New Orleans, and a classic old flashing "Hotel" sign outside the window where I stayed in Austin.

Figure 6 A view of New Orleans. Taken with the Canon.

Figure 7 The Napoleon House restaurant in New Orleans. Taken with the Canon.

Figure 8 White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Taken with the Canon.

What I found most uncanny about the iPhone camera, however, seems naturally tied to the impetus for the invention of phones in the first place: the human inclination to connect with other humans. The iPhone turned out to be a great conversation-starter due to one application that was introduced to me by a friend I was visiting in Philadelphia. Photosynth, the epic, years-in-the-making project by Microsoft, was adapted in 2011 to be an app for iPhone (though the desktop Photosynth application is only compatible with Windows, as of this writing). It's a panorama-making tool that goes to eleven. To use Photosynth with your iPhone, you stand in one spot, open the app, tap the screen, and start slowly rotating while tilting your phone in a spiral-like way to cover everything surrounding you. When you think you've got it all, you tap Finish, and Photosynth chugs away for a minute (or a few), stitching it all together (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 The Very Large Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) near Socorro, New Mexico. Taken with the iPhone using the Photosynth app.

It works extremely well, but if anything around you is moving, such as friends or pets, invariably something funky will happen. I made one synth of a group of friends in Texas eating pizza—but, unfortunately, my friend David's head got completely lopped off when he moved! Regardless, once the image is stitched, the immersive world that seems to be popping out from inside your phone is always a crowd pleaser.

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