The Real Velociraptor

Excerpt from “The World of Dinosaurs'“ by Mark A. Norell

Excerpt from “The World of Dinosaurs'“ by Mark A. Norell

So I’m casually doing some light dinosaur reading before starting my day when I come across an interesting fact: a velociraptor was about the size of a medium-sized coyote. My first thought was why didn’t they just give numerical measurements? A quick Google search showed the length is about three feet tall, four to five feet long.

It’s well-known that Hollywood science works a little differently than real-world science but Jurassic Park really branded the human-sized raptors so well that I questioned it not one bit. The franchise, along with the new installments, portray the smart and ferocious beast with reptilian scales all along its body. However, the American Museum of Natural History mentions in this article written in 2007, “Scientists have known for years that many dinosaurs had feathers.” This article’s last paragraph by A.C. Gleason gives a fair reason as to why Jurassic Park lied to us.

This is a shoebill stork.

This is a shoebill stork.

The truth of velociraptors having feathers didn’t make them less scary, feathered birds can be scary—have you seen the shoebill stork? But changing their height from six feet to three feet…that’s a whole other species. I don’t know how I’ll go about my day knowing that fact.

Photography 102: Color In and Out of the camera

Light’s Effect on Color

Here’s the basic science: color exists because of light and the cone receptors in our eyes registering the color. Objects have properties that hold onto certain colors and bounce off other colors; the colors that bounce off are the colors our eyes register. That’s the super simplified version.

Now, a light source (the sun, a lamp, a flame) casts and overall tone to the colors we perceive. The sun, the true light source, doesn’t cast a tone, it shows true colors. A tungsten/incandescent light bulb, the ones usually homes have, casts an orange tone. Fluorescent lights, usually in big stores, cast a blue-ish tone.

Our brain color corrects the tones so that we don’t notice them, everything looks to be in true color. The camera, however, needs to be told what the light source is so that it can color correct the image. This setting is called the White Balance.

When a photo is taken in tungsten light but the white balance is set to fluorescent light, the image will come out very orange-y. If the white balance is set to tungsten light and taken in the same light, the camera will add a blue cast to counter the orange from the tungsten light. If the white balance is on AUTOMATIC then the camera will know to add the correct cast of color to counter the light’s cast but if it’s not on auto then it’ll be evident in the photograph.

The photographs below, although taken very sloppily, illustrate how the white balance affects color. This Disneyland model is lit by tungsten lights but my camera was set to fluorescent lights in the first photograph and then changed to tungsten white balance in the second photograph, correcting the color. In person, the scale model looks like the photo on the right because my brain corrected the color. I only noticed I had the wrong setting when I looked at the image after I took the first photo.

In Conclusion

There’s really not much more to white balance other than its purpose is to correct casted colors. The white balance helps the camera take the photograph the way our eyes perceive the scene, its a way to take straightforward picture. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way a photograph can look. My previous photography post, Photography 101: The Trifecta of Proper Exposure, and this post are all that’s really needed to understand how to take a basic, correct photo, technically speaking.

Next post I’ll talk about some ways to make a basic photo look not-so-basic.

Photography 101: The Trifecta of Proper Exposure

What’s a Photograph?

Obviously, everyone knows what a photograph is but not everyone knows HOW to make a proper photograph nor the two main ingredients needed. And I’m not talking about aesthetics, the visual appeal, of a photograph; I’m only talking about the technical side.

To make a proper photograph there needs to be light and shadows. Sounds simple, but people don’t pay attention to that basic photography fact because the majority take pictures on their phones and phones are set on AUTOMATIC settings (nothing wring with that).

A photograph is, essentially, sensors in the camera, behind the lens, capturing light and the strength of it. Light will bounce off a subject and go onto the sensor. The more light that goes onto the sensor, the brighter the subject is captured. Subjects that aren’t lit up as much, shadowy areas, don’t have strong enough light going in the camera so the sensor can’t register it as clearly.

It’s easy to understand this in terms of our eyes. When the lights are off, you can’t see. If you turn on a candle, you can see the flame and objects that are lit up by the flame, but if you’re in a big room then you still can’t see much. Turn on a lamp, a stronger light source than the flame, and you can see more.

But in order to capture something properly, shadows are needed! Without shadows, a photograph can look washout or flat. Shadows help the subject look three-dimensional. It’s the balance of light and shadows that make a proper photograph.

The 3 Determining Factors

So how do we control how much light the sensor receives, the exposure? There are three determining factors that have to be taken into account when capturing a photograph: the ISO, the Aperture and the Shutter Speed. All cameras I’ve come across have the ability to control these three factors.

ISO

The ISO, which means International Organization of Standardization, controls the sensitivity of the sensor. Typically ISOs range from 200, 400, 600, 800…6400. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the sensor is to light.

So if you’re taking photos when the sun is in full swing lighting up everything, the ISO needs to be lower or else the photograph will come out white. If you’re taking photos inside a room with a few lamps as the light source, the ISO needs to be higher so that the sensor can be more sensitive to light and try and pick up as much as it can.

But remember, the higher the ISO, the more noise, or grain, a photo has. This is why darker photos taken with your phone aren’t clear, the phone’s automatic setting bumps up its ISO to the max.

Aperture

The aperture, or f-stop, is the lens’s hole opening radius, if that makes sense. It’s the size of the hole in the lens where the light comes through. This size of the opening determines how much light is allowed to enter through to the sensor. In the camera settings the aperture is usually an number with an f in front of it. The scales of the f-stop goes: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8. Rule of thumb: the bigger the number, the smaller the opening. Combining the aperture with the ISO can help achieve proper lighting for a photograph.

However, the size of the hole also adds another effect: the depth of field. The depth of field is the focus or blur level between the distance of the subject and its background. iPhones have created this effect under the Portrait mode in the camera app.

If the f-stop opening is smaller, the entire image, in terms of depth, is in focus. If the f-stop opening is larger then certain parts of the image will be in focus while the other is out-of-focus, again in terms of depth.

So let’s say you’re taking a picture of a person standing five feet in front of a sign and then a couple hundred feet in front of a mountain, in one picture. If the lens is at f/8 then the person, the sign and the mountain will be in in focus. If the aperture is at f/1.4 then the camera can focus on either the person and have the sign and the mountain out-of-focus, or focus on the sign and have the person and the mountain out-of-focus, OR focus on the mountain and have the person and the sign out-of-focus.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the final determine factor and it’s probably the easiest to comprehend. Behind the aperture, in front of the sensor are shutters horizontal shutters that resembles blinds on a window. When the shutter release button is pushed, or for smart phones the button is touched on the screen, the shutters will open for a fraction of a second to all the light to hit the sensor.

The shutters are actual moving parts in the camera, they’re the iconic sound made when a photograph in taken. These shutters are always closed and only open when the shutter release button on pushed. Their purpose is to determine for how long the shutters remain open.

On a camera the settings for the shutter release button are usually preset to 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15…1/1000. These are fractions of a second, the length of time the light has to hit the sensor. If they’re open for too long such as 1/2 second then more light will enter compared to 1/1000.

So let’s go back to the scenario about taking a photo outside when the sun is out. Taking a photo with the shutter speed at 1/2 will be washed out because that’s too much time for the all that light to hit the sensor, 1/1000 might be more suitable. But if you’re indoors where the light isn’t as strong then 1/1000 might be too short of a time and perhaps 1/260 might be best.

But like the first two factors, the shutter speed also creates and effect. The longer the shutter speeds are open the more light is captured BUT movement can also be captured. The faster the shutter speed the less movement is captured; very fast shutter speeds can make someone running look frozen in the air.

In Conclusion

In terms of capturing a standard photograph, these three factors need to be taken into consideration. It’s always fun to play around with the settings of these and see how they work together to capture photographs. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures on automatic mode but creativity comes from capturing a scene or portrait that looks a little different that normality.

In terms of taking a photograph with the proper exposure balance, this is all you need to know. I’ll post another article explaining colors.

The Gift of GIFs

 

It’s evident communication has changed throughout history. Starting from pictures in caves to oral words to non-verbal signals and even a full on language with just hands. The internet made the world smaller allowing people from all over to communicate with each other instantly. Yet, none of that compares to the greatest form of communication, Graphics Interchange Format, GIF for short.

Pronounced with a hard G, GIFs have revolutionized communication by combining pop culture, psychology and humor AND placing it into the hands of the masses. For those that don’t know what GIFs are, how’s it living under a rock?

Seconds-long moving pictures of a recorded media can communicate better than any word or words in the dictionary with more accuracy in expressing the vast spectrum of human emotion. Such communication is one of the closest things the human species has that’s so far advanced it’s almost alien. Finding the perfect GIF as a response can help release endorphins into your system making you feel happy, therefore the usage of GIFs in everyday digital communication should be encouraged.

Finding GIFs online can be fun. It can also be a little frustrating, like having a specific word at the tip of your tongue and not being able to figure it out. Fandoms use GIFs from their favorite TV shows or films; sometimes celebrities in candid interviews give us the exact facial expressions we need others to see to understand what we mean.

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Open your internet browser and go to a search engine website. I use Google because they own the internet. Search a word or phrase, choose Images and then click the GIF option for filtering results.

Enjoy scrolling through the moving pictures. Save the GIF that best accurately illustrates your response and then send it.

I like to create a an album in my photos app that is full of only GIFs so that i’m not frantically scrolling through my entire photo collection.

There’s more fun where that came from.

Making your own GIFs is also a possibility. GIFs were usually made by tech-savvy folk using a fancy computer program. These were the gatekeepers of what would be made into a GIF and what would stay as a regular video. But those days are long gone.

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With the advancement in mobile apps, anyone can now make GIFs of anything they want. As a Twitter user I see all kinds of videos on my timeline and some of them NEED to be a GIF so that I can use later. The app I use is called ImgPlay and it’s the greatest ever.

ImgPlay lets you upload a video you wish to turn into a GIF, save and download to your photos. It includes capabilities of slicing videos if you only want a portion to be GIFed, speed up or slow down playback, loop limitations or infinite, add filters or text, and even save in multiple file sizes! Sometimes I’m bored out of my mind and I’ll hop on and make a few GIFs to share with my friends. They’re never impressed but I enjoy them. Here’s a few I’ve made (left to right): my baby Ophie, a happy dog I saw on a road trip, VR dinosaur, my friend Sadie showing us she’s a ballerina queen, a moment that makes me laugh whenever i’m feeling blue, Mickey’s 90th display in Downtown Disney.

 

VR/AR Dinosaurs in Education

 

I went to Walmart the other day looking for a dinosaur coloring book, as co-pilots of road trips do, and was suddenly intrigued by an interesting package design across the isle. As nerdy as it may sound, juxtaposing elements will always pull me to investigate a product on a shelf over others. 

This box was matte black and featured a dinosaur and a child wearing a phone VR set. It’s bringing natural history and modern technology together — in a box that your could purchase at Walmart and take home. Augmented and virtual reality aren’t necessarily new in the perspective of how fast handheld technology is evolving, but it’s still exciting to have this technology so easily accessible. And it was just about $7.

So of course I ditched the coloring book and grabbed a clean, sealed box. The contents were a VR headset that your smartphone clips on, a guide pamphlet, a microfiber cleaning cloth and a deck of 20 dinosaur flashcards. These flashcards weren’t cookie-cutter design, either, these were top-notch designs.

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The instructions are simple, in fact they’re easy enough that young kids could use it. Actually, the box says “Ages 7+” but I know for a fact even younger kids could operate the app. Basically, after launching the app , point the phone’s camera at any of the dinosaur profile flashcards and a 3D, moving dinosaur will appear standing over the card. A crazy thing to mention is that the flashcard don’t have barcodes on them so it’s very cool to see the phone scanning a regular image.

A few features include seeing the dinosaur move, some dinosaurs could be transformed into skeletal version of themselves and had the ability to capture the photo. Each dinosaur on screen came with a simple “Fun Fact” that could’ve definitely been more fun or cool. I will admit, the graphics aren’t super realistic. Also, I have the iPhone X and their app isn’t calibrated properly since some parts cut off.

This product, which also comes with space and animal-theme flashcards, sold separately, would be so much cooler if it weren’t static. A company could truly make this product educational if they updated the dinosaurs’ information, worked on the UI/UX of the app and released more flashcards with more dinosaurs.

All in all, this educational and entertaining tool is still pretty cool. My adult, designer mind ran with some creative critique but kids might just enjoy it for how it is.

You could download the app for free and try it yourself. Dinosaur 4D+ is the name of the app. And the front of the box included the Triceratops card as a tester so I’m sure I won’t get in trouble for sharing that card. Octagon Studios is the company responsible for this amazing product along with Utopia360.