Depth of Field Photo Skills – DIGC302 Critique

Throughout the semester, I’ve been keeping up with James Gallacher’s digital artefact named Depth of Field Photo Skills. Depth of Field is an Instagram profile dedicated to good photography. He uses a mixture of aesthetically pleasing images of photography equipment, practical theory diagrams, and artistic shots to demonstrate every facet of improving your craft. Each post contains not only a photograph but a detailed description of the shot and what can be learned from it, from the perspective of an experienced photographer. Off the bat, that is the first major strength I’ve noticed about Depth of Field Photo Skills. James clearly knows a lot about photography, and the page is very approachable for someone like myself, who happens to know next to nothing about the topic. In this critique I’ll be delving into what he’s done right, and what he can improve in regards to the projects aims, method, trajectory and social utility. Throughout the post I will be embedding some of my favourite posts from the page to offer a little respite and context to my critiquing.

The main focus of the project is clear. Depth of Field aims to give effective insight to newcomers as to how to become a better photographer. Beyond this, it tries to achieve its educational goal while doubling as a location for discussion and the appreciation of well taken photographs. While there are areas of the project which can be improved to gain traction and increase the potential for user contribution, the foundation of the project is clearly strong. Each post looks fantastic, and being able to read about his thought process and the theory behind each without having to leave the post is convenient and effective.

Evidently, I firmly believe that the content is delivering in every way. The setback for Depth of Field instead lies in the execution on the Instagram platform. From looking at the page and discussing with James, it’s obvious that the page’s exposure and growth in followers is not going as well as hoped. While this doesn’t detract from the content itself, James’ hope that the community can get involved by commenting and even posting their own photos cannot happen until more people follow. James has actively tried a variety of techniques to solve this issue, and has more plans in the works. Instagram is a platform which puts a significant emphasis on the use of hashtags. If a post is going to reach more than just the followers of the page it is submitted to, effective hashtagging is a must to make it pop up in the search and explore sections. James has been researching how to best use these hashtags to broaden his reach. I guess time will tell whether that works out. But my prediction is that, if he can troubleshoot publicity issues, the quality of the posts alone is enough to turn many Instagram explorers into followers.

Once Depth of Field’s following increases, James has plans to interact and engage followers. This will be beneficial to him as he can identify what the audience what to see, and beneficial to them as they will receive personalised advice and homework to improve their photography prowess. This was my personal favourite idea of James’. What better way to capitalise on a relatively small audience than to engage with them one-to-one. Bigger pages with thousands of followers cannot hope to tailor content and dedicate time to each follower. So that is something appealing about Depth of Field that could potentially make the most of a less than ideal situation.

James’ methodology is quite straight forward. As an experienced photographer who is constantly out shooting, he can cherry pick his favourite photos and tell his less knowledgeable followers what specifically make them good photos. In terms of structuring the page to do more than just showcase his work, he varies his posts from his shots, to the equipment he recommends, and theory-based diagrams and segments. Each type of post has its own appeal.  The recommended tech and equipment is important for those looking to get the best tools for their own shooting. The theory-based posts show rules and techniques professional photographers naturally use when they’re preparing to take a shot. And the artistic untouched photos show those techniques in action. All three complement each other well.

A couple of the aspects of methodology that could be improved are the frequency of posts, and the extent of the educational resources. For the latter, while putting information in the description of each post is fantastic for ease of access and quick tips, a larger online resource which works in tandem with the Instagram page could work brilliantly. Instagram clearly puts the majority of its focus on the visual, while a corresponding blog would make a perfect platform where the focus is instead on the information.

In regards to Depth of Field’s social utility, the project’s value is well-defined. When you want to learn a new skill or improve on an existing one, the primary approach most people take is to learn through the observation of professionals. James has a background in photography, and does it for a living outside of university. If I were looking to improve, he’d be the first person I go to. The idea of having a free platform in Instagram, in which I can seek advice, as well as see good examples of well taken shots is invaluable. Depth of Field attempts to combine the consumption of visual posts and the intake of learning materials into one package. And in my opinion it does so in spectacular fashion. Obviously, making the most of the platform, expanding the audience, and increasing the post production rate are essential to the success of this project, but the content itself is made with care and dedication, and it shows. This digital artefact has a lot of potential, it’s just down to James to keep delivering and working through the difficulties.

Exploiting the Exploitable

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It’s worrying to think that the mainstream media–where the average Joe and Josephine consume information that affects their morals and values–would be a toxic environment more driven by profit than by producing meaningful content. It is becoming increasingly prevalent that content creators, especially on platforms like YouTube, exploit serious societal issues for personal gain. And that is what I aim to look into in this post.

A phrase that has been coined as a result of the media’s approach to the lower socio-economic class is ‘poverty porn’. Poverty porn according to Matt Collin of Aidthoughts is ‘any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause’ (2009). But there is a culture online of making videos in which this process is done, without any platform for charitable donations or support. So what is being achieved to justify the exploitation?

The Bradberry brothers, also know on YouTube as MoeAndET, are famous for their social experiments–in which they harass innocent civilians in order to teach them a ‘valuable lesson’– and in October 2014 they took to the streets to be selfless (or fuel their egos) by giving pizza to the homeless. This video utilised selective editing and emotional music to create a narrative. The video suggests those who can afford food are selfish, but those with nothing are selfless. This ‘social experiment’ has accumulated over thirty million views and a lot of comments from clicktivists all over the world. But how exactly has this video demonstrated an interest in ‘increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause’? The makers of the video spent a few dollars on a pizza for a homeless man in exchange for a fortune gained in YouTube views and advertising revenue. In the words of Ethan Klein of H3H3 Productions, ‘it’s not about how much you give, it’s about how many people see you do it.’

Below is a video of media critic H3H3 Productions satirising the common trend and highlighting the negative consequences of this type of poverty porn (Small disclaimer: strong language).

Several times in the video Ethan draws attention to the basic editing techniques used by these YouTube content creators to create an emotional, good Samaritan vibe, though the reality of these videos betrays the forced narrative. Maybe if less money was spent on making a spectacle of poverty and more was donated to homeless shelters, the issue would be taken more seriously and noticeable change would be made. But this would contradict the financial the media can gain from poverty porn.

References:

Collin, M 2009, ‘What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development’, Aid Thoughts, 1 July, viewed 27 March 2016, http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69

H3H3 Productions, 2015, ‘Feeding the Homeless – h3h3 reaction video’, online video, 5 October, YouTube, viewed 27 March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_qePqppbdQ

H3H3 Productions, 2015, ‘How Does A Homeless Man Spend $100? – h3h3 reaction video’, online video, 11 June, YouTube, viewed 27 March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5uwvHNM-xY

MoeAndET, 2014, Asking Strangers for Food! (Social Experiment), online video, 22 October, YouTube, viewed 27 March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fC6RP6tZ1Q

 

 

 

Please Authenticate My Existence

In the past, being told to ‘take a long hard look at yourself’ would be considered an insult. In contemporary society, however, many people would jump at the chance to spend some time in front of their forward-facing iPhone camera, sharing a selfie with the world, exhibiting the mundane activity they feel is so very newsworthy. But bear with me while I steer clear of a rant and try to be at least a little objective in this piece. It seems as though society’s perception of identity is switching from face-to-face interaction to online media. Every aspect of daily life is being turned into data, and that data is being used to calculate an individuals sense of self-worth. English satirist and broadcaster, Charlie Brooker suggests that ‘we may as well replace all conversation with electronic sound effects like the ones Pac-Man makes when he swallows a dot’ (2013).

The notion of translating all aspects of life to digital data to be used for self-analysis is explored in the quantified-self movement. This refers to the increasing capability of technology to gather data about oneself (Rettner 2013). This concept isn’t limited to technology used by medical professionals. It also incorporates all of the data we store on our smartphones. As well as selfies and status updates, smartphones can track things like sleep patterns, heart rate, mood productivity and all kinds of other data.

So why do people strive to collect all of this personal data? A cynical viewpoint might suggest that we as humans have always sought after the most convenient means to indulge in vanity in order to better explore our identity–that would explain the selfie craze. Brooker supports this and adds that the transition to online media makes complete sense as sharing via online media is ‘simply [a] more efficient way of transmitting the PLEASE AUTHENTICATE MY EXISTENCE signal from the fragile core of our souls out into the wider world’ (2013).

After looking into the link between identity and online media, and the collection of quantified data the question becomes; is this trend necessarily a bad thing?

A negative aspect of all of this data quantified online is its potential to be utilised by anyone who Googles your name. Katina Michael, in her video Big Data and the Dangers of Over-Quantifying Oneself, argues that quantified data may come back to bite an individual should it interfere with their potential to get health or life insurance (2013).

On the other hand, products which quantify personal data, like the Fitbit, can be applied to help people with medical conditions.

The capability of the Fitbit to log calories and glucose measurements can be life changing for diabetics. While there is room for improvement with the Fitbit, Mike Lawson of Healthline, found that the device helped to keep his glucose numbers in range and motivated him to improve his fitness (2012).

References:

Brooker, C 2013, ‘Has every conversation in history been just a series of meaningless beeps?’, The Guardian, 29 April, viewed 20 March 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/every-conversation-meaningless-beeps-charlie-brooker

Lawson, M 2012, ‘All About the Fitbit’, Healthline, 10 May, viewed 20 March 2016, http://www.healthline.com/diabetesmine/all-about-the-fitbit-with-diabetes#1

Michael, K 2013, ‘Big Data and the Dangers of Over-Quantifying Oneself’, online video, 31 May, YouTube, viewed 20 March 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn_9YHV2RGQ

Rettner, R 2013, ‘What is the Quantified Self?’, Live Science, 26 August, viewed 20 March 2016, http://www.livescience.com/39185-quantified-self-movement.html

 

 

The Internet of Things

In the year 2015 our daily lives are dictated by our phones, computers, and wi-fi. Even if you lived under a rock without a home network you’d be eligible for cellular data. Whether we are at home, at work, or on the go we are constantly connected. Train seats are filled by commuters watching programs on their iPad, reading digital books on their Kindle, or throwing money down the toilet that is Candy Crush Saga, and so on.

In this semester’s final episode of Straight to the Poynt, we share anecdotes and experiences living in a society so heavily influenced by the notion of the ‘internet of things’ and discuss how it impacts our personal/family lives and society at large.

Leaking the Truth

The internet plays a significant role in today’s society and it acts as a platform for matters large and small. The ability to broadcast and spread information has been revolutionised by the internet. Information can be anonymously distributed worldwide in a short period of time. Whistleblowing is an example of this. Edward Snowden was a former CIA employee who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA). A more recent example of whistleblowing comes from an anonymous leaker dubbed a ‘Second Snowden’. These documents shed light on disturbing statistics regarding the activity of US drone strikes.

In this week’s Straight to the Poynt, Kristian, Jayden and I discuss the importance of whistleblowers in highlighting injustices and raising awareness, and the role of the internet as a platform for them to do it efficiently and effectively.

http://www.wired.com/2015/10/a-second-snowden-leaks-a-mother-lode-of-drone-docs/?mbid=social_twitter

https://theintercept.com/drone-papers

Ah Ah Ah, You Didn’t Say the Magic Word

Hacking. We it see it portrayed endlessly on the big screen from Jurassic Park‘s ‘magic word’ to the infamous scene from War Games, but these stylised portrayals are laughable and probably not the go-to source of research for wannabe hackers. The reality is, the complicated time-consuming process of hacking would not translate incredibly well to the entertainment industry.

In this episode of Straight to the Poynt we compare the portrayal of hacking in the cinema to the reality of hacking scandals in real life and the devastating effect it can have on privacy and safety.

Can I Have Your Attention… Please?

As I sit writing this blog post, I have Facebook Twitter and YouTube open, I have my mobile phone by my side, and I have NFL Primetime on the television in front of me. The standards for the average attention span are dropping.

When was the last time, be it in the car, on the sofa, or waiting for the barista to make your coffee, that you didn’t immediately reach for your phone? In modern society the human mind is in constant need of stimulation. We as a race can boast access to endless information, equal to a billion libraries in our pockets. We have music, television, games and all forms of entertainment within our reach at all times. Yet somehow, despite these feats of human brilliance and ingenuity, we have an abundance of boredom. More boredom than we know what to do with. To quote the wonderful Terry Pratchett, ‘human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.’

Maybe this abundance of stimuli is the reason for the diminishing state of the attention span. In university tutorials everyone is on their laptops and smartphones, while simultaneously listening to the tutor, while also paying attention to the screens of the individuals sitting beside them. Our ability to multitask develops as our ability to focus on one task declines. This idea is supported by Faria Sana, Tina Weston, and Melody Wiseheart in their article for York University. ‘students who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to students who did not multitask, and students who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to students who were not in view of a multitasking peer’ (2014).

Even though the internet can be traced back as far as the 1960’s, a significant factor contributing to the decline of the attention span, is mobile internet. For the majority of my childhood and teenage years the internet was something I accessed at home or at school, and mobile phones without the internet were not a source of entertainment on the go. In those times between home and school, focusing on one task was far more practical. It was the only option. I delve into this idea in my podcast Straight to the Poynt.

Here’s comedian Louis C.K. with a humorous look at the impact of mobile devices on attention span.

As a result of the changes in the human attention span, the notion of ‘attention economy’ has come about. Many platforms have implemented this by creating filters to make sure the first content a viewer sees is relevant, of interest, or with the approval of demographics.

References:

Sana, F & Weston, T & Wiseheart, M 2014, ‘Laptops hinder classroom learning for both users and nearby peers’, YorkU

Leave Your Phone at Home, Bro

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In this contemporary digital age, photographs can be uploaded and spread across the internet with ease, Like on to the blog of a university student. As a result there is a lot of responsibility for photographers to be courteous to those in the vicinity when shooting in public.

This weekend I tasked myself with identifying spaces which are most inappropriate for public photography in order to increase my understanding of why these ethical standards are in place. I elected to take photos at my local gym. I’ve been going to the gym for years (it doesn’t look like it, I know), and the idea of photographing myself or others to share online makes me cringe uncontrollably. If you look like your best, most photogenic self at the gym, you’re probably not working hard enough. So when I took my phone into the gym I immediately felt anxious. Would people view me as vain? Would someone ask me not to take photos?

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Above is a photo of my consenting friend putting weights onto the barbell. I had permission to take this photo, but I couldn’t help feeling it was ethically questionable and inappropriate in an environment where most people just want to focus on their workouts.

At the top of this post is a landscape photograph of Gold’s Gym. This photo felt comfortable and socially acceptable to me. No particular person is identified or highlighted, and the focus of the image is clearly on the location itself.

Photography felt inappropriate to me, so the next thing I researched was the general ethics regarding the use of media devices in the gym. I’ve always kept my phone on me when exercising in order to listen to my own music (god forbid I ever have to listen to Pop music for an entire hour). This seemed ethically appropriate to me. Gym etiquette dictates that you should be focused on your session in order to not linger on equipment which other people may be waiting for. If I were to sit on the edge of the bench checking my social media feed or taking selfies for 5 minutes I would be violating the unwritten courtesy code of the gym. At the end of the day, hogging equipment for the sake of a selfie is not OK.

A Night at the Movies

Thursday night, that night when you can see the weekend looming on the horizon, just past the pain and suffering of one more day in the office. Thursday night, when the mall stays open and the local cinema seems like the perfect social event for a good time, without having to worry about a hangover.

As an adult with an internet connection, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t download most forms of media entertainment in morally ambiguous ways. In modern society, digital downloading is simply the most convenient way to get your hands on the latest films, music and television shows. While this poses a threat to the movie theatres, somehow they remain and continue to thrive. Here’s my theory on how exactly this is possible.

I studied one introductory marketing class, so let me act like a marketing know-it-all for second… if asked to classify a film as a product or service, most would argue that it is a product. You pay the money to consume the content. That’s very much how digitally downloading a film feels. A trip to the cinema, however, I would call a service. A Thursday night on the Miranda Westfield rooftop cinema is an intangible experience that accompanies the watching of the film. It’s the social time with friends, the big screen, the entrancing aroma of buttered popcorn, all the way to the retro 50’s vibe of the lobby as the attendants sell sweets in red and white striped uniforms. Cinemas are embracing contemporary society by offering something that a digital download does not.

One Thursday evening not too long ago, I decided it was a good time to get out of the house to socialise with friends. Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ had just hit the cinemas for a limited time, and a few friends and I were excited to revisit the nostalgia of our childhoods at the cinema. Not much organisation was necessary, we jumped in the car and rolled the dice, hoping we’d be allocated relatively good seats. To our dismay, the theatre was very close to full. One row was left, and that row was the dreaded row B. The moment those cruel words left the attendants mouth my neck was already sore in anticipation of the bending and straining it would inevitably need to do.

Originally I had hoped for an empty cinema, with a generous selection of prime seats. But to my surprise, sitting in row B, with a full house sitting behind me, I had one of my most memorable movie-going experiences. Funny moments spurned laughs which resonated throughout the theatre, and on multiple occasions the obscure reaction of one patron would send the rest of the theatre into laughter. Digital downloading may be replacing the cinema for the content itself, but downloading and watching at home can’t replicate the experience and the atmosphere I felt that night watching Dragon Ball Z on the big screen.

Viva La Revolution

The internet and social media provide a medium for expression unlike anything we’ve seen before. The ease of access for people to get online and share their views and beliefs acts as a double-edged sword. As we discussed last week, social media is an ideal platform to spread news quickly and effectively with a significant reach. But social media can also allow people to voice radical or unpopular opinions, often leading to conflict or offence.

In this episode of Straight to the Poynt we identify the ways the internet is used for broadcasting, from the Arab Spring to the Nicole Arbour fat-shaming scandal. We also delve into the OODA loop (Observe Orient Decide & Act) which demonstrates how people react and respond to these situations.