It’s all in the detail

Have you ever noticed how the Circle line on a tube map looks like it changes colour part way around?

tube_map

When it’s next to the pink Hammersmith & City line it looks orange, but next to the green District line it looks yellow. So what colour is it?

It usually appears yellow, although we don’t always see it as yellow; our perception of colour changes depending on the context. The colour of the adjacent line changes the way we see the yellow line. Weird. But true.

I was lucky enough to be at a workshop a couple of years ago run by neuroscientist and fantastic speaker Beau Lotto where he talked about how our perception is different from reality, and how context, including colour, lighting and the position of objects, affects how we see and respond to the world. I knew context was important in understanding how we behave and think, but I’d been thinking in terms of social factors, emotions or even the weather. Not about how something as basic as light can affect how we see the world.

Beau demonstrated quite a few visual illusions  including the cube one (featured here, amongst others) where the same coloured square appears to be a different colour depending on the lighting conditions. It’s strange to think that what we think we see, or what our brains interpret as ‘real’, is sometimes a trick of the mind or function of how our brans are wired, rather than ‘truth’.

Another example of something really simple affecting how we see patterns, which I use in the consumer psychology course I run for the MRS, is to write a selection of letters of the alphabet – about 15 or so – on a flip chart and ask someone to spend about a minute making as many words from them as they can. Give someone else the same letters, but written in a different order, and the words they’ll each come up with tend to be different.

People make different patterns in the letters based on the order they’re presented in. Adjacent and nearby letters are put together to form new words, so when the order changes, so do the words created. This is also why writing ideas or concepts on cards and jumbling them up can work well as a creative technique – you make new connections between cards which you might not otherwise put together. Context, right down to the order something’s presented to us in, really is key to understanding how we interpret and interact with the world around us.

It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to understand or predict how people behave. Not only do we walk around on autopilot most of the time, and not only are we more influenced by our emotions than we tend to give credit for, but it turns out that even something as seemingly innocuous as light affects how we see the world. And most of the time, we’re probably not even aware of it. Here’s to trying to figure people out anyway.

Better late than never: time-lapse of day 5 of 365

I’ve finally got round to editing a load of outstanding photos from the 365 day project, not least this one from way back on day 5.

I decided to experiment by doing some time-lapse shots, but promptly afterwards my laptop packed in and I didn’t have any software to create it. Better late than never, and not too bad as a first attempt, although I definitely need to work out how to remove the word art from the title fonts…what’s wrong with a plain font?

 

 

How a cockroach turned me vegetarian

I’ve thought seriously about becoming a vegetarian since I was about 10 years old. I’ve never really eaten much meat; I used to try all sorts of tricks to avoid eating the pork, beef or other meaty yukkiness my mum used to make us as kids, from feeding the cats to dropping it in my cup when I thought no-one was looking, or trying to hide it under my leftover mashed potatoes and sneaking it into the bin. Incidentally, that’s not a criticism of my mum’s cooking, she just seemed to cook a lot of meat. Which I really didn’t like eating.

When I was 11, I asked my mum if I could become a vegetarian and when she asked why, I told her I didn’t like eating meat. She said, “wrong answer, so no you can’t,” and that was pretty much that. I’d eat burgers and bacon, but pretty much the only other meat I’d eat was mincemeat i.e. meat that didn’t have a meaty texture. But even then, if I thought about what I was eating, about the poor piggy or moo cow that used to run around a farm with their piggy and moo cows friends before ending up on my plate, I’d stop eating and feel pretty mean. And think about going veggie again.

But every time I thought about it, I thought about how much I liked eating burgers and how I’d gone 20 or 30-odd years not being a vegetarian and not labelling myself and not stopping myself from eating the odd burger. And after convincing myself the odd burger wouldn’t do any harm, each time I’d go back to being pretty much a vegetarian except the odd burger or bacon butty.

I have an ill-fated cockroach to thank for finally tipping me into a decision in September last year to vow never to eat anything with a face ever again.

veg meme

We were sitting outside at the hotel bar one evening on holiday in Tenerife, a few drinks in, when a cockroach appeared under someone’s table. This was quickly followed by everyone in the vicinity freaking out as though the weird alien thing from Alien had just erupted from someone’s stomach, accompanied by shrieks of ‘kill it!’ and ‘stamp on it!’ I mean, it’s a cockroach. It’s small. It’s not going to kill you. I’m not exactly a lover of cockroaches but we had one in our room for at least half of our holiday because I couldn’t catch it (and the other half refused to try). It didn’t do us any harm.

And I thought, if that was a kitten, no-one would be shouting ‘stamp on it.’ But apparently it’s perfectly acceptable when it’s a cockroach. Does that really make sense? (It didn’t at the time, although I had had a few drinks at this point…) I suddenly wondered how I could be so bothered about injustice to a a cockroach and then eat burgers. And then I thought about the burgers they’d been serving at the pool bar. Which were pretty awful. Which probably means they came from pretty awful cows. Poor cows. I could see their little cow-ish faces, blinking at me. And I thought, this is it, I’m not going to eat anything with a face ever again. (And yes, that does include fish. Whether they feel pain or not, they still have faces.)

Since I really thought about the cows and the piggies as real creatures with faces running round in the fields, I don’t eat them any more. And although I still have times when I really, really want a burger, I tell myself I really, really don’t want to eat a dead cow. And that usually does the trick. I can’t pretend I don’t want one though.

I found out when I got back from my holiday that a lot of wine isn’t actually vegetarian. This may be a surprise to you – it certainly was to me – and potentially a bit of a problem as I am partial to the odd glass of wine. And what do you do at a bar when you order a glass of vino – ask whether the wine is vegetarian? Do you scour the supermarket shelves for a decent wine which has a vegetarian symbol on it? If it doesn’t have a vegetarian symbol on it, do you assume it’s not suitable – which rules out the majority of bottles?

Well I could. But I don’t. Wine isn’t meat. I can’t see it’s face, oinking or mooing at me. This probably makes me a really bad vegetarian. And if that’s the case, I don’t mind being a non-meat-eater instead. Maybe I should change the title of the post.

 

10 tips for completing a 365 day photography project

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the last few weeks, but having made it through to the middle of March I’m still up to date on the 365 day project, most of which I’ve now uploaded here.

It’s worth reflecting on what I’ve learnt so far, especially since it’s getting harder to come up with ideas the more the year continues.  It may seem a bit premature to be offering advice on completing something I haven’t actually completed yet, but I’m going to do it anyway and keep my fingers crossed that I do finish it. If not, feel free to ignore any/all advice that follows because if I fail then I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about in the first place. Either way, here are 10 tips which are helping me get through the project (so far), but do add yours in the comments below, I could probably do with more than 10 tips to get me to the end of the year!

034 Manchester skyline resized1. Take your photos early in the day. You can always take more later but you never know what might come up during the day which could stop you taking a photo, even if you have the best intentions. Better to have something you can improve on than nothing at all.

2. Have your camera with you all the time. I’ve lugged mine around everywhere with me this year, and with some of the travelling I do for work this has meant carrying four bags including a laptop and overnight case halfway across the country and back. But although it’s not particularly convenient, you get used to it after a few weeks, and if you don’t have it with you, you can guarantee you’ll find a perfect photo opportunity which your phone camera really won’t do justice to.

3. As well as having your camera with you, have it out, so you’re always ready for action. Hang it round your neck or tie it around your wrist. Then you’re always ready to go if you spot something worth photographing; if you keep it in your bag, by the time you’ve got it out and set up, the moment might have gone.

4. Keep your battery charged (ideally, carry a spare) and make sure your memory card  is in your camera.  Yes I know this is obvious, but on more than one occasion I’ve  gone out to take photos and left my card  in my laptop from earlier editing/uploading. Which is very dumb but also very annoying.

055 Police museum resized5. Keep on top of the editing. I’m not doing particularly well at this, and I’ve uploaded over 20 photos today which I’ve barely edited at all. On the plus side, not sorting them out for a few weeks makes you quite ruthless – I don’t want to spend hours all at once editing and deciding on which photo to use so it’s made me quicker at deciding what makes the cut. But it wasn’t ideal to do so many at once, I reckon a week’s worth at a time is a manageable number (for me, anyway).

6. Keep a  list of random ideas for photos which you can go back to on days when you have no inspiration or are really pushed for time. I have a proper notebook which I tend to leave all over the place, so I also use the Evernote app on my mobile to jot down ideas (other note apps are available!).

7. Convince yourself anything can be a potential photo, whether it’s the road in front of you or the building you work in. This forces you to think differently about the things you see everyday. Can you find an unusual viewpoint of a familiar subject, or create abstract patterns in the ‘ordinary’?

8. Go back  to places you’ve already visited to help you improve. Often I’ll have a wander around Manchester at dinner time and take photos of a few different things. The ones I don’t use I’ll re-shoot on different days, by analysing what didn’t work the first time and (hopefully) making them better second time around.

058 looking up a wall resized

9. Look up. I’ve found you can create some interesting shapes by photographing buildings at odd angles. I seem to be a fan of abstracts and patterns judging by some of the pictures I’ve taken. Or maybe I just find it easier to see a potential for a photo that way.

070 St Paul's Cathedral resized

10. Spot patterns in your work and see where you can stretch yourself. I’ve noticed there are certain things I photograph which are very similar (like shapes and buildings), so I need to experiment a bit more with different styles. In London the other night I photographed St Paul’s Cathedral, but feeling a bit underwhelmed with my pictures – and not having a tripod to take a decent shot with a slow enough shutter speed at night – I decided to play around with my lens by turning it as the shutter was depressed. At least it hid any blur from resting the camera on a bush! Experimenting with turning your lens or deliberately defocusing a shot are ways of creating a more abstract photo. And you could try re-taking scenes you’ve already photographed using these kinds of techniques, resulting in some really interesting images.  I haven’t done that yet, but definitely intend to as it’ll give me a way of setting up a photo on days when I’m  struggling for other inspiration. And anything which helps that has got to be a good thing.

Share your own tips below!

Want to study behavioural economics online – for free? Dan Ariely’s course has just re-started

A fair amount of traffic coming to my blog is through searches for ‘studying behavioural economics online’. So if that’s why you’re visiting, have a look at Dan Ariely’s free online course through Coursera which started again earlier this week. I did the original course last year and can recommend it as a great introduction to what is a really interesting (and increasingly high-profile, especially in business) school of thought on how we make decisions and how context influences us, in ways which we might not realise, but which are often quite predictable. And it’s free (an area he discusses in the course – why is anything ‘free’ so appealing?) – what more could you ask for?

On a related note, I’ll be co-running the MRS’s consumer psychology course next Friday too; my colleague runs the morning session where we look at the roots of psychology and cover some of the key schools of thought, while I run the afternoon session where the focus is modern thinking including behavioural economics and how market research is responding. It’s a nice introduction into this area so if you’re interested in finding out more about it, come and join us!

Days 27-29 of 365 – month one almost complete!

Well, we’re on the home run. For January, at least; only two days to go and I’ve completed 1/12 of the 365 day project. Woop woop! It feels a bit like the juice diet did after the first few days – I’ve got this far, so I’m going to finish it! But unlike the juice diet, I don’t have to abstain from food at the same time. Or alcohol, which is probably more to the point.

On Monday we celebrated the life of my late Granddad, Derek – or Bill, as he was known to his family and friends. Having decided it was inappropriate to take my camera to the funeral (or, having been instructed so by my other half), I took a photo later instead of the order of service, to mark the (sad) occasion in my project so that when I look back over the year, I’ve captured all of the significant events (happy or sad), as well as the everyday ones. [Just to clarify, I wouldn’t have been taking photos at the funeral, it would have been afterwards at the pub, I’m not totally odd. With hindsight, I could have used my phone to take a photo, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.]

027 Granddad Williams resizedYesterday I went out for lunch with two ladies I met through Good for Nothing a couple of months ago. This was taken in Pop Cafe where we ate. I probably should have used a smaller aperture to get more of the foreground in focus. Or maybe set the focus manually. Or both. But I like the way it’s captured the lady in the background, as well as the fact that I took this from where I was sitting, and immediately spotted the potential photo when I got my camera out. It’s true, this 365 thing does make you look at things a bit differently.

028 Pop cafe resized

I took this photo of an alley and bins this morning on the way into work. It’s a shot I tried last week, although when I got to work and looked at it on screen I decided I didn’t like it, so went out at lunch to do some street photography instead. I got a bit lower down today to take this, and I think the angle is better. I was trying to draw the viewer into the photo, past the bins and the bin bag on the cobbles, and down the alley towards the entrance way in the distance. I think it kind of works. And while a dark alley might not be the most obvious choice for a photo, I think there are pictures in even the most mundane, everyday things, those we don’t pay much attention to most of the time. We just need to be looking out for them.

029 Manchester alley resized

Project 365 days 23-26: landscapes, birds and points of view

On Thursday I went to an ‘alternative camera club’ at Selfridges in Manchester, as part of the Festival of Imagination. We were given a brief to take a photo with our mobiles, the brief being ‘a photo with a point of view’. These sunglasses don’t really have a point of view until worn, at which point they’ll all have different points of view. And I liked the repetition of the pattern. This is the first picture I’ve taken with my phone for this project, and it’s a bit blurry, but I included it so it reminds me about the day I went wandering around Selfridges at lunchtime taking photos.

023 a point of view resizedI had the afternoon off on Friday to go and pick up the new car, so after I finished work I took a tram up to Salford Quays to meet the other half so we could set off. I took a few different shots of birds and various bits of architecture while I was waiting, and even found steps can make an interesting abstract shot. I think my favourite picture of the day is of the bird in the water because although it’s not quite as sharp as I’d like, I like the way the water looks and the bird’s reflection, which I didn’t notice I’d captured until later.

Yesterday we had a drive over Woodhead pass and back over Snake pass. This was taken on the road off Woodhead on the way to Holmfirth.

025 Woodhead pass resized

Today we had a run out to Blackpool. It was raining and very windy so we spent more time in the arcades than on the front. I did a black and white conversion to this photo of the beach and pier, which I think suited the cold weather (and is my photo for today), although the clown in the arcade has an almost sinister look to it in black and white.

See the full 365 day project here.

 

Portraits, shooting from the hip and various other photo experiments – days 14-22 of 365

A bumper crop today as I have some catching up to do. So far I’ve remembered to take a photo every day, I just need to get better at writing down a few thoughts about them and getting them on here! I’ve tried to use a few techniques in the last week or so, to test myself and see how varied I can make my photos. I’m fairly pleased with the results, and already I think it’s helping me improve my photography.

Day 14 was a close up of a pineapple. I used an external flash attached to the camera as it was taken at home in the evening with no natural light. I wanted to create an abstract pattern from the shapes, but a tighter crop might have worked better as you can see the rounded edges at the side. I haven’t re-edited because I’ve made myself a rule of not going back and fiddling after I’ve done an initial edit (I’d cropped it a bit already), just to keep momentum going or I don’t think I’ll ever get to the end of the project.

014 pineapple resizedDay 15 is a reflection of a building in a puddle in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, taken at lunchtime. The colours could do with being a bit more saturated but I don’t seem to have mastered puddle photos yet – one to practice a bit more.

015 Manchester puddles resizedDay 16 was taken looking out of our office window first thing in the morning. I liked the contrast of the dark and the bright street light. And it was the best of the bunch – the rest were either wonky or a bit out of focus.

016 one way resizedLast Friday was day 17, and I went to a voiceover recording as part of a video we’re making at work. We recorded at a home studio in Heaton Moor, and it was great seeing Rowan, the actress who played our narrator, in action using the script I’d written. Rowan said she’d have a look at my photos so Rowan, if you’re reading this, I didn’t choose one with you in it because they were a bit blurred – sorrrryyy! It’s nothing personal, but this was the best of the bunch. I should have taken a few more, and got some close ups really to get some better variation, but you live and learn I suppose.

017 in the recording studio - we're missing the sound guy resizedI bought a car on Saturday and despite lugging my camera all the way to Derby (and back) and having cars and all sorts to photograph, I managed to avoid taking a photo all day. So this is one of Kev the parrot, taken using a flash. It was only afterwards I realised I’ve already featured Kev in this project, I just haven’t posted it up yet as I need to convert it but don’t have the software at the moment. Oops. Note to self – no more Kev photos for a good while! At least I have the tortoises for all fall-back next time, they haven’t appeared here yet…

018 Kev the parrot resizedOn Sunday, I went to visit my niece Sadie, to drop off her birthday present. I cropped this shot to remove some of the background and get quite a close up of her face, and converted it to black and white as the phone cover she was holding was pink and very distracting. I like the fact I managed to get the light reflections in her eye – which was more by luck than design, but that’ll do me! This is probably my favourite of the batch. It’d be even better if both eyes were in focus.

019 Sadie at 364 days old resized

On Monday it was back to work and another lunchtime trip around the Northern Quarter. I chose this picture because although it’s slightly out of focus – I did the old ‘shooting from the hip’ thing, sneaky sneaky like – I liked the way it was framed. Who is the person with the coffee? I don’t even know myself, I didn’t really notice them. I was just snapping away at everyone I walked past. You need a lot of attempts to get anything decent with this type of photography; I mainly end up with pavements or buildings, rather than actually getting people in the shot!

020 coffee time resizedYesterday I decided to have another bash at a bit of street photography, sneaky sneaky style, so again I tied my camera around my wrist, and stood in Piccadilly Gardens for 20 minutes, snapping away. I ended up with a couple of decent shots, but chose this one because the subject looks like she’s looking straight at me while I’m taking her photo. Which is sort of true, but not quite because can’t have known  I was taking the photo since I was actually looking the other way as I took the shot 🙂

021 I might have been spotted resizedAnd today I walked out of the building at work, looked up and spotted these patterns on the façade of the building, directly overhead. I’d never even noticed the arrows before, shows you what you notice when you actually bother noticing. And it saved me a walk around town trying to find another photo – job done straight away. I still can’t decide whether it would have been better to have more of it in focus, or whether I like the blur. Too late to change it now anyway.

022 arrows pointing resized

 

 

 

Can plug sockets make a decent photo?

I’ll leave you to answer that question, but I’ve had to open my mind to think just about anything can be the subject of a photo if I’m going to really improve my photography skills, and stick at this 365 day thing. Whether anything (including a number of lonely plug sockets) can be an interesting or decent photo is another matter though.

This was taken in the empty office which is next to ours at work. I liked the regularity of the pattern and tried this shot from a few different angles – straight on was a bit dull, although I quite liked the shapes and the symmetry. I decided this angle with the blurring effect was the best of the ones I took. I also liked the suggestion that the plugs go on forever (they don’t, that would be a pretty weird set-up for most offices, even empty ones).

013 plug sockets resized

A fruity theme for day 12: apples and the penultimate day of juicing

Today is the penultimate day of my 7 day juice diet. I’ve not eaten any solid food since last Monday night and I finish my diet of exclusively fruit and veg, juiced up, this Monday. I thought one of my 365 photos should commemorate my ‘juicing’ phase of the year, especially since I’ve almost finished it.

I wanted to try to break some of my bad eating (and drinking) habits, and decided I needed to do something fairly drastic if I was going to have any chance of it working – I’ve been reading a lot about habits recently and realised I needed to change my routines quite significantly to have a good chance of having a long-term impact on my diet. So I decided to try a 7 day juicing plan. No takeaways, no ready meals, no alcohol, no caffeine, just fruit and veg, some supplements like wheatgrass and spirulina ,and a small amount of yoghurt. 

It’s actually not been as difficult as I thought it would be, although it’s been hard not having any wine or a curry this weekend, as I ALWAYS have a curry on a Saturday. But not this week. Just as well the diet’s been working and the juices do actually fill you up, otherwise I think I’d have cheated…

012 apples resized

I had to go shopping today for some last juicy provisions, mainly apples, as you can probably see. When I got home, I peered into the shopping bag on the floor using a 50mm lens, and because I took it in the kitchen this afternoon when it was quite overcast, I used a separate flash (not the built in one) rather than turning on the strip light in the kitchen, so I could control the colour and light tone a bit more (I bounced the light off the wall). 

I must have eaten – or drunk – about 80 apples, as well copious amounts of other fruit and veg in the last few days, so I’ve definitely been getting more than my 5 a day. But I’m still really looking forward to having a curry next Saturday. The real test will be whether I make any changes longer-term, although I’ve just invested in a blender after discovering some really nice smoothies, so maybe breakfasts in future will consist of fewer cheese toasties and more fruit and yoghurt. I’ll have to treat myself to a toastie this week though; with the amount of cheese I usually eat I’m surprised I haven’t had cheese withdrawal symptoms in the last few days.