One morning in Hallstatt

A short video travelogue to the ancient salt mine village of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut area of Austria. Hallstatt is a small quaint village along the Hallstatt Lake surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers. A UNESCO Heritage site, teh village is a popular tourist destination. Lately it has become a “must-go-tp” place for thousands of Asian tourists – mostly Chinese and Koreans – who flock in huge numbers through its narrow streets. The village is so popular that the Chinese have created an exact replica of Hallstatt somewhere in mainland China.

A holy water font

Holy water font

In European churches, holy water fonts or stoups come in all forms and sizes and are sometimes architectural wonders by themselves. Spouts are mostly placed at the entrances of churches for the faithful to dip their fingers in and to make the sign of the cross before entering. The gesture is a reminder of baptism and is considered a sacramental action by which grace is transferred to the believer.

Catholics believe that when you dip your finger into the holy water font and make the sign if the cross, you are touching your forehead (mind) and shoulders and heart with the sacramental.

Shown above is a medieval stoup at the side entrance of the the Archangel Michael church in the village of Znojmo in the Czech Republic. And below is a romanesque stoup from the Franciscan Monastery museum in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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I’ll follow you in every ‘gram!

Follow Me

Does this sound familiar to you?

We’ve known each other for years. Hs’s an avid motorbike rider and also loves to garden. He loves to travel, preferring places off the beaten track. I’ve watched him as he moved to another country, get a job, get married and have children. I’ve seen his two daughters grow up, witnessed their parties and looked at their vacation pictures. I know his friends, know the name of his wife, and his dog. I know where he works and his opinion on key issues. On any day of the week, I can tell you where he is and who he’s with. I even know what he’s having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fact is, I know most everything about him.

But we’ve never met. He is @Detlef, my social media friend.

@Detlef and I share something in common. We’re both netizens – a term now mostly used to describe people who are avid users of the internet. Our online friendship started by chance some 10 years ago, when @Detlef (not his real handle) first commented on a photo I had uploaded on my new Flickr account. Like any good netizen, I visited his photostream in return and favorited/commented on a couple of his photos that I found interesting. So began a steady stream of interaction that – through the years – spread through other social media channels. When I opened a Twitter account, @Detlef was the first of my followers and when @Detlef moved over to Facebook, I also became one of his first “friends”. This pattern of follow-for-follow behaviour continued over  to Tumblr, Foursquare, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google +, YouTube, Vimeo and other social communities.

What made it even easier is the common algorithm used by most social media channels to “invite” existing contacts whenever you join. This ensures that friends follow you from one channel to the next one and the next one and the next one until your online lives are as intertwined as a plate of spaghetti.

So as more of our online activities intertwine, it is no wonder then that @Detlef and I almost feel like —  as expressed in today’s lingo — we’re best friends forever or BFFs!. I say almost because this relationship is not really real. We know as much as there is to know about the respective lives that we willingly share online. Yet is is ultimately a shallow sharing, devoid of emotional connection. It’s like watching a movie from a distance in thousand-pixel quality. The connection itself is momentary — punctuated by likes, comments and shares –which ends the moment we go offline.

Of course, I’m not discounting the possibility of online friendships blossoming into real-world ones. There are stories a-plenty of that happening, and anecdotes abound about love and friendship found (and lost) on social media. But lucky for me and @Detlef, our online presence is not the totality of our entire lives. As far as I’m are concerned, our online friendship is fine just the way it is at the moment.

The other side of the coin

It can also work the other way around. Real friendships can also turn into online friendships for various reasons. An increasingly mobile lifestyle equates to people moving around more often and further distances. A friend or family member can suddenly relocate to another country or get a job in a different state. Entire families might transfer residence, moving to where the standard and quality of life is better and where there are brighter prospects for growth, prosperity and happiness.

Which leads me to the raison d’etre of this article’s title.

Two years ago, a work colleague moved to another job, in the process totally changing career direction. Though way much younger than me, we had become friends through the years, mainly because of our shared interest in blogging and social media trends. Moving to another country and frequent out-of-town assignment meant that we steadily lost personal contact. Through status updates, picture postings, comments, we nevertheless managed to stay abreast of  what each of us was up to. But this, too, slowly dwindled in the coming months.

Then about a year later, a random comment thread in Facebook somehow concluded in a mutual decision to “let’s meet again and catch up”. So we did and spent a weekend lunch reminiscing about the “good old days” and the usual “by-the-way-what-happened-to-you-know-who” type of conversation. Two hours later, it was time to go.

Probably realizing how our lives have taken such diverse paths, there was no mention of a next meeting as we prepared to part ways. But the question must have been in my eyes because just before leaving she said:

“Hey, @beecue. I’ll follow you in every ‘gram!”

And indeed we are now connected in all the major social media channels, the latest being Snapchat.

Thus begins another social media relationship…

About the Picture

The picture above is a screenshot from the Instagram account of Murad Osmann, who together with his girlfriend, Nataly Zakharova (@yourleo),  have become Instagram celebrities for their  photograph series that shows her pulling him into various famous landmarks all over the world. With over 2.4 million followers, they have been featured in several internet trade magazines and dailies.

MediaStorm use motion graphics to highlight deforestation

At one time forests dominated Earth’s landmass. Today, less than half of forests remain. Deforestation is a real issue affecting not only our environment, but our survival as a species. See the project at http://mediastorm.com/clients/guardians-of-the-forest-for-gef

Motion graphics – animation-heavy video production – is currently taking centre stage at MediaStorm.

Long a recognised name in visual story-telling, the multi-awarded, New York-based production company is showcasing an animated short, “Guardians of the Forest” on its web site.

Commissioned by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the 3-minute video aims to “convey the multifaceted issue of sustainable forest management and to reach people on an accessible level and get forests into daily conversation. Its goal is to bring home the message that “forests fulfill a diverse range of functions; they include some of the world’s most biodiverse habitats and they are disappearing at an alarming rate.”

Why can’t we build more bamboo houses?

One of the more fascinating Ted Talk I’ve heard/seen recently, which touches on a question I always ask myself whenever I go back home to the Philippines: “Why do we build concrete blocks for houses when there are other natural alternatives?”

Elora Hardy and her team are building bamboo houses in Bali, Indonesia that are sturdy, innovative and aesthetically pleasing to look at. In so doing, they have revived an ancient tradition of building using material that will grow back.

Listen to Elora Hardy’s talk and be inspired.

Changing the face of Indie filmmaking

Released last Christmas, the 38-minute short film ANOMALY, continues to create waves among independent film-makers and as regarded as THE model to follow. The short film produced by Jens Jacob of Sypher Film, is a Nativity story centred around the modern, intertwined lives of the characters during an astrononmical event.

However what makes ANOMALY intriguing is more than just the story but how it was produced and distributed. Financed largely from a 60K Kickstarter campaign, it nevertheless delivers superb cinematography and effects on par with million-dollar productions. And everyone can watch it for free on Vimeo. The producers have opted to admirably offer it online for free rather than go the film festival route.

Watch it and enjoy.

ANOMALY from ANOMALY on Vimeo.

Giving new life to forgotten images

As I write, this photograph is currently enjoying “Popular” status in 500px, a sharing website for serious photography buffs.

I have always held 500px (short for 500 pixels) in high regard, considering it to be the photography playground where the “big guys” play. The site’s interface is so beautiful that it just naturally puts your photos in the best light possible. Great photography is at the very core of 500px and it is quite humbling to see the talent and creativity on display by its avid community of aspiring, as well as professional, photographers. It’s trademark “Pulse” ratings is a godsend for the not-so-popular members, giving us equal chance to have any of our photographs rise to the top. Provided they are of good quality, of course.

This is how it works.

When you upload a photo on 500px, a “Pulse” is generated from the number of Likes, Favorites, Views and Comments which it receives from other photographers. The score is on a scale of 0-100, calculated by 500px. Your photo moves from “Fresh” category to “Upcoming” category, once the Pulse score reaches 70. If the photograph is really good and the Pulse score rises closer to 90, it gets promoted to “Popular.” If that photo stays under the “Popular” category for a number of days, then it could end up on “Editor’s Choice” category. It is this algorithm that gives every photographer the opportunity to to get photo on the front page, irregardless of his/her popularity.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to have this image get a Pulse rating of over 90, just the sixth of all my uploads to have reached this status so far. What is even more surprising is that this photograph is from a batch of pictures taken way back in 2006, with a Canon 10d that now sits dejected in a cupboard in my basement. I recently found this collection – and many others – as I was moving and consolidating files from separate external hard drives into one huge backup drive with over 12 terrabytes of space available.

I will spend some time going through these old files in the coming days. One thing seems to be obvious though: there are still many “gems” in those drives, long-forgotten and largely ignored. If truth be said, it appears that I seem to have taken better care with my photo composition and setup in those days. That was before the smartphone came and gave us all bad photo-taking habits.

I guess that means that – as far as this site is concerned – you’ll be seeing a lot of old images come to life again.

My favourite smartphone photo editor grows up

The very few who follow my Instagram account probably know that I am a long-time Snapseed user. I purchased my first copy in 2011 when the fledging photo editing app was still owned by Nik Software, shelling out some bucks for the desktop as well as mobile versions. I’ve not been disappointed so far.

There are filters a plenty within Snapseed. But I’m not really a fan of those filter-effects, preferring instead to present my pictures as they were taken, with a minimum of enhancements. So in Snapseed, my first stop is always the Tune Image button, where slider controls can increase/decrease brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance, shadows and warmth.

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Most often, using this function is enough to add the snap to an otherwise flat smartphone photo. Other basic adjustments include crop, straighten and details to add some sharpness to the image. Creative adjustments include Black and White, Center Focus, Drama, Frames, Grunge, Vintage and Tilt-shift. Among these, the ones I find myself using often are Frames – to add a stylish border to the image – and center focus, to add a bit of vignette, blur the background and define areas of focus.

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In 2012, Google acquired Nik software and its suite of photo editing/enhancement apps including SilverEfex Pro, Dfine, Color Efex Pro, etc., as well as Snapseed. Initially this meant that the desktop version of the app was discontinued, replaced by a Web version that you can only use if you had a Google+ account. However, the App for iPhones and iPads continued to be available, and this time as free downloads. Additional functionalities were also added to the mobile versions like Selective Adjust, HDR Scape and Retrolux. Below is a snapshot of the iPad version.

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I’ve tried other photo apps since then, for example Apple’s own iPhoto, Pixelmator, which is pretty decent in itself, Darkroom, and B&W for converting photos to black and white. However, I’ve always gravitated back to Snapseed as my photo app of choice, even though it had never had a major update since 2012.

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Getting into the MIX

Design your own photo filter. With that slogan, MIX entered the do-it-yourself photo app scene, promising endless possibilities to “filterize” your images.Exotic-sounding filters like Eagle, Gum, Orion, Lagoon, Carina, etc, can turn otherwise normal snapshots into surreal, out-of-this-world creations. However, underneath all these flamboyance are some really powerful picture editing tools.

The dSLR-like bokeh effects in the Aperture function provides a much welcome touch to the otherwise infinity-focus setting of smartphone pictures and can produce amazing results. Advanced, selective colour adjustment is also a great tool, making it easy to create coloured pictures on mono background (or vice versa) as in the example below. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

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Perhaps another nifty effect in MIX is the ability to turn day into night. Before and after versions of a monk at the ruins of the Faces Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, taken on an iPad, follow below:

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Snapseed Version 2

Then to make matters more interesting, Google finally gave Snapseed a major makeover in April 2015. With the facelift, it feels almost like a totally new photo editing app, replete with non-destructive, layer-based editing found only in expensive desktop applications.

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However, I do miss the direct connection to Instagram under the Share or Open In… menus. Now to post photos to Instagram you have to save first to your Photos and then open in Instagram the old-fashioned way. The new Snapseed is still a free download on the App Store or Google Play, but you need to have the latest versions of IOS or Android operating systems. If you take a lot of photos with our smartphone and want those photos to stand out more, it is definitely worth a try.

Happy photo shooting… and editing.

(A very special thanks to Iulia who kindly agreed to have me use photos of her to illustrate this article – you can see more of her as @thecuteberry.)