Category: General

Moving day

Moved to a new server over the weekend and it went live this morning. Until propagation is complete some links may not work and all the database may not have transferred over. We’re working on making sure everything gets up and working. Please bear with us.

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How much is too much?

Another photojournalist who shoots for an area daily has problems with a moon photo I shot at FloydFest. He points out that I shot the photo on July 26 and the full moon did not occur until July 30.  The debate that now rages here and elsewhere deals with what is or is not an acceptable level of alteration in Photoshop. It also stands as a personal lesson to me on what happens when one is not specific enough on what is or is not done to digitally alter a photograph.

Full moon photos are something of a specialty of mine and it’s not the first time I’ve had one questioned. I admitted up front when I posted the image that it was "Photoshopped" (enhanced using Photoshop digital manipulation software).

In looking back over the files, I did enhance the moon too much. When I enhanced the moon I cropped tightly and rounded the edges because the moon, to many, appeared "full" that night..

Even though the calendar full moon was still four days away the moon often appears full due to atmospheric conditions.

The U.S. Naval Observatory says this about full moons:

Although Full Moon occurs each month at a specific date and time, the Moon’s disk may appear to be full for several nights in a row if it is clear. This is because the percentage of the Moon’s disk that appears illuminated changes very slowly around the time of Full Moon (also around New Moon, but the Moon is not visible at all then).

I photographed the scene of the moon over the state at FloydFest using three different focal lenghs: 200mm, 300mm and 600mm (a Canon 300mm f2.8 lenses with a 2x tele-extender. In all I took shot 27 image. Because the shots were taken with a Canon EOS-1Ds, which shoots full-frame at 16.7 megapixels, I did not have the "multiplier" effect of most digital SLRs which use smaller sensors.

The photo at the right is how it looked when it came out of the camera. Lots of fuzziness around the moon in the photo but those who saw the moon that night could see the shadows and detail.

Because the image was shot in RAW format, there is a lot more detail in the image. You can change the exposure, the contrast, the shadws and much more. For example, I can isolate the moon in Photoshop and then use enhancing tools to incrementally pull out the detail that was not immediately visible.

It’s a painstakingly slow process that must be performed at pixel level but if the detail is in the image file you can sometimes retrieve it.

So I isolated the moon and pulled out just that image and saved it as a new file. I made several copies and experimented with different enhancements. With each step, I saved a copy of the image and then went back and worked on another one, saving each so I had a trail of changes. My plan was to use the image in an upcoming class that I would be teaching at The Jacksonville Center to show how Photoshop can bring out detail most might think is not there.

I also sharpened the edges of the moon and cleaned up the haze that was more visible in the photo than to the naked eye. On one version, I cropped in tight and rounded the edges, making a not quite full moon appear full. Working just on these versions took over three hours. Then I worked on two of the background images and dodged out the hazy moon and inserted the enhanced moon back into the image.

The first image I posted was, in retrospect, too enhanced and the moon too sharp and too rounded given the conditions. I went back to another version of the image and backed off three levels  of burning and sharpening and rebuilt the image which is the currrent illustration posted on this web site (left).

It is an example of what can be done with Photoshop if one has the patience and training.

Is it dishonest? It is if you don’t reveal the photo was enhanced. I initially thought I had but I did not include enough detail on how the image was manipulated. The National Press Photographers Association has guidelines on digital manipulation of photos:

As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.

My intention in creating the image was not to deceive the public. When it was posted I explained it was digitally enhanced to improve the detail on the moon. Attendees at the festival that night remarked about the brightness and size of what appeared to be a full moon. Too many, the moon apppeared to be full. It also appears in the video I shot that night and the video was not enhanced. I feel the image above was closer to how the moon looked to the crowd than the one  that first came out of the camera and I tried to explain that when it was posted on this blog. But is is a photo illustration, not a photograph — and there is a difference.

News organizations have differing guidelines for what may or may not been done to digital images. Some prohibit even dodging and burning (lightening or darkening an area of the photograph for emphasis or detail). As one photo editor told me this week: "Our photographers are told to shoot, crop, write the caption and send. Nothing more."

I did explain on this blog that the image was Photoshopped and I submitted another version of the image to the local paper that I freelance for and explained what I did to the editor.  The caption in the paper partially explained how it was taken but the photo was not labeled a photo illustration and it should have been along with an explanation that it was digitally altered. I accept the fault for that and have written a more complete explanation for this week’s edition.

With the exception of a free-lance gig with the local paper, I don’t shoot for journalism purposes, I’m a commercial photographer who produces images and illustrations for clients and for display in galleries and shows. Many of these are enhanced with Photoshop in ways that are acceptable for gallery use but not for publication by a news organization. I also post Photoshop enhanced photos on this web site. It is important for me, and other photographers, to remember that when we work in both venues that journalism has different rules and guidelines. This was the only time in more than 40 years in journalism that I submitted a photo illustration for a news publication and, based on my experience I doubt I will do so again. In the past I have limited my photo illustration work to this blog and for photos which hang in a gallery and which are displayed for sale. I also teach a class in Advanced Photoshop techniques at The Jacksonville Center and will use this photo to both show what can be done and to explain the pitfalls that come with digital manipulation.

It is also important to identify when an image has been altered or enhanced. I tried to do so when I posted the image last week. I apologize to anyone who feels they were misled. It was not my intention.

(The issue is being discussed in the post that included the original photo. I’ve disabled the discussion here so it can be discused in one place and we can avoid redundancy.)

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Andrew Ward Hayden was a young man on a mission to bring me down because of my comments about Virginia Tech’s abuse of power in covering up the many misdeeds of star quarterback Michael Vick during his time at the school.

Hayden, which is the name he used to open a web hosting account but which I also doubt is his real name, says he is not from Floyd County, but claims he has friends here and, with their help, he admits concocting a scheme to launch a web site called Floyd Free Press that would publish a number of scandalous stories about residents of the county and then be falsely linked back to me as some sort of outlaw pushing effort.

It almost worked. I linked to their site thinking it was a legitimate operation. They wrote about politics with what looked like insider knowledge. Then the stories turned nasty — a review of local bloggers that was particularly scathing towards one; a suggestion that a county official was having an affair with his daughter; a claim of alcohol abuse by another prominent citizen.

Sean Pecor, an alert reader, discovered that running a traceroute on the site appeared to point back to one of my web servers based in Blacksburg. But when I ran a trace based on the site IP it routed back to a server in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hayden, who says he has a degree in computer science, admits he created a script that sat on his leased server space and sent false traceroute and ping information that pointed back  to one of my servers. It was, he admits, part of the plan to eventually falsely claim Floyd Free Press as something I had created.

It didn’t work. At my attorney’s request (a demand actually), Hayden’s web host shut down his site and suspended his right to use it. After we explained the legal ramifications of what he had done, and the penalties he could face, he agreed to admit responsibility for his efforts and apologize to the residents of Floyd County. The apology was posted on the Floyd Free Press web site for one week and the web site is being taken down.

This incident should serve as a warning to all who publish on the Internet that you can’t always hide behind fake names and false pretenses. There are ways to discover who you are and expose your true intentions. I’ve been the target of such smear efforts before, usually aimed at my involvement with the political web site Capitol Hill Blue. Most of the time I ignore such attempts but this one could not be ignored because it involved people I know and respect and it tried to affect where I live and my relationships with friends.

If you mess with me I may ignore it but if you mess with my friends you will pay for that foolish mistake.

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Conflict of interest

The Roanoke Times is a sponsor of FloydFest.  That’s right, a newspaper — a new organization that is expected to provide objective coverage of an event — is also a sponsor of the event.

In the news business we have three words that describe this situation: Conflict of interest.

Any time you see a news organization taking a financial stake in a public event you immediately wonder if that organization will treat the event objectively. Will The Roanoke Times, for example, provide more news coverage because they are sponsoring the event? Will they overlook stories that might place the event in a controversial or negative light?

Good questions. On opening night of FloydFest 6, the talk on the grounds centered around the gestapo-like tactics of The National Park Police and their "Criminal Interdiction Team" brought in from Asheville to profile, harass and arrest festival attendees.  Didn’t see a word about the problem in Friday’s Times. Some gosh, gee-whiz feature stuff about the event but no hard news coverage.

The old Roanoke Times, the one I worked for back in the 60s, would have avoided such a conflict. The editors would have said that such sponsorship creates the "appearance of impropriety."

And they would have been right.

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Mess with the best, die like the rest

The mystery surrounding a new web site about Floyd has been solved and, as happens too often with the Internet, it turned out to be not what it claimed.

Someone with a hidden agenda leased web space on a web server and then installed a script that sent out a false redirect and tried to point the phony site back to a non-existent server that used one of my domain names. I’ve removed my links to the web site and urged others to do the same. We sent a cease and desist notice to the company that really hosted the web site and it was taken off the web within 15 minutes of receiving the notice.

I suspect someone was trying to cause embarassment to Floyd’s blogging community but their plan has backfired because an alert and tech-savvy reader brought the ruse to my attention.

The lawyers take over now and payback will be a bitch. The person or persons behind this debacle are around to learn an expensive and painful lesson in web ethics.

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Do not adjust your computer screen

No, you did not hit the wrong link by mistake. This is Blue Ridge Muse, or at least the latest evolution of it.

Muse is evolving, straying futher from its beginnings as a photo blog, moving more into the realm of an eye and ear of the community, a place where people can come to visit and discuss the issues of the day.

The newspaperman in me can’t leave well enough alone and I can’t write Chamber of Commerce pabulum. I need to delve into issues, devote time and effort to probing the who, what, where, when and why and examine the how.

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Moving day

Thanks to the help of Bernie Coveney, Don George and David St. Lawrence, the massive Epson 9600 printer now resides in its new domicile on the second floor of our home.

The 9600, which prints up to 44 inches wide, is a monster printer and requires a lot of effort to move. It also is a unwieldy machine to lug up the narrow stairs in our house but Bernie, Don and David managed to wrestle it into David’s van and then into our home.

They then hauled a couch that once dominated our second floor den down the stairs and took it to Angels in Attic as a donation.

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Who says an old dog can’t change?

Over the years, I’ve looked down at Linux as a second-rate operating system. Much of this stems from an early use of the software on a RAQ server some years ago. So I’ve stuck with Windows and Sun Solaris operating systems for my servers.

Sean Pecor over in Franklin County has long suggested I take a second look at Linux, noting that Google runs its giant operation on the system.

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Kicking my butt

The exhaustion that led to taking some time off weekend before last morphed during the week into full-blown bronchitis with a dash or two of other illnesses that can easily knock a 58-year-old man (soon to be 59) off his feet.

After a week of taking it easy, I honored a commitment to shoot the girls’ basketball game at Floyd County High School Friday night. Big mistake. That brief trip into arctic air increased my body temperature and added to the already dangerous level of congestion in my lung.

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New web sites

I’ve resurrected one web site from my sordid past — American Newsreel — and turned what once was my company URL — DougThompson.Com — into a commentary site.

Newsreel will, as it did before, examine the absurd, inanane and unusual in America.

DougThompson.Com will be a place for commentary on subjects that are not covered in my column in Capitol Hill Blue.

If you get a chance, check both out and let me know what you think.

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