Explore – Flickr’s least explicable

One of the most intriguing things about Flickr is the concept of ‘interestingness’ – an arcane formula based on, among other things, the number of times a photo has been viewed, the number of groups it has been added to, the number of external-to-flickr links and the speed at which these and other statistics have been clocked up.
Discussions about how the algorithm is constructed are endless and, so far, fruitless. But at any given time, the top rated 200 photographs posted each day are displayed on the Explore page.
Some flickr members have never hit the Explore page; some are there almost every day. Some people are pleasantly surprised to find comments from people who stumbled across their work on the Explore page; others work tirelessly to try to second guess the formula and maximise the number of photos in this not-so-exclusive club.
A number of third party tools exist to allow you to check how many photos you currently have in Explore – the rankings are dynamic, so you can mysteriously appear (or, more likely, disappear) months after your photo was posted. I have contacts with 40 or more Explore photos. My peak so far is a feeble 10 – though a couple have occupied the coveted Number 1 spot, albeit briefly – and my average more like 8.
To give me an excuse to write something in the blog, I’ve decided to share a little about the background of those that have appeared there – and those that have stuck around.
The first is unique among my pictures by virtue of having appeared no less than 3 times in different forms and of having spent a respectable amount of time at Number 1 in its original form.
It was one of a batch of pictures I took on the walk between Gray’s of Westminster and my office in Battersea the day the D200 was launched.
The first version – uploaded within half an hour or so of being taken, along with 50 or so ‘snaps’ and test shots – attracted a fair amount of attention (as did all the others) from soon-to-be and prospective D200 owners.
It was a couple of days later, though – when I ran it through Nikon Capture and uploaded a warmer, better exposed and slightly cropped version – that it really took off.
Undoubtedly people were still stumbling across it in their unquenchable desire to find any D200 images anywhere on the web. But the comments suggest it had at least some merit in its own right.
I didn’t really do much to it – lifted the exposure over all and the shadows a little more; warmed the colour temperature a little and toned down the glare from a truck’s tail lights. Subsequent versions have had different crops and there has been a black and white version. Most have been well received and several have made the Explore page, but none have come close to the original.
Over the last 18 months I’ve returned to that area of the Embankment several times to capture the converging perspective of the trees and street lamps at differnt times of the year and at different times of the day but nothing else has come close to that first winter sunset.
And now the office has moved West – away from the river – so I’ll have to find inspiration elsewhere.

Timelapse experiment

  Timelapse experiment 
  Originally uploaded by GuySwarbrick.

Testing, testing, testing…

Now that’s interesting…

Having not posted anything for a very, very long time – mostly, in my defence, because I’ve been too busy taking photos – I decided I needed both an excuse and a mechanism to revive the blog.

The mechanism came first – this was written using TypePad Mobile on my Palm Treo 650 – so all I really needed was an excuse.

Until I get a better one, I’m going to pick some of the pictures that are most highly rated by flickr‘s controversial Interestingness algorithm and tell the story behind the short. What made me take it? Was it what I intended? What were the camera settings – and why?

We’ll start not with the most ‘interesting’ but with the first photo I took that made Number 1 on flickr’s daily Explore page – however briefly!

It was taken last November – the day I collected my D200 from Gray’s (and shortly after I dropped it – see the earlier post).

I was really just trying to get the hang of the camera and had been experimenting with very high ISO settings. It was late in the afternoon, mid-December and I was walking down London’s Embankment towards Albert Bridge.

I’d just taken a shot of the sun setting over the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park on the opposite bank of the Thames when I turned back towards where I’d parked the car.

The line of lamps and trees lining my route and Albert Bridge in the distance had a certain appeal, with the post-Buncefield sunset casting a warm glow over everything.

I took a couple of shots – playing with the perspective – and contnued my walk.


It wasn’t until I got home and converted the RAW file with Nikon Capture that it really came together, though. D-lighting to lift the shadows and a little extra warming up helped a lot – as did a later crop and the removal of a very bright truck tail light, both at the suggestion of other flickrites.

Why do I think it hit Number 1? It’s an OK shot, but I uploaded it the day the D200 was launched. The world was keen to see what the camera was capable of and it was the best of what turned out to be the biggest batch of D200 shots uploaded that day. Even this disaster had almost 1500 views…

More blogs about photography.

Small wonder


With the cycling season over – if only until the end of January – I need something to keep me busy on dull winter weekends and I’ve been finding plenty to do with the camera.

Inspired by the Macro competitions on the DPReviews forum, I had a couple of attempts at lashing together a macro rig by reversing my 50mm f1.8 lens. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I quickly discovered that the D70 won’t take a picture without a lens attached. I knew you could buy a reversing ring – and ordered one for a tenner from eBay – but I couldn’t wait. I later discovered that the trick is to hold the lens in front of a regular lens, but I tried something similar but slightly more Heath Robinson – I fitted a teleconvertor onto the body and taped the 50mm to the front of it.


Coupled with the SB-800 mounted off-camera, alongside and slightly above the object, the setup worked fine – once I’d figured out how to fire the flash remotely in manual mode. The magnification was a little extreme but then I remembered I had a T-mount adaptor to use the camera with my telescope which I’ve never used because the camera is too heavy for the guide motors on the ‘scope to cope with. It was separated from the telescope with an extension tube about 10cm long, but that unscrewed, allowing the 50mm to be connected (albeit with some insulating tape) to the mount. The first competition subject was ‘Objects’ and the sprocket above and the hardware shot (left) were the first shots I took. I was reasonably pleased with the results. But I took them on the last day of the competition so I didn’t get a chance to act on any feedback.


LemonThe next competition was on the subect of food but I didn’t manage to get an entry in during the week it ran. I did have a few attempts – this time using the extension tube from the telescope mount to try to vary the magnification. For some reason, any attempt to light the objects with the SB-800 resulted in an intense patch of light in the centre of the image which I suspect was caused by reflections on the shiny inner surface of the tube. At some point I’ll try spraying the inner surfaces with some matt black paint.

Many hands...

By the third week I was feeling fairly confident and, with the subject set as ‘Hands and feet’ I decided to do something from left field and took a couple of shots of watches. Sadly, I hadn’t read the small print and the hands and feet in question were supposed to be attached to a human…

Somewhat deflated, I left the camera on the tripod with the lens attached (with electrical tape, remember…) and went to bed. When I got up in the morning, the T-mount was still there but the lens had fallen a metre and a half onto a wooden floor during the night. Amazingly, it still worked – at least for the first couple of days.

It then stopped providing metering information to the camera and I thought it might be relegated to a full time macro role (one now secured by the reversing ring which arrived the same day), but a bit of fiddling around (removing and replacing the block which holds the electrical connectors) has restored this ridiculously good sub-£100 lens to its former glory. And this week’s competition is The Christmas Spirit. Watch this space.


Remote flash

69113249_726ce00faa_mAt last! Real success with the flash (well, mostly!). I used it extensively at three end of season events – Palmer Park’s Mountain Bike Championships, a turbo training session and the final Gorrick mountain bike event of the season.

At the mountain bike champs (where it rained constantly and the D70, 80-200 and SB-800 continued to work faultlessly thanks to a £5 rip-stop nylon rain cover) I shot entirely handheld with the SB-800 mounted on the camera and was very pleased with the results. Yes, there was the occasional image that was slightly under or over exposed (usually because I was stupidly close or hopelessly far away) but in almost every case I was able to get a very usable image by playing with the exposue compensation settings in the Adobe Camera Raw plugin.

In fact, it was mostly the experience on this shoot which has finally convinced me to go to RAW in all circumstances and live with the overhead of batch processing to get JPGs to upload to the website. It even encouraged me to go back and recover a lot of images that I’d taken in RAW in the past and not bothered to PP. Many of them were perfectly good after putting them through Rawshooter Premium.

The only real problem is that the pictures don’t really give any sense of just what a foul, wet, miserable day it was. But that’s probably just as well – the riders probably don’t need or want to be reminded!

At the turbo trainer session I decided to be a bit more creative. I put the SB-800 on an old tripod with the diffuser on and bounced it off the curved perspex stadium roof. For the most part it worked really well, lighting the riders from the front with the light from the edge of the diffuser and providing an all over light from the bounce on the roof.


Unfortunately a problem I’d had a couple of times recurred. Using the SB-800 in remote mode with the D70 set up as the commander works brilliantly but occasionally (or frequently, these days) it results in some strange effects – producing wacky pop-art images which many people seem to find oddly attractive but which nobody has yet been interested in buying.

Out of 150 or so shots taken at the stadium, about a dozen showed the effect. There’s no obvious pattern to when it happens but it is very frustrating because they often seem to have been shots that would have been pretty good if it hadn’t happen. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

After a couple of weeks of chasing Nikon I’ve finally got them to admit it’s a genuine, reproducible fault – albeit an intermittent one – and they’ve suggested I send the camera back for repair. I’ve got one more event to shoot before Christmas – the Palmer Park awards ceremony – and then it’s off to Gray’s of Westminster. Christmas without a camera is going to be frustrating, though.

It does need to be done because at the Gorrick race the following day I used a similar setup and the problem cropped up again – about 20 times in 4-500 flash shots. It was driving me mad!

Gmb131105_2018I setup half way down a steep-ish drop off with the flash on the tripod another couple of metres down the track. I was quite close to the riders and started off with the 80-200 but was always at the wide end, so I switched over and took some shots with the 18-70. That was a bit slow for the conditions so I dug out the f1.8 50mm and, although it’s not supposed to be that sharp wide open I wanted as much light getting in as possible so I shot at f1.8 and around 1/50s.

It was tough being consistent, but the good shots were great! A real sense of movement from the blurred woodland. The full shoot is on swarbrick.com.

More blogs about cycling photography.

Remember, remember…

  Originally uploaded by swarbrick.com.

…the 5th of November? Well, it was a while ago, but I’ve been busy!

Much as I love taking sports photos, it’s nice to do something else for a change. Faced with being dragged out on a freezing cold evening to a fireworks display, I decided to make the most of it and take the camera.

I took the 50mm f1.8 with me, but I didn’t use it – preferring instead to use the 18-70 to increase the chances of getting a firework in the field of view. We were the first ones to arrive so I was able to set up right by the safety fence – I actually had one leg over the fence with the other two right up against it to keep the legs as far away from kicks and knocks as possible.

I’d had a quick look on the web before I went and the advice there seemed to be pretty consistent – set the lens at around f8, focus on infinity, point the camera at the sky and open the shutter for 5 to 7 seconds at a time. And that’s all I did. Just tried to time it so that I opened as the blast started – which got easier as time went by and I got used to how fast the rockets and mortars travelled.

I shot RAW and I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the results – especially after tweaking the exposure and resetting the black point. There were a lot of empty skies and many that didn’t quite work, but some of those that did were as good as many ‘pro’ shots I’ve seen. I haven’t put these on swarbrick.com as I’m trying to restrict that site to sports and automotive photography but if you want to see some more they’re in my flickr collection.