Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hobbies With A Lot Of Parameters

I've realized that getting into any hobby seriously is, well, a serious commitment. Not only is the specialized equipment expensive, there's far more to know than might appear on the surface.

Take biking, for instance. I love biking, and my bike is probably my favorite material object right now. But I'm not into all the technical details as much as I'm realizing I could be. There's a lot about dynamics and torsion and stiffness and other physical bike parameters I don't really know anything about. There are plenty of tweaks of the length and shape of various parts. There are different kinds of clipless pedals. I read an article somewhere about steel having a more real "road feel." I haven't ridden a steel road bike. I'm not sure what this would mean. But, you know, I get a great flying sensation when I ride my bike, and that's what I care about, so I'm not immediately planning to get into all these details.

Cameras arguably have even more parameters. Not only are there all the technical settings on the camera itself, such as metering mode, autofocus zones, whitebalance, filtering, polarization, film speed, resolution, storage format, contrast, exposure, f-stop, focal length, depth of field, number of elements in lenses, chromatic/spherical aberration, vignetting, flash, and probably many others, there's actually "composing" the picture. Huge numbers of physical objects might be worth photographing. Color, direction, and intensity of light all make a big difference. The scale of the object affects lots of parameters and equipment you need on the camera. A city at night and a bug sitting on a drop of water might both need a tripod. If the subjects are moving you might need a different approach entirely. You might need to get up the courage to ask your subject if you can take their picture (I think I was the only one out of the four of us who met that criterion for this picture).

On top of all this, there is postprocessing, including ultimately doing something with an image, even if it's just keeping it in an electronic album (and I'm finally finding a need for a better system of indexing my images... experimenting with various pieces of software), or making prints (also experimenting with this). Postprocessing can include any number of fixes or tweaks or artistic effects. I made a photo look like it was taken from a dark room, rather than just an indoor-lit one (no, not just black - the view out the windows was still the same, and the stuff in the room just looked like the only light was from the windows). One example in the Gimp manual shows a picture of a bottle with some colored liquid in it, and the same bottle "emptied" only using Gimp.

My most recent hobby that I've realized has a lot of variables is music. Take just singing, which is all I do (for now). Pitch, tone, quality of voice, vibrato, where you support the sound from, pronunciation, phrasing, dynamics, volume... the range of music out there, just vocals alone, is amazing. I'm happy if I can just keep up with the weird alto parts.


Blogger Piaw Na said...

I actually think the real problem with hobbies is learning to ignore the irrelevant (and quite frequently false) myths that fly around the internet and dominates common discussions.

For example: "bikes feel different depending on frame materials" is a common myth. If you think the frame flexes more than the tires, handlebars, and stem, then you're also likely to think that colored tires are a grand idea.

In photography, there are only 3 variables: shutter speed, f-stop, and film speed. Everything else in photography derives from the trade-offs between the setting of those 3 variables.

Once you get to the essence of the hobby (and as an engineer you're capable of doing that better than most), you'll realize how simple everything is.

11/23/2005 4:21 PM  

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