Monday, February 27, 2012

Children are not childish - Education needs to give them credit

Yesterday Anvitha, a young schoolgirl and an avid birdwatcher reached out for help to rescue a black kite from what could have been a slow and painful death. I'll let you take a look at the two messages - one with her call for help and one with how she actually managed to gather people and eventually rescue the bird.

First message

Hi, just now while coming from school I saw a black Kite that was caught by a thread in a tree. What can be done to help it? The tree is quite high to climb and to cut the thread. Is there something I can do as my house is quite close to my school?

Second message

I went to that area where I saw the bird. The bird was still struggling. I asked help from my aunt who was near by and one of my teacher. We thought of climbing the tree and cutting the thread but the tree was too thin and long to climb. We took a stick to remove the string but the stick was short. Seeing us trying to help the bird many neighbors came and one of them brought a long stick and thread. We joined the 2 sticks. One of the bike riders seeing us stopped by and helped us. He was tall and so he stood on a long chair and tried removing the thread. We were holding a blanket to catch the bird if it falls down. The thread was cut and the bird fell on the ground. It hopped a few times and then flew away. At first it flew in the ground level and then was able to fly high. It was a memorable movement for me. I was happy to see the over whelming response from the neighbors. Many actually saw it but thought it was dead. After carefully seeing those innocent eyes blinking they came helping :). One of the things what I saw was - at first when i saw the kite while coming home, many black kites were trying to push the bird. Did they do that to help the bird?
Children are capable of wonderful things. Uncorrupted by our desire to compete, win, think way too far into the future - children are capable of demonstrating maturity, given half a chance. Anvitha herself is a passionate nature lover. Her knowledge of birds can put an adult like me to shame. Did this happen as a consequence of her school curriculum? I doubt it. Did it happen due to the right context and her own passion - I suspect so. Education needs to give children credit for the fact that they can choose their own paths. So should schools be more about creating context than imparting knowledge? Is knowledge really scarce in this world? If so, then how does Anvitha know so much about birds? Can you really bind down a kid's human ability to create, think, dream, be sensitive to curriculum alone? What role do parents play? These are important questions.

Kids don't surprise us - we just haven't given them a chance

"Learning between grown ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it."
- Adora Svitak

We often term kids as doing something 'beyond their years'. I believe that to be a truly discriminatory way of thinking. Yes, kids do need guidance. Yes they do need exposure and context setting. From that point on though, it's really about letting passion and the human desire to learn and create to set in. I love the fact that young Tom Suarez (above) got the opportunity to set up an App club in his school. That even if programming iOS apps wasn't part of curriculum his parents and school gave him the opportunity to pursue his passion. At 12 years old, he's a developer that's looking to expand his skills to program on both the iOS and Android platform. We have adults here who'd die for that opportunity. I'd really love for schools to give children this ability to try, fail, learn, succeed than to confine them to the realms of curriculum. For what it's worth, we adults have perhaps more to learn from them than we give them credit for.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Photography for Elearning Developers - Working with a Histogram

If you've owned a prosumer camera or a DSLR/ SLT,  you may have seen the histogram display on your camera. It may have even left you confused. One of the more ignored tools in your arsenal, the histogram is a great diagnostic for your image. Taken step further, it's also a pretty awesome guide to post process your image.

In today's post I'll explain this really useful graph to you. Don't worry - you don't need to be a scientist to understand this. It's quite simple.

So what's a histogram really?

In simple terms the histogram displays the distribution of blacks, whites and middle greys in your picture. The key mnemonic to read a histogram is this 'dark to light, from left to right'. The left half of the histogram shows the distribution of shadows and the right half displays the distribution of highlights. The x axis of this graph starts from a pure black and goes on until  a pure white. Everything in between is a shade of grey.

Not all histograms look like a bell curve as you see in the above picture, but what you should try and ensure is that  you don't have too much of pure whites or pure blacks in your image. Why is that? That's because the textures and play of light in real life ensures that situations in which you see a pure black or pure white are unusual. The situation when you have a lot of whites (also called 'highlights clipping') indicates that you may have over exposed your image. As a corollary, if you have too many blacks (shadow clipping) that may mean you've underexposed your image. Makes sense?

There are situations when you'll have both shadow and highlight clipping. These are very tricky. Usually this happens in awful lighting situations where you perhaps need to underexpose to overcome the highlight clipping and use artificial lighting to bring out the detail in shadows. Unfortunately these situations are difficult to post process as well. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to get the right exposure out of camera. Here's a video explaining the concept visually.

Post processing - Creating a high key or low key photo

One of the great things about a histogram is that it tells you exactly what you need to do to give your image a professional pop. The easiest thing you can do is move the middle grey slide in Photoshop (any other tool will give you a similar interface) to either darken the shadows or lighten the highlights further. If you move your slider too far to the right, you'll get a low key image (eg: here) and of you move it far left, you get a high key image (eg: here).

Post processing - Improving tonal range using Levels

One of the most useful images you'll see on Photoshop is the Levels tool. Before you understand how to use it you need to understand histograms - which you already do to a great extent. The key to a good image is that it should ideally have a range of greys in the shadows and highlights with no pure whites or blacks but almost every other shade. So, the wider your histogram, the more contrast in your picture. Now you will also have a lot of contrast if you had a lot of highlights and shadow clipping, but this will mean that you'll get a very black and white image! So you need to avoid that one.

In a lot of photographs you may be able to go with some amount of shadow clipping because extremely dark places usually will show up as pure blacks. In rare circumstances - and remember they are rare - you might be able to live with some highlights clipping too. But for the most part, the levels tool should be able to help you modify your histogram and shift the white point and black point inwards. By doing this, you're effectively spreading your original histogram over the entire tonal range from white to black, thereby increasing the contrast. Take a look at this video to see how you can create a nice, pleasing, contrasty image with the levels tool. It really helps add a professional pop to your image. And by the way, you should be able to use similar tools on any other post processing package.

So, try this tool as the basic post processing on your images and also as an in camera diagnostic for your exposure. You'll notice that being able to read the histogram is a really useful skill. Hope you enjoyed today's blogpost. More to come in the next one.
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