Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Fraud of Photography

By Glenn Campbell

Photos are full of lies! As a photographer, I know it well. Even if it isn't doctored in Photoshop, a photo can seriously deceive the viewer. A photo is the equivalent of interviewing someone for an hour, then broadcasting only a few words of what he said, giving an impression that could be entirely different from his actual opinions and the rest of what he said.

The essential fraud of photography is that the viewer assumes the photo is a representative sample of the whole of something, when in fact it is a highly selective. The objects or events being portrayed may be exceedingly rare, but the photo makes us believe they are common.

If you see a photo in the newspaper of the President frowning at a news conference, you can rest assured that he really did frown—for at least 1/250th of a second—but that expression may not have been representative of his demeanor during the rest of the news conference. Thus, the photo, although recording real events, may not be truthful journalism.

The fraud can take place over both time and space. In time, you are taking a slice of life in a fraction of a second, which might have nothing to do with what a person is doing the rest of the time. In space, the camera is looking in only one direction, while something totally different could be happening in all the other directions.

In both cases, the viewer invariably assumes that what is going on outside the frame is merely a continuation of what is happening inside the frame. Thus, he may be shocked and disappointed when he experiences the reality for himself. It could be nothing like the photo!

When someone publishes a photo of something, they are showing only the most appealing or unusual part of it, intended to serve their economic, personal or artistic agenda. Every photographer has an agenda. Photos rarely show the dull and ordinary parts. A photo is like a tourist brochure that shows only the most appealing (or least appealing) parts of the city and tells you nothing about the rest.

The photo CAN be representative of the whole, but more often it is not. This is because the photographer is mainly concerned with the aesthetics of the photo itself and not what it represents. The photographer is selling a product and has an incentive to create drama and interest in it. His product is "reality-based" rather than reality itself.

If you want reality, a photo can be a helpful starting point, but to see the Big Picture, you'll probably have to be there yourself.

Glenn's Guide to Photo Cropping

Cropping is the most important editing you can do after a photo is taken. When you take the photo, you don’t have much time to think, so you just want to make sure you’ve captured everything you might need later. (Shoot first, ask questions later!) Later, in “post-production,” you want to focus the viewer on the most important elements in the frame and cut out all extraneous material. Cropping alone can turn a mediocre photo into a fantastic one.

How do you crop? You can use Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop, but the software package that came with your digital camera can probably do it, too.

Some rules of thumb when cropping:
1) Make the photo just big enough to include the essential elements of the shot. Cut out everything that isn’t necessary around the edges.

2) Crop to remove distractions from the periphery of the photo (like parts of another person’s body). Sometimes, it is better to cut off a non-essential part of the subject than to let a distraction intrude.

3) In general, the more you fill the frame with the subject, the better. Why should the person occupy 1/4 of the frame, when he can occupy almost the whole frame? This is true even with tourist photos. At the Golden Gate bridge, don’t focus on the bridge but on the subject in front of it!

4) The main subject should usually be centered, unless there is a good reason to place him off-center.

5) Crop for the resolution the picture will be displayed in. The crop for a thumbnail or an online photo is going to be different for a poster-size print, where more detail is available.

6) There is usually no need for “headroom” (extra space) above the subject (as some photo books advise). Crop just above the top of the head—sometimes even below the top of the head for maximum impact. (The only things that are really essential about people are the eyes!)

7) If the subject is looking to one side, you SHOULD provide some empty space for him to look into.

8) The same applies to an object moving in a certain direction (like a race car): You want to give the object space to move into, thus implying motion.

9) Don’t be afraid to cut off non-essential parts of a subject or photo element. (If looking at a warning sign, for example, it is okay to cut off the corners of the sign where there is no print.)

10) When you are planning to print a photo, always crop for a 4x7 print (the standard at most photo labs). If you want to blow up the photo to 5x7 or 8x10, you can usually still use the 4x7 image file, but keep in mind that portions of the left and right sides of the photo are going to be cut off in the larger print.

11) When cropping for BOTH prints and the web, crop for the 4x7 print first, do any correction for color, etc., then crop again and resize for the web, saving two separate files.

12) When cropping for the web, start with the 4x7 aspect ratio (1.5:1), but then consider cutting off portions of the left or right to make the image bigger and more square. (Facebook, for example, limits photos to 604 pixels wide or high, so if you make the picture more square, you can squeeze more pixels in and essentially make your picture bigger.)

13) Try to avoid vertically oriented photos (where the vertical dimension is longer than the horizontal one). It is more natural for the eye to move side-to-side than up and down (which is why movie screens are horizontal).

14) Crop to imply “infinity.” For example, if you take a photo of a crowd of twenty people, and you include empty space along the edges of the group, the viewer will think the group is small, but if you cut off the edges of the group, the viewer doesn’t know where the crowd ends and assumes it goes on forever. Wherever the photo edges end, the viewer is going to assume that the pattern seen there goes on forever.

15) Crop to make the image more universal. Sometimes, you don't want elements that reveal too much about time, place and circumstance. This gives the viewer the opportunity to fill the scene with his own experiences and emotions.
In the example photo above, the core image of the father and his daughters is good, but the impact is diluted by all the extra space on each side. At the same time, there were two distracting elements: the minivan on the left and the street name above the man's head. (I initially wanted to keep the sign, but I soon realized it was too specific and interfered with the universality of the scene.)

The minivan forced me to place the subject off-center, but as soon as I did, I realized that the road should be the frame of reference, and I pushed the subject even further to the left. My crop on the right was determined by the yellow trees in the background: I cut off the photo just before the trees became duller.

Of course, I also pumped up the color a bit (by adjusting the hue and brightness). Overall, the cropped scene is more perfect and idealized than the original one and thus more appealing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kilroy Café #20: "Kill the Experts!"

Here is the latest Kilroy philosophy essay, released today. You can print it out on a single page via the pdf file, or you can read the full text below. Also see my other Kilroy Café newsletters.

Liberate Yourself from Bad Advice.


The road to Hell is constructed by "experts."

There are nutrition experts telling you what to eat, fitness experts telling you which muscles to exercise, investment experts telling you where to put your money, travel experts telling you where to go and relationship experts telling you how to get along with others.

If you follow their advice, there's a good chance you'll damage your health, lose your money, having a boring vacation and mess up your love life.


Because nearly every expert has a conflict of interest. He is personally invested in the field he is talking about. He tends to overestimate the value of his own knowledge while missing what may be more important in someone else's life.

For example, it's hard to find a real estate expert who isn't personally invested in real estate. He is financially at risk and wants to see the market go up, but he's also emotionally at risk, because his identity (not to mention his livelihood) depends on this field.

To him, it goes without saying that real estate is worth devoting your life to. Everyone should own a house! This is an assumption about existence he no longer seriously questions. He may offer you useful advice on which house to buy, but he is not a credible authority on when not to buy one at all.

At best, an expert's advice is only useful within the sphere he is trained for. A good lawyer can advise you on the law but not on your emotional life. If you listen to him, you might cover all your legal bases at the expense of the things that are really going to make you happy.

The expert obviously loves his field and he is drawn to understand it in ever-greater detail. His natural trend, therefore, is to focus on finer and finer minutia while losing perspective on the needs of the whole person.

The expert is usually no better than the rest of us at predicting the future. If the market is rising, he'll tell you to "Buy, buy, buy!" and if it's falling he'll say "Sell, sell, sell!" while failing to detect the larger cycles at play. If he did understand the larger cycles, he would probably be quietly making money rather than giving you advice.

Many an expert sits before you precisely because he has given up the broader skills of life in favor of a specialty. At the same time, he is driven to distort the world so his own prior investment is confirmed.

The worst are security experts. To them, there is a thief or rapist behind every tree, and these experts won't rest until every potential risk to your safety is neutralized. Follow their advice and you'll end up living in an antiseptic bubble that restricts your quality of life in all other areas. Ironically, their advice will probably make you less safe in the long run by limiting your understanding of others.

If an expert's ego is tied up in security, he needs to see the threats as worse than they really are. He needs crime to justify his existence, so he sees it everywhere. Likewise, most other experts are inclined to play up the risks that their advice is supposed to address.

What the experts usually fail to see is that all of life is a balance of risks, and if you obsess over any one of them you are bound to exacerbate others.

There are certainly people with knowledge and experience greater than your own in specific areas, and you would be wise to call on them when available. but you have to understand the limits of their expertise. Each expert operates on a small island, and outside it he is as clueless as you are.

The best "expert" is someone who doesn't call himself that--who is wise enough to know how little he knows. It is nice to have someone knowledgeable explain a new system to you, answer your questions and help you quantify the risks, but then you have to weigh this information against the many factors in your own life the expert isn't qualified to address.

Only you are qualified to say what is best for your own life, because you know it better than anyone. You are responsible for weighing all the factors, not just those the expert understands.

Outside advice is no substitute for seeking your own knowledge, investigating you own needs, then making your own well-reasoned decisions.

—G .C.

©Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dissing Marriage at Dayton State College

By Glenn Campbell

Today, I gave a talk of over two hours at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida. The topic was "The Case Against Marriage," based on my unfinished book of the same name.
Here is the entire presentation in YouTube video (audio only).

The event was open to the entire campus, but about 1/3rd of the audience came from an honors class on intimate relationships that had previously been assigned my book to read. The presentation was very informal and consisted mainly of lively debate between me and members of the audience. Most of the audience disagreed with my positions on marriage, which only made things more interesting. Although the event was optional and everyone was free to leave, about half stayed for the full duration.

As part of the relationships course, the students in the class had been assigned my book to read at the beginning of the semester. In fact, it was their only textbook in the course. They later had to write a report on it, which was turned in two weeks ago.

The lecture came about because one of the students emailed me to interview the author directly. Since I can fly for free, I offered to come to Daytona to talk the the class myself.

I thought it was very amusing to turn up in a place where my work was being discussed. The students were well-prepared to challenge me, and I think we all had a good time.

Also available as an WAV audio file (2+ hours, 31 mb) Recorded with the voice recorder you see on the desk in front of me. A second recording of the same lecture is also available - Daytona.WMA - recorded in the audience. The first recording (.wav) is the best for my own speech, but I don't know which one is better for questions from the audience. In the second recording (.WMA), the professor's introduction begins at 4:15, and my talk begins at about 5:00.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Photos: Cat Hunt in New York City

On Halloween, I accompanied a professional cat catcher in Queens on an expedition to capture three feral kitten. Here's the album (just edited)...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Screen Story #27: "My Mom the Witch"

In today's short screenplay, a young girl introduces her playmate to her strange family.

My Mom the Witch (pdf file, 15 pages)
Samantha tiptoes into the living room, followed by Lindy and Henry. There they see HUNDREDS of lit candles arranged randomly around the room. As in the kitchen, the blinds are drawn tightly shut, so the candles provide the only light.

In the center of the room is some kind of makeshift pagan altar. There are all sorts of strange icons and symbols arranged on and around it. The purpose of this display isn’t clear, but we can almost imagine sacrifices of some kind taking place here. It is a scary scene to us, but the girls seem to take it in stride.


Your mom must REALLY like candles.

Photo source. See my other screen stories at

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kilroy Café #19: "What You Need. What You Don't."

Here is the latest Kilroy philosophy essay, released today. You can print it out on a single page via the pdf file, or you can read the full text below. Also see my other Kilroy Café newsletters.

What You Need. What You Don't.


The requirements of life are pretty simple.

You need basic nutrition.

You need physical safety.

You need freedom from serious disease.

You need trusting relationships.

You need "mobility"—that is, the freedom to explore and change.

You need a meaningful mission.

The mission is the really difficult part. When you have a well-defined one, all the other needs usually fall into place. Your whole life can be thought of as a tool for achieving the mission. What is your purpose in life? Once you've figured that out, everything else is a piece of cake.

Problems arise only when you don't have a clear mission. That's when all the other needs tend to expand and become almost insurmountable.

Take nutrition. Your body has certain fueling requirements. It needs calories to keep its muscles moving as well as various nutritional building blocks it can't manufacture on its own. As far as the body is concerned, it doesn't matter where these elements come from—be it an expensive meal from a gourmet restaurant or an unappealing bowl of gruel. By the time it hits the digestive system, it's all an unappealing gruel anyway.

In the wild, humans were omnivores who ate whatever came their way: meat, fish, plants, fungus. Given the wide variety of traditional foods, it is clear the human diet is pretty flexible. As long as the essential elements turn up in the gruel, it doesn't seem to matter what goes in the mouth.

When your resources are limited, your diet is going to be simple. You'll eat the available food that gets the job done. When you have excess resources and you don't have a mission to devote them to, that's when your dietary requirements expand. You start investing in ever finer distinctions of taste, presentation and presumed nutrition until all of your excess resources are absorbed.

For example, a glass of wine with your meal is harmless enough. The nutritional value is limited, but at least it contains calories and, if it matters to you, alcohol. Wine was invented as a way to preserve fruit juice in the days before refrigeration, so it's one of those traditional foods that gets the job done.

But what happens today when someone wants something to drink and has money to burn? He insists on ever-finer gradations of wine at ever-higher cost. His wine has to have the right provenance and bouquet. He has to prove his good taste and social standing via his wine selection even though his digestive system can't tell the difference.

This is an example of an "invented need"—where the imagined requirements of life depart from the actual operational ones. Our lives today are filled with invented needs: special food, homes, cars, clothing, etc., which far exceed their operational purpose. When resources are available, we tend to seek finer and finer gradations of perceived quality until our money is gone and we have completely lost touch with the original need.

Someone who invests in invented needs always thinks he's getting more for his money, but usually it is less. An expensive sports car is usually far less reliable and useful than a standard model. Likewise, when you buy more expensive food, you aren't necessarily getting better nutrition. Often, you're buying richer, fattier gruel or some trace element that is statistically insignificant to your true health.

Life is inherently risky, and every need has to be balanced against every other. There are no perfect solutions to a basic need, and if we seek them, we are going to be stealing resources from other needs, like our core mission.

To devote the most resources to our primary goals, we have to settle for "good enough" resolution of lower needs. We should expect "adequate" nutrition, housing, transportation and clothing, because perfection is both unattainable and no longer cost-effective after a certain point.

You need physical safety, but you can't live in a fortress or guard against every danger.

You need freedom from serious disease, but disease is probably going to happen no matter what you do, so you have to soldier on in spite of it.

You need trusting relationships, but you don't need perfect friends or lovers. To some extent, you have to work with who you have.

You need mobility. It is good to have the freedom to explore and change, but you're always living in some kind of prison, so while you are there you have to work within its confines.

You need a mission. So what will it be? You could climb every peak in the Himalayas, but a more meaningful purpose is probably closer to home. It's a combination of what you want to do and what you can actually do based on your resources and your limited time on Earth.

It might be right under your nose.

—G .C.

©Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Photos: Halloween in New York City

Photos from last night's Halloween Parade in Manhattan...

Some photos from this album were reposted on Miss Model Behavior. Also see my photo index at