kottke.org posts about photography

USPS to Release Ansel Adams Stamps

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The US Postal Service is set to release a sheet of 16 stamps featuring the legendary photography of Ansel Adams.

Ansel Adams made a career of crafting photographs in exquisitely sharp focus and nearly infinite tonality and detail. His ability to consistently visualize a subject — not how it looked in reality but how it felt to him emotionally — led to some of the most famous images of America’s natural treasures including Half Dome in California’s Yosemite Valley, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and Denali in Alaska, the highest peak in the United States.

No pre-order links yet, but the stamps will be available on May 15. (via @anseladams)

P.S. I was just poking around the official Ansel Adams site and ran across this photo I’d never seen before of a woman behind a screen door. Really wonderful.

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Winners of the 59th Annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest

two ibex clash on top of a hill

fireflies light up a jungle at night

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What a treat: the winning entries in the 59th annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, organized by London’s Natural History Museum. I’ve selected a few of my favorites above.

Amit Eshel took the photo of the ibex:

After hiking to a clifftop vantage point, Amit slowly crept closer. Using a wide-angle lens, he set the action of two clashing Nubian ibex against the dramatic backdrop. The battle lasted for about 15 minutes before one male surrendered and the pair parted without serious injury.

Sriram Murali captured the jungle lit up by fireflies:

Sriram combined 50 individual 19-second exposures to show the firefly flashes produced over 16 minutes in the forests of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve near his hometown. He watched as pinpoint flashes appeared in the treetops increasing in number as they spread down along the branches until something remarkable happened. Synchronising, they pulsated through the canopy like a wave — the pattern punctuated with sequences of abrupt on-off bursts in unison.

The happy turtle photo is by Tzahi Finkelstein:

This dragonfly unexpectedly landed on the turtle’s nose but instead of the turtle snapping up the insect, it appeared to be experiencing pleasure from the interaction as they shared a moment of peaceful coexistence amid a swamp’s murky waters.

(via colossal & in focus)

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Mars in 4K

This is a video slideshow of some of the best images from the Mars missions — Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance — presented in 4K resolution at 60fps. These look amazing on the biggest hi-res screen you can find. (via open culture)

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Winners of the 12th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest

a school of yellow fish look right into the camera

an orange octopus with white spots poses

a snail floats in darkness with delicate tendrils

a red and purple pygmy seahorse

The winners of the 2023 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest have been announced and what a reminder of how cartoonishly colorful and weird it is under the sea. The alien creatures we’ve been looking for in outer space? They’re already right here, just take a swim.

Photos above by Giancarlo Mazarese, Alessandro Raho, Steven Kovacs, and Byron Conroy. (via in focus)

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Rat Selfies

a white rat taking a photo of itself

a brown rat taking a photo of itself

For a photographic experiment based on the Skinner box, Augustin Lignier trained a pair of rats to take photos of themselves, aided by a sugary reward. When the rewards became intermittent, the rats kept snapping away, sometimes even ignoring the sugar.

To Mr. Lignier, the parallel is obvious. “Digital and social media companies use the same concept to keep the attention of the viewer as long as possible,” he said.

Indeed, social media has been described as “a Skinner Box for the modern human,” doling out periodic, unpredictable rewards — a like, a follow, a promising romantic match — that keep us glued to our phones.

Or maybe being able to keep ourselves busy pressing buttons is its own reward. In a 2014 study, scientists concluded that many human volunteers “preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.” Maybe we would rather sit around and push whatever levers are in front of us — even those that might make us feel bad - than sit with ourselves in quiet contemplation.

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Tiny Flying Rainbows

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a hummingbird hovers in front of the sun, it's wings lit up like rainbows

It's not like we need another reason why hummingbirds are so cool, but if you photograph them backlit by the sun, their wings turn into tiny rainbows. These great photos are by Christian Spencer, who used them in his book Birds: Poetry in the Sky. (via present & correct)

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The Winners of the Nature Photography Contest

I really like the winning image (by Glenn Ostle) in the 2023 edition of The Nature Photography Contest, the results of which were just recently announced.

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That sea lion has the same energy as Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor, just before he whispers “for Frodo” and charges into the horde of orcs assembled before him. “For lunch.”

Anyway! You can check out the rest of the winners and finalists on the website.

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The Frozen Colors of Winter

bubbles frozen in ice

bubbles frozen in ice

closeup shot of ice crystals

closeup shot of ice crystals

Jan Erik Waider’s speciality is abstract landscape photography of cold climates. But in this series of projects, he takes a closer view of his subjects: Frozen Colors of Winter, Frozen Air, and Geometry of Ice.

The rest of Waider’s work is well worth a look. Prints of his work are available and you can keep up with his newest stuff on Behance and Instagram. (via present & correct)

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The Stunning Winners of the 2024 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Contest

a photo of some aquatic plants reaching for the sunlight, taken from the bottom of a pond

black and white photo of a bird silhouetted against the sky

dozens of ant shooting acid into the air

spikes of an orange slime mold covered in water droplets

You all know I love a good photography contest and it’s hard to pick favorites, but the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition is always up there for me. The results of this year’s contest are fantastic and it was difficult to pick out just a few of my faves above. From top to bottom: Chris Gug, Csaba Daróczi, René Krekels, Barry Webb. (via colossal)

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Cathedral, Mountain, Moon

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Wow, what an incredible shot by Valerio Minato of the triple-alignment of a church, a mountain, and the Moon.

Taken in Piemonte, Italy, the cathedral in the foreground is the Basilica of Superga, the mountain in the middle is Monviso, and, well, you know which moon is in the background. Here, even though the setting Moon was captured in a crescent phase, the exposure was long enough for doubly reflected Earthlight, called the da Vinci glow, to illuminate the entire top of the Moon.

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Winners of the 2023 Natural Landscape Photography Awards

overhead view of a volcanic eruption with lava pouring out

a pair of birds fly over a craggy mountain peak

a hilly winter scene

some cracked dry ground

The winners have been announced in the Natural Landscape Photography Awards for 2023. The competition rules are worth a look — they are pretty hardcore on the types of editing and retouching allowed. I posted some favorites above; from top to bottom by Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove, Xavier Lequarre, Blake Randall, and Jay Tayag. (via in focus)


Some Alien Shit Going Down at Stonehenge

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I love this otherworldly shot of Stonehenge from Reuben Wu. It’s a variant of his cover image for the August 2022 issue of National Geographic. The monument is lit from above and behind with drones, which created some logistical issues:

[We] had to call the Royal Air Force each time we launched the drone, and spent months getting permits and approval to do this. Even then we still couldn’t fly it above the stone circle (for fear of damaging the stones).

They had to call the RAF because the monument is in military airspace. This short behind-the-scenes video has more:

While we were making these images, something that was always very present was the sound of the traffic on the nearby A303 highway, and I was certain that passing motorists would have been alarmed to see what looked like an alien spacecraft flitting around above the 5,000 year old megalith.

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The Finalists in the 2023 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

a bird that looks like it's telling two other birds which way to go

a giraffe that looks like it's got its head up another giraffe's butt

a fox that looks like it's smoking a cigar

an optical illusion that looks like a tropical fish has the legs of a human scuba diver

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards are always a good time…and here are the finalists for the 2023 competition.


Amazing 8K Video of the Annular Solar Eclipse

Using a custom hydrogen alpha solar telescope, Jason Kurth took a collection of high-resolution photographs of the recent annular solar eclipse and arranged them into an 8K video of the event. The level of detail here is incredible — you can see solar flares and features on the surface of the Sun pulsing and shifting as the Moon moves across it. You can see a bit of Kurth’s setup on Instagram.


The Nature Conservancy’s Photo Contest Winners for 2023

a spider generating its egg sac with its own web

Nature Conv 2023 02

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The Nature Conservancy has announced this year’s winners of their annual photo contest. Collectively, the winning photographs “gave voice to nature and showed us the power and peril of the natural world”. As usual, I selected a few of my favorites and included them above. From top to bottom:

  • Jaime Daniel Fajardo Torres: “This is a species of spider known as ogre spiders, of the genus Deinopis. The photograph was taken at night in the middle of a mature forest in northern Ecuador in the tropical rainforest of the Ecuadorian Chocó, a place considered a hotspot. The spider photographed was generating its egg sac with its own web.”
  • HJ Yang: An orca attacks two seals in the morning on the beach.
  • Jeanny Tang: “The holes dug by fish for spawning can be seen after the pond has dried up.”

(via in focus)


The Winners of the 2023 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition

The optic nerves of a rodent

A heart shape is visible amongst breast cancer cells

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Nikon has announced the winners of the Small World Photomicrography Competition for 2023. I’ve included a few of my favorites above. From the top:

  • The optic nerves of a rodent by Hassanain Qambari & Jayden Dickson.
  • A heart shape is visible amongst breast cancer cells shot by Malgorzata Lisowska.
  • Sunflower pollen on an acupuncture needle by John-Oliver Dum.

And I love a good slime mold photo too. (via ars technica)


One Hundred & Forty Characters

This is a heck of a time capsule: back in 2011, Chris Floyd photographed 140 people that he followed on Twitter over the course of a year and made a video featuring their portraits and audio of them “talking about Twitter and it’s effect on the way we communicate and form relationships in the modern era”. It’s almost quaint hearing people talk about the site in the time before Gamergate, 4chan, and other factors helped twist it into a very different place.

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You can check out more of Floyd’s photographs and people’s stories on the One Hundred & Forty Characters blog. (via noah kalina)


Newsstands From Around the World

a newsseller peers out of his newsstand

a young newsseller poses in his newsstand

a newsseller looks out of her newsstand

a smiling newsseller looks out of his newsstand

Over a period of eight years, Trevor Traynor took dozens of photos of newsstands and their operators. The project started in NYC but came to include newsstands in LA, Lima, Tokyo, Jerusalem, Marrakesh, London, Rome, Paris, and several other places around the world. (via present & correct)


The Inner Landscape

a disk of light illuminates a layered desert landscape

a blue shft of light glows in a rocky crack

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Photographer Reuben Wu was commissioned by Apple to take some of his wonderful light-painted photos with Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max in a project called The Inner Landscape.

So proud to be one of the first photographers to reveal a new series of images captured on the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max and celebrate its launch. “The Inner Landscape” is a series of six unearthly places that feel more intimate than epic, more ambiguous than explicit, making up a body of work that feels cohesive through its sense of connection and psychological space.

I love Wu’s work. More information about this project can be found at Colossal, Petapixel, and on Wu’s Instagram.


The Storm Pilot

photo of a storm cloud lit up by lightning

photo of a dramatic bolt of lightning emerging from a storm cloud

Santiago Borja is an airline pilot who takes stunning photos of storms and clouds from the flight deck of his 767. Definitely offers up a different perspective than the typical storm chaser photography. You can find his work on his website, on Instagram, and in book form.


Winners of the 2023 Bird Photographer of the Year Competition

a vivid green bird sitting in the midst of a large green leaf

a diving bird returning to the surface with a fish in its mouth

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From over 23,000 entered images, the judges in the Bird Photographer of the Year competition for 2023 have selected their winners and runners-up. I selected a few of my favorite images above; the photographers from top to bottom: Nicolas Reusens, Henley Spiers, and Gianni Maitan.


Some Stunning Shots From the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 Competition

a colorful shot of The Running Chicken Nebula

what looks like a question mark on the surface of the sun

purple sprites in the upper reaches of the atmosphere

a photo of the whole sun

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The Royal Observatory Greenwich in London has announced the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 competition and as you can see from the selection above, there were some amazing shots. From top to bottom:

  1. Runwei Xu and Binyu Wang for their photo of The Running Chicken Nebula.
  2. Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau for capturing a question mark on the Sun. I will never tire of looking at the detail of the Sun’s surface.
  3. Angel An. “This is not, as it might first appear, an enormous extraterrestrial, but the lower tendrils of a sprite (red lightning)! This rarely seen electrical discharge occurs much higher in the atmosphere than normal lightning (and indeed, despite the name, is created by a different mechanism), giving the image an intriguingly misleading sense of scale.”
  4. Mehmet Ergün. More Sun!
  5. Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty for their shot of the Andromeda galaxy.

The last shot was the overall winner. While not as dramatic as some of the others, it documented the discovery of a previously unknown feature of a nearby cosmic neighbor:

The Andromeda galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, and one of the most photographed deep-sky objects. Yet this particular photo, captured by an international trio of amateur astronomers, revealed a feature that had never been seen before: a huge plasma arc, stretching out across space right next to the Andromeda galaxy.

“Scientists are now investigating the newly discovered giant in a transnational collaboration,” explain the photographers. “It could be the largest such structure nearest to us in the Universe.”

You can see the rest of the winning images on the Royal Observatory site as well as coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, Colossal, and Universe Today.


Stunning JWST Image of a Grand-Design Spiral Galaxy

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Love this recent JWST shot of the M51 spiral galaxy.

The graceful winding arms of the grand-design spiral galaxy M51 stretch across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Unlike the menagerie of weird and wonderful spiral galaxies with ragged or disrupted spiral arms, grand-design spiral galaxies boast prominent, well-developed spiral arms like the ones showcased in this image. This galactic portrait was captured by Webb’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI).

In this image the reprocessed stellar light by dust grains and molecules in the medium of the galaxy illuminate a dramatic filamentary medium. Empty cavities and bright filaments alternate and give the impression of ripples propagating from the spiral arms. The yellow compact regions indicate the newly formed star clusters in the galaxy.

(via bad astronomy)


How the Race Was Won

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What an amazing, info-dense composite photograph taken by Casey Sims of the semi-finals of the men’s 110-meter hurdles at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest from last month. You can see and analyze the entire race, just from this one image. Eventual finals winner Grant Holloway is in lane 5 and led from start to finish.


A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Recreated in Wisconsin

a photographic recreation of Georges Seurat's famous impressionist painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

In 2006, photographer Mark Preuschl recreated Georges Seurat's famous impressionist painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte in Beloit, WI with a group of volunteers. Here’s the original for reference:

Georges Seurat's famous impressionist painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

From My Modern Met:

In conceiving this tableau vivant, the organizers wanted to keep things modern. Thus, all participants are wearing contemporary clothes with umbrellas substituted in for the 19th-century parasols. Though the team was organized, they weren't quite prepared for what mother nature threw their way the day of the shoot. Preuschl recalls winds of 20 to 25 mph coming off the river, as well as clouds that didn't allow for the shadows they were so desperately looking for. Luckily, there was a window of about 25 minutes when the sun came out and cast those shadows.

He really couldn't have scouted that location any better...it matches the original pretty well. Who knew you could find Belle Époque Paris in southern Wisconsin?


Some of the Oldest Photos You Will Ever See

In 1842, a French artist and scholar named Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey set out on a tour of the eastern Mediterranean to document sights and architecture via the brand new medium of photography. He started off in what is now Italy and continued on to Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and the Levant (which includes modern-day Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine). The daguerreotypes he took are the oldest surviving photos of those locations (aside from Italy). It’s incredible to time travel back 180 years to see what these places looked like. (via aeon)


Soap Bubble Worlds

the swirling rainbow surface of a soap bubble from close-up looks like a small planet

the swirling rainbow surface of a soap bubble from close-up looks like a small planet

Marveling at these macro images of soap bubbles by photographer Dave Bowman — he calls this series Other Worlds.

See also Are These Photographs of Moons or Pancakes? and frying pans that look like a Jovian moon.


The Winners of the 2023 Drone Photo Awards

aerial photo of a very tidy Polish playground

aerial photo of a surfer and crashing waves

aerial photo of a colorful abstract landscape

aerial photo of a border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

I am a sucker for aerial photography, so I had a lot of fun looking through all the winners and runners-up of the 2023 Drone Photo Awards. As usual, I picked out a few favorites and included them above. From top to bottom, photos by: Sebastian Piórek (a very tidy Polish playground), Brad Weiner (surfer), Gheorghe Popa (amazing abstract shot), and Matias Delacroix (a border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic).


Stunning Photo of an Aurora Over an Icelandic Waterfall

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Astrophotographer Cari Letelier caught this amazing shot of the aurora borealis over the Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland. We live in a truly magical world — if science fiction authors made something like this up, you wouldn’t believe it’d ever be real. You can check out more of Letelier’s astrophotography on Instagram or on her website.

I found this via the Astronomy Picture of the Day site, a gem of the old school web that’s been sharing astronomy photos since 1995.


Will AI Change Our Memories?

Photographs have always been an imperfect reproduction of real life — see the story of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother or Ansel Adams’ extensive dark room work — but the seemingly boundless alterations offered by current & future AI editing tools will allow almost anyone to turn their photos (or should I say “photos”) into whatever they wish. In this video, Evan Puschak briefly explores what AI-altered photos might do to our memories.

I was surprised he didn’t mention the theory that when a past experience is remembered, that memory is altered in the human brain — that is, “very act of remembering can change our memories”. I think I first heard about this on Radiolab more than 16 years ago. So maybe looking at photos extensively altered by AI could extensively alter those same memories in our brains, actually making us unable to recall anything even remotely close to what “really” happened. Fun!

But also, one could imagine this as a powerful way to treat PTSD, etc. Or to brainwash someone! Or an entire populace… Here’s Hannah Arendt on constantly being lied to:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

As I said in response to this quote in a post about deepfakes:

This is the incredible and interesting and dangerous thing about the combination of our current technology, the internet, and mass media: “a lying government” is no longer necessary — we’re doing it to ourselves and anyone with sufficient motivation will be able to take advantage of people without the capacity to think and judge.

P.S. I lol’d too hard at his deadpan description of “the late Thanos”. RIP, big fella.


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