Homeless in Vancouver: Terribly good morning…photo

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      Thursday morning (October 11) I made sure to look for returnable beverage containers in all the recycling blue bins and Dumpsters along my way to breakfast—that’s what binners do.

      I also looked for photo opportunities, so that I might write about this inconsequential trip through some back alleys along West Broadway—that’s what bloggers do.

      In particular, I took a slew of photos of the sunrise, as seen between 7:13 and 7:16 a.m., rising behind the complex structures of an 1100 block alley on the north side of West Broadway.

      Once I arrived at McDonald’s—being in no mood to deal with complexity—I plugged all the photos taken at 7:16 a.m. into Autostitch, my least demanding panoramic stitching application, developed and patented by the University of British Columbia.

      The Autostitch I use is a 13-year-old freeware evaluation version. The simplicity of its operation (point it at a folder of jpg images and press a button) is matched by the simplicity of its results.

      Unlike the powerful (and very configurable and complex Hugin panoramic photo stitcher, Autostitch only has two modes: success and failure.

      Because the nine input photos were hasty and many of them were blurry I fully expected the program to fail to stitch them together cleanly. But Autostitch surprised me (as it can). The panoramic image came together nicely.

      Panoramic images can be greater than the sum of their parts

      Nine images equals nine opportunities for focus and exposure control.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      A screen shot of the directory of nine photos I fed Autostitch to make the panoramic image highlights two of the three big virtues of stitched panoramic images: increased field of view and variable light metering.

      To even come close to capturing the vivid colours of the sky, the old point-and-shoot Fuji Finepix Z camera that I used to take this morning’s photos had to black out the foreground. Conversely, to capture the foreground, it had to flare out the sky.

      Only by the artificial expedient of combining multiple photographs of varying exposure into a single panoramic image could I possible get anything close to to what I saw with my own eyes this morning.

      Of course, by definition, the signature trait of a panoramic image is its large field of view.

      No point-and-shoot camera I have used has been able to encompass the field of view that I believe I can see. I say “believe” because the outer edge of a human being’s 180- to 200-degree field of view (our peripheral vision) loses focus and is only really good for detecting light, colour, and sudden movement.

      A panoramic photo stitched together from many photos can have a field of view far in excess of a human being, or a humble point-and-shoot camera.

      A third virtue of stitched panoramic images that is not at all obvious in today’s example is the potential to have multiple parts of the finished image in sharp focus.

      Only one part of a photograph can be perfectly in focus but a panoramic image stitched together from nine photographs can have nine parts of the image in focus—potentially all at different focal depths.

      The way that a digitally stitched panoramic photo incorporates multiple points of focus compares to a photo editing technique called focus stacking, where multiple digital photos—each taken with a different focal depth—are selectively composited into a single image.

      A detour through the intersection of binning and blogging

      Another image from the same alley, taken at 7:13 a.m.—this time using double exposure to increase the tonal range between highlight and shadow detail.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      As a binner who blogs, I can tell you that the “value” in both activities is incremental and cumulative. It takes many, many bottles and cans to make anything like real money and many, many posts to make anything like a real blog.

      By way of background, binners in British Columbia—people who collect returnable beverage containers to cash in the deposit value (5- to 20-cents-per, under the B.C. deposit system) broadly categorize as either casual or full-time. Casuals include social-assistance recipients who only collect bottles in the last week of the month—in the week before their next cheque—when poverty bites the hardest; also, casuals are homeowners who brake for big bags of beer cans.

      Full-time binners—whose ranks include social-assistance recipients, pensioners, owners of cars and vans with plastic-covered back seats, and many homeless people such as myself—never really stop looking for and collecting returnables. For full-timers, the shortest distance between any two points is always through a back alley lined with Dumpsters and recycling blue boxes.

      Many bloggers likewise never really stop blogging; everything they think, see, and do is evaluated for “blogability”—by (I believe) a part of the brain called the hippoblogus, basically a glorified dopamine receptor.

      Be that as it may. I mean to say that I never really stop searching for returnable beverage containers, or for fresh online content, not even in my sleep.

      More than once I’ve gone binning in my dreams and, at least once, my dreams have gone into my blog.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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