The Garret Tree
Sunday, January 28, 2007
  Throwing out the baby with the developer bath water

A number of newspaper managers around the world, apparently desperate to keep their corner offices in the uncertain and unsettling world of the digital convergence are predicting the end of the still photo camera.

Some photographers, the "early adopters" are also jumping on the band wagon.

The photo is dead. Long live video they say.

They're wrong. They're throwing out the baby with the developer bath water. A sort of mixed metaphor, especially for the age of digital photography, but I hope it makes a point.

EPUK, the website for the Editorial Photographers United Kingdom and Ireland, in a story last fall, that I just came across, quoted the newly appointed Executive Editor (Pictures), Stuart Nicol, of the Daily Telegraph as saying:

“Digital stills photography will, when we look back on it, form a very small period of time in the history of photojournalism”, Nicol told EPUK. “Telegraph photographers will undoubtedly be shooting solely on video in the future, and certainly within a year we hope to be well advanced down that route.”

The article goes on to say

At the moment the quality of video stills available from small video cameras is generally below that needed to produce photographic quality. However, some US newspapers including the Detroit Free Press and Dallas Morning News have already begun shooting solely on video, at 1920×1080 pixel resolution, on cameras costing around $5000, equivalent to a high-end digital SLR body

You have to use the new High Definition cameras.
In this post on MultiMedia shooter there is a tutorial on how it is done.

I would also note that while many newspapers are adding video to their pages (just as television stations and networks are adding still photography) and both the Associated Press and the Canadian Press offer video for member websites, the quality when it is shot with a still camera or when processed just for the web is so poor that it cannot be used for broadcast unless it is the only video of an important news story.

In my view, and I have the experience, while video frame grabs can be good, there is no substitute for the still photographer and there never will be. There will still be photographers shooting stills with still cameras long after Mr. Nicol has retired from the Telegraph.

(And in checking the site, I couldn't find any images that looked as if they came from an HDTV video cam)

Shooting stills and shooting video are like two brothers or sisters. Same gene pool but different people.

For more than 10 years how, I have been grabbing frames from CBC News video for use on the website. I discovered very early that the trigger finger process used for on the fly frame grabs never produces a good still frame. For a good picture, you have to capture a section of the video and examine it frame by frame until you find one that has the potential for a good still picture.

If you find that one frame that captures the decisive moment and has great composition and framing and colour, you can get a good picture. But remember, at this point, with NTSC, with 515 lines,and PAL with between 575 and 625 lines, depending on the local standard, and a maximum capture of 720 x 540 pixels, you're talking the equivalent of a one megapixel camera.

The best High Definition frame is 1920 x 1080, which would roughly be the equivalent of a three to four megapixel still camera, although from what I saw from an briefing on future software developments by Adobe last fall, the fact the HDTV capture is digital does give the photo editor more to work with.

For a fast paced, money conscious news organization, the bean counters will quickly find out that it is faster for an experienced professional photo editor or photographer to scan the frames shot from a still camera with modern software and pick out the best pictures. In fact, it is highly likely that a photo editor could choose, process and send to the web or the layout desk a still picture before the video was captured and a good frame chosen for use.

Let's just give two examples where the difference between video and still photography is seen the most:

1)Speakers. A TV photographer shooting a speaker is recording the best clips. A still photographer recording the same speaker is looking for the decisive moment in the speech. You have the same moment, but the aim of the shooter is different.
The video camera records the movements of the face. In going through a series of captured frames, each frame will have a different moment of human expression.
The most difficult job in grabbing frames is not just finding a good picture, often it is finding the frame that doesn't make the speaker look an idiot, whether president or prime minister, mayor or police chief, cop on the scene or heroic kid (the politicians may be idiots but a frame grab is not the time to point that out.)
The still photographer can always do it better.

2. Action. The video shooter is looking and following the action. The camera is often moving. The current television camera captures at 30 frames per second, film at 24 frames a second and HDTV can capture at between 24 and 60 frames a second, depending on how the video is going to be used.

That means that even an HDTV camera cannot capture at any faster than 1/60 of a second. So whether it is football game, a wildlife shot or action on the street, a still photographer shooting at anywhere from 1/125 of a second to 1/1000 of a second can capture the action better. The problem is that when you look at a current NTSC frame, captured at 30 frames per second, 1/30 of a second, the action is blurred. Your eye doesn't see it on the TV screen, but it is there on the frame. You may get lucky and get the one frame that does capture the action-- I was able to do that last year with an Olympic skiing shot from the CBC broadcast that was requested by Canadian Press and run in papers across the country.

More likely you are going to get the face or the arms or the legs or the running back or the speeding car all jaggy, the equivalent of the photo blur. The only solution is to try multiple passes at deinterlacing in PhotoShop and even then it is not perfect.

The bottom line is that these are two different technologies. I have excellent 13" x 19" prints from pictures from my first 2 megapixel camera, so I am not saying it can't be done with an HDTV cam. But with the standard for consumer still cameras now at 10 megapixels, it is unlikely we will see the end of the still photographer anytime soon.

Want to compare still photos and well-processed NTSC capture images? Go the photo gallery I produced of the storm wrecked West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, Paradise Lost, click on Open in Full Screen and see the difference between a photograph and an NSTSC screen grab.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007
  CBS could scuttle Toronto photo festival display

Post updated 1700 ET

CBS Outdoor, the new name for the old Viacom billboard company could threaten the public display of photographs during the annual Contact photo festival this spring.

The Globe and Mail reports this morning that CBS which controls the advertising for Toronto's public transit system wants to charge $32,500 for the display of photographs in five bus shelters and another display of photographs, organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, in St. Patrick subway station.
(Globe story usually public for about two weeks after publishing)

The Globe story says that when Viacom ran the system, the company charged the festival the charitable organization advertising rate. Now, according the Globe, the beancounters at CBS Outdoor are quadrupling the display rates.

Quote from the Globe

CBS Outdoor officials insisted that Contact has never received the same rates as charitable groups, and was free to renegotiate the deal. But [festival organizer Bonnie] Rubenstein said her staff received an e-mail from CBS last November, informing them of the new rates and policies, saying they were "non-negotiable."

Contact has appealed for help from the city's arts division and the office of TTC chair Adam Giambrone, who said he was unable to persuade CBS to adjust the fee.

Downtown councillor Kyle Rae told the Globe that the CBS decision could threaten other arts and culture events in Toronto.

"Those are our bus shelters and there needs to be a clearer relationship between our goals as the property owner and CBS's bottom line," he said.

As the Globe article points out, many other cities around the including London's Platform for the Arts display the work of local artists in the "underground" and other transit locations.

Out of curiosity I searched New York transit art, the Big Apple of course is home to Black Rock, the corporate headquarters of CBS, and found the New York transit system Subway Art Guide.

Another black eye for CBS!

(And an example again that many in the United States think it is the centre of the universe. The US site for CBS Outoor, has a map of the world on its market page, but that map is not clickable. So if you miss the obscure reference on the drop down menu on the the home page, you have to hunt up the page for the international branches. The Canadian site, of course, has more visible links to the international offices, in case some poor soul searching on Google ends up in the wrong country.)


A reader, who works at CBS, sends this response:

I think the Globe got it wrong -- "when Viacom ran it"?
Essentially there is no change in the management of CBS Outdoor, just a name change.
In fact, CBS Corporation is really Viacom, just a name change for the whole company.
That's how CBS kept all the licenses.
The "new" Viacom, or MTV Networks, is essentially a whole new company after the spinoff.
Confusing yes. But I am pretty sure CBS Outdoor in Canada has the same old management it always did. Not fair to blame the EYE for this one.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007
  Leahy vs Gonzales on torture

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Most of the American media concentrate in their coverage on the issue of spying and wiretapping-- and missed a major point: the confrontation between Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Gonzales over torture, the torture by Syria, at the behest of the United States, of innocent Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

The CBC covered that and you can watch the video on the CBC news site.
"We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured," said Leahy. "He'd be held and he'd be investigated.

"We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country — a country that has always been a beacon of human rights — to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

"You know and I know that has happened a number of times in the past five years by this country. It is a black mark on us."

Leahy noted that U.S. officials claimed to have had assurances that people sent to Syria would not be tortured.

"Assurances," he snorted, "from a country that we also say now that we can't talk to them because we can't take their word for anything."

CBC News story link. Video link on the right side of the page.

Maher Arar was exonerated by a Canadian Judicial inquiry. Details on the CBC Indepth report.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007
  U.S. declassifies more Japanese war crimes files
The United States National Archives has declassified more files on Japanese War Crimes.

Japanese War Crimes were covered by the Nazi War Crimes Act passed by the US Congress in 1999.

As of January 12, 2007, 100,000 pages of records are now available to the public.

The Archives press release is here.
The page also contains pdf downloads which tells you how to research in the Archives.

The main page for the Interagency Working Group on war crimes is at

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
  Retribution or responsiblity?

Update: January 17.
Charles Stimson apologized for last week's remarks about lawyers defending terror suspects.

BBC Report
Reuters report here.

"Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not," Stimson wrote in response to the furor over his remarks.

"I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs," he wrote.

So why did Stimson make the remarks in the first place?

Update 2.

Harvard Law professor Charles Fried zeroed in on Charles Stimson in an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, now reprinted on the Harvard site.
Fried was Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General and is considered a leading U.S. conservative lawyer:

In his article, Fried says:

How unfortunate that in this country we have plaintiffs' lawyers and defendants' lawyers, lawyers who represent only unions and others who represent only management. One looks with nostalgia at the British bar, where barristers will prosecute one day and defend the next.

That's what my original post was all about.

Original post begins-and stands.

There is a little known fact in the history of war crimes.

The first British war crimes trial in the Far East after the Second World War was for Japanese crimes against Muslim prisoners of war.

Muslim prisoners of war liberated by the United States Marine Corps.

A war crimes case that was first investigated by the Marines, before it was handed on to the British.

The British made sure that the Japanese accused got a vigorous defence.

How times have changed.

Last week, the New York Times and other American media reported the shocking story of how far some in the Bush administration are willing to go in dismantling centuries of Western democratic and legal tradition.

On January 13, 2007, the Times reported that Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs had told a Washington radio station that serves employees of the American government that he "was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties."

The Wall Street Journal made the same point in an editorial which the Times says "quoted an unnamed 'senior U.S. official' as saying, 'Corporate C.E.O.’s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists."

Here is the summary of the story from Editor & Publisher.

Here is the UPI version of the story as it appeared in the conservative Washington Times.

More on Stimson later in this post. But perhaps Stimson and the conservative radio talk show host who made a Freedom of Information request for the list of law firms should learn something from history, which brings me back to Japanese war crimes.

The Muslim prisoners were among members of the British Indian Army, from the Frontier Force Regiment and the Hyberabad Infantry,who refused to join the pro-Japanese Indian National Army after the surrender of Singapore. They were put on board a "hell ship" and sent to the island of Babelthuap in the Palau Islands where they spent three years as slave labour for the Japanese.

When it came to the trial, the British made no secret of the political reasons that the case was the first to be tried. It was aimed at the population of India, which was soon to be independent.

The case was named for the senior Japanese officer in the case Gozawa Sadaichi and nine others.
(with Gozawa, the last name first in Japanese style). You can find a summary of the case on the University of California at Berkeley war crimes site.

A young British lawyer named Colin Sleeman was one of two named to defend the 10 Japanese and two years later published an account of the trial. For this post what he says about defence in such a trial is worth remembering

To be charged with the responsibility of conducting the defence, upon capital charges, of ten nationals of a State so lately our bitterest enemy and who were facing accusations of brutality and murder against members of the British armed force was as indeed as curious a position as that in which any two British officers could find themselves placed....

How a man can defend a prisoner whom he knows or feels, to be guilty? The answer generally is (and certainly was in the Gozawa case) that he does not know. As Dr. Johnson said: "A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the Judge..."

In a criminal case then, the duty of an advocate for the accused is, regardless of his personal feelings, "to protect his client as much as possible from being convicted, except by competent tribunal and upon legal evidence sufficient to support a conviction with which he is charged."

Sleeman reported that the his clients were "extremely favourably impressed by the kind of trial which they were getting. Gozawa Sadiachi freely admitted this himself and frankly agreed that had the position been reversed, the captives would have been shot out of hand just as their Japanese captors thought fit."

Sleeman concluded his introduction to the trial with these words:

It is, I think, fairly clear that the average citizen of this country wants to see the Japanese War Criminals disposed of summarily without too much delay or fuss, but I am not sure what his attitude would be if it were fairly put to him that by doing so he would be in grave danger of doing himself one of the chief things he fought against, namely killing innocent men in the general massacre. In any case it would certainly have harmful consequences in the future. It is hoped that when the future comes, the ordinary man will be glad that he did not allow his natural feelings of indignation and horror to override his principles; for emotions are a bad guide to conduct when long-standing principles are in question.

In a second case, one I have written and blogged about before, where the Japanese waterboarded innocent British, Eurasian and Chinese civilians, Sleeman was the prosecutor; a man named Samuel Silkin defended.

The two together wrote an account of that trial and they concluded:

To many the most important question which arises out of cases such as this: What is the purpose of trying and executing those involved and what benefit is likely to be secured? That the desire for retribution is an element in the answer to this question can hardly be denied. But that is not the most important factor. Wars in themselves are inhuman, but it is possible to temper their inhumanity with the rules, which are observed by participating nations. If the Double Tenth case served no other purpose it served this, that is had been clearly placed on record that no soldier or civilian of a belligerent power can excuse his individual conduct, howsoever offensive and repugnant to civilized morality it may be, by the plead he was forced to commit it in difference to the commands of his superiors. In wartime it is easy to lose sight of the principles of individual responsibility: it is the purpose of such trials to ensure that this responsibility is fostered and remembered.

(My emphasis in both quotes)

Colin Sleeman went on to become a distinguished British judge who died in the summer of 2006. (Obituary from The Times here and The Telegraph here.)

Samuel Silkin
became the Attorney General of the United Kingdom in the Labour governments from 1974-1979 and later a member of the House of Lords.

Some in the Bush administration would argue that eight centuries of legal tradition matters not because the accused are not from a belligerent power, a "participating nation."

That is wrong.

Whether or not they are uniformed members of a regular army or ununiformed guerrillas, insurgents and terrorists, the purpose of the trial, as Silkin and Sleeman pointed out, is that the law finds individual responsibility and holds those individuals to account.

And one, sadly, has to wonder if the law will ever hold to account those who are now authorizing and carrying out waterboarding in the name of freedom.

And certainly, since many
prisoners at Guantanamo have been released, a good many still there could be innocent.

Sleeman was right in his stand that it is a fair trial, with a vigorous defence, that distinguishes our society from the others.

Back to Stimson.

After the Times articles, the Pentagon quickly disassociated itself from its deputy assistant secretary, as reported by an Associated Press report on the CNN website.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan has twice called for Stimson to be fired, here and here.

Sullivan says

He should be fired, if the deep damage that this administration has already done to the rule of law in America is not to be compounded.

That sounds familiar to me.

Here is what the late Lord Louis Mountbatten, then the Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, wrote in his introduction to Colin Sleeman's book on the Gozawa trial.

I considered that nothing would diminish our prestige more than if we appeared to be instigating vindictive trials against individuals of a beaten enemy nation, on charges which even our own courts found themselves unable to substantiate.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007
  Living in a science fiction world

Sometimes last week, I wondered if I was living in a science fiction novel or movie. I've been reading science fiction since I was a kid. Only it wasn't the great adventure into space, it could be the opening scene of a disaster story.

On December 28, 2006, the Canadian media, including the CBC reported a discovery by Laurie Weirs of the Canadian Ice Service. She had found, by looking at NASA satellite images, that the Ayles ice shelf had collapsed on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island back in August 2005.
(official report on the collapse).

Weirs' discovery was confirmed by Luke Copland at the University of Ottawa Laboratory for Cyrospheric Research. You wll find his special website on the event here.

The story was picked up media around the world.

My colleagues at CBC's Quirks and Quarks also reported on the even on January 6, 2007. You can find and listen to an MP3 of the broadcast by clicking the link.

Once I got back to work after the New Year, I spoke to both Weirs and Copeland. At, we decided to build a photo gallery that would track the collapse. The first images used in the study were from the NASA/MODIS real time images from the Terra and Aqua satellites and uncorrected for the curvature of the earth.

So I called my contacts at the Goodard Space Flight Center, where the MODIS project has its headquarters and requested images corrected for the curvature of the Earth for use in the photo gallery. MODIS reported the ice shelf collapse on January 9. 2007.

The images were used in the CBC photo gallery which tracks ice shelf collapse minute by minute.
The CBC's Kelly Crowe also did a follow up report for the National. (Real Video, runs 5:24).

So no wonder there were those science ficton movie thoughts in the back of mind, getting those satellite images from NASA of yet another indication of global climate change. Is it the opening scene of what is to come.....?

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  Forced labour building roads in the jungles of Burma in 2007
Once again forced labor is being used to build roads through the jungles of Burma.

The CBC has obtained video showing that the government of Myanmar (Burma) is using forced labour to build roads through the jungle in some areas close to where the Burma ThailandRailway once ran.

The documentary by our Asia correspondent Patrick Brown was broadcast January 8, on the CBC National.

A couple of excepts from the script

It's being documented by a group of courageous young Karens who take video cameras in to the war zone and bring back the pictures which show the world what's happening there... Pictures of the strongest evidence of human rights abuses in what's been called the Forgotten War. In Burma itself, just being caught with a camera would mean prison or even death.
The Burma issues' video team took enormous risks to film this extraordinary evidence of villagers being forced to build a road for the Burmese army.
(translation) Grandma, how much are you paid for each load of stone?
(translation) I don't know about that.
(translation) Are you paid for working here?
(translation) No.
You can watch the video (which is about 23 minutes in total) by
going to and finding the documentary "A Better Tomorrow." (requires Real Video or compatible player)

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

My Photo
Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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