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10 Great Masters of Tilt-Shift Photography

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You might not recognize the term “tilt-shift” immediately, but you’ll certainly recognize the photo style when you see it. Essentially, the term covers a photograph that looks like it’s taken of a model, even though it’s actually an image of a full-scale scene or object. The name originates from the specific lens used to achieve the effect, although these days it is commonly achieved using effects in Photoshop instead. Of course if you really want to appreciate the technique, the best way is to see a few great examples of it, so here are ten artists who have truly mastered tilt-shift methods.

Olivo Barbieri

One of the cool things about using tilt-shift in a city is that it seems to erase the hustle and bustle of city life without actually taking away the area’s life forms. In fact, that was one of the things that inspired Olivo Barbieri to take on the medium. “I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography allowing you to see everything,” Barbieri says. “After 9/11 the world had become a little bit blurred because things that seemed impossible happened. My desire was to look at the city again.”

Vincent Laforet

While not all of Vincent Laforet’s works are tilt-shift images, he is considered a pioneer in the medium, and was even named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Photography” by American Photo. With beautiful shots like these that make modern living seem like some strange fantasy, it’s easy to see why.

Matt West

Of course, you don’t have to be a professional photographer with an unlimited budget for a helicopter and special lenses to achieve the tilt-shift perspective, especially since the advent of Photoshop. For example, Matt West was able to take this image from the roof of a parking garage. He just held the paintbrush in his left hand to create a forced perspective image and then added the tilt-shift effect at home with Photoshop for an unforgettable image that truly looks like the city is a miniature created by the photographer.

Ian Payne

Photoshop tilt-shifts can be quite impressive even without a forced perspective addition, as you can tell by this image of a New York City street scene by Ian Payne.

Serena Malyon

Even if you never appreciated the artistic merit of Photoshop manipulation before, Serena Malyon might be able to change your mind with her amazing take on the classic paintings of Vincent Van Gogh created for Artcyclopedia.

Malyon used Photoshop's tilt-shift techniques to focus in on specific aspects of Van Gogh’s artwork, creating an entirely new perspective on these oft-viewed paintings that allows viewers to notice details they may have never seen before.

Skrekkogle

Perhaps one of the coolest tilt-shift art projects ever thought up, though, was this one by the Skrekkogle art design group.

Noticing that people often use a coin to provide an instantly recognizable scale for any tiny object, the group opted to create a giant, 20:1 scale, fifty-cent Euro coin to make their tilt-shift images seem even more like tiny models.

As you can see, the result is that the already impressive tilt-shift images are even more convincing thanks to the presence of the massive coin.

Modest and Jill Janicki

Pier 39 might be one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of San Francisco, but thanks to Flickr users Modest and Jill Janicki, it looks like an entirely new and utterly unreal place in this great image. The sharp lines and detailed paint jobs on the buildings make this tilt-shift look even more like a miniature than most location shots using the technique.

William Mandra

This picture of Disney World’s Gold Dust Saloon from Big Thunder Mountain by William Mandra works for the same reason: the buildings are so unique and just-so-slightly cartoonish that your mind is more willing to accept that they are models than actual full-scale buildings.

Juan Pablo Mejia

The great thing about this tilt-shift by Juan Pablo Mejia is the way even the construction workers look like tiny model people designed only to add realism to a miniature cityscape.

Ronaldo Fonseca

Similarly, these soccer players from a game between Portugal and Denmark look more like accessories to a toy than highly-talented professional athletes, thanks to Ronaldo Fonseca’s use of tilt-shift.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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