About the Visual Diary

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What is a visual diary?

A visual diary is a type of photoblog (‘phlog’, apparently) that aims to constitute a photographic record of its author’s existence by means of frequent updates and brief written captions. It differs from a weblog (‘blog’) by its emphasis upon photographic images rather than text. Electronic photoblogs first became common in the second half of 2003, shortly before this visual diary commenced operation on 9 October 2003.

Why keep one?

I’ve never really kept a diary. I’m the kind of person that starts with grand plans for self-reflection — lengthy entries for the first week and optimistic predictions about the future — before settling on one-liners for the second week so that, by the third, the leather-bound tome in which those few entries are written will lie forlorn upon some dusty bookshelf.

It’s not that I don’t like the process of existential self-analysis or enjoy reading past entries. The competing exigencies of study and daily life just seem inevitably to intervene in a way that displaces abstract pursuits, viz, arcane record-keeping. A visual diary solves at least one of these problems, in that I can take photographs in an instant and upload them en masse when I get the chance. For this reason, entries tend to be added in sporadic chunks at suitable junctures.

Exploring the Garden, 14 December 2004 Attempting to keep a visual diary with some regularity also encourages me to bring and use my camera, to think about focus, exposure, composition and other Good Things, and to develop my post-processing skills. It encourages me to bring my camera with me everywhere, which also leads to other (unpublished) visual records of interesting events — a rich archive of memories. Secondarily, therefore, it also serves a selfish function: each image functions as a visual bookmark with which I can recall that day’s episodic memories with much greater clarity than without such an aid.

November 2007 update: looking back over the four years of photographs that have now been uploaded, I think this question more or less answers itself. While each photograph is itself relatively banal and insignificant, taken collectively, they provide a pretty interesting look at what life as an Australian law student is like. As I move beyond university and into the workplace, I’ll try to continue the diary — it will be interesting to observe how, if at all, the tenor of the images changes.

Technical information

Staring Fish, 24 January 2005

Back end

The Visual Diary, like the other sections of this website, is powered by the Drupal content management system, an open source platform that I have heavily customised to suit my needs. The Photoblog module is also being used to enable backwards–forwards pager navigation, and the Views module provides secondary support. In technical terms, the backend runs PHP 5.0 and MySQL 5.1, and the Jaani.net web server is a Dual Xeon machine hosted in a datacentre in Brisbane, Australia.

Front end

The front end is a quick theme I whipped up for Drupal in an afternoon. It’s blue, simple, and gets the job done. I might make it prettier later if I have time. Drop shadows for the images are done automatically using a CSS technique; the theme was authored in Photoshop and Notepad using CSS 2.0 and XHTML 1.0.

Sources of inspiration

The Visual Diary owes its existence at least in part to Diego Golberg’s Arrows of Time project, in which the author captured photographs of himself and his wife (and, later, their children) on a single day each year for over 30 years. I’ve also been inspired by The Daily Photo Project and Ten Years of My Life, one of the first daily electronic photoblogs.

Equipment

Hardware

Beneath, 17 August 2005The Diary spans a period during which I have owned several cameras, lenses and related accessories. Photographs shot prior to November 2005 were taken with a Sony F717, my first digital camera. It was a lovely camera for my needs at the time — a little on the large side, and somewhat slow — but it took pictures of excellent quality and had a very fast f/1.8-f/8.0 lens.

Photographs shot after November 2005 were taken with a Canon EOS 350D using either a Canon 17-85mm IS f/4.5-f/5.6 lens with Hoya circular polarising filter or a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens, also with polarising filter. To the 350D I added a vertical battery grip, several spare batteries, mini-tripods and about 10GB worth of CompactFlash cards.

Software

Since February 2007, photographs have been post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3 and managed in Adobe Lightroom 1.3. Lightroom is used to view and manage the entire collection and to select photographs from a given day and to perform basic exposure and colour correction.

Prior to this, ACDSee was used for cataloguing and editing. However, it introduced too much visual degradation into the image editing workflow and didn’t support non-destructive revisions or extremely large databases. For basic home editing, however, it’s a good piece of software. The newer versions look pretty good, too — though they face significant competition in the form of Google’s Picasa (brilliantly designed, easy to use, but not particularly powerful) and Flickr (a software-as-a-service approach with various online management and editing functions).

For more detail about my equipment and workflow, see the equipment page in the general photography section.