The Automattic Photo, 2017 Edition

Last September almost 600 employees of Automattic travelled to Whistler in Canada for our annual Grand Meetup. As is now a company tradition a photograph was taken of everyone who attended. It’s a challenge taking a photograph of that many people. Remember how hard it was taking that family photo? The difficulty of getting everyone to look at the camera at the moment the shutter closed, or even just getting everyone in one place is multiplied when you have this number of people.

The last company photo was also taken in Whistler and we took a photo in the that same location again but it wasn’t good enough. The camera wasn’t up high enough, so people in the back were all but invisible in the photo. This photo was taken around the corner, where the photo was taken from a first floor balcony. Plenty of height and a perfect vantage point.

Taking the photo was one challenge, but then came development of the image. The camera had to be handheld because of the location on the balcony but the photographer took plenty of shots so I had a lot of material to work with.
The first issue was lining up the photos and I tried using Affinity Photo. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite up to the job (at least with the knowledge I have, it’s an excellent tool otherwise) but I learned a lot about working with layers and layer masks as I swapped parts of different images around.

Eventually I used Photoshop, loaded 3 photos in a stack and the auto align did a great job of correcting for changes in each photo.

What turned out to be the biggest pain point in developing a photo like this was removing people from the background. Here’s a few of them:

Blond Guy
This guy stayed in the crowd for about ten images. I only realised he wasn’t part of the group when I saw him with his friends in an earlier photo.
Two guys showed off their bikes for the camera. It was easy to tell they weren’t part of Automattic!
This lady thought it would be fun to join us in the photo. Her friend was laughing in the background and can be seen in the photo below.
This man stood mostly still throughout the photos that were taken making it more difficult to remove him, but he’s gone from the final image. 🙂

I’m already planning for next year. We’ll get some shots of the background to make it easier to to clone bystanders out, and have more volunteers to help organise the shoot so we make best use of the available space.

Automattic in 2016

Automattic

This is (most of) Automattic. We’re in the town of Whistler, Canada for the annual Grand Meetup. The company is growing every year, from tiny origins when a small group of us hacked away on a couple of servers to almost 500 now!

In the old days the company portrait was easy. The first one was us seated around a large table. I remember well the one in Breckinridge, Colorado. The whole company fit on the stairs leading up to one of the houses we had rented.

In recent years it’s been a challenge. This year Rose Goldman Simon and I scouted the town of Whistler for suitable locations. Rose had already been around and picked out several so I helped to narrow it down. We’d need:

  • Somewhere high up for the photographer to stand so as many people as possible could be seen.
  • Tuesday, the day this was made, was a lovely bright day, but that would play havoc with the photo. We needed a large shaded area.
  • It needed to be close to where we’re staying. The further away we had to walk the more complicated it would become.

We narrowed it down to two locations. One in front of a local store where there’s a nice courtyard and this location above. This won out despite the fact that sunlight would be shining on the camera lens but a large whiteboard helped keep the sun off. Ironically as people dispersed after the shoot, the shadows crept up past where the camera was which would have simplified things!

Final development of the photo was in Lightroom and Affinity Photo.

You’ll also find the photo on Matt’s blog, and shared by many of my colleagues elsewhere. I’ve also uploaded the full resolution image on Cloudup.com for your viewing pleasure.

Off travelling again, 2016 edition

The Automattic Grand Meetup starts tomorrow so I’m in Cork Airport waiting for my flight to London.

The weird thing about timezones means I leave here in the morning and get to Vancouver in the morning. And it’s still the same day. That also means I need to stay awake so much longer. 

“Today” is going to be a long day. Zzzz.