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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Google Photos Overload

The Google blog announced that Google Photos will now allow you to share whole albums or just the photos of particular people with someone else.

I tried it this morning and it works, but there’s one big stumbling block. Too many photos.

When I take photos I’ll take 2 or 3 photos of the same scene sometimes, or if there are people in the photo I’ll take photo a few times just so everyone is looking at the camera. Or if kids are involved they’ll be looking every which way except at the camera.

So, what should really be one representative photo it’s really five or six images.

No. Using machine learning and image recognition is a huge step, but what a lot of non photographers want is a curated collection of “the best” photos.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Google learns how to select from near identical photos to create this “best of” album. Their daily albums are a good indication that they can do this already.

The other problem with machine learning is that it might try too hard. This morning it suggested i share street photos I took a few weeks back. Unfortunately one of the suggested people was a former colleague who lives in Colorado and was not in Cork on the day. Another suggestion was my niece who also was not roaming the streets!

Anyway, I love Google Photos. The image recognition is amazing. I’ll search that for an image I need before diving into Lightroom 5 to edit it. ๐Ÿ™‚

How to take a photo with a camera phone

(mild spoilers for Designated Survivor)
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This is how you take a photo of the US President and Press Secretary on the steps of Air Force One.

Taken from S01E19 of Designated Survivor where they have camera phones that see through fingers.

How to Auto Schedule WordPress Posts

If you post to a WordPress blog on a regular basis like I do on In Photos dot Org you’ll no doubt recognise the fatigue that comes from adjusting the publish date every single time on a new post so it appears a day later. If you have multiple posts like on a daily photoblog you have to remember what day the last post was made and adjust the date accordingly.

A few years ago I wrote a small plugin that I never released to help schedule posts. In the media uploader you could select multiple photos and click a few buttons to be brought to a new page where you could enter title, content and tags for each image. Based on this experience, I suggested it as an idea to one of the teams at Automattic who built Post Bot. I used that for a long time and it has its strengths. If you’re posting content that has the same or similar tags you can copy and paste the tags from one post to another. I posted lots of black and white street images from my home town this way and it was super useful!

I got tired of manually typing out tags, and unfortunately the site broke a few times, with posts not scheduling or one time they scheduled all in one go. Luckily the problems were quickly fixed. However, I started using the WordPress post editor again and scheduling a bunch of photos that way.

Manually editing the publish date quickly became a chore. Lazarus, the form saver Chrome extension, would sometimes popup if I didn’t click exactly on the date, or as I said before I had to remember when the last post was made. They say there’s a plugin for everything, and there is for this too. Check out Publish to Schedule.

You tell “Publish to Schedule” which days and how many posts should be published and when you go into the post editor the next available date is picked for you! The date doesn’t change until you hit Publish but I already used it to schedule a number of posts and it works really well.

Edit: I forgot to mention Daily Image a new plugin by Sam Hotchkiss that does the same sort of job as Postbot but it runs on your own server. The first time you load the plugin it will show you every single unattached image in your media library which can be quite a number of images but it allows you to enter tags and quickly schedule images for posting in a simple manner.

Since my focus here is on image posts I should really mention the WordPress Export Plugin for Lightroom. When installed you can create a new export target that will resize and sharpen your image and upload it to your blog, even if it’s not a WordPress.com site.

Spots at f/22

It might be time to clean the sensor of my camera again. The circles in the photo above are the spots I removed in Lightroom. They’re caused by little specks of dirt or dust on the camera sensor.

Thankfully they’re really only visible when shooting with a closed down aperture like f/22. At f/8 I see nothing! The aperture of a lens describes how big the hole in the lens is that lets light in to the camera sensor or film. Paradoxically, small f numbers are big holes, so f/1.8 lets in lots of light, while f/22 creates a tiny hole and not a lot of light gets through.

Even if you never take the lens off your camera, you might still get spots on your sensor. A zoom lens has bits that go in and out. Air goes in and out and there’s a (tiny) chance that dust will get sucked in. Dust in the lens itself is nothing to worry about as it’ll never show in photos but if you shoot a lot at small apertures like f/22 you can clean your sensor.

It’s actually not that hard to clean the sensor. Last year I wrote a blog post on how to clean your camera sensor including a video and step by step instructions. I’ll probably get around to that this week again. Go have a look if you see spots, or go see a doctor if you’re not looking at a photo at the time …

MacOS Sierra and Lightroom 5

If you updated your Mac to MacOS Sierra and you use an old version of Lightroom you may get a shock when you try to import anything.

Lightroom Import Dialog

The destination and rename panels are missing from the sidebar! Luckily there’s an easy way to fix it, at least temporarily, thanks to The Lightroom Queen who figured out how. Right click on one of the panel headers and you can enable the missing panels again in the menu that appears!

missingpanels

Unfortunately the change doesn’t stick and the next time you import photos you’ll have to enable those panels again if you want to check those settings.

I can’t imagine Adobe will update LR5. I didn’t think Lightroom would start to break down so quickly after an OS upgrade as the app isn’t that old but I guess we’ll all have to jump on the Creative Cloud bandwagon sooner or later.

Eric Kim’s Critique by Constantine Manos at Magnum Workshop

It can be hard to hear criticism of your work but I liked this critique of Eric Kim’s work by Constantine Manos at a Magnum workshop. It was constructive and helpful. If I took anything from it, it would be “take photos that look hard to take”. That’s difficult to do in street photography but I sometimes manage it.
I was going to say I manage it through pure luck or accident but when I’m out with my camera I’ll always be looking for the next shot. So, I’m prepared for that lucky break. On the street anything can happen.

I found the video above on this thread about street photography. Lots of good advice and discussion there too.