Sony a7iii: AEL in Manual Mode

One of the Facebook groups I’m part of is Sony a7iii/a7riii setup Tips. It’s a relatively quiet group but it’s chock full of great tips for Sony’s latest cameras.
One of those tips was posted yesterday and Daniel Ockeloen, the group administrator, made a video of it which I have embedded above.

In manual mode, the AEL button can be used to maintain the exposure while you change settings. With AEL activated changing the shutter speed will change the aperture and vice versa. In effect it’s the same as going back to Aperture or Shutter Priority modes but it does allow more flexibility since AEL can be deactivated and you get full manual control again, with the same exposure.

Do other cameras do this? My Canon 6D doesn’t. Apparently Pentax cameras have a hyper-manual mode which operates in much the same way, but others have been saying for a long time that manual mode is manual mode and you don’t need auto exposure.

CervicalCheck Protest in Cork

More than 800 people marched through Cork on Saturday to protest the CervicalCheck scandal where 209 smear tests were misread and 18 women have died already.

Terminally ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna appeared at a protest today in Kerry.

In a poignant protest in Tralee town centre on Monday evening, the very day that she was told that her cancer has spread even further to her vertebra, Emma, in a moving and emotional speech, said that she would continue to fight for reform of the health service. 
“I am sick of being treated like nothing. Our health is the last thing that these people care about. The Dáil needs to realise that if they are going to take responsibility for our lives they better do it well or they need to be fired,” she told the crowd. 
“I promise my death won’t go unnoticed. I will make sure that they pay for what they have done to every single family in Ireland, whether you are on a waiting list too long or whether you are not being treated fair. Tell them you’re my friend and I’ll come and sort them out.”
“I can’t save my life but at least I can save yours and your children’s lives.” 

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-stands-together-in-solidarity-as-emma-faces-death-sentence-36910803.html

Bye Bye Google Backup & Sync

I’m a huge fan of Google Photos. It’s an amazing service that lets me quickly share photos with particular people, creates interesting images from my photos and it’s a convenient way to bring my photo archive with me on my phone.

Evening in Cork City

However, the new “Backup & Sync” app from Google that replaced the old uploader is problematic.

As well as uploading my photos to Google Photos it would backup to Google Drive. I don’t care about this feature because I use Backblaze for backups. I didn’t really realise what this meant when I first installed the app.

Slieve Liag

I told it to sync my “2018” folder and it dutifully started backing up to Google Photos but I soon noticed that the storage used in my Google account was decreasing. Eventually I found the computers section of Google Drive. All my files were backed up there.

It appears that “Don’t sync to this computer” doesn’t mean “don’t sync this computer to Google Drive”. However it does mean that any files deleted in the synced “Computers” section of Google Drive will be deleted locally. I found this out when I tried to save some storage space by deleting files off Google Drive. Later that day I fired up Lightroom and it reported that a large number of files were unavailable. I opened the folder in Finder only to see the images magically disappear before my eyes.

It was “Backup & Sync” deleting my local files. It was syncing deletes “to this computer”. Thankfully the files were still in the Trash so I could restore them quickly.

Cork City Hall in the fog

So, instead of wasting my storage I need to upload things manually. I see two options:

  • Drag and drop files on to a Google Photos browser window.
  • Sync one temporary folder where I copy duplicates of my photos. I need to periodically delete those files off Google Drive which won’t matter locally because they’ll be duplicates that are deleted immediately after upload.
Grand Parade under construction in 2007

It’s disappointing that Google merged the backup and sync functionality. Google Photos is not a backup service unless you pay for storage and upload full size images. For that reason I can see why they did it.

Dealing with Lightroom Lens Profiles

Lightroom Classic CC supports a wide range of lenses but if you're not shooting in RAW you'll probably be out of luck if you want to apply a lens profile. All the built-in lens profiles were made with RAW files in mind. If you're shooting Jpeg then you're out of luck.

I usually shoot RAW but a few weeks ago I used Jpeg to do some street photography. All was well until I tried to correct the lens distortion. Lightroom couldn't find any lens profile! I thought my Lightroom install had been corrupted somehow. The list of lenses only included one Tamron lens, and not the right one.

After much searching and testing I figured out what to do. Paths are for a Mac. You'll find Mac and Windows paths in this blog post by the Lightroom Queen but the ideas are the same. Copy file, rename, edit, restart Lightroom.

  • Custom lens profiles go in the directory ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CameraRaw/LensProfiles/1.0/
  • The built in lens profiles are packaged with Lightroom, so find Lightroom in Applications, right click on it and then "Show Package Contents" to browse into it. You'll find the lens profiles in Contents/Resources/LensProfiles/1.0/
  • Look for the profile for your lens and copy it into the same camera/lens/ directory structure in the ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CameraRaw/LensProfiles/1.0/ directory.
  • Rename the new lens profile file, removing the " – RAW" string from the end of the filename.
  • Edit that file in a text editor and change every instance of stCamera:CameraRawProfile="True" to stCamera:CameraRawProfile="False". There will be quite a few of them for a zoom lens.
  • Restart Lightroom, apply lens profile to your Jpeg file.

Organizing Photos in Lightroom

There are many articles out there that explain how best to store your photo archive if you use Lightroom. I was going to write one too but I don't think the world will really benefit from me rehashing what other writers have already said.

If you watch the video above by Peter Krogh, who wrote the book on Digital Asset Management, you'll have a good idea of the basics. I organise my photos in a very similar fashion.

Use Dated Folders

You may have read elsewhere or seen YouTube videos that encourage you to put descriptive titles in the folders where you store your photos, but I would urge you to keep the folder names as simple as possible. I agree with Peter Krogh that you keep the directory names simple but instead of using project names as he did above, I use dates. I use YYYY/YYYY-MM-DD as the folder name when importing.
Using project based folder names makes things complicated. Occasionally I won't bother copying photos off my camera, especially if they're just snapshots, so it would be an extra hassle importing first my cat photos from Friday, and then my street photos on Saturday. It's much easier to go into "Previous Import" and add a few keywords. This won't happen that often, but I guarantee it will.

When you're looking through your photo archive it probably won't be through a file manager, it'll be in Lightroom, so the folder names don't matter, but the dated folder names provide a logical and predictable naming convention that will always be the same.

Instead of relying on folder names use keywords and collections to sort your photos. Use ratings or colours to refine further. You can then use Lightroom filters to quickly find whatever photo you need. This short tutorial on collections explains how to use them.

Use Import Presets

As well as DSLR photos, I import photos from my phone into Lightroom, and now that I'm doing a 365 day photo project too I'll be importing fully edited photos from my phone. I use Snapseed to edit those photos so I wanted some way of identifying those photos. Import Presets were the answer!

I use import presets to configure import options like destination folder, file renaming, metadata information, keywords, and even develop settings:

  • Away: used when I'm not at home with my laptop. Usually on a work trip or holiday. The destination folder is on the local drive. Everything else goes to an external one. When I get home I move the files to external storage and tell Lightroom where the missing files are.
  • Jacinta's Photos: my wife's camera phone photos go in a specific directory with different keywords and metadata.
  • Mobile Import: import photos I've already synced from my phone. Adds the keyword "phone" and puts the photos into a different directory structure.
  • SD Card: settings used when I'm importing DSLR photos.
  • Snapseed: my newest import preset. This adds the keyword "snapseed" and moves photos into the same folder as the Mobile Import preset. I use the keyword to
  • identify these files.

Use Publish Actions

These allow you to export photos with particular settings. This allows you to tailor your photos for different sites. For example, Instagram uses 1080×1080 pixel images. Your blog will have a different width. Facebook has other restrictions.

Use the WordPress Lightroom Plugin

The Lightroom Exporter for WordPress allows you to export photos from Lightroom into your WordPress.com or self hosted WordPress site (if you're using Jetpack).

There has been so much written about Adobe Lightroom it's not hard to find answers to whatever questions you have. This was just a short summary of my thoughts about photo organization. I have a photo archive going back to 2001 and it has worked well for me. It'll probably work well for you too.

The Importance of Backups

How many backups do you have of your important files? I have several backups of my photo archive:

* A local rsnapshot (incremental) backup made every six hours.
* A local copy of my photos directory, which is a straight copy, including deletions. Synced daily.
* A copy on another server synced daily.
* An online cloud backup on Backblaze.

And I still managed to lose a few days worth of photos.

Late last month I took delivery of a new 8TB external drive. I benchmarked it and it was just a bit better than any of my existing drives so I decided to make that the primary location for my photos. I called it “cats”.

Previously my photos lived on a drive imaginatively called “data”, but that would now become my secondary copy.

With my photo archive copied over (all 2.3TB of it), I edited my backup script so it would not accidentally erase my photos on cats, especially not any newly imported photos. I updated rsnapshot so it used cats rather than data, and made sure that Backblaze was backing up cats too. It all looked like it would work perfectly!

The next day I didn’t take any photos, or the next, I took a couple of photos with my phone but didn’t transfer them to my laptop immediately. Then one morning I took a photo of the sunrise, and the following day I did the same.
I edited a few of the images and uploaded one on the same day. Nothing wrong at all.
The next day I went into Cork to photograph Glow Cork and got some nice long exposure photos of the lights. I went in the next day on December 3rd and did the same.

I worked on a couple of shots, but I was busy, and didn’t have time to work on photos until this evening when my world fell apart as Lightroom reported it only had the smart previews for my latest photos. With a sinking feeling and forced calm I checked the 2017 folder. It all looked good, until 2017-11-19 that is. Nothing there after that.

I frantically checked my backup script again and again, poring over each line to make sure the right files were being copied to the right place but it looked ok.
I checked my rsnapshot folder. That should surely have the missing files. No. No, it didn’t.
I checked my other server and the files weren’t there either. They stopped at 2017-11-19.

I checked Backblaze, and the backup made today ended in 2017-11-19 too.

Dumbfounded and a little desperate I started clicking on the end date in Backblaze, going back a few hours, then a day, and another day when I found something weird. I found my December 1st and 2nd photos, but not in the cats drive, but in the data drive!

I’d forgotten to update my Lightroom import preset. Lightroom was still copying my images into the data drive, and then my backup script would delete them the next day. Rsnapshot wasn’t backing them up either because it was now looking at the cats drive.

I started a restore of my December photos off Backblaze. The 3.7GB of data is still downloading. Luckily I hadn’t formatted my camera SD card so my December 3rd photos were still there too, waiting to be copied over again. Once converted to DNG, copied into place, renamed and metadata data updated, Lightroom was happy with those files.

I learned a lot about Backblaze. Without it I would have completely lost my December photos, including this one and the photo at the top of this post.

However, I could not find backups of photos shot from November 20th to 30th. Most of those were sunrise photos, copied to the laptop after the daily backup script had run so Backblaze should have had a day to back those photos up. The restore process offers hourly backups over the last two days, then daily for the next 7 days, then weekly going back a month.

I suspect that Backblaze considered the daily backup done sometime around 7am UTC right after my backup script had deleted the files but that doesn’t explain how I was able to find my December shoot because that was past the hourly deadline. I need to contact Backblaze to find out why.

I still recommend using Backblaze. Last week several factors conspired to make my backup fail:
1. My DSL has a relatively slow 1Mbps upload.
2. I had my laptop unplugged from my external drives for several hours.
3. Backblaze doesn’t immediately back files up.

Then there’s the bad luck to find this problem after more than a week when Backblaze changes to weekly snapshots. It has it’s limitations but it still saved a bunch of my photos and I am very thankful to have it!

I’ve already changed my backup script so it won’t mirror deletions. If I’m going to delete files I’m going to do it soon after copying them onto my laptop and I remove files so rarely it’s not needed in the backup script.

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.

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. 🙂

How to take a photo with a camera phone

(mild spoilers for Designated Survivor)
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
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.