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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Capturing the ISS’s transit of the Sun during the eclipse

This is quite a feat.

Photographer Trevor Mahlmann figured out where you’d need to be within the path of totality in order to capture the International Space Station transiting the sun during the eclipse. That alone is pretty awesome. But there was a hitch.

The land area that you’d need to be on in order to capture it is private land. By happenstance Destin from Smarter Everyday has a friend whose child was midwifed by a woman who knows (or is married to?) the landowner? Incredible.

So the three of them teamed up to get what I would say is easily the best photography done during the eclipse so far.

You can watch Destin’s video on Smarter Everyday and then also head on over to Trevor’s Patreon to help support his work.

Aerial photos of a few wineries

In late April Eliza and I took a weekend day drive to visit some wineries in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We wanted to visit a few wineries we had never been to before and the beauty of that region alone is worth the drive.

We both take tons of photos on days like this but for a change I thought I’d take a photo of each winery we visited with my drone. I didn’t know how this would work out logistically – would the wineries let me, would it be a pain to do, would it take too long and put a damper on our day? It turns out none of my fears were founded. It was super easy to do (with some initial set up) and the results came quickly and easily.

Here are the aerial photos along with my personal ratings of the wineries.

Belmarl Winery and Vineyard – ★★★★★

Brotherhood Winery – ★★★★☆

Demarest Hill Winery – ☆☆☆☆☆ (sorry, it was terrible)

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery – ★★☆☆☆ (region worth visit, spirits are not)

Now that you’ve seen the photos, I’ll give you a quick rundown of how I prepared so that taking these photos wouldn’t ruin our day. Before we left I set up the drone and my small take-off table in the trunk of the car ready to fly. Props attached, batteries in, bag unzipped. The only thing I needed to do at each winery was find a safe place to fly, turn the drone on, take a photo or two, land, and turn the drone off. I focused on only taking two or three photos of each winery. So I chose my angle, flew to a decent height, took my shot and left. These were only for my own personal collection anyway. My guess is that my longest flight was 5 minutes long.

This idea of looking at things slightly differently using the drone fits my principle of having an excuse to explore.

I wouldn’t change much about my technique here. And it likely seems like an odd thing to obsess over. But, I’m satisfied with the shots (they are photos that I never would have if it wasn’t for owning a drone) and my set up. I hope to do this again on similar jaunts.

Multiple photos and videos in a single post on Instagram

Instagram:

With this update, you no longer have to choose the single best photo or video from an experience you want to remember. Now, you can combine up to 10 photos and videos in one post and swipe through to see them all.

Fantastic update and finally one that is different than most, if not all, other platforms.

Photos app updated on iCloud

Jesse Hollington at iLounge:

Apple has debuted a major update to its web-based iCloud Photos app at iCloud.com, presenting a new user interface that more closely resembles the macOS Photos app.

Major is a good word to describe this update. You’ll even notice the ‘url’ for the app is now #photos2 on iCloud.com. The app is significantly improved in every single way.

/via The Loop.

Thirty days of images

Each morning, at around 9am Eastern, a new image is published to my blog. I schedule these posts each weekend (I even built a WordPress plugin to help me) and they publish automatically without any other interference from me.

I’ve just hit 30 consecutive days of this schedule and I’d like to keep it up in perpetuity.

The image posts are the least popular on my blog. They are not tweeted or shared on Facebook or Instagram. They are silently published with no fanfare. I think of these posts as a slowly building collection of my favorite images. A way to showcase images, not as a library, but as a selection.

Very, very light editing happens from shot to post. I shoot with my iPhone (currently an iPhone SE), a Canon DSLR, or a GoPro camera. Hopefully soon I’ll be adding a new UAV camera to the mix. I do not make reference to the camera used for each shot because I believe that sort of information is irrelevant. The image is what is important, not how it was captured. In general I prefer my images to be slightly bumped in color so I generally crop, straighten, bump a few values, and prepare for publishing.

To prepare for publishing I have two albums in Photos for macOS. “To Publish” is an album I drag images into that I would like to publish some day. I generally drag 7 to 10 new photos into this album each week so that I always have enough to choose from when I’m scheduling these posts. “Published” is an album full of every image I’ve published. This way I have a fairly simple way of remembering whether or not I’ve already published a particular photo or not. Once the image is edited I drag the image to my Desktop, resize to 1000 pixels wide, and toss it into a new post in WordPress, tag it, and schedule it to be published.

It is a simple enough workflow that it allows me to get an entire week’s worth of images scheduled within about an hour or less each week. I hope if you’re subscribed to this blog you enjoy seeing them.

These posts have inspired both Danny Nicolas and Kyle Slattery to begin doing similar posts on their site. I’m extremely happy and humbled to see that and I’m glad to subscribe to their blogs to see what they share. Who knows? Maybe in another 30 days two or three more people will join.

How to fix bad thumbnails in Photos on macOS Sierra

Since updating to macOS Sierra my Photos library will show some bad thumbnails that are either completely black or have black “bars” on them. Here is just one example that I managed to screenshot (see: top left photo).

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If you come across this issue it is pretty easy to fix.

  • Right-click (or, control+click, or two-finger tap) on the photo.
  • Choose “Rotate Clockwise” (this will rotate the photo, and regenerate the thumbnail)
  • Rick-click on the photo again
  • Hold down the Option key
  • Choose Rotate Counterclockwise (this will rotate the photo back to its original orientation)

I don’t know what causes these bad thumbnails but at least it is relatively easy to fix them.

Exploring Conservation Island in Promised Land State Park

It takes just over an hour for me to get to Promised Land State Park. (See also, park map.)

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Because it isn’t too close to home I’ve only been to this park twice. Once two years ago to kayak and again just a few weeks ago with Jonathan Edwards to do a little UAV flying and hiking. We ended up flying and fooling with our photography equipment more than hiking. Which was fine. It was fun just to geek out a bit rather than worrying about step counts. (We did manage to squeeze in about 5 miles somehow though.)

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Jon and I parked our cars just off Pickerel Point Road and walked to Conservation Island. This park is very big and has tons of hiking trails that I hope to someday get back and hike some more. Maybe I’ll hike them like I’m hiking the Lackawanna State Park trails when I find the time. Our first priority was getting our UAVs in the air for a bit.

For those keeping track of my Lackawanna State Park hikes, this exploration of Promised Land State Park happened in-between the Abington Trail and South Branch Trail hikes. I’ve been doing a lot of exploring lately.

We did some flying above the Conservation Island bridge (ended up drawing a crowd too). It was windy and once we had our footage we didn’t take the UAVs back out. From there we walked the loop around the island and toyed with our equipment. There were a few neat spots to check out like some rock outcroppings and a lush area on the eastern side of the island. From what I read the island was created when Lake Wallenpaupak was created.

I was testing out a few lenses for my iPhone (a wide-angle and macro lens) and Jon was toying around with a camera he had borrowed from a friend and a selfie-stick. We managed to get some decent photos. Here are a few of the photos I kept. I’ll be publishing the better ones on the site over the next several months.

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All-in-all it was a good day out.

Save your Faces before upgrading to macOS Sierra

I’ve been tweeting, and created a Moment, regarding the fact that Photos on macOS Sierra has gotten rid of the “Faces” feature in favor of a new “People” feature. This wipes out all of your hard work tagging people in photos. Personally this means I’ve lost hundreds of hours.

But, you don’t have to. And it should be pretty simple to do.

Before you upgrade to macOS Sierra open Photos and “tag” all of your Faces with a keyword. This way, when you upgrade to Sierra, and prior to going through all the trouble of tagging People again, you can still find your loved ones in photos. This is how you do it, step-by-step:

  • Open Photos
  • Select Faces
  • Select one of your friends or family
  • Select all Photos (CMD + A)
  • Control+Click on one of the photos, select “Get Info”
  • In the “Keywords” area create a unique keyword per person.
  • Repeat for all Faces you want to save

So, for me since my name is “Colin Devroe” I’d create a “colindevroe” keyword. Then, when I was on Sierra or iOS (if you’re using iCloud Photo Library) I could simply type “colindevroe” into the search box and I’d still be able to find the thousands of photos I’m found in.

Later, after you’ve gone through Apple’s “People” creating workflow, you’ll be able to search for people’s names again and, optionally, remove those keywords you created.

I hope you’ve read this post before upgrading to Sierra.

Dan Rubin’s iPhone 7 Plus ring light portraits

Friend Dan Rubin took the new iPhone 7 Plus out for a test-drive using a ring light. On whether or not the iPhone 7 Plus is the best smartphone to get for jumping into photography:

Is it the best place to start if you’re just trading up to a smartphone for photography? I don’t think so: the iPhone SE is perfect for that (as is the 5s, really, though it’s getting a bit slow to handle many newer apps).

Being firmly in the “iPhone SE is the best phone” camp I can agree with Dan.

Be sure to follow Dan on Instagram.

Tips for new drone owners

After a few weeks of trial and error, (lots, and lots of error) video tutorial binging, manual devouring, and literally swimming for and losing my first UAV, I thought it might be good to jot down some tips for new drone owners.

Drone on ground

So here they are, in no order, but all worth considering:

  • Fly over shallow water – If you are going to fly over water, fly over shallow enough water that you’ll be able to rescue your UAV should it take a dip. I was able to rescue my drone in 8 feet of water, but I wasn’t able to rescue it in 30 feet of water. Or, buy something like this.
  • Keep and read the manual that comes with your craft – You may not understand the lingo the first time you read it. But after a few weeks you’ll know what yaw, headless mode, pitch, m/s, and many other terms mean and this way you’ll understand the manual more each time you review it.
  • Search for your model on YouTube and watch other people fly – Some people have taken the time to record great tutorials on flying your particular model and you’ll be very glad they did. You’ll learn a lot by watching other people fly.
  • Fly in a huge, huge open area if you can find it – The bigger and flatter the area the more you can safely explore and make mistakes. You can make two, three, four or more flight corrections in a large area and you won’t hurt yourself, your craft, or any property.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Do the same exact maneuver over and over and over. When it comes time to use that skill your brain will just do it. Here is an example… watch this video. It is boring. Practice can be boring.  It is OK. It is worth the effort.
  • Immediately buy more flight time – If you’ve recently purchased a craft and only have access to the battery that comes with it… find some batteries for your craft on Amazon or eBay and buy them right now.
  • Buy replacement parts before you need them – If your craft didn’t come with replacement blades, legs, etc. just go on eBay right now and buy some. You may never need them but they are so inexpensive it is worth having them around. And you’ll want them to be handy when you need them.
  • Controllers need power too – Don’t forget to keep back up controller batteries with you at all times. Nothing worse than a full craft battery and drained controller batteries.
  • Flying in the morning is easier – Wind is generally down in the early morning hours. So if you want to fly over a body of water for the first time, morning is the best time to do it.
  • If there is a steady wind, fly into it, not with it – By flying into the wind you can safely return your craft by simply guiding it rather than fighting it. Also good when your battery is getting low.

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list over time. If I do, I’ll make a note of the newer tips.

While I have you reading this, here are some general tips for shooting video with your UAV if you’re into that sort of thing.

  • High flying videos are cool, but so are low flying ones – Don’t concentrate solely on getting the highest footage that you can. Low and slow can be just as dramatic.
  • Use the sun to your advantage – Magic hour is great for video too. Face away from the sun to have the best naturally lit subjects… face into the sun to get that JJ Abrams lens flare.
  • Fly the same route more than once – Trying to capture a scene? Do the same route more than once to ensure you got the shot you want.
  • Record a bit more than you need – Don’t try to “edit in the camera”. You can edit the footage later. Bookend what you think you need with 10 seconds of padding.
  • Slow, smooth – It is very rare that you need really fast video. Slow and smooth wins the day. So keep the corrections to a minimum.
  • It isn’t just about the gear – Photography has a saying “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Same goes for video. Gear is important, but it isn’t as important as your creativity and diligence to get what you want.

Happy flying!

Taking flight

I had been thinking and talking about buying a UAV, drone, quadcopter* (whatever you personally call them) for a long time now. Many months. When they first hit the scene they were way out of my price range. These days they are not only affordable but incredibly capable and simple to use.

Of course my focus was on a rather expensive kit with all of the bells and whistles; 4K camera, GPS, auto-return, live video feed, etc. So I was never able to justifying the cost of such a toy to myself or my spouse.

A few weeks ago now, I went to a week-long school and upon completing the course Eliza surprised me with my favorite flavor of cake and a UAV. The Syma X8G. An affordable, simple UAV that is great to learn on. She did some research and tried to find a UAV that was inexpensive but also well-reviewed. She knew I’d very likely smash it into many things (and boy have I) but she took the practical, logical approach of — try it first, see how you like it before you invest a lot into it.

First photo taken with X8G

It turns out she chose really well. The reviews on the X8G are very good on Amazon but also the video reviews on YouTube are surprisingly good. People with far more capable crafts say very nice things about the X8G and what you get for the investment. Good job Eliza.

Here is what my experience has been and some of my observations after just a short period of time learning to fly a quadcopter.

The first day was crash, crash, crash, crash. I was timid, trying to fly in the wrong surroundings, and hadn’t yet fully read the instruction manual. So I wasn’t able to get more than a few feet off the ground and for only a few brief moments.

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Likely my best shot from day 1. Pitiful.

The second day was much better. I had read the manual, watched some YouTube videos, and learned about headless mode that makes it much easier to fly. Being able to get off the ground and control the UAV gave me a confidence boost. But, then, just as my confidence afforded me an incredible view of the sunrise… I misjudged how high the UAV was on the return flight and clipped a 100′ tall tree on my property.

I own 3 acres of property, much of which is covered in very, very tall trees. When the UAV is a fair distance from you depth-perception begins to wane. I thought I would clear the trees easily but ended up getting caught at the highest point in the tree. At this point I still had the blade guards on, which act as a hook in branches, and so there was really no way to get the UAV back without taking the tree down. Fortunately, it was a tree I could do without. (Thanks to Ryan for helping me.) It was a long, grueling, tiresome day. But I learned a very valuable lesson… regardless of how good you think you’re getting trees are the mortal enemy of UAV. Stay as far away from trees as possible.

By day three I was flying pretty high and pretty far. Most of my movements were reactionary rather than purposeful. Seeing how the UAV did in certain situations and trying to compensate. This stage of my learning curve can be likened to a plane pilot simply trying to stay off the ground compared to one that can bring people safely around the globe. No purpose, just survival.

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Day three photos. Not on purpose, just happened.

My goal with the UAV has always been about photography. Some race them. Some want to perform tricks. I want to shoot photos and video. So by day four I had decided to try to learn how to get the best results with the kit I currently have. How should I fly? Where should I fly? How should I mount the camera(s)? How can I create the best opportunity to capture good footage?

It was on that day I began to fly with some purpose. Following lines. Beginning to cut down on corrections. Picking targets. By doing this I began to improve much more quickly.

Archbald, PA from the air

Finally, purposeful photo.

Also on day four I flew with someone else. Just being next to someone else that is flying you learn a lot. “Oh, you do that? Like this?” Subtle, simple lessons that prove invaluable. This same person created a Google+ Community for a few local fliers which has also proved useful for learning and sharing our journeys. Thanks to Justin for that.

For the next few days I began experimenting with my kit. I finally took the blade guards off which reduces wind friction and weight. This changes the way the UAV performs. It wasn’t long after that I had the courage to replace the X8G’s camera with my own few-year-old GoPro Hero 3+ Silver Edition. Dramatically improving the picture and video quality.

Mountain Mud Pond from the air

Honesdale from above Irving Cliff

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GoPro, mounted on bottom.

I then tried several different ways of mounting my camera to the X8G. First, I had it on bottom where the camera typically sits. Then, I mounted it on top to see if I could remove the legs from view (the GoPro’s focal length is much wider than the camera that comes with the X8G so it sees more). After a bit I got sick of the props in the videos (though, they do provide some nice context) and decided to remove the legs altogether and return the camera to the bottom.

Finally, last night, I was able to capture a full edge-to-edge video without legs or props. I still have a few small adjustments to make to this kit to get the image I really want but I’m really, really happy with the results. Also, as of last night, I took off my training wheels by switching out of headless mode and flying manual. This should provide more maneuverability and better footage once I really get the hang of it.

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Screenshot from first GoPro video edge-to-edge.

I have a long way to go. My goal is to confidently capture scenes, objects, and vistas without ending up in the water (again) or up in a tree (again). Once I’ve done that and can consistently get a good result perhaps then I’ll invest in upgrading my kit. Until then, I’m flying this kit until it gives up on me. I highly recommend the X8G.

* The correct term, I believe, is UAV. The word “drone” suggests some form of autonomy. Even with a craft like the Phantom 4 that can nearly fly itself, it cannot give itself commands. So, the real pilots out there tend to shy away from calling their crafts drones unless they can fly themselves. However, the general population (myself included) has lumped all of these types of flying machines together as “drones” because it is easy to say and everyone knows what you mean. Why did I write this footnote? Why did you read it?

 

Add a hobby that forces you to explore

I’ve been thinking a lot about a quote Matt Mullenweg wrote about earlier this year. It reads:

Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative.

I’m going to drop in my own personal suggestion that we add a hobby that also forces us to explore.

I’ve noticed something in myself, and perhaps this fits your make-up as well — I enjoy having a reason to do something or to be some place different.

UAV with Nicholson Bridge in the background

Photo: Flying a drone in a thunderstorm over a river.

My photography has always forced me to find a new perspective. It has forced me to explore new places and to find new ways to look at places I’ve already been. Though I’ve picked up kayaking I consider it a facet of my photography. It affords me an entirely new perspective to areas I have already been and to explore new areas I couldn’t otherwise access. And now with Eliza’s gift of a UAV I find myself adding on a new facet of my photography hobby that does both of these things yet again; I’m able to get a new perspective on places I’ve already been and also access areas I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

So my creative hobby also forces me to explore new places and try new things. I hope yours does too.

What Photos for OS X and iOS will be able to automatically detect in iOS 10

Alternate title: My hopes are low for object detection in the new Photos but I still have hope

Reddit user vista980622 dig some digital sleuthing and may have come up with the list of over 4,000 objects, memories, and facial expressions that Photos for iOS and OS X will be able to mine all on its own with Apple’s Advanced Computer Vision technology announced at WWDC. The user then wrote this about the landmark detection on Ev’s blog:

Additionally, you can search for various landmarks. For example, Photos can respond for search query of “Maho” (beach in Saint Martin), despite Photos is not programmed or trained to understand specific landmarks. Behind the scenes, Photos app first generates a generic categorization for the scene, “beach”, then searches through a built-in dictionary for all landmarks that has the name “beach” in its definition.

This is smart approach.

It reminds me of something Craig Federighi (Hair Force One to me) mentioned during John Gruber’s live Talk Show event during WWDC. There are a lot of ways to teach Apple’s Advanced Computer Vision system that do not need to involve sending your photos to them. They know what a beach or mountain or forest looks like. They have access to the location of the photo. And they have access to the world’s knowledge via the web. Combining those things they can find a huge amount of information in your photos that can be used to discover them without ever needing to look at the photos themselves.

In my wish list for Photos for OS X, iOS, and iCloud Photo Library I mentioned that I wanted to be able to search for objects. I wrote:

Sort of related to the auto-generated albums above, I’d love to be able to search for “red” or “lake” or “tree” and get results. Google is killing Apple at this. And it just makes so much sense. The more the application does for you the less classification you have to do manually. I tag my photos with things like “cat” or “ants” or “beetle” or “snake” because I want to be able to search for these things later. And adding my own layer of taxonomy on top of my library should always be an option … but for objects that are easily identifiable these days (like lakes or cats) it just makes sense.

It appears I’ll be getting that. I noticed a lot of object and animal specific terms in the list that vista980622 shared. One stood out; “arachnid”. I hope, and am pretty sure I will be able to, still search by “spider” though it isn’t listed. Which brings us to the discoverability of these types of searches. I hope Apple doesn’t only provide a search box but that they also suggest searches or create pseudo-albums for you.

For example, Google Photos creates albums (sort of) by simply giving you a way to find those objects in your library without searching for them. They aren’t albums so much as links to search results that look like albums. I hope Apple builds in a discovery mechanism too. And it’d be great if it were based on what I took photos of the most.

Looking through my Library it’d be easy to see that I take a lot of photos of lakes and rivers (kayaking), bees, barns, and buildings. I also visit a lot of wineries and breweries. It’d be nice if Apple simply had “pseudo albums” or saved searches at the ready for me for all of these things. And then they could throw in a few for fun like cats, pink, beach, panoselfie.

One tidbit about the assumed facial expression detection in Photos… They seem to be using this to create memories. Who wants memories of a bunch of angry people? So I’m guessing that if they want to make a bunch of happy memories for people they needed to go beyond just detecting the people in the photos but also what mood they were in.

OK, one more tidbit about face detection. I’m skeptical that this will be any good. But I hope I’m wrong.

Currently there are two kinds of face detection. The first involves determining that there is a face in the photo. You’ll see iOS’s camera app doing this live while you’re shooting. A yellow box will surround people or objects in a photo to get a good focal length to make sure your subject(s) are in focus. That is face detection that simply says “we think this is a face”. Then there is face detection that involves determining the actual person in the photo. Photos for OS X has this currently… though it needs to be improved a lot. Like, a real lot. Check out this example from this weekend:

Photos OS X Face Detection Error Fail

You can click the image to zoom in a bit.

On the left, my friend Matt (who has a face). On the right, a vending machine (which does not have a face).

Photos for OS X believes that the vending machine is a face. This is technology that Apple has been mucking around with for at least 8 years as it was debuted in iPhoto in 2009. It didn’t suggest any names for the face (it rarely does, which I’ve covered here), but it doesn’t even see Matt’s face.

I’m sure that Apple’s new Photos for iOS and OS X will be better than what we currently have but I’ll wait and see before I get excited. Because so far they’ve yet to be great at this and Google and Facebook kill them at it.

I’m anxious to play with iOS 10 and macOS Sierra. But not anxious enough to install the betas on my hardware. So I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the fall.

Got Loop’d

It is always a pleasure to be linked to from The Loop. Yesterday, one of my posts about Photos for OS X and what I think can be done to improve it, was linked to (at my behest) by Dave Mark.

My link is in good company there. Be sure to check out the other links too.

This, in turn, spurred a few other links flowing into that post. This morning I saw this link from Benny Ling on AppleTalk from Australia. I love the internet.

Wirelessly transfer files from a GoPro using any computer without software

(Skip to the bottom of this post if you just want to know how to connect to your GoPro using an internet browser.)

As I mentioned my GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition has been giving me issues lately.

It started 6 months ago as an iOS app connectivity issue. I would connect to the ad-hoc network that the GoPro Hero3+ creates, open the iOS app, and attempt to transfer the files to my phone but it would only work about 10% of the time.

I figured out how to deal with this issue by first attempting to control the GoPro using the app before attempting to transfer the photos and video off of it. I have no idea why, but this worked for a while. But then even this “hack” stopped working about a month ago.

For these times I would connect my GoPro to my Mac via USB and transfer the files. But recently this has stopped working too. The GoPro doesn’t mount to the Mac. And in Image Capture or Photos for OS X you can only see the GoPro being connected for a few seconds before it disconnects, reconnects, disconnects, repeat repeat repeat. Maddening. It isn’t the cable. Is isn’t the USB port. (I’ve managed to rule these out.)

After searching online for a bit I see a lot of people having similar issues with their GoPro cameras after they’ve had them for a little while. Some ship with these issues.

I do not have a micro USB chip reader so I have no way to get larger files off of the GoPro with all of these crazy issues. Smaller files can still be transferred using the iOS application thankfully.

On Wednesday I attached my GoPro to my kayak and paddled around for a while with the camera pointed under water. Typically I try to stop and start the video recording every few minutes because I know I can only transfer smaller files to my phone. But I just let it run for a while.

Today I cannot transfer that file to my phone (using the app) or computer (using USB). And I don’t have a card reader. So what other option do I have?

It turns out that GoPro Hero 3+ comes with a small web server on it that you can connect to, browse the files, or even see live video from the device. I had no idea this was an option. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a few poorly recorded YouTube videos that I saw it. I’ve read the manual that came with my GoPro at least twice and I don’t think it is mentioned in there either. Just to be sure, I checked the manual again while writing this post. I do not see it mentioned.

Here is how you connect to your GoPro using a web browser.

1. Turn on your GoPro.
2. Turn on Wi-fi into “app” mode. (if you’re unsure how to do this, see your manual)
3. Connect your computer to the ad-hoc wireless network that the GoPro creates.
4. Open your web browser, point it to http://10.5.5.9:8080 (if this IP address does not work, see what the IP address of your “router” or “Gateway” is when connected to the GoPro. On Windows you can run “ipconfig” using CMD.exe and on Mac you can go to System Preferences > Network > Advanced > TCP/IP)
5. If you did it right, you’ll see this.

GoPro web server
It isn’t fancy. But it gets the job done.

I still wasn’t able to download the 2.1GB video file. It halts at around 1.47GB and just sits there. I think my GoPro is telling me it is time to be retired. Sad GoPro. However, I tried transferring a few other smaller files and it worked very smoothly. So perhaps this is easier than using the iOS app or even mounting it via USB. Who needs cables?

I’m really happy I found this feature.

Thomasz Furmanek, Kayaker, Instagrammer

I’ve been following Thomasz Furmanek on Instagram for a few years already (right around the time I got my first kayak, the Oru Kayak, which is the same one Furmanek uses).

I liked this bit in his photographic interview with Daily Mail:

The kayak enables me to travel to remote places and show people these places from a different perspective than they are used to.

I think this is one of the reasons people enjoy my photos too. I have people come up to me and say “I love your photos, please keep sharing them”. And I think it is because they are seeing places they go to and have seen (parks, recreational areas, rivers) but from a completely different angle. I will keep taking them and sharing them because I love doing it.

Regarding Furmanek’s photos, though… he’s cheating. Norway is just stunning from any angle.

Improving Photos for OS X and iOS and iCloud Photo Library

I’ll start out this post, as most empathic developers would, by saying that I realize how hard syncing is. It is incredibly hard to get right. The fact that it works at all is magic. It is amazing. And I’m tickled that I even have it.

That being said, we’re a few years away from men and women walking on the surface of Mars. So I guess we can expect a bit more from Apple’s photo experience.

For context, I have a library that weighs in at just about 230GB and is comprised of 67,000 photos and videos. And it is growing pretty quickly. I shoot with a variety of cameras but mostly I use my iPhone and GoPro. I also shoot a fair amount of video. I use Photos for OS X on my Mac which is backed up to an external USB drive. Photos for OS X is set to download originals from iCloud Photo Library (which I pay for the 1TB option). Photos for iOS is set on both my iPad and iPhone to sync to iCloud Photo Library but to “manage space” by not keeping the originals on the device.

Now that you know my setup, here are just a few of my suggestions to how Apple could improve Photos for OS X and iOS and iCloud Photo Library. Some of these I expect to see this year. Others, likely never. Let’s start off with some things I feel will likely improve.

Improve sync connection hogging

As I’ve griped about many times over the last two months while my photo library on my Mac synced to iCloud Photo Library — it kills my connection to the internet. I don’t mean to mix words. Let me be very clear. It doesn’t slow down my connection. It doesn’t make it a hassle to use the internet while this sync is happening … it kills it. The internet connection in my home is unusable by any other application or device while Photos for OS X syncs.

A huge improvement to the entire experience would be to stop this from happening. If you’re at Apple reading this I’d be more than happy to share any information about my current set up to help improve the process.

Facial recognition could be more liberal

The number of false positives I see when using Photos for OS X’s facial recognition are very, very low. Yet I still have to click click click click click click click to add Faces to photos. Even if I’m adding them en masse (it selects about 4 to 6 at a time and asks you “Is this Colin Devroe?” and you have to hit yes over and over and over).

One way to improve this would be to just allow more possible faces through. Rather than automatically tagging 10-15% (which it seems to now), auto-tag 50% or more. I’d be willing to bet that I wouldn’t need to go back and change many.

Or, and this is likely the easier solution, show 50 or 100 possible matches rather than so few. This way I can quickly scan them all and get on with my day.

Aside: There is a bug in adding Faces that is super frustrating but I’m sure they’ll lick it in an upcoming release. If a face isn’t detected by Photos you can add it yourself. You open the info panel, click “Add Face”. Pretty simple. However, more often than not when the circle appears that you are to drag and resize onto someone’s face, you can’t move it. It doesn’t always happen but it happens a lot. Far greater than 50% of the time. I have not figured out how to get around this bug.

Sync Smart Albums

I have a collection of Smart Albums for all sorts of things. One is to filter by camera model. This way I can see the photos I’ve taken with my SLR or my iPhone 5 or 6 or SE. Photos for iOS does not show the Smart Albums. It’d be nice it if did.

Sync metadata at the same time as the photos

My sync to iCloud Photo Library is nearly complete. I have about 67,000 or so photos and videos and my iPhone, this morning, is reporting just over 61,000. However, much of the metadata for the photos that have already synced haven’t yet made it across the chasm. I mentioned this in an earlier post; if I search kayaking I get far less results on iOS as I do on my Mac. Yet the photos from those potential results have already synced to iCloud Photo Library.

This results in a bit of frustration, which I can deal with, but I’m willing to bet that “normals” would think that search simply doesn’t work and wouldn’t know to wait until the entire sync is done.

Author’s note: I’m finishing the editing of this post several days later (after the sync has been complete) and the metadata does come over last. So search results are matching up. I really do think the metadata should transfer at the same time. Or, perhaps even before the entire library is synced.

Improve syncing new photos back to Mac

If I take a photo on my iPhone it shows up on my iPad through iCloud Photo Library fairly quickly. However, not a single photo has shown up on my Mac that I’ve taken since starting my months-long-sync to iCloud Photo Library. Perhaps they will when I’m finished this sync.

Author’s note: This has in fact happened. Now when I take a new photo it shows up on all devices, including my Mac, within a short period of time. It works beautifully. It would have been nice if this was happening on the Mac all along like it does on iOS. Why the difference?

Spotlight?

Maybe I just haven’t been able to find this… but Spotlight doesn’t search my Photos library on OS X or on iOS? This seems like something that has to be coming, right?

Now, onto wish list items. Things I wouldn’t hold my breath for but that I would love to see in an upcoming version of Photos for OS X and iOS.

Auto-generated Albums ala Google Photos

I know I’ve mentioned this before but the albums that Google Photos auto-generates are genius. And I know Google Photos is a cloud-based service and so they’re able to run all sorts of fancy algorithms against your library (whereas, presumably, the Mac app would kill someone’s computer figuring all of this out) but with iCloud Photo Library turned on could Photos on Mac and iOS show auto-generated albums for things like cats, lakes, rivers, sky, etc? Once I saw something like this I wanted it everywhere. If you haven’t tried Google Photos give it a whirl. It is pretty amazing.

Face tagging on iOS

Tagging faces would likely be even easier to do on iOS than on the Mac (for the photographer). I may even take a moment after shooting photos to tag my friends faces just to keep up with it rather than falling behind and having to wait until I get back to my computer.

Facebook has had this for years.

Photo editing and filter improvements

The current filters on both OS X and iOS are trash. Where Instagram goes for rather subtle or nostalgic edits, Apple’s filters just trash your photo. I do not know why I feel so strongly about this but, to me, they are terrible. And I hate dogging on people’s hard work.

That being said, the editing features are pretty good. I think one thing I’d add to both OS X and iOS is the ability to turn edits on and off quickly during the editing process. Have you ever tapped and held your finger on your photo in Instagram’s edit screen? You can see the original photo and compare specific sections while you edit. Say you’re bringing up the shadows to show a rock cliff a bit better, you can tap, hold, and see how much light you’ve pulled out of that area. The same thing can be done now on OS X and iOS by toggling off each section of the editor (3 or 4 taps rather than a single press and hold). It’d be nice if this was a single action.

Search by color or object

Sort of related to the auto-generated albums above, I’d love to be able to search for “red” or “lake” or “tree” and get results. Google is killing Apple at this. And it just makes so much sense. The more the application does for you the less classification you have to do manually. I tag my photos with things like “cat” or “ants” or “beetle” or “snake” because I want to be able to search for these things later. And adding my own layer of taxonomy on top of my library should always be an option … but for objects that are easily identifiable these days (like lakes or cats) it just makes sense.

Facial recognition in videos

I would have guessed we’d have this in 2016. I remember in 2008 or 2009 when I was working at Viddler I had come up with a conceptual way of pulling this off for our platform. We never fully implemented it. But I did take a swing. I still have the code.

It went something like this; every video has a certain number of keyframes in it. You can think of those keyframes as thumbnails. In fact, at Viddler we stored several of those thumbnails per video. Imagine tagging someone’s face in a video and using facial recognition on the rest of the keyframes just to mark where in that video the person was. (at the time, face.com’s API was still a thing, it could have been done for free).

The simplest, easiest solution for Photos would be to search through a few keyframes of the video, find some faces, and suggest some names. Even at that level it would allow for saying “Hey, Colin appears somewhere in this video.”

However, even deeper and more valuable, would be to know when someone appeared in a video. And this would be totally possible to do using machine tagging. E.g. “person:name=colin-devroe”, “person:appears=99.00” or “person:appears=99.00-110.00”. How cool would that be? “Hey siri, show me some clips of my friend Bryan from our camping trip in 2008.”

Tagging on iOS

I can tag photos on OS X with things like “kayaking” or “insects” so that I can find them later. And these search results appear on iOS. I’d love to be able to tag my photos on iOS too.

A Map view

Honestly, how isn’t this a thing? A single map view that shows where all of my photos were taken. Nearly every other photo service I’ve used has something like this. Flickr has had it since the dawn of man. It seems likely that this was a conscious omission by the Apple team. They must not find this sort of feature valuable because they have all of the pieces (Apple Maps is built into both iOS and OS X pretty deeply at this point).

Better Library exporting

Exporting from Photos is terrible. Apple’s history of photo library management, which is decades and decades of hard-learned lessons, should tell them that making the library exportable to some open standard is a huge win for customers. Apple’s mission over the last few years has been beaten into our brains … they care about us. They say they do. They are willing to fight the Supreme Court to protect the information I create with their devices… are they not willing to allow me to own that data in a way that I can use it anywhere on anything and move at any time?

Moving to Photos was painful. Moving away shouldn’t be.

I’m very interested to see what this year’s WWDC brings to this entire experience. Will every single interaction with the platform improve? Will Apple continue to invest in making this experience great? I really, really hope so. And if they do, I hope a few of the things I’ve mentioned here are addressed.

Overall though, now that my library is available on all devices, I’m happy with how it works. I can make do with what they’ve provided. It is well worth the money too. If you’re debating using iCloud Photo Library I highly recommend it.

 

Microsculpture by Levon Bliss

Incredible composite photos of insects by Levon Bliss.

My final images are made up of somewhere between 8 and 10 thousand images.

He takes as many photos of one insect as Eliza and I do all year.

The cost of Unsplash

Luke Chesser shares what it cost to run Unsplash in February (minus humans):

Hopefully getting a behind-the-scenes look at what it costs to run a site like Unsplash will help you with your own business, or at least give you a better understanding of what’s involved.

It is nice when people share information like this because, as he says in my pull quote, it does help others to see what is involved. Also, by sharing you never know if someone may notice something you didn’t and can end up saving you a lot of money.

Barley 1 costs just about $400 to host for the month of February. That’s about half as much as Unsplash spent on storing logging files. Perhaps with Barley 2 we’ll do some posts like this for those that are interested.

Don’t be surprised by the final number though. Crew is doing an amazing job hosting Unsplash and I believe they are doing it for beans. Imagine what that number would have been in 2005?

Is GoPro doomed?

Those that follow along here on my blog know that I love my GoPro. And I “only” have the HERO 3. See this, this, this, this, and this for examples of me playing around with my GoPro.

GoPro’s stock price and sales figures are plummeting. And as I sit here, going over everything they have, and comparing their strategy against other companies that had similar products and failed — I don’t know exactly what can save them. In fact, I rewrote this blog post three times as I’ve changed my mind about what might work.

But Matt Hackett of Beme writes that software can save them:

GoPro needs software in spades, far beyond just something to make editing easier. The company that created the first mass-market visceral experience broadcasting device ought to have a hand in every dimension of the current live revolution, not just be one of its few cameras. That requires software.

As my friend Gary Vaynerchuk recently said in Daily Vee #29… just as large broadcasters can turn their companies around by having a hit show, software and hardware companies can turn themselves around with features. It is an over simplification (Gary knows this) but he is right. If GoPro had a hit application (or was integrated fully into one) it would turn everything around for them, especially in the eyes of the public investor.

Obviously, they won’t save anything without selling hardware. Hardware is where they make all of their revenue and it always will be. And, as Matt points out in his piece, they already make great hardware. So perhaps great software would stem the tide for GoPro?

Matt’s proposition that GoPro build the next Periscope is intriguing. It had me thinking all last night of what that could look like and how it would be received. Rather than allowing Periscope or Meerkat to integrate into GoPro (and they already have), Matt proposes that GoPro itself build a platform for live streaming video that would allow input from GoPro cameras and other devices.

This would be a huge gamble for GoPro. Live streaming isn’t easy nor inexpensive. Matt knows this very well so I know he does not make this suggestion lightly. And, GoPro already has experience in live streaming (sort of) with Herocast. So I’m sure the thought of putting a platform behind that has crossed their minds. Perhaps they even built something in a lab. To get live streaming right they’d have to put some major resources behind such an endeavor and the Board would definitely see it as Nick’s (the CEO) last effort to turn it around.

I love GoPro. But I’m not as optimistic as Matt. I fear the Board will call for Nick’s head after another bad quarter. And I believe it will take several quarters, a few acquisitions, and the recruiting of a few key team members (all in design, software and platform) in order to turn GoPro around. If Nick goes the whole thing goes I say because once a founder is kicked out recruiting can be tough.

Will they go the way of Flip? I hope not. Let’s just hope the team at GoPro isn’t sleeping and is way, way smarter than I am and can figure it out.