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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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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?