Tag Archive for ‘Photography’

On Google Photos

Google Photos on iPhone

I’ve had the idea of revamping my photography management setup for months. I’ve never really been in love with what I had been using, but didn’t have time to toy around with it until now.

Back in the early days of my digital life, I kept all of my photos in iPhoto, importing images from my digital camera, iPhone, and then eventually importing all of my wife’s pictures into the same library as well — who was my girlfriend at the time.

From that point forward, we maintained a single photo library that was stored in iPhoto. We transitioned to Apple Photos when it was released and continued as we always had. Over time, though, physically plugging in our devices in order to import became a tedious task and we would go longer and longer in between. That’s not a good trend, as it put us at risk of losing our photos if anything ever happened to our devices.

Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library to help alleviate the stress of physically importing your photos and ensured that your photos were backed up to the cloud at all times. But there was one key issue that’s still yet to be addressed — family photo libraries, or a single library that my wife and I could both contribute to. Setting up a shared iCloud photo album helps to a certain degree, but you have to manually share the photos and the resolution of the images themselves is restricted to 2048px wide and videos max out at 720p .

That’s not too bad if you’re using the feature to casually share photos with friends and family, which we do quite frequently. Our immediate family and a few friends have been maintaining shared iCloud albums for years. But I don’t want my wife and I to only have access to lower resolution images and videos from each other’s library. If one of us wants to order prints or create a photo book, we shouldn’t have to care who took the photo and then be forced to track down the higher resolution version, I just want our setup to work the way we want it to.

Up until recently, we were using Google Photos on all of our devices logged in to a single account. When we initially set this up, there wasn’t an option for sharing libraries, so we worked with what we had. But we were just using the “High Quality” option for uploading in order to make use of the unlimited free storage. I guess we weren’t quite ready to go all-in yet. But with this setup, the photos in the cloud weren’t full resolution, which is the same problem I had with Apple’s shared albums.

But it gave us the ability to access all of our photos from all of our devices, regardless of who took the photo. And there was no need to manually share the photos, they were backed up automatically using the Google Photos app. We also had Plex setup to automatically upload our photos to our Mac Mini home server and I would periodically import those images into Apple Photos on that machine.

This setup served us well for quite some time and gave us most of what we wanted. But that extra step of manually importing images and video into Photos on the Mac Mini was a bit more tedious than I would have preferred. It also meant that the full resolution images and video were stored on our Mac Mini, which didn’t make it too easy to work with the full quality versions — we’d have to VNC into the machine with Screens and work from there.

This resulted in us mostly working with the versions that were stored in Google Photos instead. It was just so much more convenient than accessing the full resolution files. But that’s no good. We should be able to work with the full quality files from all of our devices without having to worry about who took the photo or video. And we should be able to maintain a setup like this that also keeps everything backed up automatically.

Last week, I briefly experimented with using Adobe Lightroom for this. It was $10 a month, gave us 1TB of storage, we could use a single login on all of our devices so that we both have access to everything, and it gave us access to a real desktop app. However, in practice, this was a bit of a mess.

Lightroom wouldn’t upload all of the photos in a burst photo — only the primary image — I ran into issues with album syncing, and the performance of the apps themselves left a lot to be desired. It has some incredible tools for editing, but it’s not a great for storing your entire photo library.

Google Photos on iPad

I’ve since gone back to the drawing board and decided to move back to Google Photos. Although with a slightly improved setup to address some of the complaints I had about it.

Instead of both my wife and I using a single login for Google Photos, I setup the app with our primary Google accounts. I upgraded to the 2TB plan for $10 per month and invited her to share the storage. We probably would have been fine with the 200GB plan, but I figured I’d choose the higher option now instead of having to worry about bumping up against the limit unexpectedly.

Then I went about uploading all of the photos on each of our devices and all the photos stored on the Mac Mini using Google’s Backup and Sync app. We have a bit over 100GB of photos and videos, so that process took a few days to complete.

I ran into some snags along the way, though. I made the mistake of simply pointing the desktop backup app at my Apple Photos library file, which also contains a bunch of thumbnails for caching. That increased the amount of time the upload took to complete and I ended up with some files uploaded to my Google Drive instead of the Google Photos service.

I also had some errors during the upload and, unfortunately, the Backup and Sync app doesn’t do a very good job of explaining why that is. It just adds a file path to the log and moves on. I ended up copying all of those photos to a folder on the desktop and uploading them manually to the Google Photos website.

I wish I knew more about why these issues took place, but as I mentioned, the Backup and Sync app isn’t descriptive in its error messages. In the end, I exported the originals from my Apple Photos library then pointed the Backup and Sync app there. It intelligently skipped all the duplicates and uploaded only the original files of those that it missed the first time around. This is what I should have done from the beginning. If you decide to move from Apple Photos to Google Photos, I suggest doing the same.

The good thing is that I only have to use the Backup and a Sync app for the initial upload. Since my wife and I shoot all of our photos and videos on our iPhones, we can use the iOS app’s upload feature, which works very reliably.

Once everything was uploaded, I setup our accounts to share libraries with one another through the Partner Sharing feature. This lets each of us see the contents of the other’s library in the Sharing tab, but we took it a step further and configured the feature to automatically import all new photos the other person takes.

It’s a bit ambiguous when you first set this up. You can choose what date you’d like to start sharing from, but there isn’t any indication as to whether the auto-import will only occur for newly added photos or all photos retroactively. But I can confirm that it automatically imports every single photo from the other library within the date range selected. So now we both have access to every photo and video we’ve ever taken from within the main photos tab in the Google Photos app.

Since one of the primary reasons for setting up a unified photo library is the ability to order prints, create photo books, and other projects, I’m very happy to see that Google Photos has this functionality built right into the app. The print services allow you to order standard prints for the photos you want and then pick them up at your local, participating Walmart or CVS. And you can also purchase photo books or canvases and have them delivered to your door.

It’s a really nice touch to have this functionality built in. I was a huge fan of the photo book printing that Apple offered through the Photos app and was sorely disappointed when it was discontinued. Apple really should have ported that functionality to iOS instead of retiring it altogether. I guess I’m just glad that Google understands the value of physical copies of these priceless keepsakes.

And Google Photos does an excellent job at surfacing the types of photos you might want to print as well. A few days after we finished uploading, the People, Places, and Things albums were populated with content. I now have a single place I can go to find all the photos of my wife, Josh, photos taken at specific locations, and more.

Then there are the Memories, which surfaces photos and videos from previous years and the For You Tab, which suggests albums, generated videos, collages, and so on. I find myself jumping into these sections every few days and I almost always find one or two items that catch my eye and are worthy of sharing or adding to our library.

Google Photo’s isn’t all a bed of roses, though. There are certainly some aspects of the setup that I’d prefer to see improved. Take for instance the fact that there is no desktop app for Google Photos, only the Backup and Sync app, which does nothing more than what it says on the tin. So if you want to view your library from a Mac or PC, your only option is to open a web browser. While I’m glad an option exists, I would prefer a true desktop app with all of the benefits that come from that.

Google Photos in Fluid

I have setup an instance of Fluid on my MacBook Air that loads Google Photos, it’s not the same as having a real desktop app, but it’s closer than opening the website in my main browser. I can have an icon in my dock and I even wrote a little bit of CSS that automatically loads and hides the Google Apps switcher elemental that appears at the top of the webpage.

Another major pain point is that there isn’t any way to automatically store local copies of my photos on a hard drive that I control. Somewhere that allows me to make my own backups for safe keeping. I would love to see Google implement this. But until then, I guess I’ll continue to occasionally import photos manually into Apple Photos on our Mac Mini. It’s time consuming and feels so outdated, but I guess since we’re saving full resolution copies in the cloud now, I don’t have to worry about losing any photos or videos if something happens to our devices — I can always download them from Google Photos.

There are some other notable annoyances that I’d like to see addressed:

  • There is no way to select photos from Google Photos when using the standard iOS photo picker. The only workaround is to select the images in the Google Photos app, save them to your camera roll, then select them in the photo picker from there. This is something that Apple would need to fix on their end, by offering an API that third-party apps could hook into. But I’m not holding my breath. It doesn’t seem like the type of feature Apple would ever want to release.
  • When editing a photo in the Apple Photos app, it’s uploaded to Google Photos as a unique image. It doesn’t know well enough to combine the two copies and save the new version as edits to the original. If they could find a way to build something like this, it would undoubtedly be an engineering marvel, though. And if anyone is able to pull it off, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was Google.
  • Speaking of edits, the built-in image editing tools in Google Photos just aren’t quite as good as Apple’s. When I edit a photo in Apple Photos, I tap the magic wand, adjust the brightness, saturation, and crop as necessary. I get excellent results every single time — I’m sure there are more finicky workflows that would yield even better results, but I’m okay with it. In Google Photos, though, the magic wand equivalent — the auto filter — never gives me a good starting point and I have a terrible time getting anything that looks reasonable. I guess for now I’ll simply edit all of my photos from the Apple Photos app and deal with the duplicates in Google Photos.
  • This last complaint could certainly be an issue with iOS or Day One, but sharing from Google Photos to Day One is spotty at best. Especially for videos. Sometimes the Day One quick compose pane never shows at all and other times it crashes when attempting to save. I avoid sharing from Google Photos now and save the selected images to Apple Photos and share from there instead.

If Apple introduced automatic partner sharing or a real family photo library feature, I’d likely drop Google Photos in a heartbeat, but only because juggling multiple apps and dealing with the inadequacies noted above are such a hassle. With the current state of Apple Photos, Google Photos is worth it, though. Having all of our photos and video in one place and automatically backing up to the cloud is just too important to us.

The photos and videos that we’re taking of Josh are things that we will look back on for decades. And I want to give us every opportunity to create physical mementos that we can hang on our wall, set on a bookshelf, or send with friends and family. I don’t want there to be any barrier to entry to those projects, which might prevent us from creating them at all. The inability to automatically share our libraries with family members is a massive barrier that Apple needs to remove. Because until then, I’m sticking with Google Photos.

iPhone Eleven Pro

iPhone 11 Pro

I was hesitant to move into this new era of iOS hardware design. When Apple announced the iPhone X in 2017, I opted to purchase the more traditional iPhone 8. I just wasn’t convinced that the removal of the home button was a step in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect Apple to go back to making home button iPhones, but at the very least, I wanted to give them a couple more years to refine the experience.

After Apple’s most recent event, where they introduced the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, I knew which model I was going to order. The iPhone 11 Pro was the right choice for me. The iPhone 11 Pro is the only new phone in Apple’s lineup that’s even close to the same physical size as the iPhone 8 I was upgrading from. And I’m not quite ready to move to the larger screen. I want a device that fits comfortably in my pocket and can be used with one hand.

I hemmed and hawed a bit on what color to choose, though. I’ve historically went with the black or space gray models because I liked the look of those devices from the front. Having a black front panel meant that it was difficult to distinguish where the display ended and the bezel began. I liked that effect quite a bit so I always stuck with black or space gray. But with these newer style devices, the front panel is black regardless of what color you choose. I took this as an opportunity to pick something different — silver this time around.

Design

It’s striking just how handsome the iPhone 11 Pro is in person. The shiny metal band around the edges and matte finish on the glass back looks quite sharp. And I’ve grown to accept the necessity of the camera bump — I find this year’s camera array to be much more pleasing to the eye when compared to the look of the two camera setups in previous year’s iPhones. The lenses have a certain utilitarian sense to it, which gives you the feeling that you’re carrying an advanced piece of tech with you.

The new finish on the glass back has a unique feel. It feels like it might be more slippery than my iPhone 8, but in practice, I haven’t found it sliding around on surfaces quite as easily. The sheer size of the camera bump might have something to do with that, honestly, but it’s hard to say for sure. What I can say for certain, though, is that it feels premium.

iPhone 11 Pro Next to iPhone 8

The placement of the Apple logo was a bit odd at first glance, but I think moving it to the center helps keep the phone’s design more balanced. Especially since they removed the text from the back entirely. Keeping it at a third of the way from the top would have made the phone look visually top-heavy. It also helps that the Apple logo is so much more subtle with this revision. At many angles, the logo is impossible to see — almost as if Apple is relying on the design of their camera lens array to pick up the slack, from a branding perspective.

Around the front of the device, the display doesn’t seem noticeably better than my iPhone 8’s most of the time. I know it is, but during normal use, I don’t see a difference. The only instance where I was surprised at the display quality was when viewing a mostly black screen in a dark room — the black portions give off zero light. I’m not much of a dark mode person and don’t watch a lot of videos on my iPhone, so I’m not going to see that too often. But I’m glad to see Apple moving to OLED and pushing their hardware further.

Coming from the iPhone 8, this is the first device I’ve owned with a notch. And I can say definitively, it’s fine. Of course it would be better if it didn’t exist, but you don’t really notice it during use — it’s small enough that it’s out of the way. It’s more noticeable when playing games and watching video, but not enough to be annoying. If you’re still hesitant to move to the newer device designs because of the notch, you can put that out of your mind, you’ll be fine with it.

Face ID

Despite the twelve years that I’ve spent using iPhones with home buttons, I was surprised at how quickly I’ve transitioned to the new interface. There’ve been a few times where I’ve reached for the home button, only to realize there wasn’t one. Those have been few and far between, though.

And I’ve been pretty impressed with the reliability of Face ID. Touch ID has improved so much over the years and felt instantaneous on my iPhone 8. Face ID isn’t quite that fast, but it’s really close. And the nature of Face ID feels so effortless, you aren’t actually performing an input of any kind, you’re just using your phone the way you normally would and the system takes care of the authentication for you.

I don’t have any experience using Face ID on previous iPhones, but I’m aware that it was limited in the angles in which it functioned. This is supposedly improved in the iPhone 11 models it has been impressive in my use. It’s failed for me when I was extremely far off axis — while laying on the couch with my iPhone sitting flat — but it’s been excellent for me in all other scenarios.

There is a part of me that wishes I could have the home button back. I picked up the home gesture quickly, but app switching still feels clunky. It’s not nearly as natural as double pressing the home button and it doesn’t feel as quick to invoke. But even if I had the option to bring back the home button on this device, I’d still prefer to keep Face ID. That is absolutely a huge leap forward compared to Touch ID, so much so that I don’t ever want to go back.

Internals

The iPhone 11 Pro is the fastest computer I’ve ever owned. And that includes Macs, which is still astonishing to me. Compared to the iPhone 8, the 11 Pro is about 45% faster in single and multi-core tasks.

There isn’t too much that I do on my iPhone that can really put that power to good use, though. I do some light photo editing from time to time and use and build Shortcuts a lot. But that’s about the extent of my power user tasks. The majority of the time I’m writing, checking Twitter, reading news, or listening to podcasts.

I wish that I had more heavy duty tasks to do on my iPhone, like converting video for Plex. That’s a task that’s still done on my Mac Mini because of the lack of software, but would certainly be quicker to perform on my iPhone. Maybe one day, when Apple loosens the reins a bit and lets us install software from outside of the App Store. That’s the sort of thing that isn’t going to happen for a good number of years, though.

Setting aside the performance of the chips for a moment, the battery life on this thing has been incredible. I haven’t done any formal testing, but my iPhone 8 would regularly end the day with around 10-20% left. The 11 Pro hasn’t dipped below 50% after an average day of use. To some extent the age of the iPhone 8’s battery is a factor, but even when the 8 was brand new, it would typically hit 30% before I plugged it in at the end of the day.

That’s a substantial improvement over my previous iPhone. And I expect most people upgrading will see similar gains over their previous devices. Battery life was one aspect of iPhones that users would always complain about. Any improvements that Apple made over the years seems to have been matched by an increase in usage. But this is such a leap forward that I think they actually hit it out of the park this time. The battery life on iPhones is actually great now.

Camera

I’m no photography expert, but I dabble in the hobby from time to time. One of the biggest draws for me toward the iPhone 11 Pro, as opposed to the iPhone 11 is the third camera lens. With Joshua in our lives, I wanted as much camera in my iPhone as I could possibly get.

I won’t spend too much time discussing the new camera system, though. If you’re interested in a more technical overview, I would suggest reading one of the more in-depth reviews. But I’m more than happy to share my brief thoughts after a week of usage.

Comparing the three iPhone 11 Pro Camera Lenses

(Telephoto, Wide, and Ultra Wide lenses.)

The additional two camera lenses over my iPhone 8 has been a game changer. I’m finding myself switching between all three lenses regularly, often shooting with multiple lenses in a single session. I’ll take a photos of Josh laying on the couch with the Wide lens and then switch to the Ultra Wide to get a shot or two that captures a bit more context and scale.

It was immediately obvious that the Ultra Wide lens would be useful in situations when I wanted to photograph something large — like a mountain range, a city scape, or a group of people where stepping further backward isn’t practical. But I didn’t expect it to be useful when I wanted to help convey how small something is. Joshua is such a tiny little dude and it’s hard to convey that with the standard Wide lens, but the Ultra Wide is great in those situations. By showing a bit more of the room around him, it helps to show just how small he really is.

I haven’t had as much use out of the Telephoto lens, but I’m certain it will see more use when I’m out of the house more often. With Josh so young, my wife and I have mostly been homebodies. When we start going on walks and getting out of the house to go to parks and whatnot, the Telephoto lens will undoubtedly have more applications for me.

Comparing Night Mode on iPhone 11 Pro to iPhone 8

(Night mode on 11 Pro compared to the same lighting with iPhone 8.)

The picture quality has been excellent as well. Especially in low light situations. Joshua is waking up a handful of times throughout the night and we’ve been keeping a bedside lamp with a Hue bulb at 10%, This gives us just enough light to maneuver around the room and see him when he wakes up.

That’s the sort of lighting situation that previously would have been impossible to take photos in. With the Night Mode on the 11 Pro, though, I can capture all those late night smiles and funny faces. The resulting pictures are surprisingly good too. They’re not quite as bright and vibrant as photos taken in the daylight, but they’re more than passable. It helps if the subject remains still while taking the photo — movement can cause a bit of blurriness. I’m so happy to have this as an option, though. There are so many moments that just would have been lost and forgotten if I only had my iPhone 8 camera to work with.

Portrait mode is another new feature that I didn’t have access to with my iPhone 8. And it’s not something I’ve spent much time with — I’ve only taken a handful of shots with it so far. The feature seems neat, but it’s less useful when your subject is very close to the background beyond them. Since I’m mostly taking photos of Josh and he’s not even able to crawl yet, portrait mode just isn’t something I’m too excited about right now.

Overall

I’ve been very happy with the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s an excellent device that feels like a substantial upgrade from my previous iPhone. Face ID, battery life, and the camera system have been the standout features for me so far. The device isn’t without faults, though.

The 11 Pro is actually quite heavy. A full 30% heavier than the iPhone 8. That doesn’t seem like too much, but the device is longer and the position of the camera system makes it feel a bit top-heavy. It’s not much of an issue when using the iPhone with two hands, but when one-handed, it’s a tad much. I’ve been doing that thing where you cradle the device in your hand and rest the bottom of it on the inside of your pinky. Even with lighter phones that can be tiring, but with the extra weight of the 11 Pro, it can get painful.

I’ve been more conscious of this over the last few days and have been trying to adjust my grip as a result. I could probably get something like a Pop Socket to alleviate the issue, but that’s not exactly my style. My plan is to just soldier on with an adjusted grip and hope for the best.

I’m also disappointed with the removal of 3D Touch. I didn’t realize how important it was to my daily usage until it was taken away. All of the features I used 3D Touch for can be accessed in other ways. Like using long presses on icons to show an app’s contextual menu. The big downside with this is that using a long press instead of 3D Touch inherently introduces some hesitation when performing the action — 3D Touch is quick where long presses force you to wait.

And I’m still trying to get used to the new way of moving the text insertion point. Being able to 3D Touch anywhere on the keyboard has become an important tool whenediting text on my iPhone. And just like with the app icon menus mentioned above, long pressing on the space bar to invoke the cursor trackpad just feels slow and clunky in comparison.

I’m sure Apple removed 3D Touch because it led to some confusing situations for users — when they intended to tap and accidentally activated 3D Touch instead, which is even more annoying if the user doesn’t know the feature exists and has no idea what caused it. But it’s the sort of power user feature that I wish would return in the future. Even if that means that it’s disabled by default. I mean, macOS still ships with right mouse clicks disabled, why can’t they release iOS hardware with 3D Touch built in that has to be enabled by the user before it can be used?

Those really are relatively minor complaints, though, and things that I’ll get used to with time. It’s a bit of a cliché, but this truly is the best iPhone I’ve ever owned. There are attributes of devices from the past that I have a fondness for, but to be honest, I wouldn’t trade the 11 Pro’s camera system for any of them. It’s such a massive step forward for me and at the exact perfect time in my life.

In twenty or thirty years, when I look back at photos of Josh from this time period, I’m going to be so glad that the camera I had with me, was the best camera I could have in a smartphone.

Flickr Introducing ‘in Memoriam’ Account Status ➝

Flickr is introducing a new account status on their service — “In Memoriam”. This account status is available to existing Flickr members who have passed away. For accounts that have been given this status, Flickr will preserve all public content on their profile, even if the account’s Pro subscription expires.

I really like seeing news from Flickr in my RSS feeds and hope this trend continues.

(Via JF Martin.)

Flickr Moving Away From Yahoo Login ➝

itsnihir, writing Flickr’s help forum:

In preparation for launching our new login system, we’re beginning the rollout today of the new Flickr login page. This will take some time, so hang tight if you don’t see it immediately — it’s coming!

For now, the login page will still forward you over to Yahoo, where you’ll continue to use the same credentials as always to sign into your Flickr account. The next step in the process will take a few weeks — we’ll let each member know when it’s time to choose the email address and password you’ll use to log in to Flickr.

I’ve had my eye on Flickr since it was acquired by SmugMug last year. I’ve been using Google Photos as a repository our family photos for a couple of years now, but I’ve never been in love with the idea of handing over so much data to Google. Unfortunately, though, there just wasn’t anything more appealing. iCloud won’t let multiple users backup to a single family library and all other service seem to have pretty mediocre backup apps.

I have quite taken the plunge toward using Flickr as my primary backup service, but moving away from Yahoo logins is a reassuring sign that things are improving. Om Malik started using the service and seems to be quite happy with it so far, Shawn Blanc has followed, and Nick Heer is considering purchasing Pro again. There are signs of life and people are noticing.

I don’t know if Flickr will every be as big as Instagram, but if they can build a solid business around a good photo backup service and a small community of dedicated users, I would consider that a raving success.

(Via Michael Tsai.)

Darkroom for iPad ➝

Darkroom for iPad has been announced and is currently in beta. I don’t use the app too often on iPhone — usually the editing features built into the Photos app are sufficient. But when I need something more, Darkroom is my go-to.

My current workflow for processing photos with my Canon PowerShot G9 X always involves importing those photos into my iPad for editing. This is fine most of the time, because as I said, the Photos app is usually sufficient. But when I want to edit with a bit more power, I have to AirPlay the photo to my iPhone for Darkroom. I look forward to a future when that’s no longer necessary.

Apple Discontinues Its Own Photo Printing Service ➝

My wife and I used Apple’s printing service to make photo books from our wedding. The process couldn’t have been easier and the print quality was absolutely superb. I had been hoping for the past few years that Apple would add their printing services to iOS as well, but it appears that will never come to pass.

Halide Is the Best Third-Party Camera App for iPhone ➝

Nick Heer, writing for The Sweet Setup:

We’ve tested about a dozen highly-rated third-party camera apps we’ve found in the App Store that have come recommended by photographers and enthusiasts alike, and we think the best option for most people is Halide. It was a tough call, but it delivers a great balance of all of the features you want in a third-party camera app.

I just started using Halide last week and I agree with Nick, it’s the best third-party camera app for the iPhone. I used it alongside Darkroom to take a bunch of photos at a local street painting festival and I was thoroughly impressed with the results. If you’re interested, I published several of them on Instagram.

AirPods First Impression ➝

Joshua Ginter:

Many will look back at the first time they flipped open the AirPod case. They’ll remember looking down at their iPhone and realizing the AirPods had already connected. That experience will be looked at fondly, in the halls of other first-time experiences which shoved us into the 21st Century.

That time before AirPods? Surely we’ll never want to go back.

There’s a lot of gorgeous photographs in this piece.