Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

Cable TV is So Broken, Can Apple and Google Save Us All?

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Allen & Company, 2015
Billionaire Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

Last night I spent a frustrating hour trying to cancel Showtime with Comcast, my current cable TV provider. I could not find (nor is there) any way to cancel any Comcast service online and their customer service department was closed.

Finally I was able to get chatty with one of those chatbots online who confirmed to me that there is simply no way to cancel Showtime on Comcast without speaking with a human representative. Even though the chatbot convinced me they were a human, they were not allowed to cancel it for me and I would need to try again tomorrow on the phone only. Interestingly enough I had no problem signing up for Showtime online originally, it’s just when you want to cancel that Comcast gives you such a hard time.

This morning after navigating the Comcast phone voice response menu I was finally able to talk to a human being, who tried to talk me out of cancelling my Showtime. I was committed though and I did finally get it cancelled.

I actually love Showtime and don’t mind paying for it. Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan are two of my favorite shows on right now. I also like the series Homeland. I had several reasons for cancelling it with *Comcast* though.

1. Why am I paying Comcast $19.99/month for Showtime when I can just buy it direct from Showtime on my AppleTV for a free 30 day trial and then $10.99/month after that?

2. Watching Showtime using the AppleTV app through Comcast is a royal pain in the ass. I’ve had to re-authenticate and prove I’m a paying cable customer at least 20 times with the app.

I go to watch one of my shows and am interrupted with a message and code on the AppleTV telling me that I have to go to Showtime online on my phone or computer and authenticate. Next I have to log into my Comcast account enter in the code from my television set and then after that I finally get my access.

I wouldn’t mind it if I did this one time, the first time I signed up for the app, but having to re-authenticate over and over and over again, especially late at night when I’m in bed and just want to watch my favorite show is a drag.

3. Last night I wanted to watch episode 2 of the current season of Master’s of Sex on the app but it wasn’t available. I could only watch episode 3. I have no idea why Comcast customers were not allowed to watch episode 1 or 2, but I didn’t want to watch episode 3, before episode 2, so I just gave up and didn’t get to watch a show that I’m paying $20/month for. No wonder so many people just say screw it and go to bitTorrent.

4. I hate the way Comcast abuses the AppleTV ecosystem. If I pay for CNN with Comcast, why do they not allow me to watch it on my AppleTV. Comcast’s decisions here feel entirely arbitrary. They will let me watch CNBC if I subscribe, but not CNN. I can watch HBO (although I have the same re-authentication problem there over and over again) but when my wife wants to watch Lifetime she has to figure out some weird hack to try to authenticate the app through some hard to find link in a forum on the internet.

It is clear to me that Comcast is purposely trying to make your AppleTV experience an ugly and difficult one and so any chance I can get to bypass Comcast and purchase premium content elsewhere, I’d rather do that — by contrast Netflix has always been an absolute breeze to use with my AppleTV.

According to Buzzfeed today, Apple is rolling out a new version of AppleTV in September which will be setting AppleTV up to offer their own subscription service in 2016. This is such welcome news. I love my AppleTVs and if I could get my content directly through Apple I’d love to cancel my Comcast cable TV subscription entirely.

I’m much more optimistic about an AppleTV service working on my AppleTV than Comcast’s current service. Also with AppleTV I can just buy a device one time and don’t need to have a cable box for every single TV in my house at a price of $10/month each. Will Apple finally be the one that saves us from Comcast?

My other beef with Comcast is their highspeed internet service. At present I’m paying for the maximum speeds I’m allowed which give me 120MBps down and 10MBps up. Frankly, in today’s world these just feel too slow to me — especially the 10MBps upload speeds. I use the internet a lot for uploading high res photos and I wish I could get faster upload speeds.

I was excited about Comcast’s new residential gigabit service announcement the other day until I saw the pricing for it: $1,000 to set it up and $320/month with a two year commitment. PC World lists the service at $300/month, but when I called to ask about it they told me that there would also be a $20/month equipment rental fee on top of that fee. That’s just too expensive for high speed internet.

By contrast Google sells their gigabit internet service for $70/month with no installation fee — which is even less than I’m paying Comcast today for my crappy 10MB/second upload speeds — for less money Google Fiber users can upload 100x faster than I can.

I was reluctantly willing to pay Comcast’s highway robbery fees for gigabit internet and was hopeful when a Comcast rep told me I could get it. They told me though that they would need to do a survey of my house in person to confirm and would call me for an appointment. I never heard back from them on this appointment so after a week I called them back only to be told that they did in fact do the survey and that I did not qualify at present.

Unfortunately AppleTV’s subscription television is not here…. yet. Unfortunately Google Fiber is not here… yet. Hopefully both of these services will eventually get to my neighborhood though. It would be so nice to just be able to cut Comcast out of my life entirely.

While I realize I could just go ahead and cut the cord right now, with a family of six, the rest of my household is just not ready to cut the cord yet and I’d have a mutiny on my hands if I cancelled our Comcast — so for now I continue to pay my $233/month. However, I’m looking optimistically towards the future, to a day when Apple and Google will let me cut Comcast out of my life for good.

More Thoughts on Google Photos

More Thoughts on Google Photos

Last week when Google Photos launched, I quickly tested it out and then wrote a post with my immediate initial reaction to the service. Much of my early disappointment centered around the fact that Google chose to limit the size of photos in the service to 16 megapixels. As a DSLR shooter this meant that a large portion of my library would be downsized with Google Photos. Bummer.

Flickr by contrast offers every user 1TB of free storage for your photos (which is more than 99.999% of photographers need at present) at full original high resolution.

So in my mind this made Flickr’s free offering a vastly superior offering over Google Photo’s free offering. Flickr’s had that offer out for a while now which is why I hoped that Google would respond by offering us a similar 1TB (or more) of full high res original storage. Google Photos will let you have a terabyte of storage for your high res photos as well, it will just cost you $120 per year vs. Flickr’s free deal.

David Pogue (who works for Yahoo) wrote up a thoughtful review today comparing Google Photos and Flickr and made the same observation pointing to the negative of Google downsizing your original photos in Google Photos.

Despite my disappointment about Google’s decision to downsize our photos with the free version of their product, after having spent a week seriously digging into Google Photos, I’m much more optimistic about the service than I was a week ago. There’s a lot to love here.

1. Google Photos will back up your RAW files.

At present I have two Drobo 5D units with 15TB worth of storage in each of them. In addition, I’ve got an 8TB Western Digital MyBook thunderbolt duo.

I don’t actually have 38TB of storage because both the Drobo and the Western Digital (each in their own way) replicate my data. This protects me against hard drive failure. While it doesn’t necessarily protect me against fire or theft, this is a pretty good first line of defense. Most of the storage that I’m using right now is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands (million?) of RAW frames that I’ve fired off over the last 10 years. These are my RAW, unedited, original negative files.

Flickr does not support RAW yet — although Flickr’s former Chief Bernardo Hernandez mentioned in a tweet after he left that RAW was “coming at some point,” at Flickr.

Even though I am losing a lot of data when Google Photos converts my RAW files to JPG photos and also downsizes them, something (for free) is better than nothing.

While it is still my responsibility to come up with a better suitable offsite backup solution for my terabytes of RAW photos, until I do I’d rather have a converted, compressed 16 megapixel version of my photo backed up online than nothing. I’ve been planning for a year or so now to duplicate all of my original RAW files and then store them on drives in a safety deposit box in a bank vault, but until I get around to doing that it’s nice to know that I’ll have at least an inferior version of my original RAW backed up online.

2. Google’s free offering is unlimited.

Flickr currently gives everyone a free terabyte of storage for your high res originals. In his review Pogue said that Flickr told him that less than 50 users out of 100 million are actually using over 1 terabyte.

One terabyte certainly seems more than enough for Flickr’s present offering for most people. I am one of those few prolific photographers who will exceed the 1 terabyte limit though. At present I’ve uploaded about 950 gigabytes to Flickr (which is about 105,769 high res photos) and I should cross the one terabyte limit sometime within the next year.

Fortunately for me, I was one of the original early Flickr users who signed up for their old paid “Pro” service ($24.99 per year). This service has since been discontinued, but old “Pro” accounts have been grandfathered their original unlimited high res storage deal and so I won’t need to worry about exceeding one terabyte when I hit it later this year.

Although I’m an extreme edge case, if we assume that in the future camera makers will continue pushing technology with more and more megapixels (i.e. larger and larger files) and at the same time people begin taking more and more photos, I can see where a lot more people than 50 will end up exceeding their free terabyte at Flickr over the course of their life.

While Yahoo could always extend the offer to two terabytes or raise their limits as people’s storage use increases over their lives, there is no guarantee that they will. It would be a bummer if you spent 10 years uploading all of your photos to Flickr and then ran out of space, which sounds unlikely, but might actually be more likely than we realize, especially given that some of us may actually live to be 150 or more in the future!

Google Photos by contrast is offering unlimited storage if you downsize your photos.

More Thoughts on Google Photos 2

3. Google has interesting facial recognition software.

Google’s facial recognition software is pretty slick. It’s very clever how the software can actually track a face as it ages and include a baby photo in the same batch of photos of someone when they are older. It seems to work best where you have a lot of photos for them to analyze and I found photos of my family members were much more accurately grouped than photos of strangers in crowds or people who I only have one or two photos of.

Flickr doesn’t do facial recognition yet, but I bet it’s something that they are working on. One of the advantages that Google has over Flickr here though is that their service is 100% a private service. 100% of your photos on Google can only be seen by your account unless you manually choose to create a link and share it with others. Facial recognition software can be scary stuff and even though Google doesn’t attach names and faces together, it’s the sort of thing that people get easily freaked out over.

Flickr is a hybrid public/private service. Even though by default you can upload your photos privately to Flickr, you can also upload them publicly by default as well. Sometimes even a simple thing like a public vs. private setting on a photo can be screwed up by your average user. It’s not that Flickr won’t offer facial recognition in the future (they probably will) it’s just that they probably need to think a little bit more about privacy and the implications of people accidently making things public that they might not want to.

4. Google Photos Assistant is fun.

Although we’ve all probably seen way too many gifs in our lifetime already, when your own photos are turned into gifs just for you it can still be delightful. Because my photos are personal to me, I find that I’m enjoying Google Photos gifs much more than I thought I would.

If someone else posted a gif of Jerry Seinfield moving his microphone stand around on stage I’d probably think it was boring, but when I was actually at the comedy show and watched him do it, and the gif was made from my photos, somehow it makes it more interesting to me. Most people could care less about my dog Bucky sitting in my friend Scott Jordan’s Pocketmobile, but it tickles me to see it — and Scott will probably like it too and I can share it with him and I bet he even posts it on Facebook. 😉

I find myself going back to my Google Photos assistant several times a day and hoping that they will have more treats for me.

5. Google Photos is an interesting digital diary.

Although Flickr has Camera Roll, Flickr doesn’t include all of my RAW photos so it is not as complete as Google Photos is turning out to be for me. I’m finding it more enjoyable to just randomly choose times in my life and scroll through my photos on Google Photos. There’s something about all the bad photos, unedited, raw material that feels like a more complete digital diary for me than the finished processed photos I’m posting on Flickr. I’d never want anyone else to see my raw material unedited and bad photos, but just for my eyes only I’m finding it a very interesting experience.

It will be interesting to me to see how I like Google Photos as my digital diary when I’ve finally got everything uploaded into the service. In my case, I have a feeling that this will take a few years. So far I’ve uploaded 39,312 to the site in a little over a week. I’ve had it running pretty much non-stop since Google Photos launched. Sometimes it feels like it’s hanging and I’ll force Google Photos to quit and relaunch it, but still, it’s going to take a long, long time to get all of my photos up there. By the way, Google Photos doesn’t provide you a photo count of your photos, but if you want to see how many you have uploaded you can get that number here (it’s in light gray in the upper right hand corner).

6. Google can give you back all of your photos at once.

One of the things that I like about Google Photos is that they give me an option to get all of my photos back at once. While Flickr will let you get all of your photos back as well, you have to manually drag and select your photos at Flickr (or use an album) to get them put into a zip file that they send you. With tens or even hundreds of thousands of photos online, I like the way that Google can deliver all of my photos back to me better. Although I don’t ever plan on having to get all of my photos back at once, I feel good knowing that Google will let me have them all back with just a few clicks vs. Flickr’s more difficult way.

7. No ads.

It’s nice that Google is giving you Google Photos completely ad-free. Although as a paid Pro Flickr user my Flickr experience is also ad-free, Flickr’s free service does/will have ads. When I’ve browsed Flickr outside of my Pro account I’ve noticed ads every so often. They don’t feel very disruptive, but still, no ads are always better than even just a little.

I did think it was interesting earlier this week when it felt like Apple CEO Tim Cook took a pretty direct swipe at Google’s new photo offering in a speech that he gave highlighting the importance of your digital privacy.

“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is,” said Cook.

Cook’s comment does make you think just a little bit about how much data you may end up giving sites like Google Photos and Flickr with all of these photos. On the other hand, I’m sure a lot of people probably wonder why you’d want to pay for Apple’s iCloud storage when Google or Flickr will give you all you need for free. Google and Flickr are competitors to Apple’s paid storage service and so you have to wonder how much of Cook’s warning is dire vs. how much is just that he’d rather you pay Apple to store your photos for you than let Flickr or Google do it for free.

Anyways, those are my more detailed thoughts on Google Photos thus far. I’m sure I’ll blog more about Google Photos as I use it more, but after a week of use I have a much more optimistic view of it than I thought I would. I find myself using it much more and going back to it several times a day over and over again.

Disclaimer: yeah, yeah, yeah, nothing is forever (except diamonds right?), both Flickr and Google could always renege on whatever deal they currently are marketing out there. Google Photos was made for mobile users, not for more high megapixel storage people like me, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Thoughts on Google Photos

New Collections Page from Google Photos

Google launched Google Photos today.

For months now people have been talking about how Google was going to decouple photos from Google+ and create a standalone photo product and today at I/O they finally unveiled their latest effort to the world.

Last August when rumors about this new service started circulating I wrote a blog post titled 10 things Google should consider in launching a standalone photo sharing service. Here I outlined ways that Google could come up with a very competitive product in the photo sharing space. Google could have given the world something really amazing today and instead we just got something lackluster.

The new offering is fine, but in a lot of ways it is a big disappointment to me.

The biggest part of today’s announcement was that Google was going to give every user unlimited photo storage.

That sounded pretty good until I understood the catch. The catch is that the unlimited photo storage offer only applies to photos 16 megapixel or smaller.

Although it may be tempting to write this off as a “Pro” problem as most modern DSLRs today shoot over 16 megapixel, there are also a lot of new non-pro consumer cameras that shoot over 16 megapixel today too. Heck, there’s even a mobile phone out now (admittedly an outlier) shooting at 41 megapixel. So what this means is that almost every DSLR out today, along with many smaller consumer cameras, will require your Google Photos images to be downsized.

It’s not just Canon and Nikon DSLRs that produce images over 16 megapixel today, but many models of popular mirrorless and consumer cameras by Panasonic Lumix, Sony, Olympus, etc. Here is a list of currently manufactured digital cameras 15 megapixels and above which shows some models and brands this might include.

While I do understand that storing photos is not cheap, I do not understand why Yahoo’s Flickr is able/willing to give every user a full terabyte of full high res original photo storage, and Google, a company almost 10x the size of Yahoo by market cap cannot or will not. Flickr raised the bar when they offered every user a free terabyte of high res photo storage and Google’s response is to offer us unlimited downsized and compressed photos? Come on Google, you can do better than that!

The other problem is that the camera manufacturers (for better or worse) are in a war of who can raise megapixels the most. Earlier this year Canon came out with a mindblowing 50.6 megapixel 5DS. 16 megapixels is going to feel smaller and smaller as new and better camera, and even mobile phone technology is released.

If this was the year 2003 and Canon had just released the 6.3 10D, this might make sense to me — but in 2015? No way.

While you can purchase Google Drive storage for your photos over 16 megapixel at Google, 1TB of high res storage at Google would cost you $120/year — the same thing that Flickr will give you for free.

In my case I have one of the old grandfathered Flickr Pro accounts where for $24.95/year I get even more than 1 terabyte of high res storage on Flickr, I actually get unlimited (I’m currently using about 940 GB of my unlimited storage on Flickr, which is a lot).

The other main thing missing from this new offering by Google is social. While Google has had a tough time with social and I get why they are wary of it, I was hoping that there would be a social element to their new photo service. Instead, every photo you upload to Google Photos is private only for you and you then share out your photos to other platforms. One of the most exciting things about Flickr is that there are a lot of social components to the site. While photos are uploaded as private to Flickr by default (like Google), you have the option of making these photos public and sharing them with other users on the site.

While you can use Google and Flickr both as private shoeboxes for all of your photos, I like that Flickr gives you the option to turn your photos public and share them with the world. 99.99% of the photos that I upload to the web are meant to be shared publicly and so I was disappointed that Google didn’t deliver us anything here today. Google does still have Google+, or course, where you can share your photos too and be social, but that’s an entirely different site that you leave Google Photos to go use. Flickr does a much better job at combining both private and social.

Google did showcase some other features with photos today. They released a sort of timeline camera roll view and some image recognition technology. What I saw today was very similar to what I saw two weeks ago when Yahoo rolled out Flickr 4.0. I’m not saying Google copied Flickr here, but it is odd how Flickr shipped these almost identical features two weeks before Google did. Whatever the case, I’m not terribly excited by camera rolls from Google or Flickr, although I do see where they would be helpful and nice features for the broader mass market audience.

I prefer to organize my photos myself rather than have an algorithm try to do it for me. I carefully keyword each of my photos in Lightroom and when I upload them to Flickr I’m able to create smart albums (like smart playlists in iTunes) where I can organize my photos into albums by keywords. That’s something that I still can’t do at Google Photos today, at least not in the automated way that I do it with SuprSetr.

I am glad that Google is still investing time and development into photos. For a while there when they first launched Google+ it really felt like they were going to do something spectacular with photos, today, unfortunately, not as much. To me, today’s offering feels more like a step back from Google+ to Picasa circa 2004.

10 Things Google Should Consider in Launching a Standalone Photo Sharing Service

Google used to have a standalone photo sharing service. It was called Picasa. I never really liked it. It wasn’t a very social site. I thought Flickr was a lot better.

Today’s news out of Bloomberg is that Google is looking to spin off Google Photos from Google+. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. You never know. The timing of Friday afternoon stories and leaks always makes you wonder. Usually when companies want to push something they release it more like Tuesday mornings or make a big deal about it at I/O or something.

Whatever the case, photos has been one of the highlight use cases for G+. Many photographers have flocked to the site and I think it’s done a pretty good job with photos overall.

*If* Google is going to launch a standalone photo service though, they should really go all out. I worry that they’ll launch something less than fully baked — it will generate a bit of initial excitement and then lack stickiness.

With that in mind, here are 10 suggestions that I’d give Google in launching a standalone photo sharing service.

1. Flickr has raised the bar by giving everyone a full terabyte of high res photos. Flickr made one big mistake with this offering though. *Private* high res photos are of very little value to a photo social network. Public photos are *very* valuable to a photo social network. Public photos are worth more to a social network than the cost to store the photos. Flickr just gave everyone a terabyte without distinguishing the visibility of the photos. Google should offer at the launch either unlimited or 2TB of high res public photo storage with every account. This will get great press and attention.

Go big or go home I say. Nobody can maintain cheaper enterprise storage than Google, and it’s only going to get cheaper in the future. Don’t be blinded by the open-ended liability of high storage limits. Public photos on the web are only going to get more valuable in the future and storage is only going to get cheaper.

2. Partner with photographers to sell their photos. Flickr just leaked something like this earlier this week. Partnering with photographers to sell photos is not just about stock photos as revenue (although the stock photography market is in fact a multi-billion dollar market ripe for disruption). This is about attracting the sorts of high quality photographers to your network because they will be *paid* for participating through photo sales. By providing photographers an avenue to sell their stuff and make real money, you endear them to your network. Tie the visibility of their work, in part, to their level of activity on the network — not directly, but just float that out there so that photographers feel like the more active they are on the network, the more $$$ they may make.

3. Create a super light weight mobile client like Instagram. Make it so simple. Tap/tap to +1, like, fave, whatever. Really dumb it down. Just something to follow your friends’ stuff and favorite it without all the other clutter of G+/Facebook getting in the way.

4. Build an intelligent way to organize albums by keywords. Manual album management sucks big time. Let me build albums by keywords (this will also encourage more keywording which is valuable organizational metadata for Google to have). Study what Jeremy Brooks has done with SuprSetr and build something like that but even more intuitive and easy to understand and use.

5. Build intelligent groups for photographers to hang out in on the photo network. Unfortunately Google got one thing very wrong with communities in G+, which is why communities never took off. They refused to bump threads based on new comments. This ensures that all threads die quickly. It’s the longevity of conversations that fuel community interaction. Refusing to bump threads based on comments makes large groups completely chaotic and unusable. Why invest in a conversation that will be completely buried and dead in 24 hours and that I’ll never be able to find again? Let me mark conversations as favorites and feed all my favorite conversations to me in a feed ordered by recent comments/activity.

6. Go mosaic big time. On the web, give users a huge wall of photos with infinite scroll to just scroll through and +1. Code the site so that if you are hovering over any photo and press the “f” key it +1s it. Lubricate social activity on the web. Social activity begets social activity. The more you make it easy for people to like/fave/+1 stuff and the faster you make it, the more you get. The more people get, the better they feel about the network.

7. Spend some serious money the first year on community management / evangelism. Hire a whole bunch of photo community managers and partner with influencers all over the world. Require community managers to host at least 2 photowalks a month in their geographic region. Require them to spend 10 hours a week inside of social groups interacting with photographers on the new site. Bombard your users with interaction from Google Community Managers. Make sure Googlers are using the site to share their photos, especially visible senior management. Keep track of how many +1s, comments and other interactions Googlers have with photos on the network and make sure Googlers know that this matters.

8. Open some fine art physical galleries. These can be used to host meetups and gallery shows for G+ photographers. You can also sell physical prints and DVDs of photo series from these galleries. Social photographers love doing shows with their work. Digital displays make doing temporal shows easier than ever. The ego boost a photographer gets when they are showing their work in a group show is substantial. Capitalize on this to draw the finest photographers in the world to your network.

9. The Nik Software stuff from Google is really good. Snapseed is the best mobile photo editing software out there. Analog Efex Pro 2 really is some of the best photo processing software I’ve used in years. Google could create something as good as Lightroom, maybe even better. Build this into the site for processing but also give people the ability to download the software to their computers for when they don’t want to work in the cloud and want to work locally. Sell this software for $99 with a six week free trial. Users who upload at least 5 photos on different days to the new photo network for six weeks should be given a promotion code to get the software for free.

10. Prioritize Google Photos photographs in Google Image Search. Create a button that photo buyers can click in Google Image Search to show photos available for licensing. Leverage the power of Google Image Search to both drive traffic back to photos in the social network and sales through the social network.

That’s all for now.

20 Cool Things You Can Do With Nik Software’s New Analog Efex Pro 2

I’ve been playing around with Nik Software’s new Analog Efex Pro 2 photo processing software (brought to you by the good folks at Google) all weekend long and I’m super impressed. The purist film photographers out there are probably going to hate this new software, but for you digital photographers who dig an analog look and feel, you are going to love this.

I shot film exclusively for about 15 years before switching to digital in the early 2000s. While there is an absolute undeniable romance with rolling your own film, hanging out in a darkroom with your college girlfriend, and licking the fixer off your own prints you made yourself, it’s not something I think I’ll ever go back to — unless and maybe when my hipster buddy Daniel Krieger finally convinces me to buy a film Hasselblad.

I used to joke around with anyone who asked me what camera I shot and tell them a Holga. Now it’s like I really am shooting a Holga, just with my Canon 5D Mark III. 😉

Anyways, check out 20 different looks you can create with Analog Efex Pro 2. I’m a fan. You can buy it here if you want.


Motion Blur. It’s like owning a lensbaby without having to actually use one of those horrible awkward things. Just kidding, lensbabys are great!


How did I ever get a double exposure of this classic neon sign? I’ll never tell.


Hey It’s Amanda Morgan shot with my cool Toy Camera #9.


Wet plate photography, without all the sticky wet plates.


Jenna Jamieson shot with Toy Camera #1.


Every respectable concert photographer brings their Toy Camera #2 to the photo pit these days. Chvrches rock!


Instant triptychs.


Classic Camera #7 has such a nice warm film feel, doesn’t it?


Hey tilt shift and I didn’t even have to buy the $2,500 Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens! Which is a totally awesome lens by the way that I actually will buy someday. Canon L lenses are the best. I cannot say enough positive things about all my Canon glass. I’m not being sarcastic there, I’m being serious.


One of my neon signs that I took back in 1972 while on a photography junket across America with Stephen Shore.


Motion blur with Jeremiah Owyang. It’s just like Star Wars only better because it’s got Jeremiah in it.


Colorcast #2 makes butterflies look so pretty.


Colorcast #2 makes models look so pretty too, but this one was already pretty to begin with. :)


I think this painting from the Met in New York City looks better this way, don’t you? I could totally print this up and hang this in my house. So can you too, because I licensed it Creative Commons non-commercial. Friends share right? 😉


Oopsie, a little light leak thing happened in my Holga again.


Doing wet plate photography in Holbrook, Arizona.


Love the authentic real life colors from Classic Camera #2 on this San Francisco victorian in the Mission District. A couple million in stock options and this too can be yours.


Smoothdude let me borrow his Hasselblad to make this photo on our Route 66 trip last year.


I took a photo of my Kodak Instamatic with my Kodak Instamatic. Get it?


More Seattle fun with Toy Camera #2.

I’d Plus One That! Why I Think Google’s Shared Endorsements Are a Good Thing for Social Media, Influencers and Consumers

Are You On Google+ Yet?  If You're Not You Should Be

There’s been a lot of talk today online about the upcoming change in Google’s TOS that will allow them to begin selling ads with your endorsement of various products and services on the web. I’ve seen different reactions from some people who dislike this idea and others who are largely apathetic about it.

Because Google gives everyone an opportunity to opt out of shared endorsements, it’s easy to dismiss a lot of the criticism by simply pointing folks to how easy opting out is. Some people are very anti-advertising though and certainly this new advertising channel will naturally be met by some with healthy skepticism. It’s also worth noting that these ads are not going to appear on Google+. Google+ will remain ad free. The new ads simply will use Google+ data to advertise in places where Google is already advertising, like search.

Personally speaking, for myself, I embrace change. In general I’d rather see more change, than less. I think change represents innovation (usually) and I probably tend to look for the positive in change rather than the negative. I’m a glass half full sort of guy when it comes to change.

I think most of us see how today’s announced change in the TOS is good for businesses who advertise. Personal endorsements by our friends are incredibly powerful motivators. Ads which feature personal endorsements by people we know, trust and respect, will be far more effective than other ads that an advertiser might come up with.

I think we can also see where this new product would be good for Google. Google gets paid by the click. If they can run ads that produce way more clicks and are more effective, it would seem to stand that they can make more money selling ads. The more clickable an ad the more revenue per page view it represents.

The last part of this equation though is the user, and I think a lot of people are trying to figure out if this is a good, bad, or indifferent thing for the user.

My opinion is that this is a good thing for the user and here’s why.

1. I believe that this change will push brands, products, services, businesses, etc. to allocate more of their marketing budgets towards social media and social media influencers than in the past. It’s ridiculous to me how much money companies like Canon and Nikon and other old brands, that just don’t get it, spend on things like tired old photography magazines and traditional print media vs. social media.

Social media is the future. By increasing the value of our possible endorsements through advertising buys, companies will spend more time, effort and money to court social influencers.

My favorite lens is the Canon 135 f/2. I love that lens so much. By allowing Canon the opportunity to buy that love in the form of a Google ad and promote it, that gives Canon a more powerful incentive to work with me to be more public about my love for this lens. I love lots of other things too. I’m not shy about telling folks when I like something. I had dinner last night at A 16 in Oakland, and it rocked. I like to spread the good word.

I predict that individuals with large followings on G+ will increasingly be seen as potential partners for brands whose products they use. If you consider yourself a social media type, this will be one more important reason why you’ll want to devote time to building out your presence on G+.

There will be a risk of course that some influencers will be bought off by brands for positive endorsements, but I think most of the time this stuff is pretty easy to sniff out. It’s the true, authentic, natural posts (available for purchase after the fact as ads) that will be most valuable. I bet brands spend more time showing us their cool new tech and products as the value of these ads become apparent and more of their budgets are spent on promoting products to G+ users.

2. When a company buys an ad with your endorsement, this is one more place that your social media footprint is shared on the web. I’m not sure if the endorsements will actually link back to your profile or the actual product review itself, but as I’ve seen it, it will at least include your name and your avatar.

One of the reasons why I never change my avatar is that I believe having a strong avatar that is consistent over the years with your brand helps you build recognition. When I see Robert Scoble’s avatar, I immediately know that it is him — I’m biased of course because I took the photo Robert uses for his avatar. :)

Even faster than I can read Robert’s name, I know it’s him.

When Facebook first started showing brands that your friends liked, Robert jumped right on that bandwagon. For about 2 months every time I logged into Facebook, I was seeing another brand that Robert liked. Were the brands paying Facebook for that? Probably. But it also constantly reminded me of a good friend and also linked back to him in the like. I have to admit that I ended up liking a lot of the same brands Robert did, when it was something I really liked.

3. Knowing that one of my friend’s has endorsed a product helps *me* make buying decisions. Let’s say I’m in the market to buy a new filter for my camera. Wouldn’t it be a positive for me to know that another photographer I respect (like Joe Azure) seems to like his Lee Big Stop Filter? Isn’t that a lot better than just a generic ad? Especially if I see a lot of my friends endorsing one product, this may be a good signal to me that this product is worth checking out more than others.

I saw a report earlier today that said that by 2014 10-15% of online reviews will be fakes. With all the fake reviews and astroturfing out there, I’m more inclined to trust the word of a friend on a product or service, than a stranger.

This is why I don’t really use yelp anymore. Every time I go to yelp I wonder if the review I’m reading is legit or whether or not someone from India or China has been paid to write it up and give it a five star rating. When I was recently in New York City, rather than rely on a service like Yelp to figure out where to eat, I instead relied on my good friend Daniel Krieger, whose opinion I respect and know I can trust. Would a five star dinner recommendation for a new restaurant in the form of a Daniel Krieger advert get my attention? You bet it would. As a consumer, this is a win for me.

Certainly there may be things that go wrong with the implementation of all of this. What if I’m not really endorsing something but my endorsement is slapped on it? Some of this will likely have to be worked though. As far as the general idea of shared endorsement goes though, I think I like it.

Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering whether or not those sea salt and vinegar chips in the dark blue bag by Kettle Chips were the BEST CHIPS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD? Yep, they pretty much are — and if Kettle Chips wants to send a few bags of those over to our place, my daughters and I would totally be down with that. 😉

Why Aren’t Search Engines Making Better Use of Their Social Networks for Image Search?

One thing I’ve noticed more and more over the past few years is what a poor job traditional image search engines do vs. social networks.

By using social information around photos (likes, faves, comments, +1s, etc.), social networks typically produce much superior image search results than traditional image search.

Take this search of Coachella 2013 for example.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 10.45.53 AM
Yahoo Image Search: “Coachella 2013″

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Google Image Search: “Coachella 2013″

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Flickr Image Search: “Coachella 2013″

The first image comes from Yahoo (or is it Microsoft these days, I can’t keep it all straight). It’s not very good. It shows too many images of just the lineup vs. actual fun interesting photos of the event itself.

Google’s image search results are better, but still not as good as many of the images I find on social networks.

Now I may be biased (as I shot this particular event) but I think Flickr’s search results are *far* better than either Google or Yahoo Image search.

I’m working on a project right now to photograph the 100 largest American cities. When I’m researching things to photograph in these cities I almost always go first to Flickr (because it’s the largest database of highly organized quality photos on the web). I will also look at Google+ too, sometimes. Google+ doesn’t have as many high quality images in the total database as Flickr, yet, but I find some pretty good stuff there sometimes still. Most of Flickr’s advantage here over Google+ just has to do with the fact that they are older and have more images indexed.

Lately I’ve also played around with graph search on Facebook for images — I haven’t been very impressed there at all though.

The one place I hardly ever go is to the actual Google or Yahoo image search engines — because the results are so inferior.

Here’s what I don’t get: *why* are the results at Yahoo and Google Image search inferior? Google and Yahoo have access to proprietary internal social data around photos in their social networks, why isn’t that coming through better in the signal for high quality images.

On my example search using Coachella 2013, not a single Flickr photo appears on Yahoo’s first page image search and not a single Google+ image appears on Google’s first page image search.

Shouldn’t these search engines be better mining organically and socially ranked superior content? It’s not that these engines don’t index it, they do, it’s just not ranking well.

Beyond just better image search, Google and Yahoo *should* have another significant incentive to better include their social images into image search.

All things being equal, assuming you could improve image search results, wouldn’t you want to drive more traffic to your own internal social network, rather than to some unrelated destination — and wouldn’t you want to reward the best photographers on your social network with more traffic vs. some random SEO rigged site somewhere?

Why aren’t image search engines doing a better job with social?

Another added benefit to driving image search traffic to your social network, is that the presentation there is usually better, more uniform and consistent. When I’m tempted to go further on an image from Yahoo or Google, I may end up at some odd sized photo, in some odd format. With a G+ or Flickr result I get a strong consistent image experience that I’m familiar with.

As an unrelated topic dealing with image search on Flickr — the best social image search on the web today — Flickr needs to give us the ability to block certain users from our search results. Many popular photographers will pollute image search on Flickr by falsely tagging things that are not in their popular photos, just to try to garner traffic.

Take this search on Flickr for dog for example. So many of the first page results are not photos of dogs at all. Flickr should allow us to block certain users from our search results in order to better refine them. When we block people from our search results, this should also be a signal to Flickr that this user should rank much worse in search. If users get the message that they will be penalized for purposely mistagging their photos, they will be less likely to try and game the system this way, resulting in better image search on Flickr for all of us.

Ok Glass, Find Dogfood!

Ok Glass, Get Dogfood

Google Unveils Cutting Edge Photography Tools to Make Your Photos Look Better and the World A More Beautiful Looking Place

Through Glass

Google unveiled significant new innovation in the world of online photography this morning, continuing their rapid development pace on Google+. All in, Google+ pushed out 41 new features today.

Much of the new work is focused on post production photography to make people’s photographs look better than they can straight out of the camera.

Some have suggested that part of Instagram’s success has been their ability to enhance users’ photos with very simple, one touch filters. Instagram has focused on a faux film aesthetic which actually highlights the flaws in many photos to give them more of an artistic, old school feel. By contrast, Google’s easily and automatically applied post production tools, released today, work to make photos look more vivid, life like and realistic.

By using simple techniques like skin softening, clarity adjustment, smart vignetting, HDR and other enhancements, Google, by default, now offers an enhanced photo for every photo uploaded by users to Google+. Also, with this new tech, Google will give you the ability to view the before and after results and decide which you prefer to use. For photographers who do not want their photos altered in any way, these users can turn this default functionality off.

Google Releases New Tools for Photographers Using Google+

As a photographer, I have long been a believer of photo manipulation and post processing technology. Ansel Adams said “you don’t take a photograph, you make it,” as highlighted in Google Social Chief Vic Gundotra’s keynote this morning. Much of Ansel Adams’ genius has been attributed to the work that he did in the darkroom with his photos, his zone system, his post production technology of his time.

I post process all of my photos. The photo at the top of this post is the very first photo that I made with my new Google Glass that I bought yesterday. While I was able to get the composition to a point where I wanted in camera, much of the pop of that image is done with my own post production technique and style.

Many of my photographer friends also spend a great deal of time post processing their images — but the vast majority of the people out there really don’t post process at all. These people don’t own Lightroom and Photoshop or Nik Suite or Aperture or whatever else they might use to improve their photos. These are every day non-photographers who are still enamored with photography and imagery.

By applying some very basic algorithmic based enhancements, Google can make photos for the masses look much better than straight out of the camera. This is a very smart move on Google’s part. Where Instagram makes your bad photos look purposefully worse, Google now makes your bad photos look purposefully better! I stole that line from an unnamed source, btw. 😉

Where this new tech is especially powerful is in photos of people. By using basic skin softening post production tech, photos of people will look better on Google+ than on other social networks. By appealing to our vanity, this gives Google a big advantage. If people can post photos of themselves on Google+ that make them look BETTER than on other networks, many more people will choose to post their photos on G+. Just watch as people post photos of themselves on G+ for auto beautification and even download and post them to other networks I bet.

All of this sort of fancy post production *can* be done today by skilled post production photographers who spend hours and hours behind Photoshop. Now much of it will be automated and released to the masses.

There will undoubtedly be some naysayers about this tech. The same folks who moaned about the Instagramification of mobile photography will probably also complain about this new tech too. Google was smart here by giving users a very simple way to deal with this, by simply turning off this feature.

While the photo enhancements were the sizzle of Google’s announcements today, there were many other significant enhancements added to Google Photos.

Google will now begin to analyze your images and auto tag them. This is no trick where low paid overseas workers are manually reviewing your images; Googles’ algorithms now can look at the context of your photo and the actual subjects in your photos to identify possible tags for the images. If you post a photo of the Eiffel Tower, Google can detect the Eiffel Tower in your photo and add that tag for you. If Google gets the tag wrong, for whatever reason, it’s simple for you to just remove it.

What this means is that more of your photos will be seen in search by people using Google products. Many photographers are looking for more traffic and views on their photos. Who better to provide this traffic than Google Search, yes, using Google auto applied tags. This is the future of image search. If you are a photographer, especially one who depends on photography for your living, you cannot afford to ignore the significance of Google Search. Many of my own photo sales are made by people finding my photos while searching on Google. By uploading your photos to Google+, your photos will rank better in search and now even moreso with this new auto-keywording functionality.

Google Releases New Tools for Photographers Using Google+

Google also introduced a new smart algorithm that can analyze your photos and show you which ones Google thinks are the best of the batch, offering you highlights. Oftentimes we will “spray and pray,” taking 20 images of one person or subject. Google will analyze all of the images and suggest the best one for you. Google uses not just technical information about a photo (is it blurry or underexposed?) but they are using human tested aesthetics to look for what is most appealing.

But there’s more! In addition to the tech released above, Google has also added some very easy tools which will auto generate gifs for you of your photos, auto HDR bracketed shots, and suggest other compelling ways for you to present your photography to the world. Almost miraculously, Google can even look at photos of multiple people and merge the photos into a single photo that takes the best expression of each individual from *different* photos.

All of this also comes with an awesome new look and layout of Google+ which better highlights photography on the network. Popular photos will now be featured in jumbo new oversized form across a three column layout. For non highlighted photos, Google also made portrait oriented photos, especially, look better and bigger. In the past, the portrait format was the worst looking photo format on Google+, now it’s the best — that’s worth noting. 😉 For folks who don’t like the three column layout, they can switch back to a single column if they’d like.

A couple of other notes: all of this work that Google does with your photos is done behind the scenes for your eyes only. You can use the tech or not use the tech. If you use the tech and like it, *you* then choose to share the image to Google+. Nothing is shared until you choose to share it.

The new technology will only work with the JPG format (hopefully Google comes out with RAW support down the road). Google increased everyone’s storage to 15GB of online storage, but note that any photo sized 2048 px or smaller does not count towards your 15GB storage limit (you can also buy more storage if you want to). Google allows unlimited uploading of photos that you either manually resize or allow Google to resize to 2048 px. There is an option on Google where you can set whether or not you want to upload full high res photos or resized 2048 sized images.

I upload some of my photos full res, and many of them I resize manually myself to 2048 px.

Google also introduced a free, stand alone hangout app that you can now use with your mobile phone or desktop device bridging text, photos and real time group video into a single app that preserves conversations (at your choice) over long periods of time. Hangouts have been one of the most popular Google+ feature and several photography related shows have been built around them.

More detail on these changes at Google here. More from Matthew Hanley here. Trey Ratcliff wrote insightful commentary here. More from TechCrunch.

Change is Good

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Sports the New Google Glasses at Dinner in the Dark, a Benefit for the Foundation Fighting Blindness -- San Francisco, CA

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

— Woodrow Wilson

I’ve been watching with great interest over the past few weeks as the naysayers seem to have gone CRAZY overboard trying to bash Google Glass every chance they can. I’ve seen articles in Wired and on CNN and on blogs, etc., all stating how terrible Google Glass is. Oh NO, geeky white dudes are wearing Google Glass! This will never work! Oh no, someone wore a pair into the shower! Oh no, I will punch someone in the face if they try talk to me with them on — all sorts of gibberish.

There’s nothing like change to bring out the absolute haters.

It seems like every time something comes out that represents change, people freak the fcuk out.

It’s not enough to say, “oh no, this thing is not for me.” People have to go absolutely overboard, talking about how horrible some new thing is for everybody ELSE.

I remember when I waited in line overnight (with my pal Robert Scoble, probably today’s biggest Google Glass cheerleader) for the very first iPhone. Robert’s son Patrick was the very first person to buy an iPhone at the Palo Alto store.

I’m not sure I’d ever been mocked by people so much. “You waited in line overnight to pay HOW MUCH?” for a stupid phone??? People thought the iPhone was the dumbest thing ever. “Why would you ever need a phone to surf the web?” “Why would you pay so much for a phone?” They laughed at me for camping out overnight to get the first generation phone — even though camping out overnight in front of an Apple store has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Getting to hear Apple luminaries like Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson talk about Apple’s early days was a blast! It’s where I first met the awesome guys from SmugMug. Was it dorky and geeky? Sure, but whatever.

Read some of these early quotes about the iPhone when it first came out. Even though some of us loved it early, so many more were so “doom and gloom” on it. Now, of course, everybody loves the iPhone and the whole generation of Android and other smartphones that followed.

I remember when Twitter first came out. People hated that too. “Twitter is still a fad, and according to a study out today, it looks like it’s popularity may soon fade,” wrote BusinessWeek. People constantly mocked Twitter — “who wants to read a dumb post about what someone had for breakfast,” they’d say. I hopped on Twitter right away while so many of my friends refused to join. Those same friends now complain about how everybody else has more followers than they do.

The same naysayers took umbrage with Google+. Despite being named earlier this week as the second largest social network, the “change is bad” crowd hated Google+ when it came out. How many articles out there were written about Google+ being a ghost town? My good friend Trey Ratcliff passed 5 million followers on Google+ earlier this morning. That sure is an awful lot of ghosts if you ask me.

I’m having the best time on Google+. I’ve met some of the most talented and interesting photographers in the world, I’ve been on tons of great live hangouts and photowalks, and it’s been the best designed social network I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad I joined it the first day it was available to the public.

When one of my heros, William Eggleston, had the first color photography show at MOMA in New York, a lot of people hated that too. Many people called it the most hated fine art photography show ever. Ansel Adams, the most famous photographer in the world at the time, even wrote a letter to MOMA curator, John Szarkowski, trashing the change that Eggleston represented. Now everybody loves Eggleston and color photography is firmly established as a photographic fine art aesthetic. Just last month the Independent called him the world’s greatest living photographer.

I remember when I first started posting my photos online at Flickr back in 2004, their first year in existence. So many photographers gave me a hard time. They kept going on and on about how my photos would be “stolen.” “Who the hell cares,” I’d answer back. Now everybody posts their photos online, everywhere — well, almost everybody.

So what is it about Google Glass, the iPhone, Twitter, Google+, color photography, photo sharing that scare people so much? What is it that brings out the naysayers and haters?

It’s simple: most people hate change. Most people fear change. Most people hope the world around them never changes and turns into something else. They are afraid that change will take their job, or their income, or somehow hurt them. A lot of these people are also lazy. They groan about having to learn a new thing or technology. They worry they will be left behind. So it’s easier for these people to bash whatever is new and interesting and jump on the anti-change bandwagon.

As far as Google Glass goes, I have no idea if it’s going to be a hit or not. I do think it represents an interesting new tool to use for street photography and I’m excited about trying them out myself at some point. I think it’s dumb though to see article after article by scared people trying to talk the rest of the world out of them — articles that try to paint them as dorky or geeky or creepy. These are just more of the same old complainers/haters who hate on every new thing that comes along.

Change is good. Don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise. The next time somebody brings up some new idea, check yourself. Instead of immediately starting to bash it, resist that urge and keep an open mind. Every so often you just might be surprised.

Oh, and personally speaking, I think journalists that like to bash change are far, far, dorkier than bloggers who like to take showers with their Google Glass on. 😉

This article also appears on PetaPixel here.