Collecting Vernacular Photography

Found Kodachrome Slide
back before Instagram… a young woman photographed with her 4×5 camera from an undated Kodachrome slide.

As a photographer, I have been making photographs with my own cameras my entire life. From my first Kodak Instamatic camera as a child, to the Sigma film SLR that I received as gift in high school, to my first digital camera (a Sony Mavica in 1999 or so) to my current DSLR (a Canon 5D Mark IV) — for me photography has been both a lifelong pursuit and a passion as both a photographer and an artist.

Along with my own photography, I enjoy the photography of others. I’ve been very active on Flickr since it started in 2003. I’ve also collected postcards and photography books over the years, consuming great photography both in print and online wherever I can find it on a daily basis.

Found Slide by Photographer Hugh Stevens Bell
an undated photo of Monument Valley (likely late 1940s) taken by photographer Hugh Stevens Bell.

In November of 2019, visiting my parents down in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving, and shortly before the pandemic started, I stumbled upon a box of 35mm slides in a warehouse in an antique store. I bought the box (I think for $20) and began digging into the slides (mostly old Kodachromes). What I discovered was truly a treasure. The best I could figure out, the slides were made by a photographer named Hugh Stevens Bell. Googling Bell, I learned that he’d been published in National Geographic. Mostly his photos focused on the American Southwest and included many photos of American Indians from the 1940s and 1950s — the collection also included many personal photos of his family and family life.

I was hooked.

A few months later the pandemic hit and I found myself reluctant to go out and make my own photos while also simultaneously fascinated by a new found hobby of collecting vernacular photographs (found photos). The timing seemed right to dive in.

After almost three years now of collecting vernacular photography (and publishing over 10,000 found photos on Flickr), I’ve decided to write this blog post to share my approach to my own collection.

To simplify things I’m defining found photos as physical photos, negatives and slides that have been separated from their original owners.

There are many different types of collectors of found photos. The most popular type of photograph collected is probably the standard black and white snapshot — paper photographs, many casually made, oftentimes by Americans, mostly in the 1920s-1960s. Many of these are now part of serious museum and gallery collections.

Certain types of snapshots are more valuable than others and highly collectible. Photographs of African Americans, gay interest, disaster photography, vintage Las Vegas, New York, or San Francisco all seem to sell at a premium. Additionally many collectors focus on certain types of photographs or subjects in photographs — hand tinted photographs, polaroids, photographs of three women (three graces), photographs of people in Easter bunny costumes or rabbits, photos from vintage photobooths, photos of bicycles or tricycles or women and cars, photos of airplanes and many more categories define individual interest.

Then there are the wider general variety of photographs of family life, of military and war, of vacations and the automobile, and lots and lots and lots of photos of Christmas trees and people fishing.

The most interesting of these snapshots as collected by serious collectors and dealers are oftentimes very artful photography. Sometimes these are historic photographs or made by professional photographers, but quite frequently these photos are also mere happy accidents made by amateurs.

For some collectors, they need the physical manifestation of paper. They need to touch a photograph, feel a photograph, hold the weight of the photograph in their hand and examine it as an object.

My collecting is a bit different.

Found Kodachrome Slide
a Kodachrome slide of a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franisco, date stamped on slide September 1959.

For me, collecting found photos is more about a process, a process of pulling lost, orphaned images from analog obscurity and elevating them to a digital, widely shared and accessible permanent longevity. I’m not a dealer or a collector for financial gain so it doesn’t matter to me that some of the media I collect has less economic value than others. I am mostly interested in rescuing and publishing interesting imagery. So I will collect snapshots, but I will also collect negatives, slides, photo albums, etc. I will collect black and white imagery and color photographs. I will collect photos from the 1920s-1960s, but I will also collect photos from the 1970s to the present, photos that many collectors deem less desirable.

For the remainder of this post I am going to walk through my process, explaining each step I take in my own collecting.

Acquisition

Found photos can be acquired in many different places. For me, I find the best deals come from as close to the source as I can get. From the best I’ve been able to tell, the most common way for photographs to become separated from an owner are through the death of the owner or through unpaid storage locker bills resulting in lockers being auctioned off.

Estate sales are probably my favorite place to find photos, slides, negatives, etc. Usually these are collections that have not been picked through and are mostly intact. They can also be had much more cheaply than other places. It’s not unusual to pick up a collection of slides at an estate sale (if you can find them) for $20. I bought one collection of 40 carousels of slides for $40. I bought a collection of probably 5,000 negatives for $200.

Estate sales are a lot of work though. You have to drive to the sale, oftentimes wait in line when it opens to get there early enough before the photos are gone, and most of the time they don’t even have photos/slides. Sometimes you’ll research a sale and see a photo of a box of slides in the sale items and then the next day you get there and the family has decided to pull the slides from sale. Still, when you find something good, you usually get something good at a great price.

After estate sales you can also find slides/photos at flea markets, antique/thrift stores, and auctions.

Found Kodachrome Slide
blue shirts and blue car Kodachrome slide. handwritten on slide, “Golden Hills’ date stamped on slide May 1968. Identified as an AMC Marlin by friends on Flickr.

And then there’s the motherlode of all for most collectors of just about anything, eBay.

Every single day thousands of found photographs are sold on eBay. On eBay though you will pay MUCH more for the photos you buy. Buying lots of photos is generally your best value, but oftentimes you find yourself purchasing a lot of photos or slides that have already been picked through by others and you are basically buying a bunch of rejects after everything good has been culled out. Sometimes you can find good dealers who routinely sell high quality lots of photographs, other times you can get an idea of where a seller is sourcing their material (do they have lots of other estate type items for sale? do they identify themselves as a storage locker buyer?).

Finally, tell everyone you know about your collection. I’ve had many family and friends give me old photographs. I’ve also had them refer me to people who are happy to let me have their physical photos in exchange for free digital versions. Scanning at photo labs can be expensive and for many people they would rather have digital versions of their photos that they can look at on their computer or phone or iPad and share on social media, than a box of old slides that they haven’t looked at in 20 years. By the way, if you are figuring out what to do with your old slides and photos and want me to scan them for you for trade, hit me up.

Found Ektachrome Slide
Chicago, State Street looking North, date stamped on Ektachrome slide January 1972.

Culling

Once I obtain a collection of images I review the images before deciding which to work with. Sometimes you run into a collection with many great photos, but oftentimes you end up with a collection of photos where someone took 50 photos of their muddy back yard, or flowers, or a boring side of a mountain, or 100 bad fireworks photos. Still, in those collections there are sometimes good photos too — the photo of the proud husband posing his wife in front of the brand new family car in 1956, a photo of that marque in Las Vegas with all the glorious neon from a 1968 vacation, that early family vacation to Disneyland, you know… the good stuff.

For me, culling involves shuffling through physical photos or looking at slides/negatives with a loupe and then making a decision on an image. Images are generally divided into three categories (to scan, maybe to scan, definitely not to scan).

Found Photo Booth photograph
found undated photo booth photograph.

Scanning

There are many different ways to scan photos/slides/negatives. Some people use a DSLR based system and actually rephotograph the image. For me I prefer to use a flatbed photo scanner; in my case I own an Epson Perfection V850 Pro photo scanner. For what I need it does a great job. I can do batches of slides or negatives at once. It comes with scanning software.

I scan my paper photographs at different resolutions depending on the size of the paper photograph. I might scan an 8×10 at 1200 dpi or a small photobooth photograph at 4800 dpi. I scan my slides and negatives mostly at 3200 dpi. Everything I scan is saved into a folder by that job and dated and saved as a TIFF file.

Found Photograph
an undated night scene from Des Moines, Iowa, from an original medium format negative.

Editing

Once I finish with a scan job I’ll begin editing the images. I treat these adopted photographs the same way that I treat my own photographs. I will work with them in Adobe Lightroom making the adjustments I feel bring out the best in the photo. I will often make multiple versions of the work if I feel it is warranted — sometimes, for example, I might find a great color Kodachrome image also works well in black and white.

Found Kodachrome Slide
“Lady Zelig” unknown widely travelled young woman. Black and white converted from color Kodachrome slide.

Keywording

Keywording is one of my least favorite parts of collecting. It’s boring, it’s monotonous, it’s time consuming… but, keywording is the key to organizing my collection and to making it more searchable in its new digital life. After editing a batch of photos I’ll go through the collection and apply as many keywords as I can. In addition to keywording the brand of media (Kodachrome, Ektachrome, etc) at the time of scan, I’ll also include any dates that I have on a slide or any writing or other types of annotation made by the original owner on a slide or on the back of a photograph — sometimes it’s what’s written on the back of a photograph that makes it the most interesting of all.

In addition to what I have available from the physical photo/negative/slide, if it’s from a single collection, I’ll create a title just for those photos so that they can be properly grouped together later. For example, I found a collection of images from a family named Clouse from Coffeyville, Kansas and so those all get the keyword “The Clouse Collection” which allows me to keep them together online. I also try to identify what’s in a photo the best I can. A photo of the Statue of Liberty also gets the New York City, keyword, etc.

Found Kodachrome Slide -- White Sands, New Mexico
found Kodachrome slide, White Sands, New Mexico. Handwritten on slide, “White Sands, Fleming and Plymouth Station Wagon, 1953”

Publishing

As I mentioned earlier, to date I’ve published over 10,000 found photos to Flickr. By the way, these are 1,300 or so that people on Flickr have found most interesting.

Each day I publish anywhere between 50 and 150 photos to Flickr (I’m trying to publish 1,000,000 photos to Flickr before I die). Usually I publish in three batches (morning, noon, night). What I’m doing now is mixing in my new found photos that I finish with my own unpublished archive of photos I’ve taken myself. I find that mixing the two makes my Flickrstream more diverse.

The great thing about publishing my collection to Flickr is that not only can I share it with the world indefinitely (even after my own death hopefully) but the community at Flickr can also participate in the collection. Quite often my friends on Flickr will help me identify the location of a particular photo. One friend suggested tagging all of the photos of a particularly well travelled and photogenic woman in a collection as “Lady Zelig” (a fictional name) in order to group them together. Frequently friends who know much more about cars or airplanes than I do will identify the type of vehicle or even historical background on airplanes, people, locations, etc.

I use SuprSetr to automatically build albums or collections around my keywords for organization on Flickr (thanks Jeremy!)

There is also a vibrant community of other collectors on Flickr. I started my own group (although it is not as active as I’d like) on Flickr called “American Vernacular” where I try to publish much, much more about various sites and articles of interest around vernacular photography (please join and participate). I’ve been particularly impressed by John Van Noate’s collection. John is not only a very serious collector/dealer but one of the great writers on Flickr as well.

I do also publish some of my found photos on Twitter and Instagram from time to time, but really Flickr is my social home on the web these days.

Found Photograph
found undated color paper photograph of a woman and American flag overlooking a harbor at sunset.

Archiving

This is probably the weakest part of my collecting so far. Once I scan a photograph/slide/negative it basically goes into one of those giant plastic bins (along with thousands of others) and is stored in an insulated room in my attic (part of my home office). Fortunately the Bay Area where I live is never really too hot or too cold and a dark room in an attic may be an ok place for them. I know a lot of more serious collectors probably do more to protect their collections, but this is not a part of my collecting I’ve really been ready to engage with to date — perhaps someday when I’m older and have more time. The disadvantage of this approach, of course, is that in the future it would be almost impossible for me to try to locate a single image amongst the thousands of images all mixed together (although I do try to keep individual collections together the best that I can).

Anyways, I hope for those of you still reading this TLDR post, you got something out of it and feel free to let me know if you have any questions. If you collect vernacular photography please consider publishing your collection to Flickr and hope to see you and engage with you there.

Bill Dane Pictures …it’s not pretty. 50 Years of Photographs I’m Still in Love

“It seems to me that the subject of Bill Dane’s pictures is the discovery of lyric beauty in Oakland, or the discovery of surprise and delight in what we had been told was a wasteland of boredom, the discovery of classical measure in the heart of God’s own junkyard, the discovery of a kind of optimism, still available at least to the eye.” John Szarkowski, director of photography, Museum of Modern art 1962-1991

I received Bill Dane’s wonderful book, Bill Dane Pictures …it’s not pretty.  50 Years of Photographs I’m still in love, in the mail today.  

For those unfamiliar with his work, Dane has been actively photographing the world around him for over 50 years.  Since 1969 he has generously mailed 69,000 of his photographs as postcards to people.  More recently he has been active on Flickr where he continues day in and day out to share his world with the rest of us.

Yesterday he shared a diner scene from Tracy, California in 1970, earlier today he shared a bit more abstract flower from Oakland in 2011.  

As you work through his flickstream you find yourself moving from Las Vegas in 1972 to Mexico City in 1974 to Olympia, Washington in 2018.  The one constant thing is that Bill is there with his camera walking you through his unique view of the world.  His view of the world, as his book title admits, is not always pretty, but it is like no other photographer you’ve probably ever seen.  It’s not easy work to get through but it’s rewarding when you do.

Accompanying his images in the book are his own sttaccato like typed words.  Like a beat poet Bill opines on his own photographic path as well what he sees around him — words to go with the pictures.  It’s part personal history/biography, part documentary, part politics, part life vision — always poetic.

“Hunt treasure   strike-snap-gather   edit   judge

I still photograph like it’s 1969   sort of

Advancing  weaving  focused scanning   dam  Bill  hold still

Leica Rangerfinders  straightforward refinement  guess settings real good

Film has wonder dept   forging Tri-X  darkrooms   mail

Costco for color prints to edit  send

2007 My last film camera  Contax SLR zoom-macro

Digital  Nikon D80 with the 28-105 macro”

In my own artist’s statement, I quote the great Charles Bukowski who once said that endurance is more important than truth.  As far as endurance goes Bill’s got it.  He’s got it in spades and you have to admire that.  Bill’s spent time hanging out at workshops with Friedlander and Arbus.  He’s had shows at MoMA, his photographs hang in the permanent collections of MoMA, SFMOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago — and yet here he is day in and day out still putting work up out there for the public where?  At Flickr? Yes, at our beloved Flickr.

Interestingly enough the title of Bill’s book actually comes from Bukowski’s poem “I Met A Genius.”  The poem is about a 6 year old boy on a train ride with Bukowski who sees the sea for the first time and remarks upon seeing it that “it’s not pretty.” It’s the sort of innocent honest insight that can come from a child who has not been saddled down with society’s version of the sea as a remarkable and beautiful scene, the way most artists might present it.

Bill gives us a messy world, it’s not always pretty, but it’s worthwhile to see it as he shares it. It is a bit of a junkyard as Szarkowski suggests, but there is beauty in the junkyard as well.

Weighing in at over 300 pages of high quality printing and limited to only 500 copies, do yourself a favor and pick this one up before it sells out and before one of these big name museums decides to do a retrospective. You’ll have an original collector’s item. Bill Dane is a treasure — and so are his flickrstream and book.

More from Collector Daily here.

Some photos from Bill’s Flickrstream below.

1974 Mexico City
1970 Tracy
1974 Berkeley
1970 Point Richmond_
Hamburg 1971

Google Photos — Bait Meet Switch

Google Photos blog post announcing their new Google Photos service.

In case you missed it recently, Google Photos has decided to end their free unlimited photo hosting service. Beginning in June of next year users will be limited to 15GB of space before being asked to pay for more storage. How much you’ll have to pay will depend on how much storage you use. Unfortunately for me, I have more photos than fit their top tier $100/year plan, so even if I wanted to pay I’d be capped out of the service.

While I don’t begrudge Google, a trillion dollar company that makes billions of dollars a year, from wanting to make even MORE money, I am offended by the bait and switch approach that they took with Google Photos. Offering a user the first hit for free is classic dealer marketing. A lot of time and energy goes into organizing your photos on ANY photo sharing site and when someone spends hundreds or even thousands of hours organizing their photos at a site only to be priced out of the site, those are countless hours that you will never get back.

Fortunately for me I’ve spent a lot less time using Google Photos for the past few years. Google’s consistent bad faith across photo hosting/sharing products has left me very skeptical of anything they do anymore.

Some of you may remember Picasa (Google killed it). I was a user of that. I also was a big user of Google Buzz (they killed that too). Then I put hundreds of hours into my photography on Google+ (once again RIP). We used to do photowalks and hangouts and lots of other fun things around photography with Google+. Here’s my old Google+ url.

Initially I was super excited about Google Photos, but that changed over time. I was disappointed that one of their early features, photo facial recognition, didn’t really work for me. It limited the service to 200 faces and unfortunately for me when the service launched it grabbed a bunch of faces of musicians I’d photographed performing at Coachella and chose those as the ones to tag. There was no way to delete those and have it choose people who were actually my family, friends, neighbors, etc.

I was also disappointed that the hours and hours and hours I’d spent keywording all my photos in Adobe Lightroom were stripped out of my uploads to Google Photos. I’m not sure why Google would want to remove one of the best ways for me to search my photos from their service but for whatever reason they strip this data.

Still, Google Photos was free (even though it downsized my photos). It’s hard to complain about free — until they locked my gmail. Last year I received a rather ominous message from Google threatening that unless I paid them for more storage they were going to turn my gmail off.

It turns out that even though Google Photos claimed to be able to convert my photos to high quality JPEGs with free unlimited storage, that TIFF files generated by the software program Analog Efex Pro (ironically a former Google owned product before they jettisoned that as well) were not being converted by Google Photos and were sucking up my gmail storage which was then demanding payment from me. They actually locked my gmail and I missed several important emails that were blocked during this fiasco.

By this point I was about ready to delete my Google Photos account — except I could not find ANY way to delete my Google Photos account. That’s right you can’t just delete Google Photos. You have to delete your entire Google account including your Gmail!

While this is my unhappy story and experience with Google Photos, many, many users were duped into signing up for a free service that they thought would protect, as Google put it, their “lifetime of memories.” Now Google is demanding money from these users.

To me it seems wrong (even evil — remember their old motto “don’t be evil” that they also abandoned?) that Google would bait and switch so many users on this product. You can’t/won’t get the many hours that you spent organizing your photos on Google Photos back. Some will just begrudgingly pay up. What I see is one of the world’s largest companies who used a classic monopolistic tactic to grab market share by pricing out and hurting smaller competitors and now wants to profit from their move.

Once burned shame on you. Twice, three times, four times, five times, six times burned, shame on me. I will never trust Google with another product again.

Thankfully there is an alternative to Google Photos, good old trustworthy Flickr. Here is a thoughtful analysis done by Jeremy Zero comparing Google Photos and Flickr.

I’ve been using Flickr since 2004 and as long as I can remember my Flickr Pro account has remained unlimited. Flickr/SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill even recently re-iterated Flickr’s commitment to honoring their unlimited service. While Flickr may not be a trillion dollar company or make billions of dollars every year like Google does, they are a small company that cares about photographers and your photography. They also do a great job storing and sharing your full high-res, uncompressed, high quality images (and they even retain your photo keywords when you upload them there). I feel much better supporting an ethical small business than a trillion dollar company using monopolistic bait and switch tactics to try to drive the smaller guy out of business.

You can find me on Flickr here. If you are an American Photographer come join the American Photographer Group I administer on Flickr and say hello.

My Thoughts on the SmugMug Flickr Acquisition

Disclosure: I know people and am friends with people who work at both SmugMug and Flickr.

Earlier today we learned that the photo sharing site Flickr has been acquired by the photo sharing site SmugMug. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Flickr was purchased by Yahoo back in the early days of the internet in 2005 for probably somewhere around $40 million (give or take $10 million). Yahoo managed Flickr for many years, but more recently Yahoo’s core holdings were sold off last year to Verizon. Verizon folded Flickr into a new division called Oath which was made up of various Yahoo and AOL assets (another Verizon acquisition) run by ex-Google executive Tim Armstrong. Now Verizon/Oath has sold Flickr to SmugMug.

As They Pulled You Out Of The Oxygen Tent You Asked For The Latest Party
Flickr Fiesta party celebrating Yahoo acquisition in 2005 at Yahoo Campus.

Flickr Turns 2 (12)
Flickr Turns 2 Party, San Francisco, 2006.

As someone who joined Flickr back in 2003 pre-Yahoo and has been on the site pretty much daily since then, I thought I’d share my own thoughts on what this acquisition might mean for Flickr users and the larger Flickr community.

First off, I have to say that I think that today’s news is *very* good for Flickr users and the Flickr community. While time will tell how this acquisition goes, I have much more faith in SmugMug running Flickr than I do Verizon.

Before getting into the particulars about why I think this is a good fit, I think you have to take a general look at the types of companies Yahoo/Verizon/Oath were/are and the type of company SmugMug is. Yahoo/Verizon/Oath like Google and Facebook are largely advertising companies. These companies offer you free content and use your personal data to advertise at you. One of the things that I always liked about Flickr was that advertising was largely secondary to paid subscription accounts. Sure, Flickr had a free account, but at least as it was initially designed, the free account (which limited you to only seeing your last 200 photos) was really more of a trial for the real thing, Flickr Pro, for which you paid a subscription.

SmugMug has always been a profitable paid photo sharing service. They’ve never had a free option. This has served them well and has kept them profitable. At the same time it is hard to get people to pay for things on the internet so this in some ways limited their user growth compared to Flickr and other services offering a free option.

My own view is that I think people are waking up to the fact that “free” on the internet doesn’t really mean exactly free. The age old adage of if you are not paying for the product, you are the product is becoming clearer and clearer, even to the point of Mark Zuckerberg having to head on up to Capitol Hill and try to explain how all this social media stuff works to Senators and Congress.

Now, does this mean that SmugMug is going to kill the free Flickr account? Absolutely not. But I do think that they might try to nudge people in the direction of paid Pro — which I also think is smart and ultimately more sustainable than simply giving everyone a free terabyte. I LOVE that I have a complete ad free experience for my own use of Flickr AND also for the users who browse my pages of photos. I will happily continue paying for it indefinitely (assuming Flickr continues grandfathering my unlimited storage Pro account). I also think that SmugMug will likely be much better for Flickr from a privacy standpoint as well without having to worry about how to sell off our private information because we pay.

Ivan Makarov, SmugMug HQ
Ivan Makarov, one of my early Flickr contacts (now SmugMug’s VP of Finance) posing in front of a giant wall print at SmugMug’s Mountain View office.

In buying Flickr SmugMug more than anything is buying a community. I think that they are going to be very careful not to disrupt this community and look for ways to grow it thoughtfully. Having known the MacAskills (the family that owns SmugMug) for many years, one thing I can say for certain is that they LOVE photography and photographers. If you ever get a chance to visit their offices in Mountain View do it. What you will find is wall after wall covered with the biggest prints you have ever seen in your life. These are people who are passionate about photography, not advertising.

Baldy Behind the Camera
Chris “Baldy” MacAskill on a SmugMug photowalk in 2013

Flickr Over San Francisco
Flickr Photowalk, Bernal Hill, 2013

For SmugMug I think what is probably most exciting is that they are getting a very large community of photographers by purchasing Flickr. I think that this will allow them to do even more with community, photowalks, meetups, etc. They will need to make sure Flickr is profitable (and it will be) but they will have a much larger group to build a bigger and stronger community with. While Google+ sort of became a place for the photographic community for a bit, before Google largely abandoned it, there really is not a good place for a larger community of photographers today and I think with the acquisition of Flickr, SmugMug hopes that it can build this and I think they have a pretty good chance at doing it.

I think the other thing that SmugMug owning Flickr will do is that it will allow them to be much more nimble in terms of hacking on and developing the site. Big organizations (like Yahoo and Verizon) have layers of bureaucracy that sometimes make things difficult to get done. Small organizations, by contrast, can move much more quickly. While I don’t expect any immediate changes to Flickr, I think that going forward it will improve more rapidly. I also think it’s great that from what I can tell the entire team at Flickr is being retained.

Mostly what I’ve seen online since the acquisition was announced earlier today has been a positive response. Flickr co-Founders Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake have posted positive tweets on the acquisition as well.

As far as I can tell from looking at the new SmugMug/Flickr TOS everything looks pretty much for things to be business as usual at Flickr for the immediate future.

SmugMug and Flickr will be run as two different sites/properties.

Since Flickr is one of the few sites on the web that allows moderated adult content, I did wonder how SmugMug would treat that — at least per the current TOS it looks like that is going to be handled as it always has been at Flickr. Make sure you moderate your adult content, keeping it away from the kids, and it’s allowed.

If you want to read more in depth at what this might mean for Flickr users going forward I’d point you to a thread in the Flickr Help Forum where more details are provided and where the community is currently reacting to today’s news.

A big congrats to both the Flickr and SmugMug teams. I’m looking forward to being an active user on Flickr for many years ahead and am looking forward to all the ways you will continue to improve both sites.

You can find me on Flickr here.

ANKR $25 for Piece of Mind

ANKR

I just installed an ANKR in my camera bag. Over the past 10 years I’ve had this reoccurring dream about my camera gear and my backpack being stolen. I’ve actually had two cameras stolen over the years unfortunately.

When you use your camera every day like I do, it’s a hazard to have to deal with. My friend Trey Ratcliff was jacked of his camera bag earlier this year. So I was very pleased to learn about ANKR. ANKR is a new product that alerts you when you become separated from your gear. The ANKR itself is super small, not much thicker than a quarter. I hid mine in a hidden area of my backpack and now if my backpack and I become separated I’ll get an immediate alert. It boggles my mind why somebody did not come out with such a helpful and useful tool 5 years ago.

Although I’m sure an ANKR is not foolproof, it’s at least a first line of defense against your gear being taken or stolen. I frequently walk around with over $10,000 worth of gear in my backpack and I would just be crushed if I lost it. $25 seems like a very small price to pay for piece of mind.

Setting up ANKR was super easy. I turned the ANKR on, downloaded the ANKR app and it found it right away. It created a “safe zone” so that I will never get an alert if my camera bag is at home (you can set up more safe zones as well), but if I’m out and about and become separated from my bag I’ll get an alert. I can also see on a map exactly where my bag was when we were separated which might be helpful for me to recover it.

ANKR is a wonderful new tool to help combat theft. I have a feeling I’m going to be purchasing a few more of these. I think I’d like to attach one to my camera strap itself, in case my camera is out of the bag and stolen. I can see lots of other applications for this tech as well (kids, car keys, car, wallet, luggage, etc.). Hopefully the more tech like this is used, the less successful thieves will be with stealing stuff.

Want a Great Gift for a Photographer This Holiday Season? Get Them a Scottevest

Brother and Sister Bonding Time
Brother and Sister Bonding Time, by April Joy Gutel.

On Wednesday I spent the afternoon shooting the Oakland Museum of California with my sister April Joy Gutel (her photo of me above, thanks April). I always love shooting in museums and find myself inspired by the art even as I create new art in that sort of a space.

A lot of museums don’t allow photography, but the ones that do almost always disallow backpacks. Because I shoot mostly prime lenses, I need a lot of different lenses wherever I go.

On Wednesday I tried shooting in a museum in my new Scottevest for the first time. It worked great. I was able to pack an iPhone 5s, 4 different lenses (my 8-15 fisheye, 14mm, 24mm, 135mm), an extra battery and two CF cards easily into the vest. This was in addition to the Canon Mark 3 and 50mm lens on my camera. While I definitely felt the weight as I shot (those lenses are heavy), it felt much better than wearing a backpack. The lenses were also much more accessible to me as I didn’t have to take a backpack off to get to them. I simply unzipped the pocket and pulled out what I needed.

Even with this much gear, I still had lots of room to pack more stuff into the vest if I needed it.

The vest has sleeves that come on or off, in case you want to wear it as a jacket. It was very light weight and very comfortable to wear. It’s a great thing to have around for those times when you want more than just your camera, but don’t want to (or can’t) take your whole backpack set up with you.

You can check out photos I’ve taken at the Oakland Museum of California here.

How to Make Your Photo Experience on the Web Better and Faster

As a fan of the new Flickr redesign, I’ve been particularly impressed with how fast so many images load — an impressive feat given the new image rich, justified, mosaic view, with infinite scroll. Seeing more images, faster, invites more engagement and makes the site a more compelling place to visit. I think Flickr engineers have done a lot of optimizing behind the scenes and are continuing to tweak the site in new ways to make it even faster.

There are some users in the Flickr Help Forum, however, who moan about the newer version of Flickr being slow for them. While it makes some sense to me that a more image intensive design would impact speed, as fast as the new Flickr is for me, (on both my own account and other test accounts), I think there is more to it than just that.

In a new image intensive internet, companies can’t always design and optimize for the lowest common denominator. At some point engineers and designers must just let the Internet Explore 6.0 crowd go. If they haven’t upgraded by now, it now becomes their problem not yours.

Staying on top of the most current technology can help optimize your internet experience. Some of these things that I’m doing are free and some cost money. I do understand that not everybody has the money to just go out and buy a new computer and am not suggesting that it’s your responsibility to do all of these things. These are just some ideas that might help you make your internet experience better and faster.

1. Upgrade your computer. My rule is that I upgrade my primary computer (a MacBook Pro) every three years. As a heavy computer user (and as someone who makes money from my photography and must consider time as a resource in that), this is a no brainer. If it’s been over three years, and you can afford it, consider buying a new machine. Get a Mac. 😉

2. Upgrade your computer’s operating system. I’m currently running the latest version of Apple’s OS Mountain Lion, Mac OS 10.8.3 10.8.4. Make sure you are using whatever is the most current OS for your machine.

3. Consider your internet connection. Are you getting the fastest possible speeds? Years ago when I was on DSL, it was announced that they were putting U-verse fiber into the neighborhood. I was the first guy to jump on that and make sure I got it. Survey each of the internet service providers in your neighborhood and find out what their upload/download speeds are. Don’t stop there though. Also make sure you are on the fastest plan that they offer. The U-verse plan that I have is their Max Turbo and provides 24 Mbps download speeds. Consider the value of your time and make sure you are on the fastest plan possible from your ISP.

4. FREE! Make sure you are running the latest version of Google’s Chrome browser. Once you finally get rid of IE, Safari or Firefox, you will learn to love Chrome — it’s faster and better.

5. FREE! Change your DNS settings to Google’s public DNS, 8.8.8.8 or 8.8.4.4 A lot of people don’t know about this trick, but it will dramatically speed up your internet. Google gives you instructions on how to do this here.

6. If you use your computer remotely a lot (like I do) in places where you don’t always have good, fast, wifi, consider getting a Sprint 4G card. Heavy computer internet surfing takes a lot more bandwidth than cell phones. Using your cell phone to tether to your computer probably works if you just need an occasional log in (I use FoxFi for this on my Android phone which is free) — but this data counts towards your bandwidth limits. Sprint is the only current wireless provider that I’m aware of that offers truly unlimited, unthrottled mobile bandwidth in the U.S. Their 4G service, is a bit more expensive, but is generally speaking very reliable and very fast.

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.