I’m so excited! The editor of Fuji X Passion magazine invited me to write a travelogue with pictures, covering our time in Portugal. It took a week of evenings to put it together, and they did a ton of work on layout, EXIF data, etc. I think it came out nicely.
Well that was fun! A watercolor painter named Tom Vaughan on Mastodon contacted me a bit ago and asked whether it would be OK if he made a painting from one of my photographs (from Pierce Point Rd in Pt. Reyes with Paul Porter last November). I said yes, and this is what he posted in response today. He said in advance that he was an amateur and to not expect too much, but I think it’s lovely. He took some liberties, adding the tree and converting dusk to daylight, but that’s part of what makes it his own.
This image at Flickr.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all benefit enormously from open source software. Most web servers and most browser engines are open source. The operating system that powers most internet servers is open source. Critical components of MacOS and Windows are open source. We the People are really good at making free software for each other.
But one thing open source hasn’t been able to do is to own and operate a platform like Twitter or Facebook or Reddit. It’s too expensive, and involves too many difficult challenges, like content moderation and resilience. The concept of federation addresses that gap in the open source world by saying “Rather than having one massive expensive server “instance” that runs everything, what if we could split a service up into thousands, or hundreds of thousands of small server instances that intercommunicate? This approach to service design is called “federation” and has a bunch of advantages:
- Massive expense is not a problem – the burden is shared
- No single server has to copy all of the content – just the content its own users want to see
- Individual instances can have different philosophies, e.g. set their own content moderation policies
- Individual instances can block other instances they deem problematic
- Resilience – if an instance goes down, the rest of the network stays up
It’s been a hell of a year, everyone. The pandemic has affected everyone differently, but no one has been untouched by it. My personal therapy through the Quarantimes has been to explore the wonders of the Bay Area with a camera. 2020 was the year I finally made the switch from iPhone to proper cameras (for real this time). I put much of my spare time into learning about lenses, about the power and flexibility of the RAW format, and finally made the jump from Apple Photos to Lightroom. Also spent some of the time messing with editing apps like Snapseed, Tiny Planet, and RNI Aero. On the weekends, on hikes and bike rides, and on morning/evening dog walks, I explored every nook and cranny of this amazing place. I tried to make it a discipline to post one image to Flickr and Instagram in the morning before work, and another after work. Didn’t always succeed, but tried. Here are shots from Point Pinole, Albany Bulb, Berkeley Hills, Mare Island, Pt. Reyes, Guerneville, Alameda, Crab Cove, Tiburon, Morro Bay, and everywhere I landed. If youâ€™re curious, yes, Iâ€™m very careful, always masked, almost always alone or well-distanced (Iâ€™m safe). Photography has been my therapy, my go-to, my geek-out, and a re-awakening of a long-dormant creative side. For better and for worse, here are some of the images I shot in the first year of the global pandemic. May all humans be vaccinated before we lose another soul. Can’t wait to see you all again.
I’ve gathered up most of the posted images from the first pandemic year in a Flickr album – a few samples embedded here.
One of the “buried treasures” of living in the SF Bay Area is discovering the strange remnants of WWII that still exist in remnant form. One of those I’ve been visiting lately is the Richmond Shipyards – an area spanning several acres of crumbling concrete piers and docs, old-school Mike Mulligan and the Steamshovel-era cranes, rusty tugboats, and the monolithic Art Deco / brutalist General Warehouse.
In their heyday, more warships were produced in these yards than anywhere else in America – as many as three per day (747 total). And the final stop before each ship set out to see was the General Warehouse – a four-story edifice full of ropes and stoves and beds and compasses and clocks and radar screens and everything else a ship needed to support a crew and carry out its mission.
Today, General Warehouse is still standing proud, though its sign has crumbled and there’s no getting inside (though one photographer did a few years ago). Anyway, a few shots from the yards one night last week. Amazing place.
After an amazing hike with Dave at Mount Montara in Pacifica last weekend, headed off to Maverickâ€™s to watch some big-wave surfing (it was flat, despite 6-foot waves farther up the coast!), then stopped at the bizarre Devilâ€™s Slide Bunker on the way back up Hwy 1.
A teenager had figured out a way to climb inside (not obvious!), then up on top. Caught him in mid-air jumping down, before he ventured back in to help his little brother, who was temporarily stuck.
From a distance, I thought it was an abandoned attempt at a modernist home, but found this description in Atlas Obscura later:
â€œThe bunker on Devilâ€™s Peak was originally built during World War II as a triangulation and observing station and was once simply a piece of a much bigger set of buildings and facilities. When in service, a watcher equipped with a set of binoculars would keep watch out at sea and if they spotted any enemy ships they simply radioed a massive six-inch gun not far away which would sink them before they got close. Unfortunately, with the advent of more modern missile defenses the station became obsolete and the entire site was abandoned in 1949, leaving an empty bunker atop Devilâ€™s Slide.â€
Amazing piece of history, and a local wonder.
Update: This post has been substantially updated and re-posted as the Medium article “Flickr Is No Ghost Town” – please read that version instead of this one!
People like to say flip things like â€œFlickr is deadâ€ just like theyâ€™ve been saying â€œApple is deadâ€ for decades. Itâ€™s true that Flickrâ€™s heyday has passed, but there are still hundreds of thousands (millions?) of photographers posting there daily. Interaction is lively, thereâ€™s an interest group for every photography niche you can think of, and users are really supportive with the compliments and CC. Flickr still has upwards of 75 million accounts, and can receive up to 25 million photo uploads on a good day (stats).
Flickr dominated the online photo sharing scene for around 15 years. But as Facebookâ€™s popularity rose, FB became the worldâ€™s dominant photo sharing platform, eclipsing Flickrâ€™s numbers (which were already astounding). After a recent brush with financial ruin, Flickr was purchased by SmugMug, and theyâ€™ve been great stewards of the platform so far, with improvements being released on the regular.
Somewhere in there, along came Instagram to soak up much of the remaining photographic juice in the room. Everyone is on it, so youâ€™d be nuts not to use it, right? I use it too.
So why not just use Facebook and Instagram and call it a day? A bunch of reasons!:
- Instagram images are tiny postage stamp versions of the images youâ€™ve put so much work into. Itâ€™s almost an insult to your photos to display them so small with no full-size web option. But we all do it because we have to (and itâ€™s fun).
- Instagram has hashtags, but no real â€œgroupsâ€ – no organized photo communities.
- Facebook does full-screen, but they still compress and rewrite your images on upload, even if you enable the HD mobile setting.
- Not everyone is on Facebook. Millions of people wonâ€™t use it for either personal or political reasons (Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ve all seen numerous friends leave the platform in the past couple of years). People without FB accounts simply canâ€™t see your work here. Out of bounds. Walled gardens have their place, but I donâ€™t want my photos in one.
- What if you decide to leave Facebook in a couple of years? What happens to all the work you posted here? Or will the fact that your photos are on FB prevent you from leaving the service even if you want to for other reasons? Youâ€™re â€œlocked in.â€ Putting your images on Flickr instead means your images are decoupled from your social network, which gives you freedom.
- Both Facebook and Instagram strip out all of your EXIF data, while Flickr does not. I really enjoy studying the EXIF data for other peopleâ€™s images, or reminding myself of settings that were used on my own.
- Only Flickr provides full and detailed statistics â€” not just of likes, but for all views, since the beginning of time (just realized my account is coming up on one million total views since I started there in 2005, wow!)
On Flickr, your images are available in super high resolution, with a wide variety of copyright options. Thereâ€™s a huge number of interest groups, and detailed statistics. The challenge of getting an image into â€œExploreâ€ (Flickrâ€™s homepage featuring the best images on the service, changing constantly) is ongoing, and so rewarding when it happens. Discovering great new photographers daily is inspirational. Flickr is photo paradise to this day, IMHO.
All of which makes me wonder why so many photographers I meet arenâ€™t using it. It seems like the best of all the options (yes there are other options, but they donâ€™t compete with Flickr IMO, except maybe SmugMug (Iâ€™m curious about the features and community there too, honestly – promising).
Are you on Flickr? And if not, why not?
FWIW #1: I usually post the same image to Instagram and Flickr at the same time, but only share the URL of the Flickr version, since itâ€™s high-res. I only post images on Facebook occasionally, and just for the audience of my friends, rather than for the photo community.
FWIW #2: No Iâ€™m not a Flickr employee! Just a long-time user who never fell out of love.
FWIW #3: Iâ€™m shacker on Flickr and would love to follow you if youâ€™re there too.
Almost no one posts images straight out of the camera (SOOC) — there’s always work to do, improvements to be made. But how far can you go before crossing an ethical line?
As our photo editing tools grow artificial intelligence, and tricks that used to be difficult become progressively easier to pull off, photography forums continue to erupt in debates over what kinds of edits cross the line from acceptable and unacceptable? How far can you before an image becomes untrue? I just posted this in the /photography subreddit, on a topic titled “No It’s Not Cheating“:
There is only one question that matters as far as Iâ€™m concerned (but several ways to ask it): Is this an honest photograph? And by that I mean â€œIs the viewer being intentionally deceived?
If you convert to b/w, the viewer is not deceived. If you add a frame the viewer is not deceived. If you focus stack, the viewer is not deceived. If you modify saturation or contrast, the viewer is not deceived.
On the other hand, If you remove a blemish from a human face the viewer IS deceived. If you replace out the sky, the viewer IS deceived. If you change skin tone in such a way as to misrepresent, or â€œhealâ€ out a passing airplane, the viewer IS deceived.
The difference between acceptable and unacceptable editing is easy when looked at this way. Does this photograph still tell the truth, or does it now tell a lie? Am I attempting to deceive or not? For me, this makes it easy to tell the difference.
I’m shacker on Flickr and Instagram if you want to follow along.
The “doldrums” describes the area around the equator where wind sometimes doesn’t blow for weeks, and sailors get stuck, motionless, for long periods of time. Was just thinking about how being on lockdown is kind of like getting stuck in the doldrums. At least we can still get out to exercise, and we have entertainment, but the motion of life is pretty much on hold and out of our hands. Imagine what it was like to be a sailor stuck in the doldrums at any point in the past millennium, just staring out to sea, making up head games to pass the time. We’ve got it good. Maybe it’s time to write a new shanty.
Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of photography, and a lot of messing with photo tools and apps, just exploring and experimenting. Yesterday I spotted this little bird in a bush while out walking the dog, and later did this treatment of it in BeCasso.
Here are a few questions that come up over and over on photo forums. To me, these all amount to the same question. Or, at least they all have the same answer:
- How can I post photos from my DSLR to Instagram (how to get DSLR images onto my phone?)
- I have a computer, a phone, and a tablet. How can I transfer images between them?
- If I delete or edit a photo on one device, how can I get those changes over to my other device?
- â€œWhat do you all use for storage? An external hard drive?â€
Theyâ€™re good questions, and every new photographer has come up against them at some point. What surprises me is how many seasoned photographers still donâ€™t have a good answer to them — surprising because I consider them a totally solved problem.
Itâ€™s 2020. All of your photos should live happily together in one library. That library should live in the cloud, so that when you add to or delete from or edit an image on one of your devices, that change is reflected on all of your devices. When you add an image from your DSLR to your photo collection, it should appear on your phone a few seconds later, ready to post to Instagram or whatever. You shouldnâ€™t have to think about it – it should just work.
Equally important: No one should be having to keep photos in a bare folder somewhere, then drag them into Photoshop or Lightroom or whatever. All (pretty much all?) editing should happen directly in your Digital Asset Manager (DAM) – the tool you use to organize your photos into albums, and give them titles and descriptions and tags, to do all of your editing, organizing, sifting, sorting, importing and exporting to and from.
As far as I can tell, the best-integrated solution for this “one shared backing store” workflow is iCloud Photo Library from Apple. It works inside the Photos apps for MacOS and iOS, but changes the storage arrangement so that â€œmasterâ€ copy of each image lives in the cloud, not on your hard drive (of course you must download the full-resolution master image to edit them, but that is a seamless process.
This makes some people feel nervous. We’re so used to controlling and backing up our own hard drives, it can be hard to hand over control. But think about it for a minute: How susceptible is your hard drive to fire, theft, or flood? How religious are you about backing it up? If you’re backing up off-site, what are you paying for that service? Do you really trust your little $100 hard drive and your own habits more than you trust a company holding the fate of hundreds of thousands of photographers’ work in their hands? If they made a mistake that bad, they’d be out of business. You can bet their backups are taken many times a day and distributed around the globe. And if you delete something by accident, you have a 30-day rolling Trash Can to fall back on. Seriously, I feel way safer with my photos in Apple’s hands than I did before.
At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, it’s hard to overstate just how liberating it is to have all of your synchronization issues just go away one day. The questions at the top of the page are just no longer questions. Use it for a few days and you’ll never want to go back.
$10/month, or $15/month for your whole family, is chicken scratch — you can hardly buy lunch for $10 these days. Great how-to guide here.
I jumped into iCloud Photo Library the day it was released and it solved all of the multi-camera / multi-computer problems Iâ€™d been banging my head against for years.
If youâ€™re worried that the Photos app wonâ€™t be good enough to replace Lightroom, you might want to have another look at the the advanced editing tools in Photos — they’re extremely good! (I’d be curious to know whether there’s still anything you can do in Lightroom that you can’t do in the free Photos app?). Plus Photos supports plugins — I run Skylum Luminar not as a standalone app, but as a plugin for the Photos app. Itâ€™s mind-blowing what Luminar can do.
I believe that Windows users can also use iCloud Photo Library, but the integration workflow is a little less elegant. If you use Photo Library on Windows, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.
If you just feel super-married to Lightroom, the good news is that they now offer a cloud storage option as well, but I have no idea whether or how well it integrates with the Photos collection on your iOS or Android phone (if you know, let us know?)
Bottom line for me: Life is too short to be messing around with some of the convoluted workarounds people come up with to post their DSLR images on Instagram, or to deal with any of the other questions up top. You shouldn’t have to think about it – it should just work!