Glass cleaning

Spring cleaning time.

Photography Software

Excellent and free panorama software: MS ICE

Panoramic pictures are a great way to convey the scale and beauty of a scene, but building a panorama requires a good set of tools. Fortunately Microsoft Research is giving one away for free.

For the longest time I kept Microsoft Digital Image Suite on my computer only for the purpose of stitching panoramas. My photo editing tool of choice is Photoshop, but Photoshop CS’s panorama stitching was so cumbersome and ineffective that I didn’t even try CS4 until I was writing this. Digital Image Suite does a good job… but only if images are really well lined up. Thankfully, however, Microsoft Research released Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE).

I’ve compared the results of Microsoft Digital Image Suite, Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS4 and Microsoft ICE.

Photoshop CS did only a passable job at creating a panorama. Items weren’t lined up and there is obvious banding where the exposure differs between pictures.

DI did a beter job of lining up the pictures and blending the exposures, but still not great.

Photoshop CS4’s Photomerge feature does a nice job both of lining up the images as well as adjusting the exposure across the frame.

Microsoft ICE generated very similar results to Photoshop CS4 on my set of test images. Both CS4 and ICE had trouble lining up the railing in the center of the picture (probably a result of me shooting the sequence without a tripod). CS4 has a more even feel to the exposure and the perspective feels less warped.

Bottom line: ICE is by far the easiest tool to use of the set and generates results comparable to the $700 CS4. While I still live in Photoshop for image editing I use ICE for stitching panoramas. It’s a smaller application and has nice features like "autocrop" which automatically removes the inevitable curved seams on a stitch.


Getting better pictures without getting more gear

After bemoaning the fact that my wife’s little D40x does a better job capturing pictures than my D100 I immediately starting thinking about how I could go about getting a new camera body. I am, however, cheap and certainly don’t have a couple spare Grover Cleveland’s to throw in Nikon’s tip jar. Fortunately, there’s a solution: just be a better photographer.

My first step: take Scott Bourne’s advice to heart. Scott has published a list of 10 ways to improve your photography without buying gear. Scott’s suggestions were inspired by David duChemin, but David’s tips cost $5 (I refer you to paragraph one for information on my fiscal leanings).

My second step: start taking pictures. I know it’s the only way to get better, and yet I still don’t do it. From now on, more pictures, I promise (I promise myself, that is, most of you really don’t need any more pictures to look at).

Blur of fur
Blur of fur
My greyhound spazing out at with .5s shutter speed and rear curtain flash


Sometimes things just work out

My phone’s camera has a mode where it takes a 3×3 or 2×2 grid of images by snapping pictures in series. Press the shutter button and it starts going. There’s the typical camera phone lag to get started and then it takes pictures on its own schedule. I tried it on Finney and here’s what I got:

Autopilot for picture taking ain’t too bad. It just reinforces the same old “take lots of pictures, you’ll get something you like.”


My current favorite picture

Because I’ve become “one of those people” I’ve been taking a ton of pictures of Finney. When you take lots of pictures you often end up with something you didn’t quite anticipate.


I took this while he was in the middle of playing with a rope toy. I’ve decided he doesn’t look angry, just mildly insane… and that pleases me.


What’s entertainment for a greyhound? Paula took a little video to give you a fairly clear picture:


How to add EXIF data to your cell phone pictures

While my Windows Mobile phone is fantastic at synchronizing data with my PC and operating seamlessly with Exchange, it does lack in some of the non-business areas. Most frustrating for me lately: no EXIF information on the pictures it takes.

What is EXIF data and why does it matter? EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) is a standard that specifies, among other things, the metadata tags included in image files. The key bit of metadata that my camera pictures lack is the date and time I took the pictures. The pictures do have a date & time they were modified, but not having a separate entry for when the picture was taken leads to the date information being lost when the pictures is edited or copied to another PC. As a result, I have a lot of pictures from my camera phone like the example below, created in 2009, modified in 2007 and I have no clue if I took the picture on either of the dates… or some completely different date and time.


(Oh, by the way, iPhone owners, this is one more thing you can use to taunt your non-iPhone owning friends about: the iPhone adds EXIF data to the pictures.)

While I may have lost the historical data I haven’t given up on my future pictures. I’m now using an excellent app from Phil Harvey, ExifTool. This powerful command line app allows me to preserve the date taken by copying the modified date to the date taken. In the process of adding the date taken I am also adding extra info to indicate what phone I used and correcting the time taken since my pictures are all date stamped in GMT (no, I don’t know why, I’ve stopped being surprised by stuff like this).

Downloading and installing ExifTool

ExifTool is Perl based and will work on Unix, Windows or Mac OS X, your install steps will depend on your platform. From the ExifTool home page you can pick the version you want, Windows and Mac users will want to get the platform-specific version for simplicity. The Windows executable is a single file "install." Unzip the download and you have an EXE file, there is no installation or required dll’s. Clean & simple (monolithic is good, right Jud?).

Creating and/or changing the date taken

Once you have ExifTool, creating date taken info based off the file’s modified date is a simple command line operation.

  1. Open up a command window.  If you’re using Windows, bring up the command line by clicking the start menu and typing "cmd" (for Vista or Windows 7) or selecting run then typing "cmd" (for XP).
  2. Change directories to the location you saved ExifTool (e.g. if it’s in your documents folder, type "CD C:\Users\ME\Documents\ExifToolFolder").
  3. Create a date taken by coping it from date modified like this (you’ll need to specify the path to your picture):
    exiftool.exe -"filemodifydate>datetimeoriginal" c:\Users\Me\Pictures\picture.jpg

Straight forward enough, no?

(Almost) unlimited power

Now that you have the basic info you can go crazy. Unlike the EXIF editing capbilities of most photo software (like PhotoShop or Windows Live Gallery) ExifTool allows you to create/edit fields like the camera’s manufacturer. 

  • ExifTool can make changes to an entire directory of files by replacing the path to a picture with a folder path (e.g. exiftool.exe -"filemodifydate>datetimeoriginal" c:\Users\Me\Pictures\).
  • You can make relative date changes to files with -datetimeoriginal. For example, I need to take 7 hours off the time for all my pictures with -DateTimeOriginal-=7. You can also make changes in years, months and days if your camera clock was reset by mistake .
  • You can move files with the directory parameter, allowing you to move files from a temp directory after they’ve been corrected .
  • Since this is a command line tool it’s really easy to create a batch file to make a whole list of changes .
  • Get plug-ins to use ExifTool from inside your some of your favorite apps like Photoshop or Lightroom.

To help make the process auto-magic for myself I’ve created a batch file which creates the datetimeoriginal data, adds the camera model and maker, corrects the time taken and, finally, copies the pictures from the staging folder to their final location. I have this batch file set to run periodically using a scheduled task. Now I just need to learn to have the scheduled task be triggered by new photos showing in the staging folder. 🙂


Random picture from a SmugMug gallery

Random SmubMug picture

It’s been almost two years since I posted a random picture from our trip to Salzburg, but strangely enough I never posted the mini-tip for inserting a random picture from a SmugMug gallery.  It’s actually simple enough.  Just insert an image link which points to with the album id and desired image size.  The URL ends up looking like this:

You can find the AlbumID by browsing to one of your SmugMug albums then examining the URL.

Go forth and randomize!


Smugmug tip: Feature your favorite pictures

One of the reasons I’m a huge fan of smugmug is because they’ve made it possible for their customers to enhance and extend their web pages.

I wanted to have a gallery on my smugmug site which consisted entirely of my favorite pictures.  One of the ways I could do this was by taking each picture I like, then making a copy of it into a new, “favorites” gallery.  While this would have done the trick it also means having to manage duplicate files and I would no longer have the context of when the picture was taken.  I had to find a better way.

While trying to figure out if there was a good way to do this I stumbled across David’s automatic “recent” featured gallery. The recent gallery used JavaScript to insert a gallery of recent pictures into the smugmug web page.  I realized that with a little massaging the code could instead display a gallery based on a keyword.


I now have the feature I desired: a gallery of all my favorite pictures which didn’t require duplicating pictures and was automatically updated.  Anytime I find a picture I like I simply add the keyword “favorites” and it is automatically included in the favorites gallery. Check out my smugmug site to see it in action.

If you are interested in doing the same thing on your smugmug site, I’ve written up complete instructions and provided downloadable JS files to cut and paste into your smugmug control panel.

Note: I really must give all credit to David for this since I really just trimmed and modified his code for this.


A handy reference for SmugMug tweaking

imageIf you’re like me and like to adjust the look and feel of your SmugMug site then you’ll love this: a visual reference for the SmugMug Class and DIV IDs.

I was poking around Chris MacAskill’s SmugMug galleries and came across this wicked cool reference.  I’m now going to load the printer up with 8×10 photo paper and print this beauty for my wall.


Now that’s just damn smart

I’ve made no secret of how much I love SmugMug.  Great price, straight-forward UI, unlimited photo storage, open APIs… blah, blah, blah.  You want loyal customers?  Simple: make a great product and support it well.

Well, here’s another tip for loyal customers: give ’em free stuff for no reason whatsoever.


I logged into SmugMug tonight to check the stats on my pictures and guess what?  They’re going to send me stickers and a camera strap…  just ’cause.

I’m feeling the love.