Category Archives: Photography

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A quick, simple tip for taking better group photos

DSCN2027 The group photo – that awkward assembly of a group of friends or colleagues trying their hardest not to look like they are posing while they violate each others’ personal space.  For a long time I thought it was impossible to take a good group photo, or at least it required huge amounts of creativity in choosing a setting, angle, or lord help us, props.

But I stumbled on a technique that is quick, easy, and seems to work more often than not.   I’m not necessarily claiming I invented it, but I will happily share it with you.

Step 1:  Tell the group the to act like it’s the worst day of their lives, and take a picture.

I know, it sounds like exactly the wrong thing to do.  You want to immortalize smiles and togetherness, not hatred and melancholy.  So here comes step 2…

Step 2:  Now tell the group to act like it’s the best day of their lives.  Take the picture, upload it to Flickr or whatever you use, and bask in the many kudos you will receive.

The key is that step 1 gets everyone loosened up, so that they’re willing to ham it up for the final photo.  It also gives everyone a good emotional contrast to gauge how happy to be in the happy photo.  No more sneers or unsure half-smiles.

Here’s a case where it came in handy – the setting was a restaurant, with bad lighting and a big yellowish wood background.  The camera was held by a random waitress.  Once in a while you’ll get a server who’s studying photography in art school, but not always, so this tip is a great way to make sure you get a fun photo.  First, everyone is sad:

Saddest day of our lives at Tommy's

Then, they are insanely happy!  Doesn’t it look like we were having a good time?

Happiest day of our lives at Tommy's

Keep in mind that the sad photo doesn’t have to be convincing – note that two of the people here are having a hard time keeping a straight face.  We don’t want great acting, we want to shake everyone up a little.


And it works!


How do you take a good picture on a gray, rainy day?  Again, we use the procedure.  Saddest day of their lives :


Happiest day of their lives!  Smiles despite the miserable weather.


Go forth and use the technique.  I’ve created a Sad vs. Happy photo pool in Flickr.  Please share any shots you take to it.

Have you tried it and it worked?  Didn’t work?  Got a better idea?  Leave me a comment below.

Why I am sharing my photos with a Creative Commons License

DSCN0563 I do a bit of amateur photography.  I’m not very strong technically and I don’t have particularly good equipment, but I enjoy finding interesting angles and compositions.  I’ve been putting up photos on Flickr for a while to share them with friends and the public.  I also have an account on Panoramio with some photos that show up in Google Earth.

No matter the particular photo site used, sharing photos online has been a great experience.  I’ve had a number of encouraging comments on my photos and people have emailed me to ask if they could use a photo in a report for school or a pamphlet for their non-profit.

When I signed up with Flickr I noticed they had options to add Creative Commons licenses to photos by default.  I’m more than happy to let people use my photos for noncommercial purposes, so why didn’t turn on Creative Commons licensing from the start?

Part of it was the number of options available.  Creative Commons licensing allows other people to share your work but it’s not the same thing as releasing the copyright or putting photos in the public domain.  You have some options:  do you want people to be able to make money off your work, or do you just want it available for non-profits, educational, and personal use?  Do you want people to be able to alter and remix your work or just present it as-is?

DSCF0662 So I was a bit struck by the paradox of choice and decided to skip ahead and start uploading photos.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.

There’s a great page at the Creative Commons site that explains the options.  I am going to license my photos with an Attribution Non-commercial (by-nc) license.  That license covers my default attitude about my amateur photography – everyone is welcome to use my photos for non-commercial purposes, so long as they give me credit. This is, of course, in addition to fair use rights that people already have.

Another important point:  it doesn’t mean people can’t use it commercially, they just have to contact me and get permission.  Depending on the use, I might put a price on it.  And I can always sell prints or make products myself.

I might even switch over to allow commercial use as well, if I can get over my delusions of being the next Ansel Adams.

San Francisco skyline and flowers The abuse and incessant extension of copyright might not seem like a life-or-death issue, but it’s one of those issues where technology and public policy are inextricably linked.  It’s like the problem of software and business method patents.  There’s a great story by Spider Robinson that illustrates what happens if taken to extremes.

So take a look at the licenses and consider applying the appropriate copyleft to your work.

Picasa vs. iPhoto vs. Flickr vs. Panoramio

Ledges along Doan Brook in ClevelandEarlier I mentioned that I have some photos uploaded to Panoramio. I’ve also played with Flickr off and on, and have recently started uploading some photos there as well. To add to the confusion, I use Picasa to manage photos on my hard drive, and my wife uses iPhoto on her Mac. Picasa has a web albums feature, and I’m sure iPhoto has something similar with a .Mac account.

Why use four different services that overlap each other to such a degree? Picasa and iPhoto both do the important job of managing photos locally, Flickr seems to have the largest community and the most widgets written for it, and Panoramio integrates with Google Earth. Since I want to do all those things, I have to use them all.

There are ways to make them play nice together. You can use a Gmail account to email photos from Picasa to Flickr, and so far it seems to work fairly well. There are a few iPhoto plugins to upload to Flickr and you can use iPhoto to subscribe to Flickr photostreams. Google just bought Panoramio, so I’m sure there will be more integration there soon as well.

Even with all these options, there are some annoyances. Picasa’s keyword tagging is not very useful, it only allows one-word tags. I tried creating multi-word tags with dashes or by enclosing them in quotes, but Picasa ate the special characters. There’s also the complication of managing public photos vs private photos.

Still, it is amazing how well these different websites and programs work together, through the magic of RSS, web API, and plain old email.

If you’d like, you can see my Flickr photos here. You can also see my photos in Panoramio, or just look close enough in Google Earth, since a few of my photos now how up there.