04 November 2007

#44. Fun with Photos

This week the Tool Bar & Grill hosted a meeting of the amateur photography club, and the talk was all about new advances in digital photo enhancements. Here are some of the most interesting new tools for digital camera users.

Celebrity Look-Alike Contest

Do people come up to you and say, “Hey, you look just like... you know, that actor... what’s his name?” Yeah, OK, me neither. But now MyHeritage.com claims to use face recognition to identify celebrities that resemble you, or whoever is in the picture you upload.

My experiments with MyHeritage’s face recognition suggest that the quality of the picture you upload is crucial, but also that the technology still is far from perfected. When I uploaded a photo of my lady friend Louise, the closest match (at 63% resemblance) was famous English singer/songwriter Kate Bush. That’s the lovely Louise on the left:

OK, that’s not bad, though I don't see a great resemblance. Scrolling through the slightly less well-matched other celebrities revealed Janeane Garofalo (63%), Jennifer Lopez (61%), a few of other beauties... and then Cary Grant (59%), James Doohan, and Walter Mondale. That’s certainly not how I see Louise.

I tried it with my picture, too. The closest match was Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist and philosopher. Apparently, they don’t have pictures of George Clooney and Brad Pitt in their database. Oh well, at least Orson Welles didn’t come up either.

Then I tried another picture of Louise, and this time the closest match was Samantha Fox. Dadgummit, they do have Brad Pitt in their database – he came up second!

MyHeritage offers a number of other interesting services on its Web site, too. And whether or not you are satisfied with the results, you can have a lot of fun there.

Always Take Three Shots

One important lesson that the amateur photography club has learned is to always take at least three pictures of every scene, in rapid succession, at the same settings. This practice alone can help you get the best shot. And it also helps even more when you use a photo enhancement service like Tourist Remover from Snapmania.

When you upload a series of photos of the same scene to Tourist Remover, it compares them and removes objects that move across the scene (using the background as a reference). Here is the example shown on the Snapmania Web site:

I could not test Tourist Remover effectively because I had not yet formed the three-picture habit, so I could not find test pictures. However, it sounds like a great idea.

Group Pictures that Improve on Reality

We’ve all been through it: You think you have taken brilliant family portraits at Aunt Tillie’s garden party, the only family get-together in the last 10 years. You even followed the three-shot rule. Then when you get home, you find that little cousin Herman was making a face in one shot, Grandmother Margaret had her eyes closed in another, and the third one caught your sister making out with a waiter in the background. If only you could take the best parts of each picture!

I recently tried an experimental Microsoft Research utility that promises to enable you to take the best parts of each picture and cut and paste them into a new composite picture. Here’s how it works: You drag a series of similar photos into MSR Group Shot. Each is displayed in a separate tabbed page. When you draw a rectangle around part of a picture, Group Shot displays all the same part from all the pictures to the right, so you an select the best one. Do the same for other parts. Then Group Shot inserts the selected parts into the common background of the composite picture.

It sounds great in theory. In practice, Group Shot was too fussy for me. I chose two very similar professional photos of my beautiful children at my daughter’s wedding. But Group Shot complained that they were not sufficiently matched. I used an image editor to try to adjust the size and cropping for a better match, but Group Shot still was not satisfied. And Group Shot displayed the pictures at different angles, as if pasted crooked into an album. The resulting composite was more Picasso than Leibovitz.

I usually recommend the best software and Web sites in this blog, but this week had mixed success with the utilities I tried. So please try them out yourselves and write in to let us all know how they worked! Post your comments below, or write to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

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