Why I post-process my photos

I see so many photos on Facebook and even printed and framed that are JPEGs straight from the camera (or phone). Snapshots of people are usually OK, because cameras and phones are optimized for that, but anything else–travel shots, for example–are usually flat and boring.

Here’s an example from a recent trip to Denmark. First, the out-of-the-camera JPEG:

Out-of-the-camera JPEG

And here’s the identical shot after I processed the raw image with Lightroom and Topaz Detail:

Raw after post-processing

(Click on either photo to get to the SmugMug gallery, where you can see the images much larger.)

That detail in the sky was really there all along. You just couldn’t see it in the JPEG.

To see what you can do without investing in Lightroom and Topaz Detail, I took the original JPEG and played with it for about 10 min. in Windows Photo Gallery, distributed by Microsoft for free:

Processed JPEG

It doesn’t have the impact of the Lightroom/Topaz Detail version, but it’s way better than the original. So, even a little post-processing in the simplest photo app is worth the time. But to get rocks that aren’t a muddle and a dramatic sky, you do have to use professional tools.


How I do backups now

I wrote an article in 2008 called “How To Back Up Your Personal Computer” that gave the best advice ever about what threats you’re trying to protect yourself from and how to handle them, but, of course, the specific hardware and software I use has changed a lot over the past 8 years.

(Quick summary: You need to protect against user error, computer failure, surge, disappearance, office destruction, and regional disaster. More protection means less convenience, and less convenience means that you won’t do the backups often enough. So, you need to combine several backup methods.)

Here’s what I do now:

Everything is backed up with CrashPlan, which is cheap and has an excellent client application. I have about 800GB there (including 50,000+ photos), and it took a month or two to get it all uploaded. But the incremental updates generally complete in less than a day. I only pay $60 a year.

Original photo files are archived to Amazon S3, as described here.

I like continuous backup, too. I liked Time Machine on my Mac, but I switched to Windows about six months ago. I used File History (built into Windows) for a while, but started to notice that files were being skipped, with no explanation. The user interface is horrible, so complicated that you’re never sure where any particular file is and how to get to it. Obviously, unreliable or confusing backup software defeats the whole purpose of backup, so I started looking for an alternative. Windows 10 is pretty good overall, but File History is an abomination.

Acronis True Image looked good at first, but its client application is very loosely connected to the underlying background processes, and various backups disappeared from the list and then reappeared after a time for no reason. There were also annoying delays with stopping and starting backups, probably also because of the loose UI/engine coupling. Again, too flakey to give me any confidence that the Acronis people are on top of their game.

FlashBack seemed to be much better, but not nearly as good as Bvckup, which has the best user interface I’ve ever seen in a backup program. And, unlike any of the others I’ve tried, Bvckup keeps the backup in the form of ordinary files (like SuperDuper! for MacOS), not inside proprietary database files, so you can easily verify that it’s working. You don’t need a special restore facility, and Bvkup doesn’t have one.It’s only $20 (for personal use), less than either Acronis or FlashBack.

Disk Master Free also works well. It doesn’t provide continuous backup and keeps its files in a proprietary database, but it is free. I have it set up to do an incremental backup every night at 2:00AM. My main reason for using it is so I can have two independent applications, from separate developers.

I have Bvkup and Disk Master writing to two different USB3 drives. 1TB drives are incredibly cheap ($60 or so), so this is a really practical arrangement these days.

I no longer make full copies onto a hard drive for offline storage, since I use CrashPlan.

My advice as of July 2016 would be:

  • Use Time Machine on a Mac or Bvckup on Windows for continuous backup to an external drive. Don’t use File History on Windows.
  • Use CrashPlan.
  • Twice a year or so archive your photos to Amazon S3.

Comment on the SmugMug 2.0 API

A post I put on the SmugMug forum, called Digital Grin:

I just converted my app SmugMugBrowser to the 2.0 API, and the result is OK, even an improvement in performance, because I can now access the folder/album hierarchy level-by-level. Before, I had to retrieve all the albums and then compute the hierarchy from the categories and subcategories. So, that part is good.

But the documentation is terrible. Someone, perhaps several people, think that the live API screens are a replacement for documentation, but they are wrong. Not that the live screens aren’t useful, but they are not documentation.

As a result, I’m forced to do a lot of guesswork and run a lot of experiments to determine the rules. This is silly! The rules should be stated explicitly.

For example, I determined that I could pass a “count” parameter when I’m getting nodes, but nowhere that I can see is this documented. There were lots of little examples like that. As a result, my work took longer, was frustrating, and may not be using the API in the best way.

Here’s a question I can’t answer: Is there a replacement for the CustomSize parameter that is in the 1.3 API? (I know that I can construct a custom-size URL–this is different.) I have a lot of questions like that. What parameters can I use to speed things up or produce a better app? No idea.

If SmugMug wants to continue to progress with apps and websites that work with it, it will have to do much better. This on-the-cheap approach just isn’t good enough.

SmugMug isn’t alone here–I see this lack of documentation all over, because API providers know they can get away from it. But it’s stupid: If you want developers, and every platform company does, why make it so difficult? In my experience, the best API documentation ever, by a wide margin, comes from Apple. SmugMug goes in that group at the bottom, the very worst.

This is only about the documentation. Near as I can tell, SmugMug’s API itself is really well implemented, and I didn’t find any bugs, either. No one is saying they’re not good programmers.

My SmugMug Digital Photo Frame

digital photo frame

For a few years I’ve had a home-made digital photo frame on the wall in the breakfast room, composed of an 24-inch monitor and a Western Digital media player. I described it in an article I wrote back in 2012 but forgot to blog about.

Recently, as I’ve done a few times already, I uploaded a bunch of vacation photos to SmugMug, and then put the identical photos on a USB stick for the photo frame. Why am I doing this? I asked myself. It would be great if the photo frame just ran off of SmugMug.

But, neither the Western Digital media player nor Apple TV had a browser. That’s what I really wanted. All those media-player features (e.g., Netflix, YouTube) were irrelevant. I had a spare Intel NUC running Linux, but the NUC is too much for photo frame, and I liked having the Linux computer around. I tried a Raspberry Pi, but it was was under-powered.

Then I discovered a Chromebit, essentially ChromeOS on a dongle. That is, a Chromebook without the keyboard, touchpad, or screen. A Chromebox, but much smaller and cheaper ($83 or so).

Perfect! It tucks behind the TV even better that the media player did, and, as it runs ChromeOS, I’m totally familiar with it. I just browsed to SmugMug, started a slideshow, and I was in business. (The photo shows it un-tucked.)


I didn’t want a browser logged into my Google account in such a public place, so I created a new Google account just for the slideshows.

The Chromebit worked OK, but not as well as I would have liked. It seemed that the images didn’t always fill the screen, I couldn’t vary the time as much as I wanted, and I didn’t want all that web traffic, as the photo frame runs all the time. (The browser caches images, but I’m not sure to what extent. Some of my slideshows have over a thousand images.)

So, I took a Chrome App I already had, SmugMugBrowser (in the Chrome Web Store), and added a slideshow feature. As a bonus, it’s much easier to navigate to the show you want than it is on the SmugMug site. It caches the whole show, so the only internet traffic is for the first trip through the slides.

Now all my SmugMug galleries are instantly available to show, not just the few I had on the USB stick. From time-to-time the media player seemed to corrupt sticks, and that’s gone, too.

With a monitor and a Chromebit, you’re not limited to SmugMug, of course. If you have some other site that provides slideshows, you can go there just as well.

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ProofSheet Version 1.72

A tweak to the geometry for the {expand} macro. The width was unnecessarily wide, causing the left and right margins to be ignored.  This is for the Mac only; there is no Windows version of ProofSheet.

New Ingestamatic beta version 2.30

No new features, and works only with Windows 10 during the beta period. It’s been rebuilt with the newest version of Visual Studio from Microsoft, and looks much better on Windows 10, although it operates the same. ExifTool has been updated to 10.0.9, and GPSBabel to 1.5.3.

Use with caution, as it’s a total rebuild!

You can download the new beta from here.