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Monday, 11 February 2019


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Unremarkable really, portrait mode is for portraits of humans, it doesn’t even work for most dogs, I presume because their faces are too long (horizontally, I mean). If it was ‘background blur mode’ it would have called that, or probably ‘iBokay’ knowing Apple ;-).

I can attest your uncanny ability to see details in pictures other people cannot. Once you were so kind as to comment one of my photos, remarking a small, but very important detail... that I had never realized myself. I felt awed -really- and humbled -really, too.

It would be an interesting sci-fi plot if the AI photo/video algorithms had some universal bug that distorted reality in a certain specific but obscure way that eventually meant that everyone would not notice anymore and therefore began to doubt reality precisely because it conflicted with a ubiquitous electronic virtual reality that had become the de facto standard. Nobody would believe what was in front of their eyes anymore.

I have never seen anything like that with my Pixel. AI can handle this stuff, if done right.

Seems his neural engines need a tune up. Maybe his light injectors are clogged?

The iPhone's portrait mode uses an approximate depth map generated from stereo data from the two cameras (if you have two cameras) or by other means I don't understand (if you don't) to guess about what is background and what is not.

Obviously it's not always right. It's probably more right than wrong on things like human faces, which is where the feature is presumably most targeted. Early versions of the mode had particular trouble with the boundary between glass and air, which made for fun mishaps.

My favorite iPhone camera glitches are

1. In the very early iPhone cameras you could pretty easily get a rolling-shutter-like effect caused by the fact that the CCD did not read off the data all at once, but rather in a scan-line-like way... this was fun to play with.

2. In some of the newer cameras if you got unlucky you could get sharp but wavy images if at the time of exposure you happened to jiggle the camera just the right way. Apparently the sensor can move w.r.t. the lens assembly, probably as part of the image stabilization system...

I have one really excellent example of this one:


MyPhotographer's Prayer: 'Lord, please let my humble attempts at picture making start with a straight rendering of an image projected by a lens on a light-sensitive surface - and nothing else, before I start working on it. Thank you, Amen.'

Having spent the better part of the past year effectively following your OCOLOY idea, with the OC being my iPhone, I have noticed a number of ComAnoms including the one mentioned in this TOP entry. I have also noticed an inverse ComAnom when using the Portrait setting/lens to picture flora ... if an arrangement of flowers has an isolated flower stem emerging from the main body of flowers and is set against a "busy" background, that stem will be, more often than not, out of focus along with the background leaving the blossom at the top of the stem in focus and "floating" above the main body of flowers. Apparently, the AI brain needs to be taught to think a little harder in order to get this situation right. That written, when the Portrait setting/lens is used for the purpose it is most likely intended, picturing people or cute cats and dogs, it works very well. Especially so with the post-picturing variable DOF slider feature.

Look closely at my cat's whiskers in this photo for a similar algorithmic boner:


[Good one. No optical explanation for that. --Mike]

The most interesting thing I found out about this post was Ned Bunnell's IG page, which has lots of wonderful photographs. I just followed Ned.

As for "the good old days" of processing film & printing with chemicals on paper....well, those days, thankfully, are gone. I don't know of any working pros that had to process film and print at a "production level" for commercial, portrait, wedding or editorial photography that miss the "good old days".

Good riddance.

Solution: use a proper camera and stop playing with these phone-cameras. Leave that to our teenagers. Maybe it will tempt them to use real cameras with real lenses. Eventually.

I think the problem is not with the camera but with the plant. It is well known that Apple's portrait mode only works on plants that have eyes. So it works perfectly with potatoes but not worth a damn with tomatoes.

Is it Software, or is it Real............
Thanks Ned & Mike for an interesting post.
Just like fixing perspective error of camera position in Photoshop is not the same as using tilt, shift , rise, and Fall on a view camera, it can come close and is far easier and can be done after the fact.
The net effect is that we are seeing fewer direct, lens drawn images in that genre.
Similarly, some lenses are less corrected for certain aberrations because the manufacturers software 'corrects' it later. If you use that lens on a different camera, the results may vary.
It's a new world , What we see is Not always what we get.

I was one of those who disagreed with Mike when he suggested a differentiating name for Pictures made in the Digital Domain.
I still don't like the idea because Photography can still be done in a way that is consistent with previous norms, but I guess the point is that we have crossed a rubicon where it is now impossible to Know.
It is even nearly impossible for the Photographer to know because , increasingly, our pictures are pre-processed in various ways and degrees before we ever see them. So something IS different.

The new technology came bearing lots of wonderful gifts, most of us have been thrilled to accept them. They help us do lots of things easier and better than we ever could. But we need to be mindful of the fact that the gifts weren't free. We gave up a few things in return.

As I write this there is an 11x14 Deardorff with a Goerz Artar standing quietly unused right next to me, and posing the question "Have you deserted me because Digital is Better, or because you are Lazy"
My honest answer is that Digital IS better at many things, but not all, and yes I've gotten a bit lazy.

I'll stick to bokeh generated by the laws of physics, not binary "logic".

As one who uses Photoshop and object selections a lot, I anticipated this glitch in smartphone camera software as soon as I saw they were trying to fake bokeh. All but the most trivial Ps selections require finessing, especially for features like existed in Ned's pics.

I predict this will never be fixed and will just become another anomaly we live with like the weird kaboing noises that plague cellphone conversations or the bizarre artifacts we're used to seeing in streaming videos.

In moderately the same vein of likeable flaws (though this one falls into the category of user error / poor technique), one of my old Holga shots picked up an interesting piece of dust during the scanning process. I had intended on titling the photo "Bike Love" anyway and this just seemed to fit so well that I left it in. Look just left of the leftmost bike's front tire.

Bike Love

I'll also add to my previous comment... The Holga is a perfect example of learning to love the anomalies, mixed with likely an equivalent dose of cursing the anomalies when they upend an otherwise good picture.

I’ve a new iPhone XR, which is single lens so it’s all about the software. The portrait mode, front and back cameras, works quite well mostly (I use the back camera because I still can’t help but wanting to maximise quality, regardless of the snapshotty motives). But it has its moments. This selfie didn’t like my headware much, apparently, though its choice of blurring is not without aesthetic value:



Having acquired an XS recently after my 6s started showing signs of mortality, I am going to have to revisit my photos. I haven’t really used the XS camera seriously even though I chose it over the XR for the camera; I tend to favour the X100F or film cameras.

I think there's a difference between the kinds of anomalies. In a photochemical print, except in some explicit cases ('solarization' / 'Sabatier effect, say), the photograph is usually some approximation to 'the truth' with some artifacts (I am gleefully ignoring colour changes here). In the case of the iPhone image the whole photograph is, clearly, an artifact, with occasional glimpses of what the lens actually saw.

Neither is better, I suppose, but I know which I prefer.

Interesting. This is a pretty ugly anomaly.

But I am rather fascinated with the anomalies from using the iPhone for panoramas.

Like this one :)


If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist 8-)

BTW a week ago my lolood pressure was 49/40. Today I walked 200 yards, rested for 5 minuets then returned. I don’t allow kvetching to interfere with my health.

I recently had an experience of this kind when I tried to turn a very ordinary picture of black-eyed susans into something more interesting. I pushed the shadows to black to obliterate some distracting details and injected a bit of false colour. When I printed the result, however, the black areas that I saw on screen emerged as a gorgeous dark blue, the flower petals were a vivid red, and some ghostly bits of green leaf floated faintly in the background. This was infinitely more interesting than the image I had sent to the printer, but it was clearly a result of a printer malfunction. I traced the problem to a recently replaced black ink cartridge. I had failed to remove the tape covering the air hole, thus preventing the ink from flowing. Great picture, but with zero creative input from me, just serendipitous incompetence.

I heard about this issue late last year. I was doing a compare of the newest iPhone and the Google Pixel 3 and came across a review of just this issue. I've spent the last few hours going through every link I have saved, I have a ton of them, and can not find it.

From what I do remember of the article I saw, this is not just an iPhone problem. Most of the camera upgrades are more software than hardware and this bug is showing up more often always in the portrait mode.

I thought it was a Digital Photography Review site link but can't find it. But it did describe the exact problem with the portrait mode shown in Ned's Instagram post. As soon as I looked at his photo I spotted the issue.

If I can find the link I'll post it or send it to you.

I’ve seen that flaw in my photos. Portrait mode is pretty bad at defining the edges of glassware also.

One commenter on that thread mentions an app called Slor that lets you edit portrait mode photos in a more robust way - changing focus point, aperture characteristics etc. I use a similar app called Focos, which has bokeh models for historic lenses that are fun to try. And I swear, if I go through the trouble of opening that app to take my portrait mode photo, it works a little better than the built-in app. But like you, Mike, I don’t often bother since I can access my iPhone camera app via the lock screen.

It’s early days for computational photography / digital image making (I like the definition of a photo from ‘An hour with Sarah Meister’ - 1st Dec 18). It took Google many years of tweaks to refine it’s algorithms - including buying out those produced by technology students.
AI could do it, but it needs to learn what humans prefer in their images, which also takes time.
And we get to see the quirks of all this learning along the way.

Finally found it!! Need to better organize my bookmarks.

This is the review I mentioned. It's from December 2017. Farther back than I first thought.

Beginning with photo 25 and several there after, it mentions the "depth map artifacts".


I found it an interesting review.

I wonder if people will look back at optical blur and zoom in a section of the subject that is blurred and say wow the optical blur had a lot of limitations, most people could not match the depth of their subject with the depth of field of their lens... lucky computers took over

Re David Francis comment - serendipitous incompetence - nearly snorted my tea over that one. Love it!

The hot-rodders used to say, "Ain't no substitute for cubic inches." Perhaps the new version of that is, "Ain't no substitute for real glass."

I see the latest apple ad has made bokeh a verb -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKok5dykRBM

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