I’m Old Fashioned…More on Flickr’s Explore

I confess.

I took a photo of food (a cocktail to be sure) and posted it to Flickr yet again. I try like hell to avoid doing stupid shit like this but I couldn’t resist. The Westlake Four Seasons serves up an excellent Old Fashioned during their Thursday Happy Hour. The angle of the dark tile under the glass looked good as did the filtered light coming across the hotel’s garden. Man, it was a good drink…so good that I had two.

When I got home I was impressed by the color, the lighting of the image and just how much the camera on the iPhone 8 can do when there’s plenty of light.

I also confess that I had a pretty strong feeling this photo would have a decent shot at getting onto the hallowed servers of Flickr’s Explore. It had a lot of the qualities I think Flickr’s algorithm looks for.

First, the title is unambiguously associated with the image. In other words, I’ll hazard that the algorithm has a dictionary that includes a list of cocktails (that obviously includes the Old Fashioned) and that the algorithm could readily correlate the discernibility of the image to the title of the image.

Second, the image was sharp, saturated and unambiguous.

Third, I used tags that localized and described it completely (down to the name and location of the hotel, the exact camera used and the fact that the Snapseed image processor was employed).

Old
I’m Old Fashioned (not really)

So, what does all this mean? Not much. As I have said before, any notion of knowing what a proprietary and very likely evolving algorithm values will never ascend beyond pure speculation. Still, the criteria I listed about are common to every photo of mine that’s gotten into Explore. In the end, we can deduce some elements of what appear to be valued criteria but there’s no way to know all of them or even to know whether any elements of a kind of computer-generated randomness are part of the process. What I do know and say with more than a touch of irony is this; none of my photos that I consider good have ever made it into Explore.

I’m Old Fashioned…More on Flickr’s Explore

Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Big news; Flickr’s inscrutable algorithm has just chosen both of these images for Flickr Explore. It’s an exciting day for ocotillo everywhere!

Our upcoming & much-anticipated trip to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has gotten shoved back to spring of 2018.

No worries, though, we’re on our annual New Year retreat to Palm Springs and its environs. I’ve always like the ocotillo. I tried to grow one many years ago and it was surprisingly difficult to establish. In fact, I ended up killing the little guy.

The fact is that even a healthy ocotillo can look kinda dead for a good part of the year. Then, suddenly, they burst into bloom. You judge. Who is the star of these photos, the ocotillos or the rocks in the background?

The countdown is on; there are fewer than six hours of 2017 left.

Happy 2018

Ocotillo 1
Ocotillo 1
Ocotillo 2
Ocotillo 2
Ocotillo: Featured in Flickr Explore

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Photos of mine have been captured by Elickr’s Explore algorithm a handful of times. Each time I wonder why for a few moments before I remind myself that a computer program can’t see photos, derive possible relevance, think about or consider what the photographer may have been thinking about when the shutter was pressed.

That makes me think, why would anyone care whether one of their photos made it into Explore? I can’t come up with a reason that a photographer would be motivated to try to get his images into Flickr that could possibly relate to the quality of his photography.

After all, who could possibly aspire to impress a computer’s programming?

It’s easy to imagine one possible motivation residing in a miniature version of Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and I know some photographers who are looking for just that. At the same time, I can see Flickr’s motive in developing and refining the Explore algorithm. I don’t browse the images in Explore very often but when I do I see lots of close-up photographs of birds and a lot of huge landscapes with surreal or at least very dramatic color.

The photos in Explore are nearly always conventional in the extreme. The occasional unusual photo (unusual either in subject or execution) nearly always strikes me as something that made the algorithm experience the computer-software equivalent of bemusement, for a mere fraction of a millisecond. Today there’s a simple photo of a miniature figurine of a lion. I can imagine the data chain inside the algorithm wondering silently to itself, is that miniature lion really alive?

That question got me thinking about just how unlikely it is that the algorithm will ever be able to judge truly interesting let alone good photographs. Think of the objective differences between an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park and the millions of other images captured from the same or similar vantage points. Now think about how you would go about creating a program that recognizes artistically good light and a well-seen composition. It’s hard enough for a human viewer to get a sense of what the photographer was trying to achieve and so wholly arguable as to how well that effort or vision was achieved. The genuine wonders of artificial intelligence notwithstanding, identifying good photography is going to remain a real problem for Flicrk’s algorithm. I’m sure the folks at Flickr are doing their best but it’s not very good.

This brings me to the photo of mine that found its way into Explore.

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Crap, even I don’t like this one all that much. I took it about twenty minutes after the sun fell behind the foothills. I had been out looking for an oak I photographed back in April. Somehow, I couldn’t find it even though I though I was certain about where it was. Obviously, I wasn’t. As I hustled through the canyon, trying to beat the coming darkness, I spied this huge tangled mass of an old tree and looked at the road go on beyond it.

As I did I thought to myself, that old oak knows exactly where that road leads; toward autumn. So, I turned around and snapped this. Yes, I kept the branches of the tree on the right in the frame intentionally.

Now thousands of Flickrites have viewed it and hundreds have faved it.

Yay.

No, I’m not upset this photo is in Explore.

Yes, it’s nice that so many people are seeing it (I suppose).

But, in the end I am far too selfish to care what a bunch of people who don’t know me think about one of my more marginal photos. I’m trying, in my way, to be a better, more aware, more sensitive and more creative photographer. It’s doesn’t matter to anyone other than me if it happens. Maybe in some backhanded way having this image in Explore has rekindled that singular clarity of mission.

It could be that Flickr algorithm is better than I thought.

 

 

 

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography