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Faces in iPhoto

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A while back, I was delighted to find out about the face-detection/recognition system in Picasa Web Albums. It's really good at what it does, and it has a pretty nifty/easy-to-use interface.

So I spent a while tagging my PWA photos. But there wasn't any easy way to port those tags back to iPhoto, which is my main photo-organizing tool of choice. (I know that the desktop version of Picasa is now available for Mac, but I like iPhoto better.)

Then iPhoto added face detection and recognition, and I was thrilled. Until I tried it out, and discovered that it was mostly incapable of detecting my face in photos. My theory is that it wasn't good at detecting faces with beards. But it also wasn't all that great at recognizing detected faces.

I spent a few frustrating hours tagging photos in iPhoto manually, but eventually gave up.

But a recent software update improved their system dramatically. So a week or two ago, when I should have been doing a bunch of other stuff, I ended up spending a few more hours tagging photos in iPhoto. This time it was much more enjoyable, and the system was much better at suggesting more photos that might have a given person in them.

It's still far from perfect. And at this point, although I have a couple thousand faces tagged, I've still got, oh, ten thousand or so untagged photos. (Though probably the vast majority of those don't have people in them.)

Still, it's pretty cool.

And the thing I perhaps like best about it is that on the Faces screen, it shows an automatically generated closeup of each tagged person's face (cropped and zoomed to make all the faces roughly the same size), in a white frame with a wide white bottom margin that makes it look like an old Polaroid. To see what it looks like, look at the screen snap of the Faces screen on Apple's iPhoto features page.

And the closeups are often great photos of the people. In many cases, the original photo that the closeup comes from isn't all that great. But the closeups on the faces often look really nice, and give me much more of a sense of connection to and fondness for the pictured people than the original non-closeups do.

(Not always; there are various people for whom I just don't have any good photos, or at least don't have any tagged yet.)

And you can drag the mouse pointer across the closeup to see corresponding closeups of all the other photos containing that person's face. Which can result in a nifty kind of animated-face effect. And you can choose the one you like best to be the cover/display image for the group of that person's photos.

Anyway. I feel a little silly saying all this, given that I'm not going to post these photos publicly. But I have two reasons for posting about it:

First, to say that those of you who have a recent version of iPhoto might enjoy trying out the Faces feature if you haven't already done so.

And second, to say that I uploaded a set of closeups of me to Facebook recently for use as profile pictures, and I wanted to link to them from my blog.

All of these are from bigger photos that include me (some of which aren't very good pictures); in each case, iPhoto automatically cropped and zoomed to get the closeup of me.

I'm not saying any of these are amazingly wonderful photos. But I like what iPhoto did with them.

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