The problem with Google Photos or why my friends are a Spaceman and a Ladyboy

Google Photos is a brilliant product. Free, powerful, cross platform and with unlimited storage. The problem is that it is rather too helpful. It’s like having a hyperactive boy scout always at hand trying to be earn a merit badge when actually you’d prefer to be left alone.

Many of the features that automatically happen in the background like montages, animations and Remember the Day are fantastic. The problem I have is with the Faces detection function. For most people this is not an issue; for a Street Photographer it becomes a nightmare. What Google does is to scan the photographs you upload looking for repeated faces and it naturally assumes these people are important and it groups these together. It doesn’t matter if they are the subject of the photograph or just in the background.

googlephotosIf you’re into Street photography or have uploaded thousands of images this is a problem as random folks become grouped as somehow part of your intimate circle of friends. In the shot above here are the faces Google thought were important to me. Top row left to right

Local lad in a water fight in Luang Prabang, Kid in the same waterfight, Waitress in Vientiane, Office worker in Bangkok, Ladyboy in Pantip Plaza Bangkok, Random bloke in Oxford Street, Policeman in Bangkok, Gay cowboy at Pride 2006, Bald man in London, Old biker in Chang Mai, Spaceman on a poster, Commuter at Waterloo, Burmese girl, Man in crowd, Doorman at Lingerie Shop, Peruvian street seller, Cover of a Japanese fashion magazine being read on a train, Random, ticket inspector Machu Pichu, Woman in Saigon Post Office, Bloke in hoodie (not Darth Maul)

So there you have it; a collection of my nearest and dearest. A small tip for Google – maybe next time ask me if I’d like to include these folks and I guess the answer will be no.

Moving to Micro Four Thirds

camerasI’ll start for saying that this post is for photography nerds only so I won’t be offended if you switch off now. Today I sold my old and much loved Canon gear and finally embraced the world of micro four-thirds completely. I sold my old body and lenses on eBay and decided to fully commit to a new camera system. But why?

I had been using a Canon 7D for the past five years and had bought some lenses along the way including an excellent Sigma 18-55, 10-20 and the stupendous but extremely heavy Canon 100-400 L. The quality was fantastic but as I bought more gear I realised that simply going out to take pictures was becoming more of a logistical and physical commitment than a spontaneous one. I graduated from a small camera bag to a larger one and then onto a backpack so I could always have everything and I mean everything with me. The downside was that my backpack weighed 19kg (41 lbs). I remember walking around Venice earlier in the year convinced that my kidneys would be pounded to puree by the constant weight of the bag and that I was in danger that if I fell over, rather like a turtle, I would never be able to right myself.

So something had to be done or I’d start taking less photographs. So I borrowed an Olympus em5 from a friend and went out early one morning to see how it the camera felt.  Thirty seconds later I knew there was no tuning back.

So I saved up some money and bought the Olympus em1 and the 12-40 pro lens. I have to say I’m very happy with the move. The quality is all there and the weight of my camera has dropped by at least 30%. Canon plus lens 1.44kg, Olympus 0.97kg. That doesn’t sound a lot but believe me it is, especially after a day holding the camera. The other lenses are also smaller, the 75-300 Olympus lens weighs about the same as the lens cap on the Canon 100-400. Not the same quality as the Canon I’ll admit but a useful lens none the less. And I’m waiting for delivery of a Olympus 7-14 lens for those oh so important landscape shots.

A rather chocolate box image of the New Forest
A rather chocolate box image of the New Forest on the Olympus

The result is spontaneous shooting and a freedom to take a camera places I would have thought twice about before. My camera bag is now the size of a small handbag and when I pull out the camera I’m not assumed to be a member of the paparazzi but just some bloke with a camera.

I’m sure I will come across the compromises in image size and low light handling but for now at least I glad I made the switch.

Look back in four year’s time when Canon have made a full frame camera that weights the same as  plump sparrow and I’ll no doubt have switched again.



How I finally learned how to cook sticky rice ….intentionally.

sticky riceI have always yearned to cook sticky rice. By that I don’t mean that I wanted to cook jasmine or basmati rice so badly it clods up but rather I’ve tried to cook kao niow or that variety of rice served in Laos and Northern Thailand that is designed to be a bowl of dry, clump forming deliciousness.

Having tried the instruction on the back of the packet which were nonsense I hit YouTube, the source of as many methods of cooking sticky rice as there are grains of rice in a packet. Boil, steam, microwave, soak or don’t soak and on it went. To save you hunting around look at this video by Mark Weins of

I’m happy to be able to offer you my simple summary for making sticky rice. Soak then steam. That’s it. The rice goes very well with a red curry I make thickened with crushed peanuts and coconut milk. Not exactly low calorie but perfect for serving with sticky rice so that guests can wad up balls of sticky rice and dunk away.

The method

  1. Soak your rice in cold water for 8 or more hours.  This is essential and your rice won’t work without this step.
  2. Steam the rice.  As I didn’t have a rice steamer I used a colander over a pan of water with a lid on top. More than adequate. Check it after 15 minutes, stir the rice and carry on steaming until done. Don’t even consider boiling it’s steam or nothing.

That’s it. No other steps, no pan full of revolting starchy slop, just a steamer full of sticky rice goodness.

Eat with your fingers for maximum enjoyment.

LRPS Success

The nail biting is over and the frayed nerves are getting back to normal and I’m happy to report that I got my LRPS.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with my increasingly neurotic blog posts, I’ll explain, but before I do here is my hanging plan and my panel.

Mark Lanigan LRPS Hanging Plan

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For non-photographers, the LRPS is the Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society. The first of three distinctions they award. It involves submitting a panel of ten images, and five judges critique it and decide whether it’s good enough.

To save you digging through all the old blog posts here is my story in the form of the ten stages I went through to get my LRPS.

1. Take some photographs, preferably thousands. Can be over a weekend or 15 years.
2. Select 50 or 60 that you think meet the criteria the RPS sets, see link
3. Print these at 6″x4 “and drive your wife mad covering the house with them
4. Select 10 that are perfect, lay them out in a hanging plan. then throw them away.
5. Select another 10 that are even better and loving print and mount them at the display size you’ve chosen . Realise your printer is total rubbish, throw away the prints , then send the files to a bureau and then mount the new ones instead.
6. Take your 10 babies to an RPS Advisory Day and be prepared to have the printing, mounting and composition ‘constructively critiqued’.
7. Return home despondent, vow to give up photography and swear that print bureaus are the spawn of Satan. Then spend £400 on a printer and some new paper.
8. Reprint everything plus another ten just in case. Mount everything.
9. Lovingly layout your prints on the dining room table and rearrange and swap them until you run out of time and/or a divorce lawyer calls every hour citing neglect.
10. Drive down to Bath convinced that yours will be the worst panel on the day.

So, in the end. I was successful but what tips can I pass on?

– Print lots of 6″x4″ images. You can’t do a panel on screen in the early stages
– Select images that work together not your ten best images.Your top ten undoubtedly won’t work together as a coherent panel.
– Discard anything with blown highlights. I mean this.
– Don’t choose your latest shots. The judges won’t know. One of mine was nine years old.
– Change your mind and then change it again. Only 2 of my original 10 made it to the final panel.
– Get fanatical about blown highlights. The judges will fail you in a heartbeat for these. Don’t think they won’t notice as they view the images from 6″ away.
– Follow the rules of panel building e.g pairs, ends, central shots etc. The Advisory Day and RPS Forum are great places to learn about this. The judges look for these. Avant garde panels do get through but they are Marmite, so why take the risk.- Attend an Advisory Day. It is worth it in spades even if like me your prints were ripped apart for poor printing.
– Post ideas on the RPS forum and you’ll get useful, constructive criticism.
– Don’t worry about sleepless nights. I woke at at 2am convinced that one shot was out of focus. It wasn’t thankfully…but I still checked.
Every print counts. Be obsessional about quality. One technical issue is a re-submission, two is a fail. And have I mentioned blown highlights?
– Prepare well in advance but check your submission. The day before my Assessment Day, I realised that one print was crooked in the mount.
– Then shut your print box and you’re off to Bath. Allow plenty of time as parking is dreadful.

So that’s it. The day was a blur but I walked away successful. They even asked to keep back my panel to show at RPS Advisory Days over the coming months which was the icing on the cake.

So now it’s time to hang up the camera for a few days and sit back and think of nothing photographic. Well I might just have a gentle read of the submission guidelines for an ARPS……

Why hospitals are becoming like airports

ronaldI was recently visiting someone at Southampton General and it struck me that your average teaching hospital and small regional airport are becoming almost identical in terms of visitor attractions. As you walk through the main arrivals ‘lounge’ you bump into Costa Coffee, WH Smiths and most bizarrely of all Burger King. Nothing says ‘Hope you get over your bypass Dad’ like a quarter pounder with cheese.

So it got me thinking about why should a modern hospital be catering to the same behavioral mindset as an airport? The first reason is that the public, whether holiday makers of hospital visitors will eat gummy bears, slurp Venti Grande lattes and gobble burgers at anytime of the day or night irrespective of context.

“I hope Gran recovers from her stroke”

“Don’t worry son have a caramel frappucino”

“Dad, what is a prolapsed rectum?”

“I’ll tell you later son, when you’ve finished your burger”

“What is a colostomy bag Mum?”

“Do you want another Capri Sun, Tracy”

The second reason is because both hospitals and airports need to take your mind off the reality of what is happening behind the scenes. None of us really want to dwell on the dangers of air travel or hospital surgery so if we can hop ourselves up on sugar, fat and e-numbers we can fool our brains that everything will be alright.

What I particularly loved on my visit was trying to actually get some fresh fruit. Naturally you couldn’t buy any fruit in its natural state so the nearest I could find was a fairly disgusting fruit pot from Costa which I could then pick the bits out that looked half way reasonable.

So the next time you’re looking for a holiday experience without the need to book an expensive flight try your local hospital.

Second hand tourism and the rise of the selfie stick

SelfieOn a recent trip to Venice I noticed the staggering number of people using selfie sticks. These had become the top choice of must-buy Venice kitsch. Say no to plastic carnival masks or gondoliers’ hats and spend your hard-earned holiday money on an old car aerial with a clamp at the end.

As a keen photographer, I’m only too aware of the dangers of experiencing new places through the viewfinder and seeing the world in terms of exposure and composition rather than simply being there. But selfies mean that you don’t even look at the Grand Canal, Grand Canyon or Renaissance cathedral directly, you experience it with your back to the view you traveled all that way to see.

This led me to wonder of there was a new form of tour company that catered for people who wanted to go to a county but have second-hand experiences.

Welcome to Vicarious Tours. “We have the experience, so you don’t have to”

Vicarious Tours will be founded on the principal that getting to the place is tiring enough but having to actually listen to the concert, get up at sunrise or queue for the art gallery is actually a waste of your valuable time. So we’ll do it for you.

Here are some of the tour option.

Culture Vulture: You want to impress the folks back home that you actually saw all that art and culture rubbish, but need proof. We will lovingly Photoshop you into shots featuring the top three museums and against at least one world-class painting. In the evening we will attend a concert for you (please state preference classical/religious/ethnic) and take six minutes of shaky hand-held video on a camera phone. If you buy Culture Vulture Plus we’ll even write a Facebook post for you explaining what was played at the concert and how moving/crazy/magical/awesome it was (please state preference).

Food Lover: Let’s be frank most of the food abroad just isn’t McDonalds. In France they eat offal, in Japan poisonous fish and you don’t even want to think about rural Chinese food. So why not let Vicarious Tours have dinner for you. We’ll go to all of those restaurants the local visit and order the most weird and disgusting food imaginable and then photograph our plates. You can then tell your friends that you ate sweetbreads, Fugu and chicken embryo and have the shots to prove it. For our premium customers we’ll post on Instagram with a suitable caption. (No vegetarian option)


Vinophile Delux: As it’s a sunny day you’d rather to be sitting in a cafe having a beer but everyone says the wine here is great. So do you spend the afternoon in a cellar sipping indifferent wine? Why not let us do the tedious tasting for you. We’ll take various blurred shots of wine labels and even put two bottles of undrinkable local plonk in your suitcase to take home and bore your friends with.

Lazy Boy Special: You’re on a cruise and arrive in a port at 6am. Do you really want to get up, disembark, get on a coach with similarly jaded,fellow shipmates only to be carted off to a series of whistle stop photo opportunities at the local ruins. Of course you don’t. You can have a lie-in, gorge yourself once again on the lunchtime buffet and have a well earned afternoon nap knowing that the crack team from Vicarious Tours is doing all the hard work. We’ll take the tour for you and upload pictures to your phone (password required). Package includes  a set of ten images of you and your partner lovingly Photoshopped into the most popular sites. It’s just like being there!

So there we have it. Vicarious Tours will make even the selfie sick redundant and I can get back to looking at the world through my viewfinder.


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