The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Photography

Instagram hits milestone: 150 million photos uploaded

Instagram has hit a milestone: 150 million photos uploaded in the nine months since it launched.

The 150-millionth photo is below.

Kevin Systrom, founder and chief executive of Instagram, said 1.3 million photos are being uploaded each day. That's 15 photos a second.

InstagramThe San Francisco start-up has attracted more than 7 million users and has raised $7.5 million from high-profile investors. Systrom and co-founder Mike Krieger built the service in just eight weeks.

"To say that we're excited and humbled by the initial success of Instagram would be an understatement," Systrom said in an email.

He also noted that Instagram is one of the fastest growing social networks on mobile phones and has remained among the top 25 free apps in the Apple store for more than a month.


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Photo credit: Janefot via Instagram

Hands on: T-Mobile's MyTouch 4G Slide is for photo fans [Video]

T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide (by HTC)

T-Mobile's latest MyTouch smartphone is aimed at avid phone photographers and those who keep their point-and-shoots close -- and it doesn't disappoint at snapping a shot.

The MyTouch 4G Slide, which hit stores Wednesday for $199.99 with a two-year data plan, features an 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 lens and a dual LED flash. It won't replace anyone's DSLR, but owners might start leaving their pocket-size cameras at home.

The "Slide" in the phone's name refers to its slide-out keyboard, which offers a nice pad for wide-screen typing. Powering the phone is Android with T-Mobile's MyTouch interface, which feels like a bit like HTC's Sense skin for the Google-built mobile OS -- which isn't a mistake, as HTC is the company building the MyTouch line.

The phone also features a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, which keeps things running smoothly and speedily, and a decent 3.7-inch LCD touch screen. This being a phone that is putting photo at the forefront, it would have been nice to see a screen with resolution higher than its 800-by-480 pixels as well as more storage memory -- only one gigabyte is available on the phone itself; an included microSD card adds eight gigabytes.

Nonetheless, the phone shoots impressive photos that look sharp on the display.

An array of features brought over from point-and-shoot cameras give the MyTouch 4G Slide add a lot of fun and flexibility for photography -- such as night mode, action mode for shooting fast-moving objects, a ClearShot HDR mode for pictures taken in bright daytime environments without blowing out lighter colors, a macro mode for snapping detailed images at very close range, and a SweepShot mode for taking panorama shots on the fly.

The camera can shoot 1080p video as well and is offered in black and khaki.

Check out the video below to see how a few of the photo-minded features on the MyTouch 4G Slide work.


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Photo: Taking a photo with the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Facebook tells users how to opt out of facial recognition

Facebook facial recognition

Facebook has begun running ads to show users how to opt out of a controversial facial-recognitition feature for photographs after Connecticut Atty. Gen. George Jepsen raised privacy concerns.

Jepsen said in a written statement that "Facebook has made significant changes that will provide better service and greater privacy  protection to its users."

I am still trying to figure out what these "significant changes" are. 

In a letter to Facebook in June, Jepsen said Facebook should ask users to opt into the feature rather than forcing them to opt out of it. Facebook has not done that.

What has changed? Facebook is running ads that direct users to a link where they can learn how to disable the feature in their privacy settings. I showed you how to disable the feature last month.

 In an e-mailed statement, Tim Sparapani, Facebook's director of public policy, said the "collaboration" with Jepsen "means that people across the country using Facebook will be more aware of our personalized privacy settings."

"Tag suggestions" uses facial recognition software to help speed up the process of labeling friends in photos. How it works: The software scans uploaded photos, compares faces in those photos with friends in other photos, then suggests a "tag" for the person in the photo.

Jepsen also said Facebook has assured him that when users opt out, all of the data collected is deleted. Again, that's what Facebook has said all along. 


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Justin Bieber takes pic of L.A. traffic, sends Instagram traffic


A photo from Justin Bieber is worth thousands of new users.

The tween heartthrob signed up for Instagram, and the iPhone photo-sharing service exploded.

Bieber posted a photo of snarled L.A. traffic to his 11 million-plus Twitter followers. That triggered another surge for Instagram, which is nearing 7 million users. Last month the 9-month-old service hit 5 million.

Instagram already had its celebrity users such as Snoop Dogg. But Bieber has a following as large as some countries.  And they are headed to Instagram, where Bieber already has thousands of followers and the snapshot has hundreds of likes.!/justinbieber/status/94199094460940288

Check out our profile of Instagram founder Kevin Systrom.


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Photo credit: Justin Bieber

Google launches Photovine app for Apple's iPhone, not Android


Google quietly launched yet another new social networking effort this week -- a new photo-sharing app called Photovine for the Apple iPhone.

Yes, the iPhone. Which runs Apple's iOS, the smartphone operating system nemesis of Google's Android.

The app allows users to take a photo from their phone and share it to friends in the app, sort of like the popular app Instagram. The big difference with Photovine, however, is that photos can be shared into a pool of other pictures centering around user-created topics called "vines."

In a teaser video posted to the YouTube, which is also owned by Google, a Photovine user takes a picture of a Pomeranian puppy (which looks a lot like the Facebook-famous Boo) and creates a vine of photos called "warm and fuzzy."

Others using the app in the video see the cute dog photo and share their own riff on the warm and fuzzy theme, including a cuddling couple sitting in a San Francisco park and later a guy at a swimming pool snapping a shot of a friend with a hairy chest and tiny blue trunks.

Photovine, which hit Apple's App Store on Thursday, is so far nowhere to be found in the Android Market. In fact, on Photovine's website and in the teaser video that hypes the service, the Google logo and name are also nowhere to be found.

On the Photovine website's Privacy Notice page, it reads "Photovine is offered by Slide (part of Google Inc. ...)."

Despite the lack of noticable Google branding anywhere, Photovine is following in the Google tradition by starting off in an invitation-only testing mode; a move also made with the popular Gmail email service and the growing Google+ social network launched about two weeks ago.

The invitation-only tactic means that not all iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad owners can doanload the Photovine app yet. But the app will eventually make its way to the public -- or at least that's the plan.

An email sent to those who request an invitation, as I did, from the "Photovine Team" places potential users on a wait list.

Google officials were unavailable Thursday to comment on when the app would be opened up to the public or if it would make its way to Android.

"We'll be slowly rolling-out invites starting later this month," says the waiting-list email, which has no mention of Google. "We're very excited about Photovine and can't wait for you to join us! Thanks again for signing up and for your patience while we distribute invites."

Check out the Photovine teaser video below.


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Image: A screen shot from the Photovine teaser video. Credit: Photovine / YouTube / Google

A top five of photo apps for the iPhone

You may not know it from your friend's Facebook updates, but there's more to iPhone photography than Hipstamatic and Instagram. In fact, you can take a class in it.

For the past year and a half, photographer Dan Burkholder has been travelling the country teaching iPhone users how to turn their phones into a full-service darkroom. Taking an image like this:


And turning it into this:


 "Ninety-seven percent of the work is on the iPhone itself," he said.

Burkholder's workshops run from a day to five days. His single-day classes are straight lectures where he shows slides and talks about the different photo manipulating apps on the market -- what they do and how to use them. In a five day class, like the one he recently taught at  Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, he takes his students out shooting, helps them stitch images together, manipulate and print them. It ends with a group critique about what worked and what didn't.

This fall, Burkholder will publish a book on iPhone photography called  "iPhone Artistry." He doesn't have a fixed release date yet because his publishers want the book to come out at the same time as the new iPhone 5.

"More and more people are doing serious iPhone photography, and it's only going to grow," he said. "The book is the most comprehensive book for creative photographers."

In the meantime, I asked him to name his five favorite photo apps.  

1. Autostitch: "Allows the user to overlap images and meld them together."

2. Filterstorm: "That has very good masking and local control."

3. Iris Photo Suite: "Has layering capability and also a nice range of filter effects."

4. Photoforge 2: "Has the best curves implementation. (That's something we use in Photoshop all the time)."

5. True HDR: "This app brings out better tonality for highlights and shadows."


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Images: 125th Street Station in New York City, before and after. Credit: Dan Burkholder

Google puts the brakes on Street View in India after police complaints


Google has halted its Street View cars in Bangalore, India, after receiving police complaints about the company's 360-degree photo-snapping in the city.

According to Bangalore's Deccan Herald newspaper, Google received a letter from the city's police commissioner asking the search giant to park the camera-topped cars and tricycles, which take photos used in Google Maps Street View and the Google Earth app.

"We can confirm that we have received a letter from the commissioner of police regarding Street View," Google said in a statement sent to the Deccan Herald. "We are currently reviewing it and have stopped our cars until we have a chance to answer any questions or concerns the police have."

Google officials were unavailable to comment to the Technology blog on Tuesday morning. But in the past, the company has said that it plans to document India's other major cities with Street View cars after the mapping of Bangalore was complete, the Deccan Herald said.

The tech titan began its Street View efforts in Bangalore, home to some Indian military sites, in late May.

Google is working on finding a balance between its users' needs and governmental security concerns, said Vinay Goel, the company's head of products in India, according to the report.

"We recognize the sensitivity associated with certain locations and are committed to working with relevant stake holders to ensure that their concerns are addressed," Goel told the paper.


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Photo: Google India Street View cars and tricycle. Credit: Google

Lunar eclipse: Google doodle, photos document the rare red moon


Lunar eclipses are a rarity, but thanks to modern technology, there are a few ways to get in on the red-moon action for those who missed seeing the astronomical event as it happened.'s home page on Wednesday features a Google Doodle (as the tech giant likes to call the logo on its search engine site) that mimics the eclipse with photos of the actual event itself. A click and a push of the slider under the doodle moves the images from a white moon to red and back to white again, replicating the Earth's shadow passing by.

PHOTOS:  Total eclipse of the moon

Google also added a downloadable Kml layer to Google Earth that replicates the eclipse, and its red hue due to exhaust from an erupting volcano in Chile, in the mapping software.

Our colleagues over at the L.A. Times' photography blog Framework have also posted photos of the total eclipse of the moon, for those who missed the sights, which took place about 11:20 a.m. PDT.

The eclipse lasted for more than an hour, and was only visible in the sky to people in Africa, Asia, Australia, South America and Europe. North Americans however were able to watch a live stream of the event on YouTube (see below).


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Image: A screenshot of Google's lunar eclipse doodle for June 15, 2011. Credit: Google

Facebook photo-sharing app in development for Apple's iPhone? [Updated]

TechCrunch Facebook photo app

Facebook may be building a photo-sharing app for smartphones and tablets, in a bid against social networking apps from Instagram, Hipstamatic, Path and even Twitter.

The Palo Alto-based social network is the world's most widely used, with an estimated user base of more than 600 million, and it's also the most popular photo-sharing website, with more than 100 million photos uploaded daily.

According to the website TechCrunch, Facebook is developing an app for Apple's iOS operating system (used on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) that would allow users to take and edit photos, then share the shots on Facebook.

In Facebook fashion, users would also be able to "like" photos from friends, tag people they know in pictures, check-in to locations, comment on shots and group photos into albums, TechCrunch said, adding that the site was given screenshots of the app from an unnamed source at the social network.

The screenshots don't make it clear whether Facebook is building a standalone photo-sharing app, a Web-based HTML 5 app, or simply adding the new photo taking and sharing functions to the pre-existing Facebook iOS app, TechCrunch said, adding that maybe they're doing all three.

Facebook officials were unavailable for comment on the report on Wednesday.

[Updated 4:11 p.m.: A Facebook spokeswoman emailed along a company statement that neither confirmed nor denied the TechCrunch report, stating: "We're constantly working on new features and enhancements to our products but have nothing new to announce at this time."]


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Image: A screenshot of TechCrunch's report on a rumored Facebook photo-sharing app under development. Credit: TechCrunch

Facebook under scrutiny for face-recognition feature from privacy group, lawmakers [Updated]

Facebook's new facial-recognition feature is getting some unwelcome recognition from a prominent privacy group and lawmakers in the U.S. and European Union.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, based in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that it plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission raising concerns over Facebook's new "tag suggestions" feature which allow users to identify people across multiple photos at once using facial-recognition software.

163475_10150118904661729_20531316728_7373784_7246884_n "Obviously we're not going to comment in detail until we file whatever were going to file," said John Verdi, senior council at EPIC. "But, we think the facial recognition feature raises real questions about what sort of data Facebook is collecting from its users and from its users' photographs.

"And it also raises questions about what Facebook does with this user data once it collects it and who else is accessing that data after it's collected."

Facebook announced that it was planning to roll out the new facial-recognition feature across its entire social network -- which has more than 500 million worldwide users -- on Tuesday in a company blog post. The feature was first announced, for testing, in December.

"When you or a friend upload new photos, we use face recognition software -- similar to that found in many photo editing tools -- to match your new photos to other photos you're tagged in," said Justin Mitchell, a Facebook engineer in the blog post announcing the feature's roll-out. "We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos."

If a Facebook user doesn't want their name to be suggested in the new feature, they can opt out, Mitchell said, explaining the process in the blog post:

You will be able to disable suggested tags in your Privacy Settings. Just click "Customize Settings" and "Suggest photos of me to friends." Your name will no longer be suggested in photo tags, though friends can still tag you manually.

But the fact that Facebook's facial-recognition feature is opt-out and not opt-in and Facebook "changed user privacy settings to automatically turn on a new facial recognition feature that detects a user's face in an image or photo" was a point of criticism for Mass. Rep. Edward J. Markey, who is the co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus.

"Requiring users to disable this feature after they've already been included by Facebook is no substitute for an opt-in process," Markey said in a statement. "If this new feature is as useful as Facebook claims, it should be able to stand on its own, without an automatic sign-up that changes users' privacy settings without their permission."

Facebook officials weren't available Wednesday to comment on the criticism of the site's facial-recognition feature.

A group of privacy regulators in the European Union also said on Wednesday that they would launch a probe into the new Facebook feature to "measure for possible rules violations," according to a report from Bloomberg.

"Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people's prior consent and it can't be activated by default," Gerard Lommel, a Luxembourg member of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, said in the Bloomberg report.

Introducing such a feature without that consent "can bear a lot of risks for users" and officials at the E.U. are planning to "clarify to Facebook that this can't happen like this," Lommel said, according to the report.

[Updated 2:39 p.m.: A Facebook spokeswoman emailed a statment to the Technology Blog stating that the company should have made users more aware of the new feature before it was widely released.

"We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that's currently done more than 100 million times a day. Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested. If for any reason someone doesn't want their name to be suggested, they can disable the feature in their Privacy Settings.

When we announced this feature last December, we explained that we would test it, listen to feedback and iterate before rolling it out more broadly. We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them. Tag Suggestions are now available in most countries and we'll post further updates to our blog over time."]


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Image: A screenshot of Facebook's facial recognition feature in action. Credit: Facebook


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