My favorite new feature of iPhoto ’09 is Faces–a combination of face detection and face recognition technology that lets you sort and organize your iPhoto collection by the people who appear in your pictures. Faces also provides behind the scenes improvements in activities like slideshows, making sure your subjects’ faces stay onscreen if you’re using effects that incorporate zooming and panning. If you’ve used previous versions of iPhoto and have been frustrated when your slideshows zoom in on people’s feet instead of their faces, you know what I’m talking about.
Using Faces is a simple matter of letting iPhoto detect the people in your pictures and typing in their names. iPhoto then goes through the rest of your library, finding other pictures of those people and tagging names to them. And for the most part, it does this incredibly well. You do have to coach iPhoto by letting it know when it’s put the correct or incorrect name to people, but in my testing and real-world use, iPhoto has surprised me with its accuracy. It can tell the difference between twins, and recognize people wearing sunglasses or with other parts of their faces partially obscured.
But if you’ve been using Faces, you also know there are times when iPhoto sees faces that aren’t really there, and those instances can range from making you scratch your head in wonderment at iPhoto’s tendency to find faces in hubcaps and rock formations, or laugh out loud when iPhoto sees a face in a ball of cookie dough or offers a photo of a baseball as a match to one of your friend’s faces.
I was so amused by these quirks in Faces, that I started a flickr group called “Things iPhoto Thinks Are Faces.” I thought it would be a fun way for my friends to share the times when Faces misfires, but it seems to have struck a nerve among iPhoto users and the group now has hundreds of members and submissions. You can check it out here:http://www.flickr.com/groups/977532@N24/
When iPhoto finds faces where none exist, I see it as a reflection of how we as humans are pattern seekers–seeing faces and formations where none may have been intended. As you check out the photos in the gallery, you might be surprised at how many of iPhoto’s finds actually look like faces if you squint or stare at them for a while. In much the same manner as we look to other applications to speed up our work by performing repetitive tasks faster than we’re able to do on our own, iPhoto has become an efficient pattern finder–locating things that look like faces that we might not have noticed on our own.
If you’re a Mac user and haven’t checked out Faces in iPhoto ’09 yet, be sure to give it a spin. It’s surprisingly addictive to go through your library tagging names to faces. And be sure to check out Derrick Story’s “10 Things to Know about iPhoto: Faces” to learn more about how to take advantage of this awesome feature of iPhoto.