Posted in News
26/11/2021

This guy wrote a piece of software to composite every photo he’s ever taken into a single image

Sometimes, you come across some photography experiments that are so unique you just have to share them. And this project from Andrew Eckel is one such experiment. He’s a musician, artist and software engineer. Before covid, he would regularly play shows in Boston, but with most of the planet being largely shut down for almost the last two years, he’s had a lot of time to explore other pursuits.

He wanted to have something to sell besides CDs and started working on a book of lyrics. He decided to fill the book with colourful artwork and remembered a programming technique he’d learned in college to average out images to remove outliers. He thought maybe he could create his art using something that does the opposite. So that’s what he did. He pulled on his C++ knowledge to write an application that highlighted the differences between images. The outliers. And it looks pretty amazing.

To begin the tests with his software, he wanted a simple and obvious set of images that would allow him to easily see which images had contributed to what parts of the images. The easiest way to do this is to shoot a sequence of images from a single point with the camera always pointed in the same direction towards a scene that has a lot of fixed points but with a few that change over time. A bit like shooting a sequence for timelapse. So that was the first test. Set the camera up on a tripod, and photograph the planes approaching Boston’s Logan airport.

The result of Andrew’s initial test is pretty cool and reminds me a lot of the compositing work we’ve seen before from photographer Mike Kelley of planes taking off from various airports around the world over periods of several hours. The only differences between each of the images are the positions of the clouds, the planes and occasionally birds, making it fairly easy for Andrew’s software to spot the differences. And unlike Mike’s creation, this software pretty much automates the entire process. Here’s the image that it generated.

After this, Andrew wanted to know what would happen if he gave his piece of software a set of images that were completely mismatched and had no real consistency to them at all. So, he went from one extreme of a single mostly static scene slowly changing over time to the opposite extreme of throwing every single photograph he’s ever shot at it – 10,300 photographs in total. It took an entire day for the software to generate the final result and while one might have expected it to be nothing but noise, you can actually make out some details, like leaves and flowers.

After this, Andrew’s next experiment took the same set of 10,300 photographs, but fed them into the software 30 at a time, with each set of 30 being chosen at random by the software. He ran this process 5,000 times, producing some pretty wild results.

And as for the book of lyrics… Well, Andrew had his illustrations and produced the book. But as well as the lyrics and the images, Andrew also included a little technical information to explain how the images were created. But he had his book, titled Fignerales (a nonsense word that sounds like “fingernails”) after one of his songs. And you can purchase a copy for yourself over on Andrew’s online store.

It’s always fascinating to me to see how people use images. And having a background in programming myself (although never in relation to images), particularly when it comes to software that they’ve created. Here, the results are pretty spectacular. I’d be very curious to see what Andrew’s software would spit out with some of the photographs I’ve shot in the past.

And there’s good news because Andrew plans to release the source code for his application in 2022. I can’t wait to have a play.

You can find out more about Andrew on his website, and if you want to get a copy of the Fignerales book for yourself, head to Andrew’s store.

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