Blog Post

Behind the Scenes at AoD: Photography

I’ve always liked photography, though I’m not necessarily great at it, but I am getting better. When I started writing Art of Drink I envisioned more photos in posts, but the "work flow" has been too time consuming for a non-paying blog post. However, posting photos to Art of Drink still seemed like a reasonable idea. What I needed was a fast simple method to do so, and here is how I came up with a solution.

Social media has brought slacking to a new level—why write 500 words when 140 characters will do—so I’ve decided to bring my powers of laziness to bear. Yes, if it wasn’t for lazy procrastinators like myself the world would be a very inefficient place because nobody would figure out how to do things with less effort. Seriously.

My Goal
To post DSLR quality photos to Art of Drink with the absolute least amount of effort, in a timely fashion, ideally within a minute of taking the picture on my camera, and then blitz the social media airwaves with my update and display a link to the photo on Art of Drink.

Yes, I could just get an "app" and post directly to Twitter, Facebook, Flikr or Instagram, but by doing that I give up my work to some faceless corporation so they can make a profit off of it. I consider social media a tool that connects you and I—I don’t want to be a corporate "smurf". This isn’t to say I won’t post pictures on social media sites, I do, but at the very least I would like to keep copies on my site and send some traffic to Art of Drink.

My Photography Work Flow
To start, we need a good camera. I’m a fan of companies that do things different. Rick Dobbs once stated: "You are where technology goes to die." There is a little truth in that statement. I don’t just buy the most recognizable name brands available. Instead, I go for something like an Olympus PEN E-P5 camera that has a cool retro style. Olympus has great lenses and megapixels mean nothing if your lens sucks. Also, the Olympus gear is small and light which is a huge benefit when I travel.

Another reason I went with Olympus was their PenPal Bluetooth adapter. Before the E-P5, and ubiquitous in camera WiFi, I used a basic Olympus E-PM1 camera with this $70 attachment that allowed me to upload photos to my phone. I was a trend-setter. The PenPal makes transferring photos stone cold simple and fast. Pick the picture on the camera, press "send photo" and pick where you want to send the photo. And yes, I have a list of devices (phone, computer, laptop, tablet) where I can direct the photo. Simple and easy.

Call me "gramps" if you must, but I still use a Blackberry 9900 that is about 2 years old. It works great for what I do. I don’t play games on my phone, I use my phone for things like phone calls and email and for that my Blackberry rocks.

My photography work flow simply needs email to upload a picture and related text to Art of Drink. The title of the post is the email subject, the body is the message area and the attachment is the photo. I send this info to a secret email address and then it is completely hands-off from there, everything else is automated. In theory, it takes less than a minute to do this, which meets my exceedingly high slacker requirements. And let’s face it, my job requires that I drink on the job, so simple and easy is good.

I use ExpressionEngine (EE) as my website platform for a number of reasons. One of those being I had bigger goals for Art of Drink a few years ago and required a content management system (CMS) and WordPress could not provide those features I needed at the time. Those goals have since been put on the back-burner.

I also like ExpressionEngine because I can integrate a shopping cart into the system to sell Acid Phosphate and Abbott’s Bitters. Plus, I like being different (see above) and I get a sense of self-satisfaction when I figure things out for myself.

The important module in EE is Moblog, which allows posting by email. WordPress has a number of equivalent plugins that do this as well. The Moblog module checks the secret email account for a new messages every 15 minutes and if it finds one, it creates a new post.

Using another plugin, called CE Image, the photo is resized for desktop browsers (and mobile browsers in the near future) and uploaded to Amazon S3 and delivered using Cloudfront. This is simply done for performance reasons. I don’t want you to wait too long to view an image, so Cloudfront puts the file in multiple geographic locations around the world so the files are delivered faster.

Now that the post has been created, it is displayed in a photo gallery on Art of Drink. I used this CSS based gallery: "Responsive Tiled Photo Gallery with Pure CSS". Again, the idea with photos is to try to display them as quickly as possible. The onslaught of multimedia has made attention spans very short and if you must wait for a photo to download you will probably go elsewhere to get your photo fix.

The next step is to broadcast the update to the social media sites. Oddly, this has been a bit more difficult than originally envisioned. Using WordPress would have made this part easier, but a combination of tools has made the process far more flexible than I ever imagined.

Part one of the solution was to use an EE module called Postmaster (by ObjectiveHTML) which sends out emails based on triggers. If a new post is made in the photo channel, then Postmaster will send out emails using whatever template tags (i.e. title, link to photo on Art of Drink, etc.) I’ve put in the field. This allows me to customize the content for each social media site.

The second part was to use (If This Then That). Some social media sites allow you to send updates by email, like Facebook, while others don’t, like Twitter. This was a bit of a problem, and the Facebook email update didn’t work well with photos. IFTTT allows you to connect disparate systems on the Internet. For example, you can update Twitter using email with IFTTT and it also allows you to send a picture to Facebook using a link, which is really handy as this previews the image in the Facebook news feed, instead of just providing a bare link. People like to get an idea of what is behind the link before they click on it.

Now that I have this working reasonably well, there are still a few bugs, I can post pictures very easily, even when I’m traveling. The key for me is the simplicity—I send one email with an attachment and everything else is done automagically. This method also helps drive some traffic to Art of Drink instead of giving everything to the social media corporations for free.

And best of all, you get to see some interesting pictures, especially when I’m drinking on the job.

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