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Creating an outline of a group photo

Creating an outline of a group photo

One obstacle that I have had with learning how to use any particular image editing software, is that I never edit or create enough images to really learn and become comfortable with the capabilities of any program. The closest that I have ever come to proficiency was with an old version of Photoshop for Windows, probably 5.0 or 6.0. Since then, I’ve only dabbled. But I’m always willing to play around with image editing. So when my dad got back from his high school’s 50th reunion and asked if I had any ideas how to make an outline “key” of their group photo, I thought I would be able to figure it out quickly enough. Surely there’d be an easy solution?

Of course the answer to that is: no. It was doubly complicated by the fact that I no longer have Photoshop and that I haven’t done much image work in a while, outside of some basic Docker container diagrams as part of my documentation work. So I began googling, thinking that there must be tutorials or tools on creating outlines of images. But I really couldn’t find much at all.

However, I do have a copy of Illustrator on my work laptop. In my searches, I came across a tutorial about using the Image Trace tool. I played around with the image trace tool, and it took me some time to figure out how to even display the effects that were being applied to the image. Image trace does have some useful transformation capabilities, but I couldn’t find a way to use it to isolate the outlines of shapes.

I tried looking up a solution for Gimp and did come across this description of how to use the foreground select tool, but it didn’t seem to work well with hundreds of bodies and the very specific lines that I wanted to capture. I needed just the outlines of the bodies and didn’t want to capture the many other lines from clothes, arms, etc.

So, for ease of use, I settled on Pixelmator. This has been my go-to photo editing tool over the last few years. It doesn’t have all the features of Illustrator or Photoshop, but it still has some nice advanced features, far more than I can use, and it doesn’t over complicate simple tasks like cropping.

Proof of concept
Proof of concept

Having given up on finding any automated tool, I read this description of the Pixelmator Quick Mask Mode. Quick Mask lets you draw your selection, which, coupled with zoom, can get you a pretty precise capture of curves and other unusual lines. I did a quick proof of concept to see what the captured lines would look like.

With the contrast dialed up, the lines looked pretty good. So I spent a few sessions capturing the outlines of the group shot and then numbered the figures to complete the key. The whole process took time and wasn’t automated, but I think the end results turned out pretty well for my first pass at tackling a project like this.


Reunion key outline
Final reunion group shot key

And as a post script, numbering 106 figures of varying sizes and that aren’t in lines is a more delicate task than I would have guessed.



I can imagine that I’ll post about a few things: writing, ultimate, software development, parenting, python, home repair, finances to name a handful. The main goal is to use this blog as a tool to track my progress on a variety of projects and work through the things that I am exploring. Over time I can use this to direct my learning, as well as reflect back on missteps, dead ends, and interesting paths that have opened up.

Here are a few projects that I would like to work on. These are on the technical spectrum, but I’ll use them as guideposts to get started. Not in any particular order.

  • API (docs)
  • Python
    • If I could get to a point where I can put together some Slack bot scripts and a link checker, I’d be pleased.
  • Create a new website
  • Blog about progress
    • Opportunity to improve my writing as well as track my learning.
  • Create a server
    • Why not?
  • Create GitHub repo w/projects
    • I’ve been introduced to GitHub and git through work. I’d like to continue to improve on this.
    • This was also an idea that was further nudged by Tim Hopper at the recent PyData Carolinas conference. Slides.
  • Install linux on computer.
    • I’ve done this several times, but I have a couple of old desktops available. Always a good learning opportunity.
  • Set up encrypted email
  • Databases
  • Markdown
  • Technical documentation
    • Plenty of room for improvement.

I expect list items will be added, removed, and amended.

Marginalia – Billy Collins

Marginalia – Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”