The new facial recognition feature in Adobe Lightroom
The past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get up to speed with the Lightroom CC release. I’m still fairly new to using Lightroom, so like most people who have seen facial recognition in Photoshop Elements, but not in Lightroom or Photoshop, I was ready to oooh and awww over getting this feature in Lightroom. Having heard from a truly intrepid user who had just tried to run it on his entire 5000+ image catalog, I decided to try it out on a smallish folder first. The results, I have to say, were interesting.
The first time you launch Lightroom CC and click on the face icon in the toolbar, you should see a preference dialog allowing you to choose between running it on an entire catalog, or just as needed. I chose as needed. It runs in the background once set up, but will take a very long time on even an average sized catalog.
Even though my folder held fewer than 200 pictures, it was a folder that spanned several decades of holidays packed with people aging more or less gracefully, and few pictures had just one person in them. They were casual snapshots I’d acquired from various members of the family, many of poor quality, and even more where the subjects weren’t looking straight at the camera at all. I figured the software would have a difficult time with profiles, heads bowed, blurry, or underexposed images, but I didn’t expect a lot of the difficulties that the software actually had. In fact, it did a lot better with blurred and bad exposures than with some images that were pretty good. I still haven’t figured out why.
To run Facial Recognition, select a folder in the Library module and choose the face icon from the toolbar (T) or from View> People (O). Then wait. There’s really no progress bar or sign that I could find indicating LR has finished thinking about the pictures, but you should see at least some pictures placed in virtual stacks in the Unnamed area. At any time, you can click on the ? below the picture and type in a name, and after identifying some of them, you can give Lightroom a chance to guess at others for you.
Lightroom finds people by drawing regions around what it thinks are faces in a photo. It may draw one or several. Here are a few fun faces Lightroom found when searching my folder of ancient images—on the plus side, you can identify your cat as the family member you know s/he is:
Lightroom also found several matches of actual people and once I named them, it guessed others. I could click the checkmark in the naming field if Lightroom guessed correctly, or click the “No” icon when wrong, then add the correct name. The “X” allows me to remove an image from consideration as a named person. I could also—and this is often easier—attempt to drag an unidentified photo into the proper stack. I say attempt to, because unfortunately Lightroom sometimes feels free to disagree with me. There were instances when I dragged a photo from the Unnamed section into a stack in the Named area and Lightroom presented me with the big NO icon. My only recourse was to add the correct name manually.
On a second very small catalog, Lightroom couldn’t find half the faces to even put them in the Unnamed region. They were pictures of a baby lying down, and sideways faces aren’t recognizable to the software. Think about that if you do portrait photography with subjects who are prone. The face needs to be upright. When Lightroom can’t find a face in the photo, you have a solution: Turn off the face icon, select the photo in the filmstrip, and you’ll see a marquee icon in the toolbar that lets you manually draw face regions. You can identify the person (or persons) and LR will then place this photo in the correct stack.
On a small number of photos, it wasn’t too tedious to get all the faces identified in one sitting. I did have some problems typing names in the ? field. Lightroom remembers your names and will suggest a name as soon as you start typing, but when you click in the field and press the Shift key to start typing a name, Lightroom often closes the field and you’re staring at the ? all over again. Sometimes the next keystroke is a command that will change the interface. I got dumped into the Develop module, entered Lights Out mode or Compare mode, etc., more times than I care to count. It pays to be slow and careful when you start to input a name.
All in all, this isn’t exactly a speed demon when identifying faces. However, Lightroom is very good at recognizing faces that haven’t changed much and are fairly directly aimed at the camera, even if blurry or badly exposed. For any event photographer, including those of us who take pictures at family events, this should really aid productivity in marking a shoot. And very importantly, not only will the names automatically show up under the new People filter in Keywords, but a Person tag is also added to your photos. This lets you export images with all your metadata intact while excluding the Person and Location metadata. You don’t want to inadvertently share that kind of information with the whole world, so this is a more secure way to identify the people in your photos than ordinary keywords.