In my father’s office hung a perfect group photo of my family. We were all sitting up straight, smiling serenely, and facing the same direction. We didn’t have a Google Pixel 8 with Best Take helping us choose our best smiles and perfectly focused eyes. We had to work for that perfect photo.
It wasn’t easy, because I was nine and my sister was seven and we fought a lot. My Dad hired a professional photographer to come to the house to take that picture so he could hang it in his office, and all of his partners did the same with their families. I remember the photo shoot, and I can tell from the results that I was nine and also a total pain in the ass.
There are distinct clues, and I’ll get to that, but first there’s something satisfying about getting a great family photo, or a perfect group shot. If you’ve ever tried with your family, you know that it is far from effortless. Do it yourself one time and you’ll hire a professional the next. Who knew that my beautiful, loving family could look so terrifying and antisocial when asked to sit still for a camera?
Taking that family photo, though, is a rite of passage. I remember taking a family photo when I was nine, and it’s a cherished memory. We have the results, as well, in the form of a photo that hung on the wall for years. Every time I visited my Dad’s office, I saw our photo and remembered.
You won't have to work for family photos with Best Take
Google’s Best Take is going to rob us of that. There’s not going to be a need to take a great group photo. You can just take a bunch of photos and make a great group shot by swapping in your preferred face for everyone present.
I certainly understand the appeal. Effortless family photos that I can share and cherish forever, without the anguish of trying to get children to pay attention and follow instructions. Sign me up!
Except, what would I cherish? The memory of … what exactly? When I look at that photo, do I remember that moment that never really happened? Am I supposed to look back fondly on the time I used a smartphone feature to create a fake photo of my family?
If we never had to work for the shot, there would be nothing to cherish anyway. It would simply be another photo of all of us. Since it’s so easy to take … or, I should say, it’s so easy to create a perfect group photo, I’ll have plenty of them to share. There won’t just be one.
Photos aren’t just representations of us. They aren’t a map that outlines our borders and oceans. Photos are special. They capture a moment in time. A specific moment that only happened once, because that is the nature of time. It only happens once.
If all of my family photos are Best Take photos, they won’t be a moment in time. They never happened at all.
The other family photo
In my family’s living room hung a terrible group photo of my family. Well, it’s not terrible, it just would not have been appropriate for my Dad’s office. It was perfect for our home.
My mother is sitting straight, but making a face with her eyes crossed. She was able to move her eyes in different directions with intense concentration, and it’s an uncanny thing to witness. You can’t see it clearly in the photo, but I remember that was what she was doing.
My father is smiling jovially and wearing a gigantic afro wig that is rainbow colored. He had a very curly head of hair that could be brushed into a ‘fro, but he had just started going bald by then, so the wig was a joke about his receding hairline.
I am sitting up, looking serious, and holding Grimlock. Yes, the Transformer, Grimlock. He is in robot form, holding his sword aloft. Grimlock was a gift for being good during the photo session. Because my Mom was my Mom, I got the gift before I actually had to be good. Then I proceeded to be not at all good.
Because it was Grimlock! It was the original Grimlock, the Tyrannosaurus that transformed into a robot warrior. It was inexplicably blinged out in polished golden accents, and it came with a big sword. It was the coolest toy ever made (until the Aerialbots showed up later that same year, the best year ever for toys).
I couldn’t put it down. I wouldn’t put it down. I had to play with it right away. The perfect photo, hanging on the office wall, was the only photo taken that day without Grimlock. Me, my parents, my sister, and Grimlock in every family photo, except the one that was considered the best take.
I’m sure today you could simply Magic Eraser Grimlock out of the photo. You could even grab Grimlock and make him much bigger. I could make him the size of a real dinosaur / robot warrior. It wouldn’t be real, but I could do it.
We didn’t take that terrible group photo, my favorite family photo ever, because we were trying to be funny. We didn’t choreograph the moment, or create it later from a pastiche of bad images. It was a moment in time, when we were all being tired and silly and totally ourselves, the best and worst of us. It wasn’t the best take, but it’s my favorite take by far.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.