Saturday, February 28, 2009

Golden Rules of Photography #2

Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions

Here are two images of model Rosie O'Connell in my newly-refurbished photography studio. Well, that's not strictly true. 

Does the top shot of Rosie look odd in any way? In theory it should, because full length photographs of people that are cropped between the knee and the foot (usually around the shin bone) tend to give a "disembodied limb" look, which can appearing jarring to the viewer. Sometimes, the reason for the shot not looking right to the viewer might not be obvious - they might not notice the missing feet, but it won't have a pleasing effect on them.

If the theory works, the second shot should have a more pleasing effect on the eye. When I cropped the second shot, I used today's Golden Rule of Photography:

If You've Lost the Feet - Lose the Knees

Following the Golden rule, I cropped above the knee halfway along the thigh, turning the shot into a "three-quarter" length crop, rather than a full-length shot with the feet missing.

This rule also applies to hands that have been cropped off at the wrist - giving that weird disembodied look. Although in the case of arms with missing hands, it might be harder to make a pleasing new crop without taking the crop to chest level - cropping between the elbow and the shoulder, turning what might have started out as a half length or three-quarter length shot, into a head and shoulders.

Try looking at your own shots with missing body parts and see if a bit of judicious cropping would improve the picture.

Golden Rules of Photography #1

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Photography Copyright Theft - Part II

The Plot Thickens

I got a telephone call at 8.40am, this morning, from the comedian whose photograph was appearing on her agent's website, without my permission, accreditation or payment (see here for back-story). I say was appearing, because it had been taken down by the company the day after I emailed them. I have had, to date, no contact from the management company themselves, no request to use the photograph in the first place, no apology for its illegal usage and no offer of payment.

What I got this morning was, at least to begin with, a fairly pleasant conversation in which the comedian told me that I had actually given her permission to give that image (and others) to her agent for free use on his website.

I told her that I did not remember that conversation at all. I only remembered a conversation where I agreed that she could have the photographs for private use - including in her own portfolio (if she had one - which she doesn't apparently). This did not include usage by a third party, who were using the image to make money for themselves (and her). I explained to her that I made a living, in part, by charging people for the secondary use of images that had been taken for another purpose. Editorial photographers, generally, get so little money for a job that third party use (and payment for that use) is a very important income stream.

While I was saying all of this to her, the thought "I'll drop this matter - reluctantly" was definitely in my head.

But the conversation suddenly became less pleasant. She started swearing and telling me (amongst other things) that I had "f***** up the relationship" between herself and her agent; that I had "frightened" her agent, that she didn't get anything from the magazine shoot for which the photos were originally taken and that she had to suffer 4 days working with certain people on that shoot; and that "this fri***** issue" was causing her all sorts of problems. I told her (not very calmly, I have to admit) that she had no rights to speak to me in that way and although I was just about to drop the whole matter, I was now giving it more thought. And then I hung up.

It never ceases to amaze me how tables that seem to be laden with all of the odds stacked in my favour can suddenly be turned over - making me the villain of the piece.
I had genuinely been ready to let this matter drop, but now, I'm really not so sure. I have just telephoned the agent, and left a phone message telling him about the abuse I received from his client and seeking an apology from both of them.

More importantly, for me - at least right now - I'm wondering about my place in a business where people feel that not only do they have the right to take your work and use it for free, but then abuse you when you stand up for yourself against it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stolen Photographs - Battling Copyright Theft

Get Your Money Back

About 20 years ago, when I lived in the UK, I came home in the middle of the day to find that my house had been burgled. A few items had been taken, along with some cash, glass had been broken in a kitchen window and the house was in some disarray. The biggest problem, though, was the complete sense of violation that I was left with - and this seems to be a dominant theme amongst victims of this particular crime.

How dare they come into my home and help themselves to my property! What gives them the right to think that they can treat me this way? These were just a few of the things I said about it - and by and large, they served no real purpose, other than to help me vent my rage. I never got my items back and the thieves were never caught - even though I voiced my view to the Police that they may have been living across the street from me.

Over the last few months, I have been using Google Analytics to track visitors to both my main website and this blog. I can see how many visitors I get in a day (not nearly enough!), where they come from (all over the world) and what keywords they use to search Google - which results in a visit to either of my websites. One particular keyword - the name of a UK-based comedian whose photograph I took about 2 years ago and have on my main website - kept coming up over recent weeks. The first time it appeared, I took little notice but after 3 shows, my interested was aroused. So, I did my own Google (Images) search on the name - and right there in front of my eyes was a link to the website of a London-based theatrical management agency, with my photograph on it.

First things first: I own the copyright of that photograph. I have never been approached by anyone to seek permission for it's use on that website (or any other). It is being used on 3 separate pages - the home page, the "list of artists" page and the page appertaining to the person themselves. When I downloaded the image and looked at the metadata, I saw that all the information that I had included - my copyright info, my contact address and a statement that unauthorized usage was illegal - had been "stripped" out of the image.

This morning, I emailed the owner of the management agency, informing him that it is a criminal offence (in the UK) to do what he did, and enclosed a copy of my invoice for 1 year's usage (back-dated from January 1st 2008) for use of the image on 3 sections of his website. I used my photo agent's pricing calculator to arrive at a total amount owing of €2260 (about £2000 and $2900), to be paid in 7 days. I told him that if he didn't remove the illegally used images, I would send him another invoice for this year's usage (2009 - 2010) next week. I also copied the email to my union official (National Union of Journalists).

I then made screen shots of the places where my photo is shown on the management company website, and also copied the website page to my desktop. I made notes of the name and address of the company and the date that I saw the photographs displayed. Then, I printed all the screen shots out, with hard copies of my letter and invoice and, tomorrow, I will post them to the management company by registered post.

If anyone is interested in reading more about how to address this problem - David Hoffman has written an excellent article about how he recouped £27000 by tracking down the illegal use of just a small sample of his photography - with two night's work.

Unauthorized usage of copyrighted photography - no matter insignificant that usage may appear - is theft. Photography is my livelihood and I can't afford for anyone just to come along, take my property and use it for their own aims without so much as a "May I?" I feel as violated by this "theft" as I did when my house was burgled all those years ago.

Click here to read part II of this item

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Golden Rules of Photography #1

How to Hand Hold a Camera

This is a photograph of a stained glass window that I liked so much, I promptly sent it off to my photography agent with some additional shots, and fully expected to see it on sale via their website.

But, it was rejected by my agent, because it failed their stringent QC (quality control) processes. The reason given for the fail was "Camera Shake". I was surprised, to say the least, because to the naked eye there doesn't appear to be any shakiness in it. Although I have a heavy camera, and I was using it with a long zoom lens (70 - 200mm) I consider myself to be pretty good at holding it steady.

I used Adobe Lightroom software to look at the EXIF metadata about the image - which gives details of the exposure settings, and camera and lens used, and the "truth" unfolded in front of my eyes. The shutter speed I used was 1/60th sec (one sixtieth of a second). Not that slow, photographically speaking but perhaps too slow to hand hold a heavy camera with a long, heavy lens attached, pointed upwards at a window. And this is where I should have applied today's Golden Rule...

When hand-holding a camera, use a shutter speed that is faster than the longest focal length of the lens.

This is only a general "rule of thumb" which I break all the time -and sometimes get away with it. But, it can be a useful guide to help ensure that your images stay as crisp and sharp as possible.

For a prime lens, the focal length is the length of the lens. For a zoom lens, you should use the maximum focal length that the zoom goes to - so for a 24 - 70mm zoom, you need to set the shutter speed at above 1/70th of a second.

For my shot, with a zoom lens with a maximum focal length of 200mm, I should have followed the rule and set at least 1/250th of a second as the shutter speed. This, in theory, would, have helped me keep the heavy camera steadier and avoided "camera shake".

By the way, I checked my image at 100% in Photoshop - and I see a tiny bit of blur around the hands and face! Damn those eagle-eyed QC people!

See the first link below, for another important Power's "Golden Rule" of photography.

Golden Rules of Photography #2

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hidden Hazards of Travel Photography

Off the Road Again

The spectacular Errigal Mountain, is situated in the Gweedore region of County Donegal, Ireland, and is the tallest peak in the Derryveagh mountain range.

I took this shot while photographing in the area, for a travel book, in September of 2008. The road looks serene and peaceful - with just the one solitary car on it. But don't let that fool you - I have found driving on some Irish roads less than "postcard perfect".

The day before, I had my first (albeit minor) traffic accident, while trying to navigate out of the narrow entrance to a B&B in Donegal Town. I scraped the front bumper to the tune of €1600. I paid the insurance excess of €250.

A week later, I was driving my (quite new) Toyota RAV 4 down a "back-road" in County Kilkenny, when a van, travelling in the opposite direction took my wing mirror clean off. The cost of that repair was €360, so I decided not to bother the insurance company and paid the lot myself.

Last weekend, I covered most of County Waterford (about 500 kilometers round trip) on the last stage of that particular photo shoot, and was dropping a companion off at her house, half an hour away from my home, when I reversed the trusty RAV into her garden wall. The car (I now prefer to think of it as The Devil's Own Vehicle) is in for repair as I write - the total cost, this time, a paltry €700. I'm paying the excess of €250 again.

The last time I had a car accident, before the last 3, was in 1990 - and I was hit from behind, while turning right, by an uninsured and unlicensed driver. Prior to that, my accident sheet was spotless. But since August 2008, I have had 3 accidents, 2 of which were my own fault - and, strangely, I was on the same photography job at the time. And yes, I did travel extensively in the car outside of that commission.

I told the guys in the garage that a) the RAV was jinxed and b) if I come back to see them again, I will demand a ticket to the staff Christmas party.

I have just put my final invoice in for the travel book shoot - and while it is a considerable sum of money, it's worth bearing in mind that I have spent €860 on vehicle damage repairs alone - which I can't claim back on the limited "expense account" (it barely covered my hotels, food and fuel costs).

So, when you're considering your next travel photography trip - consider the hidden expenses - and hire a car!