London in the fog

Westminster in fog

As promised, here’s a shot of the fog that surrounded London (and a lot of the rest of the country) for a few days this week. Whilst causing chaos for the airports, fog acts as a natural softbox for the photographer, helping to diffuse light to create some interesting possibilities.

I spent about eight hours eschewing the Christmas shoppers to wander around the city of London and then along the South Bank, taking over 200 shots along the way. Starting from City Thameslink then wandering up to Smithfield market, down past Paternoster Square to St. Pauls, up to the Tower of St. Alban on Wood St. Then along London Wall to Moorgate, along to Bishopsgate (including detours to the Gherkin and Lloyds buildings) across to the Royal Exchange and then down to London Bridge. Once over the river I was on more familiar ground, walking past Southwark Cathedral, Borough market, Bankside and the Millennium Bridge, the OXO Tower and on past the South Bank theaters (and IBM) to Westminster Bridge, as shown in the shot above.

The whole journey was inspired by reading London by Louise Nicholson with photographs by Richard Turpin. The book has some fantastic photograpgy backed up by great writing about the history of the various parts of the city. The choice selection of my photos are in this flickr set.

Frosty morning

As you may have heard, the weather in England (at least the South) at the moment is foggy. Very foggy. It has also turned very cold in the last couple of days. I’m currently staying with my parents in Luton, about 30 miles North of London, and this morning was rudely awoken by my mother encouraging me to look at the frozen cobwebs in their garden. They’ve only been in this house for a few months and it does appear to be a haven for all sorts of arachnids. Needless to say it was an opportunity to get the camera out:

Frozen Web 2

Frozen Web 1

Frosty Leaf

Frosty Leaves 1

Rose stem

Frosty Flower

Tommorow I’ll bring you some of the fog!

WebSphere ESB 6.0.2 released

WebSphere ESB 6.0.2 (along with WebSphere Process Server 6.0.2 and WebSphere Integration Developer 6.0.2) is now generally available. Existing customers can learn how to download the product from Passport Advantage here (just click on the link for the platform you require.) I’ve discussed some of the new functionality on this blog before, but you can now also access the Infocenter documentation, including a section on what’s new.

Flickr and commercial use of photos

Andy has discussed the subject of requests for use of photos published on flickr before, but I’ve just had cause to consider it further.

This evening I received an email via flickrMail from an employee of Little Airplane Productions Inc. enquiring about the use of unspecified photos of the Chicago River from my flickr photostream. The relevant part of the email is as follows:

“I am interested in using your images of the Chicago River for an animated project I’m currently working on. The project is an educational series for broadcast TV about little animals saving other baby animals. We are looking to use just a portion of the images to complete an original background design. Since we are producing the show for a third party broadcaster, we would need to have the images (non-exclusively) in all forms of media in perpetuity and I am unable to guarantee screen credit. But that means that your shots would be used for TV! We would need them in high resolution (300 dpi at 1480×1040 pixels, at least).”

On first reading, this sounded very exciting. The email included full name and contact details which check out with the company web site. What’s more, the company was founded by a multi-Emmy award winning former writer of the US version of Sesame Street, and it counts Disney and Cartoon Network as clients. The sample video on their site shows that they do a lot of what looks like green screen work over static background images which fits in with the indicated use of my photo(s).

My initial reaction was an altruistic one. It’s educational stuff for kids so why not? What’s more, the photo I suspect they are after is not really anything more than a snapshot. Had they explicitly stated that the production was for non-commercial use, then I’d have immediately replied asking for a few more details but would essentially have no problem in granting permission for use.

After a consultation with some people on a photography forum however, I started to read more into the email. Firstly, the terms indicated seem sensible on first glance (non-exclusive is good) and the issue of perpetuity is probably fair enough (although on reading up it appears common to license for 5-10 years and then the company would have to re-license if it was still in use after that time.) However, there is explicitly no mention of whether the use is commercial, so one has to assume it is based on the fact that they are producing the animation for a 3rd party. Secondly there is the slight tone, through phrases such as “I am unable to guarantee screen credit” and “your shots would be used for TV!”, which starts to give the impression that they are the ones doing me a favour. For sure, correct attribution is one of the most fundamental concerns in the reuse of one’s work.

This then got me thinking about how sites like flickr and the broad boom in the quality and quantity of digital imagery affects the photographic industry. In days gone past I’m sure that such a production company would have to either shoot, commission or buy from stock the images they use. Nowadays it is possible to quickly search sites such as flickr, with its rich tag based facilities, to find such images. By the nature of the site, people on it are interested in displaying their work, so it is a logical step to approach such people with a view to use of their images. They are probably not aware of the market rates and licensing policies commonly in use in the industry. The production company gets a free, or at least cheap, picture. What this ultimately leads to is the erosion of photography as an industry as a dramatic increase in the supply of cheap labour through enthusiastic amateurs leads to less commissions and sales for the true professionals. Of course, there are a variety of economic arguments to be had here around free markets, supply and demand and so on, but I’ll leave those to others as I only got a C at A-Level 😉

This matter also brings into focus (see what I did there?) the issue of the initial license I make my work available under. All my photos are currently All Rights Reserved, though I could for instance select one of the Creative Commons licenses to give a more liberal aspect of reuse to my photos. As long as I stuck to at least
Attribution Non-Commercial, then my work would be protected against unauthorised commercial use. There is an interesting case study available in this area. A company called Schmap produce free online destination guides and they actively search CC licensed photos on flickr for inclusion. They have an open and honest approach and always seek permission from the owner before shortlisting a photo for use. However, they still cause some debate about their practice, mainly based around the argument that their site is supported by advertising and therefore is commercial in nature.

The earlier argument I used about free work devaluing and eroding the role of a professional photographer is also interesting in the context of what we see in the software world with respect to open source. IBM produces a first class, scalable and performing J2EE Application Server, relational database, and so on, however you also have the choice to use any number of (largely) freely licensed open-source alternatives. Naturally there are the traditional arguments of maintenance and support that apply to software but not necessarily to photography, but then again if I asked Joe Bloggs with his DSLR to photograph my wedding in preference to a pro I might be consciously compromising on quality, but what degree of confidence would I have in going back to Joe fifteen years later to get some reprints?

So, to end a longer than indended post, what did I decide to do? Well here’s the email I sent back:

“Thank you for the message. To begin with, can you please indicate which image or images you are interested in using?

I assume that as you mention that this animated show is for a 3rd party broadcaster that it is a commercial venture on the part of Little Airplane? As such, could you give an indication if the production is destined for local, national or international broadcast?

If this is indeed a commercial venture then please also forward a fuller contract for me to consider. As I’m sure you are aware, whilst I do not make a living from photography others certainly do and as such I would not expect to give my work away for free for commercial use.

On receipt of the requested information I can make a proposal to you with regard to a fair market rate for the photograph or photographs you are interested in.

I look forward to your reply.”

Google Patent Search

Google have launched a patent search engine, which appears to act in a similar way to existing engines from the likes of Delphion and ip.com but with the advantage of a search interface we all know and love (in most cases.) The display of patent results seems particularly good compared to other databases I’ve used. Here’s an example 😉

Currently it only covers US issued patents, not files or any international files or issues.

Milestones

This blog has recently received its 10,000th view, and my flickr site has just gone past 2,000. A few stats and facts about both:

  • Blog stats: 76 posts, 98 comments, 23 tags, 478 spam comments!
  • Most viewed post: BT Broadband HomeHub
  • Most commented post: New Toy!
  • Technorati ranking: 457,369 (though it seems to have stopped tracking me for some reason I’ve not been able to resolve)
  • Flickr stats: 210 photos, 18 contacts, 12 sets
  • Highest number of photos in Explore at any one time: 3
  • Most interesting (and favoured) photo:
    Father Christmas
  • Most viewed photo:
    IBM Hursley Park
  • Most commented photo:
    Weather vane

A photo a day

I’ve previously mentioned the blog that Steve Carter wrote whilst building his house in the Scottish Highlands. Whilst the blog finished along with the building, he is now in the midst of a project to publish a photo a day, running from the clock change back in October. Given the natural beauty of the surroundings, and his skill with a camera, there are some pretty stunning shots, and its well worth checking out.

Spitfire flypast @ Hursley

Spitfire 5

Back before IBM bought and populated the Hursley Park site, it was a temporary wartime home to staff from Supermarine (and then Vickers) who were bombed out of their original location on the Itchen river in Southampton. As such, Hursley played its part in the development of one of the most effective and loved planes of the Second World War.

On 28th November 2006, Harry Grifiths, the last remaining member of the original design team so famously led by R J Mitchell, passed away. In memory of him, and on the day of his funeral, 8th December, Hursley Park witnessed a flypast and display by a Spitfire. It spent about five minutes performing above the house and south lawn with the unmistakable noise of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine reverberating around.

With the sky being drab and grey, it was difficult to get any decent pictures, but what ones I did get are up on my flickr site.

RIP Harry.