This whole Facebook Terms of Service thing

An interesting tweet appeared on my updates list just now:

tweet

I’ve loosely followed the whole thing about the recent change in Facebook terms of service, and the change back again. I read Mark Zuckerberg’s blog in response, and the one announcing the revert to the original terms. Overall I was impressed by the honesty and upfront nature of his response and admission that the legalese that their terms are written in is frankly insufficient for people to actually work out what on earth they meant.

The request above came from a good friend (why else would I have photos I took at their wedding) and I have honoured it. Not out of disgust at the actions of Facebook, but because I value a friendship more than I do the opportunity to make a point (that’s what this blog post is for instead!) I do however think it is a perfect example of the disjoint between people’s expectations of the ownership and privacy of content on the web, and the ways in which we currently try to encapsulate the rights associated with the various parties involved.

Let’s look at a few facts:

1. The photos were taken by me at my friends wedding, at which I was a guest.
2. The wedding was held on private property – in this case a hotel.
3. The law says I own the copyright to the photos
4. Would I ever want to use them commercially, I would need to clear that with the owner of the private property they were taken on, and, if for non-editorial purposes, get releases from anybody in them (mainly my friends)

The trouble is that what the law says, and what people expect are two different things. My friend obviously believes he has a moral assertion over the photos, being as they are a record of what is one of the most important days of his life. I can’t reasonably argue with that, but the law doesn’t see it that way – they are mine to do with as I wish.

But let’s look at the other side of the picture, as that what’s under the microscope with regards to Facebook. Wanting to share my photos with my friend (and our mutual friends) I posted them onto Facebook. People liked them and that’s great. I could have posted them onto flickr, Smugmug, Picasa or even onto my own web site (actually, I did, and there’s a link to an album running right here in another of my blog posts…) By posting them to Facebook I placed a certain level of trust in Facebook to “do the right thing” with regards to the content I was asking them to store, and to distribute amongst my social network. Did I read the full T&Cs when I signed up? Did I heck. Did my friend? I wager not. Had I read them way back then, I would have seen this:

When you post User Content to the Site, you authorise and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicence) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorise sublicences of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the licence granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

Chase Jarvis, a world-renowned commercial photographer who uses Facebook to distribute content for PR and his fans has written a much better analysis of the old and new terms than I could, so I’m not going to go into detail about what that long paragraph contains, or the important change that was made, causing the uproar.

It may seem stupid that Facebook have such wordy, hard to understand terms, and indeed it seems that they go well beyond what would reasonably be needed for them to receive and permit the sharing on user generated content. In the past I have berated other organizations for similar wording, not least the BBC. However in those examples my concern has been about the use of such terminology as a way to sucker unsuspecting citizen journalists to give potentially timely and valuable content up freely, or as a competition only vaguely hiding an obvious rights-grab attempt. Indeed this blog carries a logo and link to the EPUK fair play campaign for citizen journalism for just this sort of thing.

So, the question is do I really think that Facebooks terms represent a realistic threat to my content? Are they *really* going to take what I share on Facebook and use it for profit, resell it to other organizations, or other such actions? In short, are Facebook evil? I don’t think so.

I have personal experience of what happens when the lawyers get involved between two parties wanting to do something logical and simple. I’ve seen this through my own work, spending months working with a third party, with code written and ready to go, waiting for the lawyers on both sides to argue over single clauses and being asked how such clauses affect the technology (normally not at all) What Facebook are guilty of (and admit to) is that they haven’t done a good enough job of turning the legal crap into understandable principals that you and I can make informed decisions on.

Regarding the change in terms (which basically removed the ability to revoke the licence you give them when you delete content – something I have now done with my photos of the wedding) I honestly believe that there is no realistic chance of Facebook ever asserting those rights granted in the way that people are reading into it. As Chase states, it is there to allow them to effectively share content amongst their user base. I’d also wager it is there to cover their arses should the fact that the massively distributed, non-normalized data store that sits behind Facebook doesn’t manage to delete the hundreds, possibly thousands of copies it stores of every photo, video or other piece of content you contribute.

The only unfortunate thing is that there is no filter between what they have to get their lawyers to draw up and what they present to their users. It makes no promises back to the user.

Let’s use an analogy. In the UK there is an organization called the Plain English Campaign. They award a crystal mark award to clearly written documents. It is common to see this mark on things like insurance documents. Over recent years, there has been a distinct attempt to make many forms of legal-related documentation more understandable and consumable by the lay-man, much of it driven by the initial work of this group. Their FAQ includes this:

Who are the worst offenders for gobbledygook?

In our experience, the legal profession and finance industries cause the most concern. Many companies have worked extremely hard to use plain English, but these industries will always be our main targets. Plain English is about language affecting ordinary people’s lives, and people have the right to get the information they need to make informed decisions about money and the law.

One example of improved communications thanks to such efforts can be found in the UK mortgage industry. Any mortgage product must have a Key Facts Illustration document that has two important purposes:

  • To enable the consumer to carefully evaluate and consider the product before committing to it.
  • To allow the consumer to effectively compare different products in the marketplace

The KFI is a clear, concise document outlining the most important points, in plain English. Now, what if Facebook’s terms were presented in this manner? Would I have read them? Yes. Would I have considered if I was happy with them before accepting? Yes. Would I understand the true intent behind them better? Almost definitely yes.

Now, what if we had a similar initiative for the web, for the world of social computing? Well maybe, just maybe this whole episode may provide the catalyst for that to happen. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of folks from dataportability.org At the time I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the organization or their goals, it seemed broad and lacking distinct focus, but one thing that did stand out was their desire to build a charter for the social web. It seems that now is the time to grasp the nettle and drive this forward and I really hope that their EULA and TOS task force can be the agent of change for this whole problem. Daniela’s and Elias’ blog posts give me a warm feeling that they just might head in the right direction with this. I hope Facebook jump on board.

My guide to guest wedding photography

weddingpic-01
(17mm, f2.8, 1/25th, ISO 1600, Flash fired)

After getting married last year, we’ve been to no less than nine weddings as guests in 2008. Increasingly I’ve found these weddings to be the only time I get to really exercise my camera and (lack of) photography skills. Along the way I’ve picked up some tips, tricks and things to avoid when trying to take photos at weddings, and maybe others will find them useful.

Note: This blog post is not aimed at professional wedding photographers, or indeed enthusiastic amateurs who have been roped into being the cheap and cheerful ‘official’ photographer. This is for two good reasons. Firstly I am neither (and wouldn’t want to be) and secondly, there are literally thousands of such blog posts and forum discussions. They generally recommend: have redundancy in all your equipment, tonnes of memory cards and batteries, scout out locations and be assertive. But most of all – think very, very hard before agreeing to do it. Despite what your friends or family may say, they will have high expectations which you had better live up to.

So, instead, this post is about how to take good shots as a guest, not annoy or get in the way of the official ‘tog and most of all how to have fun whilst doing it.

Kit

  • You have what you have. Don’t think about hiring stuff or buying something just for the occasion, unless you want it anyway that is 🙂
  • Just take a body, two lenses max and a flash (if you have one) Keep it in a small, unobtrusive bag (e.g. a Lowe-Pro Slingshot, or Crumpler shoulder bag) leave your rucksack etc at home. You really don’t want to be carrying around a tonne of kit all day (and your other half/partner will get fed up with being handed off kit as well!) You shouldn’t look obtrusive. All the better if the bag is black as there is less chance of it standing out in other people’s photos.
  • Don’t at all get tempted to take any kit that requires somebody else to help you, or requires you to work in close proximity to the wedding couple. Leave your nice reflector and tripod at home!
  • As far as lenses go look to use a mid-range zoom or a fairly wide prime, and then a reasonable long zoom (e.g. 55-200/250 or 70-300) In general, the faster the lens the better as you will no doubt be in low light at some point. I use a Canon EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS USM and an EF-S 55-250 F3.5-5.6 IS. I also take my EF 50mm f1.8 prime along just because it is so small and handy if things really get dark. I would kill for a 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM, and if I were a wedding pro I’d have one in a shot, but I’m not.
  • Whilst you want two lenses, don’t get tempted to use two bodies. You will stand out too much (more on that later)

Preparation

  • Sounds obvious, but charge your batteries (and buy fresh ones for your flash).
  • Erm, that’s it. Always remember that you are first and foremost a guest of your hosts. Not taking photos in any official capacity. Your primary job is to celebrate with them and enjoy yourself. Go to the bar!

Before the ceremony

  • Unless you are family you likely won’t be around for the preparations of the bride or groom so forget that. It’s the job of the pro. If you are a bridesmaid or groomsman – put the damn camera away, you have much more important things to do.
  • Outside the church, before the ceremony feel free to get some informal shots of people. One thing you can excel at in a guest photographer role is candid shots. Stick on your telephoto and shoot from a distance. Get those nice expressions.

weddingpic-02
(55mm, f2.8, 1/100th, ISO 200, Flash fired)

  • Make your way into the church in plenty of time and sit down like any other guest. Don’t get “official” and loiter at the back or front. Don’t take photos in the church or wedding room until such time as you are told it is ok. You can ask of course. If you are told no, then the answer is no – plain and simple. The pro will get these shots (and in artificial/low light, probably much better than you could hope for) In this case, pack the camera away/put it down and just enjoy the proceedings.
  • If you can take photos, then do so only from where you sit. Don’t get up and walk around.

Ceremony

  • In a lot of cases you will be told that photography is not allowed during the ceremony, and that maybe it will be at the end when the couple will pose. Respect this. On rare cases, you are free to take during the ceremony. In which case…
  • DO NOT USE FLASH DURING THE CEREMONY. Do I need to repeat that? Even if allowed, it is obtrusive and spoils the moment. Dial up ISO1600 and your lowest f-stop and hope for the best.
  • When the bride enters the church/room, be the only person who turns to the groom and captures their expression! Tip – he’s the one standing still!

weddingpic-03
(250mm, f5.6, 1/13th, ISO 1600, No flash)

  • Don’t click away furiously during the ceremony. Sing when you have to sing, pray when you need to pray. You are a guest first and foremost, and it is respectful.
  • Stick with your zoom and get close up emotion shots. Also look for opportunities that others may not see. Kids are especially good targets.

weddingpic-04
(179mm, f5.6, 1/30th, ISO 1600, No flash)

Recessional / after the ceremony

  • Normally, usually after the signing of the register, there will be an opportunity for Auntie Marge and Co. to take their photos. Go wild here, but respect that others are doing so as well. Don’t direct, don’t impose. Get your wide lens or fast prime on and get up a bit closer. If you can use flash then do so to get nice catch-lights in their eyes.

weddingpic-05
(55mm, f2.8, 1/60th, ISO 200, Flash fired)

  • Outside the church/room go crazy – this is your main opportunity. Get candids as people mingle, look for nice expressions. From my experience of our wedding, guests likely get better shots of the other guests than the official photographer. So this is your opportunity to impress. Get good coverage of the people there, don’t focus everything on the bride and groom.

weddingpic-06
(45mm, f2.8, 1/200th, ISO 100, Flash fired)

  • This where you can direct a little. Get members of the family/groups of friends to pose for you, and get them looking into your lens. This is likely one of the only times you can (more on that later…)

Formal shots

  • You all know the formal shots. This is your cue to be responsible and put down the camera. This should be solely the role of the pro. These are their “money” shots and the ones that they will be most focused on capturing. Your job is to be 100% guest here and not a photographer.
  • DO NOT shoot over the pro’s shoulder, or follow them around at this time. At best you will end up with a set of copycat photos. At worst you will piss the pro off and they might start muttering words like “breach of contract” to the bride and groom. The pro is going to be aware of you and your DSLR on the day, and they no doubt have it all the time now. Respect the fact that they are being paid to do a job, and are the ones under pressure to deliver. Don’t get in the way of that. This can be particularly annoying when you distract the subjects and they end up looking into the wrong cameras. See the shot below for an unfortunate example and a lesson learnt (2nd from right)

weddingpic-07
(85mm, f4.0, 1/160th, ISO 200, No flash)

  • If you want to, stick on a long lens and shoot from afar. By doing this you can get a different perspective whilst still capturing some nice shots of the couple. It also means you remain out of the way and won’t misdirect people’s attention.

weddingpic-08
(181mm, f5.0, 1/800th, ISO 100, No flash)

  • Never, ever give direction to people at this stage. That is overstepping the mark by a big margin.

Wedding breakfast / speeches

  • Sometimes the official photographer may not cover these, either because they are not contracted to, or just take a break. If so, you can take the opportunity to get some “exclusives” but again, remain as unobtrusive as possible. Keep your movement minimal and try to avoid flash. Again, your primary role is as a guest.
  • You are normally indoors at this point, so high ISO, wide open is the order of the day. Use it to full effect to get good depth of field on shots (see the example below). If your camera produces lots of noise at high ISO (as my Canon 400D does) then black and white is your friend!

weddingpic-09
(47mm, f2.8, 1/40th, ISO 1600, Flash fired)

  • The speeches offer great opportunity for candids. Single out family members and look for any opportunities to get shots that others may miss.

weddingpic-10
(55mm, f2.8, 1/10th, ISO 1600, Flash fired)

  • At the risk of sounding boring, remember you are a guest – laugh and toast at the right time!

Evening / dancing

  • The first dance normally signals the end of the official photographer’s duties. It should also be the end of your camera holding. Whilst it would be tempting to carry on and get some “exclusives”, there are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea: Disco lights can be a real pain (but also a creative opportunity), your friends and family are starting to get nicely drunk and so should you and finally, this is where people let their hair down and have fun – they don’t want a camera stuck in their face.
  • By all means capture the first dance. However the combination of low light and movement is a tricky one. Take a machine gun approach and hope for the best. It’s the last time you should be shooting so make the most of it.

weddingpic-11
(55mm, f2.8, 1/25th, ISO 1600, Flash fired)

  • At this stage of the evening, you may be tempted to download your photos and put together a quick slideshow. I did this once recently on the spur of the moment (I had my laptop in the hotel) It is an idea filled with good intentions, but you should only do it if agreed in advance with both the bride and groom, and most importantly the official photographer. They will not want to have people think the photos are theirs (which is an obvious conclusion to make as hopefully your photos look pretty good) So by all means do it, but agree it in advance. If you do, then you may want to shoot RAW+JPG (if you don’t shoot just JPG anyway) so that your quickly downloaded photos will at least have some white balance and sharpening applied.

After the day

  • This is where you typically have a big advantage over the pro. They likely have other weddings to attend and process, whereas you probably only have the one. They need to take a lot of care in post processing whilst you can get some quick and dirty shots out quickly (with minimal white balance, crop, b&w conversion and sharpening) Their photos will likely take weeks to be ready whilst yours can be much quicker.
  • People like to see shots quickly after the wedding, especially in this age of social networking. Normally the first ones to make it out are Cousin Sarah’s 2MP camera phone shots on Facebook. Consider yourself as in the role of press photographer needing to file early. Get your shots downloaded, processed and up as quickly as possible after the event (next day for instance) and then put them where they can be seen. Facebook is great as you can tag people and people can comment
  • I take a two pronged approach. I stick them up on Facebook and also output a Flash based slideshow from Lightroom. Those on FB will find them quickly, and I send an email to the bride/groom and family/friends with the web address of the slideshow. Via either mechanism I only put up low res versions (e.g. 800px, 72dpi)
  • Sometimes I put them up on a photo printing site as well (such as Photobox) where high res versions are uploaded. However I do not make this public, and only add people on request. I am not interested in stealing business from the official photographer. I only do this for family weddings.
  • Never, ever consider selling your photographs. That way you really would be doing the official photographer a real dis-service. If somebody (e.g. family or the newlyweds) wants some of your photos then give them on a CD and let them print themselves.

Here are some example slideshows:

General technical tips and comments

  • Plan what lens you will likely need for situations and be prepared. With one body you are going to need to do the occasional lens change.
  • Stick with what you know of your camera. It’s not the time to experiment. If you normally shoot in Program mode, then don’t start playing with other modes (unless the camera really can’t cope with the conditions)
  • I tend to shoot in aperture priority as I value control of depth of field over all else. Therefore my flash gets used for fill and the camera always exposes the scene using available light. I rely on my relatively fast f2.8 lens and IS to get away with quite slow shutter speeds (often 1/15th for example). This give me the most natural photos, but does mean I am at the mercy of camera shake and subject movement. I often need to dial up the ISO very high for these reasons. On my 400D that means lots of noise and therefore lots of B&W conversions and Noise Ninja!
  • I often forget to adjust ISO and find that some shots are unnecessarily noisy. I need to get better at keeping a constant check on my settings for each scene and not being afraid to make adjustments
  • I always use a Stofen Omni-bounce and/or bounce flash rather than use direct flash to avoid nasty shadows and keep a natural look
  • Not every shot should be taken at a height of 5ft. Get down low, and get up high. I’ve found that willingness to do this leads to some great shots (see the one at the top of this post and the one of the girls drinking orange as examples)

Final thoughts

As stated at the start, I find that weddings are often the best opportunity to practice and improve my photography nowadays. However, as should be clear, I try very hard to make sure that I enjoy and appreciate the real reason I am there. I have been honoured to attend the most special day in two people’s lives and I am not there to officially record it. That being said, there is no reason why you cannot learn from and improve from these opportunities. It is also important to remember that your photos do not need to be perfect. In fact, the type of environments and lighting you find at weddings can often be very challenging. Every time I’ve looked over my shots I have an initial wave of enthusiasm at the fantastic shots I’ve got, but then apply a more critical eye over them and spot the focusing errors, camera shake, bad exposure choices etc. All of this I learn from and get better over time. Remember that you are not on the hook to produce the stunning record of the day that every couple expects – that’s what the pro is paid for (and you get a new-found respect for the amount they charge, believe me!) Your shots just need to be good enough, and in every case I’ve received lovely compliments from people who didn’t expect to see “such professional” photos so soon after the wedding.

Of course, there is a huge gap between amateur guest photography and the real thing, and it is definitely something that I’d think very, very long and hard about if I were ever asked. I’d certainly be off to hire a 5D and that 70-200 f2.8 L IS!

weddingpic-12
(55mm, f5.0, 1/40th, ISO 1600, Flash fired)

Photoshop CS3 and the 7-Point System

Up until now I’ve mainly been using Adobe Lightroom to process my RAW photos for white balance, exposure and tonal correction along with removing dust spots and sharpening. Whilst I’ve got pretty used to Lightroom I’ve often found myself wanting to do a bit more. I have a copy of Photoshop Elements 4 on my Mac and sometimes take photos out to that to do a little more with levels and layers. However I’ve never really invested much effort into that side of things. Whilst I always try to get things right in-camera I’ve become increasingly interested in improving my post-processing skills.

Adobe Photoshop CS3

Adobe Photoshop CS3 is pretty much the de-facto standard for photo editing, but the problem is it costs a lot. I’ve never been one for the illegal use of software, mainly because I work in the industry, so up to this point have simply got by with what I have, plus a few great low-cost tools like FDRTools, Calico and NoiseNinja.

So, I recently stumped up and bought Photoshop CS3. I also got a couple of books: Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers by Martin Evening, and Scott Kelby’s 7-point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Scott Kelby's 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3

Whilst Evening’s book is a typically comprehensive overview of the features and function relevant to photographers, the Kelby book is structured in a different way. It concentrates on a core set of functions and techniques, including processing in Camera Raw (or Lightroom), curves, shadow/highlight adjustments, painting with light, channel adjustments, layer blending and layer masks and sharpening. It applied these techniques to 21 photos each in it’s own chapter. It is basically teaching by rote. You can download the RAW files he uses and follow along with each chapter taking you through the same set of actions (more or less) until they become ingrained. Along the way he introduces other techniques but never digresses too far from the seven key concepts.

I’ve found this very useful in terms of helping me learn what to apply in what circumstances. There’s such a wide array of tools in Photoshop that there are effectively many ways to achieve the same end result. Already I look back at how I used to do things in Elements and know it wasn’t the right way. The real value I’m getting from the 7-point system is to give me a solid base skill set that I know when and how to deploy for the result I want to achieve. Without this and if I just had the Evening book (or any similar one, including other Kelby efforts) then the information overload it gives you can be a problem and it is hard to relate that to what you would need to do to take one particular photo from start to finish.

Of course, the danger is that the 7-point system becomes too formulaic and the inevitable look that it produces becomes too familiar. I think the challenge here is to use it as a basis but then extend that knowledge with your own style and ideas, and other techniques that you pick up along the way.

Wacom Bamboo

To end, CS3 has also been great fun to use with one of my Christmas presents: a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet. I can’t wait to revisit some of my back-catalogue of photos and work them through CS3!

Rolex 24 at Daytona

Daytona-2

With a free Friday in Florida after the end of Lotusphere, a few of us took the opportunity to head the 70 miles up to Daytona and catch the Friday practice and qualifying sessions for the Rolex 24, otherwise known as the 24 hours of Daytona.

For just $25 we gained access to the infield and garages and got up close to the prototype and GT cars taking part in the event. In addition to the practice and qualifying sessions we also got to watch a good hour or so of the Florida 200 race in which 95 cars ranging from Roush tuned V8 Mustangs to Mini Cooper S’s raced in a fairly hectic encounter.

This was my first go at motorsport photography and the dark-art of panning. For the non-photographers out there, panning involves tracking the car with the camera whilst using a deliberately slow shutter speed. If done properly this leaves the car in focus and the background nicely blurred, really giving the car a punch that makes it stand out. Whilst it is fairly easy (at least in the bright Florida sunshine) to use high shutter speeds to freeze the action and get sharp shots, a good panning shot will really stand out. For example, compare the shot of the Ferrari F430 at the top of the post with this one of a Roush Mustang from the Florida 200 race:

Daytona-10

Unfortunately, panning is hard. Especially when shotting hand-held. With my 55-200 Tamron lens I only got about half a dozen worth panning shots out of probably over 100 attempts. The good news is that with motor racing you are typically not short of opportunities to get the shot you want given the cars tend to come round quite often!

The access to the garage areas was great, and I have a load of shots ready to be processed from that. One particular highlight for me was seeing a couple of British drivers – one well known and one not so (at least in the UK) As you can see below, the veteran Derek Bell was driving in the 24 hour race in a Pontiac Riley prototype. His car finished in 63rd place overall and 24th in the prototype class.

Derek Bell

However the highlight for me was getting to meet Dan Wheldon. He was a few years below me at school and went on to win the Indy 500 and Indycar series in his rookie year, as well as being a previous Rolex 24 winner. I managed to blag my way into his trailer based on this tenuous link and had a quick chat with him and fiancée.

Dan Wheldon

Unfortunately he didn’t have the best weekend. His car was crashed by a team-mate on Thursday and they finished 42nd overall, 18th in class in the Chip Ganassi Target Lexus Riley.

Photophlow: flickr + irc + web2.0 = awesome

photophlow
Click for large version.

I first read about Photophlow on Ajaxian a few days ago. Of course I signed up immediately for their limited beta and this morning an invite was waiting in my inbox.

Photophlow is an extremely well designed web application for community viewing of photos from flickr. The best way of describing it would be to imagine a photo slideshow application mashed up with an IRC chatroom. It hosts a variety of virtual rooms (you can create your own) in which people can gather. There are rooms available for flickr groups and the application will highlight room for groups you are already a member of. Anybody in a room can perform a flickr search and then select a photo to be viewed. Meantime all people in the room can talk and discuss in real-time as well as having direct access to usual flickr features such as adding contacts, favourites and comments.

From within a room you can display a list of photos from either a choice of options (the photostream for the related group, your photos, your contacts, explore etc.) or you can search. If you click on a photo from the resultant list it is shown larger on the right hand side of the window. People then naturally start commenting on it, critiquing and generally interacting with each other. It is fascinating to see how the conversation develops. This morning I entered the Stobist.com room and began looking at a couple of photos. A few more people came in and I struck up a conversation with a guy from Huddersfield. Somebody else started looking through his photos and in the meantime a conversation was taking place about the best wireless remotes for off-camera flash. The Huddersfield guy then took us off to view a photo from a friend which recently made the top spot on explore.

The beauty is the way that other people can control what you view. It has the potential to be disruptive if people are constantly changing photo, and I guess as more people come into the system this will be something to keep an eye on. It would be tempting for a lot of people to go into a room and immediately start displaying their photos for instance. Thankfully there are a couple of different modes. In any room you can choose to go into manual mode which means others cannot override the photo you are currently viewing. You can also go private which means others cannot see the photo you are looking at, but you are still in the room and can still participate in conversations.

Things get even more impressive when you try the built-in support for twitter, allowing you to create tweets when you enter a room of ad-hoc from directly within the photophlow interface. They also have tumblr support, and the ability for the system to notify you by email or IM when certain events happen, like somebody entering your personal room.

The screenshot above shows a rather serendipitous moment when one of the other people in the room did a search for “shielding” and one of the photos that came up was by Roo.

I have three invites to give away, so please leave a comment (make sure you enter your email address on the form) if you want one.

Sorting out my backup strategy

Historically I’ve been pretty poor at keeping backups of my data. Recently however I’ve become aware of the need to be more vigilant in this area. Touch wood I have never suffered a disk failure on any computer I’ve owned, so I reckon I’m overdue one. The fact that my iMac disk now contains the results of months spent ripping my CD collection as well as a growing library of photographs it is time to take it seriously.

For the past few months I’ve been using the excellent SuperDuper! to perform backups of the iMac. However although the software is good I didn’t set up a scheduled backup so it relied on me to remember to run it regularly. Secondly the backup was performed to a Lacie 500GB Big Disk Extreme. Whilst this is an excellent external disk and runs very fast over Firewire 800, it is actually two 250GB disks arranged in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 means that the two disks combine together and data is striped over them. This makes read and write access faster than a single disk, but has a big potential problem when the disk is used for backup, namely that if one disk fails then you lose all your data. Effectively you are doubling your risk of a hardware failure. Not ideal.

With the arrival of OS X 10.5 Leopard and the built in Time Machine backup I’ve decided to sort out my backup solution in a proper fashion. Therefore I’ve just ordered one of these beauties:

Lacie 2big Triple

The Lacie 2big Triple is a 1TB triple interface (USB2, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800) drive. Like the extreme it actually contains two 500GB drives that make up the total capacity. The difference however is that this one supports RAID 1 as well. RAID 1 puts the disks in mirror mode, meaning that they both contain a copy of the same data. Thus, if one disk fails the other one is still there to serve your data. What’s more the drives are hot-swappable so you can replace the failed one and it will spin the new one up and copy everything onto it to bring it in line. In fact the disks can work in four modes: the aforementioned RAID 0 and RAID 1, plus JBOD which allows both disks to act as separate volumes, and Big which just creates a single volume without RAID support.

A couple of years ago consumer level (read affordable) hot-swappable RAID arrays were unheard of, so I’m really looking forward to throwing Time Machine at this beast. Unfortunately for the time being I’ll probably have to leave my Adobe Lightroom catalog out of the backup until the Leopard compatible fixes are available later this month. In the meantime I’ll back all my photos up to the old Lacie.

Of course, any comprehensive backup strategy will include offsite storage, afterall if the flat burns down or we get broken into then I could lose the iMac and the backed up data. I’m not yet sure what the best way to go with offsite is. Either buy a cheaper 500GB external disk and run a SuperDuper backup onto it every now and then and take it into the office to store, or try online storage with something like Amazon S3 or even .Mac. The latter is probably more reliable as I can script it to happen without needing to remember to bring a disk home every so often. I need to work out if it is cost effective for the 300GB or so of data which I need to have backed up.

Wedding photos

We got the first batch of our wedding photos delivered this week, as a set of 7×5″ prints. I’m chuffed with how they have turned out and am looking forward to receiving the full set in soft copy so I can put them up on the web. I’ll link to them over at our wedding blog and here. A shout out must go to James and Shawna at AAA Photos for a sterling job.

I’ve also been busy with my camera and new lens at the wedding of our friends Steve and Louise in the UK last week. I took it along purely in an unofficial capacity as the ideal opportunity to test out the 17-55 in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations. It was also the first serious work out for my 430EX Speedlight which proved invaluable for fill both indoors and out. I’ve yet to fully master it, but am very happy with the results. I won’t be posting them to flickr, but have put up a slideshow of them. Given that they had a pro doing their main shots I stayed in the background for the most part trying hard not to interfere (there’s nothing worse than missing a shot because everybody happened to be looking at the wrong, i.e. my, camera I’d imagine!) so I’m most happy with some of the more reportage style of shots, especially these two:

Wedding image 1

Wedding image 2

(Sorry if you are viewing this on the web and the images sneak across the right column of the page, but I don’t have the software at work to do a decent job of resizing them)

I especially like the way that the backlighting on the second one highlights the hair, and the catchlights in the eyes from the Speedlight.

The formal shots took a good 90 minutes or so but once the reception meal started the pro ‘tog finished up leaving me to capture some shots inside, of which my favourite is this one capturing Louise’s reaction to her father’s speech:

Wedding image 3

I won’t be giving up the day job anytime soon though – I can’t imagine there are many more stressful jobs than official wedding photography. It is easy to capture decent shots when I can both relax in the knowledge that nobody is counting on me and also when I can pick and choose the ones I want to show (notice the complete lack of group shots!)

20,000 views on flickr

Just noticed that my flickr account has gone through 20,000 views, just under 5 months since making 10,000. As with my lack of blogging, I’ve not been in a position to get the DSLR out much over the past month. What photos I have taken have been with my Nokia N80 and have appeared on Facebook. I’ve settled into a nice split between the two whereby the more creative photography goes up on Flickr where I seek peer recognition and comment. The more social/snappy stuff appears on Facebook where the majority of my social network are connected with me and where it is subject (i.e. people who can be tagged) rather than composition or other technical aspects that are interesting.

Dublin flickr meet

Popeyed 5

I went along to my first flickr meet today, with the folks from the Meet Dublin group, including a colleague of mine, Karim (a man who is living proof that talent rather than equipment makes a great photo) As mentioned, today marked the first anniversary of joining flickr, so it seemed as good a way as any to celebrate. It was also the first chance I’ve had to get out the camera since we’ve been here.

After meeting up outside the Gaiety Theatre, the unanimous choice was to head to Merrion Square, where the AIB Street Performance World Championships were taking place. The SPWC sees various street acts from around the globe basically doing their stuff over the weekend whilst the viewing public can vote for their favourite act. Thankfully the weather, whilst overcast, held up and there was no rain other than a few spits.

After a quick walk around the park I started to take in a few of the acts. My creative juices weren’t really running, and to be honest the acts were difficult to shoot, but I think I got a few decent ones. There was also a lot of opportunity for candid shots. It was hard not to just put the camera down and enjoy the shows, the highlight being Popeyed, an Australian acrobatic/hand balancing duo.

The best of the bunch of photos I took are up on flickr in this set (slideshow here)

I missed out on the pub meetup afterwards due to losing myself in the park, and not remembering the name of the pub. However, on my way back to the car, I did stop to take some shots of a group of skaters outside the Gaiety which I’ve yet to process.

All in all, a lovely day, and just one example of why I’m already loving living in Dublin.

Blog and flickr anniversary

Yesterday (15th June) marked a year since the first post to this blog. It started off on wordpress.com as a place to talk about WebSphere ESB, but has really developed into a rather general blog through my interests, especially as I picked up photography as a hobby. The blog started out on wordpress.com where it picked up about 15,000 views before I moved over to hosting it with Register1.

A quick look at Google Analytics shows that the new site has, since the 31st January, totaled 5,434 visits by 4,437 unique visitors. Additionally, an average of about 40 people subscribe to the feed for the blog. I’ve not really developed this blog too much since I moved it over, which is something I plan to remedy.

Talking of anniversaries, today also marks the a year since signing up for flickr and posting my first photo. I’m marking that by heading out in a while to meet up with some other Dublin based flickr members for a meet, and so will probably post another entry later on with more info about that. The stats for flickr currently stand at 17,175 views of the 361 photos I’ve uploaded.