Orphan Works. No it doesn’t.

The UK Government has been pushing a piece of legislation through Parliament called the Digital Economy Bill, the main thrust of which is to set out how the UK manages its digital economy for the future.

Clauses in the bill deal with such subjects as the broadband tax, which charges each household a fee so that all households can be brought up to a minimum connection speed, and controversial legislation allowing illicit file sharers to have their internet connections blocked.

But buried deep within the bill are some clauses which far from protecting the rights of the creative industry, will actually leave almost no protection against infringement. Section 43 of the DEB deals with Orphan Works. Those are creative works (photos, illustrations, videos) which have become separated from their owners. A work with no identifying metadata, no watermark. A child of a creative mind, lost and alone, waiting for Fagin to take it under his “helpful” wing.

The original plan was to allow museums, galleries and the like to release from dusty vaults tens of thousands of forgotten works, the creator of which is unknown, so they could licence them in ways that would bring much needed revenue to those institutions. However, certain politicians not being the sharpest tools in the box thought it would also be a “good thing” to encompass ALL works whose creators could no longer be traced.

As an illustration, a photo you take on Wednesday morning, post to Flickr by lunchtime, is lifted by an unscrupulous blogger or corporate marketeer by 5pm and so (because they stripped your watermark and IPTC info) created an instant orphan by teatime. Anyone stumbling upon that stolen version will have no idea who took it.

tim of horse meat

Your photos could be stolen and used for anything. However objectionable the context.

Because there is no way to trace that photo back to you, even a “diligent” search (as required under the act) would not reveal your ownership of the photo. So anyone else wanting to use that image just has to pay a made-up fee to a newly made-up UK Government licensing body, and off they’d go on their merry way, using your photos for heaven knows what.

If at some point you happen to stumble upon that use of your photo, you’ll be able to go to the Government and ask for “some” money for its use. Assuming the government can see that you took the photo, and that the user of the photo paid the government some money, or beans or a sheep, you’ll be able to claim a fee (or beans, or sheep, who knows?) This fee may or may not reflect the commercial value of your photo, or the money spent taking it, but no matter. Government knows best.

There isn’t time here to go fully into the nightmare scenario of child identification/model release/property release issues in orphaned works used on the net, or exclusivity agreements a photographer may have had with their client before the photo was nicked. Nor is there time really to go into what happens when a UK company steals a photo held by, oh let’s say, Getty – an American company with lawyers whose litigious fingers are twitchier than a Wild West gunslinger’s, and whose fighting fund would bale out Iceland and Greece rolled into one.

The Digital Economy Bill is complicated enough, but the legal ramifications of what happens when it becomes law and all starts to go horribly wrong, will make your head spin like an owl in a blender.

For further enlightenment, go to: Copyright Action, or Stop 43.

Whether professional or amateur, it’s important (if you care about photography at all) to contact your local MP now. The bill looks set get thrown into the Parliamentary “wash-up” on April 6th, where it will not be debated at all and will become law, so there isn’t much time to react.

Other blogs on the subject:

Irish perspective from professional photographer Neil Danton, but mind the blue language…

Scottish photographer David Robertson gives a view.

The Great Green Debate

seagulls flocking on landfill tip site or trash and rubbish

Seagulls can't eat cameras. Their apertures are too small.

The response to my post “How Green is Your Photography?” was pretty interesting, and highlighted some useful resources for photographers wishing to take a less Magenta approach to their work (rubbish, nerdy in-joke. Sorry).

So what’s to do with this environment thing and photography? I suppose we could all just stop taking pictures and have our cameras turned into ploughshares. Small, rubbish ones, but once you melt a camera down, there aren’t many things it’s good for. When it comes to Samsung cameras, you don’t even have to melt them down to achieve “useless” status.

I started this subject because some time ago I’d been pondering the issue of the environment and how photographers might do their bit, bearing in mind that what we do isn’t exactly eco-friendly. Then I bumped into Chris at Park Lane Press Limited, which is based near me, and he showed me the waterless lithographic printing facility they have at their Corsham plant. I was impressed that the print quality, even on difficult, recycled paper stock was at least as good, and often better than I’d seen on the same papers using traditional printing methods.

This system is perfect for commercial clients wishing to use a more eco-friendly approach to brochure and annual report printing, but it also got me thinking about eco-friendly printing for photo prints. A chance comment from Rick Colson of EcoVisual Communications in Wayland, Massachusetts (who use post-industrial cotton waste papers) on one of my other articles got me thinking there must be eco-friendly photo printers in the UK too, though an internet search didn’t throw up any obvious candidates. So if you know of a truly eco-friendly photo printer in the UK, do let me know. Not just one with the word “eco” shoehorned into their mission statement.

Comments to my previous article suggested ways we can be more considerate in our use of energy, materials, photo and computer equipment. One respondent had seen an article in which a macro photographer glued ants to a twig to get a better closeup. Perhaps not the eco-crime of the century, but I’d hate to see this practice extended to lions, tigers and pandas. For a start, the amount of glue required to stick a polar bear to an ice floe would certainly be environmentally problematic.

I’ve made some simple conclusions, but feel free to add your comments. I’d like to update the article with useful links once I have a few more.

I’m ambivalent about transport. Use public transport where possible, but personally that isn’t often feasible, at least in the UK. Changing your car for something “greener” will cause more harm than good as most of the environmental impact of running a car is in its manufacture. Simply try driving more considerately. This will save fuel and wear and tear.

Rechargeable batteries are so much better than they used to be, so there’s no excuse for creating a mountain of spent alkalines any more. Try charging at night, perhaps using a timer socket so you’re not charging them all night. Power drawn at night uses electricity that would otherwise be dissipated  and wasted.

Eek out your kit. Don’t keep upgrading. Spend more on kit that lasts longer. I’m not a cheerleader for Apple, but my MacBook Pro is over two years old and going as well as the day I unpacked it. Most PC laptops are getting clapped out after 9 months (cue flame-grilled Timmy as the PC brigade rush to defend their honour).

Recycle and dispose of waste responsibly. Even electronics and dead batteries will be handled by your local amenity tip.

Link up with Green Photographers Network to learn more or share ideas.

And here’s one to really stir things up. I know stock images are here to stay, but I also believe that driving around, shooting thousands of photos nobody asked for and a tiny number of which will ever get published, isn’t a good way for photographers to protect the environment. Let’s not get into the issue of server space and energy required to host all those pictures of kittens and businessmen standing in fields.

Next time you need a photo of a polar bear on an ice floe, commission a local photographer to shoot it for you. Glue will be extra.

No polar bears were harmed as a result of writing this article, but the Pandaburger was yummy.

How Green is Your Photography?

somerset landscape photo

Every photo we take has an environmental impact.

The environment is something we all like to photograph, but what damage are we doing to the very thing we wish to capture with our cameras? I’m not sure who first said “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints,” but apart from sounding a little smug and preachy, they had a point.

Sure enough in the days of film we had to accept that the chemicals used to make the film itself, and the chemicals used to process it were pretty unpleasant. Then there were the materials that went into making cameras. Steel, plastics, rubber, glass, alloys, titanium. As cameras became more sophisticated, electronics and their attendant environmental impact came into play.

The modern digital camera is packed with all manner of fairly unpleasant materials. Alloys for the body, titanium for the shutter, and all those electronics – so many more than were generally used in the days of film. And here’s the real rub. A film camera of “yore” could easily give 10 years good service, where even high-end digital cameras wouldn’t be expected to last more than maybe 3 years. If you’re looking at obsolescence (as opposed to just being worn out), you’re lucky if a camera isn’t replaced within 18 months now.

Each time a new model appears, a few more pixels, better metering, video function built-in, you can bet that a number of perfectly useable cameras will be mothballed, maybe sold on Ebay, but ultimately disposed of.

You have to ponder the environmental cost of manufacturing a modern digital camera, and its cradle-to-grave impact.

Even as we use our cameras, we’re making an impact on the environment. Traveling to and from locations, using computers (some of which have the longevity of a lettuce) to prepare and store our images, 24/7 server systems hosting our efforts on sites such as Flickr, or maybe a stock image library. Millions of photos sitting there which nobody asked anyone to take, which might never get used in any useful way, and the majority of which add nothing to our cultural heritage.

I’m not saying every photo we take has to be “worthy”, and that all else is a waste of resources, I’m just saying maybe we need to consider these issues. We’re very good at ignoring what we can’t see. Each of us thinks we deserve the latest camera, that it’s just one camera, and we’ll vaguely hope for a way to dispose of it at the end of its life in a way that doesn’t harm our immediate surroundings.

Figures reported in Amateur Photographer show that in May 2009, almost 434,000 compact cameras were sold in the UK and nearly 43,000 digital SLRs in the same month. That’s astonishing; that’s just the UK, and in just one month during the worst recession since the dinosaurs died out.

One day, all those cameras plus all the ones sold World-wide every month, will end up either being recycled or in landfill. One way or another, all the associated computers, servers and drives for hosting photos, plus all the batteries, chargers and other detritus of technology, will become a problem.

So how can responsible photographers limit their individual impact on the environment? I don’t have instant answers here, but in my next posting I hope to offer some guidance on where we can limit our impact.

In the meantime, I’d love you to tell me what ideas you have, or ways you already use, to limit the impact of your photography on the environment. Feel free to comment here, on this web site, which requires a computer server, run by electricity, generated by coal, gas, nuclear…

DIY or Die Trying

If you’ve read my previous two posts (using stock and using commissioned photography for your website) you’ll have a fair idea where I stand when it comes to shooting your own photos or getting a friend or relative to do it for you.

To sum up the main pitfalls, perhaps the biggest risk with getting a friend/relative/pet to take a few snaps for you as a favour is that having put them to the trouble, if the shots turn out so terrible they make you want to tear out your eyes, you’ll still feel beholden to use them – to promote your business. Oh dear.

The problem with taking them yourself is you might feel they’re excellent shots, but you’re too close to the action to be your best critic. You know what was involved in taking the pictures and what hard work it was, and you’ll be terribly proud of the results, but no one else will see that. They’ll just see the photos for what they are, however good or bad.

Having said all that, some business owners will always opt for DIY to save the expense of using a professional, so I’ll set out some basic pointers to help you make the best of your efforts.

  • Plan ahead:

Work out what pictures are required, maybe talk to your web designer if you have one, rather than taking thousands of random shots and hoping for the best. Which people, services and processes are key? Don’t forget though that a photo of your office building/machinery/entire staff contingency isn’t necessarily going to make more business for you. This isn’t about what pleases you about your business, it’s about what attracts clients and customers.

  • Choose locations with care:
tim gander on telephone

The phone-cam look; not good.

So often you’ll see business portraits of people who have been lined up against a wall and shot Mafia-style. You can see the fear in their eyes! Or they’ve been surprised at their desk, mid-phone conversation, mouth gurning in an embarrassing contortion, or more likely miming a swear word. The flash has obliterated their features, and the red-eye is excruciating. Try taking them to a more relaxed location. Keep them distant from ugly or distracting backgrounds, use shaded daylight to avoid squinting and ugly shadows, and use the telephoto function to crop in close so their face fills the majority of the frame.

bath commercial photographer tim gander portrait.

Still not pretty, but a better photo.

  • Stay legal:

If you want to photograph people or locations not directly connected to your business, make sure you have either model releases or property releases where necessary.

  • Think quality:

As tempting as it might be to set your camera up so you can get 10,000 images on a single memory card, the quality will drop dramatically and this will show in the end result. You might also need the pictures for print publications too, and this will require even better quality than web use. Also, for the love of Sweet Jesus, don’t (DON’T!) take photos on your mobile phone with the hope of getting anything that resembles professional quality. It’s just not going to happen.

This short article can only cover the most basic of basics, but if you’re using non-professional photography in your business, perhaps another option would be to get a corporate photography trainer in (such as my good self) to at least train someone up to improve the results you’re getting. It could be a one-off session gets you on the right track, and at least when I leave the building, the skills stay with you. Drop me a line today to find out more.

No really, you’re beautiful…

Hooray! You’ve decided to blow the dust off your aged and failing website, spruce it up with a refresh or redesign, and you’re planning on getting some genuine, original photography shot just for your business. What should you look out for?

Perhaps the first and most obvious thing to think about is the style of photography and photographer you’re after. If you’re promoting your business, you’ll need a specialist commercial photographer. Look at the portfolios of different photographers, and think about whether any given photographer can deliver the quality and style you need. Don’t just pick at random or use the friend of a friend who happens to have a nice camera. Remember, this is your business you’re promoting. How you present it will influence what people think of it.

Budget sensibly. Again, this is your business you’re trying to promote. If your website is your shopfront, it needs to reflect the quality of your business. That needn’t cost a fortune, and making enquiries about likely costs is free.

In my last posting I dwelled on some of the pitfalls and legalities of using stock agency photos (often referred to as microstock because the payments are very small). It’s only right then that I highlight the same for commissioned photography.

  • Don’t assume you, your staff or your business aren’t photogenic enough:

A good photographer will do everything to ensure you and your staff look good, and probably better than you thought possible! Also remember, business isn’t a beauty pageant and people don’t see you the way you see yourself. The same goes for your premises and processes. There may be details and angles you’ve seen a million times and never had a second thought about, but a decent photographer will make them look interesting, and use them to help tell your story.

business man in front of world map

It's your business, show you're proud of it.

  • Watch the price:

As with stock imagery, you need to know what the cost will be. It’s tricky to estimate this without some idea of what will be involved in shooting pictures for you, but draw up a rough brief of what you’d like photographed, how many images you hope to achieve and what the pictures are to be used for (internal comms, external PR, corporate publications and web, advertising etc) so the photographer can give some idea of likely fees. Make sure the time required to shoot the images is sufficient, and make sure the photographer’s estimate includes permission to use the images. I work out my fees based on a combination of the likely time and resources needed for the shoot, the likely number of pictures required, plus the uses the client will require of the images. I combine these elements to give an over-all figure.

  • Check the T&Cs:

Again, as with stock, check the photographer’s T&Cs and that the agreed uses match your requirements. My T&Cs are based on standard UK ones, but the uses agreed vary according to the client’s requirements.

  • Get references:

Ask for references from other clients. I’m certainly happy to offer references if asked (and no, it isn’t my Mum that I’ll put you in touch with!)

  • If things go wrong:

The great thing about working with a specific photographer is that should anything go wrong, you have a human being you can take up the problem with, not a faceless agency. The advantage of a professional is that they will do their best to foresee likely problems and tackle them in advance, and will do their best to keep you happy if there are any issues after the shoot.

The next article in this series will look at the issues involved in taking your own business photos, or getting a friend or relative to do them for you. You can hazard a guess at what I’ll be saying about that…

Laughing Stock?

black ladies laughing

What reaction does your website get?

When was the last time you gave your web site an overhaul? Or does it sit there, Miss Haversham-like, gathering dust, all dressed up for the big day then left to decay, alone and unloved.

Maybe it’s time to pay the old dear a visit and see how she’s doing. A neglected web site will do nothing to help your business. Dust and cobwebs building up, broken old links. Oh, and that “designed by a toddler” look, just doesn’t cut it any more.

Naturally, when it comes to a spruce up, you’ll want to add some fresh photos to the site, so this and the next article will shine a little light on your options.

As a professional photographer, I’m always going to promote the benefits of proper, bespoke photography for your site. Not just because this is my blog and I’ll say what I damn well like (though it is and I will), but because it’s true.

However, I’ll start with stock images as it is still quite a popular choice. For all its faults, I can’t single-handedly convince the entire Universe that using cheap stock is a Bad Thing, so instead, for those of you hell-bent on using the cheesiest imagery you can lay your mouse on, I’ll give you some tips on how to get more out of it, and how to avoid some common problems.

  • Avoid the Generic:

You know what I mean. Those pictures of Californian business clones in suits, in executive board rooms, laptops and mobile phones at the ready, teeth shining like polished piano keys… Try to think beyond the obvious, and dig a little deeper into the archives of the stock image sites. There are only about 40 million images to choose from.

  • Watch the price:

The headline price of most stock sites will tell you you can have photos for as little as £1 each. This may be true, but you’d need to be buying around 750 image credits a month to get those prices. The average stock image will set you back £10 – £20. Prices are creeping up too as the libraries struggle to turn a profit.

  • Check the T&Cs:

You must read the small print before buying! Royalty Free doesn’t mean copyright free. There are very tight restrictions on how images can be used. In most cases, Royalty Free refers to the fact that you don’t have to renew image licences over time, but you will need to pay again if you want to move or duplicate an image from one project to another, or one media to another. When updating a web site, check if you need to pay to bring old images into the new site.

  • Beware bogus libraries:

Sites which offer very cheap, or even free images, may not be legitimate. They will trawl the net for pictures, gather them up, and offer them as licensed images when in fact they are stolen. Make sure you know who you’re buying from, because you will be liable for any breach of copyright.

  • Google Images is not a stock library:

Google images is great for getting to see a photo of just about anything you can imagine, but you need to assume that everything on the internet is covered by copyright, and using “found” images on the net is theft and you can get caught.

  • If things go wrong:

If a picture on your web site turns out not to have been correctly licensed, it will be you that will get the legal letters, the court orders and the hassle. Regardless of who put the site together, it will be you and your business that will be treated as the beneficiary and publisher of the offending image. It’s then up to you to litigate against the web designer (or whoever put the site together) for any losses caused by their negligence. Seek early legal advice from a specialist copyright lawyer. It could save your business from fatal damages or court costs.

Please use the comments box here to share your thoughts or experiences on using stock imagery in your business publications and website. Next week, I’ll deal with using commissioned photography.

If you would like an independent audit of the photography on your website, which will highlight any likely legal issues, drop me a line for more information.