Google,Licensing,Copyright – and Free

I got this email the other day. A couple of weeks ago, Tom my partner got a cease and desist from Getty and an invoice for uploading his own images on the ASMP NJ Chapter website because the Picscout robots had picked them up, which is now owned by Getty.

The business of photography has changed because of the Internet in terms of value, licensing, awareness of copyright and all of the above.

I have posted the letter below for discussion and open dialog- please no rants or whining allowed.

Dear Ms Mooney,

I’m not sure if I am contacting the right person, however I am small custom home builder on the Jersey shore in Xxxxx near Atlantic City.  My wife downloaded a picture of a South Jersey beach scene from Google about a year ago and put it on my web site.  She unknowingly downloaded a picture that was copyright protected.  Today, July 15, we received a letter from xxxxxx a company that protects your work and they informed us that we used your picture and wanted 3000.00 to rectify the situation or buy the licence for 1020.00 we settled for the 1020 and took your picture down.

This picture was not a glamorized picture of a beach.  Just a dune and a dune grass fence.  A picture that could have been taken by anyone in South Jersey.  I just wanted to let you know that if this is your picture, it is dispicable that common, decent and hardworking people who have a small struggling business should be subjected to such a ridiculous fine.  The fact that we cannot google and download a beach
scene without worrying that someone OWNS it is outrageous.
Imagine that!  People own pictures of nature!

If this is not you, then my sincere apology, otherwise I think you should be ashamed of yourself and need to contact Google for having your picture available to millions of people.



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Grow or Die

I’m borrowing the title from Ian Summers, a creative coach and visionary. Through personal sessions with Ian as well as from his writings, I’ve learned that there is joy in any exploration, especially the exploration of the creative self. Ian expresses what he does more beautifully on his blog: Heartstorming

“ I co-create an environment where people are safe to bring what they love and what matters to come into being by being a compassionate teacher and expressive painter.”

There is so much to learn simply because it’s such an amazing age we live in. I try to take advantage of that and embrace new skills and knowledge to further my creative self. Learning and exploration is a necessary ingredient in my life. It stimulates me, it brings me wonder and joy and it empowers me. The more I learn, the more I grow, and the more the universe opens to me and sets my creative spirit free to be the one I am meant to be. Learning is happiness.

Here are some links to some wonderful sources for learning – some technical and some inspirational – but all valuable in their own way.

To start with don’t miss Selina Maitreya’s Clarion Call 2011, a free 2-day professional photography telesummit.
I’ll be on at 10AM Friday, Feb. 11th.

If you’d rather have the benefit of networking face to face with your peers then sign up for ASMP’s Strictly Business 3
Next one coming up is in Philadelphia Feb. 25-27, 2011.

Here’s a few a my favorite links to continued learning:

Video Vimeo School – Tutorials, articles
Creative Cow – Tutorials, forums, articles
2 Pop – Forum, articles
Ken Stone –Tutorials video

If you have any real or virtual places that you frequent to learn, please feel free to share.

The key of course to learning is to apply the knowledge that you’ve learned. So be ready to grow when you set out on your explorations of learning. Embrace that thought and ready your mind to be open and receptive to new ideas and ways of seeing.

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Editing and Workflow for DSLR’s – The First Steps

In the Field
Depending on how you are working in the field and what you are shooting, your workflow and the way you organize and manage your media will vary somewhat. If you have a crew and are shooting a scripted video, then you will probably have a computer and technician on site, downloading media as it is shot, backing it up and checking it for focus.

If you’re working solo or with just one other person, which is how I have been working for the past 3 ½ months on my project, Opening Our Eyes,

Gail at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

then you don’t have the manpower to work that way. I downloaded all my footage, audio and stills at the end of the day. I rarely had the time or even the battery power on my computer (electricity was scarce at times) to look at what I had shot but I did do spot checks occasionally.

Regardless of how you work in the field,

Children at the Kopila Valley Primary School

it is essential to create redundant backups of all your content. I backed everything up to two portable external hard drives, after downloading the media to my laptop via card readers. There’s a nice software application called ShotPut Pro that lets you make up to 3 copies to different drives at a time, which speeds things up quite a bit. For the most part, I had organized my media by destination and subject with each folder containing the contents of a card. Whenever I shot an interview, I put a fresh card in the camera so that the content was automatically sorted out from the b-roll. Some shooters I’ve talked to who are used to shooting tape, archive each tape or card by making a disk image (DMG) of each which can be mounted on the computer, emulating the original card.

Back in the Editing Suite

The first thing I did when I returned from my 99-day journey, was to make two backups of all my material. After my media was backed up, I started to organize it. Everything had already been separated as far as destination and subject, but I needed to separate the stills from the video and the interviews from the b-roll – if any cards contained both. I also needed to match up the interview video footage with the audio files that had been captured by a separate recording device.

After getting all my media organized and sorted by destination, subject and file type, I renamed the files and added any relevant metadata – copyright and creator info etc. This can be done in Adobe Bridge. You can also look at the video files in Bridge to preview before transcoding them. Another way to preview your video files is by using QuickTime player. Because the files coming out of these hybrid cameras are compressed H.264 files, they do not play smoothly in Final Cut Pro, so they need to be transcoded into a codec like Apple Pro Res, before editing them. This can be done in Apple Compressor which comes with the Final Cut Pro Suite or MPEG Streamclip which is a free application.

You can choose to preview your video files first using Adobe Bridge or QuickTime player or another software tool, and then make a folder of “selects” and transcode just those files before importing them into FCP, or you can transcode everything and then import everything into Final Cut Pro.

After I organized my assets (stills, video and audio), I chose to transcode ALL my video files and import everything into Final Cut Pro. That way, not only could I preview everything smoothly, but I could also start adding information to the clips and organize them into bins within FCP. And with everything transcoded, I won’t have to leave FCP if I wanted to look at content that hadn’t been previously marked “selects”.

Getting to the Fun Part

Organizing, sorting, logging and transcoding is tedious work but it’s essential in order to be able to find things quickly when you need them, when you start laying down your storyline and want to keep focused. There’s nothing worse than having to break your train of thought while you’re editing and have to leave the program to find assets or prep them. Organizing is key – it’s not fun, but a necessary step in the process.

I will continue to slog through this initial process this week, in order to get through some of my content so that I can put together a sample for the PhotoCine News Expo that I’ve been asked to speak at this month. I have way too much material to go through everything, so I’ve decided to tackle the content from two of my subjects, which will make the task more manageable. It will also provide me with the reward of working on the “fun part” of editing by crafting a short story before moving on to daunting task of assembling the entire documentary. Check out this quick sample that I put together within 24 hours after getting off the plane.

Little by little things will come together and I’ll keep you posted as I go along.

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Living in the Now

The last couple days have been eye opening as well as reminders as to why I have embarked on this project Maybe I needed a reminder at this point in my life that you only go around once and to make the most of it. And after spending a couple days with Ronni Kahn, CEO of Oz Harvest, I got that reminder and it affirmed in my mind why I took a risk, took on a personal project and took off for 3 months on a journey with my daughter around the world.

But Ronni reminded me how important it is that you really only have the “now” in your life because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring. I remember when I first embraced the notion of living in the “now”. I was 19 years old and hitchhiking around the world. I remember a consistent remark from people who stopped to pick me up and bring me a bit further along on my journey. Many of them said, “I wish I had done what you’re doing when I was your age”. I never lost sight of that and have always lived my life with the thought that if I don’t do “it“ now, I may never get the chance again.

No one really knows what tomorrow will bring – that’s the mystery of life. The best-laid plans are never givens and the surprises and unexpected moments are many times the most rewarding.

Tonight, I had a simple yet memorable dinner with my 23-year-old daughter Erin. As we ate our pizza and had a lovely, inexpensive bottle of wine – we took notice that here we were in Sydney, Australia, overlooking the Sydney Opera House and it all seemed so surreal. But it was real, it a moment in time that we made happen, that we didn’t postpone until the “perfect” time in the future and a time that we will always have and always remember. We were living in the “now” moment.

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Photography and Video in Foreign Destinations

I’ve traveled most of my life and I’m almost always with my camera.  I’ve experienced the good and the bad and the difficulty and the ease when taking photographs on my travels. Some cultures are open to being photographed and some not.  I’m not just talking about the rules and regulations concerning photographing landmarks and such, which has certainly changed since 911, but rather the receptiveness of the people in various countries.

It used to be that the people in “third world” destinations were leery of being photographed and superstitious.  That has given way to more of an attitude of wanting money for every click of your shutter in their direction.  But then there are some cultures that it’s a bit of a surprise how open the people are to being photographed.

Istanbul was certainly one destination where the people were quite accepting of photography.  And surprisingly, Moscow is another city where I have found that photography is a lot less restrictive than I thought.  Aside from some museums where cameras are not allowed, I have found that shooting on the streets of this city hasn’t been a problem at all.  Quite different than I imagined and in fact a bit of a contrast to what I’ve experienced lately in my own country where I feel like I’m an intruder with my camera or worse, feeling like I’m breaking the law.

It’s a fine balance when arriving in a new destination and feeling out the situation as to what is or isn’t off limits to a camera.  One needs to be observant and respectful and work into the culture gradually.  When photographing people, I don’t go up and ask them if I can take their picture.  It’s not because I’m trying to be sneaky, but rather I don’t want a posed moment and that’s exactly what happens if I ask permission first.  However, after I’ve taken a few shots and a person has noticed me, I will then question with body language if it’s ok to take pictures.  If they say no, I respect their wishes and move on.

I’m on a long extended shoot right now creating a documentary Opening Our Eyes with my daughter Erin.  In our free time, we are doing a bit of sightseeing and photographing the landmarks and people of the destinations we are in.  From time to time we want a picture of the two of us in a quintessential setting and we seek out just the right person to take our picture.  We have discovered that picking the right person is an art in itself and quickly find out if our hunch in who we ask to take the picture proves right.  We have acquired quite a collection of photos that people have taken of us from the terrible to the pretty good.  It’s always funny to see other people’s eye and how they frame us in the shot.

We have another two months for our journey and it will be interesting to see the cultural differences with regards to photography.  I hope that we won’t encounter the obstacles that seem to be popping up more and more in the US when it comes to taking pictures.  I wonder –  is the change in attitude because of security or is it because everyone has a camera these days with the ever-present cell phones and maybe people are just tired of being photographed.

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Back to My Beginnings

I became a visual artist , not as a photographer, not as a filmmaker, but as a storyteller using images and later video to tell the tales of other cultures, lands and people through my eyes and my journeys. My camera was my tool – it was a means to an end. The end being the story that needed to be told.

I’ve spent the last 30 some years documenting the world through my lens, whether it be for magazines like the National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian or Travel & Leisure or for major corporations. I’ve been blessed and have truly lived a charmed life. But there have been times when I’ve started to go off kilter – or stray from the essence of my being. It’s easy to do, especially in a culture that is obsessed with the drive to succeed – the definition of success being to make a lot of money and have a lot of “things”. Don’t get me wrong – I also enjoy the rewards that money brings – but for me that means having the resources that help me to live a full life.

A few years back I was shooting a documentary on the Delta Blues Musicians and I spent a memorable afternoon with blues drummer Sam Carr. As we were winding up our conversation under the shade of old tree he sat back and said “I’ve lived a rich man’s life in a poor man’s shoes”. That comment has stayed with me over time and when Sam died last year, I was told that his family was grateful for the interview that I captured that day and used his comment as his epitaph. I was humbled and honored, but mostly felt richly rewarded that my personal project had touched the lives of others.

As we wind up our first stop in Africa on our round-the-world trip, some of the fears and trepidations I had that came with taking a risk, and heading out to the unknown for 3 months, have vanished. In their place is the calming realization that this was what I needed to do at this point in my life and I was grateful I had the means to do it and the stamina to travel on a shoestring budget. Africa puts things into perspective – this vast continent is so wild, colorful, rich, poor, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Africa has taken its hold on me and has sparked my true spirit.

My daughter and I decided to take some time to get out of the city and go to Murchison Falls National Park, after shooting the first part of our documentary about people making a positive difference in the world. We saw

Elephants along the Nile

elephants, hippos,

Hippo on the Nile


Giraffe, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

antelope, cape buffalo, baboons,

Baboon, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

slept in a tent and sat by a fire in the evenings under a canopy of stars that stretched from horizon to horizon. We chatted with people from countries all over the globe – all of us different yet with a common cause – the love of the journey.

Of course I shot still photos

Cape Buffalo, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

as well as some VIDEO but more importantly I absorbed this rich experience and it energized my spirit and my soul. This is the “fire” that I need every now and then. I think we all need a spark every once in awhile and to get past the science of the photographic craft and back to the essence of the art and the story. That is what ultimately leads us to create the kind of visuals that will resonate with others. That spark is different for all of us but nevertheless an essential ingredient for the creative process. It’s not the tools, nor the techniques that define the message or create the images that strike a lasting chord with those who see them. I was fortunate that I learned that years ago and now I’m reminded of those lessons as I get back to my beginnings.

We leave Africa today and continue our journey – next stop Istanbul, Turkey and then on to Poland where our next subject awaits.

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Photographers/Filmmakers as Publishers/Producers

It’s been a busy year, trying to manage jobs and lots of road trips giving seminars for ASMP to photographers who may be contemplating video.  I’ve enjoyed meeting my peers and sharing information through my presentations as well as on my blog, but I need to take some time to get back in the field and capture my own “moments” and “motion”. I need to spend some time “doing” right now and ultimately that will make what I have to share that more valuable and meaningful. So I will be embarking in a couple of weeks on a “passion project” that will take me around the world for 99 days.

It’s an exciting time to be working on a personal project because of various distribution possibilities and portals that are in everybody’s hands.  Ten years ago when I got started in video, technology made it possible for me to create documentaries and films without the need of large crews and big budgets.  And now with the web, fast download speeds, video host sites, mobile devices and itunes – I can – we all can be publishers and producers and get our content out globally. The pipelines have been democratized and it’s a very empowering position.

I’ve spent a career on the road and on assignment for various publications and corporations.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked for magazines like National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure shooting stories on destinations and people all over the world. I suppose you could say that I lived the life I dreamed of. I was shooting these assignments at a time when magazines were giving me ample time in the field to come back with a story – back when travel magazines ran stories as opposed to survey pieces or celebrity profiles. More importantly, I maintained the copyright of my images and was free to market them as I wished after a standard embargo period was over – usually around 90 days.

These days many publishers issue “work for hire” contracts, so essentially photographers are giving up their copyright. Photographers have always been strong advocates for copyright and I include myself in that position.  But in our advocacy to keep strong copyright laws in place, we end up fighting for that right for large corporations and publishing empires who ultimately take away our copyright in lopsided contracts.  And for the most part these contracts are not negotiable.  You either agree and take the job or you don’t.

These days because of technology we can be our own publishers and deliver our stories and other content in a number of different ways.  Sure it means taking the risk up front but that in itself brings its own rewards. It’s very liberating to be shooting and answering only to myself – not second-guessing someone else.  I take more chances creatively because I’m not afraid to fail.  And every time I’ve ever done that, I’ve grown and the rewards have been many – both creatively and financially.

I don’t know exactly how and where my Opening Our Eyes project will be distributed when I complete my journey.  But these days – it could be a book, a multimedia exhibition, a feature film distributed through itunes or on a DVD through Amazon, various magazine articles or broadcast.  I could package the journey and the back-story and give talks to universities.  An endless sea of possibilities.  What an amazing time we live in where we can all make our dreams come true.

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Change or Frustration?

Seth Godin writes today about what he picks as the two most important trends facing us in the decade ahead – change and frustration.

He points out that “the infrastructure of massive connection is now real”.  The first Internet generation has grown up and is eager to change everything.  Baby boomers, like myself need to come to terms with reality. He says, “boomers” are getting older, our dreams are fading and that we’re starting to realize that were are not going to live forever. He warns that our frustration will be acted out in public. And then he reminds us that we all get to pick one of these two alternatives – but “being frustrated about change doesn’t count as doing both”.

I’m a baby boomer and my choice is to embrace change – but then again that has always been my “outlook” of choice. Maybe because I work hard at not letting my dreams fade away.  Sometimes old dreams have changed into new ones – but I always have at least one dream on my horizon. Sure, sometimes I get frustrated when things get in the way of my dreams, but that frustration usually awakens an even more determined spirit inside of me.

Isn’t that what us baby boomers have been doing all of our lives? – turning our frustrations into effecting change?  Just look at the last 40 years of boomers bringing about change – some good – some not so good.  But we certainly can’t be accused of being an apathetic generation – choosing to stay static and follow the status quo.

I don’t equate being open to change, with age. I’ve met some pretty rigid people who are 30 years younger than I am. I think it comes down to choice of outlook and just knowing that most of us have the power to make that choice.  For me, on this New Year’s Day, I choose embrace change – create change.  I feel energized about the year ahead.  Does that mean that I’m not acting my age? I think it just means that I’m being myself.

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Election Day – Is Anyone Paying Attention?

I’ve always loved Election Day.  It makes me feel like I have the power to make a difference because I know that just one vote can.  I’ll always vote in any given election – not just the Presidential election every four years – but even (especially) in my local election where often one vote has made the difference. I’m grateful that I live in a country where I have the right to vote and I hope I never take that “right” for granted.

When I was 18 years old I couldn’t vote.  The year was 1969; I had just graduated from high school and went off to college. It was a time of unrest and protest on college campuses because the Vietnam War was escalating and every day young men my age were dying.  Young men that couldn’t even cast a vote for their Commander in Chief because the voting age was 21 and they were too young.  Too young to vote but not too young to give their life for their country.  The voting age changed on July 1, 1971 with the Twenty Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution changing the voting age from 21 to 18 in response to the student activism against the war.

It’s hard to believe that change happened in my lifetime and even harder to believe that when my grandmother was in her twenties she couldn’t vote because she was a woman.  I will never take my vote for granted because I feel somehow it dishonors all the people who fought hard for that right. I also feel that apathy can lead to disaster.  Just look at history if you don’t believe me.

We all get caught up in living our lives and sometimes we don’t see the silent shifts of power. But if we’re not careful and aren’t diligent in protecting our rights – they will quietly go away without us ever noticing.  And it makes no difference what your political persuasions are. You have no right to whine about what you don’t like if you don’t vote.

I don’t want to be the one explaining to my grandchildren when they ask me why my generation let “whatever” happen – happen. I don’t want to be the one who says that I was too busy posting on my Facebook and didn’t take the time to go to the polls and vote.

Go vote today – it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

Tools of Change and New Distribution

Up early again, my mind restless and spinning with ideas, thoughts and reflections on last week’s Photo Expo in New York City.  Ironically this year’s Expo didn’t really reveal anything “new” for me in the way of new toys and tools of the trade.  What was new was the obvious absence of Adobe on the exhibitor floor – a sign of the economic times?  Or is it  a sign of how the photographic business is shifting – from professional to prosumer?

While in NYC I took time to see Robert Frank’s exhibition “The Americans” at the MET.  His beautiful images have stayed in my head and no doubt will provoke me to jump-start one of the many projects that continue to bubble to the surface in my mind.  But there was one thing I read in context of the exhibition and that was a statement made about the camera being a “tool of change” during Frank’s time. I started thinking about that and realize that the camera, whether it be a still camera or a motion camera is still a “tool of change”.  James Natchwey’s images are powerful examples of that.

What is radically different today is our means of distribution – of getting our imagery seen.  No tool has the power to make a difference or a change if what it creates is never seen.  I started thinking about the demise of newspapers and print in general and I was dismayed about the future Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egyptand the still photos that may never be seen.

With the Internet and global distribution, the playing field has been leveled and democratized and anyone can share anything they create with the rest of the world – right?  Maybe not – because ultimately the web is controlled.  It’s controlled by what search engines find and how information is ranked. Listen to Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO talk about the Internet of the future.  Even Facebook now is deciding which friends will see our news feed.  That default can be changed of course – but you have to be aware of it to change it.  How many of us are aware? And I mean that in the broadest sense, meaning aware of what and how our information is delivered.

All the “free” content we get these days over the web excites us all.  It’s great – but even free comes at a price.  I can only hope that future generations will understand the underlying cost of  “free content” and be aware of who is controlling distribution in this new paradigm.

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