October 27, 2008

162: Zoomanity!

Above: four stages of snowy owl stink-eye, two gut-heavy prairie dogs and one Kerry, practicing her birch-bark biting on the Hunt Lake hiking trail.


The weekend previous was salvation. Fall here is sometimes mercilessly brief, and following a most miserable Thanksgiving weekend it looked bleak for lovers of the season. But Big Weather tossed us in Manitoba a life preserver last weekend and we made good use of it, squeezing in a day of hiking on our favourite trail in the Whiteshell and a trip to the zoo to
fulfill my need to see the owls at least once a year.

The Whiteshell was in fine form, even if almost all the leaves had fallen. The park was quiet, virtually empty of critters (the sole highlight was a scavenging red fox that circled our weenie-fire in the evening). And Owl Row did not disappoint either, though one snowy was so perplexing we ran out of time to see almost anything else, barring some extraordinarily obese prairie dogs. But this owl, hopefully she is OK; despite making comical expressions and interesting photos, her stretch-and-yawn act every 15-20 seconds made me believe something is not alright with this poor thing.

Closer looks at a few of these shots can currently be had, o'er on Flickr.

October 21, 2008

161: The Couch Trip

I've been neglecting this site. But rest assured, I've concocted a methodology here to boost productivity: well-dressed clones.

These were results of a recent bout of Photoshop play-time and a rental tuxedo, courtesy of Allan's wedding (mentioned previously). I moved nearly every scrap of living room furniture to pull this off; stuff was either in the frame or casting a shadow in the frame (the lamp remained; I enjoy its slight hindrance to the overall symmetry of the photos).

I had some questions about the lighting: it's natural – there's a bank of windows six feet or so to the right and another set about 15-20 feet to the left, with diffused late afternoon light coming from the right. The dimming of light reaching the corners of these shots is artificial, the result of adding gradated duplicate layers in Photoshop set to multiply mode. Some additional (subtle) dodging and burning was done to other portions; the artwork on the wall, the sides of my face(s), etc.

With a tripod, I took sequences of timed photos of myself on all three couch cushions. These ones, looking directly forward, worked out the best, but a quick second series with my own wedding suit created some options also. Let me tell you though, this is it for me and neckties for awhile – those things were giving me a rash after some time, creating yet another patch job in Photoshop.


October 10, 2008

Flickr: Get Bent!

As promised, here are some accounts of Flickr image requests that were unscrupulous, crassly commercial or rubbed me the wrong way, either eventually or right off the bat.

The ask:
"I am working on Mazda customer magazines,
Zoom-Zoom. We have a section for people to submit their own groovy photos, I think your "Swing High" (above, top left) one will be perfect for our Zoom Zoom moments. I hope you can get in touch with me and let me know you are up for this."

The response/outcome: I own a Honda. Get bent.

The ask:
"I am writing to let you know that one of your photos (above, top center) ... has been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of our Schmap
New York Guide, to be published early December 2007."

The background: Schmap runs a successful series of online and download-able travel/tourism 'guides' for a multitude of cities around the world, and have a fairly honest reputation with Flickr users. However, they are still a commercial operation, and fair is fair: if you're making money, the folks you glean your photos from should be making money. Yes, even if it's a pittance.

The response/outcome: I'm a tiny bit sorry, but get bent.

The ask:
"My name is ______, working at LIZ Editions, Paris, France.
I have the pleasure to announce that your photograph (above, top right) has been selected to be published in this photographic book Red Inspiration! This book ... brings together 300 of the most pertinent photos illustrating this powerful color. At the end of the book, there is a Photographer Directory that lists the web address where you can be contacted – to consult your biography or any information concerning your photo (legend, anecdotes, copyright). Edited by LIZ Editions, the LIZ-books (a total of 96 works, including Red Inspiration) present elite photos taken by those who show a particular passion for the art of photography as well as young professionals."

The background: a search on Flickr's help forum details many folks' experiences with this same request. Turns out this outfit sells a whole line of colour-themed photography books on the backs of the most naïve, desperate and attention-hungry Flickr users, and sells them for upwards of $40 a copy through retailers like Amazon. They're turning profits, plain and simple, and not passing it on to photographers who make these books even possible. That's sh*tty business practice. Lowest of the low.

The response/outcome:
Get bent. Big time.

The ask: "My name's _____ and I'm an intern at NowPublic.com. Just to let you know, NowPublic is running a news story on American Idol and your photo(s) (above, bottom left) would be an excellent addition. If you're interested in sharing it, please follow the links below and feel free to add your own comment as well. Looking forward to seeing your work on the site!"

The background: NowPublic is a "crowd-sourced, participatory news network that mobilizes an army of reporters to cover the events that define our world" – essentially citizen journalism. However, since crowd-sourcing is currently a blight in my chosen industry, I don't really wish to endorse it in other fields, either.

The response/outcome: Get bent.

The ask:
"I am designing a website for Destination Winnipeg, intended to attract people to Winnipeg.
I wanted to see whether I could use some of your pictures (above, bottom right) ... would you charge anything, or would credit be enough?"

The response: this fellow was asking about three photos in particular, and I offered an educated answer as to how much they would cost for leasing purposes, based partially on test searches through online stock services for similar shots/usages and a bit of advice from friend and local super-pro Ian McCausland (who informed me of DW's shady practice of sniffing about Flickr for their photo needs). Their response to my response? Nothing. Silence.

The outcome: Get bent, despite the promising start.

October 09, 2008

Flickr: Get Serious!

Over my time as a Flickr member – just over two years – I've been contacted no less than 19 times via email about image requests. It's a common practice, I'm sure, through the site (but not nearly as common as simply taking images without asking, or the only slightly less grating practice of taking images, not asking, but still supplying credit), and these requests have run the gamut from intriguing, to encouraging, to downright insulting. Requests have ranged from high school projects to online travel/tourism sites, to blogs and podcasts. And to come to an abrupt point, not a single request came with the intention of receiving an image – or an OK to use – by offering any compensation greater than straight-up exposure. Because, I gotta say it, Flickr is a vast, grey realm of chum posters largely inexperienced in these matters, and sharks looking to snag images – stock, essentially – for free.

So in a nutshell, a memo to all Flickr account members: if and when you get asked about a particular photo – and I have to wonder now whether it has or will invariably happen to many – do not get drawn into the alluring high beams of almighty exposure. If you are told in no uncertain words that this opportunity will increase exposure to you and/or your work, then I have to inform you: often times this is codespeak for I'm looking for stock imagery for free and thus, boiled down, I consider you sucker material.

Say no. Or add that you'll consider it, but for a fee. See where that takes you; you never know what may happen. I'll detail a handful of situations that dictated such a response, and others where I believed in the requesting party's cause and shifted my stance. As a Part Two later on down the road, I'll detail a handful of ones I told to essentially get bent...

The ask: a Cornell Lab of Ornithology production assistant requested a mosquito submission of mine for Illustration Friday's long-long-ago theme of "insect", for inclusion in an episode of their Meet the Scientists online video series, about avian malaria and its transmission through mosquitoes.

The approach: courteous, genuine.

The response: a no-brainer for me, the Lab is a huge presence in birding circles. I offered permission after asking a few questions about the project, final application and the image's part in it.

The outcome: video! (you don't have to watch the whole thing, but trust me, it's there.)

The ask: a representative from a Brooklyn, NY, ad agency asked of using a photo of Kerry (above) in an internal microsite for an accounting firm, built to celebrate a local branch's ten-year anniversary. The site would be accessible to firm employees for ten days, each day featuring a different image – yup – culled from Flickr.

The approach: misguided.

The response:
(I keep a canned version of this on file now) "Apologies, but I cannot release this photo for use without the suitable compensation. I appreciate however, that you've asked – I know of many situations where this is not the case, so thanks for asking, and best of luck with your imagery search for the site."

The response to the response: "I was wondering if you would just let me know what you would have wanted to be paid for us to use your image for one day in the US. We have gotten approval from all the other flickr photographers for free but we are happy to pay you what we can for use. Could you just let me know what that would be?"

The outcome: this was all it took to open a dialogue, even though I was saddened by the prospect of nine other Flickr users coughing up images for free to an international accounting firm. The agency and I eventually settled on a dollar number for a lease, plus it opened the door to a second lease for an e-invite, effectively doubling the amount. I also asked for a signed separate contract for each use, which the agency provided. The cheque was in the mail for some time, but eventually showed.

The ask: "I'd like to use one of your photographs (above) in a video podcast I am co-producing for the new Peterson Field Guide to Birds ... I would be happy to send you a copy of the book as a thank you for this use, or $20 if you prefer. Your photo would only appear for a few seconds onscreen. You would be credited as a photographer in the closing credits of that episode."

The approach: all-business.

The response: done and done – I opted for the book, and downloaded a nicely-made podcast on North American wood warblers (which look to be accessible now only via their website and a registration process).

The ask: the web services coordinator with the City asked about using my hot-air balloon panorama of downtown (above) as the header of the City of Winnipeg’s redesigned website. Since it was not mentioned in the initial message, I led with a more open-minded variation on my canned response.

The approach: professional, informative.

The response: through a dialogue, a two-year lease of the image was agreed upon and a contract was signed. I did not opt for selling the image outright, another option that was presented.

The outcome: my image is now poster child for the City of Winnipeg website for the next two years.

October 07, 2008

Back For More

My friend Melissa (of Operation NICE fame) was decidedly not-nice in challenging my GoogleChat-Battleship supremacy to a rematch. Last winter's inaugural tilt – dubbed the Thrilla From Peg/Philla – was as bloody and high-seasy as any great naval battle in history, ending in favour of the Canadian. And early on it looked as if the tables would be turned, as the Jersey Admiral picked apart the staggering Canuck defences. But she was no match to my super-awesome strategy of lumping all my ships together in one spot – except for that little weaselly boat, whatever it's called – and eventually fell in a stunning bottom-of-the-ninth-esque collapse. Boys rule!

October 06, 2008

Congrats, Mister

Top row (left to right): Kerry snaps Al and I before we finally split for the evening; fellow groomsman Steve captures Kerry and I at the magic hour. Middle row (left to right): the happy couple, plus father; Sarah gives thanks; Al gets a peck from mom. Bottom row (left to right): Al, next up to bat, gives an emotional thanks of his own; Sarah's dad steals a nap at his afternoon-after-party.


My oldest friend Allan (aka el negro magnifico) married his amazing fiancée Sarah this past weekend, on what very well may have been the city's sunniest, finest October day in recent memory. And I was fortunate enough to join him for almost every step of the way/day, as first-time tuxedo-wearer* and choked-up member of their wedding party. It was an all-around sweet occasion.

Al and I go way, way back. Upon arrival in Winnipeg from Ontario in 1982 all big-headed and funny-named, he was one of my first friends in Grade 2. He played Team Africa during Olympic-themed recess foursquare matches. He swiped the diary of my Grade 6 crush to find out if she liked me back (conclusion: nebulous). I yelled at Mr. Lawler to quit picking on him in a high school chemistry class. He inspired me to try my hand at journalism in college, and in turn I inspired and aided in his Great Tackle of graphic design. His long-standing site was the inspiration for this blog, even.

Sarah and Al met about a half-year before Kerry and I began dating, and their match was a huge inspiration. And it's so nice to see, a decade later, the both of us have it all figured out.

* Not actually. I also sported an all-white number at a high-school fashion show.