To watermark or not to watermark?
The picture editor at my agency told me the other day: “Put a watermark on your photos and it won’t happen again”. We were discussing the theft of one of my photos by The Heritage Orchestra. They’d found a picture of mine online showing them at the Barbican and they’d copied and pasted it onto their website without asking me. I contacted them about it. They replied and asked me what photo I was talking about, but when I sent them an invoice they ignored it and my further emails. Ironic really, when so many musicians complain of illegal music downloads. Would a watermark have stopped them stealing this photo? Quite possibly yes. But it might also have made them less attracted to it in the first place. For some time now I’ve been following an excellent street photographer on Instagram. The only issue I have with his photos is that he places a huge watermark on all them. In my view, the watermarks completely ruin his photos as a visual experience. And what is a photo if not a visual experience? Especially when the life of a photo on Instagram is unlikely to be more than a few seconds, why strangle it at birth?
I read a blog the other day that talked about Flickr as if it were an open-source archive of free photos: “When you go to Flickr to use a photo for a blog post … leave a comment under the photo and add a link to the post.” Again, the impression is that because it’s on the internet, you can have it for free.
Putting your photos in the shop window, either on a photo-sharing platform or your own website, is a risk. Some people may see the photos, like them, walk into your shop and - when you’re not looking - steal them. The internet has made it all too easy. But without the internet, they wouldn’t have seen them to want to steal them. And for every thief like The Heritage Orchestra, there will be buyers who recognise intellectual property and copyright. And as it happens, I also sold the same photo from the same gig that night at the Barbican to a different buyer. The buyer wouldn’t have seen the photo if I hadn’t published it online and they might not have liked it enough to want to buy it with a watermark.
Just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean you can steal it
Fear of the unknown, fear of the iPhone
Since re-connecting to Flickr after the launch of their mobile app, I’ve been seeing a lot more big-camera images. The photos I see from my contacts on Flickr are both mobile and big-camera, with no distinction between them. Which is a great thing. Sometime soon, no-one will really bother whether an image is produced with a mobile camera.
On Flickr, I’ve reconnected to a lot of big-camera photographers from my past and I’ve realised a lot of them are also on Instagram. I spoke to one recently who had just discovered Instagram and he said it had reignited his passion for photography. I felt the same thing a couple of years ago when I found mobile photography. I looked at some of his photos on Instagram and I could feel the excitement. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Looking at the world with camera-eyes always turned on. But I’ve looked at the Instagram streams of other big-camera photographers and surprisingly many of them are posting almost post-ironic images: images of food, feet, pub scenes, etc. Uninteresting subjects, uncrafted, no filters. They don’t seem to be making any effort with their mobile photos. They seem almost overly amateurish. Why is this?
I’m no pyschologist. But that never stopped anyone airing their half-baked views about people’s motivations, thereby inadvertently revealing their own insecurities. So here goes. Could it possibly be that they are just completely baffled by the huge range of creative possibilities open to them with the iPhone? With a DSLR you set your shutter speed, aperture and ISO and that’s pretty much it. And unless you’ve been commissioned to produce a 10ft billboard, you don’t edit the photo because: 1) you can’t afford Photo Shop; 2) you don’t know how to work Photo Shop; 3) you forget about it when you get home. Or are they scared the iPhone camera will lay bare their real photographic skills? Without a £1,000 lens on their £3,000 DSLR body, the simple iPhone camera strips a photographer naked with only their raw talent to conceal their modesty. Or could it be that they are saying: this iphoneography mallarky is a bit of a laugh, but not the real thing?
I recently became a professional photographer with a big camera and I send lots of images to an agency for sale. And what’s my biggest sale to date? A photo taken with the iPhone bought by someone with no interest in how the image was produced. Some people are already not bothering to check what camera an image is taken with.
Do you know how to use Photo Shop?
If this then Instagram is a bit mean
In the good old days, when you uploaded photos to Instagram, if you had an account with Flickr, you probably also used Instagram’s share option to parallel upload your photos there too. And while you were at it, you probably sent a copy to Facebook and Twitter for good measure too. It was just another couple of taps and who’s counting anyway. Some purists used to moan a bit about it, flooding the internet with retro-filtered pictures. But then Instagram got a bit snooty about Twitter and decided to stop letting Twitter include a preview of its photos, via its cards feature, forcing users to view them on its own website. I’d also noticed that if you posted to Flickr, you couldn’t parallel-post to Instagram. In fact, have you noticed that Instagram is the only platform that doesn’t let you post photos via any other platform. A bit anti-social, I thought.
Then I found a great website called If This Then That, or IFTTT.com. It allows you to take parallel posting a step further. There are more social media platforms than I could ever imagine. Ones with elephants and armchairs for logos. Who knows what they all do. But here’s a simple example: every time iphoggy bloggy produces a new blog, you can generate a Gmail email to yourself (I believe you can already do this by Subscribing on the contact page, but belt and braces, eh?). Click here if you want to use this marvel of modern-day technology. Here’s another recipe that I found also: “Bypass Instagram turning off Twitter cards”. Take that Instagram, I thought. Now, I thought (even more), was there a recipe that allowed you to parallel-post to Instagram via Flickr? I’ve been using the new Flickr app lately in part because it allows you to post the full resolution of your picture, instead of a reduced size on Instagram. If Flickr then Instagram. I started browsing the recipes. Surely someone must already have set one up. But no, I couldn’t find it. I tweeted IFTTT and asked. No, they replied, Instagram doesn’t give them access to its API to allow you to do that. So let’s get that straight: if you post to Instagram, they allow you to spread every one of your retro-filtered pics to every half-bit Elephant and Arm-Chair app on the internet, but it won’t return the favour. Meanies.
A bit anti-social
One thing I really like about Flickr
Like everyone in the iphoneography world, I’m weighing up my options. Instagram may have reverted to its old TOS, but it’s as if you found your partner in a romantically-lit bar in the clutches of someone else before they actually cheated on you. They burst into tears and begged you to come back and they didn’t actually do anything. But they would have if you hadn’t turned up. And it’s changed how you feel about them. A lot. In common social media parlance, their brand has been screwed - even if they haven’t.
So looking at the options, there’s one thing I really like about Flickr. Really like. I’m a little biased because I helped them launched their new mobile app in London a few weeks ago. There are a lot of good things about the mobile app, but the thing I REALLY like is not something about the mobile app, it’s something about Flickr generally. And it’s something that has always irked me about Instagram. And it’s something I don’t like about most of the other options that people are currently road-testing.
If someone goes into my Flickr photostream (the equivalent to a profile page on Instagram), they see the little profile picture of me, my user name and real name, the number of photos I’ve posted and below that they see my Sets, Groups, Favourites and Contacts. How many contacts do I have? It doesn’t say. And I don’t know. And what are my contacts? Are they the people I follow, or the people who follow me? Until I thought about it just now, I mean right now, I didn’t know. They’re actually the people who I follow (=followings in Instagramese). Can I see how many people follow me (=followers in Instagramese)? No, I can’t. So, do I feel great because of how many more followers I have than followings? No, I don’t.
Which is one thing I really like about Flickr. People aren’t obsessing about who’s following who, who’s following who back, who’s unfollowed who, who’s got the largest number of followers, all that crap. The thing they’re obsessing about is the photos. Which is one thing I really like about Flickr.
Who’s following who and all that crap
All good things…
The old flickr mobile app was little more than a portal to their online presence. Their brand new iPhone app is a big step up in photo-sharing apps, plus you get a ready-made fully-functional online platform thrown in for good measure with around 80 million users for you to make friends with. And it’s a major bridge between the mobile and the big camera worlds. As I said recently, the distinctions between the two worlds are - like adding a neat retro filter - gradually blurring.
Here are the best bits about the new app:
- Full res uploads, that’s ALL the pixels from the original image. When people are printing their pictures for exhibitions or books, this matters. It also means people don’t have to worry about backing up. Once uploaded to the flickr servers, they have a full-res backup.
- A pretty cool new way of browsing your feed. You go down to see who’s posted and then across to see the photos they posted.
- And that’s useful because most flickr users post various photos at once. The mobile app also allows you to post more than one photo at a time.
- It allows you to edit (yes, change brightness, contrast, etc. like a mini-editing suite) and add different filters to your photo (or to multiple photos) before you post.
- When posting, you can add tags, but you can also add the photos to your existing flickr sets or groups. You can also add photos to sets or groups after you’ve posted just in case you forgot at the time.
- With the magazine-style display, actual photos are given the best real-estate on the tiny iPhone screen. But if you really want to see the 100 tags on a photo, tap the i button and it flips and gives you them, along with other big camera meta-data. Tap the photo and you see it full screen, where you can also pinch and zoom.
- Like other photo-sharing apps, it gives you an activity, or news, stream, which includes not only favourites and comments, but also invitations to join groups. You can turn notifications on or off. You can also turn off the filters, if you’re a purist.
So it’s a pretty sophisticated app, with some good filters and features. But the significant thing is that flickr, which is a serious photography community, is opening its arms to mobile, saying, hey you guys, we love the stuff you’re doing, come on in, we’re all part of one big happy family. Before I even knew about this app, I said that Instagram might never have happened if flickr had launched a good mobile photo-sharing app two years earlier. They took their time, but all good things - and it has a lot of them - come to she who waits.
She waited and, hey, all the pixels are still there! (featuring my good friend Jo Cope)