A Few Thoughts on Photo Licensing and Creative Commons

August 11, 2010 at 11:26 am (Linux, Photography) (, , )

You may or may not have noticed that I license my photographs fairly permissively. For all but shots of humans for whom I have no model release I use the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, and I would like like to talk about my experiences with that for a bit today. Now, before I was into photography, I was hardcore into computers, and to an extent I still am. Years ago I discovered open source software such as the Linux operating system, Firefox (then Mozilla) web browser, and many others. I discovered a community of computer geeks who were disenchanted with the typical commercial offerings and decided to write their own software that performed the way they wanted it to, and rather than locking it down, they released it to the world so anybody else with the time and ability could enhance it and make it better, and once again continue the chain by sharing their enhancements.

It rather reminded me of kindergarten, where we were taught that if you had two apples you should share one. If you had a bag of candy, you should let each member of the class have a taste. We were taught that this was the proper thing to do. So why have people strayed so far from these basic principles of sharing your assets if you have an abundance of them? Why is it now considered more correct to hoard your abundance and charge as much money as you can for it?

Ah, perhaps that’s a question for another day, I’m straying rather far from my point now anyway…

Back to Creative Commons. The crux of the license focuses on two points, the first is that the author of the work must be attributed. This stands to reason, everyone deserves credit for their work whether they sell it or give it away free. The second is the so-called ‘share alike’, that is, if you take an existing work and change, enhance, remix, or just plain make it better, you must release your enhancements under the same or a similar license. For a person like me, this just makes good sense. It fosters a community of support, mutual benefit, and produces a pool of work available for anyone to enjoy and use no matter what their personal means may be. It just feels right to me.

Now, a lot of photographers seem to hoard their work like coal barons, clutching it to their chests and allowing people but a brief look at it. They only allow you to view a very small resolution version, often so small you can’t even tell if the work is good or not. They put watermarks on it which detract from the quality and impact of the work. They use digital hacks such as disabling right-clicks so no one can download the work. I posit that these artificial barriers do little more than lower the value of your work, and keep honest people (and potential customers) from evaluating it properly. It is, as the saying goes, defective by design. Crippled on purpose. Why would you want to cripple your work?

Here’s a sad fact of life: If it is on the internet, someone will download it. It doesn’t matter what you do to safeguard your work. If someone wants to steal it, they will. That’s why we have proper legal procedures to redress such situations. Not always the quickest, not always the easiest, but they are there.

Now, the main argument I see against using a Creative Commons license is this: “If I give away my work how will I make any money?” Let’s think about that. Speaking from personal experience, there are generally two distinct groups that may want to use your work. The first is bloggers, and I am also going to lump in regular folks who may want to use your stuff for personal use, such as wallpaper for their computer. Now here’s the thing: If you think you are missing a sale by allowing these folks to use your stuff you are delusional. A blogger is not going to shell out $$$ to use your picture of the Chrysler Building to illustrate their blog post on New York City urban issues. Sorry, they’re not. They will scour flickr and other sites and find a public domain or creative commons picture to use instead. So what have you gained by barring them from your work. Nothing. What have you lost? Exposure. Some of these blogs and other sites draw a lot of eyeballs. How much is it worth to you to have a few hundred, or even thousand new people exposed to your work? There are even a few crazy folks who pay good money to get their stuff on popular blogs, it’s called advertising. Why not advertise your work for free?

Now our second group of people who may want to use your work are commercial interests. They want to use your images for an ad campaign, packaging, to illustrate their websites and promotional materials and whatnot. Again, think of the attribution clause. Do you really think a commercial interest is willing to put a conspicuous “Photo by Joe Blow” on their materials? Of course not. These people will pay to license your work so they do not have to conform to the attribution clause. Case in point: I was contacted by a web developer who wanted to use a picture I took of the Alberta flag for their clients website. At first the guy asked if he could attribute in the source code. I of course said no, that is not sufficient. Nobody reads the bloody source code looking for photo credits. So: The guy said he’d do a mockup of the site using the image and talk to his client. What do you know? A few days later he got back to me and told me his client loved the mockup. We then discussed licensing terms. Another example, Hasbro Canada contacted me about using one of my images on the gameboard of ‘Canadian Monopoly’. Do you really think Hasbro wanted to put ‘Photo by Darren Kirby’ on the gameboard? Of course they don’t, and I had yet another sale.

So: I hope I have properly conveyed that those who are willing to pay for your work will still do so, and those who are not willing (or are unable) will provide you with valuable exposure.

I have seen some folks who license their stuff Creative Commons, but add the No Commercial clause. Their heart is in the right place, but this is still misguided. A large part of the problem is what exactly is commercial use? Is a blog with advertisements on it commercial use? Is a registered charity’s website commercial use? As far as I know, no court of competent jurisdiction has yet ruled on what exactly is commercial use pertaining to the Creative Commons license. Are you willing to spend the time and money to become the test case? Besides, I think I explained well enough above that commercial interests will pay for your work anyway, as they do not want to uphold the attribution clause cluttering their product or service.

I challenge all who read this to give Creative Commons licensing a try. You may be surprised just how good it makes you feel to share. You may be surprised what a weight off your back it is to no longer need to be vigilant and paranoid about people ‘stealing’ your work. Most of all, you may be surprised how much more exposure your work gets, and how many sales you still manage to close…


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Darren’s Guide to Blue Hour Long Exposure Photography

June 18, 2010 at 2:10 pm (Howto, Photography, Software) (, )

Exposure: 8 Aperture: f/16.0 Focal Length: 11 mm

Picking your spot

Blue hour generally starts about 30-45 minutes after sunset. This will vary depending on your location on Earth, and the time of year. If you are a morning person rather than a night person, there is of course another blue hour which starts 30-45 minutes (or more) before sunrise. You probably want to plan to get to your spot just after sunset, to give yourself enough time and light to set up and try some test shots. I have found the best subject for blue hour photos is a well lit building or other structure such as the steamship above. You can also do scenics, but a well lit structure tends to come out better.

Camera Settings

I use a Nikon D90, and these settings tend to work for me. Your camera may be different, so these settings should be used as starting points. First of all, you’ll be on a tripod, so turn the AUTO-ISO off, and set ISO to the lowest available to your camera. This will likely be 100-200. Nikon cameras have a low ISO setting called Lo 1 Lo 0.7. You can try these settings if you like, but they are digital hacks, and I find I get great results with ISO 200. If your camera has a mirror lock-up feature, turn it on to ensure the sharpest shots possible.

Now if you are shooting RAW format (which you should be) you don’t need to worry about white balance. Just set it to ‘AUTO’ fire away, and you can easily adjust colour temp in post with your RAW editor. If you are shooting JPG, then you will need to know something about the type of light in your scene. There may be many types of lights which make it difficult to select a ‘correct’ white balance setting in camera. My advice: Try a few different setting for some test shots, and see what looks best. The most common lighting will probably be sodium arc, common in most street lights. Sodium lights will leave a pronounced red cast to your picture which will need to be corrected. Again, if you shoot RAW this will be trivial in post. If shooting JPG you will just need to experiment in the field and try to pick a white balance setting that looks good.

Exposure: 8 Aperture: f/11.0 Focal Length: 20 mm

Taking a shot

So you’ve mounted your camera on a tripod, framed your shot, and you’re ready to go. At the start of blue hour, there is still a considerable amount of light. Now don’t be afraid, put your camera on full manual (‘M’ on the dial on Nikon cameras) and set your aperture to about f13 or so. Set the shutter to 4-6 seconds. Now, you should always be using either a remote shutter release or the timer setting. The simple act of tripping the shutter is enough to cause camera shake, and a blurry picture. So: Frame, focus, fire, and review. Too bright? Cut the shutter time or choose a smaller aperture (ie: higher f-number). Too dark? Increase the shutter time or use a wider aperture (ie: lower f-number). Always review your shot and make corrections.

Now as the light gets darker, you will want to ramp up your shutter times and open up your aperture. I like to keep the aperture in the f/11 area for best depth of field, and also, you get nice starbursts from lights in frame with a smaller aperture. Keep taking shots. When you get to 30 seconds at f/11 you will need to start opening your aperture. I keep shooting until I am at 30 seconds at f/3.5. By this time, most of the blue in the sky is gone anyway. You can ‘prolong’ blue hour by shooting on nights with close to a full moon. The moon will light up the sky and reveal blue pretty much all night. I’ve been able to pull blue out of the sky very late at night using a 30s+ shutter and my largest available aperture.

Your AF system may have difficulties focusing at night. A well lit building will probably work fine but a scenic may cause problems. You may have to focus manually, or if your lens has a distance meter, set it to infinity, and everything farther than the lens’ hyperfocal distance will be in good focus.

Exposure: 30 Aperture: f/14.0 Focal Length: 26 mm

Doing some post

Now you should have several pictures on your camera, and you should be able to see pronounced blue even on the little LCD straight out of camera. Basically, first you want to adjust white balance/colour temperature. Use your RAW editors slider and see what looks good. Basically, you want to remove any colour casts created by ambient lighting sources. Again, the most common will be red. Move the slider until the red cast is gone, and points of light appear ‘white’. Play with saturation and contrast if you like, and also, raising the gamma a bit may help introduce a better dynamic range to your shot. Last step, run an unsharp mask and you should be good!

Hand-holding blue hour

If you don’t have a tripod or don’t want to use one you can also try to hand-hold a blue hour shot. While you will not get as sharp an image as if you were on a tripod, you can capture other things such as people, who will appear ghosted if at all on a long (2-3 seconds +) exposure, and moving vehicles which will likely show as a car-shaped blur rather than disappear completely leaving just the streaks from their lights as in a longer exposure.

To do this you will need as fast a lens as possible, probably at least an f/1.8. You will also have to crank up your ISO settings which will introduce some noise. The amount of noise is completely dependent on your camera’s high ISO ability. Full-frame camera’s such as the Nikon D700 always do better in this regard. You will also have to deal with relatively long shutter speeds, such as 1/30 of a second or longer. To ensure the sharpest shot possible I recommend placing your back against a wall or other solid surface, bracing the camera stiffly against your face, and slowly exhaling while pressing the shutter. Here’s a blur hour hand-held shot I captured in Edmonton:

Exposure: 0.033 sec (1/30) Aperture: f/1.8 Focal Length: 35 mm

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Sharon Amos Legacy Fashion Show

May 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm (Penticton, Photography, Strobist) (, , , , , , )

Colleen Bachmann strikes a pose

Well, had a pretty cool opportunity to shoot a fashion show from the ‘paparazzi pit’ at the end of the runway. Andrea Hill, owner of Luminus Beauty Bar and Fashion Boutique organized a fashion show at the Grand Ballroom of the Penticton Lakeside Resort to benefit the Sharon Amos Legacy Fund for the Arts. She was kind enough to invite all of us from the Penticton Photography Club down to populate the media pit and try our hands at some glamour photography.

A model and model silhouettes during the 'Paris Gone Mad' set.

The show was called ‘A Sequence of Fashionable Events’ and was divided into three sets with a ‘fashion break’ between each. The first set was titled ‘Paris Gone Mad’ and featured all the models posing with various colourful parasols. Not a fashion expert, but I would describe the clothing as being somewhat dress-casual. It was definitely funky and eclectic. The second set was ‘Beach Blanket’ Beauties’ which was of course swimwear. The third set was my favorite. Titled ‘Return of the Glamazon’, it featured a very well choreographed sequence of poses with each model freezing in place until the next model came along to free them. Hard to explain I guess, but it was very cool.

First time shooting at this sort of event for me, so it was something of a learning experience. Ended up using just the 50mm 1.8 and the SB-600 for the whole show.

One of the poses from the third set, 'Return of the Glamazon'.

Sadly I don’t know any of the model’s names, except for the model in the top picture who identified herself as Colleen Bachmann on her images flickr page. I do, however, want to say that they all rocked, and put on a great show. So thanks very much to Andrea Hill, all the models, and everybody else responsible for this great event!

See the rest of the set (36 photos) at my Sharon Amos Legacy Fashion Show set on flickr.

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365::Week Fifteen

April 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm (365 Project, Photography) (, , , )

April 9, 2010


April 10, 2010


April 11, 2010


April 12, 2010


April 13, 2010


April 14, 2010


April 15, 2010


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365::Week Fourteen

April 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm (365 Project, Photography) (, , , )

April 2, 2010

Apex Mountain Resort

April 3, 2010


April 4, 2010

Apex Mountain Resort

April 5, 2010


April 6, 2010

Apex Mountain Resort

April 7, 2010


April 8, 2010


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