Picture Africa … and Everywhere Else

Close your eyes for a moment and picture Africa. What did you see? Where did that image come from?

Good thought piece by Jorrit R. Dijkstra on how we have seen the continent over the last century.

Now, close your eyes for a moment and picture where you are. What did you see? Where did that image come from? And would it match what someone else would see who hasn’t been to where you are?

The Pursuit of Technique

Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer put up a post on photographic techniques and it’s worth pondering for a while.

He started a list of things to know, it barely scratched the surface as he admits:

Allow me to name just a very few of the many things you might think you need to know: exposure; focus accuracy and depth-of-field; camera handling; camera performance (everything from data throughput to focus tracking, from EVF refresh rate to weather resistance); what a hair light is and what a gobo is; color space; printer profiles; how to predict the phase and direction of the moon…in case you want to do evening or dawn landscapes including the natural moon within a limited time window; and how focal length relates to angle of view.

To me, that would cover less than 1% of what one needs to know – and there’s a lot in there.

Overpowering the Sun

Nice behind-the-scenes look at PetaPixel on how photographer Dustin Snipes made an image of Anthony Davis dunking the sun.

Oddly enough, the same day that was published we were doing a similar exercise in my Advanced Photojournalism course, syncing 15 Canon strobes together to overpower the sun …

150917 3710 fill light 019150917 3710 fill light 020
(Exposure was ISO 50, 1/200, f/22 at 4:00 p.m.)

Photojournalism Ethics Study

Released yesterday by the University of Stirling, the World Press Photo Foundation and the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, a substantial report on ethics in photojournalism drawn from a world-wide sample.

I’m still digging through this as there is a lot of data, but I’d start with section 3.4 – that’s the ethics debate and there are some concerns – and some comforts. At the top of page 40, in table 25, is this data:

Screen Shot 2015 09 24 at 9 25 29 AM

Let me add that up – nearly two-thirds of respondents said they stage images. That had me really stressed, I’m not going to lie.

The question, though, is, in a world-wide study, what are the cultural effects and assumptions? It’s not answered directly in the staging question, but rolling down a few more paged we get to a breakdown of adherence to ethical guidelines broken out by regions:

Screen Shot 2015 09 24 at 9 28 17 AM

There’s some comfort for North American journalists there, but there’s still a gap in knowledge between those two tables.


My colleague, Prof. Barry Hollander, is an expert on polling and surveys who loves to rant about SLOPs – self-selecting opinion polls. This, he says, doesn’t fall into that category as the pool or respondents were somewhat controlled as they were drawn from entrants in the 2015 World Press Photo competition.

More to come on this …

Copyright and the Monkey, Phase Two

Remember the monkey selfie? That’s come back into the news … PETA has filed a lawsuit saying the macaque monkey should own the copyright to a photo it made.

I kid you not.

Stay Off the Tracks

It happened again, another person killed by a train while taking photos on railroad tracks.

New class rule: Shoot photos on or near railroad tracks without written permission, you fail the assignment.

National Geographic Enters Partnership Agreement

There is a great deal of consternation surrounding the announcement that 21st Century Fox has invested $725 in the National Geographic Society and take a 73% ownership of a new media company called National Geographic Partners. The remaining 27% of ownership will remain with the National Geographic Society.

There are many questions here, some of which are difficult to parse out. My initial – and flawed – reading of one segment of the Washington Post’s story lead me to believe that the magazine would remain under the control of the Society.

The monthly magazine, with its famous yellow-bordered cover, has been owned since its inception by the National Geographic Society of Washington, the educational and scientific organization based in Washington that has been a philanthropic organization from its beginning.

Reading deeper, Paul Farhi states:

The new partnership will own the channels, the magazine and other National Geographic Society media assets, such as a book and map publishing division, a catalog operation and a travel agency.

And this is mirrored by the piece on the National Geographic web site:

National Geographic Partners will include National Geographic’s domestic and international channels, National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Kids and Little Kids magazines, travel media, National Geographic Studios, National Geographic Maps, National Geographic Books and Home Entertainment, travel expeditions, licensing and merchandising, eCommerce, National Geographic Creative and location-based entertainment, as well as related digital and social media platforms.

Why do I point out my own error? Part of it is that I had hoped the Society would retain control of the yellow-bordered magazine, to keep it free from outside influences and retain its independence. My desire for that altered the way I processed the information I had at hand – a dangerous thing for a journalist.

Part of it is, with a somewhat greater understanding of the deal, I do see some hope when it comes to independence (from the Post):

The Society will remain a non-profit, separately governed from National Geographic Partners. The partnership will be governed by a board comprised of an equal number of representatives from Fox and National Geographic.

Time will tell what happens.

The Danger of Drones

There has been a lot of talk over the last year about the usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (more commonly called drones) for journalism. There’s a conflict between freedom of the press issues, air safety issues and privacy issues – it’s a phenomenally complex situation and difficult to tease out what is legal from what is ethical from what is just safe.

And on that last note, a student flew a drone into a stadium at the University of Kentucky last week – and it crashed.

Cue the, “this is why we can’t have nice things …” memes.

It’s Never Been Easy

Every now and then one of your photographic heroes writes something about the calling that has us transfixed. This time, it’s Ed Kashi:

For those who want to do this, I believe one must possess a voracious appetite for knowledge, a maniacal desire to engage with the world, very deep, personal interests that will you to explore issues, places, themes, stories, what have you. And you must have sensitivity, compassion for others, a desire to do good and illuminate. You must read and study and know about the world, especially the subjects you choose to investigate and explore deeply. You must have the reflexes of an athlete in some ways, whether they are fast and responsive, or slow and reflective.

Make sure you click through and read the rest, well worth it.

Visual Lies and the Loss of Photo Editors

I have lamented the loss of photo editors before, too many times over the years to count. But the evidence continues to pile up that with no one trained in the art and science of visual communication in positions of authority we are undermining all of journalism’s credibility.

You will recall my tirades against my local publication, the Athens Banner-Herald, – first for lying with visuals about tornadoes in Georgia and more recently for lying about the location of a missing child.

Now, the news organization that once covered the entire state has joined in through their sports spinoff that covers the University of Georgia, DawgNation. The photo staff of the parent Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been decimated over the years and, last Friday, clear evidence of the results emerged.

Displayed with a feature story (written by a Grady College student) about the UGA Redcoat Marching Band’s lone trumpeter is a photo of a male member of the Redcoats playing trumpet. Depending on how you look at the site, you may or may not see a credit line but I have yet to find a caption.

Some things that struck me:

  • “The PA announcer instructs the spectators to look toward the southwest corner of the stadium …” – When I look at this image, I don’t see someone standing in the southwest corner of the stadium.
  • “… where a single trumpeter stands at attention.” – I see band members behind this “single trumpeter.”
  • “‘I wasn’t nervous until everyone started pointing at me,’ Redcoat sophomore Lillie Smith said of her experience playing the solo …” (emphasis added) – That’s pretty clearly a male trumpeter.

Three quick lies in succession – the photo isn’t from the southwest corner of the stadium, it isn’t a single/lone trumpeter and the gender is wrong. A caption would have cleared up at least one of those lies easily – they hadn’t played a game this season with Ms. Smith as the trumpeter so using a file photo of a previous year’s lone trumpeter would have been ethically and visually fine.

But they didn’t caption the photo, leaving us to believe this is a lone trumpeter from a (relatively) recent game. Which he isn’t.

The skeptic in me started the search. Here’s what I did and what I found.

I pulled the direct link to the photo and did a reverse Google image search. That gave me a link to a 2012 usage of the photo, which had the photographer’s name and afffiliation on it.

With that, I headed to the Getty Images web site and searched for the photographer and Redcoat, which gave me no results. So I searched for the photographer and Athens Georgia and, on page two, found the original image.

Here’s the caption:

A band member of the Georgia Bulldogs plays his trumpet before the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium on October 9, 2004 in Athens, Georgia. Tennessee won 19-14.

You’ll see why searching for “Redcoat” didn’t find anything, because the photographer didn’t get the caption right. But what’s more troubling is how old the photo is – it’s from eleven years ago. When the oldest of our current marchers were probably still in elementary school.

This is a lie – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its subsidiary, DawgNation, abdicated their responsibility to tell the truth.

Or maybe that isn’t their responsibility anymore. I searched for a mission statement for the Journal-Constitution and couldn’t find one. So I went up a level to their parent organization, the Cox Media Group, and found their vision statement:

At CMG, we want to be the most essential local media source in our markets. We deliver great products that connect with the needs of our customers, and we are evolving our super brands into the digital future. Collectively, we compete with our products and win with our people.

Nowhere is the basic tenet of journalism – to seek truth and report it – found.

If the news organization that once claimed it “Covers Dixie like the Dew” doesn’t care about telling the truth … then that dew will turn to mildew in time.