Category Business & Industry

The Value of Metadata

My colleague Kyser Lough sent this along – a look back in time to when Jose R. Lopez photographed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her first day on the Supreme Court.

Why is this important? Aside from it being a very strong image, it was his ability to find that image, 27 years after it was made – this is a story about the value of metadata.

An old friend of mine has been scanning photos of trains of late, posting them to Facebook. He had notes on the slides about the type of train and where it was photographed for most of them, but not all – his metadata is incomplete.

Appending locations and notes to our files is easier now than ever before – there is absolutely no reason not to have all of that on every image. But it means you have to commit to it, make it part of your workflow.

App Failures and Lost Images

Within the last week, two significant coding errors wreaked havoc on Photographer’s who relied on a pair of popular imaging platforms.

It appears that image.canon was hit with a ransom ware attack and an Adobe Lightroom update wiped out images and presets for users on iOS.

This is another example of why why it’s critical that you establish and execute a robust digital asset management plan, and that means both online and offline backups of files. Keeping everything in just one place is tempting fate or, at least, hackers and bad coders.

Ethics, Automation and the Humanist Disconnect

A lot of turmoil swirling around Magnum, one of the pre-eminent photographic agencies. This piece by Andy Day asks a lot of questions and is a must-read for those of us in the industry right now.

At the end, he lists a series of questions that Magnum must answer about the images (particularly of children documented in sexual situations) within its archive and the sudden removal of that archive from public view.

But there’s a deeper series of questions we in the industry need to wrestle with, a series that begins with the place of automation. In ye olden times, a publisher would ring up an agency and explain what they needed images of and how they were going to be used. An editor would go through the archive and pull a series of options, then send them over for review and begin the licensing discussion. There were many sets of eyes that were put on every image, both when it came in from the photographer and was added to the archive and its index as well as when an editor pulled the image for consideration.

Much of that process is now automated or outsourced – who is responsible for adding keywords and metadata to the electronic index? Is it an editor or a coder? (And if you think this can’t be automated, look at the photos app on your phone or computer – I bet it will generate albums based on its content assessment.)

Do we have more images being produced? Yes – outtakes used to just be a few frames from each roll, now there are thousands of images coming in from every assignment. Do we have more uses for images? Yes again – print and digital are using more images than ever before?

Are we using images with the same care as we used to? No, not in how we select them or how we publish them. And that’s a discussion even bigger than Magnum that we must have.

(Thanks to Lauren Steel for the link.)

Seattle County Court Orders Media to Turn Over Raw Material

A King County judge Washington state has ordered that the Seattle Times and several television stations turn over all photos and videos f a May 30 protest. Local officials have said the material is necessary for the identification of individuals who committed crimes after breaking off from the main protest.

The National Press Photographers Association has issued a statement that says, in part:

It is dangerous enough for visual journalists to be covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd. The last thing visual journalists want is to be seen as an arm of law enforcement, aiding attempts to gather evidence. In an era where there are cameras on nearly every corner and in every pocket in America, it strains belief that police cannot get the evidence that they need elsewhere. This is exactly what state shield laws are meant to protect against.

Associated Press Switching to Sony for all Still and Video Photojournalist

If you ever needed a sign that mirrorless was the future, it’s today’s news that the Associated Press is moving to Sony equipment for both their still and video photojournalists.

While not a huge sale (or lease, more likely), the impact on both profesisonals and amateurs of this move could be immense. Canon and Nikon have had a stranglehold on the professional photojournalism world for almost half a century, so the fact that the AP (which may be the largest employer of photojournalists in the world) is switching is … shocking.

Maybe I need to try one of them out …

(H/T to my colleague Kyser Lough for the initial tipoff.)

Detroit Officer Charged for Firing at Photojournalists

Corporal Daniel Debono has been charged with felony assault after firing rubber pellets at three photojournalists covering protests in late May, according to The New York Times.

All three were leaving the scene of a protest and had identified themselves as journalists when the incident happened.

Sinclair vs. Mashable and the Consequences of a Lack of Focus

There are dangers to writing before finishing the morning coffee and I entered that realm today. I saw a link online to something that had been brewing, I tapped out an impassioned response with a call to action on Facebook and hit the post button.

Within a few minutes, it had a couple of shares and likes. Then the phone rang. The caller ID said it was the general counsel from the National Press Photographers Association.

First Rule of the Day: When your attorney calls, answer. Sending them to voice mail is never, ever a good idea.

Mickey Osterreicher had seen my post and wanted to walk me through some of the issues. Within seconds, I could feel the sandpaper on the brain, rubbing away my shiny surface words and explaining the nuances of the copyright infringement case that Stephanie Sinclair had brought against Mashable.

Then I removed the post. And I hate removing posts. So, here, for transparency, is what I had written:

The dismissal of Stephanie Sinclair’s copyright suit against Mashable is … stunning, really. Living in our current “sharing society” is providing a lot of challenges for those who make a living creating things, be they photographs, videos, writing or graphics.

I know some of my friends here will scream that information needs to be free but I’d counter that it needs to be both accessible and sustainable. I can’t walk in to Target, pick up a pair of sneakers and walk out with them – there were expenses involved in sourcing material, building manufacturing equipment, assembling them, packaging them, shipping them and displaying them. The fact that I need sneakers or want others to see these sneakers doesn’t relieve me of a theft charge.

When photographers post images to social media that is part of their marketing, it is designed to show what they can do so other entities can pay them to do more. In the Sinclair case, it’s especially egregious because she had already said no to this usage case. I’m not a lawyer, but that seems to indicate a willful infringement case.

This decision contradicts several other cases that have been decided regarding the lifting of images from social media posts (see Morel vs. AFP). I am hopeful there will be a successful appeal, but, until then, my existing Instagram posts have been set to private (which prevents embedding) and my willingness to post images there or here, to Facebook, Instagram’s owner, has dwindled significantly.

Thanks to Alicia Wagner Calzada for sharing this NPPA post and the work she and NPPA continue to do on behalf of the visual journalism industry – this is why membership matters.

Why did I pull it? Because I confused ethics and law.

Legally speaking, the case was decided correctly. The terms of service allow for the embedding of non-private posts. Sinclair, myself and what I assume are the vast majority of Instagram users (and we are users, not clients) agreed to let Instagram’s API give the option of embedding our posts into other mediums. The image wasn’t infringed, it was uploaded onto Instagram’s servers and, to do that, Sinclair had to agree to certain terms.

Again, we are users of their service – they set the terms and conditions. We don’t negotiate with them, you click a button and whatever is in that end user license agreement is what you’ve agreed to.

Now, ethically, that’s a different situation. Mashable requested permission to use the image and offered a (paltry) fee, which she declined. Which is within her rights – she controls the right to copy and display her work.

So, Mashable having seen the image elsewhere, did what it was legally allowed to do – it embedded the entire post in lieu of the individual image.

Does that create an ethical issue? Well, yes – if you approach me and ask if I will talk about your passion outside of the grocery store (whether it’s your faith or your football team) and I say no, yet you then start talking at me … ethically, there’s a bridge you crossed. You asked me to participate in something, I said no and yet you went ahead, anyway.

And here’s the other rub on this situation, as Mr. Osterreicher pointed out – due to the nature of the article Mashable was assembling, they probably would have been in the clear under the fair use doctrines of copyright law. The article was commenting on her work and that is allowed.

So where does this leave our industry and, well, me?

It’s a reminder that we have to read all of those pesky terms of service agreements. And, yes, Sinclair’s argument that they are incomprehensible is legitimate – but it is incumbent upon us to seek clarification prior to agreeing and not nullification after usage.

And as for me … I still believe that social media can be an excellent marketing tool for creatives. I’m luck that, in my current role as a teacher, I’m not our marketing my work to generate revenue. I push my images out on social media because I want my students to see I can still (kind of, sort of) do this and because it gives me access to an audience I no longer have.

Is this worth a tradeoff of allowing the embeds? Given what I’m posting on a regular basis, which would have little monetary value to other sites, it probably is. Will I be financially harmed if one of my posts is embedded? No.

But what about my colleagues who are out there, creating work that needs to be paid for so they can create more work? What’s my ethical responsibility to them?

This week, in my now-online classes at the University of Georgia, we’ve been talking about business practices. Everything from calculating your cost of doing business to how do you negotiate your fees. Part of that conversation is what is the impact on the market when you take a low fee for work.

The answer is it drives the overall value of everyone’s work down, that’s basic supply and demand. If, as a publisher, I can pay someone $1,000 for this set of images or $200, I’m going to go with the lower cost provider.

And before you get up in arms about this, realize we do it, too. Buying a car? You’re negotiating for a lower price. Selling a lens you don’t use anymore? You’re negotiating for a higher price. This is basic economics. When there an excess of supply (which, hey, look at how many people own DSLRs out there and call themselves photographers), that lowers the value of the work.

So what’s the takeaway here … a couple of things:

  • Read the terms of service. If they don’t make sense, ask for an explanation from someone else. If you don’t like them, ask for a change. If they won’t change them, don’t use the service.
  • Think carefully about what you make freely available. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to post to social media, but there’s a cost to doing it and you have to calculate what that cost is. If you’re a professional photographer, your social media feed should be an active part of your marketing strategy. It needs to show what you have done and what you can do, but it shouldn’t give away all the value of your work.
  • Lastly, you need to think carefully about your own decision making processes. Does this situation sit well with me? Nope, read my (pre-coffee, pre counsel counsel) rant above. But, when looked at from a bit of a distance, yeah, legally, Mashable was in the clear here. Pushing this probably created some case law, law that we, as creators, probably don’t want out there.

I still stand by my belief that creators need to be compensated for their creations – that is an absolute. We don’t want doctors or carpenters who do their work for fun, we want them to be totally focused on doing their work with a high level of expertise because the consequences of them getting it wrong are massive.

Same thing goes in journalism – the consequences of inaccurate, unsustainable journalism are massive. You want accountability in journalism, which means the journalists have to take it seriously.

And that means they have to be sustained.

Now, I’m going to make another pot of coffee because the consequences of not doing that are not pretty.

Polaroid at MIT

Not that we can go, but if we could, we should:

The collection was to be on display through June 21.

Looking Back at Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima Photo

Seventy five years ago today, Joe Rosenthal made made, perhaps, the most iconic photograph – the flag raising over Iwo Jima.

There have been many stories written and told about what happened that day, from how he heard about the planned flag raising to whether he posed the photo (he didn’t, let’s be clear). I’ve talked about this photo almost every semester that I’ve been teaching (and, having worked from various readings and talks I attended, got a few elements wrong), but the Associated Press has put together an extraordinary package about the making of the photo, its impact and the man behind it.

Stocking Canadians

There are days I am so proud of my Canadian heritage. (Even if it’s phenomenally flimsy heritage.)