Speaker Clive Haynes FRPS led the evening on Topaz and it is as well to reiterate that this isn’t just an Adobe compatible plug in, but that there are a number of editors that is designed to work with, and there are fourteen or so different plug-ins Topaz offer. Adobe, of course dominate the market, but all the plug ins are available at a discount via Clive’s website. From the afters this was one of those presentations that hit home at some fundamental beliefs about photography.
On the Facebook Group there was a lot of talk about what is worth editing, reflecting last week’s theme of editing and how much of it can a photograph have before it becomes a piece of graphic design. This week we are going to look into who owns an image, and this is linked to last week’s discussion on editing and on the Mighty Book of Face discussions from this week.
A year ago a San Franciscan judge decided that, under American copyright law, a monkey could not own the rights to a picture it had taken because it was not human, even though it pressed the shutter. A new definition for “Chimping” this was not (the practice of taking a shot then reviewing it on live view and going ooh and ahh and pulling faces. Another reason to go mirrorless). It is, under English law (and not a few other jurisdictions), a question of personality, and though “Naruto” the Black Crested Macaque in question certainly seems to have bags of it in the way most of us think of personality, in law it is the capacity to hold legal rights and obligations within a legal system. This is what enables firms to go to civil law over disputes in contracts and so on.
Now you’ve seen the picture in question, I am sure, it became known as the Monkey Selfie. David Slater “took” the picture, in that he provided the materials, set up the shot and patiently waited for the Macaques to partake. Macaques have no legal personality and therefore cannot give their consent, nor withhold it to be photographed, nor profit from doing so. If the Macaque was owned by a person (it couldn’t in the UK by members of the general public, there are legal issue preventing this) or other body that has a legal personality then that animal would be their property and the prudent photographer would be careful to get a property release.
Now this isn’t the time nor the place to go into the pro’s and con’s of this case but it does illustrate something that most of the internet (i.e. the people who use the internet) is either blithely indifferent to or unaware of. Someone made that picture you are looking at. When someone makes their living from that, copyright has particular weight. Unless they give you permission to use that photograph, either directly or through a Creative Commons License, or other form of explicit license deal then we do not have the right to own their and/or use their property.
Without turning this into a Politics lecture (for that you’d have to pay me) this actually goes deeper than a feeling of “Mine”, it is an absolute foundation of our society. Let me quote from Wikipedia (Academics look away now): “Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property) . So regardless of opinions on Social Media (fancy that) demanding the right to exploit others work free of charge isn’t what the law in England and Wales licenses. Whether you agree with Pierre-Joseph “Property is theft” Proudhon or not is, as far as the law allows, irrelevant. We make property by mixing our labour (intellectual and or physical) with materials and by doing that create something that didn’t exist before and over which we have title (ownership free of valid claims by other parties). Then we can consume, alter, share, redefine etc etc it as we see fit within certain boundaries.
Fairly straightforward, at least until the lawyers get involved. There is a concept called fair use and there are questions of when others take your property as a starting point but make art of their own from it, such as sampling in music. Whose art then is it?
Artist Richard Prince was doing this with other people’s Instagram feeds and making $90,000 a pop out of it, a couple of years back (maybe still is) by altering the originals by posting a couple of words as comment underneath and then printing the whole thing. This did not please a lot of people, particularly those whose Instagram feeds he had mined for images, though others were quite accepting of it. No one sued of copyright infringement this time so its legality has not been tested. Civil law really is for the rich or otherwise well funded. Especially as he started “Rephotographing” other people’s work in 1975 and some of his work has gone for $1m or more, he would probably be in a position to afford to defend it. Indeed in 2008 he did just that and his defence of fair use (see above) was not accepted. Obviously this has not deterred him.
In fact this whole idea of other people’s stuff is quite problematic. An image can spin an idea, we might try to recreate that image or give it a new spin, either intentionally or through technical short-comings. We have in the UK the idea of freedom of panorama, which was under threat from the EU in its bid to harmonise European commercial law but was finally decided in favour of having one. If what you are taking is a view taken from common land it is not subject to copyright (though the manner you do it in might be in breach of other, criminal laws) and we have covered this before. If it involves street photography then you must not conduct yourself in such a way as to cause alarm. If it involves minors it is always best to get a responsible adult’s consent – first. If it involves making money from someone’s image or an image of something that they own you can save yourself endless by getting a properly formatted consent (you can get them as a phone app these days). Ditto if you are profiting from the image of the property of another person (it all goes back to title).
So, editing our images, well silk purses and sows ears metaphors aside – or why are you wasting your time in the first place? judgements – is a matter of personal taste, at least as far as the amateur goes, but how much, really, is it your image in the first place can be a complicated problem.
N E X T M E E T I N G
19th Jan 2017 19:30 – The Chairman’s Evening: I believe a camera will be required. Maybe a tripod too. Bring yours.
Colin Wall CPAG addressed us last meeting as the “Opportunistic Photographer” donating his fee to the Sight Savers Charity, as is his practice. Colin’s philosophy sits well with the club motto, “To us it’s not the camera but the picture that counts” (you knew that though, didn’t you?) and whereas there are many long conversations to be had around the topic, Colin preferred that his pictures prove the point and we gained some valuable insights to that line of thinking on the way. Although we may not be interested with what an image was made or indeed how it was made (though replicating looks and subjects and techniques is a great way to learn) there is still a fascination versus need thing going on the customer side of the counter. I don’t know of many photographers who can’t retroactively justify buying new-to-them kit. There is a need there that has to be fulfilled sooner or later.
Explaining to the significant other is a whole different aspect, of course. They may not, poor souls, understand the need. I find window shopping in camera shops quite easy when stony broke, find it quite easy to be price sensitive when the price tag feels like a lot. The most dangerous time to lurk around the nearest camera shop, I find, is when I can nearly afford it.
The how it was made thing Colin extended to post production. Certainly he feels that there is a division growing one we have related to before here on many occasions, as the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas versus Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. The photography magazines do seem to be getting fuller of obvious post production work and there are some that, whilst being quite stunning in their appearance do make me wonder whether the original has got lost in the production. Not that I wouldn’t mind better post production skills, certainly I find it absorbing, but sometimes I wonder if some people use RAW so they have to fiddle. At what stage does a photograph become a digital photogram? Cue everyone’s pet hate rants.
So how do you know when you’ve over processed? Well that is a leading question because one photographer’s meat is another photographer’s poison. The analogy works with tofu too, so vegetarians need not feel left out. I have had a competition judge tell me that an effect (sepia) was “slapped on” for no reason, but then ignorance is bliss, his and his alone, I uncharitably thought at the time, and also tell me that the background should have been blurred, on a tree that was about half a mile away across a body of water. Well no and maybe. The second could only have been done post process (I didn’t have the tools then anyway). So, yes it does have its uses but ultimately the success of a photograph is that first impression, the thing that draws you in. That is a matter of taste and tastes change over time. That doesn’t stop anyone, and I am not suggesting that it should.
Colin told us that attention to the basics of composition pays dividends. Yes it’s an old saw, but one that directly relates to the impact subjects have within the frame. When we frame an image we exclude as much as we include. We have to do the exclusion thing in order to achieve the inclusion thing. It relates directly to the impact that we create in that image. This is where the “I’ll fix that in post” thing comes in. A Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista will tell you to move around, varying your angles through moving the subject left and right, up and down and in and out. Then when you have the best and if you can’t remove distracting objects from view, you go to post. Often it has merit, sometimes it is a case of fixing it in editing software. Looking for and framing shapes, textures and details are the things you do camera-in-hand. Strong diagonals and repetitive details, colour or black and white can be considerations too. The details take you beyond the merely documentary, or if being rude about it, point and shoot. He also mentioned something about policing the frame for distracting detail. Specifically he told us to beware bright spots, the colour red, faces and text as they can distract from the main subject. Even those people who wonder in and out of shot when shooting in crowds can be avoided by waiting, as even the largest crowds, as long as they are moving will have gaps appear in them. It can be a lot quicker than painstakingly airbrushing people out of your shot. Doesn’t count in Wedding Photography though. The crowd is rather the point ….
Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop (True Believers Branch) will quite sensibly answer this with one word. Workflow. Workflow is the organisation of materials in such a way so as to transition efficiently and effectively from one sub-process to another in order to get a job done with minimum resources consistent with maximum impact. It starts in camera as the closer to the desired result the raw material is the less processing it needs. If you are processing a large number of photographs then you need to get this right, especially, but not exclusively, if you are being paid for it, you are effectively diluting your hourly rate, a thing called opportunity cost – that which you have lost by undertaking this choice. Taking this a step forward: for every hour you spend getting something wrong costs you three hours – the hour you spent getting it wrong; the hour you spend putting it right and the hour you lost when you could have been doing something more productive instead. So £18 rapidly drops below minimum wage.
So our thanks to Colin for a thought provoking evening and one given in a good cause. We look forward to seeing you again.
T O N I G H T ‘S M E E T I N G
Light Trails – the goodly number of us who attended the light trails session on the centre get to show and discuss our results. As long as you bring those pictures with you! Or its going to be a long evening ….