How many of my photos were stolen?

For the moment, this is a rhetorical question. I’ve been re-thinking the way I publish my photos online in view of the recent and very prominent theft of Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir‘s photos from Flickr. Call me naive, but I really believed, and still would like to believe, that people will wish to stay legal and pay for the right to use my photos, especially for commercial purposes. That’s why I’ve been publishing my photos at full resolution. I wanted folks who weren’t able to pay (developing countries, for instance), or only wanted a nice desktop background, to be able to download a photo of mine and enjoy it without financial obstacles.

But I talked with my brother this morning, and he told me some things that made me think twice about my approach. He’s a professor at a university in Transylvania (Romania), and he does a lot of field research in ethnology and religion. He takes a lot of photos, and shoots a lot of video. When people ask him for copies of his work, he’s very nice about it and does so, hoping they’ll respect his academic work and cite him or ask for his permission when they use it. But he’s been finding out that they don’t. They’ll reuse his photos and his videos, and he won’t hear about it until he sees his work somewhere else. Just recently, someone entered one of his videos in a contest as their own creation, and he found out about it only after that person won. It was very disheartening. He’s now thinking of watermarking both his videos and photos, and of only publishing lower resolution copies on the Internet. He’s tired of constant theft and no attribution.

So I had to ask myself: how many of my photos have already been stolen? I haven’t yet heard of or seen a particular instance, but I also haven’t really looked around to see. It’s probably just a matter of time before I start finding my work in someone else’s portfolio, website or printed materials. When you combine high-resolution photos with people that have no respect whatsoever for someone else’s hard work, you’re asking for trouble. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, good people, those that respect other people’s property, are few and far between, and it’s best not to tempt the thieves or uneducated ones by making good photos easily available.

I’ve taken some steps already. I used to upload to Flickr at full resolution. Not anymore. Since they offered Rebekkah no help whatsoever, and even deleted the photo where she complained of image theft, along with the thousands of comments that she received there, I’ve lost respect for them. If that’s how they’re going to treat one of their best users, then I sincerely hope they get what’s coming to them, and I hope it’s a wallop.

I may also start to watermark my images. As much as I hate this (it uglifies an image, imo), I’ll do it, just to make it harder to pass my photos around without crediting them properly. I may also start to copyright my photography with the Library of Congress, and pursue damages to the full letter of the law (up to $150,000 per incident).

Finally, I may also stop uploading at full res to Zooomr. I keep waiting for them to push out the Mark III upgrade, and it seems that every time Kris is ready to do it, something happens to stop it. This week was the third time the promised upgrade didn’t materialize, and I’m pretty disappointed. Mark III is supposed to have this really nice image theft prevention built in, so I could continue to upload a full res, but restrict the sizes available to casual visitors or even my contacts at certain resolutions, and only make the full res size available to buyers. But if Mark III doesn’t show up any time soon — and since Zooomr has no photo replace feature like Flickr — I may just delete all of my photos, or make them all private. I do not want to see my hard work go to waste.

It’s a real shame that we can’t function equitably as a society, at the local, state, national or global level. If only everyone would respect other people’s property (physical or intellectual), things would work a lot better. One would think the concept of property has been around long enough for most people and cultures to grasp it…


More good things

Didn’t get a chance to post the review of the S9100 yet, but the 30D review unit arrived today and I got to play with it tonight. And, most importantly, I sold my first photo today. It was a direct sale. Someone liked one of my photos and wanted to use it. I don’t know if that makes me a semi-pro or pro photographer, or neither, but I do know that I feel pretty good!

Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly impressed with the EOS 30D, even though I’ve only used it for only an hour or so. The photos are amazingly clear, even with the kit lens, and at 1600 ISO, remarkably free of noise. My gosh, I’m really going to enjoy using this camera for the next month! I have to ask, if the 30D is this good, how much better is the 5D, with its full frame sensor? I’m wowed already. Stay tuned for that review sometime within the next month.


Here's to a few milestones

This weekend, I (or rather my photos) reached an important milestone. I/they crossed over 100,000 views. That’s amazing as far as I’m concerned. In the relatively short span of four months, I got to the point where I’m getting more than 1,000 views per day, and have now reached 100,000 views. It was just back in October that I passed 10,000 views, and here I am today.

I’m really happy with the progress I’m making, and even more than that, I’m happier that my photographic skills are visibly improving. I’ve learned so much in these past four months, and have benefited so much from interacting with fellow photographers, that my success is doubly sweet.

This next “milestone” is somewhat dubious, but it’s worth mentioning. A few days ago, I reached over 30,000 spam comments, right here on my blog. Yeah, it’s disgusting. But, none of them made it to the live site. All of them got caught by Akismet, my WordPress spam prevention plugin. I featured Akismet in this post I wrote at the start of January, and I meant every word I said about it. The only improvement I could make to it is a CAPTCHA. I find that more and more spam comments make it to the Moderation Queue instead of the Spam folder these days. Spammers are either using fresh batches of IP addresses or finding ways to sneak past Akismet’s spam filters. Still, NONE of them make it to the blog.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to reiterate my very ardent wish that ALL spammers (in particular sploggers, spam commenters and feed scrapers) be flogged publicly. I would gladly volunteer to perform this duty myself. I think they all deserve it for poisoning search engine results, making blogs uglier, decreasing my content’s rank, and littering the Internet. I don’t know how likely this is to happen, but a fellow can dream, can’t he?


Winnowing my photos

I seldom keep more than 50-60% of the photos I take. There’s no reason to waste my disk space with digital trash. It’s funny, the more photos I shoot, the less of them I keep. Lately, only about 10-20% of my photos manage to survive deletion. It’s an inversely proportional relationship.

When I decided to share my photos online, I whittled down my collection of over 18,000 photos (already winnowed) to about 7,000 that I wanted to upload. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been winnowing even those photos. I was a little too enthusiastic at first, and uploaded some photos that should have stayed on my computer or gone straight to the trash bin because they missed my initial winnowing. It’s been a painful process, and it’s very bruising to the ego, but it’s got to be done. It’s really hard to delete a photo when it’s had 10, 20, 30, even 50 or 60 views, but if it’s inferior, there’s no reason to let it stay.

I’ve reached a point now where I’m sharing thousands of photos (over 3,500 are public, with a total number of over 5,800), so there’s no reason not to winnow. If someone’s going to take the time to go through my photos, I don’t want them to see chaff, I want them to see substance. I know I’m sick of chaff. With time, my eye has gotten better at spotting good photos. And it’s also gotten more sensitive and easily disgusted with crappy snapshots that don’t deserve to waste disk space. I see so many of those when I hunt for good photos, that I can’t stand to see any in my own collection.

If you’ve been looking at my photos, and wondering how it’s possible that the total number of photos stays constant and even goes down while I upload new photos every day, now you have your answer. If you’re an experienced photographer, and you’ve seen some photos in my collection that you think are terrible, let me know. I’ll have a look and gladly delete any inferior photograph.


Giving thanks for innovative technology

This year, there were a handful of technology/software products that truly changed my life, and I wanted to take a little time to thank their makers publicly.

WordPressThe first, and most important, is WordPress. Without it, this site wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to combine the content from my various other sites into a single, easy to use collection. The WordPress motto — “a state of the art semantic personal publishing platform” — couldn’t be truer, and I’m here to attest to that. It was easy to combine content from my previous Blogger blog and two of my personal sites into what I now call ComeAcross, and it is easy, every day, to publish more content that may benefit others. That’s really the purpose of ComeAcross — sharing what I think is useful information with others — and WordPress made it possible.

Updated 1/1/08: I’ve since merged ComeAcross into Raoul Pop, which is the site you’re on right now.

GmailGmail has been another wonderful product. Although I started using it in 2005, it was this year that I really started to appreciate its features, ease of use, open standards and fantastic spam filter. The account size is more than generous, the ads are not intrusive, I love being able to label my messages, and the search feature is right on. On top of that, I can retrieve copies of my messages through the POP protocol (that’s Pop, as in my last name :-)), and make them searchable on my iMac through Spotlight.

LoudblogFinally, I’m grateful for Loudblog. It’s an open-source podcasting platform that’s fast, easy to install, and easy to use. I use it to publish my three podcasts: ComeAcross and Dignoscentia (in English and Romanian). I have to apologize because I haven’t had time to publish any podcasts recently, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how easy Loudblog made the publishing of podcasts for me.

So there you have it, three products that have made it incredibly easier for me to publish content and communicate this year. I’m truly thankful for them, and who knows, maybe they’ll help you as well!

How To

If you can't see the photos on this site

Just had a friend tell me he can’t see the photos in my posts, so I called him and we figured out the problem. There are two things to check, and this solution applies to all blogs out there that might have this problem.

  1. Are you at work? If you are, there’s a good chance that your network admins might have blocked photo sharing sites like Flickr. Therefore, all blogs using those sites to host their images will have problems displaying their photos. While the blog might very well come up, the images won’t, and if you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll be wondering if the blog’s owner is in a right state of mind, talking about pictures that aren’t there… But really, everything’s on the up and up, except for your lousy network admins and cheesy IT policies.
  2. Are you using Firefox? If so, have you gone to Tools >> Options >> Content >> Load Images and checked the box next to “For originating site only”? If you did this, no images of any kind (GIF, JPG, PNG, etc.) will show up unless hosted directly on the blog. Uncheck that option, and a whole new world will open up to you. Here’s a screenshot of that Options tab in Firefox.

Load images option in Firefox

Hope this fixes it for you!


Some big news at ComeAcross

I finally finished working on a new look for the site (version 1 wasn’t as flexible and easy to maintain as I wanted it to be) and also propagated that new look throughout the various ComeAcross sections. Yes, this means that whether you visit the main site (blog) or the podcast, or the current news section or the new mobile section, you’ll see the same look (which wasn’t the case with version 1, btw). The only section that still hasn’t got the new look is photos, but Gallery, the package I use to manage that, is definitely a monster when it comes to skins and customizations, so I don’t even want to touch that for now. In fact, I may even switch to a hosted photo service like Flickr. We’ll see…

Give the new and improved ComeAcross (version 2) a try, and surf through the different sections. Let me know how you like it, drop me a line. Working on it these past three days has been a very interesting experience, to say the least… I had this horrible bout of flu, and it was a bit hard to concentrate, since I wasn’t sure what to do first: pass out, vomit or just lie in bed and try to sleep (with “try” being the operative, though unsuccessful word.) I don’t know what kind of a virus this was, but it sure was a nasty one! When I have a cold or a flu, it lasts 1, 2 days tops. This time, it’s coming up on 3 1/2 days and I’m still not over it. Not fun, not fun… not fun. Add to that ridiculous muscle aches, bone aches, headaches and this ugly urge to keep moving my legs while in bed,and I’d hate to foist this monster on anyone, even my worst enemy.

So anyway, I managed to get a few hours’ worth of work done every day, although it was a nightmare. I hope you enjoy the end result, because this flu sure gave a new meaning to the creative birthing process… Trust me, this new look is no flu-ke! I for one don’t think the new look is flu-lish… Alright, okay, I’ll stop…