wild internets oceans and wild water(marks) rapids

below the classic arguments in an internet forum of Canon vs Nikon, or PC vs Mac, it can be said that the use of watermarks on photos is well-placed. not too distant from watermarks is the way that photo-hosting social sites should do for photographers — for example: An Open Letter to Vic Gundotra and Google+ [link]. these two topics are related in terms the attitudes and goals that people have.

from long ago, it was a comment on a flickr group that I read how people would join a group and then ask that rules be changed according to their prerogative. this was insightful: flickr has it that anyone can start their own group with the rules as one sees fit, but of course, this does not satisfy the underlying need, quite possibly generalized as:

" I want to share my photos here because there is a large audience, but I want it to be comfortable to the way I think they should be shared (or things ought to be). "
— not said by anyone in particular, or literally

it is not unreasonable for people to provide feedback to sites on features, and perhaps even on the underlying behaviour possible. this takes on a greater aura by sites that depend on users to provide content, and there is something to be balanced there. however, it is always a site's decision based on their entire user-base and their assessment of users gain/lost.

the most absurd request is to prevent users from downloading a photo. well, it is the fundamental workings of the internet that the photo has to be downloaded in order for anyone to see it. these days, with bigger-is-better, sites are encouraging to upload big-sized photos. yet, the controls demanded by content-providers to popular sites can include such requests.

the consequence of this lack of control is that some people will watermark their photos. like all things internet with photography, the dials are set to "11" and watermarks can be rather intrusive when looking at a photo. this brings a backlash from photograph viewers whose enjoyments is being disturbed, or for whom watermarks signifies a misunderstanding of creative work and sharing. parallels are then drawn to many uses of art, and forum discussions get lively.

I do watermark my photos**, but not as a deterrent against people grabbing the photo and re-uploading elsewhere. my consideration is that most people are lazy and will not remove the watermark. then, the watermark is a "message in a bottle", for the rather rare chance that someone wants to look up the photo creator and then is able to track me down.

since my uploaded photos are not going to pop-up in some stream of gorgeous photographs with a sudden disturbance to the viewer of my photo with a watermark, but rather, it will be that they see a page with only my photos on display, they can easily click away if so shocked/disturbed/annoyed. alternatively, a photo print without a watermark can be ordered.

as for sites? instead of demanding so much care for one's photos, just view the internet as an ocean and the photo as a bottle tossed into it, and the watermark is the note inside. however, we can create the bottle: make it 800 pixels and use the JPG compression as severe as possible... and then it is gone forever. it is the gift to the internet.

changes to a site are a bucket of water tossed to the ocean. companies and teams that create the sites are well aware of how the internet works, how the users behave, and what draws the users to the site. the onus is on the user, and potential content-provider, to determine if the site is for them, and not to request that the site changes for their perception of fairness.


[ link ] public post on facebook to comment within facebook

~
** an exception is VSCO Grid, since the uploading to the Grid is directly from the app, and the extra steps of watermarking is something that is not worth doing given the controls VSCO provides against the casual image downloader: screen caps is the easy thing to do.

a website for photographers: what does it take?

a few days ago there was flickr's 10th anniversary, and the site has made quite a splash — good and bad — with their recent changes.

granted, flickr was not designed for photographers. rather, it was designed as a web-based shoebox. to this day, it serves that purpose with very few glitches, more so at present when one Terabyte of storage is allowed for free. 

however, people have a knack to cast websites into their own needs. likely with the advent of the democratization of photography — thanks to digital cameras, and the boom of the internet to a wider audience — flickr was able to serve as the gathering place for people that wanted to pursue photography beyond a shoebox holder.

unfortunately, flickr would break at the seams. the site never really pursued a photo-centric presentation of one's work:

  1. photos were cropped to a square thumbnail at the center without user selection.
  2. an emphasis on meaningless statistics, such as views/faves.
  3. a one-solution-to-all approach to explore the site via Explore page.
  4. dormant development/update of groups, which still has a late-90s functionality.

some of these failures are easy to fix, but others may require a site overhaul. one of the great difficulties with users appropriating the site to their needs was the high-levels of confusion that was created. for example, Explore is not a sort of critical/curated selection, but rather a social-metrics based photo selection that does not have a correlation to merit. but this confusion generated so many of the site's ills. elsewhere, groups such as the (infamous) Help Forum and Flickr Central gave the impression of official involvement, with users being confused for employees. more recently, even in the rollout of major changes, there was a failure to explain these changes. most sites make a short video to explain the changes/clicks and how the functions being rolled out work into a vision. instead, the site's changes had some good (bigger images, no more thumbnails), and great failings: no cohesive design, but one (seemingly) driven by ideas on coding prowess. it also showed that flickr was trying to follow the evolution taking place at other sites, rather than pursue a vision that was based on its years of experience.

for all of these failings, during the golden years, many photographers managed to learn in their own way and propel themselves within, and outside, of the internet. a number of groups, such as Utata, provided a sensible instigation to do more than take photos that were hoped to make it to Explore.

so then, in personally having been on the site since 2005, and active (uploading) through 2009**, what would be the features that would make for a good photography site? by this, I do not mean a we-are-all-artists site, but one that fosters the art of photography, and not a social site with photographs as its currency: the currency should be the pursuit of photography, not the photographs themselves. here are some notions:

forgo all metrics, but allow for some tracking features.

most sites these days provide means to use tools such as Google Analytics, and that should be useful to photographers, if they want it. if the photo pages gets a lot of views from a website that may have, without permission/attribution, linked to the photo, then it is good to be alerted. views and faves counts are useless because of their unreliability, and lack of control (e.g., people are not at the site at all hours, it is the nature of a global base).

remove the contests/competition

the idea of a ranking algorithm in photography is antithetical to the pursuit of photography, and drives an unhealthy pursuit for attention. it is rather clear that this is also what drives traffic/users to a site, and it is an easy temptation to make a site profitable.

devise a site-exploring algorithm

with the hype over big data, one of its perfect uses is to tailor the site's exploring for a given user. on flickr, there was the Greasemonkey script that would show one's contacts faves. provided one would add contacts on the merits of their photographs, rather an a social passive-aggressive duty, then the script offers a superior result to a socio-metrics based algorithm.

be big and small

a big site is great for exploring its photos, but useless for promoting one's photography needs: one is overwhelmed if not lost (e.g., 500px's lack of groups). a structure for groups and discussion is essential to the site, and rather than anarchy (as in flickr), something grows with time. in this instance, lessons learned from many discussion-based sites can be adopted.

love the comments, hate the comments

the user must be given control over comments on the a photo page. many comments are vapid ("Great Capture!"), others are passive-aggressive cut-and-paste useless words with links to their pages. Instagram and 500px have taken measures towards this problem, while flickr still allows HTML tags to be part of comments. in some ways, the user has to be fearless in "curating" the comments on a photo page.

templates!

on the one end there is the fiasco of MySpace customization, and on another, there is the unwelcome rigidity from flickr. yet, Tumblr thrives relatively well. a site can control the templates and their customization features, and with time allow for users to apply their CSS talents to make further template designs.

precise site management groups

while it is very unlikely that flickr's programmers designed the site, the impression gathered is that of an absent design team: any sort of integrated aesthetics are absent, and instead it is about what can be done with today's software, and what other sites are doing. it is imperative that the user experience be given the utmost effort towards a sensible design and functionality. 

curating

as part of the process to learn photography, one must be able to pursue the means to curate series of photographs. flickr has provided this functionality through their Gallery pages, though it has to be made possible to energize them and make them points of interaction and discussion. a greater power for its use would require access to photos outside the site, and this is a harder problem to solve. presently, Tumblr offer such an opportunity, while an integrated functionality to a site offers greater potential.

in general terms, the new site developers would have to overcome the hi-tech malaise of "flickr killer" mentality. even for less photographic-centric sites, this thinking requires a replication of flickr-features, which may not be of service towards a successful site.

in closing, the design of a site such as this requires quite a bit of algorithmic and social know-how that builds on the usage of the sites developed so far. there is also a major problem to solve about the financial success of such a site. ideally, the site should have a sizeable functionality be free, with some customization at a fee. yet, it is unclear if a "free+" site could survive financially. further, the structure of how to balance user feedback and the "lynch mob" activity that besieges the Help Forum on flickr has to be avoided. also, users cannot be confused for the site's staff. this is not to imply that a group can be structured, clearly, that it is a user-based to assist with questions.

the simplest question, once all the ideas are in place: is there a need for such a site?


[ link ] comments can be made on facebook post

** I was encouraged by the changes rolled out on May 2013, but the execution was extremely flawed, and soon after beginning some uploading frenzy, it had to stop.

in desperate need of an amazing viral headline for my incredible photography post

encapsulated in time, the B-movies posters from the 1950s can be comical in today's context. it is a time capsule, and one can enjoy their exaggeration in their bylines. yet, today we are being hit with the same approach to internet "articles". it used to be that blogs were meant for personal pontification and make claims as one would see fit. now they have gone mainstream and there is an impending overriding need to have it go viral by means of trolling. in all cases, these articles lack the heft to make the headline worthy. at least in B-movies, we could be entertained.

the headlines are part of the daily dosage of articles served by Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Petapixel. however, The New Yorker has now come to the same disposition in as far as one of their online articles: Goodbye Cameras by Craig Mod [ link ]. The New Yorker is a magazine with infallible reputation for fact-checking and context. that does not mean agreeing with the articles, but that they carry a certain weight when published. maybe this is not to be the case for their online-only articles. about Mr. Mod's article, one comment summarizes the state of affairs in discussing cameras:

I get tired of these catchy provocative headlines, waxing narratives that throw a blanket statement out that practically disregard that anyone else exists. What *IS* the purpose of this article then? What does it mean to say? Goodbye Cameras for who? Everyone or just those who used to use something else and now put networking above all else? Why don’t we all FOR ONCE stop ramming a method or methods of photography into the ground for the sake of a controversial article, PLEASE!
— AiPrint [ http://fyre.it/2h6FyD.4 ]

what is unique to the present times is the explosion of camera use, and its rapid evolution in digital capabilities. thus, of course, there is going to be consequences to fad, and what kind of camera performance is required by the masses now involved in taking photos. 

a good parallel is to the music industry. in the last decade, the music industry pushed hit-wonders, with very weak albums. consequently, the advent of single-song download purchases brings down albums sales, and the catalog of albums in the rock era become essential to sustain a business that was feeding faddish music and anchoring industry growth on it. likewise, business decisions in the camera business were propelled by the explosion of compact cameras, and the margins of dSLRs that were sought by people beyond the professional user. so then, we have an article like Camera makers are desperately trying to stay a step ahead of smartphones—and failing [ link ], which has a bit more relevance in content to the title, while the use of "desperate" may not be based on any facts. 

the fact that the internet can offer more voice to opinions does not mean that the number of people able to write well-opinionated articles has magically increased. this is the same reasoning that applies to photographers: the democratization of cameras does not increase the percent of the population that have an artistic talent for photography, and the internet only amplifies this ratio instead of making it better/easier. it seems that among all the articles, which includes a prognosis for the death of Olympus this year, a well-written piece can be found in The Online Photogrpaher [ link ], authored by Thom Hogan.

people in the market for camera and photography can be spectators to the mechanics of the industry, but we are mainly governed by a simple (and simplified?) dichotomy of photography:

if you see a photo that you want to take, reach for the most suitable camera and compromise the result because of camera shortcomings; OR,
if you want to use a camera, then compromise the photos that are possible because not all photos can be taken with a single camera**.

and thus, we just need to be aware of what cameras are being manufactured, when they are available, and how they fit into what we like to do photographically. the trends in photography are of little consequence, because I cannot dictate that, for example, a Micro 4/3rds system be designed for my needs. I am still waiting for a sensibly priced digital camera with a B&W sensor, but I will not get any company to make it for me.



** this second part is what most blogs, including the entry by Mr. Mod, has to offer. he wants social media immediacy? a camera to always have with him? then reach for that mobile device... and the implications are nil for the rest of the world. so then, why make it into an article and/or pontification, if it is just relating an experience.

the internet in the workflow (part 2)

•A Shift In Workflow

in the first part [ link ], it was noted that the old way for many to work their photographs through a system/workflow for feedback, or understanding , was (effectively) no longer valid. for many, flickr was the sole source for many functions and results in sharing a photograph online. the decline of flickr, and the rise of mobile devices and apps-based photography, along with other sites picking up on disenchanted flickr users, meant that some sort of change was required.

one of the negative aspects of internet sharing was the urge to get a photo up and ready to share: maybe one per day, to maximize comments and activity on the photo. not surprisingly, this is not really a way for someone to take photography serious, never mind the distraction from social quid pro quo.

Becoming Independent

then, a new of thinking of how to use the internet for a photographic workflow is required. this new way has to be much more independent, to remove the dependency on one site, and perhaps shed the urgency that social-sharing brings into the selection, and processing, of a photograph — among many other issues affecting the process. 

this also means that one must begin to rely on repeated viewing of one’s own photographs to see how well they fit into the current vision.  this is not too different to listening to music, and with time seeing how the song details come into our way of hearing details, or it just is a “flash in the pan.”

since there is no urgency to post photos to the internet, it is good to work the photos all at once. that is, all of the photos constituting a potential project are gathered to consider which ones are suitable for further work on them, if any of them are needed. a lot of deletion should occur here, but it is only a first step. if some photos are just “soooo good,” then one can still do as before, and process one or two and post them in the process of the first step noted below.

•Use The Entire Internet

the steps, or segmentation, would be something like:

  1. post photos to fish for interest
  2. revisit sites to reconsider the work
  3. group the work into projects to “kill your darlings”
  4. complete the projects via book product and/or portfolio website

additionally,

  • curate
  • shake up the process with Mobile Photography

for Step 1, the many social-photo sites are not as active in commentary about photography. just presence-actions like faves/likes, posting to groups (if available), and short 3-word comments are the norm. however, search engines and search through tags offer a way to put photos to bait for additional work, and the rare useful feedback. this step also offers a way to get some photos out while the entire project is being edited.

consequently, one can post one’s work to many sites — flickr, 500px, Instagram, etc. — without increasing one’s energy put into such endeavor. especially since editing software now has automatic uploads to many of these sites. 

because of Step 1, or because of Step 3, the biggest benefit is to look at one’s recent work against the old, and repeated viewing in varying context to reconsider if the photo is in final form. this is Step 2. perhaps a heavy-handed processing is noticed, or a change in composition to improve the impression comes as a result. in a way, Step 2 is on-going through Step 3... all the way until the end of Step 4.

the hardest element of photography is editing one’s work. not the presentation, but removing/deleting seemingly favorite photographs from a set to make the collected work stronger. Step 3 is about this process, through repetition and reconsideration. the repeated viewing that leads to re-editing the photo’s presentation also brings about a consideration of its strength in a group. it also becomes apparent how a body work “hangs together” and/or can be subdivided.

Step 4, while it is just about making a final selection of the photographs in a project, and giving them a portfolio — or final resting place — it is perhaps the most difficult of steps. this one is much more personal, and up to one’s personal demands on phoography. this step can be complemented, or substituted, by proceeding with a book project. the book forces a process of selection, flow, and possibly writing, which can be very enriching — even if the book is not to be a “big seller.” actually, it is best to make the book for oneself, rather than for an audience.

For Example... Kodiak Xyza on the Internets... woo hoo!

for Step 1, I post photos to flickr and 500px, though I do not care to post all of the photos to flickr, and posts a bit of the strong ones, once the project is near completion, to 500px since I am using the site as an intermediate portfolio. consequently, I post the photos in different sequence to each site to keep looking at the work.

the projects for effecting Step 3 are uploaded to Dunked [ link ], where they get revisited, and perhaps some subdivision of the projects take place. along with the project segmentation, it is good to write some words that would go with the photographs in a book.

for Step 4, I have a “resting” place for projects: A Touching Display [ link ], of which Wedding Photography is a very quick process to get to it — this is because the project is dealing with a client, and there is nothing to write about it.

it is good to shake up the normal process as well, and two ways is to look at photographs from other photographers, and pursue a Curation project. there are many sites to pursue this curation, especially if one wants to blog about it. I want to keep it simple and use tumblr: Moments After A Dream [ link ]. however, given the awkward “dashboard” in tumblr, there is no attempt to make a connections to other tumblrs, as the site is usually used just like twitter and Instagram: the idea of following and presence-interaction.

in some instances, one can see a scene in different ways that is dependent on the camera used, and I like to carry a couple of cameras, and one of them constitutes the mantra I am pursuing for Mobile Photography. (an article on this is soon to be posted, for now there is a preview on Dunked [ link ].) in this case, it is a way to shake-up the more contemplative approach to photography, and quickly decide on a preset, in my case from VSCOcam, and upload to VSCO Grid [ link ]

I quite like that Dunked and VSCO Grid are not social, and merely allow links to be provided to direct people to the work: people can look at the work as they wish, for however long they wish, and there is no need to make a presence-interaction of any kind.

the internet in the workflow (part 1)

what to do with so many sites to share one's work? it can be a crazy chase to join so many sites, to garner more views/faves/comments. 

one answer, which may cure the sense of madness, but not really actively help with increasing the audience: incorporate the internet into the workflow that weans all of the photos into the essential ones. 

the internet used to be a simple means for sharing one’s photographic work. the professional always had a destination website, which drew visitors from established sources, and for most everyone else a Photo Interest** site was sufficient.

the interaction may have been like the flow example for flickr. uploading a photo to flickr had many sources for interaction, and the results had many uses. there was a way to garner some feedback on the work; get additional exposure to one’s work that would not be possible with a personal portfolio website. it was not rare to notice that people were contacted for use of a photo, or hired for a photo shoot. there were articles about flickr's superstars.

a one-site use for improving one's photography.

a couple of years after the rise of flickr as the site for photo-sharing, photography had exploded in popularity thanks to digital photography, and so did the number of alternative sites, while other established sites (e.g., p-base) stayed on, and in the meantime flickr imploded. popularity-driven photography moved to Instagram, as the mobile phone drove more people into photography, while flickr reverted to being a shoebox, as originally intended. 

many approaches-to, or interests-in, photography remain viable through a single platform. Instagram is such the case for many people using photos for social attention, and marketing by commercial firms seem to have found a way to use Instagram and their popular uses. Twitter is pushing into this area of photography, and 500px has become a home for yet another style of photography.

a question for a class of photographers is: which site to replace flickr? or, at least, to help with their next step in photography. the answer may be the internet itself, rather than a site. not the simplest of solution, but definitely a bit sane.  how can the internet be used to further one’s photography, without having to chase websites and assess a social critical mass?

the most singular benefit I had for uploading work to a social site was that of revisiting a photo, thus causing a re-examination of the work. this become important as Lightroom became much more powerful, and it became more efficient to work on photos closer to an evolving vision. 

thus, the use of the internet can be split into two processes: Passive Soliciting and Active Thinning. in the second part to this post, what and how of these two processes are detailed, though they can be summarized as follows:

  • the idea is to use the photo-sharing sites to leave photos as bait — to “go fishing” for results from searches, and whatever interaction is left at the site. this is a form of Passive Soliciting.
  • a big effort by a photographer is to thin-out one’s work to make for strong portfolio. Active Thinning is effected through a gathering of photos into projects, which can be uploaded to non-social sites, and pursue this process over a period of time.

there is more work, in terms of uploading to sites, but that remains less of a concern with fast broadband connection, and removing any urgency to upload daily, or at certain times that maximize the usage of the site by one's contacts. 

PART 2 [ link


** flickr never was a photo-centric site, since the presentation of the photos were not the most important function of the site. Smugmug was/is definitely more photo-centric. 


social photography is dead

though the question is: was it ever alive?

the answer is yes, in that flickr had stumbled upon facilitating such a situation. Social Photography is facilitated by a site where the user has a photo used for currency, and people can act in a social manner on the photo. typically, this is by views, faves/likes and comments. subsequently, there was a curating effect, self-serving or altruistic, via invitation to groups.

that social photography was a success in furthering photography, or perhaps trivialized it, is to be another (long) conversation; or even that social photography was engaged by a significant number, or a critical mass, of "true" photographers is yet another conversation. 

social photography thrived through the rise of flickr and its peak, before an anecdotal decline — and many reasons seem to contribute — which allowed other sites to rise and be noticed. this period was from 2005 to about 2007, or 2008 at the latest. there is no clear demarcation of when social photography "lost it", and this is not of great concern, though it is sensible to argue that the rise of Instagram marked its death. the change in platform, from flickr's desktop to Instagram's smartphone, propelled the change in what a photograph is among people.

someone may think: « but Instagram raison d'être is that of social photography!  »

not quite. Instragram is not social photography, because there is no engagement about photography. yes, a photograph is created for the purpose of a social interaction, which is in line with previous mechanism, albeit at a much smaller scale and perhaps not involving so many strangers. thus, there is nothing photographic of merit in Instagram. that is, aside from the photographer putting as much, or little, effort into taking and processing the photo — in third party apps — but not in enriching that experience through a social interaction. while Instagram had to solve a photograph-storage/servicing engineering problem, Instagram is about sharing/connecting and not photography — this according to one of its founders. still, we must remain aware that despite a company's intentions, people can morph the intent of a website to their needs. this clearly happened with flickr.

while this generalization can benefit from a longer discussion, and definition of terms, the important observation is that it has created (at least) two notable groups: the Social Photographer, and the Longform** Photographer. ( a person can fit in either, or both.)

the Social Photographer is working the social sites, notably tumblr and Instagram, and amplifying it through social networks, notably twitter and facebook. the interactions of faves/reblogs, short platitudes — such as the infamous "great capture" — and comments is the gained currency from mining the right photo. there is much to be enjoyed in this realm, if one finds the proper content generators. the photographic qualities of the photos are secondary, or non-existent.

the Longform Photographer can be working within the social network tools, but seeking a different way to communicate — perhaps often frustratingly so —  and requiring more than mining socially-appealing photographs to build an audience. actually, an audience is required by any photographer type, but the required audience count threshold may be lower. this Longform Photographer may reside somewhere in between the Social Photographer and the traditional art-world photographer.

clearly, the author is in this latter group... and in the process of learning, and figuring out how to use the internet to help a photographer's, and a photographic, pursuit. the audience is less of a concern at the moment, since much is to be figured out. this site is an aid towards that pursuit.

** a commonly used term in online journalism is "longform journalism" , and The New Yorker has references to "longread" articles.