Design a site like this with
Get started

Copy right

What would I do if you took one of my pictures from this blog and passed it off as your own? What would I do if you used one of my pictures to advertise something?

Well, I probably wouldn’t know unless someone told me, but I do have copyright law behind me. The two examples above are clear breaches, one of fraud and the other of theft. I can ask you to stop using the picture and in the second example to pay me money.

But what would happen if I was taking pictures at a public event? Do people in a photograph have any rights over how a picture of them is used? Well yes, if it is used in something like advertising but not if the use is editorial (this was the scene…). But what about a private or ticketed event?

There is a recent example where the use of a picture to advertise the singer’s clothing led to the shutdown of the clothing company. In that case it looks like the photographer was being reasonable but met a stupid initial response. The power of the calm and well-judged responses of the internet then bombed the clothing company (rabid attack monkeys on parade). This was one of those cases where the pictures were taken at a private event. If the professional photographers were given special access, then there should have been clear terms and conditions for the use of the images. If the band wanted to control the use of the images, this should have been clear so that the photographers had the opportunity to decline to take part.

Do you ever copy someone else’s work? By this I mean try and recreate one of their pictures. I can see a sense in which you might refer visually to an existing picture for effect. Think of the beginning of The Watchmen film where Doisneau’s picture of the kiss by the Hotel de Ville is recreated. Then there is taking an exact copy. I have done this: there is a picture somewhere of the statue of Churchill looming over the Houses of Parliament. I was in London, I was young, I took the same picture. If I had taken it without seeing the original first that would be fine: we both saw the same framing. But I had seen the original and I copied it. So that negative has never been printed or shown. What would be the point? It’s not my picture.

So one response to this might be to avoid looking at anyone else’s pictures, keeping all your influences clean and ensuring that you work from a position of innocence. Or you look at pictures you like and analyse why you like them. And then go out and recreate what you like rather than what you saw.

There was a discussion on the Negative Positives podcast about taking pictures of graffiti. I believe that, if the purpose of your picture is to reproduce the graffiti, then you are copying someone’s artistic work. If the purpose of your picture is to say something about the situation in which the graffiti exists, then you are not copying but commenting. It doesn’t matter what your intention was either, because the interpretation of a picture is owned by the viewer. If someone looks at your picture and says “that’s a picture of the x” then the best you can do is reproduce it accurately. If they say “I’ve never seen it like that before” or “x is in the picture but what is going on here?” then you have done something more than copy. Even then, there is the copyright of buildings and statues to consider. For example, you can take a picture of the Eiffel Tower during the day but not lit-up at night. In some countries you could, providing the item is not the main subject but forms part of a panorama. Not in France though. (The link goes to a very interesting source, by the way.)

Darn! Who left that in the background?

So I suppose the summary is that if I take a picture of a created work (which doesn’t include landscapes, no matter what the creations claim) then I need to be explicit that my picture is a record. If I include a created work but the purpose of the picture is something other than a direct record, the interpretation of copyright and privacy varies with location. There are fairly well established principles of fair use and quotation and if we ever get close to making a copy of a created work, we should bear them in mind. But in case any of us thought it was clear, take a look at art. A collage is accepted to be an original work. Take a look at Dadaism and the use of found objects.

I never meant this to be an accurate representation of the statue

I think we can agree on the basics though: pass my work off as yours and you are committing fraud. Earn money from my work without asking me and you are committing theft. For the rest I guess we learn by doing (and would everyone please calm down?).

Update – someday your sins will probably find you out.


Classic lenses

Classic seems to mean ‘not made any more’. I used to be interested in classic motorcycles, but classic came to mean extinct rather than good and some complete dirtburgers were given a rebore and a coat of paint and became “classic”. Never mind that the refurb would have cost more than the bike was ever worth or that people who owned one at the time were only too happy to trade it for a Honda. And the result of all the effort is that the proud owner gets to take it to shows on a trailer and have people tell him that the shade of paint is wrong for that year.

I too rode a classic motorcycle, but it had raised compression, a twin-plug head and a chain oiler, and I rode it to work. Oh dear, I’m getting into reverse willy-waving again. Let’s get back to lenses.

So – a classic lens is one that you can no longer buy new. I did ask and was firmly told that a classic lens is also a fixed focal length: zoom lenses are not classic. From what I can see, the most prized feature of a classic lens is the way it renders out of focus areas, particularly highlights. Remember the mirror lenses that were, for a while, the easiest way for mortals to afford a long lens? There were a load of 500mm f8 catadioptrics to choose from, but their distinguishing feature was the way they rendered out of focus highlights as circles. Pretty much a one-trick pony: once you had seen a picture full of bubbles you probably sold the lens and went back to refraction as your favoured method for bending light. And now people pay big wonga for Meyer Goerlitz lenses that have sufficient aberrations to recreate the effect. Want to do it for cheap? Try a longish lens with a clear filter and a disk of black paper or tape in the middle of the filter. If there wasn’t a Cokin filter that did this I’m sure I could sell you a bubble bokehlicious®️fuzzy duck filter.

A few minutes work with a marker pen and the first Fuzzy Duck filter leaves the production line

Ooh, bokeh balls, yum! The odd texture in them is due to the swirls of the marker pen

So ok, rings is a thing but not the only trick in town. The other things that classic lenses are supposed to be good for is micro-contrast, meaning low contrast as far as I can understand it, and not smoothing-out fine detail (which may be the same thing). But perhaps this only applies to CLASSIC lenses and not just any old bit of second-hand glass. From what I understand, older lenses suffered more with flare and reflections. This could mean that the overall contrast between highlights and shadows was reduced, so kept within the dynamic range of the film. If the lens was a good one and could resolve fine detail, this could be what people call microcontrast. As coatings got better I assume that the overall contrast rendered by the lens increased. It may well be that this exceeded the ability of film to capture it, and the abilities of earlier-generation digital sensors. Digital sensors now beat film on both dynamic range and sensitivity, so I would expect that a modern digital camera with a modern digital-designed lens will render both fine detail and a wide overall contrast. Stick this clever lens on a film camera and you might find it too contrasty. Stick an older film lens on a digital camera and you might find it reduces the overall contrast of the scene, so it needs less post-processing.

There are also some issues with putting older film lenses on digital sensors, in that a digital sensor prefers the light to arrive straight-on, where film doesn’t mind if the rays are oblique. This matters at the edge of the frame, and more in colour than black and white. So some film lenses on some digital cameras produce fuzzy edges or colour fringing.

The main idea seems to be though that older lenses contain magic. They don’t resolve every skin pore, the backgrounds are nicely smooth and not distracting, and the fall-off from sharp to out of focus looks nice. Sensors smaller than the original film size turn old lenses into longer focal lengths (narrower angle of view), so a fairly cheap 50mm film lens can become a very cheap wide-aperture portrait lens. This will throw the background out of focus and isolate the subject better than the zoom lens that came with the camera, and way cheaper than a sharp digital lens of the same size.

But watch what happens with mobile phones and how it will migrate to mainstream cameras. Before long you won’t need to buy a Planar or a Sonnar and deal with fungus or scratches; you will use the kit lens and dial-in your lens effect. The autofocus knows which parts of the image are sharp, so the in-camera computer can add your favourite aberrations back to the fuzzy bits. Pentax released a software developer’s toolkit for their K1 full-frame camera, so this might be where you see it first.

But this idea that old lenses were better than new lenses? Prove it. Technically better, in terms of resolving power, control of flare, sharpness across the image? I doubt it. A more pleasing rendering of the image due to design or manufacturing shortcomings? In the eye of the beholder, but apparently true if you have seen how the prices of some old lenses have risen. Come the revolution though, and I’m hoping the prices drop again as in-camera effects mean that everyone can have a Canon ‘dream‘ lens.

it’s already here.

Some day my prints will come

We used to say this when film developing by post was the norm. Humour isn’t what it used to be. Neither is nostalgia.

I’ve not had much luck with printers.

For my own use the issue is that I don’t put enough prints through the printer to keep the print head from drying up. And of course the cartridges have chips in them so that you can’t refill. And my particular printer complains that that colour cartridge is empty when I try to print black text.

For personal use I prefer to send my stuff off to someone else, as they generally do a better job for less than buying new cartridges or unclogging my printer. When I wanted a load of prints made in various sizes, the easiest way was to arrange them all onto A4 paper, get someone else to print them and then trim the results into individual prints.

Which would be fine and nothing to write about, expect that once a year I get involved in a mass-printing panic.

In the run-up to Christmas we run a fair with stalls and a Santa’s grotto in the local town hall. The event raises money for a local charity, so it’s a good thing and generally very busy.

The deal with Santa is that you can have your picture taken and printed on the spot.

One year, maybe three years back, I did both the pictures and the printing. You may no longer be familiar with the phrase ‘busy as a one-armed paper-hanger’, but that’s how busy I was. It didn’t help that we have a rather ancient laptop running Windows 95 and a very basic Canon inkjet printer.

In later years we traded-up. The kit is the same but we split the work so that I just run the printer and a chum of the organiser takes the pictures. Now, people who work in IT know that computers (and by extension printers) have two little-known components. The first is the critical need detector. This causes the device to fail when it is most needed. The second is the support detector. This causes the device to feign good health and full functionality when someone with expert knowledge approaches. Obviously, as I work in IT, the former sensor takes priority over the latter.

The person taking the pictures used a camera that takes CF memory cards. These are the size of an after-dinner mint and connect through an array of fine wire probes. Obviously, swapping cards repeatedly with a cheap USB card reader causes one or more of the pins to bend. We killed two card readers and had to buy a third from a local gadget shop to keep running. I deeply hate CF cards.

But the printer; oh I hate that more.

It is incredibly slow to print. If you were printing your own snaps that would not be a problem, but when you have a queue of tired parents and sugared-up children like monkeys on crack, a slow printer is more pain than one should endure. And then, of course, one of the print heads clogs.

So this year it was going to be different. I brought my own laptop and a little dye-sub printer. Dye-sub printers are marvellous: they are fast, the prints resist smudging and there is no issue with running out of ink: the dye cartridge prints the number of sheets of paper that it comes with. It’s more expensive per print but less expensive than taking everyone’s address and posting them the prints later, which is what I had to do the previous year.

And the little dye-sub printer zipped along. It even entertained people as they watched the paper shuttle back and forth through the printer as the colours were added.

And then it ate the paper. So I cleared the jam. The next print had a blank strip down one long edge. It ate the next sheet.

Panic, moi?

I hauled the old inkjet out of the box and hooked it up. Of course I had a reserve printer.

Of course the print heads were clogged.

So I cleared the heads, loaded-up and we were back in business.

Not too slow either – I guess the biggest problem before was Windows 95 and not so much the printer.

A pal of mine turned up at the event and noticed that I looked a little stressed. He popped home and got his own dye-sub printer. Same make, different model, but they take the same cartridge and paper. Except it’s a different model so it needs a different print driver and my laptop has no Internet connection so it can’t find the driver.

So back to the inkjet we go.

And we more or less cope.

It was something like 150 prints over the course of the event, around five hours.

Even our record of around 250 prints doesn’t sound much, if it was evenly spaced.

But it’s not, and the printer and laptop are set up on a small table just outside the entrance to the main hall. So I have all the people walking in past me, combining with all the people coming out and wanting to see the screen to see their picture. And the main lift is behind me, so I have to move out of the way when someone uses it. There really is nowhere else to place it, so it’s get on with the job in hand and be thankful I’m not next to the radiator like I was last year.

Did I mention how much I hate printers? The little Canon inkjet is admittedly quite good – the cartridges are cheap and the quality pretty good when it has been unclogged.

The Canon dye-sub printer is on my study floor with the top off to see if I can find out where it is jamming. It would be ideal if it worked but I can’t have anything unreliable when the job is commercial. It’s a shame, as dye-sub is ideal for this sort of event. So it looks as though I’m back to the inkjet. I’m planning to print more of my own pictures during this year so if I space it out I could make sure the printer doesn’t dry up.

Printers – we hates them precious

For serious personal use though I’m going to stick with what I know works: send them off to someone else who can print them properly.

And Santa’s grotto? I made a special wish for Christmas 2019 that the price of Polaroid drops (and the quality improves) to the point where we could dispense with printing altogether. Get it down to 50p a shot, Santa, and I’ll release the hostage elves.

10,000 hours

So, the story goes that you need to practice something for 10,000 hours to become excellent at it. The counterpoint says that if you are rubbish at something and keep being rubbish, then at the end of 10,000 hours you will still be rubbish, but older. The improvement comes not from practice, but from reflective practice.

How does one reflect as a photographer? Not with a catadioptric lens. One reflects by comparing one’s results with one’s intentions and trying to bring them together.

Have you ever looked at your negatives or the histogram of your digital files? Do you, like me, tend to underexpose? If you are shooting digital, do you push the exposure as far to the right of the histogram as you can get it?


What do you struggle with most? Movement? Exposure? Focus? How could you try one small thing to improve, so that you can see if it makes a difference? The good news is that, using digital, practice is effectively free. The results can also be immediate, so it’s easier to iterate the learning loop of try, see, think, try. The very gods of decision making, Kahneman and Tversky, say that rapid feedback of results is fundamental to making good decisions and learning. Or perhaps better stated that slow feedback leads to more errors – see people fighting with a central heating thermostat, for example.

Do you think about photography when you are not taking pictures? Not the bit where you wish you had shinier kit, but the imagining of what you would do right now with a camera in your hand. When you look at a thing, think about how you would frame it and what you would do with tones, textures and colours. What would it look like with a slow or fast shutter, or a deep or shallow depth of field? Try guessing what the exposure would be outside the window or across the street. It’s all very well talking about sunny 16, but do you know how sunny it has to be? And what happens if you are under trees or near a building? Knowing what the correct exposure would be is useful, but perhaps more useful is knowing the difference between light and shade. It means knowing that you can blow a background to white by shooting in the shade, or dropping it to black by shooting in sunlight.

This is all about readiness. It used to be knowing which way the aperture scale turns on your lens, or which way to turn it to focus closer. It meant knowing which way the shutter speed dial turned and if you could set it without looking. I suppose with digital it means knowing which of the control wheels or buttons does what, without having to search or even look. My own digital SLR has the usual smattering of controls, arranged mostly in a logical order (unlike a Ricoh Mirai), but I have still labelled two of them with white marker to make it obvious which controls the metering area and which the autofocus point.

Alongside the ready ability to use the camera is a familiarity with how to obtain certain results. What’s the best shutter speed for panning a moving object? How much fill-flash do you need in direct sunlight or in the shade? What’s the best way to capture flames or smoke or the wriggly air you get with heat? How far out of focus can a face be if the eyes are still sharp? What about fireworks or light trails?

Rally car at night, sparking as it lands at the bottom of a hill.

I guess the military parallel is that we would all like to be snipers, but we learn by firing tracer so that we can see where our bullets are really going. With the advantage that tracer can be corrected even while you are doing it. So we look at our pictures and think about what we would do differently, or we imagine ourselves to be taking a picture so that our heads get the practice even if our hands are carrying the shopping.

So I guess this is the biggest argument for using digital cameras to learn photography. I know there is this big movement to ‘really learn the ropes’ with a film camera (which has driven up the prices of ‘training cameras’ like the Pentax K1000) but I think most would be better off using a digital camera that allows manual control.

Will we be better photographers? Yes, better than we were. Will we be great photographers? Only other people can decide that. Don’t worry about it, see yourself improving and take pleasure in that.

Vive la resolution!

New year’s revolutions:

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Take more pictures of people.
  3. Develop my collection of Peeps.
  4. Share my pictures more.
  5. Avoid GAS – I already have more cameras and lenses than fit into a single bag I could carry.
  6. Get my older negatives and slides organised and catalogued.
  7. Get the Kiev fixed (don’t ask).
  8. Sell off the stuff I don’t use.
  9. Vegetables for all (world peas).
  10. Make more mistakes, so I can learn.

More to the point, what are the things I intend to not do?

  1. Give up.
  2. Eat creme caramel.
  3. Wear flares.
  4. Stop trying to find a hat I look good in. It may be a Trumpian double negative, but as they often say round these parts “Ee, tha looks a bugger in that’at”.
  5. Break cameras.
It’s not the hat – Lounge Hats are great – it’s the wearer

But good intentions run the risk of dieting. Once you set a target to achieve, that becomes the end point. As soon as you get to the mark, you stop doing the things that got you there. Better to adopt a process, as you concentrate on doing something differently and achieve the target as a by-product.

So, my new processes: each time I think of taking a picture I need to ask myself if I will care about the image in ten years. The more I dig out older pictures of people from my files, the more I will think about the value of people over places and things. Each time I see a bargain camera or lens on eBay I will ask myself if it adds anything to what I can do.

So that’s the new, people-friendly me for 2019.

Come back this time next year to see how it turned out.

%d bloggers like this: