*Pulls out giant roll of paper, starts reading…*
"I’d like to thank my mother, my father, my wife, my camera for not screwing up like it usually does, the statue that stayed still… "
But seriously, this is the absolute high-point of my brief photographic career – having not one, but two photographs published in a coffee-table book.
As much as I would like to chalk this one up to sheer talent, I think it would be more interesting to talk about some of the real factors that lie behind this little achievement:
Luck – This more than anything else was why my photo got picked in the first place. Being in the right place at the right time, being prepared – whatever you want to call it. For some reason, I chose to carry my point-n-shoot with me that day. I lived dangerously for a moment and stopped to shoot this, despite a hungry wife waiting impatiently beside me :). I managed to shoot a relatively sharp photo, despite the poor lighting and lack of any stabilization. Whatever you want to call it, I call it luck.
Location – Add location and location to that. After all, who knows how many beautiful photographs are out there, condemned to obscurity on some obscure photo-blog that no one has heard of? And then there’s Flickr – which is to image search what Google is to the rest of the web. Flickr is far from being an ideal solution for photographers – as Lane Hartwell, Scott Beale and many others would attest, but if you want to be noticed on the web, edgy does not do it.
Licensing – This is really only applicable because I host my photos on Flickr, but it’s important for a photographer to think about. If you are somewhat serious about photography, you have spent hours looking for just that right angle. You have spent far too much time (mostly by your significant other’s standards) in front of a computer, tweaking every photo till it just so. And most likely, a fair chunk of cash on the right gear. So it’s only fair that you want people to give you credit (or cash) when they use your photographs elsewhere. You might decide to go with the licence "All Rights Reserved" in Flickr. But if you take a look at the search function in Flickr, you’ll see they give a lot of love to photos that are Creative Commons-licensed. Which is only going to help your photos get found. Not convinced? Let’s consider a hypothetical situation – some one out there is hunting for a photo to accompany a blog post. They hit Flickr, punch in some keywords and get a few hundred results. They open a couple of interesting photos – one of those interesting photos is yours marked as All Rights Reserved and the other, is marked as Creative Commons licensed. Your blogger-in-a-hurry has 3 options here:
1. Contact you either via Flickr PM or email, requesting for permission to use your photograph. Wait around till you check your email and reply. Negotiate the terms (if any). Embed the photograph.
2. Right-click your photo and Save to Disk. Embed the photograph.
3. Link to the Creative-Commons licensed photograph on Flickr and add a little text attributing the photographer.
Which option do you think the Blogger is going to pick? A lot of them are going to rip off your photo (even if it’s Creative Commons-licensed) but there are some folks who don’t mind doing the right thing – but even they are going to prefer the Creative Commons-licensed photo for it’s ease of reuse.
The reality is that if your work is digital and on the web, it’s going to get re-used without your permission. With Creative Commons-licensed, you stand a better chance of getting some credit.
I personally use the most open of Creative Commons licenses – the free-love Attribution license, which basically lets you use my work (or a part of it) in any way as long as you credit the author. I chose this license for a few reasons – my photography is still fairly ordinary and mostly by luck – if someone wants to use it, why stop them? There is another factor – although I post full-resolution images to Flickr (and I allow the original image to be downloaded), the small sensor size of my camera means that my photos can really only be used on the Web. It’s not good enough to be used in print form. When I do eventually upgrade to a better camera, I’ll be moving to a more restricted license – the Non Commercial, Share Alike License.
Metadata – Now I would have liked to keep that L thing going (you know, Luck-Location-Licensing..) but I couldn’t find any words to match – your loss, I guess :P. Next to music, I find that photography has an extraordinarily robust mechanism for storing and preserving your metadata – the IPTC Core Metadata Standard. The IPTC standard provides for a vast array of pre-defined and free-text fields that can be embedded into a photograph. Once you take the time to input this information, a vast number of programs and websites (including Flickr) can read this information and expose it to your viewers. The part I really love about IPTC metadata is that it’s inextricably linked to your photos – you move your photos, the metadata goes with you. When I switched from Iview Media Pro to Lightroom earlier this year, that migration was made much more painless by the fact that I had been using this sort of metadata for some time. It allowed me to very rapidly establish my hierarchies in Lightroom and be productive. I expect that you will see this sort of metadata usage grow rapidly over the next few years, as more basic photo organizing software such as Windows Vista Photo Gallery and Picasa encourage people to enter metadata and then store this information using such industry standards. The final question about metadata that one should ask is – how much metadata to include? That is an entirely personal choice, but really more the better. For example, and although I don’t have access to stats in Flickr to back this up, I just know that including a tag "Fuk Tak Chi building" for the photograph that was picked for publication made the difference.
Bonus metadata – skip this section if tech-talk makes your eyes glaze over :). Very few cameras support this out of the box, but all photographs can be geo-tagged, i.e., have latitude and longitude information embedded that tells you exactly where in the world this photograph was taken. If you are willing to invest in the time, you get to visualize your photographs in a whole new way. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about my geo-tagging workflow , suffice it to say it has far too many moving parts in it 🙁 .
What it essentially boils down to is this – I happened to be in the right place in the right time, I was prepared and I put in some effort afterwards to help my photograph get noticed. In other words, I was lucky 🙂