The Death of the Photo Editor

19 04 2008

I did not pick this image. I actually have no idea what it will be before I publish this entry. Why ? because it is a sort of semi “intelligent” algorithm in the background that will do it for me. A bit like Google ads scans a whole web page for keywords and post the relevant ads, this system, delivered by Dailylife.com, does the same.

It will scan the page for keywords and post the most appropriate image. Like an automated photo editor. And because it is looking thought the feeds of Reuters, GettyImages and AP, I believe, it selects from a pool of already very tightly edited images. One could also foresee a Flickr API, a bit like I did with the yahoo pipes.

I am guaranteed a good and hopefully, relevant image . This is the future of news photo editing on the web. At least for sites that do not care so much about the image and use them as an illustration of  a written report. Why pay some guy to look at a stream of pre edited  images, download one, resize it and post when the whole thing can be automated. And better yet, computers don’t whine, do not take lunch breaks, or holidays and never, never ask for a raise. So why keep a web photo editor, if only to do some “best of the week” gallery ?

Think about it:  the biggest news source of the internet has no photo editor. It is called Google news and it selects images with a similar technology. Indeed, it relies on images previously edited by pro photo editors. For now.

The dailylife link is completely free, with no uncontrolled ads, like a Picapp or a GumGum would like you to swallow. Sure , it has a link for the site itself but the same technology could easily be applied by anyone on their own site.

Finally, Dailylife.com, still in Beta, looks like an interesting destination. It seems they want to be a new Google news but put a heavy emphasis on photography and has a much better and smoother interface. More like a magazine designed for the internet, and not the opposite. Finally.

As newspapers and magazine are suffering more layouts as ad spending is weakening, most of the photo related professional are turning to the internet. However, because of its built in automation, it just seems that some of the jobs will not be recycle but ultimately replaced by machines. We will still need great pictures, thus talented photographers. Not so sure about needing photo editors.





B.C. Before Capa

14 04 2008

paris en image

Paris, France. Spring of 1871. After a four month siege of Paris by the Prussian army in a war started by Napoleon III, the French Government decides to surrender. In a decaying world where aristocracy is loosing its powers on the emerging working class,they also decide to let the German army parade in Paris. To add insult to injury, the french government relocates to Versailles, once the headquarters of the French Royalty.

The Parisian population, left defenseless, decide to take their fate in their own hands and organizes its protection. The Prussians, probably aware of the existing tensions, parade briefly and leave. The population of Paris takes control of the city and start their own independent government, called the “commune”. It will later be an insperition to Karl Marx, thus the name “communist”.

The French government send troops into Paris and it’s a bloody civil war, with mass execution. The revolution of the Parisians will have lasted only two lonely spring months. But it still has repercussions today.

Archive photo Agency Roger-Viollet has put up some great photographs of the uprising. Because, before Capa, there where other Capa’s. Without the advantage of fast film, most of the images are posed and lack the action of our current photojournalism. But they are poignant as well. Just to show that great images can make you learn about distant conflict, even in time.

Some commentaries are in French, but the trip is very well worth it. View it here.

And for those in love with the eternal city of light, the main site is all about historical views of the city.

http://www.parisenimages.fr/

A great idea of what a photo agency can do when they think a little bit outside the box.





The root canal

25 02 2008

Don’t take me wrong. I am a big fan of the Pictures of the Year International. They always have a great jury, a great taste and amazing photographers that, for the most part, I had never heard of before. Well, one cannot read all the newspaper of America everyday.

It is a great vehicle for local photographers to be known worldwide but : Their website is the worst I have ever seen. It looks like it was created by a 14 year as a school project on HTML . It is soooooooo painful to navigate and understand what you are looking at, it worse than a root canal.

For example, I am looking at the Second Place in Science/ Natural History Story . A great story on Whale hunting in Indonesia. A job extremely well done, with a the right combination of the grabbing images and informative one. Hardly any need for caption. Twelve that sums it up perfectly. I look for the photographer’s name. None. no where.

story here

I change browser thinking maybe it my fault. Still nothing. I look at other prize recipient. Nothing. No photographers name . Aaaaargh. Not only it took me two hours to navigate but I didn’t even found what I was looking for.

Can someone please help these guys design a site ? Anyone ?





dark, blurry, slightly incomprehensible and borderline boring

8 02 2008

The World Press awards has revealed its winners for 2008. As expected, the picture of Britney Spears having her head shaved off won for the best image of Arts and entertainment. Or wait..it did not. Once again, The World Press has shown its complete disrespect for the world of news in favor of an overly intellectualized vision of the world. A bit as if the judges, once gathered in a room, behind closed doors, had said: “lets kill photojournalism a little bit more this year”

The photojournalism intelligentsia has voted. A closed group of overly self adoring and painfully egocentric intellectuals whose vision of a news photography is closer to the likes of ICP than the masses. They look for the creative touch, the Holga/lensbaby effect, the “je ne sais quoi” that makes a news photograph a work of art. They over think photography to an excess and seem to look for the Picasso rather than the human touch. They do not believe that an news image can be good, if doesn’t carry the touch of a creative artifact.

This years big winner is a blurry image of a tired soldier. Although not taken in a combat situation, and probably because of low light, it is slightly blurry. I don’t care for such poorly taken image. What is so wrong about reality that it has to be altered and given the highest prize in photojournalism ?

Sadly enough, we see the same intelligentsia controlling most of the major prizes worldwide and spitting out the same type of winners. These judges are all friends with each other and spend the rest of the year over analyzing images as if they where reading a Kafka novel. It has to be dark, blurry, slightly incomprehensible and borderline boring.

No wonder photojournalism is dying. Once again, the sports images of this year seem to be the real winners. Amazing images of incredible situation. The rest is dark, so dark. Not just dark subjects, but simply slightly underexposed or taken with low light. The less you see, the more you can imagine. The image is good for what is not there, so you can fill in the blanks yourself. Even the Nature category is full of blood and sadness because a happy image, according to these judges, cannot be a good image.

Lets no forget that politics, for example, has no place in the World Press. We marvel at the John F Kennedy images in the Oval office yet there is not one image of world leaders in action. Between the French election last year, the changing of guards in England and the US election, you cannot tell me there was no great images.

It is a little bit as if, outside of Africa ( Kenya, mostly), Afghanistan and Iraq, the rest of the world stood still. Or, maybe it was not favorable for a nice moody b&w panoramic Holga image. You can almost hear the judges discuss the lightness of being, quoting “The human condition”, while sipping their warm cappuccinos.” This image is so Nietzscheen, isn’t it?”

Certainly not a good year for the World Press. Even more, because, once again, they refused to acknowledge multimedia, one of the most powerful tool of today’s photojournalism. Or, in a socially driven internet, they do not have a people’s choice, where image consumers could vote.

No, they prefer to remain in photojournalism Medieval ages, taking comfort in congratulating themselves for picking the least interesting images possible as to prove there is more to photojournalism than the reporting of the news. If anything, this, and other awards of it kind, are killing photojournalism. They create the false impression that this is the standard to achieve.

If you have time to waste and have really nothing else to do, here are the winners :

World Press

PS: At least I was right about John Moore’s images who, by the way, truly deserved this prize.





Picapp Plus

4 02 2008

I was given an access to Picapp today, the new service for bloggers, created by the company Picscout. For those who have a short memory, Picapp was first mentioned in this blog here. Interesting enough, I only saw images from Getty Images and none from Corbis ( although CEO, Gary Shenk, had announced it on Reuters TV). I played a little bit with it and it seems rather easy to use.

The search is painfully slow, but it is still in Beta. The content is a little bit dull, but then, I am not your average photo blogger. Finally, I am not sure how or when I get paid, if I do, since there is no payment information entry.

I few questions remain : Someone will have to find advertiser for this to work. I am assuming that Picapp will either take the load or outsource it to an ad agency. If that so, it makes the low revenue split into 4 parts ( Getty, Picapp,Blogger, photographer). Not much, at the end, for the photographer.

But then again, it seems, at first look, that all images presented from Getty are wholly owned, so maybe the photographers will never see any revenue.

A few questions remain:
Is there a market for ad generated revenue for images ? Not that I doubt people will certainly use this service but can it generate enough revenue to agencies and photographers ? Since there is no possible way to control what is being written on the blog with the image, it could very well be that I could be advertising for a product or service that I have criticized repeatedly on my blog ?

Will users be able to upload images to Picapp for licensing, competing with agencies ?

On the other side, will big publisher be able to use this, instead of paying a flat fee per image, thus helping in the collapse of image pricing on the web ?

What about political ads. Do I really went to advertise a neo nazi on my website ? I didn’t see any control.

Overall, the idea is great, in so much as it introduces a new licensing model. Will it work ?

You can see the result below:

picApp_publisherId = 571;picApp_imageId = 690;picApp_imageWidth = 200;picApp_imageHeight = 300;picApp_configUrl = “http://pis.picapp.com/IamProd/FlashSite/GetConfig.aspx”;picApp_Picview=”http://pis.picapp.com/IamProd/FlashSite/en/picviewerv1_1.swf”;picapp_numberOfLine=2;ImageServe();JavaScript is not enabled or supported on your browser





Stock it up, people !!!

29 01 2008

Last week, super giant discounter and famed losing money photo library Corbis announced with no small effort that it was going “global”.

From Cnet.com :

“SnapVillage, a microstock site founded in June by stock-art sales company Corbis to compete with rivals such as Fotolia and Getty Images’ iStockphoto, has expanded to include international sales.

Although the site now works beyond the United States, the Web site is English-only for now. ”

Does that mean that prior to this press release, Snapvillage would refuse any sales coming from outside the United States ? To me, going international is to have your site in local language. Or open offices in countries other than your point of origin. So what did Snapvillage exactly do to go from local to international? The site works beyond the United States now, we are being told. Does this mean that the Corbis programmers have finally discovered that foreign browsers can read HTML too ?

The most interesting part is that a few days earlier, German RF company PantherMedia also announced it was going international by partially translating their site in English. So, what does “going international” really means people ?

According to my extensive research, it is :

1) Having a site in English

2) Having a site that works beyond your borders

3) Having your site in English

During one of my many tenures, and of on the subject of globalisation, I had to listen to a VP based on the west coast of the United States whose furthest travel had been to the East Coast of the same country tell me that ” The United States is the Business nation of the world thus what we do here will apply everywhere in the world” or something like that. No, his name is not George Bush and yes, he was serious.

I guess Corbis subscribes to that model. Corbis also sees Snapvillage as a “image warehouse” according to its own definition :

Image warhouse anyone

Which allows its contributors to proudly say to their friends and family that they are “stack” photographers working for an image depot. How proud they must be. Stock it up, people. Faster !!

Finally, on while we are on the subject of the second agency in the world (who decided that ? under what criteria ? Is it that Jim Pickerell again ? certainly not in profit), here is a post that you cannot miss :

Overheard at Corbis this week.epuk blog





Flickr this ! and contribute (updated)

18 01 2008

Not all is bad in the web 2.0 world. Take this new initiative by giant hosting site Flickr. It has posted a part of the huge Library of Congress collection to get some help in key wording for future generation to enjoy. It even has created a new copyright/license for it called “no known copyright restrictions” : “[That does] not mean the image is in the public domain, but do indicate that no evidence has been found to show that restrictions apply.”Library of congress

The Library of Congress, if you are not aware, is a huge repository of documents related to the history of the United States of America and thus, partly, the world. Most of its content has been donated in a deliberate act to make it accessible and available to the public. Unlike a commercial photo agency, the Library of Congress is not in the business of licensing its content for a fee in order to make some profit but to allow anyone with any curiosity to learn from its document. for free. This project of asking for anyones help to tag, or keyword the images is a great idea, “awesome” some would say, that will allow to share knowledges on line.

I do apprehend already some photo agencies, mostly outside the USA, downloading some of these images and making them available to their clients via a “research” or “service” fee, like they currently do with NASA images or images released by movie studios. Since there is no apparent copyright owners and these images are old, chances of being found and sued by copyright owners are slim to none, they will think.

By making this project as public as possible and by educating the as many as possible, we can put a damper on those who give our industry a bad name. Now, go and tag !

UPDATE :Just what I feared, Apparently Rohn Engh does want you to take those images and sell them according to his entry in Black Star Rising. I guess that is the new good advice for photographers : if your images do not sell, steal some public domain and resell them. Treat your clients like idiots and charge them for images they could have found themselves.





The hidden laws of probable outcome

18 01 2008

Is Wpn recent announcement to get rid of an undisclosed amount of people, more than half the staff, along with Drr similar decision to refocus on its marketplace somewhat related ? Is Getty images poor performance in the Wall Street stock market any indication of its lackluster performance in the image stock market ? What about Alamy seemingly unstoppable growth despite contributors discontent ? And microstock shooter deciding to drop their involvement in the subscription model because of poor revenues? What about Photoshelter lunching their 1 million dollar marketing campaign by offering a 20 % rebate ?

What is going on ?, would say an observer of this industry. Things have never been so much in turmoil in the photo agency world and it looks like it is going to rip apart. Press releases are being issued at machine gun speed with each supplier announcing a bigger searchable archive like kids in a schoolyard comparing the length of their private parts.

10 million here, 8 over there, almost 2 million in here. The funny part is most of these represent the same content. So it is not as if you would find millions of different images from one provider to the other. Alamy, for example represent some of the same people as Getty does, or Corbis. Maxx.com just announced a new royalty free portal, as well as Blend.com, while Excavator continues to do whatever they do. ImageSource, in the mean time, sells the same images at different prices depending on where you go.

Wpn is actually dropping the “number of images” race, and concentrating its efforts on assignments, a market neither Drr, Photoshelter nor Alamy can currently touch. They are also leaving the “wire service” model which is already over populated with giants like AP, Reuters, Getty, AFP and EPA. However, assignments is also where a lot of news photographers have retreated after being blocked access to the stock/spec image market by the agencies. And a few notable agencies like Black Star, Contact, VII and others are already very well established in that space. It is going to be a tricky wiggle to get in that space.

But it is indeed a move at the opposite side of Drr’s move. One concentrates its effort on single image volume stock/spec sales while the other pushes toward multi image assignment services. However, both are going towards in already crowded markets. Drr has now to convince buyers and users that it is better, or at least more relevant than Alamy, at a moment where Photoshelter is doing a similar push while slashing prices. Is this battle for market share be a downward spiraling pricing war pushing more photographers out of the industry ?

While this battle of the small medium size is raging, things do not look so bright at the top. Wall Street has lost faith in the stock photo industry, as the stock prices from Getty and JupiterImages have shown us. And even as both Getty and Jupiter own two of the top microstock distributor, Istockphoto and Stckxchng. Meaning that financial analysts do not even see microstock as a savior of traditional stock. Will this force both out of this industry to concentrate on higher growth industries.Both Jupiter and Getty are certainly moving in that direction.

Microstocker are moving too. According to forums, they are organizing a boycott of the subscription model because it is not financially gratifying enough. First in the line of fire is obviously ShutterStock who only offers this model and might suffer the most from this move. But at least, amateurs and pro agree on one thing : they are not making enough money.

And then there is the pure absurd. Magnum makes a deal with OnRequest. I fell off my chair. The guys who invented assignments on spec are partners with the paid assignment kings? The company that has raises millions in funding while changing its business model every three weeks is shaking hands with the old lady of photography. I will only refer Magnum to the definitive article written about OnRequest : Read John Harrington ‘s entry.

The photo industry is looking for itself and now that rules and rulers do not apply anymore, everyone seems to grab anything they can for survival. Like caught in a flood. This is no longer a revolution but a defenestration. The suits have no Excels to rely on while visionaries have their eyesights blurred. A while back, I had written about the Big Depression of 2007, mainly due to a pricing downfall. I also had written that this industry is still in its infancy. I did not expect to see such a turmoil of unexpected events at such speed. 2008 is going to be fun…hold on.





Sharing sales data

12 01 2008

A funny thing happened recently. One of the top microstock agency, Dreamstime, has decided to lift part of the veil on sales data. As an additional tool given to their contributor, they are now showing what keyword generated a download, thus a sale, of their image.

It is a great tool for contributors, albeit a double edge one. One could be tempted to use it for “keyword spamming”, the art of putting the wrong keyword to an image, in the hopes it will be seen, and eventually bought. A plague for microstock platforms. But what is new and challenging is Dreamstime decision to share part of its sales data.

The history of photo agencies and most recently sales platform has always been the opposite. In order to keep contributors with them, no one shared valuable sales data. It was, and is, proprietary information. A bit like enslaving someone by depriving him of knowledge. Getty, Corbis or JupiterImages, along many, many others would never dare make such a move for fear that their contributors would use that information to feed someone else, such as the competitions’ image database. And that will happen to Dreamstime, since exclusive contributors are maybe around 10% of their pool.

In a slide and phone world, that would have been quasi impossible . Requests for images did not come in the form of one or a sequence of one words. Thus photo agencies would have had a very hard time sharing that information. With websites, all this is different, obviously. But it still remains a very well guarded secret.

The real question is how is this useful ? Well, for one, it will bring a succesful microshooter valuable data on what types of keywords are entered for search. And which ones are the most entered and referred to their images. It will not, however, give a full picture. And that can be highly deceiving. It is not because I sold 100 images thanks to the keyword “butterfly” that this keyword is the most used in searches. It just probably means that I have the most relevant images of butterflies. Since it will not give all keywords, it will not help putting keywords you forgot to put in. For example, if my specialty is photographing fruits and I systematically forgot to put the keyword “fresh”, it will not show me how many sales I missed, if any.

Contributors reaction to this tool has been overwhelming positive and I command Dreamstime for making this available. It is a gutsy move to give photographers access to their sales data. It might, or will, force other microstock companies to do the same. Eventually, it might even force traditional agencies to follow and share more of their information. Their is a value for photographers to be less blind to the markets demand, while there is danger in using past sales to predict or influence future sales. It is not because a keyword has done well in the past that it will do well in the future and the risk is having more of the same image ad nausea. But this is more in a trend that is seeing more power given to photographers. And that is a good thing.

ON a completely unrelated note : Digg.com labs has released a image visual tool which allows to see, real time, what images are being voted. It has no practical usage that I can see but yet is very interesting.





Of Empires and Barbarians

9 01 2008

So many things to talk about so little time. First there are patents being pended about photography. Empire type companies Corbis and Google have both leaked, “by accident”, that they had files for patents on processes that have to do with photography. Corbis, for one, who actually has a “director of pricing”, registered a process that would seemingly automate pricing. One aspect of it, besides being closely inspired by Wal Mart structure ( Wal Mart sends more wood to an era who they see will soon be hit by a hurricane or tornado), is that is seems to want to increase the price of an image based on its popularity. The more an image is bought, the more its price goes up.

Now, don’t take me wrong, but my understanding of image pricing was quite the opposite. The less an image has been used, the more one can ask for a higher price. Especially, my dear friends, if the clients wants to guarentee that no one else would use the image. Corbis definitely move in mysterious ways . Like Hell, the path to profitability is paved with good intentions.

Furthermore, this, “the more people want it, the more I will make them pay” pricing schemes (sounds like buying tickets to a rock concert) is already being applied by Dreamstime and maybe other microstocks. Ah well, the patent covers more area, so just maybe, maybe, Microsoft’s little brother will one day proudly walk around daddy Gates house showing that he too can get a patent.

Google, on the other hand, continues its destruction of photography. They have just filed for a patent that can read any text within an image. This will allow them to scout the internet’s billion of photographs and look for any written text that lies within an image instead of the image itself. Thus, if you have a great image of US troops in the streets of Baghdad, for example, that happen to walk in front of a McDonald sign, your image will be classified under McDonald instead of war. It will strip the intent of your image in favor of whatever text might be in it. This will be reducing photography to its mere reality reproducing function. Yes, I know, the intend is to be able to “read” the images that have been taken for Google Maps on the street level and allow for someone to search for a restaurant or store based on its name. However, if unleashed to more than the robotic camera sitting atop a van, it could really, really damage image search.

On the technology level, I am quite amused to see that the CES has more to offer the photography industry than ImagingUSA happening at the same time. ImagingUsa is a professional only trade meeting being held one a year. It is being held in the retired state of Florida and seems to showcase the same products and faces every year, with a few very rare exception. On the other hand CES 2008 ( Consumer Electronic Showcase 2008) is full of innovative, crazy products that will make the photography world change in the next years. Do not forget that the photography market has exploded and is now fully driven by amateurs and gadget driven passionate. Companies have seen in the Flickr users and other Microstock members a very attractive source of income who knows no traditional boundaries. From studios in a box that allow your 5 year old to take object photography like a pro to HD video and still point and shoot cameras, the future is at CES. While pros gather in Tampa to see how they can maybe enhance their current business and work flow, amateurs flock to Las Vegas to grab the newest piece of technology. One will fall behind, the other will reinvent how to take images. This is where the new photographers will come from, not from Tampa.

Pro photographers, it seems, are looking in all the wrong places these days, in a desperate attempt to salvage and protect their business. The barbarians ( read non pros) have already crossed the gates and they are invading with much more than their sheer numbers. They have no expectations, no legacy, no traditions, and nothing to build on. They, however, have free minds and a lot of will.