Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One More Tool in the Fight Against Pirate Journalism

From the New York Times:

Start-Up Plans to Make Journalism Pirates Pay Up

Online piracy isn’t just a problem for music companies; it hurts newspapers and magazines as well. News organizations are now trying to do something about the many Web sites that simply copy articles and paste them into their own pages.

Last week The Associated Press said it would put warnings against copyright violation on its articles and digitally track illegitimate uses. It didn’t say what it would do to violators, but it has been quick to use legal means to block reuse of its material.

A start-up called Attributor, based in Redwood City, Calif., is proposing an approach that is more carrot than stick. It has developed an automated way for newspapers to share in the advertising revenue from even the tiniest sites that copy their articles.

The plan faces many technical and legal hurdles. Attributor wants to take some of the ad money that would have been paid to the pirate site and give it to the copyright owner instead. To do that it needs the cooperation of big advertising networks like those run by Google and Yahoo. So far those companies have reacted coolly to the proposal.

Still, Attributor has been able to attract many major publishing companies to what it calls the Fair Syndication Consortium, which is exploring its ideas. These include The New York Times Company, the Washington Post Company, Hearst, Reuters, Media News Group, McClatchy and Condé Nast.

The Attributor plan “seems to me to be a way to bring order out of the chaos,” said Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media.

For now those companies have committed only to receiving data from Attributor about how widely their content is being used on Web sites that don’t pay for it. Later they will decide whether to proceed with the revenue-sharing plan.

“We’re in ‘prove it’ mode,” said Jim Pitkow, the chief executive of Attributor. “We are going to prove to them piracy is an issue and here is the scale. Then we will take that to the ad networks.”

To read the rest click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ANALYSIS: Photo Lab Dissection No.1 Eugene Richards

Copyright 2008 Eugene Richards

The idea behind starting the Photo Lab Dissections is to get you thinking of the technical decisions made prior to producing a photo, but it is also intended to get you thinking about the aesthetic elements. I chose this image, by Eugene Richards, as the first image in this series because on a technical level it wasn't a difficult photo to take, but on aesthetic level it is complex and layered. One thing to keep in mind is that Eugene Richards completed most of this project without formal access to these mental facilities, so he was often working quickly and trying to attract as little attention as possible, before being escorted away.

So let's get to the technical issues first.

What lens was used (ballpark)?
Daniel left a comment saying that he thought it was a 35mm lens, which I would have been inclined to guess as well, except for two reasons. One, if you look at the man sitting on the ground in the right bottom corner of the image you will see that his head and body appeared to be stretched towards the corner. This type of distortion you don't usually see at 35mm, so I am guessing that Gene used a wider angled lens than a 35mm. Two, I know that historically Gene has used Olympus cameras and has favored a 21mm lens. Now, that's cheating, but cheating in this exercise is irrelevant because what we are really trying to learn is how to look at photos and from this analysis become better shooting photographers. The key to emphasize is that you can often guess what lens was used by looking at the corners. If you see distortion, then a wide-angle lens was used and at this point that's all we need to know. Whether it was a 21mm, a 24mm, a 28mm is not really important as a similar image could have been made with all three lens.

What ISO, aperture and shutter speed?
Just by looking at the photo and the depth of field, we can see that the photo was taken in relatively good light on a cloudy, overcast day. How can we tell all that? One, the sky. Two, there are no harsh shadows on the face in the foreground, nor on the ground below the people in the background. Beyond that, it's difficult to decipher whether Gene was shooting at 100 or 400 ISO or whether he was shooting digitally or with Tri-X film. What's important to know is that he shot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze movement and at an aperture closed enough to give him plenty of depth of field. My guess is ISO 400, f/8 at 1/250.

Was flash used?
The key to looking for flash use is by looking at the eyes. If you see keylights, which are tiny dot reflections of light, in the subjects eyes you can often identify flash use. You can also identify flash use by looking at the main light source, usually the sun, and if the shadows are well lit, then you know that the photographer has used some fill flash. Considering what we know now, that it was a grey, overcast day with plenty of light, flash was likely not used in this photo.

How much post-processing was applied (if any)?
I don't see any obvious use of post-processing techniques, but that doesn't mean none was applied. If done well, post processing is difficult to recognize. Usually poorly done post-processing is very noticeable. I'm guessing that in this photo the face in the foreground may have been dodged a bit. The only clue is that the men in the background are much darker. Beyond that, it seems to me that little post-processing was done to the photo.

From what angle was the photo taken?
Both Ed and Daniel nailed this one. The photo was taken above the man in the foreground's head. Whether Gene was standing over this man or was standing on something like a chair is difficult to say. The key here is to recognize that he was slightly above the man in the foreground and was aiming the camera down at an angle.

How might Eugene have measured the light?
There are many ways Eugene might have measured the light. The key to recognize here is that the patio was all cement and all roughly white, which would likely throw off any light meter, just as a snow or beach scene would tend to underexpose the scene. My guess is that whatever method Eugene used to read the light, he would have had to increase the exposure by 1-2 stops or the meter would have been fooled in to producing an underexposed image.

Where was the focus set?
We know from answering the question about ISO, aperture and shutter speed that Gene used a relatively wide depth of field, around f/8. We can clearly see that the man in the foreground is out of focus. The second man, third, forth and fifth men are all relatively speaking in focus. There is a general rule of thumb in photography that says that one-third of the distance in front of the focal point and two-thirds of the distance behind the focal point will stay relatively in focus, so based on this information it is likely that Gene focuses on the third man (from front to back) in order to insure that the man in front of him (the second man) and all the men in the background would stay in focus.

To many a beginning photographer, the decision of leaving the first and main subject out of focus would seem to be a mistake, but it's a wonderful technique. Why? Leaving the background elements of the photo in focus, draws the eye of the viewer in to the photograph. If you learn anything from this exercise this is it! Hint! Hint! We want to make complex and interesting photos so when you shoot groups of people with layering...in other words situations where there are people in the foreground, mid-ground and background keep this in mind and set your focus between the mid-ground and the foreground.

The second thing to notice about the layering of this photo is the spacing between each layer. Each man in the scene, whether he is in the foreground or the background is nicely separated by space from the other men in the image. It creates a sense of watching five unique scenes at once and thus adds complexity to the image.

The final thing to take away from studying this image is move your feet and explore different angles. Get above your subjects, get below them, but move around and explore different angles that can make your images more interesting.

So that's the analysis for the day, layer your photos, deepen your focal point, leave space between the subjects and look for different angles. If you can keep those four things in mind, you're shooting will improve right away. Try to shoot like this yourself and if you want email me the images and I'll post some of the best examples in a future posting. Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Video of your shutter

Here's a great video clip which shows you how your shutter actually takes a picture. Look at that mirror bounce...amazing!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Photo Lab Dissection No.1 Eugene Richards

copyright 2008 Eugene Richards

In March I taught two clases in the Masters program of Photojournalism at the University Autonoma of Barcelona. I completed the same program two years ago and it was a strange experience for me to be back in the same classroom where I sat as a rather clueless hopeful to enter the world of photojournalism. As an alumnus of the program I know the program's strengths and weakenesses, so I set about to improve one of the weaknesses, which is the lack of practical analysis of other photographer's work.

As a result I selected about 40 images and as a class we tried to dissect the photos trying to interpret the techniques used. It was an enormously successful and well received exercise, so I've decided to continue it here by regularly posting an analysis of a photo I happen to particularly like.

This photo was taken by documentary legend, Eugene Richards, as part of a project on mental treatment around the world. The work, entitled "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" can be seen in a limited slideshow on Mother Jones. The work is being used to bring attention to the treatment of mental disability around the world, so if you are interested in reading more please check out Mental Disability Rights International. Richards has also published a book, A Procession of Them, which can be purchased here.

I invite you to participate by trying to dissect the following information from this photo and answer the following questions. I'll follow with what I think are the answers next week, plus additional commentary. Feel free to post your analysis in the commentary below.

What lens was used (ballpark)?
What ISO, aperture and shutter speed?
Was flash used?
How much post-processing was applied (if any)?
From what angle was the photo taken?
How might Eugene have measured the light?
Where was the focus point set?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

100 Eyes Magazine

Andy Levin, an experienced photojournalist, recently started curating an online magazine called 100 Eyes. Each month he chooses a selection of reportages about global themes. Last month, 100 Eyes focused on Penal Systems around the world. This month the focus is on Global Migration. It's an honor to have my work on African immigrants in Spain included.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Maldives Revisited in Time Magazine's Best of Asia 2009

While in the Maldives I was given two assignments by Time Magazine - one, on the the problems the country is facing and the second on a mosque. The shot took a day to prepare as I rode around on the back of a motorcycle looking at all the most aesthetically pleasing mosque in the Maldives. We climbed buildings looking for a clean shot of the various mosques, but there were few good solutions.

In the end I opted to shot the Friday Mosque as it is by far the most grandiose, but again it was a complicated shot as directly across the street was a large wall that surrounded the Department of Defense. The security forces guarding the facility were very strict and I couldn't shoot the building without shooting over the defense facility, so my last and only option was to use my 24mm and get right up against the wall and wait. I shot the building twice. Once in the morning and one right after dusk. In the end Time opted for this photo, which I think was the best choice.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Radical Way of Saving the Newspaper Industry?

Here is a truncated version of the blog posting over at the Becker Posner Blog The comments are quite interesting as well so be sure to go to the link and read the comments there.

June 23, 2009
The Future of Newspapers--Posner

Warren Buffett, who is a wit as well as a multibillionaire, said with reference to the fact that Bernard Madoff's long-running Ponzi scheme came to light during the financial collapse of last fall that until the tide goes out, you don't know who's swimming naked. A year ago Becker and I blogged about the decline of the newspaper industry. A year later the decline has accelerated. The economic crisis has hurt the newspaper industry as it has so many industries. The question is whether it will recover (or at least rejoin its slower downward path of last year) when the economy as a whole recovers; or has the economic crisis merely revealed the terminal status of the industry.

I am pessimistic about a recovery by the newspapers. One reason is the current economic situation. A serious, protracted economic crisis can result in changes in consumer behavior that persist after the end of the crisis. A change in consumption, even in some sense involuntary, can be a learning experience. People make what they think will be merely temporary adjustments in their consumption behavior to reduce financial distress but may discover that they like elements of their new consumption pattern; and businesses too, which have reduced their newspaper (and other print-media) ad expenditures drastically. They may never go back.

Newspaper ad revenues fell by almost 8 percent in 2007, a surprising drop in a non-recession year (the current economic downturn began in the late fall of that year), and by almost 23 percent the following year, and accelerated this year. In the first quarter of 2009 newspaper ad revenues fell 30 percent from their level in the first quarter of 2008. This fall in revenue, amplified by drops in print circulation (about 5 percent last year, and running at 7 percent this year--and readership is declining in all age groups, not just the young), have precipitated bankruptcies of major newspaper companies and, more important, the disappearance of a number of newspapers, including major ones, such as the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Falling revenues have led to layoffs of some 20,000 employees of the remaining newspapers. Print journalism has come to be regarded as a dying profession. Online viewership and revenues have grown but not nearly enough to offset the decline in ad revenues. Even the most prestigious newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today, have experienced staggering losses.

News, as well the other information found in newspapers, is available online for nothing, including at the websites of the newspapers themselves, who thus are giving away content. The fact that online viewing is rising as print circulation is falling indicates a shift of consumers from the paid to the free medium. The economic downturn has doubtless accelerated the trend, but economic recovery is unlikely to reverse it. To repeat my earlier point, many of the people who have switched under economic pressure to the free medium may find themselves as happy or happier and hence will not switch back when their financial condition improves.

Moreover, while in many industries a reduction in output need not entail any reduction in the quality of the product, in newspaper it does entail a reduction in quality. Most of the costs of a newspaper are fixed costs, that is, costs invariant to output--for they are journalists' salaries. A newspaper with shrinking revenues can shrink its costs only by reducing the number of reporters, columnists, and editors, and when it does that quality falls, and therefore demand, and falling demand means falling revenues and therefore increased pressure to economize--by cutting the journalist staff some more. This vicious cycle, amplified by the economic downturn, may continue until very little of the newspaper industry is left.

So what will happen to news and information? Online news is free for two reasons. First, in the case of a newspaper, the marginal cost of providing content online is virtually zero, since it is the same content (or a selection of the content) in a different medium. Second, online providers of news who are not affiliated with a newspaper can provide links to newspaper websites and paraphrase articles in newspapers, in neither case being required to compensate the newspaper.

As newspaper revenues decline, newspaper content becomes thinner and thinner--but by the same token so does the linked or paraphrased newspaper content found in web sites that have no affiliation with a newspaper. If eventually newspapers vanish, online providers will have higher advertising revenues (because newspaper advertising will have disappeared) and may decide to charge for access to their online news, and so the critical question is whether online advertising revenues will defray the costly news-gathering expenses incurred at this time by newspapers. Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely, because it is much easier to create a web site and free ride on other sites than to create a print newspaper and free ride on other print newspapers, in part because of the lag in print publication; what is staler than last week's news. Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nominated as a Finalist in the City of Gijon Photojournalism Award

I am very happy to announce that my work on African Immigrants in Spain: Living in the Shadows has been named as a finalist in the prestigious City of Gijon International Photojournalism Award.

SPAIN - Living in the Shadows - Images by Charlie Mahoney

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Black and White and Dead All Over

There is an interesting and funny list of factoids posted on the state of American journalism over at Mother Jones.

I loved this one:
"Last year, as The New York Times stock fell 58%, CEO Janet Robinson's compensation went up $1.4 million, to $5.6 million."

That's a day-rate of $15,385. Their day-rate for freelance photojournalists is $250. If I were on the Board of Directors or a major stock-holder, I think I would be pressuring for cuts at corporate headquarters before making cuts in the newsroom.