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iOS 7 for Photographers

home camera header iOS 7 for PhotographersOn Monday June 10 Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with one of their legendary keynote speeches. During the keynote iOS 7 was introduced with its radical new user interface. Fortunately for us photographers iOS 7 contains many new goodies and enhancements in the camera and photo apps. Here’s an overview of what to expect. (Note: this overview was written while iOS 7 was still in beta. I will do my best to keep it up to date through the beta and final releases.)

Camera

Upon launching the camera app you immediately notice the entire interface is different. Gone are the raised buttons and toggles, and in their places are “hotspots” to enable and disable the flash, front facing camera and shutter. You will also notice a sleek carousel-like selector to pick between video, photo, square and pano shots.

There are bugs, however, as expected. One of which is clearly visible above. The grid doesn’t modify itself when the “square” photo option is selected. I’m sure it’ll get worked out before the final release this fall.

In addition to the new square format, iOS 7 includes built in filters. The filters can be applied at the time of capture (with an iPhone 5 or later) or after capture through the edit button in the Camera Roll or the Photos app. There are 8 built in filters, and they all appear to be named after the post process technique they mimic. The filters are named: Mono, Tonal, Noir, Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer & Instant. Examples of each are below.

Of course the features from iOS 6 and earlier are still retained (HDR, panoramas, auto enhance, red eye reduction, cropping, etc).

Photos

home photos iOS 7 for PhotographersThe Photos app also received a pretty big overhaul. The main “Photos” area has been reworked to display your photos in “Years”, “Collections” and “Moments”, each one more granular than the last.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the Photos app, however, is the ability to share your photos and videos selectively via iCloud. You can create multiple streams for various events or subjects and share them with the people you select. Those people can then also share photos or videos to that stream and everyone can comment on each others contributions. It’s like your own private photo sharing site.

That about wraps it up for the new iOS 7 Camera and Photo features and enhancements. So far I’m enjoying the new goodies, and am looking forward to what future versions have to offer. As the release continues to mature I’m sure many of the glitches and bugs I’ve seen will get worked out. Have you had a chance to try out iOS 7? If so, what are your thoughts?

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Review: Nero Multi Trigger

nero trigger 1 Review: Nero Multi Trigger
The Nero Multi Trigger is a hardware triggering device for your DSLR camera or flash. It is similar to the Trigger Happy and Triggertrap Mobile iPhone apps I have reviewed, except it’s a stand alone device. The Nero Multi Trigger has 10 built in functions, and of the ones I was able to test, it does them all well. That said, there are a few downsides to the Nero Trigger.

What’s in the box?

The Nero Multi Trigger comes nicely packaged in a cardboard box containing the trigger, a cable to connect the trigger to your camera and an instruction manual. Don’t lose that manual, though, you’ll need it!

The trigger itself contains an on/off switch, a flash output port, a camera output port, a button to change the mode (M), a button to change the active function (C), a wheel to select the sensitivity and a display to show the function and sensitivity level.

What can it do?

Well, it can do a lot. It has 10 built in functions:

  • Lightning Trigger: Uses a built-in optical sensor that will trigger the camera or flash when it is tripped.
  • Sound Trigger: Uses a built-in microphone to trigger the camera or flash when a sound of a certain volume is heard. The sensitivity is configurable via the dial on the side of the unit.
  • Sound Trigger with Lock: The same as above, except it will only fire your camera or flash once, and then pause until you tell it to listen for sound once again.
  • Time Lapse (1-10 secs): Uses a built in timer to trigger your camera at a specified interval between 1 and 10 seconds.
  • Time Lapse (1-10 mins): The same as above, but the interval can be set between 1 and 10 minutes.
  • Laser Trigger with Delay: Uses the built-in optical sensor to detect a laser and then trigger once the laser beam is broken. The delay is the amount of time before the camera or flash is triggered. It can be between 0 and 500 milliseconds.
  • Laser Trigger with MultiShot: The same as above, but instead of setting a delay you set the number of times the trigger fires the camera or flash. You can set Nero to trigger between 1 and 10 shots.
  • Long Exposure: This mode will trigger your camera (set in bulb mode) for exposures between 30 seconds and 4 hours.
  • Super Bulb: This operates similarly to a standard bulb trigger. You press the (C) button once to start the exposure, then once again to stop.
  • Manual Trigger: This is like a standard remote trigger, except on steroids. You chose how many shots to take (between 1 and 10) and when you press the (C) button the Nero triggers your camera the number of times you set.

How well does it work?

Due to time constraints and “Superstorm Sandy” hitting New Jersey I wasn’t able to test as many of the functions as I wanted to. Of the two “specialty” functions I was able to test, it performed well, and I was impressed with the overall speed of the trigger. I’m really looking forward to trying out the Lighting Trigger mode when summer and it’s thunderstorms roll in.

Sound Trigger

I used the sound trigger to photograph balloons popping. I hung a water balloon from a broom clamped to two chairs and set the Nero to sound trigger mode and level 5 sensitivity. I connected the Nero trigger via the flash output to my Canon 580 EX II set to 1/64 power. I then used a sewing needle to pop the hanging balloon which created a loud enough sound to trigger my flash.

The results were pretty cool, but unfortunately I overwrote the memory card containing the images, so I have nothing to show for it. Within the next few weeks I should have some time to recreate the set up and re-take the lost shots. When I do I’ll edit this post to include the images.

Laser Trigger with Delay

To test the laser trigger I purchased a 5 mW red laser from eBay for $2. I set up the laser on a stool and pointed it toward the optical sensor on the Nero trigger. I then connected the Nero trigger’s flash output to my Cactus v4 wireless flash trigger which was set to trigger my two flashes: a Sunpak 383 on 1/8 power with a red gel pointed towards the back wall, and a Canon 580 EX II at 1/64 power positioned on a light stand at camera right.

After everything was set up I stuck a bowl of milk on a box and then started pouring more milk through the laser beam and into the bowl. The results are a little underwhelming… this is not as easy as it other people make it look! A few things to improve upon for next time: better pre-focusing, a better angle and maybe some different colored liquid or a non-white bowl.

What are the downsides?

As mentioned earlier, the Nero Trigger does have a couple of downsides. None of them are too great, but they are something to consider if you are in the market for a triggering device.

First, you need to keep the manual handy, at least in the beginning. The Nero Trigger only has a simple display with only 10 lights. Unless you memorize the function and optional sensitivity setting each light represents you’ll have hard time knowing exactly what you’re doing. A simple one- or two-line LCD panel would work wonders here.

Second, you need a screwdriver to change the batteries. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep a small screwdriver with me in my camera bag. If I were out in the field using the Nero Trigger and the batteries died I wouldn’t have a way to change them. I would, quite literally, be screwed.

What’s the bottom line?

The Nero Multi Trigger is a very capable and full featured remote triggering device for your DSLR and/or flash. It does have its place among the other hardware triggering devices, like the Triggertrap v1. It isn’t quite as convenient as Triggertrap Mobile, or other triggering apps for smart phones or tablets, for example, but it does have several key features which separate it from the pack.

Where can I get more information?

You can learn more about the Nero Multi Trigger on their website, follow them on twitter, like them on Facebook or find them on Flickr. You can buy the Nero Multi Trigger directly from Nero, on Amazon or from a variety of other worldwide retailers.

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Review: Triggertrap Mobile

tt main Review: Triggertrap Mobile

Shortly after posting my review of the Trigger Happy Camera Remote I was contacted by the one and only Haje Jan Kamps (a.k.a. the photocritic) to write a review of his new product, Triggertrap Mobile. In return for an honest review I would be given a free copy of the Triggertrap Mobile app and and a free Triggertrap Mobile dongle. I happily agreed, and a few days later the dongle was delivered to my front door.

Triggertrap Mobile is a descendant of the Triggertrap v1, which is an Arduino based hardware camera triggering device. The TTv1, for short, was a successfully funded Kickstarter project that I had watched grow from an idea to a real, shipping product. With the success of TTv1, it was a natural progression to try and harness the power of the various environmental sensors built into today’s smartphones and tablets. Leveraging these sensors would mean the ability to have a less featured, but still quite powerful, camera triggering system. Triggertrap Mobile does this exceptionally well, and at a price point that is sure to please just about everyone.

The Triggertrap system, both v1 and Mobile, work by sending audio pulses over standard stereo cables. Due to the nature of stereo audio having two channels (left and right), Triggertrap is able to leverage that ability into providing two different triggering channels. By default one channel is used for triggering the autofocus, and one channel is used for triggering the shutter, however you are able to customize and change the parameters of those channels to trigger other devices (flashes, for example).

Triggertrap Mobile, much like Trigger Happy, is a two part system, consisting of an app (either paid, or free) for your smartphone or tablet (currently only iOS is supported, however Android support is planned), and a hardware dongle that goes between your device and camera. One of the benefits of Triggertrap over Trigger Happy is that the dongle is camera independent, which means, if and when I decide to upgrade my camera, all I have to do is get a new, relatively inexpensive, cable to go between the dongle and my camera.

The Triggertrap Mobile app is quite robust and fully featured, especially for being such a young product (v1.2.0 was the version I tested). I only experienced two crashes, and uncovered two minor bugs, which I submitted to the folks at Triggertrap, which they acknowledged very quickly. The feature set of TT Mobile is quite extensive. All in all there are a total of 13 triggering modes available:

  • Cable Release
  • Bang*
  • Timelapse
  • Eased Timelapse*
  • Distance-lapse*
  • Seismic
  • Peekaboo*
  • Star Trail*
  • LE HDR*
  • LE HDR Timelapse*
  • Tesla*
  • Motion*
  • Bramping*

* = modes that are only available in the paid version of the app.

Of the 13 triggering modes, while I did experiment with all of them, I was only able to fully test and produce results for a handful of them in the two week time limit I gave myself.

Cable Release

Exactly what you would expect: press button, take picture. This mode works with both external and internal cameras, and has several modes for both program and manual shooting. When using the Cable Release mode you are presented with a dial containing four options:

Program: Put your camera in any mode, press the button and it takes the photo. This is the only mode that works with the internal camera.

Bulb: Put your camera in bulb mode, press (and hold) the button and then release the button to stop the exposure.

Timed Bulb: Put your camera in bulb mode, press the button once to start the exposure, and press it again to stop.

Manual: Put your camera in bulb mode, set the exposure length on the app, and press the button. You can only create a exposure with a 1/10s or slower shutter speed.

Bang

The bang mode triggers your camera (either the internal camera, or the external camera) when a configurable decibel volume is picked up on the devices internal microphone. You can configure the dB level to trigger as soft as -40 dB, or as loud as -0.1 dB.

Using this mode I was able to configure one of the channels to trigger my flashes to do some high speed photography. In the following result, I had set myself up in a dark room with a bucket, a spoon, a strawberry and a cup of milk. I set one of my flashes to 1/8 power, covered it with a blue gel and pointed it at the back wall. My other flash was set to 1/64 power and pointed directly at the spoon containing milk. My camera was set to take a 2 second exposure at ISO 100 and an aperture of f/6.3. Triggertrap Mobile was set to trigger my flashes (not my camera) when it heard a sound over -20 dB. The sound of the strawberry hitting the spoon was enough to reach this volume, thus triggering the flashes. Just prior to dropping the strawberry I would open the shutter of the camera. The 2 second shutter speed had a negligible effect on the overall exposure since I was doing this all in a dark room.

7934465074 a6316bd7ea b Review: Triggertrap Mobile

Timelapse

The timelapse mode turns your device into an intervalometer and can trigger either the internal camera or one connected via the dongle. It features 2 sliders, one to set the number of photos and the other to specify how long you want to take photos for. There is also a handy sunrise and sunset tool built right in.

To test this feature I stuck my iPhone 4S on a Camalapse panning device, which was attached to my gorillapod, which was then attached to a tent I had set up at the beach. I set Triggertrap Mobile to take 1,000 photos over the course of 1 hour using the internal camera. That amounted to a photo every 3 seconds or so, which resulted in this 30 second time lapse when played back at 30fps:

Eased Timelapse

Eased timelapse mode lets you vary the interval between shots, thus giving the appearance of speeding up or slowing down time. This mode has several functions for easing the time in or out. The first, and most gentle ease is called “Quadratic” and the final, and most aggressive ease is called “Sine”. Check out the video on Triggertrap’s website for examples of each easing function. Eased timelapse mode can trigger the internal camera, or an external camera connected via the dongle.

Distance-lapse

Distance-lapse mode lets you trigger either the internal camera or an external camera based on a configured distance. This trigger uses the devices internal GPS antenna to calculate distance travelled. You can configure the app to use either metric or imperial units.

In this example I set up my iPhone 4S on a windshield mounting bracket and set Triggertrap to take a photo every 150 yards. The resulting 15 second video gives the impression that you’re travelling a constant rate of speed, despite travelling on roads varying in speed from 25 MPH to 65 MPH.

Seismic

Seismic mode uses your devices internal vibration and shock sensor to trigger the internal camera or an external camera hooked up via the dongle. This mode seems to be the most sensitive, and as a result the most useless. Event set to the maximum value my phone is constantly being triggered. Perhaps my phone is defective, or I just live in a highly seismic area.

Peekaboo

Peekaboo mode uses your device’s internal camera to trigger either itself or an external camera when it detects between 1 and 5 faces. This handy feature will effectively add facial recognition to any camera, as long as you have it point in the same direction as the camera you are triggering. In reality, it’s probably easier said than done, however if setup correctly it could produce some interesting results.

Star Trail

Star Trail mode does exactly what it says, it helps you take photos of star trails. Instead of using one hour long exposure, it will take a series of shorter exposures that you can then blend or stack to make your final image. As a result of using this method your final image will have less noise. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this mode as I live in a densely populated area with too much light pollution.

LE HDR

LE HDR mode can be used to create Long Exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) images. This mode can only be used to trigger an external camera. It is important to recognize that this mode will only work in Long Exposure HDR scenarios. The reason being is that Triggertrap Mobile can only reliably trigger an external camera at shutter speeds as fast as 1/10s. If you’re shooting during the day, and you can’t get your shutter speeds that low, there are a few ways to try and get around this limitation: set your ISO is as low as your camera will go, increase the aperture of your lens, or use a neutral density filter. In a bind you can try using a circular polarizer, however it won’t cut out as much light as a ND filter would. In those mode you can take between 3 and 19 shots to be combined into an HDR. The app is smart enough to know what the maximum and minimum number of exposures you can have based on the middle shutter duration and the number of stops you have selected between exposures.

LE HDR Timelapse

LE HDR Timelapse mode is exactly like LE HDR mode, except there is an added “Between sets” slider to tell TT Mobile how often to trigger a new set of exposures. The major difference between the LE HDR Timelapse mode and the normal Timelapse mode is LE HDR Timelapse mode is missing an option to set the total number of shots you want to take. Instead, you have to press a “stop” button while the app is taking the shots. I can understand why, but it might make a good feature enhancement to be able to say “I want to take X number of HDR images”. Then, the app can go and compute that for X number of exposures, multiply by the number of HDR images desired, and then take that total number of exposures.

Tesla

Tesla mode uses your device’s internal magnetometer to detect changes in the magnetic field around your device. Like the Seismic mode, this mode is little too sensitive to be used for many things. The information screen suggests you could make this into a door alarm by placing a magnet near the door and then it would trigger as the door was opened. Any magnet I tried was too powerful and pinned the needle at the right side of the screen. As a result I wasn’t able to do any real experiments with this mode.

Motion

Motion mode uses your device’s internal camera to establish a baseline scene, and then it can trigger either itself, or an external camera when it detects a configurable amount of change in that scene. I had initially tried using this particular mode to trigger my strawberry photo above, but due to the lack of light in the room my iPhone was unable to detect any appreciable change, or motion, in the scene.

Bramping

Bramping, or Bulb Ramping, mode can ramp your exposure up or down during a time lapse sequence. This is useful when creating time lapses of a scene that has changing light situations, like sunrises or sunsets. I did find a bug in this mode, however, which is the help screen says this mode can only be used to trigger an external camera, however there is an internal toggle on the main screen.

Final Thoughts

Triggertrap Mobile is the mother of all camera triggering systems for mobile devices. It is fully featured, cheap and it works wonderfully. I would certainly recommend this system over any other triggering system for mobile devices.

You can get more information about Triggertrap Mobile on the Triggertrap website, buy the dongle from their store or Amazon, and download the app from iTunes (free, paid). You can also follow Triggertrap on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, as well as join their Flickr group to submit your Triggertrap creations.

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Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

trigger happy 1 Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

Earlier this year I saw a neat little Kickstarter project for the Trigger Happy Camera Remote. It instantly piqued my interest as I am a fan of time lapse photography and it is something I enjoy doing. I didn’t hesitate making my $50 donation to the project to get early bird access to the special cable that would be required to go along with the freely available software for iOS or Android. Last week I finally received this missing piece of the Trigger Happy system, the “Trigger Happy Unit”. This would finally mean that I could dump my hacked TI-83 calculator as an invervalometer.

While the TI-83 was cool, it also drained batteries very quickly and it’s timing mechanism wasn’t exactly accurate. For example, 5,000 TI-83 cycles equaled approximately 3 seconds, which would slowly increase over time as the batteries drained. The Trigger Happy system appealed to me for several reasons: the software ran on my iPhone, which is a device I have with me nearly all the time; if I was near a power source I could plug in my iPhone, thus my only power bottleneck would exist at the camera; I could control the interval as well as the shutter speed from my iPhone, where previously I could only control the interval from the TI-83; I could start doing HDR time lapses and bramp time lapses.

So, what exactly is the Trigger Happy Camera Remote? Trigger Happy consists of two components:

trigger happy 2 150x150 Review: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

Trigger Happy Unit

  • The Trigger Happy Unit, which is a short, meter length cable with an embedded signal processor. This is what goes in between your camera and your device.
  • The Trigger Happy App, which is available for iOS and Android devices.

Since the Trigger Happy Unit is a cable, there isn’t much I can do to review it, other than to say it’s a cable, and both ends fit properly into my camera (a Canon EOS Rebel XT) and my device (an iPhone 4S). The folks at Trigger Happy do have cables that fit a wide array of cameras and manufactures, including Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Samsung, Kodak and Fujifilm.

As for the app, well, that’s a different story. As of this review, I don’t believe the app is feature complete, or well tested. I will break the app review into three categories: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Before we dive in, let’s go over some of the features the app is said to include:

  • Simple Remote Trigger: Press the button, take the shot.
  • Bulb Trigger: Press and hold the button, take the shot for the duration of the hold; or press once to start the exposure, press again to stop.
  • Intervalometer (for Time Lapse): Set the interval (the time between the shots), set the duration of the time lapse (in hours or minutes, or unlimited) and set the shutter speed (as fast as 1/30s or a slow as 24 hours).
  • HDR Mode: Supposed to be able to do up to 9 shots and 16 stops of dynamic range.
  • Bramping: Also called “Bulb Ramping”, which is useful for making time lapses that go from day to night, or vice-versa.

The Good

Unfortunately, the good of the app is relatively short. The app launches reliably, and the bulb trigger feature works. The Standard time lapse and Bramp time lapse features also work as described.

The Bad

The HDR portion of the app crashes for me on my iPhone. I can set the Interval and Duration, but as soon as I try to set the HDR parameters (Exposure Interval, Number of Shots and Base Shutter) the app crashes. Every. Single. Time.

The Ugly

There are many interface and usability issues that I believe are preventing this system from being ready for prime time.


Interface Issues

  • Erroneous information diaglogs: When setting the Interval to “off” or the Duration to “unlimited” informational messages still appear.  For example, setting the Interval to “off”, going back to the Time Lapse screen, and then going into the Interval screen once again yields a message stating “A photo will be taken ever 6 seconds”, despite the Interval being set to “off”. Similarly, when going from Subsecond back to Normal the informational dialog still shows the subsecond shutter duration, despite the “1 second” duration being selected on the screen.
  • Shutter length messages: When subsecond shutter speeds are selected the information message says the duration in seconds and milliseconds. As a photographer I don’t think in milliseconds, I think in fractions of 1 second, ie- 1/30, 1/4, 1/2, etc. I believe the app should use language that makes sense to photographers.

Usability Issues

  • No memory: The app doesn’t remember the last settings you used for the time lapse interval, duration and shutter length. Every time the app launches the default values are displayed (interval: 6 seconds, duration: 1 hour, shutter length: 1 second).
  • Lack of a Simple Trigger: The Trigger Happy website touts a “Simple Trigger”, however I can’t seem to find this feature in the app. The only two trigger systems I see are bulb related: press and hold, and touch to start and stop. To me, a simple trigger means I can can use any of the auto or semi-auto modes (Program, Aperture Priority & Shutter Priority), connect the cable to the device and have a standard remote cable release. That is, I press the button, the camera calculates the exposure and the shutter is released. As it operates right now the camera must be in Manual mode, and the shutter must be set to bulb. In fact, I couldn’t get the shutter release portion of the app to work at all unless the shutter was in bulb mode.

The Result

What sort of review would go over The Good, The Bad and The Ugly without including a sample of what could be done? Here’s a time lapse of my two year old twins during playtime. This was captured over the course of one hour using an interval of 3 seconds and a 1 second shutter speed.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I believe the Trigger Happy Remote has some serious potential, however there are just a few problems with the app getting in the way. The current price on the Trigger Happy Unit is $49.99, and it is expected to go up to $69.99 once production is ramped up. At this stage of the game, I do not believe the Trigger Happy Remote can demand that price. That said, I am happy with my purchase and I understand that a majority of these problems are probably due to being an early adopter and using immature and untested code. I have total faith that the developers of Trigger Happy will get the kinks ironed out and this will become the de facto invervalometer and remote triggering system for iOS and Android devices.

You can find out more about Trigger Happy here, purchase a Trigger Happy Unit here and get support for Trigger Happy here.

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Camera Awesome – Lightning Review

awesome site Camera Awesome   Lightning Review

The folks over at SmugMug have released a pretty neat little app today called Camera Awesome.

I’ve been playing around with Camera Awesome for the last few hours, and I must say it is quite awesome!

Here are a few of the features I love:

Speed: Camera Awesome is fast!  It is easily the fastest camera app I’ve seen for iOS.

Selective Focus and Exposure: The app lets you independently select focal and exposure points! You can even lock the focus and exposure points!

Easy Sharing: The sharing from Camera Awesome is super simple. Setup your sharing preferences and from there you have either 1-tap or 0-tap (automatic) sharing.

Prerecording Video: Camera Awesome will prerecord 5 seconds of video, before you even hit the record button! I have small kids, so this will come in super handy!

… and 1 feature I want to love:

Interval Timer: I like to make time lapse videos, and this looks like another tool to help me get that done. The problem is the smallest interval Camera Awesome can do is 5 seconds. If that could go down to 1 second it’d likely become my default app for time lapses as well.

Want to know more?  Watch the video:

I’m a big fan of SmugMug and have been a customer for a few years, and this app does not disappoint. It’s already taken the default camera app’s place on my home screen!

Update: Camera Awesome 1.0.3 has addressed one of my gripes listed above. The interval timer now goes as low as 1 second!  The update also provides instagram support, white balance lock and the whole lot of effects for $9.99!

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How a TX Business Almost Got Away With Copyright Infringement

tx business How a TX Business Almost Got Away With Copyright Infringement

As an artist and photographer I like to display my work and have it be seen by people all over the world. One of the mediums in which I display my art is the internet. I upload hundreds of photos each year to photo sharing sites such as Flickr. Being that the internet is such a diverse and “free” medium it is important to protect the images I upload, which is why I register all of my photographs with the US Copyright Office. I also routinely search the internet for my photos to ensure they are not being misused.  By misuse, I mean used by a corporate or commercial entity. If you are an individual and wish to use my photographs for your personal use, please go right ahead, I have absolutely no problems with that. In fact, I license all my photographs with a Creative Commons NonCommercial License, which states to use my photographs for personal use all you have to do is attribute that photo to me, and provide a link back to either chrismartino.com or my flickr page.

tx business blog post 69x300 How a TX Business Almost Got Away With Copyright InfringementOn June 21, 2011 while doing one of my routine searches for my photographs online I came across the blog of a Texas based business.  In the blog the company used two photographs I took while vacationing in Charleston, SC.  The blog post clearly stated my photographs inspired two of the company’s products. Under each of my photographs is a product with a similar color palate which the company intended to sell elsewhere on its website.  The company did not get prior permission to use these photographs on its company’s website or blog.

Shortly after noticing the infringement I sent the company’s owner an email containing what I call a “notice of copyright infringement.”  Other photographers or copyright attorneys may call it a “demand letter”, but it’s simply a letter stating: their use of the image(s) is considered copyright infringement, they must discontinue using the image(s), a bit of info about copyright infringement and the penalties for committing such a crime, and an offer to settle this matter out of court.  In this letter I offered to settle with the company for $500 or $250 for each image the company had used unlawfully.

The next day the company owner responded stating that the company didn’t intend for the images to be viewed as its images, and that it obtained them from other blogs. The company owner then offered to either remove the images, or to offer credit. Nowhere in the response did the company owner offer to settle the disagreement monetarily. Soon after the first email, the company owner sent another saying that the company had taken the images down. I responded with a request for an address so I could send an invoice, the company responded stating that they felt $250 wasn’t reasonable to them. In cases like this, my next step is to typically offer to settle for a much reduced amount if they are willing to write a blog post about copyright infringement. In this case, I was willing to settle for $250 for the use of both photographs if the company would write such a post. The company declined, and informed me that they would consult an attorney. I responded saying that it was a wise move and I’d be more than happy to speak with their attorney.

A few weeks later I reached out to see if the company’s attorney had provided any advice.  In response, the company owner said that their attorney would be in touch with me shortly. At that time I had gone out of town for a few days to visit family, and upon my return home I had a (not so) nice letter from the attorney accusing me of extortion (among other things), and stating that he advised his client not to settle with me.

At this point I knew I would have to obtain an attorney of my own.

This entry describes the beginning of a copyright dispute I had with a Texas business. The matter has been resolved pursuant to a Confidential Settlement Agreement.

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How To Find Stolen Photos

stolen header How To Find Stolen Photos

I often get asked how I find my stolen photographs online.  I generally use two free tools, TinEye and Google Image Search to find my stolen photos online. In this post I’ll explain a little about each tool, how to go about using these tools and why I use them.

Why?

Before I get into how to go about using the tools, let me explain why am I interested in finding out who is using my images:  By default all my photographs come with a Creative Commons Noncommercial license.  That means that any and all of my images may be used for personal, noncommercial use, all you have to do is link back to me.  I use these tools to help me discover any commercial entities that may be using my image in violation of the Creative Commons license.

TinEye

stolen tin eye How To Find Stolen Photos

TinEye first came about in 2008 as a way to search for similar images online.  TinEye allows you to upload an individual file, or to enter the URL of an image if the image is already online and publicly visible.  Once your file is uploaded or the URL is submitted you get back a list of results. TinEye also has plugins available for FirefoxChrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer which allows you to right-click on any image and “Search Image on TinEye”.

stolen tin eye results 150x150 How To Find Stolen Photos

TinEye Results

For each result you will see two links, one that takes you to the page where the image is displayed, and the other is the actual image file that is on the server.  If the stolen photograph is stolen again, and then used elsewhere it will show up under the “master” result for that image (if that makes sense).  For example, if someone stole your image and gave it rounded edges and then uploaded it to their server, and then a second person came along and stole the image with the rounded corners and posted it to their server, it would all be shown as 1 match, even though it is being used on two different websites.

From the results screen there are also options to compare the stolen image with the image you supplied and to get a permalink to the result to share.

As you can see, TinEye found 10 matches for my most popular stolen photograph on 11 different websites.

Google Image Search

stolen google image search How To Find Stolen Photos

In mid-2011 Google announced a new tool similar to TinEye.  They call it “Search by Image” and it allows you to search Google’s massive catalog of images by an uploaded image or a URL. Google also has a plugin available for Firefox and Chrome, which allows you to right-click on any image and “Search Google with this image”.

stolen google image search results 150x150 How To Find Stolen Photos

Google Results

The Google results look just like any other Google search.  You’ll be most interested in the section that says “Pages that include matching images”.  Clicking on the thumbnail image to the left will take you to the stolen image as it is stored on a different server.  Clicking on the title link to the right of the thumbnail will take you to the web page containing the stolen image.  Unlike TinEye, Google does not group similar sets of stolen images together.  Instead, it lists every single version as a separate entry.

Google produces many more results than TinEye, however I have found that the results can be wrong from time to time.

Google’s Search by Image was able to find 105 matches for my most stolen photograph.

Alternatives

TinEye and Google Image Search aren’t the only ways of finding your stolen images online.  There is at least one pay service that I’m aware of: Digimarc.  Digimarc works by embedding an invisible watermark into your photograph.  Once the photograph is online you can then search for any images that contain your watermark from their search interface.  If there are other alternatives let me know!

Have you had any success using TinEye or Google Image Search?  If so, share your results!

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Lightroom 4 Beta – First Impressions

lr4 main Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

Early this morning Adobe announced the release of Lightroom 4 beta. The new version, that is due to be released in it’s final form later this year, promises to include some very desirable features, including:

  • A new Map module
  • A new Book module
  • Better video support
  • Simplified basic adjustments
  • New shadow and highlight controls
  • Localized white balance and noise reduction adjustments
  • Emailing directly from within Lightroom

The entire list of features and updates can be found on the Adobe Lightroom blog.

Shortly after it was announced I downloaded the beta to give it a trial run, and I must say I’m quite impressed.  Here are a few highlights:

New Basic Panel

lr4 basic panel 150x150 Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

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The Basic panel in the develop module has been overhauled and simplified. The Recovery, Fill Light and Brightness sliders have been replaced with the Highlights, Shadows and Whites sliders. These new sliders operate in a similar fashion to the sliders they replace; the Highlights slider works similarly to the recovery slider and the Shadows slider works similarly to the Fill Light slider. The major difference is in how the new Whites slider and the existing Blacks slider operate. The Whites slider only adjusts the whitest part of the scene, and not the overall brightness as the Brightness slider did. The new Blacks slider works in the same way as before, just the opposite. In Lightroom 3 and earlier you’d increase the Black slider to adjust the black level of the scene, in Lightroom 4 increasing the slider decreases the black level of the scene.

After spending a little bit of time with the new basic panel I was able to give an old image of mine new life. I took an old JPG image of mine that I took in Yosemite back in 2008. The photo is from Mirror Lake and at the time I wasn’t able to get the photo to look how I remember seeing it, with the deep blue sky and nice, saturated colors. When I processed the photo originally in Lightroom 2 I had to compromise and ended up with this:

6673609065 b815f6e0f9 b Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

After taking it and importing it into Lightroom 4, I was amazed at what I could do with the new Shadows, Highlights, Blacks and Whites sliders. After just a few minutes I was able to transform the image into what I beleive is a more accurate representation of what I saw that day:

6673609233 82aa5e8388 b Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

New Lens Corrections Panel

lr4 lens corrections panel 150x150 Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

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The Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom 4 has also gotten a minor facelift. Introduced in Lightroom 3, it totally negated the use of other tools, such as PTLens (my former lens correction tool of choice). Prior to Lightroom 4, the option to remove chromatic aberrations was only available if you chose to use the manual tools to correct lens distortion. The option to remove chromatic aberrations is now available on the profile, or automatic, tool for lens corrections.

 

 

New Map Module

lr4 map module 1024x726 Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

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Every Lightroom release seems to include a feature that I was using a plugin for. Lightroom 3 saw automatic publishing to Flickr, which could have allowed me to stop using Jeffrey Friedl’s awesome Export to Flickr plugin (I still use it though, as I find it superior to Lightroom’s built in flickr publisher). Lightroom 4 also has the potential to wipe out another one of Jeffrey Friedl’s plugins I currently use, his “GPS-Support” Geoencoding plugin. Prelimiary research seems to indicate that new new Map module supports importing gpx files, which could allow for fast batch geotagging. I haven’t had a chance to test this yet, though as I don’t have any recent un-geotagged photos and a gpx file to test.

New Book Module

lr4 book module 1024x726 Lightroom 4 Beta   First Impressions

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Lightroom 4 also introduces a new Book module. This module lets you easily create and print books at Blurb (I imagine other publishers are in the works), or create books for print with publishers that can print from a PDF. You have the option to select several different page styles, including just a single photo, multiple photos or photos and text. So far I don’t see a page style for just text. The book module is a little cumbersome in it’s present state, but I expect it to get more refined as Lightroom 4 gets closer to being released.

Want to know/see more?  Check out the Lightroom YouTube channel for Lightroom 4 videos.

That about covers the new options and features that I’m looking foward to most. Have you had a chance to try Lightroom 4 beta yet? What are your thoughts?

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Making Your Own Passport Photos?

6191633541 f071366d0c b Making Your Own Passport Photos?

Think twice about having those photos printed at Walgreens.

I recently needed to get passports for my 1 year old twins.  Coincidentally, I also needed to renew my own passport that had recently expired.  Many local drug stores charge $8 to take and print a set of two passport photos.  Going down this path would have cost me $24 for a total of 6 2″x2″ photos.  Being somewhat of a photographer I knew I could easily take the photos myself and get them printed for a fraction of the cost (less than $2).

I spent a few minutes reading the U.S. Department of State guidelines, as well as an online tutorial on how to easily make photos that fit within the specifications.  Armed with this knowledge I went down into the basement, set up my lights and tripod, wrangled the minimarts, and emerged 20 minutes later with a set of JPGs to be printed.

The next step was to find a place to print them.  I wasn’t too concerned with quality, so my first choice was Wal-Mart.  I’ve used their online 1-hour system in the past, and it has worked quite well for photos like this.  I uploaded my photos and an hour later I had them in hand without any problems.  There was a problem, though- my daughter and my photos were underexposed and too dark, I forgot that the small size of the images would make them appear darker than what I saw on screen.  I knew the passport office would reject them.

After returning home and fixing the problem I figured this time I’d send them to the new Walgreens a few blocks away from my office and pick them up the next morning on my way to work.  What a big mistake that turned out to be.  I went to the photo counter to pick up my images and the on duty manager asked if these were passport photos.  I responded “Yes”, to which she said “all passport photos had to be taken on-site”, but she’d let me have them this time.  I asked her a) “why are you looking at my photos” and b) “where does it say that in your store policy”?  She said the photos get printed at the front of the store facing forward, but she doesn’t go looking through all the images.  She also pointed at some small line of text in some obscure store policy that stated “Passport photos cannot be ordered on-line”.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a customer has been denied trying to print their own passport photos at Walgreens, see the comments on this consumerist post.

Immediately after leaving the store I filled out their online “Contact Us” form, sent an email to their CEO, and posted a few tweets:

A few hours later I was told via twitter that there are no such restrictions and customers are free to make and print their own passport photos at Walgreens:

 So while it is possible (and allowed) to get your homemade passport photos printed at Walgreens, be prepared to put up a fight for them.  I know I’ll be going elsewhere in 5 and 10 years when it’s time to renew again.

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How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

6049885455 833605a8f5 b How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Registering your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office is one of the most important things you can do as a photographer.  Doing so allows you to assert your rights over your photographs and defend them in federal court, should you need to do so.  It is common knowledge that your photograph is copyrighted the moment you click the shutter, however you don’t have the ability to protect and defend those copyrights in court until your photographs are properly registered.

The copyright office provides several ways to register your photographs.  The quickest, easiest, and most cost effective is to use eCO.  There are several good resources available on how to register your photos using eCO. Registering your photos with eCO costs $35, however it has limits to what can be registered.  It works fine for unpublished photos, or published photos “contained in the same unit of publication and owned by the same claimant”.  I’ve asked several lawyers about the “same unit of publication”, and the consensus seems to be that a “unit of publication” is a book or magazine.  The definition is rather ambiguous when it comes to defining “unit of publication” for online use.

Due to the ambiguity of the “unit of publication” definition, I choose to play it safe when registering my photos.  In other words, I register my photos as a “group registration of published photographs” using the old paper forms.  It’s a little more expensive ($65), but I know it works.  This is going to be changing soon, though.  Earlier this year the Copyright Office launched a beta program to test group registrations of published photos using eCO.  Presumably, this means that we’ll all be able to start doing group registrations of published photos using eCO within the next few months.

So, without further adieu, here is how to register your photos using paper forms:

Step 1. Prepare your photos to be sent to the U.S. Copyright Office.  The photos don’t have to be very big.  I export mine at 500px on the long edge.  Give them meaningful file names that will also serve as the titles.  For this batch I titled mine “CM-2010-Published-Photo-X” (where X is the number of the photo).  Create a text file that will be an index for the photos.  In the text file put the title and the date published.  I use the date I uploaded the photo to flickr as the date published.  Burn the photos and the index file to a CD.

Index File (click to embiggen):

cm 2010 index How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Step 2. Download Form VA from the U.S. Copyright Office.  This form is for registering visual arts works.  This is an editable PDF, so you can type directly into it and print it when you are finished.  You won’t be able to save it unless you print to a PDF.

Step 3. Edit your downloaded Form VA.  I’ll guide you through it, section by section.

Section 1 (click to embiggen):

form va section 1 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Title of This Work: This is what you want to title your submission.  I name mine based on the date range of photos I am registering.  In this example I’m registering all of my 2010 photos that I uploaded to Flickr/SmugMug, so I went with “CM 2010 Published Photos”.

Nature of This Work: We’re registering photographs, so we’ll put “Photographs” in here.

Previous or Alternate Titles: This is basically a description, however it must be worded in a specific way, eg: “Group Registration/Published Photos: Approx. X photos”.  Change X to the number of photos you’re registering.

Leave the rest blank, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 2 (click to embiggen):

form va section 2 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Section 2 has two parts for two different authors, if applicable.  If you only have one author (yourself), you only need to fill out part “a”.

Name of Author: Put your name here.

Dates of Birth and Death: Put in your “year born” and leave “year died” empty if you’re still alive.

Was this contribution to the work a “work made for hire”?: Answer accordingly.  Pay attention to the note in the left column if the answer is “yes”.

Author’s Nationality or Domicile: For photographers that are U.S. citizens living in the U.S. put “U.S.” on both lines.

Was This Author’s Contribution to the Work Anonymous or Pseudonymous?: Answer accordingly.  This may have implications to how you fill out the rest of the form, so read the instructions carefully if you choose one of these options.

Nature of Authorship: We’re registering photographs here, so check “Photograph”.

Section 3 (click to embiggen):

form va section 3 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Year in Which Creation of This Work Was Completed: This is the year in which your work was published.  In this example I was registering my 2010 photos, so I put “2010″ here.

Date and Nation of First Publication of This Particular Work: If you’re registering your work as published (as I do), fill out this section.  For month, put in the published date range using the first and last month/day in your index.  For me, this was 3/30 and 9/25.  You do not need to fill out the day or year boxes if you’re inputting a range of dates.

Section 4 (click to embiggen):

form va section 4 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Copyright Claimant(s): Put in your name here.

Leave the rest of section 4 empty, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 5 (click to embiggen):

form va section 5 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Previous Registration: Check “no” if this is the first time these photos are being registered.  If you need to check “yes”, consult the instructions on how to fill out the rest of section 5.

Section 6:

Leave section 6 blank, unless you know what you’re doing.

Section 7 (click to embiggen):

form va section 7 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Correspondence: Input your name, address, telephone number, fax number and email address for the Copyright Office to get in touch with you if there’s a problem with your submission.

Section 8 (click to embiggen):

form va section 8 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office


Certification: Check the appropriate box.  Since I’m the author, I chose “author”.

Typed or printed name and date: Type your full name, and put in the date you filled out the form.

Handwritten signature: Don’t forget to sign this line before mailing in your form.

Section 9 (click to embiggen):

form va section 9 How to Register Your Photos with the U.S. Copyright Office

Certificate will be mailed…: Put in the name and address you’d like your registration certificate to be mailed to.

Step 4. Print and sign your Form VA, throw it in a box with the CD containing your photos and a check or money order for $65.  Send the box to the Library of Congress at the address listed on Form VA.  I send mine via USPS Priority Mail, which is trackable.  This is so I know exactly when they’ve received my submission.  The Copyright Office suggests you use USPS over UPS or FedEx as processing UPS or FedEx deliveries may take additional time.

That’s it!  Congratulations, you’ve successfully prepared your photos for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office!

Your photos are considered “registered” on the date that they get delivered to the Copyright Office, even though you may not receive the registration certificate in the mail until 6+ months later.

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