Friday, October 30, 2009

The Awards season is with us again

The fun part of Christmas for media people starts with the picture awards. Last post was the stunning Wildlife Awards. Now it's the turn of the landscapers. This beautiful shot of the sun through the clouds over the Isle of Skye won Paris based snapper Emmanuel Coupe the £10,000 prize as the best of thousands of entries in the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2009 competition, set up by landscape photographer Charlie White. Anyone can enter. There is even a category for cellphone pictures.

The contest is supported by Natural England and the English National Park Authorities. The best 100 photographs can be seen at the National Theatre in London from December 5th. You can see past  brilliant entries by following the link.

The picture is Emmanuel Coupe's copyright.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brilliant photography from the Wildlife Photographer Awards

UK Photographer Danny Green took this stunning picture entitled 'Starling Wave'. It won him the Nature Black & White Award in the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. He patiently stalked the birds to this huge roost at Gretna Green, using a slow shutter-speed to capture the swooping movement of the birds' flight. He says, "at its peak there were 1.5 million starlings in the sky."

Spanish photographer Jose Luis Rodriguez was the overall winner with this incredible shot of an Iberian Wolf jumping a gate in search of lunch. He explained, "this picture defines my career. I had dreamt of taking one like this for years but could only realise my vision now with electronic and infrared photography."

One of the great pleasures of picture editing has always been publishing the winners from these annual awards for great environmental photography. News event award pictures are an immediate fix as they document the ticking of life's clock and I have enjoyed judging many of them over the years - but these brilliant wildlife cameramen work to a different beat. I think their pastoral pictures touch the very soul.

The Natural History Museum in London co-sponsor these great awards with the BBC's Wildlife magazine and produce a superb exhibition of 100 of them from the 43,135 entries. You can see it there from October 23rd until April 11th 2010.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Multi-Talented Mr Wolf

I spend numbing hours searching out sexy names for characters in my novels. However, Jamieson Wolf was lucky enough to be born with his ready-made. A moniker fit for a bond-like hero or as an alternative to Heathcliff.

That's where the luck bit stops. Jamieson, from Ottawa, Ontario, is a prolific creator. A super hard working, imaginative writer who's creative output is not only endless but multi-faceted. He lets his mind roam, meandering his right-brain corridors, then writes romance fiction, fantasy fiction, short stories, non-fiction, anthology and reviews, pouring it out unfettered by genre 'labels.'

Isn't that how writing should be? He's only 31. The older one gets the easier it is to be set in the mind about what you write. Does it really matter? If you can write, do it. The joy of childhood is that nobody labels our output. We don't know, or care about genre. Cinderella doesn't tote a piece. Paddington Bear might be lost, but he's not whining to social services about it. Only writing about what we're 'good at' surely diminishes our creative wellspring?

So, if you want to write about a cat on a mat or Obama's philosophy on Muslim fundamentalism, do it. If your prose is creative and original, like Jamieson's, both will fascinate your reader. If it isn't, keep learning your trade, like me.

Did I mention Jamieson also teaches? This October his wisdom is expounded at the Muse Online Writers Conference. A change from his writing workshops.

Are you not feeling inadequate enough yet sitting in front of the telly? Let me mention he's also an accomplished artist. He works in mixed media, charcoal and pastels.

In between writing and art he finds the time to design and produces fabulous book trailer videos for his fellow authors. You will see them on YouTube. He obviously must read and notate their books to make the sense he does of the videos. Their content is informative and exciting.

So when does our Jamieson sleep? A good question. He's either found the solution to 24 hour wakefulness or he's learned the skill of being super-fast. I suspect the latter.

As one who tried (lamely) to produce my own book video I salute his undoubted talents. A rising star in both words and movies.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The thin end of a fashionable wedge?

You may have seen the Ralph Lauren ad for Blue Label jeans that features an impossibly thin model named Filippa Hamilton? Filippa is, of course, not this shape at all. See the real girl above. She is quite perfect as she is, thank you. The controversy surfaced in the London Daily Mail after an ad agency graphics man went mad with the photoshopping.

To be fair a Ralph Lauren spokesman quickly put the record straight, explaining, "after further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body. We have addressed the problem and, going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately."

Fair enough and good on them. It was a mistake quickly and openly corrected. I don't want to get into the 'thin versus real' model debate. There are others better qualified to do so.

 I do want to talk about using enhancement in press photos. That I am qualified for, having been the first to use it in the UK national papers. I'll tell you how it all begun because it was me who started it.

On March 4th 1986 Eddie Shah launched Britain's first colour national newspaper. He called it TODAY. There had been colour in papers before, of course, but it was pre-printed weeks earlier. TODAY was 'on-edition.' Real news, sport and features in colour as they happened. I was its launch picture editor. I built, recruited and ran the picture departments. It was the magic of digitisation that made it possible and we were the first to use it. We had to use slide film and scan it into .jpg images. All highly innovative at the time.

Enter the first Adobe Photoshop. I had it but how to use it responsibly? For the first time we could change anything we wanted in a news picture. Before this, small armies of retouching artists were employed to 'airbrush' press photos, relieving the background and throwing forward the main characters. Occasionally an artist would cut and paste two people closer together to fit inside a tight layout. Famously, the Daily Mail once 'airbrushed' the genitalia off a prize-winning bull to save the lady readers' blushes. The farmer sued and won a fortune for defaming his champion.

Now my problem was where to stop. Would we 'shop' Maggie Thatcher hugging Arthur Scargill? Lord Lucan sunbathing in Barbados? It seemed to me that the answer was to forget it was new technology and apply the same principles we had adhered to successfully without it.

a) Only photoshop for quality improvement. i.e. remove physical print scratches, blemishes etc.
b) Absolutely no changes in news photos that altered the context of the event - ever.
c) Absolutely no changes to the physical appearance of any subject.
d) Feature page pictures could be manipulated for effect as long as it was not derogatory to the subject and with their approval. i.e. a showbiz star who always yearned to be a footballer heading a ball in Man Utd kit, etc.

note: An overzealous  TODAY deskman on 'nights' once remodelled Steffi Graf's distinctive nose whilst on a training exercise - then left it in the news queue by mistake. We used it big on page three as a news story. It cost us a fortune and an apology.

The road to hell, of course, is paved with all our good intentions. It won't be the good doctor on the BMA ethics committee who clones Robert Mugabe or the DNA of Adolf Hitler. No, it's the fringe loonies who go too far. Once the polecat is out of the sack, everyone's at risk.

25 years have passed and photoshopping is rife with no obvious guidelines in place. Superstar X demands approval for her magazine front cover shot. "Dahling, just get rid of this, and this." Suddenly she's a size 8 looking ten years old. (not our Filippa, who was oblivious to her starvation photoshopping.)

Eventually we do not believe our own eyes. All credibility is lost. Who thinks stars on magazine covers really look that way anymore? The answer is, nobody.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The rise of the citizen-cameraman

Have you taken a news picture on your iPhone or cell and sent it to a newspaper? Maybe a TV station? Many folk have. It’s become the phenomena of modern news coverage. Within minutes of a big event the call goes out for citizen cameramen/women to submit their snaps.

It’s an obvious and sensible move by news departments to call in every source available. They already have contracted news feeds. Worldwide agencies for news, sports and feature material. So why do they want yours?

Because new technology allows it. Any cell phone has the ability to transmit a picture anywhere. With paparazzi and news agencies charging thousands per picture a punter on the spot, pinging in their offering for pennies, is good news coverage and good business. (If you take a news value picture, fix a fee before they use it. Afterwards you might find it hard to get the picture editor’s attention.)

Picture coverage wasn’t always this easy. At the close of World War ll millions of men returned from the war front. These winning heros could not be consigned to the unemployment scrapheap. The government of the time offered huge financial incentives to industry and to newspaper proprietors to ‘overman’ their offices and plants.  Some newspaper presses had ten men per single job to rake in the subsidies. Later this became the union wars of the ‘80’s, but the proprietors laid the foundation to soak up the government’s money.

After the austerity of the war years the public wanted entertainment. In the fifties the national papers and radio supplied it. The BBC was a static camera operation. Great for major events like the Coronation and royal weddings, especially with the incomparable Richard Dimbleby commentating. ITV had not yet arrived.

National newspapers had huge staffs of cameramen (and a few women).  With the new miniature cameras, Leicas and Pentaxes, shooting 35mm mono film, this allowed them to travel fast and light. (relatively, a mobile darkroom weighed 30 lbs.)

The Daily Express was the big seller at 5 million a day. Then a broadsheet, it had 51 photographers in London, 27 in Manchester and 31 in Glasgow. Plus staffmen all over the UK and Europe. I was its picture editor in the late '60's early '70's. One snapper’s sole job in Southampton was to meet the transatlantic liners arriving from New York. It was the Hollywood stars’ favourite form of travel. Liz Taylor arrived on the Queen Mary, a blushing first bride, with husband Nicky Hilton, causing panic in Fleet Street.

The problem was sending the pictures to Fleet Street. The legendary Express snapper, Bill Lovelace, explained that, for any foreign assignment, his preparations began at Heathrow. He would strew presents along his journey, deftly aimed at those who would become his return chain for news film. These would include air hostesses, pilots, (it was legal then) hotel receptionists, switchboard girls, taxi drivers, etc.  All would be recruited. Lovelace’s films rarely went astray and often beat his opposition cameramen to Fleet Street. It was all part of a photographer’s skills.

Where there was a Cable and Wireless office, Bill would hook up his Muirhead drum scanner to the local telephone system and ‘wire’ his print to London. This was a hit and miss affair with lots of swearing at both ends.

On one celebrated occasion in May 1972 the QE2 was threatened by a bomber. The man claimed to be dying of terminal cancer and wanted to take the old liner with him. He said six devices were aboard and wanted $350,000 to disclose their whereabouts. Bill had to be there. The liner was 1,000 miles out, having left New York full of rich American passengers. Only a 707 could make the return trip. Lovelace bought off the entire passengers aboard a BOAC Boeing 707, with Express gold. He commandeered it with a reporter to fly the Atlantic solo. They had six air hostesses for company.

The Special Boat Service flew a bomb disposal team in for a military drop. These brave men parachuted into the raging mid-Atlantic, splash landing beside the QE2 but the threat was declared a hoax. Lovelace had his exclusive. Captioned QE2 yesterday in the Atlantic. In those days national newspapers had a barrel of gold in the front hall for extravagances such as these.

Soon the world went digital and so did news photography. But not without a fight. In March 1986, Eddie Shah, launched the first true news colour paper, naming it TODAY. The paper was digital but not the cameras. Photographer, Tom Stoddard, dragged a machine the size of a small car from their Pimlico offices to Tokyo to transmit the first colour picture of Princess Diana in a kimono. The Scitex scanner he used cost £350,000.

So when you send your citizen-cameraman picture to the media, having taken it and sent it with your humble cell phone, a tiny handset worth a couple of hundred quid, spare a thought for Lovelace and hundreds like him who would have sold their grannies for such luxuries.

How the world changes.

Footnote: The Express now has one photographer – worldwide.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Even more on Kindlegate. Justin gets his money

In an August post we discussed the great Kindlegate saga. (see Blog Archive More on Kindlegate.) Amazon cyber-snatched back purchased copies of George Orwell's 1984 from the hard drives of the owners of Kindle eReaders. The company discovered they didn't have copyright clearance to sell the work in the first place. Angry Kindleers protested at Amazon's high-handed snatch back, claiming the first they knew was when a refund appeared in their bank statements. Some even described Amazon as "electronic burglars."

I reported that U.S. 17 year old student, Justin D Gawronski, was so incensed that he sued the company for the loss of his notes on the book. He was using Orwell's classic for high school course work.

Today the enterprising Justin got his reward. $150,000 dollars worth. Amazon settled with a grovelling apology from CEO Jeff Bezos. He says "it was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles." see The Register.

I flippantly suggested that Justin had found a new way to impress the posh girls at his school. A cheque for $150,000 should go a long way toward that. Save the last laugh for Justin.