Monthly Archives: March 2015

New Iris Macros

I’ve been having fun with some photography of a kind I haven’t done in a while: relatively straight macro photography of flowers. The photography is straightforward (as I explain below), but the aesthetic goals are a bit different than the last time I tackled photographing Iris in this way (for example, in Winged Iris): if my work is going to be confused with Georgia O’Keeffe, I may as well consciously try for a painterly effect.

Iris Petals © Harold Davis

Iris Petals © Harold Davis

To make this photos, I placed the individual Iris on a black background, and lit them from the side using sunlight. I photographed with my Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro lens, to which I added a Nikon PN-11 52.5mm extension tube so I could get close enough.

Iris Translucency © Harold Davis

Iris Translucency © Harold Davis

There are so many wonderful and creative ways to tackle flower photography. It is fun to have this as my “job,” and get to come up with new approaches to the glorious and sexy subject that the flora around us presents. I hope if you have followed the flower photography stories on my blog, read my book about flower photography, and perhaps viewed my Photographing Flowers online course that I’ve given you some ideas how you might creatively approach photographing flowers.

Blue Iris

Blue Iris © Harold Davis


Posted in Flowers, Photography

Artist Harold Davis Uses Moab Paper for Artisanal Inkjet Prints

Renowned photographer-artist-author-teacher Harold Davis can’t imagine letting someone else print his images. Printing is how he fully realizes the image he envisions before he even snaps the camera shutter or opens Photoshop. Read more of this profile.

Harold Davis - Signing the first copy of botanique

Posted in Photography, Writing

Review: Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag

If you are like me—and most other professional photographers that I know—you will have acquired over time an extensive collection of camera bags. Some bags fit some gear, but not other gear. Some are backpacks—which means better ergonomics for trekking, but less access to gear on the fly—and others are shoulder bags. Still others are hybrids, or designed particularly with transiting through airports, or being able to submerge in water, in mind.

I am always looking for the perfect camera bag, and with my Domke Next Generation Chronicle I may have finally hit the jackpot.

The Domke bags were originally created by photojournalist Jim Domke, whose hobby was collecting camera bags. Started in 1976, the Domke company was acquired by Tiffen, a leading manufacturer of photo accessories, in 1999. You can visit the Domke page on the Tiffen website by clicking here (opens in a new window).

I carried my gear in a Domke Chronicle Bag on a recent workshop I lead across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco---Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

I used my Domke Chronicle Bag on a workshop I led across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco—Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

Over the years, many professional photographers have provided input into the design of the Domke camera bags, and they have received numerous professional accolades, such as being named the official bag of the White House News Photographer Association.

It’s clear that no one bag will ever fulfill all of my photographic needs, or hold all my camera gear—and, as Jim Domke would be the first to admit, it is highly unreasonable to have this as an expectation. Within the constraints of a soft-sided journalist-style shoulder bag, my Domke Chronicle Camera Bag is truly wonderful. This is not an inexpensive camera bag (the discounted retail price is probably about $300), but the old saw about getting what you pay for applies, and the materials, finish, and detailing are top-of-the-line throughout.

J-CHRON-RM_300-8wThe outer material is a durable, water repellent form of thick coated cotton duck, manufactured to military standards. Hardware, such as zippers and clips, are very high quality. One thing I like best is that the exterior, while attractive, is non-descript. If you remove the external Domke badge, which is easy to do, no one would ever know this was a camera bag. I carry thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars of camera gear through all kinds of environments, and an extremely important component of personal security is not giving away what I have with me unnecessarily (partly for this reason, I also replace the branded straps on my camera bodies with plain straps).

Inside, the bag is flexible and expandable, and also protects my gear. Did I mention that this is a softside bag that is lightweight? I’ve carried it happily with one camera body and two lenses, and I’ve also used it fully loaded with several bodies and five or six heavy lenses. The customizable divisors allow a great deal of flexibility about how much gear I carry, and how it is laid out.

Chronicle-OpenThe layout of pockets for things like filters, memory cards, extra batteries, iPad and iPhone, and so on is very well thought out. Two features I particularly like are the excellent and secure strap for placing the bag on a wheeled suitcase extension handle, and the closure of the main compartment. The main compartment is secured with heavy-duty steel clips, but if you forget to clip it and just throw the top over, velcro takes over, and your gear will still be safe.

My one complaint about the bag, and I have only one, has to do with waterproofing. The material the bag is made of is inherently highly water resistant, and the main compartment is designed with flaps that can be arranged so that water does not leak into the bag. This arrangement is probably more than sufficient for the intended primary users of the bag, who are photojournalists. If it starts to rain hard, the photojournalist probably stops into a handy cafe and interviews sources while sipping a Pernod or Ouzo, and maybe puffing on a cheroot.

In contrast, my way of working sometimes requires me to be out with my gear in extremely foul weather. My requirements for a bag include a completely waterproof (not water resistant) cover, either included as integral to the bag, or carried as an accessory in a pocket. Domke does not provide this, so Phyllis helped me sew a jury-rigged elasticized waterproof raincoat for the bag that I always carry in a pouch in one of the pockets.

Full disclosure: I was provided a Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag for the purposes of writing a review by the Tiffen Company, and tested it under many widely varying field conditions. While I didn’t pay for my Chronicle Bag, I never would have trusted my gear to it on several continents if I didn’t think it was a great, convenient, and well-made camera bag, and my opinions are always honest and outspoken.

As a matter of principle, and so I can stay objective, I do not carry advertising or affiliate marketing links on my blog. Domke Camera Bags can be purchased from most quality professional photo suppliers.

Posted in Equipment, Landscape, Photography, Reviews, Writing

Photographer’s Dream Tour of Italy

5x7-Harold Davis-Italy

Posted in Workshops


Peter is a neighbor and a good man. These days, he mostly takes care of his disabled adult son.

Peter © Harold Davis

Peter © Harold Davis

Photographed hand-held with my Zeiss Otus 85mm lens at 1/3200 of a second and ISO 500, wide open at f/1.4. The Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 is a masterful portrait lens.

Posted in Monochrome, Photography

Katie on the hiking trail

On a beautiful spring Sunday with glorious clouds and shifting light I took my four kids for a hike in Tilden Park. We parked a car near Lake Anza (Phyllis helped with the logistics), then drove to the trail head at Little Farm. We walked around Jewel Lake, ascended the Upper Packrat Trail, switched to the Memory Trail, crossed Canyon Drive, turned left on Selby Trail, and proceeded on Selby Trail back to the parked car. You can see a park trail map by clicking here (opens in a new window).

Katie on the hiking trail © Harold Davis

Katie on the hiking trail © Harold Davis

The route was probably about three or four miles, with plenty of up and down, and tired us all out. But the kids did wonderfully, with only a little whining from Katie towards the end, and only a little stick-and-sword play from the boys.

The image was photographed using my iPhone camera, and processed on my iPhone.

Posted in Hiking, iPhone, Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

An Amazing Amalgamation of Anemones

Over the past few days I’ve had some amazing tulips as well as an amalgamation of anemones to play with. I have to admit to some inspirational thoughts looking through Georgia O’Keeffe paintings as research, although the reference isn’t clear in this image, the first I’ve processed from the many I’ve made. More work will follow as I have the time to process it.

Amazing Anemones © Harold Davis

Amazing Anemones © Harold Davis

To make Amazing Anemones, I used a Nikon D810, my Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4, Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop processing using LAB color, and shot on a light box using a tripod. As opposed to many of my light box images, with this one I limited the light on the front of the flowers, so that essentially all illumination was coming from behind—through the flowers. Back lighting emphasizes the translucency of the petals, and the transparent colors that are reminiscent of stained-glass.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

When is a Harold Davis rose a Georgia O’Keeffe?

A rose is a rose is a rose, except when it is not. A Harold Davis rose photo is apparently a Georgia O’Keeffe rose painting when you search Google Images for “Georgia O’Keeffe” (opens in a separate window, may be a number of rows down) except when it is actually Kiss from a Rose by Harold Davis (shown below). I’m really pretty flattered by the association, as Georgia O’Keeffe is certainly one of my great artistic heroes.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

I was alerted to my photo made in homage to O’Keeffe being mistaken for a literal O’Keefe by a reader who wrote, “Hi Harold! Love your Rose Photography. I see on Google your work is confused with Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings!” While this case of mistaken artistic identity mostly involves Kiss from a Rose, some of my other images such as Eye of the Rose and even the book cover for my Photographing Flowers also occasionally show up categorized as O’Keeffe’s.

The conflation of Harold Davis photos with Georgia O’Keeffe paintings get even more pronounced on Pinterest, where a number of “boards” have “pinned” my image as a Georgia O’Keeffe’s. See (my rose is called “a lush red O’Keeffe”) and (once again my rose is ascribed to O’Keeffe).

Posted in Flowers, Photography

A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook

My new book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer ships with a Workbook, which is why the subtitle of the book is A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. The Workbook is meant to be used along side the book, and the exercises in the book are cross-referenced to the book, so it is easy to get explanations for the reasoning behind the exercises, and how they relate to the world of creative photography.

Davis-Achieving Workbook-pp14

The Workbook is intended for readers to use as a kind of personal and creative journal. The pages are perforated, so you can easily pull them out and refer to them in a binder. As I note in the introduction to the Workbook, “It is your journal, not my journal, and completing the exercises helps make it personal to you. You will get out of it what you put into it.”

Davis-Achieving Workbook-pp15

There are 46 exercises in the Workbook. You’ll find exercises that help you clarify your goals and
how to plan in an organized way to achieve them, and also plenty of inspiration!

You will also find photography exercises, and exercises that are intended to enhance your creativity and conceptual abilities in a general way. In essence, the different kinds of exercises are intended to meld “left brain” and “right brain” approaches. As such, you may be more comfortable with one kind of exercise than another. But the key thing is to do them all. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more of your potential you will achieve.

To give you a sense of what these exercises are like, I’ve shown two pages from the Workbook in this story, Exercise 11 (“Practice! Practice! Practice!) and Exercise 12 (“Aesthetic and Pragmatic Domains”). You can download these two exercises as a PDF, print them out, and give them a try.

Posted in Writing

The Harold Davis Email Survey–Thanks Everyone!

I’ve had a pretty exciting and exhausting 18 months. I’ve been traveling, leading photo tours and workshops, and finishing my latest book. We’re so excited around here as it heads for the printer!

My experience is that I need to feel passionate about whatever I am doing to do it well. This goes for my artwork as well as writing books, emails, and this blog. Sure, I do things anyhow because life must go on—as we all do—but it is always so much better to be creative and passionate.

Recently, I designed a survey for subscribers to my email list (if you are interested in my email list, you can subscribe here). I wanted to find out what people liked about what I have been doing, what they didn’t like, and also maybe get some ideas about how to change things to make it more exciting for all of us.

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

I have never designed a survey before, and I’m not sure I did a very good job. I know one thing I personally hate when I take a survey is a radio-button list, where I must choose one, and somehow so much of the time none of the choices are right. So I designed my survey without radio buttons, and with only optional questions. There were only checkboxes to enter answers, and if none of the answers were right there was a text box for putting in one’s own answer. This textbox could also be used if the person filling out the survey wanted to elaborate on something they had checked, or just send me an observation.

Roughly 350 people completed my survey—thank you all very much!

My first question was “How did you find out about my email list?” The biggest category of response was from my website and/or blog (43.2%). The two other major categories, with about 20% each, were my books, and webinars/webcasts. There were 75 individual open-ended responses, including “Our kids went to school together,” “I think I may have first found you on Flickr,” “Got to know Harold on a photography trip to Cuba,” and “Took your class on Craftsy.”

Next, I asked about interests in photography. Roughly 90% of the respondents checked each of the boxes to indicate that they had an interest in photographic technique, and creativity in photography. 50% of the responses indicated an interest in workshops, with a number of individual and specific interests indicated in the open-ended section, from iPhoneography to “using cameras with biological and stereoscopic microscopes” and “I am especially interested in learning how to take good photos in dark churches!”

Pyramide © Harold Davis

Pyramide © Harold Davis

“Do you follow my work elsewhere besides this email list?” came next. A whopping 82% of those who replied said that they read my books. 40% said that they read this blog, another 50% use my blog-to-email service, and roughly 20% were members of the Photography with Harold Davis meetup. 15% watch what I post on Flickr, and each of the conventional social media channels got between 5% and 10%. (Note to self: the overlap between the email list, my blog readership, and Meetup is troubling because I’ve been using the same content in each place. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that readers may think I am sending the same thing to them multiple times on purpose, when that is not my intention. Must work on doing this better!)

Generally, the answers to what people would like to see in my emails fall along the same lines as with their interests in photography: photographic technique and creativity are big, with some interest in learning about my books, workshops, web offerings, etc., with some significant interest in photography and business issues, and of course some individual interests.

Every kind of workshop I listed garnered some interest, with the most popular ones being Creativity and Photography (66%), Landscape photography (51%), Flowers, Night Photography, and Black & White (each at 47%), and Photoshop (43%). (Since people could check more than one, the total responses add up to more than 100%.)

Goodbye Morocco © Harold Davis

Goodbye Morocco © Harold Davis

A number of the responses to this question, and to the one about photographic destination tours understandably note that affordability is an issue for many; for example, “I’m very interested in your destination photography trips and would love to join you, but at the moment they are a bit out of my price range. I am not saying that your instruction isn’t worth it, and I do understand the costs involved, but they are unfortunately just at too high a price point to be affordable for me.” Fair enough.

I left space at the end of the survey for any general comments, and I am appreciative of everyone who took the time to leave me their thoughts. Clearly, there are some people who think I send out too many emails, and there are also some folks who think I try to sell too much. I am going to try to fix these issues (see below). Many people appreciate my emails, and what I do:

  • “Enjoy reading your emails and hearing what you are doing photographically. They help with the creative process.”
  • “Despite your incredible workload, you have kindly replied to my emails, with helpful information.”
  • “I think your work is beautiful!”
  • “Keep the emails coming. :=)”
  • “Harold Davis’ photography will always be a wonder for me to admire and study”

One person summed up both positions like this: “Frankly, while sometimes I feel I get a bit too much communication from you, when I think about it, it’s about right.”

So I do feel badly that some people feel they hear too much from me. If you get more communications from me than you’d like, there is something you can do, and something I can do to fix this.

What you can do is to make sure that you are only registered with one email address on the email list you are subscribed to. What I can do is try to be more organized about not overlapping content, and not sending the same email to each of the destinations that I write content for. Let’s give it a go!

Giverny © Harold Davis

Giverny © Harold Davis

I do have a busy life, with four kids, books to write, photos to make, workshops to teach, and so on. I made a decision awhile back not to accept advertising on my blog, because it is a labor of love.

Thanks to your input, I do expect to be regularly blogging, perhaps on a wider variety of topics than in the past. I will use both blog and emails to keep readers abreast of what I am up to, and I will plan to include links from the email to my blog so the emails can be more condensed. I want to include more content that is simply useful and exciting!

Many folks said in the survey that they had topics that they would like me to cover in webinars and workshops, as well as travel destinations that they would like to photograph with me. This survey has helped me hone my thoughts about my own creativity, and what I like to do to help folks learn more about photography and creativity.

I want to make better use of my creative capital and only do projects, give workshops, and go to photo travel destinations that I’m really excited about. I want to keep my travel groups very small–six or less. This way, I’ll have more time to spend with the folks who travel with me, and more time to take in the wonders of the destination. I also want to make sure that the folks I spend time with in workshops or on destination photographic travel are sincerely interested in improving the creative aspects of their photography, and appreciative of what I have to offer. It is clear that I’m not for everybody, nor do I want to be for everyone.

You are a great community of photographers and I’m really inspired that the internet lets us connect in this way. So thanks for your input, thanks for reading, and more soon!

—Harold Davis

Bend in the River © Harold Davis

Bend in the River © Harold Davis

Posted in Writing

Flowers of Spring’s Desires

Flowers of Spring's Desire  © Harold Davis

Flowers of Spring’s Desire © Harold Davis

Photographed Friday on my light box using my Nikon D810, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 at f/16 and ISO 64 on the tripod. Eight blended exposures at shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/15 of second. Processed over the weekend using Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Nik HDR Efex Pro, Nik Color Efex Pro, Topaz Adjust, and Topaz Simplify.

Please see my FAQ for more info about how I made this image: Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

The worst mistake you can make with customers

What is the worst mistake you make with a customer? Probably it is the inability to see things from the customer’s viewpoint, and to only see costs and benefits from your own position. A close second in the worst mistake category: raising someone’s hopes and dashing them in short order as in “Congratulations, you are not in the club!”

Mark Twain, who didn’t want to join any club that would have him, would probably approve. But anyhow.

Nautilus © Harold Davis

Nautilus © Harold Davis

This piece of idiotic computer-generated boilerplate that I received from Flickr today in response to my decision not to enroll images in the Flickr Curated Collection manages to make both mistakes in one hearty “Congratulations! Unfortunately none of your images were selected” epistle:

Hi Harold Davis,

Congratulations! You have now completed one full curation cycle with the Flickr Curation Team! Unfortunately, and it makes us sad to report, your photos are not available for licensing through our distribution channel.

Your photos could have been excluded for various reasons, including:

  • The photo was marked as invited in our system, but was not actually requested from you due to internal curation needs.
  • You instructed us to exclude the photo from the Flickr Marketplace.
  • The photo was not legally or technically resolved during our communications with you during the enrollment cycle.
  • The photo was declined by our distribution channel due to their own legal or technical examination.
The Flickr Curation Team may contact you as part of an effort to re-curate your photostream (an additional curation cycle). This will be especially true if you added more work, so feel free to upload additional content at this time. Our goal is to enroll some of your beautiful work in the Flickr Marketplace by completing additional rounds of curation.
We want to thank you for your patience as we work on improvements to photographer tools, communication and the overall onboarding experience.
Our appreciation for your involvement in this amazing endeavor!

Thank you,

The Curation Team | Flickr

Obviously, since as I noted in my previous story I asked Flickr not to include my images in their collection I am not heartbroken. But suppose this had been a big deal for me? The Curation Team seems to forget that Flickr members are their customers, and that customers are people. How would receiving this email feel from the customer’s viewpoint? Not very good. At least irritating, and tending towards infuriating.

On the Internet, as the saying goes, nobody knows you’re a dog. The problem here is somewhat the obverse: too many important communications on the Internet are generated via thoughtless computer-generated boilerplate that treats customers as no dog should be treated. On the Internet, the computers don’t know that you’re a human being.

Great Hall, Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Great Hall, Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Posted in Flickr

Flickr and me, and stock photography: Adventures in photo licensing in the Internet Era

I have been a Flickr member for almost a decade (since 2005). According to Flickr’s dashboard, there have been more than 5,000,000 views of the 4,500+ images that I have uploaded to the site. It’s my general practice to upload a low resolution JPEG to Flickr with every important photo set I make, which accounts for my almost 5,000 images over ten years. On average, it amounts to about one uploaded image a week.

Statistically, I am probably somewhat unusual as a serious professional artist and photographer, and widely-read author, with an active and ongoing Flickr presence. One reason I maintain my Flickr persona is that over the years I’ve got a lot of photography business from my Flickr images, including prestige publications as well as assignments. This comes and goes, and is not something that can be counted on, but I find the best publicity one can do for one’s images—when one produces something unusual, unique, and striking—is to get them up on the Internet.

I like to say that when it comes to image licensing “the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh.” Against a background of racing to the bottom with things like microstock sales, and the pronouncement by Marisa Mayers—the head of Yahoo, the owner of Flickr—that “with cameras as pervasive as they are [today] there’s no such thing really as professional photographers,” I have been contacted by legitimate upper-end image acquirers from around the world because of my presence on Flickr. Of course, you have to have a unique and compelling offering, but these companies never would have found me in the past.

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

I do find there is a certain amount of image “appropriation” based on what I’ve uploaded. I combat this by being careful to only upload low resolution, small files—so my potential losses are limited, and tends to be things like individual wedding invitation usage, or for personal notecards. When these people do the right thing and contact me, I grant permission, and request a small donation to a charity that benefits children. I usually see this as a teachable moment, to help educate people out there about issues of copyright and image ownership.

Probably the most unusual licensing request I’ve ever had via Flickr was to use one of my cherry branch images as the basis for a tattoo extending pretty much the entire length of a woman’s back and up onto her neck. Since the request was made after the fact, there wasn’t much I could do about it (although scenarios resembling Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice do tend to come to mind). But I asked for some photos and was pleased by the beautiful tattoo—my cherry blossoms had become living art.

Cherry Blossoms on Skin

But I look at the issue as “spoilage”: if you don’t put your work out there, no one will see it, and no one will license it. But I also need to be nuanced, and take some care, which is why I am careful about releasing high resolution files “into the wild.”

I also do select the “All rights reserved” setting within Flickr, and include my copyright notice beneath each of my images. Some people who contact me need to be educated about what this means, but for the most part, contemporary art directors regard Flickr as just another image pool—perhaps the world’s largest database of imagery—and understand that they need to contact me to get permission to license or use my work (or to obtain a high-resolution version, if they need it for their usage).

So Flickr is part of my business strategy. An important part, but not a vital part—not as important to me as, say, my blog. I’d hate to lose my Flickr presence, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, and it is perpetually irritating to be working within a hierarchy of people running Flickr who seem to be most interested in amateurizing and dumbing down the interface and patronizing the serious photographers who do use the site.

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Window in Bourges © Harold Davis

Now a word about stock photography. First, let’s consider the way stock photography is licensed. Stock photos are licensed under two general schemes: royalty-free, and rights-managed. When you license a royalty-free image, you can use it for anything you want (except, usually, for reselling it as part of a stock collection). Often, royalty-free stock photos are sold for pennies, or as part of a downloadable collection where the end-user can download a certain number of photos per subscription period.

Obviously, an individual royalty-free stock photo is not worth very much, and the hope, of course, is to make it up on the volume: either in the number of purchasers or (from the viewpoint of the photographer) from the sheer volume of photos that an individual has licensed as royalty-free stock. If you have 100,000 photos that are royalty-free licensed, even if you only average $1.00 per photo per year, obviously it adds up.

In contrast to royalty-free, rights-managed licensing demands a higher price, and often includes exclusivity for a given usage, sometimes limited by time. Generally, if you had a distinctive and special collection of images, you’d want to employ rights-managed licensing as opposed to royalty-free licensing, since the best royalty-free images tend to be a bit generic so as to be more ubiquitous. Distinctive collections of work also tend to be concerned with branding, may want to avoid certain kinds of usages, and can be involved with furthering the career of the artist involved.

In fact, leaving licensing aside, it is a truism that the images that are shot for stock, and those that do well as stock, tend to be bland and generic. There’s a contradiction in terms between saying that an image is striking and creative and unique, and at the same time is likely to be widely in use as a stock image.

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Personally, over time, and as the stock photo industry has transformed, I’ve become increasingly skeptical whether my work as a place in it. I’m happy to consider rights-managed licensing of my work for appropriate usages, and in some cases have worked with industry-specific agents. I’m not opposed to paying commissions, and have had a long and fruitful career with my book agent over many years.

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

Speyer Cathedral © Harold Davis

But I’m just not that interested in licensing away the control and rights to my own work. I’ve sweated hard enough to create it, and risked enough to create my body of work, why should I lose control of it now? As the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, giving up the rights to my work is like giving up the skin on my eyeballs.

This is not to say that this anti-stock stance is right for everybody. I have at least one pro-photographer buddy who makes a very good living via stock photography sales made by a number of prominent agencies. And speaking of stock photography agencies, it’s become apparent over the years that I’ve been posting to Flickr that stock photography is increasingly being managed with business efficiencies in mind. The stock industry has consolidated, with many smaller agencies now being subsumed by Getty Images, the incumbent behemoth in the stock photography business.

This brings me somewhat indirectly back to the topic of Flickr and stock photography. Maybe three or four years ago, some brainiac at Yahoo-Flickr looked at the fact that they had this huge image repository, and figured they could make some money on it via stock sales. Of course, this imagery didn’t belong to Flickr (it belongs to the individual contributors) so Flickr would only be making a commission. The other problem was that recognizing that some Flickr contributors were of marketable or publishable quality opposes the no-nothing pseudo-populist spirit of Flickr’s ideology that “there are no professional photographers” anymore (which implicitly flatters the amateurs).

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

Into the Vortex of the Universe © Harold Davis

A concrete manifestation of the prevailing lack of respect for professionalism and image ownership at Flickr was the encouragement of uploading imagery with the default Creative Commons license—which allows usage without permission if certain conditions such as attribution are met. (One form of the Creative Commons license only allows non-commercial usage, but that is a side discussion.) As I’ve noted, I’ve always eschewed the Creative Commons license, and uploaded images to Flickr as “All rights reserved”—which is what I generally recommend.

In any case, the first iteration of the attempt to monetize Flickr’s image library was an arrangement that allowed Getty Images to troll the Flickr user base. Getty could enroll the Flickr photographers by invitation in a Getty library (this library always seemed something of a second-class citizen compared to the more orthodox Getty libraries). In addition, Flickr photographers could be invited by Getty to enroll in a program that added an icon to the images in their Flickr stream. Viewers could then request a license to specific photos, and Getty and Flickr would then intermediate to make sure the paperwork was in order, and to deliver a file to the license purchaser. Both schemes primarily involved royalty-free licenses. Presumably, Getty paid Flickr some share of the proceeds, but the exact terms of this arrangement were never to my knowledge published. As you’ll see, the business probably didn’t work very well for either party, as Flickr canceled the arrangement at what was their first opportunity, two years into it.

Getty Images in fact asked me to join their Flickr program, and for a brief while I did, mostly out of curiosity. Apparently, one of my images—a fisheye photo of the great Hoover Dam—was quickly requested by a client, so to see what would happen I opted it into the Flickr/Getty royalty-free program. I don’t know how my image was used, but I do know that my share came to a grand total of roughly $80. Following this experiment, I left the program, and continued to use Flickr the way I always have.

Hoover Dam

In mid-2014 Flickr announced that they were ending the relationship with Getty, and starting a new in-house stock program called at first Curated Connections, then termed the Flickr Marketplace (more info about the program here).

The idea behind this program was that Flickr’s curators would get everyday members of Flickr “discovered.” Flickr would handle the paperwork and business details, and place images with prestige outlets including the New York Times, and (somewhat curiously) Getty Images. Beyond licensing opportunities with photo agencies, other opportunities were held out: “We will look for ways to showcase your photos on the Flickr blog and across other Yahoo properties like News and Travel. We’ll also try to connect you with original photo assignments!”

In mid-February 2015, I received a communication via the internal Flickr mail system:

We love your photos! Your beautiful and genuine photos could be in high demand in today’s global photo marketplace. We want to work with you to increase the visibility of your photos across multiple platforms such as wall art, photo agencies, editorial placements on Flickr and Yahoo, and other media outlets.

If your photos are selected and sold in the marketplace, we will share 51% of the net sales with you through your PayPal account. There is no fee to join and you control your level of participation.…

Once we receive notification that you have enrolled, our curatorial team will select photos from your photostream and be in touch to see which ones you would like to approve for inclusion in the new Flickr Marketplace!

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

In the interests of science, I took care of the formalities involved in program enrollment, and waited to see what would happen next. I didn’t have long to wait. I did note that I would only be interested in the rights-managed program (as opposed to Flickr’s royalty-free offering).

The Flickr curators sent me an extensive list of my floral imagery—almost all flowers photographed using my transparency technique—that they wanted to add to the collection.

I wrote back to the curators noting that many of these were already subject to licenses for art reproduction, and that I needed to be able to use my images for my books and the prints that I make. Would this be okay? (The program FAQ allows artist “limited edition” prints, but this isn’t a term that specifically covers what I do, since many of my editions are not, in fact, explicitly limited.)

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

Castle Made of Sand © Harold Davis

In response to whether I could carve-out rights already granted, I got a boilerplate negative:

Because you requested that your photos only be included in the Rights-Managed exclusive collection, we would need you to opt out anything that is licensed elsewhere. For photos accepted into the rights managed collection, exclusivity is required due to the type of rights that may be granted to a buyer.

Since higher royalties are often generated from this type of sale, the photographer is not allowed to (1) license the same photo to any other source (past, present or future) and (2) license a “similar” photo.

I never really received an answer as whether “limited edition” prints included the prints I make in my studio that are not in fact limited, or whether use in my books constituted a permissible promotional use: “You are still allowed to use the photos enrolled in the rights managed collection for self-promotion and as limited edition prints, so long as the prints are not sold exclusively. For the other two parts of your question, I am still waiting to hear confirmation and will get back to you.”

Often, as a freelance artist in business for myself, and supporting my rather large family essentially by my wits, I am struck by how hard it can be to decide if something that comes along is an opportunity or a pitfall. The opportunity is all the nice things that these Flickr curator people were saying they were going to do for me. The pitfall would be to tie up some of my best work for years. I like to tell a story about a cleric caught in a great flood. The religious gentleman ends up on the roof of his house. A helicopter comes along and offers to rescue him, but “No, no, God will rescue me.”

The question, of course, is whether God sent the helicopter.

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

Sagrada Familia © Harold Davis

In the case of the Curated Connections program—or Flickr Marketplace, as it has been called more recently—I decided that the risks clearly outweighed the potential rewards. The underlying problem was the inflexibility of the program in regard to work that already had a licensing history, and also the attitude that Flickr’s curators would be “discovering” me. This seems a little unreasonable if they had taken the trouble to research me even a tad, and not what my work needs. An offer to co-market my work as a unique collection with some understanding of how best to brand it would, of course, have intrigued me. Here’s what I wrote back to Flickr, declining to enroll any of my images in the program:

“I am really saddened, because like most professional photographers I can always use an additional revenue stream, but based on your response I will not be able to work with your program.

Of course, I do understand what a rights-managed program means and implies. Of my images that the curator selected, about half are subject to prior licenses of some kind, as I noted most existing licenses have to do with art reproduction or wall decor. With an organization that understood the value of my offerings, I could probably enroll these in a rights-managed program, but of course both sides would need to exclude the rights that have already been granted. Note that my existing licenses would absolutely prevent me from licensing on a royalty free basis (and I also don’t believe in this kind of licensing as a matter of principle because it degrades the value of the art licensed).

While I could probably select a few images from the list that the curator put together that don’t have any licenses outstanding, I do need to retain future art and book publishing rights to all my work (I see that you’re still researching these areas for me). But this hardly seems worthwhile for either me or Flickr/Yahoo, considering the few number of images that I could put into your program, and the fact that I would need to retain these future abilities.

I do hope you understand, but for now I will have to pass. Should you be willing to reconsider and negotiate an arrangement that meets my needs, considering the licenses that are outstanding and my future likely uses, I think that reasonable parties could reach such an agreement, and I would certainly be willing to discuss it. By the way, my images are available in extremely high resolution versions.

But without a customized business relationship that meets the needs of a distinguished educator, professional, and artist of my caliber, I shall have to decline, and remain the sole legitimate source for rights-managed licenses to my work (if there is a specific image of mine and a use you and/or a client of yours wish to discuss I am happy to quote a licensing fee, of course).

My very best wishes, and good luck with your venture.

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

The devil, of course, is always in the details, particularly in anything as complex as licensing imagery that involves several intermediary organizations. I do feel that the Flickr image repository is a very real asset that Yahoo and Flickr could monetize, at the same time helping the participating photographs earn some extra cash. But I don’t think this can be done with a patronizing stance about discovering people, and the underlying attitude that Flickr’s members have full-time IT jobs and are just happy to be noticed. Nor can it be done with a “stock photography as usual” one-size-fits-all business model.

Overall, the stock photography business is if anything oversupplied, and in a dismal race to the bottom. Only those with truly unique offerings will thrive, and probably they will thrive best if they use the tools the Internet provides to dis-intermediate parasitic organizations like traditional stock vendors, and those like the Curated Connections program that would try to emulate this clearly broken model.

Here’s what Flickr should do: They should give up on the idea of curating (not their area of expertise in any case) and on “discovering” Flickr members who may already be well-known. Flickr is never going to successfully compete on the same turf as a conventional stock source like Getty. So it’s time to innovate. Create an efficient and transparent market mechanism for willing buyers and sellers of licenses, and facilitate these transactions, taking a small cut of the fees. It’s foolish for Flickr to try to be another Getty, instead they should aim to be the eBay of image licensing transactions.

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Posted in Flickr, Photography, Writing

Blue Irises for Simplicity

I photographed these beautiful blue irises for simplicity of composition on a light box, then in Photoshop added the background and light texture I used with Peonies mon amour.

Blue Irises © Harold Davis

Blue Irises © Harold Davis

Related resource: To learn more about how I made this image, please see my FAQ: Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

An amusement park for adults

Downtown Porto, Portugal’s second city, has aspects of an amusement park for adults, without being cloying. There’s a great river with boats of every kind, an old town with ancient structures—some a little scruffy, but nothing too disreputable—funiculars, cog railway elevators, and a number of bridges, including a great 19th century cast-iron structure coming from the incomparable Gustav Eiffel’s studio. Not to mention great food, and plenty of port wine to taste.

Ponte Luis I  © Harold Davis

Ponte Luis I © Harold Davis

On the Eiffel bridge—Ponte Luis I—cars are relegated to the bottom. The upper level is a vertigo-inducing walkway for pedestrians, and a platform for the light rail system.

Porto via IPhone © Harold Davis

Porto via IPhone © Harold Davis

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying walking around the waterfront area of this city at night. As the wind and weather changes, so do the reflections in the Duoro River—but each time and in every way the view is charming.

Ponte Luis I  © Harold Davis

Ponte Luis I © Harold Davis

Interested in seeing the world with me, and making unusual photos in night time as well as during the daytime? Check out my upcoming autumn photography trip to the Sea-Girt Villages of Italy.

Related story: Travels with Samantha.

Posted in Digital Night, iPhone, Monochrome, Photography, Portugal