Archive for January, 2012

Credit Card Scam

January 31st, 2012
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

The perceived risk of buying and selling using a credit card on the internet was the biggest single barrier to the growth of the World Wide Web.

In the eighteen years since I launched my first web site, that fear has largely been allayed. Internet users who now won’t buy with credit cards are a tiny minority. If your card is compromised in any way, the banks and card companies will refund your money and issue a new card.

But what protection is there for the merchants? The punter must be recompensed — but the financial organisations aren’t going to be the ones who lose. Someone has to pay. It’s going to be the merchants.

Here’s the Dramatis Personae of our little play:

  • Innocent Punter
  • Evil Fraudster
  • Innocent Merchant
  • Innocent Photographers
  • Innocent Credit Card Company
  • Innocent Bank

This is what happened to us. On Nov 17 Evil Fraudster used Innocent Punter’s credit card details to buy six images — over $800 worth — from us, the Innocent Merchant, and download them to Innocent Punter’s apparent email address.

On Nov 25 Innocent Punter signed an affidavit to say his card had been used in a fraudulent transaction, i.e. the purchase of $800 worth of images from fotoLibra. Innocent Merchant isn’t told of this, either by the bank or the credit card company. All we know is that $800 has been paid into our account and the images have been downloaded.

The $800 payment appears on our next bank statement. Christmas intervenes, and we make all the payments to our photographers on Jan 21. The $800 payment is still visible in our bank statements.

This morning, Jan 31, we receive a letter through the post from the bank telling us there has been a fraudulent transaction involving a credit card payment on Nov 17 and they are removing the $800 to pay for it. So the status quo of the Dramatis Personae is now as follows:

  • Innocent Punter — unscathed
  • Evil Fraudster — 6 digital images the richer
  • Innocent Merchant – $800 poorer
  • Innocent Photographers – $400 richer
  • Innocent Credit Card Company – unscathed
  • Innocent Bank – unscathed

My questions are

  1. Who benefits from this fraud? Evil Fraudster gets 6 images (which haven’t been used as far as we can tell). Innocent Photographers get $400. Assuming the photographers aren’t linked to Evil Fraudster, they’re doing better than he is.
  2. We pay the credit card companies substantial annual fees for the privilege of using their service. If they authorise a payment, we have to take their word for it. We cannot check every individual credit card transaction ourselves — that’s what we pay them to do.
  3. So why is Innocent Merchant the only loser in this scenario? If the bank and the card company says ‘Here’s the money — spend it wisely’, how come they can snatch it back nearly three months after they’ve given it to us?
  4. Most importantly, if the fraudulent transaction was reported on Nov 25, why weren’t we informed till Jan 31? That is OUTRAGEOUS.

Damien our IT guru has traced the route the transaction has taken. Unsurprisingly it trails back to those bastard Nigerians again. They’re not doing their country any favours at all. Could anyone ever trust a Nigerian nowadays?

Obviously the villain of the piece is the rogue Nigerian, but I fail to see how he can benefit from the scam. Can anyone enlighten me?

The end result is that we’ll just have to wait longer paying photographers after making a credit card sale from someone we haven’t dealt with before. 99% of credit card sales made through fotoLibra are perfectly legit. In fact, this is only the second one that’s gone wrong. The first one was such a blatant blag that even I could see through it — someone in Brazil signed up as a photographer and uploaded 4 photographs. The following day someone else from Brazil signed up as a buyer and bought the four images for £2,000. We then should have paid the Brazilian photographer £1,000. But we had our suspicions. We waited. And the bank claimed back the money after three months. We were not compensated.

But I cannot figure this scam out.

Memento Mori

January 23rd, 2012
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

fotoLibra photographer Peter Bardsley enjoys visiting dive sites in England, unlike me. I refuse to enter the water unless I’m south of the 30th parallel. Recently he uploaded this atmospheric image of Hodge Close Quarry, an abandoned flooded slate mine in the Lake District, to fotoLibra:

Icy cold and 150 feet deep, with a viz of about 30 feet, it’s the sort of bleak,miserable and frankly terrifying dive hole so beloved of the British diver. My diving preference consists of floating among the pretty coloured fishies at about 10 metres then surfacing to chug copious quantities of decompression juice in the sun.

But places like Hodge Close Quarry exert a manic pull on the typical British diver.  The Italians have one aim in diving: that is to get as deep as possible as quickly as possible, then erupt back up through the surface like a rocket and spend the rest of their vacation in a hyperbaric chamber, whereas the thoughtful, contemplative Englishman prefers to drift through mazes of freezing unlit underwater tunnels and drown quietly at the back.

There have been many diving deaths at Hodge Close Quarry. The old mine workings, the adits and galleries to be found deep underwater are an irresistible lure to English divers. If only they’d take time to pay attention to their surroundings before they softly slip under the surface for the last time. Might they not notice some sort of a warning? Just turn the photograph on its side:

Jacqui Norman, who never makes a mistake (or so she tells me) sent out a Picture Call this morning for some exciting mountaineering shots for the front cover of a Japanese novel titled “Hidako”.

Of course my knowledge of Japanese peaks is second to none, and the Hidaka range is well known to me (and Mr. Wikipedia). The highest peak is Mount Poroshiri at 6,785 feet. It’s not HidakO, it’s HidakA. But Jacqui says that if that’s what the client ordered, that’s what the client wants.

She said he wanted images to capture the thrills, excitement and danger of mountaineering anywhere, not just on some overblown Japanese hill. Like Joe Simpson’s “Into The Void”.

Ah. Wrong again, Jacqui. Joe Simpson’s “Touching The Void”, not “Into The Void” is one of the classics of mountaineering, as fotoLibra “8,000 Uploads!” member Nick Jenkins quickly pointed out.

And as I remember only too well, even without the aid of Mr. Wikipedia. I have never read the book, because I am consumed with jealousy.

Let me take you back to 1985. I had just delivered the manuscript of Wim Meulenkamp’s and my first book on follies to the gilded offices of Jonathan Cape in London’s Bedford Square (even the electric sockets were golden, there’s posh, yes?). Unfortunately my editor Liz Calder, who had commissioned the book, had left to co-found a new publisher called Bloomsbury, so our book was passed down to another editor, Tony Colwell.

Tony could spare me half an hour to talk about publicity. I was ushered into his office. He greeted me abstractedly. “This is a really wonderful book,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Oh!” I stammered. “Thank you so much!”

“No, no, I’m sorry, I was thinking about this mountaineering book,” he said. “It’s called “Touching The Void”, and it’s by this amazing man called Joe Simpson.”

And for the next 25 minutes Tony praised this incredible book, lauding it with superlative after superlative. He went on and on. I just sat there.

Eventually he glanced at his watch. “Goodness, is that the time? I suppose we’d better talk about your book. Well, we’ll be sending out the usual review copies. Is there anything else? Well, goodbye, so good of you to come in.”

And that was that.

Ever since then, any mention of Joe Simpson’s “Touching The Void” sets my teeth on edge.

I shouldn’t really complain, because Jonathan Cape ended up doing a really spectacular publicity job on “Follies”, and it sold out in 11 months.

And if you want to see a REALLY plush publisher’s office, you should visit Bloomsbury, the company that Liz Calder co-founded. Spread over three town houses in the same Bedford Square, they might as well have gilded the entire interior, such is its opulence. I guess Harry Potter contributed a penny or two.

Oh — and congratulations are due to Nick Jenkins. 8,000 images is one impressive portfolio! Other members could learn a lot from him — and they can, because Nick runs some great photography courses at Freespirit Images.

The New Year is traditionally the time to herald new things, starting with the Epiphany of the Christ Child on January 6th and the chance to play and replay my Desert Island carol, Peter Cornelius’s “Three Kings from Persian lands afar”.

So a happy New Year to you all. At my age things no longer occur, they tend to recur, and it’s rare to encounter something that appears to be completely new. Continuing the religious references, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes thunders “Is there any thing whereof it can be said, See, this is new?”

What I’m writing about today is a camera. That’s not new. But a light field camera is new to me, that’s for sure.

A light field camera? A field camera is one of those bulky great things with bellows, a permanent tripod, and a hood so the photographer can view the upside-down image on the 10×8 plate in darkness. Great for architectural photography, less useful for sports.

A light field camera is nothing like that. ‘Light field’ is the word phrase, and it refers to the way the device captures light data. The ‘light field’ is defined as the light travelling in all directions through all points in space. In conventional cameras — digital or film — the image (or light data) is captured on a flat plane at the back of the box. This can either be film or a digital sensor. The rays of light are combined and recorded as a single unit of light and shade.

In a light field camera, it is claimed that its sensor can capture the colour, intensity and vector direction of all the rays of light in a scene, providing much more data from which to compile an image.

What does this mean? Well of course the science is beyond me, but what I really need to know is what does this mean for the photographer, and obviously as a picture librarian, for image sales? In what way is the resulting picture different? Note that I didn’t say better. It’s not a field camera, after all, which is the gold standard for image quality.

My first thought is lots of data means big file sizes. And what do we do with all that extra data? The answer is nothing, at the moment. We’re back to 1950s Britain, where you couldn’t buy garlic or olive oil because “there’s no call for it.” At the moment, there is no call for it — there is no commercial need for the additional data a light field camera can produce. Here in 2012 fotoLibra has the ability to supply 8 bit, 16 bit or 32 bit images; we can supply HDR images. We don’t, because we’re not asked for them. At the moment professional picture buyers are content to buy 8 bit JPEGs.

I didn’t see the point of an HD television until I got one. But I can totally see the point of a professional quality light field camera to create images of record for museums and archives. Imagine being able to focus and study every plane of Nefertiti’s head. Wow.

Because here is why an image taken on a light field camera is different. You can refocus on any part of the image — after the picture has been taken. This is not the same as an Ansel Adams image at f64 where every part of the image is pin-sharp; these are images taken at f2 with a very shallow depth of field — which you can subsequently vary at will.

It is fascinating. I can play with these images for hours.

A light field camera has just been launched for the consumer market in the United States. Its brand name is Lytro, and I guess that could go the way that Hoover and Biro (and Kodak once did) to become the generic name for a light field camera. The first Lytro has an 8x optical zoom and an f2 aperture lens. It doesn’t look much like a camera, more like a square tube, and it comes in three colours and two storage sizes, 8 GB and 16 GB — 350 or 750 photos. It costs $399 (£255, €206) and $499. The aperture stays constant across the zoom range, which allows comprehensive light capture in the foreground, the mid ground and the background. The images it produces are 1.2MB JPEGs, which are at the lower end of the quality scale.

Do I want one? No, not yet. Remember, I’m not a photographer, I’m just a bloke who has a camera. Will it be more than just a curiosity? It’s hard to say. It’s certainly cheap enough for many people to be able to buy on a whim and play with, experiment with. Would I recommend you get one? If you’re a curious and inquisitive photographer who’s not strapped for cash, then yes, definitely. I would love to see what real photographers can achieve with such a tool.

At the moment the Lytro doesn’t meet the fotoLibra quality standards set out in our Submission Guidelines.

But I think we’ll make room for it.

Even though ‘There is no new thing under the sun.’