Archive for the ‘Hints & Tips’ Category

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:


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.’

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Cybercrooks are exploiting security flaws in Google Image Search to try to frighten people into buying evil software.

If you’ve ever seen a flashing banner saying something like “CAUTION — YOUR COMPUTER IS AT RISK” then you are a click away from being led down the path of perdition.

According to the SANS Internet Storm Center (always worth checking when a friend sends you another shouty email telling you yet again that some new bug has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever) the villains have “compromised an unknown number of sites with malicious scripts that create Web pages filled with the top search terms from Google Trends.”

Click on an image, and there’s a possibility you’ll be routed to a page offering unverified anti-virus “scareware”, complete with misleading security alerts and warnings.

As far as we can tell, if you simply ignore the ads no harm will ensue. But of course we’re not experts, so we can’t be sure. Keep calm and shut your browser down. You can restart it straight away.

Apparently there are more than 5,000 hacked sites, injected on average with about 1,000 of these bogus pages. This means Google Images is referring about 15 million searches a month to these scam merchants — a mere drop in Google’s ocean, of course, but still a significant number.

There are free plug-ins available which will enable your browser to detect such evildoing. Check out Noscript for Firefox, and a chap called Denis Sinegubko is developing another Firefox plug-in that will flag malicious Google Image search results by placing a red box around images that appear to link to hostile sites, but I don’t think it’s ready yet.

Thanks to for alerting me to this.


It came to me in a flash. At a BAPLA Picture Buyers’ Fair (remember them?) I was barking and shilling on the fotoLibra stand. OK, I admit it, I was pretty desperate. “Roll up, roll up, leddies ‘n’ gennelmen, come and see our fabulous photographs, so beautiful they’ll bring tears to your eyes etcetera etcetera.”

A harassed-looking woman was walking past quickly, head down, eyes averted.

“Come and avva gander at our bee-yootiful pickchars, darlin’!” I bellowed.

She stopped — she had to stop, I was blocking her path — and looked at our elegant display.

“They’re lovely,” she smiled sadly, “but I don’t buy lovely pictures. I buy photographs of things people don’t see.”

Now the tables were turned. I was the one who was stopped in his tracks. “If people don’t see things, how can they be photographed?”

“Well, they do see them, well enough to avoid them, but they don’t notice them. And photographers don’t notice them either. As a result, there aren’t many pictures of them.”

“But what are THEY?” I persisted. “What is it that people don’t see?”

“All sorts of things. Roadworks, men in fluorescent jackets, bus stops, rubbish bins, pavements, overgrown signs, health clinics, everything you don’t really notice as you go about your everyday life.

“All I see here are sunsets over the Maldives, the Taj Mahal by moonlight, palm-fringed beaches — and I work for Eborum District Council.

“We have a picture of the Taj Mahal in our canteen, but I didn’t buy it. I need access to pictures of the stuff we live, work and have to deal with. Parking meters, for instance. Even dog poo.”

“Dog poo?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes, dog poo, or IPSV2603 and 2604 as we refer to it. IPSV is the Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary — the code councils and government use to talk to each other. Virtually everything you can think of has an IPSV code — model soldiers, jogging, ex-servicemen’s associations, even UFOs and the U3A.”

That’s great, I thought. Here are fotoLibra’s 10,000+ photographers busy recording glorious sunsets all over the world and the customers want doggy doos. So I grinned my best grin and said “You’ve got it.”

And now she has.

I went back and rallied the fotoLibra photographers. Oyez, Oyez, I blogged, please add IPSV codes to your UK images. I posted a list of all 8,000+ IPSV codes on the fotoLibra site, at With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, many of them complied. Subjects of previously unimaginable banality were uploaded to the site, and we broadened our reach to encompass the trite and the commonplace as well as the rare and majestic.

In my Damascene revelation that a picture doesn’t have to have a pretty subject, I forgot to take our reluctant visitor’s name, but if that lady ever stumbles across the site again she will find over 17,000 images of everyday stuff, carefully labelled with the correct IPSV codes  from religions to town parks, from skips to lifeguards, from pills to parking meters.

And just because the subject is humdrum, everyday or boring, it doesn’t mean a photograph of it will be. As a result, at we now have images that are practical as well as beautiful.

Thank you, local authority lady. You helped us open our eyes.

This article was written for Montage, the magazine of the Picture Research Association


After buying the spiffy new camera, the first accessory most photographers want to get their hands on is a mighty new lens.

It ain’t necessarily so.

This is a list of things photographers should buy in order to improve their sales. It is in the order of our suggested priorities at fotoLibra.

Remember, as a picture library / stock agency we’re not necessarily reading from the same page as our photographer friends. Most photographers want to create beautiful, stunning images, and of course we want to see those as well, but above all we want photographs that sell.

And if that interests you, then here is what we suggest you need to acquire.

  1. A decent DSLR or large format digital camera. The make is unimportant, as long as you’re comfortable with it. One famous old tip to get comfortable is to put the camera in a bag, then put your hands in and spend days looking odd and learning how to use it blindfold. Feel your way round the apparatus. Learn to use it without thinking, so it becomes an automatic, natural extension of your eye. Nowadays the camera back should deliver a minimum of 12 mexapixels.
  2. Adobe Photoshop, Elements, Corel Draw, GIMP, Irfanview or some other photo editing software. This is your digital darkroom. You must always shoot in RAW and then post process. It’s no use having a digital camera without photo editing software.
  3. A tripod. Your hands shake, I promise you.
  4. A subscription to fotoLibra. “Yeah, yeah, what a surprise,” you smile, but this is where you get regular lists of the photographs that buyers need, hints, tips, blogs and newsletters. A huge amount of storage space for your images. And all your sales and back office admin taken care of, leaving you to get on with pressing that shutter.
  5. Lighting, unless you plan only to photograph landscapes by available light (a very small market). At the very least, a separate and moveable flash unit. The flash built in to the camera is strictly for amateurs.
  6. A large roll of white paper to act as a neutral background, such as this. Professional picture buyers like plain backgrounds and cut outs. Cut outs are virtually impossible to achieve successfully without starting with a plain background.
  7. And of course Goalposts, on which you put the paper. You get to move them, as well. Properly called a “background support system’. Here’s one.
  8. Books from the fotoLibra Bookshop. I like the intelligent and elegantly designed Rocky Nook titles. You will never, ever stop learning as a photographer. Even Snowdon, one of the twentieth century’s most famous photographers, admits he’s still learning at eighty.
  9. Photography courses, such as those offered by Nick Jenkins at Freespirit Images. You will learn tricks and techniques which would never have occurred to you on your own.
  10. Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. Post processing taken to new heights. I know it will hurt to spend money on bits and bytes before lovely, smooth, hefty glass and metal, but would you prefer to collect kit, or make a name for yourself as a photographer?

NOW you can start to splash out on more expensive lenses, camera bags and all that other non-essential kit. But armed with the Top Ten, you will have what you need to take photographs that SELL.

And my lens suggestion for when you finally buy a second?

Go for the widest aperture you can afford.

And if you don’t agree with this list, please post your own in the Comments!


Property Releases

August 19th, 2010

We recently posted a blog about Model Releases.

Reading Jacqui Norman’s August Newsletter to fotoLibra members this afternoon I noticed she repeated her advice not to photograph National Trust properties as they wanted to reserve the rights to themselves.

As far as I know, this “right” hasn’t been tested in law. I’m a staunch supporter of the National Trust, but their unilateral ban on photography of our national heritage does get up my nose.

I’m also a supporter of personal privacy. Not so long ago someone complained because a photograph of his unusual (and ugly) car had been posted on fotoLibra. With the agreement of the photographer, we removed it, simply because it wasn’t worth fussing about. The complainant had absolutely no right to prevent its use, but as he asked nicely enough and we saw no early prospect of a sale we took it down.

The National Trust and other owners of heritage and interesting buildings deserve protection from exploitation. Images of their properties should not be used for promotional purposes without their consent. They shouldn’t be used to endorse commercial products without some sort of fee being paid.

But I absolutely defend the right of people to photograph what they will, and sell those photographs if they can, if they are to be used in an educational, illustrative, informative or editorial function. If you’re publishing a book on Castles, you’ll be including a number of National Trust properties. The book will be about those properties. There is no way anyone should only be allowed to use pre-approved images of these buildings.

It’s down to power and control. Celebs in the pupal stage will do anything to court publicity. Once they achieve imago they need to control publicity: vetting photographs, checking journalists’ credentials, only being photographed from one side.

The National Trust’s position is looking increasingly fragile. It only needs someone with a little spare time and a little spare money to challenge their stand, and I suspect the edifice will go the way of the walls of Jericho.

A recent case in America will illustrate the point. I may say that in this instance I am firmly on the side of the property owner.

Douglass Robinson lives in a startling yellow house of the Painted Lady style in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, fondly remembered by all old ’60s potheads. He’s accustomed to having the house photographed, and he normally puts up with it.

But he finally drew the line when his venerable old pad featured as the solus lead on a leaflet advertising mortgages for an international bank. Sympathetic neighbors asked if he was going to sell, or if he was running into financial difficulties?

So he did what every red-blooded American does in times of crisis: he sued. On seven counts.

And the HSBC Bank (for it was they) won every one of them.

You can read the whole sorry saga here. The blog is headlined “A House’s Right To Publicity”, but surely it should have been “A House’s Right To Privacy.”

HSBC should not have gotten away with it. Apart from anything else, it was discourteous in the extreme not to request permission of the owner. (I can hear the lawyers whispering in the back of my head: “such permission not to be unreasonably withheld”).

American law is based on precedent. This judgement is going to make it harder for property owners to claim visual rights over their buildings.

Unlesse the owners are large American corporations, of course.


Model Releases

July 26th, 2010

We’re always asked if we want model releases with the photographs we sell.

The short answer is Yes. It’s much easier to sell a photograph with a model release than without one.

But given that the great majority of fotoLibra’s images sales are for editorial use, it’s not always absolutely essential. It merely restricts the possible markets for the photograph. You don’t generally need a model release for an image used editorially.

Now here is a terrible example, an awful warning. Someone took a picture of a very photogenic Greek shepherd complete with luxuriant beard. It was uploaded to a picture library. No names, because I don’t know them.

A Swedish yogurt manufacturer bought the photograph from the picture library and plastered it over his pots of “Turkish” yogurt. Unfortunately the shepherd’s cousin happened to be living in Stockholm and spotted his kinsman being passed off as a Turk. This is an offensive concept to many Greeks.

What was more offensive is that the subject of the photograph hadn’t given his permission for it to be used in advertising. He hadn’t signed a model release. Almost all shepherds have smart cosmopolitan lawyers these days, and the yogurt company was slapped with a £4.5 million lawsuit.

Our simple, bucolic countryman apparently settled later for £150,000, which is a lot more expensive than buying a properly licensed image from a company such as fotoLibra.

You can read more about this story (and see the offending yogurt pot) on the BBC site (so it must be true) and you can download and print off as many fotoLibra Model release forms as you like from here, and of course property release forms from here. When you use these, keep the signed piece of paper as a record of your contract with the subject and tick the ‘Model Release’ and ‘Property Release’ boxes on your Edit page with a carefree heart.

We will of course double check with you should we be about to sell one of your images to a yogurt pot manufacturer or other commercial organisation.I don’t know where the fault lies here — if the yogurt company had revealed the end use of the image to the picture library and they had authorised the sale without clearances, then the library is to blame. If the yogurt company just bought the picture without revealing what it was going to be used for, then the yogurt company is to blame.

The shepherd and the photographer would seem to be the only two innocent parties here. Unless the photographer misrepresented the image to the picture library, claiming it was model released.

Oh, I don’t know. Just be careful, that’s all.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

  1. Pluck the low hanging fruit first by photographing the subjects people want to buy. You can indulge your hobbies later.
  2. Make sure people can find your photographs by keywording them well. Buyers search for words, not images.
  3. Put them on a busy street which professional picture buyers walk up and down. Like fotoLibra.
  4. Get your exposures and white balance right. Out-of-focus may be artistic or deliberate, but under- or over-exposed is just wrong.
  5. If you’ve taken 20 photographs of the same thing, choose only one — the best. Don’t upload all 20. You will weaken your appeal.
  6. But take it in portrait AND landscape. Offer empty space such as sky and sea so designers can envisage room for text.
  7. Got a favourite local building, tree or landscape? Take it in summer, winter, autumn and spring. Take it in storm and sunshine.
  8. Don’t be the same as everyone else. Be as good or better.
  9. Become technically proficient. Taking a photograph should be instinctive. Post processing is as, if not more, important than pressing the shutter.
  10. “Everyone is capable of making at least one great photograph in their life.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Mountains into Molehills

April 1st, 2010

fotoLibra member John Cleare is a world-famous mountain photographer who made his reputation long before fotoLibra was even a gleam in my eye, so we can claim no credit for his fame, alas. Indeed, I handled the publicity for one of his mountain books back in 1979, so he knows whereof he writes (and shoots).

Brocken Spectre, Lochnagar   ©John Cleare / fotoLibra

He sent me an email yesterday, lamenting the decline in standards of captioning, and I agree with every word.

I’ll share with you my indignation at the use, all too frequent these days, of wrongly captioned pictures by the media. It’s my current pet gripe, and I could recount a series of ghastly gaffs that I’ve noticed since digitisation became the norm.

Only the other day the Daily Telegraph ran a major travel feature on skiing at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, illustrated by a (very nice) picture of Moraine Lake, which of course is somewhere else and is well known and easily recognisable to boot.  Naturally I take note of the many pictures of Everest that I come across in the media — from the Times, to the BBC, to my wife’s magazines. Some 30% or more are not Mount Everest, yet are captioned as such. Colleagues tell me such happenings are all too frequently seen in their own fields too.

Is it that the photographer doesn’t caption the material properly ?  Is it that Mr Getty doesn’t care ? Is it that the Picture Editor doesn’t care ?

I can’t see it happening with the fotoLibra system !

I’ve moaned about the matter to BAPLA many times over recent years but of course they can do little about it except to encourage “TRUTH”.

At the risk of blotting my copybook, I’ve moaned to guilty (?) picture editors and researchers in several really blatant cases. Even when we’ve known each other by name, in only one case has there ever been a response — and that was claiming the caption supplied was incorrect.

It may well have been true, but it’s as good excuse as any.

Thanks to digitisation, the whole picture industry has changed so much in recent years that the days of the small, specialist independent are in the past, perhaps fortuitously at a time when folk seem surprised that I’ve not retired long since. But of course like mountaineering, making pictures is a way of life from which one can never retire — I’ve done five books in the past eighteen months and led one excellent small expedition, although I suppose I shall gradually fade away in due course.

I do like the fotoLibra system, and for someone busy like myself, responding to specific picture calls is a convenient way to operate, besides airing pictures that no one would ask me for in the normal way, given my specialist reputation.

John has hit the nail on the head. There is a lot of sloppy work out there, and I don’t know whether it’s because people are too busy, overworked, stressed, tired, drugged, drunk or because they simply don’t care. Forty years ago if you did something wrong you got sacked. That can’t happen now.

And thank you John for your very kind comments about fotoLibra but the unpalatable truth is that it could occasionally happen. I don’t think many of our staff could readily distinguish between Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, so we have to rely on the accuracy of our members. We’ll correct errors where we’re sure we’re right (the Eiffel Tower is not white, circular and leaning), and thanks to the brilliant Colin Smedley our aviation photographic captions are the most accurate in the picture library world — but in the end we have to rely on the photographer.

Let’s work together to turn this picture captioning mountain into a molehill. For our part, it’s down to us to ensure the captions and keywords we give to our images are as precise and as accurate as possible. After they’re sold, publication is out of our hands — we can’t afford to go to the printers and stand over the Heidelbergs — but if the final image appears wrongly captioned or attributed, we can and always do make our displeasure strongly known to the buyer.

Don’t mess with fotoLibra members’ photographs!


At the end of every year we do a round-up of all the fotoLibra Pro Blog postings throughout the year. Though we say so ourselves, it’s a useful reference to the way fotoLibra works.

Two articles in particular should be read by every fotoLibra member:

GREAT EXPECTATIONS tells you precisely what to expect when you go on line to try and sell your photographs. It’s based on the fotoLibra experience, but we don’t think it’s going to be that much different from any other agency.

THREE HUNDRED PIXELS PER INCH tells you why this is an upload requirement for fotoLibra, and how to achieve it. Yes, we do know resolution is an irrelevance as far as screen-based media goes, but read the piece carefully and you may just comprehend why we demand it.

So we’ve happily been sending links to these and other various blog postings, only to find people complaining they’re always directed to the same (and not necessarily relevant) entry.

The reason appears to be that we used to abbreviate the URLs of our blog postings. We never knew it had a restricted shelf life, but certainly on the fotoLibra site all the carefully input abbreviations over 6 months old defaulted to the most recent blog post.

So we’ve laboriously rewritten the links coding for the fotoLibra 2009 Pro Blog Index for the whole of 2009.

And now it should work for you. Sorry!