Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Monthly Archives: January 2012
Tech people keep saying that artists can make it without the distribution systems, and they all trot out Jonathan Coulton as the example of someone who has made it on his own (by the way, heâ€™s amazing). He offers his music for free, or you can buy it, and he does great. Hooray, thereâ€™s one guy making it. One guy.
Okay, you can add Radiohead and Louis CK, but both made their reputations over years in the old media system and only now have the power to make independent new media work. Thatâ€™s three, so Iâ€™m still seeing a lot of artists left out in the cold.
Hereâ€™s a question to think about as a new artist-friendly distribution model evolvesâ€¦
The employees of the old media distribution system did a lot of work, like promotion, financing, and obviously distribution. Who is going to do that in the new model? The artists? Does my favorite author now have to spend a couple hours a day on Facebook? Because I really want my favorite author working on the next book, not tweeting or other garbage that could be handled by someone else.
The problem with the old model was that the distribution system forgot who they worked for and started to think they were the important part. The new system will turn it around and put the creatives in charge. Maybe the band of the future will sign a record company to a deal instead of the other way around.
There are actually a bunch of people making it. But they tend to be smaller, they tend not to have a big PR machine pumping them onto the networks. The old system tended to push massive success towards a very few, whether it was Stephen King or Michael Jackson. There was a middle ground where you could grind out a living (and occasionally someone would turn that into a very lucrative business, like the Grateful Dead did). And there was a huge mass that the old systems didn’t want anything to do with at all that never got a break. And in most cases, they old system was right (ever sit down and read a slush pile in a publisher’s office? Seriously, most of it, be glad they filtered the worst of it away).
But yeah, that also limited access to some good talent as well. And as this new model evolves and matures, eventually the old system will figure out how to find and pull talent out of the pool and turn them into the next Stephen King or Michael Jackson and they’ll continue to be the promoters and publicity pushers for the elite super-earners. But their role as gatekeepers is diminishing, and will die off.
thank god (but that also means that we need to find other ways to protect ourselves from that slush pile, folks; in whatever form it takes).
Does this mean your favorite author will have to spend time pushing themselves on Facebook? When starting out, yes. But look at someone like Trey Ratcliff. He’s just hired something like his tenth employee. As his business grew and his revenues went up, he brought people in to take on parts of it. That’s always been the case with small businesses. That is the model we’ll see moving forward. The talent (whether singer, video maker, photographer, app developer or author) will continue to do the parts they’re good at and enjoy doing; as their income grows, they can farm out other parts — bring in someone to help with marketing and publicity, or proofreading, or formatting their ebooks, or handling Facebook. Whatever is not economic to do themselves, but needs doing.
This is nothing new. But it does mean you can’t succeed JUST by being a good talent; you need to be able to run your business, too (or get successful enough to hire someone to run it for you); in fiction, agents sometimes took that on. For that matter, that’s a common case for pro sports, too. I expect you’ll see the agent role mutate into more of a business manager instead of a submission broker.
The model for this is well known; it’s not new, and it’s been used successfully for a long time. What’s really happening is that all of these talent-centric industries are moving to that model with increasing speed, and the transition is at best unsettling for those caught in the middle. And it’s going to create problems and failure for some, and opportunities and success for others.
Which, honestly, sounds a lot like what talking movies did to silents, and what television did to radio, back in the day. And in both of those cases, some people woke up without a future, some people moved from one to the other just fine, and some found opportunities created where none existed before. But now, just being a good writer (or singer, of photographer, orâ€¦) isn’t enough to be a successful one.
If it ever really was. (I have my doubts).
(hat tip: BW Jones)
these two bills were drafted by the MPAA and the RIAA and walked into Washington without an iota of conversation with the technology industry. I can’t tell you how many Senators and Representatives have told me that they were told by the MPAA and the RIAA that the technology industry was on board and that these issues would not impact the Internet and tech community adversely. This is no way for one industry to propose that Congress regulate another industry. I think it is absurd that one industry would have the arrogance to think it is appropriate to ask Congress to regulate another industry for them. And yet that is what went down on these bills.
Back in 1988 (before many of you were potty trainedâ€¦), I wrote this April Fools joke for the net. the in-jokes are a bit dated, but this part sums up the attitude of the internet then, and through the years:
Note: This conference is a rescheduling of the conference originally
scheduled for October, 1988 but cancelled after the United States Department
of Commerce decided that the material was too sensitive to allow
non-American citizens to read (including the material written by the
Canadians on the committee). Because of this, the conference has been moved
to Canada, which doesnâ€™t have a complete Freedom of Speech written into itâ€™s
constitution, but has better things to do than worry about ways of
circumventing civil rights. Americans having trouble getting their papers
cleared for distribution at the conference should contact Professor Shikele
about setting up a direct uucp link for the troff source.
For many years, the net was too small for the authorities to worry about, and this “wild west” mentality ruled, that the rules didn’t apply. And in many cases, they didn’t. As the net has grown and gone mainstream, this attitude has continued, although increasingly, whether it’s been the companies stomped in court when they became too annoying (like Napster) or countries like China implementing massive censorship firewalls (and the accompanying controversies as companies have to decide whether to go along with them or not).
The day the net went dark over Sopa is, to me, the day the Internet grew up and became an adult. Instead of thinking we can just sneak around doing what we want in the alleys and not get caught — we now realize we need to sit at the table with the adults and talk (and argue) with them as adults. The net mobilized and forced some major and entrenched powers to back down. They won’t get caught by surprise next time, and don’t for a minute believe they’re done with this.
But, and it’s a big but — neither will we, both collectively as “the internet” and the big companies that drive the net like Google and Apple and Facebook. They clearly realize they can’t let others drive the agenda and sit on the sideline, so you can expect everyone to get more involved in the process in Washington — because like that game or not, we can no longer pretend we’re immune to it or can ignore it.
I think the entertainment industry badly misplayed their hand through arrogance, and I think they’re going to regret it.
Because I think they woke the sleeping dragon, and the dragon now has their eye on them. They won’t be able to sneak their way through Congress without a fight, and many of their allies in Congress now realize that the fight is going to require them to take sides. And I bet a bunch of them will realize the tech industry is a better side to be on.
But now is the time for those companies that represent the industry and the net to make it clear to Congress that they expect a seat at the table in future discussions. And you can bet, the entertainment industry won’t like that. Not that I care what they thinkâ€¦
Tell me if this sounds vaguely familiar. Apple announces they’re going to announce something. A few details leak. The speculation goes crazy, and the usual suspects end up deciding that what Apple needs to do includes a couple of puppies, a unicorn, three rainbows and free coffee for life.
Apple makes their announcement. It merely includes one puppy, a pony and a rainbow. No free coffee.
And the usual suspects jump on Apple because the product isn’t what they decided they wanted, even though that was clearly not what Apple ever intended it to be. This is somehow Apple’s fault.
The big criticisms coming back at the announcement seem to boil down to:
It’s for the iPad only, and it isn’t a publishing environment that can be used for other devices or platforms (like the Kindle).
And the licensing says if you sell it, you have to sell it via Apple’s iBook store.
Horrors. Â And, evidently, that kind of licensing is unprecedented.
Well, no, it’s not. If you view the iBook store as a platform, which many pundits have already declared it to be, than the new Apple book publisher tool is the equivalent of its SDK. And it’s not unprecedented for a company to limit use of it’s developer tools to its platform. We did that with webOS, where if you wanted to build webOS applications and sell them, you had to sell them through our store.
Matthew Ingram @ GigaOM worries this puts this content deep into Apple’s walled garden, and I sympathize, but there’s no licensing restriction that keeps you from publishing your content on other platforms using other tools; merely not using this tool to publish on those platforms. That’s a standard business decision about going cross-platform. If the market warrants it, you take your source code and build it for two platforms, only in this case, those platforms are iBook and Kindle instead of IOS and Android. In my mind, it’s a non-issue, just like it’s a non-issue to worry that publishing Angry Birds on the iPad might keep it off of other platforms. It won’t — if there’s a market for it. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Apple to “not make it easy” to publish on competitive platforms, that’s not in their self-interest.
Much as I want a multi-platform, one-button, publish my stuff everywhere tool — I fully understand why Apple wants to see some return on the investment it made in its tools, and I never expected Apple to create that. Ultimately, Apple is about selling hardware, so the way you do that is target the results of the tools to the platform that runs on that hardware. That’s what Apple did.
The alternative is to charge for the tools up front. If they did that, we’d simply be having a different argument, and the chance of adoption would go down dramatically. Now, if you want to do content to give away, you have many more options then if Apple charged $99 for this too. And if you plan on charging for it, well, don’t complain about Apple wanting a piece. That’s business.
Thinking that Apple should build a tool and give it away for free that enables you to put your content on the Kindle store and sell it? Incredibly naive, if you really think they should do that.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the publishing tool I was hoping to see, primarily because of these licensing restrictions. On the other hand, what I wanted it to be was never what Apple intended to build, and I didn’t really think they would.
I do think, however, that now that we’ve seen how Apple built this, it’s only a matter of time before some third party does build a tool very like it that does spit out a PDF and a Kindle doc and an iBook doc from the same tool. Apple has defined the direction, and (not surprisingly), targeted it to benefit Apple. I know this upsets some of the geeks, but hey, ultimately they have to pay the bills somehow. In this case, by convincing folks to put content on iPads instead of Kindles and Fires and TouchPads (hah. just kidding) through building really good tools to build it with. (and that’ll work. Just watch).
These tools will arrive for the other platforms, now that Apple has (again) set the bar. It’s not like Apple built a closed platform; others can build tools to publish to iBook as well, without the licensing restrictions. And they will (it should be Adobe, but it won’t be, I bet).
And this is a 1.0 product, in a new market they’ve been involved in for less than 24 hours. Free Coffee takes time to brew. And it’s far from unprecedented for Apple to build the basic product, stick the flag in the ground, and say “we don’t really know where it goes from here, so we’ll ship it and innovate as we find out where we need to go” — they did that with iTunes, and it didn’t turn out badly (and with iAds, where it didn’t turn out so well). You have to start somewhere, and if you wait until all of the features are thought out and implemented, you lose, because someone else will have shipped something first and pushed the market away from you.
The only problem I see here is the common one with Apple announcements: it’s not the product people fantasized it would be. And my guess is that like other times when the tech echo chamber roundly raised up in horror over not getting enough free coffee and rainbows, the criticisms will be ignored by those the product was really intended for, and it’ll be a nice success. Which will only annoy the pundits even moreâ€¦.
I really like what I saw today. I’m admittedly disappointed that it doesn’t serve my personal goals — in other words, I’m going to experiment with it, but probably not publish through it — but I’m not the intended audience. Fortunately, I actually recognize that, so I don’t take it personally. And I see how this can be extended later, and how third parties can compete against it and build on its foundations, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be too long before I do start getting the tools I want, driven out by what Apple set in motion today.
And I think this will impact the education system in a number of good ways, too. Which is bigger and more important than getting me what I want, anyway…
Friday night started “one of those” weekends. Laurie called me in from the other room, because water is flowing from under the toilet. The wax seal has failed. hint: this is not good.
Worse, our other one has been, well, offline for a few weeks because we dropped a shampoo bottle in it and it’s been on the “we can’t fix it ourselves, so we need to get someone out here to take care of this” list.
So we got everything under control, got towels down, etc. and since it was late, got to bed. In the morning, I called the plumber, Gary, at Gary’s Guaranteed Rooter. We’d used him before when we got that slab leak that needed some major surgery. He agreed to get out here as soon as he could.
And literally, as soon as I got off the phone with him, we started getting sewage back out of the bathtubs, and up around the toilets. So it wasn’t (just) a bad wax seal, but a full sewage blockage.
And hilarity ensued. And Gary got a second phone call, and re-arranged his other appointments, and generally got his butt out here as fast as he could, pulled off a miracle or two, got everything cleared up, the toilets fixed, and just because he could, fixed a dripping sink while he was here.
I know enough about plumbing (thank you, This Old House) to know when I shouldn’t be mucking with it, and enough to have some idea what needs to be done. Gary’s now pulled out butt’s out of the fire twice, and he’s not only a good plumber who knows his stuff, he gives a damn. If you need a plumber, from San Jose up the peninsula, he’s a good option to have, especially when the, um, stuff is hitting the fan. In this case, literally.
And despite short notice turning into this oh-my-god emergency, his prices are fair. His number isÂ (650) 766-7821; it’s one you probably want to stick in your address book for that day when you really need it, because when you really need it, you don’t want to go thrashing around trying to figure out who to callâ€¦
(And now life is back to normal, although one of the bathroom rugs is a goner; all of the towels have gone through the “sanitize” cycle, and hopefully, we won’t have to worry about this for a while. We’ve been in this house since the mid 90′s, and this is the first time we’ve had this problem. Hopefully, with a bit of scheduled maintenance, we can keep it from happening againâ€¦)
I have acquired a strong fascination with the cranes and geese that visit California’s central valley in the winter. There are a number of places you can go to take them in, but one of my favorites is Merced National Wildlife Refuge, which is roughly halfway between Santa Nella and Merced. It’s about two and a half hours of driving from home, so it’s not a trivial drive, but it’s very much something I can do as a day trip.
The cranes and geese start arriving around the end of October, and start leaving in February or March. I’ve gotten into the habit of trying to get out into the central valley three or four times a winter to visit and photograph the birds and the area; more if I can. Some of those trips Laurie and I do together and make it an outing, but sometimes, it works best for me to go solo and just focus on trying to get pack as much into the trip with as much intensity and focus as I can.
There is just no way to be enthusiastic when the alarm goes off at 4AM. The best I can muster is not turning it off and rolling over; a quick hot shower and I’m off after clothes stashed in the other room, because my one goal right now is letting Laurie get back to sleep. Some mornings, you walk out the front door and look up into the dark sky and realize you’re screwed, and you might as well go back to bed. It’s 4:30, it’s 40 degrees, and it’s clear skies.
South to Gilroy, I find the open Starbucks (thank you, bless you). Over the hills, and down into Santa Nella and Los Banos. And into the fog. Now, I’m worried; I might arrive and be fogged out. The fog is playing games with me, though, as Tule fog can; sometimes it goes away. sometimes it’s impenetrable and you’re driving by braille. Outside of Los Banos, it lifts, but only about 20′, so it’s as if I’m driving in this weird grey tunnel. It’s a weird feeling, with the air completely clear around you, but when you look up, you can see nothing.
I make it to the refuge at 7:15, beating sunrise by about ten minutes. The fog is there, but not heavy. When the sun hits, it’ll build a bit, then it should burn off before too much time passes. I pull into the refuge to set up the cameras and get ready for the show. I can hear the geese stirring in the distance. My car thermometer reads 35 degrees. I reach for my coat, and realize I left it at home. All I have is my in-car denim jacket that lives there for these kinds of situations. It’ll help, but it’s really not heavy enough.
I’m the second car into the refuge. One has already headed up the auto tour a bit. I’m in the entrance area, unpacking gear and setting up the car the way I like it for these trips. A lone bird flies through. It turns out to be one of the few glimpses of an Ibis I’ll see today.
Those who have a fantasy that the life of a nature photographer is a glamorous one, set the alarm for 4AM, drag your butt out of bed, and go sit on a bench in the local park for a few hours and wait for something to happen. Maybe something will, maybe it won’t. That, in a nutshell, is nature photography. As you get better at picking locations, the chances something interesting will happen goes up, but it’s never guaranteed. Hours of prep, minutes of opportunity. Maybe.
Some people like to visit a lot of places. Get to know a few places well, rather than see lots of places superficially. You can go overboard on that, become too insular, too “cocooned”, but for me the attraction is to understand a place, not just see it. To watch as it changes over time and through the seasons.
I am going to have fun today. I don’t intend to let the cold stop me. Or the fog. Or even doofuses. Those are all things to work with, and around, they can only be excuses if you let them. Early on, the fog makes bird photography tough, putting everything into soft focus. I spend more time thinking about how to bring the refuge to those that can’t be there.
Opportunities do exist, of course.
A loggerhead shrike sits up for a portrait session. This has been one of my nemesis birds; I have lots of so-so images of them. I don’t have many I’m proud of.
Now I do.
I spend the afternoon with the geese, alternately trying to figure out how to show what it’s like sitting out in a marsh with 10,000+ birds, and trying to get some good flight and landing shots.
How do you describe 10,000 birds visually in an image?
That seems a good start. It’d be a better image if it was a panorama, but I didn’t want to get out of the car and risk spooking them to set up for a formal pano, and the handheld one wasn’t very good. Some days they work, some days they don’t.
Geese, everywhere. Never quiet, and there’s always motion.
Every time I visit a refuge, I want to do video, I want to do audio. I want to try timelapses. I now have most of the gear I need for these, but haven’t had time to practice the setups. Next visit, hopefully.
Then the geese explode; they’ve been spooked. The entire flock hits the air at the same time. The noise is intense, almost as intense as the visual chaos. Birds are flying everywhere. I don’t know how they avoid collisions, but they do.
And then it’s quiet, and empty. The geese have gone in to settle for the night. I can feel the first tendrils of fog seeping back into my It’s time for food, something hot, and the drive over the hill home. Until next time.
The Internet and politics have a way of magnifying each other’s faults. Depending upon which source you read this morning, President Obama either came out forcefully against SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation on Saturday or he staked out a position enabling himself to back away from opposing it outright.
Buried in-between the apparent opposition and the apparent ambivalence is the most important part of Saturday’s statement, which would otherwise resound like a clarion call: “Rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here? Don’t limit your opinion to what’s the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what’s right.” The actual Obama Administration statement itself may have been as good a compromise as King Solomon himself may have managed in this environment: Speaking on behalf of the administration, a trio of technology officials including the U.S. CTO came out against all the principles that the populist movement against SOPA claimed to be against, without Mr. Obama having to personally stand against the entertainment industry which supported the legislation.
It’s good to see the SOPA bill pushed back. I’m not convinced that the solution lies in tweaking the bill. The bill itself is a sign of larger conflicts that I’d like to see us help Congress grapple with, and I think if we do that, it will lead to understand how to find the compromises needed to solve the problems that led to the introduction of SOPA.
If you take a step back from the bill itself, the underlying problem is that the current laws around copyright simply don’t cope well with the reality of the internet and with digital media content in general. I don’t think we’re going to solve the issues surrounding SOPA until we grapple the bigger issue of copyright and sharing rights in the internet age.
It’s not just that the big media organizations have ben trying to protect their existing business models, but they’ve been using this transition to try to push back and reduce or remove rights that exist as well — not only have there been consistent attacks on the right of first sale doctrine, we’ve seen organized attacks on the entire concept of fair use, and as we’ve started seeing a shift to ebooks and electronic publication, even the basic concept of lending a book to a friend has been restricted; just try to lend a Kindle book to someone, even your spouse (that doesn’t share your Amazon account) — it’s now up to the publisher to allow this, or the Kindle won’t let you. Compare that to a paper book and you see how this entire fight isn’t just about stopping piracy, but that it’s an attempt to erode other existing rights for sharing, in ways that, of course, benefit the publisher (at least in the short term) by ‘encouraging’ unit sales.
So to me, it’s time to have this discussion in Congress — what does Copyright mean in the internet era, and how do we update it to deal with the realities of electronic media, of mashups. How do you reconcile a media owner’s right to choose (and license for sale) how their media is going to be used with the interests of an individual who might want to resell his legitimate copy when they’re done, or loan it to a friend, or mash it up in some fun way.
If it was up to just the big media companies, none of that would be allowed, which goes far beyond simply protecting the equivalent processes of the printed media world but in fact strips away user rights that are currently accepted there.
This is a big, hairy, complex problem. Before it’s done, both sides (the big media folks and the “we want to share this stuff” side) will have to compromise. Somewhere along the way, we’ll probably have to deal with Orphaned Works issue. We need to take a close look at Creative Commons and integrate it’s concepts into real copyright law. We need to protect a creator’s right to earn income from their work, but we need to understand where we can draw lines around fair use and make sure that concept is strengthened, not weakened or destroyed (I would love to see fair use and Creative Commons non-commercial licenses go off for a long weekend and bring back something we can use as a model here). We need to understand how personal loans of electronic media can be managed; we need to understand how to allow first sale doctrine transfers in an electronic world. The answer from the big media folks (“all of that has to go away”) can’t be allowed to be turned into the new rules — and for the sake of the media folks, too, for the more they try to lock things down, the more they’ll encourage people to go around the rules (and be termed pirates, which they may or may not be). Piracy will aways exist; a rational set of reasonable use restrictions — most people would live within and accept.
The compromises — and the fight over them — won’t be easy. But I think this is the path we need to take to get to these solutions. Until we understand how the basic concept of copyright needs to work in the internet age, we can’t figure out how to legislate making it work, and the existing copyright rules and concepts are horribly broken in an electronic media age. So it’s time to get started, and figure this out.
And I think we can, with some work. People like to rag on the DMCA, but as someone who’s dealt with it both as a content creator and as an administrator, it’s not awesome, but it works, and it has the checks and balances needed to generally let both sides have a say. There are flaws in it, and flaws in how some sites implement it (not everyone handles appeals and the process beyond the initial take-down well), but overall, I think it does a better job than it’s given credit for many days. The one thing I think it’s missing is a “vexatious litigant” aspect where people who are found to be abusing the system can be banned from making new claims; if we added that, it’d be a hammer to help keep some of the media companies that have been “over enthusiastic” about filing take downs in better check (imagine if Youtube had the right to tell, say, Universal, that they’ve filed too many failed claims, and therefore, they can file no more claims without doing so through a court for approval. That might slow down some of their enthusiasm for taking down stuff that falls under fair use, and give people more incentive to push back when they do).
I’m worried that if we don’t start having this discussion, we’ll end up trying to solve these issues by using the existing laws and processes, and they’re broken. And if we try that path, that’ll work to the big media’s benefit. So what I suggest is it’s time for us not to go to Congress and fight SOPA, it’s time for the tech leaders to go to Congress and start lobbying to help them get educated on copyright and our need to update it to the digital realm — and through that, work for a solution to these issues that SOPA is trying to fix (by taking a fireaxe to themâ€¦)
This year for the holidays I decided to try something different with a couple of my gifts. Every year, I try to make christmas gifts for the family a little personal, and in the last few years, that’s meant something using my photos.
This year, rather than a standard framed print or a calendar, I had prints done via ArtisanHD on Plexiglas. It looked like an interesting, modern alternative to the standard matted print. These images in the 12×18 size (good for 11×14 prints) ran a bit over $50, and to be honest, I was blown away with how they looked.
If you’re looking for something different and memorable, with good quality, something that’s going to leave an impression — this is something you might want to consider. I liked the quality of the final product, I was very happy with the quality of the print, and in fact, I did one for myself, which is going up in my cube at work tomorrow, too. And I expect it’ll get people to come into the office and ask about it.
The one thing that marred the visit to Merced was that I ran into a couple of doofuses. Here’s a quick guide on how not to be a doofus with a camera (or binoculars).
The “Area Beyond This Sign Closed” sign evidently didn’t apply to this couple, who entered the refuge shortly after I did and headed back into tour area ahead of me. The car is significantly beyond the “do not enter” sign, and they are significantly beyond that. What you don’t see or hear here were the three or four coyotes that were actively making a lot of noise somewhere off to the left of this scene but between me and them. Sorry, but “it’s okay if the ranger doesn’t catch us” doesn’t sit well with me. I guess it’s also okay if the coyotes decide not to catch them, too.
These two seemed to be fairly knowledgable birders and at first glance their gear seemed to be of the “okay, they’re serious about this” quality. Not “take out a mortgage” glass, but “we’ve upgraded once or twice” glass. One would hope that serious birders would know to stick to the rules and not do things that impact the birds. Unfortunately, for some birders, “getting the bird” is most important, even to the detriment of the bird.
In fact, this is a minor transgression. They’re on a maintenance road. It’s just annoying to me when I see someone who’s first act when they arrive at a place like this is to put themselves above the rules. Rules which are there to protect them and to protect the birds they were interested in enough to come and visit. I just don’t have a lot of patience with the “it’s okay if I don’t get caught” mentality. Of course, you never know who might know the rangers and email them a picture of them, their car, and their license plate
But the big doofus was in the afternoon. I’ve made my fourth trip through the refuge, this one to sit with the geese until the light fails or they leave. The geese are being moderately cooperative, with about 10,000 sitting in a large group with the close edge about 50 yards off the road, just past the back observation area. I’ve found a parking spot where I have good views, good light, good angles, I’m off the road, and I’m in the car shooting, watching and hanging out.
And along comes a photographer, walking up the access road, camera, tripod. Pro-caliber Nikon body, pro-caliber nikon lens. expensive tripod. He walks up, and proceeds to set up and start shooting. Right directly in front of me, directly in my line of sight.
Okay, say freaking WHAT? It’s not like my car’s invisible. I decided to defer having a cow and give him some time to get some shots in. Instead, I grabbed my long lens and started taking flight shots around him, since he only moderately impacted that. When he heard my camera going off, he looked, saw the lens, and asked me if he was in my way. And I noted that yes, at some point he was going to be impacting my shots. So he then said “well, tell me when I am” and turned around and went back to shooting. After about five minutes of that, he graciously decided that was good enough and moved to a new location off my rear fender that was out of my line of sight.
This is wrong on any number of levels. First of all, you don’t just plop yourself down in front of someone and start shooting as if they aren’t there. He compounded this — his actions and the way he said things made it clear to me that until he realized I was also a photographer that this was okay. It was only once he realized I had a camera that he worried about impacting my sight lines. It doesn’t matter if I have a camera or if I’m just there for, say, a gorgeous sunset with the geese, you don’t have the right to decide to just set up camp in front of me. Â I was mildly annoyed when he did it. I was majorly annoyed when I realized he thought it was okay until he realized I was another photographer, because that implies that he does this to others as well, because, evidently, his camera gives him right of priority view or something. And that he did it without acknowledging my presence until I hauled out a lens about as big as his.
I didn’t make a deal with it with him directly, because nothing good ever happens when you do, but man, this is annoying, because it’s this kind of behavior that gives all photographers a bad rep. When someone with a lens wades in and just plays this kind of game, it makes us all look bad to non photographers. So, kids, when you have a lens out, remember that your actions and how you act leaves an impression on those around you, and that impression is not just about you (and what a doofus you are), but on photographers in general. If you don’t care what people think about you (and I clearly think this man is a doofus) worry about what people think about all of us other photographers. Because it’s actions like this that get all photographer’s access restricted, when enough doofuses do things that annoy non-photographers enough to start making rules.
But it gets better. Or worse, I guess.
The other thing my friend didn’t realize was that he was scaring off the geese. Â He was standing out in the open moving around a lot, shifting his camera around. Every time he did, a few geese closest to him took off and flew off or flew deeper into the pack. I figured it was only a matter of time before he spooked a goose that spooked the flock and caused them all to leave.
Okay, a quick digression. Refuges allow access to restricted parts of the refuge. Many parts are out of bounds so that the birds can go places where they don’t have to deal with the stress of interacting with humans. that’s why humans shouldn’t be going into out of bounds places. At refuges like Merced, access is via a gravel road set up as an auto tour. One of the rules they encourage you to follow is to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. There’s a reason for that: the shape of a human scares the wildlife, and they move away from you, or they leave. If you’re carrying a big camera with a long lens, it looks an awful lot to geese like that other long, pointy thing that got pointed at uncle bob before he fell out of the sky and was never seen again. When you’re that close, the geese are going to notice you and react to you, especially if you’re moving around a lot.
What ultimately happened, though, was that another photographer arrived, parked back up the road a bit, and walked out from behind the screening trees to where the rest of us were (three or four cars, the photographer wandering around. fairly big crowd, actually). He was wearing a red sweatshirt, and got two steps out from behind the screening brush. The flock jumped, and suddenly we had 10-12,000 geese in the air in total chaos. Within a minute, they’d organized and flown off, and we were all sitting there staring at an empty pond.
That is why the rangers tell you to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. Because these folks didn’t, the rest of us lost access to the birds, too. Show over. So much for trying to get a picture of the flock in golden hour light.
If the first photographer had been more aware of how is movements were putting the geese on alert, the second photographer appearing might not have spooked them. Or maybe he would have. Or maybe nothing would have happened (but in the previous times i’ve been in this situation, there’s a fairly decent change they’ll find a reason to get spooked, whether it’s person, noise, or raptor. But one can hope). The point is, I guess, is that if people had been following the recommended rules, the chances we’d have had a longer time watching the birds would have gone up significantly. By being that close to the flock and unaware of what their actions were doing to the birds, they messed it up for all of us.
If you’re going to shoot wildlife, you should strive to understand their behaviors and know how to minimize your impact on them. Failing that, at least know what the rules of the refuge are and follow them, because they’re designed to help you do that. It’s sad and frustrating when I see people who seem oblivious to the stress they’re putting on the animals; this isn’t Disneyland, and these aren’t audio-anamatronic robots.
I’m still wondering what that morning couple’s plan was if those coyotes decided to come out and say hi. They were, after all, only 100-150 yards out from their position. Fortunately, a coyote is generally uninterested in taking on a person, but there were at least three in a group together. That’s not a situation I particularly want to be in, out in the open with a coyote between me and my car where I might be safe. What I did was watch from the “do not pass this point” sign for a couple of minutes, just to make sure there was no sign of the coyotes moving, then I wished them luck on whatever they were doing and moved on. I wonder if they even realized the coyotes were there? (they were sure noisy enough…)
And my friend the doofus? I guess I see that kind of behavior often enough now that it’s merely annoying. If he hadn’t moved, I’d have eventually escalated the situation, but I figured if I gave it time, it’d solve itself without creating a fight, and it did. Once they scared off the flock, there was no reason to stay, so I fired up the car and headed back to the front of the refuge, because if there’s no active flock involved, that’s a better place to photograph the evening fly-in (except when it’s not), where I ran into a nice couple who was there for the first time, and I spent some time trying to help them with what to expect. It was, unfortunately, a fairly weak fly-in, with the cranes mostly missing until very late when they all flew in at once, and the geese — well, they’d already flown off to the evening roost for some reason, so activity was low.
But still, even a lousy sunset on the refuge is better than most things…. And I’ll give this one a C+.