Updating my online watermarks (and branding)

There’s a minor change I’m rolling out to the blog and my online sites — I’m updating the way I publish my images to include a new watermark and to include the logo I started using a few months ago on my site. This also allows me to standardize how I publish and display images on both my blog, twitter and Google+, where before, it was a mishmash of sizes and watermarks and information. (I am rolling this out to flickr as we speak. I’ll be using a slightly different one on SmugMug, since I need it to be added by SmugMug so it won’t show up on prints).

Here’s the new look:

Yellowstone National Park

Depending on the service I was uploading everything from 600 pixels long to 2400 pixels, using any of four different watermarks. Keeping all that straight was practically speaking impossible, and if I updated an image, it was rough getting everything back in sync. None of my watermarks used my new logo and branding I rolled out a few months ago, and some were dated, the oldest one still showing 2012. In other words, a mess.

I’ve standardized on 1200pixels long for the image size (‘long’ means whichever edge is longer, with the short side sized to whatever aspect ratio the image is made with). I’m not currently planning on going back and ‘fixing’ existing images that are already online somewhere, but I’ll be using this from now on, and I might do some strategic updates along the way.

The new export format uses a photo border frame. Yes, I know this is controversial with some. Mine’s been designed to be minimally invasive with only a bit of my new logo encroaching onto the image as a watermark. I also know, because I’ve heard from some of you already, that this is not a popular decision.

Here’s why I did this: image sharing is not going away. I’ve always encouraged sharing, because I see that as potentially useful marketing and frankly, you’re not going to stop it even if you try. Better to learn to take advantage of it rather than tilt at this windmill any longer — instagram, pinterest and all of the social sites where this stuff is passed around aren’t going to go away.

The problem, though, is that when these things are shared, the attributions are lost. No pleading, screaming, yelling, threatening or whining will get the casual image sharer to remember to (or bother to) stick attribution onto an image, and the sites built around sharing have never figured out a way to make it happen automatically in any usable way. EXIF? That’s magic bits 99% of the population has never heard of and never will, so assuming anyone will look in there is a bad bet — but you need to put it in there anyway because that’s an aspect if piracy protection. and note that sharing and piracy are different issues, even though both involve copies of your image.

So if you want attribution on your image, you have to put it there in a way that travels with the image when it’s shared. Photographers have been trying variations of this for a long time with transparent or semi-transparent watermarks (as I have, of course), and I’ve simply come to the conclusion that (a) they don’t work well, and (b) they invariably interfere with the quality of the image to some degree, which seems really ass-backward to what we as photographers want to be doing, which is showing the image off, not damaging it to try to stop something we can’t stop.

Either the watermark is so faint and indecipherable it serves no useful purpose for attribution, or it’s so visible and blatant it damages the image. Neither of these is acceptable to me.

So I’ve gone to using the border, and I’ve put my attribution info in there. I’ve tried to design mine to be minimally intrusive, using a color that I feel is compatible with my images without clashing or calling attention to itself. The logo intrudes into image itself just enough that someone can’t crop the frame off the image trivially, which is not to stop piracy, but to help prove it — you won’t stop a pirate, but you want to be able to show that they made a conscious act to do the piracy, whether by cropping off the identification info or by photoshopping out the watermark. But the new intrusion into the image, while not as transparent, is only about 15% of the size of my old watermark, and placed in an area where I almost never have ‘interesting’ content in an image.

I have found that the transparent watermarks do zero for helping someone find your site when they see a shared image; I’ve long believed they do nothing to inhibit casual or intentional piracy, either — the fact is, give me an image with your watermark, and in 5-10 minutes, I can probably remove it well enough to make your image publishable. don’t believe me? Play with one of your watermarked image in photoshop with content aware patching and see what happens.

So the whole idea of watermarks as a piracy prevention tool is a failed idea, and has been for a while, unless you make your watermark blatant and intrusive enough that you effectively destroy the image. If you do that, it’ll stop piracy, but not because of the watermark, but because the image is now ugly and nobody wants it. Not exactly how I want to promote my photography online.

I think photographers need to think about how to enable the sharing ecosystem in a way that you can take advantage of — and the only way I can see that does that while leaving the quality and integrity of the image intact is to do go the border. At the same time, I understand how a massive and complicated frame can overwhelm an image and damage a user’s reaction to it, so I think you need to keep it small and simple.

And that’s what I’ve done: my name, my web site, a copyright sigil, and my logo. Saying you see reshares of your images as free marketing only works if you get marketing from them,  and the old setup I used did nothing. It was a lost opportunity.

So I’m going to try this, use it for six months or so, and evaluate the reaction and whether I see any changes to how people find my site or react to my images. And if it works, I’ll keep it. If it doesn’t, I’ll try something else.

I do think the day of the transparent watermark is long gone, and photographers need to realize that. So are the days when you can pretend you can prevent copying or sharing of images across the multitude of sites that encourage and enable it. It’s not going away, you should find ways to take advantage of it rather than fight it. And so that’s what I’m trying to do.

But… What about piracy?

I see piracy as a different thing than the sharing ecosystem. I realize some of you feel that any use of an image without someone paying you is piracy, and if you want to keep fighting that fight, good luck. I think that ship has long sailed and is well over the horizon. The sharing ecosystem isn’t going anywhere, adn you can’t stop it. I think you’re wasting time and resources — and stress — if you try. Things that should be productively put to other purposes.

Piracy is another issue, and my definition of piracy is someone who uses your images against your stated wishes and receives something of value in that use. That can be a publication that uses it without paying you a publication fee, but it can also be using it on a web site without attribution and instead of an image that should have been bought through stock (or wherever). My commitment to sharing my online images via Creative Commons (they still are licensed using the non-commercial attribution license) hasn’t changed, the excuses about not understanding about attribution have gone away because it’s now hardwired into the image.

You remove the attribution, you’re in violation of the license. It’s that simple.

For what it’s worth, I long ago realized that watermarks and their cousins do nothing to stop image piracy, so if you’re designing your watermarks to stop that, please stop. You’re doing it wrong, and it isn’t working. What watermarks do is give you an objective factual thing that helps you prove that someone took a conscious act to pirate the image — proving willful violation instead accidental.It gives them fewer excuses when you lawyer up on them. And you don’t need to destroy an image to do that. The the frame and logo I’m using, there’s enough information that if someone does a crop and patch, I’ll be able to prove it in court. That’s what matters for a case of commercial piracy.

The executive summary

So, in summary, here’s why I’m doing this:

  • Finding a way to work with the sharing ecosystem instead of fighting it
  • Make sure my attribution and contact info doesn’t get lost and when image gets shared, because nobody else will take the time to do it.
  • Keep the image the most important thing, not the marketing or the watermark.
  • Maintain the integrity and quality of the image
  • Understand I’m not going to stop commercial piracy, but give myself the data I’d need to prove that violation was a conscious action and not accidental.

I think the new format is the best way I know how  to handle the compromises implied by all these things today. Maybe I’ll learn from this and improve it over time. Maybe it’ll fail miserably and I’ll try something else. But if you don’t keep trying new things and exploring options and opportunities, you fail by standing still as everything moves around you and leaves you behind.

I’m curious your thoughts on this. Let me know what you think.





Posted in Photography

Three Dot Lounge for July 13, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Welcome to Three Dot Lounge

Welcome to the three dot lounge.

This is the next experiment in my ongoing attempt to wrangle online content in a way that is both interesting and manageable, and an evolution in the ideas I experimented with on For Your Consideration. The challenge is that there are some things I feel deserve some commentary or more visibility than a simple retweet, but Twitter is a lousy mechanism for trying to say something more complex than “what they said”.

On the flip side, very few of these things really need (or deserve) their own blog post, and I’ve found if you do try the “link and a paragraph” game the longer and more interesting/important content on the blog gets lost in the noise.

So I’m going to try the digest form — which has a long tradition in journalism commentary, hence the name. And we’ll see if this hits that compromise point between content and commentary and clutter and visibility well.

God knows if this will work well, my previous tries haven’t — but I’ve learned from each one. And if you don’t keep trying and experimenting, you’ll never get it right — and I still think it’s worth getting right.

What matters, of course, is what you think; I really want your thoughts and feedback on this, so don’t be shy.

10 Lessons from 4 Years Working Remotely at Automattic

10 Lessons from 4 Years Working Remotely at Automattic

Some really good advice here. I just hit my 90 day mark at Cisco, and our team is heavily remote, and even those of us local are primarily working out of home offices; I haven’t been in the office since I got back from Yellowstone, although I’ll get in this week.

It’s nice working on a virtual team again — but it requires a different mindset and you really have to worry about communication and coordination. My biggest challenge continues to be not letting things get buried in the inbox — I’m sure none of you have that problem, right?

One thing I did this week was follow the lead of Automattic and build out a team watercooler using their P2 Theme. This is specifically a place for those things where you think “some folks will be interested in this” followed by “but I don’t want to clutter their inboxes”. Now, that stuff has a home, which is overtly “not about business”. That you aren’t all in one office doesn’t mean the casual bonding and conversation isn’t important, I’ve found remote teams work best when you give that “side chatter” an official place and enable it within the team, and just because you can’t stand next to the watercooler in person doesn’t mean it’s not important to the work environment…

The Developer’s Dystopian Future

The Developer’s Dystopian Future

Ed Finkler (who I got to work with at Palm and is a really sharp and interesting guy) has hit that wall geeks hit when the challenges of keeping up the pace of a high technology professional meets your interest in doing things other than coming home from geeking all day and, well, spending all evening geeking.

I hit that point when I left Apple, where I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living but coding all day every day wasn’t it any more. There’s a reason why programmers seem to mutate into product managers, or in my case, a community manager (product management was my other path I considered).

The high tech world is a challenge to keep up with. The complexity continues to grow, the speed of change isn’t slowing down. I think to some degree this IS a young person’s game, partly because they have the energy of youth, but also because they don’t have the complications you get as you age — whether it’s spouse or children or mortgages or simply interests other than hacking.

And this is still very much an unsolved problem in the industry, which still to a dangerous degree depends on “we’ll replace him with another college kid. Cheaper, anyway”.

For those of you growing into this decision — and if you haven’t, you will, my answer is: don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Don’t be afraid to decide to specialize and take on only a piece of what you used to do — and become really good at it. Don’t be afraid to, every so often, take a step back and consider whether you want to go in a completely different direction. And don’t ever stop working to upgrade your skills and keep them fresh, or you’ll wake up and find yourself stuck in an eddy and unable to swim back into the current. That’s a scary place to be.

And even more than that, don’t be afraid to have a life. And maybe that life is outside of high tech. You don’t have to be a cute rat. If your interests run somewhere else, chase them. I’m lucky: I’ve been able to find a way to both stay relevant in high tech and chase my other interests. It can be done (but it’s not easy…)


Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Bird Photography Legion of Honor for the 2nd Quarter, 2014

This is something new we’re trying in the Bird Photography group on Google+. Once a quarter we’re looking at all of the images that won one of our contests, or was awarded a Photo of the Day award, and pulling out the best of the best to be awarded into our Legion of Honor through our Bird Photography Today page. Here’s the set of winners for Q2 (April, May and June 2014).

There are 41 images that we’ve given an award in this quarter. I’d originally planned on awarding about 25, but my first select was almost 200, and I simply didn’t feel any of the images in this set were ones that could be removed. I’m very happy with the quality and diversity of images, and I expect you will be, too.

Bird Photography Legion of Honor, 2nd Quarter 2014 from Chuq Von Rospach on Vimeo.

Posted in Birdwatching, Photography

Impressions of Yellowstone — a Portfolio

One of the goals I set myself this year was to push myself to put more thought and energy into publishing and display of my images instead of putting most of my time into taking them. This isn’t about creating sales (if that imrpoves,it’s a nice side benefit, of course), but more about understanding how to best show off the images, how to put them in context, and how to better distribute them so they get seen. A good picture is a good picture, but a good picture with an audience of one can’t make much of an impact.

One of the projects I set for myself was to create and publish a portfolio a quarter. I missed Q1 due to the shift in jobs to Cisco, but I’ll fix that soon. For Q2, I knew the Yellowstone trip would be the topic. And so here it is, Impressions of Yellowstone. I’d love your thoughts and feedback on this, even if you think it sucks. Especially that, so I can learn. I’m unsure if the commentary I added to the images helps or hurts this and I’d really like to know how you react to it.

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When I got back from Yellowstone, I did some experimenting with Animoto, and my first published slideshow is up on vimeo. I honestly don’t think it’s that good but it helped me work through a number of issues that I think made the portfolio a lot better, and I do plan on pushing myself in this format as well — I think the show I did celebrating the Bird Photography Chasing 10,000 contest came out a lot better. (yes, I’m experimenting with both vimeo and youtube, and finding them useful for different things. Not sure yet if I’ll settle on one or the other or both yet).

Having never done this before, I’m way out of my comfort zone and it’s been an interesting struggle creating a look that I felt set off the images well and, well, didn’t absolutely suck and embarrass me. It’s really tempting to just bury all of this and go back to pushing shutter buttons and posting to flicker and twitter and pretending that’s doing my images justice, but I know that’s not true. If you’re not stressing yourself and trying new things, you’re not pushing yourself forward, and standing still means you’re falling further behind those that are.

This is another stake in the ground as I try to figure out what it means to move beyond taking pictures. About two years ago I came to the realization that simply taking and posting pictures wasn’t enough, that I was interested in trying to tell a larger story using pictures. The first big piece of that was my refuge project, which is ongoing and will continue to be, if the drought and politics don’t just devastate them into oblivion.

But taking inspiration from Steve Bumgardner and his Yosemite Nature Notes, and also from David duChemin and his views of going beyond the technical aspects of photography into the vision and composition of the image, I’ve been challenging myself to follow those paths to find my own vision and my own voice and style.

Sometimes it’s been an extremely frustrating process, but learning and change and progress never happen without stress and experiments and failure and persistence. It’s not easy — which is the point. Along the way I experimented with video and audio and how to build multi-media presentations and timelapses and night photography and — half a dozen other things, at least (which probably puts some perspective into my comments here), and I’ve really circled back to the thought that what works for me, and what I want to do, is tell those stories through the still images that come out of a camera, and all that other stuff is awesome and interesting, but at this point a distraction. So back to the image I go.

And one image may tell a story, but you can use images together to tell a more complete and more powerful one, and that’s what I’m trying to learn. More importantly, not just tell a story, but tell the story I see so that others can also see it.

And this is the first of those. Enjoy.



Posted in Photography Portfolios, Road Trips

Review Wednesday — I have committed Keurig

If you had told me a year ago I was going to buy a Keurig, I’d have laughed.

And yet, here I am, owner of a Keurig. A couple of weeks ago I bought a Keurig K60/K65 — and to be honest, so far, I really like it.

Why? Since I’ve started my new job I’m working at home more. That means I’m not out and about as much, which means fewer opportunities for an easy stop by the local coffee shark or a convenient Starbucks. One day I found myself seriously thinking about getting into the car just to drive a few blocks to grab a coffee and bring it back home.

The thing is, we had a nice coffee brewer; you stick in beans and water, it ground them and  brewed a nice pot. It’s been at least a year since we used it. Not only do you have to set it up, you have to clean up after, and you end up with a big multi-cup pot of coffee you may or may not want. In other words, just more hassles than it was worth. I went out and looked at it thinking I’d drag the beans out of the freezer, took one look and thought to myself — not worth it.

And then I thought — Keurig. And now, I understand why people buy them.

Seriously, the coffee quality isn’t the same as your typical one-plant cold-pressed ethiopian ferret-pooped artisinal coffee brewed by a monk under a vow of silence — but I’m not that person. Starbucks is fine by me. So, it turns out, is a Keurig. I don’t need the Japanese tea ceremony performed before I drink a cup of tea, either. I’m not criticizing anyone who does, it’s just not me. Me? Sometimes I want a nice cup of coffee with minimal hassle. I’m their target demographic.

Of course, I bought some stuff to experiment with: some teas, some fun pods like cocoa’s and faux-mocha and faux-cappuccinos. Some of them aren’t bad. Not necessarily great, but not bad. The problem with all of them is that they are basically Coffeemate in a tub variations: some instant coffee, some instant flavors based on corn syrups and hydrogenated fats. Not exactly healthy, but in tiny amounts. Still, stuff I’m generally trying to not ingest any more, so when these first sets are done, I won’t buy any more.

I’m still exploring ‘real’ coffees to decide which ones to keep in stock. I have supplies of what seem to be the best regarded: Green Mountain, Tulley’s, Caribou, Newman’s Own. We’ll see which ones get re-ordered when the initial stock is done. I also bought a few basic teas — a Twinings English Breakfast and a Green Tea. I’ve been thinking of adding a regular cup of Green Tea to my mix, and the Twinings is perfectly good. It’s still too early to make permanent decisions on which ones will be permanent around here, though.

But the Keurig? it’s a keeper. Why this unit? The two big variables between units are the size of the reservoir (and how often you have to refill it) and how big a cup it’ll brew. This one has a good sized storage, and goes for 10 ounce cups. I think those are about right for common use.

So, Keurig users, what should I be experimenting with? Which coffees deserve to be used and which avoided? Any suggestions?

Still, having ruled out the “easy” pod versions of coffee drinks, I’m still interested in a nice mocha or latte, so I have ordered a frother, and I plan on playing with it to see about making these at home. And we’ve picked up some syrups to play with as well, and also to use with the Sodastream for italian sodas, and see how it goes.

So far, so good. It’s a good, convenient cup, which is what I want at this point, and so far, it’s been quite reliable.

And that’s pretty much what I was looking for. Now, time for a cup of tea….


Posted in Review Wednesday