Infringe me and I'll let the dogs out! by Neil Alexander

One of my weekly chores is to spend an hour or so trawling the internet looking for unsolicited use of my photographs. It’s a ball ache that quite frankly I could do without but in this day and age the internet is by far the best place to get my work seen and more importantly sold. However there are too many uneducated individuals and organisations who believe that because it’s on the internet, it must be free. I have often found my work used on blogs for example without any accreditation or links back to me and sometimes even with my copyright watermark removed. Is that theft?

So whilst bloggers get on my tits, companies and organisations that certainly ought to know better really rile me. I don’t give a monkeys if you contracted out the building of your website to a shack in India. It’s yours and you are responsible for it. Were there any libellous comments made on there, it’s your ass the courts are coming after.


And so to that latest cheeky blighters to have tried to rip me off. Some years ago I took a trip around the inside of John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester. It’s architecture is stunning from the outside and it’s even more captivating inside. I made several photographs, and whilst there are tons and tons of images of this building on the internet, a couple of mine seem to get hijacked over and over again. Maybe it’s because in those days I was putting a white frame around my images and adding my copyright marker in the border making it easier to remove, rather than on top of the image itself, the way I work it now. Maybe it’s just because other people think they’re really good. Who knows. But the source of this most recent infringement turns out to be none other than Manchester University. I mean a bloody university. Of all people surely they get the concept of the law where it pertains to patents and copyright. But clearly not. Somebody there deemed it appropriate to not only lift the image from my website, but they then cropped off my copyright statement. How do I know it’s mine? I may have shot hundreds of thousands of photographs, the majority of which are utter crap and never see the light of day. However the ones that eventually make it online are my babies. It’s just like a mother’s ability to hear her child’s cry above the raucous clamour of hundreds of other kids. They’re mine and I could spot ‘em a mile off. 

Intellectual Property Section at Manchester Central Library

But clearly this wouldn’t be enough in a court of law, so I painstakingly trawled the net trying to find anything that resembled my image, the angle, the lighting etc but found nowt. Many close but none exactly the same. So I then pasted the two side by side, the one from their website and mine and proceeded to add highlight markers that would point to the similarities between the images. Convinced I’d now be able to argue the toss in court, I emailed them with a bill for usage (I’d used Google’s archive to determine that they’d been using it for at least 12 months) and demanded they took it down forthwith. Bizarrely they complied with the latter but denied any wrong doing. 

Incensed, I released the hounds. It’s very handy having a wife who is a solicitor. The university clearly assumed that I’d have to factor in legal costs and counted on me not pursuing such a paltry figure. I couldn’t go after them for damages (copyright law in the UK doesn’t permit it) so I billed them for what it would have legitimately cost them to licence the image and then added a bit for my time and the aggro. So it wasn’t going to buy me a new Lambo but there was principal at stake here too. They wrote to me several times offering gradually increased payments but each time I would have to sign a disclaimer stating that I wouldn’t reveal anything about the case. In my mind this smacked of guilt and a desire not to have their name muddied. Red rag and bull. 

A case was lodged with the small claims court, and we awaited their defence. And waited. And waited. The way the small claims court works is that you file your case and the defendant has so many days to file their defence case. A judge then looks over the details and arrives at a conclusion based on the facts in front of them and a full understanding of the law. If a defence is not filed, then you can automatically enter a judgement against them without a judge ever having to get involved. It’s very simple. But Manchester University failed to file one. One can only assume that it was because they didn’t actually have one. But at the last minute the offered to pay in full, still demanding the disclaimer. Eventually, to avoid being ruled against they capitulated. 

I got my dues and I am finally able to tell the story without fear of retribution.

Try and pursue me for slander or libel they might, but facts are facts. So a word of warning to anyone looking to use an image they “just found” on the internet; if a person creates something, be it a photograph, a painting, a piece of music, or the design of a new interstellar spacecraft, they own it. Taking it or copying it is copyright infringement. This is illegal and theft of another person’s livelihood. 

10 great sources of photographic inspiration for the summer holidays by Neil Alexander

Expecting to find yourself with a rare few spare hours over the summer? I know I'm hoping to! Then check out these photography related resources guaranteed to provide you with a little inspiration for your photography somewhere.

First up, a few websites:

1. Bruce Percy is a Scots adventure photographer who has had his work published all over the world and has an extensive client list ranging from Fujifilm to American Express, though he now primarily runs workshops in Scotland, Iceland, Norway and South America. His work is absolutely stunning. Spend a little time going through his portfolio and you can’t fail to be impressed. He also puts together short slideshows complete with his own narrative. I find these incredibly inspiring aided considerably by his soft spoken voice and artistic insight - See them here.


2. According to the website, Lenscratch "is considered one of the 10 Photography-Related blogs you should be reading by Source Review, Wired.com, Rangefinder and InStyle Magazine.”. There’s more incredible art on this site than you could shake a stick at. Originally created 7 years ago with the aim of showing a different photographers’ work each day and gaining a deeper insight into the thoughts of the artist, there’s now work from thousands of photographers on here and it’s well worth subscribing to the Lenscratch RSS feed for daily updates. 


3. David duChemin is a legend in his own right. I love this guy. His lengthy thought provoking blog posts are only superseded by the quality of his photography and the amount of effort he goes to to give back to the photography community at large. On top of being one of the best humanitarian photographers in the world, he’s also an international workshop leader, a best-selling author and the founder of the amazing resource that is Craft and Vision. Not only does he give the impression with being totally in tune with himself but also with mankind as a whole.


And so now onto some eBooks. These can be read on a laptop, iPad or any other device (a smartphone may be a bit tricky) and are all either ridiculously cheap or even free!

4. I’ve been a fan of Martin Bailey’s for some years now. An expat from Nottingham now living in Japan, Martin has risen his way from mediocrity to a global leader in the field of nature and wildlife photography. This latest eBook of his on the Craft and Vision label is his best to date and jam packed with inspiration. And it’s only $8!
Striking landscapes by Martin Bailey - Check out the contents here.


5. Scott Bourne, an industry legend, who has now officially hung up his boots, has long been prolific on the old social media front. Scott, who started shooting long before I was out of short trousers, has had his work reproduced in just about every manner and medium possible. His thoroughly engaging manner is only outdone by his loathing of social media trolls and naysayers and this free PDF is well worth a read for the novice and seasoned pro alike. 
Scott Bourne's Essays on inspiration, creativity & vision in photography - Download it here.


6. Trey Ratcliff, one of the pioneers of good looking realistic High Dynamic Range photography is another star on the rise. Trey is a photographer, artist, writer & adventurer who runs the number 1 travel photography blog on the net. His work became popular after having the first ever HDR photograph to hang in the Smithsonian. Rather extraordinarily, Trey was born blind in one eye and has a background in computer science and mathematics so he brings a somewhat different slant to the world of art. Trey releases all his work under the Creative Commons licensing standard which means that anyone and everyone is free to use and distribute his work as long as it’s not for commercial gain and currently resides in one of my must visit locations, New Zealand. This brilliant article titled "10 Principles Of Beautiful Photography", which starts "There is a fine line between a photo that is quite nice and one that is quite breathtaking” is really well worth a read if you’ve a spare 15 minutes or so. This used to be an PDF format, but now is up there as a plain old web page to make it easier for you.


And onto some movies:

7. Tim Hetherington- Restrepo

Tim Hetherington was a Birkenhead born photojournalist, who in 2007, won the World Press Photo competition for his moving photo of an American soldier in Afghanistan and proceeded to win many more. In 2010 he went on to release Restrepo, a joint project with acclaimed director Sebastian Junger which was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. Sadly he was killed by shrapnel doing the job he loved while covering the civil war in Libya a year later. In the movie, the two directors take their cameras into the trenches for a "day in the life" look at what it's like to fight in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, nicknamed the most dangerous place on earth. It’s vivid, intense, unvarnished stuff, and the two filmmakers won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at Sundance this year for their troubles. 


8. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

I love Hitchcock, his use of minimal lighting and ability to create something out nothing. Suspense is his middle name and his ability to leave so much to the viewer’s imagination is something that many photographers could learn from. Rather than a stock thriller, this particular movie is more about the viewer’s interpretation of the relationship between the photographer and his wife, how he copes with his acrophobia (fear of heights especially when one is not particularly high up), and his obsession with his old friend’s wife. Featuring James Stewart and Grace Kelly the film has gone on to be nominated and win more awards than I’d care to mention. It’s slow and not a great deal happens but is still a stunning piece of film.


9. The Bang Bang club

This is a movie based on the real-life experiences of 4 combat photographers set in South Africa during the final days of apartheid directed by Steven Silver and released in 2010. The film goes to some lengths to build the back story of the 4 photographers and then follows them as they try to document a situation that was clearly terrifying to be anywhere near. 
"After proving his worth with a Pulitzer prize photograph of a burning man the four young men bond closely as the Bang Bang Gang and proceed to capture all of the fighting and incomparably cruel hostilities as the three fighting forces in the struggle for power in South Africa create the chaos of 1994. In a particularly touching scene Kevin photographs a starving child being stalked by a hungry vulture and his photograph wins a second Pulitzer Prize for the group. But war is war and takes is mental and physical tolls on the Bang Bang Gang and only two survive to write the book whose journal like content provides the story for the film."
It’s quite a harrowing film and not easy to watch, but well worth the effort.


10. David Lidbetter

And finally, just for the beauty of the colours and simplicity of the compositions, you have to check out David Lidetter's still life work.
I stumbled across his work pretty much by accident, but never fail to be entranced by his use of colour and the beauty he creates from such simple items. A still life photographer based in London, David’s work has "a keen attention to textures, colours and the smallest of detail, he has a simple yet fun style”. Fun it most certainly is. And inspiring too boot.


So there you go. That lot should keep you entertained for a bit. If there's anything you'd like to send my way for me to consume over the summer, then just leave it in the comments section below.

Using nature to frame the subject by Neil Alexander

Stirling Castle, Scotland. Prints and canvases of this and other images of castles can be seen here.

A simple skill for any photographer to improve their compositional skills is to learn how to frame a subject. It can focus the viewer's eye on an area of the photograph where you’d like their eye to fall initially. But why bother? Because as photographers, we’re visual storytellers and in our photographs we have to be able to clearly demonstrate to the viewer what the subject is to draw them in to our work. Popping a frame of some description around it simplifies matters for the viewer and helps to focus (excuse the pun) the eye on what I intended to be the key element of the photograph. Clearly, the castle is the smallest element in the photograph but you see it first. It’s a very simple lesson and very easy to do.

Taken quite literally at the side of the road, the gaps in the trees either side of this spot were either too big (I couldn’t get enough of them in the frame) or they were too close together (and the castle become a much larger element in the image). By just taking my time to assess the scene before I planted my tripod gave me the opportunity to make a much better photograph than if I’d just jumped out the car and started shooting at the first scene I saw.