Saturday, 20 April 2013

A long drive for a swamp

This morning I got up before five and about five thirty I started a two and half hour drive west. I was going to take a look at a swamp. Yes, I know, there is something really seriously wrong with me. Little over 200 km drive to walk around a swamp and then the same drive back again to get home doesn't seem very smart. Especially if it involves getting up early in the morning. I don't think even I would have done it, if I wouldn't have had a meeting set up at a lean-to at the edge of the national park containing the swamp in question.

Now, the meet in question was a special one. I belong to a number of Finnish photoforums, but for the last year or so, have mainly been active in only one of them. It's not much like the others, there are only a few members and all of us have at one point or another just had enough of the other forums. They really are packed with one or all of the following: the techweenies arguing over which camera has the best qualities, (eventhough they never really utilize more than 10% of what their gear could do), the "you gave my picture favourable comments, so I'll say your picture is brilliant" -crowd, "bad reactions to critique" -bunch or "according to this or that book your picture stinks because it doesn't go by the accepted rules of a "good" picture" -comments. Our little group got together on the net and we focus on throwing comments at each other that most people would consider insults, but we all know it's done only because of a twisted sense of humor, with no real insult intended. We also believe that "going by the book" or focusing too much on technical issues takes the fun out of our beloved hobby, photography. There is really no other common factor to our photography other than it has to be fun. Most of the others are not into nature pics the same way I am and I have no interest in taking glampics of models or going to the circuit to take motorsport pictures for example. I knew a couple of this bunch pretty well and we had met up many times, but there were also a couple of actives that I had never met in person, only traded ideas and comments over the net. So, when a meet was set up and I time off from work, I felt that I just had to go.

We met up at the lean-to just after eight in the morning and after having a cup of coffee, we headed down the trail that went around the swamp. We stopped every now and then to take pictures, talked about this and that as we walked along. After our about 10km trek was over, we were back at the lean-to, got a fire going, grilled some sauseges and chatted some more. Then it was time to start the long drive home. Yes, 5 hours driving in one day is not much fun, but I am glad I went. It was fun to meet the chaps behind the nicknames in person and to discover that after all this time, it was like meeting up with old friends. I had a really great day and I hope our plans for another meet sometime in the near future will go as planned.

Here are some of the pictures I took along our little walk-about:

Monday, 15 April 2013

Gray morning and camera shy grouses

I haven't had time to do much (more like any) photography this spring. Today was exceptional in the sense that I managed to go out and even had a friend along. Usually I'm out there alone. It's nice to have someone tag along every now and then, the hours spent alone in the hide can be rather lonesome at times. If nothing else, it's nice to have someone to talk to while waiting for something to happen.

I woke up at 2:30, after sleeping for about three hours. For some reason I did not get to sleep early as I had planned. I made tea for my thermos and stuffed my sandwichbox in my backpack that I had loaded with my gear the previous evening. I turned on the coffee machine to get a few cups of much needed fuel into my system. Just after three my friend Jukka pulled up. Jukkas photocompany pages can be found here. (Finnish only, sorry) We loaded our gear into my car and headed for the swamp. I parked the car at my usual spot and we headed to my hide that I had set up the previous afternoon. After skiing for half an hour in ankle deep slush, we arrived at the hide. It was still pitch dark when we got ourselves and our gear stuffed inside.

As the sun rose, the light increased, but with a low overcast, everything was colored in dull gray tones. To make matters worse, the grouses that we had come to photograph were well too aware of my hide. The first few birds landed at their usual spot right infront of us, but there wasn't enough light for good pictures. A couple of them started to boast at each other and even ruffled each others feathers a bit. They also kept looking towards the hide almost all the time and after spotting some movement of our camera lenses, the whole flock moved further away. It would have been much better if I could have taken the hide out a few days earlier and let the birds get used to it before going out, but I was so busy around the house with family stuff that it just could not be done. In any case, the low hanging cloudlayer made sure that no real nice color tones would be captured today.

Here is a quick sample of this mornings images:

Jukka wrote his views of our trip (still in Finnish) with some nice pictures here. For our next outing I'll get us a larger hide. My little tent was made accommodate just me and my gear and with two photographers, it was cramped to the limit. It fealt great to crawl out and be able to strech my legs and back.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Up north

We did our almost traditional january trip north this week. Out of the original five, only two (craziest?) decided to go this time. The two were my good friend Jani and myself. We headed out at about eight on monday morning, with about 800 km of driving ahead of us. I took a couple of quick snapshots along the way:
As can be seen from the lower picture, there were some nice scenery along the way, but the dull gray weather did not do them justice. After about 11 hours on the road we arrived at our destination.

Our first day out in the wild was gray and foggy:
Jani took this picture of me just before the slight drizzle coming down froze on my camera and forced me to stop taking pictures:
We managed to ski quite a bit during the day and even saw some birds. Didn't catch any though. After a sauna and dinner, I had no trouble getting to sleep. As soon as I put my head on the pillow and pulled the blanket over me, I slept until the alarm clock woke me up in the morning for another day of skiing.

Our second day started out with clear skies and a nice crispy -17 C
We skied thru a few small swamps and headed up the hill that can be seen on the horizon in the picture above.
 The view from the top was spectacular:
At the top, we stopped for lunch:
With the sun low on the horizon, the trees and the sky had blue and purple color:

This time we didn't even see birds, except for one black grouse that flew across the road just as we got back to our car. Eventhough we didn't catch anything for the second year in a row, I still want to go out again in the future.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Getting ready

I'm doing a nightshift at work tonight and on monday morning it's time to head north. A couple of days of peace and quiet, skiing in deep snow. Despite all the other stuff that I've been busy with, I have managed to get most of my gear packed for monday. I'll post something from our trip when I get back home, that is, if I manage to get any decent pictures.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


One Christmaspicture

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Time to add it all up and close

I feel it is time to put a wrap on "case studio Hera Bell". First of all I want to thank everyone who has felt that posting a link to my blog has been a good way to pass information to others who might be interested. With almost 800 visits in the past 24 hours, most of which have come from outside Finland, I think we have managed to spread the word nicely.

Montreal Gazette has replied to one of the actives on (the finnish site where this all began) that they will not run a story on Hera Bells alleged copyright infringements or photo thefts, which ever term one may wish to use. People from the gazette have tried to contact Hera Bell to get some kind of comment from her but have not been succesful, despite their best efforts. I think this is a shame as it would have been extremely interesting to hear ms. Bells side of the story. If her explanations for the findings done by actives would have been less than satisfactory, the newspaper article would have been a great way to warn her potential clients that she may not be all that she claims to be.

On the legal side, it is not realistic to expect legal action to be taken against Hera Bell from this side of the atlantic. The cost of getting the case moving would be far too great in comparison with the potential returns. And, as anyone who has ever been to court can tell you, there are no guarantees on the outcome of a case in a court of law. Yes, the evidence against Hera Bell seems overwhelming, but it must be remembered that almost all of the pictures have been taken from different photographers. This means that a single photographer would sue ms. Bell for the unauthorized use of one image. For a photographer based in Canada, this would be an option and if it were me, I would do it. Without proof of Hera Bell actually making a profit with the unauthorized use of one single picture, the compensation to be gained would most likely be minor but some form of sanctions could be expected.

As I stated in my previous post phototheft on the internet happens all the time. A good example of the scope of the problem is that a photographer friend of mine found one of his pictures being used by a Danish photographer to promote her works just yesterday. The reason why I took more of an interest in Hera Bells doings is the sheer scope of it all and her claims of being a "professional photographer." A lot of her claims have been found to be questionable to say the least in the past few days. I really don't know how much of this whole thing was Hera Bell simply boosting her own selfimage on different photography websites and how much actual marketing for her photography business.

I think there are some lessons to be learned from all of this. For the aspiring photographer starting out his or her own business, this is a good lesson in marketing on the internet. Hera Bell had a very convincing and professional looking appearance on the web and anyone wanting to get their business going should try to achieve a similar image, just so that it is done on a truthfull basis, using ones own pictures and real credentials that can easily be verified. As for the potential client looking for a photographer, one should remember that not everything we see on the internet is as it appears to be and some background checks to verify claims made by the photographer may well be in order before agreeing to pay for services. One must remember that in any form of marketing, the positive sides are the ones brought forward and the negative ones are played down or left out altogether.

Unless something comes to my attention regarding legal action being taken against Hera Bell, I don't see any reason to continue writing about her. After all, her reputation among photographers around the world has been tarnished, her web pages are down and the stolen images have been removed. As someone put it, her "signature style" turned out to be more "stolen style".  However, if she does return to photosites on the internet sometime in the future, with pictures taken by herself (as I hope she will), her return will not be easy. I am sure she will be confronted with comments like "nice picture, who took it this time" for quite some time. As long as she is honest, I wish her strength to get thru it. Gaining trust after it is lost is no small feat.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Studio Hera Bell, part III

 The story on Hera Bell continues. After a few days of searching done by a few really active fellows on a bunch of new "picture pairs" have been found and a pattern can be seen. The latest count of obvious cases published at "who took this photo" is 25. The pattern seems to be that a picture has been downloaded from a non - north american photographer, then "flipped" to a mirror image of the original and either some color management or conversion to BW done in photoshop. With these simple photoshop techniques, the discovery of stolen pics has been made much more difficult. For example, google picture search does not recognize the mirror image to be the same as the original. In this case it did not matter much, as the guys doing the detective work soon discovered this and took pictures published by Hera Bell, flipped them around and did a new search that unsurprsingly started to produce hits.

In the original dpreview discussion on this (a new one has been started since) a croatian pro photographer by the name of Dean Bertoncelj came forward to tell what happend to him. The short version is that Bertoncelj has an account with shutterstock. After receiving information that there are infringement questions regarding one of Bertonceljs' pictures, they (rightfully so) closed his account and requested more information. After Bertoncelj provided proof that HE DOES own the rights to the picture in question, his account was put back online. This took a day or so. Now, this may or may not have cost Bertoncelj money, as it is possible that someone might have been interested to buy his pictures, but with the account closed, it was not possible. Just goes to show that the theft of even one picture can have rather far reaching effects and real financial harm can be done.

Some pictures have been found published by Hera Bell that also appear on other Canadian photographers webpages. These photographers have been informed about these findings and they are considering what action to take. Being in the same country they have the best opportunity to take legal action against Hera Bell. Doing so from the other side of the atlantic may be so complicated that it may not be worth the trouble. This is something that is being looked into, however and if reasonably possible, will be done.

The matter of legal action brings me to something that had some of the fellows playing "interet detective" a bit worked up. One of them posted the story of Hera Bell to mu-43 forum, a site where she has been active at posting pictures. The moderators there locked the discussion and stated that accusing someone is not what the forum is for and such cases should be taken to court. During the most heated search for stolen pictures, this was not viewed kindly and some reposts were done, resulting in one person being blocked from the site. Amin Sabet, who runs mu-43 came forward with a statement in dpreview which clarifies their position. I must say that I think mr. Sabet made a very good point on why they have chosen their course of action and we all should respect their point of view. In my opinion, any further criticism towards that site and its moderators is uncalled for.

The more investigation in to Hera Bells pictures and writings related to them has been done, the more there seems to be wrong. For example, Hera Bell has written on various photoforums about exhibitions where her pictures have been, awards that she has won and so on. With active searching, the only proof of her pictures being exhibited, is the story found in the Montreal Gazette. As for awards that she has won, so far these has been no luck finding any mention of them on the internet, other than by Hera Bell herself. All in all, the whole case is starting to look more and more that Hera Bell has fabricated a lot of her credentials and used pictures taken by other people for marketing her photography business. The scope of it all is amazing, after all the discoveries so far, it is hard to know if anthing about Hera Bell is truthfull. I feel lucky that I did not fall victim to someone like this when I chose my wedding photographer all those years ago.

As for the guys at "dc" going thru the net for more and more evidence, all I can say is that you chaps really are amazing. In all these years I have never before seen such unity. Cheers. ;)