Category Archives: visuals

photos, images, etc

ProPublica at Netexplo

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of joining my colleagues Charlie Ornstein and Tracy Weber in Paris to receive a Netexplo award for our work with Dollars for Docs. Check out the presentation video they prepared for the awards ceremony (held at UNESCO), featuring us as bobbleheads.

The easiest way to explain Netexplo is that one of the organizers told me that it hopes to be a South by Southwest of Paris. Check out the quirky trophy we got:

Netexplo trophy

Check out the other great entries in this year’s ceremony.

This was my first trip to Paris so of course I took photos like a shutterbug tourist. You can view them on my Flickr account:

Sony Alpha NEX-7: Paris - Eiffel Tower

Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne

Tuileries Garden

The Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Trocadéro.

Photos from outside of NYFW 2012 (Fall/Winter)

Fashion Week

Another Fashion Week come and gone. I didn’t have the time to go to any actual events but I did take part in a couple of related things:

I did portraits and some scenery photos during Correll Correll’s casting call. I didn’t really get time to set much up but it wasn’t too hectic of a shoot.

To make it easier for the casting director to keep track of them, the models were asked to hold up their cards while their portraits were taken. I think it’s really interesting how similar (or different) they look compared to their cards, without fancy makeup, lights or post-processing:

models and cards

The light changed drastically throughout the day and afternoon:

Fashion Week

NYFW 2012 Casting Call

So this wasn’t officially part of Fashion Week in anyway, but still the coolest fashion-related (and celebrity-sighting) experience I’ve had in the city. While me and my co-worker were exploring the ticker-paper-apocalypse after the Giants’ Super Bowl Parade, she spotted NYT fashion photog Bill Cunningham making his way down Broadway through the crowds and paper piles:

Bill Cunningham, on the street at the Super Bowl Giants Parade

Bill Cunningham, on the street, after the Super Bowl Giants Parade

I hadn’t yet finished watching his documentary so I was too intimidated to say “Hello.” Afterwards, I went home and watched it and wish I at least gave him a thumbs up. One of my favorite parts of the documentary is when Cunningham describes how he maintains his outsider status when invited to glam events. He’ll eat a modest meal beforehand and won’t even accept a glass of water while doing his work. Just like any other standup journalist. I hope I get to properly meet him one of these days.

You can see my other Fashion Week-related photos here.

Best subway music ever: Super Mario Bros. theme

Musician Gypsy Joe Trane played the classics, including the theme to Nintendo Classic Super Mario Brothers on the R-train heading uptown Manhattan the other night. I can’t believe that no one else was (or at least looked) as amused as I was. I generally like subway performers and these guys had the best approach I’ve seen: just stand and jam for many stops. I don’t know if they made more or less money than those who do a quick set before hopping into another car, but I gave them a few bucks for the great accompaniment.

A Million Pageviews, Thousands of Dollars Poorer, and Still Countlessly Richer.

Snowball fight in Times Square, Manhattan, New York

Update: This post rambled longer than I intended it to and I forgot that I had meant to include some observations on what I’ve noticed about Flickr’s traffic pattern. I’ve added some grafs to the bottom of this post.

My Flickr account hit 1,000,000 pageviews this weekend. Two years ago, I bought a Pro account shortly after the above photo of some punk kid throwing a snowball at me in Times Square was posted on Flickr’s blog. Since then I set my account to share all of my photos under the Creative Commons Non-commercial license (but I’ve let anyone who asks use them for free).

My account was on track to have 500K pageviews by October (of this past year) but then this photo of pilots marching on Wall Street hit Reddit and attracted 150K views all by itself, so then a million total views seemed just around the corner :).

Net Profit

Mermaid Parade 2010, Coney Island

I was paid $120 for this photo, which was used in New York’s campaign to remind people that they can’t smoke in Coney Island (or any other public park).

So how much have I gained monetarily in these two years of paying for a Flickr Pro account?

Two publications offered a total of $135 for my work. Minus the two years of Pro fees ($25 times 2 years) and that comes to about $80. If I spent at minimum 1 minute to shoot, edit, process, and upload each of my ~3,100 photos, I made a rate of $1.50/hour for my work.

Of course, I’ve spent much more time than one minute per photo. And I’ve taken far more than 3,100 photos (I probably have 15 to 20 times as many stored on my backup drives). And of course, thousands of dollars for my photo equipment, including repairs and replacements. So:

  • + $135 from publications
  • – $50 for Flickr Pro fees
  • – $8,000 (and change) for Canon 5D Mark 2, Canon S90, lenses, repairs from constant use in the rain/snow/etc.

So doing the math…I’m several thousands of dollars in the hole.


Monetarily, my photography is a large loss for me. I’m lucky enough to have a job (and, for better or worse, no car or mortgage and few other hobbies to pay for) to subsidize it. So why do I keep doing it and, in general, giving away my work for free?

Well, there is always the promise of potential gain:

  • I made a $1,000 (mostly to cover expenses) to shoot a friend’s wedding because his fiance liked the work I posted on my Facebook account…but weddings are so much work that I’ve decided to avoid shooting them if I can help it.
  • I’ve also taken photos for my job at ProPublica, including this portrait for a story that was published in the Washington Post. I’m not employed specifically to take photos, but it’s nice to be able to do it on office time.
  • I also now have a large cache of stock photos to use for the random sites I build. For example, I used the Times Square snowball photo to illustrate a programming lesson on image manipulation and face-recognition technology.
  • Even if my photos were up to professional par, I’m not the type to declare (in person) to others, “Hey, one of my hobbies is photography. Look at these pictures I took.” Flickr/Facebook/Tumblr is a nice passive-humblebrag way to show this side passion to others. And I’ve made a few good friends and new opportunities because of the visibility of my work.

In the scheme of things, a million pageviews is not a lot for two years…A photo might get that in a few days if it’s a popular enough meme. And pageviews have only a slight correlation to actual artistic merit (neither the above snowball or pilot photos are my favorite of the series). But it’s amazing and humbling to think that – if the average visitor who stumbles on my account might look at 4 photos – something I’ve done as a hobby might have reached nearly a quarter million people (not counting the times when sites take advantage of the CC-licensing and reprint my photos).

Having any kind of audience, no matter how casual, is necessary to practice improve my art if I were to ever try to become a paid professional photographer. So that’s one important way that I’m getting something from my online publishing.

Photos are as free as the photographer wants them to be

My personal milestone coincidently comes after the posting of two highly-linked-to articles on the costs of a photo: This Photograph is Not Free by John Mueller and This Photograph is Free by Tristan Nitot. They both make good points (Mueller’s response to Nitot is nuanced and deserves to also be considered).

Mueller and Nitot aren’t necessarily at odds at each other so there’s not much for me to add. Photos are worth good money. To cater to a client, to buy the (extra) professional equipment, to spend more time in editing and post-processing (besides cropping, color-correction and contrast, I don’t do much else to my photos), to take more time to be there at an assignment – this is all most definitely worth charging for.

And that is precisely why I don’t put the effort into marketing or selling mine. The money isn’t worth taking that amount of time and energy from what I currently consider my main work and passion. However, what I’ve gotten so far from my photography – the extra incentive to explore the great city I live in, the countless friends and memories, and of course, the photos to look back on and reuse for whatever I want – the $8,000 deficit is easily covered by that. Having the option to easily share my photos to (hopefully) inspire and entertain others is icing.

One more side-benefit of using a public publishing system like Flickr: I couldn’t devise a better way to organize and browse my own work with minimal effort. And I’m often rediscovering what I considered to be throwaway photos because others find them interesting.

Here are a few other photos I’ve taken over the years that were either frequently-viewed or considered “interesting” by Flickr’s bizarre algorithm:

Jumping for joy during New York blizzard, Times Square
The Cat is the Hat
Sunset over Battery Park and Statue of Liberty
Woman in white, pilots
Pushing a Taxi - New York Blizzard Snowstorm Thundersnow Blaaaaagh
Lightning strikes the Empire State Building
Brooklyn Bridge photographer-tourist, Photo of
Atrium, Museum of Natural History
Union Square Show
Casting Couch (#NYFW Spring 2012)
Williamsburg: Beautiful dogs
New York Snow Blizzard 2011, Lone Man on the Brooklyn Bridge
Ground Zero NY celebrates news of Osama bin Laden's death
Grand Central Moncler NYFW Flash Mob Dancin
Broadway Rainstorm
Towers of Light 9/11
Manhattanhenge from a Taxi

A few more observations on Flickr pageviews: It’s hard to say if 1,000,000 page views is a lot especially considering the number of photos I have uploaded in total. Before the pilots on Wall Street photo, I averaged about 200-500 pageviews a day. After that, I put more effort into maintaining my account and regularly uploading photos. Now on a given day, if I don’t upload anything particularly interesting the account averages about 1,500 views.

Search engines bring very little traffic. So other than what (lack of) interest my photos have for the general Internet, I think my upload-and-forget mindset towards my account also limits my pageviews. I have a good friend on Flickr who gets far fewer pageviews but gets far more comments than I do. I rarely comment on my contacts’ photos and barely participate in the various groups.

I’m disconnected enough from the Flickr social scene that I only have a very vague understanding of how its Explore section works. Besides the blog, the Explore collection is the best way to get seen on Flickr. It features “interesting” photos as determined by an algorithm that, as best I can tell, is affected by some kind of in-group metric.

I’ve only had three photos make it to Explore: the snowball fight in Times Square, the lightning hitting the Empire State Building, and this one where my subway train got stuck and we had to walk out the tunnel. The pilots photo did not make it to Explore, so I’m guessing that amount of traffic (particularly if a huge portion of it comes from one link on Reddit) is not necessarily a prime factor to getting noticed by Flickr’s algorithm.

New York in 2011, the photo version

A little late on this but I posted a few photos I took in NYC this year over at my Tumblr, Eye Heart New York.

This year seemed like my most sheltered, uncreative year yet…even so, according to Flickr’s count, 3/4 of the 3,000+ photos I’ve uploaded in total took place in 2011. I guess when so much just happens next to me (basically, OccupyWallStreet camping out a few blocks away) it’s hard not to snap a few pics. I almost broke the million views mark (for the two years that I’ve been on Flickr) and one of my photos finally made it on someone’s dining room wall, so not too bad a year no matter what it felt.

Here’s a few of the photos; visit Eye Heart New York for the rest:

Pre-Hurricane Irene: Naked Cowboy

WTC, eve of 9/11/2011

Casting Call, New York Fashion Week Spring 2012

Lightning strikes the Empire State Building

OccupyWallSt, day of canceled city cleaning Sit-in, jazz hands! OccupyWallStreet goes to occupy Times Square, 10/15/2011

High Line Park, Art Installation, Section 2

New Museum slide!

See the rest at Eye Heart New York

United/Continental pilots march on Wall Street

Pilots marching on Wall Street

I had a brief moment of Internet popularity when this photo of United and Continental pilots protesting near the Stock Exchange pulled in nearly 150,000 views in a day, thanks to Reddit users’ upvotes:

United/Continental pilots march on Wall Street

Of all the protest photos I took that day (this was a 15-minute break in the work day, since it took place a block away from my office), this was the least interesting to me. The pilots were arranged for a photo-op, so this is a photo of a photo-op. But I submitted it to Reddit because it was the most straightforward; yes, it’s a protest on Wall Street, but one with specific grievances against a specific corporation and not one that necessarily endorses the ongoing #occupywallst protest.

Still, the appetite for protest is big and these meticulously dressed pilots holding a picket make for a striking image. And a good number of them probably sympathize with the anti-Wall Street sentiment of the Zuccotti Park campers.

My personal favorite image from the bunch is this one, even with its weak composition, just because it was such a funny coincidence for someone who had a particular resemblance to a certain Golden Age actress to be walking down Broadway at the same time as a stream of pilots dressed in the same elegance as that period:
Woman in white, pilots

I also like this one, because of the rhythm of the pilots’ uniforms and hats, contrasted with some guy just trying to get down Broad street:

Pilots walk down Broad Street, near Stock Exchange

The Daily Dot wrote about the photo’s popularity here.

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway, Alaska

Just got back from an Alaskan cruise through the Inside Passage; the weather was beautiful, there were glaciers, etc, but one of the highlights was the tourist trap of Skagway, a town of about 800 that had enough shops to host three cruise ships (about 2,500 people each) while we were there.

Hidden away from the main street was the week’s most interesting kitschy shop of all: The Sarah Palin Store. Though the former governor is primarily associated with Wasilla, Skagway was apparently her childhood Alaskan home.

And, Skagway is home – as the woman who works there put it – the world’s only Sarah Palin store:
The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

It’s part of a shopping plaza on Broadway, between 5th and 6th avenues:
Signage for The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

The amount of merchandise was astounding. Off of the top of my head, the Palin-branded merchandise included: t-shirts, tote-bags, Christmas ornaments, bumper stickers, books, paper dolls, commemorative coins, koozies, chocolate bars, mints, “Tea Party” tea, ulus, lipstick, calendars, and hockey trophies:

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

Sarah Palin Christmas Ornaments, from the Skagway Sarah Palin Store

Palin the Riveter t-shirt

Mugs, in The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

The Sarah Palin Store in Skagway Alaska

Treats from the Sarah Palin store

The woman working the counter said the store has been only open for two years, isn’t at all affiliated with Palin (though the owner knows her parents or something like that) and that Palin hasn’t yet visited. What a shame, I thought New York was a little awesome for having a Big Lebowski store, but this must be the only store based solely on a vice-presidential candidate.

More (non-Palin) photos of my Alaska cruise can be seen on my Flickr account.

New York Fireworks, Fourth of July, from the Top of the Rockefeller Center (with video, too)

I didn’t feel like grilling on the 4th since I leave on a long vacation the next morning, so I thought I’d stop by the Rockefeller Center to see if it was at all crowded for fireworks (I paid for a $75 membership so stopping by is free for me. Also, I have no friends with prime west side viewing decks). I got there ridiculously early, about 5pm, but it was so beautiful that I just sat on a bench and read, and even did a little laptop work (there’s now free wifi there).

Crazy blue skies above Rockefeller Center, July 4th

Crazy blue skies above Rockefeller Center, July 4th

It was surprisingly empty but at around 630ish, people with serious camera gear were staking their claim. So I went to the top deck and picked a spot to lay my camera on and listened to a few episodes of “This American Life” (waiting a few hours for ANYTHING is nothing compared to waiting 6 hours in the cold during my once-and-never-again New Years Eve in Times Square experience).

As the pics and video below should show, the sunset was far more beautiful than the fireworks, which were diminished by the Hudson River’s distance from the Rock, vertically and westwardly. You couldn’t hear any of the music. But one cool benefit to being above the city is that you get to see what seem to be the dozens of fireworks shows across New Jersey and Brooklyn, puny as they are in comparison.

The crowd at the Rockefeller Center, Fourth of July

Sunset over New York before the Fireworks on 4th of July

Sunset before New York's 4th of July

Fireworks in NYC. Red, white...ok, mostly red...

Manhattan skyline, all hazy after 4th of July Fireworks

My sloppy video:

I wouldn’t go again, the fireworks just seem too distant and beneath you, literally, to be as enjoyable at ground level. Still, I didn’t regret finally getting to see a sunset over New York from a skyscraper.