I purchased my first digital camera in October 2003. It was a Canon PowerShot S50, a pocket-sized point-and-shoot job that had an optical zoom of 3x and could hardly focus on anything further away than the tip of my nose. I used it for years on the automatic settings because I knew nothing whatsoever about photography. Worse yet, I knew nothing about post-processing images and accepted what the camera spit out as being the final word on photo quality.
To explain how much of a novice I was, it was more than three years later when I found macro mode. It was during that same year that I began experimenting with settings in an attempt to fuel my newfound passion for photography. I still blew out the highlights on most of my photos and still had no clue how to edit an image to correct things like that, but I had begun the journey toward learning how to take reasonable pictures.
In May 2007 I visited the family farm in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Mom and I, both quite interested in photography, meandered about the grounds looking for things to photograph. (“Things to photograph” should be defined as “everything and anything.”) That’s when I took this picture:
Nothing more extravagant than littleleaf sensitive brier (a.k.a catclaw brier, sensitive vine littleleaf mimosa, native mimosa; Mimosa microphylla). It’s common around the farm. And as you can see by the image, shown here just as it was posted back then, the brightness and contrast are terrible, yet the only thing I did before posting it was crop and resize (dimensions and PPI). I wouldn’t consider it an award winner by any stretch of the imagination.
Imagine my surprise when, in October 2007, I received an e-mail which said this:
[W]e would like to purchase the use of a photograph from your website. Please let me know how to proceed and I can send you further information about our company.
I still considered the vast majority of my photographic work to be lame and nonpresentable. Only the least horrific had been posted to my blog. So what photo was I being asked about? The one above. Shock!
The opportunity turned out to be quite real, not a joke as I assumed, and the company, Adventure Publications, turned out to be quite respectable. They dropped names like Nora and Rick Bowers and Stan Tekiela. They mentioned a nature field guide due for publication in 2008. And they confirmed they did in fact want to use my photo.
Contract signed, check deposited, details worked out and photo delivered, I received my contributor’s copy in September 2008. Right there on page 96 was my photo and right there on page 428 was my photo credit. Wow! The book, Wildflowers of the Carolinas, hit store shelves just a month later in October 2008, exactly one year after they initially contacted me.
Having accomplished publication of a photograph without even trying—heck, without even knowing what I was doing with a camera—I became very excited about the possibilities and very serious about learning the trade. So a new camera was purchased by the end of 2007 and I forced myself to not only read the manual up front, but also to get out of the automatic modes and start taking responsibility for settings. Oh, and I also purchased image editing software and took the time to figure out the basics, like brightness and contrast, sharpening and noise reduction.
As for the original photo post, it will remain as it is, but the intervening years have taught me a thing or two about presentation. Knowing the camera overcompensated for dim light on a cloudy day, hence the blown out highlights and lack of contrast, I took the liberty of editing the original photo so you can see what it really looked like when I snapped the picture. With just a hair of an increase in contrast and a hair of a decrease in brightness, this is what Mom and I saw that day:
It goes without saying that I have never actively sought to license my photos. I considered this experience a fluke, albeit a pleasant one that set me on the path toward better photography. Nevertheless, since that time I have licensed more pictures for a broad range of uses, each of them discovered here on my blog without one bit of work by me.
The experience taught me about crowd-sourced materials in the age of the internet. Whereas organizations years ago could only license work from those advertising and selling their wares, the web has made it possible to not only tap into a global supply with just a few keystrokes, but it also increased competition by making the professional and the amateur compete via the same search algorithms. Now when someone hits Google to find a photo for use, say, in a textbook or on interpretive signs, there’s every reason to believe they’ll have a plethora of choices that come from people who just wanted to show their friends and family something interesting.