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Tuscan town tries to copyright its landscapes


The township of San Quirico D’Orcia, in the heart of one of the most picturesque stretches of Tuscany, wants to copyright its views and landscapes. These are some of the most iconic views of this area (many of which appear in my book In Tuscany, with Frances Mayes).

Although it sounds ridiculous, you have to have sympathy with the events that brought about this extraordinary move….the place was tired of its image being exploited by commercial concerns like Monsanto, which used beautiful images of the area to promote its genetically modified crop seeds, and other promotional uses.

The move is not without precedent in our own country…the Pebble Beach Golf Course near Monterey, California has trademarked the Lone Pine tree, a beautiful tree out on a promontory that had been photographed (and published) by just about everybody. So take a picture of this tree and publish it, and you may hear from Pebble Beach’s lawyers.

There is some speculation that what the town wants to do is to trademark, not copyright, their views. Often, in Italy, the terms “copyright” and “trademark” are used interchangeably.

Whatever the term, it’s going to cast a pall on shooting in this beautiful area….sure glad I did it when I did.  Below is a translation of the article I found on the iStockPhoto forums….I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation, especially that last sentence, which from its  grammatical construction would seem to want to say that editorial use would not be punished (although the translation says just the opposite).

San d’Orcia Quirico put the copyright on itself. His celebrated glance, starting from the crown of cypress trees, now risen to an emblem of quiet rural absolute, can no longer be used to advertise mattresses and mineral industries, and even corporations that produce GMOs, as it happened in the past: who will film must request permission 15 days in advance and, if this is granted, will be in place, however, the obligation to “acknowledge the source” of beauty that will be put on display, San Qurico same. 

 The city council of the town of Siena, Unesco World Heritage, with the valley of which has been, since 2004, has approved the rules last week, everything is already operational. The 2,500 inhabitants of the village located on the Via Cassia, between Pienza, Montalcino and Monte Amiata, were sad to see the exploitation of images of their carpet birthplace: the church of Vilatela, the hill of Podere Belvedere and above the cypress trees. “We saw them everywhere – says the Head of Tourism, Christian Pilgrims – Posteitaliane by a manufacturer of mattresses, a well-known brand of mineral water that Umbria has built over the whole packaging is in German hotels that advertised them as the ‘view’ hotel …”. 

The most prominent case in 2007, when Monsanto, the multinational GM seed, used the iconic vision, aware of its potential evocative of the bucolic world perfect, that the production of GM crops was far from being able to represent. The administration sent a letter of formal notice to the company, which stopped using the image. But this was the straw breaks the camel’s capable of and now, after 4 years and for a change of leadership of the country (now there’s the PD) has reached the decision that puts an end to the exploitation of “deception” of the natural and architectural beauty San Quirico. 

“This is not want to penalize anyone – says councilor for productive activities Mauro Taddei, promoter of the initiative – there is only the desire to protect the territory from the unfair use, as sometimes happened, seeing at last recognized the principle of reciprocity”. 

As mentioned, the permission for commercial or advertising purposes must be requested at least 15 days before the shooting and the municipal manager of the service, then notify in writing the acceptance or not. Image advertising must also be marked “Recovery or photograph taken in San Quirico d’Orcia”. When shooting photos or unauthorized or improper use, administrative penalties in addition to compensation for any damage caused. 

But what will happen to the tourists who get to take pictures, maybe with a tripod? “They can rest assured, there will be no ‘censorship’,” reassures Pilgrims, “which prohibits any alert, or trade unions about what you are photographing or filming, any counter-measures will be taken back.” And even the exploitation of professional beauties of the village “positive” (architectural photography, travel, which obviously must cite the source), will be penalized in any way by the new regulation. 

Here’s the original article in Italian

If you read Italian, perhaps you can check the last graph and get back to us!


Fishing Mission


It’s been quiet around here, largely because I’ve been running around on a couple of things, including taking (not teaching) a workshop in video making. Sometimes, real life gets in the damn way of blogging…like the old days, when we all had lives that didn’t involve screens. I remember those days….

Anyway, I’ve been working hard to produce this mini documentary, about one of the villages in Southwest England where my mother’s branch of the family hails from, and the problems the local fishermen are facing.

It was supposed to be a vacation, but when I ran into Bill Cowan, a retired fisherman whom I first photographed back in 1992 (when he was 70!) on the streets of the village for an Islands Magazine assignment. We got to talking, and of course,  I broke out the gear and started filming. Here’s Bill in ’92:


The video is edited by my buddy John Campbell from Echo Media. John has the great ability to take my blather and my video and make it into a story. When I grow up, I want to be able to do what he does. Who knows, maybe Final Cut X will help me there. 

It’s shot mainly with the Nikon D7000, but I also used the Sony NEX VG 10 and the little Sony NEX 5. The slider shots are all with the little Sony….with my lightweight tripod and head, and small slider, the NEX 5 is about as heavy a camera as you’d want to put on that setup. 

It’s all APS-C chip sized video, and it’s all good (well, the Sony’s are super susceptible to moire, and they record in the dreaded AVCHD format, but basically, it’s all good.).

You know my feelings about the NEX VG10 from the previous post, but I can’t say enough good things about the NEX 5—so compact, so full-featured, a full sized chip…it’s the compact camera Nikon and Canon should have made, um, ages ago. 

In the words of the great philosopher DeAndre Cole (as embodied by Kenan Thompson of SNL), “What’s up with that?


And The Winner Is….



I’ve been working with the footage from my grand experiment, pitting the Sony NEX VG 10, an APS-sized chip camcorder against HDSLRs, in this case, the Nikon D7000.

And before I tell you what my take on the whole thing is, I’d like to preface it by saying:

I really wanted to like the Sony—-what the hell, it should have been the best of both worlds. A camcorder design with an APS sized chip, better audio, great image stabilization, and interchangeable lenses, an articulated LCD, and an electronic viewfinder.

What’s not to like? In a word—the User Interface, and the goddamn file format.  Wait, that’s more than a word, it’s a sentence. And in this case, for me, a death sentence.

Oh man, whoever invented the AVCHD format should be taken out behind the barn and given a good whuppin’.  It’s a horrible, computer-averse, super highly compressed format that is just horrific to work with, especially a Mac. When you uncompress this format, and transcode it into something you can work with in iMovie or Final Cut, it bloats to 10x the size!

At the highest quality settings, that works out to about a gigabyte a minute…yes, 1GB for every minute of video. At least. It will gag the most robust of computers.

And in anticipation of emails and comments, yes I know that iMovie and FCP will import the AVCHD as is, but here’s the deal…I rarely import more than about 25% of what I shoot. I first like to “scrub” the clips (using Photo Mechanic and Quicktime) and only import what has a chance of being used. Try that with a direct import.

It’s clunky, unwieldable, and unnecessary. And don’t get me started on the moire issues with this camera….the D7000 and the D5100 kick ass in this department, and also in lens and sharpness categories as well.

So despite the fact that I have to stick on an auxiliary LCD loupe, an auxiliary mic and a sound recorder, and a wacky shoulder stabilizer to get the same ergonomic ease that the Sony gives you with no after-market chatchkas hanging off it, the nod goes to the DSLR…in this case, the D7000, but I have a feeling it will eventually be the D5100 (because of the articulating screen).

So, I’m selling the Sony NEX VG 10….but I’m keeping (and loving) the little Sony NEX 5 that I picked up as a backup camera with this setup. This is a compact, APS-sized (or near enough) sensor compact camera with articulating LCD, a great auxiliary mic, tiny size, lovely pancake 16mm f/2.8 lens (That takes auxiliary ultrawide and fisheye adapter lenses).

And, probably most important of all, the NEX 5 gives you the option of going AVCHD or MPEG4. True the latter produces a slightly smaller file size than the AVCHD, but it is a lifesaver in terms of ease of use.

The super compact size of the NEX 5 allows me to use it on  a very lightweight stabilizer (Ebay’s famous Indie Systems $60 stabilizer) and also on a small slider on a very lightweight tripod (the Slik HD Travel Pro). Because it’s a large chip, it gives pretty decent results in low light . Plus, it looks so innocuous that nobody ever stops you from shooting/filming. You look like a total tyro using this cam, and I love that.

So, my dream of an APS sized chip camcorder is still unfulfilled, but I’ve got a nice little system using the Nikon D7000 for the serious stuff and the NEX 5 for the grab stuff.

Next up…can the D5100 replace the D7000 as your main vid-cam? (Oy, will this stuff never end?????). Stay tuned.


D7000 Timelapse


screen_shot_2011_05_23_at_71610_am.pngWell, the video embedder here at Pixiq is working true to form (that is to say, it’s not) so click here to see a cute little timelapse of a huge honking tidal change from my recent visit to Cornwall, in southwest England.

Tech: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm, 1 frame every 30 seconds for about 8 hours, put together with Quicktime.

More to come, now that I’m back from “vacation.” (during which, I did a lot of work, as is often the case with the self-employed!).

Video Shootout Part Two


In the previous post, I started talking about the difference between shooting an HDSLR or an APS-sized chip camcorder for video.  I use the APS-sized chip camcorder for a comparison, since these are the only fairly reasonably priced camcorders that can give you the same narrow depth of field that is all the rage. But alot of the pros and cons (save the DOF thing) can be said of any camcorder.

What is reasonably priced to our video-shooting brethern is, um, a little different from what we still guys might consider reasonable. The cheapest current example of an APS chip camcorder is the Sony NEX VG 10 and it’s $2 grand with a kit 18-200mm lens.  The others coming in from Sony and Panasonic are $5 grand and up for the body only…and that’s still considered “reasonable” in video circles….(those guys must make some $$$, but that’s a post for another day!).

After spending 24 days running and gunning on a charter jet tour around the world with a pair of D7000s, and then being offered another similar assignment almost directly afterwards, I decided to try a different tack.

I was pleased with the D7000 imagery, etc. but frankly, an SLR is designed primarily for stills, and I rarely had time on these fast stops to truss up the SLR with all the accoutrements—mic, LCD, shoulder brace……plus, when I did,  it made the unit too big to lug on and off buses, regional aircraft, and pull in and out of my camera bag.

Earlier this year, when I was waiting to take delivery on my D7000s (I got mine about 2 months later than everybody else, being a Nikon insider:-)), I had a video job and I broke down and bought the Sony NEX VG 10.  This camera could have been killer, but Sony hobbled it with a goofy menu system and a lack of certain key controls that would have made it a must have.  (Of course, they did that to protect their market for the $8000 “pro” version that was coming out six months later).

I never sold the thing when the 7000s came out, despite some grave reservations about it. But one thing was for sure—-it is designed to shoot video and it was a lot easier to use on the run than an SLR.

So, since these jet trips are essentially event coverage, with no time for preplanning, reshoots, etc. etc. I decided to take the Sony to shoot the second trip. I also had a D7000 and a couple of lenses, and for a second body to swap lenses with, I picked up a Sony NEX 5 with a 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens and ultrawide and fisheye lens adapters for the 16.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of using Sony as opposed to the Nikon.


The Sonys use the dreaded AVCHD file system. It’s a terrible high compression format that computers gag on, especially Macs. So you have to convert all the files to a more Mac friendly .MOV format, or sit there and wait as iMovie tries to struggle with the files. I don’t know why Panasonic and Sony are so married to this format…even PC guys struggle with it. But apparently, it’s really cool if you connect your camera directly to your HDTV…like so many of us do! Not.. So, add a day of workflow to convert the files…terrible waste of time.

The NEX VG 10 menu is god awful…and it’s hidden away behind the LCD screen, so you can’t access it while you’re shooting with the eyepiece.

Image quality–The Sony lenses just don’t hold up to the Nikkors. Yes, you can buy adapters to use any lens you want (and I have them to use my fast Nikkor primes), but part of the reason for using this camera is convenience, and the Sony glass just doesn’t have the snap of the Nikkors.


There’s a lot to love about a camcorder design though. Let me count the ways.

Articulated LCD screen AND Electronic Viewfinder—Whoa, this is a convenient way to shoot. If it’s bright and sunny, use the viewfinder…it articulates too so you can look down into it if you’re on a tripod. But even in bright sunlight the LCD screen is delightful and sharp and being able to tilt it means you can get those low angles without stooping….a big plus for arthritic, clumsy, aging shooters (hey, you lookin’ at me???). I like this so much that I’ve pre-ordered a D5100 solely for that flip out LCD screen.

Live Histogram—Oh Nikon, you have to put this in your cameras for video! We’ve all heard the mantra of not judging exposure from our LCD screens in the still world…well, the same goes for video. But without a live histogram, how the hell can you tell what you’re getting in video mode? This feature on the Sony is incredibly useful.

Superior Audio–The Sony has a four capsule mic with an included dead cat windscreen that is wonderful for capturing natural sound. So, for nat sound,  you don’t have to do the dual audio system (using an audio recorder and syncing sound in post). BUT, and this is big but, Sony in their marketing wisdom, took manual control of audio out of the equation.

It’s all automatic gain control levels, so for interviews, I’ll still use the Olympus LS 10 for recording the audio because of the manual controls. But, in a pinch, I’ve plugged in a wireless or wired lav mic right into the Sony (thankfully, it does have headphone and mic jacks) and the AGC (Audio Gain Control) hasn’t done too badly with interview levels. But for natural ambient sound, the onboard mic is terrific.

Better Autofocus–Yes, it’s true, the Sony AF is surer, but not any quicker, than the Nikon in LiveView mode. I try to use manual focus in video shooting, but when you’re talking about covering fast moving events, having reliable AF is a plus.

Here’s a little piece shot with the Sonys. It’s about a wacky village festival not far from where I’m staying in Southwest England. And it’s the kind of event where the camcorder shines.

Keep in mind, when comparing it to the Nikon  D7000 piece from Papua New Guinea in the previous post, that this is no where near as exotic or colorful an event, it was a few hours of coverage, not a few days; and it was edited by me in iMovie, whereas the PNG piece was done by a skilled editor, John Campbell, in Final Cut Pro.

In the next post, I’ll give you my unscientific (as always) conclusions on working with these two systems, and wax a bit lyrical about the NEX 5, the little backup camera that could, and a definite keeper.