Today I Saw a Bird: Balancing Sharing and Ethics

Today I saw a bird.  It was orange, and brown, and about the size of a blackbird.  At first I was thinking it was a robin (bright orange, with white bits on the sides of the tail), but something wasn’t right.  Maybe it was a an oriole? A cardinal?

Today I saw this bird. Should I share or should I hide?

I was at a loss.  None of my many apps or books provided an answer (the Merlin App was insistent that I was looking at either a robin or a cardinal).  What I needed was a community of passionate enthusiasts to help!  A quick click of my camera and an upload later I had it posted to a birding group on Facebook.  Within in a minute I had an answer:  a Varied Thrush.

While listed as being in steep decline on Cornell Lab’s allaboutbirds.org website, the Varied Thrush is still common in its home range of the west coast of North American.  So…? Great question!  I saw this bird out of my window in chilly Haliburton, Ontario… some 3,000km from where it should be.

Over the course of the day I had several conversations, both on-line and face-to-face about this rare sighting.  More than a few people had questions about my sighting.  Was it accessible to the public?  Could you see the feeder from a public space?  Could I make arrangements for a couple of serious birders to come out and check for themselves.

I’ll be honest here, I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing.  I try to be helpful.  I remember being new and having questions and feeling like I was interfering or was unworthy or I wasn’t enough…  I didn’t like feeling that way then, and I certainly going to be some Gate Keeper standing between my community and something special.  But that’s exactly what I was doing; I was a hypocrite.  I had shared an amazing find on social media and wasn’t willing to let others share in the experience.

Fortunately, a mentor reminded me of a real and hard fact:  I have a moral and professional obligation to keep that bird safe.

Birders, like with any group of enthusiasts, have some members who take their passions to a fanatic level.  I’ve read several blogs about the length some will go to in order to capture the once-in-a-lifetime picture or add a rarity to their life list.  Check out John Aldred’s ““Baiting” animals worth the short for wildlife photography” and Tom Spears’ Ottawa Citizen story from February of this year to get a better idea of how bad it can get.

How than, am I suppose to balance the duality of wanting to participate in an on-line community while at the same time protecting the bird and the environment?  In the end, I made some compromises.  I recorded my sightings on eBird (a birding app connected with Cornell University), shared the general area of the siting on Facebook (“general”, in this case being roughly 200-square kilometers), and invited some trusted professionals to come out and see for themselves.  Also… and this is a big one… I generally tried not to brag about this random and magical experience.

By its very nature, social media is all about sharing; sharing important life events, or what you had for lunch, or a picture of a cloud that looks kinda-sorta like that guy you use to know.  The challenge today is finding the balance between wanting to share with the world and the need to protect sensitive environments and threatened species.

Having a plan is important. Taking time to figure out what you are going to do when faced with a similar situation will help you be who you want to be.

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Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Badges and Social Media

As a young lad I loved to collect things.  It started with the Panini Hockey Stickers back in the 1980’s.  Eventually I moved into hockey cards, trading card games, stamps, and eventually photos of random heart-shaped smiley faces on the side of roads (I’ll talk about the faces later).

Today I’m still collecting, but now I’m focused on earning badges on social media.

Badges are a way to boast about your skill and involvement within a community.  With the ever increasing usage of gamification in social media, you are bound to find those that use them for Good and others, well, Not-So-Much.  Here are two examples from my personal experience:

The Good:  Tookapic

Right off the bat, I want to make something very clear:  I love the tookapic platform.  As an amateur photographer, I find the community to be very accepting and more than happy to help you grow in the hobby.  

As you become more involved with the site you start to unlock different badges.  These twenty-four badges vary in difficulty from fairly simple (take and publish a photo every day for a week) to very challenging (take and publish more than 1,000 days in a row).  Personally, I use these badges as sort of To Do List; what are things I can do to improve myself as a photographer.

Most of these badges are able to be earned on your own; there is no need to be super-popular on the site.  At the same time, there is encouragement to be an active member and actually participate in the community.  Two great examples of this are the Welcoming Committee and Chatterbox badges.

The Welcoming Committee badge is award after commenting on 50 debut photos.  Leaving comments on someone’s first photo not only promotes a since of belonging (who wouldn’t love to get a “Great picture, welcome to the club!” message) but also serves as a reminder that we all started out as a new photographer at some point.

Where the Welcoming Committee is all about debuts, Chatterbox covers the community as a whole.  This badge requires 1,000 comments to be made.  For myself, Chatterbox forces me to get into the photo, read the description, and hopefully provide an insightful and meaningful comment.  Could I game the gamification and just copy-and-paste a generic “great pic” into a thousand posts?  Absolutely!   But would it benefit me as a photographer?  No, no it wouldn’t.  

So many badges… so many opportunities!

The Not-So-Much:  Garmin Connect

Again, being upfront and transparent, I’ve been using Garmin Connect since June.  For the most part, at least as far as gamifying the experience, Garmin is doing an okay job.  Where they fall short, unfortunately, is in incorporating a Pay-to-Win mechanic.

As a fitness-focused community, Garmin’s badges are aimed at keeping you active.  Some badges are awarded for reaching your step goal three days in a row or getting eight hours sleep while others much more challenging (run a 100 miles in a single activity or bike 40km in less than an hour).  The 108 different badges certainly help to set a goal for your personal growth.

Unfortunately, 14 of these badges are, in part at least, Pay-to-Win.  Garmin as four special -edition smart watches that can be used to unlock their own, unique badges. The I Can Do This All Day badge, as an example, is award from simply adding your First Avenger watch to the platform’s app.  Other badges are award based on owning a certain watch and completing a physical activity.  The Try to Keep Up badge is earned, for example, by owning the Captain Marvel watch and finishing an activity that is at least 90 minutes long.

$2,200 of Badges in a single image. Motivating or Money Grab?

In total Garmin has four watches that earn unique badges.  The Legacy Saga Series features a Darth Vader and Rey watch while the Legacy Hero Series has a Captain Marvel and First Avenger offering.  Oh… and each watch is about $550.00

Would you Like to Learn More?

Medium’s article “3 Ways Gamification on Social Media…” provides a short read on how to increase engagement by gamifying the experience  https://medium.com/surge-tactic/gamification-on-social-media-and-audience-engagement-aaaa81185716  

Mashable has an interesting article about how Social Media can use badges and provides examples of those who do it well and others who don’t:   https://mashable.com/2011/08/19/badges-gamification-Mtips/  

Final Thoughts:

Like it not, the world of online collecting is here to stay.  Some organizations seem to be using badges in an altruistic way; by creating rewards for being engaged in a community of like-minded people.  Other’s, it would seem, are trying to leverage the power of collecting to increase sales.

What about you.  Do you collect badges from your online experiences?  Are badges a reward for completing a task?  Would you ever make a purchasing decision based off earning a badge?  Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Promotional:

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Better Group Photos:  Simple Things You Can Do.

Better Group Photos: Simple Things You Can Do.

Note: This blog post is being written for a specific audience; Program Facilitators at the Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre. As part of their regular duties, the team is expected to create a group photo. This post is meant to help them in that process.

~Joe

Of all the tasks that a facilitator is asked to do, one of the most under rated is taking the group photo.  At the end of the group’s visit, this small unassuming token is presented to our guests.  While the process is fairly simple, creating a truly stellar picture can be quite difficult.  This brief blog will help you to understand the Group Photo process and help you to create amazing images.

Step 1.  Ask yourself “Why”

In this day and age you are probably asking yourself why do we put in the time, effort, and money into printing group photos.  Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just email it?  Wouldn’t it be easier to slap a filter on it?  Wouldn’t it be better to spend the time actually working with the client?

In short:  Yes.  Yes it would.

Ask yourself then, why do we put any effort into doing group photos.  Grab a sheet of paper and brainstorm for a bit as to why we do it (and no cheating by reading ahead).

[Seriously… go and make a list… I’ll wait]

Way back in the 1960’s the American President John F. Kennedy said “We choose to do these things… not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  Of course, Kennedy was talking about putting a man on the moon, but the sentiment works for our purposes.

Our group photos are proudly displayed in front foyers, classrooms, and yearbooks across the province.  When I visit a school to talk with parents I often hear the younger siblings of past guests pointing out their big brother or big sister in the picture.  The Bark Lake trip is a rite of passage and the group photo is the commemoration of that.

In the Era of Digital Everything, the physical glossy hard copy photograph is rare.  Taking the time and care to actually print a pictures is reserved only for the most important of life-events; weddings, birth of children, and the Bark Lake trip.

… No pressure.

Step 2:  Take the picture.

  1. Turn on the camera
  2. Point the camera at the group
  3. Press shutter.

You have now “taken the picture”.  Congratulations!

Step 3:  Ignore Step 2

Seriously, I should never have included it in the list.  You should never-ever “take” a photo.  Remember the Because (important life-event that will be forever immortalized on glossy paper).

Do not take the picture

Make the photograph

Joe Fortin

Be intentional:

The difference between Taking and Making is the same between a snapshot and a photograph.  When taking a snapshot very little thought is put into the composition of the image.  A quick snap at a party, for example, may capture more than your friends standing around having a good time.

On the other hand, making a photograph involves careful planning.  Where are you going to make the picture, when is it going to happen, where are people going to stand, where are YOU going to stand.  All these things go into composing a great picture.

There are hundreds of books on the subject of compassion, written by professionals who know what they are talking about.  Go read one, they’ll do a much better job at explaining than I can. 

Basic composition:

Set the stage for your master piece.  There is nothing sadder than getting the camera back only to discover that the photo, while technically good, is ruined for artistic reasons.  Get into the habit of scanning the image Bottom-to-Top and Front-to-Back.

Bottom – to – Top:

When checking Bottom-to-To, you are focusing on how the people will be layout in the 2D image.  Have you cut off heads or feet?  Is someone too close to the edge?  Is everyone visible in the viewfinder? 

Don’t forget to leave a margin around the edge of the photo.  Having a good buffer means no one gets cut-out during post-production and we have enough room for the Treatment.  (The Treatment is a layer that is added to the picture in Photoshop.  It has the Centre’s logo, the name of the group, and the date of their visit.)

A properly composed group photo. The Treatment (right hand side) covers part of the empty space at the bottom of the picture.

Front – to – Back:

The name of the game when scanning Front-to-Back is all about distractions.  Imagine making a truly beautiful picture, only to find a delivery truck sitting in the background.  (And yes, it’s happened before.  And yes, more than once.  And yes, I’ve made that mistake before…)  Scanning only takes a moment but can have an incredible impact on your image.

Lighting and Shadows:

The human eye is an incredible lens.  It is able to capture a wide range of lighting levels.  Your eye is able to pick out details in the shadows and in bright spaces.  Your camera (even a super fancy professional camera)… not so much.

When staging your group photo, keep everyone in full sun or in a very well lit room.  It’s that simple.  (Oh, and don’t rely on the camera’s flash.  It isn’t nearly strong enough to be useful.) 

A quick word on sunsets: 

Don’t.

More words making a complete thought on sunsets: 

While pretty and stuff, from a technical perspective, shooting a group photo with the sunset is very difficult.  The term is called ‘back lit’.  The camera doesn’t know what settings to use.  If it exposes for the sunset, your group becomes hidden in the shadows.  If it exposes for the students, the sunset because a blown out ugly mess.  Software like Lightroom can help, but don’t rely on it. 

Sunsets: They look pretty, but can be a real pain to work with.

Step Four:  Printing

There are really only two ways to get your photo printed.  The Right Way and the Wrong Way.  First let’s take a look at the Right Way:

The Right Way (a.k.a The “I’ve been very professional and have planned my time accordingly” Way):

  • Make the photo
  • Give the Camera to Joe / Hang the camera on Joe’s office door knob in a timely fashion (before 4:00pm on the groups second-last day or by appointment)
  • Pick-up your printed and framed photo at the front desk (or maybe even the small dining hall if Joe is being super nice)

The Wrong Way (a.ka. The “I’ve made some choices in my life that will bring a tear to Joe’s eye” Way):

  • Make the photo
  • Struggle to use the PowerPoint / Publisher template on the H Drive
  • Curse and swear about the fact that Joe could have done this in a fraction of the time and he would have been more than happy to do it for you
  • Track down glossy paper and frames (hint:  It’s locked in Joe’s office)
  • Print photo
  • Hang your head in shame knowing that you’ve made Joe cry.

In short:  Do it the Right Way.

Random Odds and Ends:

  • Getting the photo to Joe early means that he can try and use Lightroom to improve the image.  It really doesn’t take that long and can have some amazing results.
  • Do not use your cell phones.  The quality of the image will be less.  Remember the Because:  we are going to be printing this image onto 8.5×11 paper.
  • If you must use your cellphone, email Joe the file in the largest possible size.  A good rule of thumb:  If it’s not at least 5 Mbs, it’s not going to be big enough.
  • Practice. 
Be hold! The awesome power of Lightroom… but only if you give yourself enough time to do the job right.

Taking the Group Photo is a big responsibility.  You are creating a tangible memory.  You are making a Conversation Starter that can add deeper meaning to our students’ time at Bark Lake.  It’s a lot of pressure…

… but that’s okay.  You’ve got this.