To Chimp, Or Not To Chimp

The Hand That Rocked The Copyright World • What Do You Think? • Easier Printing • Limiting Factors

This chimp loved George Lepp’s camera and clearly enjoyed playing photographer. If the chimp clicked the shutter, who owns the resulting image?

The Hand That Rocked The Copyright World
Making the rounds of both digital and print media lately are extraordinary “selfies” of crested black macaque monkeys and heated opinion pieces about just who owns the images. Although a variety of accounts have been published, British nature photographer David Slater maintains that he set up his camera equipment on a tripod in order to capture close-ups of the faces of the critically endangered primates after shadowing a troop through the Indonesian jungle for days and earning their acceptance. The macaques, intrigued by the equipment and their reflections in the lens, began to play with the tripod-mounted camera and, apparently amused by the click of the shutter button, pushed it repeatedly. Because Slater had set up the camera in anticipation of the event, with predictive focus, exposure, etc., and actually had his hand on the tripod during the photo melee, a few really great selfies were captured out of the more than a hundred images resulting from the encounter. Slater’s full rendition of the event is fascinating; read it on his website at

Slater published the images and they eventually found their way to Wikimedia Commons, a U.S. site that hosts over 22 million free photos purportedly in the public domain, and from there to newspapers, magazines, websites and television shows around the world. The editors of Wikimedia denied Slater’s claims of ownership, asserting that in each case the monkey had taken its own photograph and that, under U.S. law, nonhuman authors may not claim automatic copyright to their images. While Slater has attempted to keep the focus on the macaques and their threatened existence while at the same time protecting his property rights, publishers and photographers around the world have joined the fray. The British web-based news site, The Telegraph, polled its readers: Of the nearly 49,000 responders, 45% thought the images belonged to Slater, 40% awarded them to the monkey, and 16% thought they were in the public domain. A more thoughtful and knowledgeable opinion was issued by the International League of Conservation Photographers on August 13, 2014. You can find it by searching for “Conservation Photographers Support Photographer David Slater’s Copyright in Black Macaque Photograph”.

What Do You Think?
Here’s where I’ll put in my two cents’ worth. As I’ve written in this space before, advances in photographic technology have given nature and, especially, wildlife photographers greater access to elusive, dangerous or vulnerable subjects by enabling the subject or a remote device to trigger the camera. I use a variety of tools to separate myself from my camera while photographing lightning, shy birds, insects, time-lapse video (a thousand clicks) and night skies in dangerous wild environments. Not only that, I’ve been known to attach a GoPro camera to a dog and send it about its business (most of which, frankly, we’d rather not know about). Natural history photographers have long used tripping setups and/or remotes to gather unique and critical images of rare and/or sensitive animals in inaccessible locations, such as wolf pups or polar bear cubs at their dens. Do I claim ownership of the images I conceive and create, even if, or especially if, I’ve also put together some complicated contraption to help me capture them remotely? You bet.

Where does it end? I’m not a judge or lawyer, just a working photographer with 50-plus years of experience, but it’s my opinion that if you ID the location, acquire the equipment, and set up the image that includes exposure, angle of view and tripping mechanism, you own the image(s) produced on the camera, pure and simple. It has been that way since we coated our plates with a silver solution, and no non-photographer editor or judge should be able to change that (but they might). Depriving dedicated nature and natural history photographers of their work and their income will advance neither the field of photography nor our knowledge of the natural world. And then there’s the most basic moral question of taking and using another person’s property without permission. Why the editors at Wikimedia need a few more images in their free collection to the detriment of working photographers is beyond my comprehension.
As of the 1st of September, 2014, David Slater’s images of the Macaca nigra were still available for free, listed as being in the public domain, on the Wikimedia website. We should be outraged.

Easier Printing

Q I’ve invested in a 24-inch inkjet printer so I can make larger prints in my digital darkroom, but I find that the printing software that came with the printer leaves a lot to be desired. I know that you do your own printing. How do you achieve a finished print that resembles the optimized image you see on the screen?
M. Roberts
Des Moines, Iowa

A I’ve done my own printing from the days of Cibachrome and Type R prints that I developed in a Merz processor in my own darkroom. While that precedes digital by about 20 years, today’s photographic printing processes are no less creative and satisfying (if a lot less toxic). Inkjet printers produce an incredible image on paper or canvas; colors are more vivid, and the prints last far longer—many are rated for 100-plus years. I was fortunate to have worked with Epson as a Stylus Pro as it developed the very first photo printers, and more recently, with Canon, in a program called Print Masters. As good as modern printers are, there always has been a bit of a disconnect (that’s supposed to be bridged by the printing software) between the image on the monitor and the paper in the printer. Assuming you’ve calibrated your monitor and have a good paper profile for the computer, it should be easy and flawless. In reality, you may find yourself tweaking the image file through repeated printing attempts. Canon had this problem solved with a plug-in for Photoshop that allowed the photographer to modify the paper profile rather than the image. But Canon stopped updating the plug-in with Photoshop 5, and we’re now several iterations beyond that with Photoshop CC 2014.

Enter LaserSoft Imaging from Germany with software called PrinTao 8. I’ve been able to simply designate the printer and the paper type and manufacturer, and click the print button for excellent results. Those using Canon iPF and Epson Pro printers from 17 inches to 60 inches in width now can spend more time printing and less time chasing the right color results. Recently, LaserSoft announced PrinTao 8 IC, which wirelessly connects your iPhone, iPad or iPod to the PrinTao software on your Mac (sorry, Windows) and prints the images you’ve taken with those devices, which can be, indeed, worthy of a 24-inch print.

Compared to the complex and wasteful processes of the past, making a vivid, long-lasting print is now about as easy as it gets. All you need are images worthy of hanging on your wall. Go to to learn more.

Limiting Factors

Q With present technology in DSLR sensors and lenses, what’s the limitation in sharpness, assuming good technique. Is it the lens, or is it the sensor? Or are other factors more important?
G. Smyk
Via email

A Even assuming good technique, the photographer is the most limiting factor and must take necessary measures to eliminate camera movement and achieve precise exposure: use of a tripod, control of internal camera vibrations, avoiding blown-out highlights or pixelated, underexposed shadows, working with the lens’ optimum aperture, and employing expanded depth-of-field strategies such as focus stacking.

Sensors in professional-level cameras are so capable these days that they’re somewhat of a given. Some of the manufacturers have been a bit slow in introducing lenses that make full use of those high-count full-frame sensors, and that has created a market for very high-end lenses from Zeiss, Leica and Sigma with mounts for Sony, Canon and Nikon bodies. But there’s a limitation to how many pixels you can put on a full-frame (24x36mm) sensor, the old film format. And that’s the reason why medium-format has had a resurgence in the form of digital cameras with up to 60 megapixels (that is, not only more, but bigger pixels); it’s easier to build high-resolution lenses for larger sensors, so this is the combination to have now if you seek ultimate sharpness and have unlimited dollars to spend.

The answer to your specific question regarding the relative importance of lens vs. sensor is, therefore, dependent upon the particular sensor/lens combination you’re asking about. Technique, sensor characteristics and the ability of the lens to resolve enough information to take advantage of a sensor with more pixels all play a part. And perceptions of sharpness are, of course, greatly influenced by a number of post-capture factors, such as the quality of an electronic display, the dpi resolution of a printer and the size of the print, the native resolution of a projector and, not least, the standards of the viewer.

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page:

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.