You never know where your Creative Commons-licensed photos might end up

I’ve been a Flickr member since January 2005 and I have more than 19,000 photos hosted there. Nearly all of them are Creative Commons licensed, a decision I made a long time ago. I don’t post my photos to make money, I post them to share with others. Keeping them protected doesn’t benefit anyone, but by choosing a more permissive license, others can use my photos in their own work.

If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license. CC gives you flexibility (for example, you can choose to allow only non-commercial uses) and protects the people who use your work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions you have specified.

My photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA). That means that anyone can copy, redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon any of my photos, even for commercial purposes. All that is required is that I receive appropriate credit for the photo and that any new work that incorporates the photo is also licensed under the CC-BY-SA license.

Over the years, I have been so happy to see my photos in use by others. As you might expect, most of my photos are Edmonton-related, and they’ve appeared in annual reports for local companies, in many publications by the City of Edmonton, in local media, and even in local products and services. They’ve been used by many travel companies all over the world to help illustrate Edmonton and other places I have travelled to. It makes me feel good to see others use one of my photos to help make their thing better, whatever it is. Often people ask me for permission anyway, but they don’t need to.

In some cases though, my photos have been used in unexpected places. One such place was Gawker, which used this photo in a story titled ‘Whites Win Control of Nation’s Capital‘:

Mack at Ben's Chili Bowl

The photo was taken in May 2009 when I was on vacation in Washington, D.C. with Sharon. The photo is at Ben’s Chili Bowl, and I took the photo because that’s where newly-elected President Obama sat when he visited. You can read Sharon’s review of our experience here. Here’s the relevant section:

Near the end of our meal, a fellow patron approached our table, and pointed out to Mack that President Obama had sat in his chair not too long ago, just across from Mayor Adrian Fenty. Though we had noticed that the Seal of the President had been placed on the wall just above the chair, it hadn’t occurred to us that the reason for it was to act as a marker. Just above the seal was a blown-up photo of Obama and Fenty, as well as a smaller picture of the President posing with diner staff.

The man then asked Mack if his choice of seat thus pointed out his destiny to become the next President. Mack replied, “I can’t – I’m Canadian.”

For whatever reason, the Gawker story was circulating on Twitter in Edmonton today. No I’m not pleased that my face appears in Gawker’s race-baiting post, but whatever, the photo is free for use. I could request that they take it down I suppose, but the post was from 2011. Only in Edmonton does anyone still care!

I wasn’t going to write anything, but then I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the other strange places my photos have been used. Enjoy!

Let’s start with another one from D.C., of Watergate. I have a few of the complex, and they have been used often to illustrate articles related to the famous scandal, like this one.


This photo of a Petro-Canada refinery was taken back in 2008 on the east end of Edmonton. It was used in an article in The Times of Israel titled ‘Turkey busts Iranian oil smugglers‘:

Petro-Canada Refinery

While visiting San Francisco in September 2010, we of course made a stop at Trader Joe’s, where I took this photo that was used last year when they increased the price of Two Buck Chuck to $2.49:

Tow Buck Chuck

This delicious-looking grilled cheese sandwich was used in an article titled ‘“Pregnancy brain” – what did you forget?‘:

Grilled Cheese Olympics

Don’t ask me why, but in 2007 I took a picture of some clean dishes in the dishwasher. It was used by the Natural Resources Defense Council in ‘The Great Dishwasher Debate‘.

Clean Dishes

Who doesn’t love the Edmonton Corn Maze! I took this photo in September 2010. It was used a little over a year later in an article titled ‘Family lost in a corn maze calls 911‘.

Edmonton Corn Maze

This photo, taken in Seattle in 2005, actually looks a lot better in the article where it was touched up, titled ‘Inuit demands spark angler concerns over Scottish salmon stocks‘:


While visiting Calgary in July 2010, I took this photo in the Marda Loop neighbourhood. It was later used in a satirical article titled ‘Marda Loop residents seek to ban ugly people from moving into the neighbourhood‘:

Marda Loop

Back in 2008, Doctors Without Borders had an exhibit called Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, which is where I took this photo of plumpy nut. It has been used in a number of articles about malnutrition, like this one.

plumpy nut

I took this photo of Little Caesars Hot-n-Ready pizza in 2008. It was used in this article about a 12-year-old boy who stole money, went joyriding, and ate pizza.

Hot-n-Ready from Little Caesars

This photo was used in an article about having a date at a driving range, highly appropriate as that’s when it was taken! Yes, that is Sharon.

Sharon at the driving range

Let’s finish with another popular food photo, taken in September 2010 in San Francisco. Sharon wrote about our meal at Sam Wo here. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed down in 2012 though their website was updated in July 2013 to say they are in search of a new location.

Sam Wo

There are lots of other somewhat-less-interesting examples too, with photos of technology, the Stanley Cup, Starbucks Iced Coffee, and much more being used in articles all over the world. It’s neat to see all of the places my photos have ended up!

You can check out all of my photos at Flickr.

Some awesome recent photos of Edmonton

I love sharing photos of Edmonton on Edmonton Etcetera. There are so many great photographers in our city who regularly share their work online – check out their pages, you won’t be disappointed. Here are some of my favorites (including a few of my own) from the last few weeks!

228/365 by Ian McKenzie

Pyramids in the City
Pyramids in the City by RandallTT

July 18 - Sunrise
July 18 – Sunrise by Nelson Webb

Cariwest Parade 2011
Cariwest Parade 2011 at 4th St Promenade by mastermaq

Folk Fest Evening
Folk Fest Evening by Sean Gordon

After the Rain
After the Rain by RandallTT

MacEwan Planet
MacEwan Planet by KBauschardt

Everything but the Kitchen Sink...
Everything but the Kitchen Sink… by EdRoland

Old & New
Old & New by mastermaq

I can’t embed this one, but it is pretty awesome too.

Check out the Edmonton group on Flickr for more great photos!

Edmonton’s Blue Hour Man: Darren Kirby

Edmonton’s Flickr community isn’t as large or active as other online communities in the city, but with over 1000 members and 40,000 photos in the Edmonton group alone, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. I have been trying to highlight some of the most interesting photos at Edmonton Etcetera, and after a while I realized that there are a few photographers I consistently enjoy. The one that stood out most to me was Darren Kirby – he’s definitely got an eye for the shot, as they say! I am consistently drawn to his style, his subject matter (mostly buildings and infrastructure around the city), and the fact that he licenses his photos under Creative Commons. I had to meet him!

Thankfully, he agreed to meet me for coffee recently. To start, I had to ask Darren about his extremely popular AGA-Cattle photo. If you have spent any amount of time online in the last six months, chances are you have seen it:

Cattle and AGA

Darren told me that he had reviewed the route in advance, but didn’t exactly plan for the shot. “It just sort of worked out,” he told me. That photo was one of his most popular ones, and I think it’s easy to see why. It currently has nearly 800 views, 22 comments, and 11 favorites on Flickr.

Born in BC, Darren moved to Edmonton when he was quite young, and he’s gone back and forth ever since. “I love the outdoor ruggedness in BC,” he said, though he mostly grew up in Edmonton. At an early age Darren was interested in construction, in skyscrapers and other buildings, and it’s that interest that got him into photography. Darren was an active member of SkyscraperPage, a website that proclaims itself “the world’s finest resource for skyscraper and urbanism enthusiasts.” Indeed there’s a fairly active Edmonton community on the site. A couple of years ago someone posted an old construction photo of a building downtown, and it caught Darren’s eye. “I started thinking how neat it would be thirty years down the road to whip out some photos of the construction that is happening now.” That was the catalyst he needed to start taking photos around the city.


I was amazed to learn that Darren has only been wearing the photographer hat for a couple of years. “I jumped in head first, and found a passion.” His first proper camera was a Nikon D40, and today he mainly uses a Nikon D90. “I had always had a point-and-shoot but SkyscraperPage was the catalyst for me to purchase a DSLR and to start learning how to use it.” There were three main ways he learned: trial and error, self-learning using books and online resources, and shooting with other photographers. Darren told me he tries to get out for a good five hour walk at least once a week, and is a regular participant in local FlickrMeets (meetups for local photographers). He estimates he spends 10-20 hours a week at least, shooting and editing. “People probably think I do more processing than I actually do,” he told me. He adjusts levels and increases the contrast, but that’s it for most photos. As a fan of open source and an avid Linux user, Darren uses digiKam, Raw Therapee, and occasionally GIMP.

90² - Happy New Year

Though he has posted just over 4000 photos on Flickr (on his main account) Darren estimates he has close to 50,000 photos stored at home. “I only delete the really blurry ones,” he said. I mentioned my “shotgun” approach and Darren said he was like that too, but now is “a better judge of my own work.” His approach today is twofold: artistic and documentarian. Darren created the bulliver too account for constructions photos, and is the main way he documents the many construction projects happening around Edmonton.

Epcor 2010-11-03

One of the most interesting construction projects Darren has been photographing recently is the EPCOR Tower. Thanks to SkyscraperPage, Darren got connected with Qualico’s Ken Cantor, who invited him and few other photographers on a tour back in January. I asked Ken why he reached out to Darren. “Taking a Saturday morning to do the tour was a small investment that I was happy to make,” he told me, “besides, it gave me an opportunity to show off something I’ve been working on for a long time to someone who showed an interest in it.” Darren had already been photographing the building of course, just without the same level of access that the tour provided him. “Darren chose to share his work with others asking nothing back and I offered the tour on the same basis,” Ken told me. Darren was worried the tour was going to be cancelled because it was the same weekend as our record snowfall, but they went ahead anyway, and spent more than three hours taking photos. The only condition imposed on the photographers was that Qualico be allowed to use their photos internally as appropriate and externally with credit to the photographer. “At the end of the day, it is simply part of wanting to leave a city that has treated me well in a better condition than when I arrived here and it’s the personal, small things that are as important as the concrete big ones in making that happen,” Ken said.

Epcor Tour 2011-01-08

Some of Darren’s favorite local projects include the Edmonton Clinic, the Alberta Hotel, and the Walterdale Bridge. As for photographers, Darren is a fan of many, including Hugh, Chris, and Nelson. He credits learning from other photographers as one of the most important ways he has tried to become a better photographer, though he admitted it hasn’t always been easy. Darren is naturally somewhat shy. “Join a community, whether it is Flickr online or something else, to learn from likeminded individuals.”

Edmonton Clinic North 2011-03-06

Though Darren enjoys shooting buildings and urban settings, he has started dabbling in model shots as well. “It’s a whole other world, tough but very rewarding.” Without a doubt however, his favorite kind of shot is the blue hour. “A nice looking building, well lit, during blue hour – there’s nothing better than that,” he told me. I think his love for the shot shows:


365::288 - New Grub Street

Gibson Mural

365::338 - I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

The blue hour is of course that wonderful time after the sun has gone down but before the sky has turned black.

It struck me that Darren is doing Edmonton a huge service through his photography, capturing the way the city is transforming physically. “I think it’ll be a very useful, important thing down the road,” he agreed. I think it’s especially important that Darren licenses his photos using Creative Commons, something that was a very conscious decision. “I didn’t even think twice,” he said of his choice to use Creative Commons. I mentioned perhaps connecting with the City of Edmonton Archives to store the photos, and noting that it might be too soon, Darren said “my photos are there for the taking!” I think it’s great.

For Darren, photography is a hobby but “a very enjoyable one that has been really rewarding.” He counts himself lucky to be a photographer in the digital age. “It’s great to get instant feedback from so many sources.” I asked Darren to offer some advice to other up-and-coming photographers, and he said “just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot!” Practice really does make perfect. He also said that it takes time, so don’t expect brilliant results right away.

Tops in Edmonton
Photo by Hugh Lee

I’m in awe of Darren’s work, and I’m so thankful that he is making it available for free online. Darren is certainly humble about it though. “I’m just a meat and potatoes kind of guy who loves taking pictures.”

You can check out Darren’s photos here and here, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Is Facebook the king of photo sites?

Post ImageI use Flickr to host my photos and I love it. I haven’t had any problems with the site, and I’ve been a happily paying customer for a couple years now. There are tons of photo sharing sites available though, and it seems Flickr is far from being the clear winner, despite having lots of positive brand recognition.

In fact, I think Facebook is probably the largest photo sharing site on the web.

Here’s what I have been able to find:

Notice how for Photobucket I said “images” – that’s because they host a lot of icons, graphics, and other kinds of items that aren’t really photos. There are a bunch of other sites that fall into that category as well. Another site that probably should be on the list is Zooomr, but I couldn’t find any stats for them. I suspect they are somewhere between SmugMug and Flickr.

Clearly, based on the number of photos stored, Facebook is the winner. They have incredible growth too (over 60 million photos added per week) as outlined in yesterday’s post. Certainly just hosting the most photos doesn’t make one site better than another, but it is still pretty interesting to compare. SmugMug’s Don MacAskill is always talking about speed and performance, and for good reason – SmugMug is the clear winner in terms of load times. There are a lot of other metrics that could be used to compare sites.

The one disadvantage Facebook has (depending on how you look at it) is that all the photos are behind their walled garden. Otherwise, you could almost consider them a photo sharing site instead of a social networking site!

For me, the most interesting thing is the total number of photos across all these sites – over three billion ignoring Photobucket, just from the sites I listed. I find it unlikely that there are many duplicates (ie, most users don’t post photos to multiple sites), so the number is particularly astounding.

Just imagine what the first photographers back in the 1800s would think of this photo sharing craziness!

UPDATE: Turns out my estimate for Zooomr was horribly off the mark. Don points out in the comments that they have 1 million photos – and that getting to the million mark is a big deal (Thanks Don for the info). I think I guessed so high because of the many TechCrunch posts covering Zooomr! Oh well.

Gummy Bears at FlickrBlog

Post ImageIf you aren’t currently subscribed to the FlickrBlog, you should be. Here’s the RSS feed. I read a lot of feeds every day, and most of them are just text followed by more text. The nice thing about the FlickrBlog is that in addition to site news for Flickr, they often share “photo posts” like yesterday’s post on The Secret Life of Gummy Bears:

Since we don’t know how many gummy bears have actually been released into the world, there’s just one immediate solution: Eat them — as many and as fast as humanly possible. It’s not too late.

I don’t know why exactly, but the post just made me smile. Some other recent “photo posts” include Dogs on Roofs, Dogs in Pools, and the paper crane project.

It’s amazing how much time you can waste just hopping from photo to photo on Flickr!

Read: FlickrBlog

Geotagging at Flickr

Post ImageJust came across a pretty neat feature that Flickr launched on Monday! You can now geotag your pictures, meaning you can assign them to a physical, real-world location:

Adding location information on Flickr is done through the Organizr, under the Organize tab.

Users can search for photos by location in the Explore area. Set the map to a location (world down to street level) and type in a search query. Markers will appear on the map with photos that contain that query in the tags or description of the photo.

I just tried it out with a few of my pictures, and it seems to work pretty well. It’s all Ajax powered, so it feels pretty natural. You can check out my Flickr map here.

Read: TechCrunch

Flickr Gamma

Post ImageFlickr launched a new redesign yesterday, and upgraded the site from Beta to Gamma. I heard the redesign mentioned at Mesh by Chris Messina, who wasn’t exactly ecstatic about the changes. I for one love the new design, and think it is long overdue!

  • The menu at the top has been simplified and now contains dropdown menus to access various areas of the site. I found the old, two-tiered menu structure kind of confusing, so for me, this is a welcome change.
  • Search has been improved, and no longer just looks in tags.
  • There’s a new person menu on buddy icons.
  • Your Photos now shows to columns of photos instead of just one.
  • The Organizr is vastly different, and I haven’t really had a chance to play with it yet.

Great job Flickr, keep it up! I hope the site does eventually leave it’s greek editions to go final, but at least they are not stuck on beta forever. Perhaps a lesson (and new model) for others to follow?

Read: Flickr Blog

Yahoo buys

Post ImageIf someone asked me who I thought was winning the Web 2.0 game, my answer would most definitely be Yahoo. The same company that bought Flickr has now also acquired social bookmarking site

Joshua Schachter, the founder of, confirmed a posting on the New York-based start-up’s site that the company had been acquired by Yahoo. A Yahoo representative confirmed that the agreement to buy had closed on Friday.

Neither party disclosed financial terms.

“We are joining forces to build my vision of creating a way for people to remember things together,” Schachter told Reuters in a phone interview. “It is a shared-memory site.”

That means that Yahoo now owns both of the so-called “web 2.0” companies that I use most. Here’s what Joshua posted on the blog in a post cleverly titled “y.ah.oo!”:

We’re proud to announce that has joined the Yahoo! family. Together we’ll continue to improve how people discover, remember and share on the Internet, with a big emphasis on the power of community. We’re excited to be working with the Yahoo! Search team – they definitely get social systems and their potential to change the web. (We’re also excited to be joining our fraternal twin Flickr!)

Fraternal twin indeed! I can’t wait to see what Yahoo cooks up with two of the most popular new web properties now under its ever-growing umbrella.

Read: CNET

Social Bookmarking and Walled Gardens

Post ImageBefore the current explosion of social bookmarking sites I became a total fan. It was among the first sites to have the funky URI, it has a very simple and extremely clean interface, and it makes me feel like I am in control. Overall, I have been very happy with it, and I have around 760 items in my bookmarks right now.

I still get the urge to try out some of the other sites though! I never end up taking the plunge however, and I think it’s because I already have so many links in If there was an extremely easy way to import/export between the services that would be sweet, I’d have no problems! Unfortunately, there isn’t. I mean I could probably write a script that loads everything in and adds it to whatever service I am trying, but that’s not really feasible. I like to code, but I don’t have that kind of time! And yes, testing a new service with all of my existing bookmarks in there is important! If I am going to switch, it had better handle what I already have very well.

I don’t think this problem is limited to social bookmarking either. It’s not like you can export your photos from Flickr to another site with anything close to what I would call “relative ease”. I understand that it would take a lot of work on the part of the development teams to make it a reality, but we aren’t really in an open Web 2.0 world until it happens. And if it’s not going to happen, it would be better if I hosted my own bookmarks and published a standard API that services like could tap into – Web 3.0 maybe 😉

With all the recent talk about demolishing the so-called “wall gardens” of the past, I can’t help but think it’s all a farce.

Blog Break Observations

Post ImageThere seem to be a decent number of bloggers who take “blog breaks” or “blog vacations” every now and then, usually to catch up on life and re-focus on why it is they write a blog in the first place. Famed blogger Scoble recently returned from his latest blog vacation, and noted:

See, a good blog is passionate and authoritative. Lately I’ve been going through the motions. Just blogging to keep blogging.

Over the past week I focused on rediscovering myself. What do I like to do? This is my blog. It better be fun. For me. Or else I’ll stop doing it.

I agree – it better be fun for me. Fortunately, I’ve never felt the need to take a blog break, but rather, have been forced to at least twice because of server problems (which we are doing everything possible to prevent from happening again). This last time was the longest period for me without blogging, and so I made a number of observations:

  • I realized that one of the main reasons I like posting to my blog is because I am creating content. I like the idea that people are reading what I am writing.
  • I also realized that I don’t need my blog to create content. Even though I wasn’t posting to my blog, I could still post pictures at my Flickr account, or bookmark and tag links at
  • I sometimes post things here about my life, or things I have done recently. The reason I do this is so that friends, family and colleagues can easily read my blog and see what I’ve been up to, even if we don’t get the chance to talk. Some of my friends have remarked that as a result, one tends to become cut off from social interaction and thus is harmed. I am pretty confident I have reaffirmed that isn’t the case, as during the blog break, I didn’t talk to anyone more or less than normal (except that I got a lot of IM’s asking when the servers would be back up).
  • As much as I like creating content, I think I have found that the main reason this blog exists, the main reason I post to it every day, is that I like to have a “play by play” for my life – for what I am reading and finding interesting, what I am doing, and what I am thinking. What was I doing two weeks ago? It sucks that I wasn’t able to post it to my blog, because now I’ll forget it. I like the idea that if something newsworthy happens tomorrow, I can look back in two years and remember what I thought at the time. That’s pretty powerful stuff to me. For instance, I can look back and see that on August 8th of last year I didn’t post anything, but that was probably because I was busy with my parents, who were in town. How did I remember that? Because I posted on the 7th about going to see The Village with them.
  • I figured that if I wasn’t posting, I wouldn’t be reading blogs as much either. In fact, I kept reading as much as normal. Maybe it was because I could tag interesting things at, or maybe it was just that reading and posting to blogs aren’t as linked as I had assumed.

I guess the main observation from my little blog break is that I enjoy maintaining my blog, posting new things, and having others read them. I suppose the true test will come when I take a voluntary blog break, instead of a forced one, but for now, I’m happy to continue blogging.

Read: Robert Scoble