All posts by Michael Maggs

Picturing Scotland

Picturing Scotland with Wiki Loves Monuments

By Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator at Wikimedia UK and formerly Wikimedian in Residence at Museums Galleries Scotland. 

In 2015-16 I was the Wikimedian in Residence for Museums Galleries Scotland, training museum staff to edit Wikipedia, and generally being enthusiastic about open knowledge to anyone who would listen.  These days I’m continuing that work in my new role as Scotland Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK, working with all kinds of organisations to open up Scotland’s culture and heritage to a global audience.  And in September, that means Wiki Loves Monuments.

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo competition – the world’s largest – that aims to make high quality openly licensed images of the world’s listed buildings and scheduled monuments available to anyone in the world, through Wikimedia Commons.  And as you can see from this interactive map, there’s rather a lot of Scotland missing.  I’d like to turn some of those red pins blue.  Actually, I’d like to turn rather a lot of them blue.  Which is where you come in.

Picturing Scotland

There are prizes for the top 3 images in Scotland (sponsored by Wikimedia UK and Archaeology Scotland), as well as the top 10 images in the UK.  The latter then go forward to the international competition. Last year a Scottish image came second in the UK competition and I hope we can match that.

You can take a look at what’s already been submitted here.  Currently we’re holding our own against England, Wales & Northern Ireland, but there are still three weeks to go…

Why you should get involved

Encouraging the creation of openly-licensed cultural heritage resources is a natural extension of museums’ existing commitment to outreach. Helping to preserve those items for future generations.  The recent fires at both the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, and the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art are tragic reminders of how quickly key parts of our history and culture can be lost. The New Palmyra project has shown how valuable digital reconstruction can be. Wikipedia is encouraging people to contribute to the movement to digitally reconstruct the contents of the Rio museum, by donating images to Wikimedia Commons.

Images on Wikimedia Commons are licensed most commonly under a CC-BY-SA license. (Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike), which means that anyone can use those images, as long as they attribute them to the person who took them, and share using the same license.  This means that anyone – schools, students, and the general public, can access, learn from, and re-use these images for free. The images can also be used on any of Wikipedia’s sites – available in nearly 300 languages worldwide, and view-able by a global audience. Many museums are now releasing images of out of copyright works into the digital commons, like the Rijksmuseum, or the National Library of Wales (NLW) adding 10,000 images to Wikimedia Commons over the last 4 years. Over 455 million people have seen images from NLW that have been added to Wikipedia articles!

How you can get involved

Do you work in, or live near a listed building or scheduled monument? Have you visited any recently?  Is there a picture of it in our database? (Again, you can use our interactive map to check.) Pictures don’t have to have been taken in September – just uploaded in September – to be eligible for the competition.

All you need is a camera (or indeed, camera phone), and a Wikimedia Commons account (very easy to set up, and if you already have a Wikipedia account, you don’t even need to do that), and you’re ready to go. There are full instructions here about how to make your submission. Check out the video below from Wikimedia UK which shows how simple it is to take part.

Do you have a group of volunteers in your museum who are interested in photography, or perhaps you have a heritage walk of your local area planned? Are some of your staff are keen photographers? Is a picture of your museum in the database? If not, now is a perfect chance to add one.

 

“Am I a Monument?”

Some fun for the weekend. Play the classic 1950s get-together game Am I a Monument? – the “delightful thawing game”. Guess the monument that’s been pinned to your back by asking the other players yes/no questions such as “Am I a bridge?”

Am I a Monument? game
Am I a Monument? game

A bargain at only one shilling-and-tuppence three-farthing (including tax). Endless fun to be had by all!

Price label
Price label

Help us turn the pins green! [International map]

This post applies to the Monumental map – ie to the campaigns in countries that use the Monumental map based on Wikidata.

Help WLM contestants get the feedback they are looking for – turn the pins on the map from red to green.

On the map, monuments that aren’t yet on Wikidata show as a red pin. You can help those pins turn green as contestants upload pictures of ‘missing’ monuments. It doesn’t happen automatically, as manual checking is needed to make sure the image uploaded is actually suitable to be used as the primary Wikidata illustration.

To help, login to Magnus Manske’s newly-updated Wikidata File Candidates tool and make sure that the COMMONS and ON WIKIDATA options are selected.

Type in the Commons category you want to check, eg Images from Wiki Loves Monuments 2018 United Kingdom. Use the cog button to show/hide options, and the refresh button beneath to run the query.

If there are any candidate images to be added to Wikidata, they’ll appear in a list. On the left are Wikidata items and on the right are the potential candidates. First, make sure the correct WD item has been matched by the tool. If not, remove the line item by clicking the red button on the left.

Then, to add a new primary WD click on ‘Image’. You should normally select only a single best and most representative picture, but you can select several if really essential. If there is a good representative internal shot, add that as well using the ‘Image of Interior’ option from the Photo button.

Click on the red cross on the left to tell the tool that you won’t be using the other images of that monument (this prevents those images being re-displayed to you later). If there is no suitable representative image at all, ignore the suggestions and just click the red cross.

Sometimes the WD item already has one or more images, in which case they will appear under a horizontal red line in the left column. That may be because the WD item has been changed since the tool did its last data-collection run, or because the existing image is, for example, an internal shot and the tool is presenting possible options for an additional representative image.

Once you’ve added one or more images to WD, the corresponding pin on the map will change from red to green within a few minutes.

Many thanks to  Magnus for this wonderful tool!

Help us turn the pins blue!

This post applies to the WLM UK interactive map – ie the campaigns in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Help WLM contestants get the feedback they are looking for – turn the pins on the WLM-UK map from red to blue.

On the interactive map, monuments that aren’t yet on Wikidata show as a red pin. You can help those pins turn blue as contestants upload pictures of ‘missing’ monuments. It doesn’t happen automatically, as manual checking is needed to make sure the image uploaded is actually suitable to be used as the primary Wikidata illustration.

To help, login to Magnus Manske’s newly-updated Wikidata File Candidates tool and make sure that the COMMONS and ON WIKIDATA options are selected.

Type in the Commons category you want to check, eg Images from Wiki Loves Monuments 2018 United Kingdom. Use the cog button to show/hide options, and the refresh button beneath to run the query.

If there are any candidate images to be added to Wikidata, they’ll appear in a list. On the left are Wikidata items and on the right are the potential candidates. First, make sure the correct WD item has been matched by the tool. If not, remove the line item by clicking the red button on the left.

Then, to add a new primary WD click on ‘Image’. You should normally select only a single best and most representative picture, but you can select several if really essential. If there is a good representative internal shot, add that as well using the ‘Image of Interior’ option from the Photo button.

Click on the red cross on the left to tell the tool that you won’t be using the other images of that monument (this prevents those images being re-displayed to you later). If there is no suitable representative image at all, ignore the suggestions and just click the red cross.

Sometimes the WD item already has one or more images, in which case they will appear under a horizontal red line in the left column. That may be because the WD item has been changed since the tool did its last data-collection run, or because the existing image is, for example, an internal shot and the tool is presenting possible options for an additional representative image.

Once you’ve added one or more images to WD, the corresponding pin on the WLM-UK interactive map will change from red to blue within a few minutes.

Many thanks to  Magnus for this wonderful tool!

A judge’s eye

Our judge Andy Chopping reflects on the 2017 shortlist and offers some tips for this year’s contestants.

September is upon us, heralding the start of the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition. And I’m delighted to have been asked once again to help judge this excellent competition, which last year saw a remarkable 14,000 entries from across the UK.

I thought that this year’s entrants might benefit from some constructive ideas based on the 200 shortlisted photographs that we were asked to judge last year and why the 10 finalists succeeded in capturing a judge’s eye.

So, what makes a great Wiki Loves Monuments photo?

In no particular order I’d suggest that subject, viewpoint, composition, lighting and focus are all key elements.

Subject

Well, monuments obviously. But consider the vast number of visitors who have photographed England’s well-known castles, cathedrals and stately homes. You can be fairly certain that we will receive hundreds of thoroughly competent images rehashing the same old subjects. Might your efforts be better used in photographing something less mainstream? Given my interest in archaeology I was surprised to find that of last years 200 shortlisted images only 3 captured the monuments which were built by our early pre-Roman ancestors. And equally delighted that this one made the top ten:

Avebury henge and stone circles, by Paul Adams
Commended 2017: Avebury henge and stone circles, by Paul Adams, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Last year’s shortlist also surprised me with its paucity of photographs showing building interiors. Less than 15% of the entrants attempted to cover this area, and only one made the final cut. So the key to finding something new, and possibly success in the 2018 competition, might be as simple as moving indoors!

East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu
Commended 2017: East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Viewpoint

Try to avoid the classic ‘postcard views’; no matter how perfect your image might be it will struggle to make an impression if it’s one of several dozen almost identical photographs. A great many of our monuments are so well known and so heavily photographed that even if we haven’t been to, say, Salisbury Cathedral/the Clifton Suspension Bridge/Stonehenge we will already be so familiar with the monument that we already know the viewpoints that by public consensus are reckoned to be the best.

And this is where the challenge lies. Walk around the monument, look at it through fresh eyes and find a viewpoint that avoids the ordinary and illustrates the monument in a way that others will not find so familiar, and will ideally never have experienced. Last year’s entries included a number of photographs made by photographers who had certainly found new viewpoints, working with UAV or ‘Drone’ camera platforms. Sadly none of these aerial images made the final cut. This year might be different. I know from my professional life that, used well (and legally), this technology can be a tremendous asset, but it’s essential to remember that it’s not enough to have an unusual viewpoint. Composition and lighting are also key to success.

Perch Rock Lighthouse, by Mark Warren 1973
Commended 2017: Perch Rock Lighthouse, by Mark Warren 1973, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Composition

Once you’ve selected the viewpoint for your photograph you’ll start the process of composing the image, finding the ideal way to frame the subject. The use of a tripod will help enormously, not simply by providing a stable base but more importantly by slowing down your actions and giving you time to consider fine adjustments.

Be aware of the classic guidelines of composition: rule of thirds, leading lines, and use of symmetry. But also keep enough background in the image to convey a sense of space and set the monument in context. Not only will the additional space give greater presence to the subject, it will also make the image more ‘useable’ and potentially more successful than the same view and moment tightly cropped.

Consider the use of human scale in your images. Less than 10% of last year’s shortlisted submissions featured people and in only 2 of those did their inclusion appear to have been deliberate. It’s undoubtedly true that a bus full of tourists can ruin an image, but one or two well-placed people can provide an added focal point for your shot, introduce a sense of scale and create a more engaging image overall.

De La Warr Pavilion, by Oliver Tookey
3rd prize 2017: De La Warr Pavilion, by Oliver Tookey, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Lighting

Lighting is almost everything in an image. Walk around your subject and predict how it might look at different times of the day or night. Consider the movement of daylight across your subject and try to plan the ideal hour to make your photograph.

Try to avoid harsh midday sun and exploit the golden hour. Light in the morning and early evening is much better suited to photography – long shadows accentuate texture and detail and the light has a colour and quality that can lift atmospheric quality.

But that being said, don’t be afraid of bad weather. People do their best to avoid wind, rain, sleet and snow. And as a result there’s a lack of photos of monuments in these conditions which immediately sets such images apart from the rest. The 2017 shortlist had only 4 images made in poor weather and 2 of them made it into the final 10.

Spectacular, or subtle and atmospheric lighting is sometimes encountered by accident, but more often by planning and effort. British weather is fickle and many attempts might be required before you find perfect moment to make your photograph.

Martello tower at Felixstowe Ferry, Suffolk, by Tony Lockhart
Commended 2017: Martello tower at Felixstowe Ferry, Suffolk, by Tony Lockhart, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Focus

If your camera allows it use selective focus to draw the observer’s eye into the frame, don’t simply let the camera determine what’s important. Selective depth of field can concentrate the observer’s attention where you want it, and can throw unwanted visual clutter into a soft un-distracting fore- or background. If appropriate, consider the use of long exposure to add a sense of movement to your image. Trees, clouds, flags, running water all lend themselves to this technique – but make your intentions apparent, there’s a world of difference between the apparently clumsy slight blurriness of water on the seashore and the mercurial silk like quality of a waves captured by a tripod-mounted long exposure.

The Derelict West Pier at Brighton, by Mathew Hoser
1st prize 2017: The Derelict West Pier at Brighton, by Mathew Hoser, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Finally …

If possible work with a tripod-mounted camera. Work slowly and make fewer, better images.

Try to see ‘the whole picture’. Many potentially great images don’t make the cut because they were ruined by a fleeting cloud shadow, or an unintended passer-by.

Shoot raw if possible and certainly use the tools available in your preferred processing program. But don’t overdo it; use your skills to finesse a good image, not to rescue a poor one.

Be critical of your own work; avoid at all costs submitting several slightly different versions of the same image; you might leave one stand-out image swamped by your apparent lack of confidence.

Your image should evoke an emotional response which demands more than a cursory glance. It should require a little work from the observer, drawing them into the frame, into a captured moment and place.

Ask yourself if your selected image will stand up to the ‘calendar test’… imagine it on your wall or desk for an entire month. When it’s time to turn the page a great photo still engages and entertains – will yours?

UK heritage Open Days 2018 – focus on interiors

East Building Of Central Market, London
East Building Of Central Market, London, by Stevekeiretsu, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

There’s not long to go now until Wiki Loves Monuments returns in September 2018, when you can start uploading your photos of heritage monuments in the UK and try to win one of our prizes!

As we’ve been running the competition for several years now, we already have external photos of quite a few of the top tourist sites.  But we’re still missing images of many interesting local or lesser-known sites. And we have very few high-quality photographs of interiors.  With that in mind we thought we would write an update on last year’s blogpost on heritage open days to suggest places you can go to take photos of interiors.

England

For England, check out the Heritage Open Days website here. The open days this year are on 6-9 & 13-16 September and you can search for events in your area here or by region here. This is the first time that the events will be held across two weekends, as more and more places are participating.

This year there are a number of archives taking part, which you can see on this map, and there are lots of other suggestions on the website for outdoor events, family friendly events, museum events and much more. You can also read about National Trust properties which are participating in the Heritage Open Days programme on their website.

The theme of this year’s event is Extraordinary Women to mark the centenary of Women’s Suffrage, and there are a number of places to visit that tell the stories of great women such as Gertrude Bell and Marianne North.

Other events giving you a rare look into heritage sites in September include Open House London (22-23rd September).

Scotland

In Scotland the website to look at is Doors Open Days. You can see the list of events here. For more ideas, see this page.

Wales

Events in Wales are organised by Cadw. See the list of events here. For more ideas, see this page.

Join us

If you are planning on taking photos at one of these events, why not get in touch and let us know? If you are a member of Wikimedia UK (only £5 a year! Join us here). You can also borrow photographic equipment for free to help you take photos for the competition. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions about how to get involved or submit your photos!

John Lubbock

10 Tips for Architectural Photography

From our judge James O. Davies, Head of Photography at Historic England.

10 Tips for Architectural Photography

You’ll need to read James’s article to see the example images, but here are his tips, in brief:

1. Before taking a picture, walk all the way round the building, acquaint yourself with the site.

2. Decide exactly what you want to say about the building, what it is you want to communicate through the photograph.

3. Use the ambient light and time your photograph accordingly. Watch how a building responds by the way light changes from dawn till nightfall.

4. Try to keep the composition simple. Try not to over complicate the frame. Remove unwanted clutter and remove superfluous items.

5. Look for even illumination across an elevation and beware the elevation that’s half in shadow. Try to shoot either early morning or late evening when the the light is more sympathetic.

6. If shooting whole elevations, don’t truncate the building, step back, use space and let the building breathe.

7. Photographs don’t always have to taken from eye level, look for elevation, this will give a better sense of proportion.

8. Keep looking. Your initial ideas and viewpoint may well encompass everything you want to say, but don’t rely on it. By changing position and watching how the light changes other shots may present themselves.

9. Be persistent. Successful photographs take time, so slow down and never rush a photograph. If the conditions are against you don’t succumb to the act of taking the image, return the next day, the next week; the building and architect deserve the best.

10. Shoot RAW files, use a prime aperture, use a tripod and endeavour to keep verticals true. Use your eyes and feet to compose the image before setting up the camera.

© James O. Davies 2015

Wiki Loves Monuments is back for 2018!

We’re very pleased to announce that the UK is taking part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest again in 2018. Eligible subjects for you to photograph include all grades and categories of Listed buildings, plus Scheduled Monuments. See our eligible subjects page for details.

Photos for the contest can be taken at any time, so get shooting now ready to enter your images in September!

Common errors – camera handling

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

Common errors – auto settings

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

Common errors – subjects

Please try to avoid these common errors, as they make your photographs much less useful.

Click on the right of the main image to step through the errors.

Why are we doing this?

This article was originally posted to http://www.wikilovesmonuments.org on 29 December 2012 by , one of the international organizers.

In the past year, we’ve often had the question “why are you doing this?”. Many people outside the Wikimedia movement assume at first that this must be a professional job for me, as one of the organizers – and when you explain that we’re doing this almost fully by volunteers, and hundreds of them, people are often flabbergasted.

Volunteers who helped organize Wiki Loves Monuments. Photo: Pierre Selim, CC BY-SA

Wikipedia is written by volunteers, and Wiki Loves Monuments is primarily organized by volunteers. In that sense, both are very much the same. But Wiki Loves Monuments doesn’t stand on itself as a project, like Wikipedia does. So when people think about why volunteers are working on organizing this mega photo contest, they first assume that it must be about all the photos we’re collecting – because we all love photography.

And of course, that plays a role. But there’s more to it. For example, it is a great way to develop more skills and enthusiasm in our chapters. Wiki Loves Monuments is a well documented initiative, which makes it easier to organize. Some infrastructure is already in place, and it is a good excuse to get in touch with potential partners who are into cultural heritage in their country. The combination of promoting local cultural heritage, a competition element and Wikipedia has proven to be a golden one.

But more importantly, as a movement we have been working to get more people involved in contributing to Wikipedia and its sister projects. And that is just what Wiki Loves Monuments is: an easier and nicer way to contribute content to Wikipedia! You can upload photos which you know will be useful, and you can see the result of it rather quickly. The interface is simplified and if you get the hang of it you already know a topic you can move forward. We get in touch with people we’d normally hardly meet: people who love cultural heritage you can find on the streets: houses, churches, temples, castles or other tangible heritage. Some of these people, often a bit older than the average Wikipedian (27 year old man), might become more interested in editing on cultural heritage topics on Wikipedia.

But maybe the key reason why we’re doing this all is awareness. Making people aware that Wikipedia is run by volunteers. Making people aware that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. Making people aware that they have much valuable material that can be shared under a free license. Making people aware that they can choose for their photos and writings to lie on the shelf, unused, or to be published under a free license, be re-used by others and built upon. Working, step by step, to that world where every person can share in the sum of all human knowledge.