Making useful photographs

What does it mean when perhaps hundreds of thousands of one’s photos appear in articles, essays and posts all over the Web?

It means they’re useful. That’s why I posted the originals in the first place, and licensed them to require only attribution. Because of that, I can at least guess at how many have been put to use.

For one example subject, take Lithium, a metal in the periodic table. Lithium is making news these days, because it’s both scarce and required for the batteries of electric and hybrid vehicles. At issue especially is how and where lithium is extracted from the Earth. As Ivan Penn and  put it in The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles (6 May in The New York Times), extraction “might not be very green.”

But it is blue. Or turquoise. Or aqua. Or whatever colors you see in the photo above.

I took that shot on a 2010 flight over Nevada. Looking out the window, it’s hard to miss lakes of bright colors on the desert floor, looking like stained glass windows into the Earth. I didn’t know at the time that the puddles were lithium, but I did know they’d be useful when I published them, along with whatever information a little bit of research would reveal about them. After I did the research, I put 17 photos in an album on Flickr titled Lithium Mines in Nevada and added the same set to another album called Mines and Mining, which is now 329 photos long.

Also on that flight, which produced 130 photos now in an album called 2010_08_06 rno-phx-bos, other topics of interest are the Shoshone Mountains, Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat (with “subsidence craters” over underground nuclear bomb explosions), the Nevada Test Site, (where hundreds of atomic bomb tests took place, among other interesting things, “Doom Town” on Frenchman Lake, Broom Lake in Area 51, Creech Air Force Base (from which military drones are remotely controlled), Grand Canyon, and Buffalo at night. None of the photos of mine at those links (all in Wikipedia) are especially artistic. In fact most of them make me cringe today, because I hadn’t yet mastered Photoshop when I posted them in the first place. Back then I shot only .jpgs, rather than RAW photos, which means I can’t go back do much to improve them. But all are useful, especially to writers and publications covering the topic of lithium mining. For example, my photos of those lithium lakes appear in—

And those are just the first six among 23,200 results in a search for my name + lithium. And those results are just from pubs that have bothered to obey my Creative Commons license, which only requires attribution. Countless others don’t.

Google also finds 57,400 results for my name + mining. On top of those, there are also thousands of other results for potash, river, geology, mining, mountains, dunes, desert, beach, ocean, hebrides, glacier, and other landforms sometimes best viewed from above. And that’s on top of more than 1500 photos of mine parked in Wikimedia Commons, of which many (perhaps most) are already in Wikipedia (sometimes in multiple places) or on their way there.

And those are just a few of the many subjects I’ve shot, posted and annotated to make them useful to the world. Which is why I’m guessing the number of photos actually being used is in the hundreds of thousands by now.

I have placed none of those photos in any of those places. I just put them up where they can easily be found and put to use. For example, when I shot Thedford, Nebraska, I knew somebody would find the photo and put it in Wikipedia.

Shots like these are a small percentage of all the photos I’ve taken over many decades. In fact, most of my photography is of people and scenes, not stuff like you find in the links above.

But apparently my main calling as a photographer is to push useful photos to the edge of the public domain, and to describe and tag them in ways that make them easy for researchers and journalists to find and use. And so far that has been a very successful strategy.

Addendum:::

So I have a camera question for the fellow photographers out there.

My main camera is a 2012-vintage Canon 5D Mark III , which replaced a 2005-vintage Canon 5D (source of the lithium lake shots), which replaced a Canon 30D of the same generation, and a Nikon Coolpix before that. All of these are retired or beat up now. Being um, resource constrained, every camera and lens I’ve used in this millennium I’ve either rented or bought used.

Now, out of great kindness, an old friend is giving me a Sony a7R that has been idle since she replaced it with a Sony a7Riii. I’ve played with her newer Sony, and really like how much lighter mirrorless full-frames can be. (And the a7R is lighter than the a7Riii.) The question now is what kind of lens I want to start with here, given that my budget is $0 (though I will spend more than that). The Sony equivalent of the lens I use most, a Canon 24-105 f4 L, runs >$1000, even used.

I suppose I could get non-Sony lenses for less, but … I’m not sure that’s the way to go. I’m kinda tempted to get a telephoto zoom or prime for the Sony and keep using the Canon for everything else. But then I’m carrying two cameras everywhere.

But I just looked at Ken Rockwell’s take on the Sony 24-105mm f/4
FE G OSS Full-Frame E-Mount
, which appears to outperform the Canon equivalent (two links back) so maybe I’ll find a bullet to bite, and spend the grand.

[25 May…] And I did that. The lens just arrived. Now I just need to match it up with a7R, which will probably happen next Tuesday. I trust you’ll see some results soon after that.

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