Wednesday, 26 December 2012


One Christmaspicture

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Time to add it all up and close

I feel it is time to put a wrap on "case studio Hera Bell". First of all I want to thank everyone who has felt that posting a link to my blog has been a good way to pass information to others who might be interested. With almost 800 visits in the past 24 hours, most of which have come from outside Finland, I think we have managed to spread the word nicely.

Montreal Gazette has replied to one of the actives on (the finnish site where this all began) that they will not run a story on Hera Bells alleged copyright infringements or photo thefts, which ever term one may wish to use. People from the gazette have tried to contact Hera Bell to get some kind of comment from her but have not been succesful, despite their best efforts. I think this is a shame as it would have been extremely interesting to hear ms. Bells side of the story. If her explanations for the findings done by actives would have been less than satisfactory, the newspaper article would have been a great way to warn her potential clients that she may not be all that she claims to be.

On the legal side, it is not realistic to expect legal action to be taken against Hera Bell from this side of the atlantic. The cost of getting the case moving would be far too great in comparison with the potential returns. And, as anyone who has ever been to court can tell you, there are no guarantees on the outcome of a case in a court of law. Yes, the evidence against Hera Bell seems overwhelming, but it must be remembered that almost all of the pictures have been taken from different photographers. This means that a single photographer would sue ms. Bell for the unauthorized use of one image. For a photographer based in Canada, this would be an option and if it were me, I would do it. Without proof of Hera Bell actually making a profit with the unauthorized use of one single picture, the compensation to be gained would most likely be minor but some form of sanctions could be expected.

As I stated in my previous post phototheft on the internet happens all the time. A good example of the scope of the problem is that a photographer friend of mine found one of his pictures being used by a Danish photographer to promote her works just yesterday. The reason why I took more of an interest in Hera Bells doings is the sheer scope of it all and her claims of being a "professional photographer." A lot of her claims have been found to be questionable to say the least in the past few days. I really don't know how much of this whole thing was Hera Bell simply boosting her own selfimage on different photography websites and how much actual marketing for her photography business.

I think there are some lessons to be learned from all of this. For the aspiring photographer starting out his or her own business, this is a good lesson in marketing on the internet. Hera Bell had a very convincing and professional looking appearance on the web and anyone wanting to get their business going should try to achieve a similar image, just so that it is done on a truthfull basis, using ones own pictures and real credentials that can easily be verified. As for the potential client looking for a photographer, one should remember that not everything we see on the internet is as it appears to be and some background checks to verify claims made by the photographer may well be in order before agreeing to pay for services. One must remember that in any form of marketing, the positive sides are the ones brought forward and the negative ones are played down or left out altogether.

Unless something comes to my attention regarding legal action being taken against Hera Bell, I don't see any reason to continue writing about her. After all, her reputation among photographers around the world has been tarnished, her web pages are down and the stolen images have been removed. As someone put it, her "signature style" turned out to be more "stolen style".  However, if she does return to photosites on the internet sometime in the future, with pictures taken by herself (as I hope she will), her return will not be easy. I am sure she will be confronted with comments like "nice picture, who took it this time" for quite some time. As long as she is honest, I wish her strength to get thru it. Gaining trust after it is lost is no small feat.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Studio Hera Bell, part III

 The story on Hera Bell continues. After a few days of searching done by a few really active fellows on a bunch of new "picture pairs" have been found and a pattern can be seen. The latest count of obvious cases published at "who took this photo" is 25. The pattern seems to be that a picture has been downloaded from a non - north american photographer, then "flipped" to a mirror image of the original and either some color management or conversion to BW done in photoshop. With these simple photoshop techniques, the discovery of stolen pics has been made much more difficult. For example, google picture search does not recognize the mirror image to be the same as the original. In this case it did not matter much, as the guys doing the detective work soon discovered this and took pictures published by Hera Bell, flipped them around and did a new search that unsurprsingly started to produce hits.

In the original dpreview discussion on this (a new one has been started since) a croatian pro photographer by the name of Dean Bertoncelj came forward to tell what happend to him. The short version is that Bertoncelj has an account with shutterstock. After receiving information that there are infringement questions regarding one of Bertonceljs' pictures, they (rightfully so) closed his account and requested more information. After Bertoncelj provided proof that HE DOES own the rights to the picture in question, his account was put back online. This took a day or so. Now, this may or may not have cost Bertoncelj money, as it is possible that someone might have been interested to buy his pictures, but with the account closed, it was not possible. Just goes to show that the theft of even one picture can have rather far reaching effects and real financial harm can be done.

Some pictures have been found published by Hera Bell that also appear on other Canadian photographers webpages. These photographers have been informed about these findings and they are considering what action to take. Being in the same country they have the best opportunity to take legal action against Hera Bell. Doing so from the other side of the atlantic may be so complicated that it may not be worth the trouble. This is something that is being looked into, however and if reasonably possible, will be done.

The matter of legal action brings me to something that had some of the fellows playing "interet detective" a bit worked up. One of them posted the story of Hera Bell to mu-43 forum, a site where she has been active at posting pictures. The moderators there locked the discussion and stated that accusing someone is not what the forum is for and such cases should be taken to court. During the most heated search for stolen pictures, this was not viewed kindly and some reposts were done, resulting in one person being blocked from the site. Amin Sabet, who runs mu-43 came forward with a statement in dpreview which clarifies their position. I must say that I think mr. Sabet made a very good point on why they have chosen their course of action and we all should respect their point of view. In my opinion, any further criticism towards that site and its moderators is uncalled for.

The more investigation in to Hera Bells pictures and writings related to them has been done, the more there seems to be wrong. For example, Hera Bell has written on various photoforums about exhibitions where her pictures have been, awards that she has won and so on. With active searching, the only proof of her pictures being exhibited, is the story found in the Montreal Gazette. As for awards that she has won, so far these has been no luck finding any mention of them on the internet, other than by Hera Bell herself. All in all, the whole case is starting to look more and more that Hera Bell has fabricated a lot of her credentials and used pictures taken by other people for marketing her photography business. The scope of it all is amazing, after all the discoveries so far, it is hard to know if anthing about Hera Bell is truthfull. I feel lucky that I did not fall victim to someone like this when I chose my wedding photographer all those years ago.

As for the guys at "dc" going thru the net for more and more evidence, all I can say is that you chaps really are amazing. In all these years I have never before seen such unity. Cheers. ;)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Case Studio Hera Bell continued

Since yesterday, this "blog" has been started. These are the same pics that have been posted in dpreview discussion earlier. I do not know who put it up and if new examples will be posted in the future. I do know that a few chaps are still going thru every single picture they can find on the net that is somehow related to Studio Hera Bell. I'm not sure if it really serves any real purpose, after all ms. Bell has been caught and her reputation is gone. All new discoveries will be only "another stolen picture" without being much of a surprise to anyone or having much of a meaning with regards to ms. Bells downfall. Then again, as some of the actives stated on page 21 of the discussion where this all started "it's freezing outside and there is not much else to do" and "with enough coverage, we can make sure her potential clients in vancouver know what a fake she is." Yes, vengeange can become rather ugly at times, but I must admit that until ms. Bell comes forward, apologizes and cleans up her act and all of her websites, I don't have much sympathy for her.

As can be seen from the cases collected here and as I stated in my previous post, this is not the first such case and most likely will not be the last, phototheft on the net happens every day.

So, if you are a photographer and don't wish to get ripped off, it might be a good idea run a check on where your pictures have ended up every now and then. Google picture search is one way of doing it.

Those couple of cases that happened to me were corrected with a simple e-mail. In the first case, the picture was promptly removed and a reply with apologies sent and the second one I let the young girl keep after I had pointed out that she could not use my dog pics without my permission. She seemed to understand and offered to remove them, at which point I told her to keep them, just so she would remember to ask permission the next time she wanted to use pictures taken by someone else to lighten up her webpage about cute doggies.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How low can a photographer go?

I haven't had time to photograph much and that is why I haven't posted anything in ages. I still haven't been taking pictures, but the following needed to be written:

As we all know, the internet is full of pictures. What a lot of people don't realize, is that pictures found on the internet are not "free game", somebody owns the rights to each one of them. Pictures are taken from websites and passed along without due credit being given to the photographer all the time, without much thought being given to the fact that it is a copyright violation to do so. In some cases this is due to lack of knowledge, sometimes just not caring, because "everyone does it" and then we have the really ugly cases..

Let me clarify a bit. When I talk of "lack of knowledge", I mean the kid who takes a funny picture and posts it in FaceBook or some other place on the web just to share the laugh with friends and does not even know that it is illegal. No real harm done there, eventhough it is not right. The right way would be to post a link to the pictures original site. Then there are the ones who know it is not right, but do it anyway because "Hey, it's just a picture, what's the big deal?" Using the pictures for something such as to give some color or visual effect in school projects, power point presentations at work and so on. These are most often cases of one or two pictures being used without permission and due compensation and/or credit being given to whom it belongs. Not the end of the world, but knowing it is not right and still doing it shows poor judgement and lack of morals in my opinion.

Then we get to the ugly cases. Because there is a massive flooding of pictures out there now, photography has become very competitive and a tough field to make a living in and therefore it is not surprising that some people use every means available to gain an edge. When a professional photographer uses images taken by someone else to make money or even to promote his or her business by claiming that he or she has taken the picture, we are way over the line.

Why am I posting this? As it happens, there is a really heated discussion going on in the Finnish photography forum "" about a Canadian photographer, Hera Bell, who has done exactly this. One of the chaps there ran a check on the net a few days ago to see where his pictures had ended up and found out that one of his pictures was published by this Canadian professional photographer as her own, with a lengthy story of how and when she had taken the picture. She had even used the picture to enter a photocompetition. Soon after this was made public on the Finnish forum some of the chaps there started looking at ms. Bells websites, did some snooping around and found more pictures that she claimed to have taken, but were infact property of others. When the news broke out in englishspeaking photoforums, ms. Bell closed her blog off, "access by invitation only" and a lot of pictures in question have been blocked off or removed completely.

Just so no-one can say this is all just talk without any proof, below are links that are paired, ms. Bells picture and the original:

Hera Bell blogpage (a screencapture of it to be precise)


Not convinced? Ok. How about if we add a picture of the Finnish photographers lightroom screen, with plenty of originals taken at the same location and time of the picture in question:

Lightroom screenshot

That's the picture that started this. Then there is also this one:

Hera Bell "Light & Mood"

Original by a Swedish photographer

There are plenty of others, if you want to look at them click here and see them posted at dpreview. The whole dpreview discussion on this is here. Take note that a day ago Hera Bell claimed that the accusations are false, but has not seen it fit to show us any proof for her claim. It is also worth noticing, that most, if not all, of the pictures in question have been taken by photographers living in europe. Obviously she must have thought that we don't speak english and even if someone did, no-one would notice. Sorry, no such luck.

All I can do is wonder what can make a professional stoop as low as to do something like this? She even asks to respect the copyrights of her pictures on her web site. I'm sure everyone will, she has been a perfect example herself, hasn't she?

Yes. One or two of my pictures have been used without my permission over the years and most likely there are some out there in the wrong places even at the moment. I think I'll run a check to find out tomorrow.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Last grouse pictures for this spring

When the alarm chimed in the middle of the night, I really didn't feel like going. Somehow it just didn't feel nice. After about 15 minutes of struggling I got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen to put the coffee on. While the coffee was dripping, I had time to get dressed and take the dogs out. After having my requisite two (large) mugs of coffee, I felt awake enough to load my gear in the car and head out.

The dirtroad was barely driveable, the warm weather we had for the last couple of days had softened the surface in some places, and to make matters worse, a tractortrailer hauling lumber or some other large vehicle had left its tracks in the surface of the road. In my car, I had to be carefull not to get stuck. I really need to get that 4x4 I've been looking for for some time now..

At the end of the road I put on my skis and headed towards the hide. The problems started as soon as I got moving. The path I normaly use was pretty much bare, the snow had melted away. The young forest next to the path is so tight with saplings that trying to get thru it with a sled in tow was not a good option. Luckily next to the path was a narrow strip of snowcovered ground that I could use to move on, though much slower than I am used to. At the edge of the swamp I ran into the next problem. The border between the forest and the swamp was completely bare, and even the ice under the snow had melted. I took my skis off and after some scouting, managed to find a route accross that was shallow enough for my boots. The sledge floated well and came accross almost dry, even with the weight of my gear on it. At this point, I was happy I decided not to take my daughter Nea out for photography on sunday as there is no way she would have made it accross without getting her feet wet. We would have had to turn around at the edge of the swamp or suffered freezing temperatures with wet clothing at the hide. Either way, the joy of a good naturephotography outing would have been far from what we would have been going thru.

After making my way thru the edge area, the going became really easy. The swamp was covered in a good layer of ice, with a few centimeters of ice crusted snow on top, making skiing almost effortless. Even the sled seemed to glide towards the hide almost on its own. When I got the hide, my problems continued. The lines holding the hide in place had given and the wind had blown my hide over, breaking the other arch of the tent. I managed to fix the arch with some line and got the hide set up again.

I got in, set up my gear and once again got to watch a beatifull sunrise:
As the light increased, the grouses started to arrive:
Last time around, there were 40 or so birds about, this time I counted only twenty. As the birds kept arriving, disputes over the best spots broke out:
I managed to get some decent pictures of the clashes, I will post them as soon as I have managed to go thru all of the mornings pictures. A lot of the pictures are blurres, because the clashes happened mainly as the birds arrived just around sunrise and there was simply not enough light to stop the movement when taking the pictures.

When the birds had sorted their pecking order out, I got to take some nice pictures of single birds, as their positioning and the light matched up well:
When the grouses were done and had left, I took down the hide and packed it on the sledge and started skiing back to my car:
I took a slight detour and dropped the bottom part of the hide at a different location in anticipation of the coming summer. The tent part of the hide I took home with me to dry it and fix the parts broken by the wind.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Grouse morning

The weather was good for my photo-outing, the temperature had gone just below freezing during the night, creating a icy crust on the snow. The crust carried my skis and sledge nicely as I made my way to the hide. Dawn was just breaking when I got to the hide and the half moon I had admired along the way lost its beautiful red color just moments before I got my camera out:
The rising sun colored everything around me in different shades of purple, red and orange as the morning progressed.
While waiting for the grouses to arrive, I had my usual "hide breakfeast" of tea and sandwiches. It was still a bit dark for photography, but when the lone swan that had been hooting nearby took to its wings, I decided to try a inflight pic against the dark background created by the trees surrounding the swamp:
As the light increased, the grouses started landing around my hide and soon territorial disputes broke out. A quick count gave me approximately 40 males at peak time and a couple of hens dropped by to bring even more heat to the situation. Clashes between males happened in every direction around the hide and at times I had trouble trying to figure out which birds to follow for the best photos. Below are some of the pics I took of the clashes that occured:
When the grouses had had enough and took off, I packed my gear and moved the hide a couple of meters to the side, since the melting snow was creating a flood right next to it. As I was moving the hide, a lone goose flew by. I would not have noticed it at all, had it not honked loudly as it approached me. Thanks to the sound it made, I had plenty of time to grab my camera from my backpack and take a picture of the fly by:
As I was skiing back to my car, I saw my old friend, the osprey that nests at the swamp:
All in all, I am happy with the outcome of my morning outing. I will try to go thru all the pictures I took in the near future, so more picture are to be expected to published soon. I am hoping to take my daughter out for one more "grouse outing" in the next couple of days and then I'll most likely move the hide to another location for the summer. I am hoping the snow will hold for the next few days, since that would make our journey to the hide much more enjoyable, after all, being finns, we love to ski whenever we need to move thru the woods.

Monday, 9 April 2012

No Capercaillie

I headed out this morning with a friend of mine. Our aim was to get some capercaillie (a.k.a. caper tailed grouse) pictures. My friend had scouted a good spot for getting pictures, the entire hillside was covered with tracks and while we were waiting for the sun to rise, some capercaillies landed in the trees around us. The nearest one was in a tree no more than 10 meters from us. Unfortunately, the birds obviously had noticed us, since they did not come down from the trees, nor make much sounds. After some time, we decided it was a no win situation for us and headed for home. With a slightly different approach, there are some great photos to be gotten from that location.

The best capercaillie this morning was this one, in a tree on the other side of the clearing. So, so far away:
The capercaillie in the tree right next to us was so hidden by branches, that there was no photo-opportunity there. As the sun rose and the day became brighter, some smaller birds took flight also, some close enough for quick pics:
Eventhough we didn't get the pics we were aiming for, I think this was a good morning outing. The only thing I didn't like was that my feet were cold. I'll have to re-evaluate my footwear for these cold spring mornings.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A bit late

Nea and I headed out a bit too late, there was no darkness left when we started skiing towards the hide. As we approached the hide, we saw a flock of 30 - 40 black grouses right next to our hide. When we got closer, the grouses flew away as expected. We set up our gear, put on warmer clothing and had some sandwiches and tea. As we were eating our second set of "ham and cheese" two swans landed beside the hide. We decided they were worth photographing:
It was great watching Neas enthusiasm and how she was really into taking pictures, the two swans made up for the missed grouse pics:
The weather was not real good for photography to begin with, and as it was only getting worse with the wind picking up and heavy snowfall, we decided to pack up and start skiing back to the car:
Nea stopped a few times along the way, as she spotted something interesting and maybe worth photographing on the snow:
Here are some of the pictures Nea took:
So, all in all, not a bad trip out to the boonies, eventhough we didn't get the grouse pictures we were aiming for. On the downside, Nea has obviously caught the same bug her sisters had last week, since soon after we got back home, she had a high fever and felt terrible. And we had planned on going for another photo outing during the easter holidays to get the grouse pics Nea wants. I guess we'll have to go out some other time.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Hide in place

A sunny spring day made me head out to the wild after a long break. With the temperature just below freezing, there was a nice crust layer on the snow that carried my skis well. Even with a sledge in tow skiing was light and enjoyable.

I located a lonely birch tree at the swamp and dug up the bottom part of my hide and loaded the boards on the sledge:
I pulled the sledge to the same spot I have used for the last couple of springs, right were the black grouses have their mating season shows. To secure the hide in place, I made some "dead men" from branches and buried them under the snow:
When I was done, this is what the hide looked like:
Judging by the tracks in the snow, the hide is in a good place, there are tracks of grouses clashing just a few meters from the hide:
On the way back to the car, I spotted these tracks in the snow:
I won't tell who / what made the tracks just yet. Anybody want to take a guess?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Up north

My blog has been on hold for way too long. I just haven't had the time nor inspiration for photography and even less to write. In january I was up north with a few good friends for some x-country skiing in the boonies. The whole trip was four days, two days for travel and two days of skiing with rifles on our backs. This time our accomodation was in Finland and the hunting areas just accross the border on the swedish side. Didn't catch anything, but I had great time with good friends. Below are a few pictures I took during our trip: