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Semipalmated Plover

A juvenile plover from last September. This photo was taken on a little island that, during non-pandemic times, is accessible by a ferry and a popular picnicking spot. Last year it was mostly deserted since the ferry wasn’t running and it was only accessible by kayak.

Juvenile Semipalmated Plover
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West Coast Brown Pelicans

This year I got to see one of my favorite birds, the Brown Pelican, on both US coasts. This set is a few shots of Brown Pelicans on the Pacific Ocean along the Oregon coast.

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Great Blue Herons

Catching a small fish
Pensive
In flight

Great Blue Herons – icons of wetlands across North America.

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Gray Ghost Incoming

This photograph of a male Northern Harrier, aka the “Gray Ghost” is a hard one to get. Male harriers are white, females are brown. Northern Harriers aren’t uncommon in the Pacific Northwest, but the male to female ratio is 1:3 and the males seem to be somewhat more avoidant of humans.

So to get one in-focus, flying straight toward the camera, with a somewhat interesting background, well, it made my day πŸ™‚

The Gray Ghost
For comparison, a female Northern Harrier
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Summer Glow

Summertime swimmers–starting with a Pied-billed Grebe, then Mallards for the next three. All of these backlit shots were taken at a city park here in Seattle.

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Video: American Avocet

One of my favorite annual birding trips is East from Seattle over the Cascades to Eastern Washington where American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts migrate up from Central and South America. This is a short clip of an Avocet preening in the early morning hours.

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Swan

My beautiful partner gave me Mary Oliver’s book of poetry Swan: Poems and Prose Poems. The title poem is one of my favorites:

Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –an armful of white blossoms,
a perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
a shrill dark music, like the rain pelting the trees like a waterfall
knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
a white cross streaming across the sky, its feet
like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Mary Oliver – Swan
A Trumpeter Swan photographed on Lake Washington in February 2021
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Shorebird Migration

Shorebirds are beginning to migrate South for the winter. Along with ducks, shorebirds are my favorite bird photography subjects. Here are a couple photos from this year’s migration here in the Seattle area:

Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs (very similar to Greater!)
Sanderling – one of the more numerous shorebirds around here.

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Photo: Pied-billed Grebe Family

A mother Pied-billed Grebe sitting on her nest while her three chicks beg for food.

This grebe’s nest wasn’t too far from the shore of a small pond in Seattle. To get a clear view of it, I had to slide out on a log that was mostly submerged in the mud. I sat still on the far end of the log for about half an hour, long enough for the birds to become accustomed to me. Once I could tell that my presence wasn’t going to bother them, I slowly scooted close enough to get a photo with a 600mm lens.

The grebes seemed to pass their entire day doing the same thing. One of the parents would stay on or near the nest with the chicks while the other left to search for fish. Every 5 or 10 minutes, when the fishing parent came back with a meal, the chicks would get super excited while they were fed. Then, after a quick 10 or 15 second visit, the parent would go back to fishing and the chicks back to waiting for the cycle to begin again.

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The Tough Problem for Glass

As you may have seen, there’s a new photo sharing app called Glass. You pay $5/mo or $30-$50 dollars a year to use the app. it has no ads, no tracking, and no mysterious algorithms. It’s a great looking app and has a lot of hype that was generated by some vood0o-genius marketing.

In a sense, the mood around Glass feels the same as Clubhouse a few months ago. Given Clubhouse’s spiral, that’s an ominous comparison to make, and I’m only making it because photo sharing apps are very hard to bootstrap. Especially paid apps.

Photo sharing apps are very hard to bootstrap. Especially paid apps.

Instagram works because it successfully caters to two groups:

  1. Casual consumers: people who mostly want to look at other people’s photos and videos while occasionally sharing something themselves.
  2. Photography pros: people who are promoting something. They’re promoting their own photography, their business, or products they share as influencers. They may not be trying to make money, but self-promotion is still promotion.1

To make a photo sharing community sustainable, any app that wants to compete with Instagram needs to successfully attract people from both groups.


If an app’s community is missing users from the casual consumer group and only has the photography pros, it ends up being a bunch of people who mostly only engage with other people’s photos because they’re either hoping for reciprocal engagement or they’re trying to get ideas for how to make their own photography more competitive. In short, without casual consumers, engagement solely from other photography pros will not be genuine, it will only be comparative and competitive.2

Without casual consumers, engagement solely from other photography pros will not be genuine, it will only be comparative and competitive.

On the other hand, if the community is missing people from the photography pro group, for starters, it won’t truly be a photography app. It may be another social network, and that’s fine, but here we’re specifically talking about photography apps. More importantly, it won’t work as a paid app. There are simply too many free alternatives. The model of paying for privacy and fair feeds with no algorithms has sadly failed over and over.

So, what’s to be done? What’s the alchemical concoction that will compete with Incumbentgram without sacrificing the privacy of its users and integrity of its founders?

The Solution

To succeed, Glass needs to be free and attractive to casual consumers while offering features compelling enough for photography pros to pay for. It’s a hard balance to strike and no one does it well right now. Flickr is probably the closest, but they seem to have given up on being anything other than a niche community for photographers.

Casual consumers almost certainly won’t pay $50/year for Glass when they can use Instagram for free.

If I was a product manager at Glass, I’d focus on attracting users in the casual consumer group. I’d make their experience viewing, discovering, and sharing of photos excellent and free. Glass currently has no #hashtags or categories of any type and has no location based discovery features. Finding photography that appeals to your tastes is currently much too difficult.

I’d also focus on providing an experience for photography pros that’s good enough to pay for. An experience that showcases their work beautifully (luckily, Glass already does this) and gives them tools to successfully promote themselves to the niche audiences that are looking for the type of content they provide.

It’s tough to do that without going the Instagram way where pros have to either pay for views or blindly struggle to reverse-engineer the ever-changing algorithm but I think it can be done.

Glass doesn’t need to offer premium placement or algorithmically controlled feeds. Instead it can offer photography pros paid tools to enable them to compete among each other for the views of casual consumers in a free-market type environment. Not everyone will win all the time, but if pros sense that the competitive environment is fair and unbiased, the community will grow and pros will be willing to pay for it.

I don’t know if that’s what Glass is going for. Maybe they have a different vision or different goals and would find all this silly and completely missing the point. My response to that would be that in order for the business to be sustainable, this is The Way.

I hope Glass succeeds, but from what I’ve seen so far, I feel they need to make some changes to stay relevant and competitive. Today photography pros are joining Glass because with Instagram’s shift to video, they’re feeling the pressure to find what’s next. But this endless loop of competitive self-promotion can only last so long before good photographers realize that they can’t build a truly engaged audience on Glass.


1 You may be tempted to disagree with this simplistic dichotomy, but the fact is, high level photography is a commercial endeavor. Good photographs are expensive and time consuming to make. There will always be people (like me) who just want to share their photos and not make any money, but with the amount of time and equipment photographers have invested into gear and travel, good photographers are almost always promoting something.

2 This is, in some ways, where Flickr is now. There are some genuine communities on Flickr, but for the most part, it’s primarily populated by people who think of themselves as “photographers,” with very few photography aficionados. It’s closed and stagnant.