Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Posts by Elaine Mao

The Impact of Wikipedia: Howard Morland

(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. You can also view this video on YouTube.)

Howard Morland discusses the design of the first atomic weapon

The year was 1979, and Howard Morland had just uncovered a secret that would change the world’s understanding of atomic weaponry.

“I was on assignment for the Progressive Magazine when I discovered what is known as the H-Bomb Secret,” said Morland (User:HowardMorland). “It was the goal of the Progressive Magazine to take the veil away from this hidden part of the nuclear industry and let people know how the bomb is made, where it’s made, and where it’s deployed–everything about it.”

The U.S. government tried to issue an injunction to stop the Progressive Magazine from publishing the article, but after six months in court, the magazine prevailed. Morland’s article ran in its original form and, he argued, had an impact on the future use of nuclear weapons.

“It gave the anti-nuclear movement a lot of credibility in 1979. I think we played a role in the fact that, just a few years later, there was a worldwide outrage against nuclear weapons,” said Morland. “On June 12 of 1982, there were a million people marching in New York City to protest the bomb. We kind of brought the bomb into the anti-nuclear movement.”

More than twenty years later, Morland found himself engaged in the nuclear arms discussion once again–this time on Wikipedia.

Morland met a truck driver named John Coster-Mullen, who had self-published a book on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. “He had no expertise in science at all, but he had this weird idea that he would start going to reunions of the people who dropped the bomb, even though he wasn’t even their generation,” said Morland. “But he went there, he started making friends with these people, talking to them; they started telling him what they knew about the Hiroshima bomb and the Nagasaki bomb.”

In particular, Coster-Mullen’s book included an explanation of how the Hiroshima bomb worked, which contradicted the explanation in every encyclopedia in the world at the time. Morland, who has long had an interest in physics, looked at Coster-Mullen’s evidence and was convinced that his was the correct explanation.

“I told John, ‘The Wikipedia article is wrong–do you want to fix it?’ And he said, ‘I already tried.’” Coster-Mullen had submitted a correction to the Little Boy article, but another user told him it was not credible information because every other book in the world contradicted him.

“I said, ‘Well I think we can fix that.’ Even though I knew nothing about [Wikipedia]– this was my introduction–I said, ‘I think we can fix that.’” Morland recruited several others in this effort, including Richard Rhodes, who authored the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and Stan Norris, who wrote the biography of Leslie Groves–the general who directed the Manhattan Project–and in his book had cited Coster-Mullen as a source.

Morland then posted on the talk page, saying, “We’ve read this guy’s book and we think he’s right and everybody else is wrong.” The other user who was initially concerned by the preponderance of contradictory literature relented and Morland made the change to the article.

This was back in March 2007, and Morland has been an active editor on Wikipedia since. “I figured, well, I’ll go fix all the nuclear weapon articles on Wikipedia,” he said. “Lately I do a lot of kayaking, [so] I thought, well, I’ll just do the kayaking articles.”

He finds it rewarding to contribute to Wikipedia because he feels it allows him to share his knowledge with a massive audience. “I know people who write books, especially in the nuclear weapons field. They are read by very few people,” he said, “but the Wikipedia article that I wrote on Nuclear weapon design gets 600 hits a day. Nobody’s book gets that much exposure. I don’t get any money for it, but I produce this information and somehow it’s getting out there and people are looking at it.”

Moreland’s estimates for the Nuclear weapon design article traffic were modest and combined, his contributions to the world’s understanding of the history of atomic energy is significant.

“Wikipedia is one of the most amazing institutions I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know anything like it,” said Morland. “It’s a testament to the desire of people to know things and to share information, despite the fact that from the beginning of time, when people started learning how to do stuff, I’m sure they tried to keep it secret. And I think that’s sort of part of human nature that we want to learn the truth and then share it with people.”

Profile by Elaine Mao, contributing writer
Interview by Dan McSwain 

Creating quality articles on Wikipedia, from Nature fakers to Knut the Polar Bear

Wikipedia editor María Atilano (User:Yllosubmarine) has always been fascinated by bears. In fact, one of the reasons she first got seriously involved with Wikipedia was because of a particularly white fluffy one.

Knut at his public debut in Berlin, clearly not a polar dog

In March 2007, Knut the polar bear – who was born and raised in captivity at the Berlin Zoological Garden – became the subject of international controversy when an animal rights activist suggested that it would be better to let Knut die rather than let him be raised by humans.

Atilano had been following the controversy, reading the news stories and even setting up a Google Alert for Knut. On Wikipedia, she noticed that “the article became really popular and it became decreasingly encyclopedic,” she said. Over several months, she worked to clean up the article to Good Article status, then nominated it for Featured Article status. This was Atilano’s first experience with the FA process, but eventually the article got promoted and became the Today’s Featured Article on the home page of English Wikipedia.

Poor Knut didn’t do well with all the traffic, said Atilano, as vandals were on a mission to mess with the article. “Periodically throughout the day, somebody would go in and change all the instances in the article from ‘polar bear’ to ‘polar dog.’ And somebody would revert them, and then they’d add it again, and they’d revert and then they’d add it again,” said Atilano. “I found out later on that there was this whole conspiracy. It was the weirdest thing!”

Since the Knut incident, Atilano has created and made major contributions to dozens more articles, all with the same level of devotion and attachment. “I’m one of those obsessive hands-on editors,” she said. “Whenever an article that I created–or not just written, but maybe I helped copy edit it or something–whenever that’s on the main page, I tend to stay glued to the monitor and refresh, refresh, refresh and see what people are doing to my babies.”

Knut is one of the more high-profile articles Atilano has contributed to, and she admits that it is rewarding when an article she has worked on receives so much attention. “Everybody wants recognition for their hard work and I’m not better than those individuals,” she said. “I do every now and then check the view count, especially after something happens. “When Knut died in March 2011, his view count jumped from something like 200 a day to 12,000 the day after he died.”

María Atilano (User:Yllosubmarine)

Atilano has also done substantial work on articles that she considers “off the wall.” One such article is the Nature fakers controversy, which Atilano created from scratch after she first heard the term in an eco-poetry class she was taking. When she searched online to find out more about the issue, she discovered that there wasn’t much information out there–she found one book and a handful of articles, and “by then I already had all this material, so I thought, ‘Why not make an article?’”

“It gets very few hits, not many things link to it, but I just love it,” she said. “Some articles obviously get more hits than others and I don’t write them thinking, ‘Oh I’m gonna be famous.’ I didn’t write Nature fakers because I thought people would be, you know, banging at my metaphorical Wikipedia door to get my autograph or whatever. I wrote it because I thought it was interesting.”

Her love of research has always been the main motivation behind her editing. Atilano is a Library Technical Assistant with a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) and describes herself as a bookworm. “I hate to sound like a complete dork — which I completely am — but I’ve just always had this sort of fairytale idea of libraries,” she said. “In high school I’d go to the university to get material because my high school library sucked and I was actually really interested in the stuff that I was researching. I was so excited [when] I had to write a five page paper on Hamlet. Everybody else was groaning about it, and I found all these books about Hamlet at the university and I was just so excited.”

Atilano made her first edit on Wikipedia in 2006, but she has been reading it much longer. “When I was a kid, I used to read encyclopedias just because–I just would randomly go, ‘Today I’m going to learn about Sputnik.’ I still do that with Wikipedia today,” she said. “The reason I keep reading Wikipedia is the same reason I continue to be drawn to write for it: the sharing of knowledge and information and learning at the same time.”

This profile was written by Elaine Mao, former Communications Intern with the Wikimedia Foundation. Interview by Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager.

The power of translating cultural experience through Wikipedia

Aleksander Murshteyn and his father

It’s not always easy to relate to your parents. Aleksander Murshteyn understands this all too well. Murshteyn, 29, and his father, 79, are 50 years apart, but they are separated by far more than just these 50 years–sometimes, they can’t even converse in the same language.

Murshteyn and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1994, when he was 11 years old. Previously, they lived in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where his father worked as a chemist and his mother taught at a high school. After moving to the United States, Murshteyn quickly became fluent in English and adapted to living in American society, but it was harder for his parents to do the same. “This happens to every single immigrant in the history of America,” said Murshteyn. “They feel shut out because they cannot communicate.”

When Murshteyn was in college, he discovered Wikipedia, which quickly became more than just a free encyclopedic resource for him. With articles in both English and Russian, Wikipedia became a way for Murshteyn to overcome the language barrier and better connect with his parents. “As I grow within the society and I can communicate on a level that is far beyond anything they can do, I use Wikipedia to be able to communicate back with them and to translate for them,” he said.

For instance, one day Murshteyn heard an inspirational quote from Thomas Aquinas that he wanted to share with his parents. However, they had both never heard of Thomas Aquinas, although they suggested that perhaps he meant Фома Аквинский. “It seemed implausible to me that they would not know who Thomas Aquinas was,” said Murshteyn, “and Фома just sounded like the wrong person.” So Murshteyn looked up the article on English Wikipedia, scrolled down to click on the Russian link in the Languages section of the left-hand toolbar, and found that Thomas Aquinas was indeed the same as Фома Аквинский. He and his parents were then able to have a long discussion about the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. “Without Wikipedia, the conversation that one might wish to have is impossible to continue because the concepts have not been translated,” said Murshteyn. “Wikipedia is unique, it allows me to switch concepts from one language to another. Thomas Aquinas isn’t something that you look up in a dictionary easily.”

Murshteyn has found Wikipedia to be an especially useful resource for him to learn about scientific concepts, which has helped him feel more connected to his father. “My dad was a scientist, and I never became one,” he said. “This always dismayed him.” When they first came to the United States, his parents purchased a Russian physics textbook, hoping Murshteyn would read it and develop an understanding and a passion for physics. “But because I never even looked at it so much–I hadn’t looked at it until a few years ago–they never took me seriously, my dad in particular, never took me seriously when I discussed physics or any [scientific] topics.”

In recent years, Murshteyn has developed more of an interest in science, especially in physics. After he graduated from university with a degree in social thought and political economy, he started working in commercial real estate, where he brokers deals for renewable energy projects. It was this involvement with renewable energy that first prompted Murshteyn to want to learn more about physics. As he learned more, he naturally wanted to discuss these topics with his father, and he feels that many of these conversations could not have happened without the aid of Wikipedia as translator. “I feel cut off because [my parents] learned it in Russian, the concepts are called different things and I can’t relate to them,” he said. “I was able to discuss with my dad only because I was able to look up these concepts in English that I’ve barely heard of in Russian.”

“I showed him that I actually understand a few things better than he thought I did. I think my father has learned that my interests are broader than he believes,” said Murshteyn, “and this makes him happy, and it makes me happy because he’s happy.”

While his parents still won’t use Wikipedia themselves, Murshteyn feels they now understand and appreciate the value of it, and he has even convinced them to donate. “My mother never really looked at Wikipedia as a resource that was serious. When I first showed her an article, she saw that it didn’t have any references, and she thought that was weak,” said Murshteyn. “With time, I showed her that references started appearing. Her views on the encyclopedia have changed. Now, they’ll ask me intermittently to understand something, and my mom will say, ‘Well, maybe that’s something that would be in Wikipedia,’ and sort of gives me a hint to check and see if it’s there.”

For Murshteyn and his family, Wikipedia is more than the sum of its millions of articles, it’s a cultural communications tool. “[Wikipedia] allows me to connect with people I value dearly and to have conversations at times when there is no opportunity to relate and connect to each other,” he said. “It’s relating the knowledge one culture has to another in order for them to be able to converse in one language, and feel that they’re talking in one language, not two.”

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: Scallop shell on the Black Sea

For Wikimedia Commons contributor George Chernilevsky, the appeal of his Picture of the Day lies in its simplicity. “I liked the colors and very simple composition,” he said. “All the beauty of the world can be seen in very simple things.”

Chernilevsky, who lives in Ukraine, was visiting the Black Sea with his wife Natali and his two sons, Artem and Vyacheslav, when he took this picture. His younger son Vyacheslav, who turns 16 today, found this shell belonging to a species of scallop (Flexopecten glaber ponticus) believed to have been extinct since 1990. Chernilevsky took the picture using his point-and-shoot camera, and he is happy the photo turned out so well and that it was able to gain recognition on Commons.

“I am glad that the photo will be seen by people in different countries,” he said, explaining his main motivation for donating his images to the public domain. “It is pleasant to me that the whole world can see what I saw, and that my photos can benefit people.”

He has been active on Wikimedia Commons since 2007, when he started uploading pictures for articles on Russian Wikipedia. “It is a fine project in which it is pleasant to participate,” he said.

Chernilevsky was born in 1967 in Makhachkala, located in the Caucasus region of what was at the time the Soviet Union. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the military, so Chernilevsky moved around a lot when he was growing up, and his experiences helped shape his later photographic style.

“Living conditions were very simple, ascetic,” said Chernilevsky, who tends to favor simplicity in his photographs. In addition, he developed a strong interest in wildlife and nature. “[I got] to see a lot of beautiful and wild places,” he said, “the heated sand of the desert, ice tundra, the mountains and permafrost of the extreme Siberian North, huge woods and transparent lakes.”

He has been interested in photography since the age of 12, and at 14, he even enrolled in painting and drawing classes at university, hoping the knowledge would help him advance his shooting. However, Chernilevsky has only ever pursued photography as a hobby, not professionally. He attended Saint Petersburg State University where he studied in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Control Processes, and he currently works in software development.

Chernilevsky hopes that his photographs will communicate “a special message” to viewers: “Life is fine and unexpected–simple things can surprise and give emotions.”

(View more of Chernilevsky’s featured pictures)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: Landsort Lighthouse on a cloudy day

The historic Landsort Lighthouse, depicted in today’s Picture of the Day on Wikimedia Commons, is the southernmost point of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden. The lighthouse is located on the island of Öja, which is isolated with no road access. Commons contributor Arild Vågen (User:ArildV), who lives in Stockholm, took a boat to the island and spent the day there taking photos.

In the afternoon, as Vågen was preparing to leave the island, he decided to take one last walk while waiting for his boat home. Along with a friend of his who volunteers at the Landsort Bird Observatory, Vågen explored the area around the lighthouse, climbing around the rocks to get this picture. By then, the weather had taken a turn for the worse–the temperature dropped and the sky became cloudy, but Vågen didn’t mind. “I like the light and the weather here,” he said.  ”It’s more exciting and interesting than a sunny picture, and it might remind us that life on the islands has been tough for long periods and that the islands are exposed to rough weather.” Vågen also pointed out the naval guns visible in the shot, “which reminds us of the Baltic Sea’s dramatic history.” The island has a long history as a military base, he said, and it only became completely open to visitors after the Cold War.

For his trip to Öja that day, Vågen borrowed a camera and lens from Wikimedia Sverige, which offers a technology pool which any of its members can borrow photographic equipment from. Since 2012, Vågen has also been a board member of the Swedish Wikimedia chapter.

He first got involved with the Wikimedia projects in 2008, when he started editing Wikipedia. He mostly wrote articles about Stockholm architecture and history, and he initially only took pictures if they were directly required by articles on Wikipedia.

However, he gradually started making more contributions to Wikimedia Commons. “In the last year, I have also documented areas that are changing, many old port and industrial areas turned into residential and commercial areas. Both now and in future it is important to have pictures of how the area looked before,” said Vågen. ”And there is often an interesting story to document with the camera.” One example of such an area is the island of Kvarnholmen, Nacka, which Vågen “documented for Commons before the old environment is lost.”

Vågen primarily enjoys shooting buildings and landscapes, especially the Swedish mountains and the Stockholm archipelago, but also urban landscapes. He was a project manager for Wiki Loves Monuments 2011 in Sweden. He has always been interested in photography, but only in recent years has he pursued it more seriously. The Wikimedia Commons community has been a valuable learning resource, he said.

“I started contributing to Wikipedia and Commons because I share the vision: ‘Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.’ That’s what we’re doing,” he said. “And it’s great fun to contribute!”

(View more of Vågen’s images)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Preserving rare birds for the entire world on Wikimedia Commons

The colorful bird depicted above is an Orange-bellied Parrot, photographed in the wild by Wikimedia Commons contributor JJ Harrison. This is one of only 21 known adult birds of its species left in the wild, making it critically endangered. “The species is likely to be extinct soon,” said Harrison. However, since Harrison shares his work under Creative Commons licenses, his photographs have been able to make a huge impact outside of the Wikimedia projects, having been used extensively in conservation and education efforts.

Harrison, who lives in Tasmania, is one of the most prolific contributors to the Commons gallery of featured avian pictures. He was profiled in the 22 August 2011 issue of the Wikipedia Signpost by User:Tony1, as part of a series of interviews with featured content creators. In the interview, he discussed his long-standing passion for wildlife, even before he became a photographer. “I’ll always remember some of those early encounters,” he said. “Like seeing a wild Spotted-tail Quoll bound around the New Pelion Hut in the alpine central highlands of Tasmania—but frustratingly, the right photographic equipment was days’ walk away. Or watching a Black-faced Cormorant fish a few metres underneath me as I was snorkelling—but no underwater camera!”

He first started pursuing photography as a serious hobby midway through 2008 when he bought his first DSLR, a Canon

JJ Harrison with his 500mm lens.

EOS 400D. In the winter of that year, he had one of his first experiences with avian photography. “I noticed a bird would come to feed on the nectar from a yellow Kniphofia every afternoon at around the same time. After a few days, I decided to lie on the ground waiting in ambush with my recently acquired camera!” said Harrison. “The wait was successful. The bird arrived, and I snapped a few frames before it flew away again. I found the whole experience to be a bit of a thrill. I kept trying to repeat this experience for some time, but didn’t have the equipment to do so reliably, or at all, with more interesting, and less common species. I still get that feeling when I photograph today when I photograph something new.” Harrison uploaded the photo to Wikipedia, where the community helped him identify the bird as a Crescent Honeyeater. Since the article did not yet have an image, Harrison placed his photo in the article.

To date, Harrison has contributed 270 featured pictures to Commons. In the past two years, he has become increasingly focused on avian photography, having developed the skills and acquired the necessary equipment to do so. He enjoys photographing birds because they are a challenging subject to capture on camera. “The biggest hurdle is that most of them are small, and afraid of you,” he said. Harrison particularly enjoys photographing migratory shorebirds. “They are usually very shy, often only allowing approach within 50 meters or so, and many of the birds have travelled from places like Alaska and Siberia. The birds are often plainly coloured in the Southern Hemisphere, but on close examination the plumage is quite subtle, intricate and beautiful in its own way.”

Harrison has gone on photographic expeditions to Thailand and Queensland, which he describes in detail in his Signpost interview, and recently he has also started going out to sea on pelagic boat trips in order to photograph seabirds. “I find the whole experience pretty fantastic.” he said. “We get birds visiting from all over the world. Shooting at sea really is a different order of magnitude difficulty wise to shooting on land or on a boat in a river–my shooting abilities are pushed to the limit. The lighting is often dim, and the weather can be very windy and wet. Sometimes I only get one chance to photograph a passing rarity, so I have to be on my toes.” In addition, it is a challenge to hold the camera steady, especially given Harrison’s choice of lens. He often shoots with his Canon EF 500mm F/4 IS USM lens, which is pictured to the right. His entire photography rig, including camera, lens and tripod, weighs in at 10 kilograms, or roughly 22 pounds! “I usually laugh whenever someone complains about camera weight!” said Harrison, who sometimes ends up with a bruise on his shoulder from carrying the rig for extended periods of time.

Harrison feels that since he has acquired his 500 mm lens, he has been more productive as an avian photographer. “Previously, I couldn’t shoot in low light, and getting close enough for a really high quality photo was very difficult – I would just occasionally get lucky for a lot of effort. The lens has allowed me to take high quality photographs of many more timid and uncommon species,” he said. “I feel very lucky about being able to own it.”

For Harrison, encyclopedic value is always a central concern when he takes photographs. “I feel that I can generate greater social utility taking encyclopedic photos,” he said, as opposed to artistic ones. “I think that my work is genuinely helpful in educational and conservational contexts,” he said, citing this as one of his primary motivations for contributing to Commons. “I believe that there is much greater social benefit when compared to selling my images privately.”

Harrison has even been active in trying to attract new contributors to Commons. “Nearly everyone has photographs that would be of value to the Creative Commons,” he said. He has successfully recruited a few friends who plan to upload photo collections, including fellow avian photographer Christopher Watson, who has released all the images on his blog under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. “I’ve always felt strongly about the freedom of information and culture,” said Harrison. “I seek to lead by example by contributing my work.”

(Read more about JJ Harrison’s photography, or view more of Harrison’s feature pictures)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: The Lys River in Belgium

Joaquim Alves Gaspar (User: Alvesgaspar) captured this beautiful shot of the Lys River on a recent trip to Ghent, the capital of the East Flanders province in Belgium. It may not be immediately obvious just from looking at the image, but today’s Commons Picture of the Day was actually quite a tricky shot to get.

The sky was overcast that day, which presented many challenges for Alves Gaspar. As anyone who has ever tried to photograph a scene on an overcast day will know, it is difficult to obtain a shot like this because the sky is typically reproduced as a uniform white, while the rest of the scene is covered in shadow. Alves Gaspar’s solution to this problem was to underexpose the image “so that the sky doesn’t appear ‘blown,’” and then digitally adjust the brightness and saturation of the other parts of the image to bring back the details and color.

In addition, he said, “one detail that few will realize is that this image is a panorama composed of seven different shots, which were later ‘stitched’ with the help of special software.” Alves Gaspar believes that the final result “reproduces well the mood of the place, with the calm waters of the canal, the colorful buildings and the soft lighting,” conveying “a mood probably close to the one experienced and expressed by the Flemish painters of the past.”

Alves Gaspar has been contributing to Commons since 2006, with more than 1,500 photos uploaded, and approximately 80 Featured Pictures. He attributes much of his knowledge about digital techniques and macrophotography to the image forums on Commons, especially in Featured Picture Candidates, “while reviewing the creations or being reviewed by talented users.”

Even before digital photography, Alves Gaspar had been pursuing photography as a hobby for a long time. He recalls that as a young man, he had his own black-and-white photography lab, and he took pictures using “one of those Rolleiflex-type cameras with twin lenses, borrowed from someone–they were quite expensive.” He took one of his favorite photographs during that time, a silhouette of an old man with a cane in one hand and a camera in the other, walking through a tunnel. “The challenge for anyone looking at this photo is to figure out whether he was approaching or walking away from me!”

He primarily enjoys photographing people, although he finds that to be the most difficult subject, and he also enjoys capturing nature themes and urban scenes. “Like in other forms of art, I consider that the interpretation of reality is an important component of photography, through which we seek beauty, sometimes in unsuspected places and forms, and show it to the others,” he said, citing macrophotography as an example, “where the details of an insect or of a humble flower, so often looking as if coming from an alien world, continue to amaze whoever has the chance of observing them through a macro [perspective].”

(View more of Alves Gaspar’s featured pictures)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: A fisheye view of King’s Cross station

Today’s Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day depicts King’s Cross, one of the largest train stations in London. Colin (User:Colin) visits King’s Cross every day, and when he saw that the new departures concourse had opened on Monday, 19 March 2012, he instantly knew he wanted to get a picture of it.

“[It] had been under construction for quite a while and was closed off, so you couldn’t really see what it would look like,” he said. “Then it opened, and I got a chance to stare at it on my way to work. It is an amazing building. I decided that I would come back with my camera.”

The next day, Colin brought his camera to the station as planned. At first, he tried shooting with his standard lens, but he “couldn’t capture the expanse and the architecture that just sweeps up in front of you and over your head,” so he switched over to his fisheye lens. “Normally such a lens isn’t a good choice for architecture as the straight lines are bent,” he explained. “This is OK for an arty picture, but would it have any educational value? Would it be any use for an encyclopaedia that will naturally be conservative about images? Fortunately, in this case, much of the scene contains bent lines already.”

The resulting image provides an amazing 180 degree view of the station. Colin purposely used a long, ½ second exposure “for the blurred effect it gives to the frantic commuters.” However, he points out, “you’ll note that all the commuters who are stationary are studying their mobile phones.” He feels that the choice of lens and exposure combine to convey the impression of a “vast and energetic scene.”

Colin considers himself a hobbyist photographer, and while he has been interested in taking photographs since he was a teenager, he only became serious about it when he purchased his first DSLR 18 months ago.

Colin first started contributing to Commons because he wanted to add photos to Wikipedia articles he was working on. He has been a Wikipedia contributor since August 2005, and he uploaded his first picture to Commons in November of that same year. He was working on an article about anticonvulsants, so he took a picture of a glass ampoule of paraldehyde using his compact camera.

After purchasing his DSLR, he became more involved on Commons. “I realised I could contribute high quality photographs rather than just adequate ones,” he said. “The requirement that the content needs an educational purpose is a limitation — no arty stuff — but also helps me come up with ideas for new pictures.”

Colin feels that his participation on Commons has been useful in helping him learn and improve as a photographer, both through his own contributions and through his involvement with the community. “Since I’ve started learning to take better pictures, I’ve gotten involved in some of the picture review processes. Looking at, and judging other peoples pictures, is a good way to learn what makes a good picture,” he said. “I’m really chuffed that I’m able to take pictures that people want to look at and enjoy. I plan to keep improving and submitting better pictures.”

(View more of Colin’s photos)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: Red deer stag in autumn

It was an early morning in autumn and Luc Viatour (User:Lviatour) was on a nature path with a naturalist friend well-versed in the habits of deer, when he chanced upon this red deer (Cervus elaphus) stag running through a field. “The hardest part is the approach,” said Viatour, emphasizing the importance of keeping a safe distance.

This image – which was selected as today’s “picture of the day” on Wikimedia Commons – is part of a series which Viatour especially loves, since he feels it was “a moment with nature.” He hopes it will inspire others to “want to go early in the morning and observe nature preserves.” In addition to nature photography, Viatour is also interested in astronomy, architecture, color and black-and-white photography…“in fact all [subjects and styles],” he said.

He first developed a passion for film photography at the age of 14, and “digital photography accentuated this passion.” Viatour is now a professional photographer, after he decided that photography was an activity he wanted to devote himself to full-time.

Viatour considers himself a computer and free software enthusiast, which is how he first discovered Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia Projects. “I like the idea of free software that I use every day,” he said. “It seemed logical to contribute to something that I use. As I am not very good at writing, I helped with what I think I do best.”

He started contributing to Commons in 2005, when he uploaded one of his best pictures, from a series of photos he took of the solar eclipse in 2009. “I realized then, [after I] saw the success, that some images were better in the public domain [than forgotten] in one of my drawers,” he said.

(View more of Viatour’s featured photos or visit his personal website)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern

Commons Picture of the Day: Flèche attack in the Trophée Monal

Looking at today’s Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day (POTD), it may come as a surprise that the photographer, Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), is not a specialist in sports photography. In fact, Nguyen had never even shot at a sporting event prior to the day she took this amazing picture at the Trophée Monal, an event of the 2012 Fencing World Cup circuit.

Nguyen took this photo during the final match of the tournament. “The audience was plunged in the dark while the piste was brilliantly lit, naturally providing a dramatic lighting,” she said. “I was lying on the floor propped on my elbows to get a good angle, with my photo backpack used as a bean bag to support my camera. To change position I had to military crawl on the floor.”

Since fencing is such a fast-paced sport, Nguyen had to shoot at a shutter speed of less than 1/640 sec just to catch the movements without any blurring. During the match, she usually focused on the glove or the bell guard of one of the contestants using continuous autofocus mode.

Nguyen had the advantage of having some knowledge of fencing, since she used to fence as a student. “Though I was useless at it, it helped with understanding what kind of action was going to get interesting,” she said. “The key was to spot the beginning of an attack, press the shutter-release button long enough to get the whole action, and hope for the best.” She took approximately 100 pictures in just the final match alone, and her POTD came from a single burst of 8 shots. The action depicted in the photo is a flèche attack, which she had several bursts of, but she especially likes this one because of the “nice symmetry in the bend of the blades. I hope [the photo] reflects the speed, accuracy and elegance of a fencing bout.”

She got the opportunity to photograph this sporting event through the support of Wikimédia France, the national Wikimedia chapter. She is a member of the Paris “cabal,” a joking designation for the informal local chapters. At one of their meetings, they discussed the success that the Swiss chapter and the Toulouse cabal had in gaining official accreditation to do sports photography for Commons. These successes and others are reflective of a growing trend toward recognizing Wikimedians as storytellers, allowing them the accreditation to attend events as photographers or reporters. The Paris cabal had never tried anything of the sort, but Nguyen had no trouble getting accredited for the Trophée Monal just by mentioning her affiliation with Wikimédia France.

“I don’t usually take the kind of pictures that get nominated as a QI [quality image] or a FP [featured picture],” said Nguyen, who typically takes photos of museum objects. “I’m glad this one made it, as it’s the result of a collaborative process” with assistance from other Commons users, Wikipedians, Wikimédia France, and the French WikiProject:Fencing. “I’m aware I’m lucky to get a FP for my first sports event. I learnt a lot covering it, and the FP is great encouragement for me to keep doing sports photography.”

Nguyen first started taking pictures in 2004 using her 1.3 megapixel compact camera. She was a contributor to the French language Wikipedia at the time, and she noticed that there was a severe lack of quality pictures in her field of interest–ancient Greek and Roman history–so she went to the Louvre to take some pictures. She quickly developed a greater interest in photography and bought an entry-level DSLR. Nguyen now owns two Nikon DSLRs (a D300s and a D200) and “a whole array of lenses,” and her primary project is now Commons. She estimates that more than three-quarters of her photos are shot for Commons.

“Beyond its use as a common repository for Wikimedia projects, I see [Commons] as a project in its own right,” she said. “I believe Commons is a great way to increase academics’, teachers’ and students’ awareness about free content, and to get them to contribute to all Wikimedia projects.”

(View more of Nguyen’s photos)

Elaine Mao, Communications Intern