For this month's editor spotlight we're joined by Charlesjsharp, a longtime contributor to Wikimedia Commons with a plethora of featured pictures on English Wikipedia.
1) Starsandwhales: How long have you been editing Wikipedia, and how did you get interested? How did you begin your journey of photographing wildlife?
- Charlesjsharp: I uploaded my first pictures to Wikipedia twelve years ago for fun, to show my kids how it works. The pictures of my daughter (static trapeze), my son (Revell), my dog (Border Terrier) and my parents’ home (Tealing) are all still in the articles! I then started to upload wildlife images.
- I’d got my first camera aged eight and went on my first safari in the Kruger Park, South Africa in 1970. I was hooked. I switched to digital in 2004, but didn’t buy any high-end lenses till 2014. Such a shame that hundreds of great photos I took before then look so dreadful by today’s quality standards. My 100-400mm lens transformed mammal and bird photography opportunities and when I got my 100mm macro lens in 2016, the whole new world of insects was open for business.
Pied kingfisher eating a chick, photographed by Charlesjsharp
2) S&W: Over the years, you've taken photos of many different organisms from birds to insects to big cats; you have an extensive list of favorite images. Which animals have been the most exciting for you to photograph?
- Charlesjsharp: The trophy animals the hunters used to shoot are the ones I like to shoot too: it was lion, elephant and baboon in 1970. More recently, hunting for tiger by jeep in Kanha National Park in India was exciting and so was searching for jaguar by boat in the rivers of the Pantanal in Brazil. Our encounters with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda was amazing, but the actual photography was no challenge.
- But photographing animal behaviour is the most exciting and challenging. There’s usually movement and it all happens so fast, like when a bird captures its prey. Every now and then you snap something really unusual – like the cannibal kingfisher
3) S&W: Many articles under ToL have requests for people to add images that can go unanswered. What can the community do to improve the coverage of different organisms on Wikipedia, especially when it comes to images?
- Charlesjsharp: It’s a very time consuming process because the Wikipedia code is cumbersome (*see below). It take an age to upload to Commons: to describe, categorize, geocode. Many of the categories don’t exist so have to be created. If the image is of a subspecies, then all the images have to be checked before you can nominate an image for VI. It’s also takes ages to nominate images for VI and QI on Commons. May be some users use sophisticated tools to lighten the load, but I don’t know if they exist. In other words, Wikipedia is OK, but Commons is a nightmare. Hundreds of really poor quality photos clog up the system and some users are too lazy to filter and edit their nominations.
- Recently, some thoughtless editor added a ‘caption’ box to Commons. A waste of time. The image title should act as the caption.
- I applied for a grant to attend Wikimania, but was unsuccessful. Not much can happen without some funding to kickstart and then drive improvements forward.
Here was my response to the question: "How can we increase the quality and diversity of images being uploaded and, in particular, improve the Featured Picture, Quality Image and Valued Image projects?"
Panther chameleon male, photographed by Charlesjsharp
- 1. Work together on pre-defined projects to develop a team spirit that will help us develop a set of shared values
- 2. Through brainstorming, Identify what we need to do to improve the quality and diversity of images being uploaded and, in particular, identify what we need to do to improve the credibility of the Featured Picture, Quality Image and Valued Image projects
- 3. By sharing our photographic skills, find ways to share skills with the community. Knowledge transfer is time-consuming and we need to set limited objectives and realistic time frames. This will require compromise as individuals have to listen and find ways to agree. This is going to be much easier through face-to-face meetings
- 3. Identify what we need to do to improve the quality and diversity of images being uploaded (diversity of contributor and diversity in subject) and, in particular, identify what we need to do to improve the credibility of the Featured Picture, Quality Image and Valued Image projects
- 4. Spend more time talking about values and knowledge transfer than sharing photography tips amongst delegates, then getting all delegates to agree to DO SOMETHING WHEN THEY GET HOME to take things forward.
4) S&W: What advice would you give to people new to photographing wildlife?
- Charlesjsharp: An impossible question unless you know what someone’s objective is. So you’re on your first safari? Borrow or rent a decent camera and a quality 300mm lens. Then read a few of the dozens of free advice pages on the internet. Then when you’re out and about, take the lens cap off and set the camera to fully automatic sports mode. Be ready. If you’ve time, get in the right place (sunlight/background). Watch the animal’s behaviour. Point and shoot. Glance at the screen. If OK, repeat. Only then start playing with the settings to optimise shutter speed, F number and ISO.
5) S&W: What would the Tree of Life community be surprised to learn about your life off-wiki?
- Charlesjsharp: I used to be a high-end stamp collector (early USA). My photography is a sort of collecting. And I’m a keen bridge player.
* An example of cumbersome code: getting the layout of my responses to your questions. So dated, and no online spellchecker.