Friday, April 17, 2009

Photo Shooters

A trend has been detected: people taking digital photos of projected images during a talk at a conference or departmental seminar. I have some colleagues who do this, and I always wonder what they do with all those photos. In these cases, the colleagues are not trying to steal anyone's data or ideas, they just want to have a record of the talks they go to (according to them, this is better than notes in a notebook). In other cases, the motivation of the photographer may be more nefarious..

I personally would never take a photo of someone else's talk. If I see an image that I desperately want to have or look at more, I would ask the speaker later, explaining the reason for my interest and what my likely use would be of such an image. I have only done this once or twice to get a cool image for teaching.

If someone takes a photo during one of my talks, I don't really mind but I think it is kind of rude and distracting.

Have you ever taken a picture of someone else's projected image during a talk?
No, I think that is inappropriate
No, but there is nothing wrong with it free polls

Have you ever had a picture taken of your projected image during a talk?
Yes, and I didn't like it
Yes, but I didn't mind
No, and I wouldn't like it
No, but I wouldn't mind free polls


Anonymous said...

In my field it is quite common to post the ppt slides of talks on the web after the conference so that everyone can access them. I have found this very helpful when trying to remember things from interesting talks that I didn't write down. I've never seen anyone taking someone's data for their own purposes though.

Anonymous said...

I voted "yes, I didn't like it" for having a picture taken of me. I'm not sure if the photographer was being shady about further inspection of the material on the slide or if the photo was to be used on the website of the meeting. The photo of me and my slide never showed up in society newsletters, but other images did.

barbara said...

I don't ever take photos of computer generated presentations (rather, I ask later for a copy of the relevant part of the file). However, I do often take photos of blackboards. I even take photos of my own blackboard when I discuss with a colleague or with a student. It's fast and efficient.
I have a folder with blackboard photos, labeled so that I can find them again.

Jenn, PhD said...

Totally inappropriate in my opinion. It happened to me during my first international conference platform presentation and while I was so nervous I barely registered that it was happening, it still bothered me. Definitely the same for posters too by the way. It's one of my bog pet peeves at conferences

Anonymous said...

In my field it's very often done, but I'm not entirely certain what people do with their pictures. In my case, it's because we're often required to write a report of conferences we visited and talks we've attended. A picture can help me jog my memory and when used well, also shows that a point I'm trying to make isn't my opinion alone, other people think so too.

Anonymous said...

Some professional societies have policies that explicitly prohibit taking photos during talks at conferences. The American Chemical Society is one. There was a recent article about this in Chemical & Engineering News (the weekly magazine from the ACS).

Anonymous said...

A total agreement with Jenn.
On my very first meeting ever a guy was taking pictures of my whole talk. Though it was only a small national meeting and otherwise rather cozy I will never forget the horrible situation. Especially as the photographer was rather interested in the features of his obviously new digital camera and he actually discussed camera and taken pictures with his neighbor. Quite audible in a small lecture hall with a small audience of about 30 persons. I was so nervous because of my talk and this guy did his very best to confuse me and show that he was not a bit listening to what I had to say.

I must confess that I, too, take pictures of posters. I'm not completely comfortable with that, as most times during the poster sessions you don't find the authors and can't ask their permission. But at least it has not this degrading component of being interested rather in the printed facts than the explanations of the author.

postdoc said...

I've seen people take pictures of posters at meetings, too. And not always of the entire poster - sometimes they stand right next to the poster and take zoomed-in photos of each individual figure. It's true that some meetings offer for you to upload your poster onto a website so others can view it later...but not everyone is comfortable doing this, and I think it's a bit presumptuous to assume that no one minds if you take high-resolution pictures of all of their figures. To me, it's inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Our depatment had a seminar last year that would have been really interesting to attend. Unfortunately, i had class at that time so my fiance went and took a picture (silently in the back) with his phone of every slide. Perhaps we were just stupid undergrads, but i didn't think there would be anything wrong with it. I doubt the speaker even noticed though i can't be sure. If he did he certainly didn't mention it to our professors. In the case of a poor undergrad "recording" the slides for a poorer one and deleting them upon review, i can't see how it is inappropriate. Perhaps we should have asked first?

thm said...

OK, I had to give hypocritical answers here. I *have* taken a picture during a talk: as a grad student, when an elderly Nobel-prize winner was giving his (annual) colloquium. I took the pictures as a sort of science tourist, to have proof that "yes I've seen a talk by Prof. OldBigShot." But I know enough about photography to get a properly-exposed available-light image; I would never use flash. I don't recall if I used a digital camera or a rangerfinder 35mm camera--if I used an SLR it would only have been during the applause so that nobody would notice the mirror-flap sound.

I don't want obtrusive photography during my talks: no noisy SLRs and absolutely no flash. Turn off the digital beeping. I would be quite happy to share any slides, figures, or even raw data with any audience member who was truly interested in my work.

Anonymous said...

The photo-taking situation is actually bad enough at the conferences we attend that my advisor has explicitly prohibited anyone from presenting any work that is not already ready for publication. These days, digital cameras capture such high megapixel density that you can even zoom into all the details of a poster with a single overview shot.

John Vidale said...

If I present the material, I'm flattered if they consider it worth recording. In my case, it is silly not to just ask for the PowerPoint in an email - get the original material not a fuzzy shot in a dark room.

The idea that one wants to present the material, but at the same time fend off giving people TOO much detail seems like a counterproductive mind game. Sharing information generates progress, collaborations, and a willingness for others to do likewise.

Of course, one should not distract an audience any of a number of ways, such a flash or a loud camera.

plam said...

I saw this quite a bit a few years ago, some people from a certain country seemed to be taking lots of pictures of all slides at one of the conferences I went to.

Unknown said...

What's fun is when you're presenting a poster at a conference and people come by and start taking close up shots of your figures.

Ok, it's not really fun.

Random said...

I think it matters what kind of talk it is, in part. If it is a large plenary talk involving mainly a synthesis of previously published data, then that is one thing. But, if someone is sharing in-progress work that hasn't been published, it seems very rude to take advantage of that. The last conference I was at (an international meeting, but small as it is very topic-specific) actually started making announcements before each session telling people not to take pictures for this very reason.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I have never seen this in my entire life. I would consider it completely inappropriate, and if someone did it to me, I would very firmly dissuade them from continuing.

John Vidale said...

A quick poll about the actual willingness to give away talks, from a recent small cutting-edge workshop on a competitive topic I attended.

The organizer, who had collected the Powerpoints to project on her laptop, asked at the end whether she could post them on the workshop web site. Only 1 out of about 20 presenters declined.

Maybe other fields differ, but one generally can't stop geophysicists from telling the world MORE detail than is desired.

Anonymous said...

I always print digital 8x11 versions of my poster and hang them next to it, this way no need for photos and it indicates to the audience that I do not mind if they take one, I always give the citation of the poster on the bottom of the handout or on the back with a copy of the abstract...this I hope encourages the audience to cite my work.

I have not taken photos of an oral presentation because most of the time a conference proceedings paper is available, sometimes a video of the talk is available as well, this could be due to the type of conferences I choose to attend.

I have taken photos of my students presenting, or of them next to their posters, they know I will be doing this and I try to only do it during the title slide, that way I get their mug shot and presentation title for the lab website.

I have began taking photos of my white board and even sending them to students or colleagues to remind them of the topics/points we discussed during our meetings.

Alyssa said...

I'll admit that I have taken photos at conferences - BUT they were a) of the keynote lecturers who won big awards and usually with their title slide (like thm mentioned) or b) of a poster that was really off the wall that I wanted to share it with others when I returned (one was hypothesizing that Venus was only 3000 years old).

Taking pictures of every slide of a presentation is inappropriate and distracting (to both the presenter and the audience).

yolio said...

I always thought taking photo notes was insanely more trouble than just talking old fashioned notes, but then I discovered this: It auto syncs your digital camera to your online database! You combine this with something like Evernote, and you have a very low maintenance note system. Or I guess you could use an iPhone for the same thing.

Anyway, I've never done it. But I am starting to see the appeal. But flashes are rude. And isn't it a great ice breaker conversation starter to ask someone for their slides? I suppose you could do both.

Anonymous said...

it's not allowed at national meetings of chemists.

Dr M said...

I quite honestly do not understand the problem. I am assuming that the photographs are taken in an unobtrusive manner that does not disturb the rest of the audience or the speaker (i.e. no sounds, no flash), which is perfectly possible with a modern digital compact camera. It seems to me that several people here confuse taking photographs with creating a disturbance.

Like estraven says, this is really just another way of taking notes. Thus, of course, there's really not much point taking pictures of computer-generated presentations, where you can easily ask for the slides afterwards (though even better is to be able to print the slides before the talk, and then just make any additional notes you might want directly on the print-out during the talk).

For the same reason, I really do not see the problem with taking photographs of a poster. How is this any different from making notes by some other means, which I would assume everyone finds perfectly okay? If you present your results publicly in a talk or on a poster, the entire point and purpose of doing so is to attract the attention and interest of other people.

However, while I'm perfectly fine with someone unobtrusively using a camera to "make notes", how the images are used is a completely different matter. Using photos to aid your own memory is fine. Sharing them with a colleague is probably also fine -- as is sharing notes. Publishing the images, or using them for your own teaching or talks, is not fine. If that's what you want to do, then ask my permission first.

Female Science Professor said...

True, but does anyone know of a department that has a rule about it for departmental seminars?

I went to a talk today and saw 2 cameras in action -- but not by anyone I knew.

John Vidale said...

Harvard's geology dept tapes all their colloquia:
(see the text just under the pictures)

Only for their dept use, although I asked for a copy of a talk of mine to judge my incoherence.

Anonymous said...

My advisor likes to take pictures of talks and send them to me with a note to look into the speaker/topic. (Before I got these pictures, it bothered me when people took them during talks...but now it doesn't.)

Of course, he also takes pictures of baseball games and mutual acquaintances when he's hanging with them. I think he needs something that can handle speed shots better. The baseball game shots are sometimes fuzzy. I haven't figured out how to broach the topic with him (or the fact that I really am not crazy about baseball).

Anonymous said...

I once had a competitor ask to take pictures of my poster at a national meeting. Since they had previously written down everything on my poster at a different meeting and a few years later published a terrible paper on the same topic without citing my paper, I'm very glad I refused. It meant standing next to my poster for >6h, but it was worth it to keep unethical competitors from stealing my ideas.

Kevin said...

I'm with Dr. M. If you are presenting your work in public, then people have a reasonable expectation of being able to take notes. I see no problem with a photo record.

Using someone else's work does require citation or permission, depending on how much is used.

If you don't want people to be able to remember all the details of your talk, then don't talk to them.

For anonymous who had work stolen, the correct answer to the person who wanted to photograph your poster was to tell them.
"Yes, but you MUST give me proper citation when you try to steal my work this time, or I'll report you to all the journal editors." That will do much more surpress the bad behavior than jealously guarding your poster.

Incidentally, I put all my slides and posters up on my web site, and tell people that they are there, so only idiots bother to take pictures of my slides and posters.

DrDoyenne said...

Why would someone want (or need) a copy of someone else’s presentation (either the original file or a photograph of the screen)? I used to wonder what those people did with other people’s presentations—until I saw one of my slides in another scientist’s presentation (without any acknowledgment of the source). This was not the person to whom I gave the original presentation. So it had clearly been passed around without my permission.

If someone asks me for a specific image or graph and explains how they intend to use it, however, I almost always provide it—because it’s clear what their intent is. But someone asking for my entire presentation just because they want it—forget it.

In any event, I now routinely create presentations that are not understandable without my commentary. This accomplishes a number of things:

1. It forces me to create a real presentation, not a “data-dump”.

2.It leads to slides that are not cluttered with tons of verbiage or data that the audience cannot take in and digest in a few seconds.

3.It focuses the audience’s attention on me, the presenter, and what I am saying. My slides are true visual aids that illustrate the points I am making verbally. Each slide is designed to peak the audience’s interest, so that they must look to me to explain what the image, graph, or statement means.

4.I do not write on my slides what I plan to say to the audience. This keeps my slides simple and uncluttered. Also, I don’t want my audience reading ahead and not paying attention to what I’m saying (which they will invariably do).

5.When someone asks me for my presentation, I can honestly say that it is not understandable without my verbal commentary and therefore would be of little use to them.

Anonymous said...

I vastly prefer a "netbook," such as an Asus Eee PC, to pen and paper for taking notes at a presentation. At least this way I can find my notes if I ever need them again.

John Vidale said...

This is a fascinating discussion.

My talks are meant to be understandable either to someone who can't hear or someone who can't see. The conclusions are bullets at the end and foreshadowed in the beginning, tallied in words in the middle if the talk is more than 20 minutes.

My classes can print out my powerpoints beforehand to facilitate listening and thinking rather than writing notes.

If people can excise a self-contained slide to "steal" to make a point in their class, paper, or proposal, so much the better. (Credit is appreciated, of course.)

While I'm not a great communicator, any trick to make the point clearer and more generally available is in play.

Unbalanced Reaction said...'s like science paparazzi. You never know when they'll get ya.

Completely inappropriate. Almost all of the conferences I attend explicitly state in the registration that photos should not be taken unless the speaker gives approval.

Brenda said...

I've seen this trend in action, and I was immediately horrified that this was going on in the middle of a talk. If the photographer was unobtrusive it wouldn't bother me that much. It's the people who block my view while they are photographing every. single. slide. that make me nuts. How can you get anything out of a talk if you're so busy with your camera?
I'm all for sharing the science freely, but I'd rather do that by talking to the presenter than anonymously taking a photo of a slide.

Anonymous said...

The organization I work for has very strict rules about how the information we obtain in the course of our work can be disseminated. I attend science conferences, give talks, present posters, but I would need a special permission in order to be able to give a copy of a poster or my talk to a random conference attendee. That's why it is very upsetting when people start taking pictures of my talks or posters - it is completely inappropriate and can get me personally in trouble. Please, all of you snapping pictures and thinking nothing of it, just ask the presenter for permission the next time you want to do it. Also, you never know - by actually talking to people about their work you might meet some new collaborators or friends.

Also, regarding taking pictures instead of taking the notes - it is not equivalent. There is a lot more information in the slides of the talk than you could possibly write down on a piece of paper. This can, unfortunately, lead some dishonest people into stealing the results. Of course, they can do it anyways, but detailed pictures of the slides/posters facilitate this to great extent. The beauty of the conferences is that people come there discussing new things, many of them unpublished, that is what makes it interesting. If people start to present only old results that are already published, the conferences will become more boring.

DrDoyenne said...

I'd like to echo the comments of Anonymous (4/18/2009 11:10:00 PM) regarding organizational restrictions on information products.

I work for a gov't agency and also have such restrictions. We must go through a very rigorous internal review process before any document (including conference abstracts, posters, presentations) are given out, posted on websites, etc.

The consequences are serious if we fail to get official approval (and get caught). So, it's not a trivial issue for us to have our work taken without permission.

But even if I did not have such restrictions, I would still think it inappropriate for others to take photos of unpublished data during presentations.

I don't think this is the same situation as a lecturer giving out copies of lecture notes to students. In that case, the presenter is the one making the decision to disseminate the information, which is different from someone taking information without permission.

The ideal way to post presentations on the Web is a videocast--so that the presentation can be seen as it was meant to be experienced. I'm hosting an upcoming symposium (essential skills for women in our field of science) and am planning to video all the presentations, which will hopefully be posted on our society's website--for others who were unable to attend the conference to see.

John Vidale said...

I guess I'm getting repetitive, but I fail to see the fine line between showing work to people's eyes + notebooks and to their cameras.

These are the webcasts from last year's AGU meeting, the first is particularly good, for those interested in future directions like google:
(Mine is U31B below, much less watchable). The webcast has MORE than a set of photos would.

To grossly exaggerate, proving conclusions in talks based on plots and statements not generally available is akin to waving lists of names without showing them to anyone.

wrt companies, the same applies. If they approve a talk, why would they expect their competitors will NOT watch them? It sounds like presenters want to bend the rules, getting only bland abstracts approved, but leave no trail of evidence of what they actually said for their bosses to disapprove of.

John Vidale said...

oops, my talk was at 110:00 in U31B, although my embarrassment due to PC ignorance is captured several times earlier.

EliRabett said...

First time I saw this was in 1976 at a conference that touched on isotope separation. One of the presenters (a Russian) had a talk which consisted of nothing more than "Next slide, Look at this" which was pretty much his entire English vocabulary.

There were a bunch of people from Los Alamos and LLNL and other countries weapons programs who stood up for every slide and took a photo (this was in the days of film)

Anonymous said...

John V, frankly I am puzzled that you do not see the difference between talking about/discussing your results with others and giving away tables, figures and pictures full of your data that can be analyzed further or even published.

The bottom line is, if somebody is that much interested in a talk that (s)he needs to take a picture of every single slide, (s)he should probably talk to the presenter and discuss the topic further, because apparently they have a research topic in common. I personally would be extremely happy to discuss my work with anybody in a conference setting - after all, who would not be happy when others are interested in their work? And I would even do my best to accommodate any request for a copy of the presentation or a poster. But, if somebody started to take pictures of me and my presentation without permission and did not try to talk to me at all, I would think that person is quite rude and clueless and/or has some ulterior motives for doing so.

Fortunately, nowadays the conference organizers are catching on to this new phenomena and there are starting to be explicit policies with regard to taking pictures of talks/posters, whether all talks are being taped or slides posted online, or picture taking is forbidden. That way, everybody knows what the rules are going in and can make their own choices about attending the conference or not. And perhaps even plan on getting that permission from their company to freely distribute slides.

John Vidale said...

Anon at 10:04, we just have different styles.

My goal is to make available as much worthwhile data, methodology, and literature as possible. I give away my computers codes, my seismic network distributes all its seismic data in realtime, and I've never turned down a request for my talks or files that was not a burden. I sign the vast majority of my reviews, as well.

I've only been burned a couple of times, and much more often benefited by an open policy. You might watch the Google-guy video I linked above. At the end of his talk, he advocated universal and instant access to all data recorded, and has a good point.

Little of this applies to companies, I suppose, whose overriding goal is to monopolize knowledge for a competitive edge.

JLB said...

I was in a meeting in China a few years ago that had so much picture taking that it was like the line to get into Studio 54.
My PhD mentor was giving a talk and warned someone to stop taking pictures three times-she almost lost it. I thought she might storm the audience and destroy the guys camera...

Anonymous said...

someone photo'd me once at a conference during my talk - without permission - I calmly made them come to the front and delete the image in front of me so i could see it was removed. How fucking rude to take my picture without asking. If anyone does it again, I will probably walk out of the room. Manners cost nothing.