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News & Insight

Amazon Patents the Basics of Studio Photography, Photographing on Seamless White

By Paul Faecks on May 7th 2014

Amazon has just patented a photography technique that every studio photographer should be familiar with: Photographing on a seamless backdrop.

Yes, you read that correctly. Amazon filed a patent a few weeks ago for the use of a key light on your subject while illuminating the backdrop with some separate lights. Photographers have been using this lightning setup for decades so it’s pretty amusing for Amazon to be claiming ownership of it.

[REWIND: NIKON WINS 1.5 BILLION YEN IN LAWSUIT AGAINST SIGMA OVER VR PATENT INFRINGMENT]

seamless

The patent doesn’t only describe the lightning, but also the camera settings, including ISO, Aperture and focal length: “a background comprising a white cyclorama; a front light source positioned in a longitudinal axis intersecting the background, the longitudinal axis further being substantially perpendicular to a surface of the white cyclorama; an image capture position located between the background and the front light source in the longitudinal axis, the image capture position comprising at least one image capture device equipped with an eighty-five millimeter lens, the at least one image capture device further configured with an ISO setting of about three hundred twenty and an f-stop value of about 5.6.” (Quote Amazon patent)

diagram2

Will this affect your photography?

No, it will not. First of all: this patent only applies to the very specific setup that it describes. And secondly, Amazon didn’t create this patent to randomly sue photographers shooting on a seamless backdrop. Amazon created this patent to ensure that nobody can copy the exact look of their product shots. And honestly, how are they going to police thousands of photographers using this same setup all over the world?

Especially when you see this diagram. In case you didn’t know how to photograph on a seamless white background, a handy diagram…

diagram3

What do you think about the Amazon patent? Do you think this will affect your studio photographs? If you want to check out the full patent, you can do so by taking a look at the website of the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office)

[via @ShoottheCenterfold]

 

 

About

Paul Faecks is a portrait- and fine art photographer, based in Berlin. If you want to check out his latest work, you can do so by following him on Instagram or by liking his Facebook Page

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tropical Flavor

    Should we all now (to protect ourselves) have to take multi angle behind the scenes pictures of our setups just for the purpose of proving to potential ignorant judges that our white backgrounds are different from the “Amazon white background” ?

    It seems whoever signed to grant this patent either received loads of cash or they have NEVER seen a Magazine cover (or product photography, or any picture on a white background) their whole life. I think the photography community, and especially those most influential photographers, blogs, magazine editors, art directors or anyone really who’s ever used (or produced) photographs of subjects on white backgrounds should petition the USPTO to invalidate this patent and make it clear that we don’t need this kind of precedent in the photography world especially in this day and age of social media, youtube, online tutorials etc, allowing the free flow of information relating to photography know how and technique over the internet.

    Simply commenting on how ridicule this is may not be enough because with this precedent (and especially because of how the judicial system works), Amazon could potentially sue anyone who produces a picture on a white background. Even if they (Amazon) lose, how many photographers have the resources to handle the upfront cost of a legal battle with the added frustration, waste of time and energy in the process.

    Again should we all now have to take multi angle behind the scenes pictures of our setups just for the purpose of proving to potential ignorant judges that our white backgrounds are different from the “Amazon white background” ? Also, even if Amazon itself has no intention of taking legal actions against any photographer could we say the same of potential patent trolls who may some day acquire Amazon’s patent portfolio ?

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  2. Rick

    I had someone say were going to sue me at one point because I shot a model in a red dress floating in a pond surrounded by lilly pads and they said it looked too much like a shot they took of a model in a red dress standing against an ivy colored wall. OK…so Amazon owns white walls. This guy owns foliage rights. Hmmm…I call dibs on the sun and beach!

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  3. PERRY MASON

    All of us should look forward to the day Amazon patents the highly innovative technique required to make baked potatoes…

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  4. G.W.

    Only in North America will this happen. I am sure they (Amazon, Google, eBay, facebook…) are working on the patent on the temperature & angles of sun, wind speed, weather, size of clouds, all different shapes of the moon, lightings on all mountains, four seasons of rivers, anything with red, green & blue, image in everyone’s head and of course, the universe and God! Got to keep these lawyers busy to pay off their expensive tuition, houses, cars and cottages! Those who can’t create…. Takes!

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  5. D Hunter

    I don’t blame Amazon since corporations are free to do whatever nonsense they choose but the US Patent and Trademark Office must be living in a bubble if they issued such a patent.

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  6. JIm Crabtree

    Another example of total bullshit and a yet another indicator of where photography is going and how big internet is controlling our lives.

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  7. Michael Miller

    In reading through this patent, it is clear that the intent is to create a studio setup that makes everything in the image look like background except the article to be photographed. This describes a setup that would make the supporting surfaces, etc., essentially disappear with respect to the background so the article would appear to float in the frame without visible support. Furthermore, this effect is created in the camera without need for post processing. Whether or not this has been done before would be the object of a prior art search, but the examiner did perform such a search.

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  8. Thomas

    I’m going to apply for the patent for bouncing flash off of a wall. I’m going to be rich.

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  9. Kathrin

    SO I’m gonna go and patent the camera settings ISO 100, f2.8 at 250. No one ever ever ever is allowed to use them but me!! LOL So ridiculous ….

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  10. Paul

    It’s a lighting setup – not a lightning setup!!

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  11. Souri

    The patent itself is useless in my opinion … change the light setup a bit and your are fine. They can’t patent all possible setups (maybe they can :-). It’s also pretty much impossible to police it. There are so many different ways to create that look. Do they want an amazon staff in every studio.

    The question is what are their toughest behind it. Why do they want this patent? Why spend money on it? What is the commercial benefit?

    I don’t shoot in the studio … but I tried a bit of a home studio setup – http://www.fabulous-femme.com/feeling-arty/ and used a white background but just window light … so I hope this is not infringing now :-) .

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  12. Rick

    Sheer ridiculousness. The amount of prior art would be huge. Look at all existing how-to books, videos, etc that existed long before the patent.

    Shame on the system for allowing such a patent in the first place. When challenged, which I’m sure it will be, this patent will get invalidated.

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  13. Stan Rogers

    Claim 2 of the patent, upon which most of the subsequent claim items hang, is quite a bit broader than that (and probably should not have been allowed). As well, the detailed description goes out of its way to mention that most of what is claimed in the patent is approximate or falls within a range, and that variations on the values actually claimed are also covered. The only real loophole they’ve left uncovered is if the key light is substantially off-axis.

    That said, this patent smells defensive rather than protective. Amazon lives in a world (software) where patents can get pretty silly, and patent trolls abound. I would suspect that the application was submitted with the idea that the arrangement should not have been patentable (since it is both obvious to “a person skilled in the art” and covered extensively by prior art), but *just in case it is patentable*, it’s a much better thing to have the patent than to have deep pockets and be sued by somebody else who has the patent. From a legal CYA perspective, if they hadn’t been able to find a similar patent application that was rejected or an existing patent (current or expired), then NOT submitting an application would have been silly — even if the expected outcome was that the examiner would have rejected it out of hand (as should have happened).

    In any case, the broad application of the claims of the patent would not pass the sniff test if it ever became the subject of an infringement lawsuit. Prior art abounds, even if we restrict ourselves to the narrowest claims (an 85mm lens at or about f/5.6, substantially on-axis key light, raised platform in front of a cyc, off-axis multiple background lights, all tungsten lighting, and the order in which the lights are turned on). What this does point out is that the USPTO is very broken at the moment, and that it’s probably time for some sort of citizens’ action down there (I’m in Canada, which ain’t much better, but it’s a different jurisdiction). If something like this an get past a patent examiner, then the examination process needs to change. Even the briefest consultation with “a person skilled in the art” would have prevented the issue of this patent.

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    • Rick

      Hmmm, so I could do the exact same setup with daylight-balanced lights gelled with CTO to simulate tungsten :)

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