Photography Against A White Background - Patent granted to Amazon "WTF"

by JamesNYCMay 6. 2014 12:09

In yet another act of insanity and a further display of the US Patent and Trademark Office level of ignorance and complete incompetence on display during the past 10 years, the USPTO has granted Amazon a Patent for: "Photography Against A White Background".

Polaroid | PHOTO ASSISTANT against white background 1989

Now how anyone in any office would not be able to pick up any magazine produced in the last 100 years and not find "Prior Art" that would be an example of this type of photographic lighting setup is simply astounding.

Creating images of people or products against a clean white background is probably the most common studio photography techniques in use and a basic  skill for any studio photographer using studio strobes or continuous lighting. But that has not stopped the US Patent and Trademark Office from granting Amazon one of the most bizarre and needless patents I've heard of in a long time. A studio lighting setup that allows photographers to "achieve a desired effect of a substantially seamless background." Yes, Amazon now holds a patent for taking photos with a clean white backdrop.

Which is rather astounding because I've been doing this with studio strobes and or tungsten lights sources since 1989. And still others have been doing this since the 40's as far as I can tell based upon my 4 minutes of Google research.

The details of the patent itself are slightly more focused, calling out specific lighting placement and even the placement of a 21-inch raised platform nine feet from the backdrop for the subject to stand on. The patent's diagrams show very specific numbers and placements of the light sources, but those details aren't the point. Enforcing such a patent would appear to be nearly impossible, considering the nature of such photos with a pure white background, there's no way to know if the photographer is following the specific setup that Amazon patented.

Regardless of enforceability, the idea of patenting a fundamental and basic photography setup is hard to fathom, particularly when you consider that Amazon filed for the patent in November of 2011. If the USPTO had asked around a little, it probably could have found dozens of photographers who have used nearly identical setups for years particularly given that the ability to manipulate a background from pure white all the way down to black is something every photographer masters when learning how to use strobes.

View the Patent here

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Comments (2) -

Susan Harris
Susan Harris
5/12/2014 10:01:56 AM #

Richard Avedon is rolling around in his grave. Against a white background, of course.

Antonio Crutchley
Antonio Crutchley
5/22/2014 10:07:28 AM #

I heard about this last month and has given it some thought and I really don't understand how this is possible. However, the big question for us photographer is how does this affect us? Is Amazon going to send the white backdrop police out to our shoots to ensure that we aren't infringing on their patent?

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