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#Useitpayforit: woodpecker picture sets the world a-twitter

© Martin Le May

6 February 2018

How much money might Martin Le-May have made from his photo of a weasel riding on the back of a green woodpecker?

It is hard to be precise, but well into four figures, certainly. Nine national newspapers reproduced it, as well as scores of publications around the world. It was a "top five" story on the BBC’s website for nearly a week, and topped a million impression on Buzzfeed in a day.

He took the picture by chance. In early March 2015, the 55-year-old project manager, who lives in Hornchurch, Essex, promised his wife that he would show her a green woodpecker.  The couple went for a walk in Hornchurch country park, on London’s eastern perimeter. He said:

“I have always enjoyed taking pictures of nature, so I took my camera as well as my binoculars. We both heard a horrible, distressed animal noise from a bush about 50 yards from where we were standing. I put my camera to my eye and pointed it to the source of the noise. The woodpecker suddenly flew up towards us, never going above seven or eight feet from the ground. I realised there was something on its back and started snapping.”

The woodpecker then landed a few feet from them and the weasel escaped, scampering off into the undergrowth.

Later that day he reviewed his images, finding most were out-of-focus or had missed their subject, until he found the one clearly showing the two animals; the shot that was to make him famous. With no idea that anyone beyond his friends would be interested in the picture, Martin Le-May posted it on a Facebook page ‘Birding in Essex’. Shortly afterwards, someone asked if they could share his shot to Twitter.

Then the world went mad.

‘Likes’ had passed 5,000 within an hour. Buzzfeed emailed to ask if they could publish. By the time he went to bed, around 12,000 Twitter users had ‘liked’ the picture and 2,000 had retweeted. He said:

“My daughter called at 6.30 the next morning to say that Buzzfeed had received 900,000 hits. By nine, someone offering to sell the picture on Le-May’s behalf had knocked on his front door. The BBC were soon in touch – its story would eventually rack up some 14 million hits. I wish that I had known bit more about how the media works and thought a bit more about what to do with the picture. It's all too easy for the newspapers and websites to rip off or bamboozle amateurs."

He has received a few fees from books that have used his image and an online photo retailer halved the price of a telephoto lens in return for a permission to use his work.

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Tags: , #useitpayforit, photographers, photographers’ council, Martin Le May, woodpecker, rates, twitter