Saving our bacon by coming in as a late replacement judge, Beryl Heaton got the Reflex Open Competition 2018-19 underway. The club thanks her for stepping up, even if we did rather make it more difficult than it strictly needed to be!
The entries were as varied as usual and there is a definite benefit to seeing and listening to someone with experience critique work, our own and others. Agreeing or disagreeing is one thing, and we will quite naturally, but analysing why is at the heart of our development.
So it is as much about looking with a purpose as anything else. This is a process that transfers logicically into our practice of taking photographs. We have light falling on a subject within a frame. The trick is to manipulate the elements in that frame into an interesting story.
The minimum we will have in any picture is figure and background (aka figure and ground). This is a psychological principle and describes how we see an object. Reading this we can see the words (figure) against background (the electronic “paper”). We ‘togs think of this as contrast.
Contrast, that which we use to direct the attention of the viewer to our subject, comes in two varieties. Tonal and colour. Tonal is all the shades from absolute black to absolute white. Colour is the way colours interact with each other.
An image that is high contrast has strong black and strong white with little in the way of greys. Low contrast images have very little by way of highlights and shadows. Normal contrast, well, that is somewhere in between. These are an active part of composition.
Composition is the ordering of elements within the frame. Some things are more important than others, they have more gravity and pull our attention towards them, demanding more of our attention. We have a limited amount of attention to pay so will concentrate on what has the most visual weight.
Our brains assign an importance, a weighting, to objects in our frame and this is what we use to our creative advantage. Knowing this we can apply the tools of composition to manipulate this concept of visual weight to maximise the impact of an image by affecting the balance of objects within the frame. As with contrast there are opposites, though these labelled heavy and light so:
LARGER we perceive as HEAVIER. Big we tend to perceive as heavy and more visually dominant.
DARKER we perceive HEAVIER. This is especially the case if the background is generally light.
HIGH CONTRAST we perceive HEAVIER. This is similar to the above principle. A high contrast subject draws attention to itself.
COMPLEX we perceive as HEAVIER. Multiplying something gives it more weight as the brain naturally groups them together making them perceptually larger.
LIGHT COLOUR we perceive as LIGHTER. The less saturated a colour (like sky blue), the less visual weight it has. You need a lot of it to balance out the heavier elements in a scene.
PHYSICALLY HEAVY we perceive HEAVY. Because it is, and we know it, it gets more visual weight too.
INTERESTING PLACEMENT we perceive HEAVY. Objects placed in the corners or on a third yield more visual weight as per the rule of thirds. There is another tool that is related to do with the treatment of what is called negative space.
These observations by themselves need some managing, of course, but the good news is that we can see these effects quite immediately. We need to balance the effects to good use, that is, too much is too much and undermines the overall effect at best and creates a total mess at worst.
The trick is to take an instant to ask ourselves “Does it balance?” before pressing the shutter.
101 Corner – Focusing
If we have anything but a fixed lens on our camera (and even with some that do) we have the capacity (and the need) to use some focusing system or other. It’s all about getting a sharp image.
This can get a little confusing at first because we have Auto Focus and we have Manual Focus and there will be as many opinions as people you ask as to why they choose any particular mode. To make things worse there are usually three different types of autofocus and two different systems to make it work.
Then someone tells us that we absolutely must use back-button focus.
As usual, much of this is hearsay or ignorance. Each of the autofocus options are designed with certain types of shooting in mind. Manual focus is far easier on manual focusing lenses. Autofocus is the one that makes sense most of the time.
The different autofocus modes are: Single frame (one picture then refocus) which suits most stills photographers most of the time; Continuous, used by videographers and when there is a constantly moving subject, such as using burst mode; Automatic where the camera decides which you need (not a feature on all cameras).
The third round of the ROC, congratulations to the winners, thanks to Peter Weaver for his work as the judge, and it is good to see that the overall level of technical achievement is going in the right direction. To those members who are convincing themselves that their work isn’t good enough to show, I have to say you are probably wrong about that. The competitive element aside, and the importance of that will be personal to each entrant, getting feedback from experienced judges is a good way to look to our personal development as photographers.
It comes back to that word “Because”. I agree with the judge, because … I disagree with the judge, because … are two great places to start. Personal development involves reflecting on the work we produce and putting it forward in the first place is a great way to see things differently. Seeing things differently, trying things differently is the deliberate act that fires that improvement.
As I said in the closing remarks, £2.95 for a re-usable 40 x 50 cm (20 x 16 inch ) mount to fit a 16 x 12 inch (40.6 x 30.5 cm) aperture from The Range (cheaper on line, but make sure you know what you are buying first) and £1.82 for a 16 x 12 gloss or lustre print from Keynsham Photographic Centre and we are in business. Give it a go.
It is, after all, about perception. The whole conceive, frame, light, shoot thing is to capture a perception of something we saw, no matter how real that actually was. The camera may never lie but photographs do, because they are about slices of reality, selected contexts and an impression of a thing. If the camera thinks 18% Gray is half way between black and white we are starting from something of a skewed perspective anyway (here for the science of it).
The danger, at least to posterity, lies in what we perceive as a photograph. It used to be a lot narrower than it is today. A photograph was the finished product held in the hand, hung on the wall, or mounted in the family album. Today we stop a step short of that. What we have with digital technology – and I speak here as a fan – is a computer file as a “finished” article.
Unfortunately these files we keep on computers and so need complex and expensive technology to view them.
The files themselves are subject to physical loss (hence the need for back up), damage (hence the need for back up), infection by malicious code (hence the need for back up), and eventually and probably sooner than you think, redundancy (hence the need for back up in more than one file type if you are being particularly cautious). The back ups are also prone to all of the above.
Keeping your treasured images on the Cloud is one answer to this. Except it isn’t. They are still computer files and still need expensive technology to view them. “The Cloud” is a fluffy marketing term for someone else’s computers. Someone else’s very, very, very expensive computers.
These very, very, very expensive computers are mostly under someone else’s legal jurisdiction, are only going to operate as long as someone, the people who own and maintain those very, very, very expensive computers will only do so as long as they can make a profit from those very, very, very expensive computers. They also makes you images easier to steal, but that isn’t their purpose.
Yes this also applies to “Free” services. “Free” is another fluffy marketing term which means “You pay for this another way” usually by your personal data, which you give access to in the terms and conditions (EULA’s as they are technically called, End User Licensing Agreements), and everyone you interact with which, they do not, necessarily. This as far away as it can be from the harmless fair trade it sounds and it massively profits the collectors of such data.
After all, these very, very, very expensive computers are run for profit and not for the well-being of their users, who, by and large, are well and truly in the dark as to the real value of what they like, share and post and whereas buying that data is relatively inexpensive the worth to end users is far, far, far higher than what is paid to collect. Allegedly, it has been used to select governments and policies.
The cost of storing and displaying our jpegs is far higher than we may have thought and there are important political issues surrounding our ability to do so, but there are also aesthetic considerations. Looking at a print is an altogether different experience than looking at an image on a computer screen. I find that, probably because of their relative scarcity compared to screen images, that looking at prints invites an altogether slower, more absorbing process.
The same goes for making prints, whether we do them ourselves or have them done commercially. Again this something connected to the print process. We are saying that this particular image has some more than usual significance for us, that we want to spend more time on and with it and that, maybe, we want to display it – on the wall at home or in the club competitions or even in an exhibition – but above all we want to keep it.
So, why not leaf through your favourites and select half a dozen for printing and mounting? Then choose your best three and enter them for the ROC round 4. If you need help members can us the Facebook page or have a talk with someone at the next club meeting. You will have something to keep and you will have some constructive criticism which you can apply to your photography and that then becomes a strong base for improving your photography over all.
Matthew Lord adjudicated round 3 of the 2014-2015, and the number of entries this year are well up on last in both print and digital categories. Quality is at the very least as good and I think this shows growing confidence within the club which itself is growing at a steady rate. If you haven’t put anything in yet, give it a go, you have nothing to lose and some feedback to gain to give you a start to think differently about your images. A club thanks to Matthew for his lively feedback and congratulations to those commended and placed.
Matthew talked about the way we look at a picture instinctively, though I would say culturally instinctively, because not all cultures have the same relation to space and the expectations of the artistic placement of objects within it, though most human’s seem to start top right when looking at an image. The brain discriminates (and tells you blatant lies, but that’s for another day), the camera cannot. The human eye/brain is not the same as the lens/sensor combination. Henri Poincare pointed out that the notion of space must be understood as a function of objects and all their relations, in photographic terms you can’t have an image without objects set in relation to each other. It’s often been reported here that our judges and speakers say that the photograph should have only one story to tell. The simpler the shot the more impact it is likely to have.
Yes there are composition rules, we have frequently referred to the thirds, fifths, sevenths and the “Golden ratio”, but composition (long video but very good and well worth putting time aside to watch), the punctum and the studium, isn’t restricted to this. Nor do they rule out simplicity. Simplicity comes with the fewest elements required to tell the story. Backgrounds can be problematic. They can give context, depth, even a certain tone. They can also provide too much information, confusing the subject with what it is set in, providing unfortunate growths like telegraph poles or trees. It isn’t always possible to pull the subject from the background, for example when using a long telephoto focused at infinity at a foreground subject which is far enough away to register the rest of the foreground sharp. Nonetheless, as a general guide and something Matthew picked up on more than once, your image rarely suffers from it and the tighter you crop the more impact your main subject will have.
Colour blocks can also make effective compositional statements. True individual tastes, perceptions and experiences affect the particular effect any given hue has on a person, but large blocks of solid colour in an image will almost certainly have an impact on the viewer. Blocks of complimentary colours can also have a powerful effect, think of the colour wheel and how colours interact. Again framing is an important factor in boosting impact.
Even if cropping the final image square, a personal favourite, the middle should be avoided, usually. This is because it is easy to unbalance a picture by making it static for the eye. The eye needs to move around the image for the brain to engage. By creating an off centre interest the eye will be drawn into space as a secondary motion. A fore middle and background is much stronger than a one or two element image. The eye looks for sign posts for direction and interest and will move long the former to stop at the latter before moving on. Lead lines are thus a very powerful element in composition. To work, however, they must all be a part of the story, or the eye will wander and the brain become confused as to what the story is (part of the reason is because the brain has an operational necessity for lower power consumption and so pre-programming certain reactions saves time energy and processing power, a little off topic but if you’re interested see Daniel Khaneman). Of course this can be played around with. Parallel lines can be a very bold statement, especially if shooting with a wide angle lens, even more so with a bit of Dutching
All in all a fascinating evening and again, thanks to our judge Matthew Lord and to Mark O for his efforts and everyone else involved. A gallery of winners will be posted when available which we are unable to post for technical reasons.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Next week – Medieval Combat! http://www.medievalmartialarts.co.uk Club members Ian Coombs, Danny Thomas, and Antony Bezer are bringing their mediaeval martial arts group to the club tonight for our latest practical session.
** Bring your camera & equipment ** **IMPORTANT** If you are attending this meeting you need to be aware that there will be rules set in place for your safety. ANYONE breaking those rules will be asked to leave the meeting immediately.
When: 19:30-22:00, Thu, 2nd April.
9th April: WCPF travelling critique. A show of the entrants to the WCPF salon.
16th April: Club Battle with Backwell. This year at Backwell. See here for further details from Gerry: Backwell Battle.
A decent turnout at the Langton Court Hotel for the annual social and awards event. The skittle alley thundered to the sounds of skittles standing resolutely in place. For a camera club there were remarkably few in evidence, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, less clutter to fall over and I don’t want to think of the consequences of joining consumer electronics with liquid (says he typing this with a cup of tea in one hand). Next year’s calendar was distributed, and I must say that it looked really interesting, and awards were bestowed thus:
Reflex Camera Club Overall Competition results for 2013 – 2014
|1st Place||82 Points||John Pike|
|2nd place||43 Points||Pauline Ewins|
|3rd Place||26 Points||Wendy Goodchild|
|1st Place||43 Points||Pauline Ewins|
|2nd place||30 Points||Mark O’Grady|
|3rd Place||26 points||Wendy Goodchild
& Angie Wallace
|1st Place||64 Points||John Pike|
|2nd place||55 Points||Mark O’Grady|
|3rd Place||35 Points||Alison Davies|
|John Hankin Shield
(Best Print of the Year)
|Stan Scantlebury Shield
(Best Projected of the Year)
|Photographer of the Year
(Overall Points Winner)
|85 Points||Mark O’Grady|
Thanks Julie for the table.
And the winner of the game of Killer in the Skittle Alley was —– Julie Coombs.
We have had a successful year in the number and variety of events, speakers and activities and a big club thank you to everyone who made that possible. The new website looks excellent and new members are joining. With the move to new premises everything seems set fair.
To a point we participate in the club in order to determine what makes a good photograph, so that we can go and take good/better photographs. Practice based learning. There are as many opinions on the “Good” as there are photographers. One of the reasons that there are competitions and judges is the idea of some sort of standard around the rules of composition, the exposure triangle and leave room for the imagination of the photographer. This year – and it is not very different year to year, nor I fancy, from club to club – we have had many different examples, from different sources. We have had competitions – the best source for individuals for what is known as reflective practice – speakers and practical evenings. We have had the benefit of the WCPF travelling show. These have also allowed us to look at wider issues too: planning, doing and reviewing, taking the opportunity, making the opportunity. We have also had the chance to talk about the giving of constructive feedback with one of our speakers and to practice it (and don’t I drone on about it every competition round?).
So, what have we learned this year? The point is the picture not the gear, Canon, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, Sony anything else, not whether it’s a RAW or a JPEG or a TIFF (note that argument, not so very long ago was about whether it was film or digital, an argument that has just gone away) or any other format that counts. If there isn’t a basic structure to grab the attention then all of the above is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter about what it is you are taking a photograph of , it is how it is represented in the frame, what is included and, frequently as important, excluded that makes it so. Vary the angles, up, down, left, right (it’s not about your comfort it’s about the shot!). Keep the viewers eye engaged in the frame – this is why a vignette sometimes helps by keeping the eye from wandering to the outside of the frame on their way out of the picture. It should tell a story, a good one, with a punch-line. That the lighting is everything.
So, looking forward to next season? “F8 and be there”. See you next week.
The competition season reached the trophy round last meeting with the awarding of the John Hankin (print) and the Stan Scantlebury (projected image) Shields. It was an interesting evening with the chance of looking back at some of the more favoured images over the season and see them in light of a fresh competition and a fresh judge, John Bjergfelt and our thanks to him. Rules for this round are as per the open competition but with the exception that this is restricted to entries that have already been submitted for the open and no points are awarded. All images are accompanied by a short summary of the judge’s comments in the catalogue only, see the link below.R E S U L T S
2nd – The rat catcher – Ian Coombs
3rd – New dog old trick – Ian Coombs
Highly Commended List –
Proud to be Russian – Eddie Deponeo
and Lady of the lake – Mark O’Grady.
Commended List –
A road well travelled – Julie Coombs,
Unearthed beauty – Mark O’Grady
and Tintern sunrise – Eddie House.
Digital 1st –
2nd – Must get ball must get ball! – Eddie House
3rd – Sailing – Roy Williams
Highly Commended List –
Plitvice Waterfall – Annamarie Miles,
Happy Meal – Alison Davies,
Ivy Leaf – Wendy Goodchild
and Against the night – Mark Stone.
Commended List –
Bathtime – Pauline Ewins,
Desolate Industry – Mark Stone,
Masquerade – Ian Coombs,
Summer Bloom – Pauline Ewins,
Simple Crocus – Debbie Griffin,
Hidden in your shell – Mark O’Grady
and Fairy wand – Alison Davies.
The Full Catalogue with summaries of the Judges remarks (at least as fast as my thumbs would type on my phone) is available here:
A very big thank you to everyone who made this happen, an enjoyable evening and a chance to get another judges comments on work we have already seen judged.
– that the Flickr competition this month is about Food & Drink.
– that Rich Price is running a trip to Exmoor to photograph the Milky Way. Details re on the club Flickr site, dates are . Looking forward to that one (all weather dependent of course).
The new Brunel wing is now open and we will have a chance to exhibit. Details to follow.
THURSDAY 22nd May is European/Local elections: NO Meeting at the School this week due to it being used as a polling station. Instead meet at the Dovecote pub next to Ashton Court @ 19:30.
I have spent some of your generously donated time over the last several posts talking about the appreciation of an image and in trying to encourage wider participation in competitions. Talking to other people in some other photographic clubs and indeed, some remarks Peter Wheeler made in one of his visits to us this season, there broadly seem to be two focuses: the competition focused clubs and the participation focussed clubs. These are not two mutually exclusive categories, sensibly there cannot be one without the other, but it is the way that the mix of the two is dealt with that determines the nature of the club. BPS, for instance, appear have a set of images that they use for the many competitions that they enter and they are a very successful club. Dorchester appear similarly disposed, and these were the top 2 clubs in the WCPF 2013 competition. We are more participation focussed and either way there would be no club if it were not for its committee. From and on behalf of the floor, thank you. Last Thursday we had our AGM, which had a reasonable turnout by any club standards that I have been to on whatever topic (not a huge number I will admit). There was: discussion of important topics to the club; consumption of tea, coffee and biscuits; reportage on the path of the club; efforts were lauded and decisions arrived at democratically. Overall, I would judge it as a success because people got involved.
Ruth, Mark O and Dan E were voted onto the committee in the posts of Club, Competitions and Events Secretary’s replacing Julie, Ian and Hanneke at the end of the season. A great deal of thanks is owed to the outgoing members for their considerable parts in making this a successful club and thanks due to those incoming for the prospect of its continuation.
The topic on which we were most exercised was that of the competitions, specifically the format and most particularly the lack of and diminishing numbers of prints being entered. Firstly I will hold my hand up and, as a distinctly novice member, admit I have not entered any physical prints in any of the competition rounds this year. Indeed John P. has been the only consistent entrant in this category and thanks to you John, because the novice print category is an issue not a dead letter. There is a decision for the committee to make about whether the novice category continues into next season for reasons I have blogged about previously, but, in essence, boils down to the fact that the border between the two has become increasingly blurred. There is a but and a very important but so worth flagging: this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy i.e. those who enter are benefitting from the feedback and those who are discouraged by the perceived gap between their own and others efforts remain so and do not enter. The reasons were discussed why this is so, the general lack of prints, and reasons included “Faff” (a general term for producing something the individual thinks not worth the effort as measured by the return), time, space, and additional cost – travel (time cost) being the chief issue when using Keynsham Photographic (KPC). As Mark S. pointed out, as part of a different point but one that applies in general, you can’t eliminate the category and still compete – i.e. digital projection only. Yes I know Zen Photo is web based, but they meet physically four times a year and they compete as a club.
Competing is a core value of our club, but it is not the reason for it, in my far from humble opinion, participation is its life-blood but we have an imbalance at the moment that needs to be addressed and that is getting more people involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. It is getting you involved in competitions in general and in prints in particular. Yes, next season I will be entering the print competition regularly, a little late for New Year resolutions I will admit, but then they are hardly worth making the effort over if you have no intention of keeping them. I have every intention of keeping this one (and only). The ease and relative speed of entering the projected is not in dispute, but the experience of producing and mounting a print is far more tactile and gives a different perspective as Mark O. attested.
So, 10 questions to ask and my own answers (in brackets). The only permissible answers are Yes or No because anything else is a No, all dressed up with nowhere to go:
- Did I join Reflex CC to become a better photographer? (Yes).
- Is entering the club competitions a positive part of this? (Yes).
- Have I learned anything by looking at the entries and listening to the feedback? (Yes).
- Am I looking at photographing subjects differently than before I did this? (Yes).
- Does that effect the way I take photographs? (Yes).
- Has the overall effect of the feedback been positive? (Yes).
- Is there room for improvement? (Yes!).
- Would entering my own efforts personalise the feedback? (Yes).
- Have I made the best of the opportunities the competitions have presented? (No).
- Does a lack of trophies mean I am no better for the competition process? (No).
If anyone of the first 8 is a yes, then there is a personal gain to be had from you entering the competitions. Logically, enter. Logically enter both projected and print. As for the self imposed quality issue then I would point you to the observation that, even in the Olympic 100 meter sprint final, every athlete is not running against the other athletes because they cannot maximise their own performance against them and run their own race. The things that they can control are the things that are in their own race i.e. they are all running against themselves and their own limitations. Same for us in club competitions. And you don’t have to be a “photographer” to contribute to photography, anymore than you need to be a writer to contribute to the essay form. You just need to plan, do and review to get better.
There are a number of questions that might arise surrounding prints, and the first one is, “What size file does it take to make a good photographic print?”. For Reflex CC competitions the mounting card dimensions are exactly 50 x 40 centimetres (roughly 20″ x 16″) and the image can be any size up to that. The decision is yours. The competition form has to be filled in as with a projected image + a digital copy of the image also has to be submitted. This latter part helps with the blog when publishing results and the catalogue I have done with the last couple of rounds and will continue to do as long as its viable. Rather pointless having an empty space where a winning entry should be. So back to the size of the file. If you have bought a digital camera in, roughly, the last 10 years, you should be OK. KPC say that the jpegs they use are to be 305 PPI (pixels per inch) and you can do this through image scaling software (Photoshop will do it, ditto Paint.Net so will GIMP)
Part of the problem I have with the print section of the competition, I admit, is that it is more difficult to see and remember what is which when it comes to the feedback. The big, vibrant projected image is a different experience to the more tactile, focussed print. I sit at the back of the room, I know, but that is so I can use the light to write my notes. This rather puts me at a disadvantage as compared to the projected images, given that the optimum viewing distance is usually given as a 1.5 or 2 x multiple of the diagonal of an image – making a 16 x 12’s prints optimum between 30 and 40 inches (76 to 101 centimetres), though time can be spent walking around, looking at the prints close up. Therein lies a very important point. The relationship between the viewer and the image is different in a print than it is in a projected image, we react differently to it. It isn’t just a question about which is better, because the answer depends upon the context you are viewing it in. The photo-marathon was as much about moving around for the viewing as it was in the taking. The Interaction was different. Broaden your experience and double your chances of constructive feedback by entering both parts of the competition next season and keep practicing by entering the Flickr competition until then. Maybe we need a Flickr evening?
As an evening a very successful AGM. This is a vibrant and happy club to belong to, made so by its members. Yes we need to expand our competition base but that is something we can all contribute to. I look forward to the rest of the year.
NEXT MEETING – Practical, bring your camera and as it is product shot time, feel free to bring a tripod if you have one and anything interesting you want to photograph. Very successful last time, you will probably have some competition entries among these!
Thanks to Julie for this: