Since last post we have been end of year social and we have had the last of the competition rounds – the trophy rounds. One more speaker at the school and then we are off photographing (weather dependent hence some of the apparent repetition, see website closer to each date):
- Bath (18th July)
- Colliters Brook Farm American Car Evening (24th July – yes, on a Wednesday night) OR Weston bike night on 25th (see club website closer to the day)
- Portishead Marina on 1st August
- Colliters Brook 7th August
- Bristol Harbourside 15th August
- Weston Bike Night 22nd August (or Colliters Brook on the 21st, inverse of above)
- Weston Classic Car Show 27th or Old Severn Bridge walk over 29th.
Bit automotive heavy but that’s driven (pardon the pun) by what is on those nights or thereabouts and are travel friendly to hereabouts.
The competition rounds are always provocations to thinking about our own photography, from what we would have done given the subjects and compositions of others to, maybe, emulating or doing similar stuff of our own choosing.
Congratulations to the winners (see website and Facebook for details).
Speakers nights also do this for us, at least the ones that are about what we can do within our budgets and don’t involve paddling up the Orinoco River on a leaky bamboo raft. Somehow Brislington Brook doesn’t seem to quite compete on those terms, though the wild life can be occasionally challenging.
Being evening shoots on our road trips, the sun will be low and as the weeks roll by softer, earlier. This is, of course, a time of day preferred by many – especially those with a love of the Golden Hour and an aversion to getting up at the crack of dawn. Just polling up and picking off the beauties of nature’s bounty as they present is one way of doing it, but a little pre-consideration goes a long way.
As the sun sets and the golden hour gives way to the blue (or precedes it as sunrise) there will be more and different opportunities, crowd blurs, light trails, bokeh heavy street scenes and so on. There is something special about an indigo sky – it last but a few minutes – but there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of whilst the blue hour lasts and again being ahead of the game helps.
The blue is a function of the sun being below the horizon, either going down or coming up and the wavelengths of light. It is deeper, richer than the blue of the day. The blue of the morning tends to last shorter than the blue of the evening, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.
One thing that we will find is that the longer our exposure then the longer the image will take to write to the card, usually the equivalent of the exposure – I have known it longer. This time can be limited by going into our camera’s menu’s and turning the in camera noise reduction off.
It also presents a great opportunity to experiment with blur as I mentioned above. This can be in the clouds, in water, in light trails of passing vehicles, or even passing pedestrians. By necessity the lower light levels, combined with lower ISO’s to get the best quality and also a movement effect in a still medium, will mean longer exposure times.
A variation of this interesting effect can be had by using a flash gun but setting our camera/flash synch to second or rear curtain. This especially when you are using a longer exposure and it can be done outdoors or in. Both moving and still elements combine, isolating the lonely figure in the crowd, for instance, or recording a brief history of movement and expression.
Do remember to set it back to front or first curtain though, or subsequent shots will be effected and we don’t always hit on the reasons when it’s been a time between flash sessions.
Multiple exposures, taken to put together an HDR or High Dynamic Range image in post production, are also an option in the blue hour. These are especially relevant when there are areas of light and dark that are not normally rendered in a single image being outside of that particular sensor’s ability to impress data at those extremes.
Now there are pros and cons to using HDR software as opposed to techniques like exposure blending (basically using luminosity masks) but that is for another day. This is just a heads up on the fact that we are not just limited to what we compose in camera. There are enhancement opportunities at a very particular time of day.
A tripod is the order of the day, though not always required, it will get you the sharpest results. A shutter release or timer setting on the shutter is also an idea to reduce shake and keep images sharp.
Lenses should be set to manual once you have focus and don’t be afraid to indulge in long exposures. Smaller apertures are good for keeping the shutter open longer and producing more depth of field. F16 and smaller will also get you a star effect on street lamps and alike.
White balance is a matter of choice but if shooting RAW you can change the white balance easy enough so just leave it in auto. ISO, start at your lowest and experiment. Blue hour can get some really interesting shots so don’t be afraid of experimentation – it will pay dividends!
Round 2 of the ROC and again a wide variety of images for our replacement judge, Adrian Herring, to weigh up. An enjoyable evening and some names beginning to filter through we haven’t seen for a while.
So, what is the value of judging to the entrants? The competitive element aside, and that is more of a spur to some than others, there is a considered viewpoint about merits, demerits and options not taken. It is a photographers view, more succinctly, another photographer’s view.
Our photographs have many potential audiences. Some of those audiences mean more to us than others, though we should be dismissive of none of them. Our job, as the artist and as far as we can, is to elicit why that viewer has that opinion. To us “Because” is the most powerful tool in the box.
Now there are some very important rules to apply to this as an exercise. Some people’s opinions will mean more to us than others, and the ability to maintain perspective given those sources is important. If every negative comment lands as a blow and every positive one brushed away then we are setting ourselves up for a bad experience all round.
It is about the work not the photographer. The outcome is one thing, win/loose is the short term, growth, choosing to take the opportunity to learn, makes getting stuck less likely.
Balance is crucial. The one thing that you can say about the judging within the club, within the WCPF, is that the feedback is impartial. Yes it is going to reflect the judges tastes, but never yet has there been a lack of reasoning (in my experience). That reasoning is the wheat in the chaff.
What went right is as important as what went wrong.
The judge’s job is to make decisions on the entered images, but, also to expand on this and grow it into an interpretation of those images. Constructive criticism. They tell us what they see. Their general purpose is to enrich our understanding of the work in front of us. In doing so they will create points of agreement and dissension. And winners and losers are appointed accordingly.
But we can critique (not beat up, please note) ourselves. There isn’t one model but it helps if we adopt the same model each time, the same basic questions. We have talked before of this in relation to developing a style, but it is a general skills developmental tool in a broader sense.
This is better yet if we commit it to a journal or scrap book of images that attract us and why, of techniques, looks and resources. Yes, YouTube has many excellent videos, but finding them again can be easier said than done and it necessarily makes us passive by taking the time to watch the videos and more so if we then don’t go and try it.
Competitions such as the ROC are a chance to look at other peoples photography critically. We shouldn’t wait till then to do that. We live in a visually oriented world, so much so that it is too easy to let the everyday opportunities pass by. Flickr, 500PX, Instagram and other sites dedicated to users photography are an easily accessible source of images at all levels.
And if we go to these sort of sites with a critical but open mind it becomes an enjoyable way of getting our own thoughts ordered and in finding new ideas and things to try. Similarly in looking for the works of acknowledged masters of the craft we can use our critical framework to get our own insights from their work.
It all helps us see the photograph we want before we take that photograph. Visualisation, as it is called. Where we reach that point where the “Camera is a tool for learning to see without a camera” (Dorothea Lange). It is based, I would argue, in knowing how the pieces are going to fit in the frame.
And that can only come through a conscious regime of planning, doing and reviewing. That isn’t a recipe for doing the same thing to death, it’s an invitation to learn how to do things well. It is also an opening to learn from others. That is why it is a good thing to enter club competitions, whatever you think your level is. Because ….. well, only your photographs can answer that.
If you have been following this series you will by now have generated a good few images. Some will strike you as being better than others for reasons that are obvious and not so obvious. This session we are going to look at a, but by no means the, system we can use to level the playing field in terms of how we come to those conclusions.
For this you will need, pen, paper, a selection of your images and written answers to the following questions:
Where does my eye rest (which part has greatest visual weight)?
Are their any distractions? (List them if so).
Is the exposure correct? (Too light? Too Dark? Spot on?)
Would a different crop make it a stronger picture? (What should be left in/out?)
What is the effect of the background? (Supports the picture/too crowded or busy how?)
How does the depth of field effect the picture?
How are things arranged? (How effective is the composition and why?)
Is the colour accurate and what effect does this have?
Is the image a cliché (Why? What about it makes it so?)
What is your overall impression (a summary of all the above points with reasons)
This is an exercise you should do on your own and other peoples work. Keeping a record helps us to see patterns emerging – the first inklings of our style – and it forms a basis that stretches across genres. Do it with another photographer and a non photographer and compare the outcomes.
Reflex Open Competition Round 4 last meeting and congratulations to the award winners and I hope everyone took something away from the evening. Our judge was Roger Mallinson, the man to go to if you want to know about making audio visual presentations and a returnee to judge at Reflex and many thanks to him for his time and effort. As usual the winners will appear on the club website in due course.
“There is no special way a photograph should look“ – Garry Winogrand.
Even a themed competition will tell you that and whereas there are things that work as a general rule, the tools of composition, and sharpness, as we have quoted before, is a “Bourgeoise concept” (maybe). It does rather make you wonder what club competitions are for.
Well the first two clues are in the name club competition. It is about members of the club, first and foremost. Members having a framework into which they can receive feedback. And it is about competition, that is to say a test of skill and ability against other like minded individuals. They coexist but, depending on our choices and personalities, one side will be more important than the other. Recognition is both a middle point and the backbone that connects the two extremes.
If no two pictures are the same how do we differentiate between two pictures on merit? The tools of composition give us a clue, more particularly how they are used and abused, but there is no one accepted system, though some sort of system is required to be consistent.
No two judges are the same and that is a good thing. All our judges are fellow photographers and have their own development route. OK we have all sat there and thought, on occasion, what are they on and where do I get some? when our carefully crafted images totally fail to convey their message. The fault does not lie with the viewer. It is still a good thing if that failure comes with an explanation. Better yet one that we can apply to the next similar situation.
If we don’t fail, at least occasionally, and have an inkling of why we fail then we will not learn. It all comes back to that word “Because”. There is no way a photograph should look. There are individual tastes and opinions and that will apply to any judge the same as to the rest of us.
Lets come back to that idea of sharpness and its evil twin blur as one example. Generally, when looking at a photograph, one of the first things that strike us is can we see it clearly. It is important because I, for one, can see blurry things just by taking my glasses off. Rather like a number of my fellow club members, I paid rather a lot of money specifically to do the opposite and see things in focus. Focus is a thing and having something sharp within our depth of focus is generally desirable.
If there was a single way of producing an acceptable image all images must either be all in or all out of focus. We would then be free to challenge this convention or rule in the pursuit of artistic interpretation. Hold on. Wait one. That’s exacly what we do on occasion. It is one of the most popular nights we have for practicals on the calendar. It’s called light-painting.
Blur can be creative when it is deliberate and controlled (or we can pass it off as that). We generally differentiate blur from focus as one is produced by movement and one by mechanical physics. Ultra wide and expensive prime lenses producing very limited acceptable focus and blury (often sold as dreamy) backgrounds are all the rage. Bokeh is a thing too and now deemed as a selling point in a lens. Figure to ground is an established art principle of grouping things together visually (visited recently in our tour around Gestalt theory) where the subject is seperated from but relational to the background (and or foreground).
Creative blur is an accepted technique. That is it is deliberate and measured in its application to a suitable subject. The idea of photo-dynamism is over a century old and is linked to a wider art movement known as Italian Futurism, though photography was initially rejected by the Futurists for being static.
It has several variants we might use. First up we have the deliberate de-focusing effect. Bokeh originated from this in Japan and became a form all of its own but was always an incidental to taking photographs with points of light in the background. Defocusing works best in colour, with large blocks of identifiable shapes such as flowers, people, painted walls etc. It also works well when shooting against a bright background. Where to stop defocusing is a personal call, again there is no fixed point, but it’s fun to do.
Next up we have panning. We talked last week about taking panoramas, basically a linked series of photographs of something from a fixed point that usually extends beyond the horizontal field of focus of our lenses regardless of there orientation. This uses the same movement idea but within the same period of exposure. By necessity this involves longer shutter speeds but doesn’t have to be on a tripod,.though a pair of steady hands is useful. Keeping the focus and speed in synch on the subject is one option, but the other is to slowly follow the subject through keeping it identifiable but blurred.
Thirdly we have the deliberate shake of the camera during the exposure, up and down or left to right. This doesn’t have to be violent to give an effect but it is best if slightly exaggerated. A fourth variation is to rotate the camera during the exposure around a fixed point.
So five variations that we can try and combine into a little project and maybe use to generate entries in the next round of ROC.
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.
Last meeting was our annual thumbing of the collective nose to Cartier-Bresson’s fear of the contrived, the Creative Round. In that all of photography, from one point of view, is contrived, we can take comfort in a Sontagian view that Photography is a “Promiscuous way of seeing” and here are we. It is also another way to open the arguments between the Get-it-right-in-the-camera-ista’s and Ye-accolytes-of-photoshop, but we won’t.
Congratulations to the winners, (Check out the Facebook page or the website) this in some ways is the hardest round of all to to enter, not least because the definition of what we mean by creative is quite fluid. It stems from an original thought or vision. This gives us less chance to take the image we want by accident, the surrealist streak in photography if you will, as it tends to involve a lot of planning and preparation. The flip side of this is that the deliberation it involves is good for us in all the other forms of photography, because it is a productive habit.
“A skilful photographer can photograph anything well” according to John Szarkowski. So that doesn’t mean just slapping on a filter over an existing photograph and calling it creative, though there is nothing to say that you cannot. Passing a superficial inspection is one thing but the photographs that hold the attention are rarely going to be constructed that way. Skill in photography is as much about practice and deliberation and attitude as it is in any other form. The trick for the hobbyist is not to make it a burden, but to enjoy and enjoy learning.
It’s why having a theme works for our development. Yes it is fun (for us, the rest of the family can feel a little left out) to take a camera everywhere and photograph what takes our fancy or arrests our attention, but when we narrow ourselves down we concentrate on looking, and looking for associations with this idea, which we are using to organise our output. A photograph.
It brings us back to that deliberate frame of mind again. This is also something that helps when we feel that we have plateaued in our development. It can be frustrating to not quite get what we visualised, but also it can be the brain’s way of telling us time to try something different. To create a random element in that, basically to set the challenge, use the theme link above and use this preset random number generator to pick a topic from those 328 themes; get a camera; your least used lens or least used camera even, and get right on it.
There is something to be said in rekindling the simple pleasure of just taking a photograph in a spare five minutes. It can be as simple as arranging things to hand on a desk or a table and practising the basics of composition, because nowhere is boring when you have a camera in your hand.
To give a couple of examples:
Whilst waiting for the potatos to boil I took about four frames of a satsuma and a couple of apples, altered saturation and played a bit with curves and made them presentable if not earth shattering images. Of course, if I wanted to become rich I should have taken photographs of the spuds.
Waiting for a relative to get ready I was struck by the incidental arrangement of my Works ID badge and glasses on a side table. Nudged things around very slightly, took it, cropped it square, painted a bit of blur on it. Quite like it. Doubt I will see it hanging in the Royal Society of Arts any time soon, but hey, I got a small sense of achievement out of it.
Same occasion at the other end of the trip, I was waiting in a coffee shop and set myself the challenge of getting the branded coffee cup and the illuminated sign in the window. A bit of cup shuffling, bit of Dutching (avidly watching all those 60’s Batman shows as a kid finally paying off), applied a saturated, bluish, filter to tone down the harsh lighting, job done. No need to buy a new dickie bow for any award ceremony on its account, but that’s fine. I had observed, visualised, framed, captured and post processed in under two minutes, made a photograph that gave me a small sense of having done something, enjoyed doing it and the result. All this by taking a camera to (some) things that make you go Hmmm.
All these were shot and processed and uploaded to Flickr via my decidedly mid-range mobile phone, which has three times as many pixels as my first digital camera had, two very capable editing apps and a link to the internet, all in something that fits in the palm of my hand. The fact is, for a very high percentage of the day I have access to a camera. Yes I prefer to shoot with my camera body and detachable lenses, yes I can potentially do more with it, but the equipment isn’t the point, making the image is. And no one knows what camera was used and very few actually care.
Restriction is as much an opportunity as a wealth of opportunity. This can be shooting with a different lens or one you don’t use very often, a different camera (including your phone camera if you don’t use it very often) close ups (not necessarily macro), wide angles (making sure to include something in the foreground) there are plenty of variations. A simple one is to deliberately frame a portrait and a landscape version of the same image, being careful to compose the best image in each.
As we gave him the first word we will give him the last, in the interests of symmetry, a noble subject for an image. Henri Cartier-Bresson said of taking a photograph that the thinking should be done before and after the taking of a photograph. Make that gap your Zen Moment. Take that time just to enjoy being a photographer.
We have had Round 4 of the ROC (see website for results) and a presentation by the Dream Team which both show what you can do with a bit of application – and a lot of planning. So, is there a magic formula to improving as a photographer?
The simple answer is “No”. Anybody trying to sell you an alternative is peddling snake oil and the likelihood of success is about the same, though that wouldn’t stop them claiming any advances as proof positive.
The “Through hard work” answer is a partial truth, there is no denying that application is part of it, but a Protestant Work Ethic alone isn’t going to affect the desired outcome. After all if you just do what you have always done, you are going to get what you have always got, as someone, maybe Henry Ford, or was it Mark Twain? Could have been Albert Einstein, or somebody else, once said. And there is truth in it. But not the whole truth.
Direction comes into it. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else”. That was Yogi Berra, and yes we’ve used it before. Direction and hard work, we are starting to get somewhere. The right direction and hard work. The work might be hard but it doesn’t have to be unenjoyable. Rewarding, directed, hard work. The reward and how hard we work for it are linked are for sure. Nothing quite gives us a lift as an image that comes out as we saw it.
None of this, otherwise sound, advice gives us a point to start from. Again there is an obvious but not very helpful answer to this. We can only start from where we are. “I wouldn’t be starting from here” said the eponymous Irishman when asked for directions, and I know what he meant. The first job, then, is to decide where we are.
And this involves looking, but looking with a purpose, looking critically at what we are doing and finding some photographers whose work we admire and practising (here’s a start if you need one, but it is just a start) what we like in their photo’s. Join sites like Flickr (the club has its own page, put some contributions up) or 500px where you can build galleries of your own favourites and try doing your own versions of them. Keep experimenting around a theme and you will start to see some improvements as long as you apply a critical eye to the results.
If we want a starting point then we could do worse than take Robert Capa’s dictum that “If your photograph isn’t good enough then you aren’t close enough”. A photograph tells one story well and cropping in on the essential detail leaves less room for confusion. It doesn’t matter whether you zoom with your lens or zoom with your feet (there are differences but they are subtle, real but not really for today’s argument, and all to do with perspective) but it can have an effect, will have an effect.
We are aiming to tell a story with a single detail. When we are looking at our scene through our viewfinder our mission is to find the detail that makes a difference. That can be a look, the curve of a line, the repetition of pattern, a contrast in colours, or something else. There will have been a something though, and that something is the thing that caught our attention. This is when working the scene comes into its own. This works whether we set out to take a particular picture or are just wandering through the landscape looking for inspiration. Once we find the something, the key, we can use it to unlock the potential in something that has taken our attention.
Or as Aristotle sort of put it, we start seeing when we stop looking. Technically it is known as Inattentional Blindness, and happens when we exceed the processing speed and capacity of our brains. We can use this to our own advantage by letting go of putting everything into context and just following the things that catch our attention (paying due consideration to our own and others Health and Safety of course). Basically our brain is trying to tell us something, so shut up and listen.
And the best camera settings for that? Three options. The camera decides, you decide or something in the middle. Most photographers go for something in the middle. Essentially we are playing with the exposure triangle and the notion that the best that our camera will produce is a combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO according to the prevailing light conditions. You deciding is full manual. This is a preference, rarely a necessity, but it is worth learning because it teaches you about how your camera captures light and the worth of capturing light and shadow.
The other two options are let the camera decide, “P” or “Auto”, or something in between, shutter priority, aperture priority, exposure compensation. Full on auto will get you an acceptable picture most of the time, after all camera companies spend an awful lot of money on researching these things and writing algorithms to match. But it can be fooled. The in between range from scene selection where you alter the elements of the exposure triangle by selecting the symbol closest to the conditions you are shooting in, to setting the importance of the aperture or shutter relative to the ISO you are using. Control is what you are opting for or out of in various degrees. Most “Serious” photographers seem to shoot in aperture priority if that is any guide because that gives the most direct control over depth of field without having to fiddle with the other two sides of the triangle.
There is no right side, there are preferred sides there are sides that make certain situations easier. The fact is that, as a hobby, we have the luxury of having the time to play, experiment and fail a lot on our way to getting better. Joining a Photography club or an active photography interest group is part of that.
N E X T M E E T I N G
1st June 2017 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Sue Winkworth: “On The Road To Mandalay.”
(Deadline for John Hankin and Stan Scantlebury shield entries)
Slight change this week. We are introducing an occasional feature of blog postings from members, which though they will go through myself as editor are their own reflections on the art and how they go about it. To kick this off we have Alison Davies talking about her winning ways with national photography competitions. Copyright text and Photo’s Alison Davies, please respect that.
So, Alison, over to you …..
External Competition – Have a Go?
Seeing as I have been invited to do a guest blog on any subject, I thought it might be of interest to fellow club members to write a little about entering external photograph competitions. I am not talking salons and prestigious photography competitions for amateurs and professionals which are usually known by a series of letters, BPWA, TPOTY etc., I did look at these once but I really don’t the like thought of paying to enter.
I find external competitions to be very different to that of club competitions, far less stress involved, simply upload a photo to a website and forget it, as long as you have taken all of the terms and conditions into account – but more about that in a bit. They could be in magazines, newspapers, displayed in public buildings, on leaflets and online.
Of course, with an external competition you don’t get to see the panel reviewing images, their likes, dislikes, what’s good, what’s bad and often they will be selecting images from a commercial angle, but not always. I for one although having many years entering club competitions, can honestly say I am still uncomfortable sitting whilst a judge praises or gives a damning report on my efforts. I think that’s why, I am easier with entering online competitions and in doing so, I am entering photos I regard as fitting the bill of the brief or images I am happy with, in the knowledge that I won’t be pulled up publicly for a bit of burn out (sometimes it’s intentional), or not obeying the rule of thirds (some subjects are so strong they just have to be placed central) or other such critique which I will be aware of in advance but chose to display my image that particular way, as quite simply, I like it like that. Incidentally, no criticism of most judges intended, they have a job to do and we have all learned from the good ones in the past, however there are a few doing the rounds who in my opinion, should stay at home.
It’s pretty widely known, I have 2 dogs, Otis and Bazil, who are very much adored and it’s fair to say I spend lots of hours out with them in some very beautiful places. This is a win, win, situation for me due to my love of being outdoors and seeing my dogs enjoying themselves running, swimming and more often than not, getting mucked up – ‘the mucked’ up has proved advantageous in competitions.
Probably the same as most of you, when I am out, I always have a camera to hand and something that truly excites me is getting to see every season and what it brings. Each year I look forward to snowdrops, followed by the wild primroses, then bluebells. Shortly after I am eagerly awaiting the lighter evenings when I can once again walk in wild flower meadows, where if I didn’t have the dogs with me, would be a great opportunity to photograph butterflies, birds and insects. I have long given up on little creatures now, so many times with camera perfectly aligned ready to snap, one of the dogs comes bounding over and winged thing takes off! So cut a long story short, I have quite an extensive stock of photos of nature, wild flowers, trees and of course dogs – but a slim range of insects and birds.
My first competitions wins were very surprising, I never entered expecting to win anything, a friend said, “Here’s a competition you should enter”, so I did. The Orivs company runs a competition to find an image for their Dog Book cover each year, and I won with a photo of Otis. This was really exciting as Orvis told me they have a huge amount of entries and the photo was on their catalogues in UK and the US – my little Otis was their cover dog for 2014. The prize was a £500 Orvis voucher.
The same year, I came runner up with 2 photos in the top 10 in a Crufts photo competition with one of their main sponsors winning a camera phone but much to my horror had to attend a prize giving with celebrity and press (not that I knew who the celebrity was). The following year, I was runner up again with an image in the Crufts competition and with another dog company for another. It is a great feeling to see your photos displayed large on light box panels at such a prestigious event. Some of these companies have huge exhibition budgets and really do spend on their display graphics.
Since then I have had an article with photo published in the Crufts magazine, as runner up once again and won in other photo competitions which most of which are dog related, 2 pairs of top of the range boots in separate competitions which I wear all of the time and really wouldn’t have spent that much money on myself. 2 Barbour jackets and bags, really thinking hard about what I have been lucky enough to win. I have won hampers and other dog related products, which I donate to a local dog charity in order to boost their fund raising efforts – nice prizes can mean people attending events will spend more of raffle tickets if there is a decent prize on the table.
During 2015, a photo of Otis and Bazil on a beach won a place in a country style magazine’s calendar for 2016, winning, ‘Pet’s in the Countryside” category, 1 of 12 overall (1 from each category) to get a photo against a month and more prizes.
Then more recently, I got an email saying that I was a runner up in the RSBP calendar competition for 2017. Only a little while after, I had another email saying I was the winner which was totally unexpected as it was a wildlife photo competition, I know that there are some brilliant wildlife photographers about who are very passionate and extremely good, in fact we have some in Reflex. The prize for this one was £500 worth of Canon product, a VCR and a compact, they will shortly send through some other bits of merchandise which will feature my photo as they prepare stock for 2017 in their shops. It was lovely to win this competition as I know my photo will be working for the RSBP to make money for their charity on calendars and merchandise.
The RSPB leads me on to a few hints and tips to hopefully get some of you looking out for competitions and submitting some entries. My first tip would be to imagine you are back at school entering your exams, read the rules and terms and conditions, then read them again. If you don’t take on board exactly what they are requesting, that’s your photo binned before it’s got anywhere. It could be orientation, size – anything and everything.
Next, I would say, remove club competitions from your head completely, take time to think about the brief and think what it means to you. Remember, think about the company or charity and what it represents and make a photo choice to complement this. Think more commercially, what type of photo represents the brief and would it look good advertising their product? Does it have a wide appeal?
Now for the really important part, within the terms and conditions, there will be text stating what the company will / can do with your image. Careful, as this (and here’s the really cheeky part) can mean that it doesn’t matter if you have an image placed or not, by entering a photo, you are agreeing to the company using that photo for anything they choose, having automatic rights (and sometimes editing) and reproducing without credit to the photographer. They usually state an amount of time, for example a 3 year period. Not all companies do this but some do, therefore it is really important before you hand over your work that you know what you are signing up to. Often it is asked that the photos you enter are exclusive and not entered into any other competition or have not won other competitions. Bear this in mind if you can enter 3, this may exclude you from entering them into another better competition which comes up later!
It can be said that this is a cheap way of companies gaining extra advertising and cheap images although if you win, some prizes can be quite high value and of course it’s fun. I try and weigh up if I submit an image, it’s worth it – would I want this photo for anything else in the future? Most of us have stacks of images just sitting on hard drives, so often giving it over isn’t overly important, but think about it first.
Watch out for photo thieves too, upload images (unless otherwise instructed) as small as you can get away with, ensuring the screen version still looks good – unless the rules stipulate a set size.
Competitions which offer good prizes can specify professional photographers are not permitted to enter, when they do, they will usually offer their interpretation of this so that it is clear. Generally, the ones that I have entered stating that more than half of income/earnings must not come from photography, but this is individual to each competition.
Keep a file with your entries in, something I now do, earlier in the year I was contacted as a runner up and asked for a large file, all a bit embarrassing as I really didn’t know what photo I had entered and had to ask! This also stops you entering the same photo in different competitions, which is fine once the competition has ended and you have not been placed (subject to T & C’s mentioned above).
Finally, If you enter and at a later stage receive an email stating you are a runner up and requesting the large size image prior to the final judging, in my experience, it’s good news.
I hope this has inspired some of you to have a go, it’s fun, free and couldn’t be easier these days being able to upload online.
To start you off, there should be a category of interest for most people in the club, why not try this one, it was the competition I got a placed in with the photo of my dogs on the beach 2016. I have already entered for 2017, but there is still time to get some photos in and look at that lovely prize.
OK, so I am going to be honest, I am quite shallow regarding this, I don’t do it for the recognition, I really hate presentations and getting up in front of people – I am in it for the love of the prizes but of course it is very nice to be told you photo is valued.
©Alison Davies 17.6.2016
Thanks Alison that was really very illuminating. If you are willing to give the blog a go contact me at the meeting, I am almost always to be found there.
N E X T M E E T I N G
23 June 2016 19:30 Speaker: Peter Phillips: “A Photographic Journey” From Image Scientist to Photographer