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.
2017-2018 Season Round One of the Open Competition (DPI) was an evening of considerable variety. The prints will be judged next session. Congratulations to Wendy Goodchild for her winning entry and thanks to our judges, multiple award winning husband and wife team Peter Brisley and Sue O’Connell, who are back next session to judge the prints. We have had to split the judging for this round because of the volume of DPI’s in particular, but the number of print entries, gratifyingly, is also up. Our thanks to our judges for being so accommodating.
What was striking was the variety of subjects and styles on display. This we can take as a good thing because we get to see other people’s interpretations of subjects we have almost certainly chanced our arms at in the past. There is also an advantage, not immediately obvious, in watching our and fellow club members progress over the course of a season. Thinking about what we do is an important part of developing our art. There is a difference between someone who has taken 10,000 photographs and learned from their mistakes and someone who has taken one set of mistakes and repeated them 10,000 times (with several, increasingly expensive, kit upgrades in the interim, no doubt). There is a difference between a photographer and a-bloke-with-a -camera after all. Well, most of the time, if not for everyone and increasingly for next-to-no-money whatsoever.
Yet we cannot get anywhere meaningful without the effort. There really aren’t “bad” cameras anymore. Ditto lenses. This rather points to the photographer as the weak link in the chain. At some point we want to be more than just the button pusher. Creativity requires effort and lots and lots and lots of practice. Not a blinding revelation and not the first time it has been mentioned on this blog, but certainly it is a truth of learning. Anything we learn pretty much follows that pattern. We know this so why not use it?
Critique, like we get in competition rounds, but not exclusively restricted to that, is a good source of fuel for our development. Structured in its delivery and used as a starting point, or rather a restarting point, if we were to take that image and again and apply the observations we have been given, would the image be more effective at relaying its story?
Like or dislike of an image is natural and almost instant. When sorting through a large number of images for editing or weeding a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t hold your attention for two seconds (or more) bin it. Critiquing requires we go beyond the immediate reaction. Even the most experienced of judges can suffer a failure to understand. A good judge will be honest about this – and we are also our own judges so I am not just talking about club photo competitions – and give us a reason or set of reasons why not. But it will be structured and it will provide information we can consider the next time we have the camera out. The key is the word because. This is, absolutely, the key.
For sure critique needs a framework to be meaningful and for sure it is subjective, but there is no one method, and every time we look at it we take a slightly different path to reflect this. This might give the impression that it is not very effective. Yet no artist ever develops without nurturing one. The same way as having a purpose in taking the pictures we want rather than the pictures that present (that’s not to say we shouldn’t be open to the unexpected) is part of the same process.
Look at the opportunities the club presents. Practicals for sure, are pretty obvious. Ditto the competition rounds. Speakers are a chance to get ideas from, to look for alternatives and also to interact with the material presented, to say I like that because … or I don’t like that because … I would alter that … I will try that … how did they do … Whatever else, you cannot beat a bit of deliberate action.
And take lots of pictures.
And look at lots of pictures. There are plenty of sites on the web to give us ideas. Flickr, 500px and other general sites to more specific and curated ones, like the Magnum Agency and the stock photo sites like iStock or Shutterstock, or social media groups like those to be found on Facebook or sites like Instagram. Look, but look critically.