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.
Two evenings to get into this weeks blog, member Andro Andrejevic took us on journey through his development as a photographer over the last couple of years and a welcome return for the Wriggly Road Show, for a fascinating hands on meeting.
As well as the club, Andro also belongs to the Dream Team photographers collective, and cited both as playing a roll in his continuing development. The value of having a team and fellow photographers to bounce ideas off (as well as light) has a value and effect of it’s own.
Certainly it was good to see that on the evening of the Wriggly Roadshow club members were interacting not only with the animals (and not just as subjects of a photograph) but with each other. Again, and talking to some of the other members who told me as much, the interaction of ideas and experience proved a strong point of the evening.
But there is one question that arises when we are all taking pictures of the same subject, how do we make ours stand out? This is a question that has broader implications. Somebody decided, on a pretty arbitrary basis I suspect, that the world has 2.6 billion photographers in it based on the number of smart phone users. Now that is a loose definition of “Photographer” extended to anyone with a camera. I would argue for a narrower one.
A photographer is someone with a device, we will call it a camera, with a notion of what they want the image they are creating to look like. Deliberation rather than intent is the difference. Otherwise we are just a person with a camera. A skill set beyond pointing and shooting is required to be a photographer – and that is what we want to be.
There are still a lot of photographers, though. Put several of us together in front of a common subject and the differences are likely to be quite small. There isn’t a point where a certificate is issued declaring us a compentant photographer. There isn’t a set number of likes on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr that qualifies us thus.
And it is not about the kit we use. Another difference comes from coverting another lens, body, light modifier, whatever and making the most of what we have. Yes there are advantages to that but poor composition doesn’t look any better through Canon L glass than it does through a pinhole punched in tin foil and placed on a camera body cap (with a hole drilled in it).
But given similar skill levels, how do we make a difference?
Assuming we all know to take the photo from the subject’s eye level, avoid distracting backgrounds, get close to the subject so as to fill the frame with it, place the subject off centre and so on aren’t we going to get very similar if not identical images? Yes we are.
Therefore, we need to look for other ways to get that moment. Monochrome? Square crop? Composite? These are, for the most part, post production methods but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make part of the decision making process prior to pressing the shutter. Intent, vision, is a big part of making an image.
As individuals with a photogrpahic bent we are drawn to different things in a scene. We frame it, make part of it the focus of the scene, something that, at some level is unique to us, the time, the place and the subject. This uniqueness, this vision is something, that, as creators, we use as the soul, the spirit, that drew is to the scene in the first place.
To use this as a development tool we need to grow our creativity and creativity grows when we are forced to come up with solutions in the face of very limited resources. Such as shooting – people, animals, buildings, nature, shapes, colours, shadows, you name it – as part of a group.
The group is essentially working the same scene. In attempting to make it different, unique, ours, we have to work the angles, make that scarce, fleeting opportunity ours. If we are looking for one thing it’s the quality of light. Photography is all about the light.
Photography is also about doing and doing is the basis of improving, technically and artistically. More important is doing with a purpose. Get out and take some more pictures – it’s what we bought the camera for after all.
And as we are in a photographic club looking at other peoples work isn’t exactly difficult, but we live in a very visual world and to keep critically looking at the many images that are pushed at us daily requires a small but significant shift from being passive viewers to active, critical ones – I like this because …. that works because …. I would change ….
Revisiting our own work and trying a different crop, a vignette, monochrome, harder contrast, soft blur or any other variation is a variation of this, but gives us a better understanding of how we ourselves work and how we might change.
And last if not exactly least we need to take a few chances, even of they mostly turn out to be “Mistakes” because doing the above means that these mistakes are actually learning opportunities, if we let them be and continuous learning is the best way to develop as a photographer.
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.
That time of year again and we made good use of the 100+ prints in the travelling critique by taking a clue from the title and doing a team critique. Split into four groups we did a round robin to see if the clubs judgements matched the WCPF’s. That there was some correspondence between our groups and the WCPF is suggestive of something, but how much that is fashion and how much is warranty of excellence is always going to be open to debate, which is why the WCPF have their own judging guidelines. By having such guidelines there is a basis for standardisation.
Standardisation produces a number of benefits. It provides a start point from where interpretations can be made and also provides a reference point that can be used on review. With something that has as much variation as photographic images – each one, after all is unique – the technical, basically the exposure triangle plus composition, represent the common variables. No, you cannot overcome people’s visceral likes and dislikes but you can have a common framework and if people are open about their likes and dislikes – and at least attempt to compensate for them – then you have room for an interpretive framework.
By having such an interpretive framework then notions of quality can be established – but only within the terms of the chosen controls. This blur factor is necessary in photography exactly for the reason outlined above. The uniqueness of each image. Replace unique with the term “Art”. Art is an expression, an attempt to, through the application of skill to materials to craft an object that conveys meaning in the estimation of an audience. It’s what we do in our club competitions. That is not going to be the same meaning in every viewer. To legislate for that is to tell people what to think, never a wholly successful enterprise. Thus we look to regulating, mostly, the application of craft and the bigger thing that creates, the art if you like, of the picture.
This rather raises the question of what purposes such art serves, what effect are we trying to create? Broadly, and I do mean broadly, this fits into three categories. The physical, the social and the personal. The physical relates on a scale from something to nothing. A fountain pen has a physical function, writing, but can also be a functioning work of art. Art is not measured by monetary value, as this example might suggest, the amount that someone is willing to pay and why they are willing to pay it is a function of value, present and future, something quite different. Money is just the way of keeping count. I frequently find use for a tea cup, way beyond most people by volume, but never yet a tea cup covered in fur. I have none because I have no use for them, at least the covered in fur part. I may understand, or attempt to understand, the symbolism of such a statement, I may even add one of my own (futility in case you were asking, though I suspect that was part of the original message), it doesn’t mean I am going to become a furrier to my tea service. The sum is greater than its parts.
The social looks to our notions of a shared life, rather like street photography does, or environmental portraiture, or even portraiture itself in some aspects, as opposed to one persons outlook. Think of the work of social photographers like those involved in the Farm Security Administration sponsored documentary of 1930’s Dust Bowl America. It wasn’t just a record for of the resettlement of those dispersed by a man made ecological disaster. It had a political dimension. War photography isn’t just about two militaries engaging in what Von Clausewitz called “The continuation of Politics by other means“. It has news (therefore commercial) value, it has deeply personal meaning for the photographers there, it can be a contact point for those who weren’t, it is about humanity at its opposites of best and worst. Above all it has a collective purpose.
The personal aspect is probably the most like nailing water, because it is subtly different from person to person. However, as hobbyists it is perhaps easiest to generalise that we take photographs – make art – for our own gratification, as matters of self expression, either to share an emotion or feeling or for no particular reason other than we can – or did. Still this has two aspects, what the photographer meant is not necessarily what the viewer sees and that is a good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t employ our curiosity, probably the most successful of human characteristics, which is the same as gets us to come to a camera club to learn and share about our hobby.
Just goes to show what you can do with the exposure triangle and the rules of composition.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Annual General Meeting. Important because without one we don’t have a club, so please attend, members.
Please note that there will not be a meeting at the club next week instead we are away at Backwell for a club camera battle. Said battle commences at 19:30 hours come along and support the club. Details are as per Gerry’s flyer here>>> Backwell Battle.
We were fortunate to have to the WCPF travelling exhibition again with us at the last club meeting, these prints were the ones that didn’t make it to the final cut. It was, as ever, as instructive as it was occasionally puzzling. We also had gold silver and bronze award prints to compare these to and there was much lively discussion about the relative merits. As has been said before, beyond the basic and accepted technicalities of the exposure triangle, focus, composition and subject and competition specific rules lies the more fraught ideas of what makes a good subject and a good image. What follows are some reflections from comments made and brief discussions had on the evening.
There were a couple of things that stood out quite strongly in the negative camp: one was to do with the style of mounting and the other was the overuse of the clarity slider in post production.
Let’s take the mounting issues first. Nothing says that the print has to be bang in the middle with an even border all the way around in order for a printer to be properly presented. Indeed variation can really bring a print to life. There were, and not just in this correspondent’s view, a number of prints that used letterboxing but set them in the top third of the frame in portrait giving undue prominence to the thickness of the bottom border. The effect of this was to immediately draw attention to the frame and distract from the picture because of the depth of the bottom part of the mount. Never in human history has the utterance “Nice frame” been a compliment. It was a shame that the frames swamp out some rather interesting images which were otherwise of very good, certainly club level, competition standard.
The Golden Ratio again rears its head and is supposed to produce the optimum border calculation (I will save you the maths, 6.05 cms on a 40 x 50 mount, for other sizes I direct your attention to the calculator at the bottom of the link). Nothing, though, says that a border has to be the same all round, it is a question of perspective. Think of the hinges on a door. When properly hung the top and bottom hinges are set at different depths from those extremities because we generally view these things from a standing position and if evenly spaced the perspective looks wrong. The bottom hinge is actually set higher so as to create an illusion of even spacing. otherwise it looks “wrong”. The frame of a print can be a powerful statement, but shouldn’t be so powerful as to overwhelm the statement the image itself is supposed to be making.
The clarity slider is a great way to boost mid-tones, or cut them back. It is an invaluable tool. Like everything else it can be overdone. There were a couple of black and white images that had the grit in the mid-tone turned up to eleven. Clarity works by increasing contrast but with a bigger effect on both the highlights and the shadows, essentially pulling out the histogram from the centre. Texture is more refined and certainly there is a case for a higher input when it is in need of a boost, and it does seem to work more effectively in black and white. Move the slider to the left then it has a softening effect (often the chief culprit in the charges of unrealistic portraiture or death by post-production). It’s not just clarity that can be overdone of course, saturation can become garish with very little input in the right (if that is the correct word) circumstances. Vibrance is the smarter sibling of saturation. It will select the dull colours and boost them whilst leaving the vibrant ones alone. It will leave skin tones untouched. Taken as a trio these are very powerful tools but need to be handled with care.
For all that these things are a matter of taste and therefore personal. Judging – and these were the entries that just fell short in the judges view – is as subject to fashion as anything else. HDR, partial colour remain controversial, not least because they are difficult to do subtly. That said, how dull would it be if every photograph was conducted purely to competition standard? I, for one, am glad of the variation.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S.
Next Meeting at Backwell Camera Club
Station Road BACKWELL
Bristol BS48 3QW. Starts 19:30 (7:30 pm).
New feature to the club evenings, last Thursday saw the introduction of Your Picture Your Way where club members brought in pictures they may not otherwise have shared with the club and explained their connections to it. The themes were landscape and street and though the interpretations were broad the insights were interesting.
Landscape photography goes back to the very first photograph, taken by Nicéphore Niépce, and has its roots in classical art whereas Street photography, rather than Street Portraiture which is posed from people in the street, is in the moment and distinctly the product of a photographic process. Only a camera can capture the complex juxtapositions, expressions and emotional connection in a fraction of a second. It is unique, at the moment anyway, to photography and because it is a single slice of time, specifically stills photography. Of course there is the view that street photography was invented by people who couldn’t get up early enough to shoot a sunrise, but we will let that lie.
There are two sides to any photograph, regardless of the genre, namely the artistic and the technical. Landscape can be as much about pre-visualisation as it is about the composition when you get there. It is about nature and the way the elements combine to affect the Earth’s landmass. The way the seasons present and the light falls means that a single view can provide an infinite number of subtleties for the photographer to chose from – or ignore. The elements for the street photographer can be, or at least seem to be, chaotic in the sense that physicists refer to chaos, a complex system of so many parts acting in unpredictable ways that any outcome is as likely as another. Those parts are people acting out their internal and external lives in a common space. The chaos comes from our not knowing how those internal and external lives interact on an individual by individual basis – we may not even be aware of our own balances and motivations – and how they effect those around them emotionally and environmentally. In that sea of uncertainty where we all swim moments of connection arise and those are the moments that the Street Photographer seeks to capture.
No matter how good your grasp of the technical is, if you can’t actually see the picture, frame the picture, compose the picture you can never take the picture. This is simply why a good photographer with a cheap camera gets consistently better results than a mediocre one with the top of the range. There are no qualification barriers to buying expensive kit, of course, nor would I advocate one, but there is no substitute for technique. “Luck” won’t cut it, especially as you tend to make your own as was discussed on an earlier blog on serendipity. Even chaos theory allows that the biggest factor in determining what will happen (an outcome) is the initial set of circumstances from which it springs. Control what you can to discover the art in the rest goes for both Landscape and Street photography.
But not every subject wants their photograph taken and not every landowner wants your feet trampling their daises and not every property owner is delighted to have you take photographs of their property. There are buildings and areas that are off limits to the public and there is a lot of confusion over what you can and cannot take photographs of. Common sense plays a part here but once an image is taken in a public space the only power to legally remove it is via a court order. This is a matter for individual conscience. You should note that laws covering criminal damage, nuisance and anti social behaviour still apply, that access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales (different laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland) is permitted but the above laws govern those activities. Trespass is still an offence. The Official Secrets Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (especially Sections 43 and 58A) are, with a little forethought, quite easily avoided, though it is surprising and not a little depressing the number of times that the Association of Chief Police Officers have had to reissue there guidance over the last decade or so. Censorship is a fact of life, it is a fluid situation, but it need not be onerous, at least in the UK. If abroad, then it is a whole different ball game. Find out and stick to their rules.
So what did we learn from our fellow members photographs? Well I doubt there was a consensus as each of us will have seen slightly different things and taken different things from each image – and thank you for sharing those that did. So a brief list from me from a couple of discussions I had at tea break and at the end of the evening.
From the technique side, don’t be afraid to use the camera on auto for Street if the situation demands it. It is pointless in not getting the shot because you are fiddling with the settings because you always shoot manual (really? In this day and age?) when aperture and shutter priority modes give you almost the same degree of control, more quickly and auto will give you a more than half way decent approximation in most situations, though sticking to just one as opposed to having a range of options does suggest that you have some exploration of your camera to complete (Guilty. My camera sends nearly all its time in aperture priority because the ISO button is handy and the exposure compensation is the next button to it).
Don’t be afraid to try it, either landscape or street. A little planning goes a long way. If you don’t practice it then it won’t get better. Take one aspect at a time and practice it, be that a single focal length, shallow depth of field, high depth of field, low angle, there are many different things to try.
Look around the view finder before you push the shutter, should you reframe? Move your position? Something else?
All round an enjoyable evening. See you Thursday.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: Kingswood Salver table top night – Collectables. Bring your collectables and CAMERAS as we launch our campaign for this years Kingswood Salver.
Don’t be afraid of Critique
You may remember somewhere in the mists of time, well OK not quite that long ago, we started the season with a critique night. We’re about half way through the season now so we thought we’d invite you all to send in some pictures either via Dropbox or email or even by bringing them in on a stick to the meeting and we’d see how you’ve progressed. You should never be afraid of asking someone what they honestly think of your photographs. Remember it’s their point of view and everyone sees things differently. A picture you love, someone else will hate. If you look hard enough you can find a fault in any image but rather than looking at it as a fault why not see it as a suggestion on how you could improve the photo. The same goes for seeing the good parts of an image, unless of course its selective colour (anyone who creates them needs to seek psychiatric help immediately to avoid permanent brain damage) then you should just hit delete or burn it if its a print! Anyway back to being serious. Bring in some images, let everyone look at them and get some constructive comments on how you might improve your images. Don’t bring in your best most amazing pictures. Instead bring in the ones that you think don’t quite work but your not exactly sure why. Those are the ones you’ll learn from.