Club and committee member Myk Garton took us through fifteen years of photography last meeting, showing a wide variety of subjects and a definite progression as experience grew. Digitally a Fuji shooter from day one Myk started with an Instamatic, which many of the audience could certainly identify with.
Currently showing nearly 27,000 photographs on Flickr, Myk has had images adopted by local festivals, publications and alike and had a successful exhibition at the Totterdown Canteen last year and has organised one there for this for the club next month. He is also leader of the programme group for the club.
A lot of us, including the club, use Flickr, of course, which has suffered in terms of development from the decline of Yahoo, and is now with its fourth owner the American photo company SmugMug. SmugMug is a pay-to-use photo-sharing website and image hosting service which allows users to upload both HD photos and videos, so whether or how long the 1TB Flickr option is still available is an interesting point – and I only have 5,000 images on it at present. Not entirely sure how long that would take to download one by one.
Myk showed us the value of persistence and repetition in personal development and we have talked before of the value of doing something deliberately, critically, sometimes the same thing differently. We can end up taking the same style of images because that is what we do. It carries with it the threat of becoming stale, static, uninspired. What we need to do is to keep moving and that requires photography aforethought, not post production afterthought. “I’ll fix it in post” is very different from knowing from the outset what we will need to do to an image in post production.
A lot of that comes from knowing our equipment and its limitations. Our preferred manufacturer’s latest megabuck sensor may well be capable of dealing with a fifteen stop dynamic range but in the real world, where some of us live, we have to get by with our five year old sensor that was designed eight years ago and can just about handle plus or minus 3. In RAW. We learn that through taking photographs in different lighting conditions.
Then we learn to bracket and to merge to create our own HDR photographs, and what we need to do to those images to make them acceptable to our tastes. Or we learn to use on camera or off camera flash or continuous lighting to fill the darker areas allowing us to meter for the lighter ones. We learn how to modify the lighting we have to blend in with the image we want to create.
And so we fail. A lot. Fail as in laying a Firm Anchor In Learning. We learn to critique, starting with I like this because …. I don’t like the way this is because …. and we do something about it next time based on that. That way we not only learn our equipment but we develop a style. That style may change over time, either as an evolution or as a deliberate attack on our comfort zones – or both, but it allows us to make the stories we capture our own and to keep on doing so.
The other key, besides persistence, is to look at the works of others with that same critical eye. Our goal is constructive criticism. That can be other club members, exhibitions, magazines, websites, tutorials, talks and other presentations, newspapers, awards, the list is as long as you want to make it, we don’t lack for opportunities and it doesn’t just have to be Ansel Adams for landscapes, Cartier-Bresson for street and David Bailey for fashion. There are plenty of others and it does well to look regularly and above all critically. It is, after all, the images people take that make the mark, not the camera they used.
Variety is also important. This can be in set up, composition, treatment, subject, lens, aperture, shutter speed, lighting conditions, the list is as long as you want to make it. Above all it is about taking images. That is, when all is said and done, why we bought the camera in the first place. We can get a lot more out it with just a little deliberation coupled with a little curiosity. In the digital age we have the capacity to take hundreds more photographs as very little extra unit cost compared to the days of film, but the deliberation that the costly additional frame imposed on us was and is a useful thing.
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)
Philippa Wood AWPF CPAGB AFIAP, ably supported by husband Peter, took us on a tour of the Scillies and the Gower Peninsular as part of their own grand tour this week that took in Preston, Reflex, then moved on to South Wales before culminating in emigrating to Australia on Sunday (our best wishes go with them) – and that only covers the week from Thursday! The theme that stood out for me from Philippa’s presentation was detail, specifically ideas of repetition and rhythm, and I want to investigate this in the blog this week. Think of this as one of those “Making of” features film makers marketing departments flog off to television channels, where we have been charged with getting the picture that encapsulates a 90 minute film over which they can run the end credits and use as a film poster.
Our brief from the art director tells us that we will have to get all our elements together so that they are governed by a rule of composition, either balanced within our frame to create harmony or unbalanced to create tension, but governed by a single point or object more dominant than the rest to give us a fighting chance at capturing a simple, effective strong story. Detail will be the key.
Even using a planetary view, we can’t get everything in. That means that we are going to have to select. Selection is the basis of composition. Last week we talked about the extremes of selection, macro and astro, but even when taking pictures of the Milky Way we are going to have to select foreground and we have to select the correct piece of the sky. The guiding principle of the photograph we want to take is the story that we want it to tell. Lets assume that our metaphorical movie is an action thriller. The rules of composition we have visited many times. They are not the story, they are a means of supporting the story. How we make the picture isn’t as important as what we decide we are going to put in it. Compositional rules help connect with the viewer but they won’t be what the viewer takes away with them from the picture. That is a lot more complicated. We like what we know, we are challenged by what we don’t. The rules of composition are there to entice us, to engage with what we sometimes don’t know and might otherwise reject. It makes it easier for the audience to engage with our photograph when we have decided what the story of that image is – and before we press the shutter. Phillipa’s journey was expressed through her photographs and her illuminating narrative, which included showing some misfires and discussing what made them so.
Let’s approach this from a slightly different angle (always a good idea in photography). Going back to the presentation that Damien Lovegrove gave us last July. At one point he made up a wild story about the life history of one of the models in his shoot (we know it was wild because he admitted that he had made it up in order to illustrate the way we project our own experiences and preferences on a photograph). When he broke the illusion we looked at it in a different, possibly diminished light. His first two rules of taking a photograph are: “Know your shot” and “Make your subject part of the process”. OK the second one makes more immediate sense in portraiture, but could also mean getting down to the right level for that shot of the bee on the flower, picking the key feature that makes that building interesting, or not being timid about tilting the lens down to frame out that non-descript sky “…Because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools” (Ken Rockwell).
Composition, then, is the imposition of rules within a frame of our choosing – basically where we point the business end of our cameras and how much of the viewfinder is taken up with what we are pointing the business end at. Symmetry is very powerful, it indulges our brains cravings for order. 50% of our brains processing capacity goes to making sense of what we can see. 70% of the bodies receptors (things that gather environmental data which the brain processes into assumptions, priorities and actions) are in the eyes. We can make sense of something we see in about a tenth of a second as a result of these two facilities. The brain takes about 250milliseconds to process and attach a meaning to a symbol – that’s why we have road signs not road memos! Colour amplifies meaning greatly in these basic calculations.
This is why, when sorting through your photographs, a very strong guide to the keepers are only those that hold our attention longer than 2 seconds. Be ruthless at this, because we will start to attach meanings to the ones we wanted to” come out better” (aka excuses) and consequently that will add up a whole heap of storage over nothing of real value. It’s like when we were seven and told to clean the rubbish out of our room – everything means something, so what is rubbish? Yes that toy is broken but I don’t want it gone, I can still have fun with it. In fact it is now officially my favourite toy etc etc. Thus, through self-deception is the Devil in the detail and we enslave Photoshop as his instrument.
But we were talking about symmetry. Symmetry we use to alter the meaning of a photograph. Think of a landscape. Where we place the horizon makes that picture about the foreground or the sky depending on where we place the horizon in a photograph. Go to your local church, especially, but not exclusively, one of the old style ones. Look at how the symmetry gives power to the space we are in. It is the same for a cathedral as it is for a parish church, just we are that much smaller in relation to the cathedral sacred space and with that comes a sense of power and structure and order (and your place in it). Look for symmetry to photograph, we will find beauty in it.
Repetition gives us predictability and in a system that has three initial responses to sudden change, flight, fight or, most often, freeze, our brains find repetition comforting, because of the predictability. Rhythm is a little more complex, visually. Rhythm is made up of visual elements that are repeated. Generally, very generally, a low number of repetitions give a photograph a slow rhythm. A high number of repetitions give an image a more intense, faster rhythm. It can be quite a difficult concept to grasp but it is an observable phenomenon. Again colour can have an effect and as club member Adrian Cook showed us back in January, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and converging lines are instrumental in making patterns to give impressions of depth and scale and effect the rhythm of a composition.
Then we come to where put these things in our frame. This is where the concepts of thirds, fifths, sevenths and “Golden ratio” enhance the ideas, the story elements, of our image. It has been said by more than one speaker and by several competition judges that the best photographs tell one story only. We do not start with these for a reason and that would be, quite simply, that if we did there would be no need to take the lens cap off to get a “good” picture as they would all be present in the pitch black. If we start with these then we are making our job that much harder. Start with the detail, the heroine of our action thriller and give her the right setting to keep our viewers enthralled. Have her dominating the situation to give our readers a comfortable feeling of control or out of balance in her situation to create tension for them. Make her the single point of dominance in action or being acted upon but always, always keep the focus on her through her allies and co-conspirators, the rules of composition.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
NEXT MEETING: DO NOT go to the club but meet in Queens Square. Practical session, bring your cameras and be there from around 7pm Thursday 7th May.
DO enter the clubs monthly Flickr competiton, club members also get to vote on their preferences.
Astro, portrait- and macro-photography were the subjects of our meeting this week and our thanks go out to all who contributed and to Richard Price in particular for his introduction to the Astro-photography presentation. Those of you inspired by his talk please note the postings on the club Facebook and Flickr pages for details of the proposed outings. This week’s blog is going to talk about some basics.
The basics of astrophotography are pretty straight forward. Yes you can buy specific cameras for it, Cannon 20DA (well probably not anymore) and 60Da were constructed with modified Infra Red (IR) filters so that other reds close in the spectrum weren’t affected so and thus the images presented are more realistic. No you don’t need to (unless overburdened with cash or taking this very seriously indeed) as long as you have a bulb setting on your camera and a rudimentary grasp of the exposure triangle and access to a Manual mode, you can make a start. Of course patience, a little technique (including in post processing) and a willingness to experiment are also part of the deal as is a tripod, but Richard reckons that a lens around f3.5 or faster and a cable release are the other things you need to get a start. Oh and no phobia’s about post processing. That is going to have to happen, though a relatively modest experience can get you some great results. It helps if you understand layers and masks, which, in essence, isn’t complicated, though the things you can do with them can be. They are not just confined to Photoshop, they can be found in other editors too, such as Gimp. Going as dark as you can, by which I mean as little light pollution as can be found, is also useful, but there are some things you can do in light polluted areas (the darker the cloudless sky the better) Richard particularly concentrated on the Milky Way, though the Moon and a solar eclipse got honourable mentions long the way, as that is the hoped for subject of the photoshoot planned.
Portrait photography is not something we have really touched on in the blog, which, considering its presence in the field of photography is a little surprising, but we have done a lot of stuff around the subject in the club without addressing the specifics directly (by which I mean since I took the blog over). Several members shared their images and experiences and thanks to Gerry in particular for the way he went through the process and reactions to the judge’s comments from the last round of the ROC (gallery pending, should be up in a separate post this week). There is a common misconception that you can’t “do” portraits properly unless you have a studio, enormous lighting rig, make-up and hair stylists and an enormous amount of gear. Whereas there are certainly people out there who would like to believe that, if not just to justify the outlay they have on these things which may not yet see a return in the quality of results, it most definitely is not. Different if it is how you make your living, however, and then it has to be the right gear for the situation.
The basics for portrait photography are the same as any other: a camera; a subject and a light source. As ever, it is how you put these things together that counts. Taking each in turn: The camera is, as ever, the one you have. Yes there are tweaks and options you can generate through the choice of glass on a DSLR or similar, and the white balance and exposure settings, but the basics for composition remain constant. As for subject, you want to do them justice, that means getting the best angle for the person you are shooting. The first accessory you will probably buy is a 5 in 1 reflector. The best accessory you will probably buy is a 5 in 1 reflector. It is a good way of getting the light available to where you need it. There are good reasons for investing in a studio set up (if you have the space) but there are DIY options too which are lighter on the pocket and from which decent results can be made. Learn the basic lighting set ups, get them off pat before moving on to something more advanced. At the centre of portrait photography though, the craft apart, is the relationship between subject and photographer. The better this works the more decent shots are likely, all other things remaining equal. It is as much part of the kit as speed lights, soft boxes or reflectors. It takes work on both sides of the camera for success.
Macro we touched upon in the Ask Reflex post so I will not rehash that, other than encourage you to give it a go if you haven’t and share Tim Cooper’s tip that the background is eveything. So a wide ranging evening with plenty to think about and a big club thank you to everyone who made it possible.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
1. A reminder to join in the clubs monthly Flickr competion.
2. And whilst we are on the subject of Flickr, there is also a club Flickr space dedicated to giving suggestions to member’s photo’s they have posted. A good resource but only if you join in. There are some guidelines on constructive criticism, they are only suggestions but can be adapted. There is an image up there now looking for suggestions.
3. Next meeting we have a guest speaker, Philipa Wood. Get the skinny from Mr Painter here >>> Meeting 30th April 2015
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!
Consider this. In the field of consumer magazines alone, there are around 3,500 titles in the UK market. If the average publication is monthly that means 42,000 issues a year. Take a nice round figure of 100 photo’s an issue – for no better reason than it makes the maths easy but a quick and dirty survey of Issue 5 of the free Photography News suggests not an unfeasible number – that makes 4.2 million photographs published a year. Add in other print media, that is anything that gets published for a general or specific readership on paper, then that figure shoots up enormously. Before we add in the World Wide Web. They have to come from somewhere. Now I am not suggesting that everyone can make a living out of photography – it is a crowded market and as much if not more, a lot more, time goes into getting and organising work as taking photographs. It is a BUSINESS and therefore both technical and competitive – but there are people, picture editors and alike, who spend their working days looking for suitable material. Not all of it is the result of a direct commissioning processes.
Four club members, Myk Garton, Mark Stone, Simon Caplan and Mark OGrady, who have had their work published, took us through some of the how’s and why’s, the cold approaches from picture editors and the direct commissions and showed us some of that work..
Myk was first up and he talked about being approached about work that he had on his Flickr account. The first and foremost point is that if no one can find your photographs then no one is in the position to approach you about using them, for love or money. The key is tagging. I don’t mean running around in a hoodie with a spray can of paint, though the effect is the same in announcing to the world that you were (are) here. Tags are labels giving directions as to content including an image, webpage, blog, file etc. Its technical name is metadata, in the sense we are using more accurately as descriptive metadata. We are going to stick with Flickr because that was the example that Myk, Mark S, Simon and Mark O all referred to but it applies to most sites that you can upload content to that are more serious about your content than simply-monetarising your content for their own purposes – Facebook being a big exception, and also one where you have to very careful because of the license you grant simply by uploading any image to it. Myk underlined the importance of accurate tagging. If Kate Middleton isn’t the subject of the image, then don’t use the tag. It might appear in a lot of searches but when it turns out to be your hamster in a tiara or a picture of your birthday cake it isn’t going to get taken seriously. Most probably. It won’t get a second glance from someone looking for images of HRH visiting locally.
What makes a good tag? If you want to know about a situation there are basically six things that you need to know about it. What, where, who, when, how and why? This is not a bad place to start. What do you see when you are looking at your image, basically what is it a photograph of? Where was it taken? (Myk’s picture in the Angling Times came from that piece of information. Your camera will provide some technical data as a matter of course but even if it is GPS connected a Blagdon Lake tag is more use than 51.337063, -2.703268) Who is in it (if you know, of course)? When can be a time of day, or is the location connected to a specific date or period (Battle of the Somme 1916 for example – as in the Musée de Somme 1916 in Albert, France)? How is usually provided by the camera (Exif data) but might be a description in itself such as bokeh, and the why can either be something like an anniversary, for example Golden Jubilee, or a formal occasion, investiture of the Bishop of Pie. Some or all may be relevant. They should be kept short and you should cover alternatives (World War 1, World War One, WW1, WWI all relate to the same event) . All this helps with the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) about which I shall say no more.
Myk also pointed out the importance of joining and being active in Flickr groups, such as the Reflex Camera Club Group (a hint to those of you yet to join). There are thousands, no tens of thousands. A search on Bristol in groups brought up 4,455 references on Flickr – that is groups, not images. Flickr groups shouldn’t be confused with the sets and groups options where you can – wait for it – organise sets into themed groups – wow! – as they are groups of contributing individuals to themed photo streams. That doesn’t mean you cannot post one image to more than one photostream as each account is treated separately. This gets your work – with its tags, of course, to a wider audience and this more likely to get your images noticed.
Mark Stone was next up. Mark talked about the difficulties in protecting images from freeloaders, thieves, pirates, borrowers, elves, goblins and the ill-informed, especially good quality images on fora like Flickr. Mark related that watermarks can be removed in seconds and may not be worth the effort, at least though, you have shown the effort and intent to protect your intellectual property rights as the thieves signify their intent by removing it. He suggested using low resolution images that can still look good on the screen (as with the club competition 1400 x 1050 maxima for projected images) again not fool proof as interpolating software can be used to increase the resolution to a certain limit. Mark suggested around 50% of the original. This can easily be done in a lot of photo editing programmes and if you want a quick and easy online version you could do a lot worse than picresize – 54 million+ images resized (they say) and counting. That said a combination of the two at least makes more effort for the would-be looter. Also, you should make it clear that your images have all rights reserved unless you are giving them away and even then there is such a thing as a creative commons license. These are options on Flickr and can be varied from image to image, though All Rights Reserved is a good start.
Mark underlined Myk’s point about the importance of tagging your images – if they can’t be found then they can’t be used which is a good thing when you are talking about copyright, but a distinctly bad thing when you are talking about selling your images. The latter tends to outweigh the former and if you take reasonable steps then at least you have made the freeloaders, thieves, pirates, borrowers, elves, goblins, aliens, drug cartels, blaggers, the ill-informed, psychopaths, sociopaths and the generally ill disposed job slightly more difficult. Tags, watermarks, licensing, low res images, generally “A good thing”.
Simon took up the reins and talked about a commission that took him all over the country, but was more complicated than it need be because the client didn’t really have a definitive idea of what they wanted. Indeed they didn’t have much of an idea at all. He described the key thing in putting together a bid for a commission is tying the client down as far as is humanly possible. It is important that the photographer knows to what end and use the client is going to put the commissioned images, how many they expect and expect to use and what shape. These are all factors that have a physical impact on how the images can successfully be planned and then get every possible angle of the subject. Pricing is difficult in any trade. It is a Goldilocks problem. Too little and it will not pay the bills. Too much and it will not get the commission, but just right has to be at the highest point the client says yes but still remains competitive. There are hidden traps for the unwary. On a geographically dispersed commission like this one, which pretty much seems to have taken up all four corners of Great Britain, a lot of time is likely to be spent travelling. That time needs to be accounted for and charged at a reduced rate or the commission can become unprofitable. There may be production hidden costs so some agreement has to be made over those. Mileage, hotel bills, wear and tear, insurances, post production, food and other consumables, paperwork etc. are all part of the total cost.
Simon extended the discussion on copyright, which was also something that Mark O took up on. You must protect your copyright or your revenue stream will dry up and you can be out of pocket. Never sign away the copyright, make sure that the client is aware that you retain it and exactly what you are licensing them to use the copyright for. There are some common misconceptions surrounding copyright, especially around what constitutes fair use and what that applies to. Everyone who presented agreed that you need to be explicit on the terms of credit and the uses to which the images can be put. Simon recommended the Association of Professional Photographers book “Beyond the Lens” available here, at a hefty £30 + p&p. There are others you might look at/use at your own discretion, they generally cover three areas:
You must get these type forms, not necessarily the forms linked to, filled in as part of the process. Finally Simon pointed out that you are taking photographs for someone else and that they can butcher them in any way they please – they are paying for them after all and they are paying you for precisely that privilege.
Mark O finished the evening on getting known. As with everything else in this world what you know isn’t as tradable a commodity as who you know. Doing free work can lead to paid work later, networking is the important thing. His big break came via the company his girlfriend works for. The footwork is always necessary if you want to make a living and the world of image editors is fairly small, in any given area they are likely to know each other pretty well. This can work for you or against you, but however they treat your hard graft it is as well to remember the old maxim, “The customer is always right”. Repeat business is many times cheaper to get than new and the relationship and understanding that you build over time helps you interpret what it is they are looking for. That said you must make clear what the terms of the trade are, make sure release forms are in place and accessible, and get as much detail from the commissioning editor as possible.
All in all a very informative evening and thanks are given to all who made it possible, particularly to Myk Garton, Mark Stone, Simon Caplin and Mark OGrady for their time and materials.
Next meeting we have a visiting speaker, Ian Wade on Landscape Photography.