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.
Given the travails that we went through to get last meeting off the ground, loosing not one but two judges at very short notice, then Bristol traffic conspiring to wedge the prints in an immovable traffic jam on the other side of town, just when things looked like they might be going right leads one to wonder just what the universe was telling us. Absolute sterling work from the Competition Secretary, Mark O’Grady, frustrated by circumstance. Big thanks from all of us Mark, for going above and beyond. Then – and British readers of this blog will want to make sure that they are resolutely braced before taking this bit in – the tea urn went missing. Still we got somewhere in the end.
So, why does a club have competitions? There are, of course as many reasons for that as there are club members. Recognition, acclamation, ideas, feedback, discussion something to fill a hole in the calendar, are just a few of the headlines you could write a whole blog and more on each. No, don’t panic, I am not going to. When children draw they don’t have a concept of consequences, is this good or is this bad? Right colours? Does it look like it should? and so on. What they produce is intensely personal and very honest. As we grow older we learn notions of correctness and benefit and we unlearn the naiveté that made making pictures fun. Even of the abstract we come to demand technical proficiency. We corral our imagination.
In time we improve or abandon the pursuit according to circumstances and according to what we want. We buy a camera because we want to record a special occasion, a holiday or maybe our own children or children we are close to, a few of us because we are curious about pictures and want to get better at making them. Now- a-days, rather than buy a camera specifically we are much more likely to turn to our phones. The pictures we want to make are generally those we can create without the many hours and mess involved in painting, never mind the fine motor skills, which some turn into is photography art debates (Yes move on). Cameras and pictures are so much a part of society these days that picture making is pretty much second nature.
Most of those pictures being taken at this very moment are dull, boring, technically flawed and mean something only to the person who will forget they took it by tomorrow. They are constructed for different purposes. We decide to get better at this sort of thing and, suddenly, (nearly) everyone else’s pictures look better than ours. That can be a spur or it can put us off. Access to the ways of doing things is a lot easier now than it was, there are blogs and video channels aplenty as well as the more traditional routes through books and courses galore that blend all these. That, however, can make matters confusing rather than easier. So we know about the tools of odds, of thirds, of lead lines and negative space, symmetry, foreground interest and the effect of focal length, and the importance of balance and we know all about the exposure triangle. In fact we can know a lot about a lot and can still make pictures that lack impact.
The problem, at least in part, is that we have all these tools and rules but they are tools and rules of thumb. Certainly they exaggerate elements of the arrangement of the objects in the frame and hold others back but we keep coming up against the idea of technically proficient but subject deficient – and other people’s photographs still look better than ours. It is self doubt that becomes, once one has learned the basics, the biggest drag on learning. Sometimes we cannot see for looking. Sure, we need a mind open to development, open to seeing other people’s work, looking at other pictures in that picture but the frame of mind has to be positive and the habit has to be always looking for the picture – even when you can’t carry a camera. The habit is the thing that enables everything else, the letting go of the half-expectation of finding something to photograph and replacing it with the opportunities to see something to photograph.
That can be where club competitions come in. Yes we want to test our metal against others, but we also need feedback. No we don’t always agree with the judge, but we need to be able to say why. Yes the judging is subjective, yes its structure does mean certain types of photography may not fare as well, but it is a structured feedback on pictures that are anonimised and it is something that you can work with if you choose. The more experienced judges should come with a wider perspective anyway and whereas they will have their likes and dislikes – some of them strong – the perspective they are showing is a start.
If we can get into the habit of the feedforward loop we will do ourselves an enormous favour. Feedforward is when we take the experience of a previous occasion and use it to improve (control) a future event. Learning from the future ” Images of adaptive future behaviour, hitherto not mastered” (Wikipedia) or in our case getting the picture we see in our head as a Jpeg by design not accident, is something we can only do as design.
Next session is a 10 by 10 (or there abouts) where members talk about their own images, what they got from them, what they would do differently (among other things). Open to all members, bring some along and join in, especially our newer members, as we are all interested in photography and this is a good opportunity to share it.
After last weeks very successful night of editing and with you all now, hopefully, thinking of different ways to edit your own images we are going to continue with a Practical Night where you get to edit your own images with the help of other club members if you want it. So what we would like you to do is to bring your laptops and make sure you have some images on them that you would like help with the editing. If you don’t own a laptop or can’t bring it with you for some reason, don’t worry, there will be at least 1 spare laptop for people to use and I’m sure that at least some of the people who do bring laptops won’t mind you having a go at editing the images on them. Also if you don’t have a laptop you can still bring your own images in on a memory stick. The volunteer editors from last week will be available for advice or help if you want it. Or you can just give it a go yourself.
Creative Round of the Reflex Open Competition
This Thursday, 31st January, is the final entry date for the Creative Round of the ROC. Please ensure that if you are entering PRINTS you also hand in a digital copy of the print.
This Thursday we are trying something we’ve never done before. But we need you to help out! We need you to Dropbox or eMail images into the club that you would like someone to edit for you. You can send in JPG’s or raw files it doesn’t matter which.
The aim of the meeting is to try and show you various ways an image can be edited.
we are going to do that is by using your own images and having someone else edit them! You may not be sure or may have already decided on the best look for one of your photographs. But what will another club member think of it? Will they edit it in a totally different way. Maybe you never even considered that it could be turned monochrome. Maybe you didn’t think a grunge look would suit it. Well hopefully our group of volunteer editors will give you some ideas for you to try out when you next edit your photographs.
Quite a few of you may recognise the two images on this Blog post. They are from exactly the same raw file! The vertical portrait one is a jpg copy (A raw file was just too big to put onto this website) of the original raw file. The larger image at the top of this post is the finished image. Now would you have deleted the original from the back of your camera when you looked after taking it? Or would you have waited until you got home and seen if anything could be rescued from it on the computer? We’re trying to make you think that there may be more to your pictures than you are currently seeing, that there may be more to them than you think. Don’t just discard an image you think isn’t good as soon as you see it on the camera screen. Take it home and look at it. You may just get something you like.
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.
So 2012 has gone and we are in a brand new year. What does it hold for you photographically? Are you just going to continue as you have been? Are you going to step up and try to improve? Many photographers take on a project or attempt new things at the start of a new year. I guess its part of the New Year Resolution idea. To try and better yourself. So just what can you do to try and improve your photography?
How about starting a 365 project? What’s that? It simply means you take a photograph a day every day for 365 days! Sounds like hard work? Well to be honest it is but there are lots of people that do complete them. Some people make them even harder by only doing self-portraits and creating elaborate shoots. Others simply take a picture of anything and use that as their image of the day. There are lots of groups on Flickr dedicated to this type of project.
For those of you that find the thought of creating a picture per day daunting how about 1 per week? There are many who prefer or only have the time for a picture a week. Although just like the 365 projects these can take up quite a bit of your time. There are a similar set of choices for this project as well, you can choose to do only self-portraits, have a different theme per week or just do what you feel like at the time. Again there are a huge selection of groups to be found on Flickr. Some let you know the themes weeks in advance such as the LensProToGo52 Week Photo Project others tell you the theme at the beginning of the week or you can choose a theme to run through the whole series of 52 images the choice is yours. I’ve provided a link to search results on Flickr for the 52 weeks projects here.
If the thought of tying yourself down to taking a photo on a schedule doesn’t appeal to you how about starting a project of your own? One popular project that not only helps improve your photography but your confidence in talking to & taking pictures of complete strangers is the 100 Strangers Project. If you decide to do this then obviously you have to take 100 pictures of total strangers and yes that means you walk up to someone on the street and talk to them ask them if its ok to take their picture and spend a few minutes getting to know them, trying to get them to relax a little so that they are at ease in front of your camera. Of course you can make up your own project such as documenting a particular area or whatever you want. To get you pointed in the right direction here are the results of a Google search for Photography Projects
You might think projects & challenges are pretty much the same but I’d have to disagree. To my mind a project is something long term, something you keep going back to and adding more work to over a period of time. Whereas a challenge is something short, something to get your teeth into and have a result in a fairly short time. So what would I consider a challenge? Well how about fitting a fixed length lens to your camera (or taping the lens to a fixed focal length if you only have telezoom lenses) and setting it to manual focus at 3 feet! Then just walk around and take pictures. It’ll certainly make you think hard about your composition and subject matter! Or how about going up to the local phone box and trying to take as many different pictures of it as possible? Or do that with a tree in the park. Want more suggestions for a challenge? Here are the Google results for Photography Challenges.
Hopefully the thought of taking on a project or challenge appeals to you. If it does fantastic go out and get started right now! If your sat there thinking “why should I bother?”, maybe you just need a little shove to get you going. Start talking about it at club meetings, see what others think and the more you talk about it the more likely you’ll think “yeah let’s do it”. Now you may have noticed I haven’t really given you lots of information in this post. Well that’s because I work on the theory that if you really want to know something and have a desire to learn about it then you will put the effort in to finding out what you need to get started and do it. I’ll rarely hand you the answer on a plate and say there I’ve done it for you so you don’t have to. Sometimes I might not really have a choice but I would prefer you to spend a little effort discovering what you can do for yourselves. Trust me if you figure it out on your own you’ll be a lot happier and your confidence will get a boost. So please go ahead research these types of things and try them out. You never know you might just enjoy it.
Get to grips with your workflow
For our first meeting of 2013 (January 3rd) we are going to take you through the life of an image. From conception to the finished product. You may of heard the word “Workflow” banded around in meetings or on websites. Well workflow is the name given to the way you organise how you work through taking, editing and publishing your images. If you want a more detailed description you can go here and read all about it. But you need to be aware that workflow will vary from person to person and what works for you may not work for someone else.
Now I could weave a wonderful story to entice you to come to the meeting and how it would enrich your lives. How your photography would dramatically improve just by attending. Trouble is I’ve lost my note book and can’t even tell you who is going to have the honour of taking you through all this. So if it’s supposed to be me then it could be an amazing seat of the pants photography extravaganza as I desperately try to think of something.
The image is The enchanted wood by John Morgan. (for some reason since WordPress was updated I can’t seem to get image titles showing correctly)
If you know more than I seem to about who is running this meeting or have seen my notebook leave a message in the comments!!