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)
Tony Byram was our most welcome returning judge for Round 4, the final round of this season, of the Reflex Open Competition. We had a very strong showing, over 100 images in the combined sections I believe and so it was a very busy night and a marathon preparative task for Tony. Thank you Tony for your succinct feedback.
Before we get on to the results there has been some confusion over the rules, especially for prints. You are still required to enter a DIGITAL COPY OF THE IMAGE YOU PRINT through Dropbox. THIS SHOULD ADHERE TO THE SAME SPECIFICATION AS A DIGITAL ENTRY i.e. no bigger than 1400 x 1050 pixels and sRGB colourspace. SEE LINKS BELOW FOR LABELLING REQUIREMENTS. If you don’t your entry will be disqualified. Also make sure that your frames are standardised at 40 x 50 cms, no bigger, no smaller. The size of the image within that is a matter for your own discretion, but it must fit within the overall dimensions or it will be disqualified.
Competition Rules can be found on the club website:
http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/ under ROC on the banner or by typing http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/#!reflex-open-competition/cm27 into your browser.
And so to the bit you’ve all been waiting for ………
RESULTS DIGITAL PRINT
“Porth Beach At Dawn” – Simon Caplan
“Severn Sun” – Julie Kay
“Not Quite A Pair” – Simon Caplan
“Going Fishing” – Eddie House
“I’m Vegetarian” – Julia Simone
“Weighted Down” – Julia Simone
Digital Projected Images
“Looking” – David McInich
“Nunney Castle” – Richard Price
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – Eddie Deponeo
“In the Spotlight” – Chris Harvey
“Foggy Morning” – Eddie Deponeo
“Prague Castle” – Julie Kay
“Yet To Bloom” – Roy Williams
“Pokhara” – Julia Simone
“Victorian Tea Break” – Ian Coombs
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Sunday – The Reflex Annual Photo Marathon. 10 images in order, on 10 topics, 4 hours!
23rd May 5pm at the M Shed – Simon Caplin is giving a talk on the crafts based photo-project he has been involved in. Be there to give him some support. Tour the rather good Industrial exhibition before hand, you know it makes sense!
Next Meeting – Ann Cook FRPS: “Granny Goes to Glastonbury” a two decade evolving project.
Matthew Lord adjudicated round 3 of the 2014-2015, and the number of entries this year are well up on last in both print and digital categories. Quality is at the very least as good and I think this shows growing confidence within the club which itself is growing at a steady rate. If you haven’t put anything in yet, give it a go, you have nothing to lose and some feedback to gain to give you a start to think differently about your images. A club thanks to Matthew for his lively feedback and congratulations to those commended and placed.
Matthew talked about the way we look at a picture instinctively, though I would say culturally instinctively, because not all cultures have the same relation to space and the expectations of the artistic placement of objects within it, though most human’s seem to start top right when looking at an image. The brain discriminates (and tells you blatant lies, but that’s for another day), the camera cannot. The human eye/brain is not the same as the lens/sensor combination. Henri Poincare pointed out that the notion of space must be understood as a function of objects and all their relations, in photographic terms you can’t have an image without objects set in relation to each other. It’s often been reported here that our judges and speakers say that the photograph should have only one story to tell. The simpler the shot the more impact it is likely to have.
Yes there are composition rules, we have frequently referred to the thirds, fifths, sevenths and the “Golden ratio”, but composition (long video but very good and well worth putting time aside to watch), the punctum and the studium, isn’t restricted to this. Nor do they rule out simplicity. Simplicity comes with the fewest elements required to tell the story. Backgrounds can be problematic. They can give context, depth, even a certain tone. They can also provide too much information, confusing the subject with what it is set in, providing unfortunate growths like telegraph poles or trees. It isn’t always possible to pull the subject from the background, for example when using a long telephoto focused at infinity at a foreground subject which is far enough away to register the rest of the foreground sharp. Nonetheless, as a general guide and something Matthew picked up on more than once, your image rarely suffers from it and the tighter you crop the more impact your main subject will have.
Colour blocks can also make effective compositional statements. True individual tastes, perceptions and experiences affect the particular effect any given hue has on a person, but large blocks of solid colour in an image will almost certainly have an impact on the viewer. Blocks of complimentary colours can also have a powerful effect, think of the colour wheel and how colours interact. Again framing is an important factor in boosting impact.
Even if cropping the final image square, a personal favourite, the middle should be avoided, usually. This is because it is easy to unbalance a picture by making it static for the eye. The eye needs to move around the image for the brain to engage. By creating an off centre interest the eye will be drawn into space as a secondary motion. A fore middle and background is much stronger than a one or two element image. The eye looks for sign posts for direction and interest and will move long the former to stop at the latter before moving on. Lead lines are thus a very powerful element in composition. To work, however, they must all be a part of the story, or the eye will wander and the brain become confused as to what the story is (part of the reason is because the brain has an operational necessity for lower power consumption and so pre-programming certain reactions saves time energy and processing power, a little off topic but if you’re interested see Daniel Khaneman). Of course this can be played around with. Parallel lines can be a very bold statement, especially if shooting with a wide angle lens, even more so with a bit of Dutching
All in all a fascinating evening and again, thanks to our judge Matthew Lord and to Mark O for his efforts and everyone else involved. A gallery of winners will be posted when available which we are unable to post for technical reasons.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Next week – Medieval Combat! http://www.medievalmartialarts.co.uk Club members Ian Coombs, Danny Thomas, and Antony Bezer are bringing their mediaeval martial arts group to the club tonight for our latest practical session.
** Bring your camera & equipment ** **IMPORTANT** If you are attending this meeting you need to be aware that there will be rules set in place for your safety. ANYONE breaking those rules will be asked to leave the meeting immediately.
When: 19:30-22:00, Thu, 2nd April.
9th April: WCPF travelling critique. A show of the entrants to the WCPF salon.
16th April: Club Battle with Backwell. This year at Backwell. See here for further details from Gerry: Backwell Battle.
David Southwell ARPS, AFIAP was our judge for the creative round of the ROC. A welcome return. We have had some very good feedback from the judges this year but David’s is particularly good and those members I talked to seemed of the same opinion. My starting point on feedback, and this is particular, if not peculiar, to me and I mean in general, is the point from which I can disagree and why. All this is very contrary of me I know, but I feel that the argument should stand or fall on its own merits and for that it should be clearly expressed so that I can articulate why. Of course we all have our likes and dislikes and fashions come and fashions go, but light still travels in straight lines and all the other immutable laws of physics that make up the science still apply. There are constants. We have talked before about frameworks for making judgements and the importance of consistency. His starting point that “Photography is an art form served by science” was applied throughout and his focus on the necessary technicalities of the image capture and production supporting the image as we see it was the backbone of his judging.
And what a set he had to judge. The print section was the strongest the club has presented since I have been a member and certainly other, more longstanding, club members said it had been a long while since such a strong panel had been seen. I think we have a stronger basis for inter club battles in the print section. The recent decline in the popularity of print within the club seems to have been reversed, “A good thing”. Some more please! Also the number of digital entries was up on last year, I feel. So an increase in both quality and quantity, print and digital, long may it continue.
Before we proceed to the results, may I remind members of the following competition rules:
Maximum width of an image 1400 pixels.
Maximum height of an image 1050 pixels.
Images should be resized so that they fall within BOTH of the above dimensions. It doesn’t matter if the image falls below the these dimensions on either width or height or both.
You may have your entry withdrawn if either of these dimensions is exceeded.
Colour space must be sRGB. (Lightroom and Photoshop)
This is important, especially in external competitions but also we need to implement within the club to make sure we avoid any accidents and end up having photos withdrawn from battles and other competitions.
If unsure how to do any of these things then leave a message here, or on the club Facebook page or ask at the next meeting. Someone, infact several someones present will know how to do it and I haven’t met a member yet who hasn’t been willing to help with this sort of thing. Not knowing how doesn’t matter it can be put right. Not doing does matter if your image is withdrawn.
Tears – Julia Simone
“I am In The Pub” – Ian Coombs
“Urban Fairy” – Julia Simone
“Geisha” – Eddie Deponeo
“Let’s Pray” Eddie Deponeo
“Bulb in Bloom” – Jo Gilbert
“The Competition Judge” – Ian Coombs
“Haunted” – Ian Coombs
“Baja N Rap ” – Julia Kaye
“Eye at the Key Hole” – Simon Caplan
“The Ghostly Tree” – Simon Caplan
“Talons” – Mark O’Grady
Congratulations to all these Laureates and well done everybody for a particularly strong set.
U P C O M I N G E V E N T S
From Mr Gerry Painter, summaries of the next couple of Events at Chez Reflex. These are participative SO PLEASE READ AND TAKE PART. The club only works when you do.
19th February: A NEW club feature – “Your Picture Your Way” on Landscape and Street/Candid details here – RCC EVENTS Feb_19_15 YPYW Landscape_Candid
26th February: PRACTICAL: – for our entry into the Kingswood Salver. Details here 26th Feb Practical Kingswood Salver (1)
F8 and Be There.
Andy Beel FRPS (Blog) was the evening’s judge in the Reflex Open Competition Round 2 2014/15 for which there was a high number of entries for both the Digital and Print Sections. The club extends our thanks to him for his time and considerations. Andy is a confirmed monochromatisist and it was his observations on dark and light that suggested the topics of this week’s blog be contrast, extending the conversation started last week by Mark Stone, and framing.
Before we get to the results I just need to clear up the matter of dimensions for the digital images and the digital version of the prints being entered in the competition, as there was some confusion about this among members.
As it says on the competition page the maximum dimensions are 1400 by 1050 pixels. Now to expand on what this doesn’t mean before moving to what it does. What it doesn’t mean is that the maximum landscape (width) dimension is 1400 pixels regardless of height, nor does it mean that the maximum portrait (height) is 1050 pixels regardless of width.
What this does mean is that the maximum dimensions are 1400 pixels AND 1050 pixels and that the image submitted MUST fit within, or under, these dimensions. To put it another way, the maximum of either width or height must not exceed either 1400 or 1050 for any single image – they are viewed as dimensions together regardless of whether the image is framed landscape or portrait.
IF your image is not in the ratio of 4:3, and APS C and Full Frame are not (width to height a.k.a. the Aspect Ratio) then it is possible that one of the dimensions will fall outside of the 1400 and 1050 pixel limits. Look at both and scale it back as necessary. If your image is 1400 x 1051 or more or 1401 or more pixels x 1050 then it must be resized down to within the competition limits. It does not matter what that does to the other dimension as long as it is at or below the stated maximum. Check both to be sure. This is also the rule for most club and salon competitions elsewhere, I am lead to believe.
If you don’t know how to do this with any existing editing software you have, may I suggest pic-resize on the net for an easy to use and free solution.
And so to the meat of this blog – the Reflex Open Competition 2014/15 Round 2.
There was a lot of close competition here, the quality of entries continues to improve across the spectrum, which can only be good thing. Entering these competitions is a sound way to improve through valuable feedback and I think it show signs of working for the majority of us. If you haven’t entered anything yet, give it a go – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain!
“1925“ – Wendy O’Brien
“Economy“ – Steve Halam
“Feeding“ – Ian Coombs
3rd “Religion” – Eddie Deponeo
2nd “Dancer in the final pose“ – Julia Simone
1st “Abandoned“ – Mark O’Grady.
“Vampire in the wind” – Julia Simone.
“Dark Ages“ – Ian Coombs.
“Unearthed Beauty“ – Mark O’Grady.
3rd “Lost But Not Forgotten“ Ian Coombs.
2nd “Hospital Nightmare“ Suzanne King.
1st “Vacant Stare“ Mark O’Grady.
Congratulations to them and thanks to all the entrants and of course Mark and Mark for getting it all together and making it happen on the night.
Andy was very specific about using dynamism within an image, concentrating the viewers eye using lightening and darkening. This brings us onto the role of contrast. The eye tends to move from light to dark and Andy pointed out that stray bits of light, especially on the edges of pictures, makes the eye wander and the story of that image can lose some of its narrative integrity. Light, of course, is everything, but without a counterpoint, the darker bits, it is nothing. So far so much egg sucking. In black and white the control of contrast along with the control of composition are the major factors in organising the image (OK in colour too but in a different sense as discussed last week).
"Contrast is the difference in luminance and/or color that makes an object (or its representation in an image or display) distinguishable. In visual perception of the real world, contrast is determined by the difference in the color and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view. Because the human visual system is more sensitive to contrast than absolute luminance, we can perceive the world similarly regardless of the huge changes in illumination over the day or from place to place. The maximum contrast of an image is the contrast ratio or dynamic range". Wikipedia
There is, of course, a wider and equally as pertinent meaning to contrast in photography, that of the relative positioning of objects but this post is more about the light and dark of it. Practically and to us this means practising Ansel Adams dictum of exposing for the highlights and processing for the shadows, regardless of whether we are talking black and white or colour, RAW, TIFF, JPEG or anything in between. This is simply because we can recover detail that is in shadow by selective processing. If it is blown out, i.e. rendered as white, there is very little to recover. What is there will run over a very narrow spectrum that runs from “Virtually nothing” to “Nothing” in a very short space. We thereby give ourselves the best chance to have something to work with at the extremes, the blacks and the whites (which are at opposite ends of an evenly distributed histogram, blacks to the left and whites to the right) by exposing for the whites. Sort of. Detail is also absent in pure black. This of course has an effect on the shadows, mid-tones and highlights, but these (five) in turn can be adjusted – Ye-Acolytes-Of-Photoshop will be aware that there is a slider for each of these in Lightroom. These five “Zones” bear a relation to Adams and Archer’s 10 zone system, but let’s not stretch a point too far, suffice it to say they are different ways of talking about the same thing, Adams and Archer for Print and Adobe for digital. Each of these can be adjusted to taste or requirement to affect an overall impression.
That impression, though, can be lost or diluted if the framing allows for distracting detail and in passing judgement on more than one of the entries. Andy indicated that this held them back from an award. The frame or crop, he posits, must be tight. Extraneous detail starts to water down the story or introduce a new one. There is only room for one story in each photograph.
There is a three dimensional layering to the two dimensional photograph created by the perception of foreground, middle ground and background and the story is often revealed through how these interact. What is going on in relation to these three layers is the story the image is telling. Look at what is in the corners can you use it to make it more dynamic? was Andy’s tip. Andy suggested that the strongest stories use this dynamic to keep the attention which generally goes directly to the brightest and or largest object in the frame. This is usually (not always, not even preferably – you know, all that thirds, fifths sevenths and “Golden ratio” stuff) centre mid-ground, where, if you follow what has been said above, it most likely loses impact. Impact comes from filling the frame and from the juxtaposition of elements within it. From his long experience with monochrome Andy related that in Black and White especially, but in colour too, light surrounded by dark works best and so several images fell by the wayside.
It was a very successful night and thanks to everyone who attended, judged, administered, entered to make the whole thing possible. Next week is the clubs Xmas celebration. See you there.
Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.
December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.
December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):
” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.
8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints
See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.
I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!
15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).
22nd January 2015: Colour Space Editing. Tutorial (part 1) Practical (part 2). Bring your Lap Top!
Thanks to Julie for this: