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!
For most of us, it appears, Adobe Lightroom is all we are ever likely to need in a photo editor, and in this insightful evening, Kevin Spiers, Mark OGrady and Dan Thomas gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the possibilities. It certainly isn’t the only editor available, Gimp, Pixlr, Picasa, Paint.Net are all free alternatives with their supporters but none, as they appear to me, have an interface quite as slick and certainly none have the full capability of the cloud based full suite (Photoshop CC and Lightroom) which can now be rented at just under £9 a month. Mind you, photo-shopping is not always approved of!
Kevin was first up and showed us the cataloguing feature. An image isn’t much use to anyone if it can’t be found, and with the ease and cheapness of taking another frame comes the problem of sheer volume. The number of images quickly adds up. Looking for that photograph can soon become evidence of that old proverb involving needles and haystacks, though why anyone would think to even begin to look for a steel needle in a stack of dried grass, much less think that was a suitable storage medium in the first place, has always defeated me. Sounds like bad filing practice, which is exactly what the cataloguing system is designed to overcome. Like trying to find a needle in a sewing box. Simples!
Frequency separation is a technique that gives the user the ability to process the surface and the depth of an image in different detail layers. The image is divided into two layers, containing the high frequencies and the low frequencies and allows the use these layers to work on colours, on broad and fine details independently, using non-destructive changes to the original image.
Definitely an advanced users technique, but one that seems to be getting wider use over the last couple of years . It is, in essence, about utilising the different strata (think of a photograph as a sandwich and each component of the sandwich is both part of the overall sandwich and a thing in itself) that make up a photograph. Or think of your favourite song played by different artists , there are individual notes and there are chords arranged together in subtly different ways that form the overall, still recognisable but differently rendered, tune. If you change the chords and notes sympathetically you change the harmonies but can still retain the tune. Frequency separation is about using these strata to enhance or alter parts of a photograph in the process of retouching and moving the image to a more striking, enhanced representation. Again not a process without controversy, but something that started when the first human artist drew the first image and the first human critic ,that is the first person the artist showed it to, thought “That ain’t right”.
The technique involves creating two layers, a high frequency layer and a low frequency layer. The low frequency layer contains large areas of colours and tones and the high frequency area fine details like skin pores and blemishes, hair and so on. Julia Kuzmenko McKim gives a blow by blow account of this and also includes a Photoshop action that automates the process (which you might use, but entirely at your own discretion). These actions can be replicated in some other programmes too, Gimp, for instance has its own frequency separation plug in.
To the low frequency layer, Mark applied desaturation (taking it to black and white) and Gaussian Blur, also known as Gaussian Smoothing. Carl Friedrich Gauss was an C18th mathematician, perhaps the greatest since antiquity, whose work has had a huge effect on the modern world. It is the application of an algorithm derived from his work and that of Fourier which we need to know not even that much about, leaving such technicalities to people who have use for them. All we need to know is that it is a blur effect that reduces image noise and detail. Mark suggested using a brush around 3.5 to 5 pixels and though the size used would depend on the job to be done and the preferences of the user he suggested that would be a happy medium. The larger the brush the bigger the effect. On the high frequency layer he changed the blending ode to linear light and talked about the relative merits of the healing brush and cloning.
Starting with the low frequency layer Mark evened out the skin tones and then switched to high frequency layer to work on the blemishes, making sure that the healing brush was set to sample from the current layer. There are a number of techniques, he assured us, that can be applied, and people derive their own favourites and short cuts. The results were quite stunning and well worth trying out, more finely controlable than just stamping around with a clone brush. Mark recommended Scott Kelby‘s book on photoshop.
After break Dan took us through the Lightroom layout, which is set out in a way as to aid workflow in that the tools that it shows you at the top of the menus the things you are more likely to productively work on first. This all helps with the work flow. Dan emphasised the lossless nature of using Photoshop, leaving the original untouched. To emphasise these points he took us through some images that he had provided earlier and applied some of the options that the abundant menus allow the user to easily apply. Dan’s top tips? Take in RAW and Slide the Sliders! RAW gives you more data to work with and the sliders let you apply effects incrementally and as long as preview is switched on you can see the effects on your image in real time, saving considerable effort in going back and forth to check your image. There is a downside of course and that is, in the words of Yogi Berra (American baseball player and yes, that was his real name), “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else”. It helps to know what you want to do before you start fiddling around.
A great evening and thanks to Kevin, Mark and Dan for making it possible.
You can find an expanded version of what Dan took us through here and includes ground covered by Kevin as well and a whole lot more too.