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.
Saving our bacon by coming in as a late replacement judge, Beryl Heaton got the Reflex Open Competition 2018-19 underway. The club thanks her for stepping up, even if we did rather make it more difficult than it strictly needed to be!
The entries were as varied as usual and there is a definite benefit to seeing and listening to someone with experience critique work, our own and others. Agreeing or disagreeing is one thing, and we will quite naturally, but analysing why is at the heart of our development.
So it is as much about looking with a purpose as anything else. This is a process that transfers logicically into our practice of taking photographs. We have light falling on a subject within a frame. The trick is to manipulate the elements in that frame into an interesting story.
The minimum we will have in any picture is figure and background (aka figure and ground). This is a psychological principle and describes how we see an object. Reading this we can see the words (figure) against background (the electronic “paper”). We ‘togs think of this as contrast.
Contrast, that which we use to direct the attention of the viewer to our subject, comes in two varieties. Tonal and colour. Tonal is all the shades from absolute black to absolute white. Colour is the way colours interact with each other.
An image that is high contrast has strong black and strong white with little in the way of greys. Low contrast images have very little by way of highlights and shadows. Normal contrast, well, that is somewhere in between. These are an active part of composition.
Composition is the ordering of elements within the frame. Some things are more important than others, they have more gravity and pull our attention towards them, demanding more of our attention. We have a limited amount of attention to pay so will concentrate on what has the most visual weight.
Our brains assign an importance, a weighting, to objects in our frame and this is what we use to our creative advantage. Knowing this we can apply the tools of composition to manipulate this concept of visual weight to maximise the impact of an image by affecting the balance of objects within the frame. As with contrast there are opposites, though these labelled heavy and light so:
LARGER we perceive as HEAVIER. Big we tend to perceive as heavy and more visually dominant.
DARKER we perceive HEAVIER. This is especially the case if the background is generally light.
HIGH CONTRAST we perceive HEAVIER. This is similar to the above principle. A high contrast subject draws attention to itself.
COMPLEX we perceive as HEAVIER. Multiplying something gives it more weight as the brain naturally groups them together making them perceptually larger.
LIGHT COLOUR we perceive as LIGHTER. The less saturated a colour (like sky blue), the less visual weight it has. You need a lot of it to balance out the heavier elements in a scene.
PHYSICALLY HEAVY we perceive HEAVY. Because it is, and we know it, it gets more visual weight too.
INTERESTING PLACEMENT we perceive HEAVY. Objects placed in the corners or on a third yield more visual weight as per the rule of thirds. There is another tool that is related to do with the treatment of what is called negative space.
These observations by themselves need some managing, of course, but the good news is that we can see these effects quite immediately. We need to balance the effects to good use, that is, too much is too much and undermines the overall effect at best and creates a total mess at worst.
The trick is to take an instant to ask ourselves “Does it balance?” before pressing the shutter.
101 Corner – Focusing
If we have anything but a fixed lens on our camera (and even with some that do) we have the capacity (and the need) to use some focusing system or other. It’s all about getting a sharp image.
This can get a little confusing at first because we have Auto Focus and we have Manual Focus and there will be as many opinions as people you ask as to why they choose any particular mode. To make things worse there are usually three different types of autofocus and two different systems to make it work.
Then someone tells us that we absolutely must use back-button focus.
As usual, much of this is hearsay or ignorance. Each of the autofocus options are designed with certain types of shooting in mind. Manual focus is far easier on manual focusing lenses. Autofocus is the one that makes sense most of the time.
The different autofocus modes are: Single frame (one picture then refocus) which suits most stills photographers most of the time; Continuous, used by videographers and when there is a constantly moving subject, such as using burst mode; Automatic where the camera decides which you need (not a feature on all cameras).
Reflex Open Competition Round 4 last meeting and congratulations to the award winners and I hope everyone took something away from the evening. Our judge was Roger Mallinson, the man to go to if you want to know about making audio visual presentations and a returnee to judge at Reflex and many thanks to him for his time and effort. As usual the winners will appear on the club website in due course.
“There is no special way a photograph should look“ – Garry Winogrand.
Even a themed competition will tell you that and whereas there are things that work as a general rule, the tools of composition, and sharpness, as we have quoted before, is a “Bourgeoise concept” (maybe). It does rather make you wonder what club competitions are for.
Well the first two clues are in the name club competition. It is about members of the club, first and foremost. Members having a framework into which they can receive feedback. And it is about competition, that is to say a test of skill and ability against other like minded individuals. They coexist but, depending on our choices and personalities, one side will be more important than the other. Recognition is both a middle point and the backbone that connects the two extremes.
If no two pictures are the same how do we differentiate between two pictures on merit? The tools of composition give us a clue, more particularly how they are used and abused, but there is no one accepted system, though some sort of system is required to be consistent.
No two judges are the same and that is a good thing. All our judges are fellow photographers and have their own development route. OK we have all sat there and thought, on occasion, what are they on and where do I get some? when our carefully crafted images totally fail to convey their message. The fault does not lie with the viewer. It is still a good thing if that failure comes with an explanation. Better yet one that we can apply to the next similar situation.
If we don’t fail, at least occasionally, and have an inkling of why we fail then we will not learn. It all comes back to that word “Because”. There is no way a photograph should look. There are individual tastes and opinions and that will apply to any judge the same as to the rest of us.
Lets come back to that idea of sharpness and its evil twin blur as one example. Generally, when looking at a photograph, one of the first things that strike us is can we see it clearly. It is important because I, for one, can see blurry things just by taking my glasses off. Rather like a number of my fellow club members, I paid rather a lot of money specifically to do the opposite and see things in focus. Focus is a thing and having something sharp within our depth of focus is generally desirable.
If there was a single way of producing an acceptable image all images must either be all in or all out of focus. We would then be free to challenge this convention or rule in the pursuit of artistic interpretation. Hold on. Wait one. That’s exacly what we do on occasion. It is one of the most popular nights we have for practicals on the calendar. It’s called light-painting.
Blur can be creative when it is deliberate and controlled (or we can pass it off as that). We generally differentiate blur from focus as one is produced by movement and one by mechanical physics. Ultra wide and expensive prime lenses producing very limited acceptable focus and blury (often sold as dreamy) backgrounds are all the rage. Bokeh is a thing too and now deemed as a selling point in a lens. Figure to ground is an established art principle of grouping things together visually (visited recently in our tour around Gestalt theory) where the subject is seperated from but relational to the background (and or foreground).
Creative blur is an accepted technique. That is it is deliberate and measured in its application to a suitable subject. The idea of photo-dynamism is over a century old and is linked to a wider art movement known as Italian Futurism, though photography was initially rejected by the Futurists for being static.
It has several variants we might use. First up we have the deliberate de-focusing effect. Bokeh originated from this in Japan and became a form all of its own but was always an incidental to taking photographs with points of light in the background. Defocusing works best in colour, with large blocks of identifiable shapes such as flowers, people, painted walls etc. It also works well when shooting against a bright background. Where to stop defocusing is a personal call, again there is no fixed point, but it’s fun to do.
Next up we have panning. We talked last week about taking panoramas, basically a linked series of photographs of something from a fixed point that usually extends beyond the horizontal field of focus of our lenses regardless of there orientation. This uses the same movement idea but within the same period of exposure. By necessity this involves longer shutter speeds but doesn’t have to be on a tripod,.though a pair of steady hands is useful. Keeping the focus and speed in synch on the subject is one option, but the other is to slowly follow the subject through keeping it identifiable but blurred.
Thirdly we have the deliberate shake of the camera during the exposure, up and down or left to right. This doesn’t have to be violent to give an effect but it is best if slightly exaggerated. A fourth variation is to rotate the camera during the exposure around a fixed point.
So five variations that we can try and combine into a little project and maybe use to generate entries in the next round of ROC.
2017-2018 Season Round One of the Open Competition (DPI) was an evening of considerable variety. The prints will be judged next session. Congratulations to Wendy Goodchild for her winning entry and thanks to our judges, multiple award winning husband and wife team Peter Brisley and Sue O’Connell, who are back next session to judge the prints. We have had to split the judging for this round because of the volume of DPI’s in particular, but the number of print entries, gratifyingly, is also up. Our thanks to our judges for being so accommodating.
What was striking was the variety of subjects and styles on display. This we can take as a good thing because we get to see other people’s interpretations of subjects we have almost certainly chanced our arms at in the past. There is also an advantage, not immediately obvious, in watching our and fellow club members progress over the course of a season. Thinking about what we do is an important part of developing our art. There is a difference between someone who has taken 10,000 photographs and learned from their mistakes and someone who has taken one set of mistakes and repeated them 10,000 times (with several, increasingly expensive, kit upgrades in the interim, no doubt). There is a difference between a photographer and a-bloke-with-a -camera after all. Well, most of the time, if not for everyone and increasingly for next-to-no-money whatsoever.
Yet we cannot get anywhere meaningful without the effort. There really aren’t “bad” cameras anymore. Ditto lenses. This rather points to the photographer as the weak link in the chain. At some point we want to be more than just the button pusher. Creativity requires effort and lots and lots and lots of practice. Not a blinding revelation and not the first time it has been mentioned on this blog, but certainly it is a truth of learning. Anything we learn pretty much follows that pattern. We know this so why not use it?
Critique, like we get in competition rounds, but not exclusively restricted to that, is a good source of fuel for our development. Structured in its delivery and used as a starting point, or rather a restarting point, if we were to take that image and again and apply the observations we have been given, would the image be more effective at relaying its story?
Like or dislike of an image is natural and almost instant. When sorting through a large number of images for editing or weeding a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t hold your attention for two seconds (or more) bin it. Critiquing requires we go beyond the immediate reaction. Even the most experienced of judges can suffer a failure to understand. A good judge will be honest about this – and we are also our own judges so I am not just talking about club photo competitions – and give us a reason or set of reasons why not. But it will be structured and it will provide information we can consider the next time we have the camera out. The key is the word because. This is, absolutely, the key.
For sure critique needs a framework to be meaningful and for sure it is subjective, but there is no one method, and every time we look at it we take a slightly different path to reflect this. This might give the impression that it is not very effective. Yet no artist ever develops without nurturing one. The same way as having a purpose in taking the pictures we want rather than the pictures that present (that’s not to say we shouldn’t be open to the unexpected) is part of the same process.
Look at the opportunities the club presents. Practicals for sure, are pretty obvious. Ditto the competition rounds. Speakers are a chance to get ideas from, to look for alternatives and also to interact with the material presented, to say I like that because … or I don’t like that because … I would alter that … I will try that … how did they do … Whatever else, you cannot beat a bit of deliberate action.
And take lots of pictures.
And look at lots of pictures. There are plenty of sites on the web to give us ideas. Flickr, 500px and other general sites to more specific and curated ones, like the Magnum Agency and the stock photo sites like iStock or Shutterstock, or social media groups like those to be found on Facebook or sites like Instagram. Look, but look critically.
ROC round 1 judged by Ralph Snook, a first tie judge for the club and thanks to him for his efforts. Results will be on the club web site http://www.reflexcameraclub.co.uk/
So, for a change, the second of our ocassional contributions from club members, this time Rob Heslop on “It’s not the camera it’s what’s in front of it”.
Having just upgraded a perfectly good camera to the next model up, which is basically the same except for a few functions I’ll never use, for absolutely no reason other than the shop presenting my with a fantastic offer, got me thinking about camera kit our and do we really need half of it or could our photography improve if we invested elsewhere? It’s easy to get swept up with the latest must have gear, magazines are full of reviews with photos taken in exotic locations by professional photographer which somehow lead us to believe that if we buy that bit of kit we will be able to take that photo. Then there are the debates on the Internet about the subtle differences between kits that lead us to believe that anything but the latest pro lens is just not worth having. Even club members harmlessly chatting about their newest toy or a guest speaker explaining what kit they used lead us to subconsciously question is our own kit good enough. All this creates a mindset of I need an xyz if I’m to take photos that are any good and I know I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling for the marketing hype, but the “greats” never had half the kit we do, whilst that’s not to say they wouldn’t have used the technological aids if they had them, merely that they took mind blowing photos without half the equipment we have and it didn’t hold them back.
Which leads me to wandering is there a better way than fixating about the camera, perhaps if we want to take better photos we should instead invest more in what’s in front of the camera than the camera it’s self.
Over the years I’ve gone on various photographic ‘holidays’ around the UK and I use the term holiday in its loosest sense mind as who gets up at silly o’clock just to sit in a car in the pouring rain waiting for a sunrise that never comes before retreating to a cafe for breakfast. Then a couple of months back I took the next step and went international and for the price of a lens I headed over to that infamous photographic location; Iceland.
Having never been before and as this was primarily a photographic trip not your traditional holiday there was a great deal of planning in the local pub using the likes of Google maps and Flickr to pick places (and times) we wanted to shoot and subsequently places we would to stay in-order to get the conditions but foolishly we never planned places to eat, more on that later. The idea was simple; fly into Keflavik (the only international airport on the island) pick up a hire car and drive along Route 1 to the glacial lake, then make our way back taking photos on the way, simples .
Keflavik, is on the western tip of the island meaning we flew along the southern coastline which gives an amazing view of the glacial ice, the black sandy beaches and of course the ocean, all hinting at what’s to come. The plan touched down on what I can only describe as the surface of the moon or maybe it was Mars either way I’m pretty sure I could see the Apollo capsule in the distance.
On landing we picked up our car and I was relieved that the choice extended beyond the red one or the blue one, before proceeding on one of the most challenging drives ever; not because it of the navigation (there is only one road) not because of the road conditions (they were better than the UK) not because of the other drivers (both of the cars we past were polite and courteous drivers) but challenging as we had to force ourselves to drive past some of the greatest photographic opportunities we had ever seen; I had a feeling that it was going to be very hard to take a bad photo.
That evening we arrived at Jokulsarlon the glacial lake on the south of the island, the lake was stunning with icebergs breaking off the glacier slowly crashing into each other before drifting out to sea. They were a sight to behold and presented a wealth of photographic opportunities, well worth the drive. The plan was to wait for sunset, get some photos and head over to our accommodation for the night. There is however a catch we had forgot to make plans for dinner and found ourselves hurriedly eating cold sandwiches and lukewarm soup for dinner before the only cafe for two hours in any direction closed for the evening. We discovered that in the winter the population along the southern edge of the island is less than 100 people and if I’m honest I don’t think it’s much more in the summer, so it’s no surprise that food is limited. Still after a hurried dinner, closing on time seemed to take priority over feeding the dozen or so tourists that had also fallen foul to the lack of places to eat, we settled down to some serious photography but soon realised that whilst it got colder sunset wasn’t going to happen any time soon, to be honest I’ve no idea if it even happened as we were worn out and exhausted long before the sun was.
The next day was spent on the road to Vik about a two hour drive according to Google maps or an entire day’s drive if you include photos stops. The landscape was epic with and endless feel but somehow constantly changing offering a dearth of photo opportunities and it was all ours, every so often we’d see the odd car drive by but for most of the time we could lie down in the road if we wanted, oh and we did even if it was just to get the right camera angle. Vik however was a real treat for photographers with it’s black sand beaches and stone monoliths rising out of the ocean it’s hard to see how you could take a bad photo but I probably managed luckily I also managed to take a few keepers, rather than wax-lyrical about Vik I’ll simply recommend doing a quick search for images on Google, Flickr or similar, as like the old saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words and even that isn’t enough to sum up the photographic opportunities.
The final day was spent driving back to Reykjavik trying to remember everything that was saw on route a couple of days previous. This was our first insight to the touristy parts of Iceland; Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls, not to say these aren’t worth visiting from a photographic perspective, they are stunning but from mid morning on the crowds of day trippers on their coach tour excursions from the city started to build making photo opportunities more challenging, but they did at least mean food was more plentiful.
Then as quickly as we’d arrived it was all over and we were on the plane back to the UK. Sat in my seat my mind reflected back on the trip, the sites I’d seen, the photos I taken, and places I want to go back to, yet at no point did I find myself thinking if only I had that latest bit of kit. And that’s just it, despite what the adverts may imply having the kit on its own won’t magically lead to better photos and it won’t provide you with experiences or stories. So next time you find yourself starting to lust after that new piece of camera kit ask yourself would it be better to invest in your subject matter, it doesn’t need to be far flung and exotic, just give the subject of your photos the same attention as you give to the camera.
Thanks Rob, really interesting points and I am not at all jealous …
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 10 – 3rd Nov 2016 19:30 – Practical “Reflex Reflects”. Creating images using various types of reflective surfaces and objects.
(Bring your cameras, tripods and lights/flashguns)
Reflex Open Competition Digital Image Round 1 Winners
Thursday saw us eagerly anticipating the results of the first round of the Reflex Open Competition (from now on just called the ROC as I’m too lazy to type all that out every time). What most members didn’t know is that the day before the Judge we had booked backed out due to illness! It has to be one of the things most Club Competition Secretaries dread. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a replacement before the meeting so we were going to go with giving everyone a piece of paper and getting them to mark each image. Then luckily for us, not for him, Simon Caplan walked through the door. Under no pressure whatsoever, honest, he volunteered to judge the images for us. Maybe he should of asked how many had been submitted before he agreed as he soon discovered cold judging 77 images isn’t the easiest thing in the world. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Simon on behalf of everyone for stepping up and putting himself in the firing line.
A small reminder of some of the rules
Before I give you the results I’d just like to remind you all of some of the rules for entering the ROC. The website has a dedicated page just for the ROC which you can find here.
- Your digital files MUST be named correctly or they will not be entered.
- They must begin with a number sequence of 01, 02 or 03.
- Then you MUST use a SINGLE underscore _ . The underscore is normally found by using shift on the minus key of your keyboard.
- Then you type the title of your image followed by a SINGLE underscore.
- Finally enter your Membership Number. If you don’t know your membership number you can ask the Membership Secretary or the Club Treasurer
- All files must be in JPG format and should be saved in the sRGB Colour Space
- Maximum image size is 1400 pixels wide and 1050 pixels in height
- If you submit PRINTS you MUST submit a digital copy of that print
Here are a few examples of correctly named image files:
01_My Wonderful Image_251.jpg
02_My Wonderful Image_251.jpg
03_My Wonderful Image_251.jpg
PRINT_My Wonderful Image_251.jpg
And Now For the Winners
ROC Round 1 Results
Here are the winning entries for Round 1 of the ROC (Reflex Open Competition). There were some fantastic images entered and the standard was amazing, as usual. We’re trying out a new way of posting the images so please let me know what you think. To see them full size you just need to click on one and it will open larger. Then to show them as a slideshow simply click on the little triangle in the bottom left corner of the border that is around the image.
Results (names in red link to one of that persons websites) :
Digital Projected Novice
(at time of posting this stands. Although it may be altered later)
Digital Projected Image (advanced)
Prints (Advanced) Section