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)
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.
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)
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: