This week three for the price of one: an exchange visit with fellow WCPF club Hanham, things being helped by the clubs regular meetings being on consecutive nights. So we showed them ours at Hanham on Wednesday and they reciprocated on Thursday. This was followed by the return of former member Tony Cooney this week, who, last year, graced us with his pictures from his time serving in Iraq and this time showing his work with portraiture and a variety of models.
These three events set themselves squarely in our development as photographers of whatever level. Looking at, thinking about, talking about our and other people’s pictures is an absolute essential of developing not just appreciation but also a store of looks, effects, puzzles and things to try out.
In order to so we need to have some sort of method to regularise and make useful comparisons. This is generally known as a critique and is something we have used before (using some prints leant to us by Hanham by coincidence). It is what we have competition judges do for us, where they give is feed back from an outside perspective, and a great deal of experience.
We can use this to our advantage by rationalising our own reactions to others opinions. Nobody rational is going to like 100 percent of our output equally (nor dislike). In that we can garner likes and views and favourites on social media that has as much, if not more, to do with niche marketing than actual photography. And a lot of people seem to make it an end in itself. It, like the histogram of our last image, lies between perceptions of absolute light and dark because the image and our true opinion lie in the range in between. We critique to articulate these ranges. We learn by applying this through the viewfinder.
And we do this over time. Tony showed us a development line going back several years and made the point that the single biggest early improvement came from investing in a lighting course. Now there are good courses and there are mediocre ones and price is not really a good indicator of anything other than this is what your provider can afford to charge and still get enough people to engage.
Personally I rate these things, among others, by the number of people on the course. One where you get 20 minutes a day, if you are lucky, with a superstar of that genre is worth far far less in terms of personal development and value than one where you get an hour or two hours individual attention. You might get some excellent photographs, much time in course development is spent on making sure of that because then your customers become your champion marketeers, but unless you develop the faculty of seeing rather than looking, that is not going to teach you much.
Of course we are in a position nowadays that access to opinion and information is instantaneous and in volumes we cannot hope to handle. The self taught route can be very rewarding, of course, but the accelerating the pace needs some sort of external input. Quality not quantity and when you have grasped the basics that provide quality, consistency, was something that came across from Tony’s set and certainly this was evident across both the evenings he has done with us.
The “Studio” portrait conjures up images of large format cameras, assistants, assistants to assistants, big lighting rigs, expensive clothes on professional models and an equipment bill most of us don’t have sufficient kidneys to sell to pay for. Try scaling down expectations a little and the basics become more do-able. When learning a new skill it pays to Keep It Short and Simple (an extension of Kappa’s If-it’s-not-good-enough-you-are-not-close-enough mantra) and in something practical like this, plenty of do and review. Improvisation is part of the fun and the skills set of photography.
Of course there are the intermediate courses that you can buy on line and these range from good to bad as does anything else. In these cases finding people who have used them and have something to say about them and explain why they came to that conclusion (not testimonials) are few, far between and invaluable. In this case forewarned is fore armed. Managing our own expectations is also part of the process. It isn’t just about talent and it is also about recognising that hard work is a talent in its own right. If we have this capacity then a little direction is what we need.
Sooner or later we end up taking photographs of people. Before the days of mass photography that was almost the soul purpose of the art. OK, a bit of landscape thrown in. Today’s social media probably hasn’t done a huge amount to change that ratio, neither has it done a huge amount for the overall quality of photographs taken. Being in it counts for more than the quality of it.
There are things we can do to improve this easily enough. Last post we talked about the effect of sensor size on quality in the main part of the post. It has another impact too – depth of field or how much of the image is acceptably sharp. This is important because of the requirement to make the eyes (both eyes) the point of focus. That is the area of a face we will look to first. Not in focus? No second thought.
A camera phone has a deep depth of field. Shooting with a wide open aperture on a larger sensor means that that which we perceive as being acceptably sharp is far more limited. Both eye-focus is easier if we fill the frame with our subject, photographer Robert Capa once famously remarked, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, it’s because you aren’t close enough”. Aperture controls depth of field.
This applies to all sorts of cameras. With that in mind try replicating this video.
Slight change this week. We are introducing an occasional feature of blog postings from members, which though they will go through myself as editor are their own reflections on the art and how they go about it. To kick this off we have Alison Davies talking about her winning ways with national photography competitions. Copyright text and Photo’s Alison Davies, please respect that.
So, Alison, over to you …..
External Competition – Have a Go?
Seeing as I have been invited to do a guest blog on any subject, I thought it might be of interest to fellow club members to write a little about entering external photograph competitions. I am not talking salons and prestigious photography competitions for amateurs and professionals which are usually known by a series of letters, BPWA, TPOTY etc., I did look at these once but I really don’t the like thought of paying to enter.
I find external competitions to be very different to that of club competitions, far less stress involved, simply upload a photo to a website and forget it, as long as you have taken all of the terms and conditions into account – but more about that in a bit. They could be in magazines, newspapers, displayed in public buildings, on leaflets and online.
Of course, with an external competition you don’t get to see the panel reviewing images, their likes, dislikes, what’s good, what’s bad and often they will be selecting images from a commercial angle, but not always. I for one although having many years entering club competitions, can honestly say I am still uncomfortable sitting whilst a judge praises or gives a damning report on my efforts. I think that’s why, I am easier with entering online competitions and in doing so, I am entering photos I regard as fitting the bill of the brief or images I am happy with, in the knowledge that I won’t be pulled up publicly for a bit of burn out (sometimes it’s intentional), or not obeying the rule of thirds (some subjects are so strong they just have to be placed central) or other such critique which I will be aware of in advance but chose to display my image that particular way, as quite simply, I like it like that. Incidentally, no criticism of most judges intended, they have a job to do and we have all learned from the good ones in the past, however there are a few doing the rounds who in my opinion, should stay at home.
It’s pretty widely known, I have 2 dogs, Otis and Bazil, who are very much adored and it’s fair to say I spend lots of hours out with them in some very beautiful places. This is a win, win, situation for me due to my love of being outdoors and seeing my dogs enjoying themselves running, swimming and more often than not, getting mucked up – ‘the mucked’ up has proved advantageous in competitions.
Probably the same as most of you, when I am out, I always have a camera to hand and something that truly excites me is getting to see every season and what it brings. Each year I look forward to snowdrops, followed by the wild primroses, then bluebells. Shortly after I am eagerly awaiting the lighter evenings when I can once again walk in wild flower meadows, where if I didn’t have the dogs with me, would be a great opportunity to photograph butterflies, birds and insects. I have long given up on little creatures now, so many times with camera perfectly aligned ready to snap, one of the dogs comes bounding over and winged thing takes off! So cut a long story short, I have quite an extensive stock of photos of nature, wild flowers, trees and of course dogs – but a slim range of insects and birds.
My first competitions wins were very surprising, I never entered expecting to win anything, a friend said, “Here’s a competition you should enter”, so I did. The Orivs company runs a competition to find an image for their Dog Book cover each year, and I won with a photo of Otis. This was really exciting as Orvis told me they have a huge amount of entries and the photo was on their catalogues in UK and the US – my little Otis was their cover dog for 2014. The prize was a £500 Orvis voucher.
The same year, I came runner up with 2 photos in the top 10 in a Crufts photo competition with one of their main sponsors winning a camera phone but much to my horror had to attend a prize giving with celebrity and press (not that I knew who the celebrity was). The following year, I was runner up again with an image in the Crufts competition and with another dog company for another. It is a great feeling to see your photos displayed large on light box panels at such a prestigious event. Some of these companies have huge exhibition budgets and really do spend on their display graphics.
Since then I have had an article with photo published in the Crufts magazine, as runner up once again and won in other photo competitions which most of which are dog related, 2 pairs of top of the range boots in separate competitions which I wear all of the time and really wouldn’t have spent that much money on myself. 2 Barbour jackets and bags, really thinking hard about what I have been lucky enough to win. I have won hampers and other dog related products, which I donate to a local dog charity in order to boost their fund raising efforts – nice prizes can mean people attending events will spend more of raffle tickets if there is a decent prize on the table.
During 2015, a photo of Otis and Bazil on a beach won a place in a country style magazine’s calendar for 2016, winning, ‘Pet’s in the Countryside” category, 1 of 12 overall (1 from each category) to get a photo against a month and more prizes.
Then more recently, I got an email saying that I was a runner up in the RSBP calendar competition for 2017. Only a little while after, I had another email saying I was the winner which was totally unexpected as it was a wildlife photo competition, I know that there are some brilliant wildlife photographers about who are very passionate and extremely good, in fact we have some in Reflex. The prize for this one was £500 worth of Canon product, a VCR and a compact, they will shortly send through some other bits of merchandise which will feature my photo as they prepare stock for 2017 in their shops. It was lovely to win this competition as I know my photo will be working for the RSBP to make money for their charity on calendars and merchandise.
The RSPB leads me on to a few hints and tips to hopefully get some of you looking out for competitions and submitting some entries. My first tip would be to imagine you are back at school entering your exams, read the rules and terms and conditions, then read them again. If you don’t take on board exactly what they are requesting, that’s your photo binned before it’s got anywhere. It could be orientation, size – anything and everything.
Next, I would say, remove club competitions from your head completely, take time to think about the brief and think what it means to you. Remember, think about the company or charity and what it represents and make a photo choice to complement this. Think more commercially, what type of photo represents the brief and would it look good advertising their product? Does it have a wide appeal?
Now for the really important part, within the terms and conditions, there will be text stating what the company will / can do with your image. Careful, as this (and here’s the really cheeky part) can mean that it doesn’t matter if you have an image placed or not, by entering a photo, you are agreeing to the company using that photo for anything they choose, having automatic rights (and sometimes editing) and reproducing without credit to the photographer. They usually state an amount of time, for example a 3 year period. Not all companies do this but some do, therefore it is really important before you hand over your work that you know what you are signing up to. Often it is asked that the photos you enter are exclusive and not entered into any other competition or have not won other competitions. Bear this in mind if you can enter 3, this may exclude you from entering them into another better competition which comes up later!
It can be said that this is a cheap way of companies gaining extra advertising and cheap images although if you win, some prizes can be quite high value and of course it’s fun. I try and weigh up if I submit an image, it’s worth it – would I want this photo for anything else in the future? Most of us have stacks of images just sitting on hard drives, so often giving it over isn’t overly important, but think about it first.
Watch out for photo thieves too, upload images (unless otherwise instructed) as small as you can get away with, ensuring the screen version still looks good – unless the rules stipulate a set size.
Competitions which offer good prizes can specify professional photographers are not permitted to enter, when they do, they will usually offer their interpretation of this so that it is clear. Generally, the ones that I have entered stating that more than half of income/earnings must not come from photography, but this is individual to each competition.
Keep a file with your entries in, something I now do, earlier in the year I was contacted as a runner up and asked for a large file, all a bit embarrassing as I really didn’t know what photo I had entered and had to ask! This also stops you entering the same photo in different competitions, which is fine once the competition has ended and you have not been placed (subject to T & C’s mentioned above).
Finally, If you enter and at a later stage receive an email stating you are a runner up and requesting the large size image prior to the final judging, in my experience, it’s good news.
I hope this has inspired some of you to have a go, it’s fun, free and couldn’t be easier these days being able to upload online.
To start you off, there should be a category of interest for most people in the club, why not try this one, it was the competition I got a placed in with the photo of my dogs on the beach 2016. I have already entered for 2017, but there is still time to get some photos in and look at that lovely prize.
OK, so I am going to be honest, I am quite shallow regarding this, I don’t do it for the recognition, I really hate presentations and getting up in front of people – I am in it for the love of the prizes but of course it is very nice to be told you photo is valued.
©Alison Davies 17.6.2016
Thanks Alison that was really very illuminating. If you are willing to give the blog a go contact me at the meeting, I am almost always to be found there.
N E X T M E E T I N G
23 June 2016 19:30 Speaker: Peter Phillips: “A Photographic Journey” From Image Scientist to Photographer
Last meeting we welcomed the return visit of our WCPF confederates from Hanham Photographic Society and we thank them for their input into the evening. It is always good to see the work of other enthusiasts to compare and contrast to our own so that we may generate some new ideas, sometimes new angles on our own photography of the same subjects. We have also had a reasonable response to the survey that Gerry put together for us on Survey Monkey which has yielded some clarity around the likes and dislikes of our more active members, I am told and that will be discussed and integrated into future planning by the Committee. Thank you all those who took the time to participate.
The stories that we can project onto an image is a powerful hook for a photograph, often before other ascetic attractions. We were entertained with image spreading across decades and something we don’t see in the club very often, AV shows. In fact these were the first AV’s, certainly in the last couple of years that I have been at the club. So this week we are going to take a potter around the topic of Audio Visual Presentations.
Primarily they do what it says on the tin, using sound and pictures, usually stills when made by photographers I guess, but often with movie elements mixed in to make a self contained presentation around a topic or theme. They can be made cheaply using software that is either not very expensive or even free, though, as with all things audio and visual you can spend up to an enormous fortune on “Essentials” and gewgaws. None of course are arbiters of quality, the biggest input, as with any IT system, is located between the keyboard and the chair. If you are serious about such things, of course, by which I mean semi/professional then custom and bespoke hardware can be bought in or built and professional market software have a pay off. For the curious existing hardware and free software are available. This piece is aimed at the curiosity end of the market.
Movie Maker (aka LIVE Movie Maker) comes packaged with Windows. At least it did before Windows 10, it is now part of the Windows Essentials Package (basically legacy programmes from previous versions of windows) and if you haven’t downloaded it into your Windows 10 then you can get it direct from Microsoft. It’s free. It is also an old version as, for some reason it didn’t make Windows 10 in updated form. So far so Microsoft. Apple’s Final Cut does the same in Apples’ own way though it is not the only option. We can also use PowerPoint, for those of us with the Microsoft Office suite, in a variety of creative ways, or Google’s free photo editing suite Picassa (https://picasa.google.co.uk/), and, of course, Photoshop (though this video is done over a PowerPoint presentation).
For recording your commentary, if you don’t already have a programme or app on your computer, and there is one in Windows, you could do a lot worse than Audacity (free) or Free Record Edit. You could also usefully employ an external microphone (quality does make a difference here, but go with what you have before splashing out). If you are going to use music, assuming it’s not your own for which there is plenty of freeware out there for you to choose from, use royalty free music offerings (those with creative commons licensing).
As with most things planning makes for a better result. The process can be as complicated as you want to make it but, as ever, KISS – Keep It Short and Simple – rules the rules. There should be a clear beginning middle and end and one item should follow on logically from the previous. Whether you match the visuals to the audio or the audio to the visuals is a judgement you have to make, but if you don’t know where you are going you are likely to find yourself somewhere else. That is to say if you don’t know the point you want to make then you are likely to end up with a bit of mess. Or a lot of one.
So, when planning for audiovisual you have to remember that there are different priorities than planning just the image alone. The soundtrack is probably the most difficult element to get right, not so much the choice of jingle jangling music in the background which can be very distracting, but the deadpan voice of the narrator is an absolute joy. Not. This can kill any interest very quickly. A little adaptation goes a long way. The ability to put some emotion into the sentences is worth its weight in gold. Difference in tone, timbre, and occasionally speed gives the presentation of some interest. It is a fine line between nearly and good enough, but the effect on the viewer is far greater than might otherwise be thought. Going over the top does no favours either. The breathlessly enthusiastic can equally kill a presentation just as fast. Basically you need to get the sound right as well as the visuals.
Professional AV’s like those used in marketing and sales, can and do use proprietary hardware and software, and that is a sky’s the limit playground for your wallet. The rules, though, stay the same. Of primary importance is to decide who your audience is and the second is to use the medium to talk to them, not at them. The materials you present have to be appropriate, they have to be made available at the right time and often, they have to be able to be played across multiple platforms. This can be where the Web comes in useful with sites like YouTube, Vimeo and so on, where the question of Windows/Mac/Linux viewed on Lap top, PC, Mac, I-Phone Android etc don’t come into play because someone else has already taken care of that. This is good for wide distribution, though controlling access can be problematic. Neither is the cost/bother of burning CD/DVD’s, printing covers and loading into boxes a factor. On the other hand there is a lot you can do with a little, so why not give it a go?
Our thanks again to Hanham Photographic Society for an entertaining evening. Next meeting, Life Begins at 40 ……
Busy week with the Club battle versus Bristol Photographic Society on Wednesday and an interesting and well explained substitute evening from Adrian Herring ARPS DPAGB and Vanessa Herring LRPS from the Kingswood Club and their month long trip to Uganda standing in for our own Simon Caplin who was ill. Get well soon Simon.
BPS first. The camera battle was the third battle of the evening for those who attended. First there was the weather, which was atrocious, then there was the perennial how-do-you-park-in-Clifton Village? followed by the club evening camera battle judged by Sandie Cox ARPS, CPAGB and WCPF Members Exhibition Secretary. May I extend a club thanks to all those involved, to our hosts who were most gracious (and victorious) to Sandie for her detailed feedback and obvious, detailed, preparation and to the committees of both clubs for making it happen. RCC extend our best wishes for their upcoming move to Montpelier, where the premises are more capacious and the access easier (you can even get there on the train!).
The final score was BPS 335 v RCC 285, a wider margin than a year ago when the scores were BPS 366 v RCC 331. The two club sets were varied and natural history (Sandie’s RPS panel subject and one where she has particularly strong feelings, unsurprisingly), travel, street, and art all proved popular categories. Sandie’s other great love is for monochrome which wasn’t widely represented this year and as she said herself, for a particular sort of monochrome. BPS had 9 images scored at between 18 and 20, RCC 2 and the distribution of marks was between 13 and 20 for BPS and 11 and 18 RCC. Last year it was 15 and 3 respectively in the 18-20 marks and the range was between 16-20 (BPS) and 14-18 (RCC). Overall it was an enjoyable evening to brave the elements on and here’s looking forward to the 2016 battle!
|Pandoras Box||Barry Mead||18|
|In Step||Derwood Pamphilon||16|
|Common Darter||Rich Price||12|
|Waxwing on Berry||Mary Pears||16|
|Dancer in her Final Pose||Julia Simone||17|
|Forest Giants at Dawn||Steve Taylor||14|
|Vicars Close||Mark Stone||14|
|Red in the Pocket||Greg Duncan||13|
|Puffin and Catch||Geoff Morgan||16|
|Gull Feeding on Flies Mono Lake||Val Duncan||17|
|Red Nose Band||Barry Mead||18|
|British Summer||Eddie House||15|
|Riding High||Greg Duncan||18|
|Knock-out Punch||Julia Simone||14|
|That 80’s Feeling||EddieDeponeo||15|
|Pallas Bat||John Hudson||15|
|Going for the Basket||Val Duncan||18|
|Wish I was out there||Geoff Morgan||18|
|Namib Storm Approaching||John Chamberlin||20|
|Working Together||Greg Duncan||20|
|Judge Sandie Cox ARPS CPAG||335||285|
So, on to the Herring’s adventures in Uganda. A recent month-long trip to Uganda to see not only the country but also the work of the organisation run by Vanessa’s cousin, Soft Power, and operating in Jinja. Some miles were certainly put in and the huge variety that Uganda encompasses was on show in a vibrant projected and print presentation that filled the evening. Adrian and Vanessa’s skill and experience was obvious and whereas we would all do slightly different things with the same opportunity, something they showed with the occasional different view of the same subject, it is the individual interpretation of the rules of composition, storytelling and angle that make a different story for the viewer and the photographer as we have examined over the evenings, activities and posts of this season.
As with Kev and Rich’s presentation on Iceland last season, the key to the Herring’s successful trip was planning and deliberation. In order to make something worthwhile happen they had to be open to what was going on around them, but also needed a direction and purpose. We come across the idea of serendipity again.
The Adrian and Vanessa took a couple of telephoto zoom lenses with them amongst their kit and that introduces a fundamental question about what you need to take when you travel, and there appear to be two opposing schools of thought here. The debate about the merits of the Prime Lens v The Zoom Lens is as old as the zoom lens. Weight, size and maximum aperture definitely lie with the fixed lens. Speed in framing, where you would have to physically move or change lenses to better frame the shot and therefore general flexibility lie with the zoom. Prime lenses also tend to be sharper, especially at the wider apertures and cheaper because there are less moving parts and less glass in their construction.
Some of the advantages of primes over older zoom lenses, especially the early ones are beginning to be eroded. F5.6 seems to be increasingly a leveller when it comes to sharpness and image stabilisation, where fitted, certainly is found a lot lower in the price range of zoom lenses than primes (for a reason). That means you can be more flexible in the use of your ISO because good results are available with lower shutter speeds than without an IS or VR option (Image Stabilisation is the same as Vibration Reduction). You pays your money and you takes your choice, but one other factor to consider is the type of photography you are going to indulge in. Smaller, lighter, less intrusive will almost certainly win out in street photography, but with faster moving subjects, the ones where the relation to the photographer are constantly changing, especially from foreground to background, the zoom option will give the opportunity of more shots taken. That’s potentially more. No guarantees of quality in quantity. There’s just a bit more to making a keeper.
The upshot of these considerations is that you need to plan. The glass you have is the glass you take in most cases, not least because this can be an expensive hobby and laying out on new kit constantly isn’t either affordable nor particularly desirable – for most of us. Get to know the equipment you have well. Don’t, as I have written about before, itinerate to the minute, so much can be lost by trying to pack too much in. You want to avoid, I suggest, the feeling of being on a touristic production line. The Herrings mentioned several times the uses of local guides and local knowledge, especially if it can help with being navigating around and even avoiding the worst in popular areas (and sometimes not-so-populated) and they plainly took their time in engaging with local people and volunteers on the project they visited and helped with. This pays dividends when you are travelling – and even when you’re not, the same goes for street and environmental, studio, modelling, well you get the idea.
So our thanks to the Herrings for an interesting evening. Next meeting Rich is giving a talk on the use of colour space. Here is a little something on gamut and colour space by way of introduction, if that isn’t something familiar to you.
Don’t forget the club Flikr page competition. This month the topic is COLD.
Closing Date for next round of the ROC is Thursday 22nd.