The WCPF travelling critique was our last evening, and as ever there is something to be got out of sitting down and critically discussing the works of other photographers, especially if we then extend that to our own work. Some photographers get too caught up in the notions of developing a style or shooting a particular way thinking that their body of work will evolve through consistency alone.
That is like braking going uphill, sometimes it is necessary, but it involves a great deal of wasted energy. It is understandable though when the idea that photographic style is a filter we apply to an image. No this is not an anti-Instagram rant, and if that sounds like something we use to combat the symptoms of hay fever then now is an opportunity to catch up by clicking here.
But Instagram is a good place to start. Kevin Systrom, who was a co-founder of Instagram and who did very nicely, thank you, when it was sold to Facebook, had the idea seeded for the app when a Professor in Italy introduced him to the Holga camera, a cheap everything-you-pay-thousands-for-your-glass-not-to-do sort of camera that produces very retro looking pictures on 120 roll film. But that quirkiness actually forms the basis of the Holga’s modern-day appeal and yes, you can get filters to modify your everything-you-pay-thousands-for-your-glass-not-to-do to do Holga-esque images, just make sure you are well braced when you do because the weight of the irony of that is going to hit your wallet pretty hard.
The fact is film had/has its own look. Each brand would have their own unique ways of capturing and processing the light. Just in slide film: Kodachrome went through several “looks” over its life; Fuji was noted for its blue tones; Agfa was something else again; ditto Scotch, the list goes on.
Then there are/were the options/limitations in printing. Papers, inks, chemicals, sizes, frames, viewing options and conditions all have an impact. What they cannot do, however, is cover for lousy composition. Poor lighting. Wrong exposure. Unengaged subject. Surely filters / looks / processes / post-production can lend atmosphere to an image but unless the style is “Never mind the quality feel the width” they are not going to do much for our artistic integrity.
What we are looking for is a quality of the imagination, showing our individuality by drawing with light (Greek: photo – light graphy from graphe making lines or as we would call it, drawing). Style in the literary sense is about how the tools of language, clauses, spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like are put together to make an impression on the reader. We use light and shadow, directionality, the tools of composition and a photosensitive surface capable of recording the fall of light and dark on a subject in the same way. We fashion a statement on a subject.
What other people are doing is a start, but it is only a start. Copying what others have done, making a re-interpretation of something that has gone before, making our own statement, is a great way to learn but it is a means to an end. However, it is not the reason we pick up the camera (at least before we disappear up our own dirt pipes like the voice over on any given perfume advert). Understanding the technicalities by replicating the image is a learning tool, not an end in itself.
That said there is a notion that we can move between taking snapshots to making photographs. In so doing we develop, through habit, a photographic style. Whether it is a conscious statement or not. Perhaps we keep making the same mistakes, is that a style? Broadly yes but it is the elimination of the incidental and replacing it with the deliberate that makes a difference. It is that interpretation that is the seedbed of the individual’s style. That is when we start bothering less about what everyone else is doing.
Defining our style is one thing. Refining it is something else. Technical skills matter, you have to be able to apply the rules before you can start breaking them successfully. Purpose is the key. And lots of lots of practice. Lots and lots and lots.
Longtime sufferers of this blog will know that the world is divided into two. The Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas and Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. I err towards the former, but that is a personal thing. The fact is we need skills in both, but that we are probably better at one than the other.
That said there is a lot of time effort and money to be spared in getting the thing you have in your head onto your computer file (that is what we are creating until the image is printed) in as close to finished form as we can in the place where most of the important elements and all the results of those irreparable decisions are made. The camera. Just don’t let it get in the way.
Having the camera and lighting skills gives us the option to manipulate what we see in the fashion we want it seen. Post-production then tidies up and polishes. That sequence is the one that lets our style evolve and show through. Is it the only way? I doubt it. Having the confidence in using the materials we have to hand to make our statement makes for a stronger more assured one. When the “rules” are broken it is to a deliberate effect. Style thus evolves through confidence.
This last fortnight we have covered ROC round 3 and it was our turn for the WCPF prints, where we could exercise our own critiquing skills. This is always popular as members can be more involved than is necessarily the case on competition nights. On my table we got into some earnest questions not so much as which pictures we favoured but why that was so. Agreement wasn’t necessarily required, and we came to our 1,2,3 decisions for each category through a simple majority vote. That wasn’t really the point of it all though. The theming of those prints gave me an idea for this weeks blog.
When we look at other people’s work we are looking at other peoples way of seeing, which is not ours. Sounds deep. Essentially if we want to improve we have, at some time or other, to challenge our own way of seeing, discuss our way of seeing. Using the WCPF and viewing the competition work we can put that into some sort of perspective. Yes I like that – why? No I don’t like that – why not? The Japanese have a saying that if you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? Basically break down the reasons to the core. That teaches us something about our own preferences and we can, if we take note of these things, start to make a difference to our own work through it. Or, as I am sure I have quoted to you before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan). It has to be a conscious decision though, to do something about it.
Sounds like a slow process? Well it is. Our world is awash of nail-it-in-five-easy-lessons advice, yet that isn’t how humans learn. Sure you can get the basics right in about 20 hours but making the learning our own, that takes longer. Practice makes perfect as I am sure you have been told. Along with “Fail is just the First Attempt In Learning” and other useful things you want to strangle people for. And until we start to take on the critical eye, start taking and rejecting opportunities as part of a conscious effort, we just go round in one big circle until we are torpedoed by our own failed expectations. Bit like the sinking of the Bismarck.
But it’s a hobby. We do because we enjoy. There is no other compulsion than the one that gnaws at us to get the camera out of its bag and go shoot something (in the nicest possible way). There is always something on to point the camera at, the local “What’s On” tells us so. Left to the random too much can get missed or we end up trying to do too much in too little time. Opportunity generally isn’t a problem. Having a direction, some rails to run on, some clues as to what to look for, that is a great way of focusing the attention. Welcome to the world of the photo-project.
In its simplest form a photo project is a theme, a camera and a (regular?) space in the diary. There are as many projects as photographers, it seems, and that is because, to work, it has to be personal. We have to have some emotional attachment to what we are doing or it simply will not get done. The first point to take on board is that a 365 day project, a photo a day, sounds great when we start out but I am willing to bet that most of them don’t get completed, or get modified into something more suited to time and effort available. 30 day and 7 day projects are also popular and are more feasible. Timescale has a role to serve as we are effectively making an appointment with ourselves. The subject can be anything, but has to be something we have to put more than the usual amount of effort to complete. Then there are subject variations like: shoot 100 strangers (the serial killers favourite); A-Z; 52/26/12/any random number Photo-walks; pick a colour/theme; one focal length; the Roll of 12/24/36 (back to the old film days where you limit yourself to a film roll on a shoot); The 100 ISO challenge (fixed ISO can also be done with fixed aperture or speed); manual only focusing; plus a host of others.
Of course there is also the ongoing project, the one that lasts over months and years, that can involve deeper immersion in the subject where the style you develop adapts to the conditions your subject is most commonly found in. Osmosis, by and large is not a thing that produces results particularly quickly, if at all. The whole planned thing gets you thinking. The whole well I didn’t expect that thing we find when we get to a location challenges us to adapt. These two things help us develop but the third leg of the stool – looking critically at what other people have done and why we like it or what we would change about it and how we apply it to our own work- puts what we are trying to do in a context. That gives us something to learn and to improve with.
OK so this is based on a my-best-shot-is-my-next-one philosophy, but continuous development builds over time. It is about DELIBERATE practice. Now practice does not have to be devoid of fun, again I say this is our hobby, not our penance, but if we take Henri Cartier-Bresson’s point quoted in the last blog that “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst” we miss the point and that point is the our first ten thousand deliberate photographs are our worst. And that is OK. Deliberation is the difference, and that can be as simple as going through your latest batch of images and thinking “If I were to take that one again I would ….” and then doing it. That is where we came in. Five members of a photographic club sitting around a table deciding what attracts them to different photo’s, and why, as a basis of going out and doing something about it.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Club member Julie Kaye on underwater photography.
Our thanks to David Southwell not only for a sterling job in judging the Hankin and Scantlebury Trophies round but for doing so at short notice. Always a model when it comes to his consideration and feedback. Our continued run of no shows, reasons aside, continued as the 2015-2016 season goes down as “The year the Judges didn’t”. Results will be posted on the club website made available and the awards made at the end of year bash.
As ever, the last two rounds of the ROC have shown that the interests, eyes for an opportunity and styles of club members are very different. They are, if we let them be, calls to go out and do some things afresh, to get better. In the final analysis the only person we are competing against is our self. We have visited this improvement theme more than a few times but that does not alter the fact that it is our own experience and limitations that go into taking the next frame. It maybe a little dispiriting when people/clients are name-checking a 9 year old over you, or when the fourteenth consecutive judge has failed to notice your genius, but that doesn’t matter because you are following your passion.
Except it does matter.
It matters because you don’t need to let your passion get in the way of your passion for. Passion here, we could also read as ego, passion for as motivation. I am not going to launch into a Freudian lecture on Id Ego and Super Ego, but the point was made on Petapixel this week in an article built around a Mike Rowe video entitled “Don’t follow your passion“. Essentially it is about blinkering ourselves to opportunity by focusing on what we desire, or think desirable, or think we should think desirable.
Someone, actually it was Ralph Waldo Emerson and in answer to your next question, yes I do know where he is, said that life is a journey not a destination. Well thinking about it he might be right but actually that doesn’t actually mean anything nor does it indicate what we should do next. Let’s put this into photographic terms. Your eye sight is fading, it was always better in the days of film, you were once the proud owner of an Austin Allegro and your favourite colour is beige. Conclusion? Go and judge some club competitions, who will then marvel at your beige enhanced, photochemical scented nostalgia and razor perception of the necessary width of a border. A fairly accurate description of the judge who doesn’t pick your photo for at least a commendation, obviously.
What we have here is not so much a matter of perspective as a matter of investment. The landscaper who hacks across perilous marshlands in the dark in order to get that glorious sunrise, slightly over exposed, but that can be “fixed in post”, with the horizon bang in the middle, but that can be cropped out, the dynamic range in the frame more than JPEG can handle, did that for effect, and with the tips of branches intruding from one side, strong vignette will sort that out, is left with a sense of achievement imbued by the difficulty of the journey and the glory of the post shoot slap up breakfast. The journey becomes the point and the spectacles distinctly rose hewed because of it. Along comes the judge, who has trekked that very path, taken that very scene, made it part of their successful RPS panel and basically says “Should have gone to Specsavers”. If a good ‘un their feed back will provide a map to get them there. Obviously, our landscaper is the victim of myopia, poor taste, jealousy, misunderstanding etc etc. Yet, following their passion, and as we seem to be in the middle of a quote-fest, they have fulfilled the Yogi Berra observation that “If you don’t know where you are going you might find yourself someplace else”.
It’s not the trek over the perilous path that the judge is judging, it’s the image that resulted and it is being judged against the other entries in that part of the competition. Yes, it is all relative, and if the competition regularly shoots for and is commissioned by National Geographic then the standard you have to hit to be good enough to reward is going to be far, far higher. In this rather extreme case you have a decision to make. Buckle or learn? If you are following your passion then the former is easier, eventually than the latter. If you bring your passion with you, as Rowe points out, then the latter becomes a lot easier – if you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation.
There is a negative side that can raise its head here and that is to do with confidence. Lack of confidence is, I would speculate, the number one reason members don’t enter club competitions and whereas it is true, or maybe, it can also come across as a bit glib to say, nothing ventured nothing gained. The essential truth doesn’t take the sting out of failure. Experience has taught me that if you don’t “fail” (come up to expectation, yours or someone else’s) you cannot learn. Fail is just an acronym. First Action In Learning. Don’t fail, can’t learn, can’t learn won’t improve. Enter the competitions not to win but to learn. That is where the judge’s feedback is so very important. If you have a system for and a willingness to put it into operation. Simply put, take what the judge said could be improved, go take two similar shots, one with those sins included and one with them omitted. Which seems better? Make a note, as in write it down in a note book. Practice the better outcome. Read your notes often.
All of which takes motivation. Actually two things it takes, the first I have just mentioned, repetition, the second is the spur to action. The pattern for most people who are not obsessive/compulsive is to have a whole lot of enthusiasm at the beginning which tales off to mild interest and finally redundancy over time. In that way motivation carries the seeds of its own destruction. The key is to vary. Not one technique done to death but two or three practiced together, and always with a critical eye, a positively critical eye. Technique is more important 99 times out of a hundred, than gear, but that is not to diminish the role that gear can play. It’s just better to invest in it gradually and purposefully. Know why and what you are going to achieve by investing in it. What it isn’t is a crutch for bad technique. Which brings us back to the top of the page.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Practical outdoors, bring your cameras. If weather inclement then we will be indoors.
That time of year again and we made good use of the 100+ prints in the travelling critique by taking a clue from the title and doing a team critique. Split into four groups we did a round robin to see if the clubs judgements matched the WCPF’s. That there was some correspondence between our groups and the WCPF is suggestive of something, but how much that is fashion and how much is warranty of excellence is always going to be open to debate, which is why the WCPF have their own judging guidelines. By having such guidelines there is a basis for standardisation.
Standardisation produces a number of benefits. It provides a start point from where interpretations can be made and also provides a reference point that can be used on review. With something that has as much variation as photographic images – each one, after all is unique – the technical, basically the exposure triangle plus composition, represent the common variables. No, you cannot overcome people’s visceral likes and dislikes but you can have a common framework and if people are open about their likes and dislikes – and at least attempt to compensate for them – then you have room for an interpretive framework.
By having such an interpretive framework then notions of quality can be established – but only within the terms of the chosen controls. This blur factor is necessary in photography exactly for the reason outlined above. The uniqueness of each image. Replace unique with the term “Art”. Art is an expression, an attempt to, through the application of skill to materials to craft an object that conveys meaning in the estimation of an audience. It’s what we do in our club competitions. That is not going to be the same meaning in every viewer. To legislate for that is to tell people what to think, never a wholly successful enterprise. Thus we look to regulating, mostly, the application of craft and the bigger thing that creates, the art if you like, of the picture.
This rather raises the question of what purposes such art serves, what effect are we trying to create? Broadly, and I do mean broadly, this fits into three categories. The physical, the social and the personal. The physical relates on a scale from something to nothing. A fountain pen has a physical function, writing, but can also be a functioning work of art. Art is not measured by monetary value, as this example might suggest, the amount that someone is willing to pay and why they are willing to pay it is a function of value, present and future, something quite different. Money is just the way of keeping count. I frequently find use for a tea cup, way beyond most people by volume, but never yet a tea cup covered in fur. I have none because I have no use for them, at least the covered in fur part. I may understand, or attempt to understand, the symbolism of such a statement, I may even add one of my own (futility in case you were asking, though I suspect that was part of the original message), it doesn’t mean I am going to become a furrier to my tea service. The sum is greater than its parts.
The social looks to our notions of a shared life, rather like street photography does, or environmental portraiture, or even portraiture itself in some aspects, as opposed to one persons outlook. Think of the work of social photographers like those involved in the Farm Security Administration sponsored documentary of 1930’s Dust Bowl America. It wasn’t just a record for of the resettlement of those dispersed by a man made ecological disaster. It had a political dimension. War photography isn’t just about two militaries engaging in what Von Clausewitz called “The continuation of Politics by other means“. It has news (therefore commercial) value, it has deeply personal meaning for the photographers there, it can be a contact point for those who weren’t, it is about humanity at its opposites of best and worst. Above all it has a collective purpose.
The personal aspect is probably the most like nailing water, because it is subtly different from person to person. However, as hobbyists it is perhaps easiest to generalise that we take photographs – make art – for our own gratification, as matters of self expression, either to share an emotion or feeling or for no particular reason other than we can – or did. Still this has two aspects, what the photographer meant is not necessarily what the viewer sees and that is a good thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t employ our curiosity, probably the most successful of human characteristics, which is the same as gets us to come to a camera club to learn and share about our hobby.
Just goes to show what you can do with the exposure triangle and the rules of composition.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Annual General Meeting. Important because without one we don’t have a club, so please attend, members.
Getting things straight for the competition rounds was the subject of our last meeting, covering Resizing (large file) images for Reflex Open Competitions, colour space and getting images printed and framing the results (there is more than one way). The club, being members of the WCPF, follows the template for competitions laid down by the PAGB. This standardises competition rules across member federations across the country.
As we have covered this before I will leave you with the links above, before moving on to an argument that we have touched on, but still bares closer scrutiny as it is fundamental to photography in general and to certain types of photography in particular. It is prompted by two events, one referred to in last week’s blog, that of Reuters announcing a shot-in-jpeg-only policy and an interview in the Guardian of Don McCullin published Friday (27 Nov 2015).
The issue is of the veracity of the photograph, how “true” is it? McCullin talks about the difference between digital and film and his issue is the ease of manipulation the digital allows in comparison to film. He is a man of the black and white, an aesthetic both elegant and brutal in its pairing down to form and shape and shade. His point about being left alone in the dark with his images on film I thought quite poignant, especially given the subject matter he is best known for. This flexibility is the same issue that Reuters have, if expressed from different perspectives, of producer and market broker, but the issue is of trust. Trust is a marketable quality, by which I mean it is a quality that buyers and consumers look for in an organisation. Reuters need to be confident that the photographs they are peddling are truthful representations.
The Art/Science Truth/Fiction debates have been with us since the beginning of the medium and it will go on as long as the medium persists, that is to say there will always be dissenters. That isn’t the thrust of this post, nor McCullin’s point, neither is the truth/fiction argument one that Reuters are trying to conclude – they never will because they cannot because the capacity to manipulate, i.e. post production, will always be there and the photographer’s choice of angles, setting, subject will necessarily be a selective truth concreted in the raw image data.
Trust not truth, then. It isn’t an either or, one does not exclude the other, and Reuters and McCullin, whilst making different points, are talking of the same or similar problem. Truth, in essence, is a statement of fact. Trust is an emotional response that dictates the truth for each of the people involved in an interaction. That means multiple and often conflicting truths. That which is true and that which we believe to be true. Reuters want and need their clients to believe in the integrity of the photographs and in McCullin’s field, photojournalism, that is an absolute. It is one that has been fraught from the off, Roger Fenton‘s photograph of the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as it has come to be known after Tennyson’s famous poem on the Charge of the Light Brigade, is thought to have been staged for the emotional feel rather than battlefield veracity. In 1854 any real-time action photograph would have been pretty impossible due to exposure times. Not so 1938 and the fallen Spanish soldier we talked of (Robert Capra) back in September; lack of veracity got Brian Walski fired from the LA Times and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mirror.
All these were “War” photographs, I use the inverted commas because, whereas they are indeed photographs of war and its collateral damages, war is just the situation they were taken in, moments of humanity glimpsed through the blink of a shutter in a situation stripped of it. What has that to do with club photography? I mean, the club “battles” I have been at haven’t really got beyond the “Canons to the left of them Nikons to the right” level of drama, though all the judges we have had have had stories of metaphorical battle scars from less than impressed entrants and manipulations are deliberate and for effect. Well McCullin also touched on this in the Guardian interview, not camera clubs, you understand, when he talked about the colour reproduction and how it has, in some cases, become garish, certainly unreal. Landscapes, his preferred subject do seem to be going this way. There is one in a current photographic publication, held up as a tour de force to be, I assume, emulated and inspirational. It popped straight back into mind when I read McCullin’s comment: “These extraordinary pictures in colour, it looks as if someone has tried to redesign a chocolate box”. That is a matter of taste, though.
All this could be the influence of the Art World, of which there are many and not always complimentary opinions (in both directions), and comes back to the Art/Science and Mere Mechanics debate, at least in part. The fact is that fashion is an important driving force in setting trends. Changes in technology have democratised photography, and has greatly enabled what the average citizen can do. It doesn’t mean that the average citizen is any better a photographer or producer of images, but the potential is there. How much, then, should the producer of an image be able to say they created to make it theirs? The internet has made a vast and perpetually growing well of images available to an web connected individual. Social media makes sharing very easy. Sometimes people’s idea of sharing goes a little too far. What we enter into competitions we assert that the work we enter is our own. Local photographic clubs don’t often make national newspapers but one did over the summer and the whole club was thrown out of the PAGB competition over the claims of one member to the intellectual property rights of his entry. Trust, plays a part even at the micro level we operate within our clubs. Which is where we came in ….
N E X T M E E T I N G
Skies and how to improve them ….
Last meeting was the Annual General Meeting, where an account of the club was given over the last year and the committee reconstituted. Mark Stone and Dan Ellis stepped down as Social and Programme Secretaries to be replaced by Chris Harvey and Gerry Painter respectively and Jo Gilbert stepped into Gerry’s spot on the programme sub-committee. Otherwise the committee remains as was. The committee is the glue of the club and its heart and the club is in general good health so our thanks as club members, regular and irregular, for all their efforts. Ruth will post the minutes in due course.
What do you want from your club? We all share a love of the craft or we wouldn’t join a club, would we? Maybe there is more to it than that, but the fact is the more people become actively involved in the club then the more that club can do and everyone can exercise an influence. We have a strengthening competition base, and that is as much made up from the new members as existing and this is supported by the broad spectrum of speakers who relate their experiences and their expertise. Practical evenings, events and gatherings have proved ever popular – we invest in the kit to use it after all. Our membership numbers remain stable and we have a broad range of backgrounds amongst it. All in all we have solid foundations and a strong upcoming programme. We have 6 competitions in the year (4 rounds of the Open, a creative round and the trophy round – which is next week), not as many as some clubs but then there are issues about competitions and whether they stimulate or stifle innovation and development (both for my money, the key factor being how they are used in the individual members development and how the judges relate to the entries and audience and whether I can learn anything from the feedback given).
In brief, the whole is other than the sum of its parts. We are all at different levels of development, have different views on subjects, kit, and whether it really has turned out nice again and we combine those things together to craft a (visual) statement. The club gives us somewhere we can test those statements against others and by others. It does not matter if we agree or not, the important thing is that we can use that feedback to inform our art. The more of us getting involved the more opportunities there are. By applying even a modicum of criticism to our images we can and do progress. This is where the combination of theory, practicals, competitions and informal gatherings come together. The club makes these things possible.
The programme we have set out from the next meeting, the John Hankin and Stan Scantlebury Shields, all the way through to July 2016 includes: practical nights; tutorial nights; speakers from outside the club and in; editing; model shoot; the WCPF travelling critique, a three way club battle; landscapes; wedding photography; a monochrome challenge and, of course, the Reflex Open. Looks like another great year ahead. We bring open minds to these and we try out what we have learned and we learn more we have more we can put into the club.
The programme that we have had over the last year has been influenced, especially in the early part, by the move from the old school to the new, which as both Maurice and Steve pointed out, went better than expected. Certainly the new premises are very conducive, even if the chairs are pew-of-the-miserable-sinner hard. Education and penitence all for a bargain price! Tea breaks can be quite accurately timed by the pained look on the faces of the audience. At least that is what visiting speakers are told. Some might wonder why a tea break is required every fifteen minutes, but still they manfully (and woman-fully) plough on till either interrupted by the conscience of whoever has introduced the evening (who mysteriously has been standing throughout) or the expressions on everyones’ faces makes it look like they are adjudicating a Wallace (or Ed Miliband) look-alike contest, so chastising are the plastic seats (of course).
The best speakers are those who adapt their material to the audience. It can be very easy to end up delivering the same thing regardless. A travelogue to the WI is not the same as a presentation to a camera club. The things they want to know are different. No the camera settings on each and every shot are not the things we want to know, unless it has been to produce a particular effect or overcome lighting difficulties. RAW or JPEG? In passing only, please, and your reasoning. If someone wants to know more they will ask you about it. Likes and dislikes? That’s a statement, not an apology, nor a sermon (despite the hardness of the seats) and, frankly, will come out in your images anyway. Give us your reasoning so we can test that against what you are showing us. Most, if not all, of us want something we can take away and try for ourselves. Equipment? Yes, that can be useful as long as it doesn’t turn into kit-pornography or an advertisement for Canikon and what difference does it make? Why can’t you take that with a kit lens? Even though the answers may be quite mundane they do go towards making up a philosophy which informs what and how subjects are taken. That is a good thing to get over to an audience of photography enthusiasts.
About those competitions. We have had a big revival in interest from within the club and that partly driven by new members which is healthy. Also, using the data from three club battles over the last 18 months there has been an across the board uplift in competition quality based on common prints and a common judge. Now, it’s obvious to all club members, when their images aren’t picked, that judges only become judges when their eyesight starts to go, but in their defence we have had some consistent judges, certainly since I have been a member, and judging is exactly that. It is an exercise in judgement against standards that make up a technically proficient photograph plus …. And that plus is made up of experience and yes, tastes (and eyesight), but the variations haven’t been huge, so fair play to the WCPF for that. Feedback, the breakfast of champions apparently, is the best we as individuals can take away and the quality of feedback can be variable, especially when faced with a large number of images to get through in a short space of time. It’s a turn around and a nice problem to have, but the committee is going to have to look at the number of images in the ratio of prints to digital to keep things in balance (and possibly source a decent supply of prescription glasses).
So, overall, a good year and with each of us playing a part, a better one to look forward to.
N E X T W E E K
Please note that there will not be a meeting at the club next week instead we are away at Backwell for a club camera battle. Said battle commences at 19:30 hours come along and support the club. Details are as per Gerry’s flyer here>>> Backwell Battle.
We were fortunate to have to the WCPF travelling exhibition again with us at the last club meeting, these prints were the ones that didn’t make it to the final cut. It was, as ever, as instructive as it was occasionally puzzling. We also had gold silver and bronze award prints to compare these to and there was much lively discussion about the relative merits. As has been said before, beyond the basic and accepted technicalities of the exposure triangle, focus, composition and subject and competition specific rules lies the more fraught ideas of what makes a good subject and a good image. What follows are some reflections from comments made and brief discussions had on the evening.
There were a couple of things that stood out quite strongly in the negative camp: one was to do with the style of mounting and the other was the overuse of the clarity slider in post production.
Let’s take the mounting issues first. Nothing says that the print has to be bang in the middle with an even border all the way around in order for a printer to be properly presented. Indeed variation can really bring a print to life. There were, and not just in this correspondent’s view, a number of prints that used letterboxing but set them in the top third of the frame in portrait giving undue prominence to the thickness of the bottom border. The effect of this was to immediately draw attention to the frame and distract from the picture because of the depth of the bottom part of the mount. Never in human history has the utterance “Nice frame” been a compliment. It was a shame that the frames swamp out some rather interesting images which were otherwise of very good, certainly club level, competition standard.
The Golden Ratio again rears its head and is supposed to produce the optimum border calculation (I will save you the maths, 6.05 cms on a 40 x 50 mount, for other sizes I direct your attention to the calculator at the bottom of the link). Nothing, though, says that a border has to be the same all round, it is a question of perspective. Think of the hinges on a door. When properly hung the top and bottom hinges are set at different depths from those extremities because we generally view these things from a standing position and if evenly spaced the perspective looks wrong. The bottom hinge is actually set higher so as to create an illusion of even spacing. otherwise it looks “wrong”. The frame of a print can be a powerful statement, but shouldn’t be so powerful as to overwhelm the statement the image itself is supposed to be making.
The clarity slider is a great way to boost mid-tones, or cut them back. It is an invaluable tool. Like everything else it can be overdone. There were a couple of black and white images that had the grit in the mid-tone turned up to eleven. Clarity works by increasing contrast but with a bigger effect on both the highlights and the shadows, essentially pulling out the histogram from the centre. Texture is more refined and certainly there is a case for a higher input when it is in need of a boost, and it does seem to work more effectively in black and white. Move the slider to the left then it has a softening effect (often the chief culprit in the charges of unrealistic portraiture or death by post-production). It’s not just clarity that can be overdone of course, saturation can become garish with very little input in the right (if that is the correct word) circumstances. Vibrance is the smarter sibling of saturation. It will select the dull colours and boost them whilst leaving the vibrant ones alone. It will leave skin tones untouched. Taken as a trio these are very powerful tools but need to be handled with care.
For all that these things are a matter of taste and therefore personal. Judging – and these were the entries that just fell short in the judges view – is as subject to fashion as anything else. HDR, partial colour remain controversial, not least because they are difficult to do subtly. That said, how dull would it be if every photograph was conducted purely to competition standard? I, for one, am glad of the variation.