The third round of the ROC, congratulations to the winners, thanks to Peter Weaver for his work as the judge, and it is good to see that the overall level of technical achievement is going in the right direction. To those members who are convincing themselves that their work isn’t good enough to show, I have to say you are probably wrong about that. The competitive element aside, and the importance of that will be personal to each entrant, getting feedback from experienced judges is a good way to look to our personal development as photographers.
It comes back to that word “Because”. I agree with the judge, because … I disagree with the judge, because … are two great places to start. Personal development involves reflecting on the work we produce and putting it forward in the first place is a great way to see things differently. Seeing things differently, trying things differently is the deliberate act that fires that improvement.
As I said in the closing remarks, £2.95 for a re-usable 40 x 50 cm (20 x 16 inch ) mount to fit a 16 x 12 inch (40.6 x 30.5 cm) aperture from The Range (cheaper on line, but make sure you know what you are buying first) and £1.82 for a 16 x 12 gloss or lustre print from Keynsham Photographic Centre and we are in business. Give it a go.
It is, after all, about perception. The whole conceive, frame, light, shoot thing is to capture a perception of something we saw, no matter how real that actually was. The camera may never lie but photographs do, because they are about slices of reality, selected contexts and an impression of a thing. If the camera thinks 18% Gray is half way between black and white we are starting from something of a skewed perspective anyway (here for the science of it).
The danger, at least to posterity, lies in what we perceive as a photograph. It used to be a lot narrower than it is today. A photograph was the finished product held in the hand, hung on the wall, or mounted in the family album. Today we stop a step short of that. What we have with digital technology – and I speak here as a fan – is a computer file as a “finished” article.
Unfortunately these files we keep on computers and so need complex and expensive technology to view them.
The files themselves are subject to physical loss (hence the need for back up), damage (hence the need for back up), infection by malicious code (hence the need for back up), and eventually and probably sooner than you think, redundancy (hence the need for back up in more than one file type if you are being particularly cautious). The back ups are also prone to all of the above.
Keeping your treasured images on the Cloud is one answer to this. Except it isn’t. They are still computer files and still need expensive technology to view them. “The Cloud” is a fluffy marketing term for someone else’s computers. Someone else’s very, very, very expensive computers.
These very, very, very expensive computers are mostly under someone else’s legal jurisdiction, are only going to operate as long as someone, the people who own and maintain those very, very, very expensive computers will only do so as long as they can make a profit from those very, very, very expensive computers. They also makes you images easier to steal, but that isn’t their purpose.
Yes this also applies to “Free” services. “Free” is another fluffy marketing term which means “You pay for this another way” usually by your personal data, which you give access to in the terms and conditions (EULA’s as they are technically called, End User Licensing Agreements), and everyone you interact with which, they do not, necessarily. This as far away as it can be from the harmless fair trade it sounds and it massively profits the collectors of such data.
After all, these very, very, very expensive computers are run for profit and not for the well-being of their users, who, by and large, are well and truly in the dark as to the real value of what they like, share and post and whereas buying that data is relatively inexpensive the worth to end users is far, far, far higher than what is paid to collect. Allegedly, it has been used to select governments and policies.
The cost of storing and displaying our jpegs is far higher than we may have thought and there are important political issues surrounding our ability to do so, but there are also aesthetic considerations. Looking at a print is an altogether different experience than looking at an image on a computer screen. I find that, probably because of their relative scarcity compared to screen images, that looking at prints invites an altogether slower, more absorbing process.
The same goes for making prints, whether we do them ourselves or have them done commercially. Again this something connected to the print process. We are saying that this particular image has some more than usual significance for us, that we want to spend more time on and with it and that, maybe, we want to display it – on the wall at home or in the club competitions or even in an exhibition – but above all we want to keep it.
So, why not leaf through your favourites and select half a dozen for printing and mounting? Then choose your best three and enter them for the ROC round 4. If you need help members can us the Facebook page or have a talk with someone at the next club meeting. You will have something to keep and you will have some constructive criticism which you can apply to your photography and that then becomes a strong base for improving your photography over all.
Last meeting at Portishead Camera Club along with North West Bristol Camera Club for a thee way battle and I am glad to report that Reflex showed a strong foundation – we needed it to prop up the other two, higher scoring, clubs. That said it was very close, 6 points adrift and a tie break for the winner (Portishead), but we won the most raffle prizes! Victory!
Our thanks to Peter Weaver for his supportive judging, to Portishead our hosts, and to North West Bristol for a fine show. It was a high scoring event, the club’s been to other battles where our score would have been a winning one over the last couple of years. The number of members whose work was shown has grown beyond a small core and is gradually expanding. Our travelling support was just under half the room, so lots of signs of a healthy club. Long may it continue.
There were some particularly strong wild life pictures, as good as I have seen in any of the battles I have been to and a good deal stronger than some. Two outstanding shots from one of the NWB members took individual prizes, one for overall and one for digital. It’s not really an area our exhibiting members cover extensively, it is specialist in its devotion to time, its equipment demands and the ability to travel, not always huge distances to be sure, but Cheetahs aren’t in abundance here abouts, and for Egrets (Cattle, Small or Great White – yes I did have to look that up) you have to know where and when to look. You also have to develop the right habits and techniques. That said the overall winning image was a print was of an Exmoor pony, I’d say good enough for National Geographic (but that may be no recommendation at all), so not so inaccessible to a lot of people here in the West Country.
There are strict rules when it comes to wildlife photography and competitions. What is and what isn’t counted needs to be studied by would be entrants and there is a strong code of ethics (even if something is occasionally lost in translation) governing the acceptable face and reputation of the genre. The object is to record and preserve, some considerations that apply to our discussion on documentary photography last week and, just as in documentary, empathy with the subject goes a long way to getting the shot.
We all, though have to begin somewhere. Most of us will not start with the idea or the funds to kit ourselves out as wildlife photographers from the off and it can take some time to settle on a favourite genre. Even then it is likely to be one of several that we try out or practice. It also takes a lot of that practice thing, as does anything else to become good at it and as with every other genre in photography, the kit itself is not going to make you a photographer, it just helps those with the skill, time, patience, empathy (and money) get a small but slightly better chance of getting the shot and of the equipment surviving the experience. In wildlife photography those margins are often small.
But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, at least according to Lau Zu, though he never picked a camera up in his life (they hadn’t been invented), and starting with what we have, then progressing as confidence and expertise grow into those areas where the margins make sense – photographically and financially. Lau Zu also had something to say about what he saw as hollow practices, those he though got in the way of spontaneity and true growth and in developing as a photographer there is some truth in that. All the gear and no idea is not new, it appears.
There are, of course, rules that port over from other areas of photography, such as: always focus on the eye from portraiture; dawn and dusk (though for different reasons in general) are the best shooting times from landscapers; be aware of the background from everybody. As always though, knowing your subject gets you a lot further than dumb luck. Starting with an interest in nature is the obvious, but that interest has to go beyond the pretty picture thing. All good pictures tell a story. That story may differ slightly (or even wildly) between viewers, but there has to be one to be extracted in the first place. You need to get beyond sticking the lens through the bars of the zoo to a point where you can anticipate your subjects next move. You don’t have to become a wildlife biologist to do this but you do need to learn the language and manners of your objective. You need field craft. You have to have the curiosity about it to develop the empathy we were talking about above.
OK that is the same for most types of photography. There is a field craft involved. With wildlife there is a more unpredictable element to account for and the more you know about it the more successful you are likely to be. That doesn’t mean that an intimate knowledge of sparrows transfers to the behaviour of grizzly bears. The differences are not only those in scale. The difference can be you removing a stain or being the stain. Outside of zoos and safari parks this isn’t a problem in the UK, of course and inside the environments are pretty controlled – but there are morons everywhere. The basic point is the same as the oath doctors take. First, do no harm. That takes knowledge too.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Robert Harvey: Landscapes for all seasons.
Success! Reflex triumphed – admittedly our first in a time anyhow – in the inter club battle with Backwell. It was close all the way through and our excellent hosts with Reflex taking the Mono (174 to 180) and Colour Print (182:185) rounds and Backwell the Digital Projection (184:181). Final score Backwell 540 Reflex 546.
|1||Black Mountain Filly||Reflex||19|
|5||The 15:10 to Hasselfelde||Backwell||17|
|7||Look at That||Backwell||17|
|8||I’m in the Pub||Reflex||20|
|9||The Stamp Dealer||Reflex||17|
|10||Taking a Moment||Backwell||18|
|11||Vicar’s Close, Wells||Reflex||18|
|14||The Sign of Aries||Reflex||16|
|15||Cycling over the Bridge||Backwell||18|
|19||British Summer Time||Reflex||18|
|Monochrome Print Result||174||180|
|22||Leap of Faith||Backwell||18|
|23||I Wish I Was Out There||Reflex||18|
|27||Dancer and Guitarrista||Backwell||18|
|28||Lunch is Served||Reflex||18|
|31||Man from Trinidad||Backwell||18|
|32||Me and My Fella||Backwell||20|
|33||Cold Comfort Farm||Backwell||18|
|34||Lady of the Lake||Reflex||20|
|35||Ashton Star Hill||Reflex||18|
|41||That 80’s Feeling||Reflex||19|
|42||Behind the Curtain||Backwell||18|
|44||Wild Female Kestrel with Prey||Backwell||20|
|53||The Long Goodbye||Reflex||18|
|59||Glacial Ice Sunset||Reflex||18|
The standard was high, individual marks ranged between 16 and 20 with no less than 10 images rated at 20 out of 20 and a further 4 at 19 out of 20. The modal average score was 18, with just over half the images scoring thus and the remaining 25% 16 (3 images) and 17 (12 images). The distribution of marks between the clubs was pretty even as the table below shows:
Peter Weaver, our judge for the evening and our thanks to him for a sterling job on first sight of the entries, judged our last season’s battle with Bristol PS and of the two prints in common both were marked consistently (within 1 mark) so I think it valid to draw some conclusions about the development of the club in the intervening 15 months. In the Bristol battle the marks awarded for Reflex ranged between 14 and 17 with the majority at 15/16 (75% of the marks awarded). This time round, with a 50% larger entry, the majority of the images, 53%, were scored 18, that is higher than the top marks we scored 15 months ago. All in all 70% of the images entered scored higher than we did in competition, with the same judge, 15 months ago. OK the numbers are too small to be definitive statistically but trends are clear.
What might that be? There has been an improvement in the competitive quality of the entries that the club is putting out AND most importantly, we are not talking about the same few members increasing their competition output. We are seeing a mixture of established (pre BPS battle) and new (Post BPS battle) members putting their work forward and we are seeing an across the board improvement. If it is happening for some then I am pretty sure that it is happening across the board, whether you enter your images in competitions or not (and why not? You get free feedback from very experienced people specific to you). This, I would surmise, is down to the strength and variety of the programme and the fact that there is always someone willing to help out with questions on club nights or through its social media outlets. Maybe, and possibly counter-intuitively, it is down to the fact that we are not really a competition oriented club, that is to say we have four rounds plus a creative round and we do two club battles a year. Some clubs think nothing of having monthly competitions (OK we do have the club Flickr competition but that is pretty low key, awarded by popular acclimation and the voting is open now on April’s competition, so get voting!).
That is not the same as saying competition is a bad thing, what it does say is that the right sort of competition for the club you are in is the one where it develops its members abilities, curiosities, and, for Reflex, a willingness to share all that. Deliver that on the back of a strong programme and you might get the odd visit from the Goddess Nike.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
23rd April: Your Picture Your Way (Portraiture and Macro). Following the inaugural, and I thought successful, YPYW, we repeat the exercise with, you’ve guessed it, Portraiture and Macro. Mr Gerry Painter explains here >>>Your Picture Your Way.