Saturday, 2 February 2019

30 January | 3rd Open PDI Competition | Judge: Steve Lawrenson

A hero, stepping in as replacement judge at short notice, Steve supplied his usual succinct and perceptive feedback on our images. In fact, he was so to the point that we finished fifteen minutes early, which was immensely welcome, given the plunging temperatures! As always, it was intriguing to discover what the judge revealed about himself and his photographic likes and dislikes. It turned out that he’d done his ARPS portfolio on ‘Rust’, which boded fairly well for one of my images! He also confessed that he was a ‘heathen’, although he found tonight’s image of the Sagrada Familia church ‘awe inspiring’.

Steve liked pictures that engaged the viewer and conveyed an atmosphere. He was not over-interested in sharpness, but particularly wanted images to avoid distractions. He advised us not to be afraid of trimming off unnecessary details. He pointed out that distractions could have been excised in post-production (such as the stray photographer in the ‘Final Furlong’ photo). Steve also suggested getting a superfluous subject to move away (if you’re in sufficient control of what’s being photographed) or, more likely perhaps, moving oneself to a slightly different vantage point (for instance, to avoid two sets of antlers touching).

Already, during the initial run-throughs, we got an idea of the impact the photos were having on the audience – a chorus of ‘aahs’ for the sweet images; chuckles and groans for clever titles; and a sharp intake of breath for one particularly intriguing title, given our venue (although, as Voltaire was reputed to have said: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!’). 

Congratulations to this week's excellent winning entries...


Level One Winner: ‘Searching the web’ – Steve H


The judge said there was ‘a nice range of light’ and he particularly enjoyed the way the light hit the web and the ‘arrow’, as it were, ‘pointing you straight up toward the centre of attention’ (the spider – arachnophobes, look away now!).

Steve H later told me more about the photo:

‘I was really surprised this one won. It was taken late afternoon last
September. This spider had decided to block the entrance to our side gate
with his web. There was something distinctly red around the spider's mouth
area so I grabbed the camera. The background comprised miniature fir trees
that were easy to darken in Lightroom.

My lens was a Canon 28-90mm with a 0.43x macro extender. As I was using
flash I set the ISO at 100 to minimise noise and the shutter speed was 1/200
at F22 to get as much of the spider in focus as possible. (It sounds as if I
knew what I was doing. The camera was already set up as I had been taking
photos of various insects and bugs in our garden earlier that day inspired
by Ann Healey's talk. There were dozens of pictures that were absolutely
rubbish until I got an idea of which settings worked).’

Level Two Winner: ‘Fisherman’ – David H


The judge reckoned this was a ‘considered and careful’ image. The exposure was beautifully controlled, with fine lighting on the hands, and ‘everything was beautifully sharp’. The subject was ‘beautifully portrayed’ and there were no extraneous elements. He particularly loved the way the net pattern led your eye up to the hands.

David H later gave me the background to the photo:

‘”Fisherman” was taken in Musandam, opposite Iran at the Straits of Hormuz on my last visit to our son,Tim who works in Dubai. I was driving alone along the coast road and noticed a fisherman sitting in his boat repairing nets, I stopped, made coffee for the two of us and sat in the boat with him enjoying the warmth of the sun, the tranquility of the scene and his company. Words are not always necessary. A contact with a local working man is satisfying in itself. Photos can easily follow such a meeting.  Maybe he will remember that occasion as much as I do.

Equipment & settings: Nikon D3x 105mm macro f2.8, 1/500 f5.6, ISO100 and luck as always!’
This was the context of the photo:

And congratulations also to the other entries that scored 10 at Level 2:

Night Train | Dave S
Juvenile Starlings- Aerial Attack | Mandy B
Cathedral of Light - Kew Gardens | Philip R

Sunday, 27 January 2019

23rd January 2019 - Presentation Evening - Arctic Adventures with Mark B

In the midst of a spell of rather chilly weather, what better place to be taken to on our presentation evening than the waters and icebergs of Baffin Bay, between Greenland and Canada, in the Arctic Circle.

Mark had previously prepared a presentation of his trip and so took the opportunity to create a "Part 2" for us to enjoy.

The Arctic has held a fascination for Mark for some time and the seeds of this trip were first sown in the unlikely surroundings of a trip to Dubrovnik. Mark and his partner spotted a nice cruise ship in the harbour and liked the look of it so much, they stalked it all the way to New Zealand! Some online detective work led them to discover that it was operated by a specialist French cruise company and that it goes to the Arctic! Just as importantly, these vessels only held 
200 passengers and offered expedition cruises and proper talks and guidance with walks, rather than the supersize cruise ships holding the equivalent of a small town's worth of people.

Mark duly booked the trip which he described as the "Best holiday but expensive!" The journey from London was via Paris to the town of Kangerlussuaq where they would meet the cruise ship. Being a French company, it was important to get the right supplies on board. The key ones Mark shared with us were the wine, champagne and butter! Sadly, no evidence was left of the first two but Mark did manage to take a snap of the butter...

Some interesting facts were offered to start us off:

  • The weather plays a large part in determining the colour of icebergs - when it is dull and cloudy, the icebergs will appear blue; in bright, sunny conditions, they will appear to be the more expected white colour and can almost look illuminated.

  • The colour of the water in the bay is influenced by rock flour. This is the fine powder formed by the rocks being relentlessly crushed under the glaciers over time.
  • The reason that icebergs look different is due to air bubbles that form inside the ice and create ripple effects. Eventually, these will cause the weight of the iceberg to alter underneath and so lead to a tilt in the form. Looking closely, one can see lines in the ice that show each shift in weight and track the tilt until the whole iceberg rolls over.
  • Some 90% of an iceberg is under the water.

It quickly became clear to Mark that he needed to keep his camera by his side at all times - you just never knew when there would be something to photograph, including humpback whales and narwhals. Also, the sense of scale was very hard to determine - something looking huge and impressive from a distance was not quite as dramatic once close-up but the glaciers and most icebergs were vast and each berg was given its own name, based on the distinct features shown. We saw the elephant, the church and the toast rack to name a few.

Once on the water, the first stop was Disko Bay - a UNESCO World Heritage site. With excellent weather, Mark was able to enjoy the sight of the most prolific glacier in the world, this one place being 10% of the world's active glacial movements.

Local fishing boats arrange tours of the icebergs and Mark and his partner chose both evening and morning trips to make the most of the different light and opportunities

The local community is made up of 4600 people with 3500 huskies! These dogs are of course vital for the day to day life and work in the region. It is therefore very important to respect them and not to feed them when in the town or village. During Summer months, the dogs are fed only once a week in order to keep them lean and ensure they are ready to work for their rewards. 
They breed in these months as well but as delightful as the pups look, the warning was clear - do not approach them as mum could turn nasty - and hungry!

It came as a surprise to this club member that there are lots of midges! Mark and others were equipped with the appropriate gear to avoid any bites.

One of the features of this trip was the chance to get into the towns and communities and the cruise team has built up good relations with the locals.

Other highlights in Greenland were the Eqi passage glacier. You could enjoy a 10k hike as well to get to the front of the glacier on foot - this being because it is unsafe to walk along the beaches as at any minute a slab of ice could cleave off the glacier, sending a sizeable wave across these beaches. The speed would make evasion impossible.

Another stop was at Upernavik fjord. In keeping with local 
Kullorsuag Inuits custom, we discovered that the Inuits believe the best views should be reserved for the dead, hence the cemetery is always at the highest point

At the top end of the bay, Mark told us about the Savissivik iceberg graveyard. This is an area where many icebergs are trapped and break up before they can make a getaway down the Canadian side of the bay.

Here, we saw the effect of weather changes. Free flowing water falls into a crevice and if it turns freezing cold quickly, this water is trapped and so appears as blue Ice pockets inside the icebergs.

Following a stop at Dundas, Mark and the ship headed into Canada and Pond Inlet. Here, the local community were not quite as welcoming, fishermen firing off warning shots at the boats and travellers who were out to see the whales in the bay!

The Canadian highlights included Icy Arm Fjord with one of the highest vertical cliff faces in the world. there was also Sam Ford Fjord and Isabella Bay - at which stop it was time to organise supplies which made that stop brief.
Mark gave us an insight into the skills of the guides on board and their ability to spot a polar bear cub on a slab of floating ice from a very long way away! Luckily Mark did see it too and shared a photo but he did explain how difficult it is to get the perfect image and the need to be prepared in the middle of dinner or the middle of the night!
The final Canadian stop was at Sisimiut. From there, it was back to Greenland and the rare sight of both the cruise ships in the same bay as Mark's trip came to an end and others were about to embark.

A final note was Mark's comments on the differing approaches to the local people and their lifestyles. The Danes have left the Inuit communities to live as they choose. Hence, they are happy to get on and work in their own traditional ways. The colourful buildings are perhaps covering some things that we would not like but with only a few weeks of good weather each year in which to do so much, the priorities of these hard working people are to make the most of this time.

The differences on the Canadian side were striking. The British influences and a misplaced view that the local people needed to be made to follow a more European lifestyle has led to bland, soulless buildings and a community troubled by drink and drugs. A telling legacy.

Thanks from all us to Mark for a fascinating tour and some wonderful images.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

16 Jan 2019 | Forensic Photography: A Partial Truth

This week we were visited by John Smith, a senior lecturer at Westminster University's Photography school.

John took us through the history of using photography as an evidential tool, from Alphonse Bertillion in the 1880s, who was the first proponent of using anthropological techniques to identify criminals, including what is now known as the "mugshot", through Francis Galton, who devised a way of classifying fingerprints, to Edmond Locard, a pioneer of forensic science who formulated the principle "Every contact leaves a trace."

He explained the various techniques that forensic science use to glean evidence from surfaces, ranging from non-destructive photographical techniques, using different light sources and wavelengths, all the way through to the more destructive techniques, such as using solvents and superglue to bring out information from seemingly clear surfaces.

The second half of the evening involved a discussion on the use of these techniques in large investigations and how they helped solve a number of large scale enquiries.

The subject matter was fascinating, and it was interesting to see how investigations actually happen outside of the glitzy representations peddled to us by the CSI franchise!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Monochrome Print Competition No. 1, 9th January 2019

The hall was 10C when we arrived and warmed only 1 degree from our own body heat by the end of the evening thanks to a lack of central heating. Rob Bonfield our judge from Woking Camera Club rubbed his hands together frequently while we sat in our overcoats, but he took it all in his stride. Rob may be relatively new to judging but I for one was impressed by his commentary on the pictures. Unlike some visiting judges, he was not fooled by some of the tricks we can get up to. For example, clinically eviscerating all the detail from an image to keep it simple can often remove everything that makes a photograph interesting - rigorous technical perfection shouldn't kid you into thinking it's a good picture! Neither was he impressed by self-conscious compositional ‘tricks’ to make dull subject matter more interesting than it actually is.

He gave the highest scores to ones that engaged our attention, taking us back to the time and place of the original event - and plenty of interesting detail to explore. Isn't this what is so wonderful about using a camera?

So congratulations to this week's winners for managing to achieve this.

At Level 1, Steve H. for Sleeping Gondolier, a delightful evocation of a quiet moment in Venice, a place now so packed with tourists that charging an entrance fee for the city is being considered.

The winner at Level 2 was Vive La France! by Brian C. I urge you to click on the picture to enlarge it to appreciate the masses of interesting detail throughout the image. Where is this stall - I just want to go there.

The other top score at Level 2 was Waiting around for the judge by David P. Rob did comment that the picture would have been better if one of the ladies had been smiling. I can confirm that none of them had anything much to smile about!

Rob is an SPA 'B list' judge. If it were up to me, he would be immediately promoted to the 'A list', but, ahem, he did give two of my efforts very good scores.

As this is the first monochrome print competition since the new 'Monochrome' rule was introduced at last year's AGM, perhaps I should say a word about the implications of the change.

In the last year or two there had been some confusion among members (and the odd judge!) about what constitutes a monochrome image. This may have been due in part to our competition rule which was outdated and ambiguous. A new rule aimed at clarifying the issue was agreed at the AGM last June:

6. Specifically for the Monochrome Print and Monochrome Projected Image competitions, the term monochrome means an image produced in varying densities of a single hue. Conventionally that hue would be a neutral grey, with densities from white to black. However, the neutral grey could be replaced by any single hue.

If you choose to colour-tone your image, think carefully about what colour to use. All colours have emotional value of one kind or another, so choose one that adds to the feeling you want the picture to convey. Sepia, for example adds warmth and, because it’s associated with early photos, a sense of age. Blue toning cools the feel of the image and can work with snow or icy subjects.

The last sentence in the rule is saying that any colour replacement has to be applied right through the range of greys. In other words, split-toning is not permitted. Split toning is where, say, the darker grey tones are coloured but the lighter tones remain neutral grey. Be aware that pure black and pure white pixels have no colour value so don’t expect them to show it.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

A (very) rare blog entry from the Chairman!

As another year draws to a close, I would like to wish everyone at Photocraft a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2019.  Whatever you are doing over the festive period, please don't forget your camera .. remember there's all that that street photography, intentional camera movement, and "telling a story with pictures" to practice! :-)

Thanks to everyone that joined in the fun on Wednesday, and an extra special thank you on behalf of everyone present to Jane for organising the food and to Anne and Steve for organising the raffle and "ambiance".  It was a really fun night :-)

With best wishes ..


p.s. see you back on the 9th January for our second Monochrome Print competition!

Friday, 7 December 2018

5 December | Open Print Competition 2

Do you ever do background research on competition judges, to optimise your chances of winning?  According to the internet, tonight’s judge, Royston Williamson ‘aims to stray from the norm in (his) photography hopefully producing a reaction in the viewer’. It didn’t help me win, but his website revealed that he specialises in flora and fauna, landscapes and surrealism, and goes on regular cruises.

There were a few more things that I found out during the evening that I wished I’d known beforehand. Royston liked subjects to face the camera. He wanted photographers to pay attention to the edges and backgrounds of their images and remove anything unnecessary. He loved colour, though not too bright. He liked to be amused by photos and appreciated pictures that contained ‘something different that sticks in the mind’ afterwards. Above all, Royston delighted in black mounts and guess what colour mounts both tonight’s winners had used! Since all my mounts were antique white, that meant I had no chance… alongside the fact that the winning photos were so good!

There were an extraordinary number of entries ‘held back’ for final judging at level 2. ‘They’re all too damn good’, Royston claimed, ’it’s not my fault!’. But was it my imagination or did his judging get a tad stingy just after the tea break (had we short-changed him on his biscuits)?

As always, competition night was a useful learning experience and not just about photography. Royston’s judging was enlivened by extra nuggets of information. We discovered that there are sharks in Sydney Harbour and that people instinctively keep looking around when eating on their own. You never know when information like that will be useful!

Level One Winner | Bavarian Church Door | David A


Royston explained that this image was ‘all about patterns’. He loved the fact that it was taken straight-on and was ‘sharp all over’. The placement of the crosses was ‘well-thought-out’ and ‘dynamic’. He also felt the colours were ‘extremely nice’. The dark mount was well-chosen: a white mount would only have been ‘half as good’.
David A told me: ‘Of the three I entered, this was my third choice; it was chucked in and one that I was happy to be discarded if there were too many entries’. He explained ‘before I joined the club (when I took this photo) I tended to go for strong graphic images’ and that he was (justly) proud of the sharpness of this image. David took it on a Nikon full frame, with Sigma 35mm Art f1.4 lens - at f4 for best sharpness, aperture priority, and programmed for minimum sensitivity (giving him 100ASA) and slowest possible handhold shutter speeds (giving him 1/40s). For post-production he used Lightroom.  ‘It would have been minor tweeks (if necessary)’, he told me, ‘I usually take my pictures on Nikon Flat Picture Control, but I probably increased contrast in Lightroom and cropped a little to get things off-centre with no full diamonds’. David’s favourite subject matter is landscape/cityscape, and/or strong graphics.


Level Two Winner | Sunset over Archaway Islands, New Zealand | Mark B


Judges are seldom lost for words, but Royston simply felt this image was perfect: ‘what is there not to like?!’ He loved the ‘fantastic’ lighting of the rocks, the ‘astounding colours’ and the appropriately chosen dark mount. ‘You were so lucky to have been there’, he said. And we were lucky to be transported there by Mark B’s brilliant photo! In fact Royston had difficulty choosing between two potential winning entries – both stunning images by Mark B.
Mark told me: ‘We’ve had a number of speakers (one this year actually) who've talked about researching a picture beforehand, and this image is a great example of that.  This was taken on holiday in New Zealand and we visited this location specifically because I wanted to see what sort of pictures these rocks might make.  It also required a bit of time planning too, as the rocks are on the west coast of the island and I had to be there in time for sunset!’

He was most (justly) proud of ‘the colour of the sky, the contrast of the rocks against the sky and the smooth effect of the sea’. It was taken on a Canon 6D and a EF24-70mm f2.8L II USM lens.  It was a long exposure image (10 seconds at f9) and he also used a “Lee stopper” filter to smooth the sea and naturally he needed a tripod. The image was “improved" in Lightroom: ‘a bit of cropping, a bit of temperature, shadow, clarity, contrast and shadow adjustment .. a bit of everything I think’. Mark still considers himself to be relatively new to photography and he is still trying out new genres and techniques (when he gets the time!), but he loves night photography and landscape work.


Congratulations to tonight's worthy winners and to the other successful entrants who scored 10 (at Level 2):


Form an orderly queue please | Brian C

 Sydney by night | Mark B