Friday, 20 January 2017

Picking up (some more) Photoshop - 18 January 2017

I'd hate to be a judge. Partly because I wouldn't feel confident or competent at judging other peoples' photos, but mainly because I couldn't stand the silence of it. It's not considered PC to interrupt a judge. After all, the reason we invite external judges is to get an impartial assessment and it would not be right to say anything that might bias their opinion (although I own to unbuttoning my little rosebud when I've thought a comment was completely off track).

But giving a talk to club members is different. If nobody in the audience says anything, either you have failed to engage their interest, or you have covered the topic so comprehensively that no one can think of anything to ask. Fortunately, that didn't happen and there were so many questions and comments that it was a struggle for both of us to get what we had planned to say into the time available.

There is little point in revisiting here the two topics I talked about (Image File Types, and Actions in PhotoShop) because all you need to remind you is a copy of the PhotoCraft Photography Basics disc. This has been updated to Version 5 which now includes the slide-show for Image File Types, plus a detailed information sheet on how to use and write Actions. It also has copies of Actions files that you can import into PhotoShop or Elements and use to prepare your images for the club's PDI competitions.

I don't have Elements so was not able to test the Action files written for this software. If you use Elements, please could you try loading the Action files and let me know whether they work OK?

Dave S demonstrated how to add a vignette to a picture and recommended having it on a layer so that you can adjust its density using the Opacity slider. He also demonstrated how to use the Cloning tool to get rid of unwanted picture elements or to take emphasis off parts of an image by cloning from the vignette.

 Vignetted plus keyline

He also showed how adding a subtle vignette to a picture of Banstead Woods gave the picture depth and magically brought it alive. For larger unwanted patches, we saw how to make a feathered copy from one part of the image and drag it onto the offending area.

I find the Healing tool generally more useful than the Cloning tool but it depends on what you are trying to do. The Cloning tool simply copies pixels from the sampled area to the target area. The Healing tool does the same except it also samples from around the target area and matches the texture, lighting, transparency and shading of the sampled pixels to the pixels being healed. It only goes wrong if you try to heal something too close to a picture element that differs a lot from the patch you want to heal. Both tools take practice to use effectively.

Dave concluded by showing us one of his photographic collages. It must have had about 30 layers that transformed a shot of a horse and carriage taken on a wet day in Bruges to a picture of a tram moving through the night on a foggy day in London. The driver started life as a portly 're-enactment' policeman who had to be slimmed down, his helmet replaced with a soldier's hat and his buttons replaced from a military tunic. Even the tramlines were drawn in. The resulting picture was totally convincing. But is it photography? Or art? Search me!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

11 January 2017 | Monochrome Print Competition

A happy New Year from all of us in the People’s Republic of Photocraft! Evidently there were many resolutions about entering prints into competitions this year because there was an unprecedented number of entries this week: 10 in the beginner’s class, and 25 in the advanced.

Judged by John Nathan and ably supported by the Pronouncer-In-Chief Mark Bulle, we learned a few things this week:

Chris Carrick takes a mean monochrome shot – even in the face of stiff competition in the beginner’s class this week, he emerged triumphant with his shot of Whitby Abbey:

Whitby Abbey - C.Carrick

David Pelling won the advanced class with his excellent shot of a workshop on Brownsea Island:

Workshop Brownsea Island - D.Pelling

Images need to tell a “story”. Ideally, they’d have a central focal point. A pigeon. Or a person. But not if they have their backs to you.

Some images don’t need a person. Some locations are so busy that you have to wait 20 minutes for all of the people to clear off so you get a decent shot. But most need a person.

Printing your images in monochrome can be a pain. Especially if your elephant turns out brown.

Too wide an aperture can make your beak go fuzzy (there's probably a technical term for that).

Mirrors can be confusing.

Matte paper can suppress the vibrancy of an image. Even if it does show the texture of your leaves beautifully.

Lacock isn’t in France. And shouldn’t be pronounced as such. All together now: “Lay-cock” (

That’s all for this week's public service announcement. Happy snapping!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

'Where in The World' Quiz Night, 7 Dec 2016

I must say, not being one who spends their time boeying the planet for enjoyment, I found Wednesday's Quiz night hard going - some 86 snaps from anywhere and everywhere, many from places I hadn't even heard of, and we were expected say where they were.

The locations varied from the celestial (the Milky Way) to the macabre (a granite slab Aztecs used to sacrifice maidens to appease the gods). As if it wasn't hard enough for people like me, there were deliberate attempts to throw us off the scent with multicultural references. Thus we had a Ukrainian parade in national costume in Toronto, and a statue of Charlie Chaplin at the Chinese New Year celebrations in Leicester Square.

Many contributors insisted that clues were to be found in their pictures. A tiny part of a flag lurking in a corner of the picture.. a signpost with wording beyond the resolution of the projector. Do me a favour!

But when it came to totting up the scores at the end of the evening, all the teams deserve credit for how well they actually did. Congratulations to the winning team for an outstandingly good score (no-one actually remembers what it was!). So well done Anne, Martin, Dave S and Abi. It was Abi's first visit to the club - so nice to meet you Abi and we hope to see you again soon.

It was a great evening enjoyed by everyone and good practice incidentally for anyone expecting a couple of rounds of Trivial Pursuits after their Christmas dinners. Thank you Mark for organising the evening to ensure its success.

When the President of the SPA Kathy McLenaghan visited PhotoCraft earlier in the year, Mark's wistful side-glances at her Chain of Office did not escape our notice! So at the end of the evening, Mandy presented Mark with something we knew he secretly coveted. Apologies for having to compromise on the materials, but knowing he has a sweet tooth, we felt that chocolate money would be a suitable substitute for gold medallions.

I am sure everyone will want to join me in wishing Mark a very a happy and enjoyable Christmas. Mark has worked like stink all year to make sure the club runs smoothly. Not only has he taken the Chair and kept the website up to date, but with Aodan away, he has also been helping out on the club secretary front, organising the programme and publicity.
All this would be a full time job for many of us (he does one of those as well). All taken in his stride without a murmur of complaint, so please accept a big thank you Mark from all of us. And have a great Christmas in Iceland - keep safe and wrap up warm!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Print Competition | 30 November 2016

Why bother with a print competition? Why bother printing out your photos at all? We're getting so used to looking at and sharing our photos on our mobiles and tablets. Is there any point in printing them? And is there any point in spending time and energy mounting them for a print competition?

Well, to start with, a print is less vulnerable to being accidentally deleted (however many backups you make!). There is something more permanent about a print, although, of course, it will eventually fade. A print is also something much more tangible than a digital image on a screen. It is something you can hold as well as look at. You can feel the heft and texture of the paper. It's like the difference between an e-reader and a real book. Nothing quite matches picking up a real print from your printer or receiving a real print from the shop.

Prints have a life of their own. Part of their attraction is that they may look different in different light, depending on the time of day and season. Yes, maybe an image on a screen is more consistent, but there is something special about being able to carry a print over to the window in order to see it in its full glory!

Prints can become part of your life, and other people's lives, when they are displayed. It's not quite the same with an electronic photo frame (especially once the battery runs out!). Prints, especially family photos, can travel with you to a new home and can be literally passed down through the generations. They can become treasured possessions (well, maybe not all your photos, but at least some!).

When it comes to photo competitions, there is a unique advantage in entering images as prints, rather than PDIs - you have full control over the size. Within the overall size-constraints (usually 50cm X 40cm, although 60cm X 50cm is actually permissible at Photocraft), you can make your print as large or small as you choose. The experts suggest that if you've got a busy, complex image, you should opt for a larger size. Whereas, if you have a simple, uncluttered image, you can get away with a much smaller image. By entering a print competition you have the chance to gauge what size works best.

It was great to see so many impressive entries to this week's Print Competition. Thank you to our judge, Ian Brash, for selecting these worthy winners -

Level 1

'Friend or Foe?' - Joy Szott (10)

 Level 2

'Dried Grasses' - Dave Stoneleigh (10+)
'Cornered' - Mandy Byatt (10)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

23 November 2016 | David Harris, LRPS: Macro and Close-up Photography

On 23 November we were joined by David Harris, who presented an evening of Macro photography. He had brought with him a number of prints. There are copies of these images on his website ( but to do them justice they really need to be seen in high-res!

David started the evening explaining a little about his setup and kit. Most of his subjects are shot in situ, and for this he uses the invaluable Wimberley Plamp (yes – it exists! See here for details) to keep his subjects as still as possible. Apart from a macro lens and double flash-head, the kit is refreshingly simple.

He explained that the depth of focus of macro photography is incredibly shallow, and to get around this, he uses a method called focus stacking. Taking a series of between 15 and 40 shots, at different focal lengths, he uses Photoshop to build up a composite image of all the areas of the images that are in focus. This YouTube page has a bunch of tutorials which explain it better than I ever could.

The final part of the evening was made up of images from some of the journeys David has been on – including a fascinating trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat. A trip to Mount Etna was accompanied by some incredible close-up shots of the volcanic rock which has an almost lunar quality to it. It was, as ever, good to see a photographer making full use of a subject in a red jacket in one of his shots… 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Learning (a bit more) Lightroom - 16 November 2016

It seems that most members of the club have now expressed their interest in Lightroom, having seen many fine examples of the power of this photo-editing software through the competitions and more importantly, hearing about its vast range of tools when we meet to take a closer look at our work.

On the back of the recent buddy night, this evening dedicated to Lightroom saw three of us step into (or rather sit down at) the spotlight and pass on what we know about what is, in my humble view, the best piece of photo processing software available. Adobe listened to photographers before they launched this many years ago and it shows!

I was first up to hopefully offer some insight into how to get your photos from your memory cards and into the "Library" as Lightroom calls its storage files. There are many options here and one of the most useful things to remember is that you can decide what to include, or not, as the case may be. Many members were interested in the "key words" aspect, whereby you can add any description you like for your photo and thus, if the need arises, later search for all photos with one or more words used to describe them. We also heard how Mark has his work filed in a detailed format (month, year, location, etc.) as well as the many ways in which the user can view the photos once in Lightroom.

Mark then took us through some topics which had been raised by members, including adding a keyline - I think we all agreed Photoshop was best for that - HDR and panoramas. Here again, we were challenged by how powerful this software is as we struggled to see the join in Mark's Seattle panorama. Mark also demonstrated the "Dehaze" tool to excellent effect on a rainy day photo. It is yet another hidden item deep down in the menu that is worth exploring.

To close, Jane's work showed us how we can make some corrections, edits and more subtle changes to our photos. These ranged through exposure, contrast, spot removal, use of filters and the saturation options available. Suffice to say that time caught up with Jane before she had shared all of her skills and before we knew it, we had reached 10 pm.

I think I can safely say that all of us came out with more knowledge of it than when we began that evening a couple of hours before and we could have easily sat there for two more!

It was marvellous to have many other members engage with questions, comments and frequently provide a welcome insight into even more of what Lightroom is capable of.

We have only really gone through some of the most immediate tools shown in the Develop stage but there is a distinct feeling that members will welcome a chance to know more. I encourage all who have invested money in Lightroom to now invest their even more valuable time and play with it to their heart's content. It is the most intuitive software I have worked with and you will hopefully keep surprising yourself with what it can do to your photographs. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

PDI Competition Evening | 9 November 2016

Being a competition judge is difficult. You have to put aside your pet likes and dislikes (including squirrels in the case of last Wednesday's judge!). Giving robust, but encouraging, critical feedback is a real art. Most of us at the receiving end of photo judge's comments tend to hear the negatives more than the positives. It was good to hear plenty of accolades for our photos from the competition judge last Wednesday, Steve Lawrenson.

Amongst other things, Steve praised pictures that were well-seen, told a story, had a good sense of drama, were well lit, had a good range of colours, displayed a sense of humour, contained good leading lines, were nicely focused on what needed to be in focus (not always the eyes!), were the product of a 'nice idea', judiciously placed objects and people, gave a good sense of place, were almost abstract, caught the right moment, conveyed a sense of mystery, were well-framed, expressed a nice feeling, gave a sense of scale, moved the camera intentionally to good effect, gave the subject space to move, had well-controlled exposure, still had some light in the sky (night pics, that is), used triangles to heighten tension and drama, contained some nice action, balanced foreground and background well, and had a good overall feel. Just realised that was a rather long sentence! But they were at least some of the things I jotted down, with the help of a torch, as he was speaking.

There were lots of brilliant entries, including a veritable flock of bird images at level 2 this time - one of which was the well-deserved winner. So, what was the judge really looking for? All is revealed at the end of this short video that I recorded with Steve just before he started weighing up our entries

Photo Judge - Steve Lawrenson from Phil Richtea on Vimeo.

These were the top Level 1 entries:

Vineyard Hill with Autumn Palette - Anna Borsarelli (10+)
Champagne Sunset - Kevin Brookes (10)

Launching the Poppy Appeal - Joy Szott (10)

And these were the top Level 2 entries:

Spotted Redshank - Qasim Syed  (10+)
Waiting for the Train - Mark Bulle (10)

Carshalton 5th November - David Pelling (10)

Thank you to our judge, Steve, and to all of you who participated in this week's competition.

By the way, some of you may already use Google's excellent post-production software called 'Snapseed', for iOS and Android tablets. If so, it's worth updating your app, as Snapseed now supports RAW files, even for Olympus, in both Android and iOS versions. It has also introduced useful new features, such as the ability to automatically locate and highlight faces and sharpen eyes. It's worth trying out... and it's entirely free!