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 (http://www.davidharrisimages.co.uk/) 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!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Competition Discussion Evening, 2nd November 2016

Thanks to everyone who contributed pictures and took part in the discussion for this lively and interesting meeting. It showed just how smart people are getting at seeing the potential in pictures they might otherwise have seen as failures, and then having the necessary editing skills to turn them into great pictures.

I'll start with a couple of inspired black and white conversions, both accomplished using SilverEfex Pro, a Plug-in for PhotoShop, Lightroom and Elements now available free from Google - the Nik Collection. I paid 100 quid for this a year ago, so get it while you can!

Chris described how disappointed he was with his shot of a railway enthusiast. That is, until he tried cropping it carefully to improve the composition and bringing up the contrast and structure of the picture in the software.


Boys and their toys, the original

Boys and their toys, final version



Jane took her original picture of an arthritic but highly skilled fisherman working on his fishing gear on a Lumix TZ60 camera. Although she also carries a dSLR, she finds in many cases this compact camera gives her results that are just as good.

Experienced fishing hand, original


Experienced fishing hand, final version



Philip showed a photo he entered in the last PDI competition which was criticised over the dominance of the leafy branches included in the corner. The judge said these should have been removed to concentrate attention on the landscape. Philip showed a version in which he had done this using the Spot Healing Tool, and after some discussion it was suggested a good deal of the sky now needed cropping out to rebalance the picture and bring attention to the landscape.

Chalke Valley, Wiltshire, entered PDI



Chalke Valley, Wiltshire, edited version


Jeff showed a picture of the London skyline taken from the Tate Modern. The judge criticised it for lack of Oomph! What he meant was lack of contrast - the picture looked flat because of the limited tonal range. It's important to understand that this is not due to wrong exposure; it is caused by the ambient lighting of the scene and cannot be corrected in camera. Although Jeff was using Picasa, a free editing program, simply moving the Contrast slider is enough to improve the look of the picture.

Changing skyline, entered PDI


Changing skyline after contrast adjustment


David P explained that he was in a bit of a quandary over a picture, 'Princess Fiona Waving' that the judge said should have been cropped to exclude one of the figures (Shrek). No issue with that, but liking the picture, he entered another taken at the same time in the SPA Individual Open Print Competition. Again, didn't do very well, but he wondered what members felt about this being entered in our internal print competitions.

The point being, our rules state:  Images from the same member, differing only slightly from a previous one that has scored 7½ points or more may not be submitted, irrespective of form. After some discussion, the consensus was that the two photos were different enough to allow re-entry. Thanks guys, look forward to seeing this one again!

Princess Fiona Waving entered PDI


Princess Fiona Waving SPA print - plus what she really looks like..



Mark gave the final presentation of the evening describing what High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is, how to do it and examples of his results using the technique. He explained that the dynamic range of the human eye is significantly better than any digital sensor so far invented. This means we can see details in highlights and shadows at light levels camera sensors lose their sensitivity.

The Lincoln Memorial

For example in his photo of the Lincoln Memorial, a straight shot would have shown completely black foreground and sky, and some of the lighter areas of the Memorial could have been blown out. By taking several different exposures and merging them in suitable software, these details can be preserved. The photos can be merged in Lightroom, PhotoShop, or dedicated software such as Photomatix.

He concluded by showing a couple of YouTube videos (there are many available on the subject), one quite useful and informative https://youtu.be/aDZg8vBVYZU . The other zany and almost incomprehensible https://youtu.be/wthhc1s0Pig .


I learnt a lot from the meeting and hope everyone else did too.