Friday, 22 September 2017

20 September 2017 | Andy Skillen – Walking with Bears

What a truly stunning evening – worth, in its own right, my annual membership fee! Andy is a professional nature photographer and expedition leader, who specialises in walking amongst his subjects and getting up close. When your subjects are bears, especially polar bears, that can be quite a risky business! Andy produces both reportage and fine art images that take your breath away. 

When I first saw it, I thought his amazing picture of a grizzly bear, advancing towards the camera, has been taken with a long zoom lens. But, no, Andy had been lying in the water, no more than three metres away. He believes in photographing bears at their eye level or below. Thankfully, he has an uncanny ability to read bears (this one was behaving like a typical teenage bear!) and takes the trouble to build relationship with them. Though he did admit that he’d been charged by bears twice and always relies on having a guide and being armed with a pepper spray. He’d also learned not to get separated from his photographic kit or his sandwiches in case bears took a liking to either.

This was a highly entertaining , fast moving and humorous presentation. He’d travelled to remote, super-cold locations to bring back the images. The bears didn’t always pose on schedule: he’d spent a month waiting for the first sight of bears on Baffin Island in the Arctic. This sort of nature photography called for plenty of courage and persistence – and an immense love for the bears!

Most photos of new born polar bears are taken in the Sub-Arctic. The downside of that is that you tend to get twigs in the picture, as the climate still supports some vegetation . In the quest for a photo of new born cubs just against snow, Andy had set off for Baffin Island. He described how they’d waited in vain for a whole month and hadn’t found a single bear – just their elusive footprints. Apparently, bears especially like icebergs and, when the weather got too extreme, his party had set up camp near a particularly spectacular iceberg. That was almost the end of the story and the end of Andy. He described how, getting bored, he’d wandered out of the tent to take a few snaps of the iceberg. After he’d walked around the iceberg he noticed something interesting through his viewfinder – a polar bear track that could only have been made in the last thirty seconds. Had he been in that spot slightly earlier, we might not have been listening to him last Wednesday!

His persistence paid off, however, and he was soon able to capture the first ever photos of new born bears in the High Arctic, on Baffin Island in the winter. As you would expect, these were truly amazing shots from an internationally renowned photographer.

I interviewed Andy about his photography during the refreshment break:

Andy Skillen - Walking with Bears from Phil Richtea on Vimeo.

We were so engrossed in Andy’s images and narratives that we had limited time for questions at the end. He has kindly subsequently answered a couple of key questions (which could well improve our own snow photography!):

What kit do you typically use?

2 x Canon 1dx mkii; and then all the following lenses (Canon)
200-400 mm with 1.4 extender built-in
11-24mm (night skies)
24-70 mm
70-200 mm
stand alone 1.4x for use with the 600.
That's pretty much my standard kit.

Do you use any "special" techniques when shooting in the snow e.g. to get the right balance between the bright whites and darker areas such as rock or sky (bracketing etc)

For snow, we have a number of considerations. Firstly everything is shot in raw of course, not jpg, and its a matter of working with the light rather than trying to fight it - shooting the scene you have, not the one you think you should have. Spot metering is key - you would potentially prefer to blow some detail in the snow than in the subject - and then you have to assess exposure compensation: i usually shoot anywhere between +2/3rd to +2 stops depending on the ambient light conditions. We are attempting to stop the camera making everything grey...which is its mission in life. Over-exposing is critical: but you have to assess the overall light on the day, and the level of reflectivity you are getting to ascertain how much you need to go. Bit of experience, bit of trial and error in there. Always think brighter.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

PDI Competition No 1 13th September 2017

So, after being reminded ad nauseam about the required image dimensions for the new projector, it all went a bit pear-shaped anyway. I hope Level 1 contestants will accept our sincere apologies for the small slice cropped off the top and bottom of their projected images. Cropping is the most powerful tool in our armoury for adjusting composition so it was a great pity it was messed up for you.

Our projector has a higher native resolution than the laptop driving it, so the laptop screen can't display the whole of the image at full size. The projector is designed to 'mirror' the laptop so if the laptop crops bits off, so does the projector. We knew about the potential problem which should have been solved by turning off the laptop display during projection, but clearly it wasn't with DiCentra for us on the night. Thanks Chris H who managed to fix it during the tea break by changing the laptop's screen resolution.

Our judge, Darren Pullman, upbeat as always, took it all in his stride and, to his credit, used his imagination to restore parts of the images the technical issue had ungraciously cropped off. He said that in some cases he thought the crop might have actually improved the composition. Darren must have thought we looked like a bunch of amateurs (actually we are a bunch of amateurs!).

Well done everyone who entered and the generally high standard is reflected in the number of photos scoring the top mark: 6 in Level 1 and 2 in Level 2. Here they are (just click on the images to see them enlarged):

In Level 1, congratulations to Chris H for his 10+ winning entry The Intrepid Explorer .

And for his second 10, End of a hot day - taken on a mobile phone apparently!

The other entries awarded 10 in Level 1 were:
BA Tower Brighton by Joy

Wow! by Jeff H

Tewet Tarn by Sharon

and Contemplation by Kevin.

All stunning images guys and well done.

Darren was not so generous with his marking in Level 2, awarding only two 10s - perhaps he was trying to tell us something?

The overall winner was Dave S with Dungeness, a beautiful seascape.

The other 10 in this category was the astonishing White Rainbow by Rosh K.

A great evening in spite of the glitches, so onwards (and hopefully upwards) in the season to come.

Monday, 11 September 2017

6 September 2017 | Happy new (membership) year!

And so the cycle begins again. Mark has been beavering away over the summer finalising the programme for the coming year and we had the Grand Unveiling on Wednesday. The year in numbers is as follows:

18 competitions. 14 external judges. 6 external speakers. 4 evenings out. A few informal challenges and the chance to make Croydon look… well… beautiful?

It may have been mentioned during the Grand Unveiling that we have a new projector, with a new resolution. For the PDI competitions, your photos will need to be resized to 1440 x 1080 pixels.
Homework was set:

  • Make Croydon Beautiful (no, really…)

  • Find some suitable potential images for the upcoming digital manipulation competition (did you know that the new projector has a different resolution? 1440 x 1080px)
  • Get up close and personal with everyday objects in readiness for the "Getting in close" evening on 11 October.
And of course, we’re straight into the swing of things with our first PDI competition this coming Wednesday. Please remember – there’s a new projector… 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Welcome back


Yes, it's here, in two more weeks and after a long summer break, we can now look forward to a new season of Photocraft Wallington. 

Doors open again on Wednesday 6th Sept at 8pm. 

Throughout the summer your Programme Secretary (Mark) has been hard at work making the calls, answering the emails to put together another cracking series of evenings. 

I will leave the final unveiling of the programme to Mark but here's a sneak preview of the first month. 

It all starts with Mark's welcome back evening. He will run through the programme for the year and any website updates. Just remember to either bring your subs or even better pay online. Let's make it easy on our new Treasurer. 

Next up on 13th, Darren Pullman will be coming to judge our first PDI competition. 

After that on the 20th we have our first external speaker, Andy Skillen, who will talk to us (and hopefully show us) about his experiences "Walking with Bears". I'll let Mark explain more but I think you can guess this will be a special evening 

The last meeting of September on the 27th will be the first Print competition judged by David Harford. 

OK, so now's the time to start sorting through those summer photos or just get out there and make the most of what's left.

Here's looking forward to many new photos and many chances to learn in the year ahead. 

See you all soon, 

(Your new Chairman)

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Second Chance Saloon - 21st June 2017

Funny thing competition when you think about it. When a cluster of chemicals developed the ability to make copies of itself 3 or 4 billion years ago, it was competition that turned it into a creature capable of inventing the digital camera, taking a photo with it, and sticking it up in front of a judge to find out if it's any good.

For me, club competitions are a mixed blessing. On the plus side, they do provide a strong incentive to take pictures, to get them seen by other people, to improve my photography, and to get feedback from people with some expertise. On the negative side, the pictures may be seen only once, by one judge. And I have to sit in silence while he pulls it to bits and may not even 'get' the picture. Try pushing the envelope a little and you risk getting a low score for not meeting what the judges expect to see in a camera club competition - not in the genre you might say.

So if you were disappointed with how a picture fared originally, this opportunity to get a second opinion was a chance not to miss. Particularly as we were encouraged to unbutton our lips for once and confer with the judge.

An unusual challenge for a judge that might well have taken some out of their comfort zone, but James Godber from Reigate Photographic Society embraced the task with energy and enthusiasm.

He began by saying that the score awarded has to be taken in the context of the competition i.e. the other pictures it is up against and the type of competition. Entries in SPA and PGAB competitions for example are marked in about 10 seconds by a group of judges, so initial impact matters. Pictures that are slow-burners may do better in competitions where the judge has time to comment on and think about it. Having said that, he did give an indication of the range of marks in which he would have awarded each picture if presented to him in a club type competition.

Plenty of images were submitted in both Levels, so there was only time to consider about half of them in detail with member feedback. However, James did look at all the pictures on a lightbox and commented on what he thought of each one. Some members had to agree that his criticisms and marking were pretty consisted with those of the original judge. But there were many notable exceptions and quite clearly, a detail that one judge might be seriously critical over might simply not be noticed or concerning for another.

James did offer us some advice on how to give our pictures more impact (sorry, I forget who he attributed this to) - High, Low, Close, Clean.

High and Low refers to where your horizon is. Most photos are taken at head height. Add interest by taking from a higher or lower camera position. Check out 05 Composing Pictures on the Photography Basics disc where I discuss this in more detail with examples.

Close means get in close. This concentrates attention on your main subject to get your message across. Clean similarly concentrates on your subject by minimising non-essential clutter by healing out distractions or putting background out-of-focus.

Mark came up with the idea of running an evening like this after Dave S had pointed out the big differences in scores on his own pictures put before different judges. So it was an experiment. I found the evening entertaining, instructive and engaging, so I rate it a resounding success that I hope will be repeated in the future.

At the end of the evening, our Chairman expressed a hope that we need never, ever have to look at this one...


Dream on Mark. It got a 5, so I can put it in again ;o)

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

14 June 2017 | The Chairman is… er… resigned. Long live the Chairman!

Or, less cryptically, we had our AGM on Wednesday. I would go into the minutiae of the meeting, but frankly, that’s the purpose of the Minutes and I’m fundamentally lazy. They’ll be up on the website soon – you can read them at your leisure.

Instead, I’m going to spend a little time and blogspace thanking Mark for the sterling job he has done as chairman. In the last couple of years, he has managed to turn Photocraft into a thriving group. Member numbers are up, the quality of guest speakers has improved and the programme has been fashioned into something that appeals to seasoned photographers and newcomers alike.

Mark, thank you for all the time and effort that you’ve generously given Photocraft. I’m certain that I speak for all of our members in saying that we appreciate the work you’ve put in – despite the reluctance to adhere to your tea rota J

We wish you all the best in your new, relaxing role as Secretary!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Everything you wanted to know about Photography....Part the Second

And so, after a slight interlude of approximately 18 months (or maybe more...) the club welcomed back our Hon. Secretary, Aodan Higgins for the second part of his brave attempt to answer all the questions sent to him by members on "any subject at all", as well as photography.

Picking up straight from his well received opening night, we opened on Question 6. This featured items on ISO/Flash and post processing - which is best for getting the best results from a shot taken (or to be taken) in dark light.

As is often the case with photography, the answer depends on what effect you wish to achieve and Aodan gave us examples from club members' work and elsewhere to demonstrate what works best for each type of effect. So, for still life, best results are obtained through increased iso. For portraits, Aodan offered examples that bring shadow to the subject in the right places in order to give a natural look to the face.

For movement, the shutter speed should be chosen and it may be linked to flash being used in order to better capture the drama of movement - cycling being used as a good example. First and second curtain sync on the flash is key here with second curtain being best. 

Fill in light, even from an ipad, can help in certain situations if you wish to make a feature within a portrait.

We had a test of members' knowledge with an "iso or flash?" quiz which I think most got right.

Following coffee break, Aodan took us through the white balance on our cameras and as he explained, it can be used for many more effects than one thinks. 

Auto white balance will be the most common but we saw how moving through the now familiar choices on pretty much all cameras of shade, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent, etc. can bring about some surprising changes to the image. 

If there is time and the conditions are right, one of the best choices is to use a white card which will represent true white. Take a shot of this card and set your camera's white balance using this image. 

If you are not familiar with a white or grey card or need to get some workable reading, your hand can be a very useful substitute. Here is how:

So as you can see, this method is certainly not my idea but it is online and I think hands are something that I think most of us carry around all the time so let's all try it and see!

As is to be expected, the main lesson is to use the most appropriate setting and Aodan gave examples of this across these options.

All in all, it was a great insight and showed how much members think about the finer points of their photography.

For an encore, David P gave us all a look under the hood of the free photo editing app, Snapseed. This is from Google and can be used on phones and tablets - currently not on desktops. It  certainly whetted our appetite to know more and next season we could well see an evening given over to these free editing tools as a way of widening what all of us can do with our photos.

Happy weekend to all!