Friday, 24 March 2017

Straight from the Garden Shed - Iain McGowan FRPS 22nd March 2017

When we are out doing the weekly shop I have no problem buying bananas; I just choose the best looking bunch. Biscuits are something else. With a whole aisle of biscuits, the choice is bewilderingly large. It can take ages to decide and I often end up with something I don't like.

Photography, especially now with the infinity of tempting options photo-editing software offers us, can be a bit like the biscuit aisle.

If you missed the talk by our invited speaker on Wednesday, you missed a treat. The Garden Shed refers to the place Iain processes his photos. He said he wasn't prepared to embrace the digital revolution unquestioningly. So he bought a very cheap Panasonic digital camera and a Canon printer with a memory card slot and some basic editing features, and challenged himself to get something useful out of it.

Iain is a landscape photographer who has published many books of his work and runs photographic workshops in various parts of the country. If you interested in joining one of them, he can be emailed on, and some of his photos can be seen at His work, along with that of other members of The Focus Group, is also on show in an exhibition at The Assembly Rooms, North Street Chichester, PO19 1LQ 1st - 8th April 2017.

One of the drawbacks of using a low resolution camera is the small image size for printing. One way he dealt with this was to mount a print on a large board. This invites the viewer to walk up and look closely at what were gems of pictures. The other way was to mount up to 30 or 40 small prints as a 'collage' on a large board. Apart from the fiddly job of sticking them down with double-sided tape, the whole exercise was not as time-consuming as it looked considering he can produce the prints at about 50 per hour. It takes me that long to get one decent print.

The kind of impressionistic effects some of us might try using editing software, he achieved simply by using his eyes. Thus we saw pictures taken through a rain-soaked windscreen, or polythene put over beach goods to protect them from the deluge, and a series of townscapes reflected in the glossy tiles of an art gallery in Hastings.

His approach to photography must have been music to the ears of those of our members who believe that what the camera captures is the photograph, and if it's not perfect at that point, it's our own fault for not getting the composition, lighting or camera settings right. At the other extreme, we have members whose work is a mash-up of elements taken from several different photos.

Most of us are somewhere in between. The truth is, any constraints you put on how you make your pictures are entirely self-imposed. There are no rules you have to abide by (unless you are a wildlife photographer!).

So, inspired by Iain's approach, here's an exercise for us. Put a deliberate restriction on what we allow ourselves to do. For example, take just one lens out of fixed focal length or use a tripod for every photo. Or take everything at the highest ISO setting or smallest image size. Anything. Perhaps it would concentrate our minds on what we can achieve with few parameters to play with, rather than being overwhelmed by all the possibilities...

What I'm saying is, forget the biscuits. Go for the bananas, and who knows what mouth-watering delights we may conjure up.

Friday, 17 March 2017

15 March | Competition Discussion Evening

Have you ever wondered, on competition evenings, how those stunning 10 or 10+ images are created? Some of our members spilled the beans this week. And, surprisingly, you might not have given the original photos a second look! A lot of amazing enhancement went on in post-production. 

A whole lighthouse was shifted (not really, of course – it was a Photoshop trick), so that the foreground bollard now satisfyingly pointed to it. An out-of-focus grasshopper was spruced up enough for the judge not to notice. Drama, extra contrast and grain were added to black and white pictures via the excellent free Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin, with its tantalising range of presets. Images were cleverly cropped to cut our distractions, simplify, change the focal point and maximise compositional devices, such as diagonals.

Here are some of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, showing the magic of skilful post-production:

After (Brian C)


Before(Dunstanburgh Castle)

After (Graham S)

When I initially saw these photos – of 'stelae' at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin – I must admit I started wondering whether it was really appropriate to take photos at such a sensitive location. But the whole purpose of Graham S’s post-production (again using Silver Efex Pro) was to portray the meaning of this disturbing and respected place - which I think the black and white image does admirably.

You may have noticed some intriguing photos by David P in the recent blog about night photography. They were semi-abstract images created by ICM (intentional camera movement). At this week’s competition discussion evening, David let us into some of the secrets of ICM: set the focus to infinity, use the ‘Bulb’ shutter setting, use an aperture of f8/f11, a 50 mm lens, ISO 100, a 4 second exposure, no tripod, and deliberately move the camera around in artistic directions. The Carshalton Ponds images were of car lights and street lamps, but the technique also works well at firework displays. I can't wait to try it myself!

A final bit of amazing alchemy was revealed by David S. Plenty of photos are taken of the lake at Stourhead (as some of you did during last summer’s outing there), but how many are transformed painstakingly, using bits and pieces from other images, into a Willow Pattern design? Was this art, on David's part, or was this photography or was it a skilful mixture of both? It certainly produced a fine picture!   

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

8 March 2017 | Monochrome PDI competition 2

This week’s monochrome PDI competition was presided over by Paul Graber from the Guildford Photographic Society. Once again, it brought together another solid range of entrants from the club at both beginner and intermediate level.
Paul was able to draw from his experience as a monochrome enthusiast to give constructive feedback on the images shown this week, which effectively boiled down to the following comments:

  • Texture in monochrome photography is essential where the colour has been removed
  • It’s not enough to merely desaturate the images – you need to add contrast and structure, sharpness and clarity to make them stand out, or “pop”
  • Monochrome images can be processed much harder than colour images – don’t be afraid to play with the sliders!
  •  If you’re going to make a photo monochrome, you need to make sure that the processing actively improves the image
  • Skies in monochrome image need drama in the absence of colours
  •  As in all photography, leading lines work well, drawing the eyes down a path, or across a pattern in the sky, into the centre of the image
  • Symmetry has to be spot on to work – otherwise it jars!

Congratulations this week go to Ronnie for his image of the roof of the Whiteleys – an example of how Symmetry can be used to devastating effect:

And to Mandy for her shot, entitled A break in the clouds:

Monday, 6 March 2017

Rain stopped play ..

With the club hall closed for Ash Wednesday, a few brave souls ventured out this week to try their hand at night photography.  

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether or not you are partial to an alcoholic tipple) rain stopped play rather early on, so we were forced to retire to the pub for a drink or two.

Fortunately David P managed to have another go at his latest photography technique (Intentional Camera Movement) before we retreated to the pub .. a few examples of his work below :-)

Back to the hall next week for the next monochrome competitions <shudder>

Friday, 24 February 2017

Print Competition 22nd February 2017

This was the third of our four open print competitions this season. Our judge this evening was Sheena Rogers of Dorking Camera Club.

She said that it mattered that our intentions for how the picture should be read have to be clear. If we are not sure ourselves what they are, how can the viewer decipher them, and any uncertainty we may have about why we took the picture will be evident in our composition.

Details that distract from our message need to be toned down or removed so that the viewer is clear what we want them to look at. Also, if the most attractive feature of a picture is its subtle tones and colours, be careful not to shatter the effect by including a jarring slab of rock in it. A careful harmonising of foreground and background makes it obvious what you want the viewer to take from the picture.

A focal point in a picture helps, although that's not to say that you cannot invite the viewer to 'romp around' the picture space instead. However, be careful not to make it too busy as 'peoples' tolerance level for busyness can be quite low'.

Although she is new to us, Sheena's sensitive and perceptive comments on our pictures must have ensured that it won't be long before we invite her back again.

Congratulations to Joy in Level 1 for her winning shot of a squirrel eating a Yew berry A Nice Little Treat. This ticked all the boxes for a wildlife shot - looking bright-eyed and alive and doing something interesting, with no distractions in the background.

There were three 10s awarded at Level 2, the 10+ going to Dave S. for Shen-Mai. Sheena admitted she had no idea how this had been done or what the scale of this 'Chinese' monochrome landscape was but she absolutely loved it.

Mark's Beached Iceberg'  was a visually stunning image of a hunk of ice on a beach - a natural sculptural marvel backlit by a low sun.

In contrast, Brian's coastal shot The smooth sea at Portland  was a soft and subtle blend of colour, shape and texture.

Mark's weekly instructions on the location of the Fire Exits and to muster on the church steps if a fire alarm sounds was put to the test halfway through the evening. Much to our discredit, an orderly evacuation of the hall did not happen. One or two people left but, as it was raining, most stayed put and just sniffed the air for smoke. Anne managed to find some instructions on how to turn it off. Someone said they didn't think it sounded like the fire alarm - it put me in mind of the classic fire alarm scene from Fawlty Towers.

Friday, 17 February 2017

15 February 2017 | Buddy Night

Buddy Nights are a great way of finding out more about your camera or a particular aspect of photography from other club members. There was a lively buzz of conversation around the room last Wednesday.  Here are just a couple of examples of what people were sharing:

How to be in different places at the same time - Photoshop Layering

Joy S wanted to try something wacky. She had made three pictures of herself, in ‘musical soirée’ mode, and she asked David P to help her layer them in Photoshop Elements. By placing the images side by side and after a bit of juggling, David was able to demonstrate how to ‘rub out’ bits of a layer to reveal Joy in the next pose and so eventually this clever composite picture was created. Notice that they kept to the ‘odd number of subjects’ rule!


Musical soirée

A powerful free post-production tool – Snapseed

If you have an iOS or Android tablet and can either not afford the likes of Lightroom or one day find yourself away from your normal computer, you might like to download Snapseed. It’s software originally created by Nik and now owned and regularly updated by Google. With it you can do some powerful editing of your photos. Philip S had brought along three deliberately poor photos to demonstrate some of Snapseed’s capabilities. Here are some before and after shots and a note of the functions applied in Snapseed:



This was a RAW file. Snapseed was used to warm up the image, enhance the pool of light, lighten some of the shadows, heal some areas, sharpen the image and apply a modest vignette.



 Snapseed was used to spotlight the face in this image, darken the highlights in the sky, lighten the foliage, straighten the horizon slightly and apply a white border. Shame about the subject – but there we are!



For this picture of Rome, Snapseed was used to lighten the shadows, straighten up the verticals slightly, crop the top a little, and increase the dynamic range (using the HDR function on this single image). HDR is like Marmite - people either love or hate the effect - and you might actually prefer the 'Before' image in this instance!

These were not award winning shots, but I think you might agree that Snapseed did manage to improve the images. And the most impressive thing is that it’s entirely free… and I don’t get paid commission!