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!

Friday, 2 June 2017

Print & PDI of the Year Competition | 31 May 2017

It was like Groundhog Day, déjà vu, all over again! This Wednesday we entered our 2 favourite PDIs and 2 favourite Prints that had been previously submitted to any of the externally judged Club Competitions this membership year. It was not necessarily for pictures that had scored highly before, but we certainly saw a good crop of previous winners.

The judge was Don Morley, stellar ex Fleet Street photographer and picture editor. In one sense he had the easiest judging task in the world – the images had almost all been rated very highly by a previous judge. But, in another sense, he had a really difficult task – to whittle the excellent submissions down to three Print winners and three PDI winners. Well, in the end he actually cheated slightly and awarded joint second places in both categories!

It was great to revisit many of the stunning winners from our competition evenings throughout the year. Seeing the images again was like being among a group of old friends – especially as I guess we each recalled some of the stories and techniques behind the photos, shared by the respective photographers during the year. We fondly recognised the images that we knew had been expertly Photoshopped, carefully edited in Silver Efex Pro, shot patiently under a cold night sky or even taken in bed!

Don described himself as a ‘nit-picking judge’ and he certainly didn’t let people get away with wonky horizons or not enough depth of field or over-long captions or pictures that failed to excite him or get his interest going. But, most of the time, he dealt in superlatives – the photos were ‘gorgeous’, ‘lovely’, ‘atmospheric’, ‘pin sharp’, ‘commercial’, ‘super quality’, ‘full of impact’, ‘taken by someone who really knew their camera’, ‘had oodles of quality’, and so on. The accolades kept piling up and were a tribute to the excellent quality of photos regularly submitted by Photocraft members.

No scores were given this week. The best photos were held back and the very best were ranked first, second and third. It showed how subjective the art of judging is, as not all the 10+ winners from previous competitions made it into those categories. Assessment could vary in either direction and photos occasionally did better than they did originally (a foretaste maybe of our ‘Second Chance Saloon’ evening coming up on 21 June?).

Congratulations to Darren (PDI) and Mandy (Print) who were the overall winners. Unlike our normal competitions, submissions were not separated into different levels – so it’s especially noteworthy that the PDI competition was won by Darren, operating at level 1.

The judge particularly applauded Mandy’s choice of shutter speed in her Starling image – just fast enough to freeze the bird in flight, but not so fast as to lose a sense of motion in its wings. And he was especially taken by Darren’s clever crop in his magnificent ‘Bunny Girl’ image.

Prints of the Year

FIRST - Starling Iridescence - Mandy Byatt

JOINT SECOND - West Ham Tram - Dave Stoneleigh

JOINT SECOND - Dunstanburgh Castle - Graham Simms

THIRD - A chat through the steam - Mandy Byatt
PDIs of the Year

FIRST - Bunny Girl - Darren Millings
JOINT SECOND - Stargazing - Mark Bulle
JOINT SECOND - Sandtex - David Pelling
THIRD - Swallowtail Butterfly - Kevin Brookes

Friday, 26 May 2017

Field trip to Carshalton 25 May 2017

A phantom photographer was seen loitering in Carshalton Wednesday evening identifiable only by his shadow cast by the setting sun. Who was it??? The first person to come up with who took this spooky photo gets an extra biscuit at teatime next week.

(N.B. Click on pictures to enlarge them)
The advantage of being in a group pointing your cameras at everything and everyone is that passers-by assume you are a bit cranky and take little notice. Try to do it on your own and people think you're some kind of pervert. So it was all very relaxed and enjoyable wandering around Carshalton ponds and The Grove snapping what took our fancy in the beautiful evening light.

I tried some slow exposures using a Big Stopper filter I bought on eBay, only to find most of them came out blurred however careful I was with the focusing. Closer examination of the pictures showed it wasn't the focus but camera shake. If you don't know what camera shake does, take a look at the enlarged inset in this picture.

Notice the smeary doubling appearance indicating movement of the camera during exposure. Either the ground was shaking or it was the flimsy tripod bought for a couple of quid in a charity shop.

Since posting this Blog, Aodan has suggested the problem may have been due to leaving Image Stabilisation (IS) on. Canon recommends switching IS off when using a tripod, especially with older lenses, as it can confuse the system and make the image jump about. Thanks for keeping that one under your hat Mark :o)

Disenchanted, I went for minimalism and nailed it, don't you think, with this uplifting shot of a hole in a wall?

Then Mark appeared, a master of long exposures honed on the Northern Lights, to show me how Big Stopping should be done using Lee filters and a carbon fibre tripod. Not on the cheap then! Watch and learn Diddy, watch and learn...

His photo of the waterfall in The Grove is a real stunner.

And this one across the ponds shows how moving traffic just disappears if the exposure is long enough - in this case 95 seconds.

Mandy homed straight in on the wildlife capturing this shot of a heron sweeping along the river.

As the light faded, we all drifted towards The Greyhound for a drink and a congenial chat, rounding off a very pleasant (and for some, hopefully, rewarding) evening taking pictures.

The evening was marked by the return of an old friend, Aodan, back today and at last from his eighteen months in South Korea. He looked none the worse after the long flight once he had reacquainted himself with the flavour of English beer. Welcome back Aodan, we missed you.

No doubt you are all now rifling through the pictures you put into our competitions this season to find the best two to put into our Print and PDI of the Year competitions next week.

Adhering to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!), we will not be asking you to resize your PDI entries to take best advantage of the higher resolution of the new club projector. We will stick with the 1024 x 768 pixel limits. Next year, however, the maximum dimensions will change to 1440 wide x 1080 high.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

17 May 2017 | Monochrome competition No 4

This week saw the final of this year’s monochrome competition. Chris Carrick prevailed in the beginner’s group with his image Concept Car:

Concept Car - Chris Carrick

In the advanced group, there were two marks of 10 awarded, with Mark Bulle’s shot Tranquility pipping Dave Stoneleigh’s Window Light to the top: 

Tranquillity - Mark Bulle
Window Light - Dave Stoneleigh

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

10 May 2017 | “The Mind’s Eye” – Paul Sanders

This Wednesday, Paul Sanders came to talk about his journey from the high pressure world of being the Times’ picture editor to a landscape photographer.

The talk was peppered with many of Paul’s excellent photos (for examples, head over to as he explained his progress through photography.

Pertinent points from the evening included:

You need to have your own style. Not everyone can even get close to replicating the styles of the greats like Joe Cornish – why try?

Don’t take the same photos as everyone else. Find your own view point. Find your own angle. Make the shot (at risk of sounding like a million and one episodes of the X-Factor) your own.

Slow down. Life is hectic, noisy and fast. It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re trying to do too many things at once. Concentrate on the photo. Concentrate on the view. Take the shot. You’ll end up with better images.

Lighten up. Is there really the need to carry all those cameras and lenses and the other associated paraphernalia (see this post)? Is it possible to use one camera and one lens to do everything you need to? Your back will thank you, long term…

Get the picture right first time. When you’re dealing with exposures measured in the minutes (thank you Lee), it makes complete sense to get the picture as close to perfect in camera as you possibly can. It also saves on the time in front of the computer in post-processing

The evening was thoroughly thought provoking – Paul had judged his audience perfectly and his talk was definitely, for me, one of the highlights of the year. Absolutely fascinating.