Sunday, 23 June 2019

PhotoCraft AGM, 19th June 2019

Members will have received copies of the Agenda and the Accounts, and the minutes of the meeting will be posted in the members' area of the website in due course, so I will just mention the chief changes in membership of the Executive Committee and try to give a flavour of the discussions that took place for those who were not able to attend the meeting.

Recently back from holiday (with a sore throat), Mark had hoped to keep the meeting short so he delivered his Chairman’s Report, hoarsely, at breakneck speed. It has been a successful year with some top class invited speakers, well-subscribed competitions and several interesting evenings presented or hosted by club members.

He thanked four club members for presentations that were designed to challenge the audience. David H gave us an opportunity to ‘Be a Judge’ by scoring a set of images and comparing what we thought against the original judge's marking. Presentations by 3 members covered selected photographic genres with follow-up meetings after an interval during which we were challenged to put the ideas into practice. These were Telling a Story by Aodan, Street Photography by Martin F, and Intentional Camera Movement by yours truly. Mark thanked them and all the members who produced work to entertain us on the follow-up meetings.

Mark also thanked everyone else on or off the club committees who had helped to ensure the smooth running of the club throughout the year.

As he had made known, Mark is standing down as Chairman next year due to pressure of work. Anne paid tribute to his superhuman effort over the last few years which I think it’s fair to say rescued the club from oblivion. One of Mark’s family described him as 'a lovely lad, but don’t let him push you around’! Mark has the knack of pushing people around in the nicest possible way - a rare gift. And if on rare occasions he might have got somebody’s back up - you can’t bake a cake without breaking eggs, they say.

And while on the subject, a thank you to Anne for baking a couple of trays of delicious cupcakes for our tea break. Anne too said that she would have to stand down as Treasurer at some point during the year as she and Steve will be moving from the area. We have to thank them both for all the time and effort they have put into bringing our system into the 21st century with spreadsheet accounting records and online banking.

As Anne pointed out in her Treasurer's Report, good speakers are expensive; you pretty much get what you pay for. With limited funds, we do have to provide some home-generated entertainment. This may not cost anything but it is time-consuming both for the people involved in preparing work for the evening itself and also for the programme secretary who has to dream up new ideas and brow-beat members into carrying them out.

In her report, she went through her statement of accounts in detail. There was a drop in membership, our main source of income, during the year. We now number 32 which she felt was about how many members we need to balance our income and expenditure while providing an interesting and varied programme. However, the cost of hiring the hall is set to rise, and speakers may have to be booked from further afield, incurring higher travel costs, to ensure that we continue to enjoy good quality presentations. However, it was agreed that membership fees would remain the same and that effort would be made to raise income by trying to boost membership.

As she went through the accounts, I found it particularly galling to discover that not only does Mandy normally thrash me in the club competitions but she earned more profit from the tea and biscuits than I did from print mounting!

Anne thanked Claire for acting as Independent Examiner of the accounts. Claire is a lady with hidden skills and talents so I hope she gets more involved in the club’s activities.

Moving on to Election of Officers, Brian C bravely offered to take on the Chairman’s role and was duly elected. From the comments he made and the points he raised under Members’ Motions and Amendments, Brian clearly has ideas on how he sees the club moving forward. We can look forward to another proactive Chairman who has clearly thought carefully about the club’s future and I’m sure we will give him all our support and encouragement.

Graham was elected our new Secretary/Programme Secretary, so well done to him for taken on this job. I was programme secretary for 6 or 7 years during the early Noughties so I know just how challenging and time consuming this job is. Mark said that he had pretty much drawn up next season’s programme so Graham has some time to feel his way into the task but I am sure he would appreciate any suggestions from members of interesting ways of filling the club evenings.

Under Members’ Motions and Amendments, David A wondered if we could change the names of our Level 1 and Level 2 groupings to make it more explicit which were the higher and lower expectation levels. The reason we decided on the neutral designations was because of the way members elect themselves into the class they feel comfortable in, rather than being promoted or relegated on the basis of their score totals at the end of each season.

David H, who as a judge visits many clubs, said that our method was very unusual. He also said that he thought this system results in a much more relaxed and friendly atmosphere at the club and was one of the reasons he joined PhotoCraft.

After some discussion it was decided that the categories would be changed, probably to Standard and Advanced.

Brian raised several issue in this section such as having a whole day club exhibition with a public vote as Carshalton CC do as this would help raise the profile of PhotoCraft and possibly attract more members. He also has ideas for more social get-togethers outside the club evenings where club issues could be discussed, and for ways of marketing the club to attract more members.

Mark said that of all the methods we tried at attracting new members, the website was the most successful. He was aware that the website had not been updated for a while but the problem is that the software it is run on is being discontinued and a time will come soon when the website will have to be reconstructed using alternative software or the present site transferred to a new package. He did not have the time to do this and Chris R kindly offered to take this task on.

On the question of equipment, Brian C said he felt we needed a second print stand so that everyone’s work can be put on display instead of some on tables. The present stand has served us well for a couple of decades but the problem is storage as it has to be jammed diagonally behind the cupboard doors in front of the shelves. If anyone with DIY skills fancies putting a stand together, possible one that will sit on a table and short enough to store at the bottom of our cupboard, please let us know.

We are all aware and getting a bit fed up with the wavy horizons on our PDIs, so a new projector screen is definitely on the club’s shortlist of equipment needs. Brian G reaffirmed that he had offered to sell his second-hand screen to the club for £150. He said that he would be willing to donate the screen to the club in exchange for free lifetime honorary club membership. The situation remained unresolved. This Blog may be read by members of other clubs. Perhaps another local club in need of a screen might like to consider the generosity of Brian’s proposal.

Like Mark with the AGM, I intended this Blog to be short and it hasn’t worked out that way, but at least I haven’t had to endure a throat infection writing it! I look forward to seeing everyone at the Social and Prize-giving evening next week.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

12 June 2019 | The Second Chance Salo(o)n

This week allowed the members of the club the chance to re-enter images if they thought they had been unfairly treated by our judges the first time around! Of a total of 41 images, we managed to discuss, dissect and largely discard 15 of them before the time ran out and the hall needed to be locked for the night – which meant that everyone who had entered an image had at least one pored over in minute detail.

There were a number of very helpful comments from the guest judge this week, explaining that:

  • Judges can be incredibly subjective when it comes to the naming of images. Some demand that locations are made crystal clear, while others aren’t really that bothered.
  • When a judge waxes lyrical about your competition entry, it doesn’t mean that he likes it… they could just be desperately filling time, finding things to point out before panning it with a 7. Or 6. Or 5…

Ultimately, the most interesting point we took away from the evening is that, despite their naming convention differences (and other little idiosyncrasies - a splash of red, anyone?), the SPA judges are overall pretty consistent. All but one of the images which were panned the first time around, were… gently put out of their misery this time around as well. 

Which leaves me to congratulate Martin W. for being the sole member who managed to get their verdict quashed. And quite rightly so – his image of The Hive at Kew was well executed and presented image, falsely maligned the first time around!

Friday, 7 June 2019

5 JUne 2019 | Print & PDI of the Year Competition | Judge: Marie-Ange Bouchard

It was déjà vu, all over again! This was our annual Print & PDI of the Year Competition, with the opportunity to enter two of your favourite PDIs and two favourite prints that had been previously submitted to any of the externally-judged Club Competitions this membership year. We were delighted to welcome back Marie-Ange Bouchard as judge – not least because of her beautiful French accent and because female judges are somewhat of a rarity at Photocraft.

There were 23 PDIs and 19 prints and this was probably the hardest competition of the year to judge. I guess no one would have submitted images that hadn’t scored well originally. So, the judge was left with the unenviable task of selecting from a feast of fine photos. She especially appreciated the variety of genres represented, including the challenging genre of street photography.

Her commentary and judgements were hugely entertaining and laced with a good deal of humour. I especially enjoyed her mixed metaphor when commenting on Steve H’s highly commended image: ‘the boat is the cherry on the cake’! I don’t know whether it was because we had so many excellent images or whether she is, by nature or training, an affirmative, positive, and constructive judge, but I do wish all judges would follow her example. Her comments were peppered with ‘I admire…’, ‘I love…’, ‘I enjoy very much…’ and even her (rare) critical remarks were gentle and edifying: ‘It would be really great if…’, ‘Do we need…?’, ‘I’m not 100% sure about…’, ‘What bothers me is…’.

It was clear what the judge appreciated: things such as, triangles, an odd number of subjects, shadow details, space for the subject to move into, simplicity, a limited colour palette, sufficient contrast, nothing that was too bright to draw the eye away from the subject, and the reduction in busyness in black and white (note to self: remember this next time she judges at Photocraft!). Essentially, however, most of the time she was simply explaining why the photos were so good.

The photos were not scored, simply highly-commended or declared the winner. I sometimes wonder whether our competitions would be better without scores. Arguably, scoring forces judges to find fault and justify their lower marks, rather than appreciating the finer points of every image. I recognise this is a highly contentious issue, which, I’m told, has divided camera groups right down the centre (à la B -- x - t !, so I’m told), but I wonder whether it would be worth starting a discussion about the pros and cons. Why not respond to this blog with your opinions, in the comments box?

This week the competition wasn’t divided into the usual two levels. So, it was especially impressive that two of the highly commended entries in the PDI competition were from level one entrants. There was a particularly long reflective pause before the judge announced the winners each time – not, I suspect, to increase the dramatic tension, but because she was genuinely conflicted by the very high standard of entries.

Tonight's winners and highly commended entries: 

PDI Winner

Juvenile Starlings - Aerial Attack | Mandy B

 PDI highly commended entries

The Outsider | Martin F
Sea Dream | Steve H
Fisherman | David H
Fountain of Youth | Darren M

Print Winner

Chalet Man - Flight to Simplicity| David H

Print highly commended entries

Goldfinch Collecting Nesting | Mandy B
Portland Bill Lighthouse | Brian C
The Happiness Trap | Martin F
Head over Heels | David H
Frankie Dettori Wins Again | Dave S
Many congratulations to the photographers of these outstanding PDIs and Prints of 2019!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

29th May 2019 - Andy Small - Landscapes of the British Isles

It was Photocraft's pleasure to welcome back Andy Small for his second visit to the club. His previous time with us was an excellent evening about flower photography and for this occasion, Andy gave us a tour of the British Isles with his main motivation being to enjoy walking holidays and use these to capture the wonderful scenery of Britain.

Andy explained his artistic background to us and how he has been influenced by some of the most important painters of these isles, such as Constable and Turner.

From his fascination with painting and drawing the sky and cloud formations and his keen interest in geographic studies, it was perhaps inevitable that Andy seeks to capture the mood and feelings he is experiencing from the landscape in his photographs. His website is here:

His post-processing in Lightroom is done to best capture the "being there" feeling and Andy makes good use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) for his final image, being careful not to overkill the effect. To that end, he will take a range of images of the scene in front of him to ensure he has captured the full range of light and it is from these that the final work will arrive.

The majority of Andy's fine work shown to us was taken with Nikon cameras and what sounds like his most trusted Zeiss 15mm wide angle lens. He also had images taken with his 100mm macro as well as some with the mighty 300mm.

We began our trip in Skye and Lochinver, going back to 2012. It was apparent from Andy's early images that he was fascinated by the Big Sky. Those Turner and Constable influences shone through and Andy told us that he spent some time experimenting to get the image he wanted, as well as learning not to leave his footprints in the shot!. He also chose to avoid filters on the lens in most cases and use the multi-image technique for the HDR treated final produced photograph.

When out and about, Andy told us he prefers to find a place and stay to explore it to the full. Hence, we saw many images taken from the same viewpoint but with different lenses and in changing light through the day. For Andy, the cliche times of sunrise and sunset are there to be enjoyed and he also strongly advocates the 20 minutes or so before sunrise and after sunset when the colours of the sky are at their best.

There were many panoramic shots to enjoy and those taken with the Zeiss 15mm certainly had a wider view than many of us had seen. There is careful cropping on many occasions so that the photo does not look overdisorted and having taken many shots, Andy will have all the pixels he needs to play with.

We saw some fine examples of infrared photography as well - Andy advising that this is best used to give an atmosphere to the image and it is certainly at its best with the blue sky and green trees.

Andy also had many monochrome examples on show, especially where he wants to put the tones and patterns to the fore in his shot. There were also a few square images in among the panoramas - Andy acknowledging that this format has gained much popularity,

What I found to be extra interesting was when Andy shared some of his tips and ideas for taking multiple exposures. Following on from some examples of these making their way into last weeks ICM event, Andy told us that he will employ some different techniques in the exposures and I, for one, will be trying out multi-exposure photography with different apertures as well as having a filter on for some shots within any given set of images. You may never see any of the outcomes but it sounds well worth trying.

All of the above was delivered in an engaging talk by Andy as we went down the west coast of Britain, through the Lake District, Wales, Cornwall and then onto Dartmoor and the bluebells of Hampshire.

As the evening ticked by, Andy then whisked us off to the East Anglian coast and up through Norfolk. Our final destination was Northumberland.

All in all, this was a great evening of photography with some wonderful images on the screen for us. These can all be found here with all the locations we enjoyed being featured, as well as several styles of an image such as panoramic and triptych. I would recommend you take a look for some fine and inspirational images.

Thanks to all who came along and a big thank you to Andy once again.