Sunday, 17 December 2017

Christmas Party

Last Wednesday we met for our annual Christmas party. A great night was had by all with some new ideas coming from your committee.

Martin and his wife Monica arranged the food and set out a fine and varied spread.

Brenda help to collect the money for the food and also came up with the most intriguing photo quiz thanks to the Radiology department at her work! They even prepared a presentation with all the answers. Thanks also to David for pulling himself away from the mince pies to help set up the screen and projector.

And then came our raffle organised by Steve.

This was all carried out to the backdrop of christmas lights donated by Mark which also became the bonus prize in the raffle.

And thanks to everyone else for making it a nice way to round off the 2017 Photocraft season.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Open Print Competition 2, 6th Dec 2017

It is always good to welcome Don Morley to judge our competitions. A man with a lifetime’s professional experience in photojournalism; what he doesn’t know about photography wouldn’t cover the back of a postage stamp.

It was encouraging to see so many entries in Level 1 considering the extra effort and pain needed to turn a digital file into a successful print. Don was encouraging to all entrants in this level with gentle constructive criticism on technique or content. I am sure everyone who entered at this level felt they learnt something without being disheartened where their efforts may have fallen short of perfection.

But there must have been something in his tea because he came out with all guns blazing when the first three Level 2 prints were put up (two of which were mine!) because they were slaughtered. When the fourth was presented, he said perhaps he should start commenting from near the exit door.

As one would hope and expect at this level, technical criticisms were fewer and the pictures separated more on concept and composition. It came down to whether a picture ‘worked’ or not. If it didn’t ‘grab’ him, it didn’t score well. I thought it was interesting that he did not criticise pictures that did not conform to the conventional camera club ‘rules’ of composition, provided the picture ‘worked’.

Being able to recognise when a picture is working is the Holy Grail of good photography. I always listen hard to those judges able to make that distinction, and continue to believe for my sake that this is a skill that can be learnt with practice. Vain hope perhaps.

Well done everyone who entered the competition and congratulations to those achieving top scores.

The 10+ at level 1 was a beautiful night shot Blue Line to St Paul's by Maureen

Another new member entering a print for the first time and awarded 10 was David A with Southwest Cyprus, west of Coral Bay

The other two 10s at Level 1 were Little Owl; with Attitude by David M

and Bruarfosse waterfall, Iceland by Sharon.

At Level 2, Dave S gained the 10+ with Balloons

also receiving a 10 for his seasonal Robin

Two more 10s were awarded at this level, David H for Heron

and Martin F for On Dungeness Beach

Half of these award winning pictures were from new members, so it looks as if us old hands will have to watch our backs and up our game for future competitions!

Friday, 1 December 2017

29 November | Paul Sanders | Pictures on a Page

Not many of us have our pictures viewed by over a million people a day – unless your photo happens to be selected for publication in a newspaper.  Paul Sanders was Picture Editor for The Times till 2011. Every day he would have to review upwards of 20,000 pictures, for 14 to 16 hours a day, to identify the best photos for that day’s edition. In his presentation to Photocraft he let us into some of the secrets of newspaper photography.

For instance, if you want an image selected for the front page, the trick is to hide your best picture in the middle of the pile that's being reviewed by the editorial meeting, skip over it, poker-faced, and let the Editor claw it back as ‘their own idea’! Photoshopping or pixelating out any part of a news image is a sackable offence – readers have to be able to trust the honesty and integrity of the newspaper. Getting unique images and stealing a march on competitors depends on building contacts with ordinary people - including sometimes scheming to get sole access to their family photo album! 

Paul recounted how one of his photographers had handled a severely truncated photo shoot with President G W Bush. 48 frames were shot in just five minutes, thanks to the photographer knowing what he wanted and how to get it: ‘powerful people respect decisive people’, he said, so it was important to be ‘respectful, but forceful’.

Many of Paul’s stories and images were hauntingly tragic. He showed a 2008 image of a young female AIDS victim from Zimbabwe, Sarudzai Gumbo, who was suffering from a number of different AIDS-related illnesses. Her face was disfigured by open sores and she was very frail, in a country that, thanks to Mugabe, had next to no remaining health care. Apparently, after Times photographer, Richard Mills, working undercover, took her picture, readers of The Times donated enough money to move her to a properly equipped hospital, but sadly she died shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story: Richard Mills took his own life later that year, depressed that his pictures were not changing the world – and probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Paul confessed that he was still haunted by this and would never have sent him back to Zimbabwe, had he known his state of mind.

The Royal Wedding cover ©The Times

The last royal wedding, in 2011, was a source of much happier stories. Paul described the challenge, on that occasion, of identifying the right photo for The Times front page. The image was to wrap around the front and back pages. The most obvious picture would have William and Kate kissing on the balcony of the palace, in a deliberate echo of the iconic Charles and Diana wedding photo, but this image would have been hard to wrap around. Paul told how he'd had a huge row with his Editor as to which photo should be used, but had stood his ground, and ultimately had got his way. Instead of the kiss, The Times featured an image of the happy couple driving from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House in a vintage Aston Martin. Paul’s judgement was proved absolutely right when this souvenir edition of The Times not only uniquely stood out from competitors, but completely sold out and boosted sales for some time. Ironically, though, Paul revealed that the photographer of this shot only ever earned £175 from the picture!

If you ever take a really good photo of breaking news, Paul advised that you should send it in to a news desk straightaway: ‘news doesn’t wait for you… if you get something good, move it!’ Ultimately, Paul lost faith in newspaper picture editing, left The Times and has started to rediscover himself in landscape photography. However, that’s another story, for another day. You can read about it here.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

22nd November 2017 - Bokeh Evening - Was it all a bit of a blur?

We enjoyed another excellent evening on 22nd November 2017, courtesy of our esteemed Chairman, Aodan.

He provided us all with a most interesting and informative talk on the subject of Bokeh. So, to start us off on the right foot, Aodan talked us through the variations of how to pronounce the word and via a quick trip to Paree and a glance at Japan, we ended at Bo Ke (Bow Kay). Thank you Wikipedia!

What is it? That was the very simple question posed. There were some excellent choices made in how to demonstrate the look of Bokeh and it became clear that it is not simply taking the photo with the background out of focus. If one were to get very particular, it could even be argued that true Bokeh only occurs when lights are out of focus and create a regular shape in the background of the picture.  The actual shape is caused by the blades of the shutter and size of aperture. Aodan also provided us with examples of other shapes that can be bought as pre-cut or simply cut your own out of card and hold it in front of the lens when taking the photograph – remembering that you need to get the exposure right if you’re cutting down the amount of light reaching the sensor or film.

Aodan took advantage of David P’s excellent exposure talk a couple weeks ago – see the blog below – to say that many of the same principles apply, i.e. depth of field and choice of f-stop, light and exposure. Colour is also a critical part of making the effect really work, especially if the lights or background involved are complimentary to the foreground.

The simplest way to start was explained as follows:

·         Set focus to manual
·         Point the camera at some lights – outdoors with car lights, street lights, etc. is a good place.
·         Focus until the lights are out of focus
·         Press the shutter!

You can experiment all you want and perhaps see the differences in the shapes you can get and the effect the colours have. The more out of focus the background is, the better the effect. This can be enhanced by using a telephoto lens as there are more choices for a narrow depth of field with the main foreground subject.

Sensor size is another component that plays a part and simply put, the bigger the better! This will allow you to get close to the main foreground subject which you then focus on and that throws the background out of focus. Here, the best results will be found by having good separation between foreground and background.

Separation of at least 3:1 - 5:1 is best. E.g. lens to subject 6ft, to background 30ft.

So far, we have been discussing what Aodan named “Back Bokeh”. He then made us appreciate that you can create a “front Bokeh” effect as well. This can be done by getting close up to the lghts in the foreground but focussing on infinity with your main subject a suitable distance away, e.g. main subject at 6ft, foreground light at 1ft.

In such cases, it is important to balance the overall lighting in order that your main subject standing furthest away is suitably lit for the photograph and the foreground lights are not going to overpower the background.

As ever, in this fast paced world, software can offer a solution if all else is failing you. Alien Skin Software Exposure X3 has a Bokeh effect plug-in -

But be warned, it is not cheap and now has so much more than a few simple enhancement options so it may be a bit overwhelming.

Perhaps a more cost effective starting point will be to watch the experts on youtube and Aodan recommended Mark Wallace - - as one to view to see the best examples.

Gavin Hoey is another excellent photographer and his Bokeh demo can found here.

Don’t forget you can make your own shapes for effect by simply cutting a card to suit. If that proves too much, many pre-set shapes can be found for sale online.

And so to end with some of our own work from the evening – which saw a quite magnificent array of cameras and tripods on display! We have a great and growing membership and it is really encouraging to see so many take the chance to try out these effects on the night. After some shuffling of tables, etc. we had a few lights on show plus toys, water droplets and leaves. Some of us ventured out into the night air and whilst we have a few pictures here to start with, I hope more will be added in the coming days.

Well done to all for making the most of a great evening and a huge thanks to Aodan for his preparation and presentation that whetted our appetite to take these fine examples of front and back Bokeh…more to follow!

Monday, 20 November 2017

15 November 2017 | PDI Competition 2

This Wednesday saw the second installation of the ever popular PDI competition – with a slew of top marks across the 2 levels. Congratulations to everyone who entered – with special mentions going to the following:

Level 1:

10+: Maureen H: Tour Guide’s Quiet Moment:

10: Sharon T: A Rose:

10: Sharon T: Skogafoss:

10: Steve H: Dying Sunflower:

Level 2:

10+: Mandy B: Night fighting foxes:

10: Graham S: Autumn Fall:

10: Martin F: Suspended: 

 See you all next week for our "bokeh" workshop!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Exposure Exposed by David P

One of the fundamental issues of capturing a photo is how much light to allow into the camera, how long to "expose" the film (or sensor) to light.

Most modern cameras now come with internal mini-computers and light meters that make many of the exposure decisions automatically based on what they think you want. It assumes you are in average conditions and as a result gives an "average" photo. But sometimes that's just not good enough and we need to guide the camera's computer to take account of our creative preferences.

Dave's talk explained the background to the "Exposure" process, what the camera tries to do automatically and more importantly how and when to override it's "average" algorithms.

So fundamental is the exposure to the photo capture process that any talk that tries to explain it will also divert into side-subjects of ISO, aperature and then focussing.

David covered all of these admirably and also left time for questions afterwards.

I can't repeat all of David's talk here just to mention some of the rules of thumb he included.

(1) If you have no light meter, guess !!  Also called the sunny sixteen rule. On a bright sunny day, use a shutter speed of 1/ISO speed (i.e.) with ISO set at 200, then the correct shutter speed with f16 is 1/200sec.

(2) To avoid camera shake use a shutter speed faster than 1/focal length of the lens. (i.e) when using a 200mm lens, use a shutter speed faster than 1/200sec.

(3) When shooting stars, the longest exposure before stars start to trail is 500/focal length of the lens.

And some more friendly advice, when photographing stars, most cameras might allow you to focus beyond infinity, but don't do it. You don't know what will happen ...


Friday, 3 November 2017

London by Night | Umbreen Hafeez | 1 November

As the days get shorter and the nights draw in, some people put their cameras away. Not so, Umbreen Hafeez, the speaker at Photocraft last week. Umbreen’s specialism is photographing London by night. She took us through a kaleidoscopic array of her night shots of the capital, captured with pin sharp detail and a consistent eye for excellent composition. Most of the photos had been taken from tall buildings, though some had been taken at ground level or, more precisely, river level: Umbreen isn’t afraid to don her wellies and take to the foreshore (though always with an eye on the incoming tide!).

Her real passion at the moment is photographing London from the air. There seemed to be hardly any tall building that Umbreen hadn’t used as her vantage point to create her mesmeric images. She has taken her camera to high rise council blocks, new builds, rooftop restaurants, penthouse suites, and offices in the sky. One way or another she has managed to gain entrance, by blagging, tailgating residents, befriending office workers or simply asking permission. Initially, she is sometimes refused, but her dogged persistence usually gets her into the vantage points she most covets. Sometimes there is some quid pro quo, as she donates low resolution pictures to her hosts. She confessed that she even resorted to becoming a volunteer at Severndroog Castle in order to take photos there. As well as persistence, Umbreen certainly has oodles of patience as she waits for a day with the right weather conditions (50-70% cloud). Mind you, she also warned against cancelling because of bad weather: two of her most amazing images were taken in less than ideal conditions (a full rainbow and a lightning strike). 

The camera she uses is a Canon 5DM2, with 17-40 F4 L lens, 24-105 F4 L IS lens and used to use a 70-300mm DO IS lens but has now switched to Sigma 50-500. She normally shoots an hour before and an hour after sunset, so a tripod (carbon fibre) is essential. She uses Adobe Lightroom for post production. Her standard setting is f13 for 30 seconds at ISO 100, though sometimes, if she’s having to shoot through a dirty window, she’ll open up the aperture to reduce the depth of field and blur out the dirt. As much of her work is through windows she also uses a "lens skirt" to keep light interference from double glazing panes to a minimum. (This is a black cloth/hood which fixes to the window with suction cups and the lens fits through a hole in the middle).

Normally she works with a single exposure, except, say, in the case of Big Ben, when, for obvious reasons, the clock face has to be taken separately and overlaid on the rest of the long-exposure image in Photoshop. She said her use of Lightroom was fairly conservative and usually amounted to: taking down the highlights, upping the shadows, adding lots of contrast, and doing some sharpening. Interestingly, she said that she didn’t tend to boost saturation. She will also adjust white balance, not necessarily for accuracy but for something that looks pleasing. So, there were plenty of useful tips to emulate and Umbreen’s presentation certainly whetted my appetite to try out more London photography. It’s amazing to think that people travel the globe to photograph London… and it’s right here on our doorstep! 

One of the most impressive things about Umbreen’s photography is that she is self-taught – which gives all of us hope! Be inspired by her images and find out more about Umbreen at TimeOut and on Flickr.