Friday, 31 March 2017

Smartphone Photography competition, 29th March 2017

Did you watch the series on BBC4 Britain in Focus: A Photographic History  that I drew attention to recently? In the final programme, Eamonn McCabe interviewed a representative of photography today, a young teenage girl who used a smartphone to record her everyday life and communicate it with her friends.

If photography is about anything, it's about communication, and this kid (who came across as a pretty perceptive judge of what made a good picture) exemplified what I guess we have to accept is now mainstream photography. Good on the presenter for having the bottle to highlight it in a series like this. And good on Mark for giving us the chance to explore it in a semi-serious way. It would be nice to make this a permanent part of the club's programme.

We were allowed to enter up to 5 pictures each and a total of 61 were entered. OK, some people took the 'fun' aspect a bit far, but it was certainly interesting to see how individual members met the challenge. Members themselves judged the entries marking what they considered the best, and their second and third preferences.

So congratulations to Aodan who won both the first and second places. (When you going to stop gadding about in South Korea, Aodan - would it take a threatened missile strike from Kim Jong-il to bring you back?). Here are his winning pictures:

Fairground Ride

Autumn morning

The club's arch ruler-bender Dave S came third with his very loose interpretation of the competition requirements.  It was called Mobile Phone Photo - Texting. How did the Easter Egg taste Dave?

At a recent buddy night, Philip drew attention to the App Snapseed and, although I missed his demonstration, I installed it to have a look. A number of members processed their images for the competition using Snapseed which is available for Android and iOS from the Google App Store for free.

It's a lot of fun to use and impressively powerful with many of the features you may be familiar with in PhotoShop, including content-aware healing and fine-tune contrast adjustments using curves. New tools are added as they are developed, by Nik Software I believe. Three appeared magically yesterday, one called 'Double Exposure' allowing the combination of several pictures and another which claims you can 're-pose' portraits, which sounds intriguing.

Philip was hoping to demonstrate the App after our competition on Wednesday but in the short time available wasn't able to set it up to project. If anyone knows how to 'mirror' a smartphone or tablet screen on a laptop, please let us know.

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>