Thursday, 13 December 2018

A (very) rare blog entry from the Chairman!

As another year draws to a close, I would like to wish everyone at Photocraft a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2019.  Whatever you are doing over the festive period, please don't forget your camera .. remember there's all that that street photography, intentional camera movement, and "telling a story with pictures" to practice! :-)

Thanks to everyone that joined in the fun on Wednesday, and an extra special thank you on behalf of everyone present to Jane for organising the food and to Anne and Steve for organising the raffle and "ambiance".  It was a really fun night :-)

With best wishes ..


p.s. see you back on the 9th January for our second Monochrome Print competition!

Friday, 7 December 2018

5 December | Open Print Competition 2

Do you ever do background research on competition judges, to optimise your chances of winning?  According to the internet, tonight’s judge, Royston Williamson ‘aims to stray from the norm in (his) photography hopefully producing a reaction in the viewer’. It didn’t help me win, but his website revealed that he specialises in flora and fauna, landscapes and surrealism, and goes on regular cruises.

There were a few more things that I found out during the evening that I wished I’d known beforehand. Royston liked subjects to face the camera. He wanted photographers to pay attention to the edges and backgrounds of their images and remove anything unnecessary. He loved colour, though not too bright. He liked to be amused by photos and appreciated pictures that contained ‘something different that sticks in the mind’ afterwards. Above all, Royston delighted in black mounts and guess what colour mounts both tonight’s winners had used! Since all my mounts were antique white, that meant I had no chance… alongside the fact that the winning photos were so good!

There were an extraordinary number of entries ‘held back’ for final judging at level 2. ‘They’re all too damn good’, Royston claimed, ’it’s not my fault!’. But was it my imagination or did his judging get a tad stingy just after the tea break (had we short-changed him on his biscuits)?

As always, competition night was a useful learning experience and not just about photography. Royston’s judging was enlivened by extra nuggets of information. We discovered that there are sharks in Sydney Harbour and that people instinctively keep looking around when eating on their own. You never know when information like that will be useful!

Level One Winner | Bavarian Church Door | David A


Royston explained that this image was ‘all about patterns’. He loved the fact that it was taken straight-on and was ‘sharp all over’. The placement of the crosses was ‘well-thought-out’ and ‘dynamic’. He also felt the colours were ‘extremely nice’. The dark mount was well-chosen: a white mount would only have been ‘half as good’.
David A told me: ‘Of the three I entered, this was my third choice; it was chucked in and one that I was happy to be discarded if there were too many entries’. He explained ‘before I joined the club (when I took this photo) I tended to go for strong graphic images’ and that he was (justly) proud of the sharpness of this image. David took it on a Nikon full frame, with Sigma 35mm Art f1.4 lens - at f4 for best sharpness, aperture priority, and programmed for minimum sensitivity (giving him 100ASA) and slowest possible handhold shutter speeds (giving him 1/40s). For post-production he used Lightroom.  ‘It would have been minor tweeks (if necessary)’, he told me, ‘I usually take my pictures on Nikon Flat Picture Control, but I probably increased contrast in Lightroom and cropped a little to get things off-centre with no full diamonds’. David’s favourite subject matter is landscape/cityscape, and/or strong graphics.


Level Two Winner | Sunset over Archaway Islands, New Zealand | Mark B


Judges are seldom lost for words, but Royston simply felt this image was perfect: ‘what is there not to like?!’ He loved the ‘fantastic’ lighting of the rocks, the ‘astounding colours’ and the appropriately chosen dark mount. ‘You were so lucky to have been there’, he said. And we were lucky to be transported there by Mark B’s brilliant photo! In fact Royston had difficulty choosing between two potential winning entries – both stunning images by Mark B.
Mark told me: ‘We’ve had a number of speakers (one this year actually) who've talked about researching a picture beforehand, and this image is a great example of that.  This was taken on holiday in New Zealand and we visited this location specifically because I wanted to see what sort of pictures these rocks might make.  It also required a bit of time planning too, as the rocks are on the west coast of the island and I had to be there in time for sunset!’

He was most (justly) proud of ‘the colour of the sky, the contrast of the rocks against the sky and the smooth effect of the sea’. It was taken on a Canon 6D and a EF24-70mm f2.8L II USM lens.  It was a long exposure image (10 seconds at f9) and he also used a “Lee stopper” filter to smooth the sea and naturally he needed a tripod. The image was “improved" in Lightroom: ‘a bit of cropping, a bit of temperature, shadow, clarity, contrast and shadow adjustment .. a bit of everything I think’. Mark still considers himself to be relatively new to photography and he is still trying out new genres and techniques (when he gets the time!), but he loves night photography and landscape work.


Congratulations to tonight's worthy winners and to the other successful entrants who scored 10 (at Level 2):


Form an orderly queue please | Brian C

 Sydney by night | Mark B


Saturday, 1 December 2018

Competition Discussion Evening 1 - 28th November 2018 - Talking Crop and other photographic editing skills

It was good to see a healthy selection of members willing to put their past works up for discussion and comment last Wednesday evening. Following on from the extremely helpful talk of the week before by Marcus Scott-Taggart on how to prepare images for competition, this promised to be an evening where we could all see how our own images met the criteria or not, as the case may be.

Following Mark B's alphabetical arrangements, Alan M was first up with a nice image captured in Tuscany. This featured two wooden "Pinocchio" puppets and triggered a good few minutes on the merits of how the title of the image can be misinterpreted, either when reading out loud for a print competition or by the judge when just seen on screen with a PDI competition.

We also had our first mention of cropping; the first of many as it turned out. What became clear was that we all had some form of fear of overdoing this when creating our entries for each competition.

Your writer had his own example of this with a monochrome image taken on a film SLR camera. I have no idea why I had included so much extraneous stuff in the original shot but what the judge said when viewing was absolutely correct and so I had a fresh version that had been far more cropped that the one first entered a few weeks ago. It was pretty clear that I had left too much in the frame and the new one was much more clear about the main subject.

David A gave us the background to his "Man of War 1981" image but what became clear in this debate was that there seems to a limitation on the number of characters that can be used when inputting a title in PhotoEntry. David A explained that the full title when he had entered the image was far longer and Mark B recalled that this was not on screen when the PDI came up in the competition. Another example of where the judge was thus not getting the whole story of what was in front of him.

Dave C then gave us an insight into his time and effort in creating his Epsom racecourse image. This had entailed some great creativity in getting the images in the first place with Dave putting his camera pretty much on the turf to capture a worm's eye view and then firing off several shots. He then made the best of the horses caught in his shots and created a fine piece with three horses racing neck and neck. Due to some of the original images having no horses in them, Dave also took a lady photographer from the opposite side of the course and added her in just the right place to enhance his final image. It seems the judge that night was not very familiar with the thrills of the turf!

David P took us into his creative mind when explaining the background to his mono shot of "Teenage Angst". Make your narrative was the message and with skilled cropping and layering, he had a high scoring PDI image from a few weeks ago. He then took us to a wonderful waterfall and explained again where a good eve and a specific crop can find an image worthy of competition entry.

Graham S offered his straightforward thoughts of a couple of images and again it was cropping that played a significant part in what we had seen entered in the past competition. There was also some views on what we shoot for mono and for open competition. That was an interesting insight into how members pick what they enter in each category.

As we went through the evening, more was revealed as those of us who put work forward took our turns. 

Cloning was an area that led to some good discussion on when and how to do it. It seems that we had had some judges that missed a few small areas but the overriding message is that we are all as careful as we can be.

There were some good examples of the use of filters, specifically the "Big" and "Little" Lee filters that are 10 and six stops respectively. Used correctly to create long exposures, they can help create outstanding images.

Members also shared how many post-processing software is in use, ranging from free (Picasa) to the full Photoshop range of whistles and bells.

Jane D told us that her great street image had been taken with just her "little compact camera". With just some careful cropping and a hint of saturation, she scored a 10! 

Jane also shared with us what seems to be an excellent book called "104 Pictures To Take". This gives 104 different items to capture and she had "earrings" on the list, hence her memorable mono image of the gentleman with his many, many earrings from a few weeks back. Cropping and Silver Efex Pro and there you had it!

Martin F highlighted where cropping helps his street photography. His message was to be careful when framing your shot, especially where feet are involved! We all now know that the first judge Marting faces when he is thinking of what to enter is Mrs F...and she is the best one of all as he sees it! Very good to have Martin! 

His second image highlighted the use of a good title and also where it can be difficult to process an image.

Mark B shared his views on his Seattle chewing gum image that he felt was worth taking time to edit and present and then was categorically not the favourite of the judge on the night. It happens and was a good example of what we had been told about a judge not really being concerned with what had been done in the lead up to his or first view of the image.

Finally, David H gave us the first view of what he is going to enter on the 3rd December 2018 PDI competition at his other club, Dorking. The mountain lakes waterfall had been taken in 2002 on a three megapixel camera!! Some colour efex pro editing was pretty much all that David had done. He uses A mixture of Photoshop Elements, CS6 and Nik software but his main aim is to get the most of the shot right when taking it in the first place.

All in all, a useful evening with some interesting and helpful insights and a lot of common concerns. The overriding message though was "Do not be afraid to Crop!!"

Can we, therefore, look forward to many future competition entries where the subject and meaning will be self-evident? It will be something to watch out for.

Friday, 23 November 2018

‘Optimising Photographs for Competition’ by Marcus Scott-Taggart. 21st Nov 2018

Or the title Marcus said he prefers ‘What the judge expects’! Marcus has a professional background in the subject having worked in a research group tasked with maximising colour and black and white reproduction for newspapers and magazines etc. He was persuaded to join Tandridge Camera Club in 2002 and said he was surprised to find that the quality of much of what he saw surpassed what he had seen in his profession. He attributed this to the fact the club members were doing it because they loved it and not to put bread on the table. He became a judge in 2004, and held the Chair on the Judges and Lecturers Subcommittee of the SPA in 2015/2016. So this is a guy who knows what he is talking about.

One thing that struck him on seeing the work of club members was how many had not done enough editing to ‘optimise’ their photos.

After the ‘first click’, your most important second click is which shot to work on. You need to be ruthless in choosing a suitable ‘competition picture’ before the judge is ruthless on your behalf! Remember, you may have been looking and working on the picture for weeks, but this is the first time the judge will have seen it.

The picture needs impact - the judge will have half-formed an opinion on your picture within 1 to 2 seconds of seeing it in the initial run through or seeing it on the print stand. The kind of features that create impact are: exaggeration of reality, frozen action and humour.

Secondly, the image needs clarity of purpose. However, it is not essential nor important for the judge to find out what you are trying to communicate; a picture can mean different things to different people. A good title can help the judge understand what you are trying to convey.

Thirdly, composition has to be considered carefully. The shape and balance has to be right and careful cropping can be used to make your message clearer.

While on the subcommittee, he was able to analyse the feedback from clubs on the performance of SPA judges. The two most common criticisms were when judges scores did not seem related to their comments on a picture, and when judges allow themselves to drift off the subject to relate personal anecdotes. I guess we have all seen this happen.

He then went on to explain what characteristics a judge should NOT be taking into account. These included:
  • the effort needed to find the subject portrayed
  • the distance and cost of getting there
  • the cost of the equipment employed

He also told us what he considered overvalued ideas: 
  • oblique features are preferable to verticals
  • background features take attention from the subject
  • images should be light at the top and dark at the bottom
  • monochromes are more ‘creative’ than colour photos
  • only ‘creative’ photos deserve high marks
  • a picture showing movement must include something sharp
  • coloured mounts are not a good idea
  • a full range of tones must be evident
  • individual elements in the picture are more important than the whole image
Then he showed one of his own photos with a catalogue of these 'errors', and certainly convinced me that looked at as a whole, the picture worked admirably.
Finally he said that the most important thing about a picture is that it conveys your feelings about the subject at the time you captured it.

There can’t have been any member, beginner or advanced, who didn’t learn something from this unique opportunity to hear from the other side of the competition experience. So thank you Marcus for giving up your time to provide us with such an interesting and memorable evening.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

10 November | Open Projected Image Competition II

This week saw the second part of this year’s PDI competition. The judge, Don Morley provided plenty of robust guidance on the 60 images entered. As such, there was a bumper crop of high marks from the images he liked… And a fair few entrants who probably went home feeling they were robbed!

Salient points taken away from tonight can be boiled down to: 
  • Stop being wordy with your image titles!
  • Think about using a larger aperture (smaller F number) when photographing wildlife to blur the background better
  • Consider whether the image would look better portrait rather than landscape
  • Leave enough space for the image to "move" within the frame - don't crop so tightly!

At level one, Kevin B emerged triumphant with his image Dahlia, narrowly fending off David A’s Oculus:

Dahlia - Kevin B

Oculus - David A

At level two, David H’s Take Off took the winner’s slot, ahead of Mandy B’s Jay in Motion, David P’s Aysgarth Falls, Martin F's The Observer and Dave S’s Burgh Island Hotel:

Take Off - David H

Jay in Motion - Mandy B

Aysgarth Falls - David P

The Observer - Martin F

Burgh Island Hotel - Dave S

Sunday, 11 November 2018

You be the Judge of That!

Have you ever been confused by a camera club judge's scoring ?

Were you pleasantly surprised to hit the magic formula for a "10" or maybe you were quietly disgruntled at why the judge didn't understand your inner genius ??

Well, this week club member, David H gave us the opportunity to score a selection of images for ourselves and also to discuss those scores with the rest of the group.

The images were provided courtesy of an inter club competition held in his previous club. The added twist was that while his previous club is local,  in South London, one other club was from South Africa and the other from Australia. This certainly led to a variety of images and also a variety of presentation styles.

15 images were presented from each club and after a straight run through, we saw each image again in detail to decide on a score. To avoid influencing each other all the scores were written down but kept silent at this stage. 

After the scoring we started from the start again and David shared the actual score the image had received from the original competition judge. Hmm, some very surprising results and it turns out we can't agree with each other either. The images were marked out of 15 and mostly we had a spread of 2-3 points around the judges score, some high and some low. It turns out the image scoring is not as easy as it seems!

At the end of the evening, everyone toted up there scores with spot prizes going to Claire K for getting the most correct scores and Martin W getting the lowest average.

Thank you, David, for such an interesting and innovative evening.

Friday, 2 November 2018

31st October 2018 - Monochrome PDI Competition No. 1

We welcomed David Mendus back to the club for our first Mono PDI of 2018/19.

David opened by telling us he has stepped away from his judging affiliation with the SPA. Whether by coincidence or because David felt suddenly freed from the constraints of following the SPA judging guidelines (I will make a guess at the latter), this writer felt that the evening gave us some of the most consistent comments and scoring across our offerings that I have heard from any competition evening.  

David did not give any new, startling insights into mono photography but he did offer many useful nuggets of information that provided good insight into what makes for successful work:

  • Use the right image if you are editing to mono
  • Be careful when cropping and watch what is on your edges
  • Keep a good balance across the frame and make use of the whole frame
  • Do not overdo post-production

I felt all the comments translated into marking that was always relevant to what was said about the image on the screen. As we all know, we have had many judges that say a lot about an image but then give a mark that bears no relation to the comments made or give marks that vary wildly between similar images.

Enough of my opinion, onto the selection of winners.

Level 1 gave us 20 entries, six held back and three 10s awarded. David was extremely complimentary about what he saw, saying he could see the message each image was giving and enjoying the stories behind each one.

In first place, congratulations are due to Darren M with "Just Looking"

David loved the close-up expression and personality that shone from the subject's eyes. 

Darren achieved his second 10 with "Girls just want to have fun"

Again, David really enjoyed the humour in the image and could see everything had been captured to show the "fun" in the title.

Our final 10 in Level 1 was from Alan M with "The Morning Catch"

The tranquillity and mist in the image really impressed David and he paid special attention to the top of the frame with the trees receding into the mist.

Onto Level 2, where we had 30 entries. Eight were held and three 10s awarded.

David P scooped top place with "Adolescent Angst"

David (judge) commented that this image captured the girl's expression so well and as with the Level 1 images, the story was clear. It was a rare thing to be able to get an expression that gives so much in an image.

To follow Level 1 even more, David P mirrored Darren M with his second 10 being awarded for "Dying for a cuppa"

The expressions of the three people in the photograph all engrossed in making tea caught David's (judge) attention. Another great example of one image giving so much to the viewer.

Our third 10 went to David H with "Motherhood":

David (judge) viewed this as a perfect example of the bond between mother and child, something that can be very hard to put into an image. David H captured a wonderful moment.

All in all, an enjoyable evening and an eye-opening insight into how a "free" judge can both express him or herself and give the marks to match!

See you all later in November!

Brian C

Thursday, 25 October 2018

24 October | What Makes a Good Photograph? - Andrew Mills

24 October | What Makes a Good Photograph? - Andrew Mills

‘Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them…’. Tonight we were discovering some of the secrets of great (not just ‘good’) photos, with the help of examples drawn from throughout the history of photography and from many of its different genres.

First photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras (Retouched), Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Andrew Mills is a professional photographer, based in Southampton, who has specialised in advertising, editorial and commercial photography for over thirty years and has taught photography at degree level. He hadn’t come to lecture us, though - just to get us thinking outside the conventional camera club ‘box’. Andrew doesn’t believe in the standard camera club. His own photography group, Phorum, has ‘no competitions and each month there is a set theme chosen by the group, the results of which are reviewed at each meeting’. He acknowledged that judges wouldn’t necessarily appreciate all the great photos he was showing us – because sometimes the genre was too eccentric and/or too many ‘rules of photography’ were being broken. I wonder what score anyone would get if they entered a ‘foodscape’ (inspired by Carl Warner’s photography) in the next Photocraft PDI or Open Print competition? Perhaps I might need to eat my hat if it scored a 10!

I lost count of the number of photos in Andrew’s presentation. It was a generous cornucopia of great photography. Some images were so famous that you recognised them immediately, but the beauty of the evening was that so many great images had been combined in a single presentation. Granted there wasn’t enough time to analyse each and every image. Does that mean we were short changed? I don’t think so. I suspect his approach was intended to be subliminal – fire enough highly varied images in rapid succession and you’re bound to stimulate some new approaches and fresh perspectives! 

Andrew summed up the evening with three headlines:

  • Be historic – remember to take some photos that document the present day: so that future generations can get a sense of what it was like to live in our part of London in 2018. (By the way, did you see this recent BBC article that compared two photos taken on New York’s Fifth Avenue – just 13 years apart, but in other ways a whole world apart!)
  • Attend to light – for instance, never take a portrait with the sun immediately behind you.
  • Don’t believe camera club judges* – get the confidence to make photos ‘outside the box’.

Altogether, it was a breathless, but stimulating evening. Incidentally, one of the famous photographers that he referred to, Eadweard Muybridge (perhaps best known for his motion photos proving that horses have all four legs off the ground when they gallop), grew up down the road in Kingston and later retired there. Kingston Museum has a corridor-gallery devoted to Muybridge, including a large panoramic photo of San Francisco from 1878 – an immersive and truly historic image, as it shows us what the city looked like before the earthquake and fire of 1906. If you’re in Kingston it’s worth a brief visit.   

(* excepting, of course, judges in our membership!)