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.

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