Thursday, 21 March 2019

20 March | Review of SPA 2018 Biennial Exhibition Colour Prints

I’ve never been keen on falling foul of libel laws, so there will, necessarily, be a lack of detail in this week’s blog! This week we had the chance to look at the winning and ‘accepted’ colour print images for this year’s Surrey Photographic Association Biennial Exhibition. Well, we didn’t quite get to see the prints themselves, just a PDI of them! The award-winning prints can be viewed here. It was a splendidly interactive evening and a wonderful no-holds-barred opportunity to say what you really thought about other people’s photos. Naturally, we flexed our commenting muscles and, where appropriate, even laid into photos taken by esteemed judges of previous Photocraft competitions. It didn’t seem to matter how many letters the photographers had after their names (and some had a veritable plethora). If we were underwhelmed by an image, we said so!  

Actually, it turned out, Surrey Photographic Association is a bit of a misnomer. The SPA goes well beyond Surrey, even into North London and West Sussex. One of the clubs represented in the Biennial was Ludshott Photographic Club – none of us was sure where that was (in fact, it’s on the Hampshire/Surrey border). It was fascinating to see the range of photography that made it to the Biennial. I guess every camera group, Photocraft included, can get into a fairly predictable rut, with some styles of photography less evident. There is, arguably, a greater chance of success for more unusual photos in the Biennial.

I was unsure how far some of the photos were staged - set up for photographers at special photo shoots. You may be interested in this newly published article from travel photographer, Etienne Bossot, in which he suggests that staged travel photos drain away photographic creativity. Some of the images were from far flung places. I wonder how many air-miles were involved and how ‘green’ the photography was? There were also quite a few children captured in these exotic locations. I wasn’t sure about the ethics attaching to some of these images – had permission been properly sought from parents or was a double standard operating, whereby pictures could be taken there which would be considered inappropriate here? Other photos had been taken much nearer to home. Newhaven lighthouse seemed to crop up particularly often. We were puzzled by the location of Marloes Sands, but it turns out that it’s in Pembrokeshire.

We went in alphabetical order through the SPA member clubs (through most letters of the alphabet). When we had only just arrived at ‘G’ by coffee time, I started to suspect a plot to avoid us ever seeing the Photocraft images; but things sped up after the break. It was then we discovered that Mandy B’s photo had been apparently misattributed in the SPA slide show – hopefully that will be soon rectified! Looking at photos from the other clubs reinforced our sense that Photocraft regularly punches above its weight. We can certainly hold our own alongside other clubs and we will have a chance to prove that at the next SPA Biennial! Do put it in your diary - it will be held in April 2020.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

13 March | Monochrome PDI #3 Competition | Judge: Paul Graber LRPS

I’m never too sure when a photo is best as monochrome or colour. Some people are able to instantly take stock of a scene and recognise that it calls for monochrome – and set their cameras accordingly. Most of us, I suspect, prefer to shoot in colour and experiment with monochrome in post-production. That way we don’t burn our boats at the outset. But there is potentially another approach. If you have an electronic viewfinder/ LCD screen and set your camera to record JPEG and RAW files, your camera may let you choose to make a black and white JPEG, whilst also recording a colour RAW file. Then you won’t have to imagine what the scene looks like in black and white – that’s what you’ll see on your EVF or LCD. But you will still have the colour-image fallback. This will give you the best of both worlds!

Whichever way this Wednesday’s images were produced, there were plenty of good ones for our judge, Paul Graber, to consider. It was Paul’s second visit to Photocraft. He introduced himself as a monochrome enthusiast whose favourite genres are landscape and birds (the latter of course usually better in colour!). 

The most important question to ask of our entries, he told us, was ‘Why is it monochrome?’. In other words, had we chosen to convert to monochrome for good reasons, such as, to get rid of distractions or to add drama, or simply because we were desperate to put something into the competition? 

Paul especially (mostly) appreciated our penchant for humorous titles. He enjoyed images with a good range of tonality; interesting skies; a lack of clutter; no unnecessary distractions; and, in the case of portraits, connection with the subject’s personality. He least appreciated ‘soot and whitewash’ images – black and white with no intermediate tones. 

I learned a new bit of photographer’s jargon from the judge – JCB. But I’ll demystify that at the end of this blog post…

Tonight’s star entries were:


Overall winner: Alan Marchant – Pot Children

The judge said: ‘The photographer captured this boy extremely well. It’s sharp and he’s looking at you and there’s some personality coming across. There’s the beginning of a story being told here, with the little girl (the top of her head) adding information to the picture. The square format works well.’

Other Level 10: Martin Wilkins – Pub Cat


Overall winner: Graham Simms – My style

The judge said: ‘I love the humorous title. There is certainly some style going on in the photography here. There is some lovely light falling on the stile and making it very much the centre of attention. There’s loads of detail in the sky. It’s a good example of monochrome lending an enormous sense of drama. The picture has got dynamism, lovely light and a good diagonal created by the fence. And it’s been superbly well-processed.’

Other Level 10: Dave Stoneleigh – Rushing Waters

Congratulations to all these very fine entries!

And finally, to put you out of your suspense, if you didn’t already know the meaning of JCB: apparently it means ‘Joe Cornish Boulder’ – a reference to the tendency, on the part of acclaimed photographer, Joe Cornish, to include a boulder in his landscape photography as foreground interest!

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Members' Competition Discussion Evening, 27th February 2019

We can all learn from the experiences of others and the idea of this evening was for members to show images they had entered in competitions this year and explain how they achieved their results hoping that others might pick up a tip or two.

David P kicked off the evening spending an inordinate amount of time explaining how this picture had been put together.

It was achieved by combining a series of 8 shots taken with the camera on motor drive.

PhotoShop’s Photomerge feature was used to collect the individual images as layers in a single document, aligned by content, much as a stitched panorama would be. This clip shows the Photomerge dialogue box and the steps in the procedure.

Each figure has to be cut out from its aligned layer with a selection tool (a time consuming process), then copied and pasted on separate layers above the aligned layer stack in the correct order.

Finally, the picture was flattened into one layer and cloning and content aware fills were used to repair missing parts of the picture, which was then cropped and flipped horizontally.

By this time some of the audience were clearing their throats and looking at their watches. Oblivious to the hints, David insisted on following this with a tutorial on the use of the Quick Mask to make accurate selections.

Next Graham showed us a beautiful photo taken from a cliff top in Cornwall.

He was disappointed at the low score awarded for this image and wondered what he could possibly have done to improve it. Mark tried adding a mist effect and boosting vibrancy in the flowers but nothing seemed to improve the original shot. Perhaps there was something in David H’s comment that perfect though the picture was, it was the kind of image that wouldn’t be out of place in a travel brochure and that many judges expect something a bit more from a competition entry.

Then Dave S discussed the methods he used for three of his entries that he also felt had been given disappointing scores by certain judges. In the most dramatic transformation he had turned a mediocre daytime shot of a steam train into a night shot, magically infusing the picture with a warm, glowing light from the firebox. What powers Photoshop can give us in the right hands!

‘And God said, Let there be Light: and there was Light.’


Then David A. showed his winning picture taken of The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye on New Year’s Day. Getting the exposure right in a shot taken directly into the setting sun is difficult. The camera’s calculation of exposure is thrown by the brightness of the sun causing under-exposure of the landscape, in this case making the details barely visible. Taking the picture in RAW format helped as it allowed impressive recovery of shadow detail using RAW conversion software - in this case, DxO Photolab. David said that he did appreciate that using a graduated filter might have helped balance the exposure between sky and land.

Compare this with the Graham's landscape above. Think about which one you prefer and why.

Finally Mark showed us the Lightroom adjustments he’d made on two pictures he had taken on holiday.

Mark used a stopper filter to smooth the waves in Sunset Over Archway Islands, New Zealand and wondered if the filter had desaturated the colours a bit.

His Lightroom adjustments are shown below. He commented, 'I can't remember what order I did them in, but my general approach is to just fiddle around with settings until I get something I like .. probably 20 minutes work on this.  The three “Delete Adjustments” are local adjustments to the rocks (lifting the shadows a bit to bring out the detail) and to the coloured part of the sunset (boosting the orange and pink and adding a bit more contrast to the clouds).'

Evenings like this do give an insight into other people's working methods and thinking processes so I do hope everyone found it as interesting as I did.