Cheating the Cheaters

I’ve not really written before about photographic cheats, so this is a first for me. 

Before I start – let’s think about the definition of cheat…..

  1. To act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage
  2. To avoid (something undesirable) by luck or skill

Whether we talk about misleading images, or manipulative ‘photoshopping’ – all we need to think is “does this photograph meet the criteria set down” in a competition.

One of the most famous photographic hoaxes, is a series of images known as the Cottingley Fairies – and I’m sure most of you will have heard of these, and even seen the images.

The images were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright, and Frances Griffiths, who were, at the time, mere children.

The photographs show them with the fairies, and for decades they were accepted as being perfectly genuine.  They even fooled Arthur Conan Doyle.

They were first published in 1920 in Strand Magazine,  and a newspaper article at the time said the following:-

“The developed negative showed the figures in the woods, and Sir A. Conan Doyle is enthusiastic over this vindication of the spirit world”……… “The original pictures are now being studied by professional photographers to see if they could have been faked”.

The cousins were both still alive in the 1980s, and finally Elsie confessed to the hoax, probably with some relief, in 1983. What had undoubtedly started out as a cleverly stage-managed bit of fun, suggested by Frances, had got seriously out of hand. The cousins themselves were astonished at how readily people of the calibre of Conan-Doyle had accepted the images

We might think that prestigious competitions such as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year would be safe from the cheaters….. but no……. You may remember the image of the wolf leaping over a closed gate by Jose Louis Rodriguez.  The photographer here did not manipulate the image (much as the Cottingley Fairies were not manipulated), it was a straight photograph. Rodriguez ‘wild’ wolf was actually a tame one, used to jumping over things, and was identified by other Spanish photographers.

You may also remember the controversy over the ‘stuffed’ anteater at a more recent Wildlife competition.

But what makes people cheat in the first place?  

It may be to gain benefit, or notoriety, or just because they think they can get away with it.  I’m sure in the case of the wildlife images it was for fame and fortune, but the only people they cheat are themselves.

At the other end of the scale are those who cheat because they can, and because they genuinely believe that they are doing nothing wrong.  For example, on Facebook at the moment there is a group running where a topic is set once a week, for the 52 weeks of the year.  Each participant must take an image that week on that theme.  You are not supposed to check your archives for past work that ‘might fit’.  The thing is, that who would know if you did find something that fitted and posted that – the answer is no-one.  Is there any satisfaction in that though?

Cheaters have convinced themselves that their actions are acceptable, and you won’t be able to convince them otherwise…. After all ‘it was only a bit of fun’….

Welcome to 2022….

I can’t quite believe that it’s 2022 – the year in which I will be officially of a ‘certain age’.  Definitely NOT old, not yet.

I also want to express my thanks to everyone who has supported this blog in the past year or so. Your comments, on here, and on Facebook have given me the enthusiasm to keep writing. Thank you.

The last few days have been those odd ones that happen between Christmas and New Year – you know, the time, when you actually have had no idea what day of the week it is.  We’re still eating ‘Christmas’ food, and my other half is busy making the last mince pies of the season.  The days are dark – and short, and for about a week, there has been virtually no sunshine, just looming clouds of grey.

Suddenly over the last week, the sun came out a bit, the sky (today) is blue and life seems somewhat ‘brighter’ again. (it’s bitter cold out today but lovely).

Over the dull days, I’ve been reading photography books.  Something every aspiring photographer should do.  Not just pretty picture ones either (though there’s everything good to be said about those).

Towards the end of last year, I watched a few talks on YouTube, one of which talked about a photographer I’d never heard of  – an American, Harry Callahan.  The talk itself cost me a fair amount of money, (not the talk), as I searched online for a book about him and his images, creatively called ‘Harry Callahan’.  I managed to get hold of a second hand copy, which, when it arrived looked like it had never been opened.  

Callahan had his first one person exhibition in November 1947 in Chicago. He asserted that ‘creativity can only be measured by the value of an individual’s whole photographic life from beginning to end’.  He did not set out to create photographic masterpieces, nor did he think his later works were better than the earlier ones. He decided, almost from the start, that his photographs would be a record of his life, so each image was just a piece in his growth as an image maker.  His ‘body of work’ was a continuous piece of his life.  Callahan wanted to make images that would grow and change with him, and also preserve photographic integrity and unity.

Interestingly, when Callahan joined a camera club (The Chrysler Camera Club), he said that he learned from the members that photography was important and ‘very serious’.  He was only a member for three years, and his membership defined exactly what he did NOT want to do with his photography.  Later, in his membership of the Detroit photo guild, he found members made highly manipulated, and ‘pretty’ pictures, but discussed work ideas that had been popular over 40 years earlier.

This was in complete contrast to his ideas, which were innovative and carefree.  He went on to say that camera club photography was laboured, analytical and rule bound.  In their quest to create important work they had lost the amateurs eye and joy of discovery.  Callahan thought the guild was ‘silly’ – and created nothing more than an enormous ‘block’ to his work. 

He went on to say that with more experience, you can photograph more freely, and you will go back and forth with your experimentation – and you will repeat the same things, only better.

Harry Callahan 1912 – 1994

I think…… I want to express my life, and that’s also true in my old age. All your whole life is different.  So far I still look forward to going out and photographing” (Callahan 1994)

Find some of Callahan’s images by clicking the link below

https://www.lensculture.com/articles/harry-callahan-harry-callahan-the-photographer-at-work#slideshow

The Last Blog of the Year

Well, that’s 2021 nearly over……  Just as I thought we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Omicron comes along and we take two steps backwards again.

Still, visiting the vaccination centre yesterday, it seemed that all was going well… lots of folks around to direct, in and out quick jab, and the 15 minute wait after, and I’m too far away to overhear any other conversations going on….. shame…….

I’ve tried to be true to my own photography, and though I admit to being influenced by many others, I’ve tried hard to make my images my own.

Oscar Wild said “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.  It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.  Indeed, the moment an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman.  He has no further claim to be considered an artist.”

I like to create using all the tools I have to hand.  Tools from Adobe, plug-ins, and anything the camera will do too.  I am not a purist in the sense the some photographers are.

I create for me first, and everyone else second.  

It’s funny isn’t it – we see the difference between creative writers, fiction writers, and journalism – we can all appreciate the difference in their styles, and we weave a fantasy in the books we read that we know are just a story.  We can adjust our mental attitudes and realise the difference between fantasy and fact.

We need to do this with photography too. Some images we make are fact, and some are fantasy. Both have a part to play.  

Remember though that the more personal your images are, the fewer people they will please.

Be yourself, and your style will follow.

As we approach the end of 2021, I look back and think of all the things I’ve learned, all the people I’ve met, and all the photographs I’ve taken – (not as many as in previous years I see)….  but there are still many things that I love..

Friends to go walks with (cake walks?) oh yes…… the wonderful zoom meetings, sharing my work, and also seeing some marvellous pictures created by photographers who are so brilliant. Friends who have driven me around from place to place, learning new things, finding my own creative voice.

Getting out with the dogs, enjoying the company of my lovely husband, whose patience knows no boundaries.

Christmas, tinsel, crackers, and books. Strictly Come Dancing, and sunshine and snow. Blue skies, trees, rain, grass, nature at its best, and all the rest that I can’t possibly put down here.

Take care over Christmas, enjoy the break, and hopefully we will meet again in the new year…..

Buxton

Shooting in the Dark…

There comes a point in every photographers life, that skill and technique with the camera begin to take a back seat, in favour of artistic merit.  It’s a time when using the camera becomes so second nature, so instinctive that thought almost stops, and focus is entirely on the subject matter in front of the lens.

Time stands still, as we look at what is there.  The photographer knows intuitively that they need f16, and that at an ISO of 200 there will be a shutter speed of 1/60th, they have learned to read the light  – they will know they can hand hold this comfortably – but may choose to use a tripod.

Emotion is expressed over technical prowess, and the photographer slows down – there’s no rush any more.

I talk a lot about this in my ‘Odd Things’ presentation to camera clubs.  I talk about learning to use the camera in the dark.  

Try this exercise – pick up your camera, close your eyes.  Envisage the camera as being part of yourself. Change the f-stop, the ISO, the shutter speed.  Learn how many clicks it takes to move from 1/30th to 1/2000 second.  How many clicks from ISO 100 to 1600.  Imagine how changing each of these is going to affect the picture you take.  

Was it easy?

Learn how to use your bulb setting (if the camera has one) – and here’s a thing – why not look up exactly WHY it’s called Bulb….. (let me know when you know the answer – it’s more interesting than you might think)…

We need to understand the why and how of our cameras, whether they be phones or DSLR, and anything in between.  Whatever you shoot with, you need to know how it works.  

The thing about cameras, and how they feel in your hands, is important.  I remember buying my first DSLR – in the shop, I held a Nikon in one hand, and a Canon in the other.  Even then, I knew that there was not going to be much difference in how the images would look.  What was important to me then (and is still important to me now) is how it felt in my hands – the Canon won the day by the way……. It just ‘felt’ right.

I shoot Fuji nowadays – smaller and lighter than the Canon 1DX I used to have – it’s been 11 months since I sold it.  The Fuji, ‘feels’ right in my hands – it’s light, and the buttons / dials are easy to find and it was no time at all before I didn’t need to ‘remember’ which side the ISO was on, as opposed to the shutter speed dial.

Once mastered, you can think about composition without worrying about the camera.  You can look at how a scene looks, and think about how it feels.  Remember that some images are ‘about’ things, and some are ‘of’ things.  Some images ‘look’ like things, and some ‘feel’ like things.

Sometimes when I’m judging, I’ll say that I know how that scene felt, how cold it must have been, or how hot.  Sometimes I see images of animals, and so well taken that I know how that fur would have felt under my fingers.  Fruit smells, and and it can drift off the page of a print…..  abstracts can make me curious, and movement can give the thrill of speed….. 

It’s all up to you – the photographer, the creator of that image.

It’s December 1st as I write this, and Christmas is coming….. I hope I can capture the flavour of the month – with any luck I’ll see some snow this year.  We get very little in this part of the country.

So, felicitations of the season – keep shooting, and keep learning….. and think of all the things you love.

Winter in the Peak District

Monkey Business

Before we kick off – watch this:-

It’s only a minute or two, and most of it is obvious…. but watch carefully, and to the very end…..

What I hope you realise by now is that we are not as perceptive as we think we are.. I spotted one of the things, but not the rest. Whilst we concentrate on the thing we are asked to work on, we fail to see what else is going on around us… our brains simply can’t deal with so much visual stimulation.

This is why, when a group of photographers go out together, to the same location, they all come back with different images.

Sometimes we’ve seen things and decided not to photograph them, but someone else did, and then we wonder why we didn’t. Other times we won’t even remember seeing some things AT ALL……

For photographers, some of the blocks are the fixed ideas we have about how to shoot something. We rush to places to get the right light, or the right composition, and leave our minds closed to the alternatives, the places we pass on our way to that ‘fixed’ location may have the gems we have missed.

Don’t forget next time you’re on your way to somewhere, that most times, there is an opportunity to stop and stare……… and SEE…

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure
by
William Henry Davies (1871 – 1940)

Did Leonardo worry about Mona?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with trips up and down Lincolnshire, and Derbyshire and Nottingham – plus a two days out in South Manchester.  I’ve spoken to a lot of photographers who have been to my talks, and it’s surprising what topics come up.  The same things seem to get rehashed over and over, but sometimes something surprising crops up.

We were talking about photo comparisons, and how people put images on Facebook, or Instagram, or what have you…. And ask which image is best – the black and white or the colour….. and I know we’ve chatted about this before on here, but it’s worth reiterating at this point, that the best image is the one the photographer likes best.

Someone mused to me that maybe Leonardo DaVinci might have asked his compatriots which smile the Mona Lisa should have – big beaming, no smile at all – or should I go for the enigmatic one?

Interesting to think though – did he decide on his own, or did he ask someone?  I willing to believe that by this time in his career, he made his own mind up…..

And so should we…. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we need to stop worrying about what other people think.  I know that we want to feel ‘accepted’, but we also need to be brave, and experiment – don’t let rules get in the way of your photographic life, and your vision.  Nothing these days is completely original, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.  To copy is to learn.

Decide what you love, and copy what you love.  Don’t be afraid, blend your ideas.

When asked which picture is your favourite….. the answer has to be “the one I will take tomorrow”..  because when you spend too much time trying to please everyone, in the end you will please no-one, not even yourself.


Today though, is cold and wet, the clouds are scudding by, and it’s a bit too cold for me out there. The dogs are damp and the sound of snoring (albeit gentle) comes from behind me. The girl dog snores, the other silent till a dreaming rabbit goes past……. We’re back from breakfast out with friends, and I think of things that I love..

Of course, breakfast with friends, clouds in the sky, dreaming dogs – twitching in their sleep – comfy beds, hot tea, chocolate straight from the fridge, improving weather and bike rides…… and the possibility of some photographs to come…….

Bring it on…………

It’s Tuesday, and it’s raining

It’s Tuesday, and it’s morning, and it’s dark, dismal and wet.  I have to go out, and I don’t want to, and I’m not inspired, and I think of things I don’t like.

Irresponsible people, flat batteries, being rained on, burnt toast, the stringy bits on bananas, flat grey relentless skies, and being uninspired.

I know I’ll move on through this, and things will get back to whatever the ‘new normal’ really is.  I’ll get my camera out later and make some pictures to go into my new project, which at times seems really exciting, and at others tedious…… and I’ve only just begun…..

The thing about trying too hard… it’s true.  You try and try, and the ideas don’t come.  You try harder still, and it just gets worse.  I need to step back a bit, and not worry so much – I realise there are things I have no control over, and never will.  I must not let things get on top of me…… repeat ad infinitum.

The good news is that there are some wonderful people about who are amazingly supportive, and I’m sure the ideas will come, together with ways to tackle the problems.  It’s not insurmountable.

I remember to stop worrying about what other people think of my photography, and wonder if Leonardo Da Vinci worried about what smile he would put on the Mona Lisa – Did he ask his painter friends?, and if he did, what did they say to him?  Did he think it might be better in black and white?  (Dark humour!)

I know it’s scary to do ‘your own thing’, but I also remember that I mustn’t let rules get in the way of my vision – it’s my story, and my photography.

I feel better now…. And think of things that I love…. 

People that help without being asked to, charged batteries, windy but sunny days, bananas without the stringy bits, and finally being inspired.

Turnstone on the beach

Autumnal Thoughts

I may be wrong (and I usually am), but I reckon there are a huge number of people out there, who have never known life without the internet, or ‘smart’ (and I use the word advisedly) phones.

I remember, for example, when the news was only on a few times a day, and most information needed to be looked up in a real live book – with pages and everything…… some of us even had a set of encyclopaedias in the house…..

Now though, we have a 24 hour rolling news, which repeats itself every hour or so, with them looking frantically for new things to talk about all the time. No matter how trivial or banal.

Photography is going the same way. “Quick quick” they yell, get that image sorted NOW! Don’t wait and see how it works, just post it for the most ‘likes’….

Don’t hold anything back…

Oftentimes, I go out (and this mostly when I’m on my own), and I can spend a long time just looking, and this before I even get the camera out of the bag, never mind press the shutter button.

Whilst I was out at the beach the other day – I stood staring at the sky, the dunes, and the sea – the smell of salt air was all around, and the wind was lifting my hair. Clouds scudded across the sky, and I waited, breathed, and watched. Gulls wheeled about, and redshank skittered around the water as the tide receded.

Next to me, a lady wandered up. “What are you doing?” she asked…. “Nothing”, I said, “just watching”.

“Why?” she asked “Are you not taking any photographs?”. “I will, eventually” I said, and she wandered off, obviously confused, back to the car, after taking one quick shot with her phone.

Taking photographs, making music, writing – you have to be ‘in the zone’, and it may take time to get there. Once in though, it’s a delight – time goes past, and fast, and before you know it – it’s time to walk home for tea…..

I see this a lot, with folks not taking the time to really look, smell, taste, experience the when of where they are. They miss the sounds, and sensations beyond the narrow view of a car window. They can be in a place of amazing beauty without actually really being there. When we don’t pay attention to our surroundings, we may as well not go in the first place.

Autumn is well and truly underway now – the leaves are turning, and it’s time to get out and look at this new season. Who knows what the coming weeks will bring…..

New Beginnings

It’s Sunday, and it’s cold and wet, and already I’ve had one soaking whilst walking the dogs – but now I’m home and showered, and thinking about the week just past.

I met a friend I hadn’t seen for years yesterday, and we spent a couple of hours just walking about the promenade, and drinking tea.  It was one of those weird meetings really, when you find that over the years, you’ve changed – and they’ve changed.  I sat and watched as she uncomfortably snapped in half the wooden stirrers that came with the tea.  

“What’s the problem?” I said, “Why are you so nervous?”.  

“I was worried that we couldn’t connect any more” she said

Later, we both relax, and then the flow of chatter doesn’t stop.  Turns out that we haven’t changed that much really – we just didn’t know quite how to get started again.  Once into the flow, and it was like we hadn’t been apart.

In a couple of weeks time I’m doing two talks over three days, and they’ll be ‘in person’.  I’m not sure that I haven’t forgotten how to do it.  Pretty sure I’ll muddle through though, very much like meeting that friend we haven’t seen for a long time.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek as we parted, with promises to ‘do this again very soon’…… I really hope we do.