A few years ago, doing some work in Manchester Cathedral, I had my camera on a tripod, with a wide angle lens attached – I was behind the main altar, with one tripod leg on the top step, and the other two on the step below. It was a long exposure, and I was using a wired trigger, attached to the camera.
I took the photograph, and then stepped back, forgetting that I was one step up – as I fell backwards, my arms flailed out sideways, and I didn’t let go of the trigger.
I watched, as in slow motion, the camera, atop the tripod slowly fell over to my left. The crash as it all hit the marble flooring resounded round an otherwise quiet and peaceful place…. The camera hit the floor, and the lens sheared off it – one part staying attached to the body, the other rolling across the floor and under a nearby table…. The door covering the memory card came off completely – the main body cracked, and all sorts of interesting electronics came into view, that I had no idea existed, never mind wanted to see.
So distraught was I, that I sat and tried to put the two halves of the lens back together. Utter madness with hindsight.
I managed to fit the card door back on – reinserted the battery, and put a different lens on – amazingly – the camera actually worked, though non of the buttons would do anything.
I took a few more shots out of curiosity more than anything and left….
On the way home I dropped the lot into Calumet photographic, and they sent the lot off to Canon for repair or disposal, whichever. Amazingly, after a few weeks, it was all returned to me in full working order.
Then, only a month or so ago, I had a major email catastrophe – self inflicted of course – I was sending my laptop off to have a new battery fitted, and so deleted all of the emails on there – forgetting completely that it was synced to the server. It wiped everything clean, and when I turned on my main machine, I watched in horror as all the emails fell off the screen. Operator error………
Why am I telling you this? ……. well, it reminds me that as photographers we are totally reliant on technology. We remember to take with us spares of all sorts of things that we think might fail when we are out and about. Always I have spare batteries, memory cards, and at least one other lens (just in case). After all, if our technology fails in the field, we are bereft, there is nothing we can do – I don’t know anyone who can repair a digital camera, or computer outside a specialist shop.
I even know someone who carries a spare tripod in the car….. just in case a leg fails on the one he uses most.
A friend I go out with sometimes, was upset the other week that he’d got to the venue only to discover that there was no card in the camera….. I was able to assist – I had a spare… well what a shock…..
It’s difficult isn’t it. The decision to enter a competition or not, and then when you do decide, there are all the rules and regulations to consider.
I used to be an avid competition enterer (if there’s even such a word) – I was very competitive, and spent a lot of time (and money) with the BPE (British Photographic Exhibitions) and FIAP – I probably shouldn’t even contemplate how much money really… but I’m not any more.
The ones I do enter these days are ones that I’ve either been bullied into by friends, OR because I decided it was something that actually interested me.
What I did enjoy though, was the catalogues, and CD’s that thumped through the letter box, usually a few weeks later – it’s good to see what other people are doing in the UK and around the world, but I can still look at these online.
There is a cost though, and I think what started to jade me to begin with was that I won some international award or other, and there was a certificate. The email was full of congratulations, and then said that my document was attached to the mail, and I could print it out myself. To be honest, that was a bit disappointing. I know that postage is expensive, but then so was my entry, mine and the thousands of others that had also paid. Medals of course are posted out, and I have a nice collection of them on my bookcase.
A few weeks ago FIAP changed a number of their rules for achieving distinctions – and it vastly increased the number of international acceptances you had to get to move from one award to another. There were also rule changes about how many images from a previous distinction you could carry forward from one to another – in the event, it looked like I was going to lose nearly 100 of them. I felt I couldn’t afford to lose them all, and start again almost from scratch.
It seemed at first that FIAP also felt this way, and the rules were rescinded, but only till 2022. Maybe I’ll leave well alone then…..
There’s been a lot of discussion too about what you can and can’t do in competitions organised by clubs and Federations. It can be confusing, and frustrating both for organiser and entrant. For example, a discussion about the use of brushes in Photoshop. Apparently the ones that come as standard in the programme are OK to use, but downloaded ones from elsewhere are not. The ones you make yourself are OK, but I wonder about the ones that come included in plug-ins in other software. I understand that the work produced should be that of the photographer, but even shooting in JPG from the camera has some alterations made by the manufacturer.
Software that materially changes your image – I’m not sure about – Topaz, for example does things to your images that would be difficult (impossible?) in photoshop, so should this be allowed; and what about other things like ‘Flood’ for example that makes reflections and puddles, and water. I know from watching tutorials on YouTube, that photographers entering international competitions use this, but is it really acceptable? From some of the comments I have read, I would say that ostensibly is it not.
The latest discussion is about whether to include, or exclude EXIF information in the files sent out to judges before a competition is run. There seems to be a fear that a judge will scrutinise this, and maybe somehow penalise an entrant, especially if the name of the photographer appears. Yet, in the same breath we know that some EXIF data can be changed – and from my point of view, what does it matter if I know what camera / mobile phone / tablet has been used to take the image? It’s about the end result surely, and not how, or what it was taken with.
Yes, I agree that sometimes it can be helpful to see where a mistake has been made (example shooting at 1/8000sec at ISO 12,800). Maybe it’s something that can be discussed during the feedback. On the other hand, and judges don’t know, the photographer might have chosen these settings for a particular reason, or to achieve a specific effect.
The truth is, that we don’t know by looking at a photograph and the EXIF how much experience the photographer really has.
An example might be the production of a fantastic portrait, from a studio shoot – where the photographer pushing the button has had no input at all into the lighting, posing and creating of that set up.
Conversely, the photographer may have employed the model, set up studio lighting him or her self, and worked on the image using minimal tools in photoshop, it may have even been a remote shoot…..
We just can’t tell that from one image and that EXIF.
Of course a sensible judge, on seeing the name of the entrant (if it appears in the EXIF) should ignore it – not be influenced by it. In the same way that the back of prints should not be scrutinised when judging them.
Where does this leave us?
Well, if your proclivity is to enter competitions, and you get pleasure from them, or you think you can learn something from your judge then that’s great. Remember though, there’s no feedback from BPE or FIAP, just a score.
I’m just finding these days, that I can get excellent feedback from the folks around me that I trust. Photographers who know what they’re doing, who will give you truthful feedback about your images. I get more pleasure now from an honest critique than I do getting 20 marks with no reasoning.
Finally, I’d say that I’m not competition bashing at all – I love judging, and without competitions I couldn’t do it – The enjoyment I have in seeing work from across the UK and (in the age of zoom) the world, cannot be denied.
I just wish we could be a bit more relaxed about it. It’s our hobby, and our art after all……….
Back in March 2020, I started a gallery on my website to which I periodically added images I had taken during each of the three lockdowns.
The first images were reworks of some old photographs taken as early as 2011, and 2012, and it was rewarding to see how up to date software dealt with them, which encouraged me to keep looking at what I had – not only on older hard drives, but on some CD’s too.
It was a bit disappointing to find that some of the CD’s were no longer readable, despite my best efforts, but no matter – there was still lots to look at.
As the weather improved (we did have a lovely Spring last year), and daily exercise became a thing of habit – at least I was able to get some new images made. Cycling became more regular too, till I damaged my ankle at the end of March, but by then macro images came to the fore, and the re-introduction of the moth trap.
With the end of our first full year of Covid on the horizon, I’ve decided to close down that gallery, and start anew.
I have been kept busy all year with Zoom – lots of talks, and judging in places all over the UK, Ireland and Scotland, with the occasional foray abroad. New friends have been made, and I hope we will continue to keep in contact long after Covid has passed.
An invitation down to Cheltenham next year, and proposed trips to the Isle of Wight are just two of the things we have in mind, both prompted by zoom meetings.
Although I admit to being a bit ‘zoomed out’ sometimes, it’s been great to see new people and superb images, with more scheduled in for the rest of this year, and into the Spring of 2022.
Our camera club has had fewer competitions (in fact I think only 3 in the last year), with one about to run next week – and this was something that would never have happened before. It’s a 4 way between us (Cleethorpes), Niton (Isle of Wight), Otley and Kidderminster.
I find that I really don’t miss competitions – I gave up pretty much on the BPE circuit after I achieved level 3 – and totally gave up on FIAP after I achieved my A. Recently FIAP made a number of rule changes that a lot of people disagreed with, and it did seem to become more like a money making exercise than anything else. They also stopped any print submissions. Subsequently they have retracted these changes, but it looks more like a deferral to 2022.
The images I make these days are purely personal – and I only send images out to competition if it’s something I am interested in.
In the meantime, I need to settle down and sort out what I want to achieve in the next 12 months. I want to fly the drone more now I have completed the Certificate of Competency, and certainly get the camera overheated with imagery.
So, as the anniversary of lockdown one approaches – I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021 – and once you are offered your jab – please take it – make us all safe.
The leaves will soon be back on all the trees, and I’m looking forward to a happier, healthier spring…..
Isn’t it weird – taking photos I mean? Being on your own with a camera, and then maybe sitting on your own in front of a computer, wondering if it’s all going to come out OK.
What about the photographs though? Some of the images you take can be studied in advance, and oftentimes you are looking for the problems, even before they arrive, almost as a justification for them being ‘not good enough’. You blame equipment, light, software – you are full of excuses.
Photographers need to sometimes empty themselves of preconceptions, and think of every new image as a potential passionate affair – something that you can throw yourself into with scant regard for anything, or anyone, else.
Focus on the part of the image that you like the most, shoot what you like the best. You might not always know what the end result is going to be – things will develop, and that is as it should be – relish the challenge.
Don’t even think sometimes, just respond to what’s in front of you – look for the spirit of the scene.
Imagination can be harder than you think, but if you try too hard, then it might not come to you. Sometimes, you feel you have been bold, imaginative, experimental. You’ve really tried to see and do things in different ways. It still didn’t work. You’ve tried too hard.
So, look in the dark places, in the shadows – look where you normally don’t look, see what’s in there that you’ve not noticed before.
Photography isn’t always about what you put in, it’s about your ability to take things out – don’t be afraid to destroy your image in the edit process (you can always come back to the original) – take risks – and be brave enough to find out just how little you need.
You can get to the point in an edit where you can see it’s almost done – you see the end result, but sometimes continue to push on and on – till it’s over done – over processed – be aware of the point that can make or break the picture.
Now, look at what you have made – maybe it’s not all right, not all you hoped it would be – but don’t be too self critical – be proud that you got as far as you did…..
As I sit in my little office – listening to some soothing jazz, I’m also looking at some of the art work hanging on the walls.
Here, in this little room, it’s all my own work crammed onto the walls, but elsewhere in the house, I have images belonging to other photographers – it’s either something that’s been gifted to me, or something I’ve bought.
Which got me thinking….. why don’t we hang more of our own work on walls at home in areas where visitors can see it?
Some time ago, a friend of mine got for me some simple black frames, with no backboard and no glass. I’ve used them over and over. It means that I can mount up an image, seal it into the frame – hang it on the wall – and then, when I’m tired of it, I can swap it out for something else.
Some images seem to last much longer than others – in other words, they seem to have a long shelf life.
I’ve noticed that photographs by other people have hung in the same place for years – and I still stop and look at them as I pass. Not every day granted, but often enough that I know I still like them. Similarly with paintings – I have a small collection of original oils which I have never ‘gone off’…… so why do I change my own photographs so frequently?
Well, partly I think it’s to do with me being my own worse critic – I see the faults that maybe others may ignore….
I used to do a lot of home decorating – wallpapering and what not…. When people came to visit – they’d say nice things about it, and it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve said “well if you look up there in the top right hand corner – yes up there, in the shadow – you have to look carefully, the pattern doesn’t match……. Sound familiar? I’ve been in houses where the host/hostess has done exactly the same thing……
Why do we do it? And the answer is…. Sadly, I have no idea…….. but often self critique is not harmful – and most times it’s actually beneficial, allowing us to learn from our own mistakes.
Which brings me to the next thought……
A couple of years ago now – after having read a book called ‘The Gift’ I offered a number of prints for free to the first people who asked for them. I’d said they could choose from anything on my website, and I’d get it printed to no larger than A4 and post it out. I did this for four months, and each time the offer went out, the number of people asking for prints exceeded the limit I’d set myself.
It was fascinating to me to see who was asking for them – and mostly it was people that I knew…. I asked one lady why she’d never asked me before for a print of something, and she said that she felt too embarrassed to even ask….
It was a great exercise to do though, and I loved being able to send something out in the post that I knew was going to be appreciated. A couple of folks even sent me pictures of the print framed and hung on the wall…..
It’s interesting though to think that the images I make, that I like the best, are not the ones I’d give away unless they were specifically asked for. This of course might be just because I like and enjoy making ‘odd things’, or experimenting with my photography.
I’d love to use my images as gifts, but I’m not certain who it would gratify more, me or the recipient. I suppose it’s one of those things I shouldn’t worry about……….
After all, Vivian Maier never displayed her photos, instead placing all of her energies in to taking them.
In the end you have to love what you do, or give up and go home……..
I see many posts online about the selection of an editor for photographs.
Of course, the most popular ones are produced by Adobe, but there are plenty of others around that don’t require a monthly subscription. I suspect that for some people it’s hard to choose which one will be right for them.
I suppose it was much easier in darkroom days, when you needed the same equipment – though having said that, I bet there were long discussions around tables about which enlarger is the best, and which chemicals were going to be suitable for which sort of film.
Thing is though, that nearly every image produced will need some editing – even if it’s just to tweak the sharpening, or a bit of a crop. How many of us take an image, download it to the computer, and sit back and say “that’s it – there’s nothing to do with that – it’s perfect as it is”?
We know that photographs don’t always tell the truth, yet it seems to me that people outside the photography world always think they do…
Even as far back as 2006, Reuters dropped a Lebanese freelance photographer after it emerged that he had doctored a picture of the aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Beirut.
The news agency told photographer Adnan Hajj that it will no longer use his services after the photograph was revealed as fake by bloggers.
It showed thick black smoke rising above buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid in the war with the Shia Islamic group, Hizbullah.
Reuters said it “withdrew the doctored image and replaced it with the unaltered photograph after several news blogs said it had been manipulated using Photoshop software to show more smoke”.
The agency said it had “strict standards of accuracy that bar the manipulation of images” so that viewers and readers were not misled.
“The photographer has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under.”
Until people realise that photography can be both truthful, and untruthful, it becomes a reflection of the photographer him or herself.
I suspect I knew from the minute I opened photoshop for the first time, that there was plenty of opportunity to ‘edit’ images to suit myself…. and I was aware when taking images for an agency, that nothing should be changed in the photograph. We were allowed to crop out extraneous items, but the reality could not be changed…… we were only allowed to choose what went in – and what was left out of a frame.
So, here we are in lockdown 3 – maybe I’ll start with an edit of some old images, and I’ll try to make them into something that they never were – because after all, I’m not reporting any more……
The secret to performing magic tricks is all in the hands – or at least, that’s what is suggested by the etymologies of prestidigitation and its two synonyms. The French word preste (from Italian presto) means “quick” or “nimble,” and the Latin word digitus means “finger.” Put them together and-presto!-you’ve got prestidigitation.
Photography can be construed as magic when the quickness of the camera and software will deceive the eye – suddenly – and ‘pfft’ – the first part is all over in 1/1000 sec. Too slow, and your audience will see how it was done – too quick, and they won’t have time to appreciate it….
Are you seeing closely?
Get it right, and your viewer will wonder how it was made – get it wrong, and it’s blazingly obvious, and you get called out….. are you cheating?
The clock ticks, time moves on – you press that shutter, and that second, that fraction of a second is recorded, inevitably, and can never be repeated. The time changes, the light changes, we change.
Tick tick, click click, we shoot – we repeat.
We sometimes see that it’s wrong, and still repeat what we do – repeating the mistakes won’t make them right and frequently we just don’t learn.
Tick tick – time’s running out people……
The studio, the landscape, the animal, it’s your theatre, and the audience is your observer.
The judges – don’t forget that all your viewers are judges – but only you can decide which of these you are going to take notice of.
There’s still that burning question – is it any good?
How did ‘that’ person get ‘that’ exhibition?
Is it art, or is it about having the nerve to keep telling the world that you are better than everyone else?
It’s magic – it’s all an illusion made from smoke and mirrors – self delusion? Maybe…… or true art?
There’s a deception and change of reality whenever an image is framed in the viewfinder – the thing is changed as soon as that shutter button is pressed – it’s up to you whether you keep it or share it….
Magic can be about turning a horse into a zebra, creating a building that can fly, making people from the past live the present.
It’s also about self belief and worth – sticking to your guns and having no doubt that what you make is good.
Are we about winning, or being happy? Are we seeing closely?
It’s been a horrid year in lots of ways, and I bet a lot of us will be glad to see the back of it.. I’ve tried to see the bright side, but sometimes it does get you down, and I worry very much about what 2021 will bring – at least in the first half of the year. Fingers crossed the vaccine will work, and that more will be on the way soon…..
The weather has turned a bit more wintery recently, and so getting out and about has been a bit more difficult – however, there have been some good days this month, and the colder weather has brought waders to our beaches.
Twice this week, I’ve been able to nip to the coast, and see what’s about as the tide recedes.
The problem, if you will, with this time of year, is that not only does it get dark early, but the light changes fast. It started off dark grey, I was focussed on the Dunlin. I kept shooting for quite some time, varying ISO and shutter speeds, and any other factors that I could. The penny slowly dropped that the light had changed completely, the sky was blue, the light was stronger, and warmer, and things were picking up …
It looked like summer through the viewfinder……..
The blues became incredibly intense, to the point that it didn’t seem realistic.
And, as suddenly as it came – it went……
It got a little later in the day – people were thinning out – fewer dogs on the beach, and just one chap with a metal detector. He was up and down the beach – moving the birds on in front of him….. waiting to be moved was a Little Egret, it hung on, and hung on, and suddenly was off, in a flurry of water and wings
I was just thinking to call it a day, when I spotted an Oystercatcher on the shore – there was a group of 4, and each time I got close, they either ran up the shoreline, or flew away – this time, one remained behind – and puttered around in the water…..
What made this attractive to me now, was the light, and the colour on the water…..
Fashion photographer Barbara Bordnick once said “we walk by wonders every day and don’t see them. We only stop at what shouts the loudest”.
I feel it is a photographers duty to stop and see things that don’t shout out. Everything has some beauty, even the simplest of things. We just need to learn to see them, and take time to collect the images. It’s at this time – we stop saying “but, there’s nothing here to shoot”.
I think this will be the last blog post of the year…… so I want to wish you all the Merriest Christmas you can have – take care of yourselves. Maintain that social distancing – it’s the best thing we can do for each other –
Keep shooting – stay safe…..
See you in the new year… may 2021 be a better one…..