The Competition Dilemma

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It seemed at first that FIAP also felt this way, and the rules were rescinded, but only till 2022.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……….

A Year of Lockdown

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.

Here’s the link to the 2020/21 images

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…..

Take care and stay safe.

A Review of My Talk

It was lovely to find a review of my ‘Odd Things’ talk on the Photocraft Website earlier today….. Wish I’d seen it sooner.

Have a look…….

https://www.photocraftcameraclub.co.uk/post/odd-things-a-talk-by-diane-seddon

Thank you Photocraft for your kind words……

Here’s an idea !

I’ve been reading about photography ideas – here’s one I like the sounds of, and intend to have a go with – I’ll publish the results in due course, and if I don’t, I’m pretty sure someone will remind me.

Why don’t you have a go at this too……

  1. Go for a walk WITHOUT your camera. Go back and make one photo of something you saw on the walk.
  2. Use negative space with ‘wild and reckless abandonment’ – make the main subject a very small part of the composition.
  3. Walk an area you normally drive through. Bring your camera, and make one photo of something you’ve not noticed before.
  4. Make a scenic photograph. Eliminate one element and retake. Repeat till there’s nothing left to take – see how many steps you can spread it out for.

So that’s one shot each for the first three, and a number of shots for the last……

Remember they don’t have to be masterpieces of artwork – just thoughtful things.

Now – there’s a bit of woodland I drive past all the time………..

Have fun with your photography…..

Woods in the winter

The Covid Zoom Inspiration

Sometime during March, my camera club closed down because of Covid19 – there was no big announcement, just a quiet closure, and a sudden end to the programme of events that were scheduled.

One member acquired a Zoom account for the benefit of maybe half a dozen people, so we could keep in touch.  It soon expanded though to include the whole of the club, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

What this blog post is about, is the results of that closure, and what happened afterwards.

We had a couple of meetings to see how it would go, and, when it became apparent that most of the membership were keen, it fell to a group of three to work out the programme that would ensue.  All the competitions had stopped, and there had been no club committee meetings, so we plodded on.

What happened was one of the best programmes of speakers I have ever had the privilege to watch – ranging from people with little experience, to solid professionals with years of speaking experience, based around the world.

The common denominator was the software called Zoom, which seemed to float to the top at the start of the Covid lockdown.  

I certainly had never heard of it before, and I gather a lot more people were in exactly the same situation.  At the start, there seemed to be glitches, and some security issues, but the company seemed to get on top of that pretty quickly, and ironed out the problems.  Pretty soon I saw that many businesses were using it as a conferencing tool, including our own government.

There is always (for some) a fear of new technology, but under these trying circumstances, I have been pleased to see people I would have considered to be wary of this sort of meeting – happily joining in after a training session.  Even some who said they were sure they wouldn’t like it, have been converted.  

Of course – it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not a place you would feel comfortable, then that is fine. (But you’re missing such a lot!)

However – the results of the talks, coming as quickly as they have (and still do) has been inspirational.  

Not just the club, but the Royal Photographic Society too, has put on a series of events and talks that simply could not be missed…. So what is the result so far….

Well, a cornucopia of ideas from an eclectic mix of photographers and artists.  

We started with Art Nude, and nudes in the landscape, reflecting professionalism, and images you would be happy to show your aged mother.  Not a genre I was planning on trying any time soon, but the photographs and the expertise was unmistakable.

From here we moved to stories, told by different images, and a whole talk and photographs based  entirely on a work of fiction.  Some stunning work by a master of wildlife photography, who showed us how he was able to attract birds into his garden, and gave us a tour round with excellent photography.

Based on this talk, the club ran a competition based on ‘birds’ – a fun competition with a very loose theme – images ranged from model kingfishers, to easter chicks in a nest of creme eggs.

So what have I learned?

Well, images can be produced that are interpretations, and not records of events, the subject comes first, and the images second.  Planning is key, and if you are creating your own photographs from a work of fiction, then the image must be moved by the story itself.

The differences in attitude and experience of the speakers shows me that creativity is not necessarily something we can just learn.  It can require a complete change of mindset, and is something that needs constant practice.

There will be many failures, but these are essential, as are the risks.  

For example – Edward Weston produced a startling black and white image of a green pepper – called ‘Pepper Number 30’.  What I hadn’t really thought about, was that there must have been at least 29 earlier versions, and who knows how many afterwards.  The point is that Weston thought that number 30 was THE image, and the one he was probably most satisfied with.

Photographers must learn (I feel it should be compulsory) to cultivate a willingness to experiment, and think about the question ‘what if I did this?’..

I also learned that watching these excellent people present their work – that what we saw was a carefully cultivated, curated collection of images – and not just a thrown together selection of work.  They all saw that there was no ‘one way’ of doing things – there was no wrong way, there was just a multitude of different ways.  Some would just work better than others.

The images were not ‘scripted’ – they were born out of imagination, inspiration, and creativity.  Even the loveliest landscapes that I saw of Mongolia, were thought through pieces, with the photographer even showing us one or two of his rejects, and explaining the thought process.

Each specialist image maker held true to their passions and convictions, and to a large extent didn’t worry too much about how others reacted to them.  There is therefore a true correlation between creation and passion.

The other thing they do is make time for their art.  It’s not created in between sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon.  They have spent time and effort looking at other people’s work, and at art.  They have attended exhibitions, judged competitions, made work for sale, and importantly, made work for themselves.

So looking back at what I have seen so far – travel, people, factual, experimental, wildlife, landscape, nudes and totally different uses of camera and drones – my mind is racing with ideas.

I look at the programme to come, and see more projects, the Vikings, more wildlife, sports, astrophotography, underwater, street, work with textures, and composite photography.

Lots of things I’ve never tried, not thought about particularly either, but we all need to open our eyes and minds to different mindsets.

Lockdown has been an absolute pain in a lot of ways – there’s been a lot of agony and grief, but there has also been an abundance of creative imagery – some fantastically beautiful and poignant work, reflecting how photographers have responded to being left to their own devices.

Is there still going to be a place for the ‘traditional’ camera club after this?  I’d say yes, because you can’t beat the personal interactions that you get when you meet up.  Will they be different? I hope so – I hope that more photographers will be willing to experiment, and break the rules.

Is there going to be a place for Zoom, or equivalent? – again, I think yes.  How else can you have a presenter from the other side of the world, or even Europe?  Speakers from the deep south of the UK, or the north of Scotland.  

One thing I do hope, is that clubs continue to have these brilliant speakers – so that we can see the amazing work that might be totally different to our own……

I look forward to hearing your comments, and seeing you let yourselves go….

Do What You Want… When You Want…How You Want..

In one of the talks that I give I discuss in a bit of detail my thoughts on how, as photographers, we can be trained to not be individual. We all need to know the rules and then know when to break them. For example the rule of thirds, and the exposure triangle.

So, when you do produce something, you would really like people to like it, but that’s not always going to happen, and then you have to grow a thick skin – because if you don’t, you are going to get upset, and, maybe, go on to produce work that hits the middle ground, where perhaps there will be nothing new or exciting. It’s safe, but boring. If we continue to produce work that everybody agrees with, then it won’t be as creative or imaginative as it could be.

I do think that photographers should produce exactly what they want to in their art work, and then they will know that what they have made is truly theirs. The world will just accept it, or it won’t.

I’ve said this before, but when I was working for clients, I had to produce work that was exactly what they wanted, and how they wanted it, in the time scale that they wanted. Since retirement, I’ve been able to contradict all those things, and I produce what I want, how I want, when I want.

If people don’t like what I (or you) do, then it has to be OK, because it’s really not necessary that they do. The artists responsibility here is to keep producing work that suits them and which allows them the freedom to breathe.

Image making should not be about winning a popularity contest, but rather it should be about being a personal creation.

Photographers love photography, which means we love the production of images, which in turn means we love art itself – and if we don’t love art, then we should. We should pursue the study of painting, sculpture, needlework and every other kind of art. Looking outwards from our specific hobby can only increase our awareness of light, shape and form.

We all have a variety of music that we love, films, and paintings, so why should photography be any different. Look for the ‘different’ and enjoy…..


We are still somewhat in lockdown – and it’s a good time to experiment with new ideas, and even genres.

As an aside, I did get the portable bird hide out again – sadly at the end of the lovely weather – and for the last few days it’s blown a gale, and poured down with rain. The benefit was that the wet earth brought out the ‘bugs’ for the starlings, and I got natural food rather than the dried mealworm I normally see them with.


So, as we work our way out of lockdown – do take care, enjoy your image-making, and stay safe……

Keep the Faith ! It’s not all bad news…

I was just starting to settle down into a lock-in routine – had just sorted out where my groceries were coming from, and begun an exercise routine, when I fell off my bike.  

I’d been to the shops, got some food in, and in an attempt to avoid some pedestrians, I hit a low curb going onto a cycle track, and as the bike went over, I got my ankle trapped under the pedal.  I was 5 miles from home, and no-one could help me. Lots of people ended up standing around me (6 feet away) asking if I was OK….  I wasn’t – (or didn’t think I was) but I said I was fine, and would sit ‘here’ for a bit and then just cycle home.

I did cycle home – I’ve no idea how – convinced I’d broken / fractured something.  Was too scared to go to A+E (thought they would have better things to do than mess with me) – but anyway, after 72 hours or so, the swelling was going down, I was getting around on crutches (for that read trekking poles) – and after a week, the bruising was making my entire foot look black……

So, three weeks on, and I’m back on my bike, and can walk about a mile – slowly… it’s been a bit of a trial.

What’s this got to do with photography?  Well, confined as I was completely to barracks, I had to find something arty to do….. 

All the jobs I’d been putting off had to be done – reorganise my Lightroom Catalogue, sort out all the rubbish from my computer, and take a second look at images I’d previously consigned to the ‘I’m really not sure what to do with this one’ filing system.

I also broke open the moth trap – it needed a good clean, but we had a few days of still, warm nights with a few insects to catch.  

The image below is of an ‘Early Thorn’ moth – no bigger than my little finger nail, but beautiful.  It flew off about 10 seconds after I’d taken this photograph.

Early Thorn

I’d also promised myself at the start of the lockdown that I’d work my way through some photoshop tutorials…. Didn’t do it.  However, with time to spare, and no way out, I sat down and watched some stuff on Scott Kelby, some on YouTube, and read some books.  Streaming tutorials through to the television set was a boon, and after nearly 3 weeks, I think I’ve learned some new tricks, which I’m pretty eager to try out.

The RPS East Midlands Group is running some excellent Zoom talks, so I’m booked in for those too.  

So what have I learned, apart from how to bandage an ankle?  Well, I’ve started taking notice of 3D rendering, which I think is going to be useful – and I’ve been looking back at images I took in 2011 at Chester Zoo.  Compositing images together has turned out to be something I really enjoy doing, and I’m getting better at it.  Using textures in images too is working for me, and I’m looking forward to being able to enter competitions again once this ‘virus’ starts to abate… Hopefully I’ll have a selection of new work I can use.

This image is made up of five separate photographs.  The elephants themselves, at the zoo, the crane, separately at the zoo, the rock – Brimham, the background ‘mountain’ is in Buxton, and the water from a different elephant picture.  There is of course as an extra, the textured background.

Drinking Ele V2

I’ve read a good selection of books – some photographic, some not – and realised more the benefits of Amazon Prime.  They have some pretty good free books for my Kindle, including the odd photography one.

I’ve done a bit of online judging, and have been booked to do some ‘Zoom’ judging, and a couple of talks over the next few weeks.  

So, as the ankle gets better, and a more ‘normal’ life resumes (will it ever be fully normal again?) – I’m looking forward to some more photography.  The redundant church down the road has been crying out for some photo attention for a long time – I need to get that done – and also take a second look at the things I see when I’m out on a dog walk.  The moth trap will get used some more once the winds drop later in the week, and I’m thinking a bit of light painting, once I can walk a bit further.    

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I’ve had the ‘trail cam’ out in the garden too, and done some badger spotting – deer also come into the garden, as well as the odd fox.

Don’t be bored, don’t think you can’t use your camera because you can’t get out – there’s lots to see and shoot out there even if you only have a tiny garden.

Try and enjoy your isolation time – it will be something to look back on in years to come.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay at home, protect our NHS.

To Take or Not to Take? That is the Question……

To take or not to take a photograph can be a moral question, as well as an ethical one.  Should we take it, or do we just ‘want’ to take it because it’s ‘there’.

I think the majority of us would not take a picture of a person, if they specifically asked us not to.  But can we over-ride this?

Whilst I’ve been creatively, non-creative, I’ve been reading a lot of books (I suspect the purchase of books of all sorts of genres, only comes second to what I spend on photography generally)… and one of the books I was looking at was “Another America: A Testimonial to the Amish, by Robert Weingarten – look him up – you can see some images online.  In fact here’s a link to some audio, and a video.  Three minutes if you can spare it….

https://www.eastman.org/another-america-testimonial-amish-robert-weingarten

He spent four years quietly photographing a group of people who most definitely did NOT want to be photographed – on his own admission, with a long lens.

Was this a genuine desire on his part to share this ‘unknown’ America – or was it a personal need to record something that maybe should have been left private?

Does the fact that the Amish live in ‘plain view’ give people the right to photograph them, or are they nothing more than fair game.

I relate this to a series of images taken by a photographer of homeless people on the street – and wonder if the same thing applies.  Some of the folk here could not object to the images being taken, because they didn’t know it had happened – is this right?  Especially when the photographer stands to make a profit out of the sales, or enters them into national / international competitions – with no formal release or agreement – and I’m not talking about traditional street photography here – as that’s a whole other can of worms…

One photographer justified the taking of homeless people pictures, by purchasing for the person, a coffee, or a meal – which is very laudable – but in the long run, is it ethical to swap a permanent image for a transient dinner?

Does the fact that these people are different from so called ‘normal’ society make the images act as a help for us to understand them, or could they be called (sometimes) nothing more than sneaky?

Weingarten’s images are all monochrome, and are quiet, peaceful scenes, and he says he treated the Amish with respect, though given that he met with some resistance, I’m not sure this was always the case.

Most Amish today will not pose for a photograph. Considering it a violation of the Second Commandment, which prohibits the making of “graven images,” the Amish believe any physical representation of themselves (whether a photograph, a painting, or film) promotes individualism and vanity, taking away from the values of community and humility by which they govern their lives. Occasionally, Amish people did have their photos taken, as you can see with the couple in this image who likely went to a studio for their portrait in 1875. But by the time photography became popular in America in the mid-19th century and photographers and researchers armed with cameras began appearing in Amish communities, most Amish objected to appearing in or posing for photographs entirely.

Amish-Photography-1

Do we have the right to photograph anyone, and everyone without their permission – and sometimes, do we have the right to publish those images, even if they have said no?

On being a Judge……..

I’ve been reading a lot of comments on social media recently about judges generally.  What they say, what they do – what they ‘might’ be thinking…

It got ‘me’ thinking.. what can we do to keep camera club members happy – and after much debate, inward thinking, and maybe 5 seconds later – the answer came – and it’s ‘nothing’….. there is nothing we can do.  Whatever a judge does or says, it’s going to upset / offend someone.  Even if it’s just the person who didn’t win that night.

I’ve written before about emotional ties to photographs – YOU, the photographer know exactly what went into the shot – you know what you did, what your thoughts were – you know the story behind it.  The judge doesn’t know any of that.. they come at it cold from the freezing wastes of wherever to see an image on which they have to pass some comments.

The comments they DO pass are usually the technical ones, about white balance, blown out areas, composition etc…. and the rest can be more personal ones, like how the image actually resonates with them.

I’ve been known to make some assumptions about how a picture was made, but usually qualify it with something like ‘but I don’t know for sure, this is only my idea’ – to try and get myself out of the hole I’m probably digging myself into.

However, we also judge emotionally – though I read somewhere today that judges apparently shouldn’t do that.  It’s hard not to…..  I’m pretty sure that if a picture came up of a hunter smiling over a dead giraffe – I’d find it really hard not to say something about how I didn’t approve of wildlife hunting…. and I’m pretty sure a lot of you would too.

So, why would that remark be OK (maybe) and not others about creating photographs.

The judge is a human being – with human ideologies, and personal feelings.  I’m pretty sure these will come out in the course of talking about photographs whether they mean to or not.

A camera club competition is not the end of the world – it’s supposed to be a hobby for most of us – not life and death, and your career certainly isn’t going to fail or collapse because one judge somewhere didn’t like your image, or incorrectly interpreted it.

There is normally no-one out there at a club anxiously waiting to reward your genius, because photography is art for which most of the general public have no interest, apart from maybe likes and loves on social media.  Which in my mind and observations has become more of an anti social media.

The photographs we make are mostly looked at by only a select few.  A small group create, promote, exhibit and may decide the success of an image, but social media opens it up to the world.  Once you exhibit your images, either here or in a camera club, you are, by default, opening it up to criticism.

Whether you like the critique or not, is up to you – but in the end it’s only the analysis of one person, on one night – and on the next outing, it might be loved…..

In spite of my ill-concealed conceit about such things (and the list grows longer the older I get) – the end result is that I reach a rather languid acceptance rather than a passionate objection.

Keep taking your photographs, stick them into competitions but please don’t judge bash – if if you feel you must – then get up there yourself and do it…..  You’ll find it’s harder than you think.

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