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It seemed at first that FIAP also felt this way, and the rules were rescinded, but only till 2022.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

We are in ‘Lockdown’

We are in lockdown…….

I’ve not done a blog post this month since March 1st – and this is mostly due to the fact that the pandemic that started in China in December and which has overtaken most of the world sent me into a state of panic, that is only now starting to abate – as I realise that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, only weather the storm as best I can.  

The media hasn’t helped – with a constant bombardment of bad news, and 24 hour coverage.

So, what to do ? Restrict the amount of news coverage, release myself from the bombardment of social media, and listen to a lot more music – classical piano, is what’s playing in the background even as I type.  I’m also trying to hone my photoshop skills some more.  I’ve books, and magazines that I bought ages ago with the intention of working through some things, but never got around to.  Well, now I have no excuse…..

Back to the music, and I’ve just listened to a piece that has been beautifully played.  I’ve rewound it, and sat with my eyes shut, and just absorbed the flow – this has put me in mind of how we can relearn to look at photographs.

We can have them in the background, and see them, but not ‘notice’ them, or we can absorb them – much like we can a piece of music.

I used to play in an orchestra, (I played clarinet), and sitting ‘inside’ the music was magical.  To hear the different sections rehearse individually was fascinating – sometimes it didn’t sound like the final piece at all, but the conductor bringing it all together made the final sound.  The study of the score showed how it all worked.

I find that photography is very much like this – we produce the first image, and then in conjunction with software, we hone it to a final version – which other folks can then either quickly look at, or hopefully, absorb.

There are photographs in my home that hang on the walls that I will enjoy looking at – and will spend time with, and there are others that are there for decoration only.  Seeing some images is not the same as spending time really looking at them.

Minor White said that you should spend at least 30 minutes looking at a photograph – not saying anything, just looking and absorbing – and that’s the same with a piece of music.  Having it running in the background is not the same as really listening to it.  Minor died in 1976, leaving many images for us to absorb.  Mostly black and white closeups, arranged in sequence so the viewer had to look carefully, and slowly.  Go look at his work, the lighting is beautiful, and a lot of the images are very simple, but need to be looked at carefully.

Especially good are the images of his friend Tom Murphy, taken in 1948 – beautifully lit, Tom is muscular and naked – and though White struggled throughout his life with his homosexuality, he was able to still to produce images like these.

MINOR WHITE IMAGES

In these strange times of lockdown, maybe we should take more time to really look at our photography, and really listen to the music.  Listen to the sounds of nature too, and allow ourselves the unaccustomed luxury of being able to ‘look’.

So, what’s next – and what do the next weeks have on offer for the photographer?  Restrictions yes, but maybe opportunities too.  

I might just break out the macro lens I bought and hardly used….. and get to grips with photoshop !

Then again, there’s always the music……… 

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Light Painting Talks

Just recently there seems to have been an increase in requests for us to do various demonstrations of light painting at camera clubs.

The latest of these was held at R B Camera Club near Nettleham, Lincolnshire.  We turned  up – to be received by a good number of enthusiastic photographers who were willing to stand out in the cold, and alternately work indoors.

We took the Spirojib with us, and the Pixelstick, and mixed in finger lights, torches, and lasers.

I’ve been given permission to post a few of the images taken that night by some of the members….. thank you so much Bryan Hurt, and Phil Blakelock of R B – good to see some creative use of the images too…….

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Bookings are coming in fairly quickly now……  so if your club would like a demonstration, and take some photos please get in touch.

It’s about the Light (and the weather)

How often do you hear the phrase “I only shoot in the golden hour”, or alternately “I won’t shoot in the middle of the day”?

I’m constantly surprised by these remarks, because, if you think about it, it only leaves a few scant hours to shoot in the Winter, and it must knock at least 12 hours off your Summer schedule too.

Life goes on, and light goes on, even during the day – and at mid-day too.

I grant you that good light is great, and when it happens, and you are there – the images, you just know, are going to be amazing. The caveat is, that this great light, has to have something great on which to fall.  No subject equates to no picture.

This week, (early in February) the weather in the UK has been pretty grim.  The folks down South seem to have had the worst of it, but up here in the micro climate that is the East Coast of Lincolnshire – we didn’t get a lot of weather as such.  What we did get was a blast of freezing fog, grey sky, sleet, and as I type a smattering of snow.  ( And even as I finish that sentence – the snow stops and the sun comes out)……..

However, I digress – I had to go out – I had an appointment that I was not able to change, or postpone, I had to go.  The roads were icy (I’m three miles from the nearest main gritted road), the fog was thick and patchy, and if I hadn’t had to get out, I’d have stayed in and watched the fog!

So, when I did get the car out, I thought I’d take the camera….. just in case.  turns out it was a good thing I did.

Appointment finished about 10am, and the fog was still freezing – the car said -5 but I thought I’d head out to the coast.

First impressions were not thrilling, and the cold air took my breath away.

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None the less, I enjoyed the lead lines fading away into the distance.

It was heading up to 11am by the time I arrived at my next location – which I swung into on impulse.  It’s the Country park, which is usually chock full of dog walkers and joggers.  The paths were OK, but the car park itself was lethal.

The hoar frost made everything look much more beautiful, and the low light gave everything an air of peace.

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By changing the white balance on the camera from sunny to cloudy, it warmed the pictures up a little but still allowed for that feeling of cold.

Moving around the lake to the jetty I found that by shooting low – (this means sitting in the frosty grass by the way), I was able to get my favourite shot of the day.

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A tweak or two in photoshop, add a vignette, and I’m done.  It’s lunchtime.  The light is directly overhead, it would be harsh but for the fog (now lifting) – it’s revealed the textures in the icy water and in the wooden stumps.  There’s no cloud, so I’ve not shown much of the sky.

All in all, I’m glad of the appointment – I’m glad I shot in the worst part of the day – chose the wrong weather, got cold, and wet.  It was worth it.

Get out in the ‘weather’, whatever it may be.  You just don’t know what will be revealed.

Photo Impressionism

About six or so months ago, I rediscovered multiple exposure photography.

A good number of years ago, I was taking the ocassional multi exposure image, and putting them together in post production.  Once I got a Canon that could do them in-camera, I added a few more.  Time ticked on, and I was working for clients, and I didn’t have much time to make images for myself, and the experiment got put on the back burner….

Then towards the end of 2017, I was admiring the work of a Candadian photographer who was creating very impressionistic photographs using multi exposures.  He was not doing them in camera, as each image he created was using upwards of 30 exposures.  He said he’d been influenced by a photographer called Freeman Patterson – and after a short time, I was able to get hold of a book Freeman had written, called Photo Impressionism, and the Subjective Image.

Whilst the publication is quite an old one, and refers entirely to shooting with film, the actual process was easily translated into the digital world.  He talked a lot about shooting images that only gave an impression of the whole, and in the use of shapes and lines, focused entirely on texture, and the nature of the surfaces.

Absorbed in the book, and tracing other photographers who were working the same way – I started to look at how these fascinating images were actually created.

It involved a lot of research, and tracking down different methods of working within Photoshop.  Eventually though, I was able to work out how to align layers of images, and how to blend them together to give the kind of result I was looking for.

Once I fully understand how the layer stacking affects the final images, I’ll write a full blog piece.  In the meantime I’m looking at shooting all sorts of things, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Tree

This is one of the first images I made using this multi shot technique. It uses around 40 images – stacked and blended to give the impression of the tree in front of a building.  I’m working on refining the technique, and this next image is one of the town of Louth in Lincolnshire.  It’s the indoor market hall tower clock, on a busy Maundy Thursday, and a shot I shall try again on an even busier market day.  A mere 17 images this time….

Tree

The more images used, the finer the final image becomes, so somewhere in between there must be an optimum number of pictures to use.   I tried one larger image with nearly 70 images, but it did not seem to be so successful.   I have seen one photographer use this technique though with over 200 layers.   I can’t imagine how big the final file would be.

I have uploaded a number of images onto my Flickr page (see the link to the right of the blog), and more are on my website

http://www.dseddonphoto.co.uk/multi_exposure

I’ll keep working………..

Double Exposures !

There’s an old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  This runs true in all sorts of ways.  We’ve all made mistakes with people, at job interviews, with good friends, and sometimes you get the chance to go back and fix your mistakes – but not always.

I think it’s similar to when you make photographs – but you do usually have two chances.  Once when you take it, and once when you edit it.  There’s also the time when you take something, bring it home, and surprise even yourself.  You haven’t seen what you’ve got at the time you took it.  Whether it be because you didn’t look at the image on the back of the camera, or because you just didn’t  ‘see’ it.

So the second chance comes into play.  You didn’t just randomly delete it whilst you were out (NEVER delete anything whilst you’re out!), and now you can edit.

When I took the shot below – I was playing with the double exposure function of the camera… We were in a shopping centre, and security was popping around – you all know what it’s like – I’m on private property doing something that security doesn’t like or allow – anyway, so I was sneaking photographs.  Camera low down – and just shooting what ever took my fancy.

When I got home, I had this….

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Unlooked for and unplanned.  I had no idea what I had.

Most of what I took I deleted, but this is the one I liked the best.  Keep shooting.

Never Go Back !

I was on my way to a job a couple of years ago – fairly locally.  I had a deadline to be with the client to photograph a presentation, and didn’t really have time to stop on the way.

Driving past, I saw this boat – moored up, and I thought, that’s great – I’ll go back an shoot it on the way home, or maybe another day.

The voices in my head, that I’ve talked about before, and said you should listen to – shouted at me “do it now”.  I did, I stopped the car, got out, and took this one image.

When I was finished – I drove home the same way, back to see the boat again.  There was no boat any more.  It had gone.  No longer any photo for me to take.

So, I reiterate….. “Never Go Back”… shoot it now.  When and if you do go back it won’t be the same.  It can never be exactly the same.  The weather will change, the light will change.  The thing you want to shoot may not be there any  more.  It might be better, or worse, but never the same.

I always tell people to keep going back to the same location – over and over – to see it in different lights, moods, and seasons.  You will have a different attitude, and a different mood.  You will try different viewpoints.

Always though, shoot first, and ask questions later……

Enjoy your photography…..

 

The Pixelstick

I think that unless you have not had anything to do with lightpainting – you will have heard of the Pixelstick.

In case you haven’t, the Pixelstick received over 6 times it’s kickstarter funding goal in 2013.  I got hold of one in early 2015, and though I’ve taken it out to various camera clubs, and demonstrated just what can be done with it, I have to confess, that I’ve not used it myself really very much in anger.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Pixelstick is an array of 200 addressable RGB LEDs. This means each LED can produce almost any colour, and each one can be instructed to flash on and off at a particular speed and colour sequence. With the right set of instructions, the LEDs can be used to mimic the pixels of a bitmapped image, so as the Pixelstick is moved through space, the LEDs effectively ‘draw’ the bitmap in midair and can be captured during a long exposure photograph.  It works a bit like an ink jet printer.  As you see a print coming out, one line of ink at a time, so the Pixelstick works in much the same way, but with light.  BMP files are saved to an SD card which sits in the control panel, and allows you to replay any image saved on there in the correct format.

The camera stays still, and as you move the lights along in front of the sensor, the colours are captured line by line, making up an image, or pattern.

The website is HERE if you want more information…….

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It’s possible to add more than one image to overlay another, making up complex pictures.

There’s a group of lightpainters who really don’t like this kind of equipment – they much prefer to have all their lightpainting done with different techniques and self made equipment.

Personally though, I have not got the time, inclination, know-how, to  make some of the things they use – and so I use this rather wonderful Pixelstick instead.

DV7B1152Combine it with people, and you can make amazing silhouettes – and portraiture works well too, as you can make what ever kind of background you like.

Add a touch of inventiveness, and you can make anything you like.  I’ll be exploring this kit in more detail over the coming months.

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In the meantime, I leave you with the GIF I created earlier today – don’t look at it for too long, or your eyes will most definitely go crazy……..

Test3Happy Easter…….

 

Quicker, Better, Faster??

In the last 8 months I finally succumbed and subscribed to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom CC – I’d resisted, and resisted till in the end I was backed into a corner.  Two things happened – one piece of software that I had as a plug-in, updated itself, and then refused to work with CS6.  It had gone beyond what CS6 could do.  Secondly, Lighroom did an automatic update, and suddenly the RAW convertor would no longer talk to CS6, and I was left making a DNG file, in addition to the RAW file, and finally then a conversion to JPEG.

Frustrated, I decided to take the plunge and go down the subscription route.  First thing that happened was I got an upgrade to CS6 to the ‘Extended’ version (which sits happily now, doing nothing on my hard drive), the next thing was that LR CC completely overwrote the version of LR6 that I had got already.

In the short term, this isn’t a problem, but if I do decide that the subscription method is not for me, then I’ve no idea if I can recover the version 6 I had before.

I suppose the other issue would be that changes I made in the ‘new’ software won’t be recognised by the old.

Adobe continually tell me that the new software is quicker, better, and faster…..  and as a retired full time photographer, I appreciate the need for speed in processing.  Nowadays though, I can relax and process my images for my use, in my own time.  Which is wonderful.

Is faster necessarily better though?  I’ve spent some time thinking about how I looked at image making in my time with film.  First of all, I was much more careful about what I shot – 36 on a roll – fewer with medium format.  Twin lens Rolliflex – 10 at a time.  Then the film itself.  Dark room, winding the unexposed film onto a reel – dropping something on the floor, and trying to find it again.  Waiting for it to develop – rinse, add fixer, rinse again – fingers crossed, and out it came – and that was just the start….. Check negatives, and look at printing – enlarger, dodge, burn, photo paper – (the sort I saw for sale on ebay a while ago out of its black plastic bag – ouch), and then, the magic of seeing a print magically appear on the paper in the developing tray – fix it, rinse it, dry it…… lets have another look under a light that’s not red………..

Don’t get me wrong, I love the digital darkroom – working in the daylight, and able to walk away for a cup of tea when I want to.  It’s cooler, and I don’t miss the chemical smells.

I love taking time with my images, but that’s not the attitude the advertising bods would have us ache for.  Rush rush rush…. and I see it all the time in on-line images.  Tilted horizons, underexposed, overexposed, burnt out, over processed…..  This is NOT art, this is careless.  More processing does not make for a better photo – whanging up the clarity will never, ever fix a badly composed photograph.

I qualify this by saying that sometimes there is art… and that is very much a personal thing – careful, artistic processing most definitely has its place – but this is by people who genuinely know what they are about.

Begone, you slide whangers – let’s try to tone it down a little – 100% clarity, combined with 100% vibrance really isn’t the way to go……..