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……….
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……..
Following on from my last post – I’m a bit excited.
Regular readers will remember that at the start of 2019 I started a journey down the Meridian Line from Yorkshire (Sand Le Mere) to the bottom of the county of Lincolnshire.
I ended with a trip to Greenwich, with some good friends.
The photographs themselves took 12 months to take and edit; and then another 7 months to organise them and write the text.
I self published using Blurb books, and have made both a hardback, and a soft-back.
I am really pleased with the end result – and in fact the statue on the front cover of the book (John Harrison of Longitude fame) was only installed at Barrow On Humber in March of this year. It was one of the images I had to wait to get before I could finish the book.
So, it’s done – and what next?
Well, Covid has put a stop to a lot of travel, but I am starting to get out and about a bit more – with other photographers too – though we go out in separate cars.
I’ve got a couple of ideas for projects going forward – which I’ll talk about when it’s more formalised in my head.
I’ve also got lots of people to thank who helped me get this book done – the naggers, the drivers, the pushers. The folk who have stood behind me when I got despondent and said “It’ll be OK”.
So – thank you to my other half for letting me travel at all hours, leaving him to dog-sit. Thank you to all the members of Lincolnshire Image Makers who encouraged me to keep going.
And to Mike Bennett, Keith Balcombe and George Lill for coming out with me – keeping me on the straight and narrow, and generally shoving me in the right direction.
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……
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.
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 !
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….
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.
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?
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.