Shooting in the Round

Results from the Camversation Talk

After the talk with Sally and Glenys the other week, it’s been wonderful to see so many images that have been created by the people who came to the talk (and some from people who didn’t get there live, but have watched the recording.)

I’m now inordinately glad that I said yes to having my bit recorded.  No-one pushed me to say yes, but I’m so pleased that I did. 

The shots taken ‘in the round’ give of course, anything from a 180 degree to 360 degree of combined images which takes pictures to a whole new level.

These are things that have been photographed a million times before, but sometimes not in the way you expected.  Multi shot images create a whole new way of ‘seeing’ things, and the results are usually completely unexpected.

The thing is, that by changing the ‘where’ and the ‘how’, a whole new look and meaning can make themselves visible to you – it can be a revelation.

Dave Balcombe sent me the image below of the Market Cross in Wymondham, he said that he only used 13 individual shots, and didn’t follow any strict rules.   The only critique that I offered (at his request) was to reduce the number of text references to a ‘certain’ bank, that repeated throughout the final picture.  Other than that, the image was lovely.  

He tells me that this is his first attempt at this style of photography and was inspired by my talk though he has seen this style before and admired my RPS A panel, he tells me he will try again, now he has the idea.

With his kind permission – I show it here:- he says that this is not too far from where he lives and so will be able to return easily and shoot it again.

Market Cross, Wymondham by Dave Balcombe – used with his permission

What do we see?  Windows that have their own worlds inside, the patterns of the stonework in the foreground, the balance of the trees either side of the cross.  The whole image is transformed into almost a kaleidoscope of shapes, rather than a single cohesive one – and yet it works.  You can see exactly what the image is about – it’s a totally different take on a subject that I would think has been taken a million times before. 

Dave was open to seeing this, he didn’t look past it, he stayed sensitive to what was literally right in front of him.  

Thing is, he tried something different – and it worked……. remember that as you go about your daily photo life……

So next time you go out and shoot something that everyone else has photographed, make it your own. Find a new point of view, or choose a different time of day, or combine images, or all three. The more you look, the more shots you take, the luckier you will get – but whatever else you do…….

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

‘Freedom Day’, Maybe….

Today is the same as yesterday and the day before – we’ve not quite unlocked fully, but apparently we will do next week.  Maybe I’ll be able to bin the hazmat suit finally, (it was too big for me anyway) and open another bottle of wine, but keep the mask… which actually makes it a bit harder to drink – never mind.

I wonder what my daughter will tell her kids about the last year or so.  Maybe she’ll make it sound like it was fun…..   It’s been a bit like being stuck in an ever repeating sitcom….. without the laughs, or maybe there were a few laughs….….. moving on……. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a lot of time overeating during the pandemic, maybe a bit of over… well over everything really.

I have also apparently lost the concept of time. Can’t remember when I last wore a watch. It’s like we’ve been trapped in an online life, and infinite loop of despair, with no memory of a time before – and suddenly it looks like it’s going to end, and it’s actually a bit scary !

So, after all these months of booking speakers for the camera club, we find we are slowly struggling though the sludge to the end.  I’ve got another three I think before the end of July, and then we’re having a whole month off…. Wonder if I’ll miss it, and wonder what will happen next.  

At the moment though, I don’t fancy sitting in a small club room with folks breathing over each other..  I’m distrustful, I know……

At least the inspiration that has come from other photographers and artists has kept me going, especially in the last few weeks, and the last two speakers to come are both experimental, and artistic at the same time.  So that’s all good then.

Plus for the first time I really felt that I’ve had my fill and monies worth of the RPS – from being a far flung organisation somewhere on the edge of the galaxy, they came full circle and put on loads of events (albeit online) that were brilliant… fingers crossed all that will continue…. 

Of course there’s been the online zoom social meetings, (and a party, that was interesting) as well as the photo meetings….  and I’ve learned a lot of useful stuff…… like how to plait wheat, and make basic corn dollies….. yes really, and I’ve got two hung in the downstairs toilet to prove it.

Soon be time to go outside again, maskless, in the garden, and then the dogs will need a walk.  I tried to take my camera once on a dog walk – didn’t do very well – I spent more time watching them leap around like the demented animals that they are, than taking photographs, oh and avoiding other people who also seem to think they should walk their dogs too, who might just want to TALK to me.

This weekend though, we have guests… it’ll be a bit strange having other people in the house, overnight, who doesn’t normally live with us.  They take photos though, so it’ll be OK.

What’s the point of this?  Well I just thought I’d put it out there that I’m still experimenting, and playing – we adults, we don’t play enough do we?  In my talks, I advocate playtime, but for some grown ups it’s a hard thing to do.  I’ve a couple of friends who are avid gamers, but not photographers… I like playing with software and cameras, and pushing boundaries where I can.

Trouble is, we can get too fixated on the so called rules …. I keep saying, ‘there are no rules’, this isn’t a sport, it’s supposed to be fun (unless of course you’re doing it for a living).  I used to do it for a living…… and what I did, well, no editing was allowed…. 

I got fired once, from a company I didn’t work for – I was out there taking photographs of a building for a business (who will remain nameless).. security (who hadn’t been told I’d be there), thought I was a member of staff sneaking out early…. I got hauled into the office and was actually officially reprimanded, till someone from HR came along and realised I wasn’t actually an employee.  This was a good rule…. ‘Keep your staff in line’.  The other rule they had was that all staff had to wear shoes, not boots, not even in winter – I digress.

I’ve actually forgotten the purpose of this post now… so I reckon I’ll stop…… Here’s a photo for good measure that I took on our first club outing in 18 months…… I might have slipped – waved the camera round a bit, or maybe it was the gin….. who knows……..

Cleethorpes Country Park

Keep shooting, and taking the pills as necessary – normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

A Friday – early July

It’s been an odd week. Hot, humid and not very brilliant for taking photographs, and I am not even inclined to sit in front of a computer editing ‘stuff’.

It’s also been a busy few weeks in terms of talks and judging that I have been asked to do, so actually more computer sitting has been involved – my office seems to get really warm in the evenings but it has been great to either listen to other speakers, or join in and speak myself.

I’ll add a caveat at this point. I really hate listening to myself, so talks that I’ve done, that have been recorded, I tend not to want to hear again – but when it came to a talk last week with Sally Sallett, and Glenys Garnett, and both said they were happy for it to be recorded – I gave in, and had my bit recorded too.

Funnily, although I’m happy to talk photography any time anyone asks me, ad nauseam, this time I was nervous – I’d practiced – I’d sorted out what I was doing, I had everything set up, and ready to roll, and still I felt acutely that what I was about to present wasn’t going to be as good as the other two ladies I was with….. don’t ask me why, I have no idea.

Anyway – to cut a long story short – talk time came, it went, and it was utterly, ridiculously brilliant. Glenys and Sally were consummate professionals, and I think my bit was better than I thought it would be…. The feedback from the attendees was completely positive, and the great thing is that I’ve been sent images that people have created following on from the talk- and they have all been really good.

It’s truly wonderful when you show people how to do things, and they go away, apply those techniques – and then the images they produce are testament to not only how they have been taught, but more importantly, how they reacted to the ideas they were given. To see images that are well produced is a thrill beyond words.

Many years ago, at my first camera club (which will remain unnamed) I asked a photographer how they had done something (no idea even what it was now) – but I remember his reply so clearly. He said “if I tell you, then you’ll know” and he walked away, it was so frustrating and in equal measure, disappointing.

From my point of view, there are no secrets in photography. As an artist, and photography is an art form I believe, you should create what pleases you, but it shouldn’t be a secret how you did it.

So, get out there and create what makes you happy – feel free to experiment, to use colour boldly. Add grain to images if you want to, there’s no rule that says images should be noise free. Make dramatic black and whites, be abstract. Play with your camera, and your software. Make your own dreams come true.

Enjoy your art life.. and remember that photography isn’t a sport – there are no rules, only guidelines.

It’s Thursday

Yesterday, whilst driving, I came across a field of flax.  If it’s a common crop, I’ve not noticed it much before, but this one was stunning.  In amongst the pale blue flax flowers, are poppies.  The red and blue, against the paler blue sky, it’s beautiful.  I’ve only got my mobile, but I do my best – and make a note of where it is, to go back tomorrow and take my camera….. but now, writing this – it IS tomorrow, and it’s raining.  


It’s Thursday and it’s the middle of June.  It’s been so hot and dry lately, but today marched in the way it intended to go on. Wet, and dull.

I’m out with the dogs, getting wet, and then even wetter, as, in a moment of madness, I decide to take the long route through an uncut field.  The grass is long, very long, and wet, and suddenly I’m soaking from the bottom of my coat, to the top of my wellies, and I don’t care. 

The heat of the last few days has been partly washed away, and it’s quiet.  I walk through the morning like I’m the only one alive, and look at the crops in the field, the horses standing, bored in their field, and then watch the dogs, running round, glad to be alive, demented in their morning excitement that it’s cool enough to run, and that the grass is long enough for them to roll in.  

They’re both covered in grass seed when I get home – towelling them off makes me warm – warmer even than when I was walking, and whilst I’m drying them off, I think of things that I love…..

The smell from a happy wet dog, the way they push up against you, trusting.  Long grass, wet cool days after hot dry ones,. Cups of hot tea, the sound of people talking in the distance, catching snippets of conversation.

Two cyclists went by whilst I was out, shouting across the two feet or so that separated them, “it’s the distance that’s the problem”  one shouts, “nah” says the other “it’s the fact that he’s got two left feet”, and I’m left, wondering…..

It’s so Frustrating

In January 2019 (literally just before Covid hit us hard), I bought a new computer…. totally jet propelled, and knocked spots off my old one.

I decided to keep the old one, use it as a second screen for the new one…. turns out good job I did.

Thing is, that I started to use MAC computers back in 2007, and each time I replaced it, I used the migration tool to just copy everything across, and it worked. The ‘new’ machine carried it all, and did it faster, and usually more efficiently. What I discover now, is that you can’t do that for ever.

My latest machine, over the next 12 months got slower and slower – grinding it’s way to life each time I turned it on. Boot up times ran to 5 minutes or more sometimes, and no amount of messing would help. I bought extra software to see if there was malware or anything of that sort on there – but no….. and still the upsets, the unexpected quitting of programmes, and sometimes a refusal to even shut down.

A long talk with the Apple help desk a month or so ago helped enormously. I reinstalled the whole operating system, whilst leaving everything else untouched. It did help, but the boot up time was still far too long.

Exploring the library deep in the system, and I found lots of rubbish – including some dating back to my first MAC – 2007. Not good.

The decision was made that I had to reformat and start again. I knew that I could not do a system restore from Time Machine, as that would just put back all the dross I wanted to get rid of…. so last week, I backed up everything I needed, and did it.

Have to say that the system ran really well. Boot up into safe mode, and you have the option to format the hard drive…. and having done that, you are offered the option to install ‘Big Sur’ from scratch. So, a couple of hours later, and I have an ‘as new’ machine. Great…..

What’s taken the time, is not just reinstalling all the software, but making it run like it did before. In Photoshop, finding all the actions I’d added over the years, then fonts, then sorting the layout. Similar with Lightroom.

Then adding back the catalogue for Lightroom, and making sure all my re-added images could be found.

Then of course there is the extra software I collected over the years. I had a copy of NIK effects – when Google gave it away for free. For some reason, pre-format of machine – it worked perfectly – on the new system not at all…. but this was not the only problem.

On1 gave me real issues. The copy I had was version 9.5, with an upgrade later to version 10. I couldn’t find the download for such an old copy. On1 gave me a link, for me to discover it wouldn’t work with Big Sur, and they said they had no intention of updating such ‘old’ software…. so that ends that then. I’m not buying it again. Thinking it through though, I hardly used it anyway… and it actually still works on the other computer, so all isn’t lost.

Everything else loaded in fine, the plugins I’d bought, or otherwise acquired, all work fine.

Was it worth three days work – yes it was – Firstly, it made me reconsider what I actually wanted from software, what did I REALLY need, and what could be effectively forgotten about. Secondly, the machine boots up nicely in just under 20 seconds…….

All I need to do now is reorder the panels in Photoshop to my liking, check that everything works in Lightroom (no reason that it won’t), and get to play with the new version of NIK effects purchased yesterday.

Back to making images again….. can’t wait now…

Oldies but Goodies

For as long as Lightroom has been in existence, I’ve used it…. I’ve organised and sorted all my images using this system which has been so efficient for me.  I can find anything fairly quickly, because the catalogue system is so good, and also because I understand my own file naming system.

Looking back though at what’s in there (there’s a lot of rubbish by the way), and I do start to wonder why I keep as much as I do.  

I think I operated under the wild assumption that I would (one day) go back and revisit all those images, and edit them over again as software developed, and my skills improved.

But here we are – some 20 odd years later and I’m looking at some of the things I kept, that I thought were ‘good’ at that time.    I think I can honestly say that most of the images are of no interest to me any more.  My style, and ideas have changed, and there’s little that I did then that I like now.

The other week, I had a more radical idea.  What if I removed from Lightroom, and indeed from my immediate hard drive everything I’d not looked at in the last twenty years, and started again.  Keeping only recent ‘lockdown’ work and textures I’d made.  

I couldn’t do it….. but in the end I compromised.

I’m older now, and hopefully a bit wiser.  The person who made those images 20+ years ago doesn’t exist any more.  I was a beginner with a Sony 3mp camera, with a 1 inch screen on the back.

So, the compromise was that I’ve backed up all those old images to an external drive – they include all my college work, and some family photos that honestly I can’t take again. That drive will be stored away with other hard drives, and hopefully I’ll take a look at it every now and again.

For now though, it’s time to look at what is left…. And I discovered some portraits that I took in 2011.  My editing wasn’t that good at the time, so I’ve been able to go back to the original RAW files, taken with a Canon 5D, and work them up again.

I realise now that there’s no way I could have visualised those images, the way I do today.  I think that then I was just ‘taking’ photographs, and maybe today I’m ‘making’ them.

As an aside, I was reading a book the other day, and the discussion was about the ‘perfect’ photograph, and the question was ‘what makes a photograph perfect?’  The answers were varied, and here’s a selection of them.

  1. One that is sharp and in Focus.
  2. One which gives the viewer a perfect experience, with no question about the content
  3. One which survives over 100 years and still gives the viewer the same experience
  4. One which is artistic and impressionistic
  5. One which adheres to the rule of thirds
  6. One which tells a story

All of these, or some of these.  Maybe you think non of these…. 

The thing that makes photography so fascinating for me, is that all the above can be ‘perfect’.  The photographer can be both objective, and artistic at the same time, and that’s probably why I love it so much.

I reckon I’ll keep looking back at the old stuff for a while longer.  

Scarlot Rose – 2011

Technological Failures…..

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….. 

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.