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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Honesty and Critique – Part 2

The other day, I photographed a very simple image of a Starfish on a beach local to me – what fascinated me about the image was the amount of detail I could see when I zoomed in on the shot, and I wasn’t even using a macro lens.  The Starfish itself wasn’t something I had ever taken a photo of before, and I was quite pleased with the depth of information the camera gave to me.

The comment passed to me, on line, read as follows:-   “This could have been taken on a mobile phone, and been just as good”.  I was a tad miffed…. as with the file I had, I could have printed it up to probably A1 size, which I certainly could not have done off a mobile, but then the commenter didn’t know that.

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Zoomed in detail…

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The thing is, he knew scant little about what I had used to get this shot:- and therein lies the problem …… sometimes……

The other night, I visited a camera club and we talked,  in detail, about images, and what sort of shots would do well in competitions.  Members had brought along sets of DPI’s for comment, and we worked through them for the whole evening.  The intent from me was to make people think, and talk about photographs, in a constructive way, but also to acknowledge that some were not ‘keepers’ in the competition arena.

it was quite hard to get people to talk initially – There is a reluctance from some people to comment on an image – even in a ‘safe’ environment.  I think they may feel awkward, or not qualified to pass an opinion.

I’d love it if camera clubs ran critique sessions more regularly – to help members see what the common faults are.  Examples might be as simple as the main subject being out of focus, or aircraft in the air with ‘frozen’ propellers.  Small parts of trees, or other organic / inorganic things impinging on the edges of images, lamp posts growing out of heads, blown out areas – or simply a confusing image, where the focus of attention is lost.

Photographers have an invested interest in their work, I appreciate that, and they can carry a lot of emotional baggage.  Images mean a lot to them, and time and effort has been taken to get what is now being put in front of club and judge.  I try to explain that this effort and emotion doesn’t always show in an image to an independent third party, who has no idea of the mud they trudged through, or the agonies and pain to get THAT shot.   The photographic idea can be as brilliant as can be – but if not executed properly will fail, no matter how much the photographer loves it.  In the end, it’s the photograph that is shown, with no history that the observer sees.

A gentleman was at great pains to explain to me exactly how he got his shot – but in the end the difficulty level doesn’t gain extra points.  As one judge said to me, some years ago – “difficulty level ? – that isn’t my problem”.  At the time I was quite put out, but with hindsight (which is a marvellous thing), he was absolutely correct.

In the end it goes back to what I said in my previous blog post – you need to trust the people you ask about images – but sometimes listen to what other people say too – listen, and don’t just ignore the comment – for all you know, at that moment, they might be right, even if you don’t realise it for a long time afterwards!


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Honesty and Critique

I’ve spent a bit of time these last weeks, reviewing another photographers portfolio of work.  The task of looking at work, both for me, and the photographer, is that we both have to be honest about what we are looking at.

One image, the photographer kept telling me, was really hard to get – the subject matter was hard to find, and even harder to get a good solid photo of.  When I looked at it, it was a messy construction and clearly not that good.  The photographer though had invested a lot of time and emotion in the image, and would not let it go.  He was convinced it was good, and nothing I was going to say would change that point of view, but the fact is that the image is going to be perceived by others on an entirely different level from that of the photographer.

Which takes me on to the question of feedback about your work.  What kind of feedback do you REALLY want? and importantly, what is your response to that feedback?

If you really respect the person who is looking at your images – it can be upsetting to hear that they don’t like it.  After all, you want them to like what you have produced, that’s why you show it.

So, what should your response be, when someone you know and trust, doesn’t like your work.  It’s hard, because maybe the work is bad, and maybe you just need to be told that. Maybe you need to listen to their advice and go away and change something, or even forget that image, and replace it with a new one.

You should remember though, that maybe the person looking at your work just doesn’t like the subject matter.  Though in fairness, they should tell you that right from the start.  I would hope that the good critique maker, should be able to look past the personal likes and dislikes and see the image for what it is.

So it’s up to the photographer to ask the right questions at this point, and so you need to ask the reviewer what it is they don’t like about the image.  This is then hard, as the reviewer might tell you what they would do to make the image better, and that then might make it more their work, than yours.  So you have to be careful.

If I show my work to someone I trust, and say that it is to inspire calm, and they say it looks like a battle is about to break out – then I think I can safely say I missed the mark on that one – and if this happens consistently then maybe I’d need to rethink my entire strategy or portfolio.

When I judge competitions – I try hard not to say whether I like it or not – at least not at first – what I try to do is work out how an image makes me feel.  Sometimes I will say of a picture (let’s assume of an animal or bird for arguments sake), that by looking at it, I know how it would feel if I could run my fingers through the fur, or feathers, or grass, or whatever.  Then I might say what emotion it gives – peace, excitement, confusion and so on.

The title of the piece helps direct too.  An image can be confusing till I know what it’s called – then a combination of title and subject matter can bring together a unity of purpose.

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Practice Makes Perfect?

I’ve been reading a lot this week about photography, and how we improve.  Practice is obviously the answer, but it is always?

When you go to a concert, you hear the singer, the pianist – you see paintings in a gallery, the prints on a wall.  To get this good, the artist must practice every day – to get out of form before a concert is unheard of (well maybe not always! but you get the idea)…  So when you look at images, you are seeing the end result of weeks, and maybe years of work, and practice.

I know it’s nearly impossible to get out and shoot every day, but what other ways are there to keep your finger on the button?  I think that talking about image making, talking about photography generally is practice – as is looking at other people’s work – visiting galleries – sharing images.  Even looking at images on Instagram, Facebook or even Google, is practice.  Every time you look at someone elses work, you are honing your own skills, mostly indirectly.

So, how do you practice with your camera ?  Well, there are a number of ways – you COULD just walk out the house and shoot anything and everything you see.  Is that practice, or just shooting for the sake of it?  Or, you could go on a workshop, and immerse yourself in the photographic life for a week, absorb, and create… that seems good to me… or you could set yourself a project!

A strategy is needed, and I think that the best way of learning, of moving on, is by ‘finishing’ things; and by finish, I mean print, or otherwise share your work with the wider world.  I prefer the former.  A book, a print to hang in your home, a set of images to a theme.  This makes it harder to do, but also offers a challenge to the photographer.

On the other hand, by sharing your images online, you leave yourself open to critique by others.  I’m intrigued by photographers (and I use the term loosely), who post images on Social Media, but who won’t accept that sometimes, not everyone will like them.  I like to ask people why they took an image, or why they processed it in the way they did.  The answers vary, but on ocassion, they take great offence that I had even the temerity to ask.  Why is this?

Back to projects.

As I said in a previous blog post, I used to be a one image producer.  I didn’t do projects, or even panels of three.  It was one shot, or nothing.  Since I became a member of the Linconshire Image Makers though, my whole ideal and attitude changed.  It’s taken months of talk, and work, (and nagging), but finally I’m seeing not only the results of the discipline, but I think my whole attitude to photography and art has seen a dynamic shift, and because I’m questioning my own work, I’m starting to question other people’s work too.

Within the group, it’s simple.  This is what we meet up for – we look at each others work, and work of the major photographers, and ask why this, why that, why this image, and not that one.  Outside the group, well, as I said, it’s not so easy.

I’m considering a Social Media blackout for a month or so – I need to get my head around where I want to go with my imagery, and I need to plan a strategy to get me through the winter, and maybe well into next year.  My website needs an overhaul (it’s long overdue), and I want to allow myself time to experiment more.  I’ve run through the multiple exposure sets, and I won’t stop doing these – they give me immense pleasure,  but I want to also run a set of images on a ‘what if’ basis….  What if I shot everything out of focus?  What if I did everything with a dutch tilt? (a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle), What if I photographed…………… (fill in the blank as you desire).  Maybe just 6 images – maybe a project of just one image, maybe 15 or 20.  What if I set myself a project to complete 100 prints in a twelve month period? (that might not happen)……. but what if it did….?

As someone said to me only today – “it’s only a photo”….. and when I questioned why denegrate it to “only a photo”…… I was met with silence….. and there the matter rested.

 

 

Musings……..

A few weeks back, I was having a conversation with another photographer about images. A conversation which eventually turned into one about photographic art.

One of the things that we talked about was how can we be honest with ourselves about the images we make. It’s hard to be self critical without being over-critical, and it is somewhat easier to talk about other peoples work when it isn’t our own.

We do look sometimes though at other peoples work and cringe, and they think we don’t understand, and become self-congratulating artists. On the other hand there are photographers whose opening lines are always “I know I can’t do this”, or “You’re a much better photographer than I am”, and “I’ll never be any good”…. what I want to say to those that start off like this is “If you really believe that, then go get another hobby”….. I know you can’t always say that, but I’d really like to.

We have all had conversations with photographers who see no room for improvement in their work. They have the ‘best’ gear, and of course then take the ‘best’ pictures. They will defend their work to the death at the slightest hint of a contrary opinion. Or they will immediately start to explain exactly why the image is not as the viewer would see it. The excuses fly, and our comments become futile.

So, next time you look at someone’s images, why not ask them first if they really want your honest opinion. If they say no, then walk away. If they say yes, then it might be worth asking if they just want you to tell them what you LIKE about the shot, or would they be interested in knowing what you would have done differently.

I am happy to offer my opinions, but that’s all they are. People can accept or reject advice as much as they please, and I want them to know that I won’t be bothered or offended if they take no notice – it is always the author who has the final say, and not the judge.

Failure is just a way of learning what doesn’t work, and I’ve found hundreds, maybe thousands of ways…..

Please be Gentle – It’s my First Time

Please be Gentle – It’s my First Time

I’ve not blogged in an age – we moved house, I started to rebuild contacts in a new area, I neglected all sorts of things in an effort to re-establish my life in a new county – and when I look back, all these things are excuses for not concentrating on blogging, or on so many other things I needed to do.

What’s prompted me back into writing again, is the constant stream of excuses that photographers are coming up with these days, to explain their below standard work, which they are sharing on Social Media on an almost daily basis.  It’s driving me nuts……

That’s not to say of course that there are many excellent photographers out there, sharing some truly inspirational work.  The trouble is, there are so many more ‘photographers’ (and I use the quote marks intentionally) who feel the need to share a lot of sub-standard images, and who feel that people should be praising them for their trouble.

I’m a member of a few Facebook groups – and I’ve actually left a good number – trusting that the few I stuck with would be more ‘constructive’.  Some of these groups encourage members to post images for constructive critique, and this is where the whole thing starts to fall apart.

“Please be gentle, I’m only just starting with photography / photoshop / Lightroom / Elements – don’t be harsh”

I’m more than happy to give constructive critique to those who really want it – Telling people their images are good, when they are good, and offering (I hope) constructive feedback  to those whose images are not so good, but have potential.

However, if you are new, and just starting out, is it not even more important that you get honest feedback about your images?   If people constantly tell you that what you are producing is good – then of course you will keep on doing it – in exactly the same way, and you will continue to make the same mistakes, and I find that the poorer the image, the less likely people are to accept any criticism of it.

I also see poor advice being given, and explanations for poor technique being blamed on equipment.  A prime example happened today.  I was reading a post where someone had put an image up for review – there was so much noise in the image that you could barely make out what it was.  The image was scaled up to 200%, the ISO had been set at 6400 and the exposure time was just 1/200 of a second.  The usual explanations were offered.  The high ISO, and the darkness of the image – the upscaling, all contributed to the rather messy image.  

Later in the discussion – someone chipped in with and offered the explanation that it wasn’t the photographer who was to blame at all.  It would be a combination of a faulty SD card, and the fact that the Battery was nearing depletion that caused the ‘grain’ on the image.  A number of people tried to explain that a low battery would not cause this effect, but the photographer was relieved that it wasn’t anything they had done.  It was a ‘gear’ problem and so they could fix this by always taking with them a spare battery……..

I’m sorry, but this sort of thing is worse than useless.  Taking the easy way out, is not always an option.  Sometimes you just have to learn how to use your camera, and understand what the settings do, and how you can work with them, when the light is against you.

Understanding your camera, and it’s limitations are key to making better images.  All photographers need to know and understand the relationship between F/stop, shutter speed and ISO.  Adding in white balance, focus, composition and using a tripod where necessary.  There is a host of information on the net, and asking a question on a Facebook forum does not mean you are going to get good answers.  Check out the ones you do get – make sure the information is accurate.

You can’t work on the principle of “It was on Facebook, so it must be right”

So before you post images on the net, asking for critique ask yourselves these questions

Do I REALLY want other peoples opinion?

Do I really?…… because there are some images that we just feel are ‘right’ for us.  It won’t really matter what other people think, because they are personal to you.  It might not be a technically perfect image, but it captured that moment, which means so much to you.  But don’t forget, other people don’t know your circumstances, or your family, or your pets.  To them it’s just an underexposed image.

2. Is the opinion really about what you have posted

Opinions can be hi-jacked by other things happening in the same thread.  Some posters will ask questions that others will answer, and in the end the whole thing is not about your image any more, it’s about something different.  So be careful when you read the comments – it may not even be you they are talking about.

3. Are the comments actually helpful

Does “wow”, “amazing”, “beautiful work”, “incredible”, actually mean anything to you?  Or would you prefer comments such as “the composition works well”, “superb lead lines”, “nice and sharp”.  Even negative ones “the shadows are too dark”,  “you have some blown out highlights there”, “love the shot, but I see a couple of hot spots on the models face”.   Some of these things can be fixed in post production, and because you are so close to your images, you don’t see them sometimes.  It’s good and helpful to have them pointed out to you later on.

Hearing feedback about general things in your image can help you later on.  Ask yourself – can you take what’s being said, and apply it, to other images. If you can’t, I don’t think you should be asking for critique in the first place.   Is there a lesson to be learned in the feedback you are getting.

I encourage my students to take time looking at other people’s work.  Not just photographers, but artists and painters.  Ask yourself “why” is this person’s work so good – how does this compare to what I am producing.  Visit art galleries and photographic exhibitions and try to work out what is good about some of the images you see.

In summary then, if you are new to photography, photoshop, lightroom, whatever – then doesn’t it make more sense that people are absolutely truthful about your work?  There are ways of offering constructive critique without being rude or disrespectful.  If people ask for critique, then we should give it truthfully, and honestly, and expect it to be treated as such.  If we continually praise poor workmanship, then this will become the norm, and we will start to forget what truly great images look like.