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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Twelve days into the new year, and I’m in trouble already….

Do you find that sometimes people take photography far too seriously?  I’m not talking about professionals, who just have to be more serious than us – but about people who don’t seem to ‘get’ the idea that you can relax and play with your cameras and images.

For example…. I took this image just before Christmas

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A friend and myself went to the local woods to shoot some macro – and he had with him a portable smoke machine – well, we had a rare old time, messing about, crawling in the undergrowth – letting the smoke off, and watching the way the breeze seemed to change direction between every shot we took.

We must have taken a lot of images – and were caught by the woodland warden / conservationist, who thought it was funny to see two aged photographers grovelling about in the undergrowth.  He asked what we were doing, and was interested in the effects we were trying to get.  He liked the images too.

Anyway – I posted this image on a social media site, and was heavily criticised by another photographer for putting artificial smoke (read fog) into the image.  At first I was accused of putting the ‘fog’ in during post production.  When I said that we used a smoke machine – I was told that it wasn’t natural, and we shouldn’t have done it.  I tried to explain that it wasn’t toxic – that there was no harm being done, and we were just having fun……  The same poster said and I quote “there’s no fun crawling around getting dirty, and you shouldn’t be using a smoke machine in a public place…..”

So that told me off then…..

I don’t think I approach photography as something trite, but I do enjoy trying new things.  I think the challenge for the commenter here is to find the balance between being stuffy and dour, and letting go to enjoy the hobby.

 

 

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.

 

 

SEO – Part deux……

Although there are many sites out there, and people who are willing to sell you their SEO expertise, I’m now of the opinion that with some careful reading, and work on your site, you can improve your ratings immensely.

Keyword research is very important – it acts as a navigator for your site and blog, and allows you to see what items are actually being searched for.  I suggest you head over to Google’s Keyword Tool.   Search each keyword to check how many websites turned out on the search engine result page (SERP) – these are your major competitors.

There are sites that will generate keywords for you, but mostly these are not free…. a good one is Word Tracker – and they do offer a free trial.

As Google Webmaster Tools, crawl the Oaktree site – they are coming up with keywords – and I can now identify these and amend them within the site itself.  I’m slowly amending my keyword page titles, so that the bots can group pages into the correct categories. Search engines will put your keywords in BOLD in the listings, which is good, in that will attract extra attention from people who are searching.

Engines also pay a great deal of attention to inbound links to your site.  I see that Google is already finding a number of links from sites I didn’t realise were linking to mine.  The key here is not to have links from spam sites, or from other low ranking ones, but to have them from credible businesses where-ever possible  – emphasise quality over quantity when you are looking for these.

Lastly in this post, Robots.txt – I noticed this on the Google Webmaster pages. It tells search bots, what to search, and what not to search – it also helps prevent irrelevant items being linked to your own site, which is good.

Don’t forget that people search the web for information, and SEO is only the beginning … I’m moving onwards with this – but for the moment, it’s back to work, taking great images for next year.