Saturday, 31 January 2015

Getting back on the bike

I'm sure all artists suffer from days when they wonder what the hell they are doing. None of the things they try turn out as they want, they lack inspiration and the reaction of other people to their work ranges from at best lukewarm , through "meh" to just downright hate.

I have to admit I've been going through one of those phases recently.

My entries to photo competitions have garnered far fewer marks than I expected. When I have gone out and taken photos, I have not managed to get the quality and results I want. I reached the point where I wonder whether I was kidding myself that I had any ability at all in photography and perhaps I should just give up and take up a new hobby like basket weaving. (Please note I am not comparing myself here with a real artist, just anyone with artistic pretensions)

It is also very easy to start comparing yourself with others, and feel you will never get to their level. Recently we had a talk at the local photo club  from someone who had just achieved their CPAGB qualification. This is the first time I had heard of this and it was fascinating to learn about the judging process, which is a akin to a photographic competition on steroids. The best analogy I can think off is having to present your photos while standing in front of the judges stark naked.

Anyway ,with that image in your heads, the process requires you to present 10 photos and 6 judges mark them from 2 to 5 (why 2? - Ed.) and you need to garner an average mark of 20 marks per photo to achieve the CPAGB qualification (this is just the 1st level, there are other levels that can be obtained).

The scary thing was that despite this persons photographs being excellent and often winning or getting close to the top in internal club competitions, in the CPAGB judging they only just scraped enough marks to get a CPAGB award.

This made me realise the huge gulf between me and even the lowest level of professional photography.

Anyway I decided I needed to take a step back and have rethink and review of my photography. Was there anything I could do differently? How could I improve my level? Am I kidding myself about my ability?

I think in these situations it is also important to not let despondency get the better of you and actually get out and take some photos.

This is what I did.

And this was the result.

This was taken on the way to work, on a particular cold and frosty morning at a local windfarm. I must admit it has been heavily processed, by doing a HDR conversion on the ground, but the sky is pretty close to the original.

I am really happy with it, and seems to been reasonably received on 500px which is never a bad sign.

Anyway as a result, I feeling a little better about my photos. As the old adage says, if you fall of your bike, you need to get straight back on.

Friday, 23 January 2015

A wider viewpoint

Readers of this blog know that one of my targets in life is to do photography on a budget. So recently I did something very out of character and actually spent a considerable amount of money on a new lens.

Now we need to put this into context. To some a "considerable" amount of money is anything over £1000. The photo blogs are full of individuals who seem quite happy to buy the latest camera bodies plus the lenses to go with them, seemingly money being no object.  However for me anything over £100 seems a wasteful extravagance.

However recently I have been aware of gaps in my lens collection. Specifically at the low and high ends of the focal range. As I was perusing e-bay (always dangerous waters to travel), I noticed a Tamron SP AF 10-24 mm f/3.5-4.5 for sale. So I put a bid in, in the belief (hope) that I had no chance of winning.

I was therefore quite surprised when my bid was the highest.

So for the princely sum of £200 I find I had added a wide angle zoom to add to my lens collection. Now to me £200 seems a lot, but it is slightly mollified (so I to tell myself [and my wife]) that it is roughly half the price of what I would need to pay for it, if I bought it new.

Once I finally got my hands on it, I realized I hadn't got a clue what I was going to do with it. So as with all new toys I started playing with it.

The 1st surprise was how far everything seemed away. Being used to my superzoom 28-210, I had grown accustomed to framing everything using the lens. However you couldn't do that with this. In truth the difference between 10 and 24 mm is quite small, and you do wonder whether a 10mm prime would be just as useful, without the zoom complexity.

The next problem was the size if the  lens. Most of my filters are 62mm, This is 77mm and I found to my dismay I didn't even have a cokin adaptor ring for that size of lens and my filter stepper set stopped at one size to small. So now I am faced with the dilemma of whether to buy a set of 77mm filters.

In hindsight it would made more sense to buy all my filters at 77mm and fit them via an stepper adapter,  but that would of increased the cost. Alternatively I could of invested in a Cokin type system, but they are so bulky. In the end I got around the problem by attaching two plastic cokin type ND filters to the lens and camera through the use of two elastic band.

Anyway below are some examples of my first attempts with my new toy...

Wide Angles close up tend to distort features. However this is not always a bad thing and can produce some intetresting effects especially in portraiture 

A typical wide angle landscape shot. The main issue with a wide angle seems to be the need to have lead in lines. Fortunately the sun being behind me allowed shadows to fulfill that function including one of me

Close up of architecture can suffer from converging lines, and wide angles are especially susceptible to that. However it can also be used to create interesting surreal effects.  

Again some distortion, but the wide angle means I can get the whole church in

Again playing with distortion, the towers lend themselves to converging lines by emphasizing there size. This was taken with my jury rigged filter modification.

This is where wide-angles come into there own by allowing the camera to take in far more of a landscape.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The results are in....

As I mentioned here, recently we had the Tom Tivey competition for Natural History and Landscape at the Melbourne photographic society.

Most photographers at some point will have a go at landscape and/or natural history subjects. As a result the competition standard was very high, with some excellent photos on show.

Of course, as with any competition, one of the most important factors is the judge and last nights judge was excellent. Often judges only concentrate on the imperfections in the image, but this judge generally only provided positive comments and gave some good advice as he did so. I thought he made a potentially stressful evening, quite enjoyable.

Of course, as with any judge, you will have a difference of opinion in his choices, and I did not always agree with some of his marking. However the overall winner was definitely deserving of the main award.

In theory, judges should be unbiased and base their choice on the artistic and technical merit of the photo. There is a marking scheme that they should follow. But judges are human (in the most part :) ), and as swayed as much as anyone by there own experiences, and prejudices. One consequence is that they tend to concentrate on the technical aspects and avoid artistic merits (which are harder to judge). However as a result, I was aware that sometimes the judge and my own photo philosophy perhaps did not entirely mesh.

For example, when I take a photo of a wild animal, I think it is important that you put it in the context of it's natural environment. This judge however seemed less bothered by this.

So saying all that, how did my entries do, and what did I gain from the experience?

Well, if the  truth be told , I was a disappointed with my marks. My prints all got 16 each, which sounds like  good results, but were in fact a average mark(You are really looking for 17 and above). My DPI's scored 14, 15, 16 out of 20. Again this sounds good, but it was clear last night that the judge was only scoring between 14 and 20, so 14 was in fact a low score.

But was the judge right to mark as he did?

To decide I have gone back to some of the photos and changed them based on his comments. I have then compared them to see if the results are significantly improved.

Exhibit 1

This photo scored 15. The judges main issues was the white blob on the left side of the photo (actually on the big screen the green area in the bottom center caught my eye more).

However is biggest issue (and this was mentioned a number of times) was the lack of catch light in the Robin's eyes. He suggested adding a artificial catch light to lift up the eye and provide more of a focal point.

I must admit this is something I have done in the past (I would prefer that it was in there naturally, but animals are rarely that obliging). It sounds like a good idea and the effect can be good when done well.

However here is the issue. Doing it well is not that easy. You can not just add a blob of white on the eye. It has to look natural, and that means it has to be consistent with the lighting.

The easiest way of achieving this is to enhance a natural reflection in the eye. In the case of the Robin, there is one, but it is small and enhancing it actually does not make a huge amount of difference.

The other big change, apart from removing some of the more glaring artifacts, is that I have added a vignette to the photo. I am in two minds about this. OK, it helps concentrate the eye on the subject, but it also removes some of the natural element of the photo.

So do I think the advice improves the photo?

Well I give the advice a strong  8/10.

I think it does make it better, but in truth maybe it wasn't the best photo to enter in the 1st place

Exhibit 2

This one was originally given  16 marks.

His main complaint was that it would of been better with the subject and reflection central rather than further down.

He may be possibly right, but I really wanted to show the Avocet in it's natural surroundings and to do that I wanted as much space around as possible. This is one situation where a vignette probably degrades rather than enhances the image.

So 5/10

Exhibit 3

This one garnered 15, which I thought was under-marked. 

His suggestion was that it should be closely cropped and the bird moved to one of the thirds composition lines. 

I must admit I had my doubts, but after trying it, I think he was right and it make a more effective photo without removing the natural history element. 

So for this one 9/10

Exhibit 4

This one was given 14, which I think was severely under-marked. OK, I knew at the time that this was a risky entry, but it is one of the photo's which I feel the judge missed what I was trying to achieve.

It is titled "Murmration" and it is a picture of Starlings as they flock before roosting. Now the judges comment was that it would of been better if it had been the picture had been of the shapes of the Starling as they clump and move.

Here I disagree.

What I was trying to show was the speed and movement of the Starlings. Zooming out and showing them as dots, then they would just of been dots. (Maybe it would of been better if I had called it "flocking Starlings")

This way we can see them as Starlings. Now It could be argued that the powerlines distract from the image. My feeling is that it is marginal, and could even provide visual interest in the background. My only concession is that maybe cloning out the upper power line is a slight improvement.

Nor do I think that cropping closer, as suggested, helps in any meaningful way.

So here I have to give 2/10


In hindsight it is obvious that maybe some of the photos could of been improved by better cropping or more visual processing. Also I perhaps entered the wrong photo. Vignette is not a technique I greatly use, but perhaps I should think about more in the future.

On the other hand, sometimes you just have to believe in yourself and work to what you feel is right and hope the rest of the world catches up. Is that pompous? Maybe, but if we don't do this, we will just continue to trail others, rather than setting our own path.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Inspiration lost and found

A drop on a stick

It's funny sometimes how things happen.

I was out walking recently and complaining to my long suffering wife that I had run out of ideas and inspiration on what to photograph next. At the time I was feeling a bit annoyed with myself that I hadn't taken advantage of the early snow to take more photos.

I got home and started filling the bird feeders, when I realised that the garden was awash with frost laden plants. I grabbed my camera and tripod and spent a happy 40 minutes just snapping the frost on the foliage.

What this goes to show is that, inspiration leaves all of us at times, but it's not gone,  just hiding round the corner waiting to be rediscovered .

However I am well aware that I need to make full use of  my new found inspiration and need to start making some new photography plans for the year.

In other news...

On Thursday we have the Tom Tivey Natural History & Landscape competition at the Melbourne photographic club. This competition is sure to be a hard fought one, since most consider themselves good landscape and nature phtopgraphers

Unusually for me I have entered 6 photos, 3 prints, 3 DPI's. However as usual it has been difficult to choose the right 6 to enter, but I have decided to go with 2 safe ones and 1 risky one in each category.

I am pretty sure the risky will not score well, but part of me had to do it to remain pure to principles. Anyway I am sure it will be an interesting evening.


My risky print


My Risky DPI