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.

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