Thursday, 6 April 2017

Judge and Jury for the day

Anyone who has ever had their photograph judged will know the feeling. of your eyes slowly rotating into your eye sockets as the judge chooses another photo with seemingly little artistic merit, while overlooking your photographic masterpiece. In the inevitable post-mortem at the pub later, the losers discuss the judges obvious lack of understanding of basic photography (while the winner obviously tries to make a case for the opposite)

Well, on Monday I had the opportunity to be a judge for a day as my prize for winning the previous weeks #Sharemondays competition.

So how did it go?

Firstly, I had not exactly been looking forward to it. It meant that a lot of strangers were relying on me to carry on the mantle of the competition. What if I made a cock up of it ? Would it mean I would be for ever castigated by other twitter photographers as the person who killed #Sharemondays?

On the Monday, I started watching as the entries rolled in. It is here that I hit my first issue. Twitter is in many ways a great platform, but for a application which is used by millions world wide it has its quirks.

One of these is its search capabilities.

I had assumed it would be quite easy to filteron the required hashtag within a certain date range, but when I went through advanced search and set the search criteria as the required hashtag and the date range as the day before Monday and the Monday of the competition, I got absolutely nothing. My response was "you have to be fecking kidding me"

It took me a while to find out it only seemed to work if the end date was missed off. Once that was worked out I could see the entries for that Monday. On Tuesday I made the conscious decision to stay off social media for the rest of the day. When i got home, I did the search again, and created a  twitter moments of all the entries.

Twitter moments is a nice way of creating a collection of tweets together. It also allows you to filter those tweets that have either been incorrectly tagged with #sharemondays or have attempted to hijack the feed.

I however quickly hit an issue. In moments, like the main twitter, you can filter the tweets  using a search criteria such as tag and date range. I used the same one I was using on the main twitter feed and it came up with a selection of images. Good I thought, this will easy. It was only when i started going through them I noticed some images from the main feed were missing. It was clear that the two search strings gave a different selection of images.

"You have to be double fecking kidding me" I thought.

I therefore I had to manually go through the twitter feed adding in entries the moments search had missed. Still by 6 O'Clock I had what I thought was the complete list and published the moment and went for dinner.

Except I hadn't.

Two people contacted me to say their's were missing and they were right. For reasons only known to Twitter, some images, although tagged correctly, did not show up. It makes you wonder how many entries from the other twitter competition feeds never get seen for the same reasons. Still to this day I cannot guarantee that I got them all. All I can say is that I tried my best. I did however have a dream a few days later in which total strangers accosted me in the street complaining I would not look at their photos.

Armed with the most complete list I could compile, I went about judging them.

I had thought quite a bit in the previous week about how to judge the images. Judging them on a purely technical level seemed pointless. The photographers would range from ability to beginner to pro. For some it would be like assessing a Picasso by looking at the brush strokes.  Anyway one of my bugbears with competition judges is their tendency to concentrate on the minutiae imperfections , but not the image as a whole, something I was determined not to do.

Instead I decided to use two criteria. Firstly did the image resonate with me? The image needed to to have some sort of connection at a quite instinctive level. Secondly, was it an image I wished I could of taken? I must admit that my judgement may of been colored by my own desire to push the boundaries of what I consider photography, so I was looking for the same criteria in others.

Maybe these are not the best criteria to judge photos and it would make the choice a very personal one, but it was the only way I felt I could do it.

The first task was to filter the 80 or so images down to a short list of 4. In truth I could of chosen double that number, and I tried to include a wide range of images and genre's in the final 4.

Then we had to choose the winner. In hindsight, this was easier than I made out, since the eventually winner had stood out from virtually the 1st time I saw it. However I had to go through the process to ensure that I was choosing the right image for the right reasons.

So did the correct the image win?

Well in one way yes, since it was only my decision to give and therefore it does not matter if people agree or disagree with it. Of course, one of the problems basing the decision on a instinctive like or dislike, is that another image may of made it on another day. In other words, at the end of the day judging will always be subjective and while its nice to win, not being chosen does not in anyway de-value your work. Its just one person out of 6 billion opinion.

Now its over, I have to say I quite enjoyed the process. I learnt a lot about assessing other photos and a little about how the criteria I use to assess my own images. Of course the big question is, now I have been a judge for a day, will that mean I will have more sympathy for people judging my own work?

Simple answer.....Nah.


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Twitter Mondays

One of the conundrums of being a amateur photography enthusiast is how do you promote your images to a wider world.

Obviously there are sites like flickr, 500px, instagram and youpic to name but 4, but they are a bit of a hit and miss affair. On any day your images will get subsumed by the outpourings from other photographers, making it difficult for your image to rise above the inevitable noise

Of course there is always Facebook. However unless you have a page dedicated to photography you're audience will largely be formed from your friends and relatives. While likes are always nice, they provide little in photography critique.

Somewhat better are the photo contest websites such as Photocrowd or DPReview's challenge pages. Here the problem is the lack of immediacy of feedback. It can take weeks to get any metric on how well your image has been received

I have however in recent months been using to twitter to show off my photos.

Now twitter has its issues, but it had the advantage  brevity and simplicity  and immediacy. It allows you to join a community of photographers from beginners to professionals.

There are also  a number of competition twitter feeds that you can send your images to. All you need to do is tag your post with specific hashtags. Every week one of the selected images are chosen for a shortlist and an overall winner. The advantage here is that feedback is quick and in some cases there are even prizes for the winning image. Best of all your photos are shared and  seen by the wider community of photographers following twitter.

Generally the photo are required to be entered on a Monday and the image must of been taken in the previous week which has a number of advantages and disadvantages for me.

Since most of my photography occurs at a weekend, it can be a challenge to take, process and filter photos by Monday. On the plus side it means any images do not sit on the hard drive for too long. Another bonus with these contests is that it pushes you to go out and provide images each week, so stopping you fall into apathy

I have been doing 3 specific competitions ones for a few months now with the hashtags


The contests attract a good number of very fine photographers and Wexmondays has a rolling leaderboard.

To be honest the fun has been taking part and I had little hope of getting anywhere in them. What was more gratifying was the compliments and likes from many photographers I admire.

That is till this Monday

This photo got not only shortlisted on Wexmondays, but actually won sharemondays (Unfortunately the prize for the latter is to judge the next Mondays entries, which is actually a quite terrifying prospect)

Here is the back story about the image

As I said weekends are generally the only time I can take regularly photos and almost all the weekends this year have been disappointing. However this time the Saturday forecasts promised early mists, so I decided to make a special effort to get out early and for once the forecast was accurate and the area was covered in mist, with just a hint of the sun trying to burn through.

The next problem was where to go. I had decided to head for some local woods lying on top of a hill in the hope of getting some misty tree shots. However by the time I arrived, the mist was already burning off, so I was forced to locate somewhere at a lower altitude where I hoped to take some images of the sun shining through the mist creating fingers through the trees, but there was nothing really happening, apart from a few daffodils caught against the mist.

I then noticed a patch of stagnant water in the woods.  I played around taking a few images of the trees reflections and as I did so I tried adjusting my polariser to increase the contrast.  As I did so, I noticed that the fallen leaves from last Autumn were slowly were appearing making it look like the leaves were on the reflected bare trees branches.

Hmmm, interesting

, I thought

I took a few more shots of this, decamped to some other locations such as the local river and the local power station, and went back home. To be honest at this point I was a little disappointed with my mornings work, feeling I had not made the best of the conditions.

However when I started flicking through them on the computer  the reflection one stood out as more interesting than the rest. I flipped the image and, cropped it and increased the saturation of the leaves.

On Monday I had to decide which images to put forward. I always find this difficult, but one thing I found is to go with instinct and not second guess yourself. Fortunately since it was late Monday I had little time for self doubts (I am one of these people who needs a hard deadline as a motivator).
In the end It came down to a choice of playing safe or trying something a little different so went with the latter (there is no reason why I could not choose 3 different images, one for each contest, but I had no time that night so the same image went to all three twitter feeds ).

I almost sent this one in....

I did not think anything of it until Tuesday afternoon when my phone started buzzing with the tweet responses and I had one of those double take moments as I realised one of the photos taken was mine.

With hindsight, In many ways I am pleased that I chose this photo because it reinforces a decision I made 6 months ago. I felt that my images were becoming too 'safe'. I had decided I wanted to improve both my wildlife and landscape skills, so started taking images that fitted both genres. While I had some limited success,  I was not really happy with the photographs I was taking. I felt in some way they were derivative and fake, trying to be someone I am not  In the end there is only one thing worse than people not liking your images, and that is if you do not like them yourself.

So I decided to stop trying to please other people, and start making images that I felt reflected me even if that meant I would have less in success in club photo competitions.  Ironically, these twitter contest successes has in someway justified my decision.

So the lesson here is becoming good at photography is more than just producing pleasant images ,but it is forming your style that that identifies and defines who you are as a photographer. These image may not always be appreciated, but they will always be yours.

In that I don't think I am alone as this great talk by Valda Bailey shows