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Les Peters: The Bird Man of Aldgate – 22-May-2014

Les Peters (photo Ray Goulter)

Les Peters at BPC on 22-May-2014 with part of his bird photography set up

On the 22nd May I had the pleasure of introducing Les Peters as guest speaker to the Blackwod Camera club.  Les is a keen bird photographer living not far from me in the Adelaide Hills.  I became aware of Les’s photography when he gave a similar talk to the Birds SA group some 18 months ago.  Speaking to him after this meeting, he encouraged me to step up from the small Panasonic I was using and buy a Nikon.  As it happens I did buy a Nikon and within weeks he was loaning me his Nikkor 300mm lens.  Les took me out to some of his haunts, Laratinga wetland and Browns road reserve.  I was fascinated by his depth of bird knowledge which is equally matched by his knack for photography.

His presentation was no less intriguing, saturated with his passion for bird photography.  He talked almost without interruption for 90 minutes and showed over 200 excellent bird photographs (a small selection is in the slide show below).   It is hard to comprehend the range and quality of the photos when they come so quickly and intensly.  Les however chatted away, keen to tell the story of each photo.  The birds, as Les describes them, have purpose and personality.  This youngsters learning to fly, this one is making a nest, this one hiding from the camera, this one thought I couldn’t see it.  Some of the birds were common, yet beautifully captured.  Others were uncommon or rare birds and would take great luck and skill to capture.

As he talked he described his techniques.  Sometimes he will stalk the bird with the camera in hand.  However his preferred technique is to sit and wait for the bird to acclimatise to his presence and photograph them as they relax and begin to behave more naturally.  He said it often takes around 20 minutes.  Les often uses a tripod and a flash with a “better beamer”.  Certainly these shots had much stronger detail than the ones he took by hand.  The sharpness and detail of his shots was breath taking. Occasionally he would enlarge a shot 3 or 4 times and I admit I could not see any less detail in the cropped image.  He also described how he photographed birds by remote control.

It was a packed house with over 40 in attendance.  Talking to various people after the meeting, Helen and Jo said they felt inspired, and were looking for an opportunity to hone their skills.  Jo was impressed by Les’s kit.  “That Gimbal head on the tripod is worth a heap.”  Ashley although admitting that Bird Photography was not his thing, learnt much from the evening, especially from the explanation of the techniques.  He was amazed that it only took 20 minutes to familiarise yourself to the birds.  Richard found useful Les’s advice to get to know the behaviour of the birds in order to take better photos of them.   Ray lamented that there were too many images that he wished he had taken.  “There is one common theme though.  The best images are taken closer to the subject. Even if you use a long telephoto lens a small bird is still a small bird and you can’t fill the frame even with a 1,000mm lens.”

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Les’ hints for success

  1. Know your birds
    You’ll be better able to predict where they might go and set yourself up in the right place.
    After watching them for a while, you’ll also be better able to able to follow them at the right distance.
  2. Know your camera
    Play with it until you know it well. You don’t want to be thinking about how to use it when you have only a fraction of a second in which to get your shot.
  3. Watch the quality of the light
    You may want to move around your subject to find the best angle for the light. Add flash at -1.7 stops if needed. Watch for any reaction.
  4. Choose a suitable camera height
    Being level with the bird’s eye often makes for the most engaging picture.
  5. Try to capture a clear catch light
    It adds a great deal of vitality to the image.
  6. Use a shutter speed that suits the action
  7. Remember to have fun

I’d like to thank Les for taking the time to share his remarkable hobby and passion with us.  In the car on the way home he agreed to lead an excursion to the Laratinga Wetlands later in the year.  I will speak to Graham and finalise details later.  I can personally say it is worth going out into the field with Les.

James Allan

Self portraits : 8-May-2014

Selfies – they are all the rage. Everyone has a camera in their pocket and the opportunities to record your own face in any number of settings abound. Kids, your neighbours, celebrities of every flavour, actors, wannabe stars, the family dog, unwanted politicians – you name them, the selfie is there to fill gigabytes of internet storage.

The problem is are they of any artistic merit? Can the self portrait be made creative and interesting again? BPC members gave it a whirl with some creative and amusing attempts.

Judge Suzanne Opitz came along to check out our work and dealt with the images quickly and effectively and gave out a lot of high marks in the process - although being a vignettaholic and cropaholic  :-D  (her words – not mine) did extend some of her critique of the 88 images on offer. Keep in mind that its difficult to judge a self portrait when you can see the subject in the room too. We certainly appreciated her candour and input, and I think a lot of club members went away with some new ideas and some good marks.

Pop over to the Top Digital and Top Print pages for the top images that were presented, along with a few Editor’s choices (I have to indulge myself sometimes).

Self Indulgence - Jenny Pedlar (Editor's Choice)Finally, I’ve put what I consider one of the most important, high impact images of the night in this blog entry. It demonstrates creativity, honesty and a sense of self we should all aspire too.
As Jenny said “I am happy for my portrait to go on the web page. If it helps anyone else to come to terms with breast cancer I will be very happy.”  That says it all doesn’t it?

 

Chris

Nature photography – an interview

James sent me this musing on Nature photography – with all due respect to Messrs Clarke and Dawe.

Good morning Clarke

Good morning Brian

I understand that you have been on holidays Clarke

Yes, Brian, I took holidays with my camera.  We went to Kakadu – my camera and I.  We photographed the wilderness.

So you went on a tour.

Well actually no.

But you were there.

You don’t understand Brian – there were no people there.  No it was just the swamps and the birds, and the crocodiles in a wilderness without people.

But you just said that you went there on holidays.

But that’s the point.  I wasn’t there.  See look at these photos, not a person in sight.  No cars, buses, tour guides, campgrounds or information signs.  Nothing. Zip.

But how did you take these pictures Clarke? You must have been there.

The camera doesn’t lie Brian.  It was just like it was a million years ago, before the flood.

Look at this photo Clarke, I can see your shadow.  You’re standing with your legs apart holding the camera up to your face.

Let me see that Brian.  No that’s a mistake, that shouldn’t be there.  That’s not meant to be there Brian.  We’ll just throw that one out.  Either that or I’ll go and work on it in Photoshop.  But you can see Brian from the other photos that it was a real wilderness, like the garden of Eden.  Not a single human being.

What about this bird Clarke?  It’s got a band on it’s leg.  Someone must have put that there.  Who put the band on the birds leg?

Oh no Brian I gave you the wrong version of that photo.  Look at this one.  You can clearly see that there is no band on the bird’s leg.  It’s remarkable for the complete absence of a band.

But it’s exactly the same bird Clarke.  It has it’s wing up in exactly the same pose with the same background.  Exactly the same.  You just made it look like it hasn’t got a band.

No Brian.  You obviously don’t know anything about nature photography do you.  There are often two versions of the same thing, like parallel universes.

But surely only one of those versions is true.  The other has been altered.

Yes Brian only one version is right.  See the bird without the band looks so much more right than the bird with the band.  This one with the band is rubbish, utter rubbish.  It’s not a nature photograph at all.  We’ll just throw it out.

But Clarke you can’t do that.  You are changing reality.  You’re making it look how you want it to look.  You are not taking photographs of the real thing.

No Brian.  These little things are important.  You have to get it right.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be natural.  After all this is nature photography.  Have you seen all of the rules? There’s a lot of rules.  I’m merely correcting the little mistakes.

Who made the mistakes Clarke?

Not me Brian, I fix the mistakes.

So who made the little mistakes Clarke?

I’ve been wondering that thing myself Brian.  I’m not 100% sure on this, but I read a quote from a photographer named Ansel Adams.  I think he said they are the mistakes made by God.

Important work Clarke.

Yes, Brian, vital.  Us photographers have an important job making corrections, tidying up the mess left by God.

So where are you going for your next holiday Clarke?

Thought we might go to the orient and see some villages untouched by modern civilisation.

Hopefully there won’t be any mistakes.

Bound to be Brian.  But you can trust me, I’m onto it.

It’s a good summary of the broader camera club view of any photography in many ways. I feel that Photoshop gets a bit too much attention and emphasis at competition nights etc. Less art and more perceived perfection according to their rules. Think about it!

Thanks for the contribution James

 

Shades of purple – 27-Mar-2014

Graham Brice - Mad! - Set (Projected)Another competition – and this time returning to a favourite theme – colours! We’ve had Yellow. We’ve had Red. This time Purple.

Our judge for the night, Peter Phillips, steadily and constructively worked through the 98 images. Despite his best efforts to pick the best of the night, he still managed to hand out nine top scores of 10.

If I may jump on my old hobby horse of judging, Peter’s effort is what photography clubs seek in judges – a balanced, constructive, positive experience where both new and old members can learn something. He firstly explained that the opinions he gave were his subjective view – and that if the photographer thought it was better than the mark he gave then they were also correct. Peter gave criticism when it was due, managing to give the appropriate level of feedback to both enlighten and entertain. The high scoring images were also given critique that explained how they scored the points. As a bonus, Peter finished in about 90 minutes – giving us time to discuss the images with each other. Thank you Peter – we truly appreciated your work.

The images were again of a high standard – with some interesting takes on The Colour Purple, including James Allen’s effort in showing the purple sheen in bird feathers, the details in many a purple flower, purple furniture and furnishings, people in purple, along with assorted purple fruits (Ray Goulter’s Pashing Fruit was a nice tongue in cheek image). The Open competition also produced some great images, including new member Howard Seaman’s Diptera – a great macro of a fly. Gloria Brumfield also ventured into competition and pulled off two 9′s and a 10 in the Album prints (they’re in our Top Prints page) – well done! It was also a pleasure to see Ashley Hoff return to competition with More Like a Hurricane.

So all in all, a good night of purple passions, with a fine sprinkling of ideas in both open and set subjects. Check out the Top Digital and Top Print pages to have a good look at our top scorers.

Keep it up – I can see we are going to go through a purple patch at BPC! Its going to be a fun year!

Chris ;)

The April 2013 CameraClips – revisiting the judging discussion

The latest edition of Camera Clips was sent out to club members today by James. Once again, a good selection of interesting articles from club members – well done James for putting together a collection of really useful articles on composition.

Two articles really caught my eye about that hoary old chestnut – photographic judging. Many of you know what I think about it, and to be fair, SAPF President Alberto Guirelli is working with the SAPF committee to change the culture. However, the following articles from James Allan and Mark Pedlar will make you think some more and refresh the discussion.

Learning a better way to Look at Photographs

Ascribing Merit – James Allan

I have learnt a lot from attending Photo club competitions.  There seems to be a set of rules that will help you to do well.  To name a few things, I have learned that:

  1. The Horizon should always be straight
  2. We should see the front of the person not their back, and preferably they should be looking at the camera to engage the viewer
  3. A moving subject should move from left to right and that
  4. There should be space in front in order for them to move into
  5. The subject should be offset onto the thirds
  6. You should not cut off the top of the persons head,  (or their feet)
  7. It should be sharp throughout
  8. You should not have burnt out highlights – and no bright spots on the edge of the picture
  9. You should not depict 2 or 4 subjects, in fact any even number – or any number over 10

These statements appear to be emphatic and should not be broken.  In fact I have been told that it is OK for me to alter my image with Photoshop if it means that I can eliminate one of these faults from my image.

NOTE: All images below are the copyright of the original author and only reproduced to demonstrate the authors points about judging

National Geographic Peoples Choice - ModelNow have a look at this monochrome portrait.  This picture was entered into an International Photo Competition with National Geographic magazine.   It has flat lighting with little modelling of the features.  The top of the head is chopped off.  The corners of the image have a harsh distracting vignette.  The model is looking level and straight into the lens without emotion or gesture.  She could have been instructed to look more appealing in this stark picture.  Technically it could have been done in a photo booth.  It won the people’s choice award.

This is what the judges wrote about this image.

This enigmatic shot is “timeless—it has a beautiful simplicity with no pretense,” says Monica Corcoran, senior photo producer at National Geographic Digital Media. “I keep looking at the portrait and wondering about this woman,” says freelance photojournalist Tyrone Turner. For National Geographic magazine senior photo editor Susan Welchman, “the ambiguous, mysterious style also frees the viewer from knowing when or what time period it was shot. Or is it a painting? All unknowns release the viewer from facts and encourage interpretation.”

National Geographic - Honorable Mention Beijing DogOr look at this photograph of a dog which was also entered into the same competition.  The dog is dead centre in this picture.  It is lost in the pattern of the façade and does not stand out at all.  There is a near perfect reflection of the scene which competes for the eye of the viewer.  One is confused as to whether to look up or look down.  Perhaps the photographer should have cropped either the scene or the reflection to reduce ambiguity and give a greater sense of balance or harmony.  In this case the picture was awarded an honourable mention.

This is what the judge had to say for the picture:

At Hok Tjing Bio, a Chinese Temple in Palembang South Sumatra, Indonesia, the photographer has framed the shot at a precise moment, with the reflection, and the position of the passing dog in the middle of the tiger pictorial on the temple’s wall.

Despite all that I have learned about breaking up symmetry, this  judge applauds the effort to portray and reinforce the symmetry of this image.

National Geographic - Honorable Mention - Cuban FireworksOr how about this picture of some Cuban kids letting off fireworks.  The horizon is not straight.  The characters are moving out of the frame of the picture without there being room for them to move into.  Two of the figures have been amputated by the frame of the picture.  The largest of the three figures is entirely blurred.  It however also received an honourable mention.

The caption reads, The picture was shot at San Juan de los Remedios, Cuba, during a local celebration called “Las Parrandas” in which the highlight is fireworks. Here children light the fireworks and escape.

National Geographic - Winner - Fair Ground CarouselLastly this image of a fair ground.  Again the horizon is crooked, the main subject, the carousel is entirely blurred.  There is a very bright highlight in the sun competing for attention with the subject.  This one however was the winner of this section of the competition.

And the Judges’ comments:

The transporting quality of this photo “conjures up childhood,” says National Geographic senior photo editor Elizabeth Krist. Adds freelance photojournalist Maggie Steber: “The photographer took something we have seen a lot and managed to frame it in a setting that is unexpected. It is very cinematic and creates a scene and an opening. What will happen next?”

What I have learned at photo club seems to be at odds with the way the National Geographic judges have been assessing their images.  What were the judges thinking of?  Haven’t they heard of the rules of composition?  Didn’t they attend a photo club?  What is going on?

There seems to be a difference in the way we are looking at the images.  My initial comments for each image are based on a set of empiric rules.  They have been told to me week after week as I attend the various competitions.  The National Geographic judges however allude to their emotional reactions to the image.   They seem unperturbed by the transgression of the rules, as long as the picture finds a resonance, or emotional quality.  As Mark Pedlar puts it – the image has impact.

I am reminded by Arthur Farmer, a life member of our club who loved to quote Ansell Adams – “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Perhaps we should not think of these photo club statements as emphatic rules, but as techniques of composition.  Let me give an analogy.   Although a polarising filter has a pleasing effect it is not mandatory that you should always use one in every photograph.  Sometimes the polariser can really look awful.

Likewise there is no rule that says that your horizon must always be straight.  In the 2 photographs above the uneven horizon creates a sense of movement and drama in the picture.  In each case a straight horizon would ruin the effect.  Conversely, the horizon is better straight when you intend a sense of balance or calm.

So how do the National Geographic judges ascribe merit if there are no rules?  This is perhaps the easiest and hardest part to grasp.  It seems they ascribe merit by their emotional response.  That seems arbitrary and subjective.  Not so.  The photographer has a vision they wish to convey.  The good images are more successful in swaying the opinion of the judge, better at showing that vision.   In fact the set of compositional rules is more arbitrary as it instantly dismisses quite a large number of images.  Images that may win International competitions, images that might thrill and excite us.

To sum up, I believe that we need to look at pictures differently.   We need a different set of spectacles.  It is not about adherence to a dozen rules or guiding principles.  I think that is an old prescription that served us well when we were starting to learn the ropes of photography.  Now it is time to take off that pair of glasses and look for that inner response that the image creates.  What is the photographer’s vision and did they convey it well?  We need to relook at the pictures with a better prescription, and I think we will begin to see things that we didn’t see before.  I believe we will find more enjoyment in our photography.

James Allan

James top tips for creative composition

Don’t show the whole thing.
Leave the picture unfinished – let the viewer complete the story (in their head)

Isolate the essence.
Why did you like the scene? What is the essence? Isolate it. Leave out the rest – just photograph the key ingredient.

Don’t over indulge the subject.
Think of the subject/object as a spoilt child. Concentrate on the pattern, the colour, the texture, the subject will make its own way into the picture (don’t be obvious – be subtle)

Look for movement.
Movement engages. Freeze it or blur it – it doesn’t matter. Curves and diagonals create movement. Crooked horizons. The centre is balance, the edge is movement. Look for movement in the picture.

Do it again
Do it different. Nothing wrong with going back over old territory. Often the second time is better. (Don’t try to be better – just try to be different)

Follow the light.
It can transform the subject. Photograph where it shines, where it leads y our eye, where it casts a shadow. Keep walking around until the light lets you in.

Don’t over think.
The concept is usually wrong. Take what you see, not what you want to see.

Work with space.
What does this object need? A town house needs to be cramped. A manor house needs an estate around it. Try it different ways. The Japanese also look at the space between objects. Should objects be separate, should they touch or even overlap?

Do the unexpected.
It’s always better.

Mimicry is king.
Look at photos you like. Watch what others do. Suppress your instincts and do it their way . (It will never be their picture if you take it).

Don’t wait for perfection.
Take the shot anyway. Learn to tolerate blemishes. Mistakes can be miracles and save us from conformity.

Look for lines
Lines will connect objects and make them interact. There are real lines (eg fences) and  interrupted lines (eg a row of soldiers) and imaginary lines (eg gaze of a person or direction of a car). Parallel lines are balanced, curved lines create movement and are dynamic, converging lines give depth, while crossed lines clash and create conflict. All are good.

10 Common Criticisms at Photoclub competitions

  1. The Horizon should always be straight
  2. We should see the front of the person not their back, and preferably they should be looking at the camera to engage the viewer
  3. A moving subject should move from left to right and that
  4. There should be space in front in order for them to move into
  5. The subject should be offset onto the thirds
  6. You should not cut off the top of the persons head, (nor their feet)
  7. It should be sharp throughout
  8. You should not have burnt out highlights – and no bright spots on the edge of the picture.
  9. You should not depict 2 or 4 subjects, in fact any even number – or any number over 10
  10. Symmetry does not make a good photograph. Try and unbalance or disrupt Symmetry (for instance reflections

A JUDGE’S PERSPECTIVE – Mark Pedlar

Over a quarter of a century as a camera club member in Adelaide I’ve had most of James’ ten points levelled at my images. The thing is that they all contain grains of truth. They simply aren’t and should never be used as rules.

Our word horizontal, meaning flat, takes its name from the horizon which we all assume to be level. If you are shooting traditional representative seascape you will probably have the greatest impact on your viewers if the horizon is flat. In James’ carousel image the tilted horizon adds to the impact. It is often the case that we find images with a subject offset from the centre more pleasing than those where the subject is dead central. We don’t need to go through all ten; the point is that all can be guides to beginners in photography when they are designing their images. Similarly, the ‘rules’ of composition are guides. You don’t necessarily need an ‘S’ shaped composition, or a triangular one. Diagonals can be pleasing. The point again is that these are guides.

I have talked at several camera clubs about IMPACT in images. In this I’ve used some of the images from Henri Cartier–Bresson world acclaimed as an outstanding photographer. In these many of the human subjects have limbs or parts of limbs amputated by the frame. Yet these are lauded as photographic high art. So the rules don’t always apply.

You should never be hide-bound by the rules but it helps to know the tips at the outset.

So, why do so many judges appear to place such importance on rules?

Tonight I’ll stand in front of 20 – 40 photographers in a suburban club and judge 100-120 of their images. I’ll judge each of the images out of 10 for their artistic merit. This merit will be a combination of MY OPINION of the composition, technical merit, subject material, lighting viewer impact etc. I shall also give a brief critique of each image. For those lower scoring images the objective is to provide a few tips for demonstrating greater artistic merit next time.

At this stage many judges tend to need to justify the score they are about to give. I am about to score 4 out of 10. The author deserves some reason why their image scored so low. It is easy then to fall back on James’ 10 points to show what was missing in that image. That sounds like a cop-out, it isn’t but it can happen.

The National Geographic judges were not required to give each author both a score and a critique of their image along with a similar critique of all the other entries. However, they did pick the best even though these broke the so called rules.

I believe the very system of club judging can mitigate in favour of the tendency to fall back on a formula. As a result club members become acclimatised to presenting images which follow the rules. Further, since judges are drawn in large part from long term club members they can bring with them the culture of these ‘rules’.

Look at the images produced by Uni SA undergraduate. They bear little resemblance to those seen in club competition. Many are far more adventurous.

More significantly, several club members took part in a 31 day challenge over the Christmas break. Some of these images were shown at the club’s first meeting of this year. Many were stunning! Several showed originality, excitement and adventure which doesn’t seem to re-surface in club competitions. We have a wealth of unobserved talent out there. Why is it we do not see some of these images in regular club competitions?

So, take photos for yourself not for a judge.

Keep the ten tips in the back of your mind, they can be helpful.
Whatever the judge says, theirs is only one person’s opinion.
Show the club your best work.

Mark Pedlar

There you have it – a very effective discussion about the difficulties of shooting for yourself and what the rest of the real world is doing.

As for those rules, to paraphrase a famous pirate movie – “the judges rules is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”.

So go out, take photos, enjoy your passion, but don’t be limited by the amateur photography world and their judges.

Chris ;)

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