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BPC presents – Chris Oaten : Live Music Photographer – 22-Oct-2015

Last week BPC had the honour to listen to Chris Oaten speak to us about live music photography. Accompanied by his wife Melody (who provided the background commentary), we had a very entertaining evening that inspired a few of us to take up our camera at a live gig or two.

Chris is a media professional with over 20 years in the industry. Starting from a base of journalism (reporter, writer, sub-editor) he has followed his passion of photography to become a full time professional photographer, is a member of the AIPP and in his spare time photographs live music (I’m sure he does other things in his spare time!). He has extended his knowledge with a TAFE course in photography and is now doing a Bachelor of Visual Communications at UniSA. The night he spoke to us he was due to go to 2am shoot at a construction project. That’s a pro.

Chris Oaten at BPC - by Ashley Hoff

Chris Oaten at BPC (Ashley Hoff)

His range of professional work encompasses architecture, sport, travel, humans, commercial and time lapse images. He specialises in time lapse images around our fair city. To view the breadth of his work visit his website.

But as I said, in his spare time he likes to shoot live music with his trusty Canon 5D Mark III and some fast lenses (his range of lenses includes 24mm, 50mm, 70-200mm, 8-15mm, 16-35mm, tilt and shift 17, some Sigma Art lenses – you get the idea – but not all are used at music events). He does the music photography for professional development – not to make a living – which is near impossible these days. You can see some of Chris’s music photography on the Adelaide Music Photography web site he showcases his collaboration with Max Moore.

I’ve watched Chris in action around live music gigs – and to me it seems effortless and unobtrusive. In reality, there is more to it – and what follows is Chris’s take on how to shoot live music.

Chris started by giving a taste of the problems in photographing live music in pubs and has to deal with poor lighting (professional performers often have far better lighting and make the job easy – we were shown some images from a Tina Arena concert), crowded venues etc.

So here are the problems Chris sees – and his solutions:

  • Don’t share boring photos!
    • You aren’t doing any favours for anyone. So edit what you share ruthlessly and be prepared for harsh criticism.
    • Remember, that your photos don’t have the music that goes with them, so they must stand on their own.
    • That means they need to be in focus and they need have the action associated with the photo – singers need to be singing, musicians need to be playing their instruments.
  • Don’t use on camera flash
    • It is needed sometimes, but very rarely
  • Don’t use high ISO where possible
    • Cheaper cameras can’t do it well, it pushes inaccurate focus
    • Hiding noise results in a compromise (over smoothing looks like plastic!). But there are ways to overcome this issue
  • Understand your subject
    • Good sports photographers often play the game, great nature photographers understand the animal and their behavior etc.
    • So in the case of music, understand the dynamics of what is happening on the stage and apply it to the action.
  • Not shooting enough frames
    • Don’t use spray & pray – that high burst mode – as it will often waste time (eg as the buffer clears) and wear out the shutter sooner. Single shots are better.
    • Remember that most of what is happening is out of your control
    • To get the shots you need to be an aggressive shooter. What is that? Someone who moves around and makes the shot rather than someone who walks up timidly to the same spot, takes a few shots and walks away. Music photographers need to move around and capture the action, be involved, engage with the artists

So what is Chris’s style? Get in close, use the lighting to your advantage and use selective (ie shallow DOF) focus, often manually.

So what are his solutions?

How not to be boring

Live music is action photography. Instruments are being used. So get profile shots, stick with the subject as the action unfolds.

Bad lighting can be your best friend – it makes you work harder. There is no such thing as bad light – only bad photographers. Chris showed several example of this with the band Lucky 7 at a gig where there was one light behind the artists. Instead of abandoning the shoot, he used the light to create profiles and silhouettes. Think of old horror movies and how they were lit – the images had great power and atmosphere. Do the same.

On the other hand, daylight music festival are a breeze – but you still need to work hard.

Steve Mitchell - by Chris Oaten

Steve Mitchell – by Chris Oaten

Change your position and angle of view. Use the stage equipment to help frame shots. Remember, the photo is telling a story so use the elements of that story. Chris showed us an example at the Semaphore music festival – which unfortunately for the organisers was held on a AFL Finals weekend. The crowd was a bit sparse, but by moving around the stage he was able to make it look busy (using the out of focus background and more crowd), show interesting on lookers, the artists in action from in front, behind and to the side as well eye contact with the artist to lend intimacy to the image.

He quoted photographer Berenice Abbott “photography helps people see” and illustrated this with some great shots:

  • a young boy at his fathers gig enjoying the music whilst sitting on the floor
  • The interaction of musicians on stage when not playing
  • People dancing to the music (and those disconnected from the action) – the burlesque dancer picture
  • Interesting people and characters
  • Portraits of musicians that they actually like

It’s important to remember that good photographs are enhanced with details – they add depth. That means when taking photographs be observant. Some of the examples acutely demonstrate this:

  • Steve Mitchell - by Chris Oaten

    Steve Mitchell – by Chris Oaten

    Steve Mitchell from the rockabilly band The Satellites has hair that starts out controlled, but very soon is part of the act

  • A musicians special moment – like Belinda Hartman –  from The Satellites singing
  • the musicians style of playing – like a trombone players blowing their cheeks (or giving cheeky looks) or guitarists with special (eg car seat belt) guitar straps
  • Use
    • compositional elements
    • portrait shots of the performers
    • (our tired old friend) the intersection of thirds
    • selective focus
    • the Golden Spiral – where a photograph spiraled in to one person in focus around the instruments and equipment on stage
    • close up features of the instruments or instruments being played (trombone players, guitarists – but drummers are difficult!)

The trick here is to apply what you learn – don’t just be a technician. As Chris said, don’t just be a wood pusher in a chess game (ie know the moves but don’t develop new strategies). In photography, pixels are free, so don’t be a shutter pusher.

How to use on camera flash

Flash does have a role in anti-establishment genres such as Punk and Ska. It is harsh lighting, but can work in such genres. However, at other times it rarely works well.

It’s often better to have off camera flash – and even combine flashes. Chris illustrated this with an image of lighting reflected from a white wall behind the performers onto which the flash fell – much more depth than a straight flash onto the performers.

If you must use flash, use a an orange or yellow gel to warm it (flash can look very cold) – don’t use green or blue. You need to be sympathetic to the available light too – don’t overwhelm the stage lights.

And use the lights to go for drama – like silhouettes or use the light to make more reflections – such as brass instruments.

How to handle high ISO

You’ll need to do some testing of your own camera gear and work out it’s noise signature. What is acceptable and what you can tolerate. Chris rarely goes above 3200 on his Canon 5D Mark III.

Here are the steps:

  • Place your camera on a tripod in a lounge room and shoot some still life. An 18% grey card may be helpful too
  • Shoot images at each ISO from 800 to your camera’s maximum
  • Evaluate the resultant images and determine what is acceptable to you

If you are using high ISO, make sure you have fast lenses – f1.8, f2.8 etc – like his 70-200 f2.8

One simple solution is to purchase a 50mm f1.8 lens second hand – there are plenty about (I confess to having a nifty 50 f1.4 myself) – that will give you a lens that is fast and flexible.

ISO changes are needed depending on the speed of your subject – a Bob Dylan is ok with slow ISO, but Mick Jagger needs higher ISO and shutter speeds.

Now the tricky bit – professional events have good lighting – pubs have cheap lighting. Usually LEDs and that is hard to work with. So work with the light – use blur, have long exposures to add a dynamic element.

How to work with your subject

When photographing live music you need to know what is going on – understand the dynamics of the performance.

You first need to understand the genre. Once you’ve got that, then think about the parts of the performance.

There are verses and choruses. So you’ll have a group in a chorus, but the main performer in the verse, or a solo instrumental. Knowing how performers work and when they are likely to do something can help.

For example Steve from the Satellites (who is a double bass player) often has a big finale – time your shots for events like that. Lucky 7 have a horn section who will play together – use that.

Drummers are often left out of shots, but they do some interesting things (Chris has got know a couple and now interacts with them whilst shooting). Pick the player most likely to give you a performance.

But always be respectful of the performer. Don’t embarrass them.

How to shoot more frames

You need to commit yourself to chase the right frame and for fast action.

Most performances are 2 hours – which is 7200 seconds. After most shows Chris has about 1000 shots in the camera. That’s about 1 shot every 7 seconds. But not every shot is a winner – and some shoots the band might be having a bad night, so getting good shots is difficult.

Many bands will be slow to start (or nervous) – so don’t shoot song 1 – wait for song 2 or 3. Be patient.

Final words and where to start

Chris never shoots with any supports like a monopod – all hand held. That is part of being respectful of the audience. They are there to hear the band or dance or both. So don’t get in their way.

Some gigs require a media pass – if the band is signed to a label or it is a major event like WOMAD (who are very restrictive). The Roller Derby in Adelaide has photographers sign their rights away. In some cases your copyright may be lost – but that is another major discussion!

Venues such as The Gov are accepting of photographers if it is a local band. However, to be safe, contact the venue or the band. Many local bands don’t mind – and if you share the images they might even get you back.

And remember a big camera can be seen as problem by some venues – even if you are an amateur.

So there you have it – a great night, lots of useful information and a really entertaining evening – finished off with cake, cups of hot beverage and lots of chat. Many thanks to Chris and Melody for sharing their experience – we hope to have Chris back as some stage to share his other photographic skills with us.


Chris :)

Art – the dilemma of the photographer

The perennial dilemma of the modern photographer – should I photograph that bit of art I admire?

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We are faced with this daily – from photographing sculpture, architecture, industrial design or paintings to painting someones photograph (now that’s one you hadn’t thought of!) or sculpture or industrial design or architecture.

There are also potential copyright issues. The simplest way to look at the problem is to consider if it is a derivative work and you’ve added something to it. So a photo of a sculpture needs to add something to it – a person examining it, some interesting light that makes it unique, the interaction of place, time and light. How about a photo of a hood ornament on a car? A teacup? Someone else’s photo of a tea cup?

Some places & countries even go to extremes and forbid commercial (and probably amateur) photography of buildings, panoramas etc without permission. A debate raged earlier this year as Europe tried to standardise the copyright of Freedom of Panorama (see this DP review article). Have a look at the Wikipedia page link above to see where you can take pictures safely. The conclusion was a defeat of the proposal – you can keep taking photos of the buildings of Europe (sort of).

But if you change or interpret the original, you are deriving something new. And that I think is the crux of the argument.

There are many discussion on the web about the topic (the World Intellectual Property Organisation – a part of the UN – has an interesting article applicable to photographers; the Creative Commons licence system;  the US governments Copyright office definition of derivative work or the American Society of Media Photographers discussion) and we are adding to that in the latest Camera Clips, where the opinions of camera club judges, photographers and legal experts have been canvassed.

Have a read and form your own opinion.


Chris :)

El Presidente’s musings – October 2015

Right – so you wanted the web page to be updated regularly! I heard you. So to try and add some life to this site, I’m going to have a little article at the start of each month with most of the content (I’ll edit out the the routine stuff that doesn’t need to be repeated) from my El Presidente’s Musings emails from the last month.


Well after the AGM, it’s time to get down to the serious business of enjoying our photography some more!

So first up, some house keeping:

  • Peer Review – in the almost standard format. Bring your prints, bring your digitals. Remember, this is for constructive discussion, so don’t be afraid to share even if you’ve never shown something before.
  • The Annual Exhibition is coming up. We’d love to have your images displayed. Don’t be shy – show us your best. This is judged by a panel off site, so you’ll get a score and maybe an award. I’ve attached the form. Here are few details
    • images will be judged on 7-Nov-2015 (in private) for the results to be displayed on 19-Nov-2015 
      A reminder of the rules etc:

      • Each member is allowed 3 entries per section in the Annual Exhibition – and entry forms must be handed in by 22-Oct-2015 or emailed to the BPC secretary email address – by 28-Oct-2015 (so that we can be organised for the judging of the exhibition on November 7).  This is for ALL entry nominations.  The print entry email address is NOT BEING USED for the annual.
      • The Entry Form is attached to this email, or can be obtained from the website, via the Forms page
      • Prints/slides must be delivered for judging by 5-Nov-2015 (the night of the final Peer Review of the year)
      • Digital entries must be emailed to the account by midnight on 4-Nov-2015 – entries sent to any other account will not be considered. You have been warned!
      • Entries are open to financial members of the Blackwood Photographic Club.  Entries must not have been entered/displayed in any previous Blackwood Photographic Club Annual.
    • We also have the Australiana Landscape Trophy
      • only 3 Digital Images section entries are allowed in the Blackwood Photographic Club Annual Exhibition
      • One of the the 3 images entered in the Digital Images section may be nominated for the WEA APC Australiana Landscape Trophy and should be identified as such on the nomination form
      • The image must meet the following definition: 
        • Objects and/or people that are part of the Australian rural landscape and tell a story about that landscape may be included. The image need not conform to traditional landscape images and could highlight a significant natural feature in the landscape such as a cliff face, gum tree, mountain side, riverbed etc. Close ups of a feature against a plain background are not acceptable
        • Eligibility for acceptance is to be adjudicated by the Digital Images Entry Secretary based on the definition
        • Normal judging will occur of all images in the Digital Images section
        • The highest score for the images entered in the Australiana Landscape Trophy will be awarded the trophy
        • In the event that 2 or more images achieve the highest score, the judges will be required to choose the best of the images achieving the highest score
    • A reminder to everyone to return the trophies/plaques you may have won from last year so they can be engraved as soon as possible after the Annual Exhibition Judging – by 23-Oct-2015 please
  • The Bill Templar Award nominations are also required by 28-Oct-2015 (sent to or 23-Oct-2015 (in person to the committee). The winner will be announced at the Annual Awards night.
    A reminder about the Bill Templar Award:

    • This award is for the Most Outstanding Contributor to the club as voted by the members – so think about who you think deserves it.
    • Voting (if required) will be conducted (by email or notes to a committee member) and will close on 7-Nov-2015 (the night of the Annual Exhibition judging)

I also thought a rough summary of the discussions raised at the AGM might be in order too. So here are a few thought bubbles (not in priority order and probably not complete):

  • The discussion forum idea has a lot of merit – it would be good to ask questions and get some help when needed. Flickr has limitations, but is pretty open – but it’s not the perfect vehicle. A closed Face Book page makes sense too. That could be used to gather opinion as well. We’ll need someone needed to moderate it though.
    I think the committee should have a discussion but if you have any ideas please pass them on. And let’s not make the moderator one of the regulars – if you’re interested please let us know.
  • Outings and email lists – the Face Book page could work. Julie informed me after the AGM that Kerry and Graham have started working on the week day outings process.
    In the spirit of all our other email accounts (Secretary, President, Print & Digital entries), we should probably set up a BPCoutings@gmail account. The outings coordinators can then send out emails to all as a BCC (as we do now)
  • Member details etc. We maintain a spread sheet, but regularly run into the problem of incorrect emails. We’ll be making a serious attempt to update this as we need to have it current, and then ensure that emails (as the main form of communication) are current.
  • The issue of copyright and intellectual property is important. Thanks to Ashley for discussing it and giving some perspective to those present.
    It is fairly easy to capture images from a screen – if you can see it you can get it. We will persist in only loading images that are no more than 1024 x 768 and 72 DPI. However it needs some education for all and we’ll prepare some guidelines indicating how to both protect and share images.
  • Competition definitions – is going to be hard work. We’ll try to improve that for both clarity and to reduce ambiguity. We need to have the ideas and their descriptions BEFORE we set the programme and get the judge coordinator to guide us. In the meantime, please send us any idea you have – and make sure the definitions are tight.
  • The novice section needs a bit of thought. I like the yellow dot that Alberto & I mentioned – and the digital Novice section. Historically, the Album prints were the novice section, but digital is perhaps an easier way to enter.
    But who is a novice? How many times you’ve entered? How many points you’ve accrued? How long you’ve been a member is a bit simplistic.
    Perhaps a combination – not experienced elsewhere, a number of entries AND scores achieved to work out an average score. When a threshold is reached (it could be several) you are out of Novice and into main stream. It does need a sunset clause – you can’t stay novice for ever.
    So 2 years max or an average score > 7.5 or 50 entries? Or some combination of all?
    However, the yellow dot (unlike the novice digitals) probably shouldn’t mean easier scoring – but it should mean more constructive comments from the judges.
    If you have any thoughts about a novice section please let us know
  • Web page – yes it is a bit stale at times. Are there any volunteers to do write ups? We might tap you on the shoulder and as for a few paragraphs and post them. We will request write ups from someone before the meeting so they are primed.
    If someone has a burning desire to be an editor please let the committee know.
  • Peer review – has been evolving but needs some more work. The impression I get is  everyone likes it. The idea of photo essays seemed to work well, and we have also considered an essays on photographers that inspire you. I think the round tables have worked well too. So we’ll mix it up a little more and see if we can evolve it further.
  • New & younger members – we need to find a way to appeal to them. What do you think? How can attract new members and freshen our thinking? Our club has a proud history of being different – and new ideas help that. But new ideas are often brought in from outside.

We’ll send out the complete minutes to you soon – while the AGM is relatively fresh in your mind.

Finally, here are a couple of web pages I’ve been looking at lately with some interesting thoughts:


What a gloriously sunny and warm weekend! That should shake off the winter blues!

I hope those that went on the club outing to Mannum Falls had a good time – I was doing some work around the house that’s been waiting for sunshine! I’ve already seen a few images on the Flickr group – more to come please! Bruce has posted a piece on Camera Clips webpage……

We certainly had an interesting critique night last week. I was really pleased to see so many interesting images. At least 90% of the images displayed were competition level – and the rest just needed some tweaks (in my opinion – see the web links below)! Well done – hope to see them in the Annual (if not before).

So on to general business

  • On 22-Oct we have a guest speaker – Chris Oaten – who will talk about photographing live music. I’ve seen the outline of Chris’ talk and it looks like we are in for a treat. Remember to bring a plate to share.
  • Kerry has sent me an email about the Festival of Architecture and Design (see which runs from 8-Oct-2015 to 13-Oct-2015. There are lots of free events (and some you’ll pay for like a tour of the infamous Z ward). Check out the web page and the program (see to see what is covered.
  • On the topic of outings, if you have any suggestions for outings, please let me know and I’ll forward them to Graham, Kerry or James (we’ll be setting up the BPCoutings account shortly – I’ll let you know when its up and running)

Finally, some more interesting articles to read:

And two that shows the variety of image capture and perception:


Well I hope you’ve had a great long weekend! Been a tad warm. I’m sure we’ll see lots of images from the long weekend, including the Flinder’s Ranges outing soon.

Unfortunately, I missed a lot of the weekend – had to work both in the office and interstate :(

But I did get a few shots in from the Oz Asia Festival (my wife and I were part of the mega crowd) and had some fun in China Town in Melbourne last night (had to work in Melbourne today….). Once again, I’ve been inspired by night shoots which show a different side to the cities you know. Hopefully the outings masters will organise a night shoot whilst the weather is warm and give you all a chance to play in this wonderland of light and shadow.

So on to the routine stuff:

  • This week is the Shadows competition (not the band from the 60s!). The digital entries have closed but you can still enter prints by sending the subject and the titles to by 7pm Tuesday night
  • Don’t forget the Annual Exhibition and Bill Templar award – we already have an Annual entry form from one enthusiastic member
  • Next meeting (22-Oct) is our guest speaker Chris Oaten – all about live music photography!

And now to a some interesting web links again – this time about 2 different photographers – one current and one regarded as a father of photography as art.

I like to listen to podcasts when travelling on planes (the in flight entertainment is pretty average!) and rather like Ted Forbes The Art of Photography

Ted has some interesting conversations and the two that have taken my fancy this weekend have been on street photographer John Free (visit his website for lots of images and idea) and another on Ansel Adams  (you can also view some images of Adams work on the site).

Most of you know my opinion regarding photography as more than just a picture that some judge likes and these two podcasts reinforce that. John Free tells stories with his street photography with (as he puts it) trying to (and I’ll paraphrase it) generate an emotion from your photograph and not just a print, whilst Ansel Adams escaped the pictorialist view of early photography clubs and created art with his landscapes. In both cases, photography has moved beyond the purely technical – although the technical needs to be understood to achieve their outcomes – and on to a higher plane. Something we should all aspire too. Have a look and tell me what you think.

Chris ;)

Judging – the first time!

The first judging at a photography club! Scary!

Alberto called me on Monday of last week – could I fill in at the last minute for a club south of Adelaide? According to Alberto, a bit of a trip, but they were a friendly crowd, a bit like our little happy troop. So on Friday, Alberto and I trekked down the Victor Harbor Road on a wet foggy night to South Coast Camera Club.

On the way we discussed (amongst other things) judging and how to be consistent. I’d re-read my judging school notes over the last few days, and thought about what I was trying to give back. There was lots to think about, and I didn’t want to be the type of judge I had complained about.

Camo Frog – Brad Hodge – South Coast Camera Club

On the night, about 40 people were present, and about 100 images ready to be judged! Now I was scared – I’d been told there would be about 50 images! They must have heard there was a gringo judge coming down! Competition Secretary Brad Hodge, President Andy Mitchell, Vice President Mike Gillies and Club Secretary Wendy Hodge greeted me and led me through the procedures and informed me about the 100 images. The gringo judge was ready!

Brad and Mike presented the images and to be honest, the image quality was very good – similar to our little group. I had spent 10-15 minutes looking at the images before judging started to find what I felt were the top ones – judge between what is there on the night as Keith Seidel kept telling us at judging school.

The set subject was Macro – something I feel I do well. However, Brad led with Open Colour – so it took me a while to get into my rhythm. When we did get to the Macro prints, I’d already judged 40 images and I’d done my homework and felt better about this set. Moving on to set mono prints was a doddle in comparison – just a handful of images there. Digital was harder as they weren’t divided into set or open, and choosing the best after 1 pass is no fun at all. That’s one reason I always give the judge at least 5 seconds to look at an image (time me next competition). All the time, I tried to keep it light and put in the odd one liner or joke. President Andy scored a few references from me (he started it when this horse image was shown at the start!).

Whatya Doing? Laura Wright – South Coast Camera Club

It’s amazing how you need to find the faults to tease out the scores. Yes – I dropped marks for poor focus, softness in the wrong place, composition that broke up what could have been a good image, not being close enough (Robert Capa strikes again!) and distraction (aargh – highlights!). I also docked marks for confusing or difficult images. Was that wrong? It is difficult to be consistent when there is such a broad spectrum of images. I did offer them the chance to beat me up after – in an orderly queue. To help novices, SCCC give the judge a little hint as to who is a novice – as a cue to increase the feedback – with a little yellow tag. And to be fair, a lot of the novice images were actually very good – and scored well.

Summer Snails – Janet Harbottle – South Coast Camera Club

Some images just didn’t click with me, and finding the right words is very difficult when you want to be constructive. However, in the end, I felt I had done my best, and no lynch mob lined up outside to give me rough justice in return.

Like our club, there were more colour prints than mono. There were fewer macro images than I expected, but I gave it my best shot. Some weren’t quite macro, but Brad requested I be flexible.

I did change my score once or twice (bad boy!) and dropped the dreaded “step to the left” comment once (it really did need it – but I qualified it by prefacing it with “many judges would say”). Nerves were part of it – but then again I can talk my way out of most things given time, and I felt I did get more consistent. Alberto coached me from the sidelines between sections (a bit like a footy match) and gave me the thumbs up when I got things right, and a subtle shake of the head when I didn’t.

My spread of marks was probably a bit high to start with (why so many 8s?) but I did settle down. I don’t think I handed out a 5, but a few images scored only 6.

SCCC finish each section by getting the judge to choose the Honour (one of them – thank goodness I handed out only one 10 in each) and Merit images (3 – I handed out too many 9s)  and at the end of the night the image of the night from the top 4. Talk about putting me on the spot again!

Fortunately, when all was done and dusted, I felt I’d given out top scores to the best images, and given some reasonable and constructive feedback. And exhaustion was setting in. Remarkably, 90 minutes of judging flew by.

The night finished with some supper – a short talk from me on macro stacking, and the usual thank you’s etc. The stacking talk resulted in an invitation to come back for a workshop. I hope I’ve made some new friends at SCCC!

On the trip home I had my debrief with Alberto. Pretty good for a first time and I gave the top scores to what he would have. A few things though – don’t change the score, try and keep the constructive comments up as much as possible – particularly with the really difficult images, don’t refer to other images with faults as an example of why an image worked. Ok – I need more practice.

I dropped Alberto at his house at about 11:45pm – and got home at about 12:15am. I couldn’t get to sleep. Had I given the images the justice they deserved? Did I offend any one? I hope not. I had probably dropped a couple of clangers and as I said, tell me what you are trying to achieve.

Overall, I was reasonably comfortable with my first effort – not perfect, but not disastrous. I’ve learnt a few things and appreciate the effort good judges put in more. I promise to try harder for more consistency and constructive comment. I need to make sure that even the most difficult image gets given a positive comment. If I don’t – let me know!

Chris :)

Judging – fighting the battle from within the parapets!

This little web page has been a source of much discussion – heated and rational – about the judging standards in photographic clubs. We aren’t the only ones, but in our little corner of the world we were a squeaky wheel.

Our web page and the articles (in March 2011 and April 2014) about judging have been used as ammunition in a battle both in South Australia and South America (I kid you not). There are probably others (drop us a line if you did). I’m sure many people have read our blog and nodded or shaken their heads. Felt our pain. Shared in the angst of inadequate judging.

The discussion began due to the frustration many of us felt about the quality of photographic club judges. They seemed mired in the past. The technical aspects were the only thing examined. Trends in modern photography ignored. Were we pursuing art or were we aiming to be good technicians? I confess that I’m one of the instigators of this discussion. I had seen my photography decline as I tried to please a bunch of people that to me seemed locked in a time warp somewhere around 1970. I realised what I was doing and started to climb out of the abyss. It took some time.

The squeaky wheels – not just our little club – started to be heard around the photography clubs in this state. Judges were discussed in both whispers and loudly.

How could we change things? We discussed this many times. The suggestion – change it from within. “No” many of us cried. “Too hard”. “Don’t have the time”. “It’d be a lone voice lost in the wind”.

At the same time, the SAPF executive noticed – and set about reform and change. Training more judges. Getting a broader range of opinions. Keith Seidel and John Hodgson took on the task. SAPF President Alberto Guirelli talked at club meetings around the state about changing the culture. He even became a judge!

Judging schools were revised. Other opinions sought. The SAPF now had more and varied judges. We started to notice something new in the judges that came to our club. We were often told that the scoring was their opinion. That our own opinion of our images counted as much. What? Hang on? What happened to the 1970s technical judge? That rule of thirds guy? They were starting to fade. Technical issues were still considered – but as a method to refine down to what was the best image of the night. Not as the only arbiter of what was a good photography club image.

And then one night last year I was asked to put my own voice into the mix by Keith Seidel after a particularly poor judging effort we had both observed. “Come along to the judging school. Be part of the process.” said Keith. I had to put up or shut up.

So in February this year, 10 of us went along to SAPF head quarters and spent the day learning about how to judge. We went through a range of topics led by Keith, Peter Phillips (who judged one of my first images when I started) and Des Berwick.

We heard about what made a good image – Visual Impact, Composition, Interesting, Purpose, Originality. Oh – and then some technique. But not to exclude the other aspects.

We discussed distractions in an image. Balance was considered. Flat lighting. Things that diluted what could be interesting.

And then the crux of it – judging is relative and not to some pre-conceived standard. Judging should be diplomatic. A good judge should recognise a good image and have an open mind to other image types. Bias should be left outside as should ego. Cliche’s abandoned. Keep up with new trends. Be an active photographer. Understand photographic camera and processing techniques. Be Consistent and Constructive and Entertaining.

Ye Gods! This sounded like our wish list! What had happened? People had listened!

The day progressed with some technical discussions about defining set subjects, handling standard images (pelicans and meerkats!), what is “someone else’s art”, image border sizes, photographic quality (golden means, odds numbers, diagonals etc), plagiarism & copyright, types of paper suiting the image. There was a lot more……

The differences between solo judging and panel judging were discussed. We got to do a panel judging of our own just before lunch – a very sobering exercise.

Then we got into some examples – using stills from television programmes. Yes – some of the best photographic art is in TV and film. The creative use of light, focus, placement, viewpoint, perspective. Look at the great artists such as Turner or any of the impressionists. The history of photographic techniques. Trends from modern photographers like Trent Parke (Australia’s own and only Magnum photographer). Learning from the great photographers of the past and present and why they are great.

More aspects of judging – what to say and what not to say! Get rid of those cliches that add nothing.

We covered country judging too – supporting those who can’t have a judge on site every meeting. (For reference 1/3 of South Australia lives outside of Adelaide and deserve better). I’m pleased to say I’ve signed up to help Jeff Venning and his country judging team.

The day had a lot to take in. I’ve got pages of notes and thoughts and ideas.

To finish we judged ourselves. We’d been asked to send in 10 images which were mixed up and presented to us. We judged each of them and noticed the mix of scores around the room. Some were instant hits, other images divided the scores. In that session the broad church of judging was clearly exposed.

At the end of our day – and it was a long one – Keith announced that he and the others felt we were all ready to go out into the big wide world of club judging. A surprise perhaps, but Keith has been watching and listening to us. At the recent SAPF AGM and Delegates Meeting Keith reported exactly the same thing.

Thanks Keith, Peter and Des – I promise to do my best.

So there you have it – a mea culpa of sorts from me. I’m now a photography club judge. Will I bring a new perspective and more balance? I’m a bit apprehensive – but will give it a go. If you find my judging inadequate let me know. Tell me about what you were trying to achieve. I’m not perfect and have never claimed to be. But I am empathetic – and maybe that will be my saving grace.

Chris :)


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