Category Archives: Competition Entries

Levitating Food

Each year I like to enter an image into the Wellington Interclub that has been specifically created for the event. One of the topics in 2020 was levitation. So I expected to see lots of images of models floating in the year, and decided to go with something different. That was creating an image where there was a reason for items to float, and no better reason than magic.

For the 2020 Interclub we had decided to do things a little different and some concepts were shot by a number of members working together. I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted and so I went online. grabbed some clip art and created a concept image. Everyone agreed that it was a great idea.

The first task was to assemble the props. The levitation of the food is done by building a frame and placing the individual levels on wire.

While not shown in the initial layout I decided that I wanted to add some floating candles to the screen. I managed to locate some cheap in the thrift shop and using nylon I tied them onto paper clips. This meant that they could be transported with tangling.

I found a silver teapot that came from my mother-in-law. I was then trying to work out how we could position it to get the angles right. While l was looking in a thrift shop I found a wire stand, and realised that if it was turned upside down, it would hold the pot at exactly the right angle and height.

For the shoot we had hired the camera club clubrooms as this gave us plenty of space to work in. The negative was that it meant that all of the lighting gear had to be taken down there. As I was not certain how much we would need, plenty much all of the lights were packed.

As it turned out three lights were used in the shoot. The main light was in a octabox camera right, with a fill light behind the camera shooting into a seven foot umbrella. A third light, with a snoot attachment was positioned between the camera and the main light, however this did not really add much to the screen.

The key to a good composite is ensuring that the lighting is consistent across the whole image. To ensure that we knew what the lighting on a finished image was we placed all of the individual elements on the table and took the photo with them. A long tube was used to substitute where the food would be.

We were shooting tethered and I had brought my 27″ iMac so we had a decent size computer to work on. One of the great features of the tether software I use is that you can place a previous image as an overlay. This means you can accurate position other elements.

Therefore the image we had taken of the whole table became the overlay for the next series of shots, starting with the food. Most items stayed on the wires apart from the cheese that did droop a little.

We knew that the trickiest element of the image was going to be pouring the tea, but in the end it was not that difficult. In fact the hardest part turned out to be getting the angles right on the cup.

If you are observant you will note that in the shots above there is a goats skull and human skull. These were placed on the table as ideas, however in the end we decided that the scene was becoming too cluttered. Fortunately I had taken a completely blank image so removing them later was not that difficult. The blank was also used to remove the stand on the cup and teapot.

After getting all of the elements on the table we then moved to the candles. I mounted the food frame on its side between two stands and the candles were placed around the scene. Again we had the overlay in place so that we could get an idea of how the candles would interact with the other elements. We then took a photo of this placement, which then was used for the next series of shots.

Now it would have been possible to use a single candle and move it around, however we did not do that. I wanted it to look authentic by using individual candles. Once we had the floating shot the candles were placed on the table and lit. Then we used a set of prongs to lift each candle in position.

We now had all of the images we wanted and it was now time to go into Photoshop. This was not all that difficult and simply involving opening the layers and masking out what we didn’t want. Using the overlay in shooting made this process even easier as the make did not not have to that precise in most case.

As I mentioned above the cup did cause some problems mainly because the angle when it was shot off the stand was slightly out.

The video below takes you through all of the layers that make up the Photoshop file.

At the end it was great to produce an image that was ver close to what had been planned. I would have liked to be able to tell you how it did in the competition. Unfortunately the second COVID outbreak resulted in the event being pushed back to March this year.

The Tarot Reader

Generally speaking if I go to the effort to build a set and arrange a model, I will try to get more than one look out of the shoot. So when Neena came out for the Fortune Teller we decided to not only do a series with the crystal ball, but also ones with tarot cards. These I had borrowed from my daughter.

The lighting for the shoot was very similar to the first part, with the large octobox providing Rembrant lighting.

The difference with these sets of images was that I was free to move around and try different angles rather than being locked onto the tripod.

I have placed quite a number of candles on the table and so to replicate a glow that would come from them I positioned a gridded speed light that was gelled orange on the floor on a very low power and aimed at Neena’s face.

Although a lot of the candles were that there is very little light actually coming from them. I now realise that I should have added some flame in post.

I made one really big mistake with this shoot, and tat was not checking my camera setting properly before starting. For some reason the camera was set to JPG and not RAW so the amount of adjustments I would do in post was considerable less than what I would have normally done.

The Fortune Teller

One of the topics in the 2020 Wellington interclub print competition was “illusion”. When I started to think about it the notion of a fortune teller came to mind especially one using a crystal ball.

Neena is a fashion/costume designer who I had met through the Fashion Collective. When I took part in the shot at Staglands in 2019, Neena had arrived in a gypsy style outfit which was exactly the look I was going for. So I reached out to her to see if she would recreate it for me. She agreed and we set up a date for the shoot.

I built a set in my studio so that we could cover any angles that I wanted.

I had decided to use a simple Rembrandt lighting for the main character. The studio is not wide enough to do this effectively however the room has a window in the right location. So i simply fitted a large October to my strobe and shot in from outside.

In addition to the main light I wanted the crystal ball to be omitting light and therefore I decided to position a speed light below it.

I wanted to have a circular table, which we didn’t have so I cut a sheet of plywood into a circle. This then let me drill some holes in the middle under which I then placed to lengths of timber below so that the speed light could fit between them.

I tested this will the stand I had for the ball and it seemed to work okay, although it was not as strong as I would have liked. The advantage of having the light hidden would have been that I could have produced the images in a single take and not had to composite anything.

As it turned out when Neena arrived she had a brass stand with her that looked perfect. The only problem was that the triangular base was solid. This mean that the light had to be positioned on the table rather than below it.

When I am working with multiple lights I always introduce them in the scene one at a time.

I then brought in the main light and played around with the staging of the set.

While originally there was quite a lot of items in the background I decided to simplify them as I would be coming in much tighter on my main character.

To get some extra impact from the candles on the rear table, I positioned another speedlight behind them which was gelled orange.

It was then a matter of taking a series of images with the light on the table aimed at the ball, and then a series where the speed light was removed.

Then in Photoshop the two images were brought together and the speedlight was masked out. Although the candles were lit the glow from them was a little dull so i gave it a little boost.

I then went into Nik software and added a old film simulation to it.

I was quite happy with the results but when I showed the image to some other people, the comment came back that the red candles on the right of the image were distracting. So in the final version they have been removed.

As it turned out it did not get selected for the category but I have no regrets as it was a fun shoot.

Double Honours and Award win

The final ladder competition for 2017 had the set topic of “into the night” which screams out astrophotography. But it also meant that these were going to be landscapes, which is not one of my main shooting areas.

On a clear night I headed to Owhiro Bay on Wellington to do the shoot. I had planned on shooting an orb in the foreground but in the end that image was not as good as the one as a simple landscape. There will be a separate post about the night shoot and my painting with light attempts.

In the end I only selected one image from the shoot, and for the second entry went back to a shoot two years previous at the base of the Pencarrow light at the entrance to Wellington harbour.

Going into the round I was tied for first place with another club member, so we both knew the relative results of our image would decide who won the award for 2017 Advanced grade photographer.

As it turned out the judge must have liked my images as both received Honours, meaning that I have successfully won the competition for the second year in a row.

A tale of two sets

Layout-finalThis year I submitted and was successful in achieving the licentiate level within the PSNZ Honours system. This was the combination of a number of years working towards the goal, although inconsistently. In this post I am going to give a fairly honest account of what happened along the way in the hope that it will help other people going for their honours.

I first got interested in applying for others in 2012 although I cannot remember exactly when. The convention in 2013 was going to be in Wellington and I always said that if I was going to the put the effort putting a set together that I wanted to be able to pick the certificate up in person.

By this time I had moved through the beginners and intermediate grades of the Hutt Camera Club winning at both levels. Based on the fact that a number of my images had got acceptance is in competitions outside of the club, and honours within it, I felt I met the minimum requirement set out in the guidelines. I also believed it when other photographers told me I was good enough to put forward a set.

As most photographers do when they begin this journey I downloaded the reference material from the PSNZ website. Unfortunately anyone who had read it will know that it can be extremely confusing at times.

I then went through my Lightroom catalogue and identified around 30 images that I thought were good enough for consideration. I was lucky enough to have Simon Woolf offer to assist me in the process and so one lunchtime I visited his Wellington studio with printed copies of all 30 images.

He laid them out over the floor of the studio rejecting quite a few, that I quite liked. After about 40 minutes we ended up with about four definite possibilities and a number of other images that even needed work or he recommended I re-shoot.

Even back then I had too much of confidence in my photography that I now recognize was bordering on arrogance. While I fully accepted that Simon had a lot of experience, I was not completely in agreement with some of the choices and changes that he was recommended.

Original-Set
Some of the selected images intended for the original set

At the same time there was a group of 12 other photographers at the Hutt Camera Blub who are working towards the L level. Despite being a member of the group, for some reason that I now cannot remember, I did not take the set much further. When it became obvious that a combination of the timing of the convention and the fact that I’m was not all impressed the speakers, I put the set aside and took it no further. The group was very successful and all bar one achieved their Licentiates that year.

The 2014 Malborough convention was occurring at the exactly the same time as my daughter was representing New Zealand in Roller Skating, so in the lead up to it I did not take the set any further.

However come September 2014, when the program for the Tauranga convention was released, I made the decision that I was attending and I decided to pick the set back up. Again I started with the ones that Simon had chosen and again went through the library catalogue for images shot in the last two years.

At the time it appeared that print sets had a higher success than digitals so I had every intention to submit prints. Unfortunately a series of home appliances failing around home in the December meant that this was not feasible and I would be forced to submit a digital set instead.

The problem that I was facing was that during the time since the discussion with Simon my photography had developed further and I had established that my main focus was with people. I took the set to a fellow photographer and we initially tried to integrate the old and new images but it became obvious that the old set did not represent my photographic style now.

Anyone with that familiar with the PSNZ honours system will know that there are several levels. The Licentiate is the lowest level. It is expected that you demonstrate proficiency over a range of photographic skills. At this level a theme is not required. The Associate level is at a higher level and does operate on a theme. There is no requirement to have one level before moving onto the next, and there have been a number of photographers who have been successful got their Associate without first achieving the Licentiate.

It became obvious that with the images we were now leaning towards were following a theme and my friend was of the opinion that my photography was strong enough to submit an Associate set.

Taking their advice we ditched virtually every image from the original set and selected 12 images that I believe ran together. We structured the set so that it flowed with the use of colour.

One of the recommendations in the guidelines is to seek advice from a number of people with regard to your set. I approached Bruce Girdwood who at that stage was just a member of the judge accreditation panel, and he agreed to look at the set.

He came back with the honest advice that the set was not strong enough for the Associate but that there was a possibility to make a Licentiate set out of it. We agreed to drop two images and he also recommended tweaks to a couple of other images.

It is at this point that I know I made a fatal mistake. When submitting images for competitions you should not be so in love with them that you cannot see the flaws nor take advice about them. As far as I was concerned I had selected 10 great image, the colour provided a flow between the images and I could easily reel off the various approaches that were taken amongst the ten.

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My expectations for success were so high that I actually started mapping out the images that I was going to shoot that year to submit for an Associate. It is therefore hit me like a lead balloon when I opened the letter from the Honours Board telling me that I have been unsuccessful. The letter contained the following explanation:

The board felt that the theme dad distracted the photographer from the requirements for Licentiate as set out in the guidelines, namely those relating diversity of approach etc. to demonstrate overall competence with the camera. Your individual images are mainly of a very good standard, but each did have some small fault apart from 9 which was considered to be especially strong. The last image was considered to be out of context with the rest of the set and the weakest one was identified as Jelly Belly, where the arm and pillo beyond the torso are distracting and the composition generally is not strong. You are clearly a competent photographer of the subjects you have shown but the Board would like evidence of that competency in other disciplines.

The letter made me real angry. The only thing that you could call a theme was that all of the images were of women, but there was diversity of approach. That anger continued through to the convention when I saw the successful sets. It became obvious to me that the Honours Board viewed diversity as being someone who shot different genres. When you are in negative space you also look at other people’s images and see the flaws and wonder how they got through.

About a month later after the convention I was able to get some further feedback from a person present at the judging. This strictly breached some protocols but at least it let me see where I had gone wrong.

Pauls set

The problem started what the very first image and then went downhill with the second one. This image was titled Jelly Belly and it hangs on the wall in my bedroom. I really like this image so much that I actually ignored separate comments from both my wife and a fellow club member that there were issues with. Unfortunately by the time your first two images have been marked down the set is pretty much over.

Now some people have the ability to pick themselves back up again and try the next year. Well I would like to think that was me, but the reality was that it wasn’t, and I did not do anything else leading up to the 2016 Convention in Queenstown. However seeing the honours suits on a wall there inspired me two again try. But  time I was going to go right.

In May 2016 I had the opportunity two take part in a photographic exhibition with my wife at the Odlin Gallery in Lower Hutt. In preparation for that I purchased 12 brand-new mattes with the intention that they would be used once for the exhibition and then again for a print set in the Honours. The majority of images within the exhibition were street scenes shot in various countries you have visited earlier in the year.

After my previous disastrous effort this time I have decided to not only take advice but to take it early enough maybe would make a difference. As Bruce Girdwood had been appointed to the Honours Board I approached another member of the Judge Accreditation Panel (Shona Jaray) to see if she would help. So on a  Saturday morning in July  I travelled to her farm in Waikanae with a set of 12 images that I hoped would be the base of a new set. Others were still encouraging to go straight for the Associate but the first meeting with Shona dispelled that notion.

My initial idea for the set was still too stick within the genre pf people but too separate the images quite clearly into separate groups such as conceptual,  straight and classic portraiture and Street Photography. This  fell apart when she assessed that none of the street images were of a high enough standard to be acceptable.  By the end of the session we had five images that could possible make the set.

Fortunately Shona has good contacts on the Honours Board and was able to confirm for me that diversity was not restricted to different genres, but if you were shooting in one then you had to show different approaches. As I spend just about a hour a week watching Youtube photographic videos, were was no shortage of ideas to try.

As it would happen on the way back from Shona’s place we stopped for lunch at a small cafe. The owner and location was so brilliant that I asked if I could photograph him and that image ended up in the final set. I knew that the images we had selected meet the standard portrait style so it was now time to look for the alternatives.

After seeing a video on using long exposure with studio flash,  I booked studio space on two occasions to try this approach with different models. (You can read about the first shoot here and the second one on this link). Then during a Lindsay Adler video she used a macro lens for portraiture I decided to see what I can could create.  The result was a striking image that you can read about here.

In September I was also fortunate to be able to attend a workshop at  the regional convention run by Esther Bunning on creative portraiture what the models present I had a play in capture camera double exposure. You can read more about this here)

All through this period I was also submitting images that I was considering into both club and local competitions to see what reactions they received. I was also taking into consideration comments that the judges made. For example on image was flipped in the final set as a judge said that it made a better composition that way.

dance-2
This was the original “face in the cape” image

Come November I figured that my set was finished and I had an arrangement of 10 images sorted. Shona was unavailable at this time so I sort the advice of fellow club member William Wright. As before I took full size images around to his place.

Layout-original
The set that I had settled on

He was generally happy with the set however he was initially concerned how the image “Late for the Ball” (Bottom row second from left) fitted in with the others.

Late for the Ball_SmallThe image has been in the set right from the start. However as Shona had also expressed a similar comment, the image was pulled. This is despite the fact that this image had won a merit at the Central Region 2 years before.

William suggested that I should bring a black and white image into the set and I decided that a nude would be a good addition to the set. Bringing in that image into the set required a little shuffling round.

Layout-one

I thought that at this point we were almost there but then William pointed out that there was an issue in the last image on the top row. There was a  line running down the image, as well as a white object in the corner that was distracting. The line was actually the corner of the pillar.

double-4

I made several attempts to fix the image in photoshop but in the end decided to replace it  with a image taken of Sian at a body painting event, however that agains required some adjusting in the layout.

I initially came up with this layout, however when we looked at the colour tones decided that the black & white nude suited the bottom row than the top.

Layout-5

It was a long process, and along the way a lot of highly successful images were considered and rejected. In the end it worked because my set was one of 40 successful ones. Given that there were 100 sets up for consideration I was extremely happy with the result.

Now onto the next level.

 

 

Beaten by the best

ReflectionsI posted last week that my image had received Honours in the Photographic Society of New Zealand Central Regional Salon. I also told you that I had been present when the images were judged so I knew that the final decision of who won the cup had been between my image and a black & white portrait.

I was both pleased with the honours but also disappointed that it had not won. Today I was reading through the October issue of f11 Magazine when I spotted the image that had beaten mine. It was one submitted to the 2016 Iris Awards where it received Gold and went on to earn its creator the title of 2016 Classic Portrait Photographer of the year.

I guess that if you are going to be beaten, then being beaten by the best in the country is not all that bad.

Honours in Central Regional Salon

I have had to keep things under wraps for a couple of weeks, but my reflections image with Jason, scored Honours in the Open Category of the Central Regional Salon of PSNZ. The central region is essentially the lower half of the North Island.

Reflections

I was present at the judging so it was great to see the reception the print got. It fought it out with another image to be named the overall winner of the category, but ended up coming second. This is still a very pleasing result.

I also entered a print of Wilf into the Salon which received an “accepted” which means that it will be displayed over the weekend at the conference.

Wild - Honours.
Wilf

More success with Reflections

Reflections

My image of Jason and the mirrors continues to have success. This time I entered it into the Canon Online competition, which is a digital competition run every two months by the Photographic Society of New Zealand.

I have entered images into it previously over the last three years without any success, but this time I found out that the photo had made the top ten in the round coming 8th.

The judge made the following comments on it.

“This is a busy image but I kept coming back to it and seeing more interest in the picture. Each mirror helps create the full image of the man. The post work is very good. Having the one mirror without a face just adds a bit more interest.”

What is quite amusing is that the mirror without the reflection was actually a mistake.

The image is also entered as a print in the Central Regional Salon with the results announced in a couple of weeks time. Will keep you posted.

A night of honours

Last night we had the results of the third round of the Hutt Camera’ club 2016 ladder competition. This time I had four images in for consideration. There were two digital images, that had been entered specifically to compete for the overall title. In addition I submitted two print images, that I am considering to be part of my submission early next year for Photographic Society of New Zealand honours. The plan was simply to get feedback from the judge.

I was blown away with the results. Both print images were awarded honours, as was one of the digital images. The other scored a merit (which is the grade below honours) so that was pleasing as well.

Against the cold - Honours
Against the cold – Honours

The Old Map - Honours
The Old Map – Honours

The old Accordion player - Merit
The old Accordion player – Merit

Wild - Honours.
Wilf – Honours.

My image of Wilf is one that proves you don’t need a fancy camera to get the image. This was shot on a small and relative cheap Fuji mirrorless.

Success with Reflections

Each year the six photographic clubs in the Wellington area have a print competition. The host club sets 10 topics and each club submits a single image. I have entered images for selection in most years, and have normally had at least one selected by the Hutt Camera Club. This year was no different and I submitted images in two categories.

The judging was held last night and I was thrilled when my entry in the “reflections” category won, with the judge raving about the image.Reflections

Afterwards the images attracted a lot of attention and I received a lot of questions about how it had been produced.

When I had seen the category “reflections” I knew that I wanted to create something quite different. A very similar  topic was used in 2011 and that time I used a mirror as well. (you can read about that one on this link).

Fortunately just down the road from work is an unusual shop selling a wide of mirrors. It is set out more like an old curiosity shop, and so i knew that it would make a great location. The shop describes itself as a gentleman’s destination shop so I knew that I wanted a particular look for the person. Fortunately I knew that Wellington wedding photographer Jason Naylor fitted that bill, and he agreed to take part.

We had to wait a couple of months to get a time that was not so chaotic for him and the shop owner. We will given full run of the shop after it closed to the public. My daughter assisted with helping set up the mirrors.

The image was lit with a single strobe placed immediately in front of Jason firing into my 7 foot parabolic umbrella. A Lumecube was placed on a light stand just behind him (camera left) to add a little separation.

The shot as presented is pretty much straight out of camera. Photoshop was used to set the tone of the image along with a little dodging. The fifth mirror was a little bit of a mistake however I quite like how it adds a little bit to the image.