Category Archives: Random Thoughts

How do you measure success?

Success is something that we all try to achieve bit often it is not that easy to define outside of the sporting arena (where there are generally scorings to work such things out).

Each year the Hutt Camera Club holds an annual exhibition (mainly of prints) in which members submit works that are then displayed in a local gallery over a two week period. Most years I have submitted images and this year is no different, with three of my images taking part.

The essence of dance. A composite of several shots
The essence of dance. A composite of several shots

As the exhibition came to a close, it made me think about how success could be measured with such an event. I have come to the conclusion that it all depends upon your point of view.

If the exhibition had been run by a single artist then it could have primarily two aims:

  1. For new or emerging artists it could be to raise their profile (which would lead to further works)
  2. Sell their works, and therefore earn a living.

Now this is valid for a professional artist, but is it the same for an exhibition run by a camera club, where the majority of its members are amateurs. In such cases I believe that the exhibition has quite different aims, namely:

  1. Provide its members with the opportunity to have their images appear in an exhibition
  2. Raise the profile of the camera club and as a result attract new members
  3. For the members taking part the opportunity to sell their works.

Because the aims are less measureable (apart from the last one) it is often difficult to measure success.

Close up of a cello
Close up of a cello

In terms of the first aim around half the club members submitted something with quite a number of images coming from members that joined this year, so you could say that it achieved its goal.

In terms of the second aim, with the 2015 exhibition, we managed to get an article in the local newspapers on the day that it opened and as a result attendance numbers have been much higher than previous years. On this basis the profile has been raised but whether that translates into people joining oly time will tell.

In terms of the third aim, four images sold over the two weeks of the exhibition which was great for the photographers concerned. However only four sales out of 71 images would not be considered successful by most people.

Seen better days - shot on an iPhone 5S
Seen better days – shot on an iPhone 5S

Collaboration

As I reflect back on what I achieved in 2014 I realized that what made this year different from previous ones was the level of collaboration with other skilled people that made the shots. In prior years the images were mainly the result of a single model (who did there own makeup) and me.

But at the start of this year I started to work more with stylist, hair and makeup artists and the results were so much better.

I thanks each and every one of you for your help this year and I look forward to working more with you in 2015. Unfortunately I do not have behind the scenes images from all of the shots but here are a sample.

To Ivy, Grace, Crystal, Tiffany, Sophie, Samantha and Alan thanks for the help this year.

Sophie applying makeup to Megan on location at Palmer Head
Sophie applying makeup to Megan on location at Palmer Head
Tiffany starts the process of attaching the paper for my Paper Queen shoot
Tiffany starts the process of attaching the paper for my Paper Queen shoot
Grace applying a makeup fix to Kat in my Autumn Goddess shoot
Grace applying a makeup fix to Kat in my Autumn Goddess shoot
Alan helping out with a lighting test
Alan helping out with a lighting test

Improving your photography one day at a time

We are at that time of year when people think of great promises that they will try to keep in the following year. We call them “New Year resolutions”. Now in all honesty very few survive the month of January but occasionally one of them will stick.

At this yearend I encourage everyone to make a resolution to improve their photography and the easiest way to do this is to challenge yourself to shoot a photo a day through 2015.

At the end of 2010 I decided to embark on such a challenge and encouraged a number of members of my camera club to do the same. Everyone started with great gusto, which did fade as the holidays ended, but there are still three of us going strong. On December 31 those remaining will shoot day 1461.

Now before you all say that this is to hard, consider the following:

  1. Firstly and most importantly a photo a day challenge does not require you to photograph a prize winning image each day. It is simply about training your eye to see images around you and capturing them. You may choose to share them or keep them to yourself. It is fully acceptable to have images that actually fail if you are learning from them.
This image from April 2011 will never win any awards. It simply records an event.
This image from April 2011 will never win any awards. It simply records an event.
  1. You don’t need to have a wide variety of subjects or themes. There are people who challenged themselves to shoot the same lighthouse each day and another person shot 365 self-portraits. You choose how you want to plan the shoots
  1. Don’t stress about having to get the shot each day. If you look at some of the work of the great street photographers you will find that they have excelled at shooting the mundane everyday life around them.
From December 2012 a street scenes shot and then given a different treatment.
From December 2012 a street scenes shot and then given a different treatment.
  1. You don’t need expensive gear. Simply shoot with what you have but get into a routine of carrying the gear with you. For most people now that camera will be the one in your phone.

    Shot with an iPhone
    Shot with an iPhone 
  1. Photo a day gives you the perfect opportunity to explore photographic genres that you may not consider to be your main areas (for example landscapes for me).

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On the basis of four years experience there are some tips that I will share

  1. When you start make a list of fall back items. This may be things that you see one day after you already have that day’s image and others that you will shoot if all else fails on the day. And don’t worry we all have still life images shot late in the evening. On the first day that I went out walking I came back with a list of 30 items to shoot. Within a week there were 40 on it. Four years later there are still 40 items on it.
  1. Build the shooting into a daily routine. For me I find the weekends more troublesome than the week. This is because it is part of my routine that I shoot most of my images during my lunchtime.
  1. Once you have a shot do not worry about trying to improve on it immediately. Save that for another day. Generally speaking after I get my shot I will not bother trying to take another, unless I see something else that will only occur on that day.

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The camera at hand

It is very easy in photography to get extremely wrapped up in the gear that we use. The companies that sell are always making the implications that if we bought better gear we would miraculously take better photographs. The reality is that this is mostly rubbish.

As Ansel Adams stated

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!” 

There is an expression that the best camera you have is the one that you have with you. I am not sure who that is actually attributed to. Over recent years that camera has tended to be the one connected to your phone rather than being a dedicated one. In fact Nokia became the world’s largest suppliers of cameras a number of years ago and long before the smartphone came into being.

Now I have been somewhat sceptical of cellphone photography, thinking that they were really only good for selfies and drunken group shots. Even so I did use my old cellphone on a number of occasions with my Photo A Day project last year. The photos were ok but nothing compared to what my SLR could produce, and as the phone aged there was a definite issue with keeping the lens clean.

I was blown away when I saw the detail that was in this image.
I was blown away when I saw the detail that was in this image.

About a month ago I was lucky to be given a new iphone 5s and after I used it’s camera for the first time I was blown away with the quality of the image that it produced. I was so impressed that my photo a days since 31 October have been taken using it (with the exception of the two days of the Central Regional Conference.

No it is extremely unlikely that I would use the phone as a replacement for my SLR’s in a a serious shoot for three reasons:

  1. The phone can only shoot in JPG format and I do like the additional control that I have shooting in RAW.
  2. I like to have the option of controlling aperture and having lens that let me get closer or further from the action without having to physically move.
  3. It is not professional looking enough.
Using a phone does make shooting in a crowded restaurant a lot easy.
Using a phone does make shooting in a crowded restaurant a lot easy.

On the third point I know that there are professional photographers such as Richard Woods (www.richardwood.co.nz) who have shot weddings using them, but those were very much “proof of concept” ideas rather than a serious attempt at a switch in technology.

Getting stopped in the tracks

I had an interesting experience yesterday that I thought I would share some thoughts on.

At the back of one of the main parks in Upper Hutt is a model railway set. I am not sure what gauge it is set to but the trains that run on it are fully working steam train models capable of pulling small carriages that kids ride on. On Saturday I was in the park shooting kids play soccer and saw on the notice that the railway was to be in operation on the Sunday. I thought that this would make a great shot for my “Photo A Day” so on Sunday afternoon I made my way down there.

These are quite impressive machines.
These are quite impressive machines.

It was a  clear blue winters day, and as the opening had received good promotion in the local newspaper, there were lots of families with your children. I wanted to take photos away from the crowd and also try to handle the sun so I positioned myself at one part of the track, took a couple of photos and moved to the other part of the track. I then moved into a place in the centre of the track that enabled me to shoot back to the station area.

As I was leaving a man came up to me and asked what I was doing, in a tone that was not all that pleasing. I explained what I was doing and after some discussion the matter was sorted. I actually grabbed an email address of him so that I could send in some images for them to use. He had also asked another guy you was also standing ready to take photos. He was a father waiting for a child to pass on the next train.

I should point out that there were no signs prohibiting entry to this point and the whole area is in a public park therefore under New Zealand law I was fully within my rights to be there and take photos. The guy did point out that they had had issues in the past (not that he elaborated) and given that it was an environment where your children were present I could understand this, however it did reiterate the situations that we as photographers can face.

Why do we seek to be judged?

In more ways than one last week was a very flat week photographically speaking. After spending the previous week wandering the streets of Melbourne I returned to Wellington with a cold. The weather all week was crap and so was my main work (as we are going through a restructure). It was therefore a real struggle to find the motivation each day to ensure that I shot the image for my “photo a day” challenge. It was therefore probably not a good week to have several images up for judging in the week, and my underlying mood probably resulting in feeling particular bad when the results came out.

First up was my Audio-Visual entry in the Tauranga AV competition and the results came out on Monday. I ended up getting nowhere, which I have written about in a previous blog entry, and are still waiting on some feedback from the judges.

Then on Tuesday night I had two images being judged in the Hutt Camera Club Ladder competition. The set topic was “wear & tear. Both images got an “accepted” grade which again was disappointing as I had hoped for higher. The judge was a local professional photography who admitted that he shot weddings and therefore was not overly qualified to judge other types of work. The images and the judged comments are shown below.

An old petrol pump that we found on the edge of the road. The judge thought that the crop was too tight and that he could not get the context that the pump was in.
An old petrol pump that we found on the edge of the road. The judge thought that the crop was too tight and that he could not get the context that the pump was in.
The old wharf at Patea. The judge couldn't work out what it was and thought that the leading lines created by it went nowhere
The old wharf at Patea. The judge couldn’t work out what it was and thought that the leading lines created by it went nowhere

Finally on Sunday I entered my “The Wolf Within” print to an image critiquing session of the Wellington branch on the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers (NZIPP) under the creative portrait category. NZIPP judge on a different way than used in camera clubs, or any competition run by the Photographic Society of New Zealand (PSNZ), so I was interested to see how the image would do there. The event was sponsored by Canon so it was a great opportunity to see what the image looked like on high quality paper. The Wellington group use the session as a lead in to the annual NZIPP Iris awards so many of the images were ones that the photographers were considering entering. The judges were aware of this therefore the amount of feedback received was actually greater than perhaps would have been if it had been an actual competition.

The image scored an average of 66 which was midway through the range considered to be of “professional standard”. I had hoped for a little more, but given that there were three very experienced judges and the comments made about the image the mark was probably accurate.

The Wolf Within - The judges did not like the texture applied to the image. They thought the red in the eyes should have not been applied to both eyes. That as the wolf is normally evil that it should have been in shadow rather than in light, and that I should have removed the bright line on the left of the image.
The Wolf Within – The judges did not like the texture applied to the image. They thought the red in the eyes should have not been applied to both eyes. That as the wolf is normally evil that it should have been in shadow rather than in light, and that I should have removed the bright line on the left of the image.

At the end of the week I felt really down about the standard of my work and I really questioned why I had bothered to subject myself to this process.

After consideration I decided that you need to invite such critique if you are to advance in photography because in it, like life in general, we learn so much more from our mistakes than our successes.

From the judging at club

  • I need to look at whether the photo has sufficient information in it to satisfy the viewer
  • If an image has strong leading lines make sure that they lead to something important

From the NZIPP judging

  • Make sure that your lighting will not cause confusion with the viewer
  • When applying textures make sure that they actually add to the image
  • If the rules allow for the use of photoshop then use it to remove any and all elements in the image that may distract.

It just got harder

In December 2012 I wrote a blog post about the perils of people using Facebook as their sole marketing tool. This came after news that the company had changed the search algorithm so that only about 15% of posts would appear in newsfeeds (unless you paid for them).

Today came another post suggesting that Facebook intends to push this down to as low as 1% but at the same time allowing more content to come into feeds from advertising. Now Facebook is a publically listed company and it has to make a living so there is nothing wrong with it wanting to make a return for the billions invested in it. There are some real issues with this change though. Firstly there was a recent video that showed that many of the clicks that people were paying for were actually fake, and so where the number of “likes” that a page was receiving. On top of that many of the photographers with facebook pages (myself included) have been blinded by wanting as many likes as possible and have encourage other photographers to “Like” our page.

The net result is that as the number of people who will see your post in decreased by Facebook then the greater chance that those who see you post will not be interested in the material anyway. This just further the arguments that I put up in December 2012 that if you are trying to promote your photographic business then Facebook needs to only be part of the solution.

Removing emotion

I hope that this will not come across as pompous or arrogant.

One of the most difficult elements when it comes to looking at images we have taken is separating what is in the image from the emotions that surrounded its creation. Unless we can do this effectively then we will not only not see the image as others see it, but also will not be able to accept any negative comments about it.

This fact was clearly demonstrated this week during a discussion on the Facebook Group I belong to.

A women posted a link to her photographic website where she was offering her services to shoot portraits and weddings. After someone else commented about the use of the music on the site I decided to have a look.

The pricing model she was using was rather unusual and comments like “my kid will be in tow” and I can only shoot for a maximum of 4 hours quickly confirmed the suspicion that she was an amateur looking to earn a little pocket money on the side, rather than a professional.

It was her wedding section that really got my attention. It contained a lot of images (around 60 I would guess) but when you looked at them it was not hard to see that there were only two weddings. Now everyone has to start somewhere so I am not knocking her on that regard. It was the quality of the images.

One in particular took my eye (as it was large) and showed a bride and her father. Composition was good but the father had his eyes shut. Several others also showed issues with eyes.

When I stated in a comment that it was an image that I would have been rejected, she got really defensive and snotty. She stated that his eyes were shut because of the angle of the sun, and that the bride really loved it. She then deleted the thread from Facebook.

Now there is an important element here. With wedding photography the bride and groom are your customers and quite frankly provided that they like the shots then the opinion of other people (especially photographers) really doesn’t matter. However when she posted the image on her website it was no longer for the benefit of the bride and groom. It was trying to show her ability as a photographer. Therefore it was the end image that needed to stand on its own.

While she would have been aware of the emotions of the day and the bride’s reaction to the image, I only saw an image of a guy with his eyes closed. If sun was the issue then I would have expected a photographer to work around the issue. Without the emotion I saw images that would not encourage me to recommend her to shoot a wedding.

It is the same when we come to competition images. The judge doesn’t care that you had to get up before dawn, tramp 6 hours, fit a million sand flies to get that picture. They are only interested in what the image portrays to them.

 

 

Shooting people in the street

Last weekend was Wellington Anniversary which meant we got the Monday off work. As such it appeared that lots of events were planned to occur and the Saturday was particularly popular. In addition to several beach related sports event, there we two large scale festivals. In Civic Square there was “Out in the Square” which was a celebration of the gay community and at Waitangi Park the Wellington Pasifica Festival was held.

The events had appeared in a number of facebook posts with the comments from those going that it was a great event especially if you liked to shoot street photography. So camera and a couple of lens we headed into town and the first stop was Civic Square.

At first glance the event had all the elements that you tend to associate with gay events, namely lots of colour and drag queens.

The announcer for the entertainment certainly stood out from the crowd.
The announcer for the entertainment certainly stood out from the crowd.

Now flamboyant people are great to shoot and those that are entertainers I have no qualms about photographing them. But as I walked round the festival and talked to some of the stall holders I just got the feeling that it was not appropriate to simple shoot others on this occasion. I do not know why but I thought that there was almost a risk that I was trying to capture them as if they were a freak show, whereas in fact they are perfectly normal people.

I know that there is a bit f an argument that goes on in Street photography in terms of whether you should ask someone whether you can take their picture. On one side is the thought that if you are going to invade their space then you should be polite and seek their permission. Countering this is the equally strong argument that if you ask then they will pose and that destroys the candid side of the image that you want to create.

I am a little in both camps. For some images I will simply take the image, but generally if I want them looking straight at me I will ask permission. 

I found this lady's make, costume and the umbrella quite appealing so I asked if she would mind me taking her image.
I found this lady’s make, costume and the umbrella quite appealing so I asked if she would mind me taking her image.
The bright colour hair was the initial attraction with this lady. Again permission was sought
The bright colour hair was the initial attraction with this lady. Again permission was sought

We then moved onto Pasifica after a slight detour through the city.

This dog was waiting to greet people in a small gallery in Vivian street that we didn't know existed.
This dog was waiting to greet people in a small gallery in Vivian street that we didn’t know existed.

Pasifica was very crowded and it was a little difficult to shoot the craft being worked on without other people getting in the way. 

More headbands being made.
More headbands being made.
Making Tapa cloth is a very slow process.
Making Tapa cloth is a very slow process.
A lady weaves flax into little flowers
A lady weaves flax into little flowers
All concentration producing headbands, although not with natural ingredients
All concentration producing headbands, although not with natural ingredients

Finally on the way back to the car a street performer was entertaining the crowd in front of  the Te Papa museum. In the case of street entertainer I will normally shoot them first and then pay them some money. Wgtn180114-9