Canvas Prints Displayed in Somerset

For those living in Bridgwater, I currently have two framed canvas prints on display in the window of Armoury Gallery in St Mary Street. Sized at 28×18 inches, they are large enough to give justice to the images, without being too large for a normal sized house and are priced at £145. There are a further two framed prints available inside the gallery for the same price, along with some A4 mounted prints on Hahnemuhle fine art paper, priced much lower.

Photographed at Kilve Beach.

Photographed near Porlock Weir.

Glastonbury Carnival 2011 Photos

It took some time, but I’ve finally finished processing the photos from Glastonbury Chilkwell Guy Fawkes Carnival from Saturday. The weather was fine all day, in fact it was probably one of the nicest days of November so far. This meant perfect conditions for the carnival. A cold wind did pick up for a while before the start, but it soon died down again.

While there were a lot of shots I wasn’t happy with (there always is), thanks to two participants, I was able to get some of my best ever carnival photographs. The first performer from Vagaonds Carnival Club turned to the camera to do her routine, while glaring intensely at the camera, perfect for the tone of the cart. While that was good, perhaps even more surprising was the performer from Centurion CC, who gave a brilliant smile. Many not familiar with carnival may not find that very surprising perhaps, but Centurion is a tableau club, where the participants stay frozen for the whole procession, but again, it fit in well with the theme. My sincere thanks must go to both of these two performers. Carnival photographs are always going to be dynamic by their very nature, but it isn’t always possible to capture the atmosphere. I felt that the relationship between them and the camera really lifted the photographs to another level. I’m not a portrait photographer normally, so it is probably one of the few occasions where I have had a buzz from photographing people, normally it’s confined to my nature photographs, when I get what I was looking for.

Like last year, I had taken note of some of the features of the carts that I had wanted to photograph, so I concentrated more on different angles (mainly portrait formats of the carts), portraits of the performers and closeup and detail shots. Not all of them were successful, as many of the performers were in higher positions than last year, which caused focusing and depth of field problems that had to be overcome. Again, this is something to note for next year.

Despite some failures, overall it was a success for me and as usual, plenty of money was collected for local charities, although not as much as you might expect, given that there are usually around 50,000 spectators.

The Role of Camera Clubs and Competitions

There are probably hundreds of camera or photography clubs scattered across Britain, but what do they achieve? I’ve always been a bit wary of them, because I think they sometimes can be “set in their ways”. Think of the best guitarists or other musicians and then think about how many of them were self taught. While there is a case for classical training, sometimes it takes someone who either doesn’t know the “rules” or likes to break them to push the boundaries. This often doesn’t fit the profile of a musician who has been classically trained. It’s the same with any form of art. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny the mass appeal of the likes of Andy Warhole and the various impressionist painters. But how many of them actually followed the rules? How many of the more recent artists would have “made it” if they hadn’t paved the way? Would modern art have evolved? You certainly can’t accuse modern art of following too many compositional rules. Photography follows the same basic rules as painting and other visual art forms. You have the rule of thirds, the use of leading lines and so on.
I’ve seen on photography forums how some people can be so fixated on the rules, they forget everything else. They heavily criticise others for daring to be different. Rightly or wrongly, this is how I’ve tended to view camera clubs and to some degree many competition judges also. In some ways, competitions are the more hypocritical, because they write up all the blurb about coming up with something that hasn’t been seen before, then they can end up commending the same old formula. They have their place of course. It’s always good to know the rules, so that you can then experiment on how to break them and make the picture or photograph work. If you don’t do this and everyone follows the “rules”, then art won’t progress and all pictures will look the same, with nothing standing out.
Photography groups, be it camera clubs or photography forums have their place. They are good fora for exchanging ideas and listening to others and how they view an individual image, whether it is someone elses or your own. It’s very easy to “just take pictures”, without giving it too much thought. Forums and clubs are very good at making you re-evaluate your own images, not just after the event when you get home, but also before you press the shutter. “What angle should I take that bird from?” “Should I include that post that’s sticking up, does it fit in with the rest of the scene or should I move to the right a bit?”. “Is that shoulder a bit too bright, will it distract?”. Even after you’ve evaluated your own photographs in this way, it’s always useful to hear what others think, after all, photography is just as much about the viewer. Without a viewer, then it becomes hidden. Just because you like something, not everybody will, we’re all different. This fact is never more highlighted, than when competition results are announced. How many times have you looked at the highly commended or runners up entries and thought they were better than the winner?
For all the advantages of camera clubs though, they do have a tendency towards the “traditional”. If you don’t conform, you could be criticised. The key is to listen to critique and learn to know when to heed the advice given and when to ignore it and do your own thing. Basically think, “will it enhance my own personal style or destroy it?”. A classic case in point occured last night at the new club I’ve joined. Someone was looking at one of my photos and said “you’ll never win any competitions with those cloud types, you need cumulus clouds”. To me, that was totally non-sensical, if you had to have cumulus clouds to win any competitions, then half of the entries in the Take a View books the last few years would have been rejected out of hand. A much better statement would have been “more dramatic clouds would have enhanced the imagery”, which arguably could have been a good point. Another case involved an internet friend. He specialises in black and white photography and had applied for a licentiateship with the Royal Photographic Society. He had submitted the prescribed number of images and received the feedback on one of them as (paraphrased) “You have used a very strange method to acheive your conversion and the composition isn’t right”. After several comments when he asked, along the line of “fuddy duddies” and not knowing what they’re talking about, he later entered it into the Take a View competition. The ultimate coup was when that same image was commended and appeared in the book.
So what is the moral? Photography clubs and forums have their place, but don’t always take the advice given to heart. Don’t be afraid to break the rules (either well known ones or theirs) or preconceptions and develop your own style.

British Wildlife Photography Awards 2011

It’s now one week since the 2011 British Wildlife Photography Awards opened for entries. I was lucky enough to have a number of photographs shortlisted for the inaugral competition in 2009. However, I wasn’t so lucky last year, not that I felt my images were as strong as the previous year.

Last year, the winners and many commended images were featured in a new book published by the publishing arm of the AA, as they looked to expand their portfolio of nature titles. While it would of course be nice to win a category, my aim is to have a photograph commended, so that it features in the book.

Like many competitions, it is rare that everyone agrees with the choices of the judges and as usual, I found myself thinking that some of the runners-up were actually better than the winners. This is probably an example of taste and how everyone has a different view of what is good and what is a winning image. It also emphasises how difficult it is to “get into” the judges’ minds to try to predict what they are looking for. You could spend hours analysing a photo to see if it is right for the competition, only for the judges to choose something completely diferent to what you imagined they would pick. It is therefore a fruitless exercise and it is better to check your images for creativity and technical quality, making the most of your chances, then hoping for the best.

Of course, that is where the difficulty lies. More than almost any other genre, it is often almost impossible to achieve the vision you have precisely, with an element of luck involved. You can spend a long time planning and hours of waiting to maximise you chances, but even then, the sun might go behind the cloud at the crucial moment or the target animal might appear suddenly without warning, throwing your planning out the window. Or sometimes your luck is in and a totally different animal to your target appears and you get the winning shot. You just can’t tell what is going to happen and that is probably what makes wildlife photography so interesting and challenging. Just occasionally, you are able to spend some time exploring a subject and that is where fieldcraft and knowledge of the subject comes in.

Glastonbury and Chilkwell Carnival

At the Bottom of the Garden by Pentathlon CC

On Saturday it was the penultimate carnival in the Somerset County 2010 season, the Glastonbury and Chilkwell Guy Fawkes Carnival. Having already attended Bridgwater in the rain and North Petherton, I decided to try something a bit different. I’m not a big people person when it comes to photography, so I tend to avoid them in my photos (perhaps why I concentrate on nature photography). This time though, I made a conscious effort to photograph groups of performers, as well as some individual performers. I didn’t go for real closeup portraits, but tried to include them in the context of the carts themselves. I also photographed some of the walking masqueraders, where the flash was essential, due to the lower light levels, and also some more detail shots.

Side view of Scrooge

Scrooge by Wick Carnival Club

The carnival itself was a success, with the rain holding off until the end (although people further along the route would have been affected by the weather much more). This season had seen a number of fires on carts, as well as some generator failures and even a model toppling onto one of the performers, but there was none of that at Glastonbury. On a more personal note, the photography also went well, with more shots I was happy enough with to upload, although the rain at the end pretty much ruined the shots of the last few carts. I’ve decided that flash photography in the rain doesn’t work very well.

Bridgwater Carnival Photographs Uploaded

Wild Bill's Runaway Train by Gremlins CC at Bridgwater Carnival. Winner of the County Cup.

Finally, I now have the photos from Bridgwater Carnival last Friday up on the website, available for viewing and for purchase as prints for any participants who would like a memento. Due to the weather conditions, almost all of them have streaks of heavy rain falling. There are also others, which require some work before they are of high enough quality to upload. I have also prepared the NOrth Petherton Carnival photographs, ready for upload. Again, there are others available, but I have witheld these due to the presence of teenagers at close range, to avoid any problems. If you were a walker and can’t see yourself, please feel free to contact me to ask if there are any photos available.