Tag: image composition

The Creative Camera >
Taking criticism on the chin!

Taking criticism on the chin!

Man and dog relaxing

If you pick up almost any book on modern photography, whether about a particular photographer or about photography in general, and take a look at the images they contain, you’ll find very little in common with the images that do well in club photography today. The simple fact is that so often, revered and highly regarded images from some of the best photographers of any generation would most likely bomb in club competition anywhere in the world. Would Saul Leiter, Shirley Baker, Vivian Maier or Fred Herzog do well in my club competitions? I’d really ike to think they would but I suspect there’s a fair chance that they would struggle.
Conversly,  I feel that the types of images that do well in club competitions would not necessarily acheive critical claim in the broader world of photography. To my mind there is good photography, and there is good club photography and the overlap between the two sometimes appears to be quite marginal. For this reason, I’m not a huge fan of club competitions because I often feel alienated as my interests lie in general, in reportage and documentary, and outside of the more popular genres of landscape, portrait, sport and wildlife photography more associated with my club and indeed other clubs I know of. That being said, I’m not adverse to participating in any of these other genres of course, in fact I love to spend time with my fellow photographers irrespective of where we find ourselves. If that is in the studio or on Dartmoor that is absolutely fine with me. It’s just that if I have a preference, I would be shooting urban and social documentaries rather than seeking out the natural landscape.
This brings me on to my main reason for posting today. Now, I will be the first to admit that the image above is not “typical photography club fare”. It is however what attracts me to photography and it is what continues to make me want to take photographs. The sad thing is that this image, although having much more in keeping with many of the photographers I admire, is never going to win over the hearts and minds of the typical club judge. That is a dissapointment to me, and I would assume it must be a disappointment to many other documentary and reportage photographers who take what they see. It’s this diversity in photography, just like any other art form, that makes it such a special genre.

All of the above being said, the one thing competition does deliver is criticism or more importantly, a critique that you can often work with and which helps to improve the image. The header image above is from a recent club competition and while in general the comments were bland and meaningless, the judge did suggest that perhaps it could be improved by converting to B&W. Now normally, I prefer my street images to be in B&W because, as the judge concluded, colour often distracts but I chose colour for my submission because I felt that the colours and tones better played to the deprivation of the scene and so added something positive to the image overall. In hindsight though, I think that the judge was right to suggest going with B&W as it does produce a particularly gritty image that adds rather than detracts from the social message I was trying to put across. If I was putting the same image in competition tomorrow would I choose B&W? You can make your own mind up as to which image, if any, works best for you and if you have any comments, it would be good to hear them.

Bad composition ruins good photos

Bad composition ruins good photos

The big problem with documentary photography is not so much catching the moment, it’s catching the right moment. I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen a great photo and simply missed the moment because I acted too quickly. Counter intuitive? Yes, in some ways, but with documentary shots i.e. street and candid you often feel like you have just a split second to act when in reality, your subjects aren’t going anywhere soon. Take this young couple sat on a wall enjoying the sunshine. They were so engrossed in their mobile phones that I could have danced naked in front of them and they probably wouldn’t have noticed. I literally had all the time in the world to compose the shot and fire off a few images. Stepping left and right to change my perspective and point of view would have undoubtadly paid dividends here. Fortunately, I didn’t screw things up completely and one of the three shots I took was marginly acceptable, see a little lower in the page, but the other two, dreadful.

So, what exactly went wrong? Well, in the example image shown above, I inadvertently placed my subjects exactly in front of two of the liners anchored in the bay.  All that space and I muddied an image I really wanted by not taking a few moments to look up, move left or right, and capture the perfect shot. This error is not alone though, another big boo-boo is that I was using the wrong focal length. The reason, I’d just taken a couple of close up shots where I wanted the subjects sharp against a blurry background. For these shots I’d set the 35mm lens to f1.4. That’s great for street portraiture but a real no-no for general street shots where typically you need to have a reasonable DOF for your images. For this reason I might choose anything between f2.8 and f8 depending on the light, shutter speed and what’s going on around me. Typically I settle on f4 as I feel it’s a good compromise but often I will walk around with the camera on f2.8 as I feel that if this was good enough for street photographers 40 – 50 years ago, Vivian Maier for example, it’s probably good enough for me today.

Sadly. I don’t have a good alternative to this shot as I didn’t check the image before walking on, at least not closely enough to spot my compositiona error. The only shot of the three that I felt was usable was the one below, which although at a different angle, kinda works for what I was trying to capture. Personally though, it’s not on par with the one I lost!

Finally, I just want to highlight, excuse the pun, the problem with shadows. Many a good shot has been ruined because we don’t check carefully enough for shadows encrouching on the image. This is especially true of our own shadows as we are often so engrossed in taking the photo that we forget to check on exactly how we are impacting on the image!! The golden rule of sun over the shoulder introduces a lot of shadow if you aren’t careful. Now, sometimes shadows can be awesome, even our own shadows but in many cases they are a distraction and they spoil an otherwise interesting image. Here’s an example of one such ruined shot through carelessness and poor composition as a lesson to us all!!