Thursday, October 21, 2010

A dilemma in our camera club ......

Over the past few months there has been a pot simmering away building up pressure and it's about to explode.  Let me explain - it's a bit complicated.

Dublin Camera Club is registered as a charity.  It cannot be seen to be making money from its existence.

We have a studio.  The studio is available to members who may use it under certain conditions.

They cannot use it for commerical purposes as it would violate the charity status.
They can only use it during one week.  Then miss a week before trying to book it again.
Booking can only be done in person on a Tuesday night.

So where's the problem?
Well, a number of members (myself included) were frustrated at the fact that we couldn't predict when we could book a time in the studio.  Forget about professional models that you might have to book weeks in advance - even friends you would bring into the studio would ask "when?" and you would reply "I'll let you know Tuesday night when I find out".  Trouble is you had to get a list of times they were available and you were available and then try and get to the front of the queue to try and ensure you got the time/day you wanted.

I proposed we have an online reservation system where you could see what other people wanted and could communicate with them if it clashed with yours and you could indicate your intention to use the studio on a particular day/time.  Booking would still have to be done on a Tuesday but it took the frustration and irritation out of the equation.  There was even a possibility that you could show your intentions 2 or maybe even 3 weeks in advance.

Cool?  Nope.

You see, there is a hard suspicion that a number of people ARE using the studio for commerical purposes.  The present system is seen to frustrate their commerce by virtue of the fact that they CAN'T book their clients in advance.  So you can see the advanced 'booking' system would play right into their hands.
So it appears a few amoral people are putting our club of over 60 years in jeopardy and screwing it up for the rest of us.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An alternative to collages ......

A friend of mine, who had a mother-in-law with a significant birthday, asked me if I could put together a collage of old photos of her life that he and his wife could give her as a birthday present.  I agreed to do it but was not overly enthusiastic about constructing the types of collages I had seen others make. 

Usually these collages are the result of hours, even days,  of work collecting the old photos, negatives, computer files and developing a system of filing that will allow these precious memories to be returned to their respective owners.  When this is done there are even more hours put into making the construction which, generally, is a physical one that brings its own set of problems.  All this produces, to my mind, a homogeneous mass of imagery that as a unit does not have any picture merit when hung on a wall.

I don't mean to demean them - a huge amount of work goes into making them not to mention the consideration that has to be given that there is 'fair representation' of all the people in the collage.  You know the sort of thing.  "I see there are three photos of Mary and only one of me!"  or  "Of all the photos you had of me you picked that one .... in THAT dress!"  You get the idea.

So, I decided I would try something different ......

The first job was to scan the photos.  I have an Epson 4990 scanner.  It's an old scanner and is now discontinued and replaced by a newer model - the Perfection V750-M Pro Scanner - which has a significant price tag of around $850.  Mine is still working fine and I don't do much more scanning than the odd document, photo and old negative so I guess I'll keep using it for a while longer.  I don't use any of the bells and whistles that it comes with.  I tend to be a person who likes the army rule of KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid - so I set up the scanner software relative to what I am scanning.  In this case it was a photo, so set it up for photos - some at 300 dpi, others at higher resolutions to give me larger images that I could fix in Photoshop Elements.  Some of them were in bad condition and some were very small.  Some were both.  The process of scanning the photos and restoring them is also to make them equal in size and appearance.  This a time-intensive task and if you don't have patience then use one of the many places that offer this service otherwise you will be less than enthusiastic when you get part way through the project and it will show.

Once I had all the photos restored and sized it was time to place them in my collage.  I had visualised a picture - a table with a family tree being drawn up on parchment complete with quill pen and a bottle of ink on a beautiful wooden table and the photos scattered (artistically) around the work area.
First I needed pictures of a table, a quill pen and an ink bottle.  I would gladly have photgraphed them but I didn't have any or even access to any so I used stock photos from iPhoto.

Wood image from iPhoto duplicated and rotated

Pen and Quill from iPhoto
 I wasn't able to use the shadow that came with the pen and quill (ignorance on my part) so I cut the pen and quill, less the shadow, and brought them into my photoshop file.

The next thing I needed was a family tree.  Luckily I had a program called Coreldraw which I was familiar with so it was relatively quick to construct a page with the family lines on it and export it as a jpeg.

Family Tree parchment created in CorelDraw

Next step was to put the ink bottle and quill on the table.  But as you can see they don't look realistic without the shadow.
Ink bottle and quill without shadow

So, I created a shadow.  There are various ways of doing this.  You can load up your palette with black and reduce the opacity then use a very soft brush and paint the shadow.  That's if you're a bit of an artist.  I'm not that much of an artist so I painted a fairly hard-edged black shadow, softened it with Gaussian blur and then changed the layer opacity to about 65%.

Shadow added on a separate layer

Now to add the photographs.  The job wasn't overly difficult - just time consuming.  It was a case of placing the photos in a reasonable chronological order, sizing them and rotating them so they looked liked they belonged. 
Added picture

A further small refinement was to create a very small shadow under each photo as though the light was from above otherwise they would look 'too clean' and unrealistic.  I achieved this by duplicating the photo layer then using the fill (paint tin) tool and clicking on the photo and filled the photo area with black

Black fill.  Original photo layer is underneath and turned off.
Then I applied a Gaussian blur (about 5 in my case)

Gaussian blur applied
and reduced the opacity (to about 65%) so that it looked grey and so you can see 'through' the shadow. 

Opacity changed to allow layers below to show
To complete the shadow effect, I moved the layer below that of the photo, then shifted the shadow so that it showed.
Shadow layer moved down and to the right.  Photo layer moved above the shadow layer 
Now repeat for the rest of the photos ......

The last job was to put in radial gradient to create a vignette that resembled a lamp selectively lighting the table and you have the finished collage.

Click on the image to get a larger size - reduced resolution.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Time for something new .....

A scene from Lyric Opera Productions' dress rehearsal of La Traviata in the National Concert Hall
Geek details:  Canon 5D MkII, 100-400mm L-series @100mm.  1/80sec @f6.3 ISO 4000.
  Those of you who know me will know that I have had a link with the theatre (mostly amateur) for years and have allied it with my love of photography.  In the last few years the opportunities to photograph productions have diminished a little partly due to the recession and also because more and more people are taking photos and putting them on Facebook and the like.  One company that I have worked with for a number of years is Lyric Opera headed up by Vivian Coates who, by the way, appears on the far right of this photo.
I am now their 'production photographer' and take a real pleasure in photographing their operas for several reasons.

I am regarded as one of the team and that I have a contribution to make even if it isn't necessarily to the actual production.  The operas they produce are brimming with quality.  The principals are a mixture of local and International performers of the highest standard.  The costumes and makeup are oustanding.  The lighting design and execution is superb and the singing and music from the orchestra is flawless.  When you understand that some of the 'chorus' will be principals in other productions; you get some idea of the standard.

I have a schedule I work to for Lyric Opera that involves attending rehearsals, the dress rehearsal and then one or two of the performances.  I will be constructing a page devoted to that at a later time.

I enjoy the dress rehearsal because I have free rein to wander all over the auditorium, backstage and actually on the stage.  I try not to be intrusive when going on the stage because I don't want to distract the cast on stage who are not only trying to give a performance but are familiarising themselves with the stage, the props and directions from Vivian and the conductor.  The disadvantage of taking photos of the dress rehearsal is that they are of little use to Vivian (no matter how good they are) for publication because they have to be performance shots.  So, I usually take up a position in the sound/lighting box and shoot the performance from there.  The biggest difficulty is that I can only shoot during 'the noisy bits' because of the shutter sound which, on the 5D MkII, is quite loud.  The advantage of going to rehearsals is that now I know where the action is going to take place and when.

After any shoot, I rate my photos 1,2 or 3.  '3' is for the bin.  '2' is a photo that is clean, well exposed, conforms more of less to composition rules etc., but is not one that you would spend much time on when browsing through an album that it was in.  '1' is a possible medal winner.  The shot above rated a '2'.  In colour it is a homogeneous mix and nothing draws your eye to any one area.  Also, there is no sense of drama either.  One of Vivian's talents is being able to create tableaus on stage with a large cast that avoids the rows of straight lines or equal clumps of men and women nodding at each other that you see in so many productions.  It is as though they were sprinkled randomly across the stage and, having seen each other for the first time, they interact naturally with each other.

This was one of those scenes shot from the balcony and I felt it deserved a different treatment that might portray what was going on in the scene.
I like that it has a style.  It reminds me of an artist I have seen before but can't remember.  I think the contrast and the HDR-style of it suits the scene.  I find my eye is now wandering around each of the individuals and the small groups looking more intently to see if I can figure out what they are up to.
If you are interested in it you can see the full-size image by clicking on it above.  I'm still working on this image as I see is changing my image slightly and showing up some 'defects'.

I'll be posting a few more photos from the performance anothe day ....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Competition time again part II

Hmmmm.  An interesting night.  I mentioned earlier that I had entered pictures for two competitions.  One was the first night of the club's Winter League and the second was a competition termed a 'Round Robin' run by the Dublin South Leinster Region (do you think the initials were a coincidence?) and I chose to forego the club's judging and attend the latter, with member of Council - Gerard Kelleher,  which was held in Rua Red in Belgard Square, Tallaght.

First of all let me say that the premises that Tallaght Photographic Society use are very swish.  The attendance was sparse - probably 30 or so people representing 3 clubs.  Since there were only two of us from DCC then there was a disproportionate representation there.

The competition got under with no less than the president of the IPF (Mark Sedgwick) being the judge for the evening.  Prints from the three clubs were placed in three piles and a print was taken from the top of each and displayed to the judge who placed them in a 1st, 2nd and 3rd category.  Initially I found this unerving to have say two landscapes in competition with a portrait but then open category competitions do this all the time.

I was surprised to see photos with bad mounts and even damaged mounts being given 1st place without any comment.

At the end of the mono section, the scores were announced which produced a chuckle.  Each of the three clubs scored 30 marks.  At the end of the colour section DCC came third or last if you prefer.  As far as I can remember, the winner had 98 marks and DCC had 88.

We went back to DCC and caught up on the night's events in the club.  I had submitted 2 colour, 2 mono and 1 digital.  They were judging mono and digital entries only.  What followed is a jumble of mistakes and is probably best left unsaid.  The judge did make very favourable remarks about some of my pictures in particular the two girls (Best Friends Forever) which got 50/50 and my pregnant woman (Waiting) 45/50.  My nude, and it looks like it's the mono version, got 48/50 but should never have been shown!  I had asked for it to be withdrawn as I had entered a colour print version.  It will be interesting to see what happens to clear up the mess.  I think this is where I would normally insert a smiley ......

An update:
Last night (Oct-26) was the judging of the October colour section of the Winter League.  Before the actual judging, Javier Leite made an announcement that 'a member' had inadvertently submitted pictures from the same file in two sections of the competition which is illegal.  He pointed out that 'the member' had made every effort to have the situation rectified in time but the club had failed to do so.  As a result, this picture would be allowed to stand.
So did I do?  I had two prints.

Top mark was 44.  The picture on the left got 40 and the controversial picture on the right got 42 and I got joint second place.  The winning print was a cracker and a seascape.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's in a name - part 2

I mentioned a while ago that people spell and pronounce my surname wrongly. When it appears spelt incorrectly on a letter it can't be blamed on a computer malfunction. No, this is down to humans. Humans who don't care.

Another thing they do is get my address wrong. I live in a place called Donacarney. I pronounce that very clearly when asked for my address but a lot of people still hear Donnycarney. Amazing, isn't it?

The lady who lived in our house before us really hankered to live just a few hundred metres away in the more well-known Mornington so she tacked that onto our address. I suppose it would be the equivalent of living in Sutton, Howth or Rathmines, Rathgar. Anyway, it took me some time to get it sorted out with the post office, credit card companies and the like.

Donacarney is in Co Meath. Now, I'm not a football supporter so don't have an unswerving mindless loyalty to my county but a rational engineering-oriented matter-of-fact attitude that this is where I live. I know there are people who are planning to usurp our little area into Co Louth and we may very well become part of Drogheda but for the moment we're in Co Meath.

So let's summarise all of that into the following name and address:

Paul Timon
Blackhill Crescent
Co Meath.

Simple? Yes?
Look what I got from TD Fergus O'Dowd on Dail notepaper ......

I suppose I should be grateful that our new postman is able to interpret what others guess at.  And I am.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Competitions time again .....

Photographic competitions, in a similar manner to all competitions, bring out different reactions in people.  The club I belong to (Dublin Camera Club or DCC) has regular competitions all year round.  Last night (Tue) was the beginning of the Winter League competition where members can enter a maximum of 2 colour prints, 2 black and white prints and 2 digital images (to be projected) per month for a period of 5 months.

Each month a judge (usually external) awards marks to each print in the Novice, Intermediate and Advanced sections with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.  The points are accumulative so it means that someone who has made entries every month but not actually come in the first three places might still win the overall competition because of an accumulated score.  The top three pictures in each section are retained by the club and there is also a final competition of the "best of the best".

Like most clubs there are members who enter photos to get feedback on whether they are doing well or need to improve.  Others like to see how they compare with others of a similar standard.  Then there are others who cut their 'photographic cloth' and tailor their photos (forgive the puns) to win the competitions.  A lot of these are formulaic and guaranteed to tick all the judge's boxes of what constitutes a 'good photograph' but there are new kids on the block!

It seems to be that since the movement restrictions of people in the EU diminished and more people from Latvia, Romania, Poland, Germany and other countries appeared in Ireland; the calibre of photogrpahers in the club changed in style and quality.  I like this.  It might mean my status within the club will drop but that should give me the incentive to improve rather than wallow comfortably in the doldrums.

Judges, of course, vary in their judging.  We've all seen it.  Most will preface their comments by announcing that their marks and comments are personal to them (almost by way of an apology in advance) and that they may not be agreeable with everybody.  Fair enough.  But, where I don't have any problem with judge's criticisms, I have on occasion had issue with how they presented them.  Most judges will go lightly on the negative (more puns!) and accentuate the positive with suggestions on how to improve photographs submitted by novices.  They will be less gentle with photographs in the advanced section as these photographers should not be making basic errors.  However, when a judge literally dismisses someone's work then I feel there is the chance he may have discouraged a budding Cartier Bresson.  This is wrong.

We have been lucky that most of the judges have been fair and, for the most part, have given judgements that most people agreed with.

In addition to the Winter League Competition start, there is another competition going on that I am entering some pictures to but am not sure what it's about.  It has been referred to as a "round robin".  It appears (you're going to see that word a lot!) to be organised by the Irish Photgraphic Federation or IPF) but it also appears (told ya!) that the IPF aren't advertising it on their website.  Using their search engine produced no viable results for words such as "Round robin", "Tallaght" nor did a check of their competitions section.  Finally I used Google and found a link to the Dublin Soth Leinster Region that listed the competition for next Tuesday (12th).  "And you problem is ......?"  I hear you ask.  Well ......  it's the second round.  I didn't know about the first and the clubs listed as being in competition with each other are:
South Kildare.
Do I see the Dublin Camera Club in that list?  Nope.

Anyway, the number of photographs that members can submit is unlimited BUT the club will choose 20 colour prints and 10 black and white to form 2 panels for this round of the competition.  So I have entered a number of photos.  It's one thing to compete with members of your own club.  There is a familiarity with all the others' work and because of that there exists a sort of comfort zone where there are no major shocks.  But competing with another club destroys that happy feeling.  You're out in the open!  On top of that there is the added component of how a panel hangs together.  It needs to have balance and the difference between winning and losing could depend on that format.

So, I'm sticking my neck out in a way.  I have submitted a number of photos to the club competition and for consideration in the IPF panels competition.  And here they are:

DCC Winter League Colour entry

DCC Winter League Black and White entry

DCC Winter League Digital entry



Round Robin entries

Not chosen

Not chosen.

I think I'm going to have to change my method of blogging.  After trying to put these photos on this page I found they went every place but where I wanted them to.  So ...............

Friday, October 1, 2010

Looking for a pregnant woman ......

Earlier this year - about January - I started on a quest to find a severely pregnant woman who would pose for a humorous photo.  I knew most women don't find themselves attractive during this time and I wanted to make the person even less attractive so I promised I would pose them so nobody would know it was them.  How hard could it be to find someone?

Well it was.  I got blank looks.  I got curious questions.  "What's it for?"  That's a common question.  You don't hear painters (artists) or sculptors being asked that question.  "It's for me!  It's for my portfolio.  It's for exhibitions and competitions.  It's to satisfy an artistic longing to create!"  No, I didn't use that last one although it might have gotten me a more positive reaction.  I did get a couple of promises - relations of friends who might 'do it'.  I even asked a woman who is a professional photographer and was pregnant.  A resounding 'no!'  You know who you are ......

Nothing happened.  It's at this stage I start to wonder if I'm missing out on the unwritten and secret language that women use and we men have no idea it's being used at all.  You know the sort of thing.  "Ah sure that'll put you out of your way"  actually means "Feck off, you're not leaving me home!"  On top of this we (men) are supposed to know when our female friends/wives/girfriends are communicating to us wordlessly.  A typical example is the newly-married man arrives home and senses something is not right.  Really, he should go back out but he stays.
"What's wrong my lovely?"
He persists.
"I know there's something"
Foolishly .......
"I'm a modern man in touch with my feminine side and I want to know what's wrong so I can put it right pet"
The comes the fatal strike ....
"If you loved me, you'd KNOW!"

Personally, my telepathy switch is turned off.  I tell all women at some time or another that this is so.  It's akin to being blind or deaf.  It's not there and you need to make allowances for that.  But back to the photograph.

Eventually I found a woman brave enough.  Let's call her Brenda to maintain her anonymity.  Even she asked me what it was for!  I explained.
My initial idea was to have the woman sit in a comfy chair facing me wearing an old and comfy tracksuit bottoms with girlie slippers with her legs crossed and one slipper hanging off her toes while she read a paper such as the Mirror or a gossip magazine.  So where's the humour?  She would have a mug of steaming tea sitting unattended on her bump.  The woman is so dismissive of the bump that she uses it as a table.

Round 1.  We tried it.  First problem was no comfy chair.  Okay so we substituted something else after moving every piece of furniture around the room.  With my camera gear and flash units with softboxes and umbrellas, the room was beginning to look more like a movie set.  The size of the room forced me to use a short focal length lens which produced the wrong image for me because the feet were too near the camera and the body was too far away.

Round 2.  Tried it sideways and it looked all wrong.

Round 3.  Moved the couch back and thought about making her lie along the couch.  This seemed like a good approach but there was one big problem.  I was getting her to read a magazine to hide her face which left the back of her head facing the camera.  It looked wrong and her hair wasn't in keeping with her unkempt but comfy look so we went shopping!

Round 4.  Back from the shops with hair rollers we completed the 'comfy look'.  Now it was time to shoot.  I had a couple of props - a mug, cereal bowl, vase and a plant.  This was when the unborn decided to wake up and let us know there was another to contend with.  Items placed on the bump had to be watched carefully for signs of movement as they were swiped by an internal foot.  The vase just couldn't be kept in place without a person holding it and the bowl had a swirling spoon in it due to the antics of the unborn.
Eventually I got my lighting set up which took a while.  I was getting severe falloff because of lack of space so ended up pointing a unit with a spill kill at an angle to the ceiling - this lit my scene from above.  I used another unit on the floor with a softbox turned down to a minimum to give some fill from the front and help light the magazine.  After that it was easy!  What I thought would take an hour took 2 1/2 hours.

As I mentioned, I'm a member of the Dublin Camera Club and next Tuesday is the start of the Winter League competitions where members can enter a maximum 2 colour, 2 black & white and 2 digital images each month for 5 months.  At the end of the 5 months trophies are awarded to the persons with the most points.  There are various other prizes as well.  I'm not in to win but I do like to showcase (vanity) and I like to get feedback about my pictures from both the judges and other members.  So today I'm going to enter this photo as one of my colour shots.

Geek data:  1/160s @ f5.6 100 ISO.  Canon 5D MkII with Canon 50mm F1.4 lens.
Processed in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop Elements 8.

Waiting ......

PS:  The print got first place.  The judge loved it.