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Almost there, but not quite

Discussion in 'Talking Pictures' started by Roger Hicks, Oct 16, 2014.

  1. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    We all shoot them: pictures that are almost there, but not quite. This thread is prompted by KeithLeslie's pic of the man with the beard, http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?119066-What-is-wrong-with-these

    It's almost a great shot, but not quite. I've already made my comments, but here I want to make a few general points.

    First, we can't all photograph everything. Almost all good photographers are to some extent specialists. Competitions can be a way of improving our skills in areas we are interested in, or they can be a will o' the wisp, trying to turn us into jacks of all trades and masters of none.

    Second, criticism hurts. It doesn't matter how good you are. If anyone is genuinely unhurt by adverse comment, it's a fair bet that their ego is greater than their talent. Cheer yourself up with the thought that you aren't the only one who is hurt -- and read Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, http://www.tedorland.com/artandfear/

    Third, sometimes we just fail. This may be luck, or lack of talent, or lack of skill. But never neglect the role of luck. Nor should you neglect the fact that even "failures" are a part of learning. No-one has a 100% success rate. All you can hope for is to push your success rate higher.

    Fourth, who defines "success rate"? You do. You can produce a picture that is praised to the skies -- and still be dissatisfied with it. Or you can produce a picture that is panned, and still be proud of it. Admittedly your pride may be based on ignorance and low standards -- I look back on many of my old pictures and shudder -- but it may also be based on knowing that you came close to what you intended, even if it wasn't perfect.

    Fifth, beware of gurus, and (as it were) take all advice under advisement: as I say in Gurus and Why to Avoid Them -- http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps ignore gurus.html

    Photography sometimes attracts people with a very high opinion of their own expertise, and a predilection for bossing others about.


    Never trust anyone whose vocabulary does not include the phrase, "I could be wrong."


  2. IvorCamera

    IvorCamera Well-Known Member

    Very true Roger!
  3. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    But I could be wrong... Especially if I misinterpret honest criticism.


  4. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Nothing controversial there. Yes his shot was almost there. Well the subject was all there, but he just didn't quite get it, which is the great pity.

    Of course we all bury them. The "success" rate for most, especially if competing at a reasonable level is far lower than you seem to imply. We used to say if you got one club comp certificate in every 3 rolls of 36 you were doing really well.

    I am infuriated by the "almosts" I've got doing Bleeding London, but no use making excuses about the conditions, I just messed up. Out of about 1600 shots chosen to upload to that project from about 4000 shot, I have found 176 worthy of uploading into my flickr album and can't say I'd enter more than 10 in any kind of competition. Maybe none.

    About 20 are on the walls of my company and people haven't made rude remarks, so I guess I'm proud of them.
  5. KeithLeslie

    KeithLeslie Well-Known Member

    Hi Roger
    Yes, I do agree with your comments. Art, of course, whatever its form, is subjective, and 'beauty is in the eye..etc'.

    I would say this: to me, photography is about seeing first and foremost; seeing the picture (not the photograph); capturing it is perhaps secondary in skill, but just as important. Capture is rarely perfect, whether with a camera or a pencil or a paintbrush. One of the things that irks me nowadays is that the seeing and the capture appear to be considered as secondary to the level of perceived perfection in the image. The "how well you can use Photoshop", rather than how well you can see and capture the picture. Does that make sense? What do you make of a judge who marks down because (his words) it was "too easy to get the picture"? What the Hell does that matter?

    What I find is that the level of inconsistency in judging is confusing, and destructive. Put up an image, judge 1 says "needs a tight crop." Crop it, put it in again, judge 2 says "needs some space around it - too tightly cropped." That sort of thing repeated again and again is utterly disheartening to anyone; especially beginners, but also the experienced. It's bound to, when almost every competition is open: it's difficult to compare apples and housebricks, isn't it? But that's exactly what happens in club comps.

    The other issue is that the same people win time after time. Apart from thinking about why/how, that also becomes disheartening to those who don't. In my case, I don't expect to win, but it would be nice to feel that one has a fair hearing, and gets something constructive out of it all. At one point I put in a holiday snap and a pretty decent B&W image as an experiment. Judge said of the first "just a holiday snap"; second " a nice professional quality image." Guess what? They got the same score! That's a killer.
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Mike,

    No, your figures make sense to me, at least with 35mm or digi. About 1% you think are good, 0.1% really good. I'd hope that with MF or LF it would be better.

    But I don't think it's about competition. I think it's about what you are pleased or really pleased with. It's self, not other.

    Finally, you may be too hard on yourself: "I just messed up". Ask yourself if anyone could have got the shot you tried, and failed, to get. Consider Horace's indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus -- I get annoyed when the great Homer nods off [or "fails to pay adequate attention" or "fails to get it right"] and go easy when comparing yourself with Homer.


  7. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Keith,

    A sausage or pie? Because he's not much use for anything else.

    The stories you tell are why I have limited regard for competitions and even less time for club competitions. I can't tell what they like and don't, though Frances apparently can. Out of sheer pique she once entered a club competition, "open" theme, and came 1st, 2nd and 4th with three very different pictures. She never bothered again...


  8. KeithLeslie

    KeithLeslie Well-Known Member

    Hi Roger
    Well, yes, I had a 10 once (though I didn't think it worth a 10), a 9 1/2 and quite a few 9s. Many of my portraits have got 9; one came third in a year end comp. But of course, that was themed. But overall, the standard of judging seems to have worsened, got more and more inconsistent. One judge said "ignore my score, just take my comments." Club places a lot of importance on scores, so how is that sensible?

    I like to experiment. Just as did in art college days 52 years ago. One experimental shot I put in got an 8 in one club comp, 4 in another. Utterly unhelpful. You may have seen my "Faces of Ely" shot. I haven't bothered putting that in, it would almost inevitably be marked down. But that's the sort of thing i enjoy. And I've always enjoyed portraits; as I get old, I find people more interesting, though I was a very good portrait artist when I was at college.

    I'll have to post some more of my experimental stuff.
  9. Sejanus.Aelianus

    Sejanus.Aelianus In the Stop Bath

    Because I started selling my pictures very young, I understand the critical importance of satisfying a customer. The point there, though, is that the customer told me what they wanted and away I went to interpret that requirement. Generally, they paid me, so I must have got it right. When they didn't, I could usually see what had gone wrong and correct it, or at least learn from the mistake.

    On the other hand, I have never been able to understand the entry requirements for competitions and I simply can't understand how the winners get selected. Once, having read an article by Louis Peek about winning competitions, I studied several magazine competitions to see what the requirements were and what the winners looked like. I drew a blank. Just couldn't understand the connection.

    I've been a member of one or two clubs over the years and been even more confused by the relationship between the high scoring pictures and the low scoring ones. The only club I ever visited where I could understand the outcome of the competition was in the midlands, where everyone present just filled in a form, naming their first second and third choices. Two very numerate ladies worked out the result, during the tea break and in those cases, I actually could understand why the winners were picked. In fact, most of the time, the selections were similar to my own choices.

    'Tis a puzzlement.

  10. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    I agree with much of Roger's original post but this post is to attempt to show a different side of club life.

    We complain about the judges and about the club and make disparaging remarks about both. What we forget is that we are the club. It's in our hands.

    Most clubs I know have lots of competitions - my own club devotes over 50% of its meetings to competition. (I'm ignoring the whole philosophy of competition - I find the whole concept a bit ridiculous and its a slightly different topic) . I know quite a lot of clubs and most of them are the same.

    Why is it? it's because we, the members, demand it. At my own club I was the leader of a group that tried, very hard, to reduce the number. We were given a fair hearing but voted down by a massive majority. The members demanded the competitions.

    Then the judges. They are volunteers from all walks of life. Some are great photographers and some are not. Some are articulate and some are not. Some are intelligent and some are not. The thing that they have in common is that we , the members, have invited them along to express their opinion about our pictures. I stress that - their opinion. We also give them the impossible task of awarding marks.

    If that's not enough what else to we do to them? In my club we allow two entries per person and we are divided into three classes - beginner, intermediate and advanced. It's expected that the beginners get more extensive comments than the ret. There's a system of promotion/relegation.

    We have no limit to the number of members who can enter. What that means is that the judge is presented with about 100 very different pictures and he's expected to make up his mind, make (hopefully) intelligent comments about each one and award marks. Then we moan like hell if he overruns time and we are late in the pub. A crazy system and one that the best judge in the world would have difficulty with.

    Remember where I cam in? It's at our behest. We want it and we demand it. If you really don't like it then do as I did - try to change it. I wish you better luck than I had.


    PS Of course I may be wrong ;)
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Same here. But then, paying customers don't (always) feel that they have to stick a (usually worthless) oar in.

    I've judged quite a lot of competitions, always with other judges, and the simple truth is, the winners are what we agree on at the time. The garbage will go, but normally, at least 1% of the entries could win, and often 10%. It may then come down to "Not more bloody dogs/lone trees/oversaturated shots/pics with inappropriately shallow depth of field" -- or whatever the judges' prejudices are.


  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Dear Mick,

    Yeah. Tried changing it. Improved things slightly. But you have to remember the fine old Marxist truth that every class acts in its own class interest. Result: a mediocre winning class supports a mediocre judging class.

    You also have to remember the relationship between talent/skill/imagination on the one hand and ego on the other. Those with the biggest egos -- the ones who want to steamroller their claque through -- are rarely the ones with the most talent, skill or imagination.

    I tried to promote discussion of pictures. Complete failure. Not because most people were against it, but because we couldn't shut ONE loudmouth up. He brought far too many pictures (it was supposed to be one each) and droned on about them interminably. ADDENDUM: And about himself and his pictures, no matter whose pictures we were supposed to be discussing.

    FURTHER ADDENDUM: And no, I don't think that in this case I could be wrong. The man had a hide like a rhinoceros, and only slightly more creativity.


    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014
  13. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    I've had a very similar experience. In fact the alternative that we proposed to competition was what the schools call 'show and tell' with some discussion. During the AGM where our proposal was discussed there was a distinct and unmistakable undercurrent that 'we won't have that because it would be hogged by Mr X.

    It always surprises me that there are some members who seem to live for competition. Not only club but all external, regional, national whatever. They seem to spend their lives entering everything. Each to his own I suppose but it's a shame that they inflict their views on the rest of us.

  14. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    When I inherited the job of Print Comps secretary at a large club in the last century, they had a list of every judge who had ever judged there and the comp they handled. There were comments beside each and many were black balled and I was not allowed to call them.
    Judges knew if they wanted to be invited back, they'd better be on the ball. On one occasion the committee decided one was bonkers and I was instructed to add marks in a defined way to preserve the integrity of the league table.
    But (and I have told the story before) the worst judging I ever saw was the members' knockout, which used to be the first meeting of the season, to shake down the summer's work. Two slides up side by side and 60+ members vote which to keep.
    All had 4 entries and I came 1,2,3 and 5. All of them bombed horribly during the season.
  15. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    <I'd hope that with MF or LF it would be better. >

    With what? Not talking about focus or exposure errors, just carp shots. Rubbish, dross, waste of film or pixels. The vast majority of what I have uploaded for the BL project are no more than that and that's not me being hard on myself, it is a fact. Not intended to be anything better.

  16. KeithLeslie

    KeithLeslie Well-Known Member

    One judge who has been popular with the committee in the club I'm in was invited to another club in the area. All the members were up in arms afterwards, decided he is bonkers, and agreed never to have him back. A shame that ours doesn't operate that way!

    Out of about 15 judges I've come up against over the last three years, I'd say about three were fair, three or four bonkers, and the rest inconsistently mediocre. Or mediocrely inconsistent. I notice that some local judges have good websites of their own and you can see what their genre/style is (one or two even sell their work); others have no website. Some have a very narrow view of photography, others much more worldly (if that's the word). And one has what can only be described as tunnel vision.......
  17. LesleySM

    LesleySM Well-Known Member

    I only do the forum competition- it's a good challenge as once a month I have to either get out of my comfort zone or look at some of the older shots in a new light. I'm pleased to have been shortlisted 3 times this year and hope one day to be placed or maybe even win. It's a nice feeling when I get a shortlist and sometimes I put something in and think "That should be in with a chance" then again one of my short lists this year I put in just to make the competition (as my target is simply to get an entry in)and no-one could have been more surprised than me when it made the shortlist!

    I have photos I like simply for various reasons some of which have nothing to do with their photographic value and yes there are some photos I am proud of that wouldn't win anything

    I do agree with a friend of mine (who is an infinately better photographer than I could ever be) who said if he took a shot he thought was perfect, put it into competition and everyone agreed it was perfect and indeed it was the most perfect photo ever...the next day he'd sell his kit and take up another hobby
  18. 0lybacker

    0lybacker In the Stop Bath

    Interesting thought, Roger. Should mainstream photo mags teach criticism? In 40+ years, plus back issues going back further, very little has been done. Quite a bit in the original SLR camera and AP, of course, but very little elsewhere. Cheers, Oly
  19. KeithLeslie

    KeithLeslie Well-Known Member

    May I make this point? I'm not 'hurt' by criticism; what I expect is sensible constructive criticism, not being put down for seemingly spurious reasons. Some judges - very much in the minority - have been good, and they have my respect. Too many are not only inconsistent with each other, but also self-inconsistent; that is confusing and counter-productive, and I know from the many comments I hear in the club, I'm far from alone in that. And the few who are plainly 'bonkers' shouldn't be judges - that is infuriating.

    What started me off this week was the blanket comment passed back to me "[FONT=Tahoma, sans-serif]not many of us[i.e. the entrants] were that familiar with shooting and post editing for B&W + Monochrome" combined with the low marks attributed to my entries. If that accurately reflected the judge's attitude, then it was both patronising and totally unhelpful. That sort of comment is off-putting, disheartening. It's a negative assessment, not an encouragement. This was why I started the thread "What's wrong with these?" I'm very familiar with B&W and post-processing; that doesn't mean that I do a good job for every image; it doesn't mean that I do it in the way that judge likes; the images may look different when projected on the club projector to on my VDU; and so on. The club committee pushes the notion that the best way to improve is to enter competitions; but what I have seen over the three years of my membership puts the lie to that statement, and this particular instance was a good example of why.[/FONT]
  20. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Yes I think that would be an accurate cross section. But they are that for all members, so I suppose it evens out. :)

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