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'Record' Shots

Discussion in 'Help Team' started by Jacqui Jay, Nov 16, 2010.

  1. Jacqui Jay

    Jacqui Jay Grasshopper's Sage

    I am working on a photographic project for my 'F' with the RPS. My chosen subject is migratory birds, both in and out of the UK. I plan to photograph over a period of one year, starting on 1st January 2010. I have had one preliminary discussion with a chap at RPS and he suggested 'environmental portraits' of the birds rather than close-ups which might be considered 'record' shots, the inference being that these would be inferior in some way. I spend a lot of time stalking and photographing birds and usually try to fill the frame with a bird engaged in some sort of activity and I much prefer this kind of shot to a bird in a landscape. I think I saw some comments Mike (?) made recently on this subject, but my question is, what exactly is a record shot and is it less kindly regarded than the environmental shot?
  2. Bawbee

    Bawbee Well-Known Member


    You stick to what You know best; 'behavioural' shots are good. It's your portfolio. Good Luck to You :)
  3. Barney

    Barney Well-Known Member

    It's all well and good saying that "it's your portfolio" but the aim here is to pass a board, and therefore you have to bear in mind what your audience will be looking for. If the judges will consider close up portraits as 'record shots' then no matter how good they are they have less chance of succeeding at the aim of the project.
  4. PhilW

    PhilW Well-Known Member

    I think it's all about perception.

    If I, as a non birdy type person, was to look at the pics and think "oh look it's a picture of a bird" then I'd say it was a record shot. However sharp, well exposed etc it was.

    If i looked at them and thought "oooh nice light there.. oh it's a picture of a bird", or "oh that's an interesting composition.. oh it's a picture of a bird", or "great angle.. oh it's a picture of a bird" etc then they are not.

    The key here is the viewer.

    Take this shot of mine that I've posted here before


    When I look at it I think "nice light, love the expression, interesting composition and that overall whiteness adds an interesting twist... oh she's pretty" I rather suspect most viewers go straight to the "oh she's pretty".

    Now because I see all that in there first does that make it "more" than a record shot of a pretty woman, or does the fact most people just see pretty not?

    Another perhaps less harsh definition of a record shot is - an image which people will want to look at and find interesting that are not personally connected to it. So most people's holiday snaps are just records of the holiday and would probably only interest the people in the pic, or other people who have been there. With your birds the challenge would be to make someone who was not at all interested in birds interested in your pics? Why less harsh? Because by that definition my pic above is far less likely to be considered a record :p
  5. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I'll probably get into trouble for mentioning this here but there is a regular bird photography article in Outdoor Photography and the author often refers to days when he only manages a few "record" shots which I always took to be pictures where the bird is clearly recognisable and showing all features by which it could be identified according to a spotters guide but where the light is flat or the background or behaviour not particularly interesting. You'd need to go down the library and read through a year or so of back issues to find examples.
  6. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Well said. The aim is to climb Everest, not to gallantly fail because you insisted you didn't need a rope.

    I have a friend who was (is) noted for his bird shots and has won competitions at every level for the 15 years I've known him. He can get as many As for it as he likes, but he never got an F and I don't believe he ever will. He's one of the "sod the RPS" brigade. What he creates is technically perfect, beautiful, masterpieces of frozen birds, with catchlights in the right place and perfect feather detail. In short, record shots.
    There is an opportunity in working for an F to reach a level that many around you won't necessarily understand and certainly won't be able to match, but you need to mix your ability with an open mind, especially where qualified judges and mentors are concerned. F is not another step up in technical perfection. It is a step up in unique content and personal vision. Take the advice on board and merge it with the ability you have and stand back when you have a body of work together and see what is really at a new level. There is no time limit and if you find only 8 or so of the first 20 you think of putting up are really up to the mark (which will not be unusual), just do more and more until you crack it.
    If you look too wide for advice though, you're not going to find too many people who are really qualified to do more than mislead you and if you even think of presenting without going through an advisory day, you're kidding yourself.
  7. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    Mike is 100% correct. My guess is that your 'bod from the RPS' was using 'record' in the sense that I posted about some time ago. There's nothing at all wrong with record as a photographic genre in its own right BUT .....

    Here's an extract from the RPS distinctions handbook - Fellowship section - "combined with evidence of originality or freshness in approach".

    It's quite hard to reconcile the above with pure record so I guess that's what was meant.

    In addition the description of your intended pictures indicates a submission in the Natural History category. That's very tough and the photography needs to be at the 'cutting edge' (whatever that means) and so again straight record seems to be ruled out.

    May I finally echo Mike's advice and add a bit. Seek out people who really know the specific category and know it from the point of view of the RPS. Download and study the distinctions handbook and study it carefully. Don't be thrown off track by well meaning folk who know nothing about the RPS or getting an 'F'.

    Good Luck

  8. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    I'm one of the well meaning but unknowing ones, but here are my thoughts...

    Having looked through the first ten or so pages on your Flickr account, I can see lots of 'nice' bird shots. To me though, few are of any interest beyond knowing "so that's what a Twite looks like." Your cropping is very tight, and there is not much background or environment to place the bird in - is it coastal shrubbery, woodland, or heath? In most it isn't all that clear as the emphasis is all on the birds themselves.

    An exception to that, and an image which really is worth prolonged looks, is this one, 'Scale'. I don't know what the RPS are looking for but in this image I see so much more than just another bird pic. I see the bird, which I dare say is still identifiable; you see its immediate environment; you see its interaction with humans, and you see its size. It isn't perfect, but it really breaks the bird photography mould and I expect that may be what judges are looking for, something different from the masses and masses of pretty bird pics they must see all the time.

    Hope my unqualified ideas are of assistance. ;)
  9. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    You're not wrong Zou, but I'd struggle myself to see more than an associateship panel in any theme around people and interactions. Might be wrong, which is why only people in that category should get a vote when it comes to what gets an F.
  10. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    Have a look at this page.

    Birds seem to be an extremely popular subject and birds in flight high in that sub-set. There's one with 'birds in flight - but doing things' that's especially good IMHO.

    Note that none on them (at least none that I looked at) are of the 'birds on a twig' variety.

  11. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    Harsh as it may seem I have to agree. One club I belong to runs a sub-group solely for those aiming for L,A and F distinctions and the members who run it, including one who has two 'F's, all say that the F is very hard to achieve as the RPS are looking for a high level of originality (in subject, composition and occasionally presentation) and cohesion in addition to maximum levels of technical quality. The group runs it's own regular critique sessions and encourages would be F, A & L'ers to attend as many RPS workshops as they can. Proof of the pudding is that the group and thereby the club has a remarkably high number of RPS distinction holders on it's books...
  12. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Very interesting. But it does point up what you say about "record" being a far less pejorative term when applied to NH.
    There are some great shots in those panels, but none I haven't seen before. I suppose that's because there is a finite list of things birds do and ways you can catch them and the whole gamut of effects and techniques is barred to you.
  13. Jacqui Jay

    Jacqui Jay Grasshopper's Sage

    Bawbee, your comment strikes a chord because, when I was at university recently, I 'lost my way' a couple of times through trying to produce photographs that someone else thought I should, and not following my own inclination. However, when I managed to finally produce them, I did get a decent mark, which is what Barney is saying, really. To get the qualification, give 'em what they want.

    So, in Phil's words, "With your birds the challenge would be to make someone who was not at all interested in birds interested in your pics". I thought the way to do this was to follow a theme, such as the migratory one, to give coherence and interest to the subject. Now I am not so sure.

    MikeLL, I have joined the Nature Group and looked through some of the photographs, including the ones you linked to. Some of them are similar to some of mine, but I wasn't sure if these were actually photographs submitted for the F or just gallery pictures. I also am unsure whether tracking migratory birds for a year is enough to show "originality or freshness in approach".

    PeteRob, I will check out Outdoor Photography, it sounds the sort of thing I would enjoy reading, apart from the bird articles.

    I know there is no time limit, RovingMike, although I would like to complete for my 70th birthday (I have a special reason for this). I know two and a half years seems like a long time now but I am beginning to realise just what an enormous task it is going to be for me. But, as you say, the aim is to climb Everest and I have begun to put together a CD of some of my work to send to Ben at RPS who has kindly agreed to look at it for me and give me some pointers.

    Zou, I take your point about showing environment and, in some instances, I think I could pull back a bit but waders and diving birds, in particular tend to be surrounded by water and only water. I'm not sure how to get round that one. Thanks for the comments on Scale, it is one of my favourite pictures.

    Wish I lived near you, El Sid, your group sounds like just what I need! I don't think the RPS hold advisory days as such for F but they are holding a showing of successful F portfolios in Bath at the beginning of December and I have managed to get tickets for that, so will travel down and hope to be able to talk to some of the "fellows".

    One thing I should add which might make a difference to my submission is that I am going to present in book format. As a printer for many years and responsible for the design and layout of art catalogues, I feel this is one of my strong points. Obviously, not a Blurb book (I'm sure I can pull in a few favours from old colleagues to get a favourable price on printing it!). Whether this in conjunction with the migratory theme would be enough to make it stand out from the crowd, I don't know.

    Thank you all for taking the time and trouble to respond, your answers have given me plenty to think about and put me in quite a positive frame of mind.

    Everest, here I come!
  14. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Do check out the book format idea. Far as I know it is not allowed. Many have thought that way in the past and they are not swayed even if it is a best-seller. People have said to me any reference to books can be negative.
    There most certainly are advisory days for Fs,but you need to book. Be aware that they can be rough affairs and I have seen people broken in mind, body and spirit, so don't go too far before going to one. You only need a half dozen shots and not necessarily presentation mounted I think.
    By the way, did you do NH for your Associateship?
  15. Jacqui Jay

    Jacqui Jay Grasshopper's Sage

    Mike, it was Ben at RPS who told me a book would be acceptable, but it would have to contain at least 40 images. I know I can design and produce a book of high quality, but I'm by no means sure I can produce 40 photographs to put in it! I am sitting here trying to put 20 images on a CD for Ben and I think it is going to take an injection of Bombay Sapphire to get me through it.

    I gained my 'A' when I got my First Class Honours degree in Photography last year but that was in black and white portraiture, a far cry from birds.

    I will ask when there is an F advisory day when I go down to the showing in December. Thanks for the heads-up on that.
  16. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    The page I linked to are successful panels. The first few are the 'F's' and the rest the 'A's'. The clue is in the name e.g Joe Doe FRPS; John Bull ARPS. The second clue is the number of pictures 20=F 15=A.

    Like Mike I believe that book form would not be acceptable for an F in nature. There are many other categories of course so maybe,by assuming nature, we are making the wrong assumption.

    As an aside why not Blurb? It sounds as if you think them poor in some way. I've had two books from them and have been very happy. Not as good as high quality art books of course but nevertheless very good.

  17. Jacqui Jay

    Jacqui Jay Grasshopper's Sage

    Thanks for the information, Mike, I'll go back and take a closer look in light of that.
    As you and the other Mike are doubtful about the book idea, I'll doublecheck that. (A bit worried now)
    Again, it was Ben who suggested I don't use Blurb to present the work.
  18. MickLL

    MickLL Well-Known Member

    Not much time - in a rush. Section D3 of the manual indicates that a book IS acceptable. However the specific NH requirements don't mention a book. Jacqui you haven't confirmed (or otherwise) what category you intend to enter.

  19. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    They might well have changed something and if he said 40 was OK, then so be it as long as it applies to NH. I would be surprised if that gets you any leeway on reproduction standards though and 40 is some task. I have done about 6 Blurb books and they are good, but you have no control whatever.
    I have a friend who binds photos you've printed yourself into a book. Costs about £30 and he does a great job.
  20. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    Sounds good. First time I ever shot Plants was for A in Visual Art and first go at Travel was for F. Who wants to do what you're good at when you can learn something new? ;)
    Must say I took the view that my best chance of coming up with something new and different was to do something where I had no "norm" and no idea what was required.

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