Our judge for this evening’s ‘competition’ was Fred Wotton, APSNZ. Fred is a long-standing member of the Wellington Photographic Society, and a much decorated member of PSNZ.
He’s also an internationally awarded photo subject. This picture of him by Wellington’s Catherine Cattanach made the finals of the world photographic portrait cup a couple of years ago!
Fred is one of the very few photographers in the Wellington region who does not photograph anything using a digital camera — he owns and uses two Leica range-finder cameras, and develops and prints his own black and white images. He has colour film developed commercially and colour prints made from negative scans by a lab in Wellington.
At the end of the evening Fred showed us a few of his award winning images and talked a little about how image enhancements and editing could be achieved in the pre-digital era. (It was interesting to note, however, that while Fred himself does not use digital alterations, he does occasionally ask his printing lab to do a little photoshopping to remove distractions!)
Fred began by posing and answering the question “what constitutes macro photography?” Macro photography is a specialised discipline where the object being photographed is captured at 1:1, that is, at least life size on the camera’s sensor or film. It will therefore be much larger than life when projected or printed. However to capture images at that ratio does require special techniques and/or specialist gear. He reminded us later in the evening about extension tubes and bellows, and about coupling rings that can be used to use an existing lens ‘back to front’ and/or to couple lenses together, to make an effective short focus 1:1 lens.
Fred noted that most of the entries in our ‘macro competition’ were not macro photographs at all, merely close ups. He took the initiative to judge our entries as ‘photographs of small things.’
That was exactly as we intended. Members had been advised at an earlier club meeting that big pictures of smaller objects would suffice for our competition because we did not want to disadvantage members who do not have specialist macro-photography equipment.
There were 37 projected images and only six prints. You can see them all here.
Fred’s general comments on the standard of entries were very kind.
The image he judged best, a beautiful image of two tiny fungi shot by Glenys Robertson, is our featured photograph this month.
Fred had detailed constructive critiques to make about each of the entries. I’m sure the photographers who were present learned a lot from his remarks. A small number of issues arose more than once.
(i) Even a ‘macro’ photograph has still to work as an image that has visual impact or tells some kind of story. It’s a familiar refrain. What is it about this thing/animal that is particularly interesting? How should I shoot it, and what should I think about in post-processing to bring that interesting idea out?
(ii) Particularly when photographing small things, getting sharp focus on the parts of the object or animal that are meant to be the subject of the photograph is critical. A few otherwise interesting images were let down by lack of sharpness where it really mattered. True macro photography involves enormous care to get good sharpness because macro lenses have very narrow depth of field. Dedicated macro photographers (with a lot of money and time) often use techniques such as focus bracketing and digital ‘focus stacking’ to enable them to use wider apertures and still, apparently, get adequate depth of field.
In this context, the same issue that had arisen in last month’s competition was again evident. Where the main subject was too far back in the scene, foregrounds were often out of focus or blurred. Blurred backgrounds often work well. Blurred foregrounds don’t, as a rule.
(iii) Many of the photographs had image elements touching edges of the frame. Generally, a small shape just ‘kissing’ a line or boundary of a larger shape in a photograph is a compositional no-no. It creates an uneasy visual effect — see the chap carrying the weight of the world on his head!. Much more pleasing effects are achieved by ensuring that objects either completely intersect boundaries or are completely enclosed within them. Fred described the latter idea as ‘giving the subject room’.
(iv) Fred frequently had occasion to comment on distracting elements, such as highlights away from the main subject. Blurred background in macro (or portraits) are great. Big bright spots in the blur are not unless they are part of the subject. It’s easy enough in post-processing with Lightroom or Photoshop to pull some of the luminance (brightness) out of such distractions or to tone them to blend more into the background. Sharp, bright, or contrasting black objects right near the edge of the frame also draw the eye away from the subject. Compared to Fred’s film photography techniques, it should be easy for we digital photographers to remove those distractions.
(v) Our judge praised several images for the way they used ‘leading lines’ or rows of common elements to guide the eye into the picture and toward or into the subject. He commented that lines that lead the viewer from left to right work better because we read from left to right. Some photos had strong lines that went from the bottom right corner into the picture.
Depending on the subject matter (not something with text or a person’s face) you can sometimes make an image more pleasing by simply flipping it left to right, thereby bringing the lines in from the left. However, whether the left to right ‘rule’ is universal, may be controversial. As many (or more) people in the world read from right to left as from left to right, we might guess they read a photograph from right to left too.
This was a really informative session. Fred gave us plenty to think about. He’s keen to come back and talk to us about making panoramas. I’m sure that would be equally instructive!