Photo Challenge entries – crits

These are some pictures entered for the PhotoActive Forum June Photo Challenge. They may not have gone forward to the Members’ Poll to choose the top favourite, but I certainly like them enough to think them worthy of a mention here.

I like them all for different reasons – to me they illustrate several aspects of the human state.

In most cases I have offered my suggestions for improving these photographs – either by better crops or post process adjustments. It is important to understand that these adjustments are a bit rough and ready and with more time, much better results could be achieved.

Photograph 1
PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - Brian

Brian’s picture of the woman burying her head in her hands sums up a dreadful feeling of despair. In fact it is quite a depressing picture in many ways. It would seem, then, to have achieved its goal. The graphic qualities of black and white have added to the sense of emotion and it is one of those occasions when monochrome has added to the overall power of the image.

But… black and white needs care. Don’t just expect to turn a colour picture into a black and white picture for instant success. And with this picture, the composition and tonal range needed a bit of adjustment.

Firstly I cropped the picture slightly to concentrate the viewer’s eye into the part of the composition that mattered most – the woman’s hands. I then used Levels to ensure that blacks were indeed black and whites white – a full tonal range.

Without this the picture seemed a little dull, and lacking in contrast. That contrast has added to the drama and atmosphere. I then used the dodge tool to lighten the woman’s hands just a little. Again this helps focus attention.

The distracting object in the background behind the woman’s head has been cloned out completely.



PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - Brian edited

Picture 2

An unpleasant subject, but sadly all too typical of today’s society.

I suspect Phil has deliberately posed this shot and he’s made a pretty good fist of it. However, I do feel it looses some of its impact with that plain white background. It needs to be darker, seedier and more in keeping with the youth’s revolting gesture.

I have (very roughly) darkened the background, cropped in and tilted the image to try and bring out more drama. I have darkened the shadows in the bottle and the thug’s hand to introduce a more ‘gritty’ tonal quality.

I have cropped off the youth’s tee-shirt completely and gone for a wide format. The idea is to concentrate all the atention into the lout’s gesture – that’s what the picture is about.



PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - PhilPicture 3

A remarkable close up of a sleeping newly born baby.

Just look at those hands – but hang on a minute. I actually only want to look at ONE hand. The one with extraordinary detail. The other is out of focus and just distracting. So which matters most? Where is the main interest? – in that one hand.

So I’ve cropped right into it to emphasis it. The texture and detail in that tiny, wrinkled hand is just beautiful.

PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - Phil edited

PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - Kerryabu




Picture 4

I think this picture is full of loving tenderness.

The fact that the woman’s fingers are embracing just one of the man’s fingers is an excellent idea.

I’m not convinced by the lighting, which seems to be

straight flash, but the idea and the feel of the picture is excellent.

PhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - KerryabuPhotoActive Photo Challenge entry - anne

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June Photo Challenge Poll open

The June PhotoActive Forum Photo Challenge Poll is now open.

I have chosen my top six favourites from the month’s entries and now it’s up to Forum members to cast their votes for the top photograph.

The subject was ‘HANDS’ and the entries were, as usual, of a very high standard.

Flower and Photography Holidays

Photographer Philip Dunn has teamed up with botanist David Hawker to provide ‘Flower and Photography’ holidays in Menorca.

Flowers and photography seem such a natural partnership, and if you combine the two with the natural beauty of Menorca – an island I know so well, then something special has to happen.

Botanist David Hawker came on a photography holiday to Menorca a couple of years ago and the seed of an idea was sewn that has germinated, nurtured, and finally blossomed * into the a new holiday venture – Flower and Photography Holidays.

purpleThe idea is that David will provide the botanical expertise and I will provide the photography skills. That way we will help people not only to find and identify some of the many rare and beautiful species that flourish in Menorca, but we’ll help them capture better photographs of the flowers and plants they find.

The entire island of Menorca is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – a very special place for wildlife – both flora and fauna – so it is one of the best places on earth to experience this sort of holiday.

The first Botany ‘Flowers and Photography Holiday’ will be in May 2010 and if you would like more information, it’s all on my other website Inspiration Holidays, which has just been entirely upgraded. The website still has a few thing needing to be finished, but almost all the information is there

When you visit Inspiration Holidays, you may be surprised to learn that we also arrange Tango Dancing Holidays in Menorca – AND Painting Holidays. So if you fancy trying those, you will be most welcome. You may recognise the name on the photographs of the tango dancers – it’s PhotoActive Forum’s very own moderator Maria Falconer. It’s worth going to look just to see her cracking pictures.


* I’m sorry I couldn’t resist the puns

Photographing fishermen – part 2

Following on from his post – photographing fishermen – Philip Dunn shows more of his pictures of landing the catch, and explains how he took the photographs. The exercise was to photograph the fishermen at work on the harbouside at East Tarbert in Scotland.

Photograph 1
Photographing people at work - fishermenEven though there is no fishing boat in this picture, it is the one I am most pleased with from my photo session on the quayside. This was in the weighing area and I like the way that the man is actually weighing just one prawn so carefully while the other chap scratches his head over the sums.

It was dark in there, but even so, with an ISO of 200 and an aperture of f3.3, I was able to use a shutter speed of 1/60sec. What the sidelight lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality and the quality of the light has greatly enhanced the atmosphere of the photograph

Photograph 2
Photographing fishermen at workDon’t forget to gather pictures like these even when you are concentrating on pictures of people working. They help tell the story and will play an important role if you decide to put together a photo essay. They will be essential if you decide to try and sell your feature to a magazine becasue they will also give the magazine layout person options for layout design.

Photograph 3
The skipper of fishing boat Caledonia invited me on board to photograph him and his crew preparing their prawns for landing – an opportunity not to be missed

Finding space to move around and take pictures was very difficult, and the men were far too pre-occupied to be bothered posing for pictures. In these situations you just have to do the best you can to record the scene in front of you. It was very dark in the boat and I used an exposure of 1/15sec at f5.6. A tripod was out of the question and the camera was hand-held

photography on board a fishing boat

still life photographs in photo essayPhotograph 4 and 5
When I was invited aboard the Caledonia, my first priority was to photograph the skipper and crew at work, but when that was done I looked around the decks for anything else that might make a picture and spotted these two close-ups.

Once again I was struggling with lack of light so slow shutter speed were wessential. I simply found something to lean agains and made absolutely sure that the shutter button was ‘caressed’ as gently as I once caressed my young bride’s cheek.

still life photographs in photo essay

Summing up
None of the pictures captured during my evening on the quayside at East Tarbert is spectacular.. But they do illustrate, I hope, the simple methods by which you can achieve the satisfaction of creating a set of photo-journalistic pictures of people going about their everyday tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask permission to get involved with these activities. It doesn’t have to be fishermen, it could be anything from window cleaners to carpenters.

No matter what the job is, it is bound to present you with picture opportunities if you do just a little forward planning and keep your eyes well and truly open.

Prepare your equipment beforehand and have everything ready so that you are not fumbling for a particular lens when you are actually taking pictures – many good picture opportunities are lost for ever this way. Don’t let it happen to you.

Have fun.

 Go back to Part 1 of Photographing  fishermen

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Laptop Computer sale

Dabs Computers, a PhotoActive Affiliate, has a laptop computer sale on over the weekend.

I am always happy to pass on any benefits and thought anyone looking for a new laptop right now might be interested.

Just click the banner below to go to Dabs.

ALL laptops included in the promotion come with FREE carry case, FREE internet security and a FREE ‘You Get It Back’ Security tag.

Here’s a full list of all the products included in the Laptop Sale: 

HP 6735s Athlon QL-64 2GB 160GB Vista Home Premium 15.4″
Was £385.25, Now £345.00, Save £40.25

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Just click the banner below to go to Dabs


Photographing fishermen

Philip Dunn has photographed newspaper and magazine features about people all over the world. Here he talks you through some of the techniques for photographing people who do tough jobs. How to make your initial approach and how to set about gathering your photographs


The rewards and challenges of photographing people going about their work is, for me, one of the great joys of photography. I’m lucky to have been commissioned to photograph people doing all sorts of tough jobs, but few could have a more dangerous occupation than our fishermen.

Photographing fishermen at workOne thing I have noticed whenever I have photographed people who regularly put their lives at risk to make a living – be they steeple-jacks, miners or firemen – is that with the correct approach from a photographer they are invariably the most helpful and considerate of subjects.

In my last blog about Photographing Craftsmen I mentioned how important it is to approach people in a proper manner if you want to take pictures – and make no mistake here, photographing people at work is definitely not just the preserve of the professional photographer.

Photographing Fishermen at workIn some ways, the amateur photographer has the advantage over the professional because he or she is less ‘official’. For instance, a subject may be very shy about publicity, but nevertheless take great pride in his or her job – they will be happy to allow photography for personal use, but not for a newspaper or magazine. So, while the amateur photographer may feel reluctant to admit that he is only taking pictures for personal use or camera club competition, this can actually prove to be an advantage.

Fishermen, in particular, are fiercely independent people and it is important that you go some way to seeing things from their point of view. When they arrive at the fish quay to unload their catch, they are well-used to tourists taking snapshots. Most fishermen put a brave face on this and ignore the intruders. When they see someone photographing them using a professional-looking DSLR, they get more suspicious.

Why? Well just think about it – fishermen are on the receiving end of every bureaucratic edict, regulation, EU rule and sophisticated surveillance technique know to man – yet none of these rules bring them any advantages, only restrictions and more regulation from EU snoopers. So when they see Photographing Fishermen at worka professional-looking photographer on the quayside, their natural instinct is one of suspicion… is that photographer yet another snooper?

My approach before taking a single picture at Tarbert was to go along to the harbour office and speak to the dockside manager. I told him who I was and that I would like to take photographs when the boats returned in the evening to unload their catch. Would this be all right? When he agreed, I asked him if he would spread the word that I would be on the quayside that evening.

Later, as I waited for the first boat to arrive, I chatted to workers on the dockside. It all helped smooth things along. When each boat came alongside everyone went into action. Boxes of fish and prawns were hoisted ashore, fresh ice was packed around some and the boxes whisked away in fork-lift trucks. The whole place buzzed with activity.

In these situations it is vital to be aware of what is going on around you. Don’t get in the way and don’t cause an accident. Look where you are putting your feet. Keep your eyes open to everything that is going on and move in close when you see something worthwhile. I like to work with a wide angle lens for two good reasons; it can give the viewer of your pictures a sense of being in the centre of the action, and it avoids the possibility of someone getting between you and your subject at the wrong moment.

Photographing Fishermen at workAs each boat arrived, I called down to the skipper and crew from the quayside to tell them what I was up to – this again allayed any suspicion. It also resulted in an invitation from one skipper to come aboard and take pictures – I was down the quayside ladder like a shot.


Photographs 1-3

The first boat to come alongside unloaded a catch of razor shellfish. The difficulty here (photograph 2) is that the boat was very low beneath the quay and it was almost impossible to get the boat and the unloaded boxes in the same picture. When I stepped back to include the boxes, the boat was out of sight. Photograph 1 told the story most effectively, but at the cost of losing some of the boxes. I also took a close-up shot of the razor shells in the red box -Photograph 3. Sometimes the whole story cannot be told in just one picture.

Razor shellfish – the crew have to dive for this highly-prized delicacy, and each shellfish is collected by hand from the seabed. These boxes were heading straight to Hong Kong, but one not would not get there – the divers let me eat one straight from the shell – wonderful! I deliberately left a lot of red in the framing of this picture because I liked the colour combination

Photograph 4

With boats coming and going, picture opportunities were constantly presenting themselves. This skipper popped his head out of the wheelhouse for just a fleeting moment and you must always be ready to capture these fleeting moments. The ketchup bottles have added a nice touch

Photographing fishermen at work

 Photograph 6

The ice-making machine drew my attention when one of the workers filled a container with ice to cover the freshly-caught fish. He pulled a lever and –

Photographing fishermen at work

whoosh! Down came the ice. I quickly reset my exposure to 1/500 at f3.3 to ‘freeze’ some of the ice cubes

Photograph 5

Many hands make light work as boxes of prawns are hauled ashore. Looking down on the subject like this while using a wide angle lens has meant that I have had to include a large area of uninteresting concrete in the foreground. I have gone some way to disguise this by stroking over the bottom right of the picture with a large ‘Burn’ tool brush in Photoshop set at about 10% opacity. This has created a mild vignetting effect which helps lead the eye over it and into the picture

More photographs and tips about this project coming soon

Go to part two of Photographing fishermen

Go Back to Photographing Craftsmen

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May PhotoActive Challenge Results

The PhotoActive Forum Poll for members’ favourite shots from the May Photo Challenge has ended in a draw for first place.

Equal first place went to JohnGlover and Ianproc with their pictures on the  ‘CIRCLES’ theme. Between them they polled almost 60% of the votes.

Below are the top six pictures together with my reasons for putting them forward to the poll and some helpful comments. Well done everyone.

Photograph by JohnGlover
Polled 29% – joint first place

Photograph A by John Glover

Photograph A by John Glover

It’s rare to see a close-up photograph with such a tremendous feeling of depth and perspective, but John’s shot certainly has it in abundance.

The uniformity of the pattern and the black and purple colour has added to the abstract quality. The framing is just about spot on.

The picture creates and initial impact, but more than that, it compels the viewer to keep in looking. It has that vital visual appeal and the picture owes its success to good observation and framing – maybe John knows all about the PhotoActive ‘rectangle monkey’.

Photograph by Ianproc
Polled 29% – joint 1st place

Photograph B by Ianproc

Photograph B by Ianproc

Well, it’s certainly abstract; monochrome, too. And that’s where its strength lies – simplicity and power. I don’t know what this object is, or how big or small it is – there’s no clue to its scale. In this case it doesn’t matter and its absence almost adds to the picture’s mystique.

And then I got to thinking. Just imagine how powerful this image would be if that pattern were broken. Depending on what this object is, and its size of course, the pattern might be broken by the likes of a man working on one of the discs, or maybe
If one of the discs was missing or perhaps a different colour – this would have create a powerful focal point.

Anyway, that’s all wishful thinking. The fact remains that this picture does have a powerful appeal.

Photograph by Tom
Polled 18% 2nd place

Photograph C by Tom

Photograph C by Tom

I confess that I liked this shot above all the others. It has a colourful simplicity and it tells a story. There’s narrative here. When I look at it I think of windswept seaside sand dunes. I love the combination of bright blue, yellow and orange.

The contrast in shapes of the half circle and the pointed yellow box also appeal. It is very noticeable that care has been taken to get the composition off-centre.

Altogether a simple and well executed photograph with instant charm.

Photograph by Yelnats
Polled 16% 3rd place

Photograph D by Yelnats

Photograph D by Yelnats

Of course, this photograph has almost certainly been set up or contrived to the point that the tomato has been deliberately placed in position in the purple container. It doesn’t matter to me. In fact I think it shows ingenuity and a good eye for a picture.

The most attractive thing about the picture to me is its colour – purple, red and a dash of green.

There are downsides to the image – it’s not absolutely sharp for one thing, and certainly I’d like to have seen higher quality and slightly more directional light source. Not too strong, just a gentle, high quality light from one side perhaps. Again, though, the overall effect is very pleasing and satisfying.

Photograph by Phil
Polled 4% joint 4th place

Photograph E by Phil

Photograph E by Phil

Well, I find it good to look at and that’s why I chose it. I like the patterns and the colour mixture of bright orange with black, grey and white. It’s all very obvious, but that gives the photograph its strength.

Phil has found an unusual angle and that is what gives the picture extra power. It may be my eyes though – but that table does not look completely round – I wonder if when Phil resized the image for the internet, he happened to untick the ‘Keep proportions’ box in Photoshop. Or maybe the table is just a bit oval.

Anyway, Phil. I like the shot.

Photograph by Anne
Polled 4% joint 4th place

Photograph F by Anne

Photograph F by Anne

One of my reasons for choosing the theme ‘CIRLCES’ was that I hoped it would entice you all start seeing them everywhere – not just the more obvious ones we see about us everyday. I hoped to see some of you spotting the more subtle circular shapes we often come across in the naturural world.

Anne has done just that with this lovely photograph of the unfurling fern. The soft light has worked well and helped pick out the ferns from the background.

However, I think the picture could have been improved with more attention to that background, which is a bit distracting. Even though Anne has managed to throw it well out of focus, those lighter areas do tend to attract the eye. A little ‘gardening would have improved things, too, by removing those brown stems on the bottom right of the picture.

Don’t forget, the June Photo Challenge is now open on the PhotoActive Forum. The theme this month is ‘HANDS’.

All photographs must be taken during June, so there’s still plenty of time for you to take lots of pictures and get your entries in.

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Binoculars in PhotoActive Camera Shop

Lightweight binoculars are now available in the PhotoActive Camera Shop

I was talking to a keen birdwatching friend last night who told me he was looking to buy a new pair of lightweight binoculars. It dawned on me that over the years binoculars have been a frequent and useful part of my  kit when travelling.

The Olympus10x25 waterproof binoculars £113.80

The Olympus 10x25 waterproof binoculars £113.80

I have found them a great help in my photography – exploring the terrain ahead for footpaths or checking out likely subjects from a distance. They have saved me a lot of time and enabled me to spot many subjects I might have missed.

So this was a perfect excuse to add more useful products to the PhotoActive Camera Shop.

I have included some binoculars from the top of the range Leica and Swarovsi brands to the a couple of models from the less expensive end of the tough Luger range. Somewhere in the middle of the price range is the 10×25 waterproof model from Olympus.

All these binoculars have been chosen for their quality optics and small size. Just the sort of gear that can be most useful to a photographer on the move.

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