Stranraer Photography Competition Winners

I had a great evening last night when I went over to Stranraer to announce the winners of the club’s 2nd  Open Photography Competition, which I have been judging.

Stranraer Camera Club competition winner

'Kittiewakes' by Sheila Butcher - joint winner of the Advanced Section of Stanraer Camera Club's 2nd Open Photography Competition. The quality of this lovely wildlife image is immaculate

I have been doing this now for the past three years and the idea is that I try to go through as many of the entries as possible in front of the whole club and explain exactly why I arrived at the decisions I made while judging the images. I am always very aware that photographers of all levels can be very sensitive when it comes to any form of criticism – this is their creativity on display after all – but I stress right at the start of the evening that I am actually on their side – a really want them all to succeed and improve.

Well, they keep asking me back to judge the competition, so I cannot have offended anyone too badly.

Stranraer Camera Club photography competition winner

'Burnt Toast' - joint first prize in Stranraer Advanced section of their Open Photography competition. The words atmosphere and animation sum up this photograph - beautifully composed by Jim Butcher

The standard of the club’s photography gets better ever year – and of course that makes the judging all the more difficult – but no matter, the club is going from strength to strength with several new members joining this year. They even have a new website

Husband and wife Sheila and Jim Butcher, cleaned up with joint First places in the Advanced section by each producing superb, but very different photographs. Sheila’s shot of nesting kittiwakes was just immaculate. Winner of the Intermediate section wasColin McMeckan with a cracking picture of a ‘laughing’ swan

Stranraer Camera Club Intermediate photo competition winner

'Laughing Boy' - well it made me smile - Colin McMeckan's superb photograph of a 'laughing' swan won the Intermediate Section of the photo competition at Stranraer

One element that seemed to be more prevalent this year  in both the Intermediate and the Avanced sections of this Open Photography Competition, was the use of Photoshop – or rather I should say its overuse. Over-sharpened, over-blurred, and over-saturated images images cropped up quite a lot. In some cases I actually had to mark down some otherwise beautifully-captured photographs because of this.

It is a great shame when over-worked pictures lose some of  their impact and visual appeal because the photographer did not know quite when to stop tweaking the image in post processing. Photoshop is wonderful,  in fact it is an essential tool in digital photography. But knowing how to be subtle is vital.

I know that the photographers at Stranraer Camera Club have taken on board my few words of caution when it comes to post processing and I know that their standards, which are already very high, will improve yet again. Well done everyone.

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Who wears socks with sandals?

In my latest post about Photography Holidays I mentioned wearing sandals – and pointed out that no, I do not wear socks when I wear sandals.

So who does wear socks with sandals?

Well George did.

photographer George Greenhill

George behind his camera - sporting his black socks and sandals. True Brit

George Greenhill, bless his cotton socks, came on two of our Photography Holidays in Menorca. He was going to come a third time and we were all set to arrange a very special party at he Hotel S’Algar to celebrate his 80th birthday. Very, very sadly, George didn’t make it. He died that year.

But George’s memory lives, and it still brings a smile to my face when I remember that as soon as he arrived in Menorca he was always the first to scoot off to his room and get changed – into baggy shorts, sock and sandals. He flaunted those socks all week with pride. Despite the Micky taking, nothing would induce George to wear sandals without his socks – usually black socks. He looked the epitome of the Brit abroad.

In Menorca, the archetypal British holidaymaker – known affectionately as  a ‘guri’ – is expected to wear socks under his sandals. George did not disappoint  and we were proud of him.

I reckon George is up there somewhere snapping away with his camera and he’s still wearing his baggy shorts, socks and sandals.

Talking about George like this has given me another opportunity to use my photography student Maria Falconer’s beautiful portrait of him. It was Maria who introduced George to us and the Photography Holidays in Menorca, and we will be for ever grateful for having met such a lovely guy.

Photographer George Greenhill

Maria Falconer's beautiful black & white portrait of George Greenhill taken during a photography holiday in Menorca

More about George Greenhill

Photography Holidays n Menorca

Photography Holidays & warm weather

It’s all very well everyone chirruping on abut how wonderful this cold weather is for photographs, and yes, I have to agree it is – up to a point. But it really is seriously cold and I don’t do cold very well.

I was once sent on a photography assignment to Finland in the middle of winter and I hated every minute of it. Oh, it was all very beautiful, but my Nikon cameras had not been winterised and in temperatures of minus 35 degree, they were constantly freezing up. I still remember the pain in my fingers as they thawed out after a photo shoot involving a long ride on the back of a snow-mobile.

Photography Holiday in Menorca - group shot

Yes, the picture was posed - we are not always quite so hugger-mugger when we are on location during our Photography Holidays - but we do share a great deal of information, ideas and fun

No, I’m definitely a fair weather photographer now for sure.

That got me thinking it seems a long time to wait until I return to Menorca t run another Photography Holiday. It’s usually shorts, tee-shirts and sandals* over there.

In actual fact it’s really not all that long to wait. Our next Photography Holiday in Menorca will be 13th-20th May 2011. Booking are coming in and as there are only ten places available on each of these photography holidays, I do recommend that you get your booking in a soon as possible.

The theme for these holidays is Travel Photography and all it entails including people, street photography, landscape, interiors and mixed light photography. We have a great deal of fun and that, to my mind, is always the best way to learn. I will be passing on countless tips and techniques from my 40 years experience as a professional photographer.

It is always a source of great pride to me that so many of the photographers who come on these Photography Holidays keep in touch afterwards. I suppose that says a great deal for the sort of atmosphere we create during the week.

Menorca is the perfect place for photographers to learn. The place is beautiful, it has some fantastically interesting locations, and the people are welcoming and sensible about being photographed – oh, and it’s just a couple of hours flying time away.

* No, I do not wear socks with sandals!

So please don’t leave it too late – book your Photography Holiday in Menorca now.

Find out more about Photography Holidays with Philip Dunn

Judging Camera Club competitions

It’s that time of year again – when I am asked to judge camera club competitions.

Photography Competition Judging

A nice, warm inside job for Philip Dunn - judging the Stranraer Camera Club Open Photographic Competition while the snow lies cold and crisp outside the sitting room window

This is something I am always happy to do when the clubs are as friendly and welcoming as the Stranraer Camera Club. I think this will be my third, or fourth year judging the club’s Open Photographic Competition, so I think perhaps they must be a bit desperate for judges. Well, Stranraer is a little ‘off the beaten track’.

So this afternoon while the snow is lying deep outside, I have commandeered the sitting room and I’ve set about going through the entries for the competition. The pictures are laid out on the floor, and although it may look a bit haphazard, there really is a very logical system of marking.

So far I have only got though the Intermediate Section, but if the standard of this is anything to go by, I will find some cracking photographs in the Advanced category.

I will be in Stranraer on Monday evening for the club night which starts at 7pm.

I always try to go through as many images as possible in front of the whole club, and to offer constructive criticism to the camera club members during the evening…

And just in case hopeful photographers at the club think the little orange stickers on those prints denote the winners – not necessarily they are just my notes!!

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Yacht skipper or photographer?

Since posting about my recent winter mini-trip aboard my boat Moonshadow, I have had several emails asking about my interest in sailing and how it fits in with my photography. My passion for yachting is something I have rarely mentioned on the blog, but it seems there is a degree of interest out there

photographer on yacht deck

Photography from on board a yacht is not always easy - especially if the photographer is also the skipper of the boat. Then the safety of the yacht and crew take absolute priority. It often means that some wonderful photo opportunities are lost. It's easy when, as in this shot, the boat is anchored in a beautiful bay in Scotland

I have to say that photography and sailing do not always fit together perfectly despite the fact that boating can put you into the most spectacular scenery and magical places. Being a photographer on board a yacht is great – but not necessarily if you are skippering the yacht.

Quite apart from the obvious photographic problems of light, composition, constant movement and a camera-unfriendly environment, there is often just too much to do when handling the boat to be able to pick up the camera. Of course, the safely of the boat always comes first.

I have been a keen cruising sailor – can’t stand racing – for some thirty years or so and have owned Moonshadow, a Southerly 115 for the past ten years. Before that I owned Jalcyon, a beautiful little Halcyon 27 which I completely stripped down to the hull and rebuilt. The refit took six years and was accomplished between photography assignments both in UK and overseas.

In 2001, my friend Colin Jarman and I sailed little Jalcyon right around the coast of Britain. For a 27 foot boat that is quite a challenge – oh and we went the long way round, along the north coast of Scotland. I did not take the short cut as so many others do by dodging through the Caledonian Canal. I don’t see how anyone can claim they have sailed around Britain if they use the canal.

I’ll have to have a search and see if I can find one or two pictures from my sailing exploits.

Tweeting Photographer Sailor

My friend and crew member, the author and historian David Collin was snapping away taking photographs during our recent short sailing trip.

Tweeting photographer-sailor

Photograph by David Collin. I'm really impressed by the way David's Finepix bridge camera has coped with the extremely low light levels in Moonshadow's saloon. The lighting is from one candle and one small electric light

I am really impressed by the way his little Fuji Finepix bridge camera coped with some of the extreme light conditions. On two occasions David caught me tweeting away on my mobile phone – once on deck in very bright sunlight and again later that night in the saloon lit by the glow of a candle and not much else.

Tweeting photographer on deck

Photograph by David Collin. Philip Dunn caught tweeting again, this time on Moonshadow's deck in the low afternoon light

Yes, the interior shot is a little ‘noisy’, but these pictures – David says they were taken with a combination of auto and optimism – have really caught something of the atmosphere of sailing in the winter in Scotland with its long nights and crystal clear days (when you’re lucky).

The picture tells a story and creates a pleasant memory for me – the ice was forming on the decks above, but down below after a hearty meal the heater was warming.  Thermal underwear, an extra pair of socks and a packet or two of ship’s biscuits all helped the inner glow.

As I mentioned yesterday, the tweeting came to a stop when, for reasons best know to themselves, 02 pulled the plug on my internet service. Happily I’m back up and running again – it’s just another black mark for a pretty useless company.

For those who would like to follow me on Twitter you can find me at @philipdunn

I’ll post a couple more photographs taken during the sailing trip very soon

Nikon Quick Charger MH-18a

I’m pleased to report good service from Nikon UK.

Nikon battery charger MH-18aOne of the MH-18a charger units for my Nikon D700s went pop when I plugged it in to the mains. It was less than a year old, so naturally I assumed it was covered by the guarantee.

I simply went on to the Nikon UK website and filled in their repair form, parcelled up the charger and posted it to Kingston upon Thames.

There was no quibble – a brand new charger arrived in the post less than two weeks later.

Thank you Nikon.

Sailing photography

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I’ve been tweeting for the last couple of days from my boat as we explored some of the uncharted – yes, really uncharted – creeks and estuaries here in SW Scotland along the Solway coast.

Sailing photography dawn

Moonshadow photographed at dawn as she waited for the tide to return and refloat her

Everything was going fine until 02 – probably the worst company I have ever had the misfortune to deal with – decided to cut me off. So the tweets stopped this morning when my i-phone could not access the internet.

yacht by moonlight

Moonshadow - photographed in moonlight

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that this short trip was a great success and we are now safely back home with Moonshadow tied up  in Kirkcudbright marina.

It produced some really interesting photographs of the coast and of my boat Moonshadow – I even got a shot of her as the sun came up like thunder at dawn – and another of her lit my moonlight – real moon shadow. This involved climbing down onto the sand before the tide came back in and setting up a tripod. The decks were covered in frost and it was sooo.. cold out there on that beach I thought my fingers would stick to the camera.

Photograph above: I was pleased when my friend author David Collin came up on deck and helped bring a touch of human interest and scale to the picture

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed: 2 secs
  • Aperture: f/14

Bottom photograph: Moonshadow by moonlight. The pre-dawn light was behind me to light the hull of the boat, but the moon was still shining brightly

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed: 1.6secs
  • Aperture: f/7.1

So it was well worthwhile braving the cold in order to be able to explore and photograph some magical places. Sailing and photography can go together so very well. I don’t mean you macho ocean crossings, but the wonder of discovering new places that can only be reached and fully enjoyed if you can explore them by boat.

Photographer’s Block

My friend Carl Dania – you may remember he was the moderator on the old PhotoActive Forum – sent me this photograph together with what sounds a bit like a plea for help.

“The attached photo was taken in Ravello during our Italy trip last month. I underexposed it slightly, to allow for the fact that I was standing in shade, whilst the area beyond the arch was quite bright – I did not want the sky under the arch to completely blow out. Then brought the levels back up in pp, and burnt the sky in a touch.

Photographer's Block

Carl Dania's photograph taken on a wet day in Italy

“But I am not sure about the dark areas. I have tried lifting them a bit, but am not sure whether it improves things or not. To be honest, I am now suffering from ‘photographers block’ – the more I look at the pic, the more confusing it gets. I would very much appreciate some comment if you could spare a moment to take a look.”

Well, Carl, my first reaction to the picture is yes, the shadows are certainly a bit too black, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

I’m more concerned with your comment about suffering from ‘photographers block’ and the more you look at the picture the more confused it gets.

Well, basically, the picture – at least the composition – is fine. You have achieved a good feeling of depth and the atmosphere created by the wet cobbles is okay. But it lacks punch and impact, not because of the lack of detail in the shadows, but more because the view is very pleasant but not outstanding – and there are all sorts of little distractions within the frame. Like the redness peeping through the trees on the right.

So what might have been done? – note I’m talking about what could have been done when you actually took the picture, not afterwards in Photoshop. I am also saying what I would have done – others will see it differently.

Firstly, you have people in the picture but they are very small – in the distance. Perhaps timing your shot for when one of those people has just passed you by and is walking into the frame (or out of it). That way you might have filled part of the foreground with wet umbrella and the figure rather than just wet cobbles.

It is easy to do this. Just watch someone approaching from behind you, stand slightly to one side so that the person has to walk on the side of the composition you want them in, wait until they have just walked past and press the button. – Hey Presto! instant interesting foreground.

Time it right and you still see enough wet cobbles to complete the atmosphere of a wet day and you have added human interest to the shot.

‘Photographer’s Block’ can happen to anyone. When it does, it’s always best to go back to basics, aim for simple, straightforward subjects, clean composition – and don’t try to get to complicate things. KISS – Keep It Simple … !

Regarding the highlights and shadows. It’s the perennial problem with bright skies and deep shade. High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Do you shoot RAW? Is so you have a partial answer. I’m sure there’s a simpler way but this is just one of the ways that I improve things.

If I have exposed to get some detail in the shadows and the sky has burnt out a little…

Copy the RAW image. Convert the original and save it. Open the RAW copy and under expose by two stops in order to get some detail in the sky. The sky should improve greatly and detail appear. Convert this RAW image and save it.

Open both saved images in Photoshop – or whatever you use (it must support Layers). Copy and paste the first image (that with the burnt out sky) over the one with the darkened sky – this creates another layer.

Create a mask layer on the top image and gently burn through (with an appropriate brush and opacity) to the darkened sky where necessary.

Flatten the image and save it. You should now have an improved sky.

I will try to do a walk-through with screen grabs on this in the future

So, to summarise: the secrets to good photography are nearly all at the picture taking stage – that’s where you should concentrate your efforts. Simplify your ideas and your ‘Photographer’s Block’ will be released with a rush.

Photography Courses with Philip Dunn

Light & Colour

I just couldn’t resist posting these images from yesterday’s outdoor shoot with my student on a one-to-one photography course.

photography courses landscape

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/100sec
  • Aperture: f/9

Landscape photography coursesIt was late afternoon and the low slanting sun was hitting this old boat wreck on the sea shore. That light and colour was just eye-watering. What you cannot get from these simple photographs is the sounds and atmosphere of that place yesterday afternoon – very still and hardly a sound except for the piping curlews and call of the wading birds along the shoreline.

  • Photograph Left:
  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/80sec
  • Aperture: f/10

One of those magical moments – it lasted for all of 15 minutes before the sun was obscured by cloud.

The picture below show’s my student’s shadow on the red hull of that old boat – just look what the light is doing to the colour of that boat!

There’s more about him and his Leica M9 in my last post

Photograph below:

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/80sec
  • Aperture: f/18

photography student's shadow on red boat

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