Each month I hold a photography competition. I am very proud of my subscribers. They try hard and work at their photography. Like all who do photography, my subscribers can sometimes find the themes challenging and yet rewarding. I always give feedback on why the winner won, and, hope that others can benefit from my words.
But what about the shoe being on the other foot? It’s all very well for me to hold a competition but do I have what it takes to win? And what about my images, how good or bad are they? Can I meet industry standards and can I win a state competition?
The answer is yes I can. Recently I entered the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s annual state competition. There are hundreds and hundreds of entries from around the state. The scoring system is 50- 100. If you get above 80 means your work is recognised as being not only professional level, but award standard. I was happy to enter but didn’t think I’d win anything. I just did it for the experience.
I entered my two landscape prints and received a silver award for both. (Above 80 for both prints). I was honoured.
This article is not to tell you how great I am. I’m not that kind of person, nor do I care to be. This article is about how I created the images. Photography is not really about photos any more, it’s about creating pictures. We do that by good camera and editing skills. The images took planning, timing, opportunity and lots of editing.
Here are the two images:
First image: My idea for this image of the Lillie’s was to create a beautiful, picturesque image where the mirror image was a strong feature. These images can only be done with reflections so I set out to find a pond to shoot. I came across this pond and knew it would be a great opportunity. I set the tripod up carefully so that my composition would be strong. I followed the rule of thirds to the letter. I placed the green Lilly pads on the bottom horizontal line. In the final edits I cropped the top a little to enhance the composition.
I shot in the morning so that I would have soft, warm light to work with. It was around 8 am in the late summer. Morning sunlight always looks very nice in nature so I knew I would have a pretty good chance to creating something aesthetically pleasing. There was no directly light on my scene so I knew my editing would be easier.
I removed flowers, increased overall contrast, desaturated the back reeds and increased the vibrancy on the flowers. I cleaned up the image using the clone tool and put a vignette around the outer perimeter of the image. The vignette was quite subtle- about 10%. It sounds like heavy editing but in reality it took me a few hours and the image was edited. I did some tweaks here and there after the main editing was done.
The paper you print on is very important because some papers reflect light differently to others. I printed on semi gloss paper so I could maintain the vibrancy. If I had have printed on matt paper I would have lost all the vibrant contrast that the image contained. Always make sure you choose your paper carefully when creating prints.
Second image: Lets talk about the image above, the man on the water. First of all I began planning my shoot. I wanted a scene that showed simplicity. This meant the scene had to be free of distracting elements such as boats, people fishing, dogs, etc. I wrote down a handful of locations where I could capture as close to this as possible. And, it had to have water. I wanted to convey an image of calm, stillness and isolation.
Once I found my location I had to plan for the light. At what time would the light reflect these feelings? Sure I could have aimed for a sunset, but everyone does that. I aimed to shoot in the morning, about 7am, so that I could capture the warm morning light to convey my story. The light needed to be soft and reasonably low in the sky. The light was everything. Light can make or break your photo, no matter how good your subject or scene is. If I had taken this shot at any other time in the day, lunchtime for example, the light would have been harsh. As a result there would have been no gentleness in the image. Whenever you are looking to ambient light to create softness then look for the time of day it best conveys this.
I wanted sharpness into the distance so I chose a small aperture. F16 was my choice. Not only did I want the man sharp, but I wanted the small ripples of water to be sharp too. I did end up sharpening the photo in Photoshop but not by much.It’s better to do everything in camera if you can because then you are working with a solid foundation. By capturing the right light, composition and elements in the photo you do not have to try and make things work in the post editing process. Once your foundation is stable everything you do in the post editing process becomes improvements, not repairs.
I ended up removing a few elements from this image with the clone tool. Initially there was a boat in the distance, some seagulls to the right and a person fishing to the left hand side. Once these things were removed I could work on refining the image. I took the shot with these things in the image because I knew I could easily take them out. I chose the most simple scene as I could for this very reason.
Desaturating the image was a part of my plan. I originally thought it might look nice in black and white but it looked a little washed out. I then chose to desaturate the image by about 70% to enhance the isolation. The original photo was quite vibrant with blue especially. If I had of kept the vibrant blue the photo would have looked too energetic for what I wanted.
For this image I printed on matt paper. I didn’t want any glossy look. I wanted to subdue any vibrancy and enhance the softness. The paper is very much an extension of your print so make sure the paper enhances the feeling of your image.
So, what am I looking for when I hold my own monthly photography competition for our ezine subscribers? Pretty much the same thing as I have worked on. Good lighting, focal length that is appropriate for capturing the story, perfect white balance and colour (no green skin tones) and a well defined composition. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Just have this little check list with you when shooting. Before long these things become second nature and you’ll perfect your shooting technique.
Colour, like light, is so important I can’t stress it enough. Submitting images with a yellow or blue cast when it should look neutral will not win you any competitions. Do a custom white balance especially if you are shooting people, vibrant colour or coloured objects. It’s important that cream looks cream, not sickly yellow. And it’s important to maintain that colour data right through your photography. Always shoot in Adobe RGB if you are unsure how to create a camera profile. You can do that in your camera settings, usually in one of the menu options. More about that another time.
I hope my article has helped you- especially with light and creating your final print. I love to teach and help people reach a great level of skill. You can find out more about how to create professional photos at www.DigitalPhotographySuccess.com. I wish you the very best in your photography.
Photo by Kyle Richardson.