Visit Exhibition – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 at Mshed, Bristol: A judge’s perspective

I visited this exhibition not only from my interest in wildlife photography but also to gain an insight into how these competitions are judged.  Roz Kidman Cox, a competition judge, wildlife writer and former editor of BBC Wildlife gave a very informative and interesting talk as we toured the exhibition of 100 photographs, the product of some 43000 entries from photographers representing 26 countries. Roz was able to talk from a position of considerable experience having been involved with the competition since 1981 and she did so with evident passion and knowledge of wildlife and what it means to capture the moment but without undue interference.  The competition does not distinguish between professional and amateur, an interesting stance given the quite extensive resources that went into the capturing of some of the photographs, and has many categories.  There is a wide variety of images, some absolutely magical and others quite shocking. Obviously the judges have a mammoth task in distilling such a vast number of entries into the top 100 and the winners of each category but one of the things that struck me is that this is done completely anonymously and my understanding is that it is also without any data relating to the photograph unless there is a concern raised.  Given the strict code of photographic ethics placed on the entrants and the number of miscreants identified over the life of the competition it says much about the integrity of photographers worldwide, at least I hope it does.

I was surprised at the wide range of categories included in the competition, some that I would not have expected eg landscape, but on reflection, and a quick reminder of the definition (“the native fauna (and sometimes flora) of a region”) all would seem to encompass wildlife and provide for a very visually stimulating and thought-provoking collection of photographs.  As to be expected not all were to my taste, not only from a subject matter perspective but I some cases I though they pushed the boundaries just a bit too far with regard to the set up and the potential to disturb the animals.  However, I do accept that, at times, it may be necessary to go to extremes but I believe this should only be done when it is part of a necessary concerted campaign to bring a particular issue to the notice of a wider audience; it is a fine line we tread as photographers.

Whilst there were many in the cast of 100 that floated my boat there were four that I found had a real impact.  The first is a shot of two jaguars (The Spat), a female putting a male in his place, taken by Joe McDonald and won the Behaviour:Mammals category; this is exactly what I would expect to find in such an exhibition, it captures nature at its best, as found, and to my eyes is a technical masterpiece in capturing the moment as well as showcasing what a wildlife photographer, in the most basic sense of the definition, can reveal to us.  The next, the winner of the Wildscapes category, is by Sergey Gorshkov; it is the eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano, a stunning photograph made all the more so when considering he shot it hanging out of an helicopter flying in close proximity to the event.  My third memorable entry is God’s Ivory by Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year category; in just six images he tells a story that depicts greed, wide cultural differences and craftsmanship.  The final photograph that has left a lasting impression is one by Garth Lenz, runner-up in World in our Hands category, Oil Spoils, which shows the devastation caused by the extraction of bitumen from the tar-sands in Canada;  I stood in front of this image for quite some time, my eye roving all over it taking in the detail of what is being done to the land, he clearly knows how to compose a captivating photograph that tells a story.  I was also very impressed by the entries in the young photographer category, some made me feel very much at the lower end of the learning curve!

This is an excellent exhibition made all the more so by the talk by Roz Kidman Cox, well worth a visit in my opinion.

Bibliography:

Lenz, G. (2014) Available from: http://www.garthlenz.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

M shed. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013.  Available from: http://mshed.org/whats-on/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year/ [Accessed 20 January 2014]

Natural History Museum. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013. Available from: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/about/index.html [Accessed 23 January 2014]

Stirton, B. (2014) Available from: http://www.brentstirton.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

 

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Diagonals

Task

Adding to the set of photographs showing horizontal and vertical lines, take 4 photographs which use diagonals strongly.  Experiment with both wide angle and telephoto lenses to see how the strong perspective of a wide angle lens used close to an edge or surface creates strong diagonals.

Research

There are many examples of diagonal lines in photographs of all genres and a quick google search “diagonal lines photography” revealed a host of images that exemplify the use of diagonals.  Of course the text of the supplied manual is also amplified in Michael Freeman’s book The Photographer’s Eye (2007: 76-79) and Prakel (2006: 44-45).  Clearly the diagonal line is seen as a powerful element in the composition of a photograph and even the orientation of the lines can influence what is being stated by the image.  I found that you do not have to stray far from home to find some quite striking examples and even the simplest of things produce powerful images that leave the viewer in no doubt as to what the photograph is about.

Outcome

Whilst I did experiment with both wide angle and telephoto lenses as suggested in the manual, I did not find the images I captured to be the best at depicting diagonal lines from a viewer’s perspective as required by the brief and reinforced by my tutor’s previous comments.  Again I have produced images in both colour and black and white to see how they compare as regards what the photograph is trying to illustrate.

Reflection

I have to say I did have some internal wrangling with this set of images; was I being too literal with the exercise at the expense of producing something more interesting.  In the end I decided to stick with these images as they seemed to meet the requirements of the brief and the opportunity for “creativity” lies with the assignment.  As I have already said, you do not have to look far for examples and even the simplest of images can be quite striking.  This exercise has, for me, provided a very good opportunity to compare the impact of the colour and B+W images; I feel that the shots of the vapour trails and the bricks are best viewed in colour given the contrast that the colours provide whilst the other two suit B+W.  I am still undecided as to the impact of the orientation of the lines but will look for this in the future, perhaps other subjects will make this clearer.  Overall, I think, subconsciously, I have used diagonals in my photographs in the past, probably influenced by seeing others in books, magazines etc so this use of lines does strike a chord with me.

Reference List:

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: composition and design for better digital photos. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Google. (2013) diagonal lines. Available from :https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=diagonal+lines+photography&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ITVdUsHSNYHI0wXEn4GQCQ&ved=0CEcQsAQ&biw=2560&bih=1235&dpr=1. [Accessed 1 October 2013]

Prakel, D. (2012) Basics photography 01: composition. Second edition. Lausanne. AVA Publishing SA

Visit Art Exhibition – “Trash to Treasure” by Melanie Paice

This exhibition, at the Robert Phillips Gallery, Riverhouse Arts Centre, Walton-on-Thames, centred on the use of materials that would normally end up in landfill; the paintings and drawings are on old ceramic tiles and slate and the sculptures are fashioned from broken incandescent light bulbs.  On entering the exhibition I was immediately struck by the urge to photograph the sculptures which were arranged on tables and, more striking, as ‘swarms’ hanging from frames suspended from the rafters.  I saw this opportunity as a challenge as it was in a very bright, white environment lit by a multitude of spotlights, all at varying angles, something I had not tackled before.  Also I had my camera with me “just in case” so was armed with just the trusty 50mm f/1.4 lens and everything was to be shot handheld.  There was also the issue of shooting when there was clear line of sight as people moved around the exhibits.  Having obtained permission to photograph I set about the task.

These two shots seemed fairly straightforward as far as what I was trying to achieve, show the artist with examples of her work.  However, the outcome illustrates the problem I was having  with achieving consistency in the lighting conditions; my after action review points to the advantage of using Manual for consistency.

These two shots illustrate the origins of the sculptures and the intricate detail of winding the filament wires to form the elements of the “bugs”, making each one unique.  As far as the shots are concerned, again the lack of consistency in the whites of each shot is very evident albeit I did use the ‘expose to the right’ principle.  Treating this as a still life photo in an ideal world would have involved use of a tripod and reflectors; this is an area for further practice.

As I intimated at the start, the ‘swarms’ were very striking, forming 3D sculptures; obviously a great deal of effort went into the arrangement to create the effect.  When photographing these I sought to use depth of field to best effect as well as capturing the light reflected off the nylon line used to suspend each ‘bug’ in the formation.  When reviewing these shots after the event I was taken by the fact that each ‘bug’ had, in effect, a face formed by the solder contacts or clever use of the filaments; note to self, pay more attention to detail when viewing things lest you miss an opportunity.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and was very much taken by the innovative use of “Trash” to produce some striking artworks and sculptures.  It provided me with the opportunity to try shooting in an unfamiliar environment as well as capturing some unusual subjects.  Clearly still life is a challenging subject area, particularly when it is attempted in a restricted environment. My thanks to Melanie for inviting me to her exhibition and then allowing me to “get in the way”.

Reference:

Paice, M. (2013) Trash to Treasure. Walton-on-Thames: The Robert Phillips Gallery. 15-26 May 2013.

Bibliography:

Freeman, M. (2009) Perfect exposure. Lewes: Ilex

Prakel, D. (2009) Basics photography 07, Exposure. Lausanne: AVA Publishing