Monthly Archives: May 2016

12 May 2016 – Digital Print Competition

This week was a digital print competition, the Ken Hayward Memorial Cup (Digital), there were 54 images entered in total and the theme was Flora and Fauna.  The judge for the evening was Malcolm Hardie.

These competitions as I have blogged before have a specific format; firstly, the images are shown in succession one after another so everyone can see what the entries are, next they are shown one by one and the judge gives his critique of the image before moving on.  The critique usually includes what has been done well and what could be improved, and then the final part is the scoring.

The scoring for each image is out of 20 and as well as a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, there are 2 highly commended awards given.

So how did I do…

BLOSSOM ABUNDANCE by Elisabeth Smith

BLOSSOM ABUNDANCE ISO 200 1/160 sec. f/2.8 105mm

Score: 15

Critique:  A difficult subject to photograph as there needs to be something that holds the eye.  The flowers at the bottom of the frame are competing and the branch to the left takes the eye out of frame.  The soft colours are nice.



BLUEBELL by Elisabeth Smith

BLUEBELL ISO 200 1/125 sec. f/4 105mm

Score: 16

Critique: Sometimes there are remnants of things insects have left behind so it’s worth taking a brush to clear these bits off prior to photographing.  Also the bottom flowers are out of focus.  One of the mid flowers appears damaged so is not the best example of a bluebell, however, the background is good and the vignette works.






HAIRY FLY by Elisabeth Smith

HAIRY FLY ISO 100 1/3200 sec. f/2.8 50mm

Score: 12

Critique:  Good colour.  Distraction to the bottom left and right of the frame.  This would have scored more highly if the image had been square and the black space to the right was removed.  It would have benefitted by pulling out a little as the plant is right on the frame.



POM POM PRIMULA by Elisabeth Smith

POM POM PRIMULA ISO 100 1/400 sec. f/2.8 50mm plus a filter

Score: 10

Critique: There are competing elements within the frame  and some of the main subject is soft.  The cropping is strange with the left hand side of the flower out of frame.  Highlights are distracting but the support cast of stalks are good.






The lowest mark given was 10.

As well as the critique for my images there was some other feedback worth sharing, in no particular order:

– repetition of shapes makes for a stronger image,
– triangular, S, T. V and W shapes in an image gives more interest,
– leaving space can be compelling to the eye,
– to remove highlights from a heavily sunlit photograph use a diffuser across either the whole of the image or just the part which may distract the eye,
– catch lights in eyes are important (note: wet eye), and
– try to catch ‘life’ into an image it will engage the viewer more.

That concludes this post.  The next meet is a Clash of the Titans competition which only has entries which have scored a 20 throughout the season, which means I will not have any entries but may still pick up some tips.


Tim Flach – Photographer

Included within my tutor’s feedback for Assignment one ‘Square Mile’ was a recommendation to check out a photographer called Tim Flach.  The reason he was recommended to me was because he takes photographs of dogs, which was the theme of my Square Mile.  Also the main photographic genre which I’m interested in is portraiture so you will see that this recommendation was perfect on two levels.

Tim Flach (b. 1958) is a London-based photographer who takes photographs of animals using the principles of human portraiture.  I looked on his website and he really has some lovely clear crisp photographs of dogs on there (as well as horses and other subjects).  They look really polished, like professional portraits of celebrities would look, glamorous and they have a ‘magazine’ feel to them.

His website is well set out in grid style, no-nonsense and clean.  Although he is taking photos of these animals portrait style, his commentary is more around us as humans presenting other animals according to our own aesthetic rules/preferences.  Take cross and in-breeding of dogs for example which has resulted in breathing difficulties, allergies and heart problems in  some breeds, just so we can get a dog that’s say, small and doesn’t moult.

We see ourselves at the top of the animal tree.  As an intellectual species we should be earth’s caretakers however we are doing a pretty bad job with global warming, climate change and our increased impact on earths resources that ultimately every animal species on the planet will or is being affected by.

Soap box aside, Tim Flach’s photographs are inspiring and I think they definitely set a bar for animal portraiture.  Saying this it would be remiss of me if I did not add a portrait of my dog here in homage (although in no way to the same standard as Tim Flach’s photographs obviously).


Assignment one – ‘Square Mile’ – Tutor Feedback

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment one – ‘Square Mile’ – Tutor Feedback

Getting tutor feedback for your first ever photography degree assignment, even if it is primarily a diagnostic exercise, is nerve-racking but also a little bit exciting.  OK so maybe more than a little bit exciting.  On a distant learning course especially, where you haven’t been able to spend hours chatting to your course colleagues about your ideas and how they might be presented in photographic form to achieve the desired brief, tutor feedback plays an important role.  They are the ones who will guide you through your chosen learning path, who will challenge you to try new things and see things differently and give you the benefit of their knowledge, understanding and experience.  This is invaluable.

My family, albeit very supportive, are not creative types and sometimes I think they just nod in the right places and give some encouraging smiles but really they no idea or real interest in what I’m doing.  This is where my dark humour comes in and I chuckle to myself as it must be torture for them as I LOVE photography, I love talking about photography, I dream about photography, I make mental notes of how light falls on things as I travel to and from work, when I meet new people I’m framing them up in my head.  OK maybe I should be locked up now…

Anyway, on to the real reason for this post tutor feedback which has been provided in full below as instructed by my tutor.  My responses to the points raised will be in square brackets to differentiate between the two:

Overall Comments

It was a refreshing change to see a set of photographs from a dog’s point of view. Before reading your analysis, I guessed this is what you had done, so therefore when you hoped that viewers would think they are seeing the surroundings from the perspective of a dog, then you have achieved this aim. The print quality is good and I like the choice of finish (gloss) which brings out the light.

Overall, the set of images came across as experimental and a bit of fun, which is a great way to start the course. On closer inspection of your contact prints, I can see there are some stronger images and disagree with you that the weaker images are the ones taken too close to the subject. I would say that they had more impact and on your contact sheet 4 of 4, the close-ups of the pack of dogs are not strong compositionally, however they are more intriguing to look at and give even more of a sense of a dog’s environment, with more impact.

[I have made a note of this comment and will be considering this point when putting together future assignments.  I think I was too hung up on getting the images to be uniformed and look the same structurally with the horizon line in the same place that I overlooked some other aspects, in this case more interesting subject matter.]

Assessment potential

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.

[I have decided to take the course to its conclusion and aim for a degree.  I say that now!]

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Image 1
I think it is important to look at the overall picture, and from my point of view, my eye is drawn to the dog walker who is out of focus. This is because you have used f/2.8 so I can see that the red car on the right hand side is perfectly in focus. The white house is also the first thing that your eye is drawn to, therefore, I appreciate what you are saying in that this is from a dog’s point of view, however, the low angle is enough to inform the viewer of your intention,  but you need to consider how the viewer will read the image and anything that is white will always draw the eye first. With the dog walker being out of focus, then this could have been rectified with a slower shutter speed if you had wanted to portray movement and which would also have been a nice experimental touch.

[I have taken these comments on board, in particular; the use of shallow depth of field in relation to what I want the viewer’s focus to be, that bright areas will attract most attention so consider this when composing an image.]

Image 2
So your main reason in this image is ‘sniff corner’ which is the wall on the left. I can see that the wall has a lovely textural quality to it, and it would have been a good idea to explore this further with your camera. As it stands, the wall is the last thing I see because it is so dark. I am instead looking at anything white (house, garage doors), then onto the dog walker (like the movement but was this intentional?). Again, the main focal point seems to be the car in the centre of the frame. The road covers around two thirds of the image and I agree with you that you needed to have the dog walker in the foreground (sometimes, people can be obliging if you just ask!).

[Street style photography I do find awkward as I feel like I am in some way invading people’s privacy.  This probably says more about me than them but my tutor is right generally people are accommodating especially neighbours and fellow dog walkers, so as required I will ask to take photographs – what’s the worst that can happen?..  Also I love textures and close up work yet again I chose to ignore that approach in this assignment, hopefully I can draw this out in future.]

Image 3
I am not sure that the lines in this image are strong enough to create a pattern (which can work really well in photography). I like the shallow depth of field in this image with the wall in the foreground and my eye goes directly to the bin man whereby you have captured a good ‘decisive moment’.

[I will try to identify stronger patterns when composing but this one really was a case of being at the right place at the right time.]

Image 4
There is a large expanse of road in this image, however you have made it more interesting with the use of a reflection in the puddle. Overall the image is very dark (as are most of your photographs) and I note that you have used ISO 100 in all of them. Was this a conscious decision? Some more experimentation with ISO and f stops would be beneficial (although I appreciation you may have wanted a lower ISO so you did not lose quality). As you have used such a wide aperture, it is difficult for me to see what you have focused on.

[I used a low ISO as I have not been a general fan of grain, however, I have been to a number of exhibitions over the last couple of months and am finding I’m not so against it now.  I guess photography could be compared to a fine wine, it’s only when you have experienced and been exposed to a range that your palette becomes more discerning and you can appreciate that which you didn’t previously understand.  I will aim to experiment more.]

Image 5
Converging verticals can be problematic but resolved in Photoshop. As you have photographed from down on the ground, the small garages are probably more  exaggerated than they would normally be. The roofs reflected in the puddle work well. Be careful of structures growing out of people’s heads!

[A keener eye around the frame is in order.  The only thing that should grow out of someone’s head is hair, right?  Sorry to those who are follicly challenged.]

Image 6
This image may benefit from a re-shoot. I can see the appeal from a dog’s point of view, but it would be best photographed pin sharp so we can see the beautiful texture of the tree. In photography, anything out of focus would be seen as a fundamental flaw.

[Point noted and I will look to improve this shot and re-post on this blog as a developmental exercise.]

Image 7
Shadows are really not enough of a focal point on their own.

Image 8
This image is very similar to image 7 above, although it has a more interesting foreground.

Image 9
What a lovely portrait of your dog! I appreciate you were aiming for consistency with the horizon lines, however, this image would have been much stronger with a closer crop and would have shown further experimentation.


Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

You are on the right lines with regards to all the exercises which I have viewed on your blog. Be aware that it would be expected that you use some of the exercises to inform your final assignments, so for example, you have carried out an exercise on cropping and justified the reasons, but you have not carried out this theory (particularly for Image 9 as discussed above).

[The Square Mile images were taken and prepared before some of the exercises had been completed, so on a practical level not all the learning flowed into this particular assignment.  All the other assignments in the course follow the exercises so it should be much easier to link in with the learning undertaken in the relevant part of the course.]


Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

I am pleased to read you attended an OCA Study Visit and glad you got a lot out of it. Always try and incorporate any photographers you have viewed at exhibitions into your assignment briefs to sign post any which have influenced you (I know you have done this for assignment 1, so keep up the good work).

Learning Log

Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

Your blog is easy to navigate and you have made good reflective comments throughout.

Suggested reading/viewing


You have chosen to research relevant photographers and as a result of your subject choice, I would also encourage you to look at animal photographer Tim Flach. He specializes in photographs of dogs (running towards him).

[See my post on Tim Flach which was written post this feedback being received.]

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

  • Consider a variety of viewpoints, rather than just one viewpoint (although I appreciate your reasons for this with regards to this assignment)
  • Utilise exercises to inform your assignments (where possible)
[I am pleased with my feedback; it is constructive, offers practical advice, suggests different techniques to try, challenges me to be braver when photographing in public and be more creative with my compositions and it gives me guidance on what is expected for future assignments.  So overall I feel I have made a good start to the course, I still have a lot to learn and try out and I’m looking forward to learning from this feedback and the next Assignment, Two – Collecting.]

2 for 1 on Martin Parr – A Study Visit

I took the opportunity to take my camera up to London and top and tailed the double-header study visit with a wander around the city taking some photographs.  However, as this blog is specifically about the photography degree course and not about some random photographs I have taken I have posted them as a 3 by 3 grid on my other blog but you can access them here if you were curious to see them.

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, Barbican, London, and
Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Date: Saturday 7 May 2016

And so to the study visit(s) which was really a double dose of Martin Parr, first as curator and then as photographer…

First up was the Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers exhibition at the Barbican. The following extract has been taken from the Barbican’s website

“Curated by the iconic British photographer Martin Parr, Strange and Familiar considers how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK.

From social documentary and portraiture to street and architectural photography, the exhibition celebrates the work of leading photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. Bringing together over 250 compelling photographs and previously unseen bodies of work, Strange and Familiar presents a vibrant portrait of modern Britain.”

The good thing about these visits, apart from meeting up with other students and OCA tutor, is that you get exposure to so many photographers, which helps to broaden knowledge and awareness of different photographic techniques, styles, influences, presentation and much more.

I couldn’t possibly comment on everything that I saw as there was far too much.  As a result I have picked out a few of my ‘take-away’s from the exhibition:

My favourite photographs at the exhibition were by Sergio Larrain (b. 1931 d. 2012) a Chilean photographer.  You can find a selection of his photographs (and a profile) on the Magnum Photos website.  His photographs in the exhibition were from 1958/1959.  The main reason I liked his photographs was for his choices of composition.  I think you can see the care he took over his compositions, which at times reflected an element of humour.  He used space, blurring, perspective, reflections and angles, as well as taking photographs on the angle (‘dutch’ angles), all to good effect.

Generally I am drawn to portraits as my preferred photographic genre, however, I’ll be honest I did not enjoy Bruce Gilden’s portraits one bit. If it’s an impact you want to make then his portraits is how you would do it.  You could potentially leave the exhibition with his portraits etched on your visual cortex as they are one of the last sets in the exhibition.  Why did I not like them; brash colours, subjects were alternative in their appearances (I’m being kind) and their faces filled the frame, which was large (floor to ceiling).  It looked like a bit of a freak show and I just wonder what Martin Parr was trying to say by including them.  Maybe it is a narrative to say  we are now caricatures of ourselves, anything goes and where bolder and brighter is better….

On the exhibition as a whole, I enjoyed the concept and being reminded of days gone by; times when people would read a newspaper in groups on the street, the milkman would deliver milk to and collect ’empties’ from your doorstep, uniforms were much more formal, smoking was allowed everywhere and anywhere, dogs freely roamed the streets and faces seemed more weathered.  From this perspective the exhibition captured an essence of every day British life through the years which at the time would have seemed normal.  As things change the normal of the past becomes the abnormal of the future, which suggests the normal of today will become the abnormal of tomorrow and photographers are key players in documenting now for the future.

The other photographers included in the exhibition (and apologies if I’ve missed any) were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edith Tudor-Hart, Paul Strand, Robert Frank, Sergio Larrain, Garry Winogrand, Candida Hofer, Glles Peress, Akihiko Okamura, Evelyn Hofer, Jim Dow, Axel Huite, Bruce Davidson, Frank Habicht, Shinro Ohtake, Tina Barney, Rineke Dijkstra, Raymond Depardon, Bruce Gilden, Hans Van der Meer and Hans Eijkelboom.

If you decide to go, you would need at least an hour and half to walk round, longer if you wanted to stand and contemplate each photograph for any length of time.

The second exhibition was Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  The follow extract has come from the Guildhall website.

“View the City of London through the lens of acclaimed Magnum photographer Martin Parr. Explore the pomp, ceremony and behind-the-scenes activity as Parr brings the City to life, capturing the traditions and people who make up the colourful Square Mile.”

In contrast to the first exhibition, this was small which after the previous photographic marathon was a bit of a relief.  A selection of Martin Parr’s photographs gave you a behind the scenes view of traditional ceremonies and royal entourage.  The places and views inaccessible to all but a few privileged people.  The series you could see was ‘put together’ although at first glance you might have thought otherwise e.g. two photographs which when side by side had lined groups facing each other.  In the back room the subjects in the photographs faced towards a large painting on the wall, almost in salute of it.  The bright and vibrant colours suited the series.  I did notice that in some photos parts of the image which you might have thought should be in focus weren’t and it wasn’t obvious why.  It could be that with the photos enlarged to the size they were some sharpness was lost.

It was a good but long day and by the end my brain was awash with ideas, questions and research points.  I’m sure there is more I could have shared but I believe there will also be a review going up on the OCA website which I will link to here when it has.

28 April 2016 – Ady Kerry – Photographer

After a few last-minute changes to the programme this week we were very fortunate to welcome Ady Kerry, photographer, who came to speak to us about his experience as a sports and commercial photographer.  You can read more about Ady Kerry and see examples of his work here

Ady started taking photographs as a child around the age of 10 or 11.  His bedroom overlooked the flight path and circuit of RAF Waddington so he started taking photographs of aircraft in flight.  He decided the natural career route was to become a photographer for the RAF so at 18 he started the process.  After a period in the RAF undertaking lithographic printing he was then assigned as a unit photographer for the Army, which he said was the making of him both as a photographer and a person.  In 1995 he decided to make a break and become a freelance photographer and has spent the last 21 years working on varied projects and commissions which has taken him around the world.

The presentation took the format of us being shown some of Ady’s work, photograph by photograph.  With each image Ady gave us some background and asked us some questions about the image and we discussed.  We also had a chance to ask questions too.  This session was extremely interesting and informative.  There was so much guidance, advice, tricks and tips given at this session that is would be difficult to provide everything in this blog post, so I have listed some key things that for me were the main take aways;

  • Think Backwards!
    When most hobbyist photographers go out to take photographs they have the mind-set of ‘lets go out and see what we can get a photograph of’.  As a commercial photographer you are given a brief and need to think about what you need to do to achieve that image for the client.  So, before the camera is even touched there is a planning phase.  You need to ask yourself some questions; What am I going to take?  Where is the best location for capturing that?  What time of day do I need to shoot?  What equipment do I need etc.  Ady suggested that before we take our cameras out we should have an idea of what we want to take a photo of and how we will achieve this.  This will provide greater focus, we will take less photographs as a result as we have a more detailed brief and will be looking for specific subjects/conditions.  Also I imagine there would be a sense of achievement if you managed to capture what you had aimed too.
  • Left to Right.
    This has come up before but Westerners read from left to right so we should bear this in mind when constructing photographs/images.  In particular when images are going to be used commercially and have text added, if so the positioning of that text, or rather the space we leave as photographers to allow for that text should be considered.
  • Mounting.
    When mounting our work for competition we should consider leaving a slightly bigger border to the bottom of the image to give it space. [Note: I will further research this point].
  • Mind the Gutter.
    No not the one that captures water or waste, but the area of an image which would naturally sit in the middle of a two page spread in a magazine.  One of Ady’s aims when submitting commercial images for a magazine/publication is to compose an image so it can be used as a two page spread i.e. ensuring that the centre of the image does not include anything important.  As a photographer you want to get your images noticed and what better way than by having a two page spread.
  • Emotional Attachment.
    When producing an image for commercial use it’s important to be objective and not to submit an image just because it’s a place or subject that gives you good memories without considering  if it fits the brief.  Everyone looks at images differently and another person will not have that same emotional connections as you, so think more about the rules and maybe understand the client’s emotional connections more as you are more likely to sell that to them.

I hope the above points have made you consider composition from a commercial perspective, they certainly have given me some food for thought.