Photography News 10

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Opinion

BEFORE THE JUDGE AndrewPepper

Digital image competitions have replaced slide competitions in many camera clubs and for many the learning curve has been steep. In 2014, have we smoothed out all the bumps yet?

MEET THE JUDGE AndrewPepper: Andrew started taking photographs as a student with a Praktica LLC in 1978. After starting work in datacommunications he moved on to Minolta Dynax before buying a Nikon D100 in 1993. He currently uses a D300. Home club: Mill Camera Group (Stock, Essex) www.millcamera group.org.uk Years in photography: 30 Favourite camera: Nikon D300 Favourite lens: Nikon 10.5mm fisheye Favourite photo accessory: Lambency Flash Diffuser Favourite subject: Cricket Favourite photographers: Angus McBean, Bill Brandt Awardswon: I’m an LRPS

Words by Andrew Pepper

Unexpected sparks – in a goodway

editing software makes monochrome easy and most cameras have a black & white mode. The result is we now have an annual monochrome competition with strong entries frommost members. The best unexpected sparks are when clubs think of uses for FFP that have never occurred to me. For years, I’ve been trying to think of a way to electronically score print competitions; the best I’d come up with was to use a webcam to photograph each print as it was put up for scoring, which even I could see was crazy. Then a projectionist casually mentioned to me that they’d been using FFP to score their print competitions for some time; his club told members to email a JPEG of their print to the projectionist before the meetings. These were loaded into FFP and it was easy to give each image a score as the corresponding print was judged. I wish I’d thought of that. So are we there yet? I think we might be close; there are still members who struggle with setting the metadata – but we had members who struggled with putting the dots on 35mm slide mounts.

slides; why should it be hard with a computer? I was also thinking about competitions that used two projectors – we couldn’t afford a second, so would we have to abandon some competitions? It struck me that in a new digital era, it was ridiculous that we should have to give up some of the flexibility and functionality of slides. At this stage, I decided to try writing a program designed specifically to run camera club competitions. The result was Film Free Projection (FFP) and we’ve been using FFP for our competitions since early 2006. It’s designed to run on a laptop connected to a digital projector. This means there are two monitors – the laptop screen and the projector. The operator controls FFP using the laptop, and all that appears on the projected screen are the images. We can see this in the image (right). To project any image, I click on it with the mouse, or use the laptop cursor keys to move up and down. Things do get better In the days of Windows XP, connecting the second screen was something of a dark art. Since 2006, Windows has had three major updates and now when you connect a projector to a laptop, Windows automatically detects it and asks what you want to do. Better yet, it remembers what you did and does the same next time. Plug the projector into the laptop, and it works – believe me, that makes the projectionist’s life much less stressful. Coupled with that, things have become easier for members. Digital images have areas to store metadata – exposure time, aperture, ISO settings and so on – but there are also areas to store the author, title and subject of the image. Setting the author and title was slightly awkward in Windows XP. Since Windows Vista, it’s become much simpler: the image metadata can be seen and edited in Explorer. Like Windows, but without the same level of publicity, FFP has had three major updates since comeback with digital competitions? In the days of film, monochrome images in our club competitions were becoming rare; few members had a darkroom to produce their own prints and black & white slides required special, rather expensive, film. I remember a small gasp going around the room when a black & white slide appeared on the screen. Now image As Samuel Johnson said, “Our brightest blazes are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.” And moving to digital has provided some real surprises for me. A few years ago, a club asked me whether FFP could run a knockout competition. “Of course not,” was my first thought, but once I’d understood what was needed – and the complications of some images getting a bye from the first round – it wasn’t too hard to add. I didn’t think much more about this until a couple of years later when I spotted a knockout competition had been added to our own syllabus; I’d been away and someone had seen the option in the menu. The members enjoyed it and it’s become a regular competition. And who predicted monochrome making a

Nearly ten years ago, our local camera group received a lottery grant to buy a digital projector and laptop. With a background in IT, I volunteered to choose the equipment and software to move us into the digital age. So, in November 2005, I was unpacking our brand new Canon XEED Projector and Windows XP laptop. Running a digital image competition with unfamiliar equipment at that time wasn’t ideal: everything was new. On our first ‘digital’ evening, each member brought a CD of images. Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken into account the time it took to load each CD and copy the images. 20 minutes after the due start time I was slightly wild eyed and copying the last CD. Having an interested audience didn’t help. For the first trial competition, I used PowerPoint. This worked reasonably well for projecting a series of images, and I worked out a way to hold back images so they could be scored at the end. Of course, PowerPoint couldn’t score a competition or shuffle the images, but it was presentation software so wouldn’t be expected to. I started looking for software to run camera club competitions. The programs I looked at fell into two camps: presentation software and media management software. I tried half a dozen packages, running imaginary competitions using a laptop connected to a monitor that acted as the projector. As I dutifully typed up my impressions for the camera group’s website, I grew dissatisfied – most programs could run a basic competition, but some things I had to do were awkward. For example, once I’d loaded the images for a competition, I wanted to shuffle them into a random order. But I also wanted some images to stay put during a shuffle; if I had a title image saying ‘The End’ I wanted it to stay at the end. This kind of thing was easy with conventional

In a newdigital era, it was ridiculous that we shouldhave to give up some of the flexibility and functionality of slides

Mywebsite: www.filmfree projection.co.uk

2006. The current version (3.3) has a range of Judges’ Aids, which show the shooting information and can crop, rotate, flip, lighten or darken the projected image. FFP supports six different competition types and has a configurable scoring system to cope with most club scoring schemes. When I started planning the scoring software, I started researching what clubs used – I asked members of other clubs and visiting judges, and looked at club websites. I was surprised at the diversity. Now it’s gone beyond that and I’ve become convinced that no two camera clubs have identical schemes. And some are so complicated that I wonder how the clubs in question managed to score competitions before computers. It was only after around a year of feedback and improvements that I became reasonably confident that FFP covered pretty much every angle.

Photography News | Issue 10

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