Photography News Issue 34

Photography News | Issue 34 |



Before the Judge


Each month, a respected judge or exhibition selector shares their thoughts and experiences. This month we speak to Andy Beel FRPS Andy Beel FRPS

Words by Andy Beel

For a long time, my attitude to competition judging was quite straightforward. My view was, why is my opinion more important than anybody else’s?Over time,myopinion softened, and I attended a Western Counties Photographic Federation judging seminar. I feel privileged to see such a wide range of work at all levels of amateur photography. It is a humbling experience to realise this stimulating, inspirational work feeds into my own avenues of thought and discovery. When looking at the work of those who have not yet gone far in their photographic journey, it is always a worthy reminder of where I started. To all those who want to progress their competition photography, you only fail if you give up the battle to get recognition for your vision and style. It is a truism that you learn by initial failure and trying to improve your technique or artistry. Praise only boosts the ego, but as visual artists, we live off the oxygen of praise. Constant encouragement is everything. In the cold One of my stand-out judging experiences was in Dorset. The club asked me to judge their monochrome competition cold. There were two classesofprintstobeassessed,andthe total number of prints was 90, each to be commented on in 90 minutes. My jobwas to pick first, second, third and highly commended. It was a case of eliminating one by one until I was left with five or six that were going to be givenaplaceorbehighlycommended. I like cold judging because it gives the audience a sense of the drama of the competition. Quite often the winner jumps out at me the very first time I see it, and sometimes it happens that the places between first and third get allocated to different prints in the decision-making process. In any club, there will be a range of work from excellent to could do better and some clubs aremore suited to competition photography. The standard of amateur competition photography is improving. To win, you have to make the judge’s job as easy as possible. Photography is about taking and making a photograph. Pictures are taken, but photographs aremade. The standards for taking or seeing a picture in, say, street photography need to consist of more than just people walking around, try adding a little humour or juxtaposition of ideas. At local competitions, I think the most common failing is not to appreciate and understand what the subject matter is and how to present it with dominance. A term I use is

‘attraction’.Why did you take the shot in the first place? What is the essence of the attraction you want the judge to see? The judge must not be left guessing the picture’s subject. Sometimes one can become lost for words to give a positive, constructive assessment of the picture. A judge will be trained to say three positive things before adding constructive criticism,andsometimesthisbecomes a little tricky. In a poor picture, if an unpromising subject matter is accurately focused and exposed then these qualities will be praised. In black &white IamproudtosaythatIamwellknown for my black & white photography. The genre is highly interpretive and adjustable in its tonality and in many cases an image will not be presented to its greatest potential. The post- processing for many black & white pictures lacks vision, intent, global and local contrast. The genre, black & white photography, is about light, texture and contrast, not colour. Themaking of a picture, ormaking a print from a digital negative, is a separate skill. Those working in colour have fewer controls to consider than those working in black & white. Making a black & white picture is, in my view, a far more difficult skill to master. Colourphotographers coming to mono should seek advice from experts.Many people say tome: ‘I love black & white, but my mono pictures don’t look anything like yours.’ This gives me the opportunity to explain how standards of taking and making mono images can be improved. I have an interest in traditional photography, meaning the picture presented comes from a digital negative with limited post- processing. For me, this is the essence of photography. A picture made up of various elements taken from different continents around the world is graphic art, not photography. Composition Composition is the art of leaving things out – it is a subtractive process. A maxim I tell clients and workshop participants is ‘use it or lose it’ when composing.Ifanelementofthepicture isnotaddingtotheoverallimpactthen why is it there? This is predominantly true of bald skies. In a landscape, the sky will have the biggest bearing on themood and atmosphere. For me, there are no rules of composition, only aspects to consider. These include appropriate lighting, proportion, tone, colour palette, lines, texture, base, shapes, negative space, diagonals, form and scale. Think about howyou’re going to use these to

Andy Beel FRPS Andy Beel is a professional photographer who offers workshops, masterclasses and tours specialising in monochrome including digital lith and printing. With Prof. Bob Ryan FRSA ARPS he has co-authored The Master Photographer, the journey from good to great , out in September. For more information go to Years in photography I first joined the British Rail Staff Association Camera Club in 1982. Home club I am a founding member of the Avon Valley Photographic Society. I am also a member of the RPS’s Digital Imaging Group and was a committee member until this year. Favourite camera After going through a series of Canons, I decided to reduce the weight of my camera bag and plumped for the Fujifilm X-T1 camera body. For me, it has all the benefits of excellent handling in a body that is not too big or small. Favourite lens The Fujifilm 10-24mm f/4 lens, which is a 15-36mm in 35mm full- frame terms. Favourite photo accessories The Peak Design Sliding Camera Strap and the Peak Design Capture Clip. With this system, I can have one body on the sliding strap and another body on the Capture Clip. Favourite photographer There are far too many to mention here but the stand-out photographer for me, who is currently working, is Sebastião Salgado. I also greatly respect the work of André Kertész and Bill Brandt – strange bedfellows, I know, but true. Favourite subject I have found adding grain, slow handheld shutter speeds, digital lith style work and infrared photography give me satisfaction. Awards I possibly hold a record for becoming a Fellow of the RPS through the usual route in the quickest possible time when I achieved Licentiateship, Associateship and Fellowship within 18 months. I am also proud to have won a London Salon medal at my first attempt. I was invited to have an exhibition at Fenton House, the RPS headquarters in Bath presenting my work in Ethiopia to much acclaim and I have a print in the RPS permanent collection.

express your message with impact to the judge. The purpose of narrative intent is to tell a story, and the purpose of creative or interpretive intent is to make pictures about the subject. Once the impact and intent have been assessed by the judges all the other components such as composition and use of light etc. can be evaluated as to howwell they assist themessage. In an ideal world Each judging panel will be selected by the organising committee for the judges’ knowledge and experience. On some occasions, there are disagreements between judges, but at the other end of the scale, it has been necessary to offer advice to other judgeswhen they are indecisive about which entries should be awarded a medal or ribbon. Inan idealworld, everypicturewill be judged on its merits, but all judges have pet hates. Familiarity with an overdone subject or style can cause recency heuristics. I would suggest your scores may be better if you try a talentedmodelwhose face isn’t sowell known rather than using the same model as everybody else. If you follow the crowd, you will be treated like the crowd. If your picture is the 20th of the same subject in the same style, then it has to be truly outstanding in every respect. Many judges will not recognise the merits of your picture if they have seen 19 before yours. To improve the quality of judging, training is required with feedback on performance. I know many federations have put these skills in place. One is not necessarily a good judge just because one has been doing it for a while. Indeed, I know an

excellent judge with only three years’ experience. Longevity does not equal quality and experience does not equal expertise. A good judge rigorously assesseswhat they see fromany genre and is consistently objective. The internationally agreed components useful for judges to considerwhenmaking an assessment can be broken down into focus, exposure, technical – noise reduction and sharpening, depth-of-field, use of colour, tonality in mono work, use of light, composition, narrative intent or creative intent and impact. The accuracy of focus is important because it has prepotency which means if it isn’t accurate every other part of the process has no value. It is possible to rescue most aspects of a Rawfile inpost-processingapart from inaccurate focusing. The key to competition and salons is instant impact. You have to get your intended message over to the judging panel within ten seconds. Aim for simplicity without distractions and communicate as directly as possible. Enter pictures of excellent quality in their artistic and technical aspects, be different from winning trends. If a single judge is known for a style or genre of photography, don’t enter work in the same genre as their expertise. The judge may know more about their specialist subject, giving them more material with which to examine your entry. Enter work outside of their safe sphere of knowledge. In that way, a good picture with no noticeable distractions or reasons not to give it a good placing could potentially dowell.

What do you think?

Have you seen a photographic judge at work who you’d like to see profiled in Photography News ? If so please drop us a line to opinion@photography- with the judge’s name and, if possible, their contact details.

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