Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Sunset afterglow, Trebarwith Strand (25/30)

Last Sunday, I presented my portfolio of 10 photographs for the award of CPAGB – Credit of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain. The PAGB is an umbrella organisation that represents all the photographic societies around the country; it has a series of Merit awards to recognise achievement by members of photographic societies. You're put forward by your own society or club to your local county federation; county federations put you forward to the PAGB providing there is evidence of contribution to federation activities. In my case, I've submitted pictures to and have had them accepted by the KCPA Annual Exhibition over the last three years.

For the CPAGB, the pictures are judged on a scale of marks from 2 to 5. 2 indicates that it is not up to standard, 3 a near miss, 4 is a pass, 5 is well above the standard required. (Clearly, they could be rated on a scale of 0 to 3, but it's more humane to give people a couple of points for just putting them in!) Marks are awarded by each of six assessors, so each picture is rated out of a total of 30 marks, and 20 is the pass mark. Since there are 10 pictures, the overall pass mark is 200 out of a possible 300 marks. The standard for passing is meant to represent "good club photography", by which they mean that the pictures might do well if selected to go into inter-club or inter-federation competitions.

The venues for the assessments move around the country: unlike the RPS, they do not have a fixed base. Last Sunday's event was held at Llanberis in North Wales. I turned up with my pictures at 9.28 a.m. – two minutes before the deadline, so well ahead of time by my standards :-) – all duly labelled according to PAGB specification and waited until all was ready.

51 portfolios were to be marked – a total of 510 prints. That seemed like an awful lot to me, and I wasn't expecting to get out any time before dark. However, when it came to it, it didn't take the judges more than five seconds to mark each print. They gave no explanation or commentary just the mark. Each print was displayed on an easel with good illumination in front of the judges. The prints had to fit into amount no bigger than 50 cm x 40 cm (mine were printed at 33 cm on the long side): although the judges were positioned well to see them, I was sitting at the back of the room and it was quite hard to tell anything about the quality of the image. As each image was displayed, after about five seconds the judges pressed the button for a mark, and the scorer announced the total for that image. I was quite surprised at how tough the standard is. A mark of 20 – the pass mark – really does represent very good photography. Although I could not tell if there were flaws in, for example, critical sharpness from where I was sitting, quite a number of what I would consider to be good pictures were not given pass marks.

The pictures come up in an order that is effectively random. Everybody's pictures were mixed together, but remaining in the order they were numbered; so, if your first picture was the ninth to appear for judging, your next one would be the 60th (as there were 51 entrants). There was somebody immediately before me who did record photography of church interiors, so I knew to look out for mine when I saw a nave or a pulpit. I kept a note of my scores as they came up, so knew roughly how I was doing. In the end, all my pictures were given passing marks, with one exception, which was given a 19 (and, naturally, it would be a picture that I like!) In the end, I had a total score of 222, a sufficiently comfortable pass that I didn't have any panic along the way. Of course it was helpful to know that my pictures were getting reasonable scores, but, nonetheless, I found it most enjoyable to sit and look at pictures for the morning. Having been awarded the LRPS and the ARPS in the last 18 months, I must be getting used to sitting anonymously in a darkened room having my work judged (hmm ... what does that say ...?).

The judges got through the marking at such a rate that we were done for prints by 1.10 p.m. Some going! I tried to give my own marks as the pictures went through, and found that for the most part I was giving a mark within the range that the judges must have been awarding. Occasionally they gave a 12 or 14 to a picture that I thought looked okay, i.e. they must have been giving 2 or 3 when I would have given 4, so I can only assume there were faults that were not visible from where I was sitting. Occasionally as well, I would give a mental 3 when they must all have given a 4 or 5 – I think that must be a matter of taste (for which there is no accounting, especially on my part). The sustained concentration from the judges is extremely impressive – admittedly it was not my job to do the marking, so I would probably survive the experience if required, but I could not help simply zoning out from time to time.

After lunch, the names of the successful candidates were read out; mine was among them.

At that point, it was on to projected digital image portfolios. They are, of course, projected much larger than the prints so it was easier to tell what was going on. I came away with a strong impression that there was a lower pass rate for projected images than for prints. I had seen this previously with the LRPS too. Although it's quite probable that people's screens at home are not calibrated exactly the same as the projector the PAGB uses, I can't help feeling that the extra trouble it takes to go to make a print means that the photographer has to take extra care to get the image exactly right, which is why prints have a higher pass rate than projected images.

At the end of the day, all the successful candidates were called up to get a blue badge. Bit of a waste on me – I don't do badges! Maybe I'll attach it to my camera bag. A certificate ought to follow in due course.

Just a final comment on choosing the pictures. I must acknowledge advice from JohnWigmore on this. He has sat on PAGB judging panels, so knows what they’re looking for. I had gone to see him a few weeks ago, with a pile of prints. Talking to him, I got a very good feeling for what was and was not likely to work. One other comment from him was that judges can get bored when they are presented with the same subject time after time, so I decided to do half aircraft and half other stuff. I chose some pictures from my ARPS portfolio that were somewhat pictorial, some others that had been accepted in exhibitions and a couple of new ones that I liked. 

I have put the resulting portfolio on Pbase. One picture from it is at the top of this post. It shows sunset afterglow at Trebarwith Strand. I'm particularly pleased this picture did well because it was taken in Cornwall in March at the time that Wonky Horizons came into being. (Incidentally, Martin got a much better picture than this at the time – being much braver than me at making his way over extremely slippery alginated rocks, he got a much better angle. Anyhow, the judges seemed to like this one well enough.)

In all, a most worthwhile experience. I have already told Phil and Martin that they should consider putting in for the CPAGB – I'm sure they've got plenty of pictures of the requisite standard.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Images from the natural world

I've been busy at work recently but managed to get a couple of hours this morning to process some images for printing so I did some JPEGs too for the blog.

A reminder of warmer times

Starting off with one of the later flowering of British orchids - pyramidal. Taken early on the morning of 10th July at Park Gate Down. The added bonus with this image was the brief appearance of a hover fly adding some interest and colour to the scene.

At the time I was experimenting with using my 500mm lens and a full set of extension tubes rather than my standard 100mm macro lens. This one was taken at f/11, 1/80th second exposure, with the lens resting on a large bean bag. I managed to achieve the diffuse background that I had hoped for and will try to refine this technique further next spring/summer with other orchid subjects.

Pyramidal orchid with hover fly

Cotter Force (Yorkshire Dales)

I spent a week on the Yorks/Lanks border in September and took a few photographs of the Cotter Force waterfall. The first time I processed them I was not happy with the results so I had another go and it all worked a lot better.

The problem I had was that I wanted to keep the rocks nice and sharp and the water really soft and when I applied the final sharpening, the water lost its feel. In the end I did a very hard noise reduction with Topaz DeNoise to take out a lot of fine detail, followed by some aggressive sharpening which boosted up the rocks and foliage but left the water almost untouched. I'm sure there was a more elegant way of doing this but I got there in the end. Anthony will know...

Cotter Force
Hothfield Common 

The autumn colours have been fantastic and with a day off last Thursday I started off with a few hours at Hothfield Common. Yes, I know I should call it Hothfield Heathland but old habits die hard.

I used my 70-200 lens to pick out some detail in the woodland, with the bark of the silver birches to give some structure.

Autumn on Hothfield Common
Oare Marshes

After lunch I headed over to Oare Marshes to check out the wader situation to coincide with high tide.

The East Flood was hosting many golden plover and lapwing with a few ringed plover and dunlin as supporting cast. The light was fantastic and the winds were very light so I took the opportunity to get some reflections of the waders as they roosted up.

Roosting Lapwing
I did use a Topaz Adjust to give this a slightly impressionistic feel as it was a bit too 'in-your-face' in its native state.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Trees in the mist

Philip and I got a couple of hours in this morning on the North Downs searching out some interesting trees in the mist.

Rather than the mist we had hoped for it was just foggy - none of that morning glow that can really lift an image. Nonetheless, it was still possible to shoot some soft monochrome images like the one below.

We bumped into a local farmer walking his dog and he was somewhat amused that a couple of guys would be up at the crack of dawn photographing in thick fog. Mad? Maybe - you decide.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

From the Archive: In the Foothills of the Himalayas

Olympus OM2n, Zuiko 100mm f2.8 lens, Kodachrome 64
I'm slowly scanning pictures from my film archive. This is one I like from 1983 photographed while walking in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


On October 12, 2011, I presented a portfolio of 15 prints at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath for the Associateship distinction. I'm delighted to record that my submission was successful, and that I am now ARPS.

Here is the hanging plan for the portfolio.

Hanging plan for my ARPS submission
I've put the whole thing on the RPS website (they show them rather small, I afraid), so here is one that I like a bit bigger.

The Fighting Falcon Swoops: Nikon D300, Nikkor 200-400 f4 zoom
It is the Belgian Air Component F16 at Fairford in 2010. I was standing in a muddy field north of the runway. The Red Arrows had been up before, and had left some of their red smoke around. I liked that a lot, so made it a bit more obvious by pushing the a channel in Lab colour, and restricting the effect to the cloud with a layer mask. I also pushed the contrast, and added a bit of grain with a couple of Topaz Adjust layers.

Just a couple of comments about the ARPS process while I'm writing. When I was awarded my LRPS 18 months ago, I had hoped to be able to use those picture towards the ARPS. But on taking advice, only one of them survived into the final panel (#5 in the hanging plan). I went along to an ARPS workshop earlier this year - and that was extremely useful in getting a broader perspective on what it takes to get the A. If you're in the process of working towards an A, I strongly recommend booking in for a workshop (the same applies to the LRPS). I also took advice one-to-one from two members of A panels, and they were extremely helpful in their comments as well. In the end though, I was wary of taking too much advice: I felt I had to make my own mind up, and put together a panel of pictures in my own way. So the portfolio I presented encapsulates my own view of my work, which makes it especially pleasing to have gained the award.