Recently, I was a member of a jury for an international photo contest, themed “Water”. Ten-thousands of participants sent in their photos and we were supposed to select the best ones. It was a hard and exhausting job.
I was really shocked about the vast amount of really bad images: no balanced horizon, stains in the sky or cut of parts at the edges of the frame, blurry images or long-exposure images taken without a tripod. It was so annoying.
In addition, I was shocked about the huge amount of images, where the sender didn’t pay any attention to the topic of the contest. Either, the image was completely off-topic or the main subject of the image was something different and the water only padding or an accessory part.
Lets dig a bit deeper. For this competition, I expected to see images, where water is the main subject. Water can have one of 3 states of aggregation: gas, liquid or solid. Show them to me: i.e. Rain, rivers, ponts, fountains, the ocean, waves, a shore, snow or ice. Be creative.
But, keep in mind, water has to be the main subject. So, people rushing through the streets during rain won’t match the subject. But, raindrops on the surface of an umbrella will do. Or, the tire of a car splashing water from a rain poodle in the street while rushing through it, will do, too. Another example might be: not a glass of water standing on the table, but the detail of pouring the water out of the glass or in the glass.
My advises for sending in photos to a photo-contest are:
- read the rules carefully and understand them. Even such an easy-looking theme like the one I mentions above can be very, very tricky
- pick images with the topic as the main subject
- make sure, the chosen image has perfect quality (no stains, no dust spots, straight horizon, no blurs, no motion shake but intentional, …).
When it comes to lens flares: check, if they support the main subject. If not, avoid lens flares. They are often considered as a flaw, too.
- pay attention on how to compose an image (foreground, middle-ground, background; as well as where to place the part of interest). There are guides on how to compose an image available at the internet.
- focus on the message of your image. Include as much as possible, but not more than necessary. Just like Robert Capa said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”
- put your emotions aside. I know, your feelings and you memories come back when looking at you images. But, someone else won’t feel them just like you, because no-one else knows, what you felt while taking that picture. Everyone else simply sees the image and judges based on the image. So, put your emotions aside when selecting an image for a photo-contest.
- check the legal side: are you the author of the image? Are you allowed to publish / send in the image? Do you have property and / or model releases?
You know, by sending in an image to a photo-contest, you also have to hand over some legal rights!!
Check the fine-print of the photo-contest. Are you fine with all of the regulations? What about the GDPR?
- usually your gear isn’t important for an image to be eligible for a certain contest. But, sometimes the regulations say i.e. only cell-phones, no cell-phones, only taken with gear by a certain brand, no edits, only edited with a certain software
- What about watermarks? Sometimes the regulations say no logo or watermark. Obey the rule for not being disqualified. You know, I also use a small watermark as my signature, just like a painter. It’s neither a weapon against image theft or a working concept for documenting your ownership. Even without such a watermark you keep your rights. If you really want to have such a watermark, keep it unobtrusive. Otherwise it could ruin your image.
- double-check your image again against all of these advises!
You see, taking part in a photo-contest is not that easy, as it looks like first.
If you want to, you can take this as an example and for you own training.
If you want me, to judge one of your images, drop me a note and a link to the image in the comments below. The review can be public as well as private. It’s your choice.
Earlier this week I published a collage containing my top 10 images from last years Monochrome Madness, an open competition with only monochrome images. I got a few questions, how I was able to create it.
As usual, there are several options to create such collages. Some of the options might be Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, GIMP* or Scribus*. (* these apps are open source and available for free legally!) I uses something completely different: Collage Factory Free. This is the light version of a software specialized for creating collages. The light version does not have all features of the complete version. Thus you might call it CrippleWare! Despite this, it has enough features for me.
First of all, you select a template. You can always modify the collage by adding further images, delete place holder or re-arrange them. You can also change the size and the angel simply by clicking on one of the blue dots in the edges of a frame and pull it or click on the red dot above the frame and spin it around as long as you like it.
Next, you select your images and pull them in the free space on the left. From here, you distribute them manually with your mouse or click on one of the automatic buttons in the upper left area (“fill random” and so on) I usually distribute them on my own.
Now, you can add a text box, if you want to. You can use every installed font. The software goes you some effects to add, like shadow, border or fillings.
Not everyone like the default background. That’s ok! You can change it. the app comes with many different option for the background: simple colors, color gradients, patterns and background images. You can even chose your own image for the background.
The last step is choosing the image size for the final image ind jpg format. Here we have the strongest restrictions in the software. There are only very few sizes available in the free version. For me, it’s enough. But, decide on you own. Don’t forget to save the creation in the edible format of the app, too. So you can change parts later, if you don’t like your original creation. The file format is a structure, that contains even the selected image. So, you can even move the edible file i.e. to an external storage and won’t loose one of the used images.
I attached screenshots from the app of a complete workflow. I created a collage from my Cuba images.
If you try the software on your own, please let me know, if you like it and, maybe, you can publish your creations somewhere and leave me a link to it. I’d like to see your creations!
A few days ago, I got another interesting kind of photo software from MacPhun: Aurora HDR
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Before I start a review of this new software, I want to explain the basics in this concept first.
Dynamic is the variance from brightest to darkest parts of a natural scene, which is visible lossless when looking on it or capturing it in a single frame. Comparing the capabilities of the human eye and a modern digital sensor, you’ll find a huge difference. According to (Source), the human eye (although not the best in nature!) has a dynamic range of about 20 f-stops (out of 23 – a range from starlight lit scenes to white snow in full high standing sun at noon without clouds in the sky). So, you can see details in the dark, even when the surrounding scene is very bright – or vice vera. The sensor of your camera has a dynamic range of 6 – 8 f-stops in jpg files (depending on the quality of your camera). In raw files you’re able to capture dynamic ranges of about 10 – 12 f-stops (also depending of the quality of your camera) . Why jpg-files are so bad and why you should use raw files instead, was the topic for a past post.
But back to our todays topic: HDR. To cope with the reduced dynamic range compared to our natural experience through our own eyes someone invented a technique to capture more information for an image. Therefore you have to take more than one shot of a scene by using several shots of an identical frame, but modify the exposure slightly by shifting the exposure time without changing anything else. You take one correct exposed shot balanced for the mid-tones. Next, you take an under-exposed image (i.e. -1 f-stop) and next an over-exposed image (i.e. +1 f-stop). The under-exposed image represents the highlights, so you should be able to see all the details in the bright partes of the image. In this image all dark parts might be black, but that’s fine for now. The over-exposed image is the opposite of the under-exposed image. Here, you get the details in the dark parts, while the bright parts are blown out and nearly white.
Don’t try to simply adjust your aperture, by changing the f-stop. Although, this results in a modified exposure-time, it also changes the characteristics of the image: the field of depth is changed, while the exposure balance stays the same 😦 That’s not our intention!
You have to use the “+/-“-key on your camera or switch to manual mode, to dial in the corresponding exposure times manually. Keep in mind, +1 f-stop means doubling the exposure time twice (.i.e. 1/100s -> 1/50 -> 1/25s) and -1 f-stop means dividing the time in halves twice (i.e. 10s -> 5s -> 2.5s).
Just in case, the +/- 1 f-stop images aren’t enough to bring back details in the dark and / or bright parts, try +/- 2 f-stops or come up with a row of five more images (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2). You could also end up with even more than 5 image for a single series. Expand the series as long as you have any black or white parts in you image. Many cameras assist you in here, while marking these parts blinking (the mode is called ‘highlights’ in my camera menu and works only on the small screen on the back of my camera – the image is ok, only the in-camera playback is marked this way). By using this, you can shift the EV in each direction, as long as all of the blinking parts vanish in that direction. I.e. you increase +EV to get the dark details, but in the same moment, you’ll loose more and more highlights. As I said above, that’s ok. Next you increase your series -EV to capture the details in the highlights, by loosing the darks. That’s also ok. You have to increase +EV as long, as there are no blinking dark parts left and you increase -EV as long, as there are no blinking highlights left. You don’t need to increase in thirds, as your camera might step up and down. It’s enough to use the whole numbers as I mentioned earlier. As you might imagine, all of these requires an unchanged camera position! Always use a tripod for this and disable your image stabilizer while the camera is mounted on top of a tripod!
Back at home, take your series of images (usually 3 or more), make your usual corrections (i.e. shifting the horizon) for all images of that series exactly the same way and pay attention to get correct aligned images at this stage. All of them should show exactly the same cutting and the same orientation, convert them to tiff (for preserving all information – never use jpg in this stage) and use a HDR software, just like Aurora HDR from MacPhun (there are more software products available for creating HDR images) to fuse these files to a single balanced image with details in all parts of the image. Croping should be done at the very last step on the final image! And, that’s the point where I’m continuing soon!
For now, I’ve assembled a small gallery of some of my HDR images. Although, there are some photographers out there, who love very intense colors for their HDR images, I don’t do so! I use this technique very mild to get natural looking images.
It’s time for another Monochrome Madness hosted by Leanne Cole. Have fun and don’t forget to the check out the other photographers contributions.
Today, I have an image for you, which is kind of typical for November although it’s taken two weeks ago in the early morning of October, 28th at 6:42 a.m. It’s the full moon above a foggy landscape.
When the Romans tried to conquer the parts of Europe north of the Alps about 2.000 years ago, they were confronted with huge dark and dense forests. Because of the Gulf stream, central Europe has a quite mild, but wet climate.* Rain falls down and the forests give back parts of the moisture by sweating fog. For the common sun pampered roman soldiers, these conditions were very frightening. Finally, they were unable to conquer the parts east of the river Rhine, despite their endeavors and they paid a very high price for their efforts. West of the river Rhine the landscape wasn’t forested as east of the river. So, they were able to found several cities in todays France and in todays Germany along the west bank of river Rhine: i.e. Trier, Cologne, Xanten to name a few of them.
Nowadays, we don’t have so much forests anymore. Thus, we have thick fogs ‘only’ in fall and spring. Although, they can occur during summer, too, but only on very distinct weather conditions and only very local.
* Imagine, New York is located nearly parallel to Rome in Italy. Rome is locate yet 1° further north than New York, that’s about 111 km. And while New York suffers from snow each winter, Rome almost never sees any snow flake. That’s a result of the Gulf stream.
Rome 41° 53′ N, 12° 29′ O
New York 40° 43′ N, 74° 0′ W
and I’m living about 1,100 km north of Rome
This week Monochrome Madness hosted by the Australian photographer Leanne Cole has a specific theme. It’s clouds.
Clouds are quite special. They bring structure in a dull gray sky or may pop out in bright white on a sunny day. When thinking of photographing clouds, you might think first of beautiful illuminated clouds at sunset. But, in monochrome there are way more situations for beautiful clouds. Have a look on a past post, when I compared a shot developed in color to the same shot in bw. Another kind of cloud-photography you can often find in fineart and architecture photography: long exposures.
For a better contrast, you should use a yellow-filter in front of your lens. This filter works on the color spectrum inside the natural ‘white’ light. The gray tones are moved (other colored filters would do the same, but working on different colors). That part of the light, that has the same color of the filter, is intensified (that means: becomes brighter), while the complement color is alleviated (which means: becomes darker). This effect is very welcomed in black-and-white photography to get a certain mood in the resulting image.
Back to our yellow filter. How does it work? Yellow becomes brighter, while blue becomes darker. So, white clouds pop out of a dark sky.
Why should you do this? Black-and-white film (and software, too, when not correcting this), get too bright skies without much structure. A quite dull image!
Other possible filters are colored in orange, green, red and blue. Each of them works on the mentioned color to brighten it and on the complementing color to darken it. Each of them has its certain field of work. The yellow filter, instead, is the most commonly used filter in landscape photography.
Although not photographers, you can find the effect also in movies by i.e. Alfred Hitchcock or Leni Riefenstahl.