Tag Archives: Understanding the camera

Entering competitions is easy… here’s how

Air Display Montage

• Air Display Montage •
Entered in a competition as three projected digital images today
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• Air Display Montage • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Competition is fun and improves your photography.

The essence of improvement is getting feedback and learning from it. Photography is no different. Competition provides feedback and helps you streamline your technique. Improve for competition and you will improve for your viewers.

Is there a problem?

You would think so. I know lots of people who are really rather reluctant to enter competitions. The reasons for this reluctance tends to fall in to three categories:
I am waiting for the perfect picture to enter…
• Ever heard the saying, “Excellence is the enemy of good”? You can waste your whole life waiting for the right circumstance, picture, money, gift, break, whatever. In most cases excellence is only achieved by practice, application, focus and persistence. And, of course, lots of mistakes along the way. If you don’t start now you will never get to a position where you can consistently create excellence. To work toward something excellent in the long run work with the “good” now and test out your skills. If you work at it excellence will follow.

I’m worried someone may say something horrible about my work…
• No one likes to be criticised. Except that is when it is positive and a learning experience. In photography clubs the world over competitions happen all the time. Yes, they are competitive, but they are also learning experiences. Photographers go there to learn what they can do to match up to future competitions. Judges have no investment in crushing people. Judges try to enable more competitors to enjoy photography and improve their skills. When they talk about a picture they want to emphasise the good points and highlight the things that need to be considered in the light of experience. A good judge will make you feel great about successful aspects of your picture and help you learn about the less successful ones.

I worry my effort is shamefully bad and I will be a laughing stock…

• Children are cruel to each other. The playground is a hell of a place to learn tact and diplomacy. Yet, most of us do learn it. We are grown up now and this excuse does not hold water. Most of us have been through the university of hard knocks. Really this is just a throwback to childhood. There is nothing like just doing it… have a go! There is really nothing to be afraid about.

Who will I be up against?

• One of the great things about competitions is they are usually graded. If you are a beginner then get into the novice or starter class. If you have been doing competitions for years then go for it, enter into the advanced competition class. But exercise common sense. If you have never entered a competition, swallow your pride and enter the novice class. You need to know the way these things are played and the gentle approach will allow you to learn and do well. Get the lay of the land before your all out attack! joining a local photographic club is a good start.

Of course you may want to enter a national or international competition right out. Well, feel free. However, the stakes are higher and so is the field of entry. The “Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year”, now in its 49th year, usually has more than thirty thousand entries. It is a revered world-wide competition with big prizes. Of course there are far too many entrants to give feedback on them all. So my advice is to start small. Enter club or local competitions. You will be up against people who have similar talent levels. Even if your picture is not commented upon you can often find feedback on the winners photos that will help you see your own errors.

What is expected of me in a competition?

• Competitions are great at putting people on the same level. Everyone is treated the same. There is only one real expectation…
Enter your best picture that matches the brief for the competition

You would be surprised at how many people fall at that simple hurdle. Most beginners simply do not read the brief and provide a photograph to match it. If you want to win, you have to provide a photograph that the judges are looking for when they judge. Sounds simple. It does take some thinking about. The rules (example) and the guidance documentation (example) are essential reading. You should know them inside out. What you think about the rules is irrelevant. No mercy will be shown for people who do not fulfil them and the brief. The image will just be excluded. If you do everything the rules and the competition brief asks, then your picture will be reviewed.

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What will the judges be looking for?

The answer to this varies from competition to competition. Normally you can get a feel for it from the guidelines for the competition. However, as a general rule, the judging will cover the following sorts of criteria:
Fit to the brief
• Does the photo actually meet the competition requirements
Presentation: Overall Impression of the photograph…
• Editing, mounting (if mounted on something), printing (if a print)
Camera Work Technique: (photographic skill)
• Choice of viewpoint or angle taken to the subject
• Choice of lighting (should be appropriate for the subject)
• Accurate focusing
• Appropriate quality and choice of exposure
• Suitable depth of field (aperture)
• Appropriate use of shutter speed for the subject
• Highlights and shadows (ensuring detail is retained)
Technical Quality: (of prints or editing, finish etc)
• Absence of processing faults, dust spots, processing artefacts, image damage by sharpening etc.
• Appropriate tonal use and control of the range of tones
• Good image finishing
• Appropriate use of levels, curves and colour management (post processing)
Visual Awareness, Visualisation and Seeing:
• Composition, design and cropping of the images (aesthetic considerations)
• Appropriate simplification (minimising irrelevant complications)
• Distractions and intrusions should not divert the viewers eye
• Good use of light, mood, texture and colour
• Good use of masking and manipulation where appropriate (or where allowed) depending on the rules of the competition
Communication and meaning:
• Personal input, understanding of, and connection to the subject
• Appropriate communication of any message, mood, ideas, and information
• Complementary use of the photographic medium to suit the subject (mounting, projection, printing, texture of print substrate etc)
• Appropriate imagination and creativity as well as suitable timing for the shot

That is quite a list. It is a lot to take in. Some of the terms may not be familiar to you either. That is why you are advised to go through club channels to learn what is involved in these different processes.

What if I win?

• Congratulation are in order. However, there are usually some post competition issues to consider. For example often competitions put restrictions on what you can say to the press about the competition. You may also be required as a condition of entry to allow the competition organisers to be able to use your image in some way. Be sure that this use is compatible with your use of the image. Some commercial photographers have fallen foul of competition restrictions in the past. Again, the only guidelines you should follow are those of the competition. As to awards and prizes you will normally be told in the instructions for the competition what those are. They differ widely.


I can only wish you luck. Competitions are great fun and I have learnt a huge amount from competing over the years at club and other levels. I think if you enter a competition you will learn too. It is all about improving your photography and having fun. If you join a club it will also be about doing it with your friends and with their help too.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Beginners mistakes and how to overcome them

Beginners mistakes :: We all make them.

Beginners mistakes :: We all make them.

Everyone has to start somewhere

Most aspiring photographers make simple, easily avoidable, mistakes. What’s surprising is how many photographers go on making the same mistakes despite information being freely available. To save you frustration here are the top mistakes I have come across and how to overcome them.

Beginners mistakes :: 1. Buying the first serious camera

Most beginners lack guidance. They look in camera magazines and buy a camera according to a budget. The mistake is to assume a big spend is a better spend. In photography a bigger spend buys more control. Beginners don’t yet know how to control a camera. So more control is just more bewildering and more expensive.

Learning camera control takes a lot of practice. It is like any complex skill. Most modern DSLRs are complex machines. This is true even of the entry level ones. They are complex enough to last the average beginner quite a few years. Even then they will still be learning skills within the capability of the camera. An expensive camera is wasted. It will probably be way beyond the skill level of a beginner. Normally beginners will not even get off ‘auto mode’ for a while. This means that the expensive camera is essentially doing what a point-and-shoot camera will do.

The beginner rarely goes beyond the-point-and shoot skill level without help from more experienced photogs. The background skills needed at the start is a lot to cope with. Here’s what beginners should do to learn quickly and without frustration…
1. Join a club. Learn a little about composition, editing, camera control, light and lenses. Try out things.
2. Produce some fun and interesting pictures.
3. Try out a few cameras from friends.
5. Make friends who know a lot about photography.
6. Ask someone to help them consider a new camera.
With help, the beginner can buy an entry level camera to move to the next stage. They will be more informed. Most important, it will be less bewildering.

Beginners mistakes :: 2. Shooting without understanding the camera

The beginner is often forced to put a complex camera into auto-mode. Lack of experience and knowledge keeps them there. To get off the starting blocks find out what the camera can do. Read the manual. They are pretty dry to read and have few examples. So, dip in and follow up with Internet reading to help you learn.

Beginners mistakes :: 3. Working on your own

Working on your own is disheartening and isolating. At a club you can get and meet kindred spirits. Working with experienced people and other beginners you realise that questions you want to ask, are the same questions everyone needs to know. It boosts confidence and you learn more. Go meet people, share, have fun and learn.

Beginners mistakes :: 4. New gear will solve the problem

People think a new piece of gear will help them improve. A famous modern photographer said,

Gear is good, vision is better.
David DuChemin

And he was right! There is little new in conceptual terms in photography. Most shots can be done with a pretty simple set-up. Piles of expensive equipment do little to improve beginners. New equipment will definitely not sort out your beginners mistakes. You would be better concentrating on the next point…

Beginners mistakes :: 5. Eyes open but not seeing

Photographers realise most people have their eyes open but do not see. Most of what a photographer learns is vision. Colour, light, dark and shadow all define the world. Most people miss this. I did too. I think there are three dimensions of photography. The length of photography is seeing light; the width is distilling simplicity and the height is capturing meaning. To understand image-making one needs to learn vision. You need to know how to think an image out of a scene, create it in the camera. Great images are produced before the shutter button is pushed. A gifted few know these things and can see. For the rest of us we have to learn it by patient study, practice and interaction with those who can do it.

Beginners mistakes :: 6. Shooting *.jpg not RAW

It is an irony, most beginners think that shooting in *.jpg format is easiest. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. The *.jpg format is severely disabled.

When the camera creates a *.jpg file it does a lot of editing according to the manufacturers ideas. Then the camera dumps the data that the image does not need. As a result there is very little editing potential in the file. If you work with the RAW file, the full and original data from the capture, you have a huge editing potential to work with. RAW is also much more true to the original image. Don’t let the camera manufacturer make decisions for you. If your camera can produce RAW files, work with RAW. You will then be able to create images according to your vision. If you can’t make RAW, put that on a list to ensure in your next camera.

Beginners mistakes :: 7. Shooting the wrong resolution

Beginners frequently work with the wrong file resolution. Always shoot with the biggest size and highest file resolution – even if you must work in *.jpg. You will get bigger images and can do more with it. Read your manual and set to the largest, highest resolution image.

Beginners mistakes :: 8. Insufficient memory card space

The largest, highest resolution image will need more memory. However, memory is cheap today. There is little excuse for running out of space. Buy larger memory modules than you think you need. Always have at least one spare. Better still, have more than one spare. Also, memory does develop faults, so keep spares to cover a problem. Check out memory card issues with these articles…
20 Ways to Protect Files on Memory Cards (Part 1) (and then link to part 2).
Memory Card Rotation – play it safe.

Beginners mistakes :: 9. Relying on the LCD screen

The lowest resolution picture your camera makes is on the LCD screen. Making decisions about an image on the basis of such a low resolution image is difficult. Use the screen to see if you captured what you wanted. Don’t delete or edit an image in-camera. You simply cannot tell what you are deleting. And, you cannot even see what you have done wrong. Get all the images home. Then, in comfort and full size you can analyse exactly, and in detail, what you did right or wrong. That is a great learning point. You can also see in proper detail if the image is what you wanted and what editing is needed.

Beginners mistakes :: 10. Deleting Pictures

Most beginners ruthlessly delete images they think are no good. In hindsight most photographers realise that as a beginner you are in no position to make that judgement. Beginners often make bad decisions about images. Decisions which later they would not make. You could easily be deleting your best and not realise it. Keep everything but the worst case no-hopers. Memory is cheap. If they are bad images they are great learning points in the future.

Beginners mistakes :: 11. Not interested in exposure

Most beginners do not understand ‘exposure’. They think the camera does all that stuff! Well, it can do it – that is auto-mode. But, “auto” is the manufacturers attempt at an average job for the light conditions. Learn about exposure. Work toward controlling your own exposures. There is no perfect exposure. There is only the image you want. So create the exposure you intend, instead of the one you wanted. This will allow you to change your pictures into images and your seeing into vision.

Beginners mistakes :: 12. No back up, no safety net

Back up, back up, back up. If your hard-drive fails you will lose everything. Buy two external hard drives. Back up to one every time you download pictures from your camera. Back up to the other as soon as you can. Keep the second one at a different location. This will protect your images against fire and theft at your home. Remember this procedure…

  1. Download your photos from the camera to your hard drive.
  2. Back them up to a second drive.
  3. Now format your memory card in the camera.

I have seen a grown man cry when he downloaded wedding photos, then formatted his memory card. Only then did he find the download did not happen. All the images were destroyed.

Beginners mistakes :: 13. Only one battery

Buy at least one extra battery. They run down, get left uncharged, get dropped and break, or get lost. In cold weather they last for a shorter time. No battery will mean your shoot is ruined. Spend a little extra and cover yourself.

Beginners mistakes :: 14. Not doing editing

If you think your image does not need to be opened in an editor and digitally developed, you are probably shooting *.jpg. In which case the manufacturer has done the developing for you in-camera according to their ideas. Get over it. Photographers always had to develop. What comes out of the camera is an unfinished piece of work. To turn a picture into an image takes your input and finishing.

Beginners mistakes :: 15. Software and hardware is inadequate for the job

Beginners underestimate the power needed to do image processing. They wonder why their computer is so slow. Buy the most powerful hardware and most flexible software you can afford. It will pay you back in speed and quality.

Beginners mistakes :: 16. Use a tripod

A properly used tripod gives you sharp images. Use one every opportunity. If you are serious about photography you will use tripods a lot in the future. Start now and give yourself a head start. Most photographers don’t buy them for years. Then they find they have got really bad habits. Then it takes a lot of time and effort to get past the problem. Buy a proper tripod. They are not cheap. However, they are definitely worth it.

Take your time to understand…

These simple points are those that most beginners will benefit from at the start. A lot to take in. Read this article several times over the next six months and your photography will improve enormously. Enjoy your learning!

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.