Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Landscape Photographer of the Year 2011

The Landscape POTY exhibition is making its annual visit to the National Theatre on London's South Bank but if you go you might be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered into the wrong room. Landscape photos there are a-plenty, but - what's this? A picture of an armchair in a room in a dilapidated house? A man on a bench in front of a stone wall? A close-up shot of the leaves of a Japanese Acer tree, and another fairly close-up shot of some seagulls? Sorry, I thought you said 'landscape'...

Last year I was entranced by the quality of the entries. There is still a lot of magic in this year's crop but there is also an increasing number of shots being accepted as 'landscapes' that are quite obviously nothing of the kind. Some are perhaps borderline: a picture of two people on a beach with a beach mat; two photos where the camera is aimed up at treetops, and several where it is aimed up at more or less well-known buildings; even the kayaker standing inside a cave might be considered very loosely as a landscape shot.

But the tops of electricity pylons in a photo that shows absolutely no land, taken by a photographer who claims that the picture is "almost more than a 
landscape"...??? Well, you can leave out the words "more than". And as for the two different close-ups of frozen bubbles in pond water, one of which was taken underwater in a special camera housing, well, I'm really struggling here. Is the problem that there is only one landscape photographer on the judging panel? Almost certainly not as other judges include the editor of Amateur Photographer magazine, a picture editor for the Sunday Times, and representatives of AA Publishing and Epson UK. So more than half of the judges should be able to recognise a landscape photo. Is the problem that there weren't enough entries that were true landscapes? At a time when everyone and his dog has a camera of some sort, I doubt it.

Maybe it's just me. Anyway...

Once again the exhibition is slightly marred by bad lighting. Where photos are arranged in two rows, the ones in the top row are impossible to see without the harsh, 
blown-out reflection of the light that's pointing directly at them. And you find yourself chasing your own shadow off of the bottom row. This has been a problem with exhibitions at the NT and also at the.gallery@oxo ever since I started visiting both about five years ago. Maybe they should get a photographer to arrange the lighting. Just a thought.

But don't let any of this put you off. The majority of the pictures at the NT _are_ of landscapes and the winning photo, Robert Fulton's Winter Field, Sterlingshire, 
Scotland, most definitely is a landscape, and a deserved winner. The quality of all of the entries is excellent, you can work around the light, and I think you'll find it worth a visit. One other positive note is that the tech-savvy will enjoy reading the details of the camera and lens used, the exposure information, and even the post-processing used on the photos.

Now, I must dig out that picture of my little finger to enter into next year's competition. It should be OK, I was standing in a landscape when I took it...

Charlie Waite at the NT
Whether you're a photographer or not, if you're interested in landscapes, you might want to go to the NT bookshop for a talk by Charlie Waite about his approach to landscape photography. Dates are Tue 13th December, Wed 14th December, Mon 23rd January, Tue 24th January, all start at 7.45pm and tickets cost £5.

Landscape Photographer of the Year
National Theatre (Lyttleton Exhibition Space
Until 28th January 2012, Free
Monday - Saturday from 9.30am - 11pm and Sunday 11 Dec and 1 Jan from 12pm - 5.30pm.

Charlie Waite talk
National Theatre Bookshop @ 7.45pm
Tue 13 & Wed 14 December, Mon 23 & Tue 24 January, cost £5

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Contra Jour

Since I like photography so much, I sometimes like to take photos that illustrate the photographic process. This is one such. It illustrates the process of taking a contra-jour (or against the light) shot. And to get it I took a contra-jour shot of someone taking a contra-jour shot. Which leaves me wondering if there's some degree of irony in self-referential photographs. I'll leave that to the critics to decide...

Contra-jour shots tend to produce silhouettes for the most part (unless they're portrait shots taken with a fill-in flash). And they usually work best if the silhouettes aren't completely black, as in this one where you can see rim-lighting around the edges of the cameraman.

You don't need an expensive DSLR to get this kind of shot. I took this with my Canon Powershot SX220 compact camera but I could get similar results with the camera in my mobile phone. You just have to get the angle between you and your subject, relative to the sun, in the right place so as not to blow out the entire screen. With this one I was facing roughly south with the sun on the right, half an hour before sunset.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

London Street Photography exhibition at the London Museum

It's nice when a photo exhibition is a long runner as it not only gives us plenty of time to visit but also plenty of time to tell everyone else about it. The exhibition consists of more than 200 photos of London street life from 59 photographers dating from the beginning of photography to the present day. On the way in, as well as the usual board giving an overview of the exhibition, there's also an enjoyable 20-minute documentary featuring some of the modern street photographers whose work is on display, talking about their approach and their philosophy. And on the way out there's a screen showing a rolling display of the photos with seating for those who don't want to walk all the way round. I went on the first day and was rubbing shoulders with other street photographers all the way round, and I expect it to be a major attraction to even more of us for the entire 28-week run.

The photos are, as you might expect, very interesting. But there is a slight drawback if you're not as young and fit as you used to be: the vast majority of the captions are much too low to be read comfortably; even if you are young and fit you're going to have to bend to read them. I left feedback about this on the way out and it would be interesting to find out if they follow up on this. There is plenty of seating space if you need to take periodic rests, though the benches are made of something like MDF so you probably won't be sitting for very long. You could always pop next door for a half-time cup of tea and a cake.

Something new that I discovered in this exhibition is the name "Still life street photography". Not a new idea as people have been taking photos of streetlamps, lost umbrellas and sleeping street dwellers for ever, but it's the first time I've heard the name and realised that some people specialise in this particular art form.

There's a display case in the centre showing some old books of street photography, the earliest of which is Street Life in London, dating from 1877, and there are a couple of ancient-looking cameras: a Kodak no. 1 Automatic Pocket Camera from 1921, and a Franke & Heidecke Rolleiflex T (Type 1) from 1960 - which seems ancient even to me, though I still see this type of camera on the streets from time to time. Oh, and there's also an Apple iPhone 2G dating from 2007 which, with its 2.0 megapixel sensor, only seems ancient compared to current technology.

There is free wifi (TheCloud) in the Benugo cafe by the museum entrance, though the signal isn't all that strong, plus Benugo's own AP, but I didn't test to see if that's free or not. There are several cafes and restaurants throughout the building and, it seems, a full set of toilets on each floor, though the disabled one near the Street Photography exhibition was closed for refurbishment on the exhibition's opening day.

Featuring a range of pictures from people in horse-drawn carriages to the present day, the London Street Photography exhibition is well worth a visit.

18 February - 4 September, 10 am - 6 pm; last entrance 5:30 pm; Free.
Fully accessible (apart from the points noted above) with escalators and a wheelchair-sized lift.

While you're there why not visit the London Futures exhibition (open to 6th March, also free), a series of 14 postcard-style photos depicting what London's future could look like once global warming really gets going. On the same floor and right next door to London Street Photography.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Tractor Vignette

I've been playing with the Android Vignette app recently and was lucky enough to stumble across a tractor that some workmen had left in Hyde Park.

Vignette is an alternative to the built-in Android camera app and it's five main strengths are: 1) it gives you more control over the basic settings; 2) it gives you a large number of preset effects, each of which can be tweaked; 3) you can add one of a fairly wide range of frames to your pictures; 4) you can add effects and frames to existing photos; 5) it's great for creating those old-fashioned looks like the Holga style or the Hipstamatic kind of look that seems to be becoming ubiquitous.

I used the basic camera settings with the Action Movie effect and the Filed Carrier frame for this photo.

And now Google have released Blogger for Android so now is a good time to test it out. I'll be posting more examples taken using Vignette and also Camera360 and RetroCam in this blog and on my Posterous blog.

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About This Blog

"It's about capturing the light and making light work for you; and it's about being lazy and making light work of photography."

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