Out with the old, in with the new. Happy New Year 2016

Looking back on 2015 it has been a year of mixed fortunes for many and glimpses of an upturn in our industry for others. The key to success both as image makers and business people is the determination to amass further knowledge of photographic technique, product, presentation, marketing and sales methods, in short, education. Not one of us can say with any sincerity that we ‘know it all’ and indeed if we did our profession would be recognised and valued beyond measure by our clients. Perhaps your New Year’s resolution should be to increase your knowledge by training? One of mine will be to communicate better and more often, offer better and more varied ‘education’, so watch this space.

Presenting at HIPA HQ in Dubai

Presenting at HIPA HQ in Dubai

My year has come to a close with a packed presentation in Dubai for HIPA on the theme of attempting to create award winning images and a roadmap for success in much sought after accolades. As I write this las post of the year the deadline for HIPA entry is fast approaching as it closes at midnight UAE time with what I believe will be a record breaking number of entries for a worldwide competition of this magnitude. My personal thanks to my dear friend and colleague, Mohammed Al Daou and the team at HIPA led by HE Ali Bin Thalith (congratulations on publishing your book Truly, Madly Deeply) for their hospitality and ongoing trust.

Mohammed Al Daou of HIPA and Martin Grahame-Dunn

Mohammed Al Daou of HIPA and Martin Grahame-Dunn

So for now, all that remains is to wish all those entrants, the very best of luck. To my wonderful mentees all over the world, may 2016 bring you prosperity and success. And to all of you, wherever so dispersed across the globe, whatever be your race, colour or creed, may I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.

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10 things a Photographer should know – Part 6 – Simple is good!

6. Simple is good.
Almost every photo that is bad has too much information. Outside of technical basics, the number one reason that most photos fail is because there is no clear subject. Often this is the case with design, film, fashion, you name it. Remove clutter, remove distraction. Tell one story, and tell it well.
Chase Jarvis
 
* KISS! Keep it Simple Stupid! Never a truer word spoken for simplicity is everything. Images with clutter or no definitive focal point simply fail. For the ‘Social’ photographer engaged in the Wedding industry this is particularly relevant. I have been asked so many times “Why are there almost no Fellows (if any?) in the discipline of Wedding PJ, Wedding Documentary or whatever other name you wish to apply?” My answer to this is simple. It’s probably a lack of attention to detail and an obsession with being observational without any form of intervention to tidy a shot. Personally I find the high brow approach that ‘PJ’ means don’t change, interact or affect an image in any way, highly inappropriate in the Wedding industry. Sure, in the world of ‘real’ photojournalism in media, news and war zones, it’s all about ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. But my question is, does a Bride really want the ‘truth’ of half drunk beers, bottles on the neatly manicured lawn or cigarette packets strewn in their scene featuring many thousands of pounds worth of haute couture?  More questions than answers and I certainly don’t expect some people to agree with me. Are we losing a grip on reality and our true  purpose as professionals that have an eye for detail? I wonder. I think I’ll keep this for another article in the future!
MGD

10 things a Photographer should know – Part 5

5. Aesthetic sensibilities actually matter.
Go figure on this one… I’m constantly surprised as how much this is overlooked. Read this and believe it: You must develop a keen understanding of design, color, light, and composition. To just say “I know a picture when I like it” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to know –for your own sake as well as the sake of your clients who will ask you– WHY a photo is a great photo. WHY is this one better than that one. If you don’t have any visual vocabulary, opinion, or aesthetic sensibility you won’t be able to explain these things. You won’t get the job. Or if you do get the job, you won’t be able to explain why your photos are worth getting hired again by the same client for the next campaign, story, or video. Trust me on this. Develop a sense of visual taste.
Chase Jarvis
 
* I have covered much of this in my recent and ongoing series on the subject of ‘International Photographic Judging and Scoring Systems’. If you are so honoured to be put in a position as a judge or assessor of Photography then do it respectfully. I have personally ‘fired’ so many judges whose vocabulary is limited to the words “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, without the knowledge or skill to articulate how an image may be improved in some way.  To become truly successful as an image maker who actually makes money from the industry I cannot stress too strongly the importance of understanding the psychology of why a client finds an image appealing, fit for purpose, successful, merchantable or not! This you can learn. No better way than a highly skilled mentor and an appreciation of art.
MGD

10 things a Photographer should know – Part 4

4. Big challenges create the best work.
“If you get assignments that are pushing your vision, your skills, then awesome. Kudos to you, keep getting those assignments. If you’re not getting those assignments, then you need to be self-assigning that challenging work. Give yourself tough deadlines and tougher creative challenges. You do your best work where there is a challenge that is clearly present and 10 feet taller than you think you can handle.”
Chase Jarvis
* All I have to say on this one is ‘Command and Control’. Command the respect of your clients as a real expert in high demand even if you’re not at this time in your career and its all smoke and mirrors. Control situations and make sure you are seen to be in control! There is a huge benefit in self motivated ‘projects’ to boost your business. Consider it essential research and development. Don’t be afraid to ‘cold call’ potential clients if you have a product you truly believe in and is a benefit to them and their businesses. Price you products realistically and make offers that are difficult to refuse. Over 80% of the contents of your essential business toolbox should be sales and presentations skills. Get out there and shoot new images that are commissioned by yourself as a practical presentation pack. And above all, make that presentation consistent!
MGD
Giving clients high quality presentation and variety is essential to your business image.

Giving clients high quality presentation and variety is essential to your business image.

Judging Professional Photography – Critic or Critique?

There are clear definitions of both in the world outside of photography. A Critic is a professional who communicates his or her opinions and assessments of various forms of creative work such as art, literature, music, cinema, theatre, fashion, architecture, food and indeed most importantly here – photography. Critical judgments, whether derived from critical thinking or not, may be positive, negative, or balanced, weighing a combination of factors both for and against.

In our industry, the perception of one who is critical when making an image assessment is more often than not perceived as destructive. Looking for every facet to express a negative opinion without the means or guidance towards a resolution that may result in a successful submission at a later date. These ‘critics’ also use projection to negatively influence the opinions of others on a jury. The worst example of course is the judge that instead of talking to a print, stands, faces the audience and loudly exclaims how he or she would have made the image and perhaps finishes with the comments, “I’d have done it this way…”. Not satisfied with that ‘showboating’ they proceed to offer their training wares for a price.

On the other hand, ‘Critique’ is a method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a written or oral discourse. Although critique is commonly understood as fault finding and negative judgment, it can also involve merit recognition, and in the philosophical tradition it also means a methodical practice of doubt.

In practice, the very best jurors will offer a deeply constructive analysis of the image before them, always addressing it directly and finally offering possible solutions to problems detected. Suggestion rather than unjustified command to execute an image in the way they would have done it. We must always be respectful to image makers and forever bear in mind, like it or not, we can influence careers.  This clearly illustrates exactly why Judge and Audience (participant) training is vital to the worldwide photographic industry.

In 2016 it is my intention to hold a series of workshops in the UK as well as overseas, to train photographers in the various judging procedures that they may better self analyse images in preparation for both competitions and qualifications. If you are interested I strongly suggest that you contact me at mgrahamedunn@mac.com to register your interest. My Leamington Spa training studio is perfectly and centrally placed, fully kitted out for the exercise including the equipment and software to perform ‘mock judging’. It is so often said that photographers learn more from constructive image critique than any other type of workshop.

Judging in action at WPPI 2015

Judging in action at WPPI 2015

10 things a Photographer should know – Part 3

3. Don’t aim for ‘better’, aim for ‘different’.
“It’s funny how related “better” and “different” are. If you aim for ‘better’ that usually means you’re walking in the footsteps of someone else. There will often be someone better than you, someone making those footsteps you’re following… But if you target being different–thinking in new ways, creating new things–then you are blazing your own trail. And in blazing your own trail, making your own footprints, you are far more likely to find yourself being ‘better’ without even trying. Better becomes easy because it’s really just different. You can’t stand out from the crowd by just being better. You have to be different.”
Chase Jarvis
* There has been recent activity on one of the private ‘Facebook’ groups I manage that questions the integrity of those that make poor copies or plagiarise the work of others. While it is virtually impossible to be original, you can aim to be different. After all its all done before in the world of art let alone photography. An alternative approach shows that you have thought about the problem before you and used your skills to create something that is at the very least perceived as ‘different’. From time immemorial it has been normal practice with artists to learn by copying. The greatest artists that ever lived taught their craft and techniques in their own ‘schools’ by the use of the direct copy method. But, perhaps it is doubtful they ever trained many as innovative artists! That process truly began when the apprentice finally left his master’s school and ventured into the wide world to establish his own ‘visual personality’. In essence the mastery of skill, technique, application and medium that created his ‘Style’. Photography has developed a fairly unique arrogance within its ranks where it seems almost par for the course to defame one’s competition or those who are perceived to work in an inferior genre. Like every great athlete a photographer needs to train and train effectively. It requires dedication and determination even when it begins to hurt. This week I have a photographer from the UAE who is training intensively to become a wedding and portrait practitioner in a very competitive market. This includes not only photographic skills but retouching, presentation and branding. So,  I thought I’d share just a few of his images… 
MGD
Interested in a 1:1 Training experience? Contact me at mgrahamedunn@mac.com
Retouched images shot by Dubai based photographer  Agnelo Wayne Rodrigues

Retouched images shot by Dubai based photographer Agnelo Wayne Rodrigues

Guidance for Photographers and Photographic Judges – Referencing outside of Photography

by Anthony Van Dyck. An analysis of dynamics

by Anthony Van Dyck. An analysis of dynamics

The art galleries of this world either actual or virtual are a primary source of reference outside the world of Photography and to an extent there is a wealth of visual content on the internet courtesy of those temples of aesthetics. But what should we be looking for to derive both education and inspiration? What is to be learned by making a careful study of figurative art?

For a start, LIGHTING! Then closely followed by POSING and perhaps most influentially, COMPOSITION. Paintings were often created to fit a given space. The client, in many cases the Catholic Church, would say “I need a piece for just over my altar. Perhaps a Triptych?”. And that constituted the compositional brief. In the same discussion, the Bishop, Cardinal or even the Pope himself would ‘suggest’ the subject matter. Perhaps relating to the patron of the particular church or cathedral. Take a good look at the majestic piece, the crucifixion of St.Paul by the Renaissance master, Caravaggio. You’ll learn so much about the application of light, a limited palette and his Tenebrism style so often attributed to Chiaroscuro.

My own photographic journey is on a new but at the same time, old course. A determination to use photography in its digital form as my paint brushes and palette as I strive to create ‘Photographic Art’. More soon…

My experimentation creating images for "Shadows of Magdalene" a poetry collection in the making from Katypoetess

My experimentation creating images for “Shadows of Magdalene” a poetry collection in the making from Katypoetess

10 things a Photographer should know – Part 2

2. Clients cannot tell you what they need.
“Clients hire you because they have a problem. They need a great visual representation of something, a solution. They think they know the best way to photograph something, but they don’t really. That’s why they hire you. Take their suggestions to heart, because they definitely know their brand, product, their vision–perhaps even shoot a few versions of the images they THINK they want to see first–but then go nuts with own vision. Add value. Show them something they didn’t expect. Don’t be a monkey with a finger. Remember why you got hired…that YOU are the badass image maker. If you are good enough to get selected for the job, you should be good enough to drive the photographic vision.”
Chase Jarvis
* Your role as an image maker and service provider is to offer solutions. Never forget that. You are being paid to come up with ideas or shape the dreams of your clients and manifest them into tangible images that tell their story. You need to learn to listen to your clients and not railroad them. Say ‘Yes’ and try never to say ‘No’. Clearly there are restrictions governed by either technique, practicality or even safety that make the manifestation of some of their ideas virtually impossible. You will be judged on your problem solving abilities and the way you communicate in a respectful and authoritative manner. Be reactive and responsive to your clients needs and you will not fail to run a successful business.
MGD

‘Mind and Heart’ in Judging Practice

Mind and Heart

Mind and Heart

Another excerpt from my recent Australian Judges Workshop Tour. The title of the presentation that underpins the ‘training’ and I believe, clearly illustrates exactly what the knowledgable, skilful and ‘trained’ judge should apply in the common sense of the process. Of course this requires that the judges have studied and researched beyond their practical skill base to ensure they can fairly address whatever may come in front of them. Many years ago it was easy for one to describe themselves as a photographer in a given discipline. But this is 2015 and needs must if one is to survive as a professional photographer. The ability to shoot pretty much whatever is before the lens perhaps makes us ‘jacks of all trades’ but it does not follow that we may be masters of none.

The essence of great judging is “Mind & Heart”. I was asked recently by a very knowledgeable and talented photographer who is now involved in judging, “When should I disregard the ‘rules’ and let my instincts take over when I feel I am looking at a great image that breaks rules?”. My answer to him was simple…

Use your mind to assess the Technical elements that are essential in the creation of a photograph.

Use your heart to ‘feel’ the image, see the stories, bathe in the light and if it stirs your soul, regardless of any so called ‘rules’ into which you have been indoctrinated over the course of your photographic career…

Score high, award originality, outstanding creativity and celebrate a fantastic image. As judges, in an instant you can make a photographer or break their heart. Such are the responsibilities we face and endure.

Mind & Heart – Workshops for AIPP Judges 2015

Ethics-cloud crop

Having left the UK on August 7th for Australia, I now find myself over half way through this workshop tour, thus far visiting the State Capitals – Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. The theme, ‘Mind & Heart’ has focussed on the psychological and ethical facets of the evaluation of images and the language used by jurors in expressing their evaluative thoughts to a ‘live’ audience. All too often, what we may say as judges, can be harshly misinterpreted by our fellow jurors, let alone by the eager audience awaiting much needed guidance in the possible remedies to faults within images that if actioned, may result in more successful, and we hope, award winning entries.

Indeed Australia operates an  ‘Award’ system whereby images are indeed rewarded for being outstandingly innovative and creative by awarding Gold and Gold Distinctions. At the same time it acknowledges excellence in professional practice with flashes of inspiration and creativity, reinforcing and substantiating the very highest consistent standards seen in the world, by granting Silver and Silver Distinctions to images of particular merit. The system is fair and offers sincere encouragement to those aspiring to higher degrees of achievement.

The issue faced universally is how to recognise images that are simply good professional practice and explain to an entire industry that what you may produce day in and day out, may not be ‘AWARD WINNING PHOTOGRAPHY’. I hope that by continuing to work in cooperation with so many professional bodies that the education of those who fit into this bracket continues and evolves to promote far higher standards. It is a laudable and daunting goal, as trainers and educators walk the thinnest of tightropes with so many who are inextricably emotionally attached to their images.