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.


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!

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.

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!
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… 
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.

Photographers – Artists or Tradesmen? – Part One

Only a few short months ago in London, when the Sun was sort of shining, on and off,  meeting my best friend from school and walking around the National Gallery was a wonderful way to recharge life’s batteries and put many things into perspective. Recently I have had many people ask me what photographers have influenced me creatively and my answer is always the same….none. It’s not that I don’t have respect for fellow professionals past and present or admire their work, it’s way more than that. Let me first ask who or what are photographers in the 21st century? Surely if there had been cameras around in the Renaissance or the Baroque, wouldn’t they simply be called artists? Isn’t a camera simply another tool of capture and expression as much as a paint brush, palette knife or canvas? Wouldn’t they have been driven, patronised and commissioned by exactly the same people back then? Those being the Church or the extraordinarily wealthy wishing to commemorate their status in society and buy their way to immortality via the Pearly Gates?

What made them artists in those halcyon days was their use of light and its importance in showing a three dimensionality to their subjects. So if I have to identify a great difference, then it would be that on the whole, photographers have extremely poor lighting skills and simply forget that our art and craft is all about flattery! I think if Lorenzo de Medici commissioned your average photographer back then, it would not have been long before their heads adorned spikes in St.Mark’s Square! So here’s a wake up call to all those who have poor or no skills and scream “It’s all about expression and the moment”. How wrong can you be and if only it were as simple as that!

I remember my first day on my Fine Art Foundation Course just like it was yesterday. A bunch of enthusiastic, idealistic Art students proudly turn up with mahogany boxes loaded with Windsor & Newton oil colours, palette knives, sable and hogs hair brushes only to have them gathered up and locked away in a cupboard. Our tutor, a crazy Yorkshireman called John Yeadon, whose idea of a holiday was throwing stones at the troops in Chile, travelling with his beloved Cello and wrinkled clothes crammed in its battered case, handed us each a toothbrush with the immortal words “You buggers will learn to see light in all it’s beauty AND learn to paint with this!!!! When you’ve learned that, you can have your posh boxes back!” Talk about a wake up call!

Next instalment coming very soon….

To enter, or not to enter…that is the question!

Debate rages all over the internet on Photography Awards with a plethora of choice out there, just what should you consider when choosing and entering?

The primary question seems to be one of motive. Why exactly are the organisers offering such amazing prizes or huge financial rewards? What do the organisers get out of it? Will they steal my copyright? Will they hijack my identity? And possible the real big one, are the results ‘fixed’?!!?!

So what makes a great award well worth entering? First of all, integritity. One where the honoured judges are not compromised by being given a whole list of do’s and don’ts that undermine and potentially embarrass them. After all, the final results are firmly pinned to the reputations of the judges rather than the organisers themselves! If a worldwide award purports to truly represent the very best of imaging then ‘censorship’ is highly inappropriate at any level including cultural or religious differences. One shining example of ‘Best Practice’ is the World Press Awards which are probably the most sought after and highly valued accolades. If its ‘Press’ then there are no holds barred which results in a massive diversity of imaging that illustrates or highlights issues, situations or conflicts that affect us all. Their judging process is clean and efficient and their judges are drawn from the upper echelons of the press. Practitioners who have truly seen it all and as they say, got the T Shirt.

Another renowned competition is HIPA, The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum International Photography Award. With a 2014 prize fund exceeding $400,000 USD and a top Prize of $120,000 it is indeed the World’s richest award. This year it has four categories with it’s flagship being “Life in Colour”. This is not what it appears to be at first view. A more understandable interpretation my be more culturally termed, ‘life’s rich pattern’. I am sure the Judges will be looking for far mote than a kaleidoscope of actual colour within images! The other categories are ‘General’ (essentially an open category), Faces (especially for Black & White submissions) and ‘Night Photography’. For more information you can visit http://www.hipa.ae/en/life-in-colour-2014-2015/categories

Finally, and this is one close to my heart for many years as its Chairman of Judges, is the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year awards with the acronym, ‘UPOTY’. With a single theme, “Cities at Work”, it poses an exciting challenge to its entrants which for the last two years has been worldwide. Historically there have been prizes for each of the 24 hours of the day with a top prize of a photo safari somewhere in the world. Once again, for more information please visit http://www.cbreupoty.com

Good luck, share your images and be successful!