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

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

Good luck, share your images and be successful!

NEW!!! Custom Workshops on Demand

Lots of things happening in my world at the moment. It’s amazing what a good holiday with lots of walking, fresh air, good food and excellent company can achieve! So, I have decided to totally change the way I organise training days and replace them with Custom Workshops on demand.

The way it works is either One2One, Two or Four participants. From the ‘Menu’ on the Training page on this site, you choose your topics and take it from there…simple! 

A One2One day with me will cost you just £399. Two of you will pay £299 each and a group of four friends or colleagues can ‘design’ their very own workshop day at only £199 per person! You won’t find value like that for the best in hands on photographic education anywhere!

These are amazing introductory prices and each participant will receive my ‘Wedding Photography Workout’ & ‘Back to Basics-Composition’ DVD’s; My ‘Little Book of Lighting’ Ebook and a couple of Template Discs absolutely free! (Worth well over £100) So, contact me now to secure your day. Education is not expensive, its priceless!

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 17 – “Story Telling & Subject Matter”

PART 17 – On the subject of Story Telling and Subject Matter. The penultimate post in this series.

10. Story Telling & Subject Matter

This is definitely, after ‘Impact’ the most determining factor in the success or failure of a competition image. There is an old adage that “A picture is worth a thousand words” and although in many cases this can prove true, what happens in the case of a more passive subject? A landscape for example? In such cases a belief by the viewer that one could live within the image is a powerful emotional response. This is augmented by the ‘mood’ achieved by colour, tone, texture, depth and density.

An experienced Juror will be actively looking for clear narrative within the image. How accurate that story may be is down to personal perception as it is our nature to make up stories that suit us and our personalities. In essence, if an image has a meaning to a Juror, he or she will score it appropriately.

The subject of an image may not always be the choice of the artist. On a professionally commissioned image, the artist should demonstrate that they have made every effort to integrate the subject into an appropriate location with a mood of lighting to support the narrative. Not all images need to be manufactured for entry into image competitions and where it is clear that a properly commissioned portrait or wedding image for example has been submitted, due respect for the artist and their working conditions should be taken into account when scoring.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 5

PART 5 – The “10 Category Assessment System

6. Lighting… “The use and control of light refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.”

7. Colour Balance… “Supplies harmony to an image. An image, in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Colour balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.”

8.Technical excellence… “Is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting and correct colour all speak for the qualities of the physical print.”

9. Photographic Technique… “Is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, ‘digital negative’ exposure, film choice (If used), digital output to file, paper selection and more are part of the technique applied to an image.”

10. Story Telling & Subject Matter… “Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image. The subject matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.”

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 4

PART 4 – The “10 Category” assessment system

The essence of image critique is based upon a 10 category system which is used to assess submissions for Image Competition entries and in some instances Qualifications. Theoretically, each section is divided into 10 points giving a total of 100 points.

So the next question is, how do the judges arrive at those scores? Below is a step by step division of the constituent elements of an image used notionally to arrive at those magical figures.

1. Impact… “Is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion.”

2. Creativity & Style… “Creativity is defined as the external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought. Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.” 

3. Composition… “Is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.”

4. Image or Print Presentation… “Affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.”

5. Centre of Interest… “Is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centres of interest.  Occasionally there will be no specific centre of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the centre of interest.”

International Photography Awards

The 3rd season of the HIPA Awards has come to a close and I personally wish all those entrants who have crossed my path in 2013 the very best of luck. I understand that the judging will commence in Dubai on the 11th January when a mostly new team selected by the Emirati’s will roll their sleeves up and work incredibly hard after their internal team have whittled down the entries. Unfortunately this year I am not a part of that process, but well understand the onerous task they face. To those Judges I say ‘Good Luck!’ To HIPA I say ‘Thank You’ for the experience of two years assisting them with their goals, introducing them to key resources in the industry and gifting them with my invaluable experience. I wish my true friends who work tirelessly there towards its goals, every future success.
The CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year Competition closed in the late Autumn of last year and the magnificent books with their ‘signature’ laser cut cover, are winging their way to those featured in the 2013 Awards. I’m proud to have served as Chairman of Judges since its inception and at this point I believe I will continue in that role and work hard to develop and promote UPOTY in its already established position as a World leader in Photo Awards. My huge thanks to CBRE & Ross MacLennan at Wildhighlander for putting their trust in me and recognising that consistency is a key to success. Details of the 2014 Competition will be released in the not too distant future.