Tell It To The Judge: In Defense Of Photographers & Canvas

To be transparent, I must say I’ve developed some theories about the biases of art critics and the judges of art festivals, based mostly on their selections of art to be awarded prizes at these festivals (and maybe my own biases).  I’ve noticed certain patterns that I was hesitant to discuss here until I had taken the time to formally learn something about art.  That hasn’t happened yet, but we did have an opportunity to discuss photography (more specifically, nature and wildlife photography) with the judges at one recent art festival and I feel compelled to address one aspect of that discussion.  My comments on the other aspects may wait until I satisfy my original goals/requirements.  Today’s comments involve canvas.

The Judges’ Remarks

One of the judges said, “I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”. There were three judges at the table when Nancy approached them. Their views were all consistent. Other remarks included “When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter” and ‘When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.’ One judge pointed out that painters don’t paint the side of their canvas.

Our History

Those familiar with our website know there are already two places where I’ve referred to painters as pre-photographers:

You also know I’ve even chided fellow photographers for not keeping up with the times Stop Thinking Like A Film Photographer!.

A Dose of Reality

Painters like Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891) (see the first note in “A Question About Pixels”) are just two examples of artists who led society into the future, not followed. I’m sure if Leonardo had a camera, he would have used it in a flash (forgive the pun, I couldn’t help myself). These two and their peers would be saddened (or worse) to think that painters now feel unable to keep up with society and judges feel a need to artificially reserve materials and techniques specifically for painters in an effort to level the playing field.

My Responses

Now I’d like to address some of their remarks individually.

“When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter”

A few months before this conversation, a painter at another festival in Florida won Best Of Show and $10,000 for impersonating a photographer. I know another artist who uses pencil to imitate black & white photographs. This is called realism, which apparently artists have tried (with varying degrees of success) throughout history, most notably in the Realist Movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

So here’s a question: if canvas-using photographers are impersonating painters, whom was Leonardo impersonating when he painted the two versions of Virgin of the Rocks in oils on wooden panels? A sculptor, maybe? Maybe a carpenter like the protagonist in his famous mural
“The Last Supper”? Or maybe that particular impersonation has been reserved for the judges.

“When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.”

Well maybe that’s why painters do it. After all, contrary to the one judge’s declaration, some painters do paint the sides. But have you ever see a painter warp the image around the edge so that at some angle it creates an illusion and looks like a continuation of the front image (as described in the Canvas section of our Services page)? While we are at it, have you ever seen a painter camouflage their signature to make it less distracting (which solves a problem some critics have complained to photographers about)? Here’s how we do it ( Our New Technique For Signatures & Titles). Come on, painters, try to keep up!

“I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”

I recently heard from another wildlife photographer about a time when a judge took a liking to one of her images, but then left without comment. When the judge came back the second time, he asked if she had another copy of that image that wasn’t printed on canvas. Fortunately, she did, because that second copy won her the second highest award in the festival.

In our booth and online, I’ve discussed the magical properties of canvas. When people see one of Nancy’s images on canvas they are more likely to ask “Is this a painting?’ or are more likely to comment that it looks three-dimensional. For some strange reason, it is also perfectly acceptable to print a particular photograph larger on canvas.

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People have offered a couple of explanations for this. The first argues that the texture of the canvas disguises any lack of resolution. The second, getting psychological, suggests that canvas invokes some painting mentality, making the viewer less critical (nobody ever asked an eighteenth-century master how many pixels were in his/her brush). Both explanations sound plausible to me, but being a pragmatist, I just run with what works.


So it is especially disturbing, and sad, that a judge would make a statement like this. Photographers follow the same rules of composition and the same principles of art, but for a judge to admit that these are not important, to me is an admission that the judges don’t really know what makes a piece of art special and are just grasping at fads or straws.

At least that’s how I see it (I guess now is a good time to remind you that the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of management). So what’s your view. If any of you can make better sense of these judges’ remarks, your comments are also welcome.

Nancy Proudly Places 1st In Photography At Pembroke Pines

At Artfest In The Pines last weekendannounced, Nancy received 1st Place In Photography. There were four other photographers. As you may recall, last year she was the third best photographer of threeblog. Needless to say, we were thrilled to receive this award.

I don’t know if this award was because of or in spite of her comments to some of the judges about judging biases at art festivals (which she expanded on in her acceptance speech at the award dinner). I had already started an article based on comments we received about photographers’ use of canvas from the judges of a large art festival last fall (tentatively titled “Tell It To The Judge”), but because of our current schedule, I have no idea when that article will be ready. Stay tuned.

Ideas For Shooting The Solar Eclipse In Miami With Phone Or Camera

I have some ideas for shooting the eclipse by either phone or SLR camera.  For those who haven’t heard, the next eclipse will be Monday, August 21st. In Miami, the eclipse will start around 1:30 pm, which is right after local apparent noon (when the sun crosses due south of us around 1:24 pm and is 77° above the horizon). The eclipse will last about three hours, by which time it will have reached an azimuth (compass bearing) of 261° and dropped to a height of 44°. At its peak just before 3 o’clock, it will be 64° above the horizon at a bearing of 243° (west-southwest). At that time, less than 1/5 of its diameter will be visible in South Florida, which means that about 22% of the sun’s area will still be showing, and the sun will still be a little less than 1/4 of its normal brightness (for lack of anything better at hand, I used Photoshop’s Count Tool to figure the sun’s brightnessHow).

Shooting With Your Phone

In the news, they mentioned that you could use your smartphone to view the eclipse, but they warned that if your phone wasn’t eclipsing the sun (directly between you and the sun, obstructing your direct view) you could get seriously hurt, and since there are no nerves inside your eyeball, you wouldn’t immediately know the damage that was done. For that reason, you may want to use it in selfie mode.  You may also want to wait until the eclipse is close to its peak (although I have taken some test shots of the sun with no apparent damage to my phone).  There are a few problems with this approach, however. For one thing, the glare from your phone’s glass surface and/or the bright sunlight could make the image on the phone hard to see. On the other hand, if you actually wanted pictures, having yourself (or something else) in the foreground could improve the composition of the photograph.  But-

  1. The resolution for the selfie camera may not be as great as on the regular camera. (I explain why bigger is better on the Bee Happy Graphics FAQ page).
  2. My selfie camera doesn’t have controls for flash, exposure, white balance, and other things; these features being listed in the order of their importance.

You will need fill flash on your foreground subject, and the flash will probably need to be less than two feet away to be effective.  But that means the camera is in regular (non-selfie) mode and both aiming and pushing the shutter button could be a pain.  A short timer, if your app has one, could be helpful in pushing the button.

Shooting With A Camera

First, you will need neutral density filters, not just for the proper exposure but unless you shoot in Live View mode it is more important that the filters can adequately protect you looking through the viewfinder.  For that, a 10-stop filter is not enough (but a 12-stop filter, if it existed, could be (at your leisure, you can check out the Bee Happy Graphics blog for another reason a 12-stop neutral-density filter would be better than a 10-stop). A 15 or 16-stop filter would be even better in this case. Focus on the horizon before attaching your filters and lock in your focus.

If using a zoom lens, begin as wide as possible; it is easier to find the sun before zooming and avoid the dangers of trying to peek around the camera.  You will need exactly the same focal length or amount of zoom that you needed when you took pictures of the moon. Most experts feel anything less than a 300mm lens is a waste of time. Remember that your shutter speed should be 1/(focal length x crop factor) or faster if you not using a tripod, but even with a tripod there may be no reason to go with less. The aperture (f-stop) setting is not critical since all the action is at infinity but should be small enough (large enough number) so that you can keep the ISO at its lowest value.

If you are planning to capture the whole eclipse in a sequential composite photograph, decide how many images you need, subtract one, and divide that number into 180 minutes (the duration of the eclipse). If you want a string of six suns in your picture, each picture will be 180/5 or 36 minutes apart. The camera will probably not be locked down to the tripod for the duration, but the focal length of the lens and other settings should be the same for the entire series.

The only way to get something in the foreground (for better composition), is to go for multiple exposures and combine them manually. At the designated time, take the sun shot and while the camera is strapped to the tripod, record your camera settings, remove the filters, change the settings as needed and shoot the foreground. For multiple exposure shots, they usually advise changing only the shutter speed, but I’m not sure it matters in this instance. If changing the shutter speed alone is not enough, I’d change the f-stop before changing the ISO. Now record the settings of the foreground shot so you can repeat as necessary. If you must change the focus for the foreground shot, be sure to refocus on the horizon before putting the filters back on. Return the camera settings to the sun shot values. You may now move the camera on the tripod to compose the next shot. I mentioned that the sun will be putting out only 1/4 of its normal light at the peak of the eclipse here in Miami. This means the exposure of your foreground shot will change by two f-stops. The exposure of your sun shots shouldn’t change.

Final Words

Since this is such a rare event, you may not want to put all of your eggs in one basket. This means changing the settings of your camera (bracketing, if you will, checking the histogram, and perhaps rechecking the focus), which may mean taking several sequences simultaneously and taking good notes.

I’ve discussed some of your options, with some of the pros and cons of each one.  While I try to cover the technical aspects, you are the artist and the compositional issues are all yours.  It might be a good idea to get up early tomorrow and get some moon shots just for practice.  The moon will be just a waning (shrinking) crescent.  Moonrise here in Miami will be 4:37 am tomorrow and 5:40 Sunday (sunrise is 6:56 both days).

Well, that’s about it.  Have fun, don’t look directly at the sun, and let me know how it worked out for you.  I’d even be willing to post some of your pictures (with adequate credits of course).

Best (and Worst) Angles For Whale Pictures

The March before last, we returned to Antarctica (Nancy’s favorite continent) with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. Nancy broke her ribs in 26-foot seas in the Drake Passage the second day out, but still managed to make all the shore excursions. Her technical support staff hasn’t yet processed the pictures from that trip, but we do have some suggestions for those who might find themselves putting around in the vicinity of whales.

Whale Angles
The Best & Worst Angles For Whale Shots

The article is on our website (www.BeeHappyGraphics.com/WhaleAngles.html). Although you still can’t get to it from the menu system, it is available from both the FAQ and site map pages. Enjoy, and let me know if I forgot anything. Thanks.

Camera Limitations

Contrary to what a lot of neo-photographers seem to think, 

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
With the advent of the ubiquitous smart phone, there may no longer be such a thing as a non-photographer.
what you see is NOT what you get with your digital equipment.  I just finished an article discussing these limitations and what to do about them. Although you still won’t be able to find the article through our website’s menu system, it is listed on the bottom of the site map, or by clicking on Limitations You Should Know About Your Digital Camera (Or Phone)!. Enjoy!

Neutral Density Filters And Another “Brilliant Idea”?

A little over a year ago I was shopping for neutral density filters.  While doing my research, I triggered the following e-mail from the owner of Breakthrough Photography:

Hello Bruce,

My name is Graham and I’m the founder of Breakthrough Photography. I wanted to take a second to say hello and welcome you.

Seriously, on behalf of myself and the entire Breakthrough team I want you to know that we’re truly excited and grateful that you decided to join us.

Here’s what you can expect from me…

We publish new and actionable photography content to our blog 1-2 times a month. You can see that I’m sending these emails from my personal address, so when you respond I’ll get back to you.

Sound fair? GOOD!

Now for the long exposure guide: click here to download our Essential Guide to Long Exposure Photography ebook. I wrote it as a reference guide so you can also save it to your iPhone or iPad for easy reference when shooting. Just click the link above on those devices. . . .

Best regards,

Graham

I downloaded and read his guide, and sometime during this research process I got another of my “brilliant” ideas and sent the following response to tell him about it:

To: Graham Clark (founder of Breakthrough Photography) at grahamclarkphoto.com
Sep 5, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Thank you for your Long Exposure Guide. I just spent a good part of the day shopping for neutral density filters for my wife, Nancy (She is a nature & wildlife photographer . . . . After seeing that your X3 line follows tradition and has only a 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop version, I thought I should make a suggestion to improve versatility. . . .

Your last sentence in the “What Strength Should I Get?” section on page 14 [of the Long Exposure ebook] says “No need to buy a 10-stop!” That’s what I’m here to address. Instead of making a 10-stop just because everybody else does, you should make a 12-stop filter. Here’s why. Mathematically, I think your greatest versatility would come from having each filter in your line-up be double the previous one. From 3, you should go to 6 (as you did). From 6, the next logical step would be 12. With that combination of 3 filters, one could achieve every power (that’s a multiple of three (the lowest power sold)) in equal steps up to what would be the next step, 24. Obviously for 3 stops, grab the first filter. Similarly, grab the 6-stop for the next step. For 9 stops, the photographer should follow your advice and put the 3 and 6 together. Next, they would need the 12. 15 would be 12+3, 18=12+6, 21=12+6+3. The whole spectrum is evenly covered. If you wanted to go further, the 24 would be your next filter after the 12 (whether there is any market for the 24 is another matter). If the 3 is too powerful for some people (I don’t see why it would be), then the perfect choice would be a 1.5 (although at this point, the error of choosing either a 1 or a 2 ([so that] one wouldn’t need both), may not be significant enough to quibble about. You might say that this system unlocks the power of base 2. (Even though we use a base 10 number system, many of the things we use, like wrenches, measuring cups, and even cameras (I won’t even bother to mention computers) have been taking advantage of the benefits of base 2 for a long time). From a marketing perspective, I doubt anybody shopping for a 10-stop filter (because of tradition) would turn down the opportunity (and versatility) of a 12.

By the way, that base 2 thing reminds me of one . . . error I found at the top of that same section.  The first sentence of the second paragraph says “A 6-stop nearly doubles or triples the exposure time of what a 3-stop would have been . . .”  Since each f-stop lets in only half the light of the one before, technically, moving 3 stops would give one eighth (½ x ½ x ½) of the light and require a shutter speed eight times as long (instead of three).

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Even though it has been over a year, the mistake still hasn’t been corrected.

Bruce

He immediately replied

Sep 6, 2015 at 12:10 am

Hey Bruce,

Couldn’t agree more, 12 would be more logical given 3 and 6, however 10 is where the demand is.

“One should not create demand with a product, only channel existing demand onto a product.” Eugene Schwartz

Graham

While I was impressed with the quick response time, I would have preferred that he spend the extra time to think before he responded.  I sent him one more quick response,

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.

Sep 6, 2015 at 1:29 am

Graham

Wow, thanks for responding. I understand that logic is not always the governing force in purchasing decisions . . ., but my suggestion does not contradict Eugene Schwartz’s advice (even though I think Steve Jobs probably never paid Mr. Schwartz much mind). You would be channeling the 10-stop market into the more favorable 12. Unless you are saying that all previous efforts to sell a 12-stop filter to those people have actually failed in the past. I didn’t realize anybody had ever tried. As I said in my last message, I didn’t think anybody shopping for a 10 would turn down a 12. For slowing down mid-day action (which is why I thought people bought the 10), I’ve seen some authors even suggest as high as 16. . . . Maybe you could sell all three (3, 6, & 12) as a package. . . . I just bought your 10 (possibly for the same reason everybody else did – because there aren’t any 12’s). . . .

Bruce

but (as happens with most of my “brilliant” ideas) I never heard from him again.  And since we bought our 10-stop filter, we haven’t had the chance to use it (but I’m confident we will).

So, what do you think?  If you have experience with neutral density filters, especially experience that would be relevant to this controversy, I’d love to hear about it.  Would you prefer to have a 12-stop filter or a 10? Do you have any other insight into the use of this tool to promote better photography?

Check Out Our New F(requently) A(sked) Q(uestions) Page

I’ve just published our answers to what I think are the most common questions we get asked as photographers at art festivals.  The questions include:

  • What’s the best camera for nature and wildlife photography?
  • So if brand is not important, what is?
  • Which lens do you recommend?
  • Is the full-size sensor really better?
  • Which picture size/quality setting should I choose?
  • Do you have a preference between RAW and JPEG?
  • Where did the name “Bee Happy Graphics” come from?

If a common question slipped my mind, please let me know, and I’ll add that question to the list.  But don’t fret; if your question isn’t common enough to make the list but is a really good question (or I have a really good answer), I could select it to answer right here in the blog.  And as your teachers would tell you “There are no stupid questions”.

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Your teachers were giving you the simple answer; of course there are stupid questions, but as a student there is absolutely no way for you to know enough about the subject yet to tell which are which, so don’t try to self-regulate.  It would have horrified your teacher to think that a good question and learning opportunity got away because a student felt inhibited. That’s why they train themselves not to laugh even at what they consider the most ridiculous of questions (and don’t think they aren’t tested by their students). The teacher that laughed at you that one time (yeah, you remember who I’m talking about) should have been fired. On the other hand, if you were to ask me the question whose answer I have just written on the board at the front of the classroom, all bets are off.
I will answer all other questions privately (while I reserve the option of publishing the answer at some later time).

Keep in mind that our answers to these questions are based on our requirements and perspective, and may not be universally applicable.  I welcome different answers from others with experience under different circumstances or with a different perspective.

Once again, due to ongoing construction, you would not be able to find this page except through its complete address www.beehappygraphics.com/FAQ.html, or through the site map (which IS available through our menu system).

Enjoy!