How To Enter A Photo Contest

Notice I said enter a photo contest and not win it.

Winning a photo contest is too dependent on what the judge’s think but I can help you to prepare your images so you can have a better shot at winning.

This post follows last night’s announcement of the winners of Capture Oakville which is taking place this Friday starting at 7 pm at the Queen Elizabeth Park Cultural Centre on Bridge Road in Oakville, Ontario.

You can attend this free event and see the images for yourself.

Entering a contest is a challenge so let’s help you shoot and present the best images possible.

So the first rule of entering a photo contest is follow the rules.

At last night’s meeting of the Oakville Camera Club we were treated to a viewing of over 50 images shot by club members that were entered into the competition. There aren’t many rules to entering this contest but your image must fit into one of three themes plus there is a size limitation on the entrees.

Here’s a link to the Grand Prize Winners of previous years.

Why there is a size limitation beats me, but there is one and if you exceed it and several entrees did, while your image will be judged it won’t qualify to win. So learn how to size your images is job one.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

First shoot in raw so you produce a much larger image than what you’d get shooting JPGs. Raw images can be manipulated in software so much more than JPGs. Once you’ve finished working on your image, then save it inside a new file folder as a JPG, which in the Oakville Camera Club rules must be between 250 kilobytes and two megabytes and then send this image as an attachment in an email to the judges.

Don’t vary from the rules!

A major issue in my mind with the images I’ve seen this year and in past years comes down to “why this image” and “why this audience?”

It’s not enough to take a pretty image of something without that image also evoking some kind of emotional response from the judges. Again, notice I don’t say the audience. We are talking about influencing the judges here.

Joe Buissink, the amazing Joe Buissink, Beverly Hills celebrity wedding photographer to the stars told a story during a workshop I attended about submitting a photo to a jury which rejected it because it was out of focus!

Here’s the image which is all over the Internet.film10

When Joe projected this image onto a screen at the workshop I attended  there was an audible gasp from members of the 400-plus audience made up mainly of wedding photographers and want-to-be wedding photographers.

Don’t you agree this out of focus image says everything that needs to be said about the sanctity and sacredness of the act of young woman putting her trust, her faith, her love, even her life into the hands of a young man of whom much will be asked and much will, we hope, be given. It cries out “marriage”. And all this was captured in a single moment by a gifted photographer at the height of his powers and then it was rejected.

This is one of the reasons I don’t enter contests.

Also after shooting a professional for years I don’t think it’s a fair thing to do. Oh I’m not saying I’d win every time or even occasionally would I win but it’s like an ageing prize fighter entering an amateur tournament. He might not win but he’d do a lot of damage on the way. It’s the same for me. I wouldn’t make the mistakes I saw last night and for me to win or even enter would take away something from an amateur photo competition.

Besides I shoot only for two reasons:PB180102-Edit

One: Somebody is paying me; or two: I’m shooting for my own express pleasure. (The photo of the attractive young model was shot at Jen Rosenbaum’s fabulous Boudoir Workshop which was held in Toronto two weeks ago at the trendy boutique Gladstone Hotel. I desaturated it and used gritty settings to create this image which I like very much but would never win anything anywhere for any reason!)

Let’s quickly review the simple things you should do to your image and then I want to end with the concept of meaning.

So your image needs to be properly exposed.Best if it was shot using a tripod. Buy a light meter and learn how to use it so you start with great exposures and have to rely on software to save a badly exposed image.

651253I’d recommend buying a PassPort Checker which works with Lightroom and Photoshop to create a custom camera profile. Remember we’re talking contest-quality images here.

Crop your images. Closer is better IMHO. Get rid of extraneous garbage in the image by cropping or using the healing and clone tools in Photoshop.

Don’t get carried away and overly saturate your colours in post production. One of the ways to avoid this is calibrate your monitor. I do for every big job using a Datacolor Spyder.838844

There are better ones out there and some are lots more expensive (and can calibrate printers which is very cool) but this one does the job at around $100.

Learn composition. Understand when and when not to use the Rule of Thirds, the Vanishing Point, near-far composition and lots of other artistic styles that will improve your shooting. Look for patterns and colours and interesting uses of shadows and know when black and white works and when to use colour or even desaturated colour (which was done last night to one image by one of the judges who just showed what could be done to improve one of the images).

Play with software. The NIK and Alien Skin external software editors can do amazing things to ordinary images but an ordinary image still needs to follow the rules of composition and be interesting.

So this brings me to my final point about why this photo? Any award-winning photo has got to be interesting. A shot of fall colours has got to have some merit beyond just being a pretty picture._DSC7943

When I went to Algonquin Park to shoot the fall colours this year I didn’t do it with the intent to win a contest but to shoot images I wanted to capture like this one. It’s a pretty picture.

Finally if you want to get radically better shoot more.

Shoot a lot more. Take lessons from the pros whether online (I love Creativelive.com) or in person. (I do two or three workshops taught be the best expert shooters in the world annually.)

And enter every contest you can.

it’s the only way (a) you’ll learn; (b) you’ll get better; and (c) you’ll start to win contests.

How To Edit 600 Boudoir Images

First thing is to reduce the number from 600 down to something manageable like 50 shots. That’s easy to do in most editing software.PB180222-Edit-2_DSC8966-Edit

Then since you shot in raw format (You did shoot raw didn’t you? If not you’ve severely limited your ability to edit your images beyond simple cropping and brightening or darkening) you can really let your creative juices flow.

In Lightroom not only can you edit your raw images directly but there are a ton of presets and external editors that can help with the job.

Since I’ve already edited some of the images from Jen Rosenbaum’s wonderful boudoir workshop held in Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel last weekend straight up I thought I’d spend the day (about six hours) editing the images in a variety of editors._DSC8887

BTW as I’ve said I highly recommend Jen’s boudoir workshop. Jen teaches everything you need to know about posing the client (or in this case two wonderfully brave, warm and professional models Sarah and Esther) in a couple of hours and then it’s shooting time.

Jen shoots a couple of images to show students what to do and then let’s them loose as she comments on setups and helps student correct what they’re doing.

This is how a workshop should be run. BTW I also recommend purchasing Jen’s Posing Vol 1 (bet that means there’s a Vol. 2 on the way) if you’re considering shooting boudoir as a professional. Heck buy it just for the information on posing as it will make you a much better photographer.

Now some folks might disagree with my own interpretations but I am not selling these images to a client. I’ve created images in ways that I find creative and interesting.

A few of my edited images are posted on my SmugMug gallery here.

The Westcott IceLight

Here’s why I want a Westcott IceLight.

Aside from the $499 price tag, there’s no reason not to buy a Westcott IceLight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a daylight balanced Jedi Light Sword for photographers that puts a perfect light on individual subjects.

We used one at Jennifer Rozenbaum’s fabulous boudoir workshop which was held in the very trendy boutique Gladstone Hotel.

The IceLight is perfect for shooting boudoir in your client’s homes where there’s either not enough room to setup a flash or monolight on a stand or else you just don’t want to carry al that equipment.

A lot of boudoir shooting takes advantage of natural light coming into the bedroom window but for shooting later in the day when the light is fading this is the way to go.

Jennifer Rozenbaum’s Boudoir Workshop Review

I’ve become addicted to photography workshops.

It’s true. Here’s the shortlist: David Tejada (portraiture), David Ziser (wedding photography), Rick Sammon (HDR), Ethan Meleg (Algonquin Fall Colours), Philip Bloom (videography), Joe Buissink (Wedding Photography), Ben Willmore (PhotoShop) and a ton of live online three-day workshops on Photoshop and Lightroom from Creativelive.com (The joy of being retired.) among many others unnamed to protect the presenters who weren’t wonderful.

Now thanks to Henry’s Cameras here in Canada we can add Jennifer Rozenbaum who taught a boudoir workshop last Saturday at Toronto’s trendy Gladstone Hotel.

So let’s get this out of the way: Jen was amazing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

She’s only been shooting a short time (I’m past 40 years shooting as a pro and 50 years as an enthusiast) but she sure can shoot and she sure can teach.

I used to teach for Henry’s School of Imaging back in the day when they had real photographers teaching their courses (which despite who teaches them are universally pretty good for the new and intermediate photographer) and they are now trying something that competitor Vistek has been doing for years and that’s bring in a name-brand celebrity photographer for a day-long advanced course.

To make this work at under $300, there were 30 students which I think is about 10 to 15 too many to really benefit from one-on-one time with the celebrity shooter but two guys from Henry’s did their best to fill in the gaps as after Jen’s teaching session we broke out into two separate rooms with a different model in each and Jen doing her best to cover both spaces. The girls who were modelling weren’t full-time professional models but were more than skilled enough to substitute for the typical client that would show up for a boudoir session.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEsther and Sarah did a super job and after getting over a few moments of doubt when disrobing in front of 15 strangers (about 25% were men) by mid-afternoon we were all buddies and in this together and nobody though anything of pushing out a tushie when asked.

So was the workshop worth the price especially if you add in an additional $100 for Jen’s Posing Vol. 90-minute DVD? (Which I bought.)

The short answer is yes and while the DVD is at the high-end of what I’ll pay for a video here’s the deal: If you buy Jen’s posing video and watch it and study it several times, you’ll know everything you need to know about shooting boudoir images. That’s pretty good for a $400 investment in your business._DSC8828

Of course, not everyone was an intermediate or pro shooter. Typical of a Henry’s course there were a lot of people who were pretty new to photography. One women I ended helping was shooting with a Sony mirrorless and was shooting JPGs when shooting raw would have been preferred.

Speaking of shooting mirrorless I did take my Olympus EPL-7 and it worked like a charm as I had my 12 and 40mm (24 and 80 mm equivalent in 35mm terms) f/1.8 with me. Should have brought my 17mm f/2.8 (35mm in 35mm terms) as it would have fit right in. And with their 16-meg sensors despite smaller than Nikon’s DX sensors were better in low light and produced amazing images. I really can’t tell which camera shot what without checking the metadata.

We were shooting in very small rooms, which Jen says were bigger than her New York studio and all was fine until the sun went down. Now everyone with slow zooms were in trouble but thanks to Henry’s which supplied a bunch of continuous lights it wasn’t bad but those of us with fast lenses kept shooting with abandon.

Speaking of lights, despite the $499 price at Henry’s a Westcott IceLight is an ideal lighting source for location shooting. We used one and they are easy to carry and easy to use.

One of the new things I was trying was back-focus on the Nikon D-300 which worked pretty well. Most of my Nikon images were properly focused with the odd shot a little fuzzy due to the slow shutter speeds (I never exceeded ISO 400.) but the Olympus nailed every focus on every shot. Very impressive.

One thing I did comment on was Jen’s use of a single harsh (not bad but harsh) light on some of her subjects. If you go to her website you’ll see what I mean.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The images look fine but there’s a certain amount of grit that comes from single-light shooting. I like it but I had thought boudoir shots would all be low key and sort of soft. Boy was I wrong.

I tell you folks, mirrorless is the way to go. Olympus is promising a new pro body in the spring and I am going to be looking very very seriously at it for all my work.

Toronto Boudoir Workshop

So how do you get ready for a boudoir workshop?

Jen Rozenbaum’s Boudoir Workshop is coming to the very trendy Gladstone Hotel (this is a Heny’s Cameras sponsored day-long class) this Saturday and I’m registered. Good thing too as the workshop is sold out!

So how does this work that a 66-year-old (in a couple of weeks) geezer gets to go to a boudoir workshop?

First I ask my wife for permission :)396962-heidi_klum_picture_2

You see we have a deal. If Heidi Klum will agree to go out with me on a date, I’ve got a pass to go. Anyone else, not so sure!

Plus and I know this will come as a shock to some but I am really more interested in learning something new than shooting relatively younger women in their underwear. Besides I’ve been shooting professional and amateur models since the 70s when the newspaper I worked for had a “Girl Friday” feature. It was a different era. After a while it actually loses its luster. Honest.

Anyway boudoir isn’t what you think.

It’s actually one of the hardest styles of photography to approach let alone master. Often your client is someone who is somewhat insecure about how they look. In that, they’re not alone. Most of us wouldn’t be too comfortable having a stranger shoot us wearing a parka let alone much, much less.

They’re usually not a professional model but someone who wants some images for their bedroom walls that are provocative while still mainly family rated.

So the objective of the boudoir photographer is to photograph someone who isn’t too sure about the whole idea (even if they are the client and asked for the work to be done) in a situation where there isn’t any room for error when it comes to composition, posing, lighting and mood.

How do you like it so far?

As the photographer, it’s your job to help your client relax and even enjoy the experience. You’ve got to find ways to shoot your client in a manner which minimizes issues and emphasizes attributes.

Boy if somebody could do that for me, I’d be eternally grateful. My best shot is from a distance of me walking away from the camera :) In boudoir photography you don’t have that option. Usually you’re back is to the wall of a smallish bedroom setup with lights and assistant and your client posing on a bed trusting that you know what you’re doing.

From a lot of the boudoir photography I’ve seen online, a lot of boudoir photographers haven’t got a clue. And then there are those who do and regardless of the size, shape and appearance of their subject the photo makes the subject (sometimes it is a man) look fabulous and happy and relaxed in their own skin.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt that way about ourselves?

So how to prepared for a boudoir workshop?

First clean all your cameras and their sensors. If you don’t know how Google YouTube and read your manual. Second pick your lenses and clean them too. You don’t want to be spotting your images just because you got lazy.

Pick your lenses for the job at hand.

I’m taking my 35, 50 and 85mm lenses which are all fast primes at f/1.8. This is so I can shoot at a fast enough shutter speed so as not to get camera shake in what might be challenging natural light conditions. I’m also taking my 105 f/2.5 macro, a 14-24 wide zoom and a fast f/2.8 17-55 mm main lens plus two SB-900 flashes and a tripod.

Just for fun I’m throwing in my Olympus Pen bag with an EPL-5 (which creates images as good as my D-300) and fast 12, 18 and 40mm primes plus an external flash which can be controlled off camera. I doubt I’ll have time to be able to use it but who knows. It makes the pros laugh hysterically when I bring it out but  funny enough the laughter stops when I put the images up on my SmugMug gallery.

I hear Olympus is bringing out a new high-end camera body in the spring so who knows :)

Anyway report to follow after Saturday. And if Heidi calls tell her I’m booked for the weekend :(

Iceland Intensive

Jared Fein and fellow Oakville Camera Club member Wojtek Zlobicki found themselves on the same Martin Bailey Iceland Workshop earlier this year and they presented a review of their adventure last night at the club meeting. (BTW Martin Bailey has an enhanced podcast with lots of his own images.)

First off let me say that I’ve spent most of my life editing photos for newspapers and magazines and I know what I like and I really liked what I saw last night. (It helped that the organizers killed the lights in the auditorium so we could completely appreciate the images.)

Most big-time pros will tell you that if they get a handful of exceptional images in their entire career they can retire happy.

Jared and Wojtek managed to do this in one 14-day workshop!

Why? Of course they are very competent amateur photographers who knew what they were doing and were both carrying pro-level full-frame cameras and lenses. BTW there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur photographer. I’ve been a pro shooter all my life and all that means is somebody paid me to shoot for the last 40 years. Now I too am trying to become an amateur shooter which only means I am shooting for the love of photography and not because somebody wants to pay for my time and talent.

There’s another reason why they got such great images. Iceland is an insanely great place to shoot photos. I call it a target-rich environment. Best of all, the workshop took place in September which is a couple of weeks after the main tourist season so there weren’t a lot of random folks standing in front of the image.

Jared and Wojtek’s images were so good that I heard myself saying things like “wonderful” and “amazing” in my outside voice. I wasn’t the only one in the audience of roughly 80 to 100 folks.

The photo below shows what the photographers were up against when it came to just walking around but it’s the only image I could find and I wish the guys would post a gallery of their images on Flickr or elsewhere for you to be amazed at the quality of the shooting. (The green look to the moss and grass is pretty close to what’s actually there!)

10679729_823578264352410_3809613065820552843_o

(Photo above by Jared Fein 2014 found on the Oakville Camera Club’s Facebook Page.)

Even better than just watching fabulous images, I learned a few new things and anytime I can learn something new it’s a good presentation and this one was terrific.

Lesson one: If you’re going to Iceland to shoot photos buy two pairs of the best semi-mountain terrain hiking boots you can afford. This will prevent you from breaking an ankle;

Lesson two: Buy the best waterproof winter (not water resistant) outer wear (jacket and pants that zip up the sides so you don’t have to take your boots off) and bring spares. Get dark colours so you blend into the background if other shooters get you in the image, And yes it’s expensive clothing but you’ll thank yourself everyday you’re in Iceland :)

Lesson three: Shoot full-frame. This is going to cost more than the trip (around $6000 plus flight) but not only should you be shooting full frame (much much better than DX for landscapes of this size and scope) but your cameras must be waterproof as well and it wouldn’t hurt to use waterproof covers on your camera and lenses. This limits you to the high-end expensive Canons and Nikons. Despite what I just said I’d be temped to shoot with a waterproof digital Olympus Pen OM-D series camera. The pros will laugh hysterically but you’ll come back with amazing images at 1/3 the price of their equipment!

Lesson four: Unless your significant other is an avid photographer leave him or her at home. Four days standing in front of a glacier shooting images is likely grounds for a divorce for non-shooting spouses especially if they’re cold (which they are going to be) and wet to very wet (which everybody was at one point or another). Enthusiastic amateur photographers will ignore the weather :)

Lesson five: Once you come back with your 4,000+ images (stored in 3 or 4 devices) edit your images in Lightroom and use NIK (the guys loved NIK) external editors (Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro) and take some Lee neutral density filters so you can get that dreamy look to your images of water.

It rained every day but one and the wind was relentless. Everyday there was an off-road equipped bus ride to the shooting locations. One day included a Zodiac trip to shoot icebergs.

More than one very expensive camera got dropped on the rocks and at least one camera and a bag of lenses went into the salt water. Tripods got blown over. Not good and a reason to have pro-level riders on your pro-level camera equipment.

This is why you should join your local camera club and go to meetings. Not only will you learn to be a better photographer but guys like Jared and Wojtek will blow you away. A great presentation by two very good photographers.

Scott Kelby Is My New Hero

I attended the day-long kelbyonelive.com Photoshop Creativity Tour this week at the Toronto Convention Centre and in a word it was EXCELLENT! First of all the instructor Ben Willmore was amazing. (He always is: A great Photoshop and Lightroom instructor.)BenMug200x200 I’ve watched (and bought his videos) from his work on Creativelive.com which I also highly recommend.

But sitting in front of a computer for a three-day free workshop with video downloads at a discount price (usually around $99) during the event and available at a little higher cost (usually $150 or so) after the event isn’t for everybody.

Watching Ben do his Photoshop magic in person along with about 800 of my newest closest friends was terrific.

Even better it costs less than nothing! Yes I know there’s a ticket price of $99 but here’s what you get:

  1. A first-class perfectly well-run day-long workshop
  2. A professional instructor who generously gives of his time during breaks and lunch (almost unheard of)
  3. A 90-page workbook that is filled with tips and information on Photoshop
  4. You can also get a free copy of Photoshop User Magazine
  5. A great bunch of draw prizes including a ticket to the Los Vegas wedding show ($600 value)
  6. A decent venue in the Toronto Convention Centre (easily assessable to GO Train and subway)
  7. And when you get home, in your package is a two-course set of videos valued at $49 each
  8. So when you add it all up $99 for the course ($10 off if you register at least 10 days before the course) minus $99 in free video courses (on Mastering Curves) = zero cost…well actually you’re up $10!

What would I suggest? (Scott Kelby brochure)

  1. When the Scott Kelby tour comes back to Toronto (or a city near you) get a ticket online
  2. Get there early (doors open at 9am) to get a great seat (although there is no bad seating)
  3. Bring a pen
  4. Talk to your fellow participants as there are some pretty interesting photographers in the audience
  5. Bring a lunch and coffee (it’s a long, long walk to the nearest food outlet on Front Street)

So how does Scott Kelby make any money? He has designed and marketed an extremely popular online training program. There are hundreds of courses conducted by top-notch instructors like Ben Willmore. 

The annual membership is an investment in your enjoyment of photography and at the Toronto tour date photographers lined up at every break and lunch to buy a membership. At $250/year it’s an investment for you but if 200 people bought memberships, we’ll you do the math, this is a pretty good day for Scott Kelby too.

Should you buy a membership?

It depends. If you want to learn photography and Photoshop or Lightroom you might want to consider the membership. It’s a lot of value and information but you must commit yourself to watching the videos and practicing the lessons.

When you compare the annual cost of Kelby training membership to the cost of let’s say joining a health club for a year or going out to an expensive restaurant with another couple (add wine and a dessert) it’s obviously a great deal if you’re going to use it. Guess it’s the same with the health club.

Which reminds me, I got to go workout.

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