We had an excellent Nature Print Competition last night (Monday 25 March) and we were very lucky to have Sandie Cox ARPS DPAGB as our judge. Sandie is both a highly experienced nature photographer and a highly experienced judge. She really did give every image a thorough and helpful critique, praising all the positive points about every photo and giving constructive suggestions about how she thought it could be improved.
At the outset Sandie explained that she loved textures - that she wanted to 'feel' a picture' - some of our prints were very tactile, others less so!
Sandie's main advice to us was to watch our depth of field. A lot of photos had too shallow a depth of field and were too soft in the foreground. If there is too much out of focus in the front of an image it becomes distracting. A different aperture, a different distance from the subject or a more considered crop could have resolved this problem. Sometimes the depth of field was too shallow for the subject too and not everything was sharp.
Regarding backgrounds, some photographs had very confusing backgrounds and others were too diffuse. Sandie explained that context was very important and that backgrounds should show some context rather than being completely out of focus. It was a question of getting the balance right and the successful photos had achieved this.
Cropping was another issue - there were some stunning photos that Sandie felt just needed a little more space around them - especially where antennae, tailfeathers or beaks were very close to the edge.
She reminded us too, that simple photos worked best - those people at the back of the room needed to understand the photo too. Visual impact was so important and simple images are so often more effective.
Finally in terms of printing, Sandie reminded to check our print quality, to make sure that we had enough contrast to 'lift' our photos and to ensure our colours were natural. Some otherwise competent images were let down by poor printing, colour management or lack of contrast.
On the positives, Sandie enjoyed photos where the photographer had caught true animal behaviour;had captured a special moment; where there were catchlights in eyes or eye contact; where the photographer had got down on a level with their subject and where real care had been taken with settings. Many of the prints on display showed these skills and 12 stunning images were held back and all were awarded which shows how high the standard was.
And, although it was a nature competition, much of Sandie's critique could be transferred to other genres of photography so there was plenty of good advice that we could all take away with us and transfer to our own work, whatever the subject.
Thank you for a wonderful evening's judging, Sandie!