Worth a Thousand Words: Photo Competition

I had really expected that prizes would be awarded from a hundred or more entries in this year’s photography competition for the Floyd County Harvest Festival. Lord knows, there is a large and active photography club here, made up of members in at least two counties, and you can find photographers under every rock, including more than a few professional-level shooters.

So to have such a weak turn-out was disappointing, and it made judging difficult and awkward. In the eight (?) categories each with adult and youth levels, there were only three third place ribbons; in others, there were only one or two entries. If only one, regardless of merit, should the judges give a first place? If the choice was between only two in the category, were they required to award a second prize by default to an image that was not a prize winner in the combined judgment of the three judges, each of whom was a photographer of some experience and knowledge?

When the prizes had been conferred in this manner, a conversation ensued (ostensibly to be continued over beer, but Dogtown Roadhouse, like the rest of town, was a bee swarm of humanity last Friday night!) about what could be done, should be done to increase the number and quality of next year’s entries. More was said of quality than quantity, having just critiqued quite a few images that, with some simple and basic alterations, would have benefitted so much from an artistic point of view.

So next year, what? More advanced notice to area photographers; a significant best-in-show prize; and/or a short course or other teaching tool to help those who want to improve their images’ composition, lighting, color and contrast to be able to do that without professional tools?

Poor composition was perhaps the chief poverty noted among many of the submitted images. There was no object to draw the eye towards the message of the image; shots taken at mid-day were flat and lacked depth; nice compositions of butterflies (there were LOTS of fritillaries featured in this year’s entries) were marred by blobs of distracting, not quite out-of-focus, busy background light.

I know as a young photographer long ago, I took hundreds if not thousands of “bad pictures” that were cherished images for me because of the  setting and personal experience of being there with camera in hand. Having taken the image, I could see, feel and remember beyond the frame. But the resulting images to anyone but me were unremarkable and not very interesting, leaving the viewer’s eye wandering in search of the story.

I enjoyed the exchange with my fellow judges when there were relative merits that recommended one image over its competition. And I agonized with them when awarding a prize to a point-and-shoot photograph just because it was there on the display rack. We certainly didn’t want to discourage participation from photographers at all levels, and can maybe, with some early organization and effort, work toward a higher awareness of what makes an image speak the thousand words it should and could.

Along these lines, stay tuned very soon for details of a “first annual” photography competition and exhibition in Floyd.

Seeing and Sharing the World: A New Camera?

Is this the ONE LAST camera in my photographic life?

Note to Self–Why I am thinking of changing horses…er, cameras:

I wrestle with the notion of allowing myself to even consider spending a large sum of money to get something I’ve already got: the Nikon D200 I’ve used for almost three years is a fine camera and I’ve not had any complaints from folks who have paid (not many and not much) for images from it of their families, for their walls or their web sites.

But I feel like I’m missing brushes from my palette, and I want to engage the “art of light” to the fullest with the mental, physical and creative energy I have left. And I need a few more tools to fully express what my eye, my mind and my heart see in nature and in the human landscape of the southern Blue Ridge. Or so I explain thus consumptive impulse to myself.

I’m looking at the Canon EOS 60D–which as of today has not been released. But it seems to offer those “extra brushes”:

It will let me shoot in lower light (indoors without flash, at dawn and dusk, in deep forest shade) as it handles “digital noise” better than the Nikon. It has a swivel viewfinder that lets me do in my mushroom and wildflower and insect shooting and such what I can only do now with the Canon Powershot: view a bugs eye view without laying flat on the ground; or take a shot of a crowd with the camera overhead and SEE what the camera will see.

The other thing–and turning in a completely different direction, adding another medium entirely–is the HD video capability of this camera. This would add the element of motion and sound to the visual–to be able to walk the viewer along with me on the trail, up on the ridge, down the streets of Floyd–and move to the next level with the multimedia creations I’m enjoying and which audiences seem to appreciate.

I would purchase a Tamron lens whose strong suits are long focal range (18-270mm so I can use one lens and not put my bad thumb joints through the pain of changing lenses) AND MACRO capabilities on a camera body that will make massive images (18 megapixels) from which smaller crops can be made and still enlarge well.

I have a modest sum of earned income in my Goose Creek Press biz account that is drawing no interest (and would not if “invested” most places these days.) And for me, at this time in my life, doesn’t the pleasure of creating — or at least capturing and sharing– beauty have a higher value than imaginary returns I will not likely live to see?

I’m a reluctant consumer in general–a bad citizen in that regard, by some reckoning. I would like to enjoy the journey, though I am generally NOT a happy shopper. But this purchase, if I make it, will not reward me in the American-way pleasure of the consumption for its own sake but in the images that find their way to the canvas of memory. I think I have something of a gift in the way I see the world, and want to do that as fully as my tools will allow.

So there you have it: my rationalization for a totally unnecessary purchase towards an end with questionable survival value. But rue the day that all our energies are for mere animal survival. Art must live on, and I’d like to play some small part in that legacy. But swimming against the currents of extreme frugality and fixed incomes on the near horizon, will I muster the persistence and impracticality to pull this off?

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