Could you be the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year?

Sat, Sep 22, 2012, 01:00

Points before you shoot Advice from our experts – including two of the judges

We’re teaming up with Canon and Picturk to launch the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards

Our judges are looking for photographers who show a keen eye and for images that have impact, originality and creativity

The categories celebrate the the breadth of photography: Colour, Monochrome, Open, Travel, Nature and Portraiture, plus a ‘Source’ magazine prize

There will be a €2,000 cash prize for the Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year, plus €2,000 for the best photograph

Throughout the process entries will appear in ‘The Irish Times’ and on irishtimes.com, showcasing individual photographers’ work

The top 100 entrants will have their work published in the awards catalogue, of which each photographer featured will receive a copy

You’ll find full details of how to apply, the entry fee and the judging process at irishtimes.com/photographyawards. The closing date is November 3rd.

Trish Lambe GALLERY OF PHOTOGRAPHY

What is the most common mistake photographers make?One is that they don’t get close enough to their subject. “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” as Robert Capa explained.

Apart from a camera, what’s the key piece of kit every photographer should have?A good eye. Think about what it is you want to say visually with your photographs rather than waiting for images to appear before you. From a more practical point of view, sturdy shoes and a selection of lenses.

Any advice for those who might favour digital manipulation or filtering?Don’t overwhelm your images with manipulation or filtering: a heavy-handed use of effects can make your images look contrived and generic. A good photograph does not need to be dressed up.

What’s the secret to a great portrait?Be in control of all the elements – and keep the background simple. Think about the style of the portrait. Lighting is key and should be sympathetic to the mood you want to create. For example, classic black-and-white portraits often make use of (natural) available light coming in through a window.

What makes a great landscape?Again lighting is key: use the natural light as an essential part of your composition. Often the best time to take landscape photographs is in the morning or late in the evening: when the sun is lower in the sky, long gentle shadows are visible and light levels are softer.

Black-and-white or colour?Both. My preference is for colour.

If you could offer just one piece of advice, what would it be?Keep learning, keep looking, upskill by taking a photography course, look at the work of other photographers online, in exhibitions and in books.

Is there a cliche you’re tired of seeing?In Ireland it is a close call between the interiors of abandoned cottages, complete with holy statues and trailing ivy, and photography that exploits or perpetuates stereotypes, be it photographs of homeless people, naked women or Travellers.

Des Clinton PHOTOGRAPHER AND AWARDS JUDGE

Most common mistake?Not engaging with the subject. Get in close.

Essential piece of kit?While tempted to say a tripod, which I always have in the car boot, I would also suggest a good pair of walking boots.

What about digital manipulation and filtering?Basic manipulation, such as brightness, contrast and sharpening, is fine, but overmanipulating or overfiltering often spoils a good photograph.

Secret to a great portrait?Mood, lighting, engagement and background can be factors in a good portrait. I like a storytelling photo.

And to a great landscape?Mood and light and engaging with landscape, often by making use of interesting foreground.

Black-and-white or colour?It depends on the subject matter. I find myself split 50-50 and usually have a look at my colour images in B&W. I’m surprised how often I prefer them.

If you could offer just one piece of advice . . .Get in close and engage with your subject matter.

Is there a cliche you’re tired of seeing?No. I love looking at all types of photography and all types of subject matter, well photographed.

Brenda Fitzsimons IRISH TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER AND AWARDS JUDGE

Most common mistake?Assuming the camera will magically take the photograph you imagine you want. A camera is only a tool, like paintbrushes and a blank canvas. It’s up to you to create the image. When you spot something don’t let your knees lock; move about, back away, move closer, use different angles.

Most essential piece of kit?Keep your kit simple, as you have to lug it about. I like a fixed 35mm or 50mm lens. It’s subtle and lets you capture exactly what you see without having to edit. Good shoes and rain gear are essential, to stop you running for cover and missing great shots. And keep your batteries powered, with ample space on your flash card or lots of film.

What about digital manipulation or filtering?Heavy manipulation always turns judges off: it makes the image very fake.

Secret to a great portrait?Creating a little intrigue in your portrait is always nice. Play with eye contact, break the rules of composition, experiment with lighting, alter your perspective. Ask yourself what you want to achieve and set it up or shoot candidly.

And to a great landscape?Knowing your “golden hours” – morning and evening and also before and after rain – can make for dramatic lighting and skies. Compose your landscape, knowing what you want to convey and not just opting for a pretty picture.

Black-and-white or colour?I don’t have a preference any more. The beauty about shooting digitally or scanning into a computer is that you can look at your images either way. Look at your images in BW and you’ll be surprised how they and their messages change.

If you could offer just one piece of advice . . .Keep it simple, be it your gear or your approach. Photography is personal; it’s your creation; rules are made to be broken; and mistakes are necessary.

A cliche you’re tired of seeing?Too many to mention – but I love to see cliche turned on its head and well executed.

Bryan O’Brien IRISH TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER

Most common mistake?One is that people think more about the camera than the photographs it can produce and get caught up in what equipment to buy. If you want to buy a camera, borrow one first. Also, people tend to take a photograph too quickly, assuming it will magically turn out fine in the camera. Always see the photo, then press the shutter release.

Essential piece of kit?Two things, in fact. Get a 50mm lens, which most approximates the focal length of the eye. It doesn’t dramatise the scene in the way a wide-angle or long-focal-length lens does, but when used well it will yield great photography. Also, get a clear protective glass filter for whatever lens is on your camera and throw away the cap that came with the camera. Amateur photographers miss many shots as they remove the cap.

What about digital manipulation and filtering?Try it out, but don’t put it ahead of creating photography in the camera. Enhancement is useful but should be your last port of call, not your first.

Secret to a great portrait?Good engagement with the subject is crucial. After that nice available light, such as from a large window to the side, and a clean backdrop help.

And to a great landscape?Big skies and clean composition where the foreground and the background work well together.

Black-and-white or colour?Both. Try everything and anything you can.

If you could offer just one piece of advice . . .Photograph things you feel passionate about and people you love. Always try to see beauty in the ordinary.

Is there a cliche you’re tired of seeing?Sunsets, sunrises, people looking through things, oversaturated skies, people jumping when celebrating, businessmen pointing at nothing in particular, craggy old faces in black and white, reflections . . .

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