It was good to welcome back Ian Brash BPE2* of Selsdon Camera Club to judge the final and trophy-deciding round of our season’s Open PDI competitions. A nail-biter of a finish as the accumulated scores near the top of the leader board were very close at both Levels after our third round.

By way of introduction, Ian said he expected us to put a bit of ourselves into our pictures i.e. not just record shots but with some personal added value. He said he didn’t like generic titles for location shots: a title should specify where the picture was taken.

Congratulations to Alan for the only entry scoring 10 and winning Level 1 with A Tight Squeeze, an engaging shot of a cheeky lad trapped between the pillars of some kind of inflatable.

We had a Victor Ludorum at Level 2 in Martin F. who scored 10 points for all three of his entries, including the overall winner at this Level with this stunner of a candid shot Curiosity. Clearly shot from hip with no inkling from the subjects that they were being photographed at short range.

Martin’s other two winners were Mixed Messages

And On Cromer Beach

The final 10 awarded at Level 2 was for Inscrutably serene by Graham.

Ian’s comments stressed the ‘rules of composition’ and his marks seemed to suggest that sticking to these was crucial to a successful image – and that breaking them was a fault to be marked down.

I must say, blind acceptance of these rules is something I struggle with. Surely the strongest position for the main subject in a picture is at the centre, not a third of the way in. If it’s a picture of a setting sun, what’s wrong with it being in the middle? Why lop off a quarter of the picture to move the sun to one side?

Likewise, that old chestnut about an odd number of subjects giving a more balanced composition than an even number. When I was at nursery school 2 + 2 = 4. What could be more balanced than that? And what’s so ‘dynamic’ about taking things on a slope?

The danger of this formulaic way of seeing photos is that it stifles creativity by setting up a kind of vicious cycle. We are encouraged to bear these rules in mind all the time we are taking pictures, and, when we do, are rewarded with good scores. This makes us think that we must be doing the right thing and we do it all the more. Wouldn’t it be better if we were being encouraged instead to nurture an instinct for when a picture looks good, instead of striving to satisfy a set rules many of which seem quite arbitrary to me? I don’t get it.

SPA judges go through a training course where maybe they get SAT tested on how well they know the rules (…tongue firmly in cheek). I doubt I would ever get through nursery school.

I was backup projectionist for the competition so had the opportunity for a sneak preview of the entries the day before. In spite of my shaky credentials, I did pick out the overall winners at both Levels. I thought they were both outstanding. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

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