Vern Moore

How to take fantastic photos for the fall fair

The Sooke Fall Fair is celebrating it's 100th this year. Here are some tips on submitting your photo for consideration.

The Photo Section of the Sooke Fall Fair is breaking its own rules this year.  To help celebrate the fair’s 100th anniversary, the Photo Section will accept photos shot in any year, not just within the past two years as the rules normally require.

Although the fair began in 1913, the Photo Section was not introduced until 1985.  Despite its youth in comparison with other more traditional sections of the fair, the Photo Section has grown tremendously, especially with the development of digital photography.  Participation reached a peak in 2007 at over 500 photos entered in the Adult Section. The competition is always friendly but also keen, and the quality in some years has been superb.

Besides ribbons, 11 awards will be given, including  trophies, medallions and cash prizes.  The Keeper Trophy as usual will be awarded to the collage or composite (class 06-C-6) which best illustrates this year’s theme:  “Sooke Fall Fair, Our First 100 Years.”  What have been some of your favourite moments at the fair?  Dig through your files and put together a collage about the history of the fair, or the history of agriculture and rural life in Sooke.

Consider entering in some of the many other classes. These include Sunrise or Sunset, Patterns or Textures, Flowers and Plants, People, Childhood, Animals, Machines, Architecture (Buildings and Structures), Sports, and Faraway Places.  If you have an entry that doesn’t fit in any of those classes,  there is always “Any Other Subject.”  There are classes for colour and black and white prints in standard 4×6 size and enlargements. You can enter one photo in each class.

This year the B.C. Association of Agricultural Fairs & Exhibitions (BCAAFE) Members’ Choice Awards includes two for photographs which best illustrate the theme, “Agriculture Products of BC.”  Check the fall fair catalogue for details.

Photo tips

Technical quality:  Generally, sharpness, appropriate exposure, and accurate colour are basic technical qualities which judges will look for.  You could, however, vary these for dramatic effect. For example, you can vary the focus in an image to make your main subject stand out by having the main subject in sharp focus, while allowing the background to be in soft focus.  If you have manual controls on your camera, use a low f-stop number to reduce the depth of field or focus.  You could also intentionally make a print darker to enhance the colour saturation, or intentionally over-expose to create a brighter, happier mood.

Message:  What message does your photo communicate to the viewer – does it tell a story, capture an unusual moment, express a mood, or interpret a subject in a novel way?  Most photos likely will communicate a combination of these, but whatever your message, think of how best to use light, colour and composition to express your message effectively.

Light:  The word “photography” is derived from the Greek language: photos – for “light” and -graphos for “drawing.”  So in a sense, the use of light is what photography is all about.  Open shade and slightly overcast days provide even light that produces the best colour saturation and detail.  Shooting in mid-day sunshine can result in harsh shadows.  You could, however, also take advantage of bright sunshine to capture the sparkle on water and convey the enjoyment of heat.  Or, try shooting car lights reflecting on a rainy street to convey the beauty and mystery of night time. Shooting in early morning and late afternoon tends to produce softer and more evenly lit images. The lower angle of light at those times of day can also be used to create interesting angles and shadows.

Composition:  Think about what to leave in and out of your photo.  Avoid including miscellaneous elements which distract from your main subject, unless clutter is the subject of your photo.  Emphasize your main subject, whether by positioning (centered or dramatically off-centre) or by size (large, fill the frame, or contrast very large and very small subjects).  Notice the amount of space around the subject and frame the photo to be well balanced. For example, don’t position a face in the middle of the frame with too much space above the head.  Reduce distracting irrelevant objects.  The common error of a telephone pole or other unintended object sticking up from a subject’s head can be avoided by noticing that it’s there, shifting the position of the subject or the position of the camera.

The “rule of thirds” is a helpful guideline used in art and photography.  Mentally divide the frame into three parts horizontally and vertically, sort of like a tic-tac-toe crosshatch.  Try to position important elements (such as horizons or eyes on a face) on or near the imaginary lines and where the lines intersect. For example, in land and seascapes, if the horizon is in the middle of the frame, the image tends to be static and less interesting than if the horizon is in the lower or upper third of the image.  Like most rules in art, however, this rule is just a tool, to be used according to the photographer’s judgment.

Digital Enhancement class:  This is defined as digital manipulation of one or more images as an art form, not , merely using digital tools to improve the technical quality of a photograph.  For example, creating a collage of several images, altering the content of an image, and merging images would qualify in the Digital Enhancement class, whereas just changing the exposure of an image and making the colour more realistic would not.

Entry rules:  Unlike the rules of composition mentioned above, it is very important to follow the rules in the catalogue about entry sizes and mounting requirements.  Judges may reject entries which don’t comply with the rules.

Moreover, since entrants are allowed to enter only one photo in each class, study the class descriptions to make sure your image is entered in the most suitable class. For example, you might have a great portrait of your pet so it could work in the Animals class, but it also might be very funny so could work in Humour. But remember, humour is hard to interpret and very subjective.

In the end, judging is a subjective exercise, so don’t take it personally if you don’t win an award.  We always have two judges work cooperatively, both to spread the load and to reduce the effect of personal bias. Judges are reminded that this is a community fair with entries by people of all skill levels. They try to provide constructive feedback which will encourage entrants and help them to improve their photography. Take a chance, enter many photos. You might get lucky.

The history of photography has evolved from using metal and glass plates, to silver coated plastic films, to the digital sensors of today. Come to the fair’s Photo Section (at the Legion’s upstairs hall) in September to see a display of antique cameras and a history timeline of photography. It is hard to imagine that the first photograph shot in 1826 required eight hours to expose! And now we can instantly shoot a photo on our cell phone and email it around the world within seconds. What have we gained and what have we lost through the many changes?

Submitted by Sheila Whincup,

Photo Section Co-head