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Congress 2009

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Nikki Robertson
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Nikki Robertson

It’s not all discussions and farm walks on an IFAJ Congress, as Rachel Queenborough discovered in the United States when the photography skills course caught her eye.

“There were several good opportunities for IFAJ delegates to improve their photography skills,” she points out. “Sessions included a slide show and commentary featuring the highly commended and winning entries in the IFAJ photography competition, a further session with panel discussion on what makes a winning photo, beginner and advanced sessions on Adobe Photoshop software, and an all-day photography workshop.”

The photography workshop run by Nikon’s Michael Schwarz was limited to a manageable 20 delegates and the morning was spent taking photographs down in the historic part of Fort Worth – the Stockyards – where the cowboys used to herd the Longhorn cattle for sale.

“This has been carefully preserved as a rather good tourist area,” reports Rachel. “In the streets, cowboys on horseback can be seen authentically kitted out – except for mobile phone pouches and walkie talkies! – and twice a day, a docile group of Longhorn cattle is herded down one of the streets to give tourists the opportunity for a photoshoot.”

An assignment to capture photos that gave a “flavour of old Texas” meant being careful not to include overhead cables, cars or modern buildings. Close-ups and carefully angled shots, usually facing slightly upwards to the sky, were necessary, so an enjoyable three hours was spent exploring and shooting.

“Once back at the hotel, over a buffet lunch we downloaded our photos on to the waiting computers and each of us then selected our best five shots, which were added to a group collection,” explains Rachel. “Through the morning and whilst sorting out our best shots, Michael Schwarz gave practical tips and advised on viewing software – ViewNX and Photo Mechanic – that would make it easier and quicker to compare shots and choose the best ones.

“He advised against using a cord to download photos, suggesting a Flywire 800 wireless system instead; that we should calibrate our monitors; and that if our camera allows, always take shots as RAW + Jpeg format rather than just the latter – as a keen amateur this was all really useful info for me.

“Also, he insisted, never edit an original jpeg, always make a copy – just in case!”

An afternoon critique of each of the 100 photos the group compiled resulted in a selection to make up a slide show of ‘old Texas’.

“It was interesting to see what landmarks and features had been captured by different people and we soon understood who Michael advised us to use flash to brighten the shadow thrown across a cowboy’s face by a wide-brimmed hat,” says Rachel. “He commented frankly on all the photos (thank goodness it was all anonymous) and similar photos were shown side by side so that the group could debate their relative merits and choose the one to keep.”

“Attending this workshop has spurred me on (to use a cowboy phrase!) to make the time to research into upgrading my digital bridge camera,” says Rachel. “The best animal shots were achieved through a mixture of luck and patience and since I can’t make luck I can have patience – so I need to give myself more time when taking photos on farm to support my editorial.

“Lighting and angles of shot are other areas in which I hope I can now improve – and I’m certainly keen to buy a software programme that allows me to compare two photos side by side,” she adds. “It will save me time when I’m reviewing which photos to use.”

Another enjoyable photography session was provided by photojournalist Jim Richardson who showed images from an assignment looking at how soil profiles determine the landscape and type of farming.

“There were some fantastic and quite beautiful images,” says Rachel. 

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