Category Archives: photographic opinions

Arguments Against a Flat Earth Through Outdoor Photography

For some reason, I am a little interested in the Flat Earth believers, their reasons for believing the earth is flat. It is a curious thing for me because it goes against all I’ve read and experienced as an outdoor photographer, and yet there seem to be enough people who believe in the Flat Earth model that it makes me wonder why.

If their reasoning is religious then I can hardly argue. Following the “Written word of the holy scriptures” leaves no room for alternative views. In many of the Flat Earth video debunking videos I have seen, a lot of the Flat Earth believers clearly state their belief is founded in their Christian faith. A scientific argument holds no water with them. The Bible says it’s so (or they infer from the text that it is so because a lot of things are not clearly stated as in a scientific paper) and therefore any statement to the contrary is incorrect. Fair enough. They can have it then.

But many Flat Earth believers claim they have scientific evidence to support their model of a flat earth. There are plenty of videos out there of people explaining their models, and these fall in two groups: the fringe folks whose models are very personal views (such as the fellow who said the entire Flat Earth was on the floor of a giant crater), and those who are looking for a standard model that all Flat Earth supporters can claim is the true representation of the earth.

In the videos I have seen (debunked) and some of the discussions on Quora, the arguments for a Flat Earth have three basic approaches.

First: Deny anything that NASA shows us. It seems that all data from NASA is faked and that everything we know about the earth and the cosmos comes from NASA. Never mind the European Space Agency, JAXA in Japan, the Chinese efforts, or even the data acquired by Soviet scientists. In the end, it’s NASA that controls all of our information about the earth and space, and NASA is vilified as the Great Deceiver, the equivalent of the Devil. One FE supporter on Quora told me that NASA is run by the Luciferians and he referred to NASA as NASatan. Well, right there we are bringing religion into the argument and that just doesn’t hold up in a scientifically based argument because science is about observation and research and religion is about belief and mythology.

The question I ask is why? Why spend billions of dollars on feeding the populace with false information? In other cases, the purpose is for control. It doesn’t matter if it’s a totalitarian government or a religious cult or even the Holy Roman Catholic Church, forcing people to believe a certain truth is usually for the purpose of controlling a population. What control does NASA seek? No one has answered this yet except to say that NASA wants to deceive us with lies that go against the Bible. If that’s the case, like I stated above, any data that contradicts or challenges the Bible can be viewed as a deception or an effort to deceive. But this is not a scientific argument!

Where the FE supporters then strike for is trying to prove NASA videos are fake. In every case I have seen so far, their claims can be debunked. It’s interesting when an FE supporter says, “NASA can’t explain this,” and then someone debunking their video can explain it quite simply and reasonably. Lack of research, disregarding facts, or choosing not to believe in data does not make for a sound rebuttal.

Second: They create models and take measurements to show how they know the earth to be flat. It’s interesting to note that this Quora guy told me that all data pointing to a spherical earth is just “fuzzy numbers” but when calculations are made for a Flat Earth, they are purported to be solid evidence. However, in all videos I have seen, the equations have overlooked important factors and therefore bear false conclusions. However, it is their statements and models that have caught my attention the most, because what they are saying does not match my experience in nature. I’d like to mention a few of these here.

Umbra is just a made up word – One Flat Earther stated that in regards to lunar eclipses there is no such thing as an umbra, that they do not exist in nature. The very next morning after watching his video (being debunked), I went outside and saw umbras all around. Leaves from bushes cast shadows on the ground, and the leaves closest to the pavement of the street cast very well-defined shadows. However, the farther away the leaves were from the ground, the fuzzier their shadows became. A utility pole provided an excellent example. Where the pole was near to the ground, the shadow was sharply defined and there was a clear definition between sunlit pavement and shaded pavement. But as I followed the utility pole’s shadow up, the edges became softer, until finally the top of the pole was a barely discernable apparition of shade. Umbras do exist in nature.

Regarding lunar and solar eclipses, after moving to Japan I have had the fortune to see a few lunar eclipses and a couple of solar ones. Thanks to what we know of the spherical earth, the orbiting moon, and their movements in relation to the sun, the news can report exactly what time we will be able to see the moon and what position in the sky and how long the eclipse will last, to what degree, etc. This has been accurate each time. As a result, I was able to photograph the moon as the earth’s shadow covered it and also the sun as the moon moved across its face. According to models of the Flat Earth that I have seen, these views would be impossible. Of course, a lot of FEs just say that eclipses don’t happen, and one of them said, “It’s God’s moon so he can make any colour he likes,” in reference to the observation that the moon turns deep orange during an lunar eclipse. Not a scientific argument.

The Sun and Moon Orbit Above the Flat Earth Plane – There is an excellent video on YouTube showing how this would look if it were true. In the “documentary” called LEVEL, it is explained that the sun goes round the North Pole. We can only see the sun when it is illuminating our space on the surface of the earth. Otherwise, we stand in darkness and can’t see the sun because we are outside of its rays. As the sun moves across the sky, its apparent size changes, getting smaller in the afternoon as it approaches the horizon because it is moving away from us.

This is hogwash! This model does not work with what we actually see. In 35 years of photographing sunrises and sunsets on five continents and at various latitudes both North and South, I have never seen the sun get smaller as it sets. If anything, the sun may appear larger due to the lensing effect as the light must travel through more atmosphere when the sun is low on the horizon. Furthermore, in the LEVEL video where they use a flashlight over a flat map of the earth to demonstrate how the sun lights up the earth and how we can’t see the sun when we are in the unlit space, we can clearly see the light of the flashlight above the map. If this is because the sun is not actually like a flashlight and that was just what they used for the video, then what is the nature of the sun? What’s its shape? Is it a disk? An orb? A concave light source? A hole? How much energy does it radiate in order to heat the whole earth and how does it generate this energy?

The sun cannot be a disk because we can stand anywhere on the surface of the earth during any time of the day and see the sun as a disk. All observers can’t be seeing a disk. Only those directly below at noon would see a disk. The rest would see various thicknesses of an oval. If the sun is an orb, then yes, the size would appear to change as it crosses the sky. But this doesn’t happen.

What distance is the sun from the surface of the earth? One man said we can triangulate crepuscular rays to find the distance of the sun from the earth because crepuscular rays shine down at different angles. By this reasoning, we can triangulate railway rails to find out at which point the rails will meet in the distance. Or when standing beneath a skyscraper with parallel sides, we can triangulate the apparent converging sides of the building to find the what height of the structure would be if it were high enough for its sides to meet.

I don’t mind that these people ask questions and try to come up with answers. But the research has already been done. We know the answers. They just refuse to accept them for some reason and then make up their own models which just don’t match reality.

Let’s say the sun actually does shine down on the earth like a flashlight from above and we stand in a pool of light in the daytime while the other unlit parts experience night. As the sun approaches and morning dawns, that pool of light should come creeping across the land, much like how the shadow of a cloud passing before the sun comes creeping. If I am standing facing this approaching light and a tall mountain is behind me, then I should receive the light first, and the edge of the pool of light will climb up the bottom of the mountain and illuminate the peak last. But that is not what happens.

As a landscape photographer out in the early part of the day when the light is only first appearing on the eastern sky, I always keep watch on how the light is changing. The light lifts like a dome, rising up into the sky overhead and then reaching down to the western horizon. The pink band of dawn that sits over the blue band of the edge of night in the west tells me that the sun is about to breach the horizon. If there have been any clouds in the sky, I have already seen the light of the sun illuminate the undersides of the clouds starting in the east and moving westward. Now the pink light is on the horizon and the top of the mountain is beginning to glow orange. If I were high up on the mountain, I would be able to see the shadow of the peak in the light to the west. The light slowly creeps down the face of the mountain and the shadow on the other side grows shorter. At last, the foot of the mountain is in sunlight and I can see the sun come over the horizon.

This is what I see when I am out photographing. The model of the sun turning around in circles in the sky does not permit experiencing morning like this. The model of the sun coming over the edge of a sphere does. I don’t need to look for this to prove the earth is a sphere. I look for this because knowing these things allows me to predict how the morning will unfold and I can make my decisions about how I should move and where I should be to capture the best images. All I have read about matches what I experience, and what I have read about is based on a spherical earth and a heliocentric solar system.

To the fellow who claimed in LEVEL that the sun orbits around the North Pole, how does he explain the six months of darkness up there then? By his model, the sun must orbit around the North Pole for part of the year and then move “south” to orbit around the edge of the flat earth disk. But another problem with his model is that the sun and moon will appear to be different sizes depending on how close one stands to the North Pole. In New Zealand, the sun will appear small and low over the horizon. In the Yukon, the sun will appear larger and almost directly overhead at noon. Again, this is not what we see. If he is so satisfied with his model, he should make his predictions and then travel to these places and record his observations to compare with his predictions. If they don’t match up, his model needs revising. But these folks are very content to sit in their homes and draw up their models and say it is so without ever going out to test them. It’s like the kindergartener who insisted the weather was sunny because that’s what the teacher had written on the board at 9:00 when by 11:00 it was clearly completely clouded over outside. There’s no real observation of what’s actually going on outside!

One Quoran I read today said that this problem is Nature Deficiency Syndrome. Someone asked, “If the Moon revolves around the Earth but the Earth is also rotating, why does the Moon only come out at night?” Of course the moon is out only at night when there’s a full moon, when the moon is opposite the sun. A new moon is right near the sun and following it across the sky during the day! Again, as a landscape photographer, it’s good for me to know what phase the moon is in so I know where I might be able to use it in my photographs. Some of my best captures are with the moon over a mountain or large rock in the morning or evening when the sun is up. If anyone would go outside and look, he could see for himself. Once again, check the answers we already know and go out and see for yourself.

I know some of the Flat Earth supporters best proof than the earth is flat is their ability to see an object out at sea that should be over the curve of the earth. Well, I’m not there with them so I don’t know. One fellow said he could see an oil rig that was 31 miles away. That doesn’t sound very far at all. It’s less than 50km. But he insisted that some web site calculated that at 31 miles there were so many degrees of curvature and the oil rig should not have been completely visible. Okay, that’s his experience.

Here are some of mine. I have photos of only the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains appearing over fields in Alberta as I drove westward through the province. The mountains revealed more and more of themselves from the top down as I drew nearer. I have a cool photo of the summit of Mt. Ranier in Washington State sitting atop a green field. The mountain was some 200 kilometres to the north and only the very top rose over some lower mountains in the foreground. As I drove along the road, a slight rise in the field obscured the view of the lower mountains, but Ranier’s snowcapped summit appeared like a small, solid cloud on the field. Using a 600mm lens set up on a 35mm camera, I caught this peculiar view of a frozen summit resting on a green field. If the lower portions of the mountain were hidden by the curve of the earth, it would make sense that I could see only the summit. If the earth were flat, I should have been able to see more of the mountain.

On a night flight from Los Angeles to Lima, I looked out of the window at the stars and found behind me The Big Dipper and Polaris. Looking out again later, The Bigger Dipper was partly below the horizon and Polaris was now low in the sky. I kept watching, straining to keep my body twisted and my neck turned as The Big Dipper disappeared below the horizon and then, ultimately, Polaris set! I knew then that I had crossed the Equator. From here on, many the constellations would be unfamiliar. Shall I repeat that? Polaris set below the horizon! This is possible flying over the equator on a sphere and not possible if Polaris is always North on a flat plane. It would appear lower in the sky but never disappear.

Every time I have been south of the equator – twice in New Zealand, once in Australia, and once in Peru, Argentina and Chile – the moon has appeared turned around. The farther south I am, the closer it looks to being upside down. On a flat earth, I would be seeing different sides of the moon. On a spherical earth, I would be seeing the same face of the moon from a different angle. So comparing a view from Canada with a view from New Zealand’s South Island, the moon appears turned upside down.

On a flat earth, the sun will always cross the sky in the same way, as an arc approaching from the east, heading south over the horizon, and arcing back up to the west before shrinking away in the distance. On a spherical earth, the sun rises in the east and arcs across the sky to the west never changing size. If you are standing in the Northern Hemisphere facing the sun, it will rise on your left and set on your right. In the Southern Hemisphere, if you are facing the sun, it will rise on your right and set on your left. This matches my experiences in the Southern Hemisphere. Nothing in the model of a flat earth with the sun and moon orbiting around the North Pole match my experiences in the outdoors.

I keep watching these videos and reading comments on Quora and I wonder if one day someone will come up with something that truly could suggest a Flat Earth. At least it would mean that this phenomena is possible on both a flat and spherical earth. But each time they present their models and try to back them up with proof, I can only wonder where they get their evidence from when everything they say is contrary to reality.

I don’t mind if people want to believe the earth is flat. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. If that makes them comfortable and gets them through their day then that is fine. But this brings me to my final point about Flat Earthers and their arguments.

Third: If you don’t agree with them, they get very insulting. That fellow on Quora said I was either a shill working for NASA or I was very dumb. Some of the people in the LEVEL video keep saying how utterly stupid we must be if we don’t accept the Flat Earth. We are all indoctrinated. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed with NASA’s lies. Or we are simply so stupid. Oh, yes, thank you. Now I will surely believe the earth is flat. Your model fails to represent reality but since you called me stupid, I guess I should believe what you do.

No. You know what? If anyone is going to win their argument by being rude and insulting, then he can walk away congratulating himself for his cleverness to see the truth while others couldn’t. Actually, such a person has no importance to me. I would rather he keep to his ilk and live in his belief peaceably. When someone like that says I am delusional and I live in a fantasy, I understand where it is coming from.

As for me, the spherical earth model helps me understand the earth and sky and how to get the photos I hope to capture. So far, it has always worked out that way.

Getting Tougher for Film Users

When photography became accessible to the average citizen it was said that painting would become obsolete. Why would anyone need to spend time mixing paints on canvas when a realistic image could be captured in a second? Yet painting has persisted and still plays an important role in the worlds of art and media today.

Then colour photography threatened to make black and white photographs a thing of the past, and yet still today many people want to at least render their images in monochrome if not shoot with monochrome film. And has 3D imaging threatened to make 2D photography obsolete at any time soon? I don’t think so.

So, by considering how these above technical innovations were said to make their predecessors obsolete but still haven’t, I always believed that there would be a place for film photography no matter how far digital photography advanced. However, disconcerting change is in the air.

Several weeks ago, I went to a photo shop that I used to frequent when I used to live in the area. I wanted to get prints made from some digital captures of my children, have prints made from slides, and get some slides scanned. The digital images were printed in about five minutes. But the prints from slides were not so easy. The service I had been using for a decade or more was no longer available. That particular shop could not take my order. Asking about the scans they had only one service to offer and it was not a really good one (small size files from the scans) yet still a bit expensive (210 yen per 25mm scan).

I went to another shop, actually a different branch of the same chain, and was able to order my scans from slides without too much trouble. But the prints from slides continued to be an issue. That shop said they used another service though the direct print service was discontinued. Getting prints from 35mm slides was not so difficult then. But one slide was a 6×7 and getting that one printed was a possible concern. The clerk had to call the lab and verify that they could make a print from my medium format slide.

At last the orders were placed and I went home wondering why it had to be so difficult. But my troubles were not to end there. Two weeks ago I went to buy frames at another big chain store in Japan and as I passed the film section I happened to notice the Fuji Quick Load film I use for my 4×5 camera was not on the shelf. There was regular 4×5 sheet film that you have to load into film holders, but the Quick Load type which is inside an envelope that you put in a holder was not. This film is more convenient to carry when you are going away for a few days or more because you only need one holder and then you can carry as many envelopes of sheet film as you like (I think I took about 40 with me to Utah and Nevada in 2010). Regular sheet film has to be loaded in holders that can only take two sheets at a time. For day trips you might only need to take along three or four holders to get six to eight shots. But if you are traveling for several days or more you have to take a caseload of holders.

I asked the clerk about the film and she said it was discontinued. I followed up with a check on the Internet and learned that Fuji announced the end of production in December, 2010, just after I had returned from the U.S. Had I known at the time I would have bought a few more boxes. But even though they know me at that shop and I told them to alert me of specials, no one said a thing about it when I came in the shop a few months later to develop some Quick Load sheet film I had shot. And since I still had leftover stock from my trip to the U.S. and my time for outdoor photography is rare and precious now, I haven’t been in need of restocking my supply. So by now there is no more Quick Load film to buy and it seems I’ll have to look into picking up some regular film holders if I want to keep using my 4×5 camera for a few more years to come.

That is if they don’t decide to quit making sheet film altogether. On one web site, the author reported that Fuji had justified the discontinuation of the film by pointing out low sales. However, film sales have been dropping across the board, not just in Quick Load film. The web site author encouraged us film users to ensure film survives by continuing to use it. For my own preference, I like that I get all the right colour and everything in one shot and I don’t have to spend time at my computer touching up and changing a load of digitally captured images as I know many people do. I don’t have PhotoShop and can’t imagine spending money every time a new version comes out or buying a new computer every few years to keep up with the processing power required to run the software. As it is, my DSLR is not top-of-the-line quality and I find I am rarely pleased with the colour in the resulting images I shoot. My film scans look much better. And who can argue with a good 4×5 transparency?

I will admit though, the idea of using just one camera again (like I did way back when) and a set of lenses and filters does appeal to me. What if I had everything I needed in one kit rather than carrying three formats of cameras and their lenses up a mountain? One camera, two lenses, and a few good filters – how simple that would be. But at the moment I have no desire to retire my Tachihara 4×5. I still feel there is a certain honour in using it. It should last decades if properly cared for. Even the best digital camera these days doesn’t have such a promising lifespan.

The Real Cost of Digital Photography

I have a book by the late Galen Rowell called, “Galen Rowell’s Vision – the Art of Adventure Photography.” It’s a compendium of all the articles he wrote for Outdoor Photographer magazine over his years as a regular contributor. In one article entitled, “Around-the-World F4 Shakedown” he writes about his experiences testing the Nikon F4 against his F3 when the F4 was first released. His article concludes with the lines, “Who knows what the 21st century will bring? I do know that I can’t afford not to be using the emerging technology.”

His words ring home the message that most serious professional photographers understand – that in order to stay on top of business the pro must keep up with the latest technological developments in photography. In the days when film cameras were all there was, keeping up with technology meant testing out new films, buying new cameras when a better model was released, and buying new lenses, filters, strobes and whatever else was necessary to capture better photographs more practically, economically, and conveniently. For someone like Rowell who traveled to remote corners of the world and often climbed up mountains in extreme environments or visited harsh climates, keeping up with cameras and photo accessories was so important that he even designed some of his own gear that was marketed with his name.

The biggest cost in film photography, as digital photographers enjoy pointing out, is the cost of film and processing. “Why don’t you buy a digital camera? You’ll save so much money on film.” For the serious amateur, yes, I agree. Buy a digital camera – a good one – and you won’t need to worry about all the money spent on film and developing. Plus you can reduce storage space at home and lighten the weight in your pack. But for the pro who is serious about keeping up the big time professional field as Rowell was, digital photography is actually not any cheaper. From my standpoint it’s actually a lot more expensive.

In the Winter 2010 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada, photographer Michael Grandmaison writes that he has changed his digital camera three times in two years. When I met him in 2005 shortly after the release of his book of Canadian landscape photographs, he had been using a film camera to capture all his images. That means he is at least on his fourth camera since I met him. In the same period of time, I bought a Tachihara 4×5 field camera to add to my equipment that consists of a now 10-year old Minolta, a Bronica 645 which I bought used in 2003, and a Pentax 6×7 that I bought used back in 1993. Though the medium formats have gone in for adjustment and repairs, they are still as good as they were when I first took them home. The wooden Tachihara should still be operating just as well as ever in 50 years if I take good care of it (though I might not be around to use it then). The message in Grandmaison’s words is that the top professional needs to spend money faster than ever in order to keep up with the latest developments in the rapidly evolving technology of digital photography.

It doesn’t end with buying a new camera every other year though. In the same issue of OP Canada, Mark Degner reviews the LensAlign Pro, a device to help digital users be sure that their lenses are giving them maximum sharpness. “You owe it to yourself to check out a LensAlign Pro if you want to get maximum sharpness out of your cameras and lenses.” The Pro Plus goes for $249 US and the regular LensAlign Pro for $179 US. On the next page is the Spyder3Elite, a monitor calibrator, which is a device that is critical to use “if you want to have consistency in your prints… or you want to share or sell your images… Colour management and monitor calibration are necessary evils of digital photography.” The price for the Spyder3Elite is listed as $349.99.

Those devices aside, one must also consider having a computer. Though it’s been said that one doesn’t need a computer to shoot photographs digitally, it is essential to have one for photo editing, sending photo files to clients via email, managing any bulk work, and preparing your images for home printing. Computers are not as expensive as they used to be but consider that they generally last for about 4 to 5 years under heavy use and you’ll be looking at shelling out for a new model by the time you’re on your third digital camera. I can’t imagine a serious pro making a healthy go of his or her business using a 7-year old computer that is “slow” and running with obsolete software.

Software is another issue where everyone is taking about PhotoShop or LightRoom and how useful these programs are. I remember reading a review of the latest PhotoShop edition back in 2001 or 02. The reviewer praised the new edition for correcting so many of the problems and inconveniences of the older version. Had I laid out the hundreds of dollars for the software back then I would now be working in the Stone Age if I did not upgrade with each new edition.

Storage devices are also a “necessary evil”. Thankfully the prices have really come down on memory and external hard drives and flash cards now can hold much more information than before. That’s a blessing since cameras now can shoot at 12 mega pixels or more. Also, everyone is advised to save their files on external devices because all computers can be expected to crash at the end of their operating lives. It’s not a question of if but when. Not only that but backing up files on another device and storing it in another location is advised too so as to insure one’s files against total loss by fire or flooding. So you’ll need two hard drives for every time you want to save files outside of your computer’s hard drive.

If you have a closet full of slide binders then you’ll also need a reliable scanner which you will have to keep upgrading every few years and most likely you’ll need a printer too.

Add up the cost of all these things along with the regular gadgetry and gear that photography requires and it quickly becomes a hefty investment. Of course, these days there are very few photographers making a living from using film exclusively. Most are using their digital cameras while keeping a trusty film camera at the ready on a shelf in their homes and offices, just in case. But for me who is still using film almost exclusively (save for a compact digital for snapshots), the cost of film is much more manageable than keeping up with the digital and computer development race. I have my camera and accessories, my light table, and a loupe. I need to buy extra binders or slide sheets once a year or so and film use is regulated as I can afford to pay for it. Compared to pros like Michael Grandmaison, I am spending considerably less on photography-related goods each year. On the other hand, compared to pros like Michael Grandmaison, I am earning considerably less from photography each year. We are not even in the same ballpark! Or rather, he is on the field and I’m a little-leaguer watching from the stands.

Sadly, however, it seems that unless you are a fine art photographer making good money off your film photography, working in digital has become a “necessary evil” for any commercial photographer – be it wedding, outdoor, or studio photography – and keeping up with the latest gear is a virtual necessity. You have to spend money to make money, and now you have to spend even more.

The next time someone says to me that digital photography is cheaper I’ll reply with, “Unless you’re a full-time amateur, it really isn’t.”

Do I Have the “Ki”?

Having the opportunity to go through my files and select photographs for submissions has often been enlightening. On some occasions I find my self frustrated and despondent either because I can find few images that weigh up to my expectations for the article I have prepared or because I realize I have left many of the photographs I had hoped to use back in Canada. More often, though (and thankfully so) I discover something about my photography that makes me feel good about my work. Over the last few months I have had very little opportunity to go out and make new images. This has given me more time to think about what I hope to be achieving with my photography and enjoy looking at photographs in books, magazines and on the Internet, particularly on Flickr. With regards to Flickr I have been awed, astounded, amazed, floored, stunned, and delighted to a point of near delirium with some of the images I have found there. It has also been to a lesser degree a hard lesson in learning that there are so many extremely talented individuals out there in the world who are producing work of such high calibre, and that many of these great works were captured not only in my home stomping grounds of the mountains of western Canada, but some even in the mountains that stood outside my living room window for 24 years of my life.

Before I digress into the theme for another post I will steer back on course. Marvelling at some of the photographs on Flickr has made me feel inferior because my photographs do not have the same quality of light and colour and lack the impact that these images have. I realize that many of the images I have admired were captured with digital cameras and that some editing in PhotoShop took place. My film photographs cannot compete with digital manipulation. I have also noticed that digital cameras render light differently from film cameras and often the light seems softer and the atmosphere richer than with film that has not been heavily filtered. If I am to compete with such light and imagery how can I hope to using a different medium altogether?

The temptation to digress has arisen yet again so let me steer clear of Flickr for a bit. During my years photographing in Canada the source of most of my inspiration came from photo art books of the Canadian and American landscape. As a result of studying the images in these books year after year my own personal vision developed. I learned to see the landscape through the eyes of Canadian 35mm photographers and American 4×5 photographers. After having lived in Japan for a few years I returned home once for Christmas and looked through my slide files in order to select which images would go to my stock agency in Tokyo. I had also just gotten a book for Christmas of Canadian landscape photographs by Janis A. Kraulis, a renowned Canadian photographer whose work I had studied often during those early days of my photography. I was surprised to see how many of my photographs resembled the works of Mr. Kraulis in approach. Clearly his work had left its mark on me.

Returning to Canada, this time for 15 months, at the end of 2004, I had the idea that the approach to landscape photography of different photographers was inspired partially by their respective cultures. I did some searching on the Net and found some supporting evidence in the field of painting. I wrote up an essay of about 1,800 words and gave a few copies out at slide presentations for anyone to read who might be interested in my hypothesis. Recalling my first exposure to Japanese landscape photography I was sure that Japanese photographers had a different approach from western photographers. It was hard to explain but I summarized my feelings by saying that it seemed that photographs by Japanese photographers had some kind of spiritual sense. On a Web site I found that Asian cultures, particularly Chinese, Korean and Japanese, viewed nature as a living entity that was both an integral part of human life and a higher form of spirituality. As if to concur with my conjecture, a Japanese mountain guide working in Chamonix commented on the photographs of Mont Blanc by Takashi Ono saying that they were different from those photographs produced by European photographers and that Japanese photography seemed to have “Ki”.

Well, what is “Ki” exactly? I think it is hard to describe but I can understand what that guide was saying. There is something spiritually different from high level Japanese landscape and nature photography. It was something I noticed many years ago. Those words inspired me to rewrite my idea and then condense it to suit the submission guidelines of a photo magazine and send it off. A couple of days later I was thinking about “Ki” and I was looking through a book called New Zealand Landscapes by Andris Apse, a prominent panorama format photographer. The cover photo is a moody and impressive image of green mountain slopes reaching the sea while clouds swath the forested slopes and spots of sunlight light up patches of green, grey and silver. The thought suddenly occurred to me: What if I didn’t know this photograph was captured by a Latvian born man who spent five years in a refugee camp in Berlin before immigrating to New Zealand at the age of six and if instead I was made to believe that this photograph was captured by a Japanese photographer? Would I then nod knowingly and say this image had “Ki”? While it might be that Japanese photographers have “Ki” in their work could it be found in the works of non-Japanese or non-East Asians? An interesting experiment, I thought, might be to put a Japanese photographer and a Western photographer together in the same location for the same period with the same equipment and see how similar or how different their resulting images would be.

Considering whether or not it could be said that some photographs by westerners have “Ki” brings me back to looking through my own files. The other night I was choosing images from the Rockies for a submission to a Japanese magazine. Once I had pulled all the best images from my files here in Japan and placed them on the light table I then asked myself what images were my favourites and what images might most likely be chosen by a Japanese editor. As I looked through my work I found it fairly easy to choose images that were similar to what I had seen in Japanese publications. Why was this? The bulk of the photographs from the Rockies that I have here in Japan are from a trip I made in December 2003 – after I had already lived in Japan four and a half years – and from a trip in September 2005 – after I had lived in Japan for five and a half years (I returned to Canada in December of 2004). Had those years of looking at Japanese landscape photography secretly influenced my vision? Did my photography have “Ki”?

I looked at some of my older work for clues. If I could find similar images from my trips in 1999, 1995 and 1993 then possibly it could be said that I already had a sense for the Japanese approach to landscape photography or possibly I was simply drawing conclusions from half-baked ideas that lacked any real knowledge. Unfortunately it was difficult to tell. During those earlier trips I had had little luck with the weather and only one trip had not given me clouds and rain. Furthermore, on some occasions I had actually been off to photograph in the Prairies and had only stayed overnight, shot a few scenes in the cloudy or misty morning and then abandoned the Rockies for some future date. Any decent images that I had captured and brought to Japan were mostly sitting in the files of the stock agency in Tokyo. Despite that, I was still able to find one photograph that might be said to have “Ki” if anyone knows how to identify it. Without a clear definition any claim is contestable.

The pleasing news from all this searching through my photographs is that I have put together a very nice selection of photographs for my submission, one that I feel proud of. I also discovered that even though I don’t shoot images with the quality of light that I see on Flickr sometimes, I did find some unique photographs that I had not considered before. I also have concluded that it was never my intention to produce images with that quality of light anyway. The artists whose works I admired and whose styles I attempted to emulate and adopt are of the film medium and when I consider my best works and the works of those artists I have admired for years I can see that I have achieved their level of artistry on occasion. I think I have been doing alright.

Now the question remains, in my striving to elevate my work to a higher level should I go for light and colour impact, or should I be trying to capture “Ki”?

What Nature Gives

In the early years of my photography going out to photograph was fairly easy. I rarely went far from home and I didn’t need to so much. Within a half hour I had access by car to forests, rivers, countryside, and the sea. When the weather was suitable for what I wanted to capture I went out. Sea side sunsets, foggy farm scenes, spring flowers in the forest, or a fresh snowfall – for any of these photo opportunities I just paid attention to the weather and went out when I had the chance.

Things became more difficult when I started taking long weekends to hike in the local mountains. A three-day hike was planned and the next chance might be six weeks or more away. If the weather started bad I usually cancelled the trip. But often enough I left in sunshine only to have the sky cloud over by the time I set up camp and then it would usually rain over night, the next day being either rainy or very damp with low clouds replacing the mountain views. I spent so many nights in rain in the local mountain parks around Vancouver that even now I get a sharp feeling of nostalgia when I hear rain on my tent.

On rainy days by Garibaldi Lake I would spend the time talking with companions in the shelters at the lake shore. When the rain stopped I would go outside and walk around, enjoying the smell of the wet pines and watching the light on the lake. Silver slivers of sunlight would sometimes slice through the clouds and bleach the glaciers white or make schools of dancing sparkles on the water’s surface. I still tried to capture some photographs because I was starting to learn that nature doesn’t often give you what you hope for and instead you must be ready to accept what nature offers and make the most of it. On one such trip, when it seemed the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come through, my companions and I decided to try to get up on Panorama Ridge, which overlooks the lake. The sun made a valiant effort to spot-light patches of blossoming alpine meadow and we grew hopeful as we climbed. But up on the ridge the clouds gathered and sprayed drizzle in the relentless wind. Dressed for August we all got chilled to the bone in the wind and spray and changed our goal for the day from hiking across the ridge to getting back to camp and changing clothes.

Long vacations of a week or more reinforced my appreciation for suitable weather for landscape photography and my understanding of making use of what you are given. My first trip to the Prairies was nearly perfect as far as weather went and I was up early and late to bed every day, shooting from early morning twilight to late evening twilight. The second trip was less productive. I spent many days in overcast weather or in the bronze haze of forest fire smoke.

After coming to Japan I first hoped to start again my exploration of local nature. But I found the light poor in summer and there were no really good places I could easily access around where I lived, even near the countryside around the Ara River in Okegawa City. To find nature of the like I was used to in Canada I had to go many hours away to the mountains, though some areas along the upper stream of the Ara River were suitable and could be reached within two or three hours. So, at last I began spending most of my time for photography in the mountains where there was nature I felt I knew. But visiting the mountains of Japan was no better, weather-wise. Most of my first outings included rain and often overcast skies prevailed. I visited Kamikochi and the Hotakas four times before the weather was good enough that I could reach the summit of Oku Hotaka.

For a while my discouragement ran deep. I stayed two nights on Jounendake in hopes of photographing the view over the Yari/Hotaka Range and not once did I get a glimpse of the view because of the clouds and rain. I can recall thinking what a waste of money it was for me to come all the way from Saitama with food and film only to spend it on the mountain searching for small details of the mountains to photograph. During a three-day traverse of the Shirouma Sanzan I had only one morning of clear skies and mountain views. The rest of the trip was spent in rain or inside the clouds. Even a five-day trip around Fuji San gave me only a brief morning of clear skies while the rest of the time clouds and rain were the daily fair.

Sometimes nature gives you what you hope for.

Sometimes nature gives you what you hope for.

Thankfully, my luck changed around the end of 2004. This was the year I went up Jounen and I decided that it felt good to be free up on the ridge and that even though it had seemed like a waste of money for the lack of photographs I captured it was still a good time. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about the weather so much and simply enjoy myself in the mountains. I promised myself to go climbing more often than just once or twice a year. When I left Japan for Canada in 2004 I planned to take at least a few trips around in my home country and I would do my best to capture images in any weather except perhaps a torrential downpour. Though there were some disappointments, I took what I got and made the most of it. When a visit to the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park saw me there under heavy grey skies with a murky haze hanging everywhere I turned my attention to details in the peeling mud. I learned to deal with the bad weather psychologically, which is what Peter Watson says you must do. There were still many disappointments and frustrations but I tried to capture something.

Not long ago I read someone’s account of his climb on Houousan in the Minami Alps of Japan. He had been there only a week or so before my climb, and my climb had coincided with Chris’s climb up Kaikomagatake. I had four days there and the weather was perfectly mixed: clouds, sun, clouds, rain, clouds, sun and wind. I got a lot of pretty good photographs but nothing like what I had really hoped for. Chris, on the other hand, was struggling up Kaikoma in clouds and it seemed he would never have any views. But then for about 40 minutes the sky cleared enough for him to have an excellent view of Kitadake rising up from the clouds. The photos he captured during that brief time are better, in my opinion, than any of the images I captured during my hike on Houou. While I was often grumbling about what I wasn’t getting, Chris was shooting in the brief window in the weather he was given and he bagged some excellent images.

Since that hike I went on a few more. The weather was never perfect for any of them; however, I knew that adverse weather could deliver the potential for utterly amazing landscape photography moments. When the rain came I still roamed around outside. When the clouds swallowed up the mountain peaks I stood and waited for them to come back, even if just for an instant. My climbs in 2008 didn’t result in as many good images as I had captured in 2006 and 2007, but I was not discouraged. I know that the only thing I can do is plan to go again to the mountains and each time I have to watch the sky and be ready. Sometimes the Weather Gods play a private game and leave you at their mercy. Other times they let you have a peek at what they are doing. You have to take what nature gives you and be ready for the highlights. Often the best you can get comes just when the worst is coming to a close.

What Are We Trying to Achieve?

Las Torres at sunriseDo all photographers, amateur and professional, have a goal for their art? Some recent events have me thinking deeply about the level of photography I wish to achieve in my life and what kind of images I want to produce as the apogee of my creative efforts. The exhibition I wrote about a couple of weeks ago had some very high level work but also a lot of mundane photography that didn’t impress me. I had recently written the draft for an article I plan to submit about the cultural differences in the approach to landscape photography in various countries and I had praised Japanese nature and landscape photography for having “Ki,” a special kind of spirit that seemed to me was absent in the works of western photographers (or at least it hadfn’t occured to me that western nature and landscape photography had “Ki”). But considering what I saw at the exhibition I felt I had perhaps sung too many accolades to the work of Japanese photographers. Then came the latest issue of Outdoor Photography Canada with some awe-inspiring images from home. I pined for the mountains of my home country and felt almost a regret for ever having left. Finally this week I picked up the January/February issue of Yama to Keikoku (山と渓谷)magazine which, as usual, was replete with the kind of nature and landscape photography that originally fuelled my inspiration to come and practice photography in the Japanese landscape.

The exhibition prompted me to consider what I hoped to achieve in my work and for several nights I walked home thinking about how often the images I captured reached the level of photography I am striving to produce, and how often I am simply filling up my files with uninspiring and ordinary images. If I consider the results of each outing I can see there are times where, from the perspective of wanting to bring back a bagful of excellent images, the outing was nearly a waste of time and money (I don’t actually consider any outing a complete waste because the joy of being in nature, the things I see and the experiences I have make the trips worthwhile). On other occasions I come home with such a collection of fine images that I can easily separate and allocate photographs for various purposes.

So, how would one choose to present his or her ultimate collection of photographs? Would it be a book? An exhibition? A special feature in a magazine? I have always enjoyed looking at photo art books and early on I gave myself the hypothetical task of being able to produce the same book with high level photography using my own photographs. Though I had not visited some of those places in the books I looked at, I searched my files for images of similar composition, colour and light. That was many years ago. Then the other night I asked myself this: if a publisher approached me and said they would do a 200-plate book of my best works, would I be able to supply enough images that I could truly say my book would be a volume of what I would consider master works? The answer is, yes, I believe I could put together a suitable collection of images. After 20 years of shooting slide film in 12 countries using four different formats of film cameras I am confident that I have what I would deem necessary to create a book of which I could be proud. But how do I arrive at this conclusion?

The first step is to set a goal for myself. What are, in my opinion, images that satisfy my particular thirst for landscape photographic art? I set my goals based on the images that move me and inspire me most among the pages of the many books I have, as well as a number of magazines. Looking at the works of photographers from eight countries that have collectively captured images from all seven continents, and over the oceans as well, I have no shortage of images to ignite the fires of deep emotional appreciation, the heat of which warms my soul and stokes my creative side. There are images that simply take my breath away and leave me in awe as I marvel the circumstances that created the scene and the skill of the photographer who captured them. It is those images that move me most that are the standard for which I aim.

I think it is important for each photographer to have an idea of what level he or she wants to elevate his or her work. However, while there are people like me who crane their necks to see those lofty heights of fine art landscape photographer, I get the impression there are plenty more who are content to satisfy themselves with achievements that are deflated nearly to the point of mediocrity when compared to the works of master photographers. This is pardonable because there are many individuals who are content simply with following the guidelines for good photography and pleased when their results meet the criteria of those guidelines. As far as pursuing the joy of photography there is nothing wrong with that. Before anything else, photography should be fun and without the burden of the pressure of contributing to a higher art. Photography should be for all, whether professional or amateur, still a hobby that we do because we love it. For me, however, these marginally interesting shots are not satisfying. I want more from my work. I am sure I come across as a photo snob when I say things like this but it is because I want to produce images that have the same affect on me as my favourite images by my favourite photographers. I am reaching for a higher level.

As I see it, that high level of fine art landscape photography has some strict requirements, all of which must me met in order to achieve success. The first is absolute technical perfection. That means correct exposure, focus being accurate for the intentions of the photograph, and a credible rendering of colour. I say credible, meaning realistic to one’s own perceptions, because a great number of photographers enjoy tweaking the colours in their photographs either with special effects filters or with computer software. While these amendments can result in splendid imagery, I believe that each of us must decide for himself or herself to what degree we can acceptably manipulate the colours of the natural world in our photography and still say with honesty that our works represent a true depiction of Nature. Some people feel justified in using filters for every exposure, arguing that the filters make up for the limitations of film and digital cameras. At the other extreme are photographers who abstain entirely from the use of filters, saying that using filters falsifies the image of nature they wish to capture. Whatever the position in the argument, I agree with what Peter Watson had to say about using fill-flash and filters: as with filters, the use of fill-flash should never be detectable. So I would say the same for any manipulation done with software: it should not be detectable. It’s not that I believe altering the appearance of nature too much is a photographic sacrilege, but rather I recognize that there is a distinction between a pictorial photograph, which permits tampering with colour, and a documentary photograph, which is more strictly bound by the scruples of honesty. (Please note here that when I say documentary here I mean an honest representation of the colour of the natural subject or landscape and that even in documentary photography there is still plenty of room for creative vision.) But this is not meant to be a detailed discourse on the subjective topic of colour manipulation in landscape photography. If the image is believable to the viewer then it succeeds.

After technical excellence comes compositional interest. A successful image may be achieved following the basic concepts of composition such as the Rule of Thirds; however, there is always room for a more creative approach to composition and the photographer with experience and a vision of his or her own will be able to conceive of compositions that go beyond the basics.

Next I would say light is of extreme importance. In fact, it is often said that it is the quality of the light in a photograph that determines whether it is a winner or a failure. I have shot fascinating subjects using compositional techniques I immitated from the photographs I admired most but the photographs were made in the wrong light. None of these images are included in any of my photo projects. Imagine, for example, a fox leaping in a grassy meadow to pounce on its prey. Under overcast skies this image is of little more than a novel interest. But in the light of morning with the fox’s fur backlight by the sun and the seed heads of the tall grass rimmed with gold the image has a lot more impact.

Following light an essential ingredient is atmosphere. This can be clouds drifting around or tumbling over mountains peaks; dark clouds on a prairie horizon; godbeams streaming through punctures in a ceiling of clouds over the sea; mists enshrouding a lake in the morning; damp and wet air in a rain forest; or any other condition that adds feeling or mood to a photograph. Each subject under each kind of weather in each season at each time of day has its own requirements. The point is to identify with the atmosphere of a scene and evoke the feeling of that atmosphere in your photograph.

I can cite an example from the exhibition I recently attended. One photograph of the Matterhorn had captured the famous mountain peak as the light of dawn touched one side. The photograph was quite simple in composition: the peak jutted up in the centre of the image flanked by the silhouette of a tree on either side. The sky was clear blue. I have made a number of exposures like this of other mountains. Morning simply occurs without any pomp and ceremony. There are no wild clouds tearing themselves around the summit; there is no mist hanging over the forest to catch the light; there are no reflecting surfaces to magically and naturally enhance the image with additional colour. I take those blue-sky-morning photographs because that is the best nature will offer me that day and I know if nothing else I may use those photographs in a slide presentation one day or perhaps, hopefully, as a minor supporting image in some future book project documenting a specific area or theme. But to submit such an image to an exhibition would be outside my sense of responsibility to myself as a photographer attempting to promote his name. If my work has to be represented by one, or at the most only a few images, then I would choose something that was not a consolation record shot. I do understand, though, that for the author of that particular image the moment may have been special and the photograph was for him a success. For my taste, I preferred other Matterhorn images that had more atmosphere.

I have covered technical excellence, creative compositions, light, and atmosphere. The final quintessential ingredient in my opinion is impact. This is perhaps the most subjective point of all, for what has impact on one person may fail to impress another. The photographs that inspire me most are usually images of mountains, rocks, water and ice, clouds, and also trees. These are my favourite subjects. I can enjoy photographs of flowers, wildlife, insects, or the stars but they usually don’t have me burning with the desire to get out and photograph. Other people may skip over rock photographs and gravitate to images of birds or flowers. Whatever the subject, I think that a successful image will capture the attention and imaginations of even those people who normally don’t consider those subjects of interest. This is where impact has the power to draw in a great many of viewers because there is something in the image that speaks across the borders of personal subject preference.

These are the five criteria that I believe make certain photographs stand out among others. If any of these five points are lacking the image is not as inspiring, not as remarkable, though it may still be very good, even great. Reasons for substandard results (the standard here being a high level of landscape photographic artistry) may be due to technical error manifesting itself either as an error of the photographer or equipment troubles; unsuitable or poor weather conditions; an tired or uninspired photographer or one with his “eye” not fully open (I have been that many times); and a lack of experience or a lack of goals and no concept or comprehension of a higher level of artistic achievement. I aspire to gather a great collection of images that meet these criteria and so far I believe I do have a small but sufficient collection. But viewing the images in the Yama to Keikoku magazine or in some of my books reminds me that there is still much work to be done. There are moments and settings in nature I have yet to discover for myself and capture on film. How nice it would be to come home with a bag of great photographs after every outing. Perhaps if I shoot less of the ordinary and concentrate more on taking time to seek, find and capture the extraordinary I will feel satisfaction with the results of all my outings again.

I Was Robbed by a Cow

The other day I read that the admin for a group on Flickr.com had won the first prize in the nature category of a National Geographic contest. The wining photograph was of a cow. It was, in my opinion, a very good photograph of a cow, possibly the best I had ever seen. The lighting, composition, focus and background all worked well to bring out the subject, but it was the expression – that blank cow expression – that came out very well and made the cow appear almost nobel. Clearly the judges agreed. They praised the image for the expression of the cow as well as the other attributes. Many comments praised the photo and the author provided links to the NG site where viewers could read the comments. Also, perhaps magnanimously but also perhaps to point out the sour grapes people, she provided a link to the blog that decried a cow photograph being chosen as the winner.

I went to that link and found the blog title “I Was Robbed”. The blog post described the feelings of a person who felt a cow was as dull a subject as one could imagine and that it was chosen as the winning image in the nature category was almost insane. Now, I have to disagree with the idea that cows are boring, not because I have any particular attraction to the bovine species but rather I think any photographer who shoots an everyday subject in a way that excites emotions in the viewers of the photograph is doing a great job. Part of the talent of a photographer is to capture ordinary things in an evocative new way. But I do agree that the cow photo is not a suitable entry in the nature category. As I see it, a cow is an agricultural symbol. Sure it is an animal and its DNA ultimately a product of nature. However, cows are not exactly wild animals. There once was a species that roamed about grazing in the wild but they were domesticated long ago and their DNA altered through the ancient practice of genetic engineering known as breeding. As a nature subject I don’t think the cow should have won.

But you never know what the judges are thinking. I can imagine that they had viewed thousands of typical images such as deer in morning mist at sunrise, bear catching fish at Brooks Falls, moose and autumn foliage, wolves, flowers, scenics, and an army of photographs of African safari animals. For the judges they want to see something that stands out, and I think the cow photo did for them. Perhaps they debated its validity as a nature subject but in the end they agreed it was a natural creature and as it was unique among the entries it deserved first prize.

This reminds me of a nature category first prize winner I saw in a prestigious magazine some years ago. The image was of a mushroom in the forest. The scene was for the most part quite ordinary: a tree, some brush, a moss-covered log and a mushroom. What was remarkable was that the otherwise small and insignificant fungus had caught with its cap a stray sunbeam and the whole cap had reflected the sunlight into the lens and burned out the film. It was a white glow like a tiny sun on the forest floor. Surely it was an interesting photograph, unique and perhaps one could even say novel. But was it worthy of the first prize? The judges in all their mystery felt so.

I can never really understand what contest judges are thinking anyway. But perhaps I can see the method behind their madness when I consider an episode from my own experience. I once visited Abashiri in Hokkaido during the period the ice floes from the Okhostk Sea drift down to northern Hokkaido. My hopes were to photograph the drift ice at sunset and twilight and capture the movement of the ice with the colours of the sky and reflections. Unfortunately for my hopes, a thin winter haze came in during the afternoon and by evening it was thick enough to swallow the sun completely. There was no sunset light to thrill over. I shot a number of scenes in a dull grey/blue light, my results nothing to be excited about. On the way back to the car in the dimming evening I saw a nearby hotel shining coloured lights over the ice. The scene was not natural but it looked pretty and so I made a couple of exposures.

Later that year I entered the best of the photos in a photo contest and after the results were published I got news that my photo had been selected for the grand prize! This was an unexpected honour. My girlfriend and I flew to Hokkaido and drove to the Okhostk Sea Ice Science Center in Monbetsu. It was March and there were still great ice floes on the beach and in the water. We spent the morning capturing views along the beach before heading off to the awards ceremony. At the center I looked at some of the other winning and selected photographs and I saw what I had hoped to find on my previous visit. There were stunning photos of morning light making whispering snow mists glow. There were jewels of ice catching the morning sunlight and making a winter landscape of gold. There were oddly shaped ice formations and other inspiring creations. I was envious to say the least. I did, however, recognize one thing: despite the fact that I felt my photograph was a kind of consolation prize – a photo I got instead of what I really wanted – I also noticed that my photograph was the only one shot at evening in artificial light. My entry was unique.

When the local papers asked the winning photographers for their opinions an elderly man spoke out at length. He said that it was fine that I had managed to get a good photograph in the artificial lights of the hotel but anyone could get such a photo on any night. In order to get a really good photograph of the ice one had to get up early every day and check the weather conditions, then go down to the shore and look for the right location, watch the sky, and wait. Every year he and a devoted group of ice lovers spent the weeks of the ice going out hoping to get that definitive shot. He looked at me, not only a visitor from Saitama who had shown up one evening, grabbed a shot and won first prize with it, but also a youngster (I was 30 and all the other photographers looked to be over 60) without years of experience (I had been shooting for 12 years at the time), and I felt his expression was saying, “I was robbed by a photograph that anyone could have taken easily.”

So I spoke up. My Japanese is not so great now and eight years ago it was much worse. However, I did my best to express myself and here is basically what I hope I conveyed. I said I wished I could have taken such photos as the ones I saw displayed in the gallery. I had come all the way from Saitama and had hoped for just one evening of beautiful light. But alas, it was not to be and the clouds came in and erased my chance. I made many photographs that evening but none were what I wanted. I was disappointed. My photograph of the ice in artificial light was not the message I wanted to capture but it was the best I could get under the circumstances. Those that could go to the shore every morning and hope for good light and beautiful ice were lucky. I wish I could do the same.

My broken Japanese message seemed to get through. I saw the reactions of some of the other photographers and they nodded and appeared to understand and sympathize. The elderly man who had spoken out did not argue. He may not have been pleased with the judges’ decision; however, he withdrew his case with a grumble on the edge of his lip.

No, it is hard to know what the judges are looking for and what they will choose for the winning photograph. But if one thing can be learned from all this it is that a unique image has a better chance than an excellently captured extraordinary photograph.