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Author Archives: Sabrina Bleecker Caldwell

About Sabrina Bleecker Caldwell

If you are interested in photography and issues of image credibility in photography, then I'm your man - ahem - woman. Visit my online realm at The Photographicalist (https://thephotographicalist.wordpress.com). I look forward to hearing from you!

Mid-air rescue: rare Little Eagle hunting a Rose-breasted Cockatoo foiled by a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

“If you listen to birds, every day will have a song in it.”
–Kyo Maclear-

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It was a clear Sunday afternoon in late autumn in Canberra, and the sun’s light was pouring in sideways from low in the West behind my apartment building.  In the blue skies to the East a flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos whirled and spun in the bright light, their feathers glowing transcendentally white against the azure sky.

As I photographed the awe-inspiring sight, I noticed their pattern was choppy and abrupt.  They bore a marked resemblance to a school of fish in water, darting together in coordinated movements.  I studied these bright white creatures more carefully with the aid of the magnification  of my modest zoom lens. The flock also contained several darker coloured birds: Rose-breasted Cockatoos, or as we fondly know them, Galahs.  Amongst them was a larger bird soaring effortlessly through the flock on its wide wings.

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In just a minute [1], the Galahs in the mixed flock were almost gone, and soon there were only two interlopers left in the flock. As I watched, I realised that I was watching an intricate flight-dance in which the larger dark bird sought the smaller bird, but never caught up with it.  The Galah was being hunted!

But the white Cockatoos almost always seemed to be between the hunter and its prey.

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After many attempts to capture the smaller bird, at some point it seems the probability of success became vanishingly small for the bird of prey. Ultimately it flew away, claws empty.

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The Galah was safe to fly another day:

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And as for the Cockatoo flock, their movements relaxed into a loosely swooping spread of birds across the sky.

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Slowly the brilliant late afternoon light faded.  I wondered as I watched the cockatoos so obviously enjoying the sky, the sun and each other, why would they help a fellow bird not of their species?  If you look at the photo  from early on in the event it is apparent they did not want to hang around a predator:

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Even if, as large birds, the Cockatoos were unlikely to be prey, they were clearly giving it a wide berth. They could have flown away, but they didn’t. Was it some form of avian solidarity?  Is there a symbiotic or even friendly relationship between the two related species? Or was it more prosaic, that the Galah itself kept flying into the middle of the Cockatoo flock for safety in numbers?  Whatever the reason, it was a special moment to be able to observe and photograph.

Little Eagle

And the larger bird? What was that? A later online search of predatory birds in Canberra revealed that the hunting bird was a Little Eagle [2], a very rare diminutive eagle in Canberra whose staple diet is middle-sized birds (of which Galahs are a prime example) and rabbits.  It can easily be identified by its markings seen from below.

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Hunting bird – markings identify it as a rare Little Eagle

 

 

Footnotes
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[1] I took a total of 57 photos between 2:58 pm and 3:02 pm.  The first photograph showed the flock of birds contained about 9-10 Galahs, several dozen Cockatoos and one Magpie. The Galahs and Magpie present at 2:58 pm were gone (other than the singled out Galah) by 2:59 pm.
[2] According to one source, there are only 4 breeding pairs in Canberra at present.  ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-20/little-eagles-big-journey-from-canberra-to-daly-waters/8459040

References
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All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell, and were cropped for easier viewing online and resized for web use; no other changes have been made.
See also http://carnivoraforum.com/topic/9387068/2/ for a detailed photo of a Little Eagle.

 

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Theoretical formula for image credibility?

And now … as Monty Python would say … and now for something completely different.

This post is for all my mathematical friends. Recently it took my fancy to consider the credibility of photographs from a mathematical perspective.  I wondered if I could posit a basic theoretical formula to quantify the relationship between the presented image and the original photograph?

Of course it would be quite difficult to establish reliable figures to plug into this calculation.  At present such figures would be as subjective [1] as the opinions of the distributors and consumers of the images themselves. Even so, it may be useful to consider these relationships in a formulaic manner.

Such a theoretical formula would be based on the descriptions of the elements affecting the veracity of images, which I group into three main types:
– local manipulations (airbrushing, cloning, etc),
– global manipulations (colour adjustments, levels, etc.) and
– artifacts (compression blocking effects, etc.)

Using these elements to mathematically describe the ratio of credibility for a presented photograph in comparison with its original (pre-edited) state, could look like this:

Presentation image                       1 – ∑ l,g,a
—————————–          =         ——————-
  Original image                                    1
Where:
l = local manipulations
g = global manipulations
a = artifacts such as compression, display resolution

This formula can be further expanded if we consider the elements of Metadata, Context, and Photographer’s Reputation.  If we assume that the metadata of the image is informative and has not been tampered with, then metadata will always add to the credibility of an image. Context and Photographer’s Reputation are elements that may add or detract from the credibility and authenticity of the image. Thus

Presentation image                   1 – ∑ l,g,a
—————————–      =         ——————–    +  M  ±  C  ±  P
Original image                                1
Where:
M = in camera metadata and user-entered metadata
C = context in which the image is presented
P = photographer’s reputation

M is the metadata of the image provided by technological means (metadata recorded by the camera at the time of the photograph). Metadata, assuming it is untampered itself, will always add to the authenticity of the image by providing a range of important data about the image capture such as date, time, location, camera details etc.  It is also information added by the photographer post image production.

C is a quantity that can be a positive number, thus increasing image credibility, if the context in which an image is presented is supportive of the truth of the image, in which case the value of the Presentation image over the Original image could be considerably higher.  Equally, it could be a negative figure, if the contextual elements within which an image is presented are false or misleading, in which case the value of the Presentation image over the Original image could be a negative figure, indicating that the Presentation image is worth less in representing reality than the Original image.

P  Like Context, a Photographer’s reputation can be additive or subtractive. A photographer with a known reputation for manipulation of images should be considered more likely to manipulate the image under examination, and by the same token an image by a photographer with a reputation for not manipulating images or clearly describing any manipulations can be viewed with more surety of credibility.

Note that the idea of an image being created using staging, like the Cottingley fairies, and thus misrepresenting reality is quite relevant to the credibility of the image, however it is outside the scope of this formula for two reasons.  First, other than through notation in metadata or context, there is no way to incorporate the alterations made to the actual scene being photographed. The baseline for the original photo (and thus the formula) is set at the control point of the image being recorded by the camera sensor. More importantly, one could argue that even though the scene was staged, it is in fact the real scene recorded by the sensor of the camera, staging and all.

This formula also does not take into account the way in which we as humans perceive either the original or the presentation images, which is an important second part of the two way communication of information that is representative photography, but that’s a subject for another day.

So, over to you my math friends, I would love to hear your ideas!

 

References
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[1] However there is the possibility that in future my formula can be populated with at least some real numbers; recently such quantification was attempted in respect of image manipulation of models to create a meaningful metric of photo retouching based on geometric and photometric changes:

Kee, E., & Farid, H. (2011). A perceptual metric for photo retouching. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(50), 19907-19912.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in image credibility

 

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Photo you WISH was fake – Budweiser & Clamato

The last time I was in California I spotted something I couldn’t believe in the beer cooler.  At 2 for $5 I had to take them home so I could photograph them and share them with you:

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Bud Light & Clamato, Budweiser & Clamato

 

It appears that Anheuser-Busch had a bizarre brainstorm to combine their famous Budweiser beer with, well, tomatoes and clams.  Or as the brewer describes it, these 24 oz cans of tomato-y clammy beer-y goodness combine “Anheuser-Busch’s classic American-style lagers with the spicy, invigorating taste of Clamato Tomato Cocktail, made by Cadbury Schweppes.” [1]

The taste? Yes, I did try it.  Once. Imagine the taste of Manhattan clam chowder.  Now imagine you took a bowl of that chowder and put it through a blender then chilled it and – here is the important part – you poured it into a perfectly good frosty glass of beer. Now give it a vigorous stir, and taste.

Enough said.

 

PHOTOGRAPHS:

Bud Light & Clamato photo by Sabrina Caldwell; cropped and re-sized for webuse; no other alterations.

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References
[1] http://www.anheuser-busch.com/newsroom/2008/01/la-combinacion-perfecta-budweiser-clamato-chelada-and-bud-light-clamata-chelada-arrive-nationwide.html.  Accessed September 2017

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2017 in Strange but true

 

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A photographer’s ‘fish story,’ literally

When the full moon is set to rise into a clear sky over a calm ocean at dusk, you know it is going to be a great photo opportunity.

Bring on the golden-red colours, the presaging glow, the first glimpse of the sliver of disk peeping above the watery horizon, the silver path of light on the rippling waves!

This was the moment on Tuross Head Beach last weekend, with the moon at its fullest and rising into the fading light of an early mid-winter evening.

Sedate but swift, the moon rises

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On this magic night the moonrise is a slowly moving visual feast, clinging to the ocean with a spectacular light-drop effect, then drifting upwards between the layered clouds. As I take photo after photo, the sky darkens, and the moon begins to lighten.   While it still beams with a deep russet glow, I frame up the cloud-bespeckled moon yet again, trying to keep the barely visible sea horizon level. I take the photo.

Suddenly, an eagle

A split-second later, with the sound of my camera shutter still ringing in my years,  an Australian sea eagle dives directly in front of the full moon, head down and wings spread, magnificently limned in the moon’s ruddy glow.

The eagle plunges into the sea like an arrow, to snatch one last fishy meal from the water as darkness closes in.  And I missed the perfect photo by milliseconds!

Later, reviewing my images, I did find at least photographic evidence of my story of the ‘one that got away’ – this lovely photo of the eagle making its approach from just above the moon.

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The moons sails the night sky

Soon the moon fades to silver-white, lighting the waves and heading off on its journey to illuminate the night for other entranced viewers.

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Photographs: All photos by Sabrina Caldwell. Other than resizing for web-use, no alterations have been made except that ‘Sea eagle over moon’ photo was cropped.
 

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2017 AIPP APPAs: The reality pendulum swings – but in what direction? (Part 2 of 2: Reality Rules)

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

(Also see Part 1: Category Changes .)

In 2016 current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised that the requirements for competition entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative vary between award categories, and that this reflects different types of professional photography common in the real world. This is apparently a two-way street, because the 2016 dissension in the professional photography community over Lisa Saad’s highly photoartistic winning portfolio prompted the APPA committee to undertake a broad review of the rules for 2017, to see how faithful a real world reflection the award categories really were.  

The resulting changes, being as they were prompted by a refreshing dissatisfaction with the infiltration of photoart into photography, were an irresistible draw for my inquisitorial eye for preserving the photographical perspective in a world overrun by fantasy and fiction.

Overall, there are some positive changes for those of us who value the representative nature of photography, but the rule changes have introduced some issues as well.

 

The verdict: award organisers are beginning to say “Less digital art and more photography, please.”

In many ways the reshaped rules implemented for 2017 is part real change and part ‘awareness raising’ encouraging photographers to be more like photographers and less like digital artists.  Some of the more significant changes such as attribution requirements, and identifying the postproduction team are as much about the entrants as the entries.

However, requirements for protographic proofs to be available for all elements in all categories is a very strong message indeed.  Further, the overall effect of the new rules on the degree of illustrative freedom across all the categories is noticeable.  In the chart below you can see that the degree of illustrative freedom has been pulled back in almost every subcategory this year with the new rules, and the two newly introduced subcategories expect significant restraint.

category_freedom_2017

In most cases, there is more photographic rigour in the APPAs this year

Why is this good? It is good for two important reasons. 

First and most importantly, it influences the Australian photographic community to value the ‘real’ in their photograph, which means the photographic record is more indicative of our real world.  Don’t forget that people form opinions and take decisions based on the information in images they see; if that information is faulty, then their opinions and decisions might be too. 

Secondly, and important for the continuance of photography, it halts the helter-skelter rush towards turning this special science-based method into little more than another digital art form.

The highlights

More dual categories distinguish between the real and the faux

In my 2016 review I noted that the ‘photojournalistic’ and ‘open’ Wedding category was a good idea and could be rolled out to more categories.  I am very pleased to see that this distinction has been applied to two more categories: Portrait and Landscape.  Hopefully this trend will continue. Having photoart and photographs represented separately within a category makes it clear whether the photo reflects the real moments of the event, or an artistic impression of it.

Category recombinations recognise real vs faux

The categories themselves are expressing ideas of real vs faux. Combining Commercial, Advertising and Fashion into an overall Commercial category consolidates the more photoartistic work of Australia’s professional photographers; combining Documentary, Birth and Sport into an overall Documentary category consolidates the notion of the photograph as representing reality.

Cleaner, stricter categories

A lot of rule confusion has been sorted out. The new approach is based on a core set of rules that are consistent across the categories, augmented with specific rules and exceptions for each category.  This is much easier to understand and maintain.

Happily, this also creates a more rigourous photographic base upon which all of the awards rest: images must be 100% photographic in origin, 100% created by the photographer, photographic proofs must be available, and purchasable photos, backgrounds, skies, borders and textures are prohibited.

Casting a wider net in recognising art contributions

Entrants are now called upon to acknowledge the larger creative context of their images: they “MUST acknowledge the printer, retoucher and/or other creative contributors.” [1] This will further tease out how post-production expertise plays a part in the entry.
Furthermore, any decorative elements like borders and textures must be photos, not digital art.

The lowlights

Conventional photography demoted and misaligned

For me, the one misstep in the rule revisions is combining Illustrative and Analog and Historical Process together into an Illustrative category.  Analog and Historical Process photography is unique amongst the APPA Awards and deserving of its own place.  These types of photographic processes are steeped in chemical and light science, and backed by centuries of tradition. They are vitally connected with the objects they represent in a completely different way to digital imaging and simply do not belong in a category with digital images.

Moreover, choosing to merge this category with the Illustrative category fuses some of the most authentic photographic forms available to photographers with one of the most inauthentic.  The APPA committee should really rethink this move, which will muddy photographic waters, and dishearten the photographers struggling to keep these important techniques alive in a digital world.  The problems with this change are further exacerbated by the fact that the Analog and Historical Process photography is hidden under the single word category title “Illustrative”; alternative and historical process photographers could be forgiven for assuming there is no category for them at all.

Core rules specification

The new core rules are a great step in streamlining the rule structure, but new ambiguities have been introduced.  For example, it was less clear whether borders, textures and backgrounds were generally acceptable or not.  The idea of 3D image techniques seems to have completely exited the rules so it is unknown whether they are allowed or not (though to be honest I couldn’t figure out what that meant anyway given these awards are about static images).   There are also still some duplications of rule profiles that could be solved in the core rules.

In conclusion…

I believe the awards committee is doing a tremendous job.  From what I can see they are experienced, thoughtful, and earnest.  They are introducing change gently and in a considered way, with lots of consultation along the way.

Hopefully this discourse is not at an end.  Tony Hewitt commented in his advice regarding category changes that “It’s important that you understand that while we consider all ideas, not everything is going to be taken on board and implemented straight away.” [2]  So perhaps the changes we see now are simply the first step in steering the Australian photographic community away from the ‘photography as massive digital art productions’ precipice.  We’ll see.

I can think of a range of improvements the committee might decide to implement in future, but if I were to name only one on my wish list it would be that the Alternative and Historical Process category is urgently extracted from the Illustrative category and returned to its rightful place as a unique and to-be-encouraged aspect of Australia’s vibrant photographic community.  

I will watch with great interest how the 2017 changes impact on this year’s APPA entries and outcomes, and how the awards committee and Australian photographers embrace this opportunity to cement the relationship between the photographic craft and the real world, and build solidarity within the photographic community.  Because, as I will explore in future posts, big challenges are on the horizon for photographers, against which the notions of reality, representation and truth will be our biggest strength.

 

 

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

Entries open: 10 July 2017
Entries Close: 10 August 2017
Judging event dates: 25-27 August 2017
Venue: Melbourne Olympic Park Function Centre

References
——————
[1] 2017 Entry Rules & Information: The 41st AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards.  p.3
[2] A message from Tony Hewitt APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager https://vimeo.com/200337227 Accessed 31/3/17.

 

 

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Painted voices: ANU students farewell Union Court

Painted voices: ANU students farewell Union Court

The ANU is having a heart transplant.

Union Court, the beating, exuberant heart of the ANU community, has come to an end of its days, and over the next two years will be replaced with a new community heart.

This morning, I trod upon the concrete pavers of Union Court one last time, photographing the painted outpouring of farewells, ideas, political statements, images, and just general joie de vivre that bubbles so naturally out of students when given a forum and a voice, especially when that forum is a vast canvas of tiles and their voices are expressed in paint.

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Vale Union Court!  Farewell.

 
 

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2017 AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards: The reality pendulum swings – but in what direction? (Part 1 of 2: Category Changes)

2017 Australian Institute of Professional Photography
Australian Professional Photography Awards

Entries open: 10 July 2017
Entries Close: 10 August 2017
Judging event dates: 25-27 August 2017
Venue: Melbourne Olympic Park Function Centre

Mapping the changes to APPA categories

The 2016 AIPP APPA Photographer of the Year winning images caused quite a stir in Australian photographic circles, being as they were much closer to highly processed photo-art than photographs.  In response, the APPA Award Team undertook a review of the rules, which take effect this year. I am thrilled that it seems many of the rule changes for the 2017 APPAs will encourage Australian professional photographers to give greater consideration to the realities they capture through their lenses, and less consideration to how to composite images in digital darkrooms.

Following on from my extensive examination of the 2016 rules to understand the role they played in the 2016 APPA Photographer of the Year outcome, I am now in the process of comparing the rules of 2016 to those of 2017.  But before we can discuss the rule changes, we must first grapple with the category changes.

The category changes were highlighted by APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager Tony Hewitt’s video address earlier this year.  As he explains:

“Commercial category has now been split into two main areas: commissioned and non-commissioned, and Advertising and Fashion, which were standalone categories last year will now be part of the Commercial category.

The Documentary category will now include Birth and Sport, previously categories of their own. But they will be judged separately as well, as sub-categories, again, this allows us to make sure that the right judges are in front of those images

Illustrative category will be judged in two areas. The Illustrative category now includes what used to be called Alternative Process, but is now referred to as Analog and Historical process. It’ll be judged as a separate sub-category to make sure the right judges are in front of it, but will form part of the Illustrative major category.

In addition the Landscape, the Portrait and the Wedding categories will be judged in two section: Open and Single Capture – more details in the rules themselves but have a look at that if you, if that is one of the categories you’re interested in.”[1]

(The full transcript of the relevant parts of this video presentation appear below.)

I found the category changes somewhat confusing to follow, especially in terms of which categories had been merged and which had become sub-categories. Ultimately I decided to map them out visually, and having done so, thought perhaps you might be interested in seeing how the category changes from 2016 to 2017 panned out:

Map of AIPP APPA Category Changes from 2016 to 2017 [2]

In my next post I will be looking at the effect these category changes and associated rule changes may have on the profile of photoart vs photographs in these photography awards. As a preview, I can say that many of the changes are very positive.  There are a few stings in the tail though.  Tune in for Part 2 of this exploration. You might be surprised.

 

Transcript (excerpt) from Tony Hewitt’s video:

“A message from Tony Hewitt
APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager”

Changes to the 2017 AIPP APPA Rules [3]

(Transcript commences from video timestamp 05:30)

Our final awards rules will be made available shortly. I’d like to take this moment to thank all the CAGs [4] for their invaluable input, and the individual members as well.

All of these groups put together ideas, suggestions – they had their own discussions – and it’s through that input that we were able to produce the best set of rules at this time that we can for all the entrants.

I’d like to assure everyone that everything was listened to. It’s important that you understand that while we consider all ideas, not everything is going to be taken on board and implemented straight away. But it is all evaluated and we believe that the final rules are reflective of this review process.

We also acknowledge that not everybody is going to agree with every single rule that’s in place. But again I’d like to assure you all that all of these decisions have been made with what we believe are the best interests of all at this time.

Of course we’ll continue to work on improving where we can the awards process, to ensure that it offers the opportunity for all entrants to challenge themselves, for excellence to be recognised, and to showcase the high standards of professional photography both from within Australia and overseas.

Some of the changes that have been brought about for 2017 include but aren’t limited to:

Album – we’ve now moved that into a digital category, if you like, so entries will be digital, not physical albums.

In the Book area as well there are changes to the entry process and actually who can enter their / the book for an award if you like.

Commercial category has now been split into two main areas: commissioned and non-commissioned, and Advertising and Fashion, which were standalone categories last year will now be part of the Commercial category.

The Documentary category will now include Birth and Sport, previously categories of their own. But they will be judged separately as well, as sub-categories, again, this allows us to make sure that the right judges are in front of those images

Illustrative category will be judged in two areas. The Illustrative category now includes what used to be called Alternative Process, but is now referred to as Analog and Historical process. It’ll be judged as a separate sub-category to make sure the right judges are in front of it, but will form part of the Illustrative major category.

In addition the Landscape, the Portrait and the Wedding categories will be judged in two section: Open and Single Capture – more details in the rules themselves but have a look at that if you, if that is one of the categories you’re interested in.

The Newborn category received a lot of feedback from CAGs, and we’ve taken on board as much of that as we can, listened to everything, and we’ve made some changes that we think best reflect the Newborn genre, particularly based on the input we received from that Newborn category. And I want to take this moment to thank that CAG in particular, because they probably were the most vocal in terms of some of the feedback they provided. Really appreciate it.

We’ve tightened up a couple of the definitions, for instance, the commissioned – what is a commissioned image, or what is a commissioned work, and we’ve defined commissioned work to be the product of a commercial agreement undertaken if you like between a photographer and the client. Volunteer work is not considered commissioned even though a professional agreement may have been entered into.

We’ve also looked at the definition of immediate family, and for the purposes of the awards, immediate family includes yourself, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings and pets. Not that siblings and pets should be put together, although if you’re a parent you probably feel like that’s possibly relevant.

As an entrant you now must acknowledge the other creative influences, or input into your entry: the printer, the re-toucher, and any other creative input needs to be inputted into the form itself, and you’ll see that when you go to enter online.

Image caption guidelines have been added to assist some of the categories, including some categories that now have the opportunity to provide descriptions that weren’t there in the past.

So there you have it – that’s a little bit of an insight as to what the awards team has been doing over the last six months.

Tony Hewitt reflects and concludes (Timestamp 9:20) [5]

You know, as I think back over my experiences over 25 years I realise just how much it has contributed to me being the photographer that I am today.

And like the other members of the awards team, I’ve had the privilege of being a judge, an entrant, and now a member of a passionate group of people that are striving to make your awards the best they can be. We want to make sure that you have an opportunity to share your photography with other photographers, to stretch yourself and test yourself against the best, and to strive for excellence.

I’m proud to be the Awards Team Manager for the AIPP, and I look forward to providing you with an experience that allows you to become the best photographer you can. Good luck for 2017, and I hope to see you around at one of the awards.

 

References
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[1] A message from Tony Hewitt APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager https://vimeo.com/200337227 Accessed 31/3/17.
[2] Thumbnail images shown are derived from the APPA category banners and are copyright the photographers and AIPP APPA.  Used in accordance with ‘fair dealing’ provisions of Australian copyrights.
[3,5] My headings, not in transcript.
[4] CAGs stands for ‘Category Advocate Groups.’

 

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