Category Archives: Digital photography

That moment when …

… your photograph inexplicably comes out of the camera looking like a watercolour painting.

Peach-coloured Dahlia, Yea, New South Wales Australia

Peach Dahlia


I took this photo back in 1999 with my (then) brand new Sony Mavica FD-91. It wrote to 3 1/2″ floppy disks.  I still have that disk – along with the other thousand or so!



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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-


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.


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.


The Galah was safe to fly another day:


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:


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.


Hunting bird – markings identify it as a rare Little Eagle



[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,

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 for a detailed photo of a Little Eagle.



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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.



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.




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.


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

[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 Accessed 31/3/17.



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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.


[1] A message from Tony Hewitt APPA Chair and Awards Team Manager 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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Must include an actual animal: AIPP’s APPA (Second of 2 parts)

Lisa Saad – The 2016 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year


Lisa Saad’s stunning images are the heart of a controversy about ‘real’ photography recently addressed by Rocco Ancora and Peter Eastway.[1]

APPA category rules as a reflection of real world professional photography

In discussing the role of illustration and reality in the Australian Professional Photographers Awards, current APPA Chairman Rocco Ancora emphasised to past APPA Chairman Peter Eastway that the requirements for photograph entries to be ‘real’ or illustrative varied between the categories, and that the categories were meant to reflect different types of professional photography common in the real world. 

Based on this assertion, the types and the rules associated with the 18 APPA awards might be considered to provide a multi-faceted looking glass, reflecting the state of professional photography today.  To that end I analysed all 18 categories against the various elements of manipulation allowed or not allowed in the categories. 

19 measures in the rules that can be said to impact upon the nature of images

I was quite surprised to find so many different measures that came into play across the categories; my list of 19 measures is as follows:

  • explanatory caption required/not required
  • single capture required/not required
  • combining elements from different image captures allowed/not allowed
  • explicit statement “It has to be real!”
  • proof files may be requested/ will not be requested
  • 100% photographic in origin required/not required
  • non-photographic elements allowed/not allowed
  • staging allowed/not allowed
  • adjustments allowed/not allowed
  • dodging/burning allowed/not allowed
  • cropping allowed/not allowed
  • retouching allowed/not allowed
  • cloning allowed/not allowed
  • erasing allowed/not allowed
  • textures/texture layers allowed/not allowed
  • borders allowed/not allowed
  • backgrounds allowed/not allowed
  • converting to b&w allowed/not allowed
  • 3D allowed/not allowed

I gave these measures different scores depending on how much I felt that they impacted on the illustrative vs representative nature of the final image.

APPA category profile on the reality / art continnuum

These 19 possible measures for 18 different categories required 342 separate assessments, and I was left with a lot of data (Excel file provided below) and some question as to how to see into it.  At length it occurred to me that, much like wines have flavour profiles, each category had its own representation/art profile.  I settled on presenting the category profiles in a similar fashion, with measures and intents substituting for flavours and aromas.

In the graphs presented in the gallery below, each of the 19 representative vs illustrative measures have been converted so that they express the illustrative freedom allowed in each of the 18 categories.  This means that a category with a reality/art profile covering a small area and closely adhering to the center of the graph is one where the role of representational photography is more greatly valued.  By contrast, where the area of a profile is large and approaches the outer edges of the graph, the illustrative values of photographs in this category are more highly prized.

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Reality / Illustrative ‘profile’ of each category of the APPAs

As you can see there are some reality/art profiles that are common to more than one category.  The profiles for Advertising, Commercial, Album and Photography Book are identical, and Landscape varies from them in only one aspect (must be 100% photographic in origin rather than simply substantially photographic in origin). Another profile is repeated across the Newborn, Family and Pet/Animal categories.  Portrait and Illustrative share the same profile. The remaining 8 categories have unique profiles, usually stricter. [4]


How free are photographers to ‘play’ with photos in the 2016 AIPP APPA categories?

The chart above shows the different levels of freedom to ‘tinker’ with original images based on their total score in my assessment data.  It makes it clear that post-processing is a highly desirable addition in most of the categories.  At the same time, there is a smaller subset in which post-processing is unwelcome. 

Explicit permissions that I find particularly notable are that ‘head swaps’ are permitted for the newborns and family categories. Also, the rules for the Landscape category state that “Photographs must depict the natural or human/urban environment, but may be interpretative (in other words, they need not be literal images of a scene) [2]. This means that APPA winners could be photos of a newborn with swapped heads, or landscape photos of places that don’t exist. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that it seemed necessary to comment in the Pet/Animal category rules that the photograph “must include an actual animal.”[3]

However, to be honest, I’m rather proud that Australia’s Professional Photography Awards are tackling this problem, even if it isn’t obvious, and even if there is a need for more rigour in the methodology. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s have a look at the way the current and previous APPA Chairpersons and organisers have corralled different types of professional photography.


Current state of ‘photojournalism’ vs ‘open’ nature of APPA categories

In a landscape such as this, the overall winner for the year will more often than not come from the pool of highly post-processed images just by dint of proportions: there are almost double the number of illustrative categories. Lisa Saad’s win is consistent with this strategy.

Despite this emphasis on interpretative/illustrative photography, the categories as they currently stand demonstrate a lot of sincere and experienced thinking across the realm of professional photographic process.

Yet, one thing really struck me as I looked at the rules: the two sub-categories for Wedding. I think this is an important variation of perspective in the APPAs.  For the Wedding category, though there can be only one overall category winner, AIPP has made a distinction between representative and illustrative Wedding professional photography. For me, this is a hint as to a sensible way to distinguish between representative photography and photo art. 

Representative photography can co-exist in harmony with illustrative photographic art

There are categories which will almost always be illustrative photographic art (advertising and commercial), and ones which will almost always be representative photographs (documentary and science), but there are many categories in which both approaches are valid for different purposes.  Perhaps a good way to conceptualise the solution to the controversy around photography as science (representation of the real world) vs art (evocative of the emotion and ideals of a moment in time), is to look at the awards as a set of categories aligned with photoart, photojournalism or both.  Something like this perhaps:


What about making room for both types of photography in more categories?

In addition to being more balanced and providing new opportunities and greater clarity for participants and the general public as to the nature of competition submissions and winners, it rationalises the no-doubt difficult to maintain sets of disparate rules.  In this methodology, illustrative categories could be all assigned to the one ‘open’ profile, and representational categories could all be assigned to one ‘photojournalistic’  category, with both types available to the categories where both types make sense.  The representative / illustrative profiles could thus be rationalised to only a few, which would remove confusion and doubt.  Any remaining exceptions that truly represented a distinct difference could then be included.

What do you think?

Now, you may have a different point of view on the reality/art aspects I defined based on the various APPA category rules provided, or perhaps you feel that the measures I assigned are too fine-grained or not fine-grained enough.  Or you may disagree with my assessments.  Or you may feel the categories are just fine as they are, thank you. Or you may be one of the people who wonders how we retain our sense of photography as representative of the real world, when post-processing is seriously softening the idea of reality in photography.  However you feel, your opinion is valid and valued.  Please let me know what you think, because this is very much an open question and the more we can discuss it, the closer we can come to thoroughly describing the landscape of photo credibility within the larger framework of photography as a versatile science and artform that serves many purposes in society.

Thank you Anthony Brown for bringing the Rocco Ancora / Peter Eastway interview to my attention.  It has been an enlightening journey to consider their words and the rules of the categories and how all this rich information sits within the framework of my research.  Much obliged.

Assessment data (comments welcome) appa_2016_category_illustrative_freedom_assessments_sabrina_caldwell

[1] These images are thumbnail illustrations of Lisa Saad’s much larger images available at the APPA website located at They are used in keeping with ‘fair use’ provisions of copyright for research. Request for permission to use larger versions of the images is pending.
[2] Accessed 23/12/2016
[3] Accessed 23/12/2016
[4] Accessed 23/12/2016.  Note that the Science sub category requirements, particularly the astrophotography sub-clause are not represented at present in the worksheet or graphs pending working out the complicated nuances of these rules.

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Photographer reputation: our immediate jewel


SiO2 two ways – 2016

Photographs with gravitas

Can you call to mind any photographs you’ve seen recently that you think stand out from the rest? That are worthy of retaining in your precious and limited mind-space? That have a place in the story of your life, your family, or your community? Perhaps even in our global human story?

Unlike the others whose provenance and prospects are of no more than momentary interest, these few note-worthy  images arouse more than a momentary pique of curiosity, and somehow inherently seem to matter.  What they represent is important. How they came to be is important. Who created them is important. How they can be used is important. Somehow, they just seem to have gravitas.

For these sterling images, we widen our field of vision and consider more than just the meaning and aesthetics being communicated by the image. Depending on our experience and perspective we might consider some or all of many things: provenance, photographer, context, resolution, identity of subjects, and more. What constitutes ‘an important photograph’ is not the same for everyone.

An environmentalist might want to preserve an image because it appears to capture a rare event of black swans flocking in enormous numbers on the New South Wales south coast but she might wonder if the swan numbers were artificially inflated by image cloning (they weren’t).


60 Black Swans – Coila Lake, New South Wales Australia – 2015

Parents might love a particular photo of their children and want to know where the photo was taken.


What *he* said –  Harry and Obi Ward – Nisi’s, Cootamundra,  2012

Conservators might be especially interested in the date of the photograph.


Christchurch Cathedral entrance prior to the 2011 earthquake – Sept 2009

In all of these cases, the person standing behind the photograph, the photographer, is indispensable.  She or he is needed to tell the story of the photograph – what it depicts, when it was taken, what has been done to it.  The credibility of the photographer reflects on the credibility of the photo.

Our photographic reputation

So what about when we are the photographer? As a photographer, we are not judging photographs, we are judged by our photographs. We stand behind them. We have a role to play in acting as a witness not just to the event we photographed, but to the meaning and context of the photograph itself.

Just like any witness, we may be able to rest on our solid reputation such that even unusual photographs will be believed because we are believed.  Or we may be unable to convince anyone that we haven’t manipulated an image because we have a reputation for producing images that are more art than true representations of the world around us. Like any other walk of life, our reputation precedes us.


Living in the digital age has both opportunities and challenges.  As photographers, the best of our work can be preserved for as long as there is interest in what we accomplished.  Unfortunately, so can the worst of our work.  From simple sins of omission that leave our photos orphaned because they cannot be understood without context, through to sins of commission like deliberately misleading photo editing, or acts of inappropriate image publication, our worst photographic choices will forever cast a shadow over our best.

And our work can last for a very, very long time. For example, my post “Keep ’em Flying” about  a photo of 9 WWII era matchbooks illustrating the early days of pilot training is a perennial favourite despite the events of the story and the matchbook covers being over 70 years old.


Detail of 1940s matchbook cover

By the same token, Henry Peach Robinson’s “Fading Away,” has lingered for over 150 years, and, while a poignant illustration of human frailty, is also a image with no representational truth, being created with staged actors and 5 different negatives. It is photographic art, but not a photograph. It is difficult to know which, if any, of Robinson’s ‘photographs’ are real, and which are fabrications. In the 1860s photography was relatively poorly understood, so it may not be that Robinson’s reputation preceded him, but it certainly succeeded him.


Henry Peach Robinson’s Fading Away, 1860

No one is perfect, but I believe it behooves us to act as honourably as possible in our photographic practices, not just because it is the right thing to do, which should be enough, but in enlightened self-interest. If we care enough to take photographs, we probably care enough to want them to endure.  The photographical canon of the future is likely to be an amalgam of the many useful photographs taken by photographers with integrity and character, and the relatively fewer infamous ‘doctored’ photographs that serve as a warning of what not to do.  Everything in between, the dubious, the unknown, the incomprehensible, the orphaned photographs may well just be visual noise, given short shrift by our descendants.

The great difficulty is first to win a reputation; the next to keep it while you live; and the next to preserve it after you die, when affection and interest are over, and nothing but sterling excellence can preserve your name. Never suffer youth to be an excuse for inadequacy, nor age and fame to be an excuse for indolence.

– Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846)

60 Black Swans, What *he* said,  and Christchurch Cathedral entrance prior to the 2011 earthquake, photos by Sabrina Caldwell, other than resizing for web use, no alterations have been made
Detail of 1940s matchbook cover, photo by Brian Bleecker, image cropped and resized for web use by Sabrina Caldwell
Fading Away by Henry Peach Robinson, public domain
SiO2 two ways, photos by Sabrina Caldwell, image was cropped and resized for web use


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