Category Archives: Digital photography

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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Of fish and fledglings

IMG_2852_smallThis month I had the pleasure of visiting with family at their lofty and spacious aerie overlooking the vine covered foothills of the Temecula wine country in Southern California. Their home is an expression of their love of nature and space where I always feel my spirit renewing in the glow of their love and the beautiful environment they have built in harmony with with nature.

Nishikigoi of Temecula

A recent addition to this beautiful landscape is a Columbia Water Gardens designed pond in which a healthy community of nishikigoi – beautifully patterned koi fish – patrol crystal clear waters. They are a happy and casual lot, in a riot of colours as you can see from the gallery below – bright whites, oranges, reds, blues, blacks, creams, yellows and so many variations thereof. They co-exist harmoniously and are happy when feeding time comes.

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Star of the pond is the charismatic ‘Patch’ with her pretty blue eyes and bossy ways, and she seems to have had some success with reproducing if the markings on some of the younger fish are anything to go by.



I love Patch, but there are two others who are a bit more elusive that catch my eye too. One I’ve named Tiger because of the large black strip on its back.


The other  (yet more elusive) favourite is the one I have named ‘Garnet’ for the way its colours flash orange and black like a spessartine garnet as it swims.


Young Garnet (mid-top left) with Tiger (far right) and a few other mates

I could have photographed them for hours.  Come to think of it, I may have done.

Western Bluebird family

As I rounded the pond photographing the fascinating fish,  I noticed that above the purr of rushing water was a ceaseless cheeping sound, and discovered to my delight a young fledgling bird poking its head out of a nearby birdbox.  It was, I later discovered, a baby Western Bluebird, and it had two siblings, and two harried parents working full time to feed the growing chicks.


Western Bluebird nestlings

The family of bluebirds was unafraid of us, and soon I was in the enviable position of being unable to decide which direction to turn my camera lens: towards the chicks and the adults tending to them, or the fluid colourful motions of the koi. I did my best to photograph both of these special scenes.


Decisions, decisions

Photo Effects

Later, as I flicked through the results, I was drawn to the interesting photo effects that occurred in several of the photographs.

The light illuminating the  wings of the bluebirds made them seem like angels’ wings.




In a different way, the light effects in the photos of the fish in the water also caught my attention.  I particularly like this photograph of Patch, in which the light bending in the water makes her look otherworldly.


Watercolour photographs

A few of the photographs were so affected by colour reflections and water swirls that they were little more than a cacophany of colour, with just enough structure to suggest flowers, foliage and fish.  The light in these photos was bouncing off of flowers and fish, following lines in the water’s surface cut by the koi as they slipped and swirled in the pond.


These photographs  were for me an epiphany. They were the first images (photo or painting) that truly allowed me to understand Monet’s watercolour paintings.


I always thought Claude Monet simply showed us his impressions of the world around us, but I can see now that he could truly see moments of liquid light in our real world that I had never consciously seen myself. And he didn’t have the benefit of freeze-frame photography.  He truly was a master of his craft and vision.  And now I will be better able to see the watercolour moments around me.

And this is where I leave the happy band of fish and fledglings. Until next time!



All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell, May 2016. Other than the 3 crops noted below, and overall resizing for web use, no alterations have been done to any of the photographs.

Watercolour photographs were cropped to focus on the watercolour effect and Western Bluebird nestlings photograph was cropped to allow greater visibility of the chicks in the photo.








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2015 takes a bow

In Tuross Head and all around the world 2015 is receding into history, but not without a last fiery, fantastical flourish. Please enjoy these otherworldly photographs of the beautiful fireworks – seen over the treetops – that exploded above the Tuross Head Country Club on the south coast of Australia on this special night, the last of 2015.

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My new year’s wish for us all is that we are all blessed with the simple but essential things in life – I wish us all peace, love, happiness and health.


All firework photos by Sabrina Caldwell.
Unaltered in any way other than resizing for web use.





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2016 Photo Competitions: Reality rules!

Here we are a year later. 2016 has arrived on our doorstep, and the photo competitions of last year have in the main been renewed.

Less_image_editing_quoteHappily, it seems competitions are placing even more value on real photographs. Most of the pre-eminent photography competitions have been firmly grappling with the issue of photo manipulation, with World Press a particularly notable advocate this year of reality in photography.

Overall, in 2016 we can expect less image editing by major photographic competition entrants, and more transparency in that editing when it does happen. Contextual elements too have been targeted, with misleading captions, copyright infringement and false representations of staged photos as naturally occurring all under more scrutiny.  Some of these changes took place mid-year, and not all photo competitions (Canon, National Geographic) have yet to publicly confirm 2016 competitions and their rules. I will update this post as news comes to hand.

First and foremost, hats off to World Press.

World Press Photography Competition 

Estimated schedule: assume entries for 2016 due in December as they were in 2015

Fig 1 World Press Code of Ethics

After the debacle of having to disqualify a crafty winner in their 2015 photo competition (World Press Photo Award Withdrawn), I was interested to see if World Press was going to make any changes to its competition terms and conditions for this year. I am very pleased indeed to see that they have taken this issue seriously. World Press conducted a global consultation within the press community not just to adjust rules relating to manipulation, but to create a Photo Contest  Code of Ethics (Fig. 1).

Specifically, they noted in their consultation brief that:

“This review process is paying particular attention to the question of manipulation, and includes the drafting of a code of ethics for the contest, as well as clear guidelines and visual examples to inform contest entrants what is and is not acceptable.” [1]

They have done an admirable job in developing a well-considered Code.  There are many welcome stances against mis-representative photographs including resistance to staged scenes, avoidance of misleading content, caption and context, and insistence on transparency in image processing. In effect the Code gives practical direction for competitors to keep it real:

“Entrants to the World Press Photo contest must ensure their pictures provide an accurate and fair representation of the scene they witnessed so the audience is not misled.” [2]

World Press, I am delighted!

Canon Photography Light Awards

Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 they were themed monthly competitions rolling up into an annual judging event

As at 28 December 2015 Canon’s 2016 Light Awards competition had not been confirmed for 2016.  However, at some point in 2015 Canon made the image manipulation rules for their Light Awards even more explicit, thus removing any ambiguity about their desire for entrants to submit unmanipulated photographs:

“Entries must be true photographs and not composites or digital manipulations. Basic editing such as cropping and basic colour adjustment is permitted. Selective colour adjustment is not permitted. Other than cropping, removal of pixels is not permitted.”[3]

By ruling out selective colour changes and pixel removal, Canon has effectively ruled out most of the more harmful types of image manipulation. So another well done!

Epson International Pano [PhotoART] Awards

Estimated schedule: entries for 2016 open in April

As you can see, I have not given the Pano Awards the distinction of being photography awards but instead have named them as photoART awards.

This is because after a close examination of the rules, and a very detailed critique of the 2015 winning image, Max Rive’s The Ice Prison, I do not feel that this competition can be said to be judging photographs, but is rather a contest of photographically-based photoART submissions.

This is because the Pano awards actually encourage photo-manipulation, and reward images that have significant elements of photo-manipulation. As I noted in my critique, their statement about manipulation for 2015 says only that manipulation may lessen the photographer’s chances:

“Images may be from single capture or stitching software, film or digital capture, but must be 100% photographic in origin. Manipulation is allowed but excessive manipulation may be scored down by judges.” [4]

National Geographic Photography Awards

Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 entries were accepted between 1 September and 16 November

Like the Canon Light Awards, as at 31 December 2015 National Geographic’s photography awards for 2016 had not been confirmed.  However, at some point in 2015 National Geographic made the image manipulation rules for their Light Awards even more clear, tightening their definition of acceptable manipulations, with compositing having been removed from their definition of what is acceptable:

“Only minor burning, dodging and/or color correction is acceptable, as is minor cropping. High dynamic range images (HDR) and stitched panoramas are acceptable. Any changes to the original photograph not itemized here or in the NGS Your Shot Photo Guidelines are unacceptable and will render the photograph ineligible for a prize.”[5]

Additionally, they have made stated that misleading captioning or statements of originality will not be tolerated.

“The caption must be complete and accurate, sufficient to convey the circumstances in which the photograph was taken. Disguising or misrepresenting the origin of your content is cause for disqualification.”[5]

Smithsonian Photography Awards

Estimated schedule: to be confirmed but in 2015 entries were accepted from March to November
The Smithsonian competition has not yet released 2016 rules, however, the current rules clearly rule out manipulated photographs:
“Cropped photos are eligible in all categories. We do not accept digitally or otherwise enhanced or altered photos, except for those entered in the Altered Images category. Minor adjustments, including spotting, dodging and burning, sharpening, contrast and slight color adjustment or the digital equivalents, are acceptable for all categories. If the judges determine that a photographer has altered his or her photo, they reserve the right to move the photo to Altered Images or to disqualify it.”[6]

In summary…

These enhanced photo credibility-related terms and conditions in photographic competitions are welcome news.And as ever, I welcome the growing importance being placed on the relationship between the aesthetics and meaning of photographs and the real world they purport to interpret on our behalf.

Postscript: If you believe there is a competition I should include in my investigations into photo competition credibility rules, please don’t hesitate to let me know in a comment to this post.


[1] World Press Photo gathering feedback for 2016 Photo Contest.
[2] World Press Code of Ethics.
[3] Canon Light Awards Terms and Conditions
[4] International Pano Awards
[5] National Geographic Photography Contest Rules.
[6] Smithsonian
All websites listed [1-6] above accessed 28-31 December 2015

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The Case of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth

I love how we can find out practically anything at a moment’s notice simply by Googling it. But the trouble with this type of instant information is that Internet content is by its nature highly fallible when it comes to accuracy. Put another way, there’s a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts. And because we are usually moving quickly through the information presented to us, we can misunderstand but still think we know.

Take the case of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth for example.  When I Googled this interesting sounding animal, the snap ‘info window’ on the right hand side of the search results (Fig 1) displayed several images and a short Wikipedia blurb.

Google results for Venezuelan Poodle Moth

Fig. 1: Google/Firefox Venezuelan Poodle Moth info window 5 Dec. 2015

My first impression of this moth was gleaned from this info window – the photographs, the authoritative comment from Wikipedia, the taxonomic classification. My reaction: could this moth be any cuter? I don’t think so. I instantly wanted to have them in my garden, or keep one as a pet. And to think that Nature dreamed up something so adorable, that even flies!

Or did she?    —    Well, maybe. It is an open question, and it depends on which image you are looking at.  Let’s do a bit of data mining on the visual and textual information supplied in Google’s info window and see if my first impressions of this moth were based on fact or fiction.

The images

There are seven images (not counting the ‘People also search for’ section). Two are identical, and the main photo and photo at top right are very similar. Are they all images of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth? No.

For starters, if you’re looking at the gorgeous fluffy white moth with the black striated antennae in the main image, or the smaller image at top right, you aren’t looking at a real Venezuelan Poodle Moth, or even any sort of a real moth.

You’re looking at a beautiful moth sculpture made of wool felt. What’s more, you’re not even looking at a wool felt sculpture of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, but a Bombyx mori, or Silk moth.

This cute little piece of art is part of a larger art sculpture (Fig 2) exhibited at the Itami City Museum of Insects in Hyogo Japan in 2008.[9,10,12]. It appears to be by a Japanese artist named Hakoiri. You can see this and more of Hakoiri’s sculptures here .

Hakoiri wool felt sculpture at Itami City Museum of Insects photo by filmskiandwhatnow_tumblr_n4s2r3z7Zq1rxzlvxo3_500

Fig. 2: Wool felt sculpture of silk moth lifecycle by Hakoiri. Clockwise from left: caterpillar, pupae, male, eggs, female all on bed of Mulberry leaves (silk caterpillars’ favourite food) [3] Photo by Tumblr photographer ‘filmskiandwhatnow’

Beautiful art, but scarcely evidence of a new species of real moth, and rather misleadingly included in the information with which we have been presented.

The remaining images are real moths. Some have been taken by Dr Arthur Anker, the zoologist Wikipedia identifies as the discoverer of the Poodle Moth. Some have not. Are they Poodle Moths? Mostly no.

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle top row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a Muslin moth (Diaphora mendica) [4].

Muslin moth DrPhotoMoto-Flickr

Fig. 3: Muslin Moth-photo by Flickr photographer Dr PhotoMoto [4]

This moth is associated with the Venezuelan Poodle Moth because some experts think they might be related, and also because the photographer named the moth as a ‘Poodle Moth’ on his Flickr site in addition to its correct name.[4]

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the right bottom row to the right of the main picture (Fig. 4) you are looking at an unidentified moth by an unidentified photographer. It looks a bit like a portrait of an Emperor Gum moth to me, but only an entomologist can know for sure.

Maybe an Emperor Gum moth?

Fig. 4: Unidentified moth by unidentified photographer

I was unable to find any evidence of this photo having been taken by Dr Anker, despite reviewing his entire collection of Lepidoptera photos on his Flickr site. This moth photo appears to have become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through sites that are erroneously including this photo as an example of the Venezuelan Poodle moth.

If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle bottom row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a moth that was photographed by Dr Anker; he calls it simply a “Cute Moth” (Fig. 5).

Cute Moth by Dr Arthur Anker

Fig. 5: “Cute Moth” – Dr Arthur Anker Flickr site

This moth has also become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through co-location on sites ranging from Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream to quasi-scientific news sites that have been including this photo as an example of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.[5,6]  But Dr Anker does not claim this to be a Poodle Moth.

The Venezuelan Poodle Moth?

Lastly, if you are looking at the remaining two identical photos (Fig 6), you  may be finally looking at a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.

Poodle Moth by Dr Anker

Fig. 6: “Poodle Moth” by Dr Arhur Anker, Gran Sabana Venezuela

This photo is by Dr Anker, who states the photo date was 1 January 2009, and can be seen in various resolutions on Dr Anker’s Flickr site here.

Although there is no reference original image to identify any manipulations, this image is at least cropped. The moth is obviously quite hairy;  with two of its legs crossed in front of it and  5 of its 6 legs showing in the photo, it takes on an extra level of fluffy cuteness. The image caption by Dr Anker is “Poodle moth (Artace sp, perhaps A. cribaria), Venezuela.”

At last we have come to the one unique photograph of the moth in question!  We have to adjust our understanding of the Venezuelan Poodle moth to just that one photo. And although it isn’t quite what we first expected from our Google snap info, let’s face it, it is rather adorable.

And actually, does bear a marked resemblance to a poodle (for a moth).

Poodle Moth and Toy Poodle

The text and taxonomy of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth

The text blurb accompanying this extraordinary range of images reads:

“The Venezuelan Poodle Moth is a possible new species of moth discovered in 2009 by Dr Arthur Anker of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. Wikipedia.

Higher Classification: Artace
Rank: Species”

This looks very authoritative, doesn’t it?  And frankly, like Mulder in The X-Files, I want to believe. It is evident from his 134 academic papers that Dr Anker is a respected zoologist, particularly in the field of crustaceans, especially shrimps.[11] He can therefore be assumed to be acting in good faith in presenting this moth photo as evidence of a possible new species.

But in reality, at the present time there is currently no formally identified moth by the name of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth. There is only a photo of a moth with a whimsical name. The moth is very far from scientifically described.

We have no information on its size or other physical details, its lifecycle or its specific habitat. We do not have a specimen in any collection as far as we know. Without even the most basic of information, it is difficult to ascertain from the photo that the moth is of a previously unknown species of moth from the genus Artace.

However, I can’t say it will not eventually be a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, given it is as yet unidentified and could one day be a new species, which could give Dr Anker naming rights to the moth, which he may then give the common name Venezuelan Poodle Moth, although I think ‘Anker’s Poodle Moth’ has a nice ring to it too.

In summary

So, in separating fiction from fact, I would say that the Google info window results would leave the casual observer convinced that this moth exists, that it is large, fuzzy and friendly, and that it comes in a variety of colours.

As a reminder, here is the Google results window I started with:


The reality of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth is that at present it doesn’t exist, although a photo of a lovely unidentified moth with the title ‘Poodle Moth’ from Venezuela does exist in Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream. Certainly it isn’t the over-the-top-cute fuzzy moth that could be held in the hand (because it was a wool felt sculpture). It also doesn’t come in the orange and white variants (as far as we know) that the info window evokes.

However, Google results to the contrary, this is all we know about the Venezuelan Poodle Moth:

Zoologist Dr Arthur Anker has uploaded an image to Flickr of an unusual and possibly new species of moth he reports having photographed in the Gran Sabana area of Venezuela, and he has called it a ‘Poodle Moth’ (illustrated below) and tentatively suggested it to be in the Artace genus of Lepidoptera.

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

“Poodle moth (Artace sp, perhaps A. cribaria), Venezuela.”

Really Google, was that so hard to say?

[1] Per (if this species is new and is in the Artace genus) it would be taxonomically located in the family tree as: Kingdom: Animalia – Class: Insecta – Order: Lepidoptera – Superfamily: Lasiocampoidea – Family: Lasiocampidae – Genus: Artace
Source: Accessed 5 December 2015.
[2] “Venezuelan Poodle Moth” Accessed 5 December 2015.
[3] Abad-Santos, Alexander. Venezuelan Poodle Moth is the Internet’s Favorite Pet this week. The Wire. 30 August 2012. Accessed 5 December 2015.
[4] Shuker, Karl. Mystery of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth – Have you seen this insect??. 22 August 2012. Accessed 5 December 2015.
[5] ‘boredpanda’. 21 more strange animals you didn’t know exist. Accessed 6 December 2015.
[6]  Avax News. Venezuelan Poodle Moth. 13 January 2013. Accessed 6 December 2015.
[7] Abovetopsecret. The Bizzarre yet awesome Venezuelan Poodle Moth – Facts behind the hype 6 May 2013. Accessed 6 December 2015
[9] Accessed 7 December 2015.
[10] Itami City Museum of Insects. Accessed 7 December 2015
[11] Arthur Anker. Universidade Federal do Ceara, Labomar. Accessed 9 December 2015.
[12]  Accessed 10 December 2015. The almost intelligible Google Translate translation of his artist’s statement is “Mozomozo – worms, insects Exhibition” was produced in order to participate in the exhibition that, for the first time and made insects moth of the first issue also Fumofu in wool felt, are you silkworm like that silkworm adult. And make try to, I’m more insect of wool felt facing is the Was … cute I think I think we do not, silkworm. By Chimachima flocked to thin legs, it was also representing the Fumofu feeling. Apparently so people mother’s generation is Kuwabata around us until the time of your elementary school was a lot, but I’m willing to talk about the silkworm it’s mon were grown until it emerged in the pupae from larvae, I brought up unfortunately It has never  been. It was for sure, and vowed to mind someday.”
[13] Toy Poodle. FreePik. Accessed 10 Dec 2015.
Postscript —
For those of you wondering how I happened to take an interest in the Venezuelan Poodle Moth, it was like this:
I had the idea that it would be interesting to do a post for my Matched Set series on the cheeses of Monty Python’s The Cheese Shop skit.  As it turns out, someone else already had the idea, but in the process of looking around, I decided to Google that most infamous of cheeses, the Venezuelan Beaver Cheese.  : )  In the results was a reference to the Venezuelan Poodle Moth, and who could resist learning more about a Venezuelan Poodle Moth?  And so the saga began…

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