Design Matters: Canberra Times Sunday 19th August 2018

Tony Trobe talks with Helen McFadden, President of the Canberra Photographic Society, prior to the opening of the society’s latest exhibition.

Lichen Reclaiming by Judy Parker

Lichen Reclaiming by Judy Parker

TT Hi Helen, tell me something about the Canberra Photographic Society and why it is relevant in an age when we are surrounded by smart phones and bombarded by images?

Humans are visual creatures who love to capture and look at images. It is true that cameras are now ubiquitous, but it is the eyes, mind and heart that are essential for creating great images. We at the Canberra Photographic Society are passionate about growing our photography and helping others achieve their photographic potential no matter where they are on their photographic journey.

Why do you consider this to be of benefit to the community?

Many people enjoy having a creative outlet and photography has wide appeal. Photography can be as simple or as technical as you would like and we welcome all types of photographer. Many members find that the act of making photographs has a meditative quality that can be beneficial when dealing with health and life issues. Photography can also take us beyond recording places and experiences and allow us to explore and communicate ideas and emotions and even influence change. Photography can take you to places at home and away that you may not otherwise have visited or even considered. Some members travel extensively and share images of wonderful places when they return while others focus on local subjects and make beautiful and thought-provoking images from the apparently ordinary.

TT Where does your upcoming exhibition fit in with this vision?

This exhibition features members’ photographs that show the beauty and importance of the natural world. Our environment is changing rapidly with humans’ need for resources putting pressure on built and natural systems, wild places and wildlife. Some of the landscapes depicted in the exhibition, such as our magnificent eucalypt forests, are disappearing. Animals, such as the black rhino, are critically endangered. Pollinators are in decline. All are essential for our physical and emotional well-being. Sadly, in some instances photographs may be all that we have to leave for future generations unless we can reduce negative human impacts on our planet.

I understand that the Canberra Photographic Society was formed in 1945 and has seen a lot of changes in the way photography is practiced. Has the society itself changed much with the times?

I like to think so. We now have more emphasis on sharing, participation, collaboration and learning than on competition and our membership now is more diverse than it was. We run a full program ( with our main event (on the first Tuesday evening of each month) being an Exhibition and Critique night. Visitors are welcome.

Why is this venue special for you?

I spent most of my career as a CSIRO scientist and I worked for a time in a laboratory in the Discovery Centre building where the exhibition is being held. Architects Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn Pty Ltd won the AIA Canberra ACT Medallion in 2000 for the centre’s innovative design. In addition to the gallery and cafe most visitors come to the Interactive Discovery Centre to learn about Australia’s role in the fascinating world of science and research.

“The Natural World” is on at the Discovery Centre, CSIRO Black Mountain, from 21st August to 27th September 2018. The gallery is open from 9 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday.



“Sequences and Series” by Judy Parker

This is an outline of the presentation “Sequences and Series” given by Judy Parker to the CPS in July 2018. Since giving this presentation, Judy’s series, “Round(ish), Squared” was Highly Commended in the 2018 Projected Portfolio Awards. These images shown at the end of the summary.


SequencesPresentation HD_Page_1

SequencesPresentation HD_Page_2

SequencesPresentation HD_Page_3

SequencesPresentation HD_Page_4

Projected Image Portfolio 2018: Round(ish) SquaredParker_J_02_Squares1Parker_J_03_Squares2Parker_J_04_Squares3Parker_J_05_Squares4

Elements of Composition (for Landscape Photography)

When you are approaching the composition of a landscape remembering some of the following basic ideas will help you create a stronger image. Sometimes you may wish to ignore these elements to make a creative choice. To retain creative control, do this by design rather than by accident!

1. Tell a story

If you aim to tell a story, that will help you decide what to put into the frame and what to leave out. Think

  • What am I feeling?
  • What am I seeing, what do I want my viewer to see?

The main tools that assist with effective story telling are to:

  • Have some element of interest
  • Strive for visual balance
  • Control the way the eye moves in the image

2. Consider the following basics elements of an image:

  • Framing: Is it horizontal, vertical or a panorama? Bear in mind that a frame is an artifice – we don’t see in letter-boxes with hard edges. Our eyes behave differently when constrained by a frame, so how you frame is a critical component of your image. Consider using a frame within a frame (such as a doorway, foliage) for a stronger effect.
  • Visual balance within the frame. Landscapes generally work best if there is a foreground, a middleground and a back-ground. If your image is not satisfying to you, see if you are leaving out one of these elements, or if they are not balanced. Placing items of interest in accordance with the “rule of thirds” can also help make visually balanced images.

3. Learn how to control they way the eye of the viewer moves within your frame. Generally the eye moves:

  • To light areas
  • To areas with contrast and sharpness
  • Along lines
  • To colour – more to saturated and warm areas
  • To contrast
  • To eyes, human forms, animals and representations of human influence.

4. Include elements that the eye finds pleasing:

  • Patterns
  • Repetition
  • Symmetry
  • The odd one out in a pattern or repetition
  • Simplicity or complexity but not busy-ness and clutter

5. Avoid things that the eye finds displeasing:

  • Distractions – light areas in the wrong spot
  • Lines leading out of the frame
  • Cut edges and overlapping forms.

In order to reduce displeasing elements,

  • Always check your image and subject edges
  • Look for separation between elements.
The loneliness of the lighthouse keeper's wife

The loneliness of the lighthouse keeper’s wife

This image is an example of a frame within a frame. The door invites the viewer into the image. The colour of the sea attracts the eye. The door, rug and picket fence tell of domesticity. Although the scene is beautiful it is empty, hence the caption. This was taken at the lighthouse cottage at Green Cape. The lighthouse keeper’s wife had little company or support in raising her family through all weathers and in sickness and in health.

Boat at Fishpen Jetty

Boat at Fishpen Jetty

This image is an example of framing, leading lines and light. The early morning sun has just kissed the wooden jetty. This image is not that successful as the leading lines go nowhere. However, if there weren’t complete separation of the boat, it would certainly not be a successful image.

Laguna Blanca - Bolivian Altiplano

Laguna Blanca – Bolivian Altiplano

This image has a foreground, middle and back ground that all work well together to tell the story of isolation and a grand landscape. The human element adds to the story – they have obviously travelled without the benefit of roads. They are dwarfed by the landscape features.

Precarious Tree on Cliff at Oxer Lookout, Karijini

Precarious Tree on Cliff at Oxer Lookout, Karijini

This image shows the tree on one of the “line of thirds.”  The eye finds this off-centre approach appealing.

Greenland Fjord

Greenland Fjord

Another example of an image with a fore- middle- and background. The real subjects are the magnificent icebergs and interesting light on the clouds. However the human element in the foreground, and the extensive middle ground add to the sense of scale.

Tatio Geysers, Chilean Altiplano

Tatio Geysers, Chilean Altiplano

Another classical fore-, middle and background construction. Note that if the geyser steam had been curling the other way, the image would have been less successful.

Uyuni Salt Train

Uyuni Salt Train

Classical leading lines illustrate that, culturally, we tend to read lines from the bottom left of the image as the strongest lines. Other elements are balanced, with the central train flanked by two volcanoes (a trio of elements). The main subject is the most colourful element.

Knox Swimming Hole, Karijini, WA

Knox Swimming Hole, Karijini, WA

Leading lines and strong colour tell the story of an inviting and tranquil pool.

Judy on the Rocks: Merimbula

Judy on the Rocks: Merimbula

Strong colour and leading lines – as taken.

Judy on Rocks: Image Flipped

Judy on Rocks: Image Flipped

To my eye, this image reads much better as the strong lines coming in from the bottom left travel through the whole image before being turned back. They eye therefore travels around within the image, which it doesn’t do in the top version. The human form adds scale and interest.

A single cone in the vast salt lake of Uyuni after rain

A single cone in the vast salt lake of Uyuni after rain

As I was looking for this image, the thought running through my mind was “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” The single salt cone and snow-clad volcano hang in a sea of light.

Phil at Sani Pass, Lesotho

Phil at Sani Pass, Lesotho

Again I was looking for a simple image. Note that the cloud in the middle ground separating the fore and backgrounds is what makes the image. The human element adds interest. Without the cloud and the figure the image would be boring.

The vast salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia

The vast salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia

I was looking to simplify to tell the story of the vast open space, and to convey the feeling of being suspended in a blue bubble.

Bryce Canyon Rock Formation

Bryce Canyon Rock Formation

Interesting light can be the most important element in a successful landscape. Here the first rays of the sun light up and isolate a rock formation in a complex canyon.

The following images illustrate the use of repetition and patterns, and the effect of breaking a pattern (white railway trucks on a red train, a village in rice terraces).

Bridge over the Tigris, Turkey

Bridge over the Tigris, Turkey

RedUmbrella_MG_5041 copy

Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces and Traditional Village


Two boats at Merimbula

Uyuni Salt Train_IMG_1358

Salt train from Uyuni

Finally the following images illustrate the importance of separation. The pre-dawn light is soft and the silver bark gleams. There is no overlap between this tree and any other. This sometimes takes a bit of effort to find. In the wharf silhouette, the rocks of the foreground are just separated from the background by the water. Without the fishermen facing in to the scene, the image would be bland and boring.

Eucalypt in pre-dawn light, Karijini

Eucalypt in pre-dawn light, Karijini

Merimbula Wharf at Sunset

Merimbula Wharf at Sunset

Photographic Ideas: Seeing differently – Blind photographers.

Photography is a great outlet. For some it can be life-changing. I know of several members of our society who have found, and continue to find, that photography can be profoundly therapeutic and healing. As a society we aim to support photographers by providing opportunities for learning and for making friends.

One of our recent society activities was a shoot at an ACT Athletics event. Those of us who attended were impressed to notice the inclusiveness of the athletics community. It would be great if our society could also be as inclusive. A goal worth aiming for, I think.

Thinking of people with a range of abilities led me to reflecting on an article I had seen a while back about blind photographers. While this seems like an oxymoron, there are in fact quite a few blind and partially sighted people practising photography in meaningful ways. This got me thinking about the ways that we sighted photographers could learn about photography from those who have to draw on a range of senses to make their images.

There are several resources on the internet that illustrate the inspirational world of blind photography. I have just included links, rather than posting images, so that you can see how the images relate to the context in which they were created.

1989 Australian of the Year, Brendon Borrellini has developed a photographic practice after meeting Steve Mayer-Miller, Artistic Director for Crossroad Arts, an organisation in Mackay that develops opportunities for people with a disability to access and participate in the arts. Together they have come up with a technique to convert Brendon’s photographs into textured prints so that he can feel his images. A moving piece created by ABC Open Tropical North in July 2014 showcases this work.

I also came across a website that promotes a book by blind teenagers called “Seeing beyond sight”. This site is worth a look because it has a video (4 minutes – a bit long perhaps but it’s worth it) of a presentation about this book. From the site:

“Unusual as the idea may seem at first, putting cameras in the hands of visually impaired children proved to be extremely fruitful — both for the photographers, who found an astonishing new means of self-expression, and for the viewers of their images, for whom this is an entirely new kind of dreamlike and intuitive creation. Even before you know that these pictures were taken by blind teenagers, they are striking in their use of light and composition, and haunting in their chiaroscuro intensity.”

From these two videos I think we can learn a lot about how photography is an art that encompasses more senses than just sight. Perhaps if we too can learn to “feel” our photography we will learn to make more meaningful images.

What’s the deal with Instagram?

If you have been exploring the new Canberra Photographic Society website you will have seen, under the “Publications and Links” menu, a page called “CPS images on Instagram.” If you are not familiar with Instagram you may be wondering what this is.

Instagram has become a popular platform, not only for sharing images, but for developing communities. It allows people to show rather than tell, and this has been embraced by many who are interested in developing brand awareness or who want to draw attention to humanitarian issues. Today there are 200 million users and 20 billion images on Instagram according to the Instagram blog The “movement” has seen people meet up virtually and then get together in real life. Users hold “Instameets” where people get together, drawn by a shared interest. This could be anything from jazz music to the landscapes of Tasmania or the plight of the rhino. Australians have been keen to embrace Instagram and one of world’s largest Instameets was held recently in Queensland. Tourism Australia is one of the most followed travel accounts globally (see article on p 47 of B & T Magazine, Dec/Jan 2015).

So how do you access this community? Instagram is an image-sharing app (free to download) that is tablet or smart-phone based. All you need to create an account is said device and a valid email address. Setting up an account takes about a minute. You can create a brief profile and add a personal url.Once you have set up your account, you select a photo from your photostream on your device. You can add text and include various hashtags depending on the subject (eg. #blackandwhitephotography; #animals etc. – the selection of hashtags to maximise your visibility is a bit of an art that I won’t go into here, largely because I haven’t yet grasped it). With many millions of users browsing through categories such as say black and white photographs or animals you may get your first “like” in seconds. This can be enormously seductive – though not necessarily terribly meaningful. It is possible to find users that interest you and to have a modest following fairly quickly. The best way to do this is to start commenting on and liking other images. If you are new to photography this may be a way for you to start getting your images “out there”, to build up followers and to find other photographers whose images you like. Be aware though that not all Instagram users are photographers – there seem to be quite a few nubile women with names like Natasha (who may be perfectly genuine) as well as advertisers and presumably others with dubious motives, so it pays to be careful.

If you post an image to Instagram with the hashtag #canberraphotographicsociety then it will automatically appear on the “CPS images on Instagram” page on the CPS website. The page only shows the 60 most recent photographs, so gradually old images drop off as they are replaced with new ones. There are apps that generate the code so that images with a particular hashtag or particular user name can be displayed on a website. This is what has been used on the CPS site. (Free apps also generate advertising – hence you will see advertising when you click on individual images on the CPS Instagram page).

When posting images to Instagram I like to arrange my images in related blocks so that they work well together. Some users only post a certain type of image, so their “look” is consistent. Others are a bit more eclectic. Instagram images are almost always square – you can pad the images with white space to create portraits or landscapes, but most users stick to the square format. This is having an influence on the modern aesthetic and I am seeing a lot more square images in advertising and magazines. Square images tend to play nicely together and lend themselves to being arranged in multiple formats (see below). Also have a look at the website of Western Australian landscape photographer Christian Fletcher see examples of stunning landscapes in a square format.

One of the things I like about Instagram is that your Instagram posts can be found in an automatically-generated, neat-looking website (such as mine shown below:

Have a look other CPS members’ Instagram accounts, some of which are listed on the “Links to Member’s Pages” that is under the “Publications and Links” tab on the CPS site at If you have a link that you would like added here please let me know.


Other Instagram accounts that you might like to have a look at are:
@mattglastonbury – Matt Glastonbury, a Hobart-based landscape photographer who posts time-lapse sequences of stunning Tasmanian landscapes. His aurora sequences are particularly interesting. – Ben Kopilow, one of our regular judges and a well-known Canberra-based wedding photographer.
@eleanorgannon – Eleanor Gannon – a New Zealand-based photographer who creates colourful 3 x 3 series.
@photoacces_inc – PhotoAccess – our friends down the road.

Inspiration: Martin Chambi


I always like to look at the work of other photographers for inspiration and ideas on how to apply technique. One benefit of living in this massive city is that there is usually a couple of exhibitions around that are worth visiting. The exhibition “Face Andina: Fotografias de Martin Chambi” at the Instituto Moreira Salles had been on my list since Christmas, but I only got around to visiting it yesterday, just in time before it closes on 22 February.

Martin Chambi (1881-1973) was a pioneering indigenous Peruvian photographer, who tried to photograph his own people in a different way then just as an exotic species. He was one of the first to photograph Machu Picchu and also became known as a photojournalist, who worked not only for newspapers Cusco, but was also published in National Geographic.

I had first read about Martin Chambi in the book ‘Andes’ by Michael Jacobs, which triggered my interest in seeing the exhibition, which consists of 88 photographs, the majority portraits and group photos, as well as a series of images taking at various Inca sites in the mountains, including the very iconic photograph featured above, one of my favourites. His photos provide a chance to peek into Peruvian society of the early 20th century. One of the images that made me smile was one of the ladies basketball team, lined up from tall to (quite) short, in their long skirts, with special hats and shoes with a small heel. A world apart from basketball players nowadays!

As I looked at the various portraits, I mused at how interesting it is that portraits are often defined, or at least were back then, by how we think we need to pose rather then how we would like to pose. The very stilted poses of some ‘pillars’ of society contrasted starkly  with the defying look of a young society lady who clearly felt like the bees’ knees in her shoot. And the portrait of a worker had a very submissive look to it, of someone who barely felt worthy of a photograph.

Chambi used mainly natural light, with some impressive results. I really liked one of his portraits of an older man where the only light was like a halo around one part of his head, providing barely sufficient illumination to show the rest of his face. Very atmospheric.

Often we seek out the exotic or extraordinary to make photographs. I feel that Chambi often tried to photograph the ordinary in a, for us, extraordinary environment, in a way that transcended the usual imagery associated with it. If any exhibition of his work ever comes to Australia, I highly recommend a visit, but a browse on google will also bring up many of his wonderful photographs.

Do you have a sketchbook?

When I was working as a scientist in a CSIRO I needed some structured creative time so I did evening courses at the ANU Open Art School. It was great – one evening a week with 3 hours of uninterrupted creative time drawing, painting, print-making, printing photographs: whatever the current course involved. One thing that was encouraged in all of these courses was the use of a sketchbook. Good advice if you are only coming once a week and you happen to have a great idea mid-week. Full-time artists also make use of sketchbooks to record things, try out ideas, make notes, practice.

So what about a photography sketchbook? A little difficult, don’t you think. Well, yes and no. In the film days we could make contact sheets or postcard-sized prints and doodle notes on them. This can still be done with digital files. Even low-quality prints from a standard printer can generate images good enough to act as a starting point for new ideas. Seeing a print of an image, thinking about how to process it and writing this down taps into different creative pathways from those employed when looking at images on a screen. How often have you written something on a computer and it seems error-free? Then you print it out and suddenly there are all these typos that you never saw before. It is the same with images. The brain processes paper content differently and doing things differently can spark ideas.

I often find I use my smart phone camera as a sketchbook. Like this morning when I was in the NGA for the first time in a while. I am so glad that they have (largely) lifted the ban on photography, because there is something about being immersed in a beautiful space surrounded by art that stimulates me to have ideas. Somehow I have to capture these ideas and the phone camera is ideal. I record the labels of art works so I know what or who to look up later. I might photograph an image; not so I can steal it and reproduce it, but to remind me of the emotion I felt when looking at the original. I photograph book and magazine covers so I can think about buying them later if their mood still grabs me. I also have a book that lives next to my computer where I write down ideas as they come to me. I have two actually: one for lists of things like “buy sugar” and “do my tax” and another for lists like “build on series of iceberg photos” or “try tin-type app on cyclamen photos”. It’s amazing how you can forget about all these good little ideas if you don’t write them down to jog your memory later. I also do annotated scribbles for image ideas and book layouts. Writing down a plan and a timeline for bigger projects is also helpful. I will never have the time to execute all the ideas I record, but then having the ideas and choosing the best one to pursue is half the fun.

So if you are finding it hard to decide what to photograph next I suggest just going out to where there is some good art and look at it. Spend a morning in the NGA, the Portrait Gallery or other cultural institution. Find some images that speak to you and record them. Think about how you would create some of those effects using a camera. Review the images later, remember and rethink. You may never actually follow up on those ideas, but there is a good chance that your creativity will be energised in the process and ideas will start to flow.