Photographic Competitions

There has been much debate amongst amateur photographers, since we “went digital” about just how far we should be allowed to go in producing creative images – where should we draw the line particularly with regard to eligibility for photographic competitions? My thoughts are as follows:

Before I enter my photographs in a photographic competition I should have a clear conscience about two things; that they are my photographs and that they are my photographs.

The first point, relates to authenticity, defined as “Real, actual, genuine; original, first-hand; really proceeding from its stated source, author, painter, etc.” (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).

That would appear to be the easy bit. More difficult to answer is the question, in relation to any single image, “Is this a photograph?” (in the sense of “Should it be allowed in a “photographic competition”?”) We might require at least 50% (of the area?) of the image to be photographic. But what about the other 50%? Even if not photographic it must be authentic, i.e. created by the stated author – not plagiarised!

I believe that if we are to produce a set of rules or a code of conduct we should avoid explicit reference to commercial products, particular tools, plug-ins or whatever. It is quite clear that if you use a brush in your post processing that is circular (hard or soft) it is a mathematical entity and does not embody another person’s artwork – if on the other hand it is shaped like a butterfly it should not be allowed, not because it is not a photograph but because it is not yours.

Personally I would similarly not allow the use of textures, whatever the source (built in or plug-in) if they are not yours. Your textures are the ones that you photographed or scanned on a flat-bed scanner. In this context, I have no problem in regarding the output of a scanner as a “photograph”. Problems obviously arise if, for example, you scan a watercolour painting (your own) and enter that in a photographic competition – a digression best avoided.

Whatever rules or guidance we formulate, we should not worry about “policing”. I believe this is often used as an excuse to do nothing. I am sure that I could win medals using some of my wife’s unpublished images; nobody is policing this – my conscience prevents me doing it.

Photography and free software

Today I’m launching my new website. Initially it’s about photography and in particular panoramic photography, but I shall no doubt digress into areas of digital image processing and computing generally as time goes on. As an amateur photographer familiar with Photoshop and Lightroom, I have been looking at alternatives since I first installed Ubuntu 8.04 (Linux) on my 2nd computer in 2008.

After spending some time over the last few years trying Gimp, Cinepaint and Rawtherapee, I have concluded that an unbiassed assessment is very difficult because of the steep learning curve involved. It is said that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” but I am no less enthusiastic about the potential of these applications and intend to follow their development further.

I have been very satisfied with the use of entirely free software to produce a stitched panorama.The above pano was produced using Rawtherapee (Raw converter), Hugin (Panorama stitcher) and Cinepaint (Image processor) running on Ubuntu (Operating System). The result is as good as any produced by ‘commercial’ software. The full resolution version (over 30 Megapixels) viewed at 100%, shows no defects.

Incidentally this website looks pretty good on the Midori browser running on my Raspberry Pi – but that’s another story.

Photography by John Widdall

Update 30/07/12: As the new site is substantially complete, I have removed content from the old site and redirected visitors to this one.

((I am gradually migrating my web pages to WordPress. Until this process is complete you may wish to view my old website at

My URL: will now take you to my new site (i.e. this one).