Open House Versatile Photography Studio

Guests arriveGuests 2Guests 3Guests 4AshleyAshley in Studio Horses at the creekHorse portraitsMonique on the horseThree with MoniqueMonique and dogOpen StudioFun on the HarleyAshley on HarleyMoniqueShy-lynRoasting hotdogs

I was invited to attend a photographer’s open house at a local studio last Sunday. The owners, Dave and Cynthia Monsees, hosted the event and invited photographers of all levels to attend. On their Facebook page they had posted “Versatile Studio took delivery of some new equipment this week. Two new 300-watt strobes arrived along with a 60-inch Octobox that is going to be interesting to use. We now have a 480-watt battery powered strobe complete with a 24-inch soft box for use anywhere on the site. More changes are happening outside of the Studio as we continue to grow.”

Versatile Studio is probably one of the best-equipped rental studios in the British Columbia interior, with a wide array of lighting equipment for use in the studio or on the studio grounds. As well as the indoor location, Versatile Studio facilities include a large open-sided barn equipped with backdrop and electricity for lighting equipment, a mowed meadow complete with an antique buggy and old farm implements, an old Cadillac resting in a field, and the real favourite, a tree lined stream with a sandy beach.

I joined several others to include a local photographer’s group called Coffee n’ Click, several members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club, and other serious photographers, and I was pleased when Dave told me that twenty-five signed his guestbook. I wish I had thought to get a group photo.

The day started at 10am with refreshments. After a short welcome everyone split up and the excitement began. Several chose to use the studio and I decided to set up high key lighting for Ashley, one of the three models volunteering that day. The other models were Monica and Shy-lyn.

Several photographers walked to the meadow where a neighbor had brought over her horse and a donkey for models to pose on. Another group chose go down to the stream to take pictures.

I didn’t stay long in the studio. There were so many excited people competing for the model’s attention that after a couple quick portraits I moved on. A Harley Davidson motorcycle had also been loaned to the studio and I rolled it into position in front of a painted backdrop that hung in the open barn, where I tried out the new battery operated, wireless 480w studio light with a 60-inch Octabox, and added a large gold reflector I had brought from my store. The results were great.

The day was fun, most photographers barely stopped for lunch and before I knew it people were roasting hotdogs over an open fire and it was 4pm. I enjoy events like this where one can interact with other photographers are just having fun doing photography. Usually I use that studio as a place of work where I lead workshops on studio lighting, but on this day I didn’t have to be “on” and was able to relax and talk to other photographers.

This week the Kamloops Photographer’s Facebook page was filled with photographs from the open house. I am pretty confident that everyone had a great time at Versatile Studio’s event.

I always look forward to your comments. Thanks, John



Judging Photography


Exhibition judges Ben and Dave.


I have written about judging photography previously, and I have also used the following quote by John Loengard, who worked as a photographer for Life, for Time, and for People magazines.                         “It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting”.

I agree with that statement and when I was asked to be part of the jury committee for a local exhibition by members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club it was Loengard’s words that I first thought of.   I looked forward to a firsthand look at submissions and wasn’t let down by the interesting and creative work.

They entitled the upcoming juried exhibit of photographs taken within British Columbia as “Wild and Wet” and described it as displaying the impact of water on the environment and residents of this region.

To me, the poorest photographs are those that don’t speak to us, it’s those photographs appear boring. I think the viewer should feel something, should feel a level of emotion when they look at the images. A good photograph is one that creates an emotional response.

As I looked at the photographs I asked myself the following five questions that I think are questions any serious photographer should think about, as they are about to press the shutter.

  1. Is there a clear center of interest? In a successful photo, the viewer can immediately identify the subject.
  1. Is the image composed well? There should be a sense of overall organization.
  1. Is the focus tack sharp and is the exposure appropriate? With the exception of photos that intentionally show motion or soft-focus images (both should be obvious), tack-sharp focus is the first thing viewers’ notice about an image.
  1. Does the photo tell a story? The difference between a photograph one remembers and one that is easily forgotten depends on whether the photo tells a story.
  1. Is the approach creative? Creativity in an image involves more than predictable techniques and perspective. The creative photographer handles the subject in extraordinary ways that the viewer normally would not have seen.

I joined photographers Dave Snyder and Ben Verwey in an interesting discussion of the images as we reviewed the photographs. All the show’s photographs are worth taking the time to view and I look forward to the exhibition that will be held from March 12 until April 1, 2015. As this was to be a juried show, we ranked each submission and selected those that, in our opinion, stood out from the rest.

Whether readers attend this exhibition or any other, my suggestion to take along my guidelines and see how they apply. Then think about how the photographs appeal you. Are the photographs interesting and engaging? Do they capture a moment in time and what do they communicate to you the viewer.

I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Critiquing Photography at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club

At the club critique

This past week I was invited to be the guest critic at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club.

Although I like discussing photographs, I was at first hesitant with that request. Organized photography clubs in Canada are accustomed to using specific competition rules of The Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Those rules are, of course, specific and must be very stringent.

Unlike that credible and important organization, my critiques of photographs tend to be filled with feedback, I am not selecting the best of the crowd, and I am more interested with what works than what doesn’t. However, the request came from photographer and club member, Linda Davidson, who wrote in the clubs newsletter about having me as a photography instructor in university, “The thing that Linda remembers from her classes with John were his critiques. He had the ability to see things that you may not see in your own work, look at images from a different perspective, not the usual point of view. He was always helpful and inspiring.” So with kind words like that I had no choice.

I remember a quote from the book “Impact – Photography For Advertising” by William Reedy, that puts into words how I view those photographers that are making good photography when he wrote, “To stop the eye, to set the mood, to make the sale.”  I believe that successful photographs must be interesting and thought provoking.

There is a general perception that “critique” means “to find fault with.” When I discuss a photograph I am not seeking to find fault. To me, the word critique means to respond to something, either positively or negatively, or both. The success of an image is how is works for the viewer.

Personally I prefer to use the word “Feedback”. Feedback is information-specific and based on opinion and observation. I have found that the best way to turn someone off is to find fault with their photograph. When I give feedback on a photograph I prefer to discuss what I like, or would like.

When a photographer seeks to make themselves better at their craft they, of course, need input from others about technical control like Exposure, Depth-of-Field and Composition. All those are important in creating a technically correct image. However, things like the mood the photographer set, and the story within the image, are what makes the viewer pay attention, and may not be so technically significant, but those are important all the same. Yet many critics fail to respond to those aspects.

Regarding the critique I provided for the Kamloops Photo Arts Club; I walked into a large meeting room with lots of people sitting around tables in conversation (catching up on each other’s photography I’m sure). The hall was set up with screen and digital projector, and after the club’s president quickly covered business and some announcements about future events I was introduced, handed a remote, the room darkened and I began to scroll through member’s images.

As I began I got a flashback of the years I spent teaching photography. I remember the slow growth as learners struggled with not only the concepts of photography and getting used to their cameras, but the long hours in the busy, darkened and sometimes smelly developing and printing labs. And I mentioned to those in attendance how much more I liked the shorter learning curve of digital image making and the amazing creativity one has with modern photographic post-production.

As I expected, the photography I was to discuss was a top-notch selection of quality images that crossed into all interests of photography. I felt like I should just sit back and clap as I scrolled through the selections and thank those present for the invitation. What a nice way to spend an evening.

I did discuss each image as it was presented on the large screen, and suggested a tighter crop on several, gave my perspective on what I liked about each, and asked questions about several. I think it would have been hard indeed to give negative feed on most of the photography I was fortunate enough to view.

I like to look at pictures. After all the dialogue about photographic equipment and where and what to take on that next photo excursion, what is really left is the final product of everything, the image. Whether in print form, on the computer monitor or, like that evening with the Photo Arts Club, on a large screen, everything comes down to that photograph “stopping the eye, setting the mood, and making the sale.”

I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John

My website is at