Continuing our series of articles focusing on club members. In this article we look at club stalwart Bill Terrance.
If you have been at any Kilmaurs PC evening when club competition images are being judged, you will be more than aware that the name Bill Terrance comes up pretty much every time. Fiona Wallace caught up with Bill over a coffee and a cake (she claims it had FRUIT in it and therefore counted as one of her five a day) to find out what inspires this modest man from Newmilns via County Durham.
I am sitting in The Rendezvous Café in Kilmaurs on a wettish afternoon looking across at one of the club’s top photographers. I have of course prepared a set of questions in a fabulously logical order for this event, but that soon goes out the window once we get talking. It becomes clear very quickly that this will be an afternoon of surprises, and one of the first things that surprises me about Bill’s involvement in photography is just how recent it is. Most of us looking in awe at the sheer quality of Bill’s photos would probably imagine this has come on the back of a lifetime of image-taking. Yet this is a hobby he took up only when he retired. He had of course tinkered in the past with taking photographs of his family growing up with no real desire to do much other than that.
So what piqued his interest, I ask. Jokes Bill: “I dabbled with several hobbies when I retired as I didn’t really want to spend all my time on a golf course, much as I enjoy it. The engineer in me still loved to tinker so I dipped into various craft-orientated hobbies such as furniture making. I even tried my hand at making children’s wooden toys.”
Bill continues: “But what really got me started was the advent of the digital era. Like so many, my previous photography involved film, with all the hanging around waiting for your pictures to come back from Bonusprint with that risk that they’d be ruined in the development process. I decided to buy a digital camera and eventually decided on a Canon 10D. The immediacy of the results makes digital a great innovation and I started to devote more and more time to my photography. I joined Kilmaurs PC in 2003 and between that and reading as many books as I could find, I started seeing results that I was satisfied with.”
I ask him which is his favourite genre. “Like many people,” he laughs “I started out thinking I was going to do one particular thing – in my case Landscape. Yet I soon found myself drawn to other genres. Nowadays, while I still take landscapes, I find my main focus is Natural History and Sport.” This of course comes as no surprise to those of us who have been impressed with Bill’s wildlife and his sports images. Indeed his photos taken at Glasgow Tigers speedway track are among the images that first stuck out in my mind as a newcomer to the club.
A further surprise comes when I ask Bill how he sees himself as a photographer, and from my list of pigeon-holes he selects “keen hobby photographer”. This seems at odds with the picture I have of him as the ultimate competitor in photography. How can this be? This is a chap who won the British Urban Landscape Photographer of the Year award in 2012, for goodness’ sake!
And as if that wasn’t enough of an accolade, Bill has devoted himself over the past six years or so to working his way up through the FIAP Distinctions system. These go from the initial two levels – Artist FIAP, Excellence FIAP – through seven advanced levels of Excellence – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond 1,2, and 3. From Bronze to Platinum, the applicant must have achieved specified numbers of acceptances and awards with work since their first acceptance in a FIAP patronised Salon. Right at the pinnacle of the FIAP awards is MFIAP.
Bill currently sits at Platinum level and to get there he has had some 1500 acceptances and around 150 awards from various FIAP patronised Salons. For those not in the know, Salon entries are judged by a panel of three or five judges. Only about 20-30% of all entries receive acceptances and that pool is further whittled down so that only some 5% are given awards. This on its own gives an indication of the dedication and effort Bill has put in to get where he currently is. He modestly claims to be uncertain of the total number of entries he has submitted, preferring a more generic “hell of a lot”. I do, however, tease out of him that his acceptances have come from submitting to the salons of a good two dozen different countries.
All this points to an extreme level of both dedication and skill. Yet when I ask Bill at what point in his photography “career” he realised he was actually good, he throws another curve ball back at me by replying: “It still always comes as a surprise to me when I get acceptances and awards. I just keep doing what I think is my best and it seems mostly to work.”
All this brings me to the subject of competitions at our club level and the thornier issue of judging. A less modest person might feel that club competition is now somehow not worthwhile, given their success at national and international level. Not so the man who swapped Seaham for Ayrshire some 60 years ago. “I started entering competitions at club level and beyond not so much to win as for the feedback from the judges so I could develop my skills. I believe that you are always learning in Photography, and getting your images critiqued is an important part of this at any level. Entering club competitions undoubtedly has value: no matter the level, an independent pair of eyes might see something you have been too close to.”
He continues: “We have all had what we might consider strange marks from judges and sometimes the critique may seem harsh. It is important to try and pick something out of it that you can use to better your next image, even if you disagree with the rest of it.” He laughs and adds: “And sometimes it might just be that your image actually wasn’t as good as you thought. It is like playing a round of golf; most of the time you will score consistently high and sometimes you will play an absolute blinder. But there will be times, as I well know from experience, when you have a dreadful round and your score is awful. That doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become a bad golfer.”
I ask Bill what he feels the digital era has meant for both current and aspiring photographers. His answer is simple: “The digital era has been a bit of a revolution. Nowadays owning a good quality camera is so much less expensive and you don’t waste money on getting images developed that are below par. And shooting in RAW and then using the marvellous editing technology further adds to the marvel of the digital era.” He continues: “One of the biggest developments is of course the phone camera. Almost everyone has one and the quality they give nowadays is phenomenal. If you go beyond the basic holiday snaps, you can take some truly great images. And of course sometimes you find yourself in a situation where a great image presents itself when you don’t have your main camera. Being able to take quality shots on your phone is a boon.”
Bill pauses at this point to recount a story of when he was in Aviemore fairly recently, taking pictures of red squirrels. Returning to the photo hide he spotted one posing beautifully on a log outside the hide, nibbling away at some nuts. Says Bill: “My camera was of course inside the hide, but I was able to use my phone to capture the scene. The squirrel was so engrossed in its food that I was able to get within a couple of feet of it, taking images the whole time. With an older phone camera the results might not have had the same quality.” He adds one final point on the benefits of phone cameras: “I like to think that there are many photographers out there who have been inspired to take their hobby that bit further having seen the results they were producing with that small device in their pocket. That can only be good for our hobby.”
Bill also adds another insight into why the digital era is such a blessing: “Film cameras didn’t really change substantially in quality over the later years. Yet the advancement in the technology behind digital has meant that the quality improvement has been considerable. My Canon 10D in 2003 had 6 Megapixels. My current 5D Mk iii has 26. The quality difference in that relatively short space of time is phenomenal, and this manifests itself in aspects such as the treatment of noise”
I end by asking what advice he would give to beginners and improvers. “Get a measure of where you are currently at and decide where you want to take it. A good way is to listen to what judges are saying about competition images and then apply these points to your own. If you haven’t already entered a competition, dip your toe in the water, even if it is just an informal event.”
He continues: “My own experience shows me that many people start out in a genre they are familiar with, usually landscape. Force yourself out of any closed approach and see where it takes you. Maybe your skill at landscape will fade when you discover another skill; who knows what they are good at until they try? Not being afraid to try is the key.” Speaking as one who thought they’d be taking bird images when I resumed the hobby two years ago, I’d have to agree. I think I have taken everything but images of birds.
Probably inspired by the conversation like I was, the weather has now taken a turn for the better and the sun is splitting the sky. As we get ready to depart, Bill pulls one last surprise on me: having lured him here on the promise of being treated to coffee and cake, I discover he had already paid for the coffees while I was faffing about with pen, paper and specs at the start of our session. I leave with the firm knowledge that he truly is a gentleman.
Even if he was once chucked out of Shawfield Stadium for loitering suspiciously with his camera.