As 2012 draws to a close, so too does this year’s Forum competition. And it’s been quite a year. I may have only come on board in the latter stages of the competition but I’ve been mightily impressed with the images I’ve seen, so thank you once again for taking part. Look out for an article featuring this year’s Forum competition winning images in the AP Christmas special issue (cover date 22-29 December 2012) on sale 18 December 2012.

For this month’s round we asked you to make the most of the sensitivity of your camera and turn the ISO right up to 1600 and beyond. Instead of worrying about the noise we wanted entrants to embrace the texturising effect this gave and seize the creative opportunities afforded by using extremely high ISO settings.

One effect of using very high ISOs is that the images in their noisy states start to take on a painterly look and impressionistic quality. The noise when handled carefully can become a creative tool. That said there is an extremely fine line between noise that has been used purposefully and just a very noisy image. There still has to be a subject in the frame (composition doesn’t suddenly go out of the window, if anything it is even more important) and a reason for using the noise in that way. Read on to see some of the images that struck a chord with us this month.

Samsung has kindly provided a 32GB Micro SD card, with SD adapter for the winner, and 8GB cards and adapters for the second and third places. Second and third places also get an Amateur Photographer Loves My Pictures mug.

Of all the rounds this year, this was probably one of the more difficult. Not only because noise is by its very nature a tricky thing to work with and can look really hideous and unsightly but also because the brief required us to fundamentally change the way we think about noise. We spend our photographic lives trying to reduce the amount of noise in our images by keeping the ISO low if we can help it, but the challenge this month was to celebrate noise for its intrinsic properties and actively incorporate it into the picture.

Noise, like any other photographic ‘tool’ requires thought and skill to get the most effective results. We were looking for photographers who had embraced the unique painterly, abstract qualities of noise and used these in interesting ways. One image that I think did this particularly well was Geren’s Nor Any Drop To Drink. I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking at apart from the fact it is obviously water of some description, but the cool hues and blur caught my eye straightaway. To my eye at least it looks as though Geren has used a paintbrush to create this image rather than a camera. Devon_Eric’s image of a vortex-like tunnel set me on edge, the noise serving to enhance its eerie, unsettling atmosphere. Likewise, the noise in cas100uk’s black and white image of an area of pavement at night accentuates the rain on the ground. Caledonia84’s image of a medley of curiosities framed by the shelves that contain them was another standout image for me – an excellent composition with plenty for the eye to enjoy. Without further a do here are my top three images for this round – ‘High ISO’.

3rd place
Rustyknight – “A walk on the wild side, ISO 3200”

While I can’t quite fathom the significance of the title in relation to this image, one thing I am sure about is my feelings with regard to the image itself. There is a great deal of mystery about the scene, which I find really exciting. The first thought that comes to my mind is, “who are these figures, and where are they heading?” They look as though they are walking away from the viewer into an unknown void. Without getting too carried away, the ghostly, blurry figures seem to be disappearing into time. This could be due to something as innocuous as a foggy, murky day but the very fact that the image conjures these feelings of uncertainty is for me its key strength.

This image also makes me think of photography’s magical, once alchemic (but still phenomenal when you stop and think about how an image is actually made) qualities. We can only imagine what it must have been like for the earliest practitioners in the 19th century as they saw an image appear in front of their eyes having never seen anything like it before. A great deal has been made of photography’s ‘truthful’ nature with discussions raging since the beginning of the medium. Images such as this one that visually blurs what we are looking at seem to question photography’s truthfulness – we can’t be sure what we are seeing. Every photograph can be said to leave a ‘trace’ in time and this image is a perfect example.

2nd place
Helander – “Black Rock Cottage, Glencoe with Milkyway”

In my time at AP I have seen a lot of images of starry skies and related night sky spectacles – star trails, northern lights and so on. What I like about this image is the way Helander has used the digital noise of the buildings and sky as a prominent feature in the image. The noise becomes almost another element or character in the picture. The stars become even more speckled with the addition of noise. The colours too are spectacular. I love the way the purples, pinks, oranges and greens merge together to form a pastel coloured backdrop. Compositionally, this is an incredibly simple shot. With the camera turned to portrait, Helander has filled two thirds of the frame with the sky while the bottom third contains the silhouetted mountains and the cottages. Consequently the sky has been allowed to take centre stage with the houses as a footnote, though a very important one, for without the buildings the image would lack a subject and a focus. I also love the ‘sketchyiness’ of the way the houses have been rendered. While this may not be the most technically perfect image it has bags of character and mood, and that is why I have made it my second placed image.

1st place
Mike Morley – “Outdoors late night concert crowd (3200 ISO)”

The moment I saw this image I knew I’d found my winning picture in this round. It’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly why an image catches your eye over and above another but I will try to explain why I think this is image is so strong. Firstly, I love the silhouetted figure towards the left of the scene. He commands the space so well without being overbearing. It seems odd to talk about the character of this person when we can’t see his face or make out anything about him, but even though he is a silhouette he is a very strong presence, indeed the focal point of the image.

The light source positioned neatly above him in the top left-hand corner is another compositionally strong feature and draws the eye first. I love how the golden light gently outlines the gaggle of people in the image. The use of light here is super – it is as much a character in the scene as the figures themselves.

If you don’t read the title and look solely at the picture, it remains unclear where these people are or what they are doing in much the same way as the third placed image. Again this adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the image, which is why it is my top image this month.

Thanks again to everyone who took part in this month’s round. It was a pleasure looking through all the images and asking myself what I liked about each one. I look forward to reading your comments for this round’s results and seeing what the final round of the year has in store.

Enter our December competition here.

See all the entries for this round

See the comments from this round

Leave your comments for the winning pictures here