Being a Photography Contest Judge Can Try Your Patience

Over the last year or so, I have judged a number of international photographic competitions. It is always a pleasure to look at the great work that some photojournalists and documentary photographers are doing today.

Unfortunately, sometimes the experience is like going through a dirty washing bag to find something you can wear for the day. I really wonder what some photographers are thinking when they submit the material they do.

Wrong Way Signs

Despite rules specifying that the only editing/changes that can be made are color correction, cropping, burning and dodging, I always come across images that have been manipulated well beyond the accepted point. It is often not hard to spot these changes, because a lot of the offenders are not great with their Photoshop skills.

Shadows falling the wrong way from the sun. Massive dark clouds lit by the sun in the wrong direction. Lines and objects that are repeated several times. Focus points that seem to be all over the place. These are but a few of the alterations I’ve come across.

Looking at some of these manipulated images, I wonder if this type of editorial photographer knows or has forgotten that good or great images need content, energy, shape, form and design. They are captured in a camera — not manufactured on the computer.

Getting Serious

In addition to following the rules, you would also assume that photographers would show a certain amount of professionalism in submitting their entries. This isn’t always the case.

In one contest, I encountered some badly printed and presented images. The prints were too dark, not well cropped, dog-eared and generally looked very sloppy. I mentioned this in the judging — and was later confronted by one of the photographers concerned. He said that I should only judge the images and not the way they were presented.

In another competition, I was asked to judge a number of prints that were smaller than a postcard. Several were only about size of a couple of postage stamps. With the help of a powerful pair of binoculars, I managed to work out what the images were all about.

If you want to be taken seriously in an international photographic competition, you should enter the best quality printed image possible (at a reasonable viewing size). Don’t submit anything less than you would give a valued client.

Subjective Views

Once you’ve submitted your best work as professionally as possible, you’ve done your part. Don’t worry so much about whether you win or lose.

Judging can be highly subjective. All judges view photographs through the prism of their own photographic experience, expertise and preferences.

For example, at a recent event two judges voiced passionate opinions about an image of a woman bathed in green light.

The first judge said the green light enhanced the picture.

The second judge said the light made the subject look as if she were very sick with a tropical disease.

At another competition, an image showing a large black space with a shadowy person in one corner of the print was presented. Most of the judges dismissed the image as a poorly constructed picture. But one judge liked it.

The judge, whose background was not as a photojournalist, declared: “This is the perfect editorial image — it has a lot of space so you can put text all over it.”

2 Responses to “Being a Photography Contest Judge Can Try Your Patience”

  1. Yup, nowt but "content providers" -- or, rather, space-for-content providers.
    If it's any comfort, they don't care much about the text they slap all over said photos, either...

  2. I agree with you. I have also judged many contests and sometimes wonder, where are the senior photographers to advice the upcoming new photographers about basic photography rules.

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