Competition Judging

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by joeywpc, Nov 3, 2009.

  1. joeywpc

    joeywpc TPF Noob!

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    Hi Everyone,

    Just wanted to get a discussion happening about what aspects of a photo might be important to the judges of any photography competition. This is a long post, hope you enjoy reading.

    This is intended to assist amateur photographers, hopefully the pros have mastered these techniques and can add some more ideas to this thread.

    1. Creativity – Obviously there are numerous subjects and themes in photography. Landscape, portraits, animals, fashion, food, still life, macro – plants / insects / objects, buildings / structures, abstract, underwater, sporting events and many more. It might seem like some of these are easier to photograph than others, however to make any of these topics into a great photo takes skill and practice, along with a bit of creativity. Any great photograph is rarely achieved by simply pointing and shooting. While the individual judges may have a preference for certain types of photography, what they are looking for while judging a competition is creativity, something that makes a photo stand out from the crowd, while at the same time getting all or most of the technical aspects just right.

    Some of the more important technical aspects are:

    2. Lighting – getting the lighting right can mean the difference between and image that looks dull or flat and an image that really punches out at the viewer. Try to create interesting highlights, shadows and contrast. Several techniques can be used such as flash, in-fill flash, studio lighting (can be improvised at home with lamps), back lighting, choosing the right time of day (there are times of day known as the “golden hour” or “magic hour” at the beginning or end of the day where the light is softer and the colours more intense / interesting). For example the middle of the day is not always the best time to shoot landscapes although this is not a hard and fast rule. Some portraits in harsh sunlight can benefit from flash, lightening up harsh shadows and providing highlights.

    3. Composition - some almost great photos could be winners if only they were composed a little better. Put some thought into how the photo should be framed so that the result is naturally pleasing to the eye. The dead centre of a photo is not always the best place for the subject. Let the picture tell a story, not a 1 liner. For example a landscape might benefit from something interesting in the foreground, an attractive middle ground and a soothing / non distracting background / sky. Find some way to lead the viewers eye into the photograph. If it is a portrait for example and the subject is looking to the side, leave some space in the photo where they are looking. Show the space where the person is looking so the photo tells more of a story than just the subject. It can feel awkward if the subject is looking out of the photo rather than into it, it might leave the viewer feeling like they are missing out on some information in the story. If you don’t get the composition right out of the camera, play around with the crop function of a program like Photoshop or whatever else you have available.

    4. Focus / Depth of Field – a potentially great photo can be spoiled by the subject being just out of focus / not sharp. Some good photos can also benefit from having a shallower depth of field so that the subject or part of it is in focus while the foreground / background is blurred, drawing the viewers full attention to the important subject. If you are using automatic focus, make sure the focus points in your camera lock onto the subject before moving away to your preferred framing. Look up your user manual and change the camera setting if necessary. If you are using manual focus, make sure you get it just right. In portraiture or animals / insects, the judges are usually looking for sharp focus around the eyes, this is usually where the viewers attention is naturally drawn.

    5. Horizon – a great way to ruin a potentially winning photograph is to have the horizon line slightly off. Rotate and crop your photograph using Photoshop or some other editing program to make sure your horizon is horizontal. This is not a hard and fast rule but it can make a photograph more pleasant / natural to look at without the viewer being distracted. When a person looks at a scene with their own eyes (not through a camera) the powerful human brain naturally tries to balance and look for a horizon.

    Keep in mind that the judges are not looking for you to replicate the previous winners, they are looking for individuality, creativity and great technical aspects. Photograph whatever you want, but do it well. Study the greats, practice and practice some more. Good luck. :thumbup: :salute:

    Joe from Weekly Photo Comp
     
  2. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    You can summarise that entire post by saying a great photo is one which shows creativity and produces a pleasing result to the viewer. That's unfortunately where it ends unless the competition has a specific theme.

    i.e. A very slanted horizon may be part of what makes the image creative.
    or an out of focus subject can also be what makes the image creative.

    Ultimately if you want to really win you need to get inside the heads of the judges and no more. I won a little contest at my uni once, the photo showed a man in a business suit laying on a beach chair. It was nothing overly fantastic. Turns out the judge (one of the lecturers was up for long service leave and had a holiday booked to go up to the Whitsunday islands and my photo simply strung the right note with him.

    I also got an honourable mention in a photo contest, but the thing that irks me was watching the people who came to see the final display all walked straight passed the winner and were entranced by my image. I probably didn't win simply because the judge didn't care much for pictures of cities and moons, rather than anything specific. Mind you the winner produced something I wouldn't call photography as much as digital impressionistic art. But hey gotta keep smiling :)

    Or you could get really lucky and maybe end up with the only unbiased judge in the world.
     
  3. joeywpc

    joeywpc TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Garbz, fair points. Not all competitions have to have a theme though and I would be surprised if the judges (plural) would see past all of the above creative and technical points and just pick something because it's where their head is at (on holidays as you say).

    If focus or horizon for example are deliberately off for artistic purposes it would normally be obvious, but if they are slightly off because of a lack of skill or care it can make the photo a little less pleasing to look at.
     
  4. Garbz

    Garbz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Yeah very true,

    I'm also not saying because where their head is at, I am just saying subconsciously strike a nerve. There's enough published data for instance to show that women have a different reaction to a picture of a newborn child than men (I was a test case for a psychology thesis a few years ago for a cool $20 movie voucher :), look at the picture, do you feel a), b), c) etc ). My point is really that the best photographs trigger an immense emotional response of some kind, and you are completely at the mercy of the viewer's bias caused by their life experiences and that can't be predicted.

    An quick anecdote. I took some snaps at a local labour day march, and amongst other things was a somewhat average picture of this young girl looking at me. The photo had narrow depth of field. I showed it to a few people and they all thought it look good, along with offering various critiques, the father of a polish friend of mine looked at the image and the very first thing he saw was a swastika (ok actually just a unlucky arrangement of the banners, and from what I recall it didn't really look that much like one and it was completely out of focus). No one else noted that.

    /Edit: One more quick example is the 2006 Pulitzer prize. Individually none of the pictures really strike me much, and especially talking about this one: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/5642 which was the image featured in the article I was reading. But it wasn't until I looked at the entire series http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2007-Feature-Photography and then got back to that same picture that I completely changed my thoughts. It went from being just another news type picture of a mother holding her dead child, to me nearly crying since I now know the back story.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  5. joeywpc

    joeywpc TPF Noob!

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    You are right about a photograph triggering an emotional response, any one of the photos in that series you pointed to could have been "the one", they all do a brilliant job of capturing the reality of a sad situation, capture the truth, emotion and character. They are not just snap shots though.

    Yes it is hard to distinguish between an emotional response and a technical response, which is why photos need to be viewed for more than a few seconds. A great photograph tells a long story and keeps your attention.
     
  6. joeywpc

    joeywpc TPF Noob!

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    Might I also say thankyou Garbz for pointing those photos out, it reminds me of how fortunate I am that in my life I have not had to deal with that sort of grief.
     
  7. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    I have won several competitions and judged some as well. The two basic areas are technique/the technical side and composition/the artistic side. Despite what anyone says, all techniques, methods, approaches by the photographer MUST contribute to the visual impact/attraction of the viewer to the overall photo. In that regard, ignoring basics such as an out-of-focus subject are seldom, if ever, considered as contributing to the photo. Creativity for the sake of creativity alone does not win competitions or even produce a good photograph, for that matter. The "creative approach" must be visually successful in contributing to the photo, and that is from the standpoint of the viewer, NOT the photographer.

    skieur
     

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