Entering Photography Competitions is a great way to improve your photography. I learn something new every time I enter my photography in competition. There are many on-line competitions, but the best way to learn is to attend competitions, so you can hear what the judges have to say about each print. This is where the learning takes place.
The photo above, Picnic on Ice, earned second place in the Illustrative category of the Hudson Valley Professional Photographers Society of New York competition on May 15, 2013. The judges, Jim LaSala, and Aron Pepis are Master Photographers and the third judge, Susanne Pepis holds a craftsman degree in photography. As judges, they follow guidelines consisting of 12 elements established by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) . These twelve elements have been defined as necessary for the success of an art piece or image. Any image, art piece or photograph will reveal some measure of all twelve elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each one. For a list and explanation of the elements go to HVPPSNY.
Yesterday, the judges viewed and judged more than 60 photographs. The image is projected on a large screen for everyone to view. Independently, each judge assigns a score to the image. ”Grades” are assigned on a 0-100 scale. Anything above 80 is considered a Merit Print. Any Merit image, art piece, or photograph must reveal some measure of all twelve elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each of the twelve. The three scores are averaged to determine a total grade or score for each print. After the print receives a preliminary score, each judge critiques the image and has the opportunity to challenge the other judges to either raise or lower their score for the image based on their interpretation of the 12 elements.
Usually, the scores are remarkably close for a given image. However, there are times when the judges disagree on the Merit status of a print. Like anything subjective, there are certain professionally recognized guidelines that help identify excellence, but at high levels of competition the final judgment comes down to personal taste. After all, art is in the eye of the beholder.
On May 15 I entered four photographs for competition. Here is what I learned:
This photo, Irish Spring, scored a 77 and did not elicit much discussion. The judges liked the composition and topic, but suggested I wait for better light. ”Magic Hour” light!
Suspending Reality earned a score of 78. The judges suggested I crop this photograph to create a panoramic format. One judge said the bridge is too centered in the photograph and does not follow the “Rule of Thirds”. Additionally, the white sailboat does not standout enough to separate it from the bridge.
Off the Hook earned some praise and a score of 80 from one judge. However, the other two judges scored this photo lower. One judge did not understand or like the title of the print. Good lesson learned-naming prints is difficult and you don’t want to make the judges have to work too hard to figure out what the title of the print means. Of f the Hook is a surfing term, but not a term that is well known among those who don’t surf. One judge liked the tones, the spray of the water and the over all feel of this action shot. However, there are problems with this image. The surfer is too centered, again a problem resulting from not following the “Rule of Thirds”. I recognized this issue, but cropping this photo was a challenge. I didn’t want to crop the left side or bottom of the photo because of the action nature of the shot. You need to show the space in the direction of the motion. Also, cropping the photo to the right was difficult because I liked the white spray of the water. Action shots are tricky. This one was close, but in the end did not score as a Merit print.
Picnic on Ice scored an 85 and earned second place in the Illustrative category. This photograph reached Merit status because of what happened in Photoshop and not what came straight from the camera. Many of my Professional Photographer friends are not fans of highly manipulated photos, so this type of photo can stir debate and is not always appreciated or even accepted by photography purists. I understand that, but for me the work and creativity I can express through Photoshop is almost as important to the process as shooting the image in the field.
Picnic on Ice is an artistic interpretation of an photographic image. In my mind, photography is art and art is an expression of an image. Photoshop allows me to manipulate an image so the viewer is encouraged to focus on the lines or the scene- As I See It. I was drawn to this image because of three elements. The contrast, the lines and the overall mood of the scene. I am a huge fan of black and white photography. Often, I shoot in a black and white mode which allows me to find scenes that will translate well into black and white expressions of art.
This is a copy of the RAW original Picnic on Ice photograph. Showing you this image is a little like going to work with no make-up, but I think it is helpful to show what can be done to a print through processing. This image was destined from the start to become a black and white expression of the scene. In my opinion, as a color print this image would not be as strong or as interesting and would not Merit.