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Archive for August, 2008

Judging photo contests is something I’m asked to do from time to time. I had the enjoyable task of choosing the best photo from a recent photo walk (yes, the one I posted earlier). That winning entry, by Kristina Johnson, was chosen as the best of over one hundred photos.

Kristina Johnsons winning entry, ladybug road

Kristina Johnson's winning entry, "ladybug road"

So, you might ask, what does a judge look for when judging a photo contest? Hmmm, that’s a toughie. Well, we all know that photography, like any visual art, is subjective. A photo I like might not get a second glance from another photographer/judge. Photo contests are much like beauty contests in that there’s a lot of pretty entrants and most will be going home without a crown.

Here’s how I approach judging photo contests. In many ways, it’s the same way I edit photos for my newspaper. First, I take a quick pass through all the images. This is when I’ll bounce the unsharp, off-color and poorly-exposed images out. This first purge will usually knock out a quarter to a third of the entries and leave me with photos that deserve a closer look.

On the second pass, I’m looking for images that are different. Different techniques, compositions and subject matter are king here. If it makes me do a double-take it goes on to the final round. Here’s also where I factor in the type of photography being judged. For example, I’ll approach judging a photojournalism contest differently than I would a nature photography competition. In the former, capturing the “moment” and telling a story is most important. In the later, form, color and composition play a bigger role.

The final selection is the toughest. Here’s where I earn my money (well, not really, I’m lucky to get a meal or free drinks). This is where I look very critically at the remaining images. I want a photo to “move” me and stir my emotions. I’m also looking for the photo I wish I had taken myself. Finally, I want the winning image to “wow” me. If I’m excited about an image and it meets all the criteria mentioned above, it’s my winner.

I’m sure my approach is unique. My experience as a photographer and photo editor for almost three decades affects the way I look at photographs. This is why I advocate multiple judges for photo contests. Entrants deserve to have their work seen (and judged) through more than one person’s eyes. Plus, it’s more fun to watch the judges argue!

One last bit of advice. If you ever have a chance to watch a contest judging session, do it. Being there and hearing the comments made by judges will help you better understand how your work is seen by others. Usually, the judges will explain why they like one photo over another. The discussions over why one photo is better than another will give you insight into the judges’ visual thought processes and will definitely affect the way you approach your next photo session.

For me, judging a photo contest is exciting, energizing and exhausting. That said, I never say “no” to the opportunity to judge a contest. It’s fun and, sometimes, I even get fed!

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The weather was great, more than 30 people showed up…a good time for all. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of my group as we gathered at Huntington Park in Newport News, Virginia. We spread out across the park and got to work soon after the 10 a.m. start time and, though many started their day shooting photos in the rose garden, we eventually spread out and found subjects to shoot in every corner of the park.

Photo walker Jeff Abrahamson composes his photo in the rose garden.

Photo walker Jeff Abrahamson composes his photo in the rose garden.

We made photos for a couple hours and re-convened at a local pizza joint for lunch and heavy duty photo talk. I was pleased to see how shooters from all skill levels intermingled, looked over each others photos and shared their experiences shooting in the park. When the day was over, I asked for suggestions for making the next photo walk even better. The overwhelming reply?  “IT WAS OVER TOO SOON!

Take a look at their work at the Flickr page devoted to this photo walk. You’ll be sorry you missed the fun

Even I managed to find a different angle on a park statue

A different angle and dramatic lighting helped make my photo of this sculpture stand out.

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Tomorrow (August 23) is the day set for a world-wide photo walk sponsored by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. I’m leading the walk in Newport News, Virginia and, if you’re new to photo walks, here’s a list of things you can do to make the event more enjoyable.

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Most photo walks last a couple hours. Wear shoes that allow you to be mobile on and off the beaten path. Who knows were you’ll find that “once in a lifetime” photo?!
  • Bring a camera and a couple lenses. No need to bring everything in your camera bag to one of these. For example, I’m planning to bring a camera, a wide zoom, a tele zoom, flash and extension tube. That’s it. The point of these photo walks is photography, not weightlifting. Don’t bring along more than you want to carry for a couple hours.
  • Have enough memory cards. Estimate how much free space you’ll need, then bring 50% more. No one likes to run out of memory space in the middle of great photo opportunities.
  • Listen to the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
  • Introduce yourself! Don’t be shy. A photo walk is a social event! Have fun and meet new people who share your love of photography. Maybe they’ll share their lenses with you!
  • Afterwards, upload your best photos and comment on other people’s pictures. I know you want to see their photos….and they want to see yours too! Share tips and don’t be shy about asking others how the “got  that shot.”

It’s not too late to sign up for a walk in your area. Check this website for cities with photo walks near you. Get out there and have some fun!

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Want to hold your camera for long exposures without having to resort to a flash or tripod? It’s not hard to do once you learn the proper way to hold your camera! The trick is as simple as putting your arms close to your body. As the photo below illustrates, doing this eliminates the “flying elbows” syndrome that is at the root of camera unsteadiness. 

I learned to shoot this way years ago from the late Eddie Adams. He showed me that by simply tucking my elbows into my sides, I could steady myself enough to consistently shoot sharp photos at slow shutter speeds. That one tip has followed me throughout my career. In fact, I can still handhold my camera at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15th of a second! Give it a try and see if it helps your available light shooting. Please post how this tip worked/didn’t work for you!

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An idea book, for me, has become a useful tool for those times when I have trouble coming up with a new way to approach an assignment. Having subscribed to magazines like National Geographic, American Photo and Smithsonian for years, I was constantly finding inspiring, interesting photos that I wanted to remember for future “borrowing.” Twenty years ago I devoted a three-ring binder to be the place where I would stash those visual ideas for future use. The wee effort spent in pasting clips into this book has paid off handsomely throughout the years. Today, many pages are yellowed but that binder is still chuck-full of great ideas for lighting, composition and ways to approach tough photo situations. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Grab a binder during the back-to-school sales and start one of your own. I’ll be starting my third volume soon…

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Believe it or not, there’s a right and a wrong way to carry your camera. A ridiculously high percentage of shooters carry at least one of their cameras across a shoulder. This exposes the camera to a greater risk of getting dinged and abused by door frames, corners and any other object you might brush up against.

You can cut this risk substantially by learning to carry your camera correctly.

All it takes is orienting the camera so that the lens points inward toward your body, not away from it. The photo below illustrates this concept nicely. Carrying my cameras in this way has saved me countless dollars in lens repairs and bent hoods. Sure, it’s still possible to ding your camera. But, as you can see, your elbow and/or shoulder will take a hit before your precious DSLR.

The price for this knowledge? Tell a friend about this blog!

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The key to making portraits that capture the “real” person is to make that person relaxed during the portrait session. This is the reason why most candid portraits trump those taken with elaborate studio lighting setups. Candid expressions have a certain “realness” that’s hard to capture in a studio or location shoot filled with lights and assistants. You’ve gotta relax your subject in order for magic to happen.
I’ve found that the easiest and best way to do this is to mount your camera on a tripod, use a cable release or, as they’re called in the digital age, electronic camera release, and get out from behind the camera. Doing this allows you to carry on a conversation with your subject without having a camera partially blocking your face. Casually standing beside the camera with release in hand allows you to chat, joke and interact in a way that’s less strained will allowing you to fire off a shot when your subject is relaxed and has forgotten that you’ve got a camera aimed at her. This connection with the person you’re shooting makes all the difference. 
Case in point is this photo of my daughter Erin. Yeah, she’s cute. She hates having her photo taken — especially by her Dad! During past photo shoots, she would get stressed by all the gear and attention, I’d get stressed and the photos would suffer accordingly. This time I locked my camera down on a tripod and used the technique described above. The result was a much more enjoyable shoot for both of us… and this beautiful photo. 

 

Erin relaxed

Erin relaxed

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