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Posts Tagged ‘photo contests’

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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I had mentioned in an earlier post (June 16, 2008 ) the growing trend of photo contests stealing the rights to your work.  The latest culprit in this despicable practice is none other than the venerable Smithsonian Institution and its annual photo contest. Take a look at this paragraph buried in their contest rules:

By entering the contest, entrants grant Smithsonian Institution a royalty-free, world-wide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce, and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any Smithsonian Institution purpose, including, but not limited to advertising and promotion of the magazine and its Web site, exhibition, and commercial products, including but not limited to Smithsonian Institution publications. Photographs may appear on the Smithsonian Journeys Web site as well as in Journeys publications. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit.  The Smithsonian Institution will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

Ouch! Keep in mind that every ENTRY is subject to this, not just the winners! Steer clear of this contest! If you’re craving recognition for your work, do yourself a favor and start a Flickr account. Lots more people will see your work and you’ll get plenty compliments and feedback — without losing the rights to your images. 

You’d think they’d know better…

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