Creativity, Style & Composition in Images
So in terms of creativity and style, and we talked about this, you want to tell that story, and you want to style it so that it suits that genre. For me, the babies obviously, I've styled it in a way it's very earthy, down to earth. Every other element in this image all kind of blends in terms of color and tone, and then those babies stand out as the brightest part of this image. You want the babies to stand out, so you want to see them from back there. Then you go up, and you start to look at the empty bowls, and then you sit down, and that, in terms of creativity and style, is presenting something with a judging panel that they've not necessarily seen before. So when I came up with this concept, and the three different bowls for my client, I was like, you know what, this is pretty cool. I'm going to enter this in the awards, with their permission, and it scored a gold award as well, because of that creativity and style, because the creativity is what told the story. Being able to add...
those different elements, that's where that story came from. And you know what, you see it done a lot now. When I entered this into the competition, this was probably about five years ago. So five years ago, it was the first time they'd been faced with an image in the newborn category with multiple props, multiple bowls, and now we're starting to see it a little more. That's just how trends kind of move on and grow, and people start to put their own spin on things, which is incredible. This is really, really important. When we start to consider composition, and when you think of composition in terms of you know, your rule of thirds and things like that, it doesn't necessarily need to be what we were originally trained to look at when we first started photography. Here, I've created a lot of negative space around my two dogs, and then balanced it out with repetition, kept the color palette really harmonious again, but it's got to hold the judges' attention. I'm looking at it, you're all staring at it. It's got to hold your attention, that composition. It's got to have leading lines, and the use of light in terms of competition, is what's got to also grab your attention. That was window light, so just single window light coming in and highlighting the different elements that I needed it to highlight to tell that story. This was a very, very simple setup on a backdrop with two cushions, the same, and my beautiful heartbroken dog, and my other dog that she had shared a bed with for 10 years. So the reason I created this story was because when he left us after 12 years, she sat at the front door and waited for him every day, and it was heartbreaking, and I'm like, I've got to tell this story. Like, she just was heartbroken until we got out our lead. This has a lot of meaning and power for me, and entering into the competition, I didn't need to, but it did win the pet category at WPPI, and scored a gold award purely because of those compositional elements that brought your eye into the subject, that told the story. When I listened to the judges' comments, it was really quite fascinating, and you know, moving for some of them as well. Because that's what you want to do, you want to be able to tell a story with zero words. But you can see when we talked before about the leading lines, even of the cushion coming in, leading you straight to her. All of those things are taken into consideration. You could darken them down, but do they add to it, do they distract? So you got to consider all of those different things. So entering competitions for me is a very personal thing. I think in terms of your own personal gain, I love competition, I study it a lot. I grew up playing a lot of sports and being very competitive in that sense, so when I couldn't play sport any longer, I still needed to be competitive, because I've got a competitive nature. But when I enter a competition, I'm not competing against anyone else. I have to compete against myself, because we're only as good as our last image, and I've got to continually raise my own standards and bar. If I think about it, and thought, where would I be right now if I'd never entered a photography competition, I don't think I'd be standing here, because I wouldn't have that confidence to do it. So even though it's one of the most nerve-wrecking experiences you can go through, growing as a photographer, and achieving results like I've achieved, helps boost your confidence. But you've got to be careful, you don't want to confuse confidence with ego, at all when it comes to that. I don't go into this with ego, and I never think that I'm gonna win anything, ever. I go in it to learn and gain experience, and to see that if I'm getting better every time I enter. I also have, especially with for example, WPPI, they have their accreditation and masters program. So for every gold award that you win, you get two points. For every silver, you get one point. To become an associate of WPPI, you need five points. To become a master, you need an additional 15 points. Then every year, it's about sort of 10 to 15 points to move up to double-master, triple-master, and become a grandmaster of photography. So I'm competing against that challenge, to get those points, that's all I want. All I want is to get those points to be able to move to that next level, so that I can call myself a double-master of WPPI. I was a double-master of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography. So those challenges, those personal goals that I set myself, are extremely important in terms of my growth, but when I'm creating, I don't create images to necessarily win, obviously winning's great, but I don't also create those images to, you know, from the wrong place, I create them from the right place. I listen to the story. I don't come from a place of ego, I come from a place of creation and love, and I think that's what's helped me along the way. When you go into it with ego, you tend to lose sight of what it is that you're doing. I am one and a half points off becoming a triple-master at WPPI, and I only started entering there a little while ago. So I've been able to achieve some really incredible results purely because I went back to what it was in terms of requirements to enter. I read the rules over and over again. Those rules are so important, and understanding the categories that you're going to enter. Then I think about the process of the creation. So when we go back to our story-telling portraits, what's my plan? This is the idea I have. This is the process of creating that idea, right through to the capture, and then that editing process, and you can see, I didn't spend much time on those images, but showed you a rough idea of what I would do to bring those images to life, and then the printing of it. So there are so many steps, and if you've not entered before, I highly recommend going through those steps and studying it. But if you can get yourself to a print competition, even if you do not enter, sit there and listen to the judges' comments. Listen to the feedback on other peoples' photographs, and the things that they see, the things that they don't see. Because when you start to take all of that on board, you then start to look at your own images and go, oh, I probably shouldn't have the elbow there, or the lighting's completely wrong, or I should have printed it on this paper, because you've heard them talk about it, and yet you're listening to it. My very first year at WPPI, eight years ago, I sat in the judges' room for two days straight. I was too scared to go to the toilet in case I didn't hear something from the next image that was being judged. Listening to that content, and the feedback was invaluable to my own level of knowledge and creation, I suppose. Also, every year a lot of competitions will show you images that were entered in previous years, and what you can do is you can jump online, and you can go through those, and see what was awarded, and see what really stood out in terms of those high, high scores. You can look at that for inspiration as well. Not to copy, because when I talked before about originality, judges are gonna jump out of their chair if they're looking at something that they've never, ever seen before. So you got to make sure that you are always coming up with a new spin and a new idea. That's why when we look for inspiration, we go to places like art galleries. Not just art galleries that have paintings, but art galleries that have you know, installation art, things like that. Lots of different types of art, and you'll find that you are instantly drawn to one thing or another. That's the thing, we could all walk into an art gallery right now, and we will all be connected and drawn to something completely unique and different. That's the beautiful thing about print competitions, is when you see all those images come up, they all belong to somebody different, and what they saw and the story that they're trying to tell is all really unique. So it is an exciting process to be a part of. Like I said, nerve-wrecking, but the growth is insane, and the more people in this industry that enter things like that, the more we can start to understand that industry standard, and raise the bar on the level of that industry standard across the board. Like, I've heard a lot of photographers go, "Oh it's not for me." That's fine, it is, it's absolutely fine. But it is also nice to be rewarded for your hard work, and being able to put your work out there. Entering print competitions for me, has got me global recognition for some of my work. That's why I said before, I probably wouldn't be standing at CreativeLive today if I hadn't of won some awards, and received incredible achievements, and reached these goals without that. I'd probably still be sitting back in my studio, too scared to do anything and not create. So it's important to get out of your own way sometimes and let down some of those barriers. If you get a bad score, don't be disheartened. Learn from it. I remember one year I entered eight images into the Australian competition at state level, and none of them scored higher than a 78, and I was really flattened for about two weeks. I sourced another photographer, and I went to that photographer, and I asked for advice, which is huge. This is something I highly recommend, having somebody else go over your images. This photographer said to me, "If you want a gold, I'll edit them for you." So I kind of questioned that, and went, "Okay, well maybe it's in my editing. "What do I need to do to improve that?" So I then went and learnt more about retouching, but I was actually really kind of, do you know what, if you think my work, I'm gonna show you. That was a challenge for me. So once I got over the heartbreak of not receiving at least one award out of eight, I then found drive and determination from that to actually go on and achieve something. So sometimes those low scores can actually kick you up a gear, and point you in that right direction to finding the results that you want. But when it comes to having someone else look at your work, really try to find someone who knows what they're talking about. You don't have to know them personally, or you may have met them one or two times. Someone in your local organization, someone close to you, that you trust, that has the knowledge and has the experience that you can value, and that can give you the right feedback that you need. I know a lot of photographers ask their friends and family. When a good friend asks me for a critique or review of their photo, I'm always gonna say, "Oh, it's lovely." Do you know what, ask someone who you don't have that emotional connection with, and say to them, I want your honest, raw, feedback. If I was to put this in front of a panel of judges, how do you think it would go? Don't ask someone that you've got a connection with, someone that you know. Your friends and family are gonna say it's beautiful every time. They're gonna try and encourage you, you don't need that. You want someone to see something that you haven't seen. You need that fresh set of eyes to look over that image, because you know, when we start talking about that level of impact, that creativity and style, composition, lighting, print quality, all of those things, all of those boxes have got to be ticked to be able to achieve the results that you want to achieve from entering competitions, which is huge.