Entering Photography Competitions Q&A
This is from Sunny. You mentioned in terms of the light box that you could look outside under the sun. Are there any other DIY tools that you've created in the past that you can think of in terms of looking at your prints?
I think I've even put a torch over one of my photographs. (laughs) But the sun is great, plain sun, middle of the day. That's gonna give you a really good idea of, you know, how much detail is in those shadows or how overexposed some of those highlights might be, but yeah, definitely a continuous LED daylight balanced light, and I usually have like a bit of a soft box over it to filter it, and I just have, I download a free app and it is a light meter, and that way, I can hold it up in front of the light and then either adjust the light or move the light further away or bring it closer. So if you're looking up the competitions, it will tell you how those images are viewed in a print competition and under what light settings.
Thank you. A question from Esther, who...
says, "Is it true that judges like black and white images "or dark images?"
Do you know, it's funny. I think dark images can create a lot of mood and depth, I really do, and I'm personally drawn to darker, moodier images, but no. I don't believe that judges prefer black and white images. A lot of color images are awarded over black and white images, but when it comes to judging, you don't ever compare one image to the other. You have to treat every single image individually. Nothing is ever compared. So you are judging the print that's in front of you. You are not looking at a print going, "Oh, is it better than the previous one? "Or is it worse than the previous one?" Judges are not allowed to do that and they're trained not to do that, as well. So when it comes to going along and watching competitions like that or even watching online, if you're able to, the final images that are hanging, I would say the majority of those are color. From experience, myself. When I walk the halls at WPPI and I see all of the beautiful awarded images, there is so much color in there because with color, you can create a lot of mood, you can create a lot of depth, you can create story through color, as well, in terms of the different colors and tones that you bring to an image, and you can add so much warmth to a photo with color. So for me, if that black and white is spot on and exceptional, it's going to be awarded. I'm not saying they don't love black and whites over color, but I would say that they don't prefer black and whites over color.
All right. Another question, this one's from Michelle. What, how do you know what size to print? What do you consider when you are deciding what size to print for competitions?
Yeah, that is a really good question because when, for example, you enter the WPPI competition, it is called the 16 by 20 competition, which means the mat board that you put your print on is 16 by 20 in size, and you can make it landscape or portrait. It is entirely up to you. And then, if you read the rules, it's going to tell you what the minimum size on the longer side has to be. So for example, it will say on the longest size, it can be no smaller than 10 inches. So for me, I prefer a nice, smaller print because it's gonna make my judges get up out of their seat. So I will always print the longer side to 10 inches, and then I will have that matted around. And another really good point that I just thought of is that when you take your prints off to be matted, always ask your framer or whoever is matting them to leave a very, very small border around your print. A lot of framers will create a mat that will sit over the top of a print and often, if the foot is very close to the edge of the frame, it will chop through a foot or it will chop off other parts of the image. Because if you're judging and I'm looking at a print and half of the foot's cut off, but I look over at the projector and I can see the full image and I can see the entire foot, I know that the framer has cut through the foot. So whenever I have my images matted, I always say, "Please leave a three mil white border "around the image." And I always choose a mat that is the same color as the actual paper. Because if this is a yellow paper and I put a white mat around it, it's going to look funny. If it's a white paper and I put an off white mat around the edge, it's gonna look funny. So those tiny little details in terms of presentation are huge. But yes, you wanna make those judges get up out of their seat, so read the rules and find out what the sizing requirements are, definitely.
And then do you ever submit them framed, or is it always just matted? This is also from Michelle.
Always matted. So they'll have the base mat at the back of the image, which is like a foam core, and then you'll have a beautiful mat board that goes over the top of the print. But you do have to be careful. A lot of these print competitions will have strict instructions on how thick those two mat boards can be, so it can't be more than, say, for example, six or seven millimeters from memory. So if you do a double mat with the backing foam core, that could make it too thick for their guidelines. But the rules always have all of that information in it. And it is really incredible when you see some of the beautiful, artistic mats that come through, but if the matting is exceptional and the image is not, then you're going to be scored on your print, not necessarily the matting. So you've got to make sure that you're not overdoing it with the mat. I say keep it simple. Very, very plain, very white, and my framer is extremely unique every time I go there and I say, "Just keep it simple, white." He's like, "Come on, I've got this beautiful new mat board in." Like, white. (laughs) Don't get fancy. (laughs)
Can you submit the same images to multiple competitions, and also, would you recommend starting entering competitions that are local or online before going something bigger like WPPI?
Yeah, definitely enter something that's local because you can surround yourself, then, with people in your local photography community, and you can gain so much feedback from that. So a long time ago, when I started entering in Australia, I met some people in my local association, and I can now call them some of my best friends. And their support throughout my career has been invaluable, so it's really nice to kind of have those people around you that you can go through different ideas, concepts, you know, talk to, sit with during the judging, offer support, all of those things. So I definitely think local and online and then moving on to something really huge, but you know what? If you wanna go for it, go for it, absolutely. Because we get a lot of first-time entrants into WPPI, and they've got the premier category for people who have never entered a competition before, which is incredible. But when it comes to entering the same images into different competitions, it may say something in the rules. So I would just check the rules. I know for our online competition, if you've entered it into a previous competition, it doesn't matter. You can still enter it again. You're also gonna wanna check the rules for things like entering the same subject twice. So say, for example, I had a photograph of my son in front of his paper airplanes and then I had another photograph of him. The rules may state that I can't enter the same subject twice, so you want to check all of those rules, as well. And also rules like every element of the photograph must be yours, in terms of you can't put stock photos in, things like that. But the rules are gonna be your best guideline when it comes to knowing all of those things. It is tricky, though, understanding some of the rules when you first start out, but yeah, there's usually some support groups out there where you can just type in a question and people can get back to you with the correct answer, depending on the competition.
I love these questions about, even your answers about what to look for in the rules is incredibly helpful for somebody who's just starting from scratch, like I would be, 'cause I've never entered. (laughs) So another question towards that is are most competitions just single capture? Can you kind of describe, or are there some that are composites, as well?
Yeah, so for example, when I talk about single capture and I love that challenging process for me to be able to come up with an idea or concept and then create it in a single capture, that's because the portrait categories that I enter are, in the rules, it states that they are single capture. But then in that same competition, you might have the illustrative categories. The creative categories, where you can add heavily composited images, and you can have some real fun with that, and my goodness, this is where you start to see people's imaginations go absolutely wild. I always love seeing the prints that do really well in those categories hang on the wall because it kind of blows your mind. So it is a different ballgame, entering some of those more illustrative fine art categories but they are phenomenal and mind blowing what some artists actually come up with. So yeah, they all have different rules for each category in those different competitions.
Great. What about titles? This is from Marcella. How do you choose a title and how important is that?
So a title can often make or break an image. I've been sitting in front of a photograph whilst judging and then the proctor will announce the title of that photograph, but you're looking at it going the title doesn't really make sense. Or they may have been trying to tell a story, titled it, but the story didn't come through in terms of capture. So sometimes, it is best to leave an image untitled. I know at WPPI, you can add a title, but sometimes, it's best to not have a title. In Australia, at the competitions, there's no title. You don't have a title. The photograph literally has to speak for itself. But some of my images have had titles. I've actually left all three of those images untitled because I've wanted the judges to come up with their own idea concept, and that's what that allows them to do. But if you're really trying to tell a story, say, for example, you know, with my surrogate symbol, I know that the judges may not know that that's a sign for surrogacy. So they might just go, "Well, that's a weird object." Like, "Not really sure what that is." But I titled that. I said the gift of surrogacy, and then they start to see the shape of the body because the name surrogacy, you know, it's the letter S. They start to read more into it. So sometimes, it can help an image and sometimes it can break an image. So you've got to be very careful in how you do title your images, and please keep them really short. (laughs) Well, especially in the portrait categories, and things like that. But in a documentary category where you can title it and you have to tell a story with an image that is, you know, you're not allowed to edit it in any way, shape, or form, then you might need a longer title with something like that to help tell that story. But yeah, just be careful because some images are better left without a title so that you can allow those judges to really come up with their own little story in their heads.
That makes a lot of sense. Esther Galman is wondering if judges say why or what's wrong with your images. So what does that judging session, if you were to go and sit in on it, what does that sound like, what does it looks like?
So when you give feedback on a photograph, you are trained to give constructive feedback. So we're not allowed to just blatantly say, "Oh, this is terrible." No judges should ever, ever say that. We have to give really constructive feedback. So what we usually do is kind of say, "Do you know what? "I really love what the photographer has brought "to this photograph in terms of the styling. "To be able to take this image to the next level, "the photographer might want to look at their print quality "or different lighting." Something like that. Or presentation, so they'll talk about the different elements and you'll learn from each of those. And then they'll go, but do you know what? I think that this image, for example, in a portrait category that's single capture, they may say I know that the family are gonna absolutely love this image and cherish it forever, and that's the way that they would, you know, sort of finish off with that feedback, but they will identify the different areas of that photograph that may need a little additional work to take it into that next scoring range. And that's one thing, also, to remember. I love these questions 'cause they kind of, making me think of other things is that just because a client loves a photo, if you want to enter client work doesn't necessarily mean that it's gonna do really, really well at the awards. I know a very well-known wedding photographer and he did exceptionally well with one photograph from the awards and he kept trying to put it into the bride's album. And she's like, "I don't want that photo in there." (laughs) And he's like, "But it's brilliant, it's brilliant. "I love this photograph. "It's the best photograph." It wasn't for her. So the client might not like the photo that you enter or the client might love a photo and you enter it and then the judges don't like it, so just because your clients love and like the photos doesn't necessarily mean that you're gonna get a gold award because obviously, your clients aren't trained judges in that sense.
Great, thank you. Any still in studio? All right, I'm gonna keep going with the folks at home. (laughing) I have a lot of questions--
I love this.
I know, I know, 'cause this is golden. So let's see. Speaking of your client work, do you print on multiple papers just for competition or would you do that for clients, as well? Would you kind of see what you think it looks best on for your clients?
Yeah, I pretty much print on multiple paper stocks for print competitions. When it comes to client work, what I'm looking for is my platine. It's just a more sort of luster-style paper with a little bit of a texture. And this frames really well and it's perfect for my client work. But then again, some of my favorite award images have been printed on this, as well, so that's kind of what I'm looking for in that term, but this is why I'm always having a look at every single paper I've got available, and these are my four favorite papers that I've got in stock always in the studio. And I print, I usually print on an A3 size, but to travel from Australia to Seattle, we've done the A4 size, and plus I don't think my A3 would have fitted in underneath the viewing booth there. So we just buy the A3 size boxes for my award prints, which means I can usually fit two prints on each one to save paper. And then in terms of my client work, we have a large printer on a roll, so I'll order the platine on a roll and we just spit out our client prints that way. So it's all about consistency for client work for me, making sure that the quality and the archival of that paper is spot on, but when it comes to awards stuff, that's when we have the smaller sheets, so we're not going through rolls and rolls of paper.
Great, all right. This is an important question from Nuria who says, "Does having a recognizable name "sometimes influence the judging?" So is your name associated with the print?
Do you know, I love this question because judging is done anonymously. When you have print handlers in a room, the prints come up and they get judged based on the print and you don't know who the photographer is, unless, of course, that that print has done well in another competition or has been publicized or has been printed in a magazine along with the photographer's name. But no, it should not enhance the judges' scores whatsoever. I'm very quite secretive when it comes to my award prints. Every year, I don't show anyone. I may show my, you know, closest friends and family and things like that, but I don't want judges, and because I judge, I don't want other judges in the panel to know that my image is gonna come up if it's gonna come up in the room that I'm judging in. That's really important for me because I do feel like it could potentially have an impact on the panel if they know whose image it is, so for me, on a personal level, I would way prefer to enter something that's never been seen before and the judges have zero clue. And I tell you, I will be in that room and I'll know every single judge on that panel and they will not have a clue that that's my image up there. And I love that because they're gonna see something so different and I've got to sit there and pretend that (laughs) I've got to sit there and pretend that it's not my photo, like, you know, straight face. And you know, 'cause some people sit there and they're like, like, you know, it's really quite obvious that it's their photograph. So I've, you know, you've got to look really cool. (laughing) Don't know whose photo that is, and wait for that score to come out. So it is important for me, personally, and I know quite a few other photographers that are exactly the same. They don't like to show other photographers their photos because they don't want that to influence their score. Because when you enter on a regular basis or you've been doing it for a while, like I said, it's not necessarily the awards that you're after, but it's that challenge. You get addicted to the challenge, you know? I think that I would love that bad feedback now just as much as I get the good feedback, because, and I got some this year on one of my images that went up, you know. The judges started to talk about something in one of my photographs and I didn't actually thought that it would score really well and it didn't, and so when I listened to that feedback, they pointed things out and I went, "Oh, "I didn't see that before." So it made me more aware of things that next time, I've got to be more conscious of. I still didn't let anyone know that was my print. So that's another good thing. (chuckles) So if it bombs, no one knows it was you. (laughing) Yeah, it's a good point. (laughs)
And Marcella is commenting. So the images from this class, are you gonna be submitting them? Because--
That they'll be recognizable.
Yeah, no, probably not, and you know what? When it comes to creating an award image for me, personally, right now, you know, I set a really high standard on myself and I do put a lot of pressure on myself. It's probably not healthy, so I don't recommend it for everyone, but I am very competitive. I do play the game in terms of knowing what the requirements are and all of that, but when I take a photograph for the awards, every single element of that image needs to be controlled. It is well thought out and constructed, and the detail that goes into it, you know, every single pixel has been looked at in that frame. So I do, my standard, my level of standard for myself is quite high, so I want to beat that every time. So I don't go into competitions lightly. Obviously, when I first started out, it was very different. I just entered, you know, everyday work, pretty pictures. I got some cool results, but they are what's pushed me to continually raise that bar with myself for my own personal growth even higher every single year.
Great, thank you for that.
Being at our level, obviously, probably most of us don't have images out there that are recognizable like yours. Do you feel, are there rules, like do images need to be fresh, new, done, you know, in the last six months or something like that? Or can you submit ones that we've done previously, if we've never submitted for competition before?
So again, in the rules, there's usually a timeframe. So at WPPI in Australia, both of those competitions, those images have to have been captured within the past 24 months of the closing date of entry. So they've got to be less than two years old, and I know, sometimes, I'm like, "Ooh." I've got this really cool image and I'll go back and I'll look at the date that it was captured, and I'll say, "I haven't entered it in that competition." And it can be a bit of a bummer when you can't, but again, in Australia, when you enter it at a state level, then you enter it in national level, some of the, sometimes the judges are seeing images that they've previously seen do well at state level. And you know what? Sometimes, you can expect them to do well, sometimes you don't. It depends on that panel of judges that you've got in front of you. But I do believe that if you've got a photograph and you think about all of the different elements that we've talked about, then write it down. Have a look at your photographs and just enter, see how you go. Because it's only gonna push you. I've not known many photographers who have just entered once and then never entered again. Sometimes, it's not for people. I know that there are a lot of photographers out there that say that the competitions aren't for them. That's fine. It's a very personal journey that I think you have to be aware of. You're either in it or you're not, and I know that I reached a level in Australia that I was happy with, so I stopped entering there, and now I've gone outside of that to push myself even further, which is pretty incredible. So you've got to set your own goals and create a plan and work towards those every single year and you'll amaze yourself. Absolutely amaze yourself at what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.