So if you have a picture of a cute baby, a cute puppy, and a cute kitten, which one wins the photography competition? The answer: cute has nothing to do with it. However, I’ve had past judges comment on club competitions by asking rhetorically “Who could not reward a cute – whatever – with a prize?” What is this, a “Family Fun” magazine picture contest? Here’s my take on competitions: if the results depend on the choice of subject and whether a judge prefers cats or dogs, or thinks strawberries are mundane but decrepit old doors and windows are works of art, then it becomes an entirely subjective contest. At that point, it’s all about the choice of subject instead of the skill of the photographer. And that’s not the way a photography competition should be.
It’s been suggested to me by a few club members that they’d like to know something about the judges in advance of submitting for a competition. Most big-time national contests do that. In fact, I used to provide the names and websites of judges in advance so club members could discern what sort of values in photography were important to individual judges… and then decide upon a particular picture, or whether the competition was even worth entering at all. Hypothetically speaking, a judge states on his photography website that his pictures are the real thing, as the scene really looks – nothing artificially contrived. So when you’re choosing a picture for a contest he’s judging, are you gonna pick out your most overcooked, saturated, surreal HDR picture? Of course not, as that would be considered a waste of time. Providing the identity of judges is a reasonable part of a competition.
So with regard to the upcoming TMCC print competition, I am going to be the sole judge. I’ve been complaining for so long about judges that I decided to judge a competition myself… and then be the target of everyone else’s complaints. Hopefully it won’t be that bad. First of all, I’m qualified because making prints is my livelihood. I know a thing or two about print-making because I’ve made a print or two. And, secondly, I can analyze a print from one side to the other and offer a pretty in-depth observation of what’s in the picture. That may sound obvious, but in reality many photographers have yet to really learn how to “see” what’s in a picture. My intent is to remove as much subjective opinion from the process as possible. Obviously with just one judge there will be no conflicting opinions among three judges, for what that’s worth. And if you don’t agree with my assessment of your photograph, you’ll know where to complain. In a small contest such as this in a local camera club, folks who bother to invest in a print should have the right to a reasonable dialogue regarding the results.
Keep this in mind: The print competition is not just simply another form of a contest – the same as digital only on paper. Prints add extra emphasis on detail, which is generally of minor concern in a digital image contest, and print quality which is a separate component altogether is a big deal. You can hide a lot of technical defects in a 1024 x 768 digital picture that can’t be hidden nearly so easily in a print. So the expectations are a bit higher. A “pretty picture” is not enough to win. Show me something that demonstrates the skill of the photographer. Something that reveals the essence of the subject, and shows mastery of camera, post-processing and printing skills. Paper comes in many types. The ability of the camera lens to capture detail is what separates photography from all other art forms. So use it to your advantage.
There you have it. Submit your best cute baby picture, or the ugliest, creepy insect you can find… it doesn’t matter. What matters is the lighting, exposure, sharpness, and detail. Personally, I shoot a pretty good variety of subject matter. I’m not much of a portrait photographer or bug photographer because those things are neither my personal interest nor reflective of my type of client’s preferences, but I can appreciate the work and skill that goes into those sort of pictures. And photographic skill is pretty much the same no matter what you’re shooting. If you’d like to see my vision of photography, I have a website: www.edwardkunzelman.com. There are no pictures of exotic treks on a camel across Saudi Arabia, or breathtaking waterfalls in South America. Just simple stuff. But I think my images are well crafted… and that’s what I’m looking for in this print competition. There will be no humiliating comments made about any photograph. I won’t be entering a picture, so there’s no reason to suspect that the only way I figured out how to win a competition was to be the judge. I intend for it to be a great showcase of each other’s best work and learning experience for us all. I sincerely hope everyone participates. Bring your print to the next club meeting in July or by arrangement with me before July 31st. Additional rules are posted to the competitions menu on the website.