The Great Annual 2017 TMCC Print Competition

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.

8 responses on “The Great Annual 2017 TMCC Print Competition

  1. Marina Schultz

    Yeah!!!!!! Well said!!! Hit it on the nail !!!! I’m soooo glad you have decided to judge next contest !! Always thought you should!! And yes you did a great job running the clubs photo competitions.. I miss your professionalism and punctuality…. and you searched for good qualified judges. I have no idea who these mundane judges are these days

  2. donna fullerton

    I agree. I am glad you are going to judge. I think you have given some of the best comments to our club members. Your experience and comments will be most welcome.

  3. Mike Brown

    A few comments:

    You wrote “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.”

    Sounds like the accumulation of points is more important than submitting ones best work for appraisal. If you just follow in the foot prints of the judge, in order to curry his favor, what has happened to your creativity? How does photography as a whole expand and show the world just what we can do? How do we advance the art? I vote for keeping the judges anonymous just so no one can do this. And as a side note, several years ago this came up within some of the PPA chapters where some award seekers where adding points to their scores by exchanging small green sheets of paper under the table.

    When you submit an image for judging, just what are you doing? I feel that you are asking another person for their opinion of the total of that image. By that I mean everything that that image represents: subject matter, density, color, timing and lighting and on and on. The judge(s) then announces the opinion. If you are going to ask someone for their opinion, then shouldn’t you accept it gracefully even if you do not fully agree with it? After all, you asked and they spent their time considering the submissions and writing their opinions. And at this point I suppose that I should dust off that old standard, “One man’s art is another man’s garbage”. As no judge is going to completely satisfy everyone who enters, not everyone who enters is going to satisfy the judge(s).

    You also mentioned, “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.”
    You may want to upgrade a bit, the 4K systems are 3840 x 2160 and of course the 4K cameras are designed for this. And of course trying to compare (Judge) a paper print to a screen image is fraught with complications.

    Hopefully those taking part in this will remember to keep at least some of the following points in mind in order to amass the maximum points: a high resolution original image, match the resolution of the computer image (PPI) to the printers DPI, select a paper type that will enhance the type of image you have, keep in mind the intensity and color of the viewing lights and the viewing distance. That last point has been described as “do not let the wet end of your nose leave wet spots on the print.”

    Last but not least, have fun!

  4. Dawn

    I probably should take more thought in typing my response here, but correct me if I’m wrong, but Ed did decide to step down from being the competition chair, and while no one else volunteered to assume the full responsibility, it should behoove people to be more active participants in the club by volunteering to assume the responsibility of a competition. As someone who did spend some time with professional portrait photographers to judge the portrait competition, if anyone was interested in who judged, they’d just need to ask. While as a board we did opt to allow different members to do the competitions in their own way this year, and Ed was kind enough to do one of them (which is appreciated), I believe it would be rude to complain when the club members and judges chosen did volunteer their time to have a contest of their own theme. While you may not have liked the response of a cute baby in a photo because it’s not your typical subject matter, one may consede that if they don’t have access to high end printers, papers and editing software, may as well in the same context not compete if they can’t afford an expensive print for “just a contest”, fiscally the print competition does have low participation. That said, I believe it’s just as important to submit a print to learn as it is to submit a good photo of a baby, if we truly want to expand our knowledge as an overall photographer.

  5. Edward Kunzelman Post author

    I would like to respectfully submit that complaining about the way competitions are managed is perfectly reasonable. If complaining sounds rude, maybe put a different label on it. Call it constructive criticism. Call it conversation or discussion. Whatever… just take it for what it’s worth and move on. I certainly heard my share of complaints while organizing competitions. If given two options, I would rather have club members complain than quietly quit the club… as typically happens when someone feels the club does not offer a valuable experience. Just think about all the people who have come and gone through TMCC during the last few years. Don’t we want to know why? Whether complaining is perceived to be rude or not, the club needs to deal with these issues that people are complaining about, as they get at the heart of club membership.

    Mike’s question: “When you submit an image for judging, just what are you doing?” is loaded with possible answers, and probably gets at the core of the matter. The question implies “why” you are entering a competition. Not everyone is asking another person for their opinion of the picture. Some are simply hoping for the first-place trophy. In many photography contests (referring to those outside TMCC competitions), people are looking for prize money or exposure. In the art salons of the 19th century, it was about the only path to making a living as an artist that one could expect. Personally, I submit pictures into TMCC competitions so that I do my part to contribute sufficient material for a club discussion. However, just as contest judges are not always so graceful with their critique of a photo, I feel that the artist is entitled to express an honest response to a judge’s comments, sometimes at the expense of graciousness. Where’s the line for that drawn, anyway? Some people enter competitions for learning to become better photographers. But judges must feel it’s their moral obligation to find something wrong with every photograph. On many occasions, it just demonstrates their narrow understanding of the subject. And because of that, I think it’s important for there to be an open discussion of judges’ critiques at club meetings so that members get a more rounded perspective of photography. For better or worse, competitions seem to be the only way at TMCC to engage in an educational discussion of pictures. That’s why I’m trying to promote print meetings as an additional event, free from scoring and an air of authority.

    Back to the ideas expressed by Mike: “Sounds like the accumulation of points is more important than submitting ones best work for appraisal.” Not necessarily… unless the prize is, in fact, the ultimate goal. It is to some people. For me, knowing something about the judge helps me decide what’s worth the effort to participate in, and what’s not. I’m most assuredly not going to alter my photographic style to curry favor with a competition judge. It just means that I’ll save myself the entry fee (common to most contests outside the club) or cost of a print, if I feel my work is a mismatch with the judge or jury. I’ll have to show the world what I can do in some other manner. There are plenty of other avenues for doing that besides contests. One of my favorite Ansel Adams comments was “The picture either speaks to you or it doesn’t.” He recognized that not everybody was gonna like everything he made, and there were plenty of critics who disliked his darkroom enhancements. I don’t get the impression that he wasted much time trying to change the mind of his critics. My point is… I’m gonna make what I like to make, and do my best to show it to the world. But my intent is not to change the world, or even change the mind of a single competition judge. People are amazingly stubborn in their views of art, and if judges think my subjects are mundane, I’m not gonna keep beating a dead horse by submitting what, in my opinion, are fascinatingly ordinary subjects when presented as a unique and technically superior image.

    And that brings me full circle to the baby issue. Just to be clear, it’s not that I disagree with judges awarding first place to a baby picture because I don’t photograph babies. It’s because I think judges are guilty of responding to baby pictures, and score the photo accordingly, simply because they’re “cute” pictures rather than on the technical merits of the photograph. The choice of subject itself, whether it’s babies or strawberries, should never be a factor in scoring a competition photo. I hope more people weigh in on the subject of competitions… if nothing else than for the purpose of making the club a better experience for everyone in the future.

  6. Mike Brown

    “And that brings me full circle to the baby issue. Just to be clear, it’s not that I disagree with judges awarding first place to a baby picture because I don’t photograph babies. It’s because I think judges are guilty of responding to baby pictures, and score the photo accordingly, simply because they’re “cute” pictures rather than on the technical merits of the photograph. The choice of subject itself, whether it’s babies or strawberries, should never be a factor in scoring a competition photo.”

    But are you asking the judges to become less than human? The vast majority of us are, to some degree, human and react to things with that trait showing. Babies in particular bring out the human trait otherwise by now there might not be any of us humans around. If I remember correctly there is an old saying amongst actors about not appearing on a stage with either a child or a puppy. Maybe if the contest is an open one you might not want to enter a photograph of a mountain against a photograph of a cute baby…..

    “If given two options, I would rather have club members complain than quietly quit the club… as typically happens when someone feels the club does not offer a valuable experience. Just think about all the people who have come and gone through TMCC during the last few years. Don’t we want to know why?”

    OK, I have lifted this completely out of the context of competitions. After a bit of thought, you are right we have had quite a number of people come and go in the last few years. So WHY is this? Being dissatisfied with contest may be part of the reason, but can it be the only reason? Are we assuming that every new person who walks through the door is skilled and confident enough in those skills to just jump right into a competition?

    Are we not seeing that for some, lecture’s or classes on much more basic aspects of photography should be made available till the new members confidence is increased and they fell ready to enter into a competition?

    So just what have we done to find out why they left? Maybe this topic should be discussed at the next club meeting.

    Sorry I kind of hijacked your thread there, so will shut up for a bit!!!!

  7. Edward Kunzelman Post author

    No, I’m not asking judges to become less human. I’m asking them to evaluate a photograph entered into competition on the basis of photographic skill, and not on whether there is an obvious human element in the picture which, solely by itself, influences the judge’s score. It doesn’t take a good photographer to snap a picture of a cute baby that has broad emotional appeal among the masses of people who wouldn’t recognize photographic skill if it bit them in the behind. But what’s the point of a photography competition if all it takes to win is finding a subject that emotionally charges the most people? When a family came to you for a portrait, did you just ignore the lighting, color, perspective and focus… determining that the kids were cute enough on their own to make the extra work of a professional photographer unnecessary?

    To the extent that photographic skill (beyond choosing the subject) can be used to elicit an emotional response, well… that’s another debate. Maybe some of the pictures which I think are nothing more than a cute subject demonstrate greater photographic skill than I originally thought. If so, I certainly don’t mind being educated in that respect. Care to address that issue?

  8. Mike Brown

    “When a family came to you for a portrait, did you just ignore the lighting, color, perspective and focus… determining that the kids were cute enough on their own to make the extra work of a professional photographer unnecessary?”

    Such a simple and short question and what a long and complicated answer this is going to be….

    First of all remember that the vast majority of the portrait work I did was with film, remember that stuff? Take the photo and see the results in a week and also retouching was quite a bit different then. Now remember also that the final judge of the finished product were NOT photographers. In fact a fair percentage of them did not even own a camera of any sort and if they did have a camera it was most likely some kind of box camera and did not have a flash on it.

    Now factor in the human part of the equation. The final judge (usually a mom who also held the checkbook) normally had a very close relationship with the subjects in the photo. I have a saying about checking the corners of the image before you press the shutter. To most of these types of judges, the photo has no corners as their attention is on the subject(s) located somewhere towards the center of the frame.

    So to a certain extent one could make an argument that indeed “the kids were cute enough on their own to make the extra work of a professional photographer unnecessary.” So that judge was happy, she wrote a check that allowed me to have food on the table when my kids sat down for dinner, but win any kind of prize at a real photo contest? Not even.

    But it wasn’t just mothers who were judging. Some of what I feel was my best; most creative work was photographing High School senior girls. They wanted to be there, most had at least one good outfit and they spent time on their makeup and hair. I would spend time doing backgrounds, lighting and posing, building that trust and good feeling’s that helps to produce a great photo.

    Then when the subject came back to view the proofs, usually the first thing I heard was something about how flat their hair was and she didn’t really like the photos. Any comments from this judge on things like posing, lighting, complimentary background or anything else? Not even, just flat hair…. You have not lived until you have had your work judged by a 17 year old with a hair fixation problem.

    The other side of this coin is photographing 17 year old boys. But that’s a tale for another time.

    “Maybe some of the pictures which I think are nothing more than a cute subject demonstrate greater photographic skill than I originally thought.”

    Depending on just what age group you are talking about, after considering all the usual things like focus, depth of field, background, lighting and etc. it becomes a matter of timing and whatever it takes to make them do “cute” expressions. Basically with very young kids you kind of light an area and let them move around in it since it’s almost impossible to get them to stand still. With older kids you do not usually have that problem so posing gets to be a much more important factor.

    So I think that judging like we do with our contests and judging like I experienced in my studio are two very different things. I’m not sure one can really compare the two in any reasonable manner. But for all my complaining, I still tried to apply all the skill and care and professionalism I could to hold up my end of why they came to me in the first place.

Leave a Reply