Like many of you, I have entered my fair share of photography contests before. I have even won a few awards. Now that I have a website that sponsors its own photo contest, I guess you could say I have a new perspective. Having judged photos for over 4 years, I now feel qualified to share some insight as to what those people who judge photos are looking for.
Have a dominate subject or theme…that doesn’t mean it HAS to be a single subject all by itself, but if you have to guess what the subject is… that’s not a good sign. Don’t get me wrong; there can be multiple elements in a single photo and still be effective, but there has to be something specific to keep your attention.
The Simpler the Background the Better… that doesn’t mean the background HAS to be so soft focus that you see nothing else, but do NOT let unwanted details pull your attention away from the subject. Robert Capa once said, “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” This may sound extreme, but if there is no background, obviously it can not distract.
Lines and Shapes Must Support the Subject… too often and lines or shapes can lead your eyes off the page and or to a totally different area of the image. The most common mistake I see with portraits is what to do with hands. When you shoot a couple and you see these little fingers wrapped around the waist of a young lady, what happens? Those small visual lines point right back to the young lady’s waist or stomach. In most cases, I feel safe in saying that is NOT where they want your viewer to be looking.
A Great Image must have Emotional Impact… we all see 1,000’s of images a day. The Greats Ones are those that stay in our mind. We can feel, touch, or smell that image in our mind because of the creative use of Texture, Depth of Field, or the Rule of Thirds, etc. Great photos make us want to look again and again. Not all Artists are Photographers, but all Great Photographers are Artists! I have seen thousands of movies in my lifetime. Those that make me laugh, cry, or even feel upset I tend to remember. It’s the same with still photos. If you can make someone feel something they were not feeling before they viewed your work, then you have a strong possibility that it’s award winning material.
These are not the only factors in who wins and who does not, but they are the most common. If every time you enter a photo contest; your entry passes these four tests… the odds of winning have just increased by a thousand fold. It is true that creativity is in the eye of the beholder, but unless you think about these four areas, you may be the only one beholding your image. In most cases, winning photographs don’t just happen. They are designed to win.