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Judging digital entries

Preparing Digital entries for Photography competitions –

Judging digital entries for photography awards can be a complex process. The main reason is for the diversity of art and the subjective viewpoint that can be taken for each an every photograph.

Since being involved in judging photography award I have seen a variety of different elements that can influence the way in which a photograph is judged.

Film V Digital

Early on I saw may film produced photographs presented as a print for judging. This meant that the final presentation including printing choices of paper, colour and even size came into consideration.

The art of printing

Printing is an art in itself and always has been. In this day and age printing has taken on a whole different meaning with so much control moved from the darkroom to the digital darkroom.

Each year when preparing for the professional photography award, countless hours are consumed on fine tuning the final print. Test printing is not just a thing of the past.

Paul Dowe of Paul Dowe Galleries, my close business associate would tirelessly in producing magical print results to match our photography skills. In some way I believe this is the complete photographic process.

A Digital world

Apart from professional photography awards, where most of the entries are printed, most photography competitions call for digital entries. This encourages more entries from participants because of the low overhead cost of producing the final image.

We use digital cameras now and work in a digital darkroom, so it makes sense in many ways for the final presentation to digital too.

Challenges in Judging digital entries.

My personal opinion is that there are some challenges with judging digital images. The first being, that as a judge there is just so many more entries to judge.

Often I am finding that entrants are presenting not only their best work but also images they are not sure of hat they want critiqued for personal feedback. It’s a great way to broaden you skills.

The other challenge for digital entries in photography competitions is the viewing platform.

Photography in a new direction

In professional photography circles, photographic prints are presented under a specific and constant light setting. Photographers work hard to reproduce the most please results to be viewed under those lighting conditions.

Photographs are carefully printed and prepared so that the judge and other viewers can enjoy the image that has been created and compare the image evenly against other entries.

Getting it right for the screen

With digital entries it becomes more difficult to reproduce the image on the viewing screen identically as seen on your screen when editing.

As a Photography judge it becomes more difficult to determine what is correctly exposed, how much detail is actually within the black and whether an image has good tonal range. ( I will share another post on these elements soon).

Keeping with the rules

These elements are an important consideration when judging photographic quality and are just as important as rule of thirds, leading lines and generally good exposures. In it is in the final control and detail that we are able to micro adjust and lift the quality of the photographs we take.

Tools for finer results

Professional photographers and accomplished amateur photographers alike are taking correctly exposed photographs with sound compositions and refining those more precise techniques to present beautifully crafted photographs.

Learning the secrets

Tools like Photoshop are important in the final process. Dezire Studios and Paul Dowe Galleries combine to teach people the finer tips in photography and image making, including the important printing process and preparing digital files for photography competitions (and facebook album galleries too).

You can check out some of our photography workshops and the accompanying critique and training sessions here at Wildlight tours.

digital entries



Photography competitions

Photography competitions and awards.

Photography competitions are big thing these days. With the massive amount of digital photographs being taken everyday there seems to be an award up for grabs in just about everything.

Photography competitions everywhere.

Not only are there professional photography competitions like the Aipp’s annual Australian Professional Photography awards, each month camera clubs are holding photography competitions and even airlines and magazines are giving away great prizes and awards for the best or most liked photographs.

Top Gear to end your day.

I’m winding down from a pretty big day, munching on some Baklava and watching an old episode of Top Gear. It’s not a bad episode either with Jeremy testing out a Porsche and Mercedes as a getaway car in a duel against a specialist Irish army firing shots at him while driving. For some reason though I feel inspired to write a blog post about photography competitions and how to win photography awards.

Motives for entering photography competitions.

I have been entering photography competitions for quite some time, and it’s a challenge I really enjoy. Of course the challenge brings on nerves and stress even. So why do I enter competitions and why aspire for photography awards?

I really began seriously entering photography competitions after becoming a professional photographer, so some of initial my motives may be different from what they are now.

I was sure that once I started winning awards (if I was good enough) that my professional career as a photographer would rocket and my Photography Studio would book out like crazy.

A Learning curve.

But after my early experiences I discovered that photography competitions were far more valuable than this.

Some of my first print and image entries were not quite on par, so attending these competitions became a great learning tool. I was blessed with viewing hundreds and even thousands of other entries and coming away with a mindful of ideas and inspiration.

I began looking very carefully at images that were judged successful and the components that made these images stand out.

I then took these back to the drawing board of my own imagery and mastered techniques to lift the standard of my competition photographs.

Those awful judges.

After much success mainly within professional photography competitions (Click here for a list of my most recent awards), I have been sought after for judging opportunities, where I can score other photographers prints and provide the all important feedback required to him the photographer improve their ability and standard of photography.

This was what became the most important thing for me in entering photography competitions: the opportunity to hear feedback on my photographs from someone other than my clients, my kids and my mum.

Photography is objective.

Photography is objective and so too are photography competitions – judging is completed by experienced photographers in certain genres of the art or industry. This means that just because a certain judge doesn’t like the image, the photographer isn’t any good. And just because the image is well received, does not mean that there is room for improvement.

Judges in photography competitions often have their preferred style of work. They often are only experienced in certain fields or techniques. I learned very early on when competing for photography awards that I should never take a judges opinion personally or become discouraged because they didn’t like my photograph. Most of the time is a matter of taste.

Tips and tricks.

When I am judging I am photography competitions and looking to hand out awards. There are a certain few things that I look for personally. There are styles that I prefer, that other judges might not prefer. I will blog about tips and tricks to photography competitions and winning photography awards in another blog very soon. Hopefully it will help you out the next time you enter a photography competition.

By the way the Porsche was shot the least in Top gear episode and the Baklava was very yummy.

photography competitions

Silver award winning print from professional photography awards


Photoshop Smart Object.

Quick control with Photoshop Smart Object.

One way of working with your images to create that something special with your images is in photoshop using photoshop smart object. The follow tutorial explains a little about this process and using smart objects. This process is effective when working with raw images or raw data. This is definitely the preferred format for me as a photographer wanting total control on the final result and output.

In short when you shoot jpeg, the camera as smart as it is makes a final decision about what data to include and disregard. Although it can give good results most of the time, by shooting in raw much more precision details can be reached. The raw format allows the extraction of detail that the camera may have disregarded but that you as the photographer and creator of the image may find very important. Shooting raw has its difficulties with file size being one and then time in postproduction another (This can be less of an issue with a great workflow and I will touch on this and a few other tips in a further blog).

Now back to photoshop smart object and how to get a grasp of it. In the first case I will show this image of an image straight out of camera (SOOC).

i.IMAGE STRAIGHT from Camera is a little cold

ii. THIS IMAGE has been colour corrected and makes that small but important modification

iii. The top image also needs a white balance adjustment. Spot the difference only minor but signifcant on the bottom image tweaked in Camera Raw.

Already I see things that need correcting or Photo shopping as many people term it. This is done in camera raw and apart from these corrections there are many stylized effects that can be created. The ones that I like I save as Raw presets. And thats something else I will discuss further.

This image shows the basic corrections for a technically sound image, but from there the alternatives are many and the creativity can flow. Most of the time if I as the photographer have done a good job there is very minimal adjustments to make, sometimes just the colour balance, brightness and a little contrast. If I underexpose, the exposure tool is good and if the highlights are too bright the recovery works good. There are so many other things that raw processing allows and some of my workshops really hone in on this and how to master it.

I will run through it step by step and you can see how the image transforms very easily using smart objects as your tool.

1.     After making some adjustments I hold down the shift key, which turns the OPEN tab into an OPEN OBJECTS tab then, I click this or press return (enter on PC). This will open the images as smart objects in Photoshop and this is where the fun can begin. Don’t worry if its a bit slow objects tends to do this and you may look at optimizing Photoshop’s speed to counter this.

2.     Now you have the images open, if you have worked with layers in Photoshop before you will notice that it’s not locked to the background as a normal non-smart object image is. The beauty of photoshop smart objects is that you can double click the icon in the layers tab and it will reopen in camera raw so you can make further adjustments.

3.     Now for creativity we might try something and to do this we simply duplicate the photoshop smart object by right clicking on the image number in the layers tab. This will bring up a list of options and then we will go to new smart objects via copy. We now have a copy of the original object

4.     Double click on the top layer or object to alter it in camera raw. Slide the sliders where you want or add a preset. My first thought with this image is to change it to a high contrast black and white and this will become like a layer effect over the top of the image. When you are happy with what you are after click OK to commit the changes, but don’t worry you can always refine it or go for a totally different look by simply double clicking on it again.

5.     Now that this image is on top to have the bottom layer show through you will need to select a blending mode from the layers palette. In his case I have changed from normal to soft light. But there are many options to choose and this includes changing the opacity and flow too. Like I said before the best thing about objects is you can reopen the image to access all its raw data simply by clicking on the image again. If you want to learn a bit more about why to use photoshop smart objects check out this video

6.     Lastly if you want a bit more control you can do this by creating a layer mask and making isolated adjustments to certain areas only. (Another day another blog post for that.)

Here are the final images to compare to the original

Now look at the original and the finished image. And here is a couple more that I did all from images I took at our recent family vacation.