Monday, March 31, 2008

Thoughts on Judging Print Competitions

I was thrilled to finally meet David Beckstead, "one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world" according to American Photo Magazine, and even more excited to hear that he was willing to share his thoughts on print competitions and judging after his recent experience of sitting on the panel for WPPI's print competition. He is a gracious and generous person, as well as an incredibly talented artist, and I'm so grateful that he was willing to share his thoughts here on photolovecat. Please take the time to learn from his wisdom before entering your next print competition! And now, for David's thoughts in his own words....

"Musings Of A WPPI Print Judge.
By David Beckstead

Now that my judging in the Photojournalism category is over, I wanted to tell you about concepts I have learned about entering prints into the WPPI competition in 2008.

There was some amazing imagery entered at this convention. Some of the prints, in my opinion, could have scored higher and I will explore this further in my article. The judging was fair, balanced, and most of the judges had more experience at judging than I. Some of the judges have been in the business for over 20 years and this did not affect their ability to judge the more contemporary style compositional concepts. Most judges were over 40 (myself included). The judges’ photography experience level was very high.

I learned a great deal here at WPPI this year. At my weddings I shoot 85% PJ. On forums I show 80% or more fashion-wedding-style imagery. I shot PJ for newspapers and I have photographed fires for the Forest Service. This is my second time at judging this style of competition. I knew I could judge impartially and with an experienced compositional eye.

That being said, most images just did not have the kind of dynamic PJ impact to win awards, much less score over 79. An amazing amount of money went into WPPI's hands. (Of course it takes a ton of money to run this competition, yet with all the 79's and lower, I believe they made a profit) This is not a game! You will surmise from this article that I believe it is better to win than to lose if you spend your hard earned money to enter print competitions. It is best to formulate a winning plan of action before entering these competitions. I hope some of these points will help.

Here is what seemed to take points off prints that were entered (not in order of importance):

1. Complex matting: especially mats with imagery around them.
2. No traditional cutout matting. No matter what, most prints that were not matted seemed to score lower. Digital matting is not as strong a frame for your prints. With the many categories I judged within the PJ section, digital framing rarely won any of the first 3 places. Digital mats collected dust and scratches. Colored digital mats seemed to bring imagery down in points. Some digital keylines did not work with the imagery. Glossy digital mats scratched easily. Colored mats did not do well. Simple cream or white did best with traditional cutout matting. Dark sloppy boarders did not do well.
3. Poor printing lowered scores. Textured printing did poorly and did not look good under the lights. Glossy images reflected the lights and caused problems with some judging angles.
4. Tone work: It seemed that toning an image often would block-up the darks and lights, especially the darks. Often you would lose depth, lose detail, lose subject clothing, especially in the grooms dark suits. I saw plenty of this and most were scored down for it.
5. Digital artifacts: This was a big one! If it was glaringly digital, it did badly even if the content was good. There were plenty of digital problems in prints, mostly color shifts.
6. Overlays were a big problem!! A newer problem. Often overlays would cause a distraction from a nicely composed print. Overlays were just not appreciated by PJ judges. 90% of the time, the use of overlays scored down a print. I felt like I had a little more of an open mind for overlays than some of the other judges. Yet many times overlays would just distract from a great shot.
7. Over processed work: Many prints would have done better without the heavy processing imposed upon them by well-meaning photographers. PJ judges do not appreciate too much processing in the prints they judge!
8. Many of the judges came from the news media. Horizontal format did better as a whole. Most judges would not admit to that, I think. Take this as you will. The vertical format is a harder landscape to tell complex storylines. Not to say that it could not be done.
9. For some reason, very simple compositional concepts scored less. Many shots were incredibly simple with amazing compositional concepts such as Shape, Lines, Light, and it seemed judges needed more complexity. This is hard to describe because I am drawn to simple, uncluttered compositions. One subject interplaying with no other person but architectural or natural elements seemed to not draw out more points.
10. Poor titles: If the title did not match the concept, it seemed to add a negative effect and score down. Prints called 'Reflections" got judges laughing in a bad way. It was over used. At least 10 images were called this and I think last year, many more.
11. Untitled prints with story concepts that needed titles.
12. Prints in the wrong category are a ‘BIG’ one! A person entering prints needs a second opinion. One print (no lie) would have scored extremely high except for the fact that it was an illustrative concept, beautifully processed and in the right category, a winner.
Everyone 'had' to score it low to make a point. They could not shift prints into the right categories because you don’t always know why a photographer chose to place it there. This was sad, but life!
13. When black and white was used for no apparent reason, (losing color depth that was important) many judges picked up on this instinctively and lowered scores.
14. The interaction between only the bride and groom was a touchy entry into PJ. It must appear to be PJ to get a good score. Most often the b&g image would appear to be 'setup', thus not being PJ and scoring lower. Just because you know it is PJ does not mean it is glaringly obvious to the judges.
15. A story that was incomplete and hard to decipher gathered fewer points, especially if it was obvious that the photographer was trying to tell one.
16. Just because there was a tear in the eye of the subject in print did not automatically score higher.
17. Imagery that seemed shot in the 80's, star filter use, imagery that has been seen over and over for decades, scored low. Spot coloring did badly.
18. Abstract concepts in print (I am very drawn to these) did not as a whole do well. Even if the abstract was PJ, they seemed to need a category on their own.

Here are the points that seemed to bring the score up:

1. Great printing: Great matte-style prints scored higher then glossy. They looked better under lights.
2. Great toning seemed to do better especially when printed in matte. Toning done right and for the right reasons seemed to score higher than the same image-content-style in color.
3. Simple clean mats around the print.
4. Complex PJ moments with secondary (and more) storylines did very well, if they were not cluttered with overlays or heavy processing.
5. Unique titles: If the title matched the print concept and the print was great, the title would add points.
6. When b&w was used as a vehicle to draw your eye to emotional concepts, dull down visually chaotic backgrounds, decrease unwanted depth, and done with purpose in mind, points seemed to be higher.
7. Classy indented mats seemed to turn heads in good way.
8. Emotional connections between the judges and the image content always did well. This is not as subjective as you think. If the full complete story was being told to the viewer and many of the above points were also there, the print scored very high.

(The reason I have less points that bring scores up is that it was harder to quantify and more subjective than the points that brought scores down)

Psychology of size: It felt like those who entered small-to medium-sized prints have the confidence in their impact and compositions to take that risk. Printing too small was good and bad. If you make the judges get up and look at the image up close, then it would make them talk badly about this later, but did not seem to affect the outcome. Often a small printed image did better because of the risk factor. On the flip side, those who enter full -bleed prints as large as WPPI allows, believe that this will influence the judging. Suffice it to say that rarely did the large-bleed prints score in the top 3 spots. My conclusion is that most of the prints scoring high were in the middle-range size and the confidence was just not as strong with photographers entering full-bleed prints, thus most of these prints were not high scoring.

I have been hearing, seeing and feeling a buzz against over-processed imagery for competitions. I saw this at the PJ judging. I believe the next few years will see a downturn on over-processed imagery with an embrace of simple PS darkroom-style tools to get back to that clean out-of-camera-capture look. This is where I am going!

Other points:

1. Large prints do not sway the judges.
2. Untitled prints: Judges liked titles, but they were not always necessary. A title that made you laugh did not influence points.
3. Degree of difficulty: something to do with higher scoring shots. If it feels like it was a very difficult shot to capture, and a once in a few years opportunity to make, then they saw that right off and scored it higher.
4. Many, many images seemed to be straddling the category fence. Sadly, there seemed to be no category that worked perfectly for these prints. Some were very good, but did not fit anywhere. This was sad to me! But I leave this to you: if you are going to spend your hard-earned money to enter, you should get second opinions and squarely land your prints in the right category. If your image does not seem to land directly into any category, don't enter it. That is life. Yet occasionally a print on the fence would score well anyway. That is luck. Don't enter hoping for luck!
5. Do not forget that print competitions are not "JUST" about the image creativity. If you entered last minute, sub-par printing and matting, it glaringly showed and lost you money. Better not to enter than to not take the time to do the best you can.
6. The only reason I can see to enter the WPPI print competition is to win. Many photographers did not make this a top priority. No lie!
7. I saw no bias for b&w over color. There are very important reasons to make the choice between color or converting to b&w. These concepts need to be seriously studied by photographers who enter. Many prints would have scored better if photographers had a better grasp of these concepts.
8. Many prints could have been cropped better to add conceptual impact. Many images could have been cropped to improve mood, drama, tension, and to improve compositions. I noticed this as a very important part of why many images did not score higher. The image was there. It just needed better crop concepts. I wanted to get up and help improve crops and improve points right on the spot, but this was not allowed.

In the PJ category, the ‘degree of difficulty’ won the Grand award over a very wonderful, simple composition. Between the two, it was very difficult to decide the winner, but the final winner won because we all knew that this image-capture was something that does not come around often, if at all, for most wedding photographers. And that photographer captured it with an eye for creativity, art, composition and cropping. They went out of their way to display the print with the positive concepts I wrote above.

I also judged the "Wedding Details" section.
The more the degree of difficulty, the more the unique content not seen much before, the better the points. Simple dress and shoe shots did not do well. Same with ring shots. Details with secondary storylines did better.

I judged the “Humor” section and fun-contrived humor won 2 of the 3 top spots. Really it came down to what made you laugh along with the photographer’s art in framing the concept. It did not have to be just purely PJ.

My final point:
I think photographers owe it to themselves to become more informed on how to win competitions. I hate to say this, but it seems some photographers see competitions like slot machines: put your money in and hope for the best. Vegas was built this way! In print competition, it is up to you to increase the odds of winning by educating yourself and eliminating the guesswork.

Never be afraid to lose, just develop a healthy dislike for it!

Here are some links I found while searching for “how to win photo competitions” on the web. I did not fully read these but they looked good. I did not want to be influenced by these because the article above was about what I experienced and what I felt about my time judging at the WPPI print competition this year. (great place to study composition)
You have got to spend time here!! I have had this bookmarked for many years. "

To learn more about David Beckstead, visit these links...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Giveaway Gala Photos!!

The Giveaway Gala was AMAZING!! So many people turned out and had a GREAT time! I'm so grateful to all of our sponsors who made the party possible on top of giving away INCREDIBLE prizes! We also had some of the coolest bartenders ever at the I-Bar in the Rio Casino! Rene could mix and pour with flair like no other! Everyone was so friendly and afterward I kept hearing about how many new friends were made at the party! Guests mentioned that it was the perfect blend of sights, sounds, tastes, and atmosphere that allowed everyone to have a great time! I could not have asked for a better night, it was absolutely perfect and yet so much more than I could have ever expected!! A million thanks to everyone who came out and made it an AMAZING party!!

Check out these photographer's blogs below to see & read more about the party!! (Keep checking back because I'll update it as I find more!)
Abby Rose Photo
831 Photography
Jennifer Longaway Photography
Every Little Moment Photography
Jeanette Sanchez Photography
Hybrid Photography
Captured for Life Photography
Matthew Gordon
Scarlett Lillian

I may be a teeny bit biased, but I definitely think that we have the funnest blog-stalkers EVER!!!

If you weren't there, here are some of the awesome giveaways you missed..
Premium Website
Online Album Viewer
Acrylic Gallery Album
Elements Self Mount Album
Press Printed Cards
GicleƩ Watercolor Print
Canvas Gallery Wrap
iPod Nano
USB HD & $50 Service Credit
ShowIT Web
Portrait Backdrop
Camera Bag
Pricing & Marketing Strategy DVDs
Business Plan Workbook
and more!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

10 Legal Commandments of Photography

If you aren't already subscribed to, here's something you missed today...

"The Ten Legal Commandments of Photography

I. Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc. Malls? Yeah. Even though it’s technically private property, being open to the public makes it public space.

II. If you are on public property, you can take pictures of private property. If a building, for example, is visible from the sidewalk, it’s fair game.

III. If you are on private property and are asked not to take pictures, you are obligated to honor that request. This includes posted signs."

See the rest at....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thank You Giveaway Gala Sponsors!!

I wanted to give a special thanks to our Giveaway Gala sponsors who are making this fabulous party possible!! I'm so impressed with the generosity of things that they will be giving away at the party!! I've seen the list of giveaways and let's just say we're going to have lots of REALLY LUCKY people this St. Patrick's Day!!! Not to mention these companies are full of great people who are really interested in helping photographers by providing solutions for their business. Check out their websites to get a glimpse of what you just might be lucky enough to win!! If you've already registered for the party, we'll be sending out the location information via email very soon!! We just have a few more loose ends to tie up before that can happen, but the location and the atmosphere are sure to make this an amazing party!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Press Releases

Using press releases effectively is an easy way to market yourself and your business to the appropriate media outlets for much less than traditional advertising. To help explain how to do this effectively, I turned to a professional, Amy Schubert to be a guest blogger and share her knowledge with you!! Thank you so much Amy for all of the valuable information you've shared!!

Why should I write a press release?
The purpose of a press release is to get out news about your company to your audience, past, present and future clients. Some ideas for content for your press release include:
-announcing a new contest
-announcing a new product
-sharing a success story
-announcing an award won
-announcing participation/sponsorship in an event/conference/etc.

How do I write a press release?
The bare minimum that you will need in your press release are headline, dateline, and contact information. Beyond these basics, there are several tips to keep in mind.
  • Headline: It is best to provide a headline of around 20 words or less. Always make sure your company name is in the headline. A lot of online news portals (where many of your readers will find the news) only show the headline of the release. If you have any clients or media looking for news about your company, the headline may be their only clue.
  • Dateline: This is the city where your news originates from. Usually this will be the city your company is headquartered. An exception may be if your release is a follow-up to an event, your dateline may be the location of that event.
  • Contact information: This will be the person, phone number and email address where any reporters/media can contact the company to answer any questions. Please keep in mind it is best if this person is actually available to take calls around the time the release runs (you might be surprised how often this isn’t the case).
  • Logo: Whichever wire service you use should allow you to attach your company’s logo (confirm any fees with your sales representative). This adds brand recognition, as well as can be linked right back to your website.
  • Other multimedia: Depending on your wire service, you should be able to attach additional multimedia, such as photos, video, spreadsheets, and pdfs. Again, please confirm the fees with your account executive. News releases with visuals are generally better received that releases without, and the additional cost will be justified by the additional pickup.
    -another note about photos:
    -Always send the highest resolution photo you have. If the photo is too small, many editors (including AP) will not even look at it.
    -Make sure to include a caption and photo credit. The caption will have a word limit, and should include a brief description of the scene and the company name. The photo credit only needs to be as simple as (Photo: My Photography).
    -SEO guidelines apply: Utilize bolding, italics, keywords and hyperlinks. Your wire service should offer this capability for most (if not all) media points. Speak to your account executive about any limitations or problems with maximizing the HTML version of your story.
  • Content: Lastly, when writing your press release, here are a couple notes about content:
    - Make sure it is correct. Seems like a no brainer, but make sure your product names are spelled correctly, make sure your people names are correct, make sure you have quoted accurately. The release you send to your wire service should be in its final version. The editors can fix things like commas, or obvious typos, but it is always better if they don’t get releases with those mistakes in the first place.
    - Include relevant quotes. For example, from clients, affiliates, colleagues. This will be another person’s voice that reinforces the general theme of your release.
    - Keep it timely. If you are offering a discount to brides getting married in December, don’t send the news out in November. Which leads me to …
    - Consider your audience. Be careful of using industry lingo. For photographers, that means things like spelling out what WPJA stands for when you win an award, or describing what exactly a ‘flush-mount’ album is.
What do I do with the release once it is written? You’ll need to choose a wire service who will distribute your news to the appropriate media points. Think about what geographic area and what type of audience would most want to read your news. Next step is to contact your wire service to set up an account and send out the release. The 3 major wire services are: -Business Wire ( -Marketwire ( -PR Newswire ( How do I choose a wire service? I currently work for a wire service, but this is not intended to be an advertisement. Rather, let me give you some guidelines about what is reasonable to expect from a wire service and what questions to ask when you’re shopping around. When you first contact the wire service, you will likely be directed to a salesperson, possibly the very one who would be assigned to handle your account.
    Questions to ask:
  • What is the procedure for membership?
    Find out what fees you will be charged, what you are responsible for and what the wire service is responsible for. Get copies of whatever you can for your records. They should be able to send you a rate card, contract, or other pertinent collateral
  • What can I expect once a release is submitted?
    Here you should be able to learn what steps are taken on their side after you have submitted a release; start to finish. Find out who will be looking at your release and what they will be looking for. Find out their estimated turnaround time (XX minutes per page). Find out what – if any changes – they will make, with and without your notification. Find out the procedure if you need to make any changes once the release is submitted. For example, it is reasonable to expect to be able to talk to the editor who will be formatting your release.
  • What circuit would you recommend for my business/press release?
    The sales representative should be able to ask you some things about your business and help you lay out a plan of attack. Likely he/she will recommend one or more of their products/circuits that would be best – which will not just be their largest/National circuit. If you have a photography business, now is a good time to ask about their photo distribution services.
  • What happens after my release is out there?
    Find out what kind of reporting the company can do to let you know how/where your release was picked up, downloaded or clicked on.
  • How is your company different from your competitors?
    This is the biggie. These are the main benefits you will have to weigh along with the pricing to determine who you’ll use. Things you’ll here will likely be error rate (how often the company’s or competitor’s editors make an error in your release), value of distribution (how many and what media points your release will go to), and product differences (sending the release in HTML, specialized circuits their competitors might have).
When and where do I want to send my release? Again, your sales representative will definitely be of help here. -When: First of all, know that you can schedule your release to go out ANYTIME. Any minute of the day, provided you give the editors enough time to prepare it. During normal business hours, Monday through Friday, is when most editors and media members will be looking at the news. In addition, there is usually a ton of news released on the hour or on the half-hour. If you wait to release it just a minute or two more, you will avoid having your release lost in the crowd. -Where: The exact circuit/product ordered depends on what your wire service offers. A geographic circuit generally includes newspapers, radio, television stations, and trade/business journals in that area. Personally, for a photography business, I would recommend the media points in your geographic market as well as online portals and trade publications if possible. Even if you want to be available to clients across the country, you don’t really need a national geographic distribution. If you live in Oregon, the newspapers in South Carolina probably don’t care about the award you just won. Instead, make sure your circuit includes online portals (like Google and Yahoo), where people anywhere can read your news online. Your wire service may also offer industry-related media. Be sure to talk to your sales executive about your best options. Extra stuff PRWeb offers another form of press release distribution. Generally, a press release going over the wire has a ‘life’ of about 30-90 days. That’s just the nature of news. Another option is, instead of sending your release over the wire to newspaper editors and the like, PRWeb will post your release on a permanent URL, made available forever online. While this might not be the best idea for workshop announcements, or other time-sensitive news, something like announcing an award you recently won is news that will never get old. Make sure to utilize search engine optimization in your release with things like bolding and bullets. View examples of photography releases here to get some ideas: Also, be sure to visit PRWeb’s website talking about additional features that are offered.
Highlights of posting your release with PRWeb:
-PRWeb utilizes some search engine optimization tools that constantly push your release to the top of web searches. A good photography example I found – Google the photographer “Marnie McCown-Guard.” The 5th return on Google goes to a

PRWeb URL – a release originally posted September 2006.
-PRWeb drives traffic to your website by including a live, interactive window to your website on the release posting itself.