EP131 National Print Competition | Notes From The Judging
A couple of weeks ago, we judged the British Institute Of Professional Photographers (BIPP) 2022 national print competition.
I have always loved being a judge and now, in my role as Chair Of Qualifications And Awards for the BIPP, I couldn’t be happier! I get to see so many incredible images and sit with so many incredible photographers. It’s one of the best gigs imaginable.
In the first half of the episode, I step through the rigour of judging, how it is done, and how we ensure it is fair. In the second half of the episode, I go through some of the notes I made while the judges assessed and commented on each of the entries.
If you are curious about image competitions or fancy entering one – not just the BIPP competition – some of the things we spotted might be of use to you!
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[00:00:00] Paul: So here’s the thing that annoys me more than anything. Well, probably not more than anything, but it still annoys me. Call centers who are always experiencing an unusually high volume of calls. Surely if it’s always that way. And it is always that way, it can’t be unusual. And trust me, I do not feel like they value my call!
[00:00:24] It drives me nuts. I’m Paul, and this is the mastering portrait photography podcast.
[00:00:29] Sometimes it’s good just to have a little bit of a moan.
[00:00:50] Hello one and all. I hope you will. I don’t know why that popped into my head – possibly because this week we’ve had to spend a little bit of time talking to different people and you get the invariable [00:01:00] “we’re ever so sorry, but we’re an experiencing an unusually high volume of calls at the moment. ”
[00:01:04] And it just, well, gets my back up.
[00:01:07] Uh, it’s chucking it down outside. So if it seems like you can hear a roaring sound in the background, then it is just the rain. A bit later on, I’m gonna have to walk home – regretting the decision not to bring a coat.
[00:01:19] And sadly it has been a week of weather. On Monday, we were filming.
[00:01:25] So, we are ambassadors for Pixellu Smart Albums and Graphistudio, albums and wall art, sorry. Pixellu smart. Albums is a brilliant piece of software that we use here at the studio to help us design the amazing Graphistudio albums. And we are ambassadors for both these companies and we recorded a video about that on Monday.
[00:01:44] In the rain.
[00:01:46] All of the storyboards, all of the scripts, everything involves Sarah and I walking around this beautiful village of ours with the dog, of course think everything was to involve sunshine of one form or another; I spoke to [00:02:00] the director and the closing shot. Uh, that she had in her mind was the two of us or the three of us walking off into the sunshine. Well, that didn’t happen we had to in the end kill a lot of the outside stuff because the heavens opened just as they are right now. Right now is also our busiest time of year. It’s a good time. of year to try and fit in. Uh, film shooting, but we have deadlines the summer shoots have all, ordered their product, we still have reveals going on, we still have shoots going on. It’s like everything compresses into this short period of time. .
[00:02:34] Over The past week or so. Is that when I last recorded a podcast? We’ve done a couple of hearing dogs shoots back there again tomorrow. Numerous portrait shoots. And an absolutely stunning wedding.
[00:02:48] Uh, this time of year also, as it happens is the time that the British Institute of Professional Photographers from henceforth, I will call it the BIPP because frankly The British Institute of [00:03:00] Professional Photographers. Is a bit of a mouthful. Anyway, it’s the BIPP it’s when we judge the national print competition and as chair of judges, uh, along with six other eminent, eminent judges, eminent people, eminent photographers.
[00:03:15] We spent three days in an equally – rain is a theme, all right, rain is a theme right now – but we spent three days in the Northwest, up in a very wet. Preston. Sitting judging. The images or the submissions for the national print competition.
[00:03:34] Just stunning.
[00:03:36] It’s a few days that I absolutely love being involved in because I get to see some of the very best photography and some of the very best prints that you can possibly imagine.
[00:03:48] Uh, And so given, we’ve just done that. And given I haven’t done one of these sort of podcasts on things I’ve learned during judging for a little bit of time, I thought this episode, this episode would be the one to go [00:04:00] through. Some of the things I learnt. I kept notes throughout listening in, listen to this.
[00:04:05] Yep. That’s my well battered, it’s my scoring sheets that has all sorts of things on it, but most importantly, every time I noticed something or I heard a judge say something, then I’d make a quick note of it. Partly because as chair, I need to keep a track of things that we can do better. And partly because I thought it would make for some interesting learning for, not just for me, but for other people too.
[00:04:30] Uh the first thing to say about all of this. So everything that follows, please remember that it is a print competition. That’s absolutely crucial. It is a print competition now there’s a huge debate at the moment. WPPI for 2023 have decided to take a break from having the international print competition.
[00:04:54] Citing All sorts of reasons. Um, We are really, I think at an interesting [00:05:00] time in the industry where the costs of making prints, the difficulty of making prints, some of the things that are going on out there with inflation and the cost of living crisis make prints something that a lot of photographers might not want to do.
[00:05:15] I get that.
[00:05:17] And I honestly think that digital. For an awful lot of photographers, digital. Is the only medium they know he never goes to print, but there is a reason we use print for judging some of the competitions. And that is it exposes flaws that you don’t always see when you’re looking at a file .
[00:05:37] Now, of course, if you have huge and high dynamic range, Adobe RGB color space, calibrated monitors. You see pretty much everything. But there is still something that when you lay those pixels down onto paper it exposes things in a way that seeing it as a [00:06:00] digital file, just doesn’t, that’s why photographers, like me judges like me love print competitions, because it really is a sign of true class. True quality, a true craftsmanship is the ability to take all of that photographic creativity and turn it into a successful print.
[00:06:23] And that’s the why.
[00:06:25] So this whole conversation now is about a print competition, but many of the notes apply to digital submissions as much as they do to print competitions, but I just want it to be clear that that’s how we’re judging it.
[00:06:38] So on that note, how do we judge it? Okay. So we have six judges in a room over a couple of days. The judges are all fellows. They’re all highly qualified, highly experienced photographers from various genres. So we’ve always got an expert in every genre in the room.
[00:06:54] At any one time, five judges, five judges, are [00:07:00] assessing the print in front of them. We go by category, so we judge let’s say studio portraits or documentary weddings. We judge each category at a time – image after image, after image, each print is brought in by a print handler. It’s very carefully placed onto a light box in front of the five judges.
[00:07:23] Of the five, the two judges who are sitting at the edges, the two outer judges step forward. And assess the print it’s on a D50 light box that these light boxes are absolutely phenomenal. It makes the inks and the pigments absolutely iridesce on the page, you really can see a tremendous amount of detail in the print.
[00:07:45] So each of the outer judges steps in and they spend as much time as they until they’ve made a decision as to how to score the image. They sit back then the next two judges, the two middle judges they step forward and they have their go and then finally, the judge who was sitting in the middle [00:08:00] seat, they get to step forward and make their decision assessing the print.
[00:08:05] Now we use a brilliant judging system at the BIPP and every judge has an iPad with them. That has a tiny thumbnail of the image, which we use to cross check that everyone’s on the right image.
[00:08:17] And then they can enter their score. And me as chair, I get to see those schools come in and then we get to, or the system tells me what the average is.
[00:08:26] And that’s fine. However, of course having five judges means we’re going to see some differences. My favorite times are when all of the judges give the same score or very close because it means they all concur and we can move on to the next picture.
[00:08:43] However, there are different ways that that can raise a challenge.
[00:08:49] So there are three broad ways a judge or rather an image may be challenged that can be a judge raising a challenge because he thinks that the score, the final school. It doesn’t reflect. [00:09:00] The quality that he saw in the image, either higher or lower.
[00:09:05] Secondly, I can raise as a chair, I can raise a challenge – maybe I just want to double check to make sure all of the judges are comfortable with the score. Sometimes you feel it, you see it in body language, you can see that one of the judges is uncomfortable with the score, but doesn’t really want to raise a challenge or maybe, I don’t know, maybe I feel that the scores are drifting. Fatigue can set in, whatever, as chair, I have the opportunity to raise a challenge.
[00:09:32] And then there’s an automatic challenge, which is when there are 10 or more points between the highest and the lowest judges scores. Each challenge is managed really carefully and slightly different ways. But broadly speaking the highest score or the judge challenging will begin to talk about why that image should score what . they think it deserves. Then going along the row, each other judge gives their opinion. The whole way through this [00:10:00] process, every judge is listening to every other judge.
[00:10:02] It’s absolutely crucial that the judges work as a panel. So they’re respectful. They’re quiet. Judging is done in silence, unless there’s a challenge going on, they take on board each, uh, point that’s raised and it moves on to the next judge all the way round. If the challenge was raised by one of the judges, that original judge has the opportunity for a rebuttal and a rebuttal is simply an opportunity to counter each of the points that the other four judges may have raised.
[00:10:31] At the end of that, the images is re-scored and provided every judge is now happy and the chair is happy, then the image goes on with that score.
[00:10:41] If at any time a judge feels they cannot judge the image. For whatever reason, it might be that they have mentored the author. At that point, they raise their hand, let the chair know that they can’t judge it. And that’s when the sixth judge steps in and The image on their behalf.
[00:10:59] Every 10 or [00:11:00] so images, we change the judges, so we take one judge off the end. The other judges move Along one chair and the six judge who was sitting at the back, watching they step in and become judge number one. And that’s how we do it. And it goes on like that for a couple of days, over many hundreds of prints.
[00:11:16] My job as chair is to keep everybody fresh. Keep everybody focused, make sure that there’s no questions arising, make sure that every image, every image, is given due consideration, it must be fairly assessed.
[00:11:29] Now of course, timings are crucial. We have hundreds of images to get through. And one of the things that is a challenge is trying to make sure that we have enough time on each image, but also enough time that every image gets about the same fair consideration . Um, that’s a little bit of a trick in keeping an eye on how long judges take to assess the image, how long the challenges are taking and broadly speaking, how long we think we have left. The very final round. So at the end of all of that is we have however many categories there are each of the [00:12:00] category winners. We assess all of those against each other.
[00:12:04] Now that might seem a little strange , I guess, in the sense that, the assumption would be the highest scoring image, in each category. Is compared to all the other high scoring images and the highest scoring image of overall wins. That is certainly one way of doing it, but the challenge I would have with that, with a problem I would have Is that an image that’s judged at nine o’clock in the morning by a panel of judges may not get the same score if it was judged at eight o’clock in the evening.
[00:12:35] All of the images judged in a given category, will be consistent with the others Within that same category. But an early morning category may well show a score difference when compared to an evening category. Just the way life works, fatigue, which panel of judges is on, how long they’ve been sitting there, who knows – there’s a million things, hunger, thirst, who knows. Long drift in the scores is something that we have to keep an eye on. And taking each of the [00:13:00] winning images out and letting all six judges have a look at them and by a series of votes, decide the winners is a much fairer way of doing it. In spite of the fact it throws the paradox that possibly, just possibly, , the ultimate winning image may have scored fractionally fewer marks than the highest scoring image over the two days . That certainly is one of those conundrums and there’s no pure and easy answer to it.
[00:13:24] But the way we do it means that every Is fairly assessed and at the end, The winners. Uh, are voted on and considered by the whole panel of judges. And at the closing bit of the whole thing, it’s to make sure that the panel of judges are, happy with the results of each of the categories. And they’re happy with the winning image.
[00:13:47] Through the whole process, we have a set of criteria, he says, dragging up his criteria sheet – see? Paper! You got to love paper! I’ve printed it. Sort of spiritually in tune with the idea of a print competition, huh?
[00:13:58] Uh, the [00:14:00] criteria, depending on which association or which competition is being judged, there’s always a list of criteria. Now they change and they vary, but broadly speaking, these are the things we’re looking for as judges.
[00:14:12] And the reason we put them into criteria headings is partly to allow you to be analytical , as a judge, but also when we’re giving critiques or we’re giving challenges is to use these criteria as the foundation of your comments In a way that is logical so that each judge knows what you’re talking about.
[00:14:29] So, let me just very quickly, I’ll go down the ones that we were using for this particular competition.
[00:14:34] Visual impact, uh, which is always or initial impact. Is always the starting point. And that will be the same for every competition there is: initial impact.
[00:14:43] What we’re looking for is that “bam!”, that “wow!” factor. Now that’s not quite the same as how the image will score. An example I gave here on the score sheet is that if you just showed a large, bright red square on a page, it will have impact. [00:15:00] Certainly it will have impact, but it won’t stay that way. And the judges very quickly, will realize that they’re not looking at a high scoring image – there are lots of other factors involved.
[00:15:09] Please don’t enter a big red square just because I said a big red square has impact. It does have impact, but it ain’t going anywhere.
[00:15:16] Uh, then there’s vision style and creativity. This particular title moves around, but basically what we’re looking for is, is there something about the image that is exciting, and new, not necessarily impactful. It might not be part of that initial impact, but we’re looking for the photographer’s ideas.
[00:15:33] We’re looking for the creativity. We’re looking for their style, something about it that says, wow, haven’t seen that before. Ideally, haven’t seen that before. If it’s something we have been seen before it’s been done in a way that is creative and it’s pushing on a boundary somewhere. It doesn’t have to be avant-garde. It just has to be, I don’t know, well, fantastic.
[00:15:55] Uh, then we go into image production where we’re looking at things like blown highlights [00:16:00] is the image sharp. Um, I mean by sharp, I mean, sharpened too much. Is there any aliasing or cloning artifacts? They’re the details that happen during the image production.
[00:16:10] Uh, we see things like repeating patterns when people clone, over sharpening is a really common problem when it comes to particularly print. Obviously there must be tutorials out there that tell you to sharpen your images. But trust me, I’ve never heard a judge. No, I’ve heard it once. I’m going to say I’ve nearly never heard a judge say “this image needed more sharpening,” but in every single print competition or image competition I’ve judged, a judge at some point will say that image is over sharpened. And it usually happens two or three times during a competition, that image is oversharpened. Trust me. You don’t need to sharpen your images too much.
[00:16:50] Next we’re looking at the layout -different words are used for this, sometimes it’s called composition, center of interest, layout, graphic design, all sorts of terms, but what we’re looking for. Is the way the [00:17:00] component pieces of the image have been placed into the frame or in this case onto the print really important.
[00:17:06] Then there’s photographic technique, which is all the usual stuff: has the right choice of lens, appropriate depth of field. Um, things like what came up.
[00:17:15] Uh, last year, or this was one: a, photographer used F22 or F F one over 22. As the f-stop for pretty much every landscape image and every cityscape image. The problem with that is on the one hand, it gave quite a pretty little starburst out of every pinpoint of light. So if you’ve got a nine blade diaphragm, you’re going to get a nine pointed star, et cetera, et cetera, it looks quite cute, but it also creates a small amount of diffraction.
[00:17:42] So your lens is not working at the sharpest or typically not working at the sharpest when you’re working at one over at 1 22 F one F 22. So. Using F 22 for everything might be counterproductive. And if the judges spot fringing, or you’re seeing. abberations or something, it may well be [00:18:00] that that will lose some points.
[00:18:02] Next there’s Color balance and tonal range.
[00:18:04] I’ve put these two together as one heading , because basically it’s the way the colors and the, different, areas of the image from the darks through to the highlights are controlled. We’re looking for color harmony, or disharmony if you want to draw attention to something. We’re looking for receding blues greens, maybe to oranges and reds to the foreground . If that’s your subject, we’re looking for complimentary colors. We’re looking for a tonal range, maybe in a black and white image, we’re looking for the subject to be the lightest or darkest element. there’s something about the tonal range that helps the viewer into the image, the subject.
[00:18:41] Then there’s the quality of the light. Of course light is the foundation of every single great photograph. So idoes the lighting support the story that’s in the image? Is it a soft moment, lit softly? Is it maybe a dynamic brutal, maybe [00:19:00] Uh, concert, in which case, hard lighting, lots of colored lighting may be absolutely applicable.
[00:19:06] But if you’re, let’s say photographing a mother with a newborn baby. You probably don’t want harsh light. You probably want soft light. And we’re looking for that quality in the lighting, sympathetic lighting, understanding of light, the way light shapes and gives form.
[00:19:20] Obviously photographs are two dimensional, but almost always, what we’re looking at is a two dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional subject and we’re looking for light that shapes it or flatters it, or draws the story out we’re looking for the quality in the light.
[00:19:37] Uh, then there’s story and subject matter, which essentially is what’s what’s going on.
[00:19:42] Is there something about it now? Of course. In something as simple as let’s say, a head shot, that might not be obvious in which case all of the story possibly is in the expression and the eyes. Maybe it’s been added to by clever lighting and [00:20:00] clever post production, but in the end, probably it’s in the expression and the connection of the sitter with the author.
[00:20:07] Maybe on a landscape it’s to do with the way there’s a really moody sky over, I don’t know, derelict buildings. It’s all about the story that the photographer is trying to tell. And a key point here is that it’s not the judge’s job to understand what the author was trying to tell us it’s the author’s job to tell the judges – if we, if we don’t understand the story as judges, that’s not the judge’s fault.
[00:20:35] Anyway over the page, Uh, okay.
[00:20:37] Presentation, print presentation. In this case, print presentation. So it’s a print competition remember and print presentation is crucial. So it’s all about choice of paper, it’s all about how the paper sits into the mount, it’s all about the choice of the mount, the way, the whole entity that we’re looking on, looking at on the light box, the [00:21:00] way all of it sits together, we’re looking for quality. We are looking for, let’s say a black and white image, a monochrome image. We are looking for the paper color, for instance, maybe to match the mount color. So if there are areas of white or highlights in the print, and it’s printed on a cream paper, probably. It’s going to look better if it’s mounted in a cream mount. Or maybe a black mount. If the image is really dark and moody may be a black cord, black mount will work. But maybe you need to put a key line round, in which case? A white cored, a white core black Mount, easy for me to say a white core black mount might just do the trick. ’cause then you get that beautiful, crisp, white key line all the way around it.
[00:21:44] So that’s what we’re doing throughout this process. What we’re really looking Is the photographer’s craft. We’re looking for the input of the photographer, the photographer. The work and the knowledge and the creativity and the skill [00:22:00] of the author. That’s what all of these headings are trying to get us or guiding us towards and at the end of all of that assessment, a judge will assign a score. In this particular instance, from 70 all the way through to 100, those are the scores. And that’s what we’re looking for, is to be able to create a score that not only properly reflects the the, the judge’s view of that image, but it’s something that could be spoken about and justified.
[00:22:31] Obviously when you’re judging it’s subjective, this is not objective. I wish it was because it would be really easy to be easy to, um judge and it would be easy to enter because you’d know exactly what boxes to tick. Away, you go. Everything’s That’s not how anything like this. It’s not how music works. It’s not how, I don’t know flavors in food work. It’s not how poetry or literature or any other creative art works.
[00:22:58] It’s in the end. [00:23:00] It’s a subjective process. And what we’re trying to do is make sure that every judge has given each image fair and due consideration based on their experience and their skills the fact that we have to have an automatic challenge when two judges are 10 uh, points apart tells you everything you need to know.
[00:23:17] And I did judging a few years ago. I won’t give any names in this. But the judges, there was a. Uh, married couple brilliant photographers industry well-known. And at one end was the husband. One end of the panel of judges was the husband and the other end of the panel of judges was his wife, the other photographer, two of them. Brilliant.
[00:23:37] I’m sat in the middle with two other judges. There’s five of us. An image comes up. And. There’s an automatic challenge. To which one of these two, one of Husband and wife team said, I don’t really. You can’t paraphrasing here is a little bit, a little bit more hot headed than this, but I’m paraphrasing.
[00:23:55] Said words along the lines of, I don’t understand why anybody has given this a [00:24:00] high score who has given this image a high score to which, or the other end of his panel, his wife, part of the two man team who work together, creating images said “I do. I think it deserves it. ” The three of us in the middle ducked and the other two basically argued it out.
[00:24:19] It tells you everything you need to know when a husband and wife team who photograph and create images together and have almost identical styles, almost identical ideas, still didn’t agree when it came to this one particular image. This is not an objective process. It is subjective.
[00:24:37] And so in the end, you have to accept the fact that if you had a different set of judges on a different day, any image submitted could conceivably get a different score. Hopefully not a majorly different score, but certainly a different score.
[00:24:53] So that’s how we did it. We did that image by image, by image, by image, over the hundreds that had been entered [00:25:00] and eventually came down to one image, one winning image for each category. And then ultimately, ultimately one image who will be the British Institute of Professional Photographers photographer of the year 2022.
[00:25:17] And it was an absolute thrill. I loved every single second of it. I always love it. I love judging. I love seeing the very best of the very best of the very best images presented well, put on a light box. Just there’s, something about the magic. And then on top of that, there is something about the process, the joy of sitting in room with all of these incredible photographers, these incredible judges who each has a view on each image and I love the challenges. I don’t like challenges in the sense that they take time. And they can also be quite emotional. I don’t like that bit of it, but what I do love is that’s the moment every judge talks about the image and [00:26:00] explains what they see or they don’t see explains. Maybe the really incredible bits or maybe they see the things that could have been done slightly differently to improve the image. And I find it fascinating. If you ever get a chance to see a live judging, sadly, this one is not alive judging event.
[00:26:18] We are talking about it but go, go and see it go and listen to the judges’ comments. For me, I find that incredibly useful, incredibly valuable. But I find it very hard when it’s, my images being critiqued. So I tend to go and view a category that my images are not in because I learn loads and yes. Okay. Yes. Okay maybe I should go and listen, when it’s, my images being judged. But, I still find, I, I don’t mind, I’ll send somebody else to take notes, so I get all of the notes, but, Sarah, over the years, for instance, has learned how to give me bad news or good news. She knows how to deliver it in a way that, I will find constructive. [00:27:00] And won’t find heartbreaking because of course, like everybody, if I knew the answer every single time I pressed the shutter, of course I’d win like every other judge. So judges don’t always win because there is no formula to this. There are just all of these considerations and you know it, when you see it.
[00:27:20] Anyway, during the process of the challenges, I noticed a few things and I made the following notes. He says, turning his page. Let me just turn to. This is the clean back page in my thing. Right. So in no particular order, these are some of the things that I heard judges talk about. So I thought I’d relay them.
[00:27:36] Tea. Okay. So firstly are a few bits on print quality. Blown highlights. So a lot of blown highlights, what’s a blown highlight. It simply means there’s a patch of the image that is completely white in the file. All channels, the red, green, and blue channels have all blown out to 255, 255, 255 red green, blue. It’s white. [00:28:00]
[00:28:00] The problem Is that when you see it on a print, It becomes quite apparent. You don’t necessarily see it on a screen when you’re looking at it, but you will certainly see it on a print because what shines through is the paper. The rest of the paper has ink on it, but the bit that’s gone to white has no ink on it so you can see it.
[00:28:19] Similarly when you get, blocked up blacks and what do we mean by blocked blacks? We mean, it’s just a lump of black, just a lump of no detail, just black.
[00:28:29] Now let’s say you’re shooting a portrait on a black velvet background. You want that inky black, that’s fine. That’s clearly an intent of the photographer, but if you looked at let’s say a cityscape on a stormy night. And areas of the image, let’s say in the shadows, in a gutter or the shadows under window sills are inky black, these are, these are not really like I’m making these examples up by the way. So if you happen to enter in this year’s competition, a shot of a wet wet city scape. I [00:29:00] really don’t know I’m making things up , I’m making, I’m just inventing things But if there are areas in there that block up to black, you’re going to get it spotted. It will show up again on a screen you don’t always see it, but you will certainly see it in the print. Lack of contrast. So when all of the tones are laid down on the paper, when you print your image, you want all of the tones that best represent that image. Ideally, you’re going to have some blacks and you’re going to have just under some whites. Not every image will have that. If you photographed a white cat in snow, possibly the irises of the cat and possibly a bit of shadow between the claws might turn a bit just, just to black. But actually the whole image might be tones. Of mid mid-tones all the way up to white and not a lot else. Equally a black cat in a coal hole, you want to have nearly, all of the terms are going to be right down that bottom in the spectrum, but you still want detail in there with just a few bits of highlight in the eyes let’s say. What you’re looking for is that lovely range [00:30:00] that control of the tones, from the darkest to the lightest.
[00:30:04] Similarly, uh, lack of contrast. We saw this in a few images where the tour with fine art map papers, lots of photographers use fine art map papers. We do here too as well, but you have to use firstly special inks. You can’t just use a gloss ink on a map paper. Most of the modern high-end printers now have a matte black that takes that, depth of the black just that little bit darker than you’ll get with a normal black but they do tend to have a lower DMax. Now the DMax is the overall range of tones that any single paper can display and they will have a slightly lower one. So some images look fantastic on a fine art map paper, some do not. You have to choose your paper carefully because you’re trying to take a digital file and display it to us in a way that shows everything you wanted to: the quality the artistry, all of those tones.
[00:30:58] One or two [00:31:00] prints that we had this year, you could best describe them as muddy. And that just means there’s something in the printing where there’s a lack of contrast. There’s a lack of tonality. There’s a lack of definition in each of the different areas – very muddy prints.
[00:31:14] Associated to this are color casts. A few black and whites, actually a few just general images, one or two came up as having a slightly magenta cast, one or two came up as having a slightly green cast. Now we’re looking at these under calibrated D50 lights. If you don’t have a calibrated light source, go buy one. You don’t have to spend a fortune.
[00:31:35] Just get some high CRI CRI is the color index of a light. You need a high, very, very high CRI lighting that, it shows all of the, all of the frequencies of light, at a controlled temperature, whether it’s a 5,000 Kelvin 5500 Kelvin 6500 Kelvin. We’re using D50 which is a very specific light source. You can Google it, you can find it, you can buy bulbs and things for it, we are judging the prints under that.[00:32:00]
[00:32:00] and then the other thing that we saw quite a lot of in the print is banding. Now I’ve heard all sorts of different terms of this, but I will use the term banding. And banding is where you see a color shift, so if you have a gray, let’s see you have a background on a paper background in a studio, and you have a slight vignette across the background ideally, what you want is a really smooth transition of no color shifts. You just want the smooth transition all the way across the page. Unfortunately, what you get sometimes is a slight color kick, where using an eight bit file as you change the gradation across the page, it ever so slightly changes color. You get a slight step in it and you can see it. Similarly, if you photograph a beautiful blue sky, no clouds, no sun, just a beautiful blue gradation, eight bit files will struggle to get that absolutely smooth. And what you might need to do is switch to using 16 bit files and then printing them incredibly carefully.
[00:32:57] Similarly on the same lines is paper choice. I kinda [00:33:00] mentioned a minute ago that you can get a lack of contrast like of DMax Maybe, maybe a bit of muddiness based on your paper choice. Choose your papers wisely.
[00:33:09] Choose papers that show off the image to the best that they can. Don’t just choose a ha a fine art map paper, because you think you’ve taken a fine art print. That’s not how it works. We’re looking for absolutely every detail, every color, bright areas, dark areas detailed in all of those areas. And find out map papers are great for certain images and then not so good for others. And it’s not genre specific, it’s image specific. We saw some utterly, utterly, gorgeous prints, some wildlife prints, some fine art prints, some studio prints one or two wedding prints on a fine art mat paper. And I saw some incredible, fine art, what we would call fine art photography printed on high gloss. We also saw the opposite of that one particular set of images it looked like it [00:34:00] had a laminate on it,it had no detail is very muddy, but we could see, I can see on the competition system. I can see the file. So I know how much range there was, at least in the JPEG that was uploaded onto the competition system and it’s in a different world. If the author had printed it on a glossy paper, You could have added significantly to their scores.
[00:34:22] And I’ve mentioned it before the combination of the, paper to the mount and the mount itself is really important. So if you have a slightly yellower yellowy print paper, and you want a slightly yellowy or creamy mount, if you have a very blue substrate a very blue paper under a black and white, let’s say you’re probably going to want a very blue, white high white, a bright white mount around it.
[00:34:45] The mount is important.
[00:34:47] The way you present your image is important. And it’s worth noting that prints get damaged in transit and we allow for that. So if we see a scratch, every [00:35:00] print as it arrives is double-checked by the team at the BIPP head office and any, anything that’s arrived slightly scratched we’ll note.
[00:35:08] But after that still they’re being handled, they’re being stacked. And I would just say that having a print in a recessed mount is a good idea because it protects the print. It protects the print.
[00:35:20] Make sure your prints when they’re mounted though are really well taped inside, preferably these are, we get into this thing where with mounting prints in mounts, we use T hinges now T-hinges, just two little bits of tape and it allows the print. If you’re framing you use T-hinges because it allows the print to fall and then any changes in humidity mean the print doesn’t wrinkle because the paper, the tea hinges, the cardboard of the mount, they all move and they allow everything just to settle So the correct way of mounting a print museum-grade print is to use T-hinges. The problem with T hinges is they don’t take much abuse. When you’re [00:36:00] submitting images for a print competition. These are not, these are not museum grade hangings. What you want to do is print is display your print for the duration of the competition to the best that it can be. So either tape it in really well round all edges or ideally mount it onto a self-adhesive backing board. So that it’s absolutely solid. There’s no wrinkling. There’s no bending. There’s no change. It comes out completely crisp, completely sharp, completely flat – one or two prints, were submitted the print had slid down inside the mound because there’s just two little bits of tape holding it there and they slid . We moved them around and tried to get them back in. But of course, all of this risks, firstly not putting it back where the author intended. And secondly, of course you’re risking scratching the prints as you move them around.
[00:36:51] Originality and cliche. I’ve written this down, because I heard, the judges say it, but of course, how do you know whether something’s original or a cliche? You [00:37:00] don’t, you, you. I mean, there’s so much photography out there. And if you land on a, an image or you create an image that judge has seen before. They might just suggest that it’s not original. It’s a little bit of a cliche. What I would suggest is try to try to submit images that are not something you see every day.
[00:37:20] If you’re going to submit, let’s say a headshot. I’m a portrait photographer, right? This is my specialism. If you’re going to submit a headshot, there has to be something about that shot. Something about the timing or the connection with the sitter or the way the lighting just glances off a cheek or the way the eyes have just popped or something, there has to be something that means it’s just not, I don’t know, a company executive sitting in a boardroom. There’s got to be something about it.
[00:37:48] Right. This one parts of the subject, creeping close to the edge of the frame or edge detail cropping. Quite a few images, when we looked, cause I can see the file, when I looked at the file, there’s a little bit of [00:38:00] space around him, but once it was put in the mount, the bits of the image got very close to the edge or were cut across by the border . You really want space for all of your subject to be contained inside the frame. You need space at the edge, so think carefully about.placing all of the bits of the page, it goes back to layout. Placing the component, parts of it image and making sure that there’s space around them. So that let’s say the tip of the foot isn’t cropped off, or just the top of a Mohican is missing out the top of the frame, those kinds of things. They happen a lot.
[00:38:36] We saw a lot of them. Unfortunately, I heard this phrase a Parts of the image were too close to the edge. There’s not enough headroom. There’s not enough room below.
[00:38:43] So just be careful of that.
[00:38:45] Dust spots. I have to be honest, I really did not expect to see dust spots in a competition print, But there they were loads of them and one particular image, it was a great image, too. It was a well crafted image. It would have scored really quite [00:39:00] well, except for the fact it was completely covered in dust spots. And you can see that they are sensor dust spots because the way they’re sharp and in focus over the top of things that are not, dust spots have a very particular look and they’re in the file as well. So we know, it wasn’t a printing error. Dust spots.
[00:39:17] Now. This is an interesting one. You’ll have noticed earlier when I went through the criteria, the titles are not judged, not in any way, shape or form. So how come I’m saying. You know, titles, pick your titles, write your titles, choose your titles carefully.
[00:39:35] Well, The evidence seems to be, from asking around and being involved with judging of different competitions that, one, one chair of one judging competition in particular said, a good title all at one mark to your image. Interesting. Don’t know if I entirely subscribe to that. But I do know that a good title, a clever title, an interesting title will help draw the judges to the bit of the [00:40:00] image that you’re really interested in, whether it’s the emotion of it, whether it’s the color of it, whether it’s the cropping of it, whatever it is.
[00:40:06] An interesting title will help your image, whereas a poor choice of title could conceivably work against you slightly. And certainly no title is doing nothing. So from if a competition allows you to enter a title for the image – and not all competitions do – and frankly, I’m slightly against it. I don’t think we should be looking at titles, but as long as they’re, create an interesting title and pop it in to the file so that it’s there and the judges can read it.
[00:40:37] Oh, wow. This one. Please allow a ton, a ton of time, to get your prints submitted. So get your prince back from wherever you get them done. Get them mounted. If they haven’t been done for you. And get them up to the wherever the competition is being held with plenty of time.
[00:40:57] Every year, we have prints that Simply didn’t arrive. Maybe they Got held [00:41:00] up in customs. And they didn’t arrive.
[00:41:02] And having paid all of that money. You’ve gone through the first round, the digital round. You’ve got to the second round. You’ve obviously paid your fees to enter. You’ve now paid for the prints to be made. And we still don’t have them. That’s not. our fault. That is entirely down to pre-planning and making sure that everything arrives on time. Now you can blame the suppliers, I suppose you can blame the outsource printing, but in the end, it’s down to the photographer, the author, to get everything up to us in time.
[00:41:33] Lens choices came up a couple of times. Actually. It’s an interesting debate lens choice. Make sure that the choice of lens you’re using to take the shot, compliments the image, one particular image because it was shot on a slightly wider lens and close in or slightly closer in, it meant that anything that came forward in the frame and in this particular instance, it was hands – the subject’s hands. Obviously they grow, they become bigger.
[00:41:57] There’s a bit of a debate about whether that was good or [00:42:00] not. What was really curious about it was the lens choice really does bear thinking about. So if you want the viewer or the judge to feel like they’re part of a conversation with a portrait, then a slightly wider lens might well work Because it draws the photographer closer to the subject and you feel it, you feel like you’re inside the frame. The problem with that of course, is things like a big nose also get enlarged because they disproportionately become closer to the camera. So if you’re doing beauty work, probably a longer lens is more appropriate. If you’re doing conversational or documentary, probably a wider lens is more interesting. Either way, don’t think that the judges don’t notice the lens choice.
[00:42:43] Skin tones. Yeah, usual stuff. One or two hands with different colors, to one or two faces, one or two faces were different colors to want to, to next, be careful with your retouching. There are a myriad, myriad or myriad I don’t know if you do put words off at the end of myriad. I always do. So I’m [00:43:00] going to go with it. Myriad of.
[00:43:02] Plugins out there and actions out there that purport. To make skin retouching easy, two clicks and you’re done. Well, that’s a lie. You can’t do it like that. You have to be simple. Sympathetic to the image. And while AI artificial intelligence is truly coming of age in the next decade. Right now, it isn’t, it’s not there yet.
[00:43:25] So it does good work with the face, but it doesn’t spot, for instance, that maybe the hands are a slightly different color. If you’re photographing in the cold, you get this, or maybe the neckline is a slightly different color and you get this if a makeup artist hasn’t properly matched the foundation color of a face to the natural skin color of someone’s neck and shoulders, or they should have applied foundation to all of it.
[00:43:47] Also just random digits appearing out from behind things. If you’re going to put, you know, this happens a lot with people but you get it in all sorts of things where just bits of other things, appearing from bits of things in front.
[00:43:59] The one we had a [00:44:00] long conversation about was some fingers of someone holding an object in a photograph. It wasn’t obvious what they were. It was just these random fingers sticking out from behind something. And it was only that someone was holding an object which is completely natural, but once, you’d seen it. You couldn’t get past it.
[00:44:15] You really, really, really have to study any image entry you put in. Study it in the finest detail, turn the image upside down, turn it into a negative, do whatever you like to find those little things that the judges are going to spot because these judges have the sharpest eyes of any photographers I’ve ever met.
[00:44:35] They spot things. And I’m a judge too, and I don’t see everything. None. I mean, none of us see everything. Every judge has a particular thing that they will, identify. So things like little bits of fingers sticking out from behind things, converging verticals is the last of the ones I wrote down. This happens a little bit where a lower camera angle and anything. If the camera angle is tilted back or tilted down,
[00:44:59] With a wider [00:45:00] lens, anything that’s vertical will converge in one direction or another. That’s fine if it’s deliberate.
[00:45:06] The problem is if we’re not certain it’s deliberate, it can look jarring -verticals are a minor thing, ok, well they’re really important. If you photograph architecture. massively important. If you photograph architecture
[00:45:20] But what we’re saying is if you are in a situation where you have verticals, make sure the judges know it’s deliberate. If they’re converging are diverging. Because of course, thatt, can we use this great leading lines? It’s not always that you want them to be absolutely vertical. Make sure the judges make sure you’re telling the judges in the way you’ve done it, that it’s clearly not an Similarly, horizons. The sea is always horizontal, unless it isn’t. Don’t have it just a few degrees out because the judges will say that image isn’t level. If it’s going to be 45 degrees out, the judges might disagree with your [00:46:00] creative choices. Sure. But they can’t argue that you didn’t do it deliberately.
[00:46:04] What they’re looking for is the photographer’s control. They’re looking for knowledge and skill and creativity. They’re not looking for you to make everything straight. But if things are nearly straight? They’re going to start to wonder how much control you And throughout this, throughout this, remember that line.
[00:46:21] Judges shouldn’t have to work to enjoy an image. And that’s a real line from one of the judges. And I looked around the room and five of the judges were nodding in agreement. Judges shouldn’t have to work to enjoy an image, the enjoyment should be there for the judges to find.
[00:46:39] So those are the things I wrote down. I hope they useful.
[00:46:42] If not, if they’re not useful that you probably haven’t got to this bit of the podcast – the bit where I close. I hope all that is useful because, actually entering print competitions, or entering image competitions in general is a fantastic thing to do. It’s even better if you can get feedback, but certainly just [00:47:00] entering them, trying things, pushing your own boundaries – you don’t have to be pushing creative boundaries, but pushing your own boundaries – producing images of the very highest quality is crucial to the development of your art and the great thing about competitions is it gives you an excuse, it gives you an opportunity to prepare files to print images, to finish the post production, retouching, whatever it might be to a level that maybe just maybe, you don’t get the opportunity to when you’re just working on your regular client work.
[00:47:34] So there you go. There’s my penny’th on judging and why you should enter competitions.
[00:47:39] If you have enjoyed this podcast and thank you for getting to the very end of it. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please do subscribe wherever it is that you’re listening to my voice right now. Please also leave us a review and some comments, ideally on iTunes as that still is the biggest platform for us at least, [00:48:00] but wherever it is, you consume this podcast. Please do leave us a five star. A rating and a review. We’d love to read your words. If you want more stuff about portrait photography do head over to mastering portrait photography.com, where there are a whole load of videos and articles and it’s the sort of spiritual home of this podcast, the mastering portrait photography podcast.
[00:48:21] Please do head over there and have a look around. Whatever else is going on in your world, I hope it’s all good. I hope inflation isn’t too inflatory. I hope that the midterms for my friends in the states have gone the way you hope they went to whichever way that is Of course. Half. If you’re going to be all right, half of you, less so, I would guess.
[00:48:43] But I hope that everything is as it should be. I hope the weather is improving wherever you are. Particularly again, my friends actually down in Australia I hear Sydney. Is having some pretty nasty weather. But whatever you’re doing, whatever the weather’s doing, until next time, be kind to yourself. Take care.[00:49:00]