Getting fit for competition

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Last month we discussed getting your eye and brain in shape in preparation for the big upcoming competition — the annual OHS photography contest.   If you win Editor’s Choice in the OHS contest you’ll get a free spot in one of my live classes.  I hope you’ve been looking at lots of photos that inspired you, and now have some images you’re excited to share with the world. 

If you’re considering entering a competition or submitting images for publication you’ll want to narrow your choices to those that convey a transcendent emotion or experience.  You want your photo to make an impact on a judge who doesn’t know you or your subject. 

Everything needed to convey your message needs to be contained within the frame.  Like the way a photo of your puppy playing can convey joy in a way that transcends knowing your puppy.   You’re on your way to success if a judge, considering hundreds of photos, smiles or laughs when he or she sees your playing puppy.   Maybe they’ll even pause to remember a puppy of their own.

One great thing about entering contests is it can help motivate you to fine-tune some of your best images so they’re ready to hang  or otherwise show off.   In line with that we’ll discuss what to do with photos you want to share — whether in competition or just on Facebook.

We can often increase the impact of our photos with photo editing software.  I generally spend quite a bit more time in post-production than behind the camera — as do many photographers.  The goal is to enhance and unify those elements that support your message into a cohesive whole, while eliminating or softening elements that distract. 

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Cropping is often one of the easiest — and impactful — tools.  I’ve seen many images that would have done much, much better in competition had they just been cropped differently.  Unfortunately, while an astute judge may recognize an image’s great potential— had a distracting element been cropped out, for example — judges will generally rate your photo for what it is rather than what it could be. 

As I’ve mentioned before when discussing cropping, consider the untouched image out of your camera just a starting point.  Imagine a version of our playing puppy photo where most of it is filled with colorful books.  Our puppy is in a corner of the image, playing on top of the books.  The judge’s eye is going to bounce between the books and the puppy, easily missing the expression on the puppy’s face because so much is going on and the books take center stage.  Imagine cropping this down to where the puppy fills most of the frame, taking center stage, so the first thing the judge sees is the joy on the puppy’s face.  Now you have the judge smiling, and when he looks closer and notices those books (perhaps our smiling puppy is playing on dog training manuals!), hopefully you’ll have made the judge laugh.  And you have transformed a photo with little chance of getting noticed into a winner.

Size Matters

If you are preparing to submit or hang a print, think about what size will be best.  Some images work well small while others practically beg to be made large.  For instance, the dog training book titles may not be visible in a 4x6.  But in an 8x10 they might be perfectly sized to convey the joke.  If you can, try a few different sizes and see how certain sizes have more impact or play better to the strengths of your photo.  For competition, if you’re not sure, I’d bias toward a larger print (within contest rules).  Which brings up an important point:  always follow every contest rule.  Another way to make judges sad is having them fall in love with your photo but having to reject it because of a broken rule.

This month’s assignment

I’d like you to edit one of your photos to increase impact.  It can be as simple as cropping or converting to black and white, or as complex as you’d like.  The key is to take an image you feel has potential and bring it out through editing.  You can submit just the edited image or before and after images — whichever you prefer.  And I’d love to hear about your experience and about what editing you did.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Class Recap

  • Try the exercise
  • Send your photos from the assignment to: Please put “Spot Photo Class” in the subject line
  • Go to Photography 101 on Spot's website to see your photos and those of your fellow students
  • Share your great work with your friends!
  • Check out David’s tips and comments
  • Meet David here in June for your next session!
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David Childs is a professional photographer, photo journalist, instructor, and animal advocate. You can see his work or contact him

Study with David live! His pet photography classes are offered at Oregon Humane Society. See his website for details.

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