By Jim Colton
Ever wonder what goes on behind closed doors in those dark rooms where thousands of images get projected onto the screen? Wouldn’t you like to be a fly-on-the-wall to hear the judges’ comments? I asked several distinguished members of the photo community who have judged many of the premier photography contests to share their thoughts and advice. The question I posed was: What is the single biggest crime committed by photographers who enter contests...and what one piece of advice would you give them?
"Photographers often have an emotional connection to their work because they remember very clearly the circumstances under which the work was produced. They often remember the smells, the sounds, the temperature, the wait, etc. As a result they often allow this to influence their photo selections. For the person who wasn't with the photographer, this connection does not exist – they are looking at the images and judging them on their merits (not on what it took to get them). As a result, I sometimes see photographers entering sub standard images into contests (or including them in their portfolios). A related issue is one of volume and discipline. Either too many photos entered and/or poor sequencing of the images within the entry. Good contest entries should be crisp, well edited and tell the story effectively – exactly the same as effective storytelling in the medium for which the photographer originally produced the work."
"The biggest mistake photographers make is being too emotionally tied to the creation of their pictures when editing for submission. ("Oh, the WORK I went through to make that picture... I'll never forget how hard it was!") The problem is that none of the rest of us shared the effort of that moment, and for us (the viewers) we can only connect with the picture itself. So when images are included which aren't as strong but are there because the photographer had such a memorable time getting the picture, (especially in the Series/Story categories) it often leads to a dilution of the power of the story. Most of us need help in editing our own work. We're too close to it. And from my point of view, in a series/story, one bad picture can negate the power of one or two good ones. So, be disciplined in your editing and try to leave the sentimentality behind as you boil your work down to most moving essentials."
"Do not copy what previous winners have done. In 99% of the cases, yours is worse. Always be creative and find alternative ways to tell a story that has been told over and over again. Surprise and convince the viewer! And lastly, avoid redundancy. Dare to kill your darlings, edit tightly or ask another person, whom you trust, to do your edit."