Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thousands of images in 7 categories submitted from 50 states, 3 judges, 8 hours, 7 first prizes and 1 Grand Prizewinner.

One of the neat perks of teaching is having opportunities to judge photo contest. This week I was asked by my colleague and close friend, Gary Lundgren to judge the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest. This is a National Photojournalism Contest held yearly in Minneapolis.

Judges Jeff Kocur, and Jill Chittum take a first look at the contest entries, in the background are Jostens staffers.

The contest is open to all student photojournalist from around the country. I was one of three judges whose job it was to select the best images for 7 categories each with places from first to fifth. Once we had first place winners from all the categories we chose the best single image to be best of show. Sounds pretty easy but it was very challenging. We had thousands of images to view, a few discussions and even a few show of hand votes. I remember entering contest as a photo student and how long it took me to prepare my images. Keeping that in mind, we took care and time to view each photo from these young photographers.

Jostens leased a nearby conference room with plenty of natural light, this improved the viewing quality of the entry prints.

Once the judges made top selections the contest staff removed top selections to another table for final judging.

Gary Lundgren, the contest coordinator discusses the rules and categories with the judges.

Gary gave us basic options for judging and a quick overview of contest categories. The criteria was not discussed, as we all were veterans of many contests. We all knew what makes an award-winning photo, which inspired me to make a list of qualities that set a winning photo apart from other images.

Ten strategies for shooting award winning Photos


- Content is King: First and foremost in the world of photojournalism is good content. Great images communicate a message.

- Strong composition: Simply said composition is the way the elements are arranged within the image.

- Action and Reaction: Nothing reads as quickly as a peak action moment or an amazing reaction shot.

- Get emotional: Good images have an emotional quality and can capture the spectrum of emotions, from happy to sad.

- Keep it real: The best images are genuine. Nothing is worst than a photographer faking or setting-up a shot. It’s much better to wait for things to evolve naturally.

- Crop it: Often times an ordinary image can become extraordinary by an effective crop.

- Technically Speaking: Winning images are free from any problems with exposure, sharpness or noise.

- Gimmicks and tricks: Avoid trendy styles, filters or Photoshop enhancements that often get in the way of a solid image.

- Clich├ęs are out: Uncommon images show a different take on the common picture and stand out from the others.

- Don’t overwork it: One last important thing that is often overlooked when entering contest. Don’t try to win! Yup, I said that. Here’s what I mean. I’ve judged plenty of contests and I know some photographers where it’s all about the awards. They study the winners of previous contests and shoot images that are only slightly different, following a script of sorts. As a judge, what attracts my eye is something original and different. If your main goal is recognition you may win a few contests but your passion and originality will suffer. Additionally, you’ll miss out on developing your own unique style and” burn out” could be waiting just down the road. I’m not saying don’t enter contest, they offer many benefits but just don’t let awards be your main motivation with photography.

As for the winners of the contest I judged this week, I’ll post examples of a few of the outstanding winners once the results are release publicly. I found myself inspired by the amazing images of these young photographers. It helped me reconnect with the passion and enthusiasm I had as a young photographer and its something I strive for on every project I shoot. Lastly, a very special thanks to Gary and the contest staff for all the hospitality and for asking me to take part in the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest.

Myself, Jill Chittum and Jeff Kocur discuss the top images and select the Grand Prize winner award.


This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. McLean!!!!! Ha, funny but i just got home from journalism camp tonight and somehow navigated to your page... i had no idea that you judged that photo contest, oddly enough i won the portraits category with a photo of a girl in a snowy line of trees. I'm sure you didn't make the connection... but i am glad i did! haha. well thanks for everything, you really are a great photographer//instructor!

-Danielle Norton