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Kent Olsson, 2019 Exotic Travel Category Winner

Do you take a photograph specifically to enter a competition, or just enter something you have in your files? The answer is a little bit of both. Certainly when I'm shooting, I have an eye out for a 'competition winner', so I may choose to shoot with the judges in mind. 

Do judges see things differently? Again, yes and no. However, judges assess a lot of photographs all in a row, so to be a competition winner you probably need to do something a little different. On the other hand, winning isn't the only reason to enter a photo competition like ours. For instance, if your objective is to get a Silver Award, to meet that standard, then you don't need to shoot for the judges. In fact, I'd suggest just shooting for yourself because then, if you do earn a Silver Award, it was because you were being true to yourself!

So back to shooting specifically for a competition. I'm pretty sure Kent didn't think his photo would be a competition winner before he took it, but notice how a degree of planning really helps. This is the key point I took away from his story - that planning can certainly help when it comes to taking strong images.

"I woke up one morning in January to a full blizzard and got the idea for the picture when I went out onto the wheat field next to the railroad. There was snow all the way up to my waist and I knew the train would be coming soon - if it managed to keep to the timetable."

Swedish photographer Kent Olsson photographed this train using a Hasselblad X1D-50C with an XCD 120mm lens on a Gitzo Mountaineer tripod.

"I wanted to convey the speed the train had, despite the snowstorm and after the train passed, I was completely covered by all the snow from the train. I was pretty close to the railway track!"

Kent works as a management consultant and says photography is a way to refresh his brain. "My interests in photography are mainly landscape photography, but I always try to broaden and deepen myself.

"I am a member of SINWP (Society of International Nature and Wildlife Photographers) and I have succeeded in qualifying. These photo buddies are always challenging me with their fantastic pictures. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I do not!"

In post-production, Kent used Hasselblad's Phocus software as the raw file converter and exported it as a TIFF file into Photoshop. He said he desaturated the file, not that there was much colour anyway and, after a bit of sharpening it came out looking like this!

"The funny thing is", laughed Kent, "that this is a 15 minutes edit. I’m used to spending hours and days in Photoshop editing just one shot."

Polly Fenton, Emotive Portrait Category Winner and Overall Photo of the Year Winner

It's refreshing to learn how simply this photograph was captured. Some photographers lament that to win a photo competition you need to be a Photoshop expert, but my observations don't support this. Take our last year's overall winner of the Better Photography Magazine Photo of the Year as an example.

Photographer Polly Fenton says she recently retired from a 44-year nursing career and is now actively pursuing her love of photography through study, participating in photographic clubs, travelling with mentors and a lot of practice. "I find I am shooting a variety of topics and styles at present in an attempt to find my niche."

The winning photo was taken on a trip with Inger Vandyke of Wild Image Photo Tours in February 2019. "We were visiting the tribes of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia."

The portrait of Nagudo, of the 'Suri' or Surmi tribe, was photographed by Polly in a remote village near Kibish. Explained Polly, "Nagudo used decorative scarification, piercing and copper adornments to emphasise her individualism and confidence within her society.

"During our stay of several days, I found the Suri exuded a beautiful inner personal warmth and mystic. This is what I was attempting to capture in this photograph. They were an absolute delight to engage with and it was a truly inspiring and humbling experience that I will never forget."

Polly used a Fujifilm X-T2 with an XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 R LM OIS lens. As she was shooting in a darkish hut, the settings were 1/80 second at f4, ISO 3200.

"In post-production, I darkened the background with the adjustment brush and also used this to enhance her eyes and soften her skin. Overall, I slightly increased exposure, contrast and whites with a touch of dehaze. Using the HSL sliders, I gently adjusted the green, blue and aqua to lift the colour of her shawl. I felt that nothing else was required."

And we think Polly was exactly right - nothing else was required!

Whether we end up using a technically correct colour balance in our final edit is one matter; starting our photographic editing with a technically correct colour balance within our image file is another.

Many photographers find it very useful to start with a correctly colour balanced file. It helps ground their creative process and it also gives them a place to return if colours go awry.

In the current issue of Better Photography, we explain several ways you can ensure you obtain correct colour. 

For instance, what happens if you can’t find a neutral subject in your scene or nearby with which to set the correct colour balance? To solve this problem, many professionals use a grey card or a colour chart which they place into the scene. They take a test shot, and then remove it for the rest of the shoot (or the rest of the shoot under the same lighting conditions).

Next, when processing the raw files, they have a neutral subject in the frame which can be used to determine a neutral white balance setting, using the white balance picker in their raw software.

This approach works very well in a controlled situation where you can take multiple images of the one subject, but it might not work for street or travel photography when your first shot might be your only shot. It can also be problematic if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff and you can’t place a grey card into the scene!

Fortunately, there are three more approaches you can take when out in the field, plus we explain how to set the correct colour balance using the white balance tool in post-production. 

This is just one of several articles in the current issue discussing colour. This one covers the technical side, the others look at their application in a more creative vein. Why not subscribe now and read them all?

Photo by the 2019 Better Photography Magazine Photo of the Year 2019, Polly Fenton

It’s great to win a photo competition, but what about everyone else? Better Photography Magazine’s Photo of the Year 2020 is a competition with a difference because every entrant gets a score and a judge’s comment.

This makes the Photo of the Year competition great value for everyone who enters.

“It can be hard to know how good your photos really are”, explained Better Photography’s editor and chief judge, Peter Eastway. “Social media is great for getting likes and hearts, but what do the experts think? It’s only when you enter a competition and your photos are judged anonymously that you get honest feedback from judges with experience.

“The problem is, many competitions don’t even give you a score, let alone feedback to help you improve your photography.”

Peter has years of experience as both an entrant and a judge, having won the AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year twice, and later being the chairman of the Australian Professional Photography Awards.

“My own photography developed by entering photography competitions and then attending the public judging sessions and listening to what the judges had to say. It was this feedback that helped me improve, no matter the results. In fact, the single biggest influence in my work as a photographer has been entering photo competitions every year.”

To give enthusiast photographers the same type of experience, Peter has engaged David Oliver and Tony Hewitt as co-judges. All three are Grand Masters of Photography.

“While we don’t have a public judging, we can provide a score, an award (Bronze, Silver or Gold for scores over 75%), and an expert comment to give the entrant some guidance on how his or her photo could be improved.”

The Photo of the Year offers four category prizes of AUS $750 (landscape, portraiture, travel and nature) and one overall prize of AUS $2000, making a total prize pool of AUS $5000. Entry is just AUS $20 (less than US $15) per photograph, with every fifth entry free.

Entries close on 15 August 2020, with late entries up until 22 August 2020 and the results will be announced on 30 September 2020. The winning images will also be published in Better Photography Magazine.

The competition is now open for enthusiast photographers worldwide. For more information and to enter, visit www.betterphotographyphotocomp.com

I judge a lot of photographs every year and for some competitions, I also provide a short suggestion or hint that might help each entrant improve his or her work. And one of the most common suggestions is to simplify the photo so it's not so busy.

When a photo is too busy, usually the best solution is to find a different angle. Of course, this isn’t always possible and sometimes it is too late to go back and shoot something again, but on the other hand, learning this lesson could encourage you to explore your subject more fully in the future.

Some subjects thrive on being busy - the busyness itself is the subject. However, this needs to be very obvious to be successful. More often, our subject should be clearly communicated. When we tell someone a story, we need to provide some background, but the background shouldn’t confuse the story itself. The same can be said about photography. What is your subject and does it stand apart from its surroundings and background sufficiently so your viewers (and judges) know that this is what’s important? If not, can you find another angle or edit the image so the subject is more clearly defined?

On the left page above, there are two photos of a Tiger Heron. Thirty or so photos were taken of this bird, waiting until the background was less busy. And for a competition, we’d crop the image more tightly, removing the green leaf at the bottom as this is also distracting. What we're really doing is making the photo less busy.

There are three techniques we can apply to make a photo less busy.

Technique 1

Often it’s not possible to ‘fix’ a busy photograph with post-production techniques. However, you can learn to be much more aware of what is in the viewfinder at the time of capture. Consider changing your camera angle to provide a simpler background, walking or zooming in closer to your subject to remove unwanted objects, or choosing a different location for your subject.

Technique 2

Sometimes a busy photograph can be improved by simply cropping it. Remove unwanted complexities from the frame! 

Technique 3

For photos where the subject is really important to you, look at using post-production to subdue the distractions – darken, desaturate, defocus, reduce contrast. Unfortunately, not every busy photo can be fixed with post-production.

This is our third installment in a series of articles titled How To Win Photo Competitions. Each instalment has half a dozen helpful tips that are not only great for competitions, but for your photography in general. To read more, subscribe to Better Photography magazine online. You'll find details on the www.betterphotographyeducation.com website.

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