This year I was asked to be the juror for a show at a gallery in the Columbia River Gorge and after doing it felt it would be worth sharing some thoughts about it, mostly what went on in my head process and thought wise. Most of my experience to date has been critiquing photos of workshop participants over the years with a little judging through photo organizations in the past. Not to mention the judging we all do of our own work as photographers, sometimes being harder on ourselves than anyone else might be. I know I can fall into this too.
Before jumping into this I do want to make a comment as someone that has entered photography shows or contests a number of times throughout my photography career. Regardless of how well I have done in any photography contest I never take it too seriously and neither should anyone else. I don’t mean it in a way that it’s no big deal at all. I mean in the sense that there are many factors that go into how you may or may not place in a photo contest that those who don’t place in the top shouldn’t get down on their work and those that place well shouldn’t get overconfident in their work either.
To add to this everything I am stating here is of course only my opinion. Someone else judging could have seen things differently and with different results. I chuckle a little at the many back-seat judging comments I see for any well-known competition posted online. It is art after all and is very subjective!
I think what is interesting about this experience that you don’t always get is the ability to do final judging based on actual printed pieces of art. With everything we do digitally today, often who wins is decided based on a digital file instead of a final printed photograph. In this case that certainly played into how I landed where I did for the winners. It’s a whole other element that can make, or break, the outcome in my opinion.
The first round of judging was online. This was to determine who would be in the show. This would not determine top finishers. This is a more straightforward process since a much larger selection of photos can be picked for the actual show itself compared to the small number I would need to select as winners.
Fast forward to the week of the show and I went out to view all of the photographic pieces as they were being set up for the show’s opening. Everyone had the freedom to print their work as they wanted which ranged in size from very small to large, and mediums ranging from metal to more traditional framing. I took my daughter with me and she learned a lot about the process which she appreciated as a budding photographer. She saw it wasn’t something I came in and could easily decide right away. There are a number of great entries.
What got me to even think about this as a blog post was the process of selecting the top entries. I had not expected the process to be as enlightening to me as it was, for a couple reasons.
One reason is how I went about deciding and the process of elimination that ensued. It would not be appropriate for me to take photos of the photographs to display here (which is why you don’t see any) yet there were a number of reasons I took even beautiful photos out of the running. Adding the print element really made a difference as some pieces looked great while others had some deficiencies or other personal conflicts that made it harder to justify bringing them into the winners circle.
From a physical print perspective here is what stood out to me on a number of pieces as to why they were not chosen. My intention of mentioning this is for general education to those that want or need to print for a show in the future.
Bright Spots – One piece had a few small lines that after further inspection appeared to be part of the image. Unfortunately, they were very bright compared to the dark part of the image they were in and looked more like scratches when viewing it. My eye kept coming back to them instead of the beauty the rest of the photo offered.
Photo Edges – There shouldn’t be a very small piece of an object barely showing itself along the corner side of a photo that. When I see this it looks like it’s unintentional having such a small piece. It’s more a distraction to the eye than anything.
Highlights – There are certain scenes where having highlights overexposed or blown out look fine or even can enhance the photo. Yet there was at least a couple where the blown highlights didn’t add to the image in my opinion.
Iconic Spots – I was intentionally looking for shots I felt were a little different from usual or if they were taken from a very popular spot were more unique in nature. Personally, if you are photographing a very popular location the bar goes up for how well composed, processed and printed it is.
Focus/Blur – I am not sure if it was the quality of the lens or focus stacking challenge yet a couple pieces did not look as clean as they should in a couple spots. By the overall composition, it did not seem like it was intentional for the areas to be as soft as they were.
Noise – If you have very dark areas of the image they should be very low to no noise. When a digital file clearly shows noise in the shadows you can be certain it will only be magnified when you print it. Only a textured medium like canvas can conceal some of it.
Chromatic Aberration – I consider myself very open to different and unique art and how others might see the world differently. That said I find when there are noticeable issues like “purple fringing” or other colors that it takes away from the overall scene.
Distractions – I always say as nature photographers we are trying to take a chaotic scene and figure out how to simplify with as little distracting elements in the final piece as possible. Between composing, cropping and editing we work to make it our interpretation of the scene.
Here are some reasons why the winners were picked to contrast with those that weren’t.
Simplicity/Clean – Photos were kept pretty clean composition wise as far as minimizing distracting elements.
Unique Point of View – The photos were taken from unique or different vantage points making them stand out from the others.
Different Take on Icon – Although one was a local iconic subject it was a different take on it that I had never seen before.
Print Presentation – Clean and little to no visible issues like noise, digital artifacts, etc.
I want to reiterate the intention of this post is to share my experience. There were plenty of photographs that had only minor “issues” and are great photographs in one way or another. At the end of the day, I needed to narrow it down and this how I went about it.
Lastly, shortly after leaving from judging the photos I thought about the final pieces I picked and to see if there was any theme. I didn’t expect there to be anything. Well, that didn’t prove out to be the case. For the final four photos, they all had elements of water, fog and or snow. I did this 100% in my subconscious not knowing it at the time. It’s very interesting how I gravitated towards these because I am someone that tends to like feeling colder instead of hot. All three elements tend to represent feeling cool or cold. I found this observation very interesting.
The photos in the post are photos I have entered and been a finalist or placed in various contests over the years. I am sure there were similar thought processes going on when my work was being viewed by someone else!
Location: Portland, OR
Adrian Klein has a passion for the outdoors and landscape photography that is endless. He has traveled the parks, shorelines and wilderness capturing images that represent each area through his own artistic eye from the curbs to the far off trails.