The top five reasons we need a new competition.

PPA’s (Professional Photographers of America) photographic competition was created in a time before the Xerox copier and the pocket calculator by men leaning over a light table peering into the depths of a 4×5 transparency with an 8x magnifying loupe. Necessitated by having only one copy of the image and equipped with only pencil and paper the creators of our competition did the best they could. Technology has moved on yet our judging remains stuck in the previous century. Below is the top five reasons why we need to change our photographic judging.

In my next entry, I will propose a new system of judging that remedies these problems.

5. The scale is too small

4. There is no standard by which images are judged

3. The difference between 79 and 80 is too great

2. The overpowering judge

1. There is no feed back loop
Number 5: The scale upon which an image is judged is too small.
I know what you are thinking, “100 points is too small?”
When was the last time you saw an a score of 58? Or a score of 35? The vast majority of images score in a narrow 15 point range between 73-88. Yes, there are the occasional scores in the 90s. But the judges are working in a 15 point range and that is not enough range.

Number 4: There is not a standard by which we are judged.
Yes, we do have the 12 elements of the merit print. Unfortunately, we just pay lip service to those. How often do you hear a judge say that a print does not have a style? Years ago, judges were trained to start with 100 points, and to deduct points in every element as necessary. Now the judges look at an image and determine by their own internal standards as to what range it should go into. This often emotionally biased decision is evidenced by the difference in scores from competition to competition and from judge to judge and year to year. I could show you images that merited 10 years ago that would not merit today. Did the “12 elements” change?  No. We have no standard. Without a standard by which images are judged, we are nothing more than a beauty pageant contestants in draped loosely in revealing clothing trying to catch the eye of the judges with our over-Photoshopped bodies and pithy titles.

Number 3: The difference between 79 and 80 is too great.
80. The magic number for a merit. 79 – the infamous “we like your image but not enough to merit it.” It takes a lot more work to go from 79 to 80 than it does to go from 78 to 79 or even 80 to 81. Nowhere else in the grading scale is there such a gap between the numbers than between 79 and 80.

Number 2: The overpowering judge
Imagine what sports like diving or figure skating would be like if the judges had to agree on a score?  I cannot think of another place where the judges must concur.  We have all watched print judging were one judge will not give up on a image. We have seen great images drug into the dirt and we have seen weak images lifted up because of one judge on the panel. If you wait until late in the day on the judging, you will notice the other judges just capitulate to the overpowering judge. One person should never have that much effect on the final score.

Number 1: No feedback loop
PPA and its affiliates all promote competition as a way to improve your photography. When my image gets a 77 and is discarded without discussion, all I learn is that the panel did not like my image. Really, I do not care if you do not like my image. Tell me HOW TO BE BETTER! Tell me how to improve my photography.  Just telling me “no” does not help me improve. Yes, PPA offers video critiques and often competitions will make judges available on the day after judging. I purchased a video critique – once. For 15 minutes two judges that were not on the panel rambled on aimlessly about the images providing no constructive information. I have cornered judges about my image(s) that received a 76 that was not hanging in the display.  “I don’t remember that one.”  And if you are not present to talk to the judges post-mortem, then you are out of luck. If PPA is going to“sell” competition as a way to improve my skill then they need to provide some feedback – preferably without charging me again – that will actually help me.

I believe it is wrong to complain without offering a solution.  My next post will have my recommendations for a new competition.

Lucy Family Portait

Many of you may recognize Buck and Greg Lucy. They run the farm supply store here in Purcell.

They brought the whole gang in around Christmas time for this wonderful studio family portrait.

This is another example of our family composite. Ever since we started offering these for our families, they have been flying out the door.

Foster Photographic Arts World of links:
General Site
Wedding Photography
High School Seniors
Architectural Photography
Photography Classes and Lessons

A girl and her dog

The Clark family came in on a promotion I had. After photographing the young girl in her softball uniform, we had the chance to do some pictures with the family dog. And you thought a boy and his dog was cute!

The Foster Photographic Arts network of web sites:
Senior Pictures
General Portrait Site
Photography Classes

a girl and her dog a girl and her dog a girl and her dog

It’s not the camera

Recently I was attended Rick Trummer’s seminar on marketing at the Southwest Professional Photographers Convention. The question he asked was, “who is your competition?” A woman on the 3rd row replied, “the 19 year old across the street – and she has a better camera.”

Ok, let’s destroy this myth once and for all. The camera – any camera – is incapable of taking a good picture. Try this experiment. Take your camera and place it on the table. Come back 5 minutes later. How many good pictures did the camera take? Zero. The camera is incapable of taking a good picture.

Let’s try another experiment. Take a new camera and mount it on a tripod and take a picture of scene. Take an older camera, and using the same lens, settings and tripod photograph the same scene. Put them on your computer and compare. Not much difference, is there?

The camera manufacturers have done such a great job marketing they have us believing that if we get more mega-pixels it will somehow overcome our deficiencies in composition, lighting, exposure and focus control. We get so hung up in “better camera” we forget the camera is really just a single function computer – like a calculator.

So think about the woman’s reply again, but let’s substitute the word “computer” for “camera”.
“The 19 year old across the street, and she has a better computer.” Somehow that doesn’t sound very threatening. That’s because it’s not. The camera really doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is the photographer. Always has been the only thing. Always will be the only thing.

General Site
High School Seniors

Warren First Family Portrait

I had the privilege of photographing the wedding of Matt and Amber several years ago.  I was excited to hear they would be having a baby and offered them a “First Family Portrait”.   These images, done in black and white, are so dramatic and timeless.   It was great working with them and Christopher.  Christopher liked to sleep, which is good.  It’s easier to photograph a sleeping baby than a crying baby.

Click on images to enlarge.  You can also see the images in this YouTube video.  Return to Foster Photographic


Courtney and Brett

Courtney and Brett were such a fun couple to photograph.  Their wedding was Crossings, which of course is wonderful place to have a wedding.  It was a perfect day for a perfect wedding.  The hardest part was deciding which ones to post here!

Return to wedding site or portrait/general site

Courtney Shadburn and Brett Bilbrey
Courtney Shadburn and Brett Bilbrey

Lissette and Sandor

Normally I would not use a bridesmaid photo as my hallmark image from a wedding.  However, the story behind this is important.  I photographed Sofia’s wedding Edith’s wedding (either side of the bride).  The only wedding I did not photograph of the four of these ladies was Elizabeth.  I jokingly asked her about that.  She took it in good humor, however, it was not a joke.  Turns out she had contacted me about photographing her wedding, but her parents decided to select someone less expensive.  A decision she would later regret.  ”  It’s still a sore point.  My parents apologized to me about it.”  Lesson: Choose carefully who photographs your wedding.  You wedding photographs will outlast just about everything (notable exception is the rings) you spend money on at this grand event. You will not get a second chance at it.

The sunset image was actually taken in the parking lot of the church.  I looked around for a good opening to the western sky, and there was none within easy walk. I laid down on the ground and tried to isolate them as much as possible.

Return to general portrait site or wedding site.

Lissette Orozco and Sandor Sosa

Elizabeth Shelton and Michael Childers

I had gotten to know the Shelton family when I photographed the double wedding of Elizabeth’s sisters about 10 years ago. Yes, a double wedding – two brides, two grooms and whole lot of bridesmaids, groomsmen and three different families.

Elizabeth’s wedding would not be the large production of her sisters. This is a good thing. Her wedding was at the Dominion House. I had overheard that following the reception, the couple were going to tour by carriage downtown Guthrie at night. I asked them if they were up for some more photographs and they were. We met them in downtown and created some fantastic images on street corner in downtown against the buildings lit for Christmas. What the photo does not show is how cold it was. It was really cold. Maybe 18F.

Anything for the shot.

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Nichole Simms and Michael Fischer

After a two year hiatus, I end up photographing Coles Garden two weekends in a row. It’s odd how that happens. I’ll photograph a location consistently and then I don’t photograph there for awhile.

I think this is my favorite image of Coles Garden’s signature waterfall. The waterfall faces east, so it is lit early in the day. This, of course, would put the couple looking directly into the sun [read: not good]. Later in the day the waterfall is back lit, and it loses its appeal. This image was taken well after sunset.