Fearless Photographers

Things I learned from being a judge

15 themes & tips

For collection 44 of Fearless Photographers, I was curator for the Moments category, together with Erika Mann and Jide Alakija.
It was such a great honor and I enjoyed doing it immensely. So many great pictures, that were really inspiring to me. I learned a lot on the way. I would like to share some thoughts.

Please keep in mind that I don’t claim to know it all.
My own images aren’t perfect and they don’t win awards all the time.

Also keep in mind that I know it’s not about awards. It’s about you. I think photography should make YOU happy: you capture people, things and moments you love and you find the couples that have the same taste and desires as you have. They will love your pictures and that’s most important.
So please don’t photograph for awards.

BUT… entering images in contests can help you and your work. It helps you to critique your own work.
Show your photos to other people. Preferably people who weren’t there and preferably people who don’t love everything you do. Ask them what images make them feel stuff.
Even better if you find colleagues who are on the same level and who you trust, that you can share your work with and with whom you can critique each other’s work.

Of course it helps to win awards. Most people know you don’t buy a Fearless Award or charm yourself into one. The picture has to make a big impact.

I want to share my experience as a photographer, as a mentor and as a judge. It’s my experience, my opinion and you don’t have to agree with me. Take out of it what helps you.

There are a lot of themes that reoccur in the submitted images. Don’t forget your images have to compete with the best wedding pictures of the world. Don’t let that stop you from submitting. But be really picky and work on the pictures you already made.

These are the themes I noticed during judging:

1. The tear

I know how happy I am when I catch a tear.
But… there are so many weddings going on all over the world and there’s much crying involved. I think a picture of someone crying should have more than just that. I judged the Moments category and of the thousands of pictures, at least 10% were tears.
Please photograph them, make your clients happy with it and only submit it when it’s more than just someone crying. To outstand the other images, it should tell or suggest a story.
And please… I know it’s tempting to edit the tear in a way it’s more obvious. But keep in mind people don’t cry milk ;-)

2. The hug

I enjoy the love during weddings. There’s a lot of kissing and even more hugging going on. It’s important to photograph it and the key is to be able to share the love with people who weren’t even there.
For contest; keep in mind it’s a common thing. Even during weddings where there isn’t much hugging going on, and you’re able to capture that one hug that almost secretly happened: hurray for you, but we don’t know that. Judges see hundreds of pictures of hugs. I loved every single picture of a hug. But for a picture to get an award it has to be more than that. Tell a story! Or select a picture of a more unique situation.

3. The breastfeeding bride

I get it. I think it’s beautiful: a bride or bride’s maid who takes the time to sit in a quiet place and feed her baby. It’s probably the only quiet time she has all day and it’s so special as a photographer to be allowed to be there and even photograph it. I love those pictures. Good for me: there were dozen’s of breastfeeding pictures.
Brides are around the same age as people who become parents. So it obviously happens a lot.
To be unique, it has to be more.
So go the extra mile. You’re allowed to be there, which is great. Breastfeeding will probably take fifteen minutes or more. Take that time to wait for something more to happen than just the breastfeeding. Don’t leave!

4. The bride in the car

So many pretty pictures of brides in cars. We see her eyes, kids sticking to the car or reflections of fathers in the window or the car. Or we see her sitting next to her father.
They are always taken very close by, which I applaud; get close! But for the competition: this happens a lot. So only submit your car picture if it’s unique: if the reflection is outstanding or the emotions are overwhelming.

5. The animal

I love animals and I think they are funny. They can really add to a picture, especially when it’s the couple’s pet and they show love or make it a funny moment. But an image that combine dog, cat, cow or goat in the foreground and a couple in the background is just that. Wait for a moment, don’t be satisfied that easily. I know it’s scary to wait for it, especially during the ceremony. The way to allow yourself to be more patient is to get a second shooter. Make sure you can trust them, ask them to capture the basic stuff and be creative and patient yourself.

6. The same sex couple

I don’t want to open a can of worms. So this is just my opinion: a LGBT wedding is just a wedding.
The fact that we see two brides or two grooms can’t be the reason that makes the picture unique.
So I’ll treat a picture of a same sex wedding the same way as I treat a picture of any wedding: the picture needs something extra: a story, emotion, something funny…

7. The kid(s)

Personally I love weddings with a lot of children. They do funny stuff and they don’t mind what other people think of them.
So I loved all the kids in the submitted pictures. But again: think of the competition: kids are naughty, hungry for cake, admiring wedding dresses, crying, sleeping in church or during receptions, picking their nose, doing stuff on cellphones, playing around and especially: they are everywhere! All around the world!!
So before submitting, ask yourself: is this really unique? And if it’s not: did I capture it in a unique way? And if you didn’t: go and make your clients happy with it, put it on social media and love all the comments. But it probably won’t win an award.

8. The funny face

There were so many great facial expressions in the submitted pictures. Grooms enjoying the beauty of their brides, brides unable to get the ring on their husband’s finger, parents correcting their kids, people making funny faces for selfies. To stand out between all the other expressions, again, they have to be quite extreme.
And although I think it’s funny to have a big laugh about someone looking ridiculous, I think you should stay respectful. If an expression suggests the groom hates his bride, I don’t think that’s something you want, unless it’s so extreme, everyone will understand it’s a joke. But people eating or telling a story not aware of their unflattering expression in between words, are just funny faces. Nothing more than that.

9. The copy-a-colleague

We get inspired by each other and learn from each other. And it can be really informative to try to copy someone else’s picture. Think about what they did; how they managed to take that shot. It can get you out of your comfort zone and help you master your skills by copying it.
But… only submit a ‘copy’ if the image is better than the original. Otherwise; impress everyone with it, but don’t submit it to a contest. Use it to discover your own style, don’t copy someone else’s style. Especially after doing a workshop; don’t do everything someone told you to do, take out of it what fits you and your style.
For example: I really enjoyed the naked grooms in the shower. I admire the use of flash, the boldness to get in the shower and the grooms ;-), but it isn’t unique anymore. So make it different, make it yours or let it inspire you to do something else.

10. The reflection

Moments shouldn’t be about the tricks you use, to make the picture more special. If there’s a reflection (in a window, painting, table or mirror) it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Only if it makes sense, if it adds to the moment. But don’t use it when the picture ends up being all about your trick.
And in my opinion; don’t bring stuff to do tricks. Even if it’s as simple as a phone, that reflects the top to the bottom of the picture. I think it’s great to use stuff like that during portraits. I think portrait time is perfect to try and make everything even more beautiful and interesting than it already is. Go out of our mind with your tricks!
But not for genuine moments.

11. The extra mile

The fact that you hung from a tree, waited two hours or almost destroyed your camera making that picture, makes you a bad ass. But it doesn’t make the picture perfect. It might. But please forget what you did to make the picture and look at it as objectively as you can. Even better: show it to people, who weren’t there, don’t know what you did, and don’t love everything you do. Sometimes the extra mile pays of, sometimes it doesn’t. Good for you for trying!

12. The fake moment

If I feel it’s only happening because you’re there with a camera, to me, that’s not a genuine moment. It can be a perfect picture, but not for the Moments category. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to direct stuff; that’s up to you. Just don’t submit it to the Moments category if you did.

13. The perfect moment, Uncle Bob style

Uncle Bob is lazy. Or he’s tired from carrying around the big camera and even bigger lens. So he will stand next or sit on his chair and he won’t go close or far away. His point of view makes picture quite boring. If you want to make an impact with your pictures: don’t be Uncle Bob. Go the extra mile to build an interesting image.

14. The perfect moment, poorly edited

Of course this is a matter of taste.
I love it when a picture feels timeless. In the future, people will recognize it to be a picture from this era, because of clothes, hair cuts, make up, decorations and buildings. But I wouldn’t want them to say: “Yes, that’s what they did to pictures back in the old days.”
If you like the grey thing, that’s fine, and I will get over it, if the picture is perfect. But I wouldn’t make black and whites brown, blue or green.
For contests you should keep in mind that the judges are photographers themselves. They will recognize the vignettes and halo’s (because of sloppy use of brush). And if it’s that obvious, it’s hard not to look at it. Of course you can use brushes to fix shadows, highlights and get the attention where you want it. But be careful and accurate. It helps to look at the edited image on thumbnail size. If you overdid the brush, you will see it right away.
And crop!! Get your lines straight, loose the stuff that’s distracting.
I really saw some great images, that might win an award if they are edited differently. If you don’t know how to do it, learn or get help.

15. The Fearless Award

It was hard to make choices with so many great pictures. What makes an image Fearless? Light, composition, moment? Yes. But eventually it’s about the impact a picture has on the viewer. The question is: does it make me feel something?
To me, a Fearless image emotionally attaches me to the moment. It makes me want to be there or it makes me wonder what happened after the picture was taken (but not in the annoying “no idea what’s happening there” way). And most important: it makes me wish I made that picture.
And that’s personal. But photography is.
So don’t let it loose your good spirit if you didn’t win anything. If you firmly believe in your picture, just submit it again. Sometimes a picture needs to go through a couple of rounds, before it wins an award. And look at the images that did win to be inspired.

Good luck on your photography!