Schembri on Competitions - part 1 of 1

by Martin Schembri Published 01/02/2005


Okay, so now you've decided to enter your prints into a National Competition!

I've been a member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) since 1985 and have entered my prints into its national awards competition nearly every year since joining. I've also had the honour to sit on many judging panels both in Australia and USA, enjoying some wonderful imagery that have always takes my breath away... only wishing that I photographed that image.

The process can be stressful and full of anxiety, but always rewarding... regardless of the achievements or disappointments. The AIPP judging process is similar to most institutes, a panel of qualified judges, scoring images for originality, composition and presentation...and of course photographic skill!

So why enter? There have been many times when I've have walked out of a judging room swearing that I'll never enter another print. Shedding a small tear (okay;wept like a baby), but for some reason, I kept going back. Yes, it's nice to receive the rewards and accolades from your peers. You'll praise the system, love the judges and honour the Institute! But, when a definite favourite is hammered and receives a bad score, you'll swear that you'll never enter again, and consider not renewing your membership. Apart from a small number, all is forgiven and we come back to face the music again.

I guess the reason I keep coming back, is that I've recognized that this type of judging system is the fairest and most honest method to gauge my work from. I've listened to their remarks and have questioned their opinions. But have always appreciated the honesty!


So how do I select award images? The golden rule is don't get too emotional over an image. Okay it was a really bad day... everybody was running late, flash won't fire, assistant never showed, rained all day and you had only a few minutes to capture some nice images of the Bride & Groom. Bada've managed to capture some great images! These surely must get a high score for difficulty that I endured during the day! But, unless the image shows this and translates the difficulty, how would a judge ever know? There are hundreds of examples of these scenarios, I for one am as guilty as the next and sometimes emotions do blur my experience and knowledge.

Our national Awards only allow us to enter four prints. The hardest part is selecting the best this is when I usually bug my friends and colleges to help me choose them. On my computer I created a Favourites folder where I file a copy of my favourite images. Allowing enough time before each competition, I select about a dozen of my favourites and start

playing with the image. Once finished, I'll print an inkjet copy off each at around the size I will be presenting them and ask as many family friends to select their favourite four.Generally kids are great, as they usually respond to colour and simply say if they like it or not... No crap, no egos, just pure and honest innocence.

Once the final four have been selected, I'll either have them printed by my Lab or print them on my Epson Printer. Sometimes I'll use different papers just to acquire a certain look that normal RA paper can't produce. However, if your lab is going to print them, be sure to allow enough time to have them re-printed, as you might find that the colour or density isn't quite right, or you've missed an important re-touching element. It's not unusual for some photographers to have their images printed three or four times before they are happy with the final result. Also, try to view your images from about 8 feet away; as this is the approximate viewing distance the judges will see your prints from. Also try to view them in a dark room and if possible use a couple of strong tungsten lights, each positioned about 4 - 6 feet away, at a 45-degree angle to the print. .... however, if you can't recreate these conditions, just have your images printed a little darker, as they will also look lighter in judging room. (Note, SWPP/BPPA view in daylight corrected conditions Ed.) Whenever possible, try to attend judging days, as helpful comments such as strong highlights, miss-leading subject direction etc; all these hints will help you self assess your images and hopefully help you obtain higher scores. Usually, if I'm sitting in a judging room as an observer, I'll play a little game and score the print, just to see to how close my score is to theirs. With a little practice, it's amazing how close our scores sometimes are! It's just a game, but it helps train the eye to look for faults and improve your observation.


Good presentation will certainly earn good points (poor presentation can only lose points!). If the competition states 16" x 20", it does not necessary mean that the print needs to be this big (although check the rules). An professionally mounted and matted image will force the judges attention towards the print's message. Generally, I would produce anything from an 8" x 10" to 11" x 14" print and then have it mounted, off-centre, under a neutral coloured 16" x 20" matt (See samples). If your image has been cropped within an unusual format, try to keep the longest side no smaller than 10 or 14 inches and be a little careful where you place it under the matte's aperture as it can confuse its message.

So please don't give up! If you've never entered and may think that your photography isn't good enough... how would you know unless you try it! I promise you'll love the experience, learn heaps and meet some wonderful photographers.

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1st Published 01/02/2005
last update 07/04/2022 09:16:51

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