I’m currently in the middle of judging the student category for the APA National Photo Competition. Starting off with something like 236 entries (or was it 263…I forget) I have to pick 3. Ouch. This is not easy.
I think the student category is particularly difficult (not that any category is easy) because it’s not exactly apples-to-apples. Some students submitted still life work, some portraits, some architectural, some photo-illustrations, some photo-J, etc., so I have to try to be objective to judge the work regardless of its type. It’s challenging, but I love looking at images so, except for a few technical hiccups, I’m enjoying the process.
I do have to say, however, that what has concerned me the most about some of the entries has been a lack of originality. A few of the images were essentially copies of more famous photographers’ visions. Some of them are technically perfect, but one look at the images makes me immediately think of the other, better known photographer whose vision is being copied. While I understand that, especially as students, it can be helpful to copy someone you admire to learn techniques, submitting those images for competition doesn’t make any sense to me. We judges want to see your vision–not how well you can knock-off someone else.
Clients will feel the same way when you get out into the “real” world. In today’s fragmented markets, you need to be yourself visually. Your future business will only thrive if you make your work and make it great (and target your marketing, of course).
For those of you who submitted really original work, your own vision, please know that if you aren’t selected, that doesn’t mean you suck. Maybe your work came in fourth or maybe I liked it but the other judge didn’t (or vice versa) and we needed to come to a consensus. Don’t beat yourself up and keep trying!
One other hint: Photoshop is a tool, and like all creative tools just because you can do X with it doesn’t mean you should do X. As Steve Webster has been known to say: one concept to a customer. In other words, don’t try to say “technology” “global” “diversity” “strength” “happy workers” and “new” all in one image, especially if that means using Photoshop to combine the disparate parts in something resembling a Yes album cover reject.
The best Photoshopped images make the viewer think that they could be reality, either by the very subtle use of the tool (more traditional retouching, for example) or by such technically clean work that our monkey brains say “Nah…that can’t be real, right? He can’t really be sitting on a giant mouse…”
I’ve seen both (bad and good) in the student work, and I see both every day in my other work. If you are leaning too hard on your tools, maybe you are masking your own talent and vision. It has been known to happen that a creative will use bells and whistles to distract the viewer–to reduce the pain if someone says “I don’t like it” by telling him/herself (or the critic) “I spent 20 hours compiling that image and if you can’t see all the work that went into it then you are an idiot.”
Just a thought.