Last week a photographer I greatly look up to asked me to fill in as a replacement judge in the photography competition she is sponsoring. I may have squee-d a bit. Tineke Ziemer of Northern Persona Photography sponsored a photography competition called the Cariboo Central Interior Image Competition and Critique. Several years ago Tineke started the Image Expressions Photography School, more on that later.
For those of you who don’t know, Tineke Ziemer is a contemporary of mine. We went to school together. Even then, she was a burgeoning photographer. She photographed my graduation formals. (I still have some of them Tineke!)
She continued on with her passion. I’d say I got sidetracked, but I didn’t really have a track. I went to technical college and started working in the IT industry. I got married, I got divorced. Later, I (re)met my beautiful wife of today. We had grown up together on the same street, and when she imagined as a little girl my last name next to hers, it was because I had an handsome younger brother. That’s ok, I tried to date her older sister a few times – I think we’re even, though she may disagree!
When the time came to get wedding photographs done, we called Tineke. (well, actually there’s a whole other story there involving one of the other judges, that I won’t go in to. I’m glad I still get to call him a friend, and colleague too perhaps.)
Tineke, simply put, made us feel like rockstars. It was our day, and she made our photography seem effortless. We married outside, in January. She didn’t complain about the photographic challenges that put her through, she just did her job. She made art. Even when she had us lay down in the snow looking up at the bright January sky the whole process felt perfect. The images really reflect that, and I think that experience more than any other made me the photographer I am today.
Fast forward a bit. Tineke is still shooting weddings, families and other general portraiture. She’s refining her craft.
Sometime later I developed a passion for photography. I borrowed a camera and took a course – offered by her. Afterwards, when she was looking for an assistant I drew up a four page proposal. I was intent that I was going to learn this, and working as an assistant seemed the best way to proceed.
I look back on those assistant days and shudder, but smile warmly. I wasn’t a very good assistant. Tineke had to push me to see the light – and I had opinions. Lots of them. She let me share them though, and through a year and a bit we came to a really good working partnership. She was the photographer, and I was the assistant, with opinions. She always valued them, and I feel that some of what we created together was sincerely a collective effort. Her and I think in different ways and she allowed me my opinions, and saw value in them.
I broke out on my own, and you see me here today. Tineke went on to reduce her time as a photographer and increase her time as a teacher. She now runs the Image Expressions Photography School, and has started a fine art website collective of local artists called Encounters With Light.
It seems Tineke still values my opinions. She asked me to give them – all 187 of them! Myself and my fellow judges awarded scores in six categories. Living Creatures, Nature & Landscapes, Fine Art/Conceptual, Still Life, Portraits of People and Candid/Photojournalism.
Each image was scored out of ten in four criteria. First Impression, Technical Skill, Creativity and Composition. For each image in two of the six categories we also provided a couple sentences (occasionally paragraphs!) of commentary on the image. As a matter of fact, I decided early on to provide commentary on every single image. I guess, being the pretentious windbag that I am, I figured each contestant earned the right to receive criticism from me. Aren’t I lovely?
I’ll say right now, that I didn’t score these easily. There were no marks for effort here, and not everyone is a winner. I can count on one hand (out of nearly 800 marks) the number of images that I gave an “Excellent” mark to, being 9 or 10 out of 10. I think one image in the whole competition may have gotten two excellent marks from me. The number of “Great” (7-8/10) marks was higher, but not by much. I might need two hands, and maybe one foot to count how many of those I gave out.
I subscribe to the idea that perfection is almost unobtainable. I can’t imagine seeing an image good enough (and I surf Pinterest, Instagram and photographer webpages, galleries and communities constantly) to get “Excellent” marks in all 4 categories, maybe it exists, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Of course, all judging is subjective. That’s why when Tineke organized this she organized multiple judges. There are four of us all told. All our scores for all the images are averaged to obtain a total score. Then each image gets the comments that the judges provided as feedback. This lets us have photographers with multiple specialties judging all the entries.
I hold myself up to the same criteria though. I wouldn’t want to enter an image competition where every image was a winner. I want to enter one where if I win something, be it Judges Choice or a Merit or Excellence ribbon, that I feel a sense of accomplishment. I want to be able to brag about it. Maybe that makes me a bit of a bad person.
Contestants – if you win – you can brag about it. The quality level of the entries was generally very high. I marked hard, and Tineke has told me that my scoring is not at all out of line with the other judges. The feedback will be harsh, but I know that it will help you grow as a photographer. Take the scoring and commentary very seriously, and apply it to your future work. You will grow.
And I’ll be back. I’m working on contacting a couple of photographers to use their images as examples in a future post about what the contest submissions were like and how I specifically looked at scoring them. That will be after the awards presentation though – I don’t want to spill any beans!
While you’re here, you should check out the work and online galleries of the other judges involved. I’ve even included them for you. Here is my list of fellow judges, I seem to be among some pretty good company!
Morgan Turner is an award winning commercial photographer from Victoria, BC. I can personally attest that he has an unique fine arts/conceptual vision as well. You can find him online at mturnerphoto.com
Peter Drewcock is a local photographic celebrity here in Quesnel, BC. Examples of his work can be found at pbase.com
Finally, we also have acclaimed nature photographer Thomas Zakowski from Indiana, USA. His work can be found online at fineartamerica.com