WPPI Preview: A Bird's-Eye View of Print Comp

by Ken Sklute

Ken Sklute

February 07, 2013

I first entered WPPI’s print comp in the late 1970s, and it was something that I always worked hard at. I entered six images per month for 11 months, which equaled 66 images a year. Sixty-six images that had to be selected, printed, mounted, sprayed with lacquer and titled! It was a lot of work, but I feel it made me a better photographer. I truly believe that entering print competition is one of the best, if not the best, educational experiences one can invest in, especially if you are in attendance to hear all of the judges’ comments.


There are six to seven judges assigned to each division room: Weddings, Portraits, Commercial, Photojournalism, Premiere, Composite and Albums (there are also many sub-divisions of categories, which can be found at http://wppi16x20.com and http://wppialbum.com.) Five judges are seated in front of the triangular, rotatable print turntable—a panel that brings different experiences, perspectives and opinions to the table. There are no right and wrong opinions, and in the end, a balanced score of each image emerges.

A Jury Chairman (JC) is in charge of all of the activities conducted in each room; an alternate judge sits off to the left side of the active judging panel. All images entered are done so anonymously and each judge enters a score for an image without any conversation between them. Once all of the judges have entered their scores, the averaged score is announced to the room. At that point there may be a challenge from any of the judges if they feel that the average score is either too low or, in some cases, too high.

When a judge’s score varies 10 points or more from the average score, it becomes an automatic challenge and the photograph must be discussed and re-scored. A judge may initiate a challenge at any time.

Very often, many of the judges will have images entered in the competition as well. In those cases, or when a judge may know the maker, he or she will be rotated off of the panel and replaced by the alternate judge. This is done to keep things as fair as possible for all entrants.

Try to keep in mind that the judges are not saying anything to hurt you personally; they are sharing their thoughts on what they see in front of them. Listen to their non-biased comments and see how these can help you grow. A simple pat on the back is not the most helpful critique, even if it is what most people want to hear.

First and foremost, make sure to refrain from any moans, cheering or talking during the competition. You cannot, for any reason, let any judge know that an image is yours, even after the image has been scored. Do not approach a judge at the lunch break, in the bathroom, or after the end of day one of judging. Many of the judges are affected by the imagery they score, and may ask to have an image brought back after judging to challenge an image that might have been seen the day before. Also, the higher-scoring images will be discussed for awards at the end of day two. That is not the time to alert a judge that the image is yours and ask questions about the score. If you would like to know something about one of your images, you might want to carry a smaller version of it and see when that judge might be able to share a few thoughts with you.

As a professional photographer, you are expected to produce good images every day. A high-quality, professional image will likely score somewhere in the 74-79 range. An Accolade image, however, recognizes an artist who has created an image that moves the judges to a score of 80 or above.

To achieve a high score, take a close look at your entries and ask yourself the following: How different is your image from others in its category? Is it something that you do for every wedding? Is the color striking? Is the subject the first thing that you see when looking at the image? Are there distracting elements that take away from seeing the main subject(s)? Have you made your subjects look their best? You may be looking at your work and have an image that you like very much, but, for the competition, you need to look with a more critical eye.

A title, though not required, can help a viewer connect with your image, which, in turn, can raise your chances of scoring higher.
Photographs that are entered into competition also need to be printed a bit darker than they would be printed for display in your studio—actually about 20 percent darker than a normal image. Your imagery will be viewed under tungsten lights, so when selecting an image to submit, your viewing station should represent the same values that the competition turntable is viewed under (100 ISO, f/16 at 1 second).   
The live judging for the 2013 WPPI Awards of Excellence 16x20 Print Competition (as well as the Album) will take place with an esteemed panel of judges March 9-10, 2013 during the WPPI Conference + Expo in Las Vegas. All WPPI 2013 attendees with a Full Conference Pass are welcome.

“How to Prepare for Print Competition and Other Contests,” will take place on Thursday, March 14, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m., led by David Anthony Williams and Jason Groupp. Ken Sklute will present a Plus Class titled “Seeing the Unseen!” on Monday, March 11, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Judging Criteria

Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. 

Technical Excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.

Creativity is the original, fresh and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.

Style can be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.

Composition brings all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.

Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.

Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.

Center of Interest
is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.

Lighting—the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.

Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.

Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media and more are part of the technique applied to an image.

Storytelling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

Degree of Difficulty
—There is often a consideration for an image created in the field using diminishing light, movement and cooperation, as compared to a studio-made image that might have had lots of time and a controlled environment to capture.

Ken Sklute has been a photographer for 38 years and brings his expertise as participant and judge, and this year as consulting director, to WPPI’s Print and Album Competitions.

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