Photo Competitions & Beauty

A friend, new to photo competitions, commented that a judge eliminated a floral image because of some flaw in the flower. My reply was that –

along with the usual old canards related to the inviolability of  things like –

  • The “rule” of thirds
  • Always having odd numbers of elements
  • Everything must be in sharp focus
  • Balanced compositions
  • and woe to all who dare not conform; resistance is futile

an unspoken bias in judging relates to beauty (or lack thereof).

The latter item is one of my pet peeves – most people (not just judges) judge the merit of an image

  • not on the skill of the photographer,
  • but on the beauty of the subject;
  • to wit: I have never seen a competition where an exquisitely executed portrait of a homely man ever won over an at-best average snapshot of a beautiful woman (and throw in some “skin” and it’s contest over). 🙁

It’s not supposed to be a beauty contest. It’s about the photographic merits of an image and not about the beauty of the image’s subject.
Not long after this discussion I came across a piece on Irving Penn. It discussed floral images that he made. Many of the flowers were anything but perfect. They spoke to the fleeting nature of beauty and the shortness of life – a subject much too philosophical for a competition judge to consider in the 15-20 seconds s/he might have total for each image (an exhibit juror might do better with more time available – but don’t count on it). Penn subsequently made a 94 page book based on this work (now out of print, with collectibles selling for upwards of $100).
Here’s an example of a floral image made by Irving Penn. To me it’s beautiful, but I’d be willing to bet that it wouldn’t survive the first round in 9 competitions out of 10 – even though it’s tack sharp and there are an odd number of flowers ;-).

I like shooting flowers. You can make either –

  1. A record image (the type you’d see in a botany text or Audubon field guide)
  2. A creative image

Just to add another image or two to this post, my floral style includes images like this non-botany-text tulip

or, this next one after conversion to B&W in Silver Efex Pro

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so the saying goes. Unfortunately, not many photo competition judges are “beholder’s”. 😉
Full disclosure – I competed very successfully for three years (novice, intermediate, advanced) and have numerous publication credits as well as images hanging in private collections. Following competition I became certified as a judge and did this for two years. I no longer do any of the above but, rather, shoot for myself – if anyone else likes the results that’s great; if not, that’s OK, too.

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