International Photographic Competition 2017

Being a returning member of the Professional Photographers of America, I was given the opportunity to enter 4 images into the International Photographic Competition this year for free (this competition just finished judging yesterday, August 2nd). I had not entered this competition before, so this was new to me. I had previously entered at the state level at a Professional Photographers of South Carolina convention, so I did have a *little* experience under my belt (I also had great resources in other fellow photographers who could help point me in the right direction).

Daydream Believer – Copyright: Lola Dee Photography (score: 78)

The first hurdle was figuring out which images to submit. I was absolutely in love with the studio session I had recently captured with Nyisha (click here to see the blog post), so I chose an image from her session. You cannot submit multiple photos of the same subject, so narrowing this down was difficult. I was also in love with 3 other female portraits that you will see as you scroll through this blog post.

I’m glad that I found and read the IPC Video Tutorials on the PPA website to know how to complete the “presentation.” Since we’re in the digital age of photography and people are moving away from submitting actual matted and framed prints, you have to be able to submit a “finished” digital image. I watched the following videos about how to size and add the presentation to my images: click here to see.

On Her Way

On Her Way – Copyright: Lola Dee Photography (score: 77)

I had noticed from the little exposure I have had to competition judging that judges seem to favor black and white images. I decided to pull one of my favorite images from Cidney’s bridal portraits (click here to see the session) at the Lace House and re-edit it to be a black and white submission. I think this turned out beautifully. It was originally one of my favorite photos because of the lighting (I used two off-camera flashes on either side of her from above with the right being the main light and the left being the fill light at half the power of the main). I think that lighting translated nicely in black and white drawing your attention right where it needed to be – on the gorgeous bride.

You’ll notice under each of my images that they all have a title. You have to name your pieces, and you want that name to help tell the story (which is one of the “12 Elements of a Merit Image” – I’ll get into this a little later in this post). I have to be honest that some of these pieces were difficult to name while others were not. This beautiful image of Cidney was the one I struggled with the most. I settled with “On Her Way” to try to tell the story that she was on her way – to the ceremony, to her groom, and towards her future.

You’ll also notice that each of my images has a score. Anything that scores 80 and above is an image that receives a “merit.” What’s a merit? Merits are the “first cut” towards additional merits and awards. I am still learning this process, but it is my understanding that you need merits in order to get your “Master of Photography” degree (you need to earn 13 specifically). There are different types of merits all which can be better explained by clicking here.  The best of the best go on “Loan” status and will travel to the next PPA convention (in Nashville next year) and will be printed in a book that will go on sale (Hey Mom, this would be an excellent Birthday/Christmas present!).

Sweet Carolina – Copyright: Lola Dee Photography (score: 77)

How did I get these scores? I entered each of these 4 images into a specific category (Portraits & Wedding). They were then randomly presented to a group of judges who sat in one of 5 different judging rooms (there were a total of 46 judges). The judging started on Sunday July 30th and just finished August 2nd.  You are able to watch this process happen live, and I highly suggest that you do if you are able just to gain a better understanding of what the judges are looking for when they score an image. Here’s what the scores mean:

100 – 95: Exceptional
94 – 90: Superior
89 – 85: Excellent
84 – 80: Deserving of a Merit
79 – 75: Above Average
74 – 70: Average
69 – 65: Below Exhibition Standards

I would say that about 80% of the images I saw scored fell between 76 – 81, so the judging was tough. Of the nearly 6,000 images that were submitted, only 2,428 images received a merit. It’s interesting to see when judges challenge a score. If a judge feels strongly that an image should be bumped up OR bumped down, then they can “Challenge” and start a discussion. I saw images move up and down that way. You have the option of paying an additional fee to receive recorded feedback on your submissions. I figured I’d just tune in for free to hear my scores to save money. Unfortunately, judges don’t talk about every image. They only talk about the images that are challenged or if an artist paid for feedback. Lesson learned. All 4 of my images had absolutely NO remarks from the judges. I wonder if I had paid for feedback if it would have stimulated a challenge? Could a judge who scored my images higher sway the others? I was so close to a merit!

BUT this was a good experience for me. I learned a lot. I goofed on the last image “The Forest Bride.” A previous competition I entered was extremely strict on images submitted to the “Wedding” category. It had to be an image from an actual wedding or else it would be disqualified. Since “The Forest Bride” was from a styled shoot (see the rest here), I submitted it to “Portraits.” Watching the judging, it seemed that the “Portrait” category was much more difficult to earn a merit (likely because they had lots more submissions). Watching the “Wedding” category, it was obvious there were styled shoots submitted. Okay, got it! Lesson learned.

The Forest Bride – Copyright: Lola Dee Photography (score: 78)

I need to really stretch myself to obtain all 12 of the “Elements” that make up a merit image. They are: Impact, Technical Excellence, Creativity, Style, Composition, Presentation, Color Balance, Center of Interest, Lighting, Subject Matter, Technique, Story Telling (click here to see their definitions). I’m going to try to focus on “Impact” and “Story Telling” this year. I feel like my entries were good, but perhaps they were lacking in these two elements? So, if you’re reading this and want to model for a session, let me know! I’m already contemplating shooting for competition.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a seasoned photographer in the Lexington, South Carolina area. When I told him I wanted to submit “The Forest Bride,” he helped me consider a few more tweaks to ensure the “Center of Interest.” A trick he taught me is to turn an image upside-down. If your eye still goes to where it should (in this case, her face), then you are good to go. I would have never thought of this, so I appreciated the tip!

Taking another stab at my own images as to why they may not have placed.. perhaps there was too much blocked blacks in “Daydream Believer” and “On Her Way”? This was something the judges did not like when they did discuss an image. If your shadows are too heavy and you lose part of your image, it’s considered blocked blacks. Perhaps “Sweet Carolina” was missing Impact and Story Telling (it impacts me because she’s my beautiful sister! See more by clicking here!)?

If you’re a professional photographer who is reading this, *please please please* leave me any type of feedback that you may have on my 4 images. I would really appreciate criticism to help me improve. I had showed these images to several photographers prior to entering, and it seemed the general consensus that I would walk away with a merit. I’m a little disappointed that I did not, but I’m proud to have done as well as I did for my first time submitting. It’s just going to fire me up to do better next year.

Another tip: It’s best to keep your competition images mostly private until after competition -especially if entering at the local level-. Why? Because judges cannot judge an image if the recognize the piece. It would be bias.

I hope you enjoyed my perspective of this year’s International Photographic Competition. Bottom line, I entered and am glad I did. You should enter along with me next year! Check out some real IPC winners by Google-ing “IPC Loan Collection” and checking out the “Image” tab. You’ll be glad you did! and Congratulations to all of the winners this year!

Want to learn even more about IPC? CLICK HERE