It’s been an exciting week for nature photographers around the world, but particularly for Australians. Shortlists for the ANZANG and Veolia/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year were emailed out. In my opinion, the latter remains the pinnacle of prestige in nature photography. Nowhere else do you get to compete against the best of the best, many of them the big name shooters for National Geographic. The great thing is that you yourself do not need to be a notable photographer to be successful. All it takes is one terrific shot.
And what of ANZANG? It’s our local competition that was inspired by Veolia WPOTY, except to be eligible, the images have to be shot in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica or New Guinea. Recent affiliation with Australian Geographic has given it even more coverage. 8 years ago as a photographic newbie, I entered a macro image shot while tramping the Overland Track in Tasmania. It went on to be commended and each subsequent year I have made the honour roll. In recent years, I even achieved a couple of category wins but I am most proud of my consistency over such a long time. Producing quality imagery over a sustained period is an important aspect of a career in photography. The exhilaration of making a few stunning shots wears out soon enough.
What does being shortlisted mean? In ANZANG, it means that you’re in. You just don’t know whether you will receive a commendation or prize. But providing your high resolution and RAW files check out OK, your images will appear at the exhibition and publications. Unfortunately, in the case of WPOTY, the email only means that you’ve made the last round of judging – in other words, the final 1000 images. There is no recognition from the competition that you have reached this stage. From a purely statistical point of view, chances are slim that an image will make it to the commended/prize winning stage since they only choose around 100 pics for the exhibition.
RAW files you say? Yes, these competitions have some fairly strict rules about what you can do with post-processing. Veolia/BBC relaxed their rules significantly this year which means that ANZANG are probably the most strict major competition in the world with the degree of retouching allowed.
So how did I do? Can’t complain too much. Well maybe that the price of entry to ANZANG is quite steep but it really does make you think carefully about each and every photo you enter. Had they allowed 20 photos for each entry like Veolia, I think I would have a few more in the mix at ANZANG. In any case I was really pleased to find out that 5 of my images were successful over 4 categories. I might even have shot at the portfolio prize with this handful of photos, although a sixth shot would give me a lot more confidence about it.
At Veolia WPOTY, I managed to get 4 images through to the final round. Unfortunately they didn’t pick any of the ones I wanted them to choose. I’m not holding my breath to get into the final 100 but at least I have a 40% chance going by the statistics.
I thought I would share some more thoughts about my approach to landscape photography competitions.
Popular vs Prize Winning Images
I cannot emphasise enough that popularity of an image on the web will not necessarily equate with success when judged by a panel of photographers, gallery curators or magazine editors. In fact, the opposite might be true. Look at the landscapes on the popular page of 500px. Lots of wow photos for sure at first glance. But when you look at them day after the day, many of the images start to look the same because they possess characteristics which appeal to the same audience. Now put yourself in the judging panel’s shoes. Images that buck the trend are going to seem a lot more striking. Most of my successes in this year’s competitions turned out to be my least ‘liked’ photos on social media.
On the Subject of Subjects
I remember sitting in one of the WPOTY seminars where a judge was discussing about the process. A common subject photographed in an innovative way makes a much bigger impression that a rare subject with less imagination and vision behind the shot. This seemed to apply to my ANZANG photos this year. 4 of the 5 featured big name icons but re-imagined.
Know Your Audience
This one has stuck with me since my days as a musician. Playing the wrong repertoire to the wrong audience is a recipe for disaster. It should be pretty obvious that in both ANZANG and WPOTY, they are after a natural look in presentation. Supersaturated colours, contrast on steroids and fancy processing with the likes of light bleeding and orton are not going to fly. They will do better in the fine art landscape competitions such as IPA.
What To Do Now That You’re Shortlisted
I tend to be a brief with captioning when putting in my entries, knowing that many may not make the cut. However at the business end of the competition, I will tidy these up, expand on them and generally try to make a better impression with the words. If the decision is tight between two images, the judges may go to the RAW file to see how much manipulation was performed and also the caption to see what the photographer had to say.