Notes from an Epson Pano Judge

November 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Twisted WebbTwisted Webb

^ I didn't enter this in this years' competition, but as a Panorama, I still really like it

The Epson Panorama Awards has come and gone, how did your work stack up?

A congratulations to the winners and finalists must be mentioned, it was a tough year and you all did very well!

Ever since last year, I watched others judge the Panorama awards and wondered what that would have been like. I remember the blog that Dylan Toh wrote about last years' judging experience, Dylan's notes no doubt made me agree with what he had to say as a judge. I still felt like I had something to impart to this years' entrants, so here goes.

Before I get too deep into this blog, gaining this experience wouldn't of been possible without David Evans offering me the chance to judge the 2015 awards. I extend my deepest thanks for the invaluable opportunity to do so.

It was a tough field no doubt, the judges indeed saw their fair share of great images to sift through and rate. As an amateur judge, we collectively looked at nearly two thousand, a tally that made the eyes go square, but taught me so much about my tastes and how I look at images.  

I began my judging tasks thinking that I could judge 300 in a night, boy how wrong I was. Each image deserved my unwavering attention, and you’d be surprised how long this took. A proper appraisal process involved:

  • Immediate impact: - first glance, how "blown away" was I? What did the image stir within, and how does that rate?
  • Subject - Was it an "iconic" scene or one seen cleverly and captured deftly.
  • How was the image composed? Could I differ the level of technical mastery, or could I try to understand what the photographer was showing me?
  • Editing - Could I tell what had been done to the image in post production? Did the photographer take care in avoiding the easy mistakes before submission? Was the editing flawless or could I pick it apart (more details soon)
  • Panorama - Was it a Pano for entry's sake? Was the image perhaps a crop of a larger image, or did it display the hallmark distortion of a large panorama. Or, was it shot so well that I couldn't pick apart any technicalities with the panorama?

Overall we, as Amateur judges, examined just over 2000 images in both Landscape and Built Environment and I definitely learned a thing or two about what to do, and what not to do.

Keep in mind the images that you entered. Did you achieve the score you wanted, that you thought you might? If not, look back over those images after reading my points of feedback. Several times I wanted to reach out to the photographers and ask them why they had made such choices that reflected in their images. Often images fell short on just a few technical or proofing points that could have easily been rectified by looking over the image before submission.

Some of these are going to seem basic, but they are a must for anyone about to enter a competition. The smallest detail overlooked could be the difference between an award and no award.

Make sure you haven't committed any of these sins by failing to check your work!

The Basics:

Always clear up dust spots, examine your image at 200% or use the dust spot removal tool to remove.

Horizons: Are they straight, or do they need to appear straight(er):- meaning, is the current composition making the image feel lopsided, should it be over-corrected so that it appears straight?

Haloing: Have you edited your image to add some brush lightening to pull out shadow details?  Check that the area around that selection isn’t haloed and can it be avoided by making a more careful selection?

Colour Banding: Have you pushed the post processing so far that colors are banding and breaking up visibly in the image?

Chromatic Aberration: Does the edge of the image show extreme fringing of yellow/blue or green/pink, and if so, can it be removed, lessened or cropped out?

Shadows: Have you shot an image so dark that you have had to heavily retrieve the shadows in post production? Images will show a "textile-like" potching, texture in red/brown where shadows have been over-corrected in their brightness. This editing mistake is so obvious on a properly-calibrated screen. It is unattractive and is difficult to hide without putting those heavy shadows back where they were.

Don’t use fancy effects such as the paintbrush effect in Photoshop – it’s tired, overdone and cheapens your image.

Don’t soften your image so much that you lose important detail

Don’t invert your colours.

Don’t over sharpen or contrast your images

The Composition:

Empty Space: the use of empty space is both a compositional tool and necessity to sometimes balance out complex compositions. When used well it is very powerful, but it has to have a purpose, is it in the right place and how does it change the image? What you put into your frame is just as important as what you omit. Leaving extra “things” in for mood may end up detracting from it. What you leave out is just as powerful as what is in.

Is colour a part of the story? If not, take it out, simplify your image – the story will be stronger without it. Sometimes colour can try and destroy or dilute the power of the image, if it doesn't need to be there, if it doesn't form an integral part of your message, then take it out. Chances are you'll draw more attention to the subject matter by the use of tone and shape.

Artistic Angles: Have you tried a new take on a well-shot location; does the angle suit the subject, what are you trying to show by using a certain angle? Don’t center your subject in the frame unless your story/focus is on the central object. Get down low, or go above? That's up to you. Judges will react to images of well-known locations shot in different ways to the popular. They will reward as such. A scene that is captured in the way that thousands have before you will not invoke the powerful reaction that you might have sought.

If you’re going to shoot a pano, do it with purpose. We're all professional image makers in our field. A well done Panorama sings with the orchestra in elevating your image to new heights. The mood, the impact, the purposeful use of colour, the perfect stitch; The power and impact cannot be made up. Was your image previously a 3:2 ratio that you've Pano cropped? Fair enough if you have, but the true panoramas shot well always sung louder than their cropped counterparts.

We know what we look for in our own work. We make sure that any panoramic stitch errors are not showing consciously. Sure sometimes mistakes are made, but you can't hide those big stitch errors that show mismatched edges, like puzzle pieces that don't fit together. Remember that you submit your image at 3000 pixels long. We can zoom in to look at this 100%, there is nowhere to hide. Don’t think the judges won’t see a small error, we can zoom to 200% where all your errors are laid out bare. All is revealed, no small error is hidden.

The Finishing:

Presentation: Is the image ready to be submitted? Is it the right pixel dimension, the right quality /dpi/ppi?

Have you made sure that you did not put your watermark on the image? Any marks that identify the image creator to the judge is a big NO-NO! Do not worry about the competition using your image to promote itself, unless the terms and conditions state that, which you agree to by paying for an entry! Sometimes I would spy a very tiny watermark attempted at being "hidden" among a patch of trees, or it was boldly posted at the bottom, making me think that the photographer has not adequately proofed their image before submission.

There are penalties when we can identify the creator, as judging is meant to be anonymous.

Remember:

Some things can be overlooked, but others not. What does well in one competition won’t necessarily do well in another. Judges tastes are different and you have to tailor your work to their tastes. Judges profiles are there for a reason, plus, it’s like an assignment to get your image tuned the way you think it works.

 


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