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By Richard Linton
The NZIPP Commercial, and Wedding and Portrait Directors have put togther an overview of the common, recurring issues noted by Q panels. These are things you should watch out for when making a Q submission, and apply equally to Commercial, Wedding, and Portrait Q's.
Images in a submission should show suitable use of contrast, colour balance, tone, and be free of inappropriate noise (digital grain), colour banding, posterization, or moire artifacts.
Images should be in focus. There are circumstances in which soft focus/limited focus/limited depth of field is an appropriate treatment. There is a significant difference between this and situations where the focus point/plane is clearly forward or behind the subject. Similarly watch out for images with camera shake or subject movement that does not aid in the communication of the image. Watch for images that are shot at a relatively low resolution or cropped out of another image, and be aware of the sharpness of the resulting image. Please do not take this as a suggestion to run a aggressive unsharp mask through your images. If it is not sharp to start with, it will be very hard to remedy it to a level that is deemed acceptable to a Q Panel.
Digital Compositing/Post-Production Technique
Some images may be basically 'straight output' with limited, if any post-production other than colour and contrast. Others will have significant digital post-production or manipulation. There is no limit to the amount of post-production or manipulation that images in a submission may include. Be aware however that your post-production techniques and final result are considered by the panel. Recurring, less than ideal issues seen in the past have included:
multi image montages that exhibit unconvincing lighting/contrast/colour balance or sharpness between different elements or mages in the montage
obvious retouching artifacts such as visible cloning as a repeated elements or 'brush' marks
soft edges where two otherwise sharp elements are blended or layered
Lack of Highlight and/or Shadow Detail
In general all images should show and hold a reasonable level of detail in the highlights (specular highlights are an exception), and also the shadow areas. Every image has different requirements for tone, brightness, and contrast. The Panel must assess every image on its merits. Sometimes images that feature areas that are 100% blown out, or areas of solid black may be deemed suitable treatment and acceptable. Your submissions however should demonstrate an appropriate understanding of, and dealing with tonal issues. In general images should not exhibit issues such as shadows blocking up or highlights blown out where detail would be expected.
Communication and Connection with the Subject
This does not apply exclusively for subjects that are people. You must still create a connection with inanimate objects. You need to clearly show that the photographer was in control of the situation. Obviously this level of "control" will vary depending on the type of work submitted. A submission by a primarily editorial photographer would likely be less 'styled' and have a more 'documentary' feel. The opposite may be true for an advertising photographer. One must be careful using words such as style or control as the Q Panel does not wish, nor expect to see all submissions looking the same. Through your images, they do wish to see a demonstration that the photographer was in control and got suitable images for the intended purpose with appropriate craft, skill, and treatment used. Having a happy client is not always the best test for suitability. Just as you may go to a restaurant and personally enjoy a meal that in your mind is fantastic, others with more experience may have significantly different opinions.
Understanding and Control of Light
Every image is assessed on it's merits. There are no hard and fast rules about how to light an image. They do not have to be high-key, low-key, high contrast, or flat. They simply need to show suitable competency and understanding, and the image must be fit for purpose.
Copying Styles, Treatments, and/or Plagiarism
Some images submitted have had post-production treatments that are similar to other well known images, including some successful Iris Awards images. Appreciation of others work is encouraged, as is experimentation and similar treatment may even be regarded as a form of flattery. Styles and treatments are always evolving, every print judging it is very exciting to see what new ideas people have come up with. However Q's are NOT print judging. What works in print judging may not convince a Q Panel. Q's are all about competency and meeting a minimum professional standard. Print judging is quite different and is about seeking new, unique work. The Q Panel does not expect to see award winning imagery.
Some submissions have included a number of very similar images. There are no hard and fast rules, but in general two versions/derivatives of the same subject should be avoided unless there are significant differences. If you have multiple images from the same client/shoot which are different, that is fine. The Q Panel wants to see a range of work. Putting in similar images however limits the panels ability to see a range of work, and they are likely to be more critical of them. Montages and multiple images such as triptychs are fine, but each is treated as a single image.
Inclusion of Artwork
The Panel is assessing your photographic skill, not your layout or graphic design skill. Your images should not include type, logos or artwork in them. If the image submitted does include additional elements the Q Panel will directed to assess the photographic image content only. If you wish you may also submit in addition to the image a tear sheet of the final usage with other elements included to demonstrate the actual use. This may be appropriate in cases such as image framing that may appear odd when the image is viewed alone but when viewed in context with the layout makes more sense.
Attention to Detail
Watch out for distracting or inappropriate elements in your images. Things such as reflections of your equipment or yourself. Also be aware of distracting elements that do not add to the images such as unnecessary power cords or clutter in interiors.