Know the Ropes
First and foremost, read the Terms and
Conditions, paying especially close attention to the "Additional Contest
Rules" section. These rules reveal much to the discerning contestant. For example,
our brief and simple terms state that only one image can be entered into the contest
© Danny Verhasselt
Therefore, if you enter many images consecutively, only the first is judged
in the contest. We regretfully pass over many great images each month because the
contestant obviously had not read this part of the rules.
Secondly, we evaluate the image against traditional standards of sharpness.
The picture, above all, needs to be in focus (or, if the picture features some blurriness,
it has to be a clearly intentional, artistic use of blur by the photographer). Photos
that suffer from camera shake or other focus mistakes are often eliminated very
early in the judging process.
We generally notice two levels of blur in the images submitted:
- Some photos are obviously, and unintentionally, blurry. If the blurriness is detrimental
to the photo, the image is usually eliminated early on.
There are many other photos which are just slightly out of focus, or soft. When
this appears to be unintentional and dissatisfying, the picture receives a lower
score. Only when other elements of the photo - such as its uniqueness - are remarkably
strong do we continue to leave it in the running.
Remember: sometimes softness is an attribute and not a problem. A perusal of the
winning images will show you that some photos can excel with a careful use of blur.
© W.J. Shattil
Picture Perfect Exposure
We understand at BetterPhoto that images look different from one computer
to another. What may be dark on a PC may appear extremely light on a Macintosh,
for example. Therefore, judging exposure takes a back seat to judging sharpness.
But it is still important.
Is it underexposed? Is the snow blue instead of white? Is the image faint and
hard to see? Does it look like it may have been a nice image before it was poorly
Does the photo show pleasing colors with clarity and correct exposure? Can you
make out the details in the shadows. Clarity and resolution of the photo - being
able to enjoy the details of an image - mean a lot to the judges. They look at how
well exposed the image is and, unless the photo is black and white, how well color
Get Digital, If Need Be
At times, a photo looks blurry after being captured with a digital camera or scanned. That is one reason why, whether you are a traditional
film photographer or a digital photographer, knowing your way around a simple software
program such as Adobe Photoshop will likely help you win.
© Darwin Wiggett
Learn how to do a slight
amount of digital sharpening after you scan, with a image-editing program such as
Adobe Photoshop; investigate the "Unsharp Mask" or "Smart Sharpen" functions in your software.
You should especially be careful to not overly compress a JPEG file when saving.
We recommend uploading images with the least amount of compression as your connectivity
can allow - if you are on slow connection, you may not be able to wait for a big
file to upload. In any case, settings above 8 (or 80% or the equivalent in your
software) are generally safe.
If you shoot film, learning the art of scanning is essential. The image must
look excellent on the Web. Dust, scratches, hair, and any other distracting elements
need to be eliminated. If your software features a Rubber Stamp (or Cloning) tool,
learn how to use it. You will also benefit by learning how to keep contrast from
increasing too much during the scanning process. If the lights get too light while
the darks get too dark, you have a problem and need to take steps to increase color
range (Hint: you may be able to salvage many photos using the Curves, Levels or
similar functions of your software.)
Also, make sure that you scan the area of your image and not its surrounding
borders. Try to not be overly concerned about getting every single square millimeter
of your picture, to the point where you actually end up including white or dark
lines around the photo. If you do, crop them before submitting the photo.
Get Creative / Be Artistic
When the judges vote, a few questions they ask include:
Does the photographer show an artistic eye?
Do they seem to notice the unique and the unusual and make the most of it?
Did the photographer use creative techniques to make an interesting effect?
This is all about the art of seeing - of being able to creatively notice the right
moment - as well as artistic treatment. A high voting score here represents an artist
who is aware of the unique colors and qualities to be found in light, as well as
noticing graphic elements such as lines, patterns, shapes, and forms.
Noticing and capturing the comical and humorous can also be helpful. Finding an
interesting, unique and original choice of subject, and going out on a limb, will
often result in some of the best pictures.
For example, an original use of the sepia tone effect, creative lighting, motion
blur, etc., will cause a photo to score higher. Framing the subject is another effective
way to treat it artistically.
Consider the overall clarity of meaning and focus of statement. When the photographer's
intention is clear and the main subject obvious, this can help make the photo a
Lastly, the photo should be balanced in composition (e.g. by use of the
Rule of Thirds or another compositional principle). Move in closer if you
need to. Make sure the horizon is level. Whenever possible, eliminate any extraneous
elements - such as annoying spot of glare, an unwanted tree branch or camera strap.
For more hints on what makes a good photo, review our
Top Ten Tips.
Name and Describe Your Photos
Sometimes it can be very difficult to figure out what to call a photo or what to
write in the description field when you upload. Although these words are nowhere
near as important as the image itself, we thought we would offer you
a few tips on titling and describing your images.
Don't Distract the Viewer
If you have read this far, you deserve a reward. Here are two things most people
1) The judges have generally learned to dislike borders. Borders are all too
often placed around mediocre photos in an attempt to "dress them up". If you are
considering a border, do what the judges do: examine the photo itself, critically
and exclusively. Hold up your hands and use your fingers to temporarily hide the
borders. If the photo does not stand on its own - without borders, then don't add
2) We certainly support putting your own copyright symbol on your photos.
However, if you are going to do this, try to keep the signature and copyright symbol
from becoming too distracting. One trick is to color your font so that it works
harmoniously with the other colors in your photo. Help your viewer keep his eye
on your main subject.
Please, No "Advertising"
Photos that show logos, brandnames, or trademarks are not allowed.
Study the Winners and Keep Your Chin
If you are still uncertain about what makes a winning contest photo, carefully review
the winners again and again. Ask yourself, why was this photo selected? What are
the top qualities about it?
Remember that you have a lot going for you at the BetterPhoto contest. Our judges
are dedicated to three things:
That means that we do not judge a picture poorly just because some photographers
would consider it a "less professional" subject (i.e. your cat, your kid). At the
same time, we do not punish good photographers for working hard to becoming great
(no handicaps, no separating the pros from the amateurs). We also do not hold it
against you if you artistically and skillfully employ digital tools.
- Judging images exclusively on quality
rather than on the name, skill, or equipment of the photographer.
- Being open
to all kinds of excellence, and
Refraining from photo snobbery.
Overall, we are looking for beautiful, truthful, and creative images.
Thanks again for your interest and enjoy the BetterPhoto.com Photo Contests.