Archive for 2010
Moms with Cameras Features Lori Nordstrom, who Dishes on Print Competitions and Gives Big Props to Catherine Hall!
*A version of this article was originally published at moms-with-cameras.com
Lori Nordstrom is an amazing educator, print judge and quite the photogra-momma! Here, she shares with us some of her expertise as well as encouragement!
Print competition can be a bit scary the first time. Well, let’s face it… it’s scary every time! While we put our emotions, and at times our self-worth on the line for the judges, after competing a few times you’ll find it addicting! Print competition will move you forward as a photographer and artist. Each time you perfect a print and then open it up for critique, you will learn and grow. Print competition and critique is a learning experience in itself. I highly recommend attending a print competition, listening to the judges and learning.
There are many competitions out there, and one of the most “competed” and researched photographers I know is Catherine Hall http://www.catherinehall.net/weddings/index.html. Catherine has competed in most print competitions out there and has even published a book on competitions, schedules, rules, etc.
For this discussion we will focus on PPA’s (Professional Photographers of America) print competition. Through PPA you will compete first on the state level, next regionals and then on to nationals. Each level propels to the next. At the state level you compete not only to learn and grow but for state awards. It’s recommended that the prints that do well move on, and that you take critique and recommendations to perfect prints or try new ones at the regional level. Each time you enter be sure to “fill your case”. Many state competitions allow more than the traditional four prints so that 6-8 can be judged and critiqued. Take advantage of this if it’s an option. Four prints are allowed at the regional and national level. Don’t send less than four! I made this mistake my first year of competition and only entered two prints. I didn’t know any better!
PPA has given us 12 elements of a “merit” print. These are prints that are considered above average and worthy of a merit (prints that score 80 or above). As a judge we are to start at 100 (as a score) and then take points off for “issues”. We are also taught in “judges school” to really examine and look closely at images for flaws. It’s a judges responsibility to be able to communicate the problems as well as the positives. Be sure to take anything the judges bring up and remember those things when you are in similar circumstances. I can think of many things I’ve heard in print comp, even when it’s not my image! I think about those things when I’m out shooting and make sure to pay close attention to them. You will move forward and your client will benefit from all that you learn through print competition.
The 12 elements of a “merit print” as defined by PPA’s Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) are as follows:
- Technical excellence
- Print Presentation
- Center of Interest
- Subject Matter
- Color Balance
- Story Telling
A successful print must have each of these elements and they are listed according to importance. Good luck in your print competitions and be sure to go through this check list before entering! It’s also really helpful to send prints to someone who is a Master Photographer, or a PEC judge for critique before entering. Take suggestions and make changes where you can, and overall, believe in what you love and feel passionate about!
Lori sweetly answers a few questions about Print Competition:
When you enter print competition each year, how do you decide which images to enter? What advice can you offer to those who may be entering for the first time and don’t know where to start? The very best thing you can do is to find a mentor. Someone who is a master photographer and has earned their stripes that you can email your images over to and ask for honest critique. Don’t enter something that’s too personal. Don’t enter your kids (in most circumstances!). Start with images that you feel are technically strong and work on them to make them stronger. Look for the little details that can make a huge difference before the judges.
I know you often enter albums for competition. Why have you chosen to go this route over individual images? Do you think it is easier or harder to do this? Most would say it’s harder to enter an album because it represents a body of work and not just one image that you can work on to make amazing. I feel that my work, and what I do, tells a story. So, to me an album makes perfect sense. When entering albums, be sure that lighting and color is consistent. There should be several images that can stand alone. In other words, in the end of it, a judge will look back and say how many of these images would be merits on their own, and how well does it all flow and fit together. The same elements of a merit print stand in an album, but when working this way you have to pay even closer attention to the story and emotion.
I know photographers are a little split on this topic. Some photograph specifically for competition images. Others feel you should enter what you photograph from day to day. Do you have a particular opinion on this? I think there are benefits to both. I personally have never photographed for competition. It doesn’t mean that I never will! In the past however, I’ve looked for images that I love and then worked to perfect them. I like the idea of shooting for competition because it pushes you as you look for all of the elements. I love having digital as a tool. Shooting, checking it out and then perfecting as you go. I think this is a great way to learn and grow as a photographer.
What did you do the first time one of your images won an award? My first competition was a result of sending an image for a client to have printed by Lou Zoke. I met Lou at a week-long workshop and saw some of his black and white printing (film at the time!). I was so impressed that I sent him a few pieces to try out his work. Lou called me after receiving one of the prints and recommended that I enter it in print competition. I had no idea what that was or what it meant, but I decided to go for it! I only entered one print (not knowing any better) and ended up winning several awards with it. I really didn’t understand the process or what any of it meant. If I won the awards today that I won then, I would be jumping up and down and squealing! lol I definitely was hit with the bug at that competition and began entering a “full case” after that. By entering at each level (state, regional and then on to national) I was able to earn my Masters degree very quickly.
Any advice to photographers who may have a rough go the first time in competition? How do you suggest they go about dusting themselves off and going at it again? Every experience is a learning experience. I’ve had competitions where I haven’t done well. I remember one in particular where I sat in the back of print judging and cried. I can remember having the feeling that day that I wasn’t any good and wanted to quit! Another photographer talked to me that day and reminded me that while print competition pushes and challenges you, it’s not what pays the bills. Always try to learn something from the judges and their comments.
How I expanded my aperture priority horizons to include manual camera settings.
For the past decade, I’ve enjoyed a long, monogamous relationship with aperture priority settings. My modus operandi is a 3.2 aperture and 1/100th shutter speed. I thought I’d spend a lifetime with AP–and then came along my new lighting director with his off-camera flash units in tow. What I love about my Canon ETTL is its camera flash auto-metering–it’s been years since I touched my light meter. But the incorporation of detached strobes into my photographer’s toolkit necessitated dredging up the light meter from the (well-organized, neat-freak, immaculate) recesses of my lovely San Francisco Bay Area studio. Once my lighting director and I began experimenting, however, I realized that working in a manual setting is a blast–it challenges me to see in deeper, more nuanced ways, allows me to exercise more control over my photography, and provides increased consistency with my images. It’s also easy.
The digital camera exposure viewing capability coupled with the histogram allows me to take test shots, make adjustments, and modify my exposure using a basic conversion chart. Although I don’t rely exclusively on manual, folding it into my repertoire has expanded my skill set. I feel more confident and empowered as a photographer. Considering making the great leap to manual settings? See my forthcoming Lighting Journey blog that provides some hot tips for photographers old and new, released next Wednesday, July 14.
Top Ten Reasons Why Alyssa’s and Brett’s Wedding Was Perfect
1) Sleek, glamorous uptown Manhattanites convening in the quaint, wine-country town of Yountville, CA (where there’s not even a gas station).
2) The bride Alyssa’s stunning “Eleanor” Fall 2010 Vera Wang wedding gown: “Strapless drop-waist full A-line gown with feathered tulle flower embroidery, and re-embroidered buttons on back bodice.”
3) Despite being super-hip New Yorkers, the guests defied stereotypes with their warmth and generosity.
4) The groom Brett and his three, almost-grown-up sons were open and loving with one another. It’s obvious that this father treasures his family, and even more obvious that his sons admire and adore Brett.
5) Legs, legs, legs. I joked with Alyssa that a requisite for being on their guest list must have been, well, being gorgeous. (My boyfriend Ryan attended the wedding with me and was delighted by the attractive, toned company–I had to play-punch him in the arm a few times.)
6) All-around accomplished bride who is an every-angle amazing human being. I mean, it’s not just any woman who can pull off a heart of gold, to-die-for bone structure, fine taste, and an appointment to the Board of Visitors of the Duke Engineering School.
7) Rehearsal dinner speeches that begin not with a groom’s roast, but rather a grateful acknowledgement of the powerhouse wedding coordinator Cay Lemon and the photographer.
8) Cay Lemon is a red-headed dynamo with superb managerial skills and a soothing demeanor–meaning, she carried out her job duties to the letter, while still keeping the vibe relaxed and celebratory. Not an easy job. I was so struck by Cay’s uniqueness, that I even did an impromptu, mini photo shoot with her! (Images to come!)
9) The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The groom, groom’s father, and groom’s three sons all exhibit a strong patrilineal trait: being ladies’ men. These guys exude irrepressible, make-you-weak-in-the-knees, epic charm.
10) Wedding-photographer referrals! Alyssa and Brett came to me based on the recommendation of my previous clients, the delightful Keisha and Troy.
Officiant: Reverend Peadar Dalton with Your Ceremony Matters | Designer: Julie Stevens with Julie Stevens Design | Hair & Makeup: Betten Chaston with Betten Make-Up & Hair | Lighting: BluePrint Studios & Got Light
How I squelched my fear of using strobe on-site.
In the wedding-photography industry, the use of natural lighting is the norm. I’m interested in changing that. By incorporating artificial lighting techniques into my repertoire, I am able to share with my clients the gift of visual depth, saturation, and drama–something I couldn’t always otherwise achieve if I weren’t getting cozy with strobe. Given my all-over-the-place, a-hundred-miles-a-minute schedule, it’s been challenging to carve out time to sit down and learn how to use new lighting tools. That’s where the hire of a Lighting Director re-focused and re-directed my photography career.
When on-site at a photo shoot, adrenaline floods my body. My work day is marked by a sense of intensity, urgency, and hyper-vision (and, obviously, pleasure from doing the thing that I love most). Working with artificial light only ups the ante.Despite all of the test shoots leading up to my first use of strobe out in-the-field, when the big day came around, I was a nervous wreck. A total contrast to my typical California-girl cool.My nervousness translated into clumsiness. During my first round of shots for a new corporate client, I completely forgot that my lighting director synced my camera to fire the strobes–resulting in overexposed, barely recoverable images. I felt heart-racing panic. (My emotional state wasn’t helped by the artistic director who was breathing down my neck, watching my every move.)
Yet as a Bikram yoga devotee of three years, I’ve developed a knack for breathing through fear and intensity. For those of you unfamiliar with Bikram, just imagine you’re in a room heated to 100+ degrees, contorting your body into positions with names like camel and cricket. Now, imagine you’re in this scenario and somehow achieving a meditative head-space. This is the practice of yoga. With measured inhalations and exhalations, I summoned my resolve and returned to the moment–the most important thing was my client, and focusing on my own fear wasn’t helping them. I asked my lighting director to give me a meter reading and returned to the fray. My next images? Total Rembrandt. The results were rich with texture and depth–dare I say, jaw-dropping?
It turns out that using lighting in the field makes my experience as a photographer more dynamic–rather than relying on old tricks, I’m stimulated by the synthesis of new techniques into my skill set. Not to mention that my clients receive images with a quality that exceeds their expectations.
And the Lowepro Bag Winner Is…
What a great response to my giveaway offer–thank you to everybody who participated in the contest. In order to win a free Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW shoulder bag, I asked folks to craft a striking, vivid description of their favorite photograph of all time. Wow, you people are writers! What lush, evocative descriptions–not to mention tastefully chosen images. Some of my favorite comments included:Trey Ratcliff’s stunning “An Icelandic Horse in the Wild” leaves John Martin awe-struck. Shawn Reeder described “In the Early Light,” focusing on the joy of finding the perfect vista on Shuteye Ridge. Andy Macpherson finds inspiration in “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” by Charles Ebbets. A wedding image by Joe Buissink wows Bryn Clark. VeroG, Dave Krepps, William, and Alicia Sisk all chose to describe images by–well–moi! Thanks, guys.
As difficult as it was to choose, I narrowed down my favorite entry to Darren Su’s. His intimate description evokes the cultural and historical nostalgia of family. Please see Darren’s winning entry and the accompanying image below:I never met my grandfather, because he died just a few years after taking this amazing color photo of my mom and grandmother in 1949. These are two of the most precious people in the world to me, and here they are in their youth sharing a truly magical and wonderful moment surrounded by brilliant color and light so many years ago. My grandfather’s award winning photographs are like a window in time. They have been a huge source of inspiration for me as a photographer.