I have been taking a greater interest personally in portrait photography more than any other genre of photography since I have started the course, in particular A2 ‘Collecting‘ of Expressing Your Vision, so I have pursued this aspect further in my own time and dedicated a fair bit of resource to it and am posting this as a partial ‘reworking’ opportunity for A2.
The main ways I believe you can improve yourself is to try new things, open yourself up to critique and to challenge yourself to perfection. As a result I decided to enter a portrait competition with LensCulture
There are so many competitions out there for photographers, I now realise, so you need to be selective with which you enter otherwise you could be throwing money down the drain. A lot of the competitions you have to pay for entry so you need to be sure that what you are entering is worth your time. I specifically chose the student 5+ single image package so I could get critique on my images. I was using the submission more as a learning opportunity than a chance to win a competition. I paid $35 USD (£29.67 GBP) to enter.
I had been receiving emails from LensCulture which were very informative and seemed to cover a wide range of photography related issues, so I decided I would enter my images to this global competition.
The images I entered are below:
Needless to say I didn’t win (the winners can be found here) but all the communications I received from LensCulture have been professional, encouraging and supportive. I didn’t feel I had ‘lost’ more that there were just better entries on the day. I was surprised as I thought it would be more dog-eat-dog. For this approach to their communications I give total respect to Lens Culture.
And it didn’t stop there the critique I received yesterday was in the same vein and is pasted verbatim below. I am really pleased with the encouragement given to me to improve, which will drive me on, together with links to further reading and other photographers to research. If you are thinking of entering a competition then I would highly recommend Lens Culture for sure.
Hello Elisabeth, thank you for submitting your photographs to the 2017 LensCulture Portrait Awards in the singles category! It is my pleasure to review your submission. Although your photographs are reviewed and judged as individual images, my comments may draw comparisons between the photographs you have submitted. Below I have noted some strengths, questions, and areas for improvement I noticed across your submission:
Generally, I actually feel your images are quite strong technically, and would push you to consider how your images function conceptually. What is the content you are attempting to achieve in each image? How is the making of each image related to the person pictured?
Image #1: Stylistically, this image resembles a glamour, fashion photograph. The focus in this image is very soft. Are you using auto or manual focus here? I feel this image would benefit from a sharper focus.
Image #2: This image is really beautifully focused on the eyes. The color, framing, and exposure are all strong. It reads as a high school graduation portrait.
Image #3: Liz’s expression and the vantage point at which you are making this photo are both strengths in the image. She appears to be looking up hopefully toward something. It is an image of inspiration. One question I always have for digital images cropped into a square is: “How does this formal decision reflect the conceptual motivations for the image?”
Image #4: The composition, color and gaze of your subject are all strengths in this image. It reads as a studio portrait of a magician, or stage actress. The framing in this image is distracting in that the hat gets so close to the top edge of the frame, which produces a visual tension. Pay particular attention to where your subjects are cropped and cut off at the edges of the image. While sometimes unintentional, or unavoidable, these decisions can appear random, strange or aggressive depending on the subject impacted. When a portion of your subject is cut off, it can also have the unintended consequence of leading a viewer’s eyes out of the image, instead of keeping them visually engaged for a longer period of time.
Image #5: Lois’s eyes are captivating in this image. Your exposure is strong here, and the tones are nicely balanced. One question I always have for contemporary work done in black and white, is, “How does this aesthetic decision function conceptually?” Why make these images in black and white instead of color?
Are you familiar with the work of Melanie Schiff? If not, I think you might be interested in researching her work: http://www.melanieschiff.net/
You might also be interested in the work of Viviane Sassen and Zanele Muholi:
Additionally, I have linked some resources below, which I hope will help guide your photographic practice. Generally, I find your portraits compelling and hope you continue to photograph individuals who speak to you visually. Thanks again for sharing your work with us Elisabeth, and enjoy your future image-making explorations.
Recommended Books & Photographers
- The Photograph as Contemporary Art, by Charlotte Cotton
- The Artist Statement: How and Why to Write Yours by Jennifer Schwartz
- Ways of Seeing, by John Berger
Portfolio Reviews & Festivals
Recommendations for Gaining Exposure
- New York Times Lens blog for documentaty and photo journalism stories. Get familiar with the photographers own statements and captions is some of the war torn countries with recovering refugee’s.
- The Poetry of the Surface: Craftsmanship and Materiality in Photography
- National Geographic photographers
Relevant Quotes from Past Jurors
- “Editing is essential and good sequencing certainly helps with my selection. My mantra is less is more. Include only your best pictures — anything else will weaken the submission.” — Elisabeth Biondi, Visuals Editor, Indepedent Curator, New York City, USA
- “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” â€“ Marcel Duchamp
- “When I judge a contest I look for photographs that make me feel something. Anything. I also look for stories that are original. I see thousands of stories a year and most are sadly quite similar. So a story that I haven’t seen before, or a unique approach to a story that I have seen before goes very, very far. Take chances!” — James Estrin, Co-Editor, New York Times Lens Blog, New York City, USA
(2017) LensCulture, Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/ (Accessed: 01/05/2017).
(2017) LensCulture 2017 Portrait Awards Winners and Finalists, Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/2017-lensculture-portrait-award-winners (Accessed: 01/05/2017).
(2017) A2 Collecting, Expressing Your Vision, Available at: https://liz515728.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/assignment-two-collecting-the-end/ (Accessed: 01/05/2017).