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How to win wedding photography awards

Benjamin Brette Real life behind the magic
25-12-2018 12:00:00 a.m.

jesus ochoa fearless award

Fearless Award by Jesus Ochoa

Despite the clickbait title, I will not reveal a method to win wedding photography awards. 1st of all because there is no method  ! Maybe you’ll learn how to avoid losing (hint: follow the rules )
Those who follow my work know that I do a few (some say a lot). Just have a look to my page dedicated to these contests to see that I play a lot…. I think these contests are because I am convinced that it is one of the best ways to progress. By confronting his work with the whole world of wedding photography is the only way not to rest on its laurels. Of course what matters first is customer satisfaction, but we know very well that the affect that is put in their own wedding photos necessarily bias judgment. If we win international awards, it is because our work also has value for people who are not involved in the photos. So, when one is involved AND the photo is strong and solid, then it is the perfection for the customer.
The wedding photos contests I regularly attend are:

– Fearless Awards (international)
– ISPWP (international)
– WPJA (international)
– WPS Excellence Awards (international)
– And the newcomer Regard d’Auteur, from the French site of the same name (french)

 

Fearless Award by Making the Moment

 

Recently I had the great privilege to discover the other side of the mirror : I became a judge for 2 of these prestigious competitions. WPS and Fearless Awards.
First of all, I repeat my huge gratitude to the leaders of these two organizations (high five Huy and Darius) for trusting me. It touches me and honors me a lot.
Before I start judging, I admit that I’m really excited, I’ll finally know how it goes behind the scenes.
In this post, you’ll know we proceed, just to demystify a little because we read and hear a lot of mistakes, it is a very passionate subject.

 

ronan jeagaden WPS excellence award

WPS Excellence Award by Ronan Jegaden

 

Wedding Photography Select

Collection 29, have a look here

I was judge for this contest last fall. Nearly 3000 photos are sent to the judges. We are 4 and do not know each other. We do not even know who is a judge, we learn it at the end of the voting process. On this contest, judges can participate. Obviously the system is well done we can not vote for our own images. The 3000 photos are available on a website, on different pages that are displaying 50 photos at a time. We must then and rate the pictures, from 1 to 5 stars. We can get an idea of the opinion of the other judges because the average of their votes is displayed via the stars. For example, if I am the 3rd to rate the photo, the 1st has put 1 star, the 2nd has put 5, then photo get 3 stars (average rate, 60%) before my vote. After my vote, the rate change, and the new score is now visible for the 4th judge. You have to be very careful because once you click , no way to change your vote. We have no instructions and are 100% free of our choices. It is up to us to apply OUR own principles and OUR own reading grids. Even for the number, we are free. In the end, only photos that have collected at least 65% are awarded. There will be 270 left, out of the 3000 starting, or 9%.

 

luis efegenio wps excellence award

WPS Excellence Award by Luis Efigénio

 

 

Fearless Awards

Collection 41 have a look here

Fearless is the king contest, the most popular. It has a crazy influence. Winning the title of Fearless Photographer of the Year radically changes his career. This year, Isabelle Hattinck won and became Fearless Photographer of the Year 2017. Congratulations to her, it’s totally deserved !
For this contest the method is quite different. Huy N’Guyen, the boss of Fearless, publicly designates the judges. We are 3 .We get 9358 photos. Instructions are given to select about 100-300. Wow, it looks complicated ! First I do “editing in” instead of “editing out, which means that I focus on the ones I want to keep instead of focusing on those to reject. I proceed with Lightroom  (flag, stars, colors …) After many sorts, I arrive at 196, it’s perfect, but it’s a real heartbreaker. So many good pictures that I had to put aside.
I send these pictures to Huy. My colleagues do the same and a few days later we get a link to vote for the aggregated set of our images. There are 540.
We must rate them from 0 to 2. Only photos with 4, 5 or 6 points are awarded. Here again, so sad to reject some killer shots I was believing in ! At the end of the process, there are 218. 218 out of 9358 of the start.
That’s 2.3% … that’s the level of difficulty! Some people win 3 or 4 awards on the same round. If I remember my probability classes, for 3 awards, the probability is around  0.001%, 1 chance out of 100000 …

 

Leonard Walpott Fearless Award

Fearless Award by Leonard Walpot

 

 

Selection criteria

 

Although we had wild card to judge, I decided, for the 2 competitions, to go with the same process.
I first apply my elimination criteria:

First of all the “cheaters”:

– photos obviously made with professional models (be smart guys, we spot it)
– clever people who send 2 times the same picture under 2 different names !
– photo montages and other composites.

Then the photos that are imperfect:

– portraits with poses that are too common (2 silhouettes face to face for example)
– images where the only subject is the photographer’s technique
– mutilations, like finger tips that are missing because of the framing
– photos showing too many people not involved in the main action
– images whose technical quality is insufficient (focus, speed, DOF…)
– over post processed images, like the too violent pushing ( calm down, 5 or 6 stop to push an underexposed face, makes ugly results ! )
– images not wedding related (sometimes, it’s impossible to be sure the photo was done at a wedding)

And finally those that are not my “cup of tea”, because of their own kind :

– drone images, which I often find a little annoying. I see too many photos who are looking the same, like couple laying on the ground…
– images of brides in the toilets. No ! Peeing is not Fearless. The Queen of England pees too!
– details shots (wedding rings, dresses etc …), because I prefer picture with life
– sexist photos, like the bride in lingerie with the groom dressed in position of “superiority”

 

Marga Marti fearless award

Fearless Award by Marga Marti

 

Once all these images are removed, there are still many, thousands, and that’s where the real party begins. It is a real torture. So many quality images I have to reject ! I decide to focus on real moments, pure reportage, because that is what makes sense for me. That means that the portraits are not my priority and even less the “fake” moment. However, I do not close myself and if a portrait is really crazy by its light, its composition, then I select it. I’m happy to have a lot of good surprises. There are several photos that are not in my personal style that I select.
I apply this technique throughout the different stages, from the 1st sort to the final vote.

 

Marga Marti fearless award

Fearless Award by Franck Boutonnet

 

 

Bias and anonymity

In both cases, the photos are presented anonymously. It should be impossible to recognize them. The file name must be “neutral”, no watermark, nothing distinctive. It is globally respected. Of course some people forget to respect these rules. They are put aside. Dura lex, sed lex.
However strict anonymity is impossible. Our world of wedding photographers is a microcosm and sometimes we recognize the image of a fellow friend, or we recognize the someone’s characteristic style. This is where you have to be vigilant. No, we do not vote for friends and, on my side, I even try to be more severe with my friends images, not to arouse any slightest suspicion. However, it remains extremely unlikely. First of all, because we do not know everyone, these are world competitions. For Fearless on the nearly 9500 images, I recognized 50-60 photos maximum. I have even thought of someone and realized, once the results were published, that it was not the person I was thinking about ! But the main reason, is that there is thousands of really good photos, no need to cheat.
On the other side, it may happen that, during the last deliberations, we favor a new image instead of one having already won many other awards.
Yes, there are bias, but they are absolutely tiny. Strict objectivity is a chimera, we are not algorithms. But you must know that you do not win these awards just because the judges are voting for their friends. And especially not when,  months after months, the same people are rewarded by constantly renewed juries. Winning an award REALLY means that you’re a very talented photographer.

 

davina kudish fearless award

Fearless Award by Davina Kudish

 

In the end, I realized that the level is incredibly high. I was thinking there was deforming prism, because I see in this kind of images days after days on social networks (the famous filter bubble). Well no, wedding photography is REALLY an incredibly inventive world full of super talented people. On all the images sent (I say sent, the thousands at the beggining), at least 80% are very good images. Today we are light years away from what it was only 5-6 years ago.
This is really a great news for our customers, the offer of good wedding photographers on the market is huge.
On the photographers side, if you want to win awards, the competition will be more and more difficult, years after years. This is what will give even more value to these competitions.
Is not that what we call a virtuous circle?

These 2 experiences were incredible for me. It highlights so much about our job, it’s so rewarding (and also so hard and frustrating), thank you Huy and Darius for trusting me.
I know this article will be mainly read by wedding photographers. Sorry guys, the title was misleading, I did not pretend to tell you how to win wedding photography awards, but now you know at least what’s going on in ONE judge’s mind.
Future bride and groom, I strongly recommend you to take a look at these competitions, when choosing your future wedding photographer. Now you know the real difficulty to win wedding photography awards,  you are very likely to find someone talented in all of his work.

Thank you to all awarded wedding photographers for allowing me to use their incredible images on this post.

 

Fearless Award by Carlos Negrin

 

Fearless Award by Marieke Lodder

 

Fearless Award by Rino Cordella

 

Fearless Award by Three Owls Studio

 

WPS Excellence Award by William Lambelet

 

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