How an audience responds to an image depends on their past experiences, interests, and what it is they are looking for.
This is why the same picture often receives a variety of responses from different viewers.
There s a marked difference in photography between seeing and looking. Snapshots see the world. Selfies see the world. Good photographs look carefully at it. They pick out the details of a scene, they look for the contrasts, the beauty and the humor in everyday life.
Every photo submitted to a contest needs to have been from looking at the scene and crafting an image. It might take a microsecond to look and to feel a scene—this is true of the worlds best sports photographers—but it took a lifetime of trying to look in order to be able to do it in an instant.
If a photograph doesnt convey attention or intent, then its not going to win. Judges can feel the intent of a photo (or the lack of it). The winning photos often hit us the second we see them. The job of the photograph is to carry the emotion of the creation of art, and we can feel if a photograph is missing that intent.
MAKE SURE YOUR PHOTOS ARE IN FOCUS
This rule seems so obvious that most people will skip past this but stick with me. Not only do we get photos that are completely out of focus—there isnt a focus point anywhere in the photo—we get them where the wrong thing is in focus.
COMPOSITION, COMPOSITION, COMPOSITION
The winning photos in contests are well composed, either through purposeful setup or through simply having a good eye when the photo is captured. Poor composition will result in elimination, even if the rest of the photo is amazing.
Be wary of distracting elements in a photo—tree limbs, lampposts, stray hairs (that’s really important in portrait and wedding contests), other people, etc.
Learn about the Rule of Thirds, and when to break it. Many times, the winning photos in a contest are those that successfully flout conventions, but do so in a way thats intriguing, not off-putting. A crooked horizon works if it adds to the photo, it doesnt work if its accidental. Likewise, an object blocking part of the frame works if its put there intentionally and contextualizes the photo.
A lot of photography is about what is not in a photo.
By Koos Fourie