Epic Failure


Click to enlarge: Flour Supplies [f/16, 1/80 sec, 30mm-e, ISO 200, Sony A700]. Tagged with
Bakery Goods
Click to enlarge: [f/7.1, 1/1600 sec, 28mm-e, ISO 200, Sony A700]. Tagged with
Waiting for Transport
Click to enlarge: Orderliness [f/13, 1/80 sec, 50mm-e, ISO 400, Sony A700]. Tagged with
Broom, Wall, Shoes
Click to enlarge: Milo [f/5, 1/20 sec, 16mm-e, ISO 800, Sony A700]. Tagged with
Makkah Hotel

Hint: Clicking on one of the images opens a window with a large version of the picture

Two months ago I had submitted 20x30cm prints of these images to a German photo competion with an open theme. The organizer of this competition is active in the DVF, the German Photography Association, so I see this as a serious event. Alas, today I received together with my prints the following sentences (in German):

“Regrettably, these images got the second to last rating of the competition. Reason: There is lacking an idea and the images are technically flawed. Additionally, with the exception of  “Bakery goods” there is not the least composition visible. To name only one example “Waiting for Transport”. Here 60% of the image are wasted. The competition image would consist only of the lower, dark path with the woman and the dog. Everything else only distracts from this subject and is completely uninteresting. Of course, this lower part should be exposed correctly. These defects are visible in all images. Exception: “Bakery Goods”. My question: How can the juror see the connection to this title/theme. From the shoes? From the broom? Again, the exposure here is incorrect respectively boring.”

Now I had made one error when sending in the prints, and that was mixing up the labeling attachments for “Orderliness” and “Bakery Goods”.  I am, however, not sure if images should be judged by or along their titles.

That aside, the verdict left me rather puzzled. I do thoroughly enjoy these my images, and in the case of “Waiting for Transport” (and as well the misnomed “Broom, Wall, Shoes”) I do see a composition and I believe that all parts of the picture are necessary and contribute to the image as a whole.

Is it possible that I simply chose the wrong competition for these images? And do I really have to to pimp my prints to a more saturated, contrasty style to meet the preferences of the jurors? I don’t think I want to.


  1. I guess it’s interesting to get a professional (?) review of ones photos (or it could be). Unfortunately, the review that you quote seem to confirm the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    I certainly also see a composition in the shots, which I sometimes like, sometimes not – but that’s the whole point for me.

    It’s hard to actually judge the exposure via the web, but for me the exposure of the “Broom, Wall, Shoes” seems to be just fine, while the shadows in the other shots could perhaps use a tad more light.

    Did you chose the wrong photos for the competition? It’s hard to judge, but I would say yes. Simply because the overall atmosphere of the photos is calm and a somewhat contained. Which means that they won’t stand a chance against “louder” shots.

    Thanks for sharing the comments, especially when they are so devastating! It’s just the same as with a camera: the text points both ways. What I find extremely unprofessional in the review is the way that it is phrased. For example, that he/she specifically mentions that your photos where ranked second to last. Is that an information that helps you in any respect? Nope, it’s just a condescending emphasis of the jurors dislike.

    Whatever, just put the prints up on your wall and enjoy!

    1. Thomas, getting a professional review of my work was the main driving force for participating – there are no prices set out for the winners anyway. What astonished me was that my images were met by educated, active photographers with so little understanding. So either they really suck – or the jury’s taste was unsurmountable different and one-sided (which I did doubt, at least up to now). Anyhow, an important experience, but not of the kind I’ll repeat too soon.

      1. If you ask me, your only blunder was the erroneous labels.

        The judge’s feedback demonstrates a dogmatic adherence to the rule of thirds no conception of negative space, and not even a basic understanding of how to read an image in terms of graphic elements. No visual artist qualified to be a competition judge would have written commentary as shallowly negative as that, even if it were merited, which I don’t think that they are.

        That said, I like the images, and “Waiting for Transport” and the one mislabeled “Bakery Goods” are my favorites.

        1. Rakesh, I’ve learned from that experience that it obviously is easy to organize a competition, but much more difficult to jury in an adequate way. The good thing is that this didn’t hit me in the beginning times of my photography, so it couldn’t affect me too severely.

  2. Markus, this Juror wouldn’t recognize a good picture if it bit him on the ass. He’s looking for clichés, and his comments about exposure and lack of “interest” indicate a stunning lack of sophistication. He’s got a rigid formula in mind and the last thing he wants to see is a direct and honest observation of the real world.

    It’s pretty easy to imagine what sort of picture and technical treatment he expects to see. It would be easy to game the system and make pictures that would be more to his liking, but why do bad work on purpose?

    This seems about par for the course in contest results. My advice is to regard “art” and “competition” as oil and water. Just concentrate on doing and improving your own efforts. Pay no attention to someone who thinks he already knows what photographs *should* look like.

    1. Carl, I admit I was stunned about the verve of disaffirmation here. It seems that the “system” in which someone was socialised also in terms of visual education just proliferates, and with it the expectation of what images have to look like.
      Up to now I steered clear of the kind of so-called peer jurying many of the social photo networks offer, as I felt that there are other factors important than the quality of the images. But it seems that one can hit blind spots even on completely different floors.

  3. An open theme competition doesn’t always mean the jurors are open minded about their perceptions or about what they are looking for. They appear to have a more narrow definition of “proper” composition, exposure and saturation then perhaps you or I would for an open theme.

    I do not know this organizer but it sounds as if they were looking for “pretty pictures.” If that’s the case, you either picked the wrong photos or perhaps the wrong competition.

    It would be interesting to see what the winners or best photos from the competition looked like. Is there a link to a web site where those would be displayed?

    Thanks for sharing this, Markus. The bottom line is these are your photos and if they speak to you and you are pleased with them then they are as they should be. Personally I like them…especially “Waiting for Transport.”

    1. Earl, I finally managed to assemble a page with the screenshots of the winning pictures here. Seems they were more open for heavy manipulation – the HDR variations are abundant. It was not like that in the selection of the previous rounds, otherwise I wouldn’t have submitted images at all.

      Good to read that we share a preference for “Waiting For Transport” – the image without composition and idea. For me it is complete in the way I framed and later fine-tuned it, and also in its quite dark appearance. Gaudy colors simply would be inappropriate for the situation.

      1. When I look at these winners the first thought were most were a photographic cliché with the creativeness that could have been copied from any of the thousands of cliché photo contest before them or from “how to” photographic instruction books. I got little sense of the heart or the soul of the artist.

        Thank-you for putting these “winning shots” together it tells much about the contest and the judges.

  4. Markus,

    I’m shocked by the harshness and lack of diplomacy of the reviewer’s statements. It sounds like this person has set himself/herself on a pretty lofty pedestal. I’m also shocked that you could possibly rank second from last in any photo competition so presumably there were just three entries. Perhaps your images belong more to a gallery or museum exhibition than a competition. In fact, I think that’s a good idea.

    Don’t be discouraged. You’ve got lots of fans out here and besides that, it’s your art, your expression and it really only needs to please you. Treat yourself and your family to a fabulous dinner and celebrate that, like Picasso, Dali and many other famous artists, musicians, architects, scientists, writers, etc., some people don’t understand your work.

  5. P.S. I forgot to tell you that I like these images. They need to be clicked on to enlarge in order to fully appreciate. On my computer, in the small size the impact is lost. Enlarged, each photo has a sense of mystery and/or surprise in it and provokes thought. I feel the thump of the flour sack and the calm patience of the lady waiting as well as a bit of puzzlement over the broom in the sand. Here’s to you!

    1. Martha, after having overcome the first disappointment I am certainly not discouraged. The rudeness of the critique makes it even easier to push it aside and continue with what I feel is good and right and appropriate, being it composition or exposure.

      That the images can be enlarged by click is something we call a well known fact in the UNIX operating system world: A simple fact, documented somewhere but not prominently, the experienced guys know it and the others learn it only by chance…
      I guess I should put a more prominent hint to the fact that basically all images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

  6. Markus, you need to follow your own heart in the making of your images. Never make images for other people–make them for yourself and if others like them…great! It is reasonable to read up on the juror or competition (if possible) and see what kind of things they are looking for–THEN, look through your work and see if there is something that already have that you think matches the criteria.

    I agree with the others that this criticism was very lacking in tact. I think all these pictures are fine, and in fact I very much like the broom picture. One thing I have learned from entering lots of competitions is that one person’s trash is another’s treasure–if you submit them to a different contest one of them might win. Jurors are very different. Don’t be discouraged!

    1. You are of course right, Eric, that I doesn’t make sense trying to create for others’ eyes and minds – and I simply wouldn’t even have the time for it, given that I wanted to do so.

      For me this was a valuable experience, and it taught me to be much more careful and picky when it comes to submitting images. Current mainstream at least in Germany prefers different images, not my relatively straightforward way of seeing and picturing.

  7. Wow! How wrong can one be in judging these photographs!

    I think one thing which probably affects the judging of pictures is the great abundance of photographs nowadays. The overuse of saturation, bokeh etc. – needed to gain attention – has resulted in a situation where thoughtful photographs can’t be appreciated any more.

    In a shouting match there are only losers…

    But you have your own audience for sure!

    My favorite of these is “Waiting for Transport”.

    1. “In a shouting match there are only losers…” – that one I like very much. Current trends like HDR or steam punk can often be summed up in the “shouting category”.

      What I was not aware before was the fact, that even experienced photographers – on of the jurors is 60+, and wrote for one of the larger amateur photography magazines in Germany already decades ago, are so almost captivated in such trends. Just have a look at the winning pictures here.

  8. You should only worry about whether your images please YOU, it really doesn’t matter too much beyond that.

    The judge’s arrogance is beyond belief. You might have been a beginner for all he/she knew and now you could be totally demotivated and ready to put your camera in the bin as a result of their rudeness.

    I gave up with camera clubs and competitions a long time ago. Once I’d worked out the formula to win it was just boring and not what I wanted to do with my photography. You just have to now what they want to see and as Carl wrote, that’s probably just cliches.

    You should probably be extremely flattered that your images came second from last as they obviously stood out from all the other entries!

    Some people have extremely closed minds, it makes me chuckle to think about the judges first reactions; one can imagine some sort of coronary fit! I got told once that if my picture was predominantly green, or blue, or some other such colour, that I should have sent it with a matching mount. The fact that I only like light neutral mounts didn’t matter.

    1. Colin, I certainly won’t repeat that excursion into the realm of competition too soon. Finding and applying the formula how to win would be a nice challenge, but as I don’t die of boredom usually, I will certainly find things worthier pursuing.

      The idea that “second to last” means extraordinaryness has its charm! Maybe I should revise my decision then and submit another batch – and beforhand bying stocks of Sandoz or the like…

  9. Hi, Markus,

    Congratulations on not winning the contest. From the judge’s comments, I’d say you’ve had a lucky escape. “Cretinous” barely begins to describe them.

    Nice pix!


  10. Well, you already know what I think of your work, so there is no reason for me to comment on the juror. You have a quiet way of looking at your world, which is very, very beautiful. You do not need to worry about what they said. I do understand your desire for useful feedback, but it doesn’t look like you are going to get it from them.

    1. Chris, this certainly was a harsh way to learn about the incompatibility between the mainstream jurors and their preferences for effects and photoshopped imagery and my kind of photography.
      But my interest in photography and images is as big as ever – no damage here – and with that I can accept this as ‘lesson learned’ and continue on the way that I feel is right for me. Certainly Robert Frost’s poem about the “road less traveled” can come to mind here.

  11. Arghhhh… I couldn’t stand looking at the “winning photographs”, I had a strong aversion reaction and immediately closed the browser window.

    Here are two quotes from the book “Art and Fear”, which I think fit here.

    First, referring to critics and galleries: “risk rejection by exploring new worlds, or court acceptance by following well-explored paths. […] the real question about acceptance is not whether your work will be viewed as art, but whether it will be viewed as your art.”

    And another: “The world we see today is the legacy of people noticing the world and commenting on it in forms that have been preserved. Of course it is difficult to imagine that horses had no shape before someone painted their shape on the cave walls, but it is not difficult to see the world became a subtly larger, richer, more complex and meaningful place as a result.”

    This quote fits also your work, Markus.

    1. Juha, just a week ago I bought “Art and Fear” after you had mentioned it again in your blog. Due to the usual pre-christmas-office-and-family-turmoil, it’s still unread on my desk. But as there’s some travel ahead, it shouldn’t take long until I start with it. Your quotes here made me even more curious. Especially the term “subtle” in the last one is what gives me reassurance – it’s not only the loud and radical voice that matters in the long term.

  12. No hurry… I owned this book for some time before starting to read it. It doesn’t spoil.

    But it is remarkable how much quotable sentences there are in “Art and Fear”. Here is one more which I found today when opening the book: “Unfortunately, healthy artistic environments are about as common as unicorns. We live in a society that encourages competition at demonstrably vicious levels, and sets a hard and accountable yardstic for judging who wins. […] Taken to extremes, such competition slides into needless (and often self-desctructive) comparison with the fortunes of others.”

  13. “Waiting for Transport” and the Broom are both 1st place winners as far as I’m concerned. I entered a contest and ,y photos were refused because i did not have a “proper name” for them. I used names like “Tree #37” or “Broom #34”. I don’t enter contests anymore.

    1. Ken, I have to admit that I was astonished about the importance of the names. In photojournalism it is clear that photograph and caption form a union, but in “free” photography? A colleague of mine suggested to use hex numbers in future 😉

    1. Thank, Colin. Drawing the right conclusions from rejection is important – and needs a reasonable self-esteem, which Cole Thompson explains very well. In analog times, competitions et.al. were one of the rare means to show your work, so the situation certainly was more difficult than now, where everybody can have her own place of exhibition on the net. Juha pointed to the book “Art and Fear”, which articulates similar lines of thought as Thompson does. Both offer a great deal of relativism both re. applause and rejection, and encouragement when it comes to following one’s own path.

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