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Insights on judging Fearless awards

Collection 48 of fearless awards is out. This is the first collection of 2019 and we are already seeing some amazing work. Congratulations to all the winners and to photographers who made into honorable mention as well. So good to see so many new faces this time submitting kick ass work. This is a first time I became curator for a fearless collection and it was a wonderful experience. I wanted to put down my insights of judging fearless awards for helping other photographers. I myself have won 9 fearless awards and some honorable mentions. I can surely vouch that winning a fearless award is not an easy task; judging fearless awards is equally difficult as well. The submitted set of images were so diverse that I got to learn so much about photographers and about myself as well.

To start with there were more than 9000+ entries. The curators were divided into three groups, each group having two curators judging 3000 images in the first phase. In this phase we had filter out good images from that set. This was relatively easier.

The next stage was of about 1100+ images. Our responsibility was to collectively select fearless award winning images through all the 1100+ images through the rating process. This is where things start to become difficult. So essentially you can think of this stage as selecting the purest of diamonds from a bag of diamonds.  Every judge, curated photographs independent of others. I am going to put my thoughts together on how I judged the images. Other judges may have employed a different methodology.

1) Composition, Cropping and Editing: The first thing I looked for was composition and cropping. I believed this is one thing surely in photographers control. Was the camera at the right place where it should have been? If there were possibilities of improvements in camera position, composition or cropping, the photograph was ranked with lower points. Similarly how to edit an image, is a decision that photographer makes. Though this is subjective and more personal however I looked if there were improvements that could be made like cleaner brush strokes, bad dodge and burn, bad contrast levels, too saturated, colors not working etc.

2) Lighting, moment and Story: How is the lighting? Does the light works with the mood or the emotion that the photo is trying to convey? How strong is the moment? Does the photograph makes me feel the moment? If it is fun / humor, does it bring smile on my face? How strongly does it make me feel the emotion? Is the story complete? Why is it, the way it is?

3) Photo gods: Is there something extra in the image that makes it unique? Does everything in the photograph comes together harmoniously?

And then I kept on asking yourself again and again, Is this a fearless award winning image? and sometimes when I did see some flaw in an amazing image, I asked myself the other way around as well: Is the flaw so bad that this image must not be awarded? With every image I asked myself does it successfully conveys the emotions or the energy or the feelings that were there? Is the message that was photographed intact OR does it gets lost?

From the submitted list of images there were few common trends that I noticed:
1) Cutting subjects heads: There were a lot images where the heads were cropped off. I believe there has to be very strong reason for doing that. So for every such I asked myself, why? Does the heads being in the image, takes away from the story that it is trying to convey? Are the heads cut at the right place? Unfortunately when you start seeing a lot of such images, the winning image has to really stand out.

2) Groom’s shadow (or in the shadow) and bride is in the light: Yes, we all love our brides but do we not love our grooms? Is there a strong reason for creating silhouette of the groom? Again, when there are so many similarly styled images, only top 0.5% may be able to make it.

3) Teary eyed: We all love emotional images don’t we. When you are in the moment, try to document the complete story. As a viewer, I want to know what is going on, why the person is crying. Unless the content itself is visually stunning, without story the image would feel incomplete.

4) Reflections: Personally I would be very careful submitting reflection images for fearless awards. More often than not I find reflections as gimmicks & taking away from the story. Very rarely reflections work cohesively with the message the image is trying to convey. Be very cautious.

In addition, here are some articles that I was able dig out regarding fearless judging. These may be useful as every judge is different and sees things differently.

Katrin Kuellenberg:

Lisa carpenter:


Melissa Suneson:

Marieke Zwartscholten:

From the set of images, I came to know that I get attracted towards complex images with more people, images with layering and images having strong emotions. Here are some of my favorite images from the collection.

Marta May
Image by Marta May

I think this image is love at first side. It made me laugh. The image tells me how it tasted like. Love, love love!

Image by Wouter Colen
Image by Wouter Colen

This image by Wouter Colen is a well done shot. To me it shows that you can get opportunities to create brilliant image almost anywhere. The expressions, the struggle, the laughter, having a little window frame at the bottom and the sides, all tells me more and more about the scene. Instant favorite.

Image by Yuan Man
Image by Yuan Man

This image my Yuan Man made me smile. I think a good image is the one which makes you understand what is going on. Even though I have not shot such ritual myself but by looking at this image I can understand what is going on. The expressions are spot on.

Image by Rafa Cucharero
Image by Rafa Cucharero

I was absolutely stunned by this image by Rafa Cucharero. So much happening, corner to corner. This is so well seen, Absolutely amazing!

Image by Vincent Mu
Image by Vincent Mu

It is easier to get overwhelmed when we witness such emotional unfold in front of us. I think Vincent Mu captured this image very well. As a viewer this image makes me feel the emotion. I am pretty sure the family loved this image as well.

Image by Mitzy Geluk
Image by Mitzy Geluk

I really loved this image by Mitzy Geluk, I think it tells a story with minimal elements. May be being a father I can connect more with this image.

Image by David Almajano Maestro
Image by David Almajano Maestro

I absolutely love the layering in this image by David Almajano Maestro. The bride looking into the camera makes me connect with the scene and creates a moment.

Image by Cristian Sabau
Image by Cristian Sabau

So many happy faces in this image by Cristian Sabau. The smiles and laughter are so genuine, I can feel that everyone is enjoying the moment.

Hope this was a useful read for you. The opinion mentioned here is my personal opinion. Even if you do not agree with my thoughts, you are welcome to browse the full collection here.

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