WPPI 2015 Print Competition | Silver Award Winner

If you read our previous post about the WPPI Conference, we touched a bit on the 16×20 Print Competition that plays a major role in the Convention – but here we really want to go into greater detail and talk about a very prestigious Award that we won! Let’s start this post by saying that when we first decided to attend WPPI this year, we really were unsure at that point if we were going to submit any images for the competition at all. It can be a little overwhelming and intimidating and truth be told, we had never tried to enter before. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the process, it can involve hours (upon hours) of going through your work, separating out images that might be worthy and then cataloguing, scrutinizing and objectifying them until suddenly you want to just give up (Just kidding! But the struggle is real people). It takes an incredible amount of humility to be able to objectively view your work as an outsider and accept criticism from other people.

As Art Majors we definitely feel like we were groomed and are well suited for this kind of scrutiny. We did after all make it through 4 grueling years of critiques in the Visual Communications program at the University of Delaware. Enter the WPPI competition 8 years later.

Entering the WPPI Print Competition

Not only are you judged on presentation (printing and mounting) but you’re also judged on shooting skill & technique, creative vision & originality, and the final touches of post-processing & retouching techniques. These things are not taken lightly and the competition is fierce amongst photographers all over the world. People prepare all year in anticipation for what images they want to enter and how they will process and present them. Some people go to great lengths to have the “best of the best” retouchers and printers working on their final products (a huge financial investment). The compeition itself is a risky investment, between the hours spent preparing the images, professional retouching, printing, mounting, shipping and then the entry fee per image. However, the investment can certainly pay off in the end, like this image below that snagged us an Honors of Excellence Silver Award. We’ll talk a bit more about this image and how the competition works in this post, so stay with us!


The Judging Process

So how does the whole judging thing work, you ask? Well to start, the judging lasts two full days 8am-6pm and consists of 60 different judges (5 on a panel at a time) in various rooms for each category. The judges are then randomly rotated out by a moderator (who also has judging experience). The moderator also makes sure the judges stay on point with their commentary and scoring. The competition is done completely anonymously (each print has a form on the back that the photographer fills out and only the “print handlers” can see the back of the print). Each print is presented in front of the judges (about 5-6 ft away) in a light box, and then also projected onto a large screen for those sitting in the audience to view. The judges are to examine the photograph based on the actual print and not on the screen (since the colors and exposure can often be misreprensetated on a projector screen). Below shows a judge looking at a print up close.


Scores & What they Mean

Each judge then enters their score into their phone/ipad app. Once the moderator receives all of the scores, they are then automatically averaged out to the final score. Once the scores are posted, one or two of the judges will then be asked to comment on the print and give feedback to the maker (assuming they are present in the room). This part is extremely helpful and critical to us in terms of growing and learning about our work as well as other people’s work and what the judges like/don’t like. If there is a large disparity in the judges scores, there is either an automatic challenge or a judge can ask to challenge (the criteria is different for either scenario). Challenges are exciting (especially if it’s YOUR print being challenged) because not only does it have the potential to bump a print into the next higher award category, but there is also a lot of dialogue and feedback about the print which can be very insightful to the judges thoughts. The whole process can be quite an emotional roller coaster as the maker of an image because you can either be totally caught by surprise (in a good way!) with a great score or in a bad way if you don’t think a print did as well as (you feel) it should have. But it’s all a part of the learning experience. Here’s one of our images below being judged.

The Experience

Let us tell you how exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring this process is for someone sitting in the audience. First of all, if you have prints in multiple categories then it’s almost impossible to be in all of the rooms at once to try and catch your print on the big screen. So we both split up to allocate our time in different category rooms to try and catch a glimpse of one of our images. We were lucky enough to catch some of our images being judged and were able to hear the feedback. Then once the competition is done, all of the winning photographs are hung all around the convention and you get to see all of the amazing and inspiring work!


Our Winning Image

We can go on all day telling you about the experience and the feedback we received on various images but let’s just talk about one image in particular. The one that WON a Silver Award and scored an 81 (classified as Above Average: Good standard of professional skill, creativity and technique). It seems like perhaps it should be easy to get in this scoring range but it’s not always that easy! This particular image that won a Silver Award (first image above) was taken right before the ceremony for our couple Megan & Mike in New York. Megan was waiting in the front of the church with her mom and step-dad (whom she is very close with). Mom is fussing with her veil, Megan looks somewhat frazzled – girl is just getting ready to walk down the aisle! – and dad is just standing there holding the flowers, offering moral support. The moment is completely un-staged and unrehearsed, allowing it to be classified in the Wedding Photojounralism category. The official rules state that it must be “Unposed, undirected, limited post processed wedding images.” This means that anything you could do in a darkroom, you could do to the image but no fancy Photoshopping or extensive processing.

We’re very proud of all of our images nonetheless and feel that the entire competition was a wonderful learning experience for us. And you can bet that we’ll be working even harder this year to try and produce more award winning images!! Our drive and creative process has never been more alive! We truly feel that competitions like this one are only bettering our industry and raising the standards of Wedding and Portrait Photography. We’re so thankful for everyone involved in keeping this tradition alive and hope to continue to participate in years to come!! Stay tuned for our next WPPI trip!