Every few months we like to revisit our submission guidelines and help the newer members know what it is that we look for. I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about submissions and what can sometimes turn into a touchy subject: having your submission declined. You may have, at sometime in the past, submitted something to the Group and had it declined and possibly received a message from us stating that we are looking for the "ultimate best of the best" submissions with focus, composition and exposure and overall concept being some of the things we look at.
The question is, what does it mean to have the best of the best from your gallery and when we talk about focus, composition and exposure, how does that play into our review of your submission?
I’ll start with the easiest one to talk about and this is focus—one of the components to making an exceptional photo is when the subject of your photograph is in sharp focus. If we find that the subject of the photo has a soft focus or it’s blurry due to camera shake or movement, you may find that your submission will be declined; often I find that when declining a photo that my main reason is that the focus of the subject is too soft and this distracts from the overall quality of the photo. Conversely, if you ensure that your subject is in good focus and that the object of your photograph is sharp, we’re more likely to accept it.
So how can you prevent getting blurry and/or out of focus shots in the first place? If you’re indoors, make sure your camera is stabilized by either a tripod or a solid surface like a table. Make sure that you set the ISO on your camera to a higher number like ISO400 or IS800 for point and shoot cameras—higher on many DSLRs that can take it. Be certain that if you’re shooting something that’s moving that you have your shutter speed set to a fast setting such as 1/250 or higher to freeze the movement. And trust in your camera’s autofocus capabilities, making sure that before you snap the photo that you hear the tell-tale “beep” as the AF finder gets the focus.
Exposure can also play a large part in whether or not your submission will be declined. If you’re shooting a landscape photo, the image will have far more impact if there is a deep blue sky to offset the land or you receive beautiful jewel tones in that sunset. However if you find that your landscape looks washed out and the sky a bright white or the shadows of that shot of your pet completely hides its face, you may find your shot declined. Making sure you have a properly exposed shot will help in ensuring that we give an approving nod to your submission.
Well then, how can you possibly go about making sure your shot is exposed properly? When outdoors use a polarizing filter if you can, this will help to cut that bright white sky when your camera tries to expose for the darker land. If your subject is backlit by a bright light, use your flash to bring out their features. You may also want to take your camera off of Auto mode as your camera will often try to find a happy medium between two extremes. If you under or over expose the shot compared to what the camera will do you may find that you’ll get a much better balanced shot.
This is probably one of the most subjective aspects that we use for assessing submissions and usually the one most hotly contested. Composition can be broken down into a few of the following and yet this is not inclusive of everything we look at:
Rule of Thirds – Have you employed the Rule of Thirds when framing your shot? Often if the subject of your photo is centered rather than off-setting it to either the right or left or extreme top or bottom, it can make your photo only okay. Offsetting it to one side of your frame can often take it from a good photo to an exceptional photo.
Negative Space – Could you have employed the use of negative space to help accentuate the subject of your photo? Framing the photo so that there is nothing in the frame except for your subject immediately draws the eye to it and can turn it into an stunning photo—when there are other elements in your photo they can start to compete with it and take our attention away from it.
Too Much Going On – Is your photo cluttered with a lot of things going on so that the eye doesn’t know what it’s looking at? Often landscape photos that have no clearly defined subject, where there aren’t lines that lead the eye to the subject or just random snapshots where the photo wasn’t clearly composed will get declined. Make sure that when you’re submitting something that there is a clearly defined subject for us to look at and we’ll be more likely to accept it.
Leading Lines – Are you finding lines in your photograph that lead the eye to what you’re trying to capture? Docks that lead out of the frame, roads or paths that lead into a dimly lit forest, these are examples of “leading lines”. Using lines to draw the eye to what you’re photographing is a great photographer’s trick to help accentuate the subject and make it into a wonderful photo
Self-Portraits – We understand that you’re trying to show yourself off as an artist, but a snapshot of your face held at arm’s length can be, for lack of a better word, uninspiring. If you try to think outside the box and come up with some original and exceptionally creative ways to get a self-portrait of yourself using all of the above criteria will give your photographs a much better chance of being accepted into the Group.
As administrators of Great-shot, we certainly understand that with all of the above rules and guidelines that these rules are always made to be broken. There will be times when a photo can and should be under or over-exposed, when lack of focus adds a sense of creativity to the photo—and that all of the rules of composition may be thrown out the door and there can still be exceptional photos that don’t follow any of those things listed. But the rule of thumb is that if you have these elements in your photograph that you’ll have a much better chance of having your submission accepted.
Additionally—just because you may not feel that a work accepted into our Group doesn’t seem to fit the quality standards we ask of you doesn’t mean that we don’t. Art is always extremely subjective and if we don’t accepted one of your photos it’s certainly not a reflection of you as an artist—we simply were not drawn to that particular photo at that time. Never be discouraged though and continue to submit! And if you’re declined once, think on the above guidelines to find something that may fit within these. Or use it as a challenge to go out there and try to take another photo following them. We know that everyone has the potential in them to have great shots in their gallery and we look forward to featuring them.