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Judging Factors

The contest started in 1971, and from its beginning, judges have looked at each image with five criteria in mind:

1) Originality

We've seen many cedar waxwing images but this second place winning photo was very original. The photographer’s companion was looking in a field guide at differences between a cedar waxwing and a bohemian waxwing when the bird got curious, too. You never know when a photo opportunity may arise, so have your camera ready.

2) Technical Excellence

Remember when we were told we shouldn’t photograph toward the sun? But this first place winner of a mother and child dancing on the beach shows you can do this quite effectively if you select the right camera settings. That means the proper exposure, shutter speed, white balance and depth of field. And be aware of lens flare!

3) Composition

This entry has great balance, and the placement and strong color of the canoe emphasize the whiteness of the scene. It’s always best to make your composition when you shoot, but sometimes you might find a better composition by cropping afterward. Don’t be afraid to crop if it will help composition.

4) Artistic Merit

All the elements came together for this photographer? The large elk, the double rainbow, the sun highlighting the bands of rain. The photographer didn’t let weather stop her from shooting and she was rewarded with this beautiful wildlife landscape. Sunny blue skies have their place, but what we might consider bad weather can add a lot of drama to a photograph.

5) Overall Impact

This first-place winning image of an indigo bunting is sharp, well-lit, and the bird contrasts well against the palm leaf background. The wingspread also adds implied motion. Good photographs are made, not taken. Work at your subject, be aware of the background, and anticipate behavior.

So do what the judges do and keep these factors in mind as you select what photos to enter or what photos to vote for. Strive to select winning images!

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