Valuable Tips and Advice from Prize-Winning Photographers on Entering WPPI’s First Half Competition

It’s almost hard to believe we’re about to close the WPPI 2015 Members Only First Half Competition! I feel like we just sent out the last cases from The Annual 16×20 Print, Album and Filmmaking competition in Las Vegas… Wait, actually we just did.

With less than a week to go for the first deadline I thought it would be great to hear some tips from past winners. I’ve asked Melody Smith, who has been doing some outstanding work over the last few years; Mauro Cantelmi, an uber-talented shooter from Down Under; and veteran WPPI speaker and judge, JB Sallee. Each of them have unique styles, are ambitious, and have done particularly well in our competitions. Let’s take a listen to their advice for entering.

Photo © Melody Smith

Melody Smith kicks things off with finding your voice as a photographer. “There are several things I do before choosing entries,” she says. “Usually, it includes the images I feel are the best lit, composed, and have some sort of wow factor. This year, my images have changed. At the 16×20 live judging in Las Vegas, I was given a 98 by a photographer on a very basic image. When the judges’ chairperson asked her why the image wasn’t a 100, she said, ‘Clearly this is a master photographer—now I want to know what this author has to say.’ So first and most importantly: what does the image say about you, or the subject? There needs to be a voice.”

A second thing to keep in mind is connection, Smith says: “Does your image subject connect to the viewer? Can they understand it and can they feel something when they view it? Maybe it takes them back to their childhood, or a dream they had once, or maybe it reminds them of how they felt one moment in time.”

Thirdly, Smith says “it needs to be perfect: color, tone, sharpness, composition. Remember that each time your image is judged to listen to what they say. Even the worst critiques have the best value.”

Her final piece of advice is one I offer participants quite often, and one we all can get wrapped up with. After all, we can’t help but be connected to what we shoot—we are present and easily influenced by experiencing what we photograph. In that vein, Smith closes with, “Don’t pick images because it was a fun shoot or something that you are too emotionally connected to (such as a family member)—just because it melts your heart doesn’t mean it has impact.”


Photo © Mauro Cantelmi

Photo © Mauro Cantelmi

Mauro Cantelmi advises focusing on the storytelling aspect of photography. “As wedding photographers, we are modern-day storytellers, so it’s important to submit an image that not only shows great technical skills but one that engages the judges by telling a unique story within the image. Once you’ve done this, you can watch the judges surround your image like a flock of seagulls, ready to give a great score!”

Photo © JB Sallee

Photo © JB Sallee

JB Sallee and I have known each other for a long time and have had some great conversations about photography over the years. I admire him because he’s always looking for inspiration for the next image he’s creating, almost as if he’s putting pieces of a puzzle together. His advice is somewhat similar to Mauro’s—and I think if you look at both of their works, you’ll see they practice what they preach!

“One reason why we continuously push ourselves to enter Print Comp is so we can better ourselves and grow as artists with each and every print we enter,” JB says. “Winning awards and being recognized by your peers is fun, but the real prize is the joy that our imagery brings to our clients.”

With that in mind, Sallee says, “If I could offer one tip to help someone new to the print competition, it would be to listen to your clients and get to know their story, and then tell that story with one image. Storytelling can be the hardest aspect to master in Print Comp, but if you can dedicate yourself to telling your clients’ story and do it well, you are already a winner. Awards will gather dust and your peers will forget your accomplishments, but your clients will cherish your photography for years to come, and you will live on in their hearts with the memories you have created for them. Strive to be the best you can for them, not for yourself.”

So, are you ready to begin this year’s journey?! Your year starts now, and with the first deadline this upcoming Tuesday, May 26, you can avoid a $10 late fee on all entries. We all like to procrastinate, but you have been warned! I wish you all the best of luck. I am honored to be one of the judges each year, and I look forward to seeing what you’ve set your sights on this year!

As always, it’s my pleasure to serve this community, and if you have any questions, I can always be reached via email at jason.groupp@emerald I also highly recommend you join our 16×20 Facebook group, which hosts a fantastic group of judges and peers who are happy to help!

Let the journey begin!!!

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Jason Groupp

Jason Groupp

Jason Groupp is the Director of WPPI and a New York City photographer heavily steeped in the industry. Adoring New York City far beyond any healthy proportion, Jason has maintained his photography studio in West Chelsea for the past 12 years.

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