Judging an international photo competition | Personal | Fearless Round 48

Fearless Award Judging an international photo competition

Last week collection 48 of the Fearless Photographers Awards was announced. A big congratulations to all the winners. No awards for me this round, but that had a more than amazing reason: I was selected to be one of the six judges for this round. Together with five amazingly talented colleagues we curated over 9000 images and decided on the winners for this round of Fearless Awards.

Fearless Photographers is the platform with the highest standard when it comes down to wedding photography.
The community constantly strives to become better wedding photographers, to show that wedding photography is so much more than making pretty pictures. It’s about capturing emotions, true, real and authentic.
Fearless Photographers is an amazing community that has inspired me tremendously since I joined them in 2016. After winning a few Fearless Awards myself I was over the moon when founding father Huy Nyugen asked me to judge this collection.

Yes it was time consuming, and no it wasn’t an easy task: but it felt good to be able to give something to this community. Next to that it has brought me many insights regarding my own work and the images I normally send in to contests. And some of these insights I would like to share with you.
As my mind works in a very musical way and I constantly hear songs when thinking, speaking or writing, I decided to create a “What-to-look-for-when-submitting-your-work-for-competitions-playlist” for you.

Be prepared to hear Snoop Dogg from now on every time you crop an image or the Trammps when you decide on burning an image.

“Crop it like its hot”
freely inspired by Drop It Like It’s Hot by Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell

While going through the images I detected the extreme urge to crop and resend some of the images myself – don’t worry no images were harmed during my judging. I think especially with images that are there to tell a story you need to decide on what you wish to include in the frame. And in many cases less can be more. Even with images that contained amazing layers, skipping just one extra person from the frame would have made the layers that were there so much stronger.
Be aware of what is in the frame, and make sure that all that is included makes the image stronger. Is the extra space not helping? Eliminate it! Is that extra person on the right the only on not involved in the moment? Crop it like it’s hot

“Show me, me, me, me”
Laidback Luke, Steve Angelo, Robyn S – Show me love

Talking about cropping… you might not expect it after my first paragraph, but you can crop too much. I have seen a lot of images that were just missing context or needed room to breath. This can be as a result of lens choice, position or simply the choice to not include more – crop to much. Ask yourself: what do you like to tell with your image? A reaction can be beautiful, but not knowing what it is a reaction to can be a missed opportunity. Think about context, this doesn’t always have to be literal, but knowing what is reacted on, laughed about, cried to will make an image so much stronger and easier to read for me as a judge. Which gives it more potential to be selected as a finalist.
Conclusion after two songs: be aware of what is in your frame or what might be missing. Always show with intent what you want to include or exclude.

“Hit ’em up style”
Blu Cantrell – Hit em up Style (Oops)

Editing and style is one of the most personal aspects of an image for me. Next to your own eye capturing what is appealing to you, your editing gives it that special you-flavor. Even though it’s such a personal thing, I strongly believe the edit should excel the image, make it easier to look at, clarify the image to your viewer. I personally like images were you don’t see the present of the photographer. In the way you shoot you can accomplish this, but also in the way you edit. Brushes, dodging and burning, it can all make an image stronger. But if it’s clearly shown in the image I see the hand of the photographer and it distracts me from the impact the image can made.
There’s nothing wrong with a strong edit, a style that sets you apart: that’s all a matter of taste of which I believe I shouldn’t be a judge of. But when it affects the image in a way the edit takes over the impact of the image, you have gone a step to far and maybe should get yourself back to the brushing-table.

“Burn baby burn”
The Trammps – Disco Inferno

Burning is hot! It’s a trend that entered wedding photography over a year ago with some amazing minimalistic images. And with all trends, we see it more and more. Following a trend to me is not a bad thing. But it just needs to be executed to perfection. Are you burning for being trendy or for the sake of the image. And when you apply it to make your image stronger: apply it well. I have seen faces cut of by hard black burning lines. For me this doesn’t make the image stronger, it makes the photographers hand visible and therefore makes me wonder, what is there in the background the photographer doesn’t want me to see instead of what does the photographer want me to look at.
So when you use burning to a large amount in your image: use it well and use it wisely. As with all trends, they come and go and be aware that judges will see a lot of this. Will you be selected as a finalist because you have brought in the best burned image of this collection or the image that contains the best moment?

“What you are looking at”
Madonna – Vogue

Amazing set-up, perfect layering, composition works like a charm: and then there’s this one guest that is completely aware of you wanting to take that picture and looks straight in the camera: f*cker. For me this person brakes your image. Because it’s because of that person I am aware of you as a photographer. I am not longer drawn into the situation, but feel looked at, as a spectator, someone on the outside. The opposite of what I believe a strong moment driven image should do to you: drag you into that moment like you are part of it, making it real. Having camera awareness in your image weather you asked for it (staging a moment) or were dealing with that annoying guest that would not take his eyes of you: for me it’s hurting your image.
It’s the difference between an image that is genuine or staged. It’s something you feel. Is that little disconnection you have with the subject as a viewer, knowing there someone standing between you two: the photographer.

“I’m just a copy of a copy of a copy”
Nine Inch Nails – Copy of A

A wedding is a wedding. Cutting a cake, the I do’s, first look, getting ready. It all has been captured thousand of times before we enter a new wedding. Copies, images that resemble images of other photographers are hard to stay away from. We do work in the same conditions, work with the same content. So ending up with images from the same situation are inevitable. It’s how you push it with your creativity and take it to the next level that make an image stand out for me. I was surprised by the amount of television screens I have seen in the entries. All getting ready shots with a nice screen on the background. We have seen this. And we have seen this executed very well. So time for a new gimmick, or stay away from the gimmicks and focus on the realness of what is happening in front of you.

“Might trick me once, I won’t let you trick me twice”
Kelis – Trick me

Talking about gimmicks. We all have our special toolbox to spice things up when conditions are hard. Or to play with, just because we know our clients will love it, and see it as something special for them. But within wedding competitions we have seen them all. The reflections in a car, window, phone, television, the mirrored clouds, mirrored hills, penguin poses before a gelled flash. I don’t think you should stop making these images as I believe they are magical and are really something special to offer your clients. But when submitting them to a contest, just showing that you can apply a technique isn’t enough. It needs to have something on top of that, a moment, a strong connection between your couple that makes all the tricks a nice bonus, but not the main ingredient of your dish.

“Ain’t nothing like the real thing”
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terell – Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

We all love to capture real moments. But what makes a photo of real moment stand out in a competition? A moment is more than an expression. A funny face doesn’t mean it is an amazing image. Look for more. It’s the total of composition, light and expression in combination with context that makes it a stunning image. Just a funny face can be captured everywhere. It’s that funny face in an image that tells a story of where we are and that moment that makes it a great image. Don’t just send in images because someone is making a face in it. Remember: an expression isn’t a moment!

“Oh, my love, my darling”
Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody

Selecting images for a competition can be hard. Making the right choice, debating between images. Which one is the best to enter. Trust me, I know the struggle. But please don’t enter multiple images from the same setting, choose your darling and submit it with the fullest proud. Having multiple images from the same scenery is undermining your entries. If one single image isn’t strong enough to tell the story, it probably isn’t good enough to be awarded. It can also give the message ‘let the judges decide which image is best’, and as I believe we will, we don’t need to do your job as a photographer submitting your strongest work. So kill your darlings before you enter a competition.

“It’s a sign of the times”
Harry Styles – Sign of the Times

I am a strong believer of timeless images and also to hold on to your favorites when submitting for competitions.
In the end it’s all decided upon by a jury and even if we try not to, we are bias. So who says an image that wasn’t selected this round, could not be awarded next round? But for how long do you hold on to an image?
When selecting my finalists I came across images that showed that they were not taken recently.
The clothes of the couple, colors used in the wedding, a certain kind of atmosphere in the image gave away that it’s not a recent shot wedding image. When time start to show in your image and the world around you evolves you don’t see a timeless image, there’s the chance a judge sees an outdated image. And maybe it’s time to let go of that image next time submitting. Know what you are competing against. Be critical to your image. Does it stand the test of time? Might a new edit be helpful: will a black and white edit maybe help you to get that more timeless sense to your image or is it time to ‘let it go’.

“You will when you believe”
Whitney Houston ft Mariah Carey– When you believe

Isn’t that what it all comes down to in the end. Your personal believe in an image. Knowing what the image does to you, has done for your process as a photographer and most of all your wedding couple. And like I said before, it’s not a competition based on science. As a judge you have your preferences. Of course you look at technique, use of light, composition and that special extra element, but it’s not graved in stone. You have your preferences, your personal view that you bring along as a judge. That’s why there’s never one judge. And that was one of the biggest insights I got from this adventure.

While selecting my finalists and saying no to some images, I later detected that those ‘no’s’ were someone else’s finalists. And I saw images that I had put my money on not get awarded. So in the end it’s all about you. Your believe in yourself, your work, your images. Holding on to what you believe, your voice and how that translates into your images. And know that the reward is in the process.

Thank you Fearless for the trust and amazing opportunity to share my vision on wedding photography with the amazing Fearless community.
You can find the amazing collection 48 Fearless Awards here.

For the other music freaks just like me: you can find all songs in a special list on Spotify. Feel free to listen while selecting for next round, deadline is next week 😉


My name is Linda Bouritius-Colenbrander, I am a Dutch wedding photographer since 2015. I am a sucker for romance, music lover, cat person and big fan of finding beauty in the ordinairy. Being real, open and honest is what I strive to be as a human being and a photographer.

Want to collaborate or interested in what I offer as a mentor to other photographers? Feel free to contact me.

(image: Henk van Lambalgen)