Judging the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards

MPA POTY 2013
One of the winning images from photographer of the year, Yaman Ibrahim.

Sometimes, choice can make life difficult. A couple of weeks ago, five judges and I sat down (virtually, since everybody was in different parts of the world) to decide on the category and overall winners for the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards. I had the privilege of working with Raghu Rai from Magnum; Mike Yamashita from National Geographic; Jim Liaw and Manny Librodo. Submissions closed on 31 October after three months, with a grand total of nearly 70,000 entries from 9 ASEAN countries. Shortlisting these down to approximately 1,500 final contenders was a panel of secondary judges, with myself overseeing.

Winning images and detailed results may be viewed here at the Maybank Photo Awards website.

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The 2013 Maybank Photo Awards are now open!

MPA 2013 frontpage

You’ll probably have noticed the new banner on the right sidebar: following last year’s very successful Awards – nearly 20,000 entries and a couple of industry prizes for best campaign – Maybank are back again for 2013, this time bigger, better, and now open to all ASEAN residents – not just Malaysia, with the theme “Inspiring Asia”. Those of you who’ve been following the site since last year will know that I served as Head Judge for the inaugural contest; I’m pleased to announce I’m looking forward to resuming the role and working with them again this year.

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B&W Challenge results!

Firstly, a big thank you to all of the entrants in the competition – there were 760 images submitted in total, which is a far greater response than I expected. Not only were there a lot of images, but the overall quality of submissions was incredibly high; one comment posted was along the lines of this being one of the best collections of B&W work on flickr. I’m inclined to agree with that: the submission restrictions were enough to make you want to enter, but not so frequent that you would post an image without thought. It’s clear that every single image in here had a considerable amount of thought put into its execution. I would say that almost all of the images scored 2.5 or higher on my usual evaluation criteria – light, subject, composition/ execution and the idea – many 3.5 or higher, and a considerable number managed all four; there were a lot of photos I would have been proud to include in my own body of work. This is in stark contrast to another recent photo competition I judged where very very few images hit three, let alone four.

We had to go through the entire pool several times to ensure we didn’t overlook any images; originally the process was supposed to take one afternoon, but it landed up being dragged on for a few days as we had to debate the merits of each image, especially those that were either very close or contentious. And let me tell you…this was no easy process. I apologise for the delay in results, but at the same time there’s no way we could have done it faster and maintained the integrity of artistic intent of the competition. There was consistency, though: the ones that stood out for us the first time were also the ones that stood the test of subsequent passes. The most attractive were those that were tonally rich and made the most of this to add depth and dimensionality to their subjects. High contrast – aside from being scarce – just looks somewhat crude.

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Competition closed

Just an official note to say that the B&W challenge is now closed – thank you for all the entries, we’ve had a whopping 760 entries in total. This is going to be a long afternoon…results will be posted in the next week. Although the flickr pool is now closed for submissions, you can still view all the entries. Thanks for participating! MT

Last day to enter – win the multispectral Sony NEX-5!

_5015948 copy

Today is the last day to enter the Mingthein.com black and white challenge. The prize is a Multispectral Sony NEX-5 (complete with kit lens and everything else a new one comes with, except the strap which I can’t seem to find) that shoots in UV, IR and Visible light – modified by yours truly. It is an outstanding machine for B&W photography, and has no anti-aliasing filter to boot.

I’ve created a new group on Flickr here: The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge specifically for this purpose.

1. Like the site’s Facebook page – title your submission with your Facebook username so I can check. Entries without Facebook usernames will be disqualified.
2. To submit an image, enter it in The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge Flickr group pool.
3. Your image must be in black and white; toning is NOT allowed.
4. Any subject, medium or cameras is fair game. You can shoot large format sheet film if you are so inclined.
5. Postprocessing is allowed, but anything overly done will almost certainly not win on aesthetic grounds.
6. Judging will be by me and the anonymous donor of the camera; our decision is final. The best image will win. And yes, it’s subjective etc – but this is a photography contest, photography is art, and art is a matter of taste.
7. Images will have a better chance of winning if they meet most or all of the important factors; you can find a lengthy discourse here…
8. You must own the rights to the image you submit.
9. The competition will run until the end of January 2013; closing time is 00:00 1 Feb 2013, GMT+8 (i.e. the end of the 1st of Feb when it hits midnight in Kuala Lumpur; easier to give the people in odd timezones a fair chance)
10. Multiple entries are allowed, but I’m going to restrict the pool to one per person per week: think carefully before you submit. You can remove and replace if you shoot something better.
11. You will need a flickr account to post images to the pool, but it’s free to sign up.
12. By entering, you give me and the mingthein.com site the right to re-post your image as part competition announcements and posts.
13. The winner will be announced in the first couple of weeks of February 2013 – depending on when I can meet up with our donor for the judging. We’ll ship the camera to you by EMS shortly thereafter.

Shoot me an email if there are any questions. I think that’s about it – good shooting, and good luck! MT

Reminder: one week left to enter and win my multispectral NEX-5!

If you haven’t already entered, do so now – nothing to lose, and a free custom camera to win! Full details here. MT

Competition: Win the multispectral Sony NEX-5!

_5015948 copy

In yesterday’s post, I recounted the journey of modifying a digital camera with the intention of creating something that would deliver outstanding out-of-camera black and white results; I had the rich, deep shadows and light but subtle highlights of film in mind, plus the crispness of the best non-AA-filtered cameras. The result, after three days of work and testing – on a camera generously donated by a reader – is a Sony NEX-5 that has no filtration in front of the sensor other than the Bayer pattern – no UV or IR or anti-aliasing. You’re looking at bare silicon if you stare down the lens mount.

Today, I’m happy to announce a competition which will give a reader a chance to own a camera personally modified by me. The camera is as-new cosmetically, is complete with box, kit lens and all accessories as sold (except the strap, that seems to have gone missing); it is out of warranty though (and will be anyway since I ripped out the filter pack).

Since this is a photography site first, and this camera was supposed to be a monochrome machine, it can only mean one thing: a black and white challenge!

_N5MT_DSC0094 copy

I’ve created a new group on Flickr here: The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge specifically for this purpose.

1. Like the site’s Facebook page – title your submission with your Facebook username so I can check. Entries without Facebook usernames will be disqualified.
2. To submit an image, enter it in The Mingthein.com B&W Challenge Flickr group pool.
3. Your image must be in black and white; toning is NOT allowed.
4. Any subject, medium or cameras is fair game. You can shoot large format sheet film if you are so inclined.
5. Postprocessing is allowed, but anything overly done will almost certainly not win on aesthetic grounds.
6. Judging will be by me and the anonymous donor of the camera; our decision is final. The best image will win. And yes, it’s subjective etc – but this is a photography contest, photography is art, and art is a matter of taste.
7. Images will have a better chance of winning if they meet most or all of the important factors; you can find a lengthy discourse here…
8. You must own the rights to the image you submit.
9. The competition will run until the end of January 2013; closing time is 00:00 1 Feb 2013, GMT+8 (i.e. the end of the 1st of Feb when it hits midnight in Kuala Lumpur; easier to give the people in odd timezones a fair chance)
10. Multiple entries are allowed, but I’m going to restrict the pool to one per person per week: think carefully before you submit. You can remove and replace if you shoot something better.
11. You will need a flickr account to post images to the pool, but it’s free to sign up.
12. By entering, you give me and the mingthein.com site the right to re-post your image as part competition announcements and posts.
13. The winner will be announced in the first couple of weeks of February 2013 – depending on when I can meet up with our donor for the judging. We’ll ship the camera to you by EMS shortly thereafter.
14. There is no time limit on when images have to have been taken.

Shoot me an email if there are any questions. I think that’s about it – good shooting, and good luck! MT

August 2012 Competition: Compact Challenge Results!

aug12competition-all

The point of August’s challenge was to remove several of the commonly-overused crutches for most photographers: depth of field, extreme perspectives, and producing useable images in low light thanks to modern killer sensors. Point and shoots are in a way, a devolution to a much simpler kind of photography that focuses almost solely on composition, exposure, and to a lesser extent, perspective. You simply don’t have the same toolkit as you would with a larger sensor. The upshot of this is that if you can consistently make an image that works with a compact, you can do it with something larger: it’s the composition that stands out as being strong, over everything else. Similarly, if you have no problems representing your subject in 8-9 stops of dynamic range, you should be able to do even better with 12, 13 or even 14. With that in mind, the contest was limited to small sensors only.

All in, we got 70 entries – I think there was a degree of saturation after the last challenge, or perhaps this one was uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory for many photographers. Nevertheless, a decent showing. Thank you also for those who submitted multiple entries. This means a total of US$350 received, with a first prize pool of $175 and one of my Photoshop Workflow DVDs to the winner and $70 to the honorable mention.

Without further ado, let’s move on to the finalists – in no particular order. For each shot, I’ll go through what works, what doesn’t, and how it could be improved.

Runar Nielsen – Small shoes (Fuji X10)

Runar Nilsen

Nice use of chiaroscuro and a strong single light source to give the subject both depth and texture; there’s good vertical balance to the image too. The technical qualities – tonality, exposure, sharpness – are also excellent. However, the weak point of the shot is empty space – I feel there’s a lot of blank foreground front-left that feels like it’s not really contributing to the shot. There’s also some color dissonance here – the shoes have a feel of something old, weathered and vintage; best represented by warm tones; this doesn’t jive with the cool tone of the background. One final possible improvement: a little highlight kicker on the back of the shoes to define the back edge against the background. A separate light would do it, or alternatively a strategic reflector. See my upcoming series on lighting…

Samsudin Mohd Ali – Looking down on the big boys looking up (Leica D-Lux 4)

samsudin mohd ali

There’s a degree of consistent chaos to the subjects here that I like – nobody has their lenses aimed in quite the same direction, but yet the shot makes you wonder what it is they’re looking at. There’s nice tonality to this image; despite the obviously bright day (note shadows) and restrictions of small sensors, whites and blacks are managed well. What doesn’t work is the huge empty space in the sky. I would have either excluded most of the sky and focused on the people, perhaps holding the camera higher above my head to get a slightly top-down perspective, or try to include whatever it is they were photographing (if at all possible).

Jesse Estes – Send off (Canon Powershot SD550)

JesseEstes01

I think what struck me about this image was that it had the feel of a Salgado in color. It has that particular textural look and feel created by mostly backlit subjects, dodging and burning and some atmospheric haze; I think the subject didn’t do any harm either. There may be a little too much of this, though; the deep shadow areas never really hit black. What I don’t know is whether it works better horizontally or vertically – I feel perhaps including some more of the window and  the foreground woman might feel more balanced, especially if there was a little dark space left around the edge to form a natural frame to the image. There’s also a part of me that just can’t help wondering what it would look like as a B&W, though the tonal palette here does give the scene life.

Larry Gebhardt – Light at the courthouse (Panasonic LX5)

Larry Gebhardt1

This image is a good example of one of the strengths of small sensor cameras: the ability to create abstraction through combining very compressed perspectives with high depth of field. This is rarely possible at close distances with a larger sensor, because the apertures required become unfeasible. Nice tones, nice metering, and a clear subject which is well-isolated by natural frames. What isn’t so strong here is balance: the whole right side and top-right corner is empty and dark, and lacks the texture of the left side. I would crop this one to end just before the shadow starts on the right for a much stronger composition.

Robert Symonds – untitled (Canon S95)

robert symonds

I don’t know for sure what this subject is (I presume it’s a vintage hood ornament) but I do know that I like the fluidity and texture of it, and the way it contrasts against the blue and white; once again, the technical aspects of the image are perfect, but what’s missing is balance. It feels as though there’s too much white in the bottom half, though if you start playing around with crops, you find that any less looks top-heavy. The solution is rotation. The subject here is a bit like a snow-covered mountain against the sky; you need to have an ‘up’ side and a ‘down’ side to the slope – without it, the mind is a bit confused because it can’t place a sense of scale to the object. So, the conclusion here is a bit of rotation of the camera anticlockwise, and a little more subject on the right – bingo.

Carlos Paturzo – untitled (Canon G10)

carlospaturzo

Compression of perspectives is used here to good effect also. This image is all about texture; the ripples in the water are well-defined and sharp, yet abstract enough to be impressionistic. I think if the water was calmer, I would go with inverting the image to make the reflection appear as reality instead; however, this is the best orientation given the current subject. The problem area for me is the top right corner – which is a bit of a shame, because this is where  most of the subject definition happens. There’s a huge hotspot on the hull of the boat, which means losing some of the texture of the reflections in the hull; I find this visually very distracting. The only solution would have been to underexpose some more and bring it up again in postprocessing, at the expense of some shadow noise – which I can already see creeping into the foreground.

Andrew Marerro – Bridge (Apple iPhone 4S)

Andrew Marrero 1

Though the image doesn’t really give any landmark cues as to where it was shot, it screams ‘old New York’ to me – I think it’s the strong lighting and B&W treatment. Only the modern cars in the foreground give away the time period. I would have said the right side looks empty, but the shadow itself is the subject, and that portion of the frame still feels balanced. The only place where it doesn’t is at the top left and right corners. With strongly geometric subjects like this one, it’s important to take care that there are no obviously imbalanced areas – look at the white gap top left and top right where the verticals meet the horizontal trusses Also, the curve that runs across the top edge of the fame make it feel as though the horizontal alignment of the shot is off – even though it isn’t. The solution would be to dodge the curved portion at the right and left, to visually separate that part of the subject from the main, symmetric subject and have it serve as a natural frame. Otherwise, this is a well-executed shot that could probably only be improved by say a horse and carriage team in the right-hand foreground. :)

Boris Giltburg – Saker Falcon (Canon G12)

Boris Giltburg (3)

Wildlife and compacts don’t go together. Most of the time, the lenses are either not long enough, not bright enough, or image quality is just downright horrible. Even though I’m guessing this was a tame bird, it probably wasn’t an easy shot to pull off; the strength of this image is in the fact that I look through the photo and see the subject – it’s almost like a posed portrait of a person rather than a bird. One thing you have to be very, very careful with is metering – natural feathers etc reflect light to the extreme, and can often be two or more stops brighter than you’d expect. In this case, I’d say take a leaf out of Majoli’s book and meter for the highlights; let the shadows fall wherever they may. I can’t say I’m a fan of the toning, either – I think it’d be a stronger shot with either accurate color, or pure B&W.

Robert Yong Lee – Solstice #11 (Apple iPhone 4S)

Robert Lee

Last month’s winner has produced another one of those painterly images that appeals to me – here comes the personal bias – it’s well-balanced, mostly well-exposed, and makes a subject of texture itself. What I don’t like about it is how dominant the dark window and window box are; they take visual prominence over the shadow of the tree. This is as processing issue: shadow recovery and a little more contrast about the center would improve this image by several notches. Note that there are no blown highlights, so there’s still a bit more dynamic range that could have been brought into play at the time of capture.

Fritz Niemann – Blue night (Canon S100)

Fritz Niemann

Last but not least, Fritz’s image is one that captures the energy of the scene. This was a technically difficult shot for two reasons: firstly, compacts blown the blue channel very quickly (note the piece of plastic with the huge hotspot) and secondly, it was probably very dark – I’m guessing there’s a reason why it appears that almost nothing in the scene was static, even things that should probably be fixed. These are both the strong and weak points of the image: the hue shift due to the blue channel overexposure produces an interesting, otherworldly atmosphere, but also hot spots that are hugely distracting because they draw the eye in and keep it there. Images with movement should have a visual anchor – a static point – somewhere in the frame to cue the mind that there’s life here, not camera shake. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear visual anchor here anywhere.

I’m sure after reading all of these critiques, you’re probably thinking that none of the images made the cut; far from it. The finalists were all of a very high standard, but we’re all perfectionists, otherwise we wouldn’t be here reading this, right? In the grand scheme of things, these are excellent images. The suggestions are there to make them outstanding.

It’s now time to decide the winner. Cue drumroll. First prize goes to Jesse Estes with Send Off; you win $175 and a mingthein.com Photoshop Workflow DVD. The honorable mention goes to Andrew Marerro, with Bridge – your prize is $70. I’ll be sending both of you email in a short while to sort out your prizes. Congratulations to both of the winners!

In the meantime, we’ll be taking a break from competitions for this month – to be honest, I’m too busy to take care of the administration – but what you can do is please leave as message at the end of this post with suggestions for themes or topics for the next one – don’t worry, we’ll be back with another round soon. Thanks again everybody for taking part! MT

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

The Maybank Photography Awards 2012

maybankphotoawards

For readers living in Malaysia, I want to bring to your attention the 2012 Maybank Photography Awards – entries run from 3 September to 31 October, and there are five categories to enter around the theme of Being Human: Photographer of the year (portfolio), Street, Studio, Landscape and Press. Each category has an award, plus a bonus for People’s Choice. The contest is sponsored by Maybank, Leica, Profoto and HP; prizes include a total of RM16,000 cash, a custom Leica X2, a Profoto D1 Studio kit and a HP Designjet Z2100.

You’re probably wondering why I’m posting about this instead of entering it – aside from the rather impressive prizes, there are two other reasons. Firstly, I’m serving as head judge (Thorsten Overgaard is one of the category judges), so it would be more than a little nepotistic. :P

More importantly, unlike almost every other photography competition where submission of an image constitutes transferral of rights to the image to the contest organizer, image ownership and IP remains with the photographer, with a limited license granted to the competition organizers for use related to the competition only. I wanted to create a contest which people would be comfortable submitting their best images to – this would obviously not be possible for the professional and press categories with anything involving rights transferral.

There are also no restrictions on when the images have to be captured, which means stuff from the archives is okay – we recognize that it isn’t always possible to produce your best work on demand in a short space of time, (even true pros have trouble with that; opportunities don’t always happen when you want them to) so long as the image fits the theme. So start shooting, looking through your back catalog, and sharing the competition with your friends. My personal advice with all competitions is not to enter until you’re sure you’ve got something you can’t improve on; don’t settle. If in doubt, enter at the end near the closing date, because you never know what you might shoot between now and then.

Finally, stay tuned for the results of the mingthein.com August Compact Challenge to be announced tomorrow! MT

*You may recognize some of the placeholder images. They’ll all change once we’ve received entries worthy of shortlisting.

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Last day to enter the August competition!

Full details here.

Remember, your entry fees go towards the pot – the more entries, the bigger the prize! MT

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