“And the winner is…” – July 2012 competition results!

competition thumbs 2

In the end, I received 120 entries in total – thank you to everybody who supported the competition; it’s paved the way for future ones – look out for the August challenge starting soon. This means the total pot is USD$600 – $300 for the winner and $120 for the honourable mention.

The overall standard was good to high; of those, there were about 30 which stood out, requiring some significant contemplation to boil down to ten, and ultimately, a winner.

The first competition was set with a deliberately broad theme to allow as many interpretations of the subject as possible; common themes were portraits, street, babies, and humans in nature. There was hope and happiness, there was abstraction and dehumanisation, there was despair, and occasionally, hope in despair. The winner wasn’t the one with the sharpest picture, but the one with the sharpest idea – the most creative interpretation of the theme, and the best execution of that – so that the subject would be immediately obvious to the viewer. Breaking this down into specific criteria, the image had to make either an emotional connection with the viewer – if a close shot – or juxtapose the subject into a context which elicited a response in the observer. Needless to say, the subject had to be obvious to the viewer – either separated by color, light or texture; if we had to look too hard to find the human element, it’s probably unlikely that the photograph managed to keep to the theme. Finally, judgement was given to technical composition and execution – were there distracting things entering the edges of the frame? How as the image processed? Was it in focus? Etc.

With that, here are the top 10, in no particular order:

Alvan Yap – A mother’s pride
Alvan Yap
A positively strong image with a clear relationship between subjects; emotions transfer from mother to daughter to viewer, as though she’s being encouraged to be less shy towards the camera. Overall good frame balance, though the upper portion feels somewhat truncated and the left/right sides of the image are a little too prominent for my liking; it’s as though the subjects are sticking to the frame. I would probably have burned out the odd looking cylindrical/ conical objects in the background of the house. Overall Excellent tones and processing.

Ben Hopkins – Ni Dios
ben hopkins
Nice use of motion to isolate the subject; although there’s a good balance of elements in the frame, the image feels a little top-heavy because of the lintel; framing higher to allow a little less foreground and a little more headroom would have helped this. I find the processing to lighten the sleeping figure somewhat overdone; there’s a bit of a halo visible around him, and the whole area just seems a bit too bright. THe dog is a nice touch though – mirroring of the primary subject. Finally, although the verticals are straight, the horizontals are not – but too close to being straight to ignore, which results in a slightly uncomfortable feeling when looking at the top right portion of the image.

Rafael Macia – Broadway Bus
rafael macia
This strange man is a reminder to us that the human element is unpredictable, strange, but at the same time, perhaps not so different from ourselves – wearing a pair of goggles isn’t that far off eyeglasses, for instance. To some, carrying little black boxes around and aiming them at various things is probably even stranger; who’s to judge. Nice use of natural frames to isolate the subject – the bus window, and especially the little corner of the building that snakes around his head. I find the bright portion of floor at center-right to be somewhat distracting and empty, but it’s mostly balanced to center left. Inclusion of the text at bottom left was a nice touch, too.

Travis Rhodes – untitled
travis and kristina rhodes-b
This shot captures a nice innocent moment between two children – siblings, perhaps? The moment is very well timed and perfectly catches the expression of surprise of the girl on the right. Although the subjects are separated by depth of field, and to a lesser extent lighting, there’s something slightly bothersome about the background chaos; a little less depth of field would have improved this image – just enough to give context, but not so much as to allow secondary elements to be distracting.

Dee Dee Yelverton – True Love
Dee Dee Yelverton
Lovely emotion, lighting and execution; excellent use of texture, too. The image also has good balance, and a little quirkiness that plays to the theme of the competition. There are two things that could use improvement here – firstly, I don’t care much for the superimposed text; I feel it ruins a perfectly strong image. Secondly, the cut off watch at bottom right is distracting because it’s the only hard, non-organic shape that intersects the edge of the frame.

Lynne Shaheen – Pure concentration
Lynne Shaheen
Here, the human element sits in isolation – total concentration is an apt title. The subject’s difficult pose is isolated nicely by depth of field; however the bokeh also serves to provide psychological reinforcement for the title, as though the gymnast is completely focusing on the next pole only – and blurring out his environment. Overall though, the subject is vertical – but the frame is horizontal; this has resulted in a lot of empty space on left and right that don’t particularly add anything to the shot, as well as a cut off hand at the top edge. It’s important when shooting action to remember that there are other useable focus points apart from the center one, and that the camera can be rotated. Finally, lighting manages to be both somewhat flat and in the wrong place – the gymnast’s legs are well highlighted, but his face and bulk of upper body are in shadow and not so well defined.

Ferry Zievinger – Bench sharing
ferry zievinger
This interesting split frame manages to do two interesting things – humanize an animal, and animalize a human. I find this juxtaposition interesting, and here, well executed; whilst there’s symmetry to the frame, the precise balance has been adjusted to take into account the different shapes of animal and man. My one criticism of this image isn’t to do with the framing, composition or execution; it’s the processing. There’s so much textural variation here, it’s a shame that it isn’t more obvious; the top third of the frame is actually quite flat. And a little strategic dodge and burn around the face and t-shirt of the man would have helped tonally balance out the bright white portion of the dog.

Kristian Dowling – untitled
kristian dowling 2
A beautiful, tender moment captured between mother and daughter. The windblown hair, to me, adds a dynamic, transient feeling to the overall image; suggesting that perhaps such instants are fleeting and to be appreciated (and clearly, captured). It’s a great moment, but the execution has opportunities for improvement – firstly, left-right balance of this image a bit off; the heads of the subjects blend into the trees, and the white sky feels empty. Secondly, the overall image is somewhat flat, especially in the facial tones; yet there’s a clear halo behind the arms of the mother where the subjects were lightened.

Robert Yong Lee – Intersections
robert yong lee
This image takes a very different interpretation of the topic – an abstract, almost painterly scene has an empty spot that’s filled conveniently by a generic human shape – very much making it the human element of the scene, and nothing more. I like the use of large depth of field and texture here; amplified further by the highly directional light source, emphasizing textures in the frame. Overall, it’s balanced; the window frame at left could perhaps have been dodged a little to separate it out from the shadow of the lamp post and visually balance the lighter right side, though. Similarly with the shadowed pavement.

Arthur Wang – Working men: a city street
Working Men Chaotic City
Last, but not least – the utter chaos in the scene comes through well in the image; I almost feel like the atmospheric dust is amplified or reinforced by the slightly low contrast processing (though a little more contrast might have been nice). Here, the human element is everywhere but in the top left corner – and the slant of the frame doesn’t help this at all; in fact, it causes the two people in the foreground to be a little cut off. Yet somehow, the frame works as a whole – these technical imperfections seem to reinforce the business and chaotic nature of the actual location. There are two distracting edge elements, though – the handlebars of the bicycle intersecting the shadow of the car at bottom center, and the large gray object on the right edge. Framing left and down a little would have solved both of these problems.

In the end, the image that drew my eye back to it time and again was Broadway Bus – congratulations to Rafael Macia! The image has soul, grit and emotion – those very human characteristics. You win the first prize of US$300. The honourable mention (and $120) goes to Robert Yong Lee for intersections – I love the abstract, painterly quality of the image, and the creative interpretation of the theme; however, the shadow casts a certain detachment to proceedings which doesn’t quite lend the same impact as a non-abstracted person in the scene would.  I think this was a very close fight between the finalists, and everybody should be proud of their work. I’ll be in touch with both winners via email to sort out remittances.

Get ready for the next competition announcement, in a couple of hours. MT


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  1. Thanks all! And congratulations to Rafael and to all the finalists. I’m humbled to be in such impressive company, let alone to be noticed among them. Thanks especially to Ming for both organizing this contest and for the very perceptive critiques. I learned a lot just looking and reading through this selection. And congratulations, too!

    Alvan, thank you for taking a second look, that increasingly rare grace is much appreciated. I know exactly the TOP image you are talking about, the one by Gordon Lewis, and I’m flattered by the comparison–I really liked his photograph! FYI both Gordon’s and my images were taken in Philadelphia PA, by TOP “regulars”.

    Robert Yong Lee

    • Both are great shots, yet they have a different personality – I feel Gordon’s is more organic, and yours is more structured.

      Looking forward to your entry for the Compact Challenge for August! 🙂

  2. Rafael Macia says:

    All interesting points of view. Thank you for those.

    “Just curious, Rafael. I can’t really tell from the photo — was he asleep or just looking down at that moment?”
    Have no idea, I was standing up , waiting for the bus to stop when I first saw him.

    “But having said this, I would have taken that shot too, if I managed to muster the courage to!”
    I lost a lot of heartbeats taking the photo. lol ….

    When I saw him, something told me I was given something great. What subject matter! I think of myself as a sort of hunter, ( and ……and photographers are hunters, …… make no mistake about that !!)

    I swung the camera up, set, and shot.
    A moment later I was off the bus, heart racing ……the subject was so visually rich.

    When I work, in this instance, and for the most part in all I have ever done, there is never any thinking involved. I am not talking about working out the mechanics of using cameras. That I think about !
    But in the actual capturing of images, thinking, while I am working is not part of what I am doing. While photographing, there are no words in my head, no talking to myself, no wondering. No intellectualizing. What to shoot seems to just happen. Subjects seem to have some kind of “structure”, which accelerates me. Maybe it is visual, chemical, intellectual or whatever … I honestly don’t know.
    With me, I can truthfully say all actual photography is 100% instinctive.
    I take a picture, like I throw a baseball.
    I don’t “aim” my photography.

    • The best photography is often intuitive because there’s something in the subject that just works for us at a subconscious level; if your level of skill is high enough, then muscle memory takes over and you capture what you see. If we have to think about it too much, sometimes the images just don’t work as well…

  3. Rafael Macia says:

    Thank you all, for your congratulations !
    Broadway Bus is an image which just presented itself. I was getting off when I saw this strange, and (for me), sad, and isolated man. The swim goggles really did it for me.
    I hated myself for shooting him, so close, and without common courtesy.
    He didn’t move a muscle.
    My heart was racing when I stepped off the bus.
    I must always carry my camera !
    A special thank you to Ming Thien, for being so kind to host this elegant venue for photography.

    Ming you are a class act!

    • Thanks Rafael – and well done again, great image. Next time, if you feel uncomfortable – a simple smile and a nod can make a huge difference in the way both of you feel about the photographic encounter afterwards. I find it does wonders for me. 🙂

      • Rafael Macia says:

        Good advice Ming. I have shot lots of people, over the years. This fellow was just so different !
        The visual of the subject was so strong. He was the equivalent of a child with a tear in his eye and a bloated belly (forgive the heavy analogy …). When I said I hated myself for shooting him, I guess, in thinking about it again, I hated myself for taking a “cheap shot”. Strong subject matter, is often confused with good photography.

    • Just curious, Rafael. I can’t really tell from the photo — was he asleep or just looking down at that moment?

      Anyway, I think I understand how you felt about taking this shot.. the feeling of having exploited him somehow? That’s one reason I only take and show ‘happy’ photos when I face situations showing extreme misery, poverty and the likes. The other important reason is, I’m a coward.. taking photos of strangers take a lot out of me. (And Ming Thein’s tips are useful in this regard; I might try them out someday.)

      But having said this, I would have taken that shot too, if I managed to muster the courage to!

      I love your photo.

      • I’ve always had mixed feelings on this subject. A lot of ‘street photographers’ like to shoot homeless, mentally ill etc because they’re easy targets. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think it matters whether you shoot them or not, but how you treat them while you do – if you (personally, in your actions) and your images show respect for them as a person, just like anybody else, I think it’s fine; but to treat them like zoo animals to provide a few images for a review like most ‘street photographers’ is both inhumane and undignified. Social documentary with the aim of helping is noble; cheap art is not. I personally don’t photograph homeless etc because I don’t think it’s always easy to convey this sincerity to them, and moreover I don’t think my work will ever be seen in a place where it’s likely to make a difference.

        And Rafael, I can understand why you feel mixed about the image – but I don’t think it comes across as exploitative or derisive. And this is what makes the difference for me: there is palpable emotion there, you can feel it.

  4. Well done Rafael and Robert! Big congratulations to all who made Ming’s top 10, quite an achievement in itself! Have to say I particularly like Lynne Shaheen’s “Pure concentration”, love the colour and serene power of it. Thanks for making it happen Ming!

  5. Wow! Congratulations to all the participants and the selected photographers of the images that made it to the top 10, congrats to Rafael and Robert.
    Thank you to Ming for the feedback on my photo and for organizing this competition, I appreciate it. I will make sure to share and promote this with my friends and followers out there.


  6. Congrats to the top 2 winners, and worthy ones they are. Rafael’s winning pix makes me smile a super-wide smile. I was less than impressed by Robert’s, till I changed my mind after viewing it again on a bigger, better screen. The texture, wow! Reminds me too, in a good way, of a popular print sold via Mike Johnson’s TOP site. Ferry’s is also appealing to me.

    And thanks, Ming Thein, for picking mine for the critique. I’m honoured to be placed. In case anyone’s curious, the photo was taken in Maliana, a rather obscure town in Timor-Leste (where I was stationed for a year as a volunteer teacher).

    Now, to get cracking on the compact challenge.. 🙂

    • No problem – thanks again for your support. I think the two winners are almost polar opposites – and the deliberately broad interpretations of the theme helped create them.

      Looking forward to your next entry! 🙂

  7. Great Photos!
    Thank Ming for this competition!
    Gratz for winners!

  8. Digital Adrian says:

    Congrats for the winners and the top 10! Awesome photography! And thanks to you Ming for setting this up.

  9. daniel newport says:

    Wonderful photos. Thanks for holding the contest!

  10. Congratulations 4 all!
    My personal favorites are: Robert, Arthur, Ferry and Rafael

  11. Great selection of finalists and well deserved winners – love the goggle and expression on the winning picture. Well done guys and congrats on a sweet competition Ming.

  12. Great shots everyone…very inspiring…thank you for organising Ming.

  13. deedeephotog says:

    PS – the link to your August contest is giving a 404 error (linking from both here and your email.)

  14. I am so excited to be in the top 10 and in the company of such excellent images! Thank you! 🙂 And, I really appreciate the feedback on my image, as well as the others. I can learn something from all of your comments. Congratulations to the winners!

  15. Wonderful shots from everyone! Can’t argue with those Top 10! 🙂

  16. Ben Hopkins says:

    Thanks Ming, it is an honor to be considered and the criticism is greatly appreciated! After spending so much time with D800 files it was eye-opening to go back and reprocess what was essentially a 2.5MP crop from 6 years ago. It made me appreciate the incremental technological advances.

    • Thanks for entering, Ben! The amount of latitude we get in files today is quite incredible. I was reminded of it recently when trying to deal with the JPEGs from the RX100…I miss raw!!

  17. Congratulations to the winners, and to the top 10, and thanks to Ming for running the contest!

  18. Travis Rhodes says:

    Solid set. I’m very happy to be amongst such solid company. Congrats to Rafael and Robert!

  19. Really nice! Cool to see great stuff come out of the woodwork. Excellent incentive for shooting more and trying to improve technique. Great winners! Thanks!


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