Our May judge, Alison Shaw of Martha's Vineyard, chose 40 finalists from this month's entries. Her comments:
I took the liberty of judging these photos with my partner, Sue Dawson, a former designer at The Boston Globe, and co-owner of Alison Shaw Photography and Gallery. We looked through the photos separately, and then compared our lists. Interestingly, we agreed on our top choices, but our opinions varied a bit as we went through the photos again and again, looking for the next tier of photos to choose.
I bring this up because for both of us, the most creative and unique photos stood out from the crowd. The photos that didn't make the cut bothered one or both of us in some way, and we found ourselves talking about what we'd have done to solve the problem.
"I'd like to see this taken from low to the ground," or "great light, but the color is off," or "if you just crop off this side, look how it improves the composition."
I teach workshops, and this conversation made me want to talk to each photographer and share my feedback, to show how the slightest shift could improve a number of these shots. Getting rid of sensor dust, leveling the horizon, simplifying the composition, correcting color casts, contrast, focus - all of these are important to address with a final photograph.
Overall, the most distinctive photos often had beautiful light and a tight, simple composition. The simpler the thought, the better. Any extraneous detail can detract from landscape photographs, so I always look for ways to distill the image down to its essence. I'm looking for a feeling. There are times when that feeling is supported by a busy composition, as with urban landscapes. But even then, I want everything in the shot to make sense compositionally, to not distract. There are some very successful images in this group that elicit a strong feeling, and others that lose my interest, because of a leaf, or a tree limb that edges into the frame and distracts me.
A number of the photographs were either trite or felt like snapshots. Any photos of a highly recognizable or tritely pretty scene needs to be really unique, creative, and technically well executed. Unusual light can be the answer, or unusual perspective and composition. The successful shots are ones where the photographer made the absolute most of the light, the lines of the composition, the location of the horizon line. Sue kept putting her hand up to the screen to crop - more sky, less sky, tipping the balance somehow. And I must say, in this age of digital photography and Photoshop, avoid gimmicks that are used for the sake of gimmicks. Just because there's a texture feature doesn't mean you should use it, unless it really does support your creative vision. With Photoshop, it's important to know when to stop.
Finally, my newest work is about abstracting what I see, so the images I was most drawn to were particularly creative. After more than 30 years of shooting the same island over and over, I'm pushing my subject matter to new limits, so I'm most engaged when other photographers show me something I haven't seen before.
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