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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Win a Ribbon! (long post)
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12/31/2004 05:09:16 PM · #1
Are you stuck in the 4-5 scoring range? Not getting the comments you need to improve? People speak in hushed tones about a 'recipe' for winning ribbons on DPC. Well, I've managed to smuggle the faded blueprints out of Iceland to share with you all.

DPC offers excellent tutorials on camera technique, but nothing to help you decide WHAT to shoot. This IS a photography site, but concept is king. It says so right in the voting guidelines. Of course, a poor shot of a good idea isn't going to ribbon. You do have to understand your equipment and good photography principles, but the focused challenge is what makes this site special! That National Geographic photo of a green-eyed Afghan girl wouldn't top 4 in an Architecture challenge.

Your challenge:
Shoot an Endangered Species Capture a photo of something for the benefit of later generations who may never see one.

It seems like every challenge spawns one or more forum posts where people pick apart the wording of the challenge description and argue over what does or doesn't fit (electronic vs. electric... puh-lease). As soon as the topic ventures into unfamiliar territory, people get confused. What to do?

First, read the description carefully and try to understand the general direction of the topic. Each description is a guideline, not a shopping list. Think about what the author might have intended, but don't read between the lines for instructions that don't exist, and don't get hung up on possible definitions for each word. What can you think of to fit this challenge?

Obviously, you could go to the zoo and shoot any number of rare animals. This being a photo site, some people will setup a film camera as their endangered subject. Others will look at old tech... cassette tapes, floppy discs, etc. Clean water could be endangered. Maybe your shot isn't a physical thing, but a concept like manners or compassion. So how do we pick a ribbon winner?

Clearly, a recognizably rare animal would work. A Bolivian mushroom might be endangered, but more people will recognize a tiger. If you have access to a condor or rhino, it would be foolish to ignore it (NEVER ignore a rhino). Remember that this is the most obvious choice, so a common shot isn't going to cut it. You must find something extraordinary in such a commodity to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps your shot emphasizes the tiger's small cage or isolation, maybe it's a close-up of the tiger's eye with a teardrop, or you might even seek out a zookeeper for a chance to catch them caring for a cub. NOW you're making a visual distinction between tiger and endangered animal! Can't you just feel your score rising?

Don't have a Whooping Crane handy? Can you substitute a stuffed animal? Well, no. Unless you can fool everyone into thinking it's real, don't even try it. Toys usually fail because they scream "amateur." Look at past entries that scored in the 3.5-4.5 range and you'll find them filled with whatever objects the photographer found handy around the house. Voters recognize a lack of effort and the punishment is severe. Any of the above ideas can work IF you can clearly show the endangered aspect. Don't assume that your audience will understand the concept- it's your job to communicate it! Show that old film camera being used as a wheel chock, shoot a broken phone booth with trash cans under it. Convince your audience that these things won't be around much longer. Make sure your subject is universally understood as endangered, and stands out from others who might choose the same subject. Whatever you select, don't just set it on a table and take a picture of it- boring shots get low votes and few comments. Winning shots aren't just photos, they tell a story.

What if I dress up my pet Chihuahua and enter that? The conventional wisdom is that voters don't like kids and pets. Not true. Both are well represented among the favorite photos on this site. The trick is to do something special with common subjects. If you just plop Snowball on a couch and snap a pic that looks like your aunt Mabel could have taken it, you might as well tie a boat anchor to your score. Seek out uncommon poses, unique lighting and original situations. Check your camera settings carefully and shoot in burst mode- you won't get a second chance with high-energy subjects. Look at the work of Heida, Librodo or Sonifo. Note how they capture the emotion with technical perfection. You must do no less.

I've seen lots of folks complain that thinking outside the box doesn't work. Nonsense. Take a photo of a forest that's been clear cut down to stumps with any wild animal in the distance. Capture an old native artisan practicing a dying craft. Those are ribbons. A little imagination will open up a world of possibilities for any challenge, and voters often appreciate a refreshing break from the obvious. As long as the challenge connection is clear (without explaining it in the title), you're in good shape.

So what about the titles? Avoid repeating the challenge description. Use similar terms that will add to your image. "Last of the X," "Farewell X," or "Where have all the X gone?" You get the idea. The title is another opportunity to connect with your audience and inspire some feeling or insight. Don't waste it by restating the challenge or simply identifying the obvious. Your title is the icing on your digital cake.

Final tips: Simplicity is your friend. The fewer things a viewer has to look at, the easier it is to guide their attention. Eliminate anything that doesn't enhance your photo (including distracting elements, borders and special effects). Flaws like poor focus, crooked horizons and odd color balance are favorite targets for point deductions. Make sure your shot isn't wearing one of these "kick me" signs, and you'll be scored on the photo rather than the mistakes. Good luck!
12/31/2004 05:26:37 PM · #2
Wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to compose and share this.

Robt.

12/31/2004 05:27:30 PM · #3
I have to say -- well said!
12/31/2004 05:38:31 PM · #4
Very nice guide!! Now, if I could just overcome that 'lack of talent' thingy.....
12/31/2004 05:48:15 PM · #5
Great synopsis of what it takes to win. Unfortunately it is easier said, or in this case read, than done.
12/31/2004 05:55:15 PM · #6
Great post Shannon, thanks. I've caught snippets of your philosophy from past forum posts, and these have turned me into a "shannon watcher," if you say something, I generally sit up and listen. This message of yours will be studied by many, I'd venture to say, and will make all of us look a little differently at the results of our past shoots, and make us think more carefully before pressing the shutter for future ones.
12/31/2004 06:01:37 PM · #7
Very good post. I thank you. Now if I can just follow your suggestions.
12/31/2004 06:03:03 PM · #8
Great post Shannon.

As one of my mentors here, I appreciate you sharing this, and be warned that I will use this information to gain an edge against you in upcoming Challenges!

Borders? We don't need no stinkin' borders! - LOL


Message edited by author 2004-12-31 18:16:22.
12/31/2004 06:05:41 PM · #9
Excellent post (I swear I have read this somewhere before ;-D ) You may want to consider preparing this for a tutorial with some photo examples. This way it will always be available otherwise you could keep 'bumping' this thread forever.

T
12/31/2004 06:18:45 PM · #10
Originally posted by BradP:

...be warned that I will use this information to gain an edge against you in upcoming Challenges!


Oh crap! The blueprints have fallen into enemy hands! ;-)
12/31/2004 06:21:48 PM · #11
Originally posted by timj351:

You may want to consider preparing this for a tutorial with some photo examples.


Love to, Tim, but adding the code for even one photo example makes the text too long to post. I'll wait to see if others have something to add, then work up a file for the tutorial section. Already, I can see the need for a section on appeal. Thanks for your help earlier.

Message edited by author 2004-12-31 18:24:46.
12/31/2004 06:32:07 PM · #12
so your saying i shouldn't use toys or borders...

I'm gonna have a go at that one!
12/31/2004 06:36:17 PM · #13
Originally posted by ericlimon:

so your saying i shouldn't use toys or borders...


I'm saying newbies shouldn't use toys or borders. YOU shouldn't be reading a post on how to win a ribbon!
12/31/2004 06:39:54 PM · #14
Great post, you are an asset to dpchallenge.

Thanks again,

Travis

12/31/2004 06:40:52 PM · #15
Originally posted by scalvert:

Originally posted by timj351:

You may want to consider preparing this for a tutorial with some photo examples.


Love to, Tim, but adding the code for even one photo example makes the text too long to post. I'll wait to see if others have something to add, then work up a file for the tutorial section. Already, I can see the need for a section on appeal. Thanks for your help earlier.


It isn't necessary for you to code anything. Just copy your text into a word document and wherever a photo will be placed type in 'place photo such and such here' in parenthesis. Save this out as a .txt document in it's own folder. In this folder copy the appropriately sized jpegs with their corresponding names. Then zip up the contents of this folder and send the zip file to Drew or Langdon and they will put it together for you for your tutorial upon approval.

And, yes, you might want to wait until you have added the section on talent: How to avoid taking crappy pictures :-)

T
12/31/2004 06:55:39 PM · #16
if anyone is interested in some additional reading, check out the photographer notes on these images. this will give you a lot of insight into the effort that separates a 4-5 score from a 6-7 score...
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/241/thumb/95701.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/241/thumb/95701.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/276/thumb/120752.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/276/thumb/120752.jpg', '/') + 1) . ' ' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/285/thumb/126581.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/285/thumb/126581.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

thanks, shannon!
12/31/2004 07:06:42 PM · #17
Great insight.
12/31/2004 08:01:18 PM · #18
What a great post! Thankyou Shannon. This is not just about winning ribbons, but also about making all our images more effective, more emotive, more appealing.

Would love to see this as a tutorial, but in the meantime I think I'll print it off so I don't lose it!

sue
01/01/2005 12:27:16 AM · #19
A great post Scalvert!

Happy New Year!
01/01/2005 01:48:58 AM · #20
excellent post, shannon! thanks for taking the time to write it!

happy new year! :)
01/01/2005 01:42:04 PM · #21
I'm bumping this so more people can read it
01/01/2005 02:00:14 PM · #22
What if I dress up my pet Chihuahua and enter that?
' . substr('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/214/thumb/75278.jpg', strrpos('//images.dpchallenge.com/images_challenge/214/thumb/75278.jpg', '/') + 1) . '

Or a pig? This is exactly what this site is for, a learning experience with real life examples. By study of ribbon leaders climb to the top, tutorials, and constructive guidance we all learn to improve our technique and creative eye. Thanks for the great post.
01/01/2005 02:08:14 PM · #23
Originally posted by whatdewuc:

Or a pig?


Oh you had to dredge THAT up. :-/
01/01/2005 02:20:31 PM · #24
Originally posted by scalvert:

Originally posted by whatdewuc:

Or a pig?


Oh you had to dredge THAT up. :-/


Well you did mention being stuck in the 4-5 range. Thanks for leading by example. ;-)
01/01/2005 02:26:18 PM · #25
You should have posted this earlier, scalvert :) Good one.
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