Taking good pictures is an exciting and productive talent to have. There are many uses for photography in God’s Work—even from a teen. If you take a good picture, it could be published in one of our magazines, on one of our websites, or used in a number of other ways.
Between age 14 and 17, I entered pictures into teen talent contests three or four times, and I never won. Today, I do a lot with photography. So if you enter something into the Teen Talent Contest this year and don’t win, don’t get negative about it and say that it’s not for you. It takes a lot of time and effort to become proficient at something. And in a sense, participation wins you more experience and better skills in this medium.
There are specific things you can do to take a prize-winning photograph: Here are seven.
Pray about it.
Obviously, the first thing you need to do in any category is pray about it. We don’t pray to win because that would be praying that God would cause someone to lose. Pray that God inspires your eyes to spot something that will make an appealing photograph. If you make it to the final round, your picture will be on display during pyc 2019, so pray that it would be something that everyone will enjoy looking at.
Know the rules of the competition.
Every year, even though we make the rules plain, there are photography entries that get disqualified because the contestant didn’t follow the rules. For example, all pictures must be matted. In the past, there have been pictures that were so good that they probably would have won—but they were disqualified because they weren’t matted. Matting increases the quality of the photo, plus it gives you something to keep after the contest.
Another rule is that pictures must be no smaller than 8x10, which is about the size of an iPad. If the pictures are smaller than that, they are disqualified. We stress the importance of submitting quality work. If you were going to apply for a job as a photographer, you would want to submit a big picture so your potential employer could see your work in detail. There is no maximum size for the pictures.
Generally, a larger picture is more likely to be noticed by the judges, and that is what you want. You can enter up to three pictures. Any remaining rules are explained on: https://www.pcog.org/teen-talent-contest.
Know the categories.
We have four categories in the photography contest, and all pictures that are going to be judged must fall into one of these categories.
Nature: Anything that doesn’t put the emphasis on a man-made object or a person as the main focus would fall into the nature category. Examples include: landscape, animals, waterfalls, trees, macro photography, etc—anything that naturally occurs in the wild.
Travel: Anything that conveys a sense of place. You don’t necessarily have to take the picture while you are traveling; you could take it right where you live. The picture just needs to tell the story of its location. So even if you didn’t go to Africa and snap a picture of a lion chasing a wildebeest, you can find something unique where you live and take a picture of that.
People: Any picture where a human being is the dominant feature. This includes sports photography—someone playing basketball or soccer, for instance. A formal portrait of a person or family would also work.
Elements of design: Anything that focuses on the artistic use of an object and has strong elements in it. This could be something like a rusty old piece of metal that you see sitting in a green field. There is texture and contrast in a picture like that.
Those are the general categories that your submissions need to fall into. There is a lot of leeway in each of those categories, so be creative!
Do your research.
Learn how to properly take a picture, and learn the specifics for the type of shot that you want to take. If you want to take a picture of a fruit bowl, find out how a professional would do it. It takes more time to research the proper technique for taking a picture than it does to quickly snap one with an iPhone, but the judges are looking for entries that strive for perfection, so that extra time is worth it.
Avoid clichés and things that don’t stand out.
For instance, don’t just take a picture of a flower. This won’t get a judge’s attention because a flower already looks pretty. Find a way to make that flower stand out.
Another example of this would be pictures of Armstrong Auditorium. The Auditorium looks great from any angle, so a picture looking head-on at the Auditorium most likely won’t place—it isn’t unusual enough. The judges love to see unique angles. They want to see an angle of the Auditorium that they have never seen before.
Avoid distracting elements.
Make sure that your picture has a clear focal point, and don’t let other objects within the picture crowd out that focal point. You want the judges to know what your subject is right away. For example, if you are taking a picture of a person at a desk, make sure his or her computer, water bottle, papers, pens and anything else on the desk aren’t in the way. That sort of clutter will only distract the judges.
Go for a reaction.
The picture you submit should be something that stops the judges’ eyes and makes them want to keep looking at it. In the first round of judging, each picture receives a score. The pictures that get a high enough score will make it into the second round of judging. In the second round, the judges lay all of the pictures next to each other on a flat surface and look at them all together. Then, the judges start eliminating them one by one—based on the ones that don’t catch their attention. So if you want to stay in the competition, make sure you find a way to catch their attention!
Those are all actions that you can take to produce the best pictures possible. But there are also several other specific things that the judges will be looking for.
1. Technique. Is the picture in focus? Usually people have the most trouble with a picture not being in focus because they have a camera with a relatively small sensor. To help solve this problem, make sure you are using the best stabilization method you can. It might be best to put your camera on a solid surface and set a self-timer rather than trying to stabilize it in your hands.
Aim for a dynamic photo. Get a friend to ride by you on a bicycle and take lots of pictures. If you do it properly and get one centered directly on your friend, the background will be somewhat blurred and your friend will be crystal clear—and that will get the judges’ attention.
Learn to direct the eye. The judge’s eye will automatically go to the area of highest contrast, so a sharp change between light and dark would be a good thing to incorporate into your picture.
If you do crop a picture, be sure that you don’t crop it too dramatically. When you crop or zoom in on a picture, the quality of your shot will degrade because you are lowering the quality of the file. A nicer camera can do a better job of keeping the quality high when you crop a picture, but a nicer camera isn’t required to win the contest if you take a picture that doesn’t need to be cropped.
2. Lighting. The right lighting can be the difference between a great picture and a terrible one. Know what you want to capture. Know the exact angle you want and at what time the lighting will be perfect. Visualize what your picture will look like before you take it.
3. Equipment. The judges will be able to tell if you used the correct lens to take your picture based on its quality. That said, the best pictures do not necessarily require the best cameras and added software. You can buy a low-end camera from Walmart for $35-$55, and it would be good enough to win the contest—or certainly good enough to provide the resolution you’d need to win the contest. Some pictures that have won in the past were taken on an iPhone. Don’t feel like you can’t enter the contest because you don’t have a $1,000 camera!
4. Presentation. You need a mat to fulfill the requirements for the contest, but make sure the mat matches and enhances the picture as best it can. Refine your composition. If your picture has distracting elements in it, crop them out. Post-processing products like Adobe Lightroom can help you with cropping a picture or editing it in some way. If you don’t have Lightroom, you can download a free 30-day trial and use that while you are preparing your pictures for the Teen Talent Contest.
If you follow these guidelines, they will help you with the photography category of the Teen Talent Contest. If you’ve entered the contest before, try it again, and see if you can improve. If you’ve never entered before, please do! You’ll improve your photography skills just from the experience. The more you practice taking pictures, the better you’ll get at it.