View Full Version : Submitting Certification images for review & critique... please read!

01-29-2011, 04:53 PM
I just want to make a quick reminder to all the folks who are out there working on images for certification portfolio submissions. There is a lot of really good work going on out there, so kudos to everyone working on improving their skills!!

The best advice I can give is to really, truthfully, step back and take a very objective view of the images you're thinking about using for certification. It should be a sample of your absolute, very very best work. If you see flaws in the image, the judges will, too. They are well trained professionals who know when posing is off, when lighting is off or nonexistent, and who know when you've tried to hide something with a texture, burning, or other technique.

The judges don't know how hard it was to capture that one image of that frisky little child or how heartwarming it was to capture that family, or how that one sweet senior girl cried when she saw her images and then spent boatloads of money on them. The judges don't know any of that, which is why we absolutely MUST take an objective view of our images.

Being able to see the strong and the weak in our images is what ultimately makes us better photographers.

When you're looking at your images, do a mental checklist on some of these critical things that keep coming up over and over again in the submissions we're seeing:

1) Is there an actual lighting pattern in this image? Do you know what a lighting pattern is and how to achieve it? If not, go back to square one and learn everything you can about that, then practice, practice, practice. If you don't have a lighting pattern in your image, it will not pass submission. Do it on purpose, not on accident. Know how to minimize flaws in a subject and how to accentuate their positives. On a side note, ON-CAMERA FLASH does not qualify as "lighting." Please do not submit images with on-camera flash.
2) How is your subject posed? Is it flattering? Is there anything you would change in that image to make your subject look better? If the answer is yes, then find another image. Not many people can be photographed straight-on to the camera who wouldn't look better by bending, twisting, turning, or tilting some part of the body to create more contour and dimension. Is the posing awkward or forced? Even if it was a "natural" capture, how does it come across to the viewer? Remember, we weren't there, so your image has to tell us a story without words. Make sure relationships between objects or other people is natural and flattering. Don't crop off body parts at the joints (like fingers, elbows, knees, etc.). It creates tension in an image and if there's no other way to do it, find a different image.
3) Color. Do your colors go together? If your client shows up in terrible clothing, don't use that image for certification! Does your background go with your subject? You don't have to be matchy-matchy, but you must understand color harmony and how it works - and actually use that in your images. If you have 7 different patterns going on in your image with a rainbow of colors, don't use it.
4) Clothing. While clothing falls under the color category, too, it's a category all by itself as well. Is it well fitting? Is it pressed?? Don't submit images where clothing is wrinkled or the subject looks unkempt - unless it's all supposed to be that way and it's done completely on purpose. Anything else just comes across as sloppy.
5) Hair. Take the time to fix hair when you shoot. It's a lot harder to do in photoshop, so just take the 10 seconds to fix it when you're actually shooting. If you have messy hair that isn't meant to be that way, don't use the image.


You need to find the very best representation of your work, and if that means you need to wait and improve and study and work a little longer, then do those things.

For some, this will be the most difficult aspect of the certification process. There are lots of folks willing to help, but please make sure that you're showing your very best work as you go seeking that help.

Disclaimer: this is simply a compilation of issues that we're seeing over and over again as more folks gear up for certification, and is not even remotely directed at any one or any group in particular.

01-29-2011, 05:40 PM
Heather, Et al.,

You've neatly summed up many of the comments I've made on various images I've reviewed for critiques. You have to be your own worst critic. I don't mean to brag but this story shows what I mean. I did a shoot for a magazine. There were several things I thought I could do better. Better if we had more time. Better if I had thought about this that and the other thing. Now three months later, one of those photos graces the cover of the magazine. Let others tell you how great your work is. Learn to see all the flaws and know what you can do better the next time.

Now, once again, I have to reiterate, I've seen a lot of images submitted for critique which have poor color and exposure correction. Those will most definitely will not allow a photographer to become certified. Color and exposure are two of the most basic criteria for a photo. So much so, that when I'm critiquing, I usually don't go past that when it is wrong. I also saw several images where post processing was used to hid a problem. I consider myself an average photographer with eight years of experience. The judges have a much better trained eye. So if I see a problem, rest assured they will too.

Let's talk about monochrome images for a moment. When used properly it can result in a stunning image. You can't use monochrome, be it B/W or sepia, to hide flaws. If an image is over/under exposed in color, then it will be over/under exposed in monochrome. Some of the judges are real experts at monochrome photography. You've really got to nail a monochrome image if you are planning to submit it for certification.

If you think we are being hard on you now, please understand we're really doing you a favor. The judges will only give you a pass/fail for your portfolio. There might only be one image which causes you to fail but you'll never know. We'd rather be hard now so you are submitting your absolute best portfolio. When you receive the wonderful news that you passes, we'll be able to say, we knew you would.

01-29-2011, 07:02 PM
Thanks for chiming in, Howard. You know, one of the best things someone told me once, years ago was, "Heather, you can do better."

Actually, come to think of it, I've heard that recently as well!

01-29-2011, 08:35 PM
I meant it as a joke! Jeesh, one comment in a brazilian steakhouse....

01-29-2011, 08:39 PM
Extremely well put Heather. I've wracked my brains trying to think of a way to say what you said but for the life of me the words just wouldn't come out.

Allow me to add this.....

Cursing the screen is allowed and expected. I did it often. Sometimes loudly. Prepare to be frustrated. You will get the feeling that your work truly sucks. You will become defensive. This is all part of learning to judge yourself. If certification was easy it would be worthless. If you keep the lighting patterns in mind that Heather mentioned it will help you to submit your best images. The way I managed to pick my final 20 was I wrote the description first and then found a image to match. I know this sounds odd but it worked. My descriptions(statement of purpose) were worded like this:
1. Example of short light in studio.
2. Example of broad light in studio
3. Example of Wedding group indoors
4. Example of Butterfly light with child
5. Example of outdoor light using reflectors

One last thing to keep in mind... Certification is not learning to be a professional...it's proving you are a professional. Take it seriously and be very VERY critical of every image you submit. Good luck and thank you for taking the time to become certified.

01-29-2011, 08:40 PM
I want to add as well....please send in only work from actual paying clients. The images you made on vacation are not "self assignments" nor were you hired by Acadia National Park to photograph that lighthouse. (well maybe you were) I understand the desire to show that you have good work, but certification requires the work to be performed for real clients. Not friends or family etc.

If you do not have 20 paying clients yet....then you likely are not a professional photographer yet.

I know this might ruffle some feathers, but dig deep. You can do this!

01-30-2011, 04:50 PM
Thanks for chiming in, Howard. You know, one of the best things someone told me once, years ago was, "Heather, you can do better."

Actually, come to think of it, I've heard that recently as well!

As good as I think my work is, I tell myself "you can do better" after nearly every session. I almost always find something I can improve on.