Photographers – Artists or Tradesmen? – Part One

Only a few short months ago in London, when the Sun was sort of shining, on and off,  meeting my best friend from school and walking around the National Gallery was a wonderful way to recharge life’s batteries and put many things into perspective. Recently I have had many people ask me what photographers have influenced me creatively and my answer is always the same….none. It’s not that I don’t have respect for fellow professionals past and present or admire their work, it’s way more than that. Let me first ask who or what are photographers in the 21st century? Surely if there had been cameras around in the Renaissance or the Baroque, wouldn’t they simply be called artists? Isn’t a camera simply another tool of capture and expression as much as a paint brush, palette knife or canvas? Wouldn’t they have been driven, patronised and commissioned by exactly the same people back then? Those being the Church or the extraordinarily wealthy wishing to commemorate their status in society and buy their way to immortality via the Pearly Gates?

What made them artists in those halcyon days was their use of light and its importance in showing a three dimensionality to their subjects. So if I have to identify a great difference, then it would be that on the whole, photographers have extremely poor lighting skills and simply forget that our art and craft is all about flattery! I think if Lorenzo de Medici commissioned your average photographer back then, it would not have been long before their heads adorned spikes in St.Mark’s Square! So here’s a wake up call to all those who have poor or no skills and scream “It’s all about expression and the moment”. How wrong can you be and if only it were as simple as that!

I remember my first day on my Fine Art Foundation Course just like it was yesterday. A bunch of enthusiastic, idealistic Art students proudly turn up with mahogany boxes loaded with Windsor & Newton oil colours, palette knives, sable and hogs hair brushes only to have them gathered up and locked away in a cupboard. Our tutor, a crazy Yorkshireman called John Yeadon, whose idea of a holiday was throwing stones at the troops in Chile, travelling with his beloved Cello and wrinkled clothes crammed in its battered case, handed us each a toothbrush with the immortal words “You buggers will learn to see light in all it’s beauty AND learn to paint with this!!!! When you’ve learned that, you can have your posh boxes back!” Talk about a wake up call!

Next instalment coming very soon….


To enter, or not to enter…that is the question!

Debate rages all over the internet on Photography Awards with a plethora of choice out there, just what should you consider when choosing and entering?

The primary question seems to be one of motive. Why exactly are the organisers offering such amazing prizes or huge financial rewards? What do the organisers get out of it? Will they steal my copyright? Will they hijack my identity? And possible the real big one, are the results ‘fixed’?!!?!

So what makes a great award well worth entering? First of all, integritity. One where the honoured judges are not compromised by being given a whole list of do’s and don’ts that undermine and potentially embarrass them. After all, the final results are firmly pinned to the reputations of the judges rather than the organisers themselves! If a worldwide award purports to truly represent the very best of imaging then ‘censorship’ is highly inappropriate at any level including cultural or religious differences. One shining example of ‘Best Practice’ is the World Press Awards which are probably the most sought after and highly valued accolades. If its ‘Press’ then there are no holds barred which results in a massive diversity of imaging that illustrates or highlights issues, situations or conflicts that affect us all. Their judging process is clean and efficient and their judges are drawn from the upper echelons of the press. Practitioners who have truly seen it all and as they say, got the T Shirt.

Another renowned competition is HIPA, The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum International Photography Award. With a 2014 prize fund exceeding $400,000 USD and a top Prize of $120,000 it is indeed the World’s richest award. This year it has four categories with it’s flagship being “Life in Colour”. This is not what it appears to be at first view. A more understandable interpretation my be more culturally termed, ‘life’s rich pattern’. I am sure the Judges will be looking for far mote than a kaleidoscope of actual colour within images! The other categories are ‘General’ (essentially an open category), Faces (especially for Black & White submissions) and ‘Night Photography’. For more information you can visit

Finally, and this is one close to my heart for many years as its Chairman of Judges, is the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year awards with the acronym, ‘UPOTY’. With a single theme, “Cities at Work”, it poses an exciting challenge to its entrants which for the last two years has been worldwide. Historically there have been prizes for each of the 24 hours of the day with a top prize of a photo safari somewhere in the world. Once again, for more information please visit

Good luck, share your images and be successful!

NEW!!! Custom Workshops on Demand

Lots of things happening in my world at the moment. It’s amazing what a good holiday with lots of walking, fresh air, good food and excellent company can achieve! So, I have decided to totally change the way I organise training days and replace them with Custom Workshops on demand.

The way it works is either One2One, Two or Four participants. From the ‘Menu’ on the Training page on this site, you choose your topics and take it from there…simple! 

A One2One day with me will cost you just £399. Two of you will pay £299 each and a group of four friends or colleagues can ‘design’ their very own workshop day at only £199 per person! You won’t find value like that for the best in hands on photographic education anywhere!

These are amazing introductory prices and each participant will receive my ‘Wedding Photography Workout’ & ‘Back to Basics-Composition’ DVD’s; My ‘Little Book of Lighting’ Ebook and a couple of Template Discs absolutely free! (Worth well over £100) So, contact me now to secure your day. Education is not expensive, its priceless!

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 17 – “Story Telling & Subject Matter”

PART 17 – On the subject of Story Telling and Subject Matter. The penultimate post in this series.

10. Story Telling & Subject Matter

This is definitely, after ‘Impact’ the most determining factor in the success or failure of a competition image. There is an old adage that “A picture is worth a thousand words” and although in many cases this can prove true, what happens in the case of a more passive subject? A landscape for example? In such cases a belief by the viewer that one could live within the image is a powerful emotional response. This is augmented by the ‘mood’ achieved by colour, tone, texture, depth and density.

An experienced Juror will be actively looking for clear narrative within the image. How accurate that story may be is down to personal perception as it is our nature to make up stories that suit us and our personalities. In essence, if an image has a meaning to a Juror, he or she will score it appropriately.

The subject of an image may not always be the choice of the artist. On a professionally commissioned image, the artist should demonstrate that they have made every effort to integrate the subject into an appropriate location with a mood of lighting to support the narrative. Not all images need to be manufactured for entry into image competitions and where it is clear that a properly commissioned portrait or wedding image for example has been submitted, due respect for the artist and their working conditions should be taken into account when scoring.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 16 – “Photographic Technique”

PART 16 on the subject of Technical Excellence

9. Photographic Technique

“Is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, ‘digital negative’ exposure, film choice (If used), digital output to file, paper selection and more are part of the technique applied to an image.”

This at first view appears to be a duplication of the ‘Technical Excellence’ section but should be viewed as a more complete approach that just like ‘Creativity & Style’, distinguishes one image maker from another. Application of chosen techniques must be viewed as appropriate to the outcome or success of the image.

International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 15 – “Technical Excellence”

PART 15 on the subject of Technical Excellence

8. Technical excellence

This element is all about ‘Camera Craft’ or those essential skills required to produce ‘Professional’ standard images. All of those things we took for granted in the days of film photography and before the advent of ‘Auto Everything’.

  • Is it sharp? (*where it needs to be)
  • Is there clear evidence that the artist has used the compositional advantages of the 3:2/4:3/ 1:1 proportion if presented full frame?
  • Is the ‘digital negative’ clearly properly exposed?

All things we took for granted as image makers in the days of film.

When it comes to a physical print, has the artist taken responsibility for the outcome by delivering a properly colour managed file, selecting the appropriate surface and mounts?

*This phrase I have heard many times and has been used as both a positive and negative ‘argument’ in respect of an image. I’ll discuss this issue in a separate article sometime soon!

International Judging & Scoring Systems in Photography – Part 1

Over the course of may years, I have been faced with a huge number of questions questions regarding image competitions. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me “Martin, why didn’t this score a Merit?” (A ‘Merit’ is an image scoring 80 points or more in the system of most well known photographic organisations in the World) then I would be an incredibly wealthy man with no aspirations on winning the lottery! But perhaps I can at least go into the criteria and scoring systems as adopted by the majority of the professional and vocational bodies in the world together with reputable worldwide, international and national competitions and shed a little light on what should not be one of the great mysteries of our age. The true aim of this is to enlighten those who aspire to Qualifications and Distinctions or simply want a fighting chance in an image competition!

Thus follows a 12 part series on the science, systems, magic and mystery of International Judging and Scoring Systems in Photography…


So how are images judged? Well this too varies considerably but in those countries who have adopted the numerical scoring system images are ‘judged on the box’, which is to say using five judges who enter scores on a keypad attached to what is essential a big calculator that averages out the scores that are announced by the Chairman of the panel. If there is a significant variance in the average scores by a margin of 10 points or more the machine goes into overdrive, begins flashing and alerts the Chairman of the anomaly. At this point an ‘automatic challenge’ takes place by which the judges are called upon to justify their respective scores. This process is certainly one of the most valuable and entertaining in ‘open judging’ where so much is to be learned by an eager and enthusiastic audience hoping to glean words of wisdom and interpretation from esteemed ‘experts’ that constitute the panel of judges.

Wherever and whenever an electronic system is unavailable then there is an option to score manually, using an Excel Spreadsheet or similar to undertake the calculations. This is quite straightforward.

Some countries are in the process of developing or having already developed systems to function as “Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch applications that basically equate to the old ‘electronic box’ option as originated in the USA.

These are the ‘Mechanics’ of judging and scoring a traditional ‘Print’ Competition, but the world of digital presents many new challenges. In essence, the methods remain the same but the Judges MUST be sufficiently experienced to understand the limitations of digital projection or online assessment on unmatched monitors in multiple locations.*