8 mins

Travel Photo of the Year - post analysis

There are two types of people who enter travel competitions: those who listen to what the judges are looking for, and those who don't and just send in anything

Iceland sunset, Northern Lights and volcano (James Appleton)

There are two types of people who enter travel competitions: those who listen to what the judges are looking for, and those who don't and just send in any old stuff they happen to have on their computer at the time. I once judged a competition for pictures taken on the Falkland Islands, and had to throw out one picture of a lion and two of monkeys.

 The Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year competition is no exception. We do get a lot of images that can best be described as random, others where people must think that the result is decided by some sort of lottery, like those TV competitions that have questions like: Who built the Taj Mahal? a). Shah Jahan; b). Mahatma Gandhi; c). Bob the Builder. All they have to do is send in any old picture to be entered into the prize draw!

Luckily though these are filtered out before we get to start the judging and so we are left with the difficult task of initially making a shortlist of ten pictures for each category and in a second judging,   picking out the winners.

Over the years that I have been involved in this competition, I have been amazed at the quality of the photographs that are entered and the judging is always a hard, impassioned war of attrition!

It is testamant to the readers of Wanderlust that they manage to travel to the four corners of the world, and come back with stunning, creative images.

One category though, has caused us some troubles over the years, and this is the Portfolio Category.

In the 2009 competition, the judges felt that they weren't able to award the prize for the Portfolio category. Although open to all photographers, it is aimed at professionals and judged on professional criteria. This is pretty harsh, but then it is for a £3,000 prize. The watchword that we use is that if the five pictures submitted were as a result of a £3,000 photographic commission, would we have felt we got value for money!

All of the pictures are supposed to work with each other in a cohesive theme, yet each is meant to be different and add something to the portfolio as a whole. They all have to be of professional quality: technically and compositionally.

So, last year, after much arguing we decided that none of the portfolios, although many of them had their merits, had five excellent pictures. Eventually, and somewhat acrimoniously, we decided that it was better not to award the main prize, but we did award a runner-up prize - to a photographer called James Appleton, who submitted four great landscape shots. 

I spoke to him afterwards and he knew in advance the picture that had let him down. It was a picture that he had a personal emotional attachment to, yet even he knew that it wasn't a great shot. 

Now James, could have been deflated by this, yet he didn't just slink away crest-fallen. He decided to head off to Iceland and do better. It would probably be somewhat hyperbolic to claim that he used his runner-up prize to do this, but however he managed it, he spent five days on top of the Fimmvörðuháls Volcano, photographing the recent eruptions. As well as molten lava, James managed to photograph the Northern Lights, and produce a series of images that stood head and shoulders above the competition.

The lesson here, is not to be put off: persevere and come fighting back, and who knows what you can achieve. Also, think about what the judges say they are looking for: they might not be right, but they are the ones who decided who wins and who doesn't!

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