As many of my photographer friends are aware, today will be the first day of district judging in a new competition specifically for wedding photographer at The Professional Photographers Association of America. I was an advocate for this degree and have long been arguing for a change in the way that wedding images are judged. Today we will start the journey of finding out what this new degree will be.

I thought that it might be fun to talk a little about what I would like to see and I’m doing it now because most judges stay off social media during competition. I want this to be about what I hope to see, not “You better do this.” Mostly, I just like talking about it. :)

Before I start, I want to give mad props to the judges. Judging is extremely hard, they take it extremely seriously, and they do an incredible job. Then they have to listen to everyone who has a complaint. But that’s okay because they also don’t get paid to do it. It’s a thankless (and wageless) job and no matter how I might feel about the way things shake out never think for a minute that I don’t respect and appreciate everyone who works so hard for no money to give me something I can be excited about. This also includes the staff at PPA who do get paid but surely not enough to have to deal with us crazy photographers. :)

What I Hope To See

I do not want it to be easier.

A lot of people seem to think that we wedding photographers want our own competition so that it will be judged more leniently. This is not true. We feel the Photo Open competition has always judged weddings more harshly than it has judged the other specialties. If it seems like we want you to move the finish line 10-yards closer for us it’s only because we are starting the race 10-yards behind.

Here’s what I mean:

“Degree of Difficulty” is not one of the 12 elements that the judges consider when judging an image. They “judge what’s in front of you” with no consideration for what it might have taken to achieve that result. Sure, it slips in here and there but they aren’t supposed to give it much weight.
This removes from consideration the biggest single quality that defines wedding photographers. No matter how good you are at posing, lighting, etc… you will fail as a wedding photographer if you can’t work fast under extreme pressure. This is why so many of us insisted that the new degree only feature images shot during the course of a wedding. Because if you aren’t shooting during the wedding, in a place you didn’t pick, with people you didn’t pick, in clothes you didn’t pick, during a time of day you didn’t pick, with a ticking clock … you aren’t doing wedding photography.

So, what I hope to see today is some indication that the judges are as impressed with the craftsmanship as they are with the art. I hope to see some images receive a merit that are not as dynamic as they would be if they were shot with models and total control but are very good considering the pressure and constraints the photographer had to deal with. This is what I have been fighting for years to see. I want to hear a judge say, ” I agree that this image has some flaws but when you consider the limitations that the photographer was faced with, it’s impressive and worth rewarding.” Because for us, the art is all about overcoming the limitations.
I feel like image competition as always been judged by people who like Cake Boss, that show where a company that does nothing but make cakes spends a week making the most incredible cake you ever saw. I hope that this wedding competition is judged by people who like Chopped, a show where people are given a box full of random ingredients and told to make a meal that’s edible in 20 minutes. The meal must taste good to be sure but there is also due credit given to the fact that you made soup out of a squid tentacle and that, in itself, is impressive.

Unlike the portrait photographer, we can’t take our children (or dog) into the studio on a Sunday and spend all day getting a merit image. (Yes, I have entered an image of a dog into Portrait this year. Yes, I expect it will do better than all my wedding images. ) We have to work with what we are given, on the job with no do-over. I’m a person who is more impressed by that than by the beauty of the image. I am more impressed by an oil painting that has some problems than a photograph that is perfect because painting with oil is harder than photography. I’m more impressed by a wedding image that has some problems than I am by a studio portrait of someone’s daughter. I hope to see some indication from the judges that they are too.

I’m sure the big hitters in wedding competition will do quite well today. I’m not worried about them. I want to see some merits and loans for the person who doesn’t have 2 assistants holding their lights and 20 hours of photoshop on a single image. The best ballroom dancers already get the big awards, how about a simple merit for the people who manage to survive the mosh pit.

I have entered 4 images. I predict that 2 will merit. I believe that they all should merit based on what I’ve just said but I’m not going to get my hopes up. It will take several years before we really get the judging dialed in on a new degree. If they all merit I’ll feel pretty good about the new degree. If 2 merit I’ll feel like maybe it’s better but time will tell. If less than 2 merit I’ll be worried for the future, unless the overall merit count makes sense in which case I’ll just know that I suck. :)

You can bet I’ll be watching today with excitement. No matter how it turns out, I’m so grateful to the PPA and the judges for giving me something to get excited about. Now that Game of Thrones is done, we don’t have much.