I have pretty strong views about how you present your photographic work. I’ve even written about it before when the photographer isn’t exactly truthful in their image making. In this post I wanted to explore a slightly different angle to the whole truth in photography discussion.

Recently another prestigious competition has found itself in a situation of having to disqualify the winner. Apart from the obvious issue of intentional or unintentional deceit the impact for the competition is on the credibility of the judging, along with the impact on other competitors.

Rules are rules!

In my life, I’ve spent many a moment having to define clear unambiguous goals. It strikes me that rules are very much the legal version of this. The problem is they are either written by a lawyer, written by an expert, or written by someone who has “cut and pasted” from another set of rules. In all these cases the person reading the rules, the contestant, needs to be able to understand clearly what they can and cannot do.

In photography (as much as many other areas), the very nature of the process of producing an image leads to a level of interpretation by the photographer. If you look at the rules below, and this is one of many out there, the important part is “Entries should be a faithful representation of the original scene. Localised adjustments should be used appropriately. The objective is to remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent reality.” But is it clearly defined? I also call to question the judges response to the issue as reported Petapixel (see judging).

Competition rules for Africa Geographic.


Judges are chosen for their knowledge of either the content of the competition, their ability and craftsmanship or a combination of them all. Needless to say some judges are chosen for their “name” to raise the profile of the competition. It falls to the judges to select the images that not only impress, but also meet the criteria laid down in the competition rules.

But if the rules are ambiguous or open to interpretation then this can lead to abuse or accidental transgressions. This particular instance was reported as an accidental breaking of the rules. The photographer stated when challenged by the judges that the error occurred in post-processing while cleaning up the image. It should be noted that the image was heavily processed, however the judges believed that they felt (it) is acceptable and which adds a ‘mystical dimension to Tim, a sense of fantasy and legend’.

But if that level of image work is acceptable it does call into question the element of the rule that calls for the photographers image to meet the requirement of “remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent reality.” Because the judges saw fit to allow heavy processing, where did they clearly draw the line?

The impact?

I recall hearing a well know photographer that I spoke to bemoaning the issue of “cheating” in competitions. With high profile competitions you have to pay to enter, and invest a lot of time in preparation. Granted, winning the top prize can and has in th past, launched peoples careers so the incentive is a good one. But what those who decide to bend the rules don’t seem to understand is that the impact on the credibility of the judging, the competition and the feeling of being let down for the entrants does.

Accept the medium

How could you solve this problem? In my photography I clearly label when something has changed. I have three classifications, of which two are pertinent. Natural and ArtHouse. The first is obvious, minimal adjustment using curves, and dust removal. But as soon as something changes, colour (even adjusting a colour image to monochrome), removal of an object, or adding in an object. Then is become an ArtHouse image. It means that people buying my work understand early that something has been changed or worked on more extensively. In some competitions there are categories for such images. Perhaps this should become the standard practice. Competitions run the two classifications alongside each other. Maybe to promote better practices in entrants, allow them the choice. Create a stunning image through camera craft, or create a piece of art?

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