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This is going to be a pretty long post.

I am going to give someone some big expensive piece of gear, and even though I could just give Zack a name and be done with it, I really want to explain how I chose the winner and the thought process behind my choice.

I will try to be nice and not hurt anyone’s feelings, but sugar is empty calories — it tastes oh so nice, but leaves you hungry and goes straight to your butt. Also, I’m a bit of a bitch, to be honest.

First things first: good job everyone. The shittiest picture that has been submitted is still worth more than the most magnificent masterpiece some guy had in mind but didn’t turn in. So if you are one of the many people who is reading this while thinking, “these are all crap, I could have done so much better”… well — you didn’t. One of my all time favorite quotes comes from good old Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

That said, a lot of the people who participated just kind of entered the arena, didn’t like the idea of getting their clothes dirty, and went back out, where it’s safe.

And I get it; if you spend twenty minutes setting up a photo and it doesn’t get picked, you don’t have much to lose. But if you spend days or even weeks working on something and it doesn’t win, it sucks big time, right?

But here’s the thing. Twenty minutes wasted on a bad shot are twenty minutes you could have used painting your nails, or trimming your ironic beard; days spent on a single image, trying to make it perfect, are way more useful than most workshops you will ever take. Even if you don’t win, you go home with something you didn’t have before, you solve problems, you become a better photographer in the process.

When you’re entering a contest to win, you need to do your homework and make sure your photo will have a fighting chance.

First of all, you need to read the brief a bazillion times. Really, that thing is your frigging Bible. There’s no point in trying to be original if you’re not operating inside those limitations. If you’re asked to have something spilling in the frame, it has to be there.

A lot of photographers think that they need to be original and be different and break the rules — bullshit. If there are a bazillion photos and they need to become 10, everything that can be eliminated because it doesn’t fit the brief will be cut without a second thought. It makes it so much easier.

Then, you have to be aware of who’s going to be looking at your pictures, and people, you had it easy here: you should have watched 6 critiques from past assignments, to understand what Zack and Meghan were looking for in a photo. What makes them stop? What makes them go “oh!”? I had written down exactly what I was looking for right here.

This usually doesn’t happen in normal contests (but you can still go look at previous years and research the judges as soon as their names are made available).

It’s not about giving up your voice, it’s about being aware of who you are speaking to.

If photography is a language (and I strongly believe it is), you wouldn’t talk to your lover with the same tone you’d use when talking to your grandma, unless you have a really boring sex life or a really weird family.

The only real question mark was the “people choice” section of this contest, but I would have tried to make the message clear and universal, the photo legible even if it’s not displayed full screen (more on that later), and if I were one of the 10 people chosen, I would have campaigned the hell out of it, asking friends, family and complete strangers to help.

I would have probably filmed a behind the scene video explaining how my shot came into existence and how it was done. I would have showed how much work went into it, made an awesome tutorial, and I would have emailed the link to every aggregator that is always looking for content to push. I would have done this the day the voting page went up. I would have then photocopied flyers in my office during work hours and hung them around in my town, asking my fellow citizens to help me crush “the others from those other places”. “Together!”,  “If I win I’ll spend a whole day shooting a free portrait with my new gear to every person who steps into my studio!”

I mean, there’s always a little bit of luck, but a whole lot of stubborness can punch luck in the face. Or maybe I just wanted that camera more than you did and I couldn’t participate and that sucks.

I also noticed no one tried to bribe me. I mean, kudos on your integrity and everything, but really? Not even chocolate? What a bunch of wussies (jk, jk!)

But anyway, so many photos fell completely under the radar. Why? I watched the critique and in many of the photos that weren’t picked, I’ve seen a big lack of pre-production.

I’m a big advocate of using what you have available, but unless you are shooting a reportage and something of extreme historical importance is happening in front of you, everything that enters the frame needs to be there because you wanted it to be.


So, let me waste some more of your time to tell you how I think you should approach this kind of assignment:


Step 1: First and foremost, decide what are you trying to say. The world has changed… why? Are you commenting on something that you noticed? Are you telling a story in which the protagonist’s world is just about to change forever? Write it down, with words, on paper. Write some key words around it. Talk about it to a friend, go see what other people had to say about it before. Nothing is new under the sun and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you shoot. If you are going to talk about a dystopian society go watch “A Clockwork Orange”, “Blade Runner”, “Brazil”, “District 9”, read “V for Vendetta”, “Battle Royal”, “1984”, listen to “year Zero” by NIN until your ears bleed, come to Italy and watch public television in the afternoon.

There’s no such thing as “I don’t want to be influenced”, you already are. Make your influences great and make them diverse and what will come out of that will be original.

Step 2: Gather your materials. If you need a blonde with long hair for your shot about “lust and lost chances”, and all you have is your short hairy brother wearing a blond wig who’s not willing to get waxed, you are changing your narrative. You just made all the work done in step 1 useless. Go find the right subject. Go find the right dress, the right location, the right props. You don’t have to own them: rent, barter, cash in favors. You found the perfect location and it’s someone’s barber shop? How would they like a free portrait and some shots they can use for their website in exchange for letting you shoot there when they are closed?

Don’t settle. This might take time, but you had time, a lot of time. You can take a photo in under a second, but everything needs to be ready, when that second comes.

Step 3: Solve the technical stuff before you start shooting. Figure out the light before your talent steps on set and spend some time refining the frame. Technique is your grammar and you need to be articulate. If you don’t have much experience, keep it very simple, but make it clean and deliberate. The focus needs to be spot on, the light needs to be controlled, the exposure can’t be all over the place. A trained monkey can shoot a properly exposed picture in auto mode, and so can you. That’s the very least.

Everything that’s in your frame, especially when you’re trying to build an image that tells a story, needs to be there because it has a role in your narration.

You know what the Chekhov’s gun is?

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov


This is about the written text, but photography IS a text (I’ll spare you the long rant about semiotics). In fact, one of the best photography books I’ve ever read is “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. Mentally substitute “photographer” every time you read “writer” and you’ll learn a lot.

Step 4: Don’t screw it in post. Photoshop is a bit like a spice: in moderation, it makes a good dish great; some people like their food a little more spicy than others; spices can help cover the taste of ingredients that are going bad (but most likely you’ll regret it in the morning). But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t suggest rolling a turd in cinnamon and serving it to your guests for dinner.


Let’s get to our 3 candidates.

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I’ll start by letting you know that I wouldn’t have picked any of these as the clear winner.

I think that #6 was the most accessible in terms of the theme and it also had a clear message that a lot of people can relate to, that #5 was a solid fun portrait, clear and legible even small, compared to the others (being the only vertical photo and being right in the middle, it ended up standing out a lot) and #8 was different and poetic and again a little bigger than the others because of its format.

I honestly suspect some people didn’t even know they could click on the photos to make them bigger and if you look at the 10 photos together, you can see that the harder it is to understand what’s going on from the thumbnail, the less votes the photo got.

It’s just part of the game when images end up on the Internet and it’s like that for almost every online contest I have seen where people are asked to vote. We always take it for granted that people will want to look at our photos full screen and get lost in the tiny details, but the bitter truth is that they rarely bother.

Type “Gregory Crewdson” on Google image and then go stand in front of one of his prints. He doesn’t shoot for the Internet. But if you only look at his work online, you need to look at your image full screen but also look at it when it’s 300px wide and see if it still holds.

Anyway, at this point I found myself with 3 images that I liked and didn’t love, because each of them had some issues, in my opinion.

So I went and asked what other people thought about them.

We talked about it in my studio, I asked the opinion of a trusted group of very talented friends (a photographer, a retoucher, a writer, an editor, a graphic designer, a photo editor), I discussed these photos with my students, I asked the opinion of both my parents, who honestly know nothing about photography: they still don’t really know what I do for a living.

Before we proceed, I need to publicly apologize to the three finalists, because I don’t wear gloves when I critique images, and I know what Thumper said to Bambi, and I respect the work these photographers have put into their images, but I think the two people who will hate me forever will want to know why I chose the lucky bastard who got the Hassie instead of them.


06 Piotr Koziuk

#6 This is a clear concept, it’s accessible for a wide audience and it’s super obvious that it fits the theme that was given. Children play with they i-Devices instead of playing with toys and we are all doomed. It’s a photo that has been designed: the frame is perfectly split in half, the colorful past, with imagination and messy rooms on one side, and the bleak present, where there is no color at all and no engagement whatsoever on the other.

Everybody I showed this image to, got that. But they also got bored with it fairly quickly.

This shot is very didascalic. Like very, very didascalic, to the point of being patronizing.

I believe that the “show don’t tell” principle can be applied to successful images, where the photographer presents what’s going on and leaves some room for the viewer or reader to form their own opinion.

Here, the photographer is using visual grammar to tell me what I should think: technology is bad and is robbing our children of imagination, they become passive drones and we should stop that. But there’s nothing “changed” about that — to me it’s the old tale of adults being scared of anything new and trying to impose their view on new generations.

The device here is photographed as if it was a TV, with the kid passively watching, which is of course an option… but a tablet is not a passive medium only.

I’ve seen kids explore content in a way that wasn’t possible when I was young. Toddlers using the camera to document what they see around them, learning to solve problems and speak a new language just because they now have access to basically a whole new universe.

“TV is ruining children”, “videogames are ruining children”, “smartphones are ruining children”… is this really a new concept? Honestly?

The same idea was around when I was a kid and I’m not that young. I’m pretty sure some caveman complained about how drawing on the wall instead of spending time outside of the cave ruins children.

But I would be fine with that, if this was a great image.

Problem is, this is not, at least from a technical point of view. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.

The light is flat, there’s something off with the perspective of the table (I don’t know if it’s lens correction gone wrong or just the visual balance) but what really kills me, is that in an image like this, where the photographer went to great length to build a set so that half of the frame was filled with toys, he then left the top left corner empty and didn’t place something under the table so that the straight line dividing the frame in two actually does that. This throws the image off balance in the bottom right section, in a way that is not intentional.

Maybe I’m anal retentive, but I can clearly see that that was the aim and it was a good intuition. It just fell short, for me.

08 Nathan Abplanalp


#8 I really want to like this image. It’s very well executed, there is obviously a story going on, the attention to detail is great and everything is coherent.

But I see no connection to the theme.

Everyone I showed this picture to was a bit confused by it. Those who liked it, still couldn’t tell how the world might be changing.

The most common explanation I was given was: “Maybe it’s because the man is serving the woman?” But other than that there is obviously no trace of a feminist message in this shot, he just looks like a butler. So there’s nothing exceptional about him serving her.

Here’s the thing — I ended up having to go and track down this shot on Flickr to try and look for some clues and I now know that this is about a man and a woman so enraptured by their mutual connection that nothing else matters.

But I don’t buy into this scenario. At first it was hard for me to understand why, since everything seems to be in the right place and it’s really well done.

It took me a long time to name it: it’s the way she is kind of floating the hand on her hip, probably not to wrinkle the dress. This is something she is doing for the photographer, no one stands like that.

Try it, mirror her pose and tell me if you feel relaxed and completely in-the-moment. She is leaning away from him, in a pose that is pleasant for the viewer because of the hip curve she makes, if the viewer is not the man in the frame.

So, instead of honesty and magic all I can think about is the photographer directing them.

05 crotography

#5 This image is well shot, well lit, well timed and this moment looks genuine. I believe this guy, who is listening to something that makes him so happy that he starts chuckling and spills coffee all over the place.

To me the connection to the theme is not immediate, though. I would have passed this, if I saw this among hundreds -or even ten-, in favor of something as good but more immediate and complex.

So how has the world changed here?

One way to see it: he’s listening to the radio and hears something that changes his personal world (winning the lottery, I guess? The woman he loves dedicates a song to him, finally proposing? He hears the news that his strict boss, who made is life hell for the past 20 years, has been arrested while shooting clown porn?)

This doesn’t completely work for me, because he’s standing in front of a studio backdrop. If he had been standing in a room, this would have been SO great.

But here’s the thing. As for the other two images, I was forced to spend a lot of time looking at this, trying to come up with possible -less obvious- interpretation of the theme.

What do I see? I see an older guy in a t-shirt enjoying his day so much that he spills his coffee. And this reminds me of two books I’ve read: The Cultural Context of Aging: Worldwide Perspectives by Jay Sokolovsky, and Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly by Catherine Mayer. (Go read this TIME article and look at this amazing photo essay by Kendrick Brinson).

This image fits that kind of view about a new world where old people are fighting the “normal” conception of what being old means. In this case, the studio backdrop is serving that purpose.

This could be a book cover, or a great opening image for an article about ageism.

I’m fairly sure the photographer didn’t put this intentionally in his photo, but it’s there.



So the first shot had a clear view, but didn’t leave any room for interpretations. The world has changed for the viewer, more than for the kid (who is born into that world). It was also the weakest image of the three.

The second shot was a strong image and left immense room for interpretation, but gave the viewer little direction. The world might have changed for those characters, but it’s hard to tell and it lacks connection.

The third shot has a narrative and a point of view and is open to both interpretations: the world might be changed for the character or it might be a commentary on how the world has changed for old people. It’s also a solid image. Which is why it wins, for me.



Congratulations to Craig! You just won a Hasselblad / Leaf digital kit from Capture Integration!

Damn. Well done everyone. I’ve got a post coming up this week to expand on the thought process behind this contest. – Zack

Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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  1. Chris

    Congrats Craig! Man, when Sara breaks it down, she certainly breaks it down. Interested to know what photo, of the top 10, Sara would have picked if it was all up to her.

    • Different Chris

      Agreed. Very curious to see which of the top ten Sara would have gone with.

      Nevertheless, congratulations to Craig!

  2. Tom

    Great to get such deep insights into Sara’s thoughts on this and her rationale for choosing the winner. Well done to Craig, as i voted for him also happy he won. This image jumped out at me and made me smile, given Sara’s intro I am going to get off my ass in future and actually have a go at the assignments.

  3. Stu

    Great stuff… I have to agree…at first I thought the first image was obviously a winner, however I completely agree with Sara… My kids don’t play with my iPad like that.. in fact I’m astonished it has survived as long as it has! So great call Sara and congratulations Craig 🙂

  4. Phil

    “I’ll start by letting you know that I wouldn’t have picked any of these as the clear winner.”

    Great critique, but I’m fixated on this quote. I didnt vote for any of these three photos, for many of the same reasons you spent the time to outline, so if you are willing, Zack is willing, and maybe the contest winner Craig is willing, I’m certain all of out here would love to hear what you might have picked had this been a unilateral selection on your part, Sara.

    Maybe if you’re not willing to single out one photo, maybe your top 2 or 3?

  5. Jebb

    Congrats, Craig!

    I didn’t enter. I started to. I could be lumped into the category of not-doing. However, this contest actually inspired me to try and get some work for a new business opening in town. I got the job. Worked hard to make it look exactly how I wanted, and that’s had a major effect on me in the past month. I wanted the Hassy, but the challenge was deeper than that. This challenge inspired me to work hard for a great relationship for me in town, and proved that I can do the work I want to do more than I thought. Thanks, because I feel like I won and I bet a lot of other people do too.

    • Richard Wintle

      Excellent. Thanks for sharing… unexpected benefits of the DEDPXL07 challenge. Congrats on the job.

  6. Gereon

    Wow, that was really good! Thank you for this post, Sara. Best part of the contest 🙂

  7. KSGal

    Thanks so much for the contest, and all the critiques, good and bad. I personally don’t want sugar coating, I want real reactions, even when it hurts, and I love the honesty that has been played out throughout the contest.

    Hats off to Zack, Meg and Sarah!

    Congrats to Craig!

  8. Michael Matthews

    Excellent! The world has changed, but he’s still listening to George Carlin via his marvelous electronic link to the past and laughing his ass off.

    My reaction to the three was: 1. contrived, 2. baloney (to be polite), 3. amazing!

  9. Aaron

    I would like to see the photograph Sara would pick from all submitted. Just curious. Not wanting to piss anyone off or whine it wasn’t me.

    • terrie

      It would be an education to know (I know this isn’t possible, just imagining this) which 10 out of the total (250+) photographs would Sara have gathered together for community vote.

      What a challenge for developing photographers, on such a variety of points on their *experiential-learning-doing* photography arc, to try to find a way to jump through two vastly different judgment hoops! I was personally very, very aware of the situation from the beginning, and was aware that I would not constitutionally be capable of making the first hoop.

      The scale of challenge with this dedpxl assignment was like the difference between calculating for backyard rockets and juggling NASA projects, which made me think that there are plenty of sparkly-cool, persevering, committed people simply for doing it.

      I couldn’t get my work to a point where it would be located for a Sara review. The thing is, Sara’s critiques are so frikken valuable, yet this assignment was made available FOR FREE. And what I get for free is extremely educational ways of looking at the why’s and what’s, via this post of Sara’s. Just this post could change things for the better for various someone’s, and for me.

  10. Chris Bersbach

    Wonderful breakdown; thank you Sarah.

    I have to disagree with many of the above commenters requesting that Sarah disclose which image she would have chosen among the top ten, or even among all of the entries shown in Zack and Meghan’s critique video. If it were my image that didn’t make it through the early cuts, but that the final judge preferred, I would *not* want to know. In one sense, I guess it would be an ego boost to be recognized, and helpful to receive a critique as detailed as these, but it would cut *deep* to know that the final judge would have selected my image, but couldn’t because it didn’t have the popular appeal required to make it to the top three, or that it didn’t resonate with Zack and Meghan enough to make the top ten. That’s just my two cents on that.

    Speaking of cutting deep, Sarah’s into words about those who thought about entering but didn’t… that hit me personally. I thought about a potential entry *all month* but failed to make the time to execute my idea. I kept making excuses – the idea wasn’t really polished yet, or I didn’t have time tonight, but maybe tomorrow. No dice. Just never ponied up and made something, *anything* happen. And yeah, two or three times while watching the critique video, perusing the top ten, or waiting for Sarah’s pick among the top three, I totally thought to myself that my hypothetical entry, my seed of an idea that I didn’t bring to fruition, should be up there. Because my idea was SO GOOD, right? But didn’t actually DO anything, and reading Sarah’s words up top made me feel like a proper jack@$$ for failing to execute, and especially for daring to criticize those who actually did. Anyway, that’s a long way of saying great job to all the entrants, and a well-deserved congrats to the winner. Everybody who took the time to make an entry deserves a big hand for putting their work out there, and those of us who wanted to enter but just made excuses would do well to be inspired by your initiative. Cheers!

  11. joe

    Congrats Craig!

    Thank you Sara for your thoughts and book/film etc recommendations.

    Also thanks to Zack and Capture Integration for making such a contest possible.


  12. Carrie

    Loved all the thought and detail to your critique. Very helpful and interesting.

  13. Adam

    I agree with Sara. But my interpretation is that the world has changed for everyone except the subject. He know it to be true. And is perfectly happy!

  14. Kaisa

    This is one of my favourite posts here! I love it how you explain your trail of thought and the overall process of picking the winner! I think it gives so much to those of us who didn’t participate (guilty as charged), win or who did win – anyone interested in photography, really. Thank you!

    I love the winning photo, because the moment I saw it I related to it in so many ways (and I’m a young female, go figure, right). Though tbh I didn’t think about the contest rules, it was purely emotional. Interestingly the photo of the kid and iPad etc put me off as it brought the voice of my ex-colleague to my head the moment I saw it (and she used to preach how modern technology will doom us all and kids are going downhill). All of this made me wonder how much a photographer can (not) guess the reaction of a viewer.

    Last but not least, congrats to the winner and to everyone who participated! It was a joy to see all those photos.

  15. Tessa

    I’d love to know which photo Sara would have chosen from the whole set, seeing as it seems the three she was presented with weren’t her favourites. Still, congrats to Craig for a job well done and his prize.

  16. Wes Jones

    Congratulations to Craig! You deserve the win for such a great image.

  17. Iain

    Congratulations Craig. Enjoy the frack outta that bad boy.

    P.S. Thank you Sara for the honest & thorough breakdown.

  18. marald

    Thank you Sara for your detailed comment and a glimpse in your thought process. Thanks Zack for setting this up & congrats Craig with the winning shot..

    I was travelling India & Nepal during the contest, so wasn’t able to create a shot and instead looked for it on the streets. Which was no succes at all. Only 1 picture had all 3 elements in them and wasn’t really interesting.

    Looking forward to another challenge, to learn more.

  19. Miroslav Dakov

    Please forgive me for sharing MY thoughts. For me that was I quick lesson on observing photographs. I, of course, voted for #6 and I was so sure that this is the picture that tells it all – clear and obvious, right to the point. #5 I thought was well executed technically, nice subtle tones and colors, great expression, but I thought, no connection what so ever to the topic, so, no it can’t be the one. And then I thought, Sara will probably pick up #8 (sorry Sara), cause it is b&w and it is so dreamy and this and that. Which leads me to the thought that I have no clue what so ever on how to look at an image. And I am somehow glad I understand that now after reading Sara’s article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sara! And congratulations to Craig!

  20. Robin Neilly

    Congratulations Craig and great to hear how you got to the final result, Zack. I saw this image as a dude who has worked all his life, finally enjoying his freedom in retirement, the kids are gone, perhaps the wife too. Either way the world has changed for him and that’s making him happy.

    • Robin Neilly

      Apologies Sarah – clue was in the title, great to hear how you got to the final decision.

  21. Vic Román

    Craig Okraska. Congrats! Awesome job man! That image had my attention ever since I saw it on Flickr. Simple ,clean and straight to the point!

    Piotr Koziuk image was also one of my favorites. Straight to the point and covering a sad issue on todays world. Disconected yet connected humans of today. So what if the child was born into such a world ,the world STILL changed. Keep rocking that camera bro!

  22. terrie


  23. Ian

    Congrats, Craig.

    You had two images make it into the top 33 and one that took home the hassie. Major kudos, sir.

    I enjoyed reading Sara’s critique, it helped me back away from the “IF ONLY I made past the top 33 to the top 10 then top 3…” (I know thats pathetic but all of us losers have thought it, lets be real) and realize that Sara would have beat the shit out of me (literally), rolled it in cinnamon and made me eat it with a smile on her face. I guess there’s always next time.

    Zack, I am really looking forward to your followup video to expand on the thought process behind the contest.

  24. Craig

    Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I’m still blown away by all of this!

    I’ve said this many times over the past week on my social media outlets, but thought I should say it here. It’s quite an honor to have my images in the top 10 and to be critiqued by Zack, Meg, and Sara. I appreciate their bluntness and honesty. Even without the prize, getting to that stage was a big deal for me as I’m sure all of you understand. Interestingly, I almost didn’t submit this image since it wasn’t my initial vision, but luckily my wife convinced me otherwise. To be honest, I imagined the other image (woman reaching for radio while painting) would have had a better chance. I’m constantly surprised at what people are drawn to.

    Thank you again for all your kind comments – great to be a part of this community : )


    • Corey


      It’s a killer image I absolutely love it.

  25. terrie

    It would be an education to know (I know this isn’t possible, just imagining this) which 10 out of the total (250+) photographs would Sara have gathered together for community vote.

    What a challenge for developing photographers, on such a variety of points on their *experiential-learning-doing* photography arc, to try to find a way to jump through two vastly different judgment hoops! I was personally very, very aware of the situation from the beginning, and was aware that I would not constitutionally be capable of making the first hoop.

    The scale of challenge with this dedpxl assignment was like the difference between calculating for backyard rockets and juggling NASA projects, which made me think that there are plenty of sparkly-cool, persevering, committed people simply for doing it.

    I couldn’t get my work to a point where it would be located for a Sara review. The thing is, Sara’s critiques are so frikken valuable, yet this assignment was made available FOR FREE. And what I get for free is extremely educational ways of looking at the why’s and what’s, via this post of Sara’s. Just this post could change things for the better for various someone’s, and for me.

    p.s., Sara: I have five cardboard skulls left at my house — my personal challenge is to use them in image(s) and not be afraid to go through the feelings I will have when they are physically beyond recognition. I am pre-crying about missing them, so I can just get to work!
    More skulls, October 2015 : )

  26. Richard Wintle

    And congratulations Craig from me, too.

    Thanks Sara for the detailed, no-holds-barred, gloves-off critique.

    And… did everyone catch a couple of maybe not so obvious pearls of wisdom in there? 1) it’s a contest with voting, so influence the vote any way you can, and 2) pay attention to what Sara already wrote in another comment about what she was looking for. I cheerfully admit I did neither. Oh, and she also recommended paying attention what the judges have liked in the past, and not shying away from your influences. Four things that I suspect many of us intentionally avoided doing… I know I did.

    • JT

      Richard W – this bit I liked most about Sara’s advice is that it is apparently (to me) 180 degrees backflip on Zack’s never shoot for a contest advice.
      Obviously they wouldn’t be mean enough to give contradictory advice on purpose….

  27. Jeann Smith

    Congrats to the winner!

    #3 was pretty easy to understand – everything in the image is archaic. His clothing (crew necks? wtf), the headphones, the fact that his coffee cup isn’t styrofoam or coming from a Keurig, those glasses that even a hipster wouldn’t touch… everything has changed. If there was a rotary phone on the wall in the background it would have been perfect-ish.

    I also liked the one with the poor, redneck looking couple with the lottery ticket… it made sense at first glance, but kept my attention long enough to figure out that it had some depth and planning to it. I think it just wasn’t flashy/pretty enough for the masses…

    And thanks for the new word… didascalic. I like it.

    • Kevin

      I like “didascalic” too because it’s obscurantly more polite than “kitsch” 🙂

      This is I think the hazard of adding a “popular vote” aspect to this exercise — notice how Sara chose the least-popular of the three, while #6 is the most-popular?

  28. Ved

    No wonder you and zack kick the behinds so hard and are above the rest….I’ve been a fan too but after reading this post I realized why zack and Mr Strobist are your fans. Before reading this post and while reviewing enteries to this assignment I thought #6 was perfect entry for the assignment and would probably win. But after reading your thoughts it makes so much sense now why absolutely following the rules sometimes is perfect but it’s not exciting and our photographs need to create that excitement and curiosity rather than being perfect. It still is an amazing photo but it’s perfect for the assignment only. In a way you’ve kicked my behind too today because I couldn’t think outside the box…I’m lost for words to describe how bad I feel right now for being a mediocre photographer but loved how you described these photographs..

  29. Richard

    I think Sara’s article is actually the real prize here so we all win!

  30. Wing Wong

    Wow. Great breakdown and *facepalm* totally fell out of sync with #dedpxl that I missed this.

    Sarah’s breakdown was very educational and enlightening. Definitely great take-aways.

  31. John Wangelin

    Fuck I really wanted to disagree with your choice but now that I see you lay it out I agree. I still like #5 the most but I agree it would be better if shot somewhere other than a background. Great job to all the finalist!

  32. JT

    Sara, just like Phil up there, I’d love to put you on the spot and ask, of the shots in the pool you saw, but weren’t in those presented as finalists, which did you like the most?

  33. Dean


    > one of the best photography books I’ve ever read is “Bird by Bird” by Anne
    > Lamott.

    Feck, there I was just reading the internet, and now I’m spending money 🙂

  34. Zandra

    Hmm que parece ve Página web comió mi primer comentario
    (era muy súper larga), así que supongo que voy a resumir, lo que escribí y decir,
    estoy disfrutando a fondo su blog. I así soy un blog de blogger aspirante
    escritor pero sigo siendo nuevo en el asunto .

    ¿Tienes alguna Consejos para escritores del blog? Me Ciertamente realmente lo aprecio.

  35. Pagina de moda

    Es inteгesante este sitio. Otros post no me gustaгon tanto,
    en cualquier caso, la gran mаyor