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Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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March 28, 2008 2:12 PM

A Brief Taste of Champaign

Posted by Rod Mar

While it's snowing in Seattle, I'm basking in the sun and clear blue skies of Champaign, Illinois.

To be fair, while making the 2 1/2 hour drive down from Chicago, we encountered snow, hail, heavy rains and blustery winds.

But today, it's nice and clear.

I was invited to Champaign along with three other photographers to be speakers and contest judges at the Illinois Press Photographers Association annual convention.

Scott Strazzante, a rockstar of a photographer from the Chicago Tribune, invited me to speak. Scott recently won, among other things, the Community Awareness award in the Pictures of the Year International competition. His project can be seen here on the POYi website.

We spent today judging their contest and we each speak to the group tomorrow.

I'll be speaking about sports photography (of course). The other speakers are Lori Grinker and Jessica Dimmock, both freelancers, and David Stephenson, a newspaper photographer who works in Lexington, Kentucky.

Here's Jessica's, and make sure to check out her amazing multimedia piece from her "Ninth Floor" project.

David recently won "Best Multimedia" in the Pictures of the Year contest, with his "A New Dawn?" story.

Here's a link to Lori's work.

You should definitely check them out.

All will be presenting amazing multimedia pieces, which I'm excited to see and learn from.

Judging contests is always fun and educational. Seeing fabulous work always gets my creative juices flowing and makes me want to go out and shoot pictures.

Here's a photo of Lori, David and Jessica doing some judging. We're alternating take a category off, so I'm doing a quick blog post while they look at pictures.

The judging is open, which means that people can watch and listen as we determine the winners. The categories are the usual suspects in photojournalism contests — spot news, general news, feature picture, portrait, sports action, sports feature, nature and environment and pictorial. There are also multi-photo categories for picture stories and portfolios.

How it works is that each judge has a switch box with two buttons, one black and one red. As each photo is shown on the screen, we can silently press either button to vote "yes" to keep the photo or "no" to eliminate it. It goes pretty quickly until we get down to the last few remaining, then we have discussions (sometimes passionate) about the merits of respective photos. We assign places and sometimes also award Honorable Mentions.

Like I said, it's fun and educational. A lot of the images in any contest will be similiar and some of it of average quality. But the ones that stand out and become winners are usually all amazing photographs.

I find contests for newspaper photographers weird, and I don't enter them very often. Mostly this is because hotos that are successful in the newspaper aren't often successful in contests, and vice-versa. For example, in sports, the most meaningful photo of a Seahawks game might not be the most hard-hitting action, as I'm seeking to tell stories with my images. In contests, those stories are often lost as the photos are judged solely on their photographic merit.

To put it another way, a photo of a third-string player scoring a touchdown for the losing team might have fabulous action to it. To the newspaper, it'd be a pretty meaningless photo because it doesn't tell an accurate story of the game, nor does it lend meaning. The only thing that photo could say to the reader is, "this really cool thing happened near the end of the game, but it meant nothing to the story whatsoever".

In a photo contest, the story of the day doesn't matter nearly as much as the photographic excellence of the image.

That's certainly not my way of saying that contests are not important. Of course they are. But my main concern every day I shoot for the Seattle Times is to provide readers compelling and storytelling images. To just make pretty pictures wouldn't be serving the readers, it'd only be serving myself.

End of rant :)

I'm just here through the weekend and then back in Seattle for the Opening Day of baseball season.

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