Notes from an IPA Juror – July 2021

Observations on being a Juror for IPA, and General Advice for Awards & Contest Submissions 

I have had the honor and privilege to be a juror for IPA (International Photography Awards) for a few years now. And, after reviewing hundreds of entries and thousands of images, certain qualities have stuck out for me, both good and bad, so I wanted to share some of them with you.

Brian Hodges – Odilo Lawiny – Handmade Soccer Balls – IPA 2020

As a juror, you are by yourself, and you go with what speaks to you. Sometimes I wonder if the other jurors are raving about the same work as me, or am I the only one? Last year, I was right on the money when it came to my favorite portrait series by Brian Hodges. Apparently, everyone else loved it too because he won his category! But why did Brian win? What was it about his particular series that impressed so many of us? What makes a successful series?

Consider the difference between viewing a single image versus a series. One reacts and views them differently. An only child is much different to a bunch of siblings… With a series you have a little more time to show us your work, whereas a single image needs to satisfy us with one single shot. So, if you are submitting a single image, make sure it stands out, that it is truly contest-worthy and it is in the right category! You only have that one chance to get our attention, so make it count! As the great Harry Benson said when asked about what makes a successful image, his reply was “It’s really very simple. It’s either a good photo or a bad photo.” He’s right.

Someone who always gets our attention whether it’s a single image or a series is Julia Fullerton-Batten, who not only won her Fine Art category in 2020, but also the top prize of International Photographer of the Year! Like many of last year’s submissions, her series was born out of Covid, but hers took on such a beautiful and poignant reflection of our newly isolated lives. And as usual the results are both breath-takingly beautiful and melancholic.

Julia Fullerton-Batten – Looking out from Within – IPA 2020

Always remember the importance of the edit! With a series, you do still need to grab us with that first image, but then can you keep it going? And if the first image is not strong enough, will we want to continue looking? Sometimes a series is too scattered and doesn’t make sense, as a whole. A tight series is a viewing pleasure, at least for me. There is a sense of consistency that conveys a complete story, no matter what the subject.

How many images makes a real series? If I saw a series of 3 images, it almost always left me wanting maybe 1 or 2 more to make the series feel complete. Conversely, there were many series where there were way too many images and if they had just been edited down a wee bit, the impact on the viewer would have been much stronger.

I also want to mention another wonderful “environmental portraiture” series and category winner from last year’s non-pro photographers, Hossein Fardinfard. Something about the solitary figures inside these giant abandoned spaces drew me right in. And even though their story is so tragic, the history so horrific, they still appear both humble and charming. This series really stood out for me, and I was so glad it got the attention it deserved.

Hossein Fardinfard – Blackout – IPA 2020

I talk a lot about whether an image “moves” you. The Latin word for emotions is “Emotis” meaning “to be moved” so that for me has always been key. When an image or a series of images speaks to you, it hits you in your heart. Perhaps it makes you laugh, or maybe it moves you to tears, the way Paul Aresu’s beautiful editorial tribute “Faces of our Covid-19 Heroes” did to me in the Motion category. I was literally crying within seconds of watching his piece. Was it because I’ve known Paul and his beautiful work for years, or because it was New York City and it struck so close to home? I too opened my window every evening at the same time and applauded our front-line workers for weeks and weeks……

Paul Aresu – Covid-19 Heroes – IPA 2020

While we’re talking about “motion” I want to mention another entry that caught my eye, not only because it was beautifully done, but I knew who the film was about! British photographer Charlie Clift’s entry “Marquee Magic” tells the story of the people who live and work at Zippo’s Circus, in particular Norman Barrett MBE, the ringmaster. Now, Zippo aka Martin Burton, founder of this very successful circus and I have known one another since the 1970’s when we worked with Jonathan Kay, and Attic Theatre. It’s a small world.

Charlie Clift – Marquee Magic – IPA 2020

Some additional tips and observations – Captions and Categories

Don’t ruin a good image with a bad caption! 

Captions: Many captions are waaay too long with too much information and long-winded stories about how the photographer managed to capture the image. Quite often, the back story doesn’t necessarily make the image better, it only relates to how the photographer sees it because he or she was there. We weren’t. We only see the result, not how you got there. Give some thought as to how you describe and name your work.

Remember your audience – it’s not just about you!

Your captions can affect how the juror feels about your images. I have no problem with International Photographers writing a description in their native language, providing they also have an English translation! Most jurors will be English-speaking. And please check the grammar and spelling – yes, we notice these things!

Choose your Categories wisely!

Categories: Now this may seem obvious, but it can be frustrating sometimes to see work in the wrong category or in multiple categories in case one works better than another. Yes, your work might fit into more than one category – does a night-time landscape belong in “night imagery” or in “landscapes” or both? But as a juror, I may have already voted on that image in another category, and I cannot remember what score I gave it, I don’t have time to go back and check, and does the work fit better in this category or the previous one?

Some suggestions of “what not to do”:

Entry entitled “A volcano of colors” – caption reads, “I took this picture of an autumn-coloured forest and a blue alpine lake with my drone. When I saw it from above, it immediately reminded me of a volcano, exploding with colours!” 

Not necessary to tell us what it reminds “you” of, you already told us that in the title of the image. Let us see what it reminds “us” of… It’s not an actual volcano, so it could look like all sorts of things… I loved this image but not the caption!

Entry entitled “Faces of two women, one black (foreground), one white (background)”

Did you really need to tell me which is which? There’s no need to state the obvious.

Entry entitled “Dragon” – caption ends with “…can you see the dragon?” What if I see something else?

And another one entitled “Dragonfire” (probably the same photographer?) – caption ends with “…can you see the fire-breathing dragon?” Again, more pressure to see something!

 Never put your name on the image!!! Not necessary and a big turn-off…


Louisa J. Curtis – Chatterbox Enterprises 2021