How to get awarded in wedding photography contests - Part 1

Aka: the master apprentice vademecum.

© Alessandro Avenali - Best of Destination Weddings - Junebug Weddings, 2016

© Alessandro Avenali - Best of Destination Weddings - Junebug Weddings, 2016


I've been asked, more than once, to be part of a jury for several wedding photography contests.

I'd like to seize the opportunity, this time, to tell you something about this kind of experience, and to fix some reference points for those who are willing to try the genre. A small vademecum for those wannabe award-winning wedding photographers, from the point of view of someone who's on the opposite side, in the jury.
How do the photos you submit to contests are examined? What does a judge look for?

I believe we are experiencing a transitional moment in wedding photography.
Almost everything photographable has been photographed in every possible way. Innovation requires a huge effort to come to light and wedding photographs struggle to pop out of the big crowd of recurring clichés.

Technical perfection - today relatively easy to reach, thanks to the millions of samples, tutorials and workshops only a click away - may often lead to a nice photo, but it may be the same, identical photo we see over and over again, published ever day by a new, different photographer.

So what really deserves to be awarded, today? For what an award is assigned? What does really shine to our eyes, making us say "WOW!"? What's the difference between a good wedding photographer and a master?

© Alessandro Avenali - Sixth Place ISPWP - Fall 2016

© Alessandro Avenali - Sixth Place ISPWP - Fall 2016

An award should reward particular skills, the demonstration of a technique, a taste, a sensibility and an awareness that deviate from the usual, aka: from what is being just good professionals. An award should be a distinctive mark and a beacon to follow. It should represent the quintessence of the art we try to practice. For this reason a simple "nice" photograph isn't worth to be awarded, because one expects it from every good professional.
An award needs to be assigned to the excellence, to something exceptional.

For what my photographic education, my culture and the reality of my profession are, as a judge, I reward composition sophistication, the use of light, a post-processing that's realistic or that looks like real film, the choice of the decisive moment, the importance of the content and the feelings that the photo arouse in the observer.

A master should mix all these ingredients in the same cocktail, or find the best compromise in some exceptional cases.
I can't imagine a master doing a bad post-processing, not having knowledge or awareness of light and color, of shapes harmony, of the content and significance of what he's got in front of him, and no awareness at all of the best moment to catch in a sequence of gestures he is observing. That would be amateurish.

I also like to reward that kid of photography that starts with a vision and has got an intent.

© Alessandro Avenali - Absolute category winner - MyWed 2016 "Details"

© Alessandro Avenali - Absolute category winner - MyWed 2016 "Details"


The most recent contest I've been judging is the 18th round of the Masters of Wedding Photography Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. A single, comprehensive contest gathering all the best photographers from these countries, belonging to the same geographic area and thus sharing a lot of customs and traditions.

In 2016 I won the Italian Edition of the same contest, being nominated Photographer of the Year.

In this last contest, as a judge, I've been facing more than fifteen hundred photos. The goal, as per the organiser directives, was to make a selection up to a 10% of the submissions.

It's been a scrutiny neither done randomly nor hurriedly.
All the photos have been observed more than once and the entire evaluation process took days to complete. Every one of the photos I personally chose as my contribution for the jury has been compared to others, which, in the final stage, were very close to be included in my final selection.

© Alessandro Avenali - Fifth Place WPJA 2017 Tri-1 cat. "Silhouettes and Shadows"

© Alessandro Avenali - Fifth Place WPJA 2017 Tri-1 cat. "Silhouettes and Shadows"

Being a THREE members jury, the awarded photos should have got the preference of at least 2 judges out of 3. Not all the finally awarded photos are part of my original selection, and not every photo I selected met the favour of another judge.
The result of this preferences intersection is a collection of 69 photographs, that you can find here:

What did I find browsing through these sixteen hundred photos?
I found about a 10% great photos, revealing IMHO the touch of a master, another 10% of very nice photos and the remaining 80% distributed among slightly better than amateurish photos, plain ordinary photos, or photos ruined by factors that compromised their qualification for a possible award. Stylistic "flaws" that a master should not commit.

Errors that we are going to see in the second part of this post »