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Things I Learned Being A This is Reportage Judge by Philippe Swiggers

Excited to bring you a special piece today: Philippe Swiggers was one of our judges for Collection Nine (the winners of which were revealed yesterday), and he was very kind to write down some of his thoughts, tips, advice – and things that he himself learned from the judging process. This really is an incredibly insightful piece; thank you so much for sharing, Philippe!

First of all … Being a judge in this competition was a challenge. It took some time to stroll through about 2500 single images and about 6500 images included in the stories. It was absolutely quite a job but I loved every second of it.

I loved every second because this set of images was a complete joy to walk through. Don’t make yourself any illusions. This entire set of images was high quality wedding photography. It really is. 
 I always told Alan how extremely strong I feel this competition is. Not to be just Mr. Nice Guy. Because I really think it is. The level of the entire Collection (winning and not winning) is huge, I can assure you.

So I can encourage every single photographer who sent images to this contest to submit them again next time because a lot of them were so extremely strong which made this judging thing not very easy.

I loved every second because I learned so much during this process. So much I want to practice myself in my photography and keep in mind for the next time I will be sending in for the This is Reportage contest.

So… to make sure I don’t forget about all these lessons I decided to write them in this post. Just to remind myself and hopefully to help you win (again) next time. 🙂

1 – It’s personal.

I admit… when I join a wedding photography competition, I sometimes wonder why some of my images didn’t win. Mea Culpa.

To be honest… when seeing the entire set of winning images, some of the absolute favourites I chose myself as a single judge didn’t win. Is that weird? No, o course it isn’t. Winning this competition means the majority of the judges must like the image. Photography will always be a subjective art form (as in every art form). Like me, for example, I am a sucker for parent-kid and grandparent-kid relationships. Or I looooove complex layering. But hey, that’s just me.

So first lesson: I will always keep believing in the images I truly love and keep sending them in. I’m sure maybe next time it will win. And if it doesn’t. Fuck, I will still love it. This is ‘This is Reportage’ and almost every image that is sent in is really strong.

2 – Crop it.

I agree… sometimes I could spend more time investigating if an image should be cropped better. Crops are super important and could mean the world to your image. I’ve seen several images in this entire set that I would have chosen if the crop would have been better. 
 Leave out what might be unimportant to the meaning of your image and check if your eye is leading to what’s the most important.

3 – Edit it.

I agree… In the past there were some times I ‘overdid’ my editing. 
 I promise I will never do that again. Brushing is absolutely needed, I agree. But keep in mind that completely brushed out backgrounds might look unnatural. 
 Oversaturated images look unnatural. Don’t overdo it.

Same thing with tears. Tears on weddings are awesome. We all love tears. But tears don’t look like milk or don’t shine or anything. They are just tears. Don’t over edit these images to show there’s a tear there somewhere. Tears are lovely but have to look completely natural.

4 – Rules Rules Rules

I have to admit… in the beginning of This is Reportage I hadn’t read the rules properly. Somewhere in between my single images or stories I found some first look images until I actually paid attention to the rules of this competition. Please… read the rules, people. I saw posed images, first looks, family formals. There was even one story… I would have definitely chosen it as a winner but one of the final images was a clearly posed and set up image. I felt so bad I couldn’t choose it because the story was so strong. So, first thing, get those posed stuff & first looks out of there. 
 Oh… please… No logos on images either 🙂

Check the rules again to make sure :

5 – Only the strong survive.

It’s true… Key moments are extremely important on wedding days. Many photographers are specialists in focusing on these moments and the number of extreme high level images of key moments is just huge. The bouquet toss, couple coming out of ceremonies when people throw all kinds of stuff at them, first dance, etc. 
 Keep in mind that when you want to win an award in this competition with these images, they need to be outstanding. I saw so many awesome images of these key moments. Logically, only the strongest ones survive.

Same thing with hugs, btw. As I said… I’m a sucker for hugs, especially concerning family related hugs but the amount of amazing hugs is huge. Only the strong survive.

6 – Hand and feet

I admit…Hands and feet are important. Not always… that’s true. But when a hand or fingers or toes are cut off it feels like I can feel the pain of being cut off. That might be just me, I know. But when you can, if it’s possible, leave them entirely in or entirely out.

7 – Layer every layer

I agree… I adore layered shots. And I try to exercise layering a lot in my work. Layers though, work the best when every layer is working with you or working to add something to your image. And that’s the hard part. Layering is cool but when all layers work together in one frame you can feel that frame and that’s what you need to score a winner.
I will absolutely try harder to make all these layers work together in the future.

8 – Stories

Stories…Aaah… don’t we all love these winning ‘This is Reportage’ stories? And believe me, even a lot of them that didn’t win were so amazing too. Incredible work.

To be honest… Judging stories is the part where I learned the most in this process.
Imagine 6500 images. That’s about 350 stories to view. That’s, you know… A LOT! 
 Here’s the deal. Your story needs your very best images of that wedding. Some wise photographer once told me: Your story is just as good as your worst image. 
 So these are the tips I will hold on for my next entries:

My story has to start really strong. If, after 5 images f.e., the judge gets bored, he/she will skip it and go to the next story.
My story has to keep on going with only strong images. I can better choose 16 really good images than choose 16 + 4 average ones.
My story, in the best case, needs variety to keep the jury interested. That means not just good moments but if possible a good detail or close up, a wide shot with a lot of information… A good story needs a close-medium-far combo of the best images of one wedding.

9 – Did I mention it’s personal?

I agree… all the lessons above are my personal opinion, and mine alone.
Are many of the images I’ve chosen winners? Yes! 
 Were there a lot of images that I’ve chosen who didn’t win. Yes!
Are there images in the winning collection that I didn’t choose for some reason? Yes! 
 Again, photography competitions (whether they’re wedding related or not) are just a selection of a few other photographers, selected at a certain place or time in their life.

These awards are awesome because they help our community to evolve, to grow as a photographer. But they only can help you grow if you keep one important thing in mind:

In the end there’s only one healthy competition… The competition with yourself. Never stop believing in the images you love and your own identity in your work. Submit again and I’m sure they will win one day.


A few of my personal number ones. Favourites are hard. I even had a few ones that weren’t chosen. But these images for some reason stayed longer in my mind than some others. Again completely personal.

No favourite Stories here. They are all like amazing and extremely inspiring.

Reportage Award by Matt Badenoch
Reportage Award by Matt Badenoch

This image immediately made me smile. I always love when I feel something immediately when looking at photos.

Reportage Award by Franck Boutonnet
Reportage Award by Franck Boutonnet

For me… this must be one of the best tear shots I’ve ever seen.

Reportage Award by Franck Boutonnet
Reportage Award by Franck Boutonnet

I’m so sorry.. two of my favourites are from the exact same photographer. But as I said… It’s just personal. I love this one so much because I can imagine how hard Franck must have worked to get this image right. It feels so extremely deliberate in the way he executed it. Every photographer who has ever shot a wedding party will know how hard this one is to capture. Awesome!

Reportage Award by Els Korsten
Reportage Award by Els Korsten

I think this is my overall favourite of the entire collection. I mean, come on… take a look at this shot. Genius.

Reportage Award by Paul Rogers
Reportage Award by Paul Rogers

This image is screaming to myself to please keep an eye on these kind of stuff in my future weddings. It showed an immediate smile upon my face.

Reportage Award by Hilde Hoebers
Reportage Award by Hilde Hoebers

I loooooove layering. Here. Comes. The Bride. Awesome shot!

Reportage Award by Citlalli Rico
Reportage Award by Citlalli Rico

One of my all time favourite wedding images. It shows everything that storytelling and documentary photography is all about.

Thanks again to Philippe for sharing his thoughts and opinions about judging for us. You can see all of the winners of Collection Nine over here.

Collection Ten is now open for submissions; submit by 23:59 BST on 24th July 2019. Not yet a member? Apply over here and receive 60 Reportage Award entries (for individual captures) and 18 Story Award entries (for a series of images from a single wedding) per year, all included in our membership fee. There are lots more benefits to membership, too, including your own profile with an unlimited number of images/Stories, exclusive discounts/deals on wedding photography related products/services, and much more…

Aga Tomaszek

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