How to make your images assignment worthy
The monthly assignment is like the elusive unicorn that everyone wants to catch. Once a month it comes out to play and everyone has a shot at catching it, all you need to do is upload a really excellent image and win the votes of the viewers.
Sounds pretty simple but it turns out it’s not and more submissions end up being refused than approved, sometimes for simple, easy to fix reasons, other times for problems that can’t be fixed.
If you ever wanted to pick an editor’s brain, here is your chance, Andrei and I, the two senior Dreamstime editors who usually refuse (or approve) your images, are about to give you a series of tips that will make your assignment images more eligible and more attractive and, in the end, they can win you the gilded unicorn, one of the assignment prizes.
A list of issues we see frequently:
Lighting - you go out, see the perfect setting for the current assignment, shoot the image and upload it at once only to get a refusal for poor lighting. You are upset, throw your camera against a wall and swear never to upload images for assignment again. Let me stop you right there, we have nothing against you, your camera or your image just that we’d love it if, before you actually press the button, you take a bit of time to take it all in. Is it a sunny day? Is it a rainy day? Where is the main light source shining from? Do I need a filling light or a dampener, a blend, a flashlight? Should I post process the image to enhance shadows a bit or am I overdoing it in Photoshop? Ask yourself all these questions and chances are you won’t be throwing your camera against the wall at the end of your assignment experience. From our experience, as long time assignment reviewers, lighting really is the most common mistake and the easiest one to avoid or fix.
Composition - the next on common mistakes list. In the rush to take the image and put it online, contributors forget the rules of compositions, sometimes entirely, sometimes they simply don’t notice a tilted horizon or a subject that really should not be in the center of the image. So, before you upload an image check it out, see if you can improve it by re-cropping or if you should re-shoot it. And familiarize yourself with the rules of composition, they can be broken, but they still are golden. Check our blog section for a good selection of blogs about composition, rules and how to break them
Subject - it may seem counter-intuitive that we’re mentioning subject here but even if the main theme is given by the assignment introductory text there are a lot of instances where the subject in the images simply does not fit or it’s just too simple to convey the theme accurately. The subject of your image is as important as the way to choose to capture it, so don’t fall in the trap of the obvious.
Under-cooked images - these are composition that could have been great, but you made the mistake of being in a hurry and not complete the image one way or another. They don’t necessarily fall in one of the above categories or they have a little bit of each
A list of the type of images you probably shouldn’t upload in the first place:
Anything that is under lit, overexposed, harshly lit, as mentioned in the lighting part of this blog these images can be easily avoided.
Compositions that undermine the image such as dead center images, tilted horizons, flat images that have no depth.
Subjects that have little to do with the current assignment theme. If you need to stretch your imagination to consider your image a fit than you probably shouldn’t upload it.
A list of the type of images you should upload:
Unique images -the kind of stuff you have not seen anywhere else. It happens that you simply had a moment of genius and you came up with something no one else has done before. We’d love to see it and accept it if you have it. Uniqueness is not always in the subject mostly because anything you could capture has been captured already, it’s mostly in the way you capture.
Artistic pieces - images that are artistic in nature, dreamy, tell a story through lighting and composition, have a narrative.
Complex illustrations - while illustrations are popular, we rarely see something really complex in assignment and we’d love to see more. Well executed and complex illustrations are like good images, they will stand out.
Rule breakers - I know we said you should respect rules of composition but we really like images that manage to break the rules and eat the cake. This means, outstanding images that really are out of the usual patterns.
A list of things to watch out or look for when you go out and shoot specifically for an assignment:
Cliche images - these will be the most uploaded images no matter the assignment theme, but you can certainly avoid them. It’s OK if you’re not inspired from day one, don’t lose hope, look for inspiration around you, look at other people’s work, it’s not shame in looking for ideas
The right time - you all know about the golden hour, I’m sure, you may also know about the blue hour. These are magic times when sunlight will give you certain glow and shade that you can use to your advantage. Similar to this you can choose the right time to shoot your images keeping in account your subject and desired end result.
The right composition - the central train station will look very cool when you put a tripod in the middle of the day inside and take a long exposure image, it might look good at midnight when it’s devoid of people too, but different composition might be needed to achieve the mood you’re going for. The angle, the focal length, the aperture, the exposure time, they all make a difference.
The right subject - there’s not much to say here except from what was already mentioned except, don’t worry, you’ll know when you see it.
An extra list to make everything more clear:
1. In order to break the rules, you must first know and practice them.
2. So often we drop our eyes onto images where it's clear that the photographer missed the forest for the tree, meaning that the subject captivated them so much that they effectively forgot about composition and lighting. An image is a whole, neither just subject, nor only technique, a good pic is always both.
3. Would you frame it and put it on the wall? would you give it as a present to someone truly dear? If not then you need to work on it.
4. Perseverance: sounds cliche, but practice makes perfect, the more you shoot, the more you'll grow to shoot well instinctively. Shoot, shoot, shoot! Don't be afraid to experiment, shoot junk, enjoy it, get to know what junk is, so you'll know the difference within your guts, don't disregard poor shots, they're the tiny, humble bricks to your photographic construction, respect that without falling into the routine of only shooting carelessly. Just enjoy every shot you take, but be selective and true to yourself and only upload the cream - see #3.
Last but not least, shoot for yourself and not necessarily for the assignment, once you start to shoot images in your own vision they will start to have something that you can’t have if you only think about the theme.
Photo credits: Elena Schweitzer.
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