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Advice from Look Up/Down Judge

Updated: Mar 15

I’m pleased to have been offered the opportunity to serve as judge for your competition where the assigned category is “Look up / Look down”. The description on the Look Up / Look Down competition page reads:

“Establishing an effective point of view is a fundamental component of creating a meaningful photograph. Too often we get in the habit of taking our photos 5 feet or so above the ground as we stand looking at a subject. For this competition we challenge you to get creative with point of view by taking photos with your camera at heights either below your normal knee height or above your normal head height. Crouch down, lay down, climb up – do something to get a different perspective. The subject of the photo can be wide-ranging, but should be clearly identifiable.”

I fully understand the “gist” of this description and have judged quite a few competitions where looking up or down has been the assigned subject. Some clubs have offered similar assignments but described the images as presenting a “worm’s eye view / bird’s eye view”.

The guidelines for this category invite the photographer to shoot from a viewpoint other than the usual 5 feet... average head height above the ground. Many traditional “looking up / looking down” images can meet that description and still be taken with the camera at it’s most often used height, approximately 5 feet. Often seen images include tall buildings viewed from ground level... with architectural “convergence” cause by the camera “looking up”, views of tall monuments from ground level, aircraft in flight at air shows, “flying” acrobatic dirt bikers, scenic vistas from mountain hiking trails, etc. All can, and are often taken with the camera at “head height”, but still meet the description of “looking up / looking down. The real challenge might be to make it obvious to the viewer of your photograph that your camera was most definitely higher or lower than head height when the image was captured.

Here are several examples of images I’ve seen going back many years that stick in my mind.

“Looking down”... Someone rigged a small camera to look through the grill of an old bird cage apparently from about where a bird would perch.... looking down at a cat on the floor looking up as if it was plotting how to reach the bird. The cage “bars” were VERY soft, but you got the idea.

“Looking down”... someone took a photo of a hard-hatted utility worker down inside a manhole but looking up at the photographer... a bit of a bonus because the shot was looking down at someone looking up. Although taken with the camera probably at the “head height” of the photographer, it was a great image.

“Looking up”... A photographer placed the camera (must have had a tilt screen) on the ground below a log that had sprouted a number of tall fungi, the kind looking like parasols. The viewpoint was very low, looking up at part of the cap from the underside, with the “gills” visible, a striking image the way it was illuminated.

“Looking up”... a shot taken where the photographer was on a “creeper” underneath a car, looking up at a “helper” in coveralls, visible from the waist down, passing him a wrench.

“Looking down”... Someone took a guided walk over the top of one of the arches of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, a stunning view, although the camera was used at head height (above the photographer’s feet) but clearly at a breath-taking) height overall.

There are endless options available to you for producing “looking up / looking down” images. Nobody should have any problem coming up with images that meet the category. The trick is to strive to make YOUR images stand out from the rest. Shooting “outside the box” is a good approach... don’t be reluctant to try something different. Maybe try stepping away from the “box” altogether.

First and foremost... strive to achieve a measure of technical excellence. A brilliant image that would normally sweep everything else aside can be tripped up by having flaws not immediately apparent to the submitter, but noticed by the judge. Beware especially of digital “noise” which can be quite “sneaky”, usually appearing in even-toned areas of an image. If working with selections in Photoshop (or whatever) to selectively modify / adjust an image, pay special attention to the selection edges so that they don’t give away the fact that adjustments were made. Watch out for halos in sky areas around high contrast objects. Color accuracy should be spot on, although on competition night you and the audience are at the mercy of whatever projection system is in use. I always view downloaded images on three different color calibrated monitors, on three diffenent computers. This is probably “overkill, but I want to be sure that any color issues in an image belong to that image and not some variable in my viewing process.

Endeavor to produce an image having impact. Your images are part of a large group, all produced by folks wanting to snag an award. In a large body of work, impact carries a lot of weight.

Above all, shoot for “yourself”... producing something distinctive that fits the category. If YOU are happy with what you got, then whatever I, or any other judge says, regardless of the score, isn’t really important. Having some other photographer view one of my images and ask “How on earth did you do that?”... packs a lot more satisfaction than receiving a high score ever could.

Art Vaughan, HonNEC

Print Competition Director


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