The 2014 Sony World Photography Awards
February 5, 2014 5:36 PM   Subscribe

The Sony World Photography Awards, an annual competition hosted by the World Photography Organisation, has recently announced its shortlist of winners. This year's contest attracted more than 140,000 entries from 166 countries. The organizers have been kind enough to share some of their shortlisted images with In Focus, gathered below. Winners are scheduled to be announced in March and April. All captions below come from the photographers. [33 photos]
posted by JujuB (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Image number 24, "That's Dance" made me laugh. They look like an act from Cirque du Soleil.
posted by JujuB at 5:40 PM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

There were a bunch that I really liked in this collection, but #29, the orangutan infant, froze me in my tracks because it's so compelling.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:42 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, #6 looks like a painting. Really stunning.
posted by yasaman at 5:53 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by turbid dahlia at 5:53 PM on February 5, 2014

Both #2 & #20 caused some nifty aliasing effects when I was scrolling them up onto my screen.

These are some good photographs.
posted by aubilenon at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2014

This will make me think of Brazil forever and ever.
posted by mykescipark at 6:21 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the Atlantic picked a lot of photos that seemed monochrome. Here's the Pro Shortlist, which is divided by categories. The Open Shortlist and the Youth Shortlist which has only 3 categories.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:21 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

These are fantastic. Thanks for this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:27 PM on February 5, 2014

JujuB, there's a hilarious comment on the site that says #24 was "clearly staged." Ha!
posted by janey47 at 6:41 PM on February 5, 2014

There are some really excellent photos here (and a few that are just OK, but no accounting for taste I guess). I wonder if I should be surprised that my favorites are almost all nature photography. The orangutan one is pretty awesome (they're the most expressive primates, in my opinion) but is slightly spoiled for me by the fact that it was almost certainly taken at a zoo. For me though, the first one – a frog riding a staghorn beetle – is far and away my favorite if only because I know just how rare that kind of shot is.

That the photographer not only managed to stumble across such a cool scene (not to mention just noticing it, given that the beetle is only a couple of inches long) but also to photograph it with such perfect clarity, composition, and pose is just staggering. I mean, I've spent many hours trying to intentionally pose frogs for photos, and the results are nowhere near as good (though I'm pretty pleased with my very modest accomplishments nonetheless).

Getting that picture (the one from The Atlantic, not mine) clearly took not only a whole lot of skill, but also an absolute ton of dedication. That photo represents many hundreds of hours hanging out in the jungle just waiting for the opportunity for that perfect shot, seeing nothing exceptional day after day (by nature photography standards I mean; every day in the rainforest is inherently pretty great, but not everything is world-class photo material). Behind that picture is many months spent getting filthy, rained on, and no doubt bitten and stung by hundreds of different species, some no doubt unknown to science. Not to mention the fact that along with that picture were probably about 99 other missed moments, flawed shots (too blurry, too dark, highlights blown out, wrong lens on the camera, subject looked away at the wrong moment, subject turned out to have unsightly dirt on it, composition wasn't quite right, etc.) and other frustrating failures.

The kind of serendipitous scene captured in that photo is incredibly rare and usually happens only for the briefest of moments; a photographer gets only one chance (if that) to take the shot, and no warning beforehand. You could spend a lifetime trying to get a picture like that, and never strike gold. It's the kind of thing that most people will never see in real life, even if they spend years looking for it, and to see it photographed so perfectly is just unspeakably cool. It took huge amounts of skill, persistence, and luck to get that shot, and that's why it's my favorite.
posted by Scientist at 7:19 PM on February 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

When it comes to photography, I am a total luddite. To people who do not know my background, they probably just think I am being precious or twee or whatever when I bust out a pinhole camera. But I grew up in a darkroom, my family for the better part of four generations ran a successful portraiture and artistic photography business. All developing, airbrushing, framing, etc.. done in house. I learned the business from the ground up just in time to see the digital revolution destroy our bottom line. The studio folded in the early 2000's, but had really been dragging on the families unwillingness to admit defeat for some time leading up to that.

So now when I see a photo, I all but demand proof that it is an unmanipulated image. Call it whatever you like, but I hate how digital photography has devalued the nature of photographs. A picture was only worth a thousand words when you only had 24 exposures on a roll. Now with the mass detritus of bad digital manipulations of people trying to be artistic without learning anything about composition, lighting, et al.. eh, I'll just shut up. I tend to rant on the topic when it comes up..
posted by mediocre at 7:20 PM on February 5, 2014

Oh, and not that you were wondering or anything but the frog in my photo is a Phrynobatrachus auritus, which is my study species for my PhD thesis. They're generally considered quite drab and unremarkable and admittedly that one is unusually pretty, but I think they're all quite beautiful when you take the time to really look at them.
posted by Scientist at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I dunno, mediocre. Admittedly quite a lot of those photos could be considered over-processed (about half of them, in my opinion) but at the same time realism is overrated and arguably irrelevant in photography. Photographs have never captured reality accurately; witness the many classic film stocks that are loved for their unique balance of grain, color, and dynamic range. See also various classic cameras and lenses, including the pinhole camera that you mention, which as often as not are loved for their distortions rather than their faithful reproduction of what the eye sees.

All photographs are an interpretation of what the photographer saw, rendered by that photographer's choice of tools, decisions when composing the shot, and processing effects (or lack thereof). It's one thing to say that processing effects can sometimes be so strong that they distract from the photograph rather than enhancing it, but over-processing has been possible since long before digital cameras came along. I mean, people were complaining about magazine models being airbrushed to the point of looking like plastic androids even back when the tools being used were actual airbrushes, rather than digital ones.

Digital photography has made processing effects much easier to come by (and much more powerful and flexible) and I'd agree that too many photographers – including pros – are enamored of their tools to the point that they end up damaging the actual photo in their enthusiasm to use the new tricks. That doesn't make digital photography inherently any better or worse than film, though. Yes, it's easier to manipulate photos than it used to be, and the digital photographer has a lot more tools to do those manipulations than the film photographer does, but no photograph is a totally accurate representation of life and what makes a photo art, in my opinion, stems at least partly from the intentional choices made by the photographer about how the final result looks. That goes for film just as much as digital.
posted by Scientist at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow! That sylvinite mine looks great. I didn't know what it was and so went searching. Not only are they beautiful looking mines but the continuous miners that create them are pretty impressive too.
posted by unliteral at 7:38 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the serial commenting. One more thing, though:

If you have any doubts that orangutans are among the most expressive and emotive (from a human perspective, of course) animals on the planet, a simple Google Image search should relieve you of them in short order.
posted by Scientist at 7:39 PM on February 5, 2014

Scientist - I don't pretend that a lot of my problem with modern digital photography is how it drove my families business into the ground. However, I do think that too many people get a cheap DSLR or worse and a pre-tuned set of filters and call themselves photographers. Recently I was comparing some photos I had taken with the aforementioned pinhole box with a friends photos who was going for a similar vibe with digital manipulation. She was continually frustrated how my pictures had something of that je ne sais quoi, a quality she was unable to capture. Much of what she was missing in her photos was a basic understanding of how images should be framed, how to direct the eye to specific items, layering background and foreground items to make a more meaningful image. Example: She didn't understand at the time why I was framing two people towards the bottom right of a frame when taking a photo of them next to a large object. It is basic composition, really. Nothing that one wouldn't learn within a week in a photography course. But is sadly lacking in many peoples photographic repertoires.
posted by mediocre at 7:52 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

mediocre, I'm skeptical too. I have no idea if either of those bug photos are staged or not, but it seems to be a common practice among some nature photographers who have taken similar photos.
posted by mr. manager at 8:25 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the mantid shot is staged as well.
posted by dhruva at 8:34 PM on February 5, 2014

The wildebeast one made me go wow.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:19 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm old and grumpy. Digital post-processing, as in the wildebeest pic and the whale pic bother me less than manual post-processing [dodging and burning]. Also number seventeen is flipped on the x-axis. Photoshop has unleashed a lot of talent but at the same time has made me a more cynical viewer.

Still, a lot of great compositions. Thanks for the post.
posted by vapidave at 9:23 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm old and grumpy. Digital post-processing, as in the wildebeest pic and the whale pic bother me less than manual post-processing [dodging and burning]. Also number seventeen is flipped on the x-axis. Photoshop has unleashed a lot of talent but at the same time has made me a more cynical viewer.

Sorry, your complaint only counts as half a complaint until I receive it by postal mail.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:34 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love photography - every kind of photography, good or bad. I love the story the pictures tell and I never get tired of looking at photo galleries.

The houses in China - oh, Lord, that made the blood run cold in my veins.

Great shots all, but the old lady jumping into the river after her mud bath made my heart sing.

Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by aryma at 11:05 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Admittedly quite a lot of those photos could be considered over-processed

Granted, there were some egregious examples, but I also thought there were some great examples of how processing can turn a great pic into an astounding one.

As a keen hobby photographer, digital photography amazes me everyone I pick up a camera. I could never have learnt so much, so cheaply, with film.

Good processing can be a bit like good plastic surgery, I think: if it's really good, you won't even notice it's there.
posted by smoke at 2:45 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed, smoke. The phrase "could be considered" is a key part of that quote of mine; I'd not consider it a defensible statement were that phrase omitted. Whether or not a photo is over-processed is entirely a matter of personal taste. I think about half of them are, perhaps you think about ten percent of them are, and perhaps mediocre thinks almost all of them are over-processed. All those opinions are valid; there's no objective criteria, the jusgment rests entirely with the viewer's personal aesthetic sensibilities.

Also, I disagree with mediocre that digital photography's profusion of unskilled amateur photographers is necessarily a bad thing. For one, I don't think there's anything to be gained by restricting the joy of photography to only those who can pass some kind of skill test; it is wonderful that the pleasure of taking photos is so much more accessible now, even if that increased accessibility means an increase in unskilled photographers.

Furthermore, bad photography does not detract from good photography; the two do not cancel each other out. Also, the accessibility of digital photography, coupled with its potential for instant feedback and the low opportunity cost (compared to film) of experimentation, has made photography a much easier skill to learn, for those who are interested, than it once was. Digital photography has democratized the art, and I think that's a good thing. I don't see why it should be restricted to an elite few.
posted by Scientist at 8:07 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's all been a fraud ever since daguerreotypes went out of fashion. Dodging? Burning? Ansel Adams and his ilk have us all living in a fantasy world. And don't even get me started on that Henri Cartier-Bresson fellow. YOUR IMAGES AREN'T EVEN PERFECTLY SHARP AND POSED FOR MAXIMUM STILLNESS

All jokes aside, I'm sorry about your family's business, mediocre. That said, digital photography has brought far more good to the world than bad. The unskilled amateurs were always there, but now they have a much easier time learning and producing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, hmm. I hope you don't take my disagreement as me gleefully dancing on the grave of your family's business, mediocre. Film processing is definitely a dying art (it'll probably hang on basically forever as a niche thing, but it'll never be big business again) and that's too bad because it's a really interesting art/trade that has inherent merit.

It's also sad that your family's business, and many others like it, failed – especially since it failed not due to mismanagement or incompetence, but rather by simply having its entire foundation unceremoniously pulled out from under it by a change in technology. That's too bad, and I feel for you; I'm sure that you were very skilled and took pride in your work and in the service you rendered, and it's a shame when businesses like that go under.

Still though, I don't think that it's really anybody's fault or that digital photography is a bad thing, even though some bad things happened during its ascendancy and some people fell victim to that. On the whole I still think it's been good for photography, and a net good for the world at large.
posted by Scientist at 2:45 PM on February 6, 2014

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