Smithsonian Magazine's new photo contest
October 10, 2003 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Smithsonian Magazine is holding its first-ever photo contest, open to all adult non-professional photographers to submit entries in five categories. (Professionals may want to see about freelance opportunities here.) I find it particularly nice that there is no entry fee, and no citizenship requirements. For inspiration you may want to browse a gallery of Smithsonian freelance photographers or view the beautiful (and seasonally appropriate) Ghost Towns by Night Light and pick up a few tips on night photography from the photographer.
posted by taz (23 comments total)
Good for the Smithsonian! They really do a great job of recording real life. The years will tell.

Thanks for the heads-up, Taz.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:35 AM on October 10, 2003

The photos from Ghost Towns by Night Light is fantastic. Thanks muchly.
posted by The God Complex at 1:35 AM on October 10, 2003

Is? IS? I'm going to bed.

I've been thinking of getting into night photography for awhile, because it seems interesting, and this seals it--the cool photos, not my failing grammar.
posted by The God Complex at 1:40 AM on October 10, 2003

You (singular) is forgiven, TGC. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:56 AM on October 10, 2003

Here's are a great mefi thread on night photography, TGC. (The links is good.)
posted by taz at 2:08 AM on October 10, 2003

[This are good].

By the way, the advice given not to handhold slower than 1/60th shutter speed (in the tips link) isn't exactly correct. The general rule of thumb is, don't handhold slower than the inverse of your focal length. In other words, if you're lens is a standard 50mm, you should use a tripod for shots that are 1/30th of a second or longer (since there is no 1/50th shutter speed). This is an important point for people using telephoto lenses -- a 300mm lens should not be handheld lower than 1/250th of a second (the closest available shutter speed), because a telephoto lens will magnify camera shake. You might think your shots are coming out clear if you throw caution to the wind (as the article claims) but throw a slide under a lupe and you will definately notice the difference. The tripod is your friend; invest in a sturdy one.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:01 AM on October 10, 2003

Good stuff - thanks taz.
posted by plep at 4:33 AM on October 10, 2003

For handheld shots you can improve your technique and handhold for longer periods of time. One thing that I do in a pinch is use the my left arm's elbow to make the camera strap taught around my neck. This removes some of the shake from my arms and shoulders. Then I take a shoulder width stance and keep my weight pretty evenly distributed which reduces shake in my lower body. I'd prefer to use a tripod but you don't always have one or you're not always in a place where you can use one.

This won't help for night time photography unfortunately but I thought it might be useful in general.
posted by substrate at 4:49 AM on October 10, 2003

Boo...where's the digital category?
posted by rushmc at 5:12 AM on October 10, 2003

Great stuff, taz. This blues photographer was interviewed frequently in the excellent PBS Blues series that recently aired.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:54 AM on October 10, 2003

rushmc, why should digital get a special category? Digital shouldn't be excluded (though PhotoShopping the picture into a work of art should be) but it doesn't warrant a special section either. I now only use digital, I just bought a Fuji S2Pro to replace my Nikon body. If I wanted to enter this contest I could get it printed onto 5X7 or 8X10 photographic paper and enter this contest.
posted by substrate at 6:38 AM on October 10, 2003

The intent seems to be to exclude digital, substrate, but perhaps I am reading more into it than there is.
posted by rushmc at 7:06 AM on October 10, 2003

The print version of the magazine included directions on how to submit digital files -- there are size guidelines, if I read correctly, they want the image to have an outrageously high resolution and a minimum fileweigt of multiple MBs. For that reason, I was offput, it was much higher than what I normally use as a hobbyist, and my best photos are the unexpected point-and-shoot captures. If I went out with my camera set at its highest levels with the intent of "making art" I'd never get anything worthwhile. Dilemmas, dilemmas.
posted by Dreama at 7:08 AM on October 10, 2003

rushmc - I'm fully digital, and I see nothing in the rules that would keep me from entering a photo. In fact I think I will.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:00 AM on October 10, 2003

Yay, y6! In fact, you are one of the people who came to mind when I stumbled across this. It's not so often that one finds a serious venue offering a contest with so few restrictions. Perhaps it will be different next time 'round, but this is refreshingly all-embracing and affordable.
posted by taz at 8:41 AM on October 10, 2003

Dreama, this is curious. I don't think that the overall contest can impose more restrictions than specified on the web pages announcing and outlining it. It's possible that I missed something here, though I did look to and fro to see if there was further pertinent information.
posted by taz at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2003

On a related note, check out this photo.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2003

Good advice, substrate. Additionally, you can increase your Handheld Zen if you keep your shoulders tucked into your sides -- novices typically make the mistake of sticking their elbows when they shoot. Also, I've managed a few longer shots (1/8th at 50mm is my best) by taking a deep breath, then letting it out slowly; in the middle of exhaling, depress the shutter.

Dreama, I think the reason they want film or slides is because magazine reproduction requires higher resolution than normal. Newspapers can get away with digital shots a lot more often then glossy mags. All the magazines that I've submitted photos to won't even accept C41 (print film), and the upper ISO limit for slides that they've taken is Kodachrome 64. Now, granted, Canon and Kodak make some ultra hi-res digital bodies; I doubt they'll turn down a 23Mb file. But the standard "prosumer" bodies (Canon 10D, Nikon d100, etc.) simply can't take being enlarged much past 8x10. I don't know what they plan on doing with the winners, but if they want to make a poster-sized print to sell on their website (for example), a 5 Megapixel camera isn't going to cut the mustard.

Also, eliminating digital entries easily prevents people from submitting photoshop'ed photos. That seems fair to me (after all, it's a photo contest, not a graphics artist competition).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:05 AM on October 10, 2003

"All entries must be postmarked by December 31, 2003. Prints may be from digital high-resolution or film originals."
posted by cell at 9:33 AM on October 10, 2003

"But the standard "prosumer" bodies (Canon 10D, Nikon d100, etc.) simply can't take being enlarged much past 8x10."

Huh? I spend a lot of time in photography forums. Professional photographers are printing 13x19 and up from D60 shots all the time. I've done this myself and they look fantastic. Sure, you could break out a loupe and tell the difference between the 8x11 and the 13x19 (maybe), but what's the point of that?

I recently had someone take one of my D60 shots and use it for a 36"x48" panel at a convention booth. I talked to a wedding photographer last year who was using Genuine Fractals to sell his D30(!) prints at 13x19.

Digital Photo Pro just ran an article about how Sports Illustrated is going to 100% digital for their photographers. The reason? Quality.

8x11 my bottom.

And my favorite "steady" trick is to place my head against something rigid. I find this works better than the "elbows in, hold your breath" method. This plays hell with finding the right composition, but it's a life saver indoors where you have plenty of walls.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:03 AM on October 10, 2003

And another interesting contest for non-pros: National Parks Pass Photo Contest. I have a great shot for this that I think can win. We'll see.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2003

y6y6y6, I work primarily in fashion photography, and own a poster production company, and while we do use the occasional D60 / Epson 2200 combo for portfolio work, it's mostly for models that are just starting out and don't have a lot of cash on hand for good prints. In a day's work we can do 4 outfits in a couple of locations, print up a couple of choice shots, and hand over a burned CD. It's ridiculously convenient, but it's not high quality work. While you can go larger than 8x10, soft gradients start to get ugly. And Genuine Fractals is nice for filling in the lack of data, but put a Kodachrome 25 up against a D60 at poster size and you'll see that there is simply no comparison in the detail. This might not matter to you if you're just enlarging a favorite picture, but it will when your media requires either the higher resolution (good glossy mags) or larger printing area (poster prints).

So you know, I think it's nice that they're opening up the field by accepting digital. To be honest, photojournalism is nearly 100% digital these days -- that's not just Sports Illustrated, it's also all the newspapers and wire services. Digital is easy and instant; if you don't need to enlarge too much, you can't tell the difference anyway. I remember reading a dpreview article comparing the 1Ds with 35mm, and when you take into account the degradation between the transfer of formats (film -> scanner), there is almost no difference. At some point the physical grain of the film becomes the limiting factor, much like the pixels of resolution in a digital image.

I know that a few magazines have used digital shots for two-page spreads, but quality is not terribly important in Newsweek (where TV resolution feeds are sometimes all that's available) or SI. But unless you're willing to shell out for a digital back that can give you 75 Mb files, you're going to have to stick with medium or large format for detailed or enlarged prints. If you've ever looked at the detail in a field camera's 8x10 negative, you know that digital still has a few more years of improving. With the rate manufacturers are improving their designs and technologies, it's only a matter of time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2003

Civil_Disobedient - All true. Thanks.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2003

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