Judge for Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Simon Bishop, Art Editor for BBC Wildlife Magazine, is a judge for Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY). We asked Simon how the judging panel works, how a winning image is selected and what advice he has for photographers entering the competition...
How did you become a part of the WPOTY panel of judges? How are the judges chosen?
As art editor on BBC Wildlife magazine I'm working critically with wildlife photographs on a daily basis, so I was considered to have a good eye! I now have over fifteen years experience on the title. The judges are chosen from top creative professionals with proven track records in their fields.
Selecting the category winners must have been a difficult task... perhaps you could outline the process that takes you from 17,000 photographs to the final selection?
The entire initial selection is critically assessed by at least two professional picture editors for creative and technical quality. Between the first stage and the semi-final (second) stage of judging, two thirds of all pictures have been rejected. Possibly 3000 are still in at this semi-final stage.
At the semi-final stage, which is my own experience, the process is still largely a negative one. The judges are still weeding out any flaws, whilst obviously enjoying letting the best go through to the final. In the region of 700-800 images will be going through to the final judging stage.
In the final stage, the judges are then looking for only the very best from the selection that remains. Sometimes judges can 'lock horns' over their personal favourites!
What exactly do the judges look for in the photographs? Are there well defined criteria that you use?
They will be looking for all the classic qualities that make up a great wildlife shot: good composition and cropping, great light and detail, extraordinary or fascinating behaviour or mood. Essentially, shots have to be in the wild, no captive animals are allowed unless in the context of The World In Our Hands category. Any winner has passed the stiffest of tests!
Are there any easily avoidable mistakes that photographers often make?
I think the most common mistakes are made in the consideration of composition. Often extraneous elements will spoil an otherwise perfect picture. Branches and twigs are frequent invaders. Sometimes photographers forget they can crop! Whether a picture is thin and long or square doesn't matter. Artificially constructed shots, ie studio shots, or obvious use of water sprayers for example are quickly removed!
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers who might want to enter WPOTY?
Be self-critical. If a picture is sharp, well-lit, has great shape and composition, and has engaged an animal in an intimate and thoughtful way, you are well on the way!
When you have got down to the final category winners, how do you choose the overall winner? Is there ever any conflict between judges?
Lot's of argument ! Very subjective at this stage and often passionate. The overall winner will probably be argued for strongly by an individual. Bit like a trial jury gradually being convinced by someone with utter conviction.
What is it that you like about Manuel Presti’s winning photograph?
The sense of 'being there', looking up and suddenly seeing this drama over your head. The picture has a great visual 'punchline' with the one predatory bird swooping in on the mass of starlings who are bending away to avoid the attack. It has an abstract feel too which is unusual in a wildlife photograph, it works as a graphic, especially as the picture is monocromatic.
Related: Interview with Manual Presti,
Winning Image: Sky Chase
Wildlife photographer of the year is a hugely successful competition. What do you think it is that makes it so special?
Since the beginning of the competition, those photographers with the most ambition and vision have always wanted to have their work recognised by WPOY. Some of those early, now famous photographers have now come back to the competition as judges. As well as being a very high profile competition in its own right, with international publicity driving it forward, the competition itself doubles as a wildlife photographers' community. It's always great to witness everyone gathering in London for the official opening ceremony of the show. Photographers from all over the world finally come out from behind their lenses and share their experiences with each other. Friendships are made. Associations and ideas are formed. The competitioin is deemed to have the power to affect change.
Could you tell us about your job – what do you do as Art Editor for BBC Wildlife Magazine?
Essentially I am responsible for the design of the magazine. I have to produce HI-RES pdf pages which are sent direct to our printers using In-design as layout software. I commission artwork, and help, with the editors, picture editor and researcher, and my fellow designer Mishka Westell, to choose the most appropriate photographs for all the sections of the magazine. I have to check whether digital images are the correct resolution for the magazine before inclusion. I also produce a lot of promotional material for the magazine particularly subscription promotion work, and this year a modest exhibition stand. I also occasionally press pass the magazine pages at the printers.
Some magazines don’t like digital photographs – what is your magazine’s policy on digital images?
We like digital photos, especially if they are the correct resolution! We print at 300dpi at the size the pictures appear in the magazine. Digital shots are easy to research and deliver and cannot be damaged. We like all that. We have found that the quality of film has only been equalled by digital in the hands of people who really know what they are doing though. Having said that, at least 80% of the magazine is now made up from digitally produced pictures.
Finally, do you have any advice for PhotoGalaxy’s members?
Follow your passion! Success has come from unlikely scenarios. For instance I remember meeting Bruno Zender, a Swiss photographer, back in the early 1990's, who had previously worked as a chef on a Russian ship going to Antartica. When the ship docked there Bruno went out on the ice and took pictures of Emperor penguins. He never expected to become a wildlife photographer, but suddenly everyone wanted his shots starting with publication in Japan, his pictures were soon speeding around the world to every wildlife magazine. Needless to say this kick-started a new career. He developed a love for his subjects, and this is what drove him to strive for wonderful and inspiring images.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year
BBC Wildlife Magazine
Manuel Presti Interview