Having been involved in a few recent judgings, I noticed a few things that almost seem to becoming trendy of sorts, which is not necessarily a good thing. So here's some general thoughts to keep in mind before you hit send on your next image submission
* Oversharpening should be avoided and subtlety is almost always better. If doing globally, then really, really be aware of haloing or distinctive edging that is created in the process.
* Increasing saturation should be done with care, especially if it creates areas of blocked in colours with out of gamut issues in blues / magentas / reds, and quickly becomes distracting, especially from skin tone values.
* Look closely at your image, and get rid of sensor dust. Always!! Learn the trick of doing so in LR, as you can wipe it out batch style from a full shoot as necessary.
* Clarity is NOT a substitute for lack of proper focus
* Grain / Noise patterns are enhanced by poor choices in sharpening settings - learn what works best for your camera at different ISO values, including masking options.
* Available light architectural images are easier, but images can quickly become boring without enhanced light styling, and a dominant subject - either by placement or light shaping.
* Blended images (for exposure range) of scenics or interiors almost always need to have some depth or character to the image created by varying light intensities. Without it, the image comes across flat, even though it may seem "correctly exposed" throughout.
* Toning down bright highlight should be done with extreme care if doing so by cranking the Highlight slider all the way down... blown out whites just become toneless darker values when doing so, and your whole image loses... "sparkle".
* Skin tones that have unequal colour values personally drives me crazy, but not everyone sees them as much I guess... Look for highlight areas that seem to have a different hue than the base skin tones... you'll find them if you start looking for them. Magenta blotches are also apparent when you start looking for them, and are often easily addressed with a tweak to the magenta / red values in the Hue / Sat Control.
* Look closely at your image (at 100%) for accidental banding created by density / gradient control adjustments and / or blurring - often a magenta tone in neutrals, and noticeable in skies & even detail areas.
* Never underestimate the impact and depth that foreground subjects can create in landscape images.
* Look for perspective elements that may be off on the horizontal, or just one corner... LR has great adjustment tools now, but sometimes you still need to give a single corner a tug of Distort in PS to finish it off.
* Pay attention to size of entry specs.
* Think about using a border or background matte of some sort... it doesn't need to be fancy (and is usually better if it isn't), but even a simple framing / border treatment gives your image some separation from the judging screen, and almost always improves the initial image impact.
All that being said, there are amazing images being created in new and innovative ways that are always a pleasure to see, and amazing in their motivation value. I'm always inspired to kick up my own work up a few notches when judging, as the salon process never fails to be educational, and everyone can learn from it in so many ways!
Be critical with your images before entering, never be afraid to try something different, and always be open minded to the results - you'll grow as an image maker, be much happier with your pro work, and definitely more successful with your client projects!
Have fun out there!
© Craig Minielly