"Dear Entrants,...." - Part Four: Photo Tips for Digital Entries

The pandemic interrupted just about every facet of life to one degree or another. County fairs were no exception. Some canceled outright in 2020 and 2021, while others switched to a virtual fair, with exhibits displayed online. Most, if not all, fairs will be in person for Summer 2022. But that doesn't mean that fairs are operating the same way they did pre-pandemic. Many fairs are asking entrants to submit photos of their projects, rather than the item itself. The entries are judged virtually, then the prize-winning entries are collected and displayed for people to see in person. 

There are some major advantages to this system for entrants, fair staff, and judges, most of which involve saving time and money. But there are some major drawbacks, too. As a judge, it is really difficult to properly assess something via a snapshot. I recently judged paper crafts for a county fair and the overall quality of the photos people submitted to be judged was pretty bad.

I wish I could show you some of the photos that were submitted, just so you understand how terrible they were. To be fair, some of the photos were fine and a few were even good. But there were a few that make me question how its even possible to take such a poor-quality picture. I'm not a good photographer, but there are some basics that literally anyone can do to make a picture less terrible. 

To illustrate just how bad the worst of the photos was, I took this snapshot of the trendiest project I've ever made:

Honestly, as bad as this photo is, it's not as bad as the worst I had to judge because nothing is too blurry to see, there's no glare obstructing the project, and most of the project is visible. When a photo has all those sins and more, it's tempting to disqualify the whole thing. Really tempting.

I've written a series of posts in the past giving advice to fair entrants from their judge (things like, "Don't give your judge fleas.") My recent judging experience has led me to write another letter.


Dear Entrants,

Thank you for submitting your project to the fair. As a crafter myself, I know the time and effort that goes into your creations. As a judge, it is my responsibility to do my best to honor that time and effort. Back in pre-pandemic days when I judged items in person, I would carefully inspect your project from all angles and assess the tiniest details to ensure the best project wins. This is much more difficult to do now that I am judging your project based on a single photograph. 

Since you took the time to enter, I assume you would like to win? If that is the case, I strongly recommend that the photo you submit actually shows your project in its best light. Or, for that matter, in any light. One of you entered a photo that was so dark I could hardly make out the project. Likewise, if there is a light casting a major glare on your project, perhaps you could move the project somewhere else before you take the photo? Photos taken in indirect, natural light are usually best. 

It seems obvious to me, but apparently it needs to be mentioned: if you want me to judge your whole project, your whole project should be in the photo. If you're entering a scrapbook layout, but I can only see 60% of the page because you've zoomed in too far, I'm going to struggle judging it. And while your whole project should be in the photo, your whole room should not. Don't set your layout on the couch and then move to the other side of the room to photograph it. The picture is supposed to be of the layout, not of the couch. (You've done a lovely job decorating the living room, by the way!) 

A plain background does wonders to highlight your project. An empty tabletop or even the floor make acceptable backgrounds. I like to set a sheet of plain posterboard down and photograph my projects on that. Contrast is helpful. If your project is black or another dark color, photograph it on a light countertop or tablecloth, or on white posterboard. Do the reverse if your project is a light color. 

If your photograph is blurry, try taking another one. Isn't it nice to be in the digital era when we can take as many photos as we want and we know instantly if they are any good? Take advantage of that and don't just submit the first photo you take. I frequently take ten or more photos of my projects in order to get one I like. 

I want to say how much I appreciate those of you who took the time to make my job easier. One of you photographed your entry next to a coin to give me a sense of scale. That was very helpful!   

Pictures can be worth a thousand words, so when you submit a digital entry to the fair, think what words you want your picture to convey. Take the time to ask yourself what a judge will see in your photo. You've spent a lot of time creating a beautiful project and we want to see it and judge it fairly. 

I can't wait to see what you enter next year!

Your Judge

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