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|| News Item: Posted 2010-12-07

‘Surreal and Motivating!’

By Eric Seals, The Detroit Free Press

Photo by Eric Seals

Photo by Eric Seals

Can you honestly evaluate the power or lack of power in a picture in less than 2 seconds?
Those are the two words that come to my mind when I think about the week I spent at the University of Missouri judging the 65th College Photographer of the Year last month.

I was one of five judges that spent many hours in the dark looking at 14,140 still images, 230 multimedia project that were entered by 670 student photographers from 150 colleges and universities in 12 different countries.

The other judges at CPOY with me were Liz O. Baylen of the Los Angeles Times, Patty Reksten of the Northwest Center for Photography, Joe Weiss, creator of Soundslides and Melissa Wiley of the National Geographic. (

Surreal; I say that because back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, I was a photojournalism student at Missouri. I sat in this same room during the CPOY and POY judging watching the slides being projected, listening to the judges talk and debate about the quality, power and emotion of some pictures.

Back when I was the student, I was amazed and sometimes angry how quick and easy the judges hit the in and out button on some pictures, almost like they gave it no thought. I mean can you honestly evaluate the power or lack of power in a picture in less than 2 seconds?

The answer is a resounding YES!! If you can’t understand the point of the picture, be moved and curious about it (be it sports action, features, news or illustration) you’ve lost us as judges and to put it in real time you’ve lost the readers and viewers of your newspapers and websites, they’re more finicky than most judges in any contest they’ll move on. Make the picture count, make it matter!!

The power of the picture should speak to us all immediately with good peak action, reaction, emotion, composition. Always grabbing people is important and if it doesn’t do that in contest or in print it’s OUT.

The word OUT rang loud and clear to me for much of the contest. It wasn’t just because many of the pictures didn’t hold up to our goals of what made a good picture but also because of where I was seated, right in front of a student running the voting machine.
During the week a voting machine would record our in and out votes that we made with our voting boxes. With a push of the button, green for in and red for out, it was recorded and usually yelled pretty loud for all in the room to hear. Video of the sounds of in and outs at COPY. (

Photo by Eric Seals

Photo by Eric Seals

Judging the 65th College Photographer of the Year at the University of Missouri.
Motivating: I say that for a few reasons one of them was some of the quality of work that I saw from college photographers was exciting!

No doubt there were many pictures of cute dogs, people doing drugs, people walking around naked and the very clique tilt of the image because it looks cool. UGH!!

Once we filtered down to the quarterfinals, the stills and multimedia were stronger than I thought things were going to be to. Having been out of college since 1993 and working at the Detroit Free Press, I hardly get to see any work being shot and produced by college photographers from around the country except on from time to time.

There is talent out there for sure and judging CPOY made me realize that we need to always keep the mindset with our jobs to not only to keep stepping it up and push ourselves but also know that these college students are gunning for what we have, what we do and that’s a good thing. Many know exactly what they want and have a single-minded focus on their goals.

They are so motivated even in the current job market of newspapers and they don’t let that stop them.

They keep pushing to get better telling visual stories and take it a step further than many photojournalist do today with technology.

As that technology keeps changing so do these college students with their blogs, learning video and networking to get their name out. They are far more aggressive (but in a good way) than I think I ever was when I was in college, that’s great!

One really unique thing and a very valuable teaching lesson during our judging was when we were wired for sound during many of the quarter, semi and finals rounds. You can have a listen here:

Photo by

CPOY judges, from left, Melissa Wiley, Eric Seals, Patty Reksten, CPOY Director Rita Reed, Liz O. Baylen and Joe Weiss
The images of many pictures in various categories are shown as we talked, debated on what worked or didn’t work on them and what we wish we would of seen to have brought this picture or that picture up to the next level.

The results from the 65th CPOY can be found at:

For the winners in various sports categories can be found at:

Sports action winners

Sports feature winners

Sports portfolio winners

I’ve always believed strongly in the whole “Reach One, Teach One” philosophy. It was done for me when I was a college student at Missouri always asking questions of professionals, I’m sure you did or do the same.

Being a judge at CPOY was one great experience not only because we put everything into our decisions during the week not just to give out a first, second or third place but to help teach.

To really have an effect on college students and even young professionals today we must constantly give back as a way of helping those who helped us out. You don’t just have to be a judge to do that. Take curious photo students out with you on assignments, show them the editing process and be willing to critique work and give good constructive criticism with the goal of making them better.

Giving back as a way of paying back those that taught us is the best award I think any of us can win!

Eric Seals is a Photo and Video Journalist at the Detroit Free Press and can be reached at To see some his video features visit:

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