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|| News Item: Posted 2008-06-23

Gray Matters: Make Some Photographs With Heart
Jim Merithew doesn't like looking at photographs that are under worked, have no moment, are poorly composed and shot in crappy light.

By Jim Merithew, Wired News

Photo by Justin Maxon

Photo by Justin Maxon

Images from Justin Maxon's award-winning portfolio that garnered him the title of 2007 Student Photographer of the Year.
Ok, so I thought I could just let it slide.

I thought I could just sit it out because I was busy and was a little too close to the topic for comfort.

I thought I would just swallow my feelings and they would eventually soften and / or go away.

I thought enough had been said on the topic.

I put it to the back of my mind.

I swallowed it.

I went about doing other things.

The problem being it hasn't gone away, it has just festered.

I'm talking about this thread on

First, let me just get this out of the way. Justin Maxon is a student of mine. He never actually finished my class, but I have known him in a student / teacher capacity for some time now.

Justin is a good kid.

I like him.

Having said this, I have warned him on more than one occasion to take it easy on his files. He has a tendency to overwork his files in my opinion. And if you have been reading my column you know my rule: if you are trying to make your photos better by overworking them in Photoshop, go make better pictures.

I would like to note that Justin still shoots a good percentage of his files on film and so some of the funk in his photography comes from his technique, as well as his post-production work in the "shop".

If you read the thread there was a lot of talk about how we are two-faced about this subject.

On the one hand we want to cry foul about overworkin': dodgin', burnin' and saturatin' and then turn around and reward the work that has spent so much time in the shop.

I have said it before and I will say it again---I am a hypocrite.

I would much rather spend time looking at beautifully worked photographs, especially if it has a moment, is beautifully composed and was shot in nice light, than look at a photograph that is under worked, has no moment, is poorly composed and shot in crappy light. Guilty as charged.

Which brings me to the part that just chapped my ass.

"It seems as if good, solid photojournalism rarely wins anymore. Always a gimmick involved," said Jeff Stanton.

"All of this is precisely why I don't enter contests anymore. I'm not going to watch my perfectly good photos be beaten out by a lower quality photo that was Photoshopped in to a winner," said Thomas E. Witte.

"I am sick of seeing Photoshop-ed images and everyone oohing and ahhing over crappy work done by someone with skill at Photoshop and the time to waste sitting in front of a computer," said Mike Ullery.

You are missing the point.

These photographs didn't win because of the burnt corners or any other Photoshop technique.

They won despite it.

They have soul.

They have heart.

They have content.

I beg all of you to go back and take a look at that set of pictures. The kid is making some snaps. He is putting himself into good picture making situations and then taking full advantage. He is working.

I say if you want to win a contest you go make some photographs with heart and then feel free to overwork the hell out of them.

Judges everywhere are ready and willing to overlook just about anything for a little snap made in nice light, with a moment and some thoughtful composition.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at Wired News. Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
Merithew's member page
Maxon's member page
Justin Maxon named 2007 Student Photographer of the Year

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