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Judging From Experience

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This year’s panel of photo contest judges did more than choose finalists. They came to the conclusion that over-manipulation of photos should not be rewarded in a formal contest.

Robert Nickelsberg—whose latest photo book, “Afghanistan: A Distant War,” was hailed by The New Yorker as “a stunning collection of photography”—was the judge who brought to the table the subject of gratuitous photo editing.

“This year’s judges decided to turn away photos that they thought were obviously too Photoshopped or overedited,” says Luke Abaffy, ENR’s multimedia editor, who organized the contest this year for the first time.

“We cannot make a practice of rewarding sloppy photography. It becomes a crutch,” says Nickelsberg. The judges agreed, and several photos that were saturated beyond any semblance of reality, though stunning, were removed from consideration. Abaffy countered, “It was sad, however, to see a photo that has great composition get voted down.”

High-dynamic range (HDR) is a photography technique used to capture more intense levels of luminosity than standard techniques can attain. While there were more HDR photos in the entries this year, they were not ruled out. However, every tool should be used within reason, says Nickelsberg.

Two relative newcomers to McGraw Hill Construction brought fresh eyes to the judging process. Jeffrey Cox is the associate art director for ENR, and Sheila Kim, an avid photographer, is the products editor for Architectural Record. Timothy Grogan, senior economics editor for ENR, and Jeffrey Hutchens, director of environment health and safety at Turner Construction, brought decades of industry experience to the room. Hutchens was ENR’s safety screener, disqualifying, according to contest rules, any photos that showed safety violations.

All the judges were impressed by this year’s crop of photos. “I love this one,” said Kim when a particularly striking photo appeared on the screen, although she doled out praise to only a few shots.

Cox enjoyed seeing the issue take shape from beginning to end. In addition to judging, he created the layouts for this year’s photography display, which starts on page 26. “It was a lot of fun getting to be part of the process,” says Cox.

Special congratulations to cover photographer Thiel Harryman, who is the winner of a time-lapse camera housing donated by our contest sponsor, the time-lapse photography firm photoSentinel.

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