Preparing for the judging

25 January 2012

Have you ever wondered what happens to a photograph or multimedia production after it has been submitted to the contest? Read an interview with contest coordinators Micha Bruinvels and Anna Lena Mehr, and with the coordinator of the registration process, Emily Bates, for a behind-the-scenes look at how we prepare the entries for the judging.

During the first week of December, the World Press Photo contest opens and photographers around the world begin to submit their work to the contest. Now in the 55th photo contest, the process of registering the entries has changed drastically over the years. Gone are the days of carousel slides and packages of black-and-white prints. Today, all submissions are received through the online entry site. But what happens once a photographer presses the final ‘submit’ button?

For a closer look at what takes place once a photo or multimedia production has been submitted, we spoke with Emily Bates, who joins World Press Photo in January to oversee the two-week registration period. During this time, a team of 41 people inspects each entry to make sure that they have been submitted correctly. Read the interview with Emily.

In addition, we talked with contest coordinators Micha Bruinvels and Anna Lena Mehr who work throughout the year planning the contest and all related activities. They oversee the entry period, the registration of all entries and ensure that everything is prepared when the judges gather in Amsterdam.

What is the team working on during the period when photographers can enter the contest?
Anna Lena Mehr: In the contest entry period, we’re busy with the entries that come in via the website. We oversee the whole registration process and help people who have problems with uploading. Once we have all the images, we organize them to be checked by the registration team and prepare them for the contest. We then oversee the contest judging.

What are some of the issues that you have to resolve?
Anna Lena Mehr: When the coordinators of the registration team have a question about a photo that they can’t resolve, they alert us. The problems are mainly concerning entry rules. We could just disqualify those entries, but we try to email everyone and work out the situation.

And does the process for checking multimedia productions differ at all?
Micha Bruinvels: This is the second year of the multimedia contest, but the first where we have opened up the contest to everyone, after a pilot year with nominated entries. Now, the registration process requires the team to watch each production and check that the duration fits within the contest rules. They also need to check for still photography. The production might not be made by a professional, but it needs to include the work of a professional photographer and have a journalistic storyline.

How has the contest changed over the years?
Micha Bruinvels: When I started, we had about 36,000 images entered to the contest. Each year, we printed around 150,000 entry forms, which were sent out throughout the world. Of course, it cost a lot of money and wasn’t really effective. The first step in the process that we changed was that photographers had to download an entry form from the website, but they were still able to send in pictures, prints, slides and digital entries. One of the first things that changed in the noughties was that we quit accepting slides when the number of entries dropped. People were still allowed to enter prints though; we received massive bags of pictures. It was an expensive way to enter, the pictures had to be processed, then printed, then sent to World Press Photo. In 2006, we did a test and asked 150 photographers who had entered before to enter via a website. Afterwards, we had an evaluation with them. We did a global test and they were pleased with how easy and cheap it was to enter online. The next year we opened the website to everyone. We stopped accepting prints when they made up less than 9% of entries.

What are some of the changes you have made this year?
Anna Lena Mehr: This year, we have a new entry website. We wanted the upload to go more smoothly and we wanted to make the whole process of uploading and submitting more intuitive. I think that worked out really well, there was quite some positive feedback. There are things to change for next year, but we’re really happy. People went through it smoothly and the upload worked from start to end.

How did the move to online submissions change the contest?
Micha Bruinvels: We went from 40,000 to 100,000 entries in a few years. In early days, we had slide projection, prints and digital projection. It used to take the registration team four weeks to process 36,000 images and now we process around 100,000 images in two weeks. However, the judging process now takes much longer. The only way to show that number of images is to project them digitally. We have a first round and second round jury and, in 2010, we started having specialized juries, which reduced the number of photos for the documentary and news jury.

How would you describe this period in the year?
Anna Lena Mehr: It is intense and not always easy. People have high expectations for World Press Photo and with that comes a certain responsibility. People are counting on us to understand their problem and come up with solutions. We’re doing our best and it’s rewarding when they’re happy about it. It’s also rewarding once the jury starts and you actually see everything has found its place and is going well. In the end, when all the winners are chosen, sometimes you still remember them from helping out with their entry.

Micha Bruinvels: Intense, but, in the end, running the contest is really rewarding. I love the content of photojournalism. What is rewarding for me is that I am able to help people whom I admire for their great work. One of the goals of our organization is to support professional photographers and this is one of the things we do. That is something we really want as an organization, to provide solutions for every photographer.

What do you think makes the contest so unique?
Anna Lena Mehr: Facilitating and enabling. What makes it so unique is that, by now, we’re able to facilitate everyone who wants to enter and that we’re open to all professional photojournalists in the whole world to enter for free. That’s quite special.

Learn about the World Press Photo Contest, its history and the setup.