The 7th Annual San Antonio Photo Tournament

I was so excited to share in my last blog post that I won 1st Place in the Abstract category and 2nd Place Overall for the 7th Annual San Antonio Photo Tournament in which I recently competed. I wanted to share all of my images from the tournament and tell you a little bit more about the day.

Jim Landers, who runs the Jim Landers Photography School in San Antonio, is the founder and host of this event. He has such a dynamic presence and is full of positive energy! This is the 7th run of this tournament and I understand this was the first time they’ve changed the location. I signed up ahead of time; a ticket for shooting and lunch was $61 ($39 for the event and $22 for lunch). The event was held at A&M San Antonio on Sunday, October 13th, 2019, with a check-in time of 7:45 am. I made a grave mistake and stayed up until well after midnight sipping red wine with my darling husband, so my 5:30 am alarm almost went unnoticed, ha! But I made myself some coffee and decided it was time to invest in myself. Remember those Artist’s Dates I used to have? It had been far too long since I’d spent some quality photography time just creating, so I made myself go.

So what is this photo tournament anyway? Here is how it’s described on their Facebook page:

Attention all photography enthusiasts! We have put together an awesome instant gratification photography tournament that you are not going to want to miss! The tournament is a fun day for photographers of all levels to get out and do their thing with other people who love photography too. There are 15 categories to compete in, participants compete in as many as they want. Then images are submitted for judging, we announce the winners and hand out certificates and lots of really cool prizes donated by many different companies. We sometimes call it the instant gratification photographers challenge. You will arrive before 8am and get the rules and categories, then you get to roam the beautiful grounds and create wonderful images! By noon the competition is over and while you are eating lunch, the judges will choose the winners, which will be announced immediately following lunch. There are SO MANY VALUABLE PRIZES from several photography vendors worth over $50,000! (Note, the prizes actually totaled over $60K!)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PhotoTournament/about/

Victor Watson, our current NBPS President and founder of the Schertz Photography School and Studio, was last year’s winner. He is the one who invited me to participate. It was nice to also see two other members from our local club and have some folks to sit and chat with. I got signed in, got my goody bag and my category sheet, then sat down to wait for instructions. These categories are kept secret until you sign in, so everything is created spur of the moment. This year the categories included: Abstract, Architecture, Close-Up, Door Knob, Insects, Intentional Camera Movement, Journalistic, Landscape, Old, Reflections in Glass, Shadows, Silhouette, Texture, Tools of the Trade, and Water. Rules were explained, most of which were common sense. No editing of any kind, you had to shoot in jpg mode (or jpg plus RAW), and you could submit one photo only for each category. You had to keep track of the image file number (not the sequence number) and write that number down on the category sheet when you turned in your SD card for judging. Pretty straightforward! Around 8:30, we were set loose on campus to go shoot. We had about 3 hours to shoot, then we had to return to the main building, hand in our submissions, then lunch, then awards. There were about 125 photographers competing!

It was a crisp, cool, overcast morning. I was glad for no humidity since my glass takes forever to acclimate from air conditioning to humid air. I was also glad for the cloud cover… it’s like having a giant soft box for the light. I decided to wander on my own and listen to music on my headphones, first heading downstairs and off to a quiet corridor. I looked over the category sheet and decided instead of shooting for any specific category, I would assess the area in which I found myself and see what might fit. I brought my Sigma 20mm f/1.4, Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8, as well as my tripod. I felt prepared but wasn’t sure what to do first. It took me about 50 minutes to get an image that I actually felt confident in for one of the categories. Once I got that one, I started enjoying the challenge a lot more. About 30 minutes before the end, I got an image I was so excited about I’m going to add it to my nature portfolio! What’s so funny is that those two photos, the two I felt most proud of, weren’t chosen for any awards. But there was a LOT of competition, so I’m not surprised. I only mention it because it’s interesting how subjective this medium can be. I think there were six judges narrowing down about 1500 images to 75… 3 honorable mentions, 2nd place, and 1st place for each category. Wow, that would be a daunting task! I’ll describe the awards process a bit later.

First I will share the images I submitted for judging. Remember these are SOOC (straight out of camera), so I couldn’t crop, clone, straighten, or fix any exposure problems. Immediately following the submitted images, I will share the edited version of each of those category submissions (indicated by an asterisk). Then I’ll share all the rest of the photos I got that day also with some light editing. There were quite a few that I used the jpg version and didn’t edit much at all, so that makes me feel good that my SOOC skills are decent. Maybe I don’t need to shoot RAW all the time and I could save some hard drive space, ha!

Abstract

This is a macro image of the metal stair railing in the main building at A&M San Antonio. I shot this about 15 minutes before the end of the contest and debated putting it in the Close-Up category or this Abstract category. I decided on Abstract because I liked the lines, shape, bokeh, and lighting, and the fact that you really couldn’t tell what it was. I had NO clue that it would win 1st Place let alone win 2nd Place Overall. Mind. Blown. At the time, I thought that if I *could* edit it, I would remove the bit of railing showing in the upper left corner but now I’m glad it’s there.

New Braunfels abstract photographer
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/4.5 | 1/160 | ISO 1600

*Abstract (edited version)

In the edited version, I made the texture stronger and colors deeper. Which version do you prefer?

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/4.5 | 1/160 | ISO 1600

Architecture

I had a couple of possibilities for the Architecture category, and this is my least favorite image of all the architecture images I shot that day (hindsight is 20/20). Even though I was using a tripod, it’s so crooked! UGH!!! My Sigma lens does have some distortion but I think I need to realign my tripod.

Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/4 | 1/250 | ISO 100

*Architecture (edited version)

I straightened the image and brightened the shadows. This looks so much better having fixed the perspective and straightening it!!!

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/4 | 1/250 | ISO 100

Close-Up

You all know that I love macro and I love flowers. There were lots of beautiful blooms all over campus but I especially loved this one because it looks like the flowers are screaming. Lol. I’m a fan of anthropomorphism.

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/9 | 1/320 | ISO 1600

*Close-Up (edited version)

Just a little tighter crop and levels adjustment to make it pop a bit more.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/9 | 1/320 | ISO 1600

Door Knob

This is an image I was really, really proud of and was hoping it would place. I LOVE the lighting. I shot this about 5 times before I got this image and decided it was “the one.” But I’m guessing they had a lot of submissions that looked a lot like this.

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/3.5 | 1/125 | ISO 1600

*Door Knob (edited version) ~ BEST Door Knob

I do still really like how this turned out. The lighting is just right! The focus on the text in the lock mechanism really appeals to me as well. I made a small curves adjustment and cropped it tighter. And I took out the chip in the wood just below the handle.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/3.5 | 1/125 | ISO 1600

Insects

This. This is the image (the edited version) that is going in my nature portfolio. This is the image that I was SURE would place and I was crushed it didn’t. I am so proud of this. This is a tiny jumping spider, about 2mm big. I was so patient and quiet and careful as I shot him. I got closer and closer and closer and it was so windy. I nailed focus. I LOVE this. I think if I had gotten closer or could’ve cropped it, it might have gotten an award. Wait until you see my edit!!!

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/7.1 | 1/500 | ISO 1000

*Insects (edited version) ~ Jumping Spider

Here’s my edit… isn’t this little guy stunning??? This is going straight into my nature portfolio (of which all my portfolios need a desperate update). I am so very proud of this shot!

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament

Intentional Camera Movement

Soo… as much as I nailed Insects, I failed ICM. This is not my forte but I did try! I really liked the patterned tile inserts in the floor of the main building. I only shoot with prime lenses so I couldn’t do a pulled focal movement using a zoom. Instead, I set my camera up on the tripod with a wide angle lens angled toward the floor, then set the shutter speed as slow as I could, and quickly moved the camera up to the hallway with the shutter open. Meh… probably my least favorite of the day. There were some very artistic shots that won.

Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/11 | 1 sec | ISO 100

*Intentional Camera Movement (edited version)

No real changes made except for a slight perspective/distortion fix and a portrait crop instead of landscape orientation.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/11 | 1 sec | ISO 100

Journalistic

I was working on the Tools of the Trade image when I saw this cat slink out of the bushes and cross the parking lot. He was moving rather quickly so I didn’t have time to get a better angle or perspective. But he was on the hunt! Check out his approach on the grackle. Fabulous!

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/8 | 1/500 | ISO 400

*Journalistic (edited version) ~ On the Hunt

Again, just a tighter crop and a bit of editing makes the image stronger.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/8 | 1/500 | ISO 400

Landscape

I didn’t shoot anything I felt worthy of for landscape… too many manmade buildings in the way!

Old

A&M San Antonio seems like a pretty new campus so it was a challenge to find something old. I spied this meter looking quite weathered and worked to set up a shot using the Rule of Thirds for my composition.

Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/2 | 1/2000 | ISO 200

*Old (edited version) ~ Old is Open

Just increased contrast with a bit of curves adjustment to deepen the colors.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/2 | 1/2000 | ISO 200

Reflections in Glass

There were some stunning entries for this category and frankly, a couple of images I thought should’ve placed but didn’t. (Many folks uploaded all of their entries to the 7th Annual San Antonio Photo Tournament Facebook group if you want to check them out.) I wasn’t super inspired by this category but thought this was kind of cool… getting one of the flag-type of banners with some flowers reflected in a building’s glass window.

Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/3.5 | 1/500 | ISO 200

*Reflections in Glass (edited version)

Straightened, cropped, brightened the glass bits.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/3.5 | 1/500 | ISO 200

Shadows

I kinda messed up on this one. I think the judges were looking for shadows that were made by light casting a shadow on something specific, but instead I went searching out dark, shadowy areas indoors. I found this room off of a computer lab that was empty and was obviously someone’s A&P study room. It was almost pitch dark in there! It is quite underexposed though.

Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/4 | 1/60 | ISO 2000

*Shadows (edited version) ~ Student Study Room in Shadow

I adjusted the exposure and tried to fix the wide angle distortion.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/4 | 1/60 | ISO 2000

Silhouette

This was the image that I got about 50 minutes into shooting that made me feel more confident. I spied a hummingbird by some flowers and I started tracking it. It flew up to the top of a tree and sat there quite a while. I exposed for the sky and waited until it took off… voila! This looks better cropped in the edit below. This is another image I was hoping would place and didn’t… but that’s okay!

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/25 | 1/800 | ISO 800

*Silhouette (edited version) ~ Hummingbird in Silhouette

See, isn’t this better? The original was underexposed and a tighter crop works much better too.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/25 | 1/800 | ISO 800

Texture

Easy to find nice texture when using a macro lens. This was grout, brick, and stone.

Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/7.1 | 1/320 | ISO 800

*Texture (edited version)

I just brightened it up a little from the SOOC version and took out a few spots on the stone.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/7.1 | 1/320 | ISO 800

Tools of the Trade

I saw these traffic cones laying on a sidewalk all lined up nicely for a photo. Excellent subject for tools of the trade! I worked quite a while trying different angles, perspectives, and lenses. I didn’t want any cars in the background.

Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/8 | 1/500 | ISO 400

*Tools of the Trade (edited version)

I can see a pattern that my SOOC images are all a trifle underexposed! Good to remember when my camera’s histogram is telling me otherwise. Brightened and straightened.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/8 | 1/500 | ISO 400

Water

There wasn’t much water on campus that I could find except for a large water fountain at the entrance to the main campus. I saw a lot of people shooting there so I knew my image was going to be unoriginal. I just wasn’t inspired at the point because it was about 30 minutes before finishing. But I knew I wanted a fast shutter speed to freeze the water. I rather like the composition here.

Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/2 | 1/2000 | ISO 200

*Water (edited version)

Just a crop and levels adjustment.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 85mm | f/2 | 1/2000 | ISO 200

Here is a link to all the winning photos: 7th Annual San Antonio Photo Tournament Winners. They were presented in slideshow format so they would first announce the 3 Honorable Mentions, then 2nd Place, then 1st Place. My heart was pounding when they announced Silhouette and Insects… but alas, no go. But I was SHOCKED when I won 1st Place for Abstract, like seriously shocked. It was a last minute decision about which image to submit, but there was something pleasing that grabbed me about my choice. Then at the end, when I found out I won 3rd Place overall, I was gobsmacked. When all the winning photos were put online, I saw that I actually came in 2nd Place and I was even more pumped! Woot!

Here are a few more of my images… I saved 25 shots total from the day, 14 out of the 15 categories and an additional 11 below.

It’s Grate

I was thinking of the Texture category when I initially shot this. It’s the front of the closed student cafe, with the metal bars blocking the way in.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/5.6 | 1/80 | ISO 1600

Cafe in Shadow

Yep, you guessed it! I was thinking of the Shadow category… again I would’ve missed the mark, since the judges were looking for cast shadows.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/3.2 | 1/80 | ISO 800

Quiet Campus

This was my alternate shot for Architecture… I think this one is stronger but unedited it was blah and it was too wide, it needed cropped. This version is much better. The original sky was really flat. A quick levels adjustment and pow! Gorgeous sky.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/5.6 | 1/200 | ISO 50

Bee Butt

There were oodles of bumble bees buzzing around these large yellow blossoms. I figured a lot of the other photographers would be capturing these large insects so I would try to find something different to submit.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/6.3 | 1/400 | ISO 640

Hoverfly

Though this looks like a small wasp or bee, it’s in fact, a fly. There are a lot of species of fly that mimic other insects. I wish I had been able to get his whole face in the frame and not hiding a bit behind the flower.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/7.1 | 1/400 | ISO 1000

Mr. Green Eyes

I think this is a common fly, but it was so small I wasn’t sure. Does anyone know? I just got a sliver of him in focus.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/7.1 | 1/500 | ISO 1000

Frank Madla in Silhouette

This was my backup image for the Silhouette category. I was pretty sure someone else would’ve thought of using this statue in this manner so that’s why I chose the hummingbird. Plus, the hummingbird shot was way cooler and harder to obtain!

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/9 | 1/1250 | ISO 100

You’ve Got Mail

This is the only image I felt needed to be converted to black and white in post. I’m presuming these are faculty mailboxes. I didn’t really have a category in mind when shooting this, I just liked it!

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/4 | 1/125 | ISO 1600

Stair Railing Pattern

I really waffled between this image and the other for my Abstract submission. I’m SO glad I went with the other! I did see a lot of prettier versions of this stair railing similar to this.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 105mm | f/4.5 | 1/160 | ISO 1600

Study Alcove

I found this little nook next to a computer lab on the 3rd floor of the main building. With the shade drawn low, the area was quite in shadow and looked so inviting. I spent a bit of time straightening the area up and rearranging the furniture to make it look like this.

New Braunfels San Antonio Photo Tournament
Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/6.3 | 1/200 | ISO 1250

What I liked:

  • The people! Seriously, everyone was so nice from Jim Landers to the people volunteering to my fellow contestant photographers. 
  • The format. This is a unique photography competition and it reminded me of a scavenger hunt. It was creative and fun!
  • The variety of categories. It gave me an opportunity to shoot a wide variety of things and stretch me out of my comfort zone too.
  • The judging. It’s an even playing field because each contestant is assigned a number, I like that it’s anonymous. 
  • The date, time of day, and location. Though it was an early morning, it wasn’t too hot or too cold.
  • The prizes! The prize packages were impressive and everyone got a significant goody bag too.

What I think could be improved:

  • Simpler, clearer rules sent out ahead of time with the emailed directions and parking instructions. My questions and wish-I-knew-ahead items included: is jpg+RAW mode okay? (It was but confused the technician who copied my images from my SD card.) Can you submit more than one image per category? (No.) Can you submit the same image to more than one category? (Yes, but not advised.) Also good to know: 1) You can bring your computer with you to review your images on a larger screen but may not make any edits whatsoever. (It was very hard to review images on the camera’s screen. I would also use that opportunity to copy my images to my own computer just in case of SD card failure and only leave the submitted images on the card for the judges.) 2) Use image file number, not sequence number for your submissions. (The lady next to me did this even after it was explained that morning.) Telling the photographers to look this up ahead of time would save some headache later.
  • Wait time for handing SD cards to the judges. After I filled out my category sheet and got my SD card out of my camera, I had to wait in line over 35 minutes to have my images copied to a computer. That process took a very long time.
  • It was hot! There was no AC on in the building and it got a little uncomfortable.
  • Food. Lunch was terrible and I was very disappointed in the food. For an extra $22, I was expecting a real meal and instead we got mediocre Tex-Mex served out of large aluminum trays. Being a vegetarian meant that my only choice for food was round tostitos with cheese dip (you couldn’t even call it queso). And when I went through the buffet line, there were no drinks at all. I was so thirsty! I think offering free bottled water with Jim’s logo on it throughout the event (and maybe even including a bottle in the goody bag!) would be very kind. Eventually the caterer did bring in something to drink, tea maybe? But it was after everyone had already eaten. If I do this next year, I’ll bring my own packed lunch and save the $.
  • Awarding of door prizes. This is filler… an easy way to hand out small prizes while waiting for the judges to make their selections. It seemed to go on for a bit too long. I would put a finite number on the door prizes to limit how long it takes to hand them out.
  • Judging. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to narrow nearly 1500 images down to 75. That process also took a long time. I arrived at 8 am and left at 4:30 pm. It was a long day! Maybe they could recruit a few more judges?
  • Winning image format. My guess is that they are re-using an original slideshow from their first tournament to present the winning images. The technician presenting images for Jim had to scroll endlessly back and forth in this slideshow (maybe PowerPoint?) to find the correct category in the moment. That format also had the 3 Honorable Mentions crammed together on one slide along with a sponsor logo. I would prefer to see each image presented by itself as large as possible with a much smaller sponsor logo. On the 1st and 2nd Place winner slideshow slides, the sponsor logo would sometimes take up nearly half of the slide. Also, some of the images never loaded at all (such as 1st place for Insects… which ended up winning <sic> 2nd Overall {actually 3rd in reality} and none of us ever got to see that image until the slideshow was published later in the week on Facebook). The entire way the images are presented needs to be updated, in my opinion.
  • The mix-up with my overall finish. This was really bad form. The difference in the certificates (which is what Jim used to determine the order in which to call the winners up to the front) read as follows: 
    • Overall Tournament Photo Runner-Up
    • Overall Outstanding Tournament Photo
    • Best Overall Tournament Photo
      You can see why it was easy to get #2 and #3 mixed up. Have the certificates read “1st Place, “2nd Place,” and “3rd Place.” Easy peasy.
  • Add 2 or 3 Honorable Mentions to the finale. They don’t get extra prizes (or if they do, it’s something small) but do get bragging rights.
  • Prizes. I still haven’t received 3 of my prizes. I had to leave my email address to get a software package and also a credit to MPix (x2) and haven’t heard a thing from anyone about it. It would be very kind to reach out via email with a congratulations and an expectation on when we will be receiving those other things. My biggest prize was winning a Season’s Pass to Landers Photography School worth $795. That is really cool except I live too far away to take a regular weekly class and most of the classes are ones I don’t need (like business classes). I’m not sure what to do with that quite yet. I also got a $100 gift card to Landers Photography School which is redundant because I also got the Season Pass so I asked Victor (who checked with Jim) to see if I could pass that along to our Photograph of the Year for NBPS. The answer was yes!

Will I do it again next year? I’m not sure! I think it depends on the location and if anyone else I know is going to be there. There was a lot time just waiting around so it was nice to know a few people already. It was also nice to make some new friends. I did really enjoy myself and I think if I hadn’t placed in any of the categories, I would be more driven to try again next year. I’m very competitive so it might feel like a been-there-done-that… I’m not sure yet. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and very grateful for my wonderful prizes. Thank you to Victor and Jim and the entire Landers Photography School crew for putting together a complex and creative event!

Thanks for looking!

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