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Dash of Inspiration: Composition – Professionalism

April 22, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Composition: Professionalism

Let’s continue with a visual review and discussion of the areas listed in GCU’s Submission Guidelines. Today we’ll continue the series with the third area in the COMPOSITION grouping of the Submission Guidelines which is:

COMPOSITION: Professionalism

The Submission Guidelines state this:

Whether a photograph, illustration or digital art, the creation process must appear to have been applied with a complete understanding of the medium, giving the overall appearance of a professional greeting card. Declines may include, but are not limited to: distracting elements and/or background, household items, snapshots of people, babies, crowds, buildings, street scenes, knicknacks, and food, photographs from moving vehicles or through windows, and children’s art; i.e., messy, distorted and/or poorly drawn art.  

So let’s talk about Composition: Professionalism

Distracting Elements and/or Background: This really should be fairly easy to understand. It does apply mostly to photographs, though could apply to digital compositions as well. It’s one of those Photography 101 lessons to compose your photograph without things like; poles sticking out of the heads of your subjects, branches and dead leaves in front of your subject, body parts that don’t belong to your subject, etc. Remember; if it does not add to your overall image then it’s a distraction. ANYTHING that draws your eye away from the subject, is a distraction. Fences, buildings, cars, etc. are all considered distractions if found in the background of your image and they are not part of the subject.

More on the subject: Guide to a Winning Photograph

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Household Items: There are two issues here, one is that in general, unless of studio quality, photographs of household objects are just not attractive imagery for the greeting card industry. Secondly, there is always the possibility of intellectual property right issues when including wall art, trinkets, collectibles, and fabrics in your photograph. If you wish to photograph a vase of flowers inside a home, you have to remove other household objects in the image, either when composing the image or in post-processing. A good photograph of a dog laying on a simple couch is fine if the image is otherwise top touch. However, a photo of a dog laying on a couch with the leg of a table in the image, a bit of carpet or curtains showing and the dog’s homemade patchwork quilt askew is most likely not going to be considered a marketable image – regardless of whether the dog is cute or grandma made the quilt.

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Snapshots:  For those of you who having a tough time differentiating between a snapshot and a professional shot, I would encourage you to go browse some place like iStock with a sort on most popular (try babies, pets,or home for examples). You should be able to see the difference. Snapshots of people have unwanted distractions, such as; limbs from other people, household/garden objects, etc. Snapshots have unflattering lighting and people often in unflattering positions or with undesirable expressions. We talked about buildings before – it’s nearly impossible to photograph buildings without the proper training and equipment and expect them to be considered professional in quality. Street scenes and travel photos are rarely acceptable as they almost always have a feeling of an editorial (newspaper) image or vacation snapshot. To have a photograph of food be acceptable for a greeting card, it needs to have amazing lighting and the perfect angle. If the food does not make your mouth water, then it’s a snapshot.

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Photos from Windows/Moving Vehicles:  You might think, well duh, but you’d be surprised how many people take photos out of a moving vehicle or through a hotel/home window and think it’s a great shot. Moving vehicles cause photographs to have two issues, the reflections in the windshield/window and the added movement of the camera causing camera shake. Not to mention the portions of dashboards and car doors that often end up in the image. Photographing through a window, even from home, will show finger prints, smudges, and water spots in addition to adding blur, reflections and flare.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule. There will always be a small handful of those rare occasions when everything fell into place for a great shot against all odds. However, these exceptions are accomplished when the photographer applies special techniques to reduce reflections and camera shake.

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Messy, Distorted, Poorly Drawn Art:  Many of you may say that this is very subjective and I suppose to some small degree it is, however it really is easy to see the difference between a drawing/painting of someone who has not developed any real technique compared to the imagery of those artists who work in a trained yet whimsical style. Generally, declines for this area are those which look like a child drew them. They often lack depth, have poor perspective, unsupported elements and/or proportional issues.

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I know that calling it Composition: Professionalism gets under your skin, but what difference does it make what it’s called when descriptively, GCU has been so thorough in offering possible reasons for decline?  Combined with all of these visuals, you should be able to identify within your imagery the area(s) that caused the decline in this category.

Lacks professional technique, lacking in overall professional quality … call it what you will, this category refers to those designs which simply do not look as though they were created by an artist with a complete understanding of both the technical aspects and quality aspects of their chosen medium. Whether it’s a photograph which looks like a snapshot for the family album rather than a shot created for a greeting card, poor blending after background removal in a digital composition; or messy, distorted, poorly drawn art … the bottom line is, it lacks Professionalism.

Next week we’ll tackle Composition: Placement/Position.  Till next week, I hope I’ve inspired you to go look through your store and see if you can weed out any images that the reviewers will find during their weeding which might fit Composition: Professionalism.

For great resources & tips visit the SalonOfArt

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2013 12:31 pm

    As always, you have written an extremely helpful and concise article. Visual examples always make more sense! Thank you!

    • April 22, 2013 3:05 pm

      You’re welcome Angela! I’m glad you found the article helpful 🙂


  2. April 22, 2013 3:06 pm

    Great examples of unprofessional looking images. Why do I still see really awful cards for sale at GCU though? I can’t figure out how they ever slipped by GCU’s stringent guidelines.

    • April 22, 2013 3:26 pm

      Hi Patty … as I understand it the weeding process at GCU is still underway and considering the number of cards on the site, it could take another year to complete the weeding process. So, good question. What I suggest to any artist looking to see what is accepted these days is to always sort Newest in any given popular category.


  3. April 22, 2013 8:48 pm

    Thanks for posting Doreen. I’m still having a good laugh over the Museum of Bad Art. I’m sure it’s just full of great examples. But here’s a thought about art, which you’re right in saying, is so subjective. Yes, there is certainly people who truly can’t draw and shouldn’t, and then there are those that can’t and believe their art is good. So even when you show examples, those that feel they are creating good art will feel their work is better than that of the samples shown because their mother ( father, sister, brother, etc. ) say their work is great. Interestingly enough, those with less ability are the ones who get the most insulted when their work is rejected. Drawing and photography are both artistic endeavors that can be done and enjoyed by anyone, BUT if you want to do it professionally, the skills needed must be honed to the level of quality work. That takes time, diligence ( courses in art and photography-and/or a lot of research and PRACTICE ) and the ability to take constructive criticism in order to improve your work so that you can be the best you can be.

  4. April 23, 2013 5:21 am

    Awesome post and very helpful, Thank you Doreen!

  5. May 15, 2013 1:20 pm

    it is good to see some examples, thanks!

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