It was no easy feat choosing outstanding photos with an equally compelling story that captured the moment, but the panel of experts knew to look for all the finer elements in the shortlisted entries.
CONTEST judges tasked with shortlisting the entries for MAD (Making a Difference) contest did not just see the works of aspiring photojournalists alone but also services of the good samaritans, they featured.
While commending the shortlisted participants for their effort in snapping their shots and focusing on the good deeds of their subjects, Star Media Group photo editor Ng Kok Leong said there was still much room for improvement.
“There are many ways to take a photograph. The most important factor is to have one’s picture look complete – it must tell a story,” he said.
Ng and assistant chief photographer Kevin Tan were among the judges. They were both of the view that many participants did not truly understand the subject matter.
The photojournalism contest was open to all secondary school students in Malaysia. Participants had to produce a photograph capturing a teenager or young adult (aged between 13 and 25) who consistently inspires social change through his or her actions.
They also had to provide a 150-word write-up on the featured youth and how each of their efforts is creating ripples of change in society.
The contest ran from April through June, and snapshots of young changemakers were sent to Menara Star in a bid to clinch one of the attractive prizes offered.
At national level, the grand prize is an all-expenses-paid six-day, four-night trip to South Korea, courtesy of Star Media Group.
Runners-up will enjoy a three-day, two-night trip to Genting Highlands, sponsored by Resorts World Genting. These winners will experience the brand new indoor theme park set to open in March next year.
Ng said that most photographs were not creative with their angles. “Although some had good shots, many were taken at eye level. To overcome this shortcoming, they should consider taking the shots from a higher vantage point.
“I can also see that many do not have the experience of asking people to pose. Some shots can be engineered to look better. If engineering the shots are out of the question, students can crop their photographs to bring focus to the subject matter,” he said.
In order to capture an ideal shot, Ng said that those with cameras that have the ability to take continuous shots have the advantage. “If you take many photos, you would get at least one good shot.”
The lighting and colour are very important factors, Ng said. “Perhaps students do not have the experience in getting the right angles and backdrop for their photographs.
Pictures with too much backlighting, for example, will produce glare and an overexposed background.”
Other than that, the printing and picture quality are also important aspects. “The colour and sharpness of the photos would be affected, and they are determining factors that get the picture selected,” Ng said.
The eight finalists who had to go through a Skype interview, will be handling the same camera models at the finals. They will also be given a short briefing on how to use them.
Ng advised finalists to do their homework and brush up on their photography skills.
“They should know how to control aspects like aperture and shutter speed. The concept was already covered in the contest workshop; they can refer to the video on the contest website.”
One of the finalists, 16-year-old Nur Syazliyana Shek Daud, was thankful to have been chosen as one of the finalists. “I’ve been constantly checking my phone to see if I’ve missed any calls!” she confessed.
She recounted her effort in getting her story and the perfect shot for the contest entry. “It took me three sessions with my subject to get it right. If I had simply created or faked the story, I don’t think that people would feel anything when they read my entry.”
Not a new face when it comes to NiE contests, Nur Syazliyana had been a grand prize winner in 2010’s contest, and the runner-up in 2011.
She said that her participation and achievements in the NiE contests greatly helped her with her application and enrolment at SMK Bukit Jambul, Penang, a school awarded the Cluster School of Excellence title.
“I like how NiE contests are always so creative – every year, it is something new,” she said.
Adriel Hen Aik Shen, also aged 16, from SMK Seri Bintang Utara, Kuala Lumpur, was over the moon to find out that he is one of the finalists. “I feel so excited right now!”
He had photographed his sister as an inspirational youth with a love for books.
“It was actually my sister who encouraged me to participate. She won the grand prize in an NiE competition a few years ago. She is always helpful when it comes to language.”
“I feel that the contest this year is different compared to previous NiE competitions. It leverages on different abilities. You not only need photography skills, journalism skills and English proficiency, but you need creativity too,” he added.
Another finalist Nisa Qistina Badrul Hisham did not expect to be selected, but she is going to put her best foot forward.“I’m really surprised and excited. I just submitted my entry because I thought it would be fun. I’m thankful that my teacher had encouraged me to join this contest.”
The Form Four student’s entry featured a youth who makes time to help the Orang Asli community. “Not many people know that these villages exist. They do not have proper facilities. I chose this subject to spread awareness on the topic. If the community knew about it, they could lend a hand,” she said
On her preparation, she said: “Impromptu speeches are involved, so I plan to practise a lot. I’m in the debate team, so I will practise for the debate and contest. It’s a win-win situation.”
The youngest among the finalists is Yaashinii Naaidu Sri Sivabalasundram, a Form One student who hails from SMK Sultan Yahya Petra (1), Kuala Krai, Kelantan. Her entry focused on a fellow volunteer during a visit to an old folks’ home.
“I felt sorry for the old people in the home. And it is heartening to see that the little things we do can put a smile on their faces.”
The showdown will be held in Menara Star, Petaling Jaya, on Sept 13. The contest is endorsed by the Education Ministry.