Interview with World Press Photo Contest judge Christian Ziegler

Interview with World Press Photo Contest judge Christian Ziegler

Nature photographer Christian Ziegler was a member of the Nature jury at this year’s World Press Photo. Here, he reveals what the entrants needed to do to pique the interest of the judging panel.

As a winner of World Press Photo in 2013, 2014 and 2015, what was it like being a jury member?
“For me, it was great to be a judge, and to see the other side of the game. I learned a lot from how the other judges looked at images and stories. They came from very different backgrounds, with different views of the world so it was stimulating to be with this diverse group of talented people.”

How high was the standard of work you were judging?
“Very high. In the Nature category, we saw many good stories. Brent Stirton’s winning essay about poaching rhinos in southern Africa addressed the issue from all angles, offering a complete picture of how we are driving rhinos to extinction. Ami Vitale’s story about breeding pandas in China was photographed beautifully and with a sense of humour. In the singles section, we tried to shine a light on important environmental issues, and of particular note where the image of a sea turtle entangled in a piece of abandoned fishing gear, a big cat in India that hunts for food in urban neighbourhoods, and dead Monarch butterflies in Mexico after a snowstorm.”

What did you learn from the experience of judging other people’s work?
“That everybody sees pictures differently, but at the same time we all recognise a good picture when it appears.”

What is the key to a photography contest judging panel working well as a unit?
“You must listen to the other judges, especially in their area of expertise, and we all did. It was great to hear what everybody thought about the pictures, but at the same time, if you felt strongly about an image you had to fight for or against it. Judging World Press Photo is a very intense process. You are with the jury for a week, often working more than 12 hours a day. Often the images are very upsetting but I found that, after having seen the pictures many times over, we all got more certain about our decisions, and there was not too much debate in the end.”

Will being a World Press Photo judge help you with your own photography?
“Certainly! I got a better sense of what judges are looking for. First of all, you need a really interesting and pressing topic of general interest. Second, editing the pictures in the right way makes all the difference – you need to select images that tell a complete story to a really broad audience. When I edit for a magazine I often include more exotic pictures but because World Press Photo covers a very wide selection of stories and issues, the photographer needs to be precise while still covering all angles of a story. When submitting a single photo, you must remember that first impact counts for a lot. It needs to convey a lot of information in an immediate way, and it needs to be well composed. For me, I look for pictures that have a broad impact, and an obvious message that people can relate to.”

What advice do you have for anyone who is interested in entering the contest next year?
“Think very hard about the message your photo has. Is it clear and compelling? Is it original? And, importantly, is it beautiful?”

What is special about the World Press Photo Contest?
“The World Press Photo Contest is the world’s biggest and most highly respected photo contest, and has an enormous impact on photography and the way we view the world. More than four million people see the exhibition in person, all over the world – and its reach is even greater when you consider all the media coverage it garners. As a nature photographer, it is important to have our images shown here with other news stories – nature and environmental issues affect us all and these issues need broader coverage. When these stories are presented by World Press Photo they reach people who would not normally encounter or show interest in them.”