A county fair is usually thought of as a place to pet fuzzy critters, eat cotton candy and test your endurance on thrill rides. But for local photographers, it is an opportunity to compete in the largest photo contest in Orange County.
The Orange County Fair photography contest has grown in 15 years from 300 entries to more than 1,200, and visitor interest in the winners' exhibition has increased, according to contest supervisor Russ Williams of Mission Viejo.
"We have about 70,000 people go through our building," Williams said. "I can't think of any museums or art galleries that have that many people (in 12 days). Plus there is the possibility of even more people viewing our exhibit because over a half-million attend the fair."
The competition is designed for amateurs, Williams says. There are three different classes in each division: one for people who have never won a contest, one for those who have won two or more awards, and advanced photographers who have been consistent winners at the fair. There are also a few categories for professionals.
For Williams, a teacher at Mission Viejo High School, overseeing the annual contest is his summer job. "I enjoy the contest, and my family has grown up with the fair," Williams says. "I have three kids, and they love the whole atmosphere. A lot of my photography students work for me at the fair. It's really a nice environment."
During his 15 years of supervising the contest, he has seen a tremendous increase in the number of novices who enter.
"(With the new cameras), people aren't afraid of photography," Williams said. "A lot of people were confused with the idea of f-stops and shutter speeds and the technical aspects. Several people who have won big with us have never really entered before. They have good cameras that do a lot of the work."
In the last few years, the largest category has been commercial processed color. The biggest decrease has been in the self-processed black-and-white category.
"It is really down," he said. "Black-and-white is a beautiful medium, and it's sad to see it go by the wayside.
"One reason is because it's so expensive to print your own black-and-white photos. Black-and-white photo paper is more expensive than color.
"You never know what will win because the judging is very subjective. Consistently, good photos of young children do very well. The judges do try to look for unique things."
The contest is open to Orange County residents, with one slide category open to people who live outside the county.
Judging criteria includes sharpness, composition, mounting and retouching.
Selecting a quality photo lab is important for people who are entering the commercially processed color category. Williams warns that some labs turn out the prints without being too critical of the work; it is important to find a quality lab that stands behind its work.
Entry forms must be received for the amateur, junior and professional contest by 4 p.m. June 6. The deadline for delivering the entries is June 26. Judging takes place July 3, and the entries are returned July 23. The Orange County Fair runs from July 11 through July 22.
For more information or to obtain the Competition Handbook entry forms, call the Orange County Fair office at (714) 751-3247.
The Photography column, which runs Saturdays in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter.