American Photography Open 2020: Meet Judge Scott Woodward

By David Schonauer   Wednesday July 8, 2020

You could call Scott Woodward (above) an opportunist.

“I call my photographic style ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Photography,’ after the books I used to read as a child,” says the acclaimed photographer. “Literally and creatively, I can go one direction and discover a remarkable photographic opportunity, or I can go another direction and find something entirely different. It is this serendipity that is the beauty of photography for me.”

Woodward, who who has spent 25 years living and shooting across Asia-Pacific and the world, has had his work published in National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Vogue, GO, The Washington Post and other publications, as well as in ad campaigns for companies including Google, Adidas and Mastercard. He’s hosted a travel and photography series on the History Channel and is a member of the SanDisk Extreme Team and a STUDIO at Getty Images Global Assignments Photographer.

Now he is also one of the judges of SanDisk's Share Your World photo contest, which is also part of the American Photography Open 2020 competition. We recently talked with Woodward about his career and what he is looking for as a judge in the contest.

”Certainly there are tangible factors that make great photographs, such as dramatic light and compelling composition,” he told us. “However, I believe that the real secret behind great photography is in how you see a moment and interpret it in a still frame. Are you able to make something ordinary appear extraordinary by showing it differently? Are you able to make the viewer feel an emotion when they look at your photograph?  Are you able to transport someone to a moment with you simply by pressing the shutter? These are the factors that I always consider when evaluating what is a good photograph versus what is a great photograph. I once read that a camera is a great excuse to delve into a place deeper than we would otherwise, and I love this explanation. Making an interesting picture means we must observe our surroundings differently and look beyond the obvious to see something unique and special.”

Woodward came by his love of photography as a boy in the small town of Fonthill, Ontario, Canada. “I grew up in a house filled with photography — dozens of images by my father, who was an avid and accomplished photographer,” he says.

He moved to Singapore to take a job in marketing with Coca-Cola and later worked for American Express. “Living and working in the region provided me with the opportunity to travel frequently to vibrant and colorful destinations. Carrying my camera with me everywhere I traveled, I grew to love searching for, or simply stumbling upon, unique photographic opportunities.”

Then in 2004 he was at a Chinese New Year dinner party with friends from American Express when he had an insight that changed his life. “I was posed this question: ‘If you had all the money in the world, what would you do for the rest of your life that would bring you joy? I immediately knew my answer, sharing that I would travel around the world and take photographs,” he says.

”At the beginning of my career, I received an invaluable piece of advice from a senior photo editor at National Geographic,” he says. “She told me that my pictures were too confrontational — that I needed to exercise more patience and be more observational in my work.”

Woodward took the constructive criticism to heart. “The key for me was to slow myself down, to look more carefully for the true moments of authenticity, candor, spontaneity and humanity that arise my subjects – their honest emotions, their subtle expressions, their throwaway glances— the moments that happen between the moments.  This is when a person’s true personality shines through, and these are the instants that I seek to capture in my own photography – and will be looking for in entries to the contest,” he says.


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