How to get started
It takes a little planning to enter a project into an awards program like the ALE. With some advance planning, all the work won't need to be completed right before the deadline. You can spread it out within the season – or even over several years. And with some advanced planning you'll increase your chances of winning!
Take ‘before' pictures of every project you complete and some ‘just completed' pictures, as well. Although you don't want to submit a project until it has some maturity, at least you'll have the first photos that you need.
- Visiting a client each spring is a good way to get additional business and it gives you the opportunity to get pictures of the completed project when it looks its best.
- One successful ALE winner even has a professional photographer visit the properties they plan to submit in the future and take pictures when the properties are looking their best.
- Be sure to allow a year or two after a project is completed before photographing it. Judges will often put a project aside that they feel should be resubmitted in future years – it's too young to judge how it will look when it has some maturity. Hardscaping projects can be an exception, although they may still be competing with projects that have some mature plantings. Plantings still count 10% even in hardscaping. So, unless you're not doing the plantings, it still might be best to wait.
- Don't wait until the last minute to get the homeowner's signature! Because there has been some question about the correctness of the price categories projects are being entered into, we are asking for the homeowner to also initial the category in which the project is being entered.
The most important parts of an ALE submission – besides a thoroughly completed application – are the photographs, the project description, plant list and the site plan.Take the time you need to do them right! Not only can you use these photographs in your ALE submission, but you should be building a portfolio of photos of your work for potential cllients and an "idea gallery."
Take excellent photos!
Good photographs take care, but are not difficult if you follow a few simple steps. Here are some tips:
- Take one of your ‘after' pictures at the same vantage point as one of your ‘before' pictures. Although ‘before' pictures are important, don't send too many. One "before" is usually enough. You want to have plenty of ‘after' pictures! Those are the ones the judges will be most focused on.
- Be careful about what gets captured in your photos. Are there cars, people, toys, the neighbor's trash can, hoses, people, etc. in the shot? Is your yard sign in view (this could disqualify your project)? Are there dead plants in the planter? All these things have shown up in ALE photos.
- Take your pictures in the soft, warm light of the morning or evening, or on a slightly overcast but bright day. If it's too cloudy the colors will look flat and drab. Try to avoid full sun midday hours. The bright sun causes deep shadows that can make a picture look harsh.
- But don't shoot into the sun! Shooting into the sun puts objects in deep shadows and creates shadows and reflections on the photo from the iris and lens. A good rule is to have the sun at your back. If the shot you need is into the sun, come back in the evening or morning when the sun is at your back. Just be careful your body doesn't cast a shadow into the frame of the picture.
- Be sure the landscape has been recently maintained, beds edged, turf mowed, walks swept, etc. A photographer's trick is to hose down the sidewalks or patios to sharpen contrast and deepen colors – but don't forget to take the hose out of the picture!
- Be sure photos are sharp! Make sure your camera is capable of taking a picture that won't look ‘pixilated' when it's enlarged. It should have a megapixal rating of at least 6 if it's digital. It often helps to use a tripod to take sharp, well-focused pictures. What may look good on your camera or computer may get fuzzy when shown at the ALE awards presentation on a 30' screen.
- Be sure that the camera is level when taking the shot. Generally, vertical lines, like the corner of a house, should be parallel to the edge of the view finder frame. Now is not the time for sharp angled "artsy" shots.
- You are permitted to submit 12 photos of your project. Use them all! Don't sell your project short by letting the judges guess what it may have looked like from a certain angle. With digital cameras, it cost nothing to take more photos thanyou think you'll need; then select the 12 best.
- Think about taking photos in all seasons to show your attention to seasonal interest in your landscape.
- If your project involved landscape lighting, take pictures at dusk when lighting is on, but details of the landscape can still be seen. Most moderately priced cameras now take excellent long exposure evening shots, especially if you use a tripod.
- If you can, "stage" living areas with a pitcher of iced tea, set the table, fluff the cushions, light the fireplace, put a book on the table, a vase of fresh flowers, etc.
- Capture your images as .jpg files when you put them on your cd. Make sure the pictures on your cd are in the correct order as the photo descriptions.
- Review the pictures from previous award winners and see how they applied these tips to get the best photos of their work.
Write a good description
- Take time to write the one-page description ahead of time so you have time to re-read it and ensure that it conveys the message that you want it to convey.
- This is your opportunity to verbalize everything that the pictures and site plan may not emphasize.You can spell out the highlights of your project. Keep it clear and concise. Don't forget – the judges will be reading 50 – 75 of these when they're judging the projects! Make yours stand out!
- Emphasize the best aspects of your project as simply and directly as possible, making sure to answer all the questions specified in the entry guidelines. (Although you may rearrange the order, so the important information is first.)
A clear site plan
- A site plan is important because it gives a clearer perspective of the project to the judges.This is another opportunity for you to demonstrate your professionalism. The plan should be clear,easily read and professional looking.
- The site plan should indicate the location and perspective of each of the pictures.
- The plants should be indicated correctly on the site plan.The judges understand that things sometimes get changed when a plan is installed but be sure that if it's on the plant list, it's on the plan. Otherwise, take it off the plant list.
- If the judges are only judging one portion of the overall plan, be sure to make that clear.
- Be sure that your plant list is professional – i.e. has Latin (and common) names spelled correctly. This is so important. It gives the judges a very bad impression when names are misspelled.
The judges are only able to "see” your project through the information that you give them. So, take a moment when you complete your package to step back and try to view the project through the eyes of someone who is not familiar with it. Just from the materials you're sending in, does the beauty and expertise of the project come through?
All the information and forms you need to enter are on this Web site. Copy entry forms as many times as you please because you will want to enter multiple projects so that you can receive multiple awards! The more times you enter the more chances you have to be a winner!