85 Days: The iStock Battle Royale

85 days. That's how long it will take you to win the 3rd annual iStock Steel Cage tournament and walk away with our $5000 prize. In those 85 days you will hardly sleep or see the sun. Your spouse and children will forget who you are. Your plants will go unwatered and your employer will wonder why you have Photoshop open all day long. You'll create 12 different entries, each one better than all the others in the Cage. You'll see the field of your competitors narrow down from hundreds, to 32 of the best, and finally to just one last contender left in your way. Win that match, 85 days and 12 entries later, and you'll be the Battle Royale champion. Then you'll probably need some sleep.

The Battle Royale qualifying contest is completed. Thanks to everyone who submitted. We received 117 entries. The quality was excellent. It was tough, but our special Tournament Battle Elder Council has selected our 32 tournament contenders. See them all here.

Click the Tournament Chart button to see how all 32 seeds line up against each other over the course of the Battle Royale.

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Battle Royale Tournament
[/color] This year we've created a special Tournament cage with accelerated match times which will run outside of the usual Steel Cage. Our 32 contenders will be seeded according to their scores from the qualifying round, with the #1 seed facing #32, and so on. The Tournament will consist of 5 rounds in total:

  • July 26 — Preliminary Round 1: 16 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow. There will be 3 days for judging.
  • August 8 — Preliminary Round 2: 8 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow. There will be 3 days for judging.
  • August 21 — Quarter Final: 4 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow. There will be 3 days for judging.
  • September 4 — Semi Final: 2 simultaneous matches. Each match consists of 2 rounds, with a 2 day time limit for each blow. There will be 3 days for judging.
  • September 17 — Final: Our Final match between the top 2 remaining contenders will consist of 3 rounds, with a 3 day time limit for each blow. There will be 3 days for judging.

Create your blows at the usual Cage size (800x600 px). After the scores are announced for each round, there will be a 2-day window before the next round starts. The lower-seeded contender will have 24 hours to issue the challenge to the higher-seeded contender, who then has 24 hours to respond.

Because of the length of the tournament, we need to stay on schedule. Disqualifications for missing deadlines will NOT be turned over. So keep your eye on the calendar and don't try to race the clock.


One First Place Grand Prize of $5,000 US.

One Second Place Prize package (approximate retail value of $500 US) consisting of:

  • 250 iStock Credits
  • Books from PeachPit Press:
    — Real World Digital Photography (2nd Edition) by Katrin Eismann, Sean Duggan and Tim Grey
    — Up to Speed: Photoshop CS3 by Ben Willmore
    — Photoshop Lab Color by Dan Margulis
    — Adobe Flash CS3 Professional video training guide with Richard Shupe
  • PeachPit TV T-Shirt and iStock T-Shirt & laptop bag

Two Third Place Prize packages (approximate retail value of $300 US for each package) each consisting of:

  • 100 iStock Credits
  • Books from Peachpit Press & New Riders Press (2 per prize package)
  • Video training DVDs from Lynda.com
  • PeachPit TV T-Shirt and iStock T-Shirt

A special, expanded version of the Battle Elder Council will judge each of the entries in the Qualifying Contest, and then in each subsequent round. Three different judges will each assign a grade of 1-10 after evaluating the work in 4 different categories, for a total score out of 30. Your entry will be graded on the following:
  • Execution: The technical meat & potatoes of your blow: the isolation work, lighting, layering, and use of effects.

    Poor: You used the magic wand tool, didn't you?

    Needs Work: Edges are jagged or fuzzy where they shouldn't be. Effects aren't uniformly applied and we can see where the layers meet. You need to take more time on the details and work on your Photoshop skills.

    Average: There may be inconsistencies in where the light comes from. Isolation and masking work could be better. The use of transparencies and layer effects is a little obvious and could be better integrated. But all in all, not bad.

    Very Good: You've attempted some difficult isolation and effects, and for the most part made them work. Any complaints are minor — well done.

    Perfect: A photo-realistic, seamless effort. The viewer has no idea how you pulled this off.

  • Composition: The artistic strength of your blow: your use of space within the confines of the image dimensions, the unity of your colors, lines and shapes, and the immediate visual impact of the blow.

    Poor: Sorry, but did you look at this before uploading it?

    Needs Work: There's nothing visually exciting or distinctive about this blow. Your layout, your color choices, your tone, all need more time and care.

    Average: You've used the canvas well. Things are well laid out but not necessarily striking.

    Very Good: This is a good-looking blow. Nice design choices, strong color, and a really clear visual identity.

    Perfect: A work of art. Whether it's the intricacy of the elements, or the sheer boldness of the design, it's a thing of beauty.

  • Use of Elements: How well did you incorporate the existing elements from the previous blow?

    Poor: A complete wipe. No effort to use any previous elements.

    Needs Work: We can recognize elements from the previous blow, but things might be a bit clumsy, or poorly integrated.

    Average: Visible elements are well-integrated, but nothing really stands out in the way you've used them.

    Very Good: Not only are the elements there, but you've established some continuity with what happened before: we've got a narrative now between the two.

    Perfect: You've not only cleverly manipulated the main elements into a completely new concept, you've created some narrative continuity and found neat ways to work in radical alterations as well as minor details.

  • Originality & Creativity: Did you re-hash a haggard old cage concept, or are you showing us something we've never seen before?

    Poor: You took the original blow and put it in a picture frame. Boo.

    Needs Work: You've moved the elements around but without any real sense of why. None of the elements add up to something new or innovative.

    Average: Your science-fiction space battle is pretty good, but we get a lot of science-fiction space battles around here.

    Very Good: ... We get relatively few science-fiction Prom-dances though. Nice work on the martian spiking the punch.

    Perfect: We thought we'd seen it all, then we saw this. Outstanding.


July 17: Seed .psd posted. Qualifying contest opens.
July 20: Contest closes, judging begins.
July 24: 32 Tournament contenders announced & seeded.
July 26: Preliminary Round #1 begins.
August 3: Judging.
August 6: 16 remaining contenders announced.
August 8: Preliminary Round #2 begins.
August 16: Judging.
August 19: 8 Quarter-finalists announced.
August 21: Quarter-finals begin.
August 29: Judging.
September 2: 4 Semi-finalists announced.
September 4: Semi-finals.
September 12: Judging.
September 15: Finalists announced.
September 17: Finals.