Thoughts on competitions

I finally had time and occasion to pick up my entries to the Iowa State Fair, which was, as most of them are, last summer. Due to a number of circumstances, I also did not know which of the images were exhibited until yesterday, although I knew some were. As neither did win the prise, I was happy to see the labels at the back to give me a hint. This are the lucky images.

I was quite surprised about of choice of photographs for exhibit, especially about the first image. Don’t get me wrong, I like the image, the warm colors and contrast between the wooden table and chair and delicate soft cream-colored plates. But it is a dark picture, and may suggest some loneliness in the fact that there is only a single setting, and the furniture is old and used. On the other hand, the stories are in the eyes of beholder, I think, and another person might see something else in the image.

Eli Reinholdtsen wrote a couple of weeks ago about why she likes and participates in the competitions, and I left a comment on her blog with some of my thoughts. I decided to expand a bit on the subject on my blog, too. I myself often participate in competitions, and had some success locally, too.
For me, the preparation of contest submission is a good learning exercise, and tough one at times.

As many people, I find editing my work difficult. And the wider the scope of the competition, the harder it really is to pick the right images, and with growing Lightroom library it gets tougher. Not only contests means technically perfect images. Is the image sharp? Is there any high ISO noise? Is the subject positioned exactly along rule of thirds grid? I often go to the extreme. Now when I think about it, it might not make sense. After all, great image is about the story, not the technical perfection. And you can clearly see it when you browse the best National Geographic images, and even the last Joe McNally’s phtographed story in the magazine.
It gets even worse. The contest usually make me trying to figure out the judges. What images might work well in this particular competition? What they will be looking for? I focus sometimes too much on previous winners or other people’s entries, rather then picking up the images that I like best and which reflect my own style. I think it is natural in all of us, and hard to control. And if it wasn’t for competitions, I might not be going through this lesson over and over again.

It all boils down to the art of editing and making decisions, which images should be submitted. After that, the post-processing and printing is an easy task. And the contest results are so subjective, that there is really nothing you can do to control the outcome.

On the other had, sometimes the contest can be very specific to the subject. And it comes with its own challenges then too widely and freely defined contest. It is just far from my shooting style. I more often then not go out to photograph without a particular image in my mind. I just take a photowalk and see what happens and what will draw my attention. Any assignment, challenge or contest make me work harder and in a different way that I typically do. This is another great way to learn, so I will often participate in Digital Photography School challenges and assignements, for example, where images on certain subjects need to be created on particular week. This type of exercise is more about planning and visualizing.

Overall, I don’t agree that competitions are bad for photographers. I think they can be a great learning exercise. And sometimes, you are rewarded for your effort, too :).

Comments are closed.