Written by guest blogger, Christine Walsh-Newton
When I began my journey to being a professional photographer, I was determined to do it right. I wanted to find ways to measure my capability and skills. Ways that would keep me in check and provide me the opportunity to continually learn and improve.
Through my membership, I may enter the district and international print competitions sponsored by PPA. Through my state affiliate (Professional Photographers of Ohio
), I also participate on a local level.
Each spring, I compete at my state. There, I am allowed to enter six of my best images. Then I choose the four best from that group and send them on to the Northeast District competition
. Depending on the results of that competition, I may forward all four images to the international competition in the summer, or I may elect to do some more work on them first. I may even decide to replace them with a different images.
One of the delightful benefits to competition is that you can order critiques of your images recorded by the affiliated judges that were at the competition. I always purchase the critiques and generally follow the advice of the juror who recorded it. I feel fortunate that PPA offers this service. What a wonderful way to get input on our images!
What competition means to me:
Each year that I've participated in print competition, I've learned and I've grown. Sometimes I get decent scores or an award, but the important part to me is that I improve. I listen quietly during the judging and take notes. Even if the judges speak about an image that isn't mine, the knowledge they impart is applicable to my work. Through judging I'm learning the intricacies of lighting, presentation and composition. I learn what color combinations work and which ones are best left alone. I learn the subtleties of posing and body language.
I've learned all these things in a general manner through my own education and study and have refined them through use, but listening to judge after judge make a quiet comment here or point out a flaw there has trained me to look hard at the details. Little by little my work has improved. The subtle differences and changes I have made have started to add up and my work has shown tremendous strides in technical competence in just a few short years of competing.
Scoring is important to me and the fact that PPA has a standard scoring system that is consistently maintained gives print competition the credibility that I need in order to trust that it is a valid evaluation of my work. The judges are thoroughly trained and vetted and must also use the scoring system in a manner that provides consistency. My scores show me where I'm at in relation to standard expectations for photographic quality. In the beginning it took awhile for my work to reach the "deserving of a merit" range of scores, and with hard and consistent work, I've been given the pleasure of watching those scores rise over time.
A benefit of competing that was surprising is the inspiration I've gained from viewing images from other competitors. Over the last few years I've probably watched several thousand images go through judging. The amount of talent exhibited is enormous and overwhelming at times. Other competitors have been generous with their time and advice, assisting me along my journey. Sometimes I think "competition" isn't quite the correct term as my fellow competitors and I seem to have bonded into a beneficial family of sorts. It's rare for there to be competition between competitors that I know and some of my best competitor friends and I share ideas, techniques and images with each other while preparing for competition. Sometimes we find ourselves cheering and commiserating with each other, depending on our results.
How it helps me grow:
At my first competition, I volunteered in the print room. After a few hours of unpacking print cases and viewing a large number of exquisite images, I was afraid for my own. I tried to figure out how to "unenter" and hide my print case in my car. I was unsure of my skills and my talent. I was scared. And I was embarrassed to show my work. I was not confident and those first few rounds of critiques were difficult to digest.
Progressively, through competition, critiques, judgings and just plain old networking with other competitors, I am now more sure of what I'm doing and have a higher level of faith in my work. Competition has given me the confidence to recognize when I'm creating nice work. And the humility to realize it when I'm not and ask for help. And when I receive that help, I can now view it objectively and embrace it as part of my learning and growing process.
Once upon a time I only dreamed of doing well in competition and of learning from photographers who were leading the way. For awhile I thought it was a goal well out of my grasp. Through competition, I've learned to set goals and work towards them progressively so that over time I'd get there. The journey will never be complete, but with the help of PPA competition, it has been a progressive and positive one.