It started when he went to his first convention and realized he wasn't the great photographer he thought he was. "It was eye-opening," he adds. "I realized then that I would never ever stop learning in this profession." Competing drives that message home for him even more, but it took him about 10 years to get up the nerve to enter!
Educating for Competition
It was education that helped Martin get to the point of entering. He went to competitions and listened to the judges, asking them questions about why they scored images a certain way after the judging. "It's extremely educational...and that's how I learned in the beginning." He also suggests finding classes on competition, which many affiliates have during the year, and reading PPA's online articles on competition and the 12 elements of a merit image.
Why? "By learning those 12 elements and watching the judging, my photography grew so much," Martin explains. "For example, I photographed a pro bike race recently where I put myself in a position to see the 12 elements before I even shot a single image."
In fact, he's such a believer in the 12 elements now (and how they can impact imagery) that he gives his intern "homework" on them. "I challenge her to give me images that feature one of the 12 elements in each. I want her to master them individually before combining them into one."
Overcoming the Fear
Back in 2007, Martin stared down his fears and entered his first photographic competition. The judges tore his images apart, pointing to flaws in stroke size, cropping, etc.
That's never easy to hear.
But Martin explains it this way: "We are artists. We have egos. We are so close to our images because they are like our babies. That's why I think people are scared to enter and be critiqued. But you have to separate yourself from the prints and say: 'This is a learning experience.'"
That's what helped Martin use competition to his advantage. After that first one, he took it as a challenge. He realized the judges weren't saying that he was not a good photographer; they were just saying he maybe wasn't technically great or a great competitor...yet. But he was determined to do better and pay attention to all the details the judges saw.
"There's always room for improvement," he says. "There are flaws that we, as the image creators, can't always see."
After just a few years of competition experience, Martin's "sight" is 20-20 because he's paying attention to the little things all the time. "I look at every image differently now," he adds. "I see in a story-telling light. And before I click the shutter, I look at what's in the background, what's surrounding the subject. Is there something I can take 20 seconds to fix that would allow that image to be a competition image?"
When Martin started in photography, he thought he had nothing to learn. That belief quickly changed. And since starting to compete in 2007, he's had peers say to him that his photography has grown a hundredfold.
"I attribute that change to photographic competition," he says. "Even if you don't want to win awards and degrees--and believe me, clients really dig the award-winning photographer label--compete because it WILL make you a better photographer."
Gregg Martin owns Gregg Martin Photographic Design in Columbia, S.C. He is one of only two photographers to earn both his Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees at Imaging USA 2011. Learn more about his work here: http://www.greggmartinphoto.com/index2.php?v=v1
ALL IMAGES Â© GREGG MARTIN, M.Photog.Cr., CPP