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Joe Knows: Competition Makes You a Better Photographer - PPA Today

Joe Knows: Competition Makes You a Better Photographer

Joe CampanellieJoe Campanellie, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, was a busy man at Imaging USA this past January, claiming some of the industry's most prestigious honors, including the American Society of Photographers' Gold Medallion Award, a PPA Diamond Photographer of the Year award, a PPA Imaging Excellence award and his ASP Fellowship degree. This highly decorated family and children portrait specialist calls himself the "poster boy" for how photographic competition can make a photographer better and, he says, also helped him to rediscover his passion for nature photography, which motivated him to aspire to the ASP Fellowship degree.

"I got into the art of photography quite by accident when a friend of mine bought a camera and set up a darkroom in a closet. I was hooked from the very beginning by watching my first print develop in a tray," Joe remembers. Still, he had doubts about whether or not he was good enough to enter photographic competitions. "I would sit and watch our state competitions, walk through the General and Loan Collection display, and be blown away."

Campanellie decided to overcome his apprehensions and get involved in competition anyway when one goal became clear. "I just wanted to become a better photographer," he says. "I decided I needed to be a part of the process to reap the benefits--I wasn't going to gain anything by sitting on the sidelines."

And so, Joe set out to compete with the aspirations of improving his skills and seeing his art in all new ways. "When I first started competing, I never dreamed I would be where I am today. PPA photographic competition has helped me find my strengths as an artist."

Leverage Competition to Your Benefit
Campanellie recommends that every photographer start by using the "12 Elements of a Merit Image" to judge the quality of their work. "I can honestly say that the standards changed the way I look at my photography--they changed the way I look through my viewfinder. Learning to apply the 12 elements to your day-to-day studio work will help you learn the basic concepts of design and composition, and these are concepts that great artists have used for centuries."

Then, he says, become a student of how competition works. "Before I entered my first image, I spent time watching the photographic competitions in our state," Joe explains. He also talked to the judges, even though, he admits to being shy about it at first. "To get better, you need their opinions and their experience, and you have to develop a thick skin. Don't take it personally if your favorite image doesn't do well and keep an open mind."

Since 1992 when he first began entering PPA's International Photographic Competition, Campanellie has had 47 images merit and over 13 images have received the most prestigious recognition of all: inclusion in the Loan Collection. Yet, he still enters every year. "People have asked me why I keep competing when I've already won my share of awards, and the answer is that I don't believe that print competition is all about the awards. Yes, the trophies are nice, but for me, it's the constant source of inspiration and a challenge to do better that keeps me coming back," he says. "Photographic competition has taken me on any incredible journey of self-discovery. I never thought of myself as a great photographer, but when you find your true passion in life, all things are possible."

Joe's Tips for Getting the Most from Photographic Competition

  • Join local and state organizations, and volunteer to help with competitions. The more time you spend studying competitions and talking with judges, the more you'll understand how to improve your own images.
  • Ask your friends or your local organization to have informal critique sessions to look at images before getting them ready for competition entry. "There's nothing worse than entering a print and, as it comes around in front of the judges, seeing something pop out at you, something that's so obvious...but you just didn't see it earlier."
  • Always look for competition images and locations. "During our portrait sessions, I'm always on the lookout for someone who has that special look or who is very comfortable in front of the camera," Joe says. "Sometimes, at the end of a session, I try something just for me--maybe a new pose or a new lighting pattern that I think will work in competition."
  • Keep a folder on your desktop specifically for competition images and add to it throughout the year. "Rather than spend hours on end for a few weeks before the deadline, I am always putting images in my file. I also keep notes in there as ideas about images or locations come to me," adds Joe.
  • Get opinions from other photographers. "I'm continually showing other photographers the images that I think may have competition potential because it's hard to be objective about your own work," says Campanellie.
  • Take advantage of PPA mentors, in person and online. "The PPA competition forum is a great source of advice with access to master photographers and approved affiliate jurors, as well as long-time competitors."

No Comfort Zone
While Campanellie's studio continues to succeed, he says that the business challenges he faces are no different than those that others are dealing with in the current economic climate.

"We can't complacently sit and do the same things over and over. We have to find ways to continually force ourselves out of our comfort zone," Campanellie says. "The International Photographic Competition is a great way to not only improve your photographic skills, but also push yourself to try new techniques. I use competition to force myself out of my nice, safe box."

Joe Campanellie, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, is the only photographer in Maryland who holds the Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees from Professional Photographers of America as well as the Fellowship Degree from the American Society of Photographers. He has also earned numerous honors, including 25 Kodak Gallery Awards for Photographic and Technical Excellence including 2 Gallery Elite Awards and 11Fuji Masterpiece Awards. During state competitions, Campanellie has won 25 Best in Show awards and 18 Photographer of the Year awards. He has also been named Image Maker of the Year in both Maryland and Pennsylvania for the past 5 years. He was the president of the Maryland Professional Photographer's Association in 2000 and 2001.

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This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on March 2, 2010 4:40 PM.

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