"Competition? Yikes!! I could never handle the criticism, it would be too nerve wracking. I know I am not good enough yet."
These are just a small sample of the things I have felt myself and heard others say with regard to print competition. But let me share my experiences to include one thing I did that I strongly recommend you not do.
Three years ago I entered my first print competition at the Professional Photographers of Colorado (PPC) annual convention. I had all the emotions mentioned above with the overriding one being that I didn't belong in a competition like this. I was hoping my prints would get a quick score (with no challenges being made by the judges that would involve discussion of my entries) and that I could then quickly slip out the back door!
Earlier that morning, my wife Laura and I stopped off at a favorite Mexican restaurant for breakfast. I had a spicy burrito built around chorizo (a spicy Mexican sausage) and New Mexico style red chile. My thinking was that on this day of potential embarrassment, I was going to at least have one thing I really enjoyed! The anxiety of my first competition in front of professional photographers drifted away as I savored the rich flavors of that burrito.
During the print competition that day, all four of my entries had juror challenges with one of them having no less than four separate challenges! The impact of my anxiety and excitement on my digestive system along with that burrito was very unpleasant. Not to worry, I will spare you the details of that drama and its resolution. But notice in addition to anxiety, I mentioned "excitement.""
As those juror discussions occurred, rather than feeling embarrassment, I was feeling excitement as they discussed things they liked and things that needed improvement. I had never received this kind of valuable input before and the learning it represented was exciting to me! In a single day, I learned things that would have otherwise taken many years to learn, if ever. Rather than saying, "I can't believe the maker did this to this image", their comments were to the point and professional. I was elated to be learning so much.
So now, two years later, in addition to entering the Southwest District Competition to which I belong, I entered the West, Northeast, and Southeast District Competitions while varying my entries some in each competition. And most importantly, I opted to pay the extra $35 for critiques of my entries. Of course any merit scores I received outside of the Southwest District can't count towards automatic merits by entering them under seal to the IPC.
But what I was after was the learning, and there is no better way to learn by experience than by participating in these print competitions. With the convenience of being able to enter digitally, I could gain all this knowledge and experience without incurring the cost of preparing prints and shipping them off to all these competitions. It's a great deal!
The digital age of photography has raised the benchmarks and the entrants into this profession. This is a good thing in my opinion, but the one thing that can't be debated is this is the reality. If you strive to be competitive in this market, you cannot afford to not be a PPA member and benefit from all the educational opportunities that PPA offers.
So, with the deadline approaching for the 2013 International Print Competition, be sure and submit your four entries and by all means be sure and opt for the video critiques! Then compete in your state PPA affiliated and PPA District competitions as they start up in the fall and next spring. I guarantee you will be glad you did!
And for my final word of advice, skip the spicy burrito on competition day!
ALL IMAGES © DOUG BENNETT