I am a novice when it comes to competitions. I admit that. I have focused the last many years focusing on improving my technique and the capture of light to tell a story in a photograph – not showing my work. After sitting on the sidelines for years looking at the competition area without much consideration, I decided to give them a chance. This is a love / hate relationship.
Want to know my perspective on this?
I also freely admit I have a competitive side. Not huge, but definitely there. When I choose to enter any competition, I internally have a desire to do well. For photography, this can be a real issue if you let it drive your craft. A wise friend calmed me down after a recent judging and reminded me to be true to my craft and ideas and not to change what I create because someone has another idea of what is ‘good’. I have taken several deep breaths and counted to 10 numerous times and am now at peace (almost) with that great advice.
When I started, I had decided that I would view competitions to my photography as I do the driving range for golf. I think they are good exercises to put images together that should do well. I don’t envision doing a shoot trying to capture an image for a competition, but I am very comfortable having an eye out for captures that I think will do well. Competitions provide focus and force one to get out and shoot because a deadline is coming – and that is OK in my book.
What has become obvious so quickly is that judging is subjective and that no matter what, subjective is subjective. Obviously, when only a single judge is involved, this can really be frustrating.
So, what is there to get frustrated about?
Judges use their experience to evaluate images on a collection of metrics and decide how to assign a numerical rating for an image. Some clubs provide a rubric for evaluation, others allow a judge to do as they wish. Even without a written rubric, one sees a pattern of generally accepted metrics that are used for evaluation. You hear about impact, creativity, composition, lighting, technical aspects (exposure, print quality), storytelling, etc. as being considered.
Composition, for instance, is an interesting one. Some judges will opine about the rule of thirds and how important that is. Then a perfectly composed image following that idea shows and a different judge immediately comments “why is the subject so far over to the right? I’d crop that down.” How frustrating is this to the photographer who was “just following the rules?”
Another judge will come in and explain how pictures of flowers are just not interesting as you don’t need to do much to capture one and will give low marks to these. Then the following week, a backyard daisy wins.
The image at the top of this post was entered into my very first print competition where I stuck an 8×10 Costco print on a white museum board and it received an award. I had entered this same image in a digital competition months earlier, but that judging was delayed due to weather until AFTER the print competition. When this same image was judged in the digital competition, the judge all but yawned, gave it an OK score and moved on. No award, no honorable mention. The irony is that at the end of the year, this same image was chosen as print of the year. Deep breaths now.
I need to remind myself of this when an image I like is passed over. The judge is simply not looking at the same things as I am. Or other judges. I have to be okay with that – and have the confidence to re-enter that image if I want to express the idea it shows.
There is some solace in live judging when a questionable grade is given immediately followed by muted gasps and mumbles amongst the group.
I will continue to shoot, I will continue to enter competitions and I am expecting to continue to be surprised and disappointed by decisions. But, that is OK by me, as long as I can keep making images that express what I see, I’ll be happy. If others enjoy them, all the better. If they do well in a competition, I will be pleased, but have to remind myself that is not what this is all about.