How many of you turn and run when you hear the word “print competition”? I know I did the first time I heard about the process to become a Master Photographer through the Professional Photographers of America. However, as I began to network with photographers who had already received their degrees, I quickly learned that this process would not only be beneficial for me; but also my business. I quickly learned that if I was going to grow and learn from this experience, I had to develop some tough skin. I had to force myself to step outside my comfort zone.
So I took that first step and never looked back. It has had a great impact on my business—both creatively and financially. As I was shooting for competition, my client work also improved and it showed in my sales. My confidence in my work started to grow.
Photographic Image Competition is a beautiful combination of pushing yourself creatively while demonstrating technical excellence. Not only does your image have to have impact and tell a story; but your lighting patterns, posing, choice of lens, etc. all have to be top notch.
Five years ago, I joined the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) in order to network with other photographers and continue my photographic education. One year later, I joined the Professional Photographers Association of Northern Illinois (PPANI). At that point, my true education began as I started to show other photographers what I was doing in my studio.
Since I started competing three years ago, I have competed at the local organization (PPANI), the state level (Associated Professional Photographers of Illinois) and at the International level (IPC). Why all three levels? I compete at the local and state level in order to prepare my images for IPC.
Through the Illinois group, I have connected with master photographers who judge and guide me as I work on my images. These images are then sent along to the International Print Competition. The merits that I receive from International Print Competition are helping me reach a goal of becoming a Master Photographer.
Do I use client work? Do I create an idea in my head and shoot specifically for competition? The answer to both questions is yes. I referred to this in the blog I wrote about inspiration – I try something new at every session. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, the image goes into my competition folder. As I look outside of photography for inspiration, every once in a while a story will come to mind. I then return to my studio and photograph that story.
PPA has a list of 12 elements that the judges are trained to critique. Now, going through all 12 elements could easily be a separate blog post; so I am going to discuss the elements that I focus on first.
1. Impact. Judges spend long days at print competition and see hundreds of images. When my print comes around to them, I want them to stop and take a closer look. I’m looking for that “wow” factor.
2. Creativity/Storytelling. As I am working on my competition prints, I continue to ask myself what story I want to tell. As I am working, I decide what emotion I want to invoke. Should the image make the judges feel warm and inside? Or is my goal to cause a little unease or curiosity. I am also looking at the title of the image. That too needs to tell the story.
3. Technical excellence. I am constantly striving to improve my technique my goal with technical excellence is to make sure that I am taking everything away that I can that a judge challenge. The less they can challenge, the higher the score. So I look at my retouching, lighting, focusing, color correction, cropping, printing, mounting, etc.
Other elements of a merit image include: style, composition, presentation, color balance, center of interest, lighting, subject matter, and technique. To see a description of each element, visit www.ppa.com
Photographic Image competition has forced me to step outside my comfort zone and reach deep inside me. It forces me to push the creative side of me. Finally, it forces me to take a good look at my photographic skills and where my deficits lay. Remember the one light challenge? That stemmed from my desire to be more successful in competition. In fact, my mentor and I have moved on to lighting patterns; but I’ll save that for another time. Competition has made me a stronger person. When my images are ripped to shreds, I focus on what I can learn from the experience instead of falling apart and quitting.
The first year I sent a case to the International Print Competition, I was crushed as none of the images received a merit. However, over the course of a year, I took a print competition and a Photoshop class. I showed my work to everyone. Last year, I received my first three merits. Currently, I am working on my print case to send to Atlanta next month. I can’t wait to see the results!
By the way, I do use competition as a marketing piece in my business. I will share how I market and keep my clients involved in the coming weeks.
Join your area or state association and start connecting with other photographers. They will guide you through the steps of preparing for competition and what you need to do.
Show your work to everyone. However, having said that, I also recommend that you find mentors who have competed so they can help you work through the elements. Toughen up and take the criticism. Trust me. Your work will improve. On our SPU forum, we have threads for you to upload your work for critique.
Finally…enter! Will it be nerve racking? Absolutely! But I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone – the rewards will be incredible.