Updated: Oct 30, 2018
Author Jenn Mishra
Photography and competition seem to go hand-in-hand. Local photography clubs, like the one I belong to, have frequent competitions and there are often local opportunities to submit photographs for inclusion in an art show or some such.
There are also many online competitions like Viewbug or Gurushots The online competitions where there are thousands and thousands of entries for each competition are mainly for entertainment and are a place to share photos.
From the sounds of it, photographers can be a competitive bunch. Some photographers though choose not to compete, actively avoiding the competitive element in photography.
This post may help you decide whether competition is right for you or not.
The photo above didn't do well in a local competition, but the judges remembered it and later asked to publish it in a city magazine. Competitions sometimes have unforeseen prizes.
When to Compete
Think about how you feel when you’ve entered a photograph in competition. How you feel when your photograph does well and how you feel when your photograph does poorly?
The following are indications that you’re probably in a healthy place to enter competitions:
Regardless of how well your photograph does in competition, you learn something about yourself or your photography
Sharing your images with a judge or an audience feels good
Even when your photograph doesn’t do well in competition, you pick up your camera and go out the next day to enjoy photography
You can take what a judge says about your photograph, think about it, and if you agree make some changes – if you don’t agree, you can forget everything the judge said
There are many reasons to enter photos into competitions, and there really should be some reason to enter the competition. In other words, you should obtain some sort of benefit from the experience. The benefit shouldn’t just be a prize, you should get something out of the experience regardless of how well your photo does in the actual competition.
I think the best competitions are ones where you get some feedback on your image from a judge. However, keep this feedback in perspective. It’s how one person sees your image on one particular day. Consider what the judge says and then decide whether he or she has a point --- or not. You’re the artist, the ultimate judge of your own work. In the end, you get to decide.
Competition means that other photographers are involved. You need to be in an emotional place where you are happy to see others succeed – even if you don’t – and you can support your fellow photographers.
How well your image does in competition depends on what other photographers enter. Sometimes, there is simply a better image than yours in the competition. It’s hard not to take judging personally, but there’s nothing personal about another photographer taking a good image. Even the best photographers in the world don’t win every competition. Be happy for your fellow photographer! We’re all trying to make beautiful images.
Judges often favor technical perfection. If you’ve read a few articles on PhotoYoga you know that the philosophy here is to photograph what you’re passionate about. Technique serves the emotion, but in competition this isn’t always the case.
On any number of occasions, a photograph that I’ve entered into my local photography club competition gets passed over. However, I’ve noticed at times the judge stopping to look my photo for what seems to be a long time before passing it. I don’t know what the judges were looking at, but it made the judge stop and think. Maybe the image has made some sort of impact. In a way, the image was successful even if it didn’t win anything.
Winning a competition isn’t the only measure of success.
There are many reasons to compete. Sometimes getting a photograph out there to the right judge or audience opens up opportunities, but the opportunity will mean nothing if competition is stressful and if it gets in the way of your photography.
When Not to Compete
There are many reasons to enter your photographs in competition and times when you should probably think again. You may want to consider stepping away from competition if you find the following types of things happening:
You take photographs only with the thought of how well the image will do in competition.
Doing well in a competition makes you feel superior to fellow photographers
Doing poorly in a competition ruins your day
Doing poorly in a competition makes you want to quit photography
You replay judges comments over and over again and they make you doubt your photography
If you enjoy photography, and I’m guessing that you do if you’re reading this article, don’t let anything get in the way of this enjoyment – especially something like competition.
Competition is sometimes put up as the opposite of cooperation and these can be in conflict. If you find yourself feeling possessive or secretive about your photography or doing things to try and get a leg-up on fellow photographers than you may want to rethink your motives for entering a competition. We’re all trying to make beautiful images and trying to impede another photographer or not helping them means that you’re putting the competition before the art.
The best competitions to enter are those that give you some type of feedback on your image designed to make you a better photographer. Some competitions though are designed simply as “accept” or “don’t accept” without any reason provided by the judge. Think carefully about why you might enter this type of competition – what are you really getting out of it?
I once heard a judge talk about what images he selected and didn’t select for a local photography club’s annual show. On multiple occasions, he eliminated a photograph because he didn’t think the title of the photograph was good enough.
When faced with limited space, judges have to cut some photographs and the reasons for cutting can border on the arbitrary. It’s not healthy to base our entire photographic identity on how one person felt about our photograph on a particular day. If you feel that you’re doing that than think about stepping away from competition for a while.
A competition should never harm your photography – if it does, get it out of your life!
There are plenty of photographers who never enter their photographs into competition and some who never even share on social media. Photography is for you and you alone.
Do what is best for you.
I come from the world of classical music where auditions and competitions are the rule. There have been many times in my career that I’ve had to walk away from an opportunity because the competition became too much. I was losing my love of music.
Whether you choose to enter your photos in competition or not is up to you. If you’re anything like me, it depends on how I’m feeling at the moment.
Some days I feel emotionally and photographically healthy enough to enter my photographs into competition and regardless of the outcome, my photography and creative energies will be fine. Other times, competition gets in the way and I need to focus my energies and attention on collaboration and on the creative side of photography.
There are good things that can come from competing. Competition can motivate you to do better and you can get important feedback about how others view your images, but competition can also be a barrier to your creativity.
There is no pressure to compete – if you feel pressure, think about where that pressure is coming from. Unless you’re a professional who must create images on demand, your photography can be anything you want it to be. That includes being a non-competitive photographer.
Whatever your decision, protect your love of photography. Negative feelings or insecurities will never help you create beautiful photographs. It’s better to walk away from competitions than to walk away from your camera.
** This post may contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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