COMPETITIONS DON’T MAKE YOU A BAD PHOTOGRAPHER

It’s the taking part that counts right?  That is what I try to tell myself and ultimately the act of ‘making an image,’ is an enjoyable experience.  ‘Making an image’ sounds very cliche but I do see the process this way.  I approach any theme or idea by thinking about it, planning it and then ultimately executing it.  I did write a short piece about it here.  For me it’s not simply a case of pointing the camera at something and ‘that’ll do.’  

So why do I feel like crap when I don’t succeed?  Is it a competitive nature?  Maybe.  As humans we all have a desire to succeed and be the best, natural selection if you like.  But I think there is more to it than this…

How do we as photographers measure success?  If you are a full time professional photographer I think this is relatively straight forward.  You’re either getting paid and putting food on the table or you’re not.  Your work speaks for itself, and your reputation, and more work comes your way.  In my opinion there is no other measure required other than a personal satisfaction in your work.

So if your a keen amateur or enthusiast how do your measure your success as a photographer?  This is where I think competitions play their part.  But firstly why is it important to measure in the first place?  This will be different for everyone, for some people there won’t be a need to measure anything.  They’ll be happy to keep snapping away at the level they are at.  For me, I want to know I am progressing with my photography, that I am constantly improving.  For me, competitions is one way of doing this.

Then comes the problem with competitions.  If you take the ‘weekly’ Twitter competitions there are 100s if not 1000s entries each week.  Our camera club competitions have ‘themes’ which are always open to interpretation, and often it can be about the best interpretation rather than the best photograph.  And ultimately it’s the old age problem of photography being a very subjective art form.  Another day, a different judge and potentially a different result.  I know for fact images have been submitted in different years for Landscape Photographer of the Year and on second time around achieved commended or highly commended.  So was the image a bad one the first time around?  Of course not.  

I’ve reached a point in my photography where it needs a purpose.  What I mean by this is whilst I still enjoy shooting ‘off the cuff’ if you like and for no other reason than because I can, I am increasingly finding the need to shoot for a reason.  Whether that be a personal project, a particular shot I want or in this instance a competition.  It’s important to have some motivation, and I do really enjoy the process of thinking, planning and executing a competition shot.  For some reason though I don’t handle the outcome well mentally.

So it may come as some surprise that competitions cause me some significant grief, some real bad lows.  I pour my heart and soul into trying so rejection is hard to take.  And yet I know this doesn’t make me a bad photographer.