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Thread: Serious competitions: Am I good enough?

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    Serious competitions: Am I good enough?

    Some recent discussions and contemplation on my part have caused me to give some consideration to entering serious photography competitions. Perhaps as a challenge, perhaps as a way of gauging my level of photography in the eyes of a much wider audience, and perhaps as a positive self-esteem boost.

    Last year I abandoned all forms of competition out of sheer frustration at my inability to do well. I also stopped shooting, and it took a while for me to get back into it again.

    In recent months I have been encouraged, by a professional photographer I know, to enter the APPAs, as well as a state-based competition. He believes I have material that would definitely make the grade. As someone who has taken out awards at the APPAs, and who has fantastic work, I tend to take his opinions seriously.

    In the past, I entered club-level competitions, and sure, I won some awards here and there, but seldom enough to give me any inkling that I have what it takes.

    I have also entered many times on AP, but only ever won twice.

    Now, I realise that camera club competitions, AP competitions and major competitions such as the APPAs are all very different, and cannot reasonably be compared.

    Point in case: A photographer friend of mine has also won nationals with an image that was overlooked at the camera club level.

    I believe I have good images (and maybe some that could make the grade in a serious competition), but there are good images, and there are good images.

    Bridging the gap between 'okay photographer' and 'good photographer' is a relatively small step. Bridging the gap between 'great photographer' and 'outstanding photographer' is so much harder. The higher you go, smaller is the difference between great and outstanding, and the effort to bridge the gap is so much more difficult.

    In my somewhat negatively coloured experience, I have found competitions to be a minefield, with no clear rules as to what will do well and what will be passed over.

    At PMA yesterday, I saw some silver award-winning images that to my eyes weren't all that brilliant. On the other hand, there were some stunning images that deserved their accolades.

    I have seen two different judges, on separate occasions, judge one specific image (not mine). The first time, the image, which to my eyes was extremely mediocre at all levels, was caned; the next judge who judged it a month later loved it, and to my astonishment, gave it an award.

    I have seen inconsistency in judging. I have seen very informative, educated and experienced judging. I have seen some quite sloppy judging.

    I am also aware that if a judge has a bias for or against given genres, it can work for or against you.

    Some images that do well in one competition, or in the eyes of one judge, will fail dismally in another arena.

    It makes it difficult to know where one stands.

    We all like to think we're good enough. Someone's uninformed "This is an outstanding image!" comment can give us a false opinion of our work. That comment, when it comes from someone who doesn't know better, simply means "I really like this image a lot", not "You should enter this in the APPAs".

    We can all be a little tunnel-visioned about which of our images are top-notch and which would be sure-fire competition winners. I cannot really go into serious competitions without a more objective view.

    So, apart from being interested in the opinions of excellent photographers who have had experience in terms of publication and competition success at serious levels, I would be interested to hear from those people whether I have images that stand a fighting chance.

    My personal favourite images, from which I would select images to consider for competition entry, are located here:

    http://www.xenedis.net/viewalbum.php...57594074635175

    Now, there's some stuff in there that to me is a favourite image for whatever reason, but which I'd never enter into a serious competition.

    So, to those who have experience with serious comps, I'd be interested in your feedback.

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    You'll never know unles you have a crack
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post
    You'll never know unles you have a crack
    Granted, but I wouldn't try to compete in an event that's well beyond my current capability.

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    With Darren, There's always differences of opion in what someone see's in a shot, don't be boyed by some negitive reviews, you've produced some wonderful images, and a couple for me I didn't really enjoy, but thats the thing mate, personaly taste and people's perspective. Some judges can't leave that behind, it is comman in most forms of competition where we can't remove the human factor.

    Give it a go, I hope you do well, If you don't give it a go, well, your self doubt is working to well, or you've set yourself a very low rate to fail. You'll never know if you don't.

    Have a crack.
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    I am in exactly the same position. You are fortunate indeed to have found someone to mentor you, it is really helpful. One factor to remember is that ours is a very subjective art - how the judge(s) feel, if the subject has any personal resonance with them, if it is very different to other images in the class, if they are having a good day - a bad drive to the venue could be enough to put someone in a crappy mood! - etc are all relevant factors, and they are all beyond your control. You have some very fine images in there, and you have to bite the bullet sometime.
    Last edited by Analog6; 26-06-2011 at 2:01pm.
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    John,
    I have seen quite a bit of your work and believe you have some competition winning quality shots.
    Give it a go and you will never die wondering.
    Cheers
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    how do they select the judges? Personally, I keep putting my best pics in for the POTW and POTM etc, been close, in the top 5 a couple of times. Gets a little disgruntleing at times missing out but I keep having a go. I`d just keep at it X and enjoy just being able to take good photos anyway should keep you happy.
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    I may not be qualified to comment as I am still early in my photography path and have not won any comps as yet but I am sure I am qualified to tell a worthy shot and a not so worthy photo. I have seen quite a number of your photo's and I do beleive you are short selling yourself. I have seen some cracka's you have taken and should definately be entered - abd of course, no ever shot is a cracka but you already know that ;-). I see it this way, first your photo's need to be good enough to enter of which yours definately are and secondly, educating yourself to the style of photo the competition is actually looking for which you may or may not have but you will gain knowledge from entering such comps - definately go for it. OH! and proudly brag on AP when you win the big one :-).
    Please be honest with your Critique of my images. I may not always agree, but I will not be offended - CC assists my learning and is always appreciated

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    You know what, and with respect, each competition can have only one winner. Not entering cause you can't/haven't won in the past is something kids do. "I'm not playing any more cause you always win, I am taking my bat and ball and I'm going home".

    Whilst I agree that judging in any photography competition is purely what captures the imperfect eye and vision of each judge at the time, and that the results may not be what you, I or anyone else expect, giving up entering cause of that is the kids way of playing the game.

    The only way to win, is to enter. The only person being handicapped by the approach of not entering is yourself. Just the experience of entering, listening to, or reading the judges comments about your entry, and that of others, including the winners, is the only way to go. After all, you might just get an insight into specific judges and be able to enter something that you know they will like more, when they are judging next. It is all part of playing the game, in this artistic endeavour we pursue, called photography.
    Last edited by ricktas; 26-06-2011 at 3:11pm.
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    Xenedis

    I am with Mike and Rick on this one

    I have entered a comp years ago with a pic and did not even get a look in by the judges, however the comments from people who mattered (professional photographers) about the shot said it should have done better

    That same photo, I posted on here in my first POTW comp and won

    Your mentor has said to you that they think your shots are ready to be entered so why not. in the words of some little shoe company

    JUST DO IT
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    Photography is an art, not a science. You can't hope to understand or pre-determine all the factors that go into individual judges' decisions. You've just got to give it a go.

    Personally, I think you take some really stunning images, so I don't think you'd be wasting your time by entering serious competitions.
    Last edited by Jules; 26-06-2011 at 4:39pm.
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    You always hear about the success stories but never how many times one failed to get there! I agree with the others.
    Last edited by Taxxy; 26-06-2011 at 5:12pm.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xenedis View Post
    In recent months I have been encouraged, by a professional photographer I know, to enter the APPAs, as well as a state-based competition. He believes I have material that would definitely make the grade. As someone who has taken out awards at the APPAs, and who has fantastic work, I tend to take his opinions seriously.

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    Competitions are judged subjectively.
    I'm constantly surprised at the camera club, images that we members think are great get shredded by the guest judge and vice versa.
    Even here on AP we mods are sometimes surprised as to what polls well.
    Back when we had a judging panel here on AP their pick was often different from the popular pick.
    So IMHO don't take it too seriously.

    And your right, I've seen stunning images not win major comps, and what I think are good but not brilliant take out the prize.
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    My advice to you is to just go ahead and do it!
    You have a great deal of stunning images and people here have reaffirmed that many a time.
    Whether a photograph does well in a competition or not really boils down to the whimsical world of judging.
    To give you an example - I won last year's Art of Nature SA competition (landscape category) with the landscape I thought had the least chance of winning.
    In the competitions here on AP, some of the images I've felt were my better ones have not fared well while others did unexpectedly well.

    The other thing I hate doing is pandering to the competition's winning history, but, by doing so , you do adapt to be able to produce that style.
    Better photography's competition demanded vignetted shots with muted colours so we entered a few like that and did well with those only.
    I personally really hate heavy vignetting and I love my colour!
    Some seem to cater for shots that seem to be intentionally chosen for their technical imperfection but tell a story ....etc etc

    I don't think you stand much to lose from entering (unless it's a big entry fee) and if you can learn something from the images that come out above yours, then it's all worthwhile.
    (If however, you're thinking to yourself '###!' when looking at the ones above yours , maybe then, skip to another comp where you can understand the ideals of its judges ! likewise if it angers you for whatever reason)
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    FYI Since the start of the new comp system (November 2009) there are only 97 unique winners of competitions. Nearly ½ have won one comp.
    This includes NTP and other special competitions.

    Xenedis, you have one two. That puts you ahead of the game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roosta View Post
    There's always differences of opion in what someone see's in a shot, don't be boyed by some negitive reviews, you've produced some wonderful images, and a couple for me I didn't really enjoy, but thats the thing mate, personaly taste and people's perspective.
    Thanks Roosta. I totally agree with you that not all of a given photographer's images will appeal, even to fans of that photographer's work.

    Just thinking about one photographer I know, whose work I love, and whose standard of images is very high... some of his images just don't excite me, or the concept or style has no impact on me. I consider that normal, and certainly don't expect people who tend to like my work to like all of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roosta View Post
    Some judges can't leave that behind, it is comman in most forms of competition where we can't remove the human factor.
    I think the playing field is a bit more level when the judge doesn't know who shot the image. When judging images myself, I don't care who shot them, or what equipment or post-processing techniques were used; all that matters is the image in front of me. That certainly reduces bias. I personally would rather judge an image, and in turn have my own images judged, purely on the merits of what's in front of me, not the reputation of the person who shot the image. Of course, some people's work is easily recognisable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roosta View Post
    Give it a go, I hope you do well, If you don't give it a go, well, your self doubt is working to well, or you've set yourself a very low rate to fail. You'll never know if you don't.
    I certainly want to give it a go. it's a new challenge, and a new experience, stepping beyond merely publishing my images on Flickr and here.

    I do hold myself and my work to a high standard, and that could possibly work against me. I know I have some good images. What's at question here is my own self-assessment, and whether I am aiming just too high with the levels of competition I'm considering entering.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roosta View Post
    Have a crack.
    I think I shall.

    Quote Originally Posted by Analog6 View Post
    I am in exactly the same position. You are fortunate indeed to have found someone to mentor you, it is really helpful.
    Yes, and I should remember that. The photographer who encouraged me to enter the APPAs is happy to look at the work I'll select and see if it's viable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Analog6 View Post
    One factor to remember is that ours is a very subjective art - how the judge(s) feel, if the subject has any personal resonance with them
    Very true.

    This reminds me of the time someone bought a large canvass print of one of my images.

    He mailed me and told me he bought it to hang on his office wall. The image was of one of Sydney's tidal pools. It had nice colour and composition, and all the technical stuff was just right. To some, it'd be "nice image, well composed, nice colour (et al.)", but to this guy, it was a reminder of where he grew up, so it had that personal impact and brought back memories -- the stuff no photographer can predict will happen.

    That's the power of an image; it can be as powerful as music in its ability to take people back to times and places -- good and bad -- that had a profound effect.

    Quote Originally Posted by Analog6 View Post
    You have some very fine images in there, and you have to bite the bullet sometime.
    Thanks for the encouragement. I am certainly leaning more towards giving it a go at a more serious level than not.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darey View Post
    I have seen quite a bit of your work and believe you have some competition winning quality shots.
    Give it a go and you will never die wondering.
    Thanks mate; I'm not fishing for compliments, but I'll sure take 'em. :-)

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    In the end, if you need to win a competition to justify to yourself that you are a good photographer, you are looking in the wrong place. Competitions are just that, and with all the quirkiness and fickleness of the judges comes bias. You are a good photographer Xenedis, as are many other members of AP, and APPA, but there are also a lot of even better photographers that will never be members of AP or any other site or organisation, who also know they can produce great photographs.

    Using a competition win as a measure of your success is the wrong way to go, in my opinion.

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    (I'm trying to stagger the replies so that I can address everyone's helpful comments, but without resulting in a massive post.)


    Quote Originally Posted by old dog View Post
    how do they select the judges?
    There are courses one can take to become a judge. I'm not all that knowledgeable about the process, but certainly there are experienced photographers, like David Oliver, judging at the APPAs.

    Quote Originally Posted by old dog View Post
    Personally, I keep putting my best pics in for the POTW and POTM etc
    That's what I've been doing since I decided to re-join the AP comps a while ago.

    Quote Originally Posted by old dog View Post
    been close, in the top 5 a couple of times. Gets a little disgruntleing at times missing out but I keep having a go. I`d just keep at it X and enjoy just being able to take good photos anyway should keep you happy.
    That's pretty much what I decided to do. :-)

    Quote Originally Posted by mikew09 View Post
    I may not be qualified to comment as I am still early in my photography path and have not won any comps as yet but I am sure I am qualified to tell a worthy shot and a not so worthy photo. I have seen quite a number of your photo's and I do beleive you are short selling yourself. I have seen some cracka's you have taken and should definately be entered - abd of course, no ever shot is a cracka but you already know that ;-). I see it this way, first your photo's need to be good enough to enter of which yours definately are and secondly, educating yourself to the style of photo the competition is actually looking for which you may or may not have but you will gain knowledge from entering such comps - definately go for it. OH! and proudly brag on AP when you win the big one :-).
    Thanks Mike.

    Your words are both encouraging and wise. Yes, one does learn a lot from having images judged, and hearing first-hand from a judge what one got right, and what one got wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    You know what, and with respect, each competition can have only one winner. Not entering cause you can't/haven't won in the past is something kids do. "I'm not playing any more cause you always win, I am taking my bat and ball and I'm going home".
    Certainly.

    However, after a while, not making the grade, and not knowing the 'rules' of the game, can be very discouraging. There's only so much rejection a person can take before deciding that the game really isn't worth playing, or far worse, becoming self-doubtful.

    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    Just the experience of entering, listening to, or reading the judges comments about your entry, and that of others, including the winners, is the only way to go.
    Absolutely. Hearing insightful commentary from a judge, as opposed to a numeric score or a yes/no, is enormously helpful.

    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    After all, you might just get an insight into specific judges and be able to enter something that you know they will like more, when they are judging next. It is all part of playing the game, in this artistic endeavour we pursue, called photography.
    The whole concept of playing a game to win favour with judges just doesn't appeal to me. I see my photography as something to pursue on my own terms and to my own satisfaction rather than something that should appeal to someone else's desires.

    Of course, on the other hand, entering an image into a competition when it is known that the judge has a bias against that kind of image would be plainly silly.

    I am at conflict over the fact that photography is not something I'm doing to be competitive, yet by the very nature of entering competitions, one needs to be competitive, and engage in a bit of game playing to appeal to the judge (where the judge and that judge's biases are known).

    For me, my biggest competitor is in fact myself. I want to shoot better images than I've shot before, and shoot them with more frequency.
    Last edited by Xenedis; 26-06-2011 at 9:27pm.

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    Sorry -- another monstrous post.

    Quote Originally Posted by mechawombat View Post
    I have entered a comp years ago with a pic and did not even get a look in by the judges, however the comments from people who mattered (professional photographers) about the shot said it should have done better
    Indeed. Sometimes we see work getting accolades when it's really quite ordinary, and stunning work getting overlooked.

    On the other hand, in some cases, as Rick said, there can only be one winner. Having to choose between a handful of stunning images is a horrible thing to have to do, and it even happens here on AP.

    Quote Originally Posted by mechawombat View Post
    Your mentor has said to you that they think your shots are ready to be entered so why not.
    Very true. Some of my images stand a bloody good chance. I guess it's a matter of choosing wisely.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jules View Post
    Photography is an art, not a science.
    It's both, but the scientific part of it is much more predictable and controllable. :-)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jules View Post
    You can't hope to understand or pre-determine all the factors that go into individual judges' decisions. You've just got to give it a go.

    Personally, I think you take some really stunning images, so I don't think you'd be wasting your time by entering serious competitions.
    Thanks Jules. I am keen to give it a go. I guess I have nothing to lose, really.

    Someone has to win. Why not me?

    Quote Originally Posted by Taxxy View Post
    You always hear about the success stories but never how many times one failed to get there!
    That's because I haven't told my failure stories. ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    Competitions are judged subjectively.
    Very much so, as much as people aim to be objective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    I'm constantly surprised at the camera club, images that we members think are great get shredded by the guest judge and vice versa.
    Yeah, I've seen some strange judging in the camera club arena, too. Of course, there are limits as to how many awards can be given, so good images may miss by a hairline.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    Even here on AP we mods are sometimes surprised as to what polls well. Back when we had a judging panel here on AP their pick was often different from the popular pick.
    Judging images in that type of environment surely isn't easy. I bet there were differences of opinions between judges.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    So IMHO don't take it too seriously.
    Taking it too seriously may have been a big part of my problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    My advice to you is to just go ahead and do it!
    I was hoping you'd turn up in this thread. You have outstanding images, monopolise the cover of Australian Photography magazine, and by my reckoning, probably have experience with serious competitions.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    You have a great deal of stunning images and people here have reaffirmed that many a time.
    Thanks D. I'm not used to hearing the word 'stunning' with reference to my images when it is uttered by someone else whose images can aptly be described in the same manner.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    Whether a photograph does well in a competition or not really boils down to the whimsical world of judging.
    Aye, that's the challenge.

    My work is of a certain, definable standard. The rules of the competition are defined.

    The calibre of judging, and human element that gets in the way, isn't. That's the hardest part.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    To give you an example - I won last year's Art of Nature SA competition (landscape category) with the landscape I thought had the least chance of winning. In the competitions here on AP, some of the images I've felt were my better ones have not fared well while others did unexpectedly well.
    I've seen and experienced that before, too. I publish my Greatest Image Ever, and people ignore it. I publish something that's okay, but not stunning or the image by which I'd wish to be remembered, and they're all over it, singing its praises. It's head-shaking.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    The other thing I hate doing is pandering to the competition's winning history, but, by doing so , you do adapt to be able to produce that style.
    Changing my style or subject matter to appeal to someone else's whims isn't something I see myself doing. My photographic evolution needs to be on my terms, and happen during its natural course.

    I noticed in my camera club last year that the flavour of the month was to texturise the hell out of images, and there was also a movement towards more montage-based work.

    Sure, quite a few of those shots got the awards, but it's just not me. Those approaches just aren't approaches that suit what I do or what I want, and doing it because everyone else is doing it, or because the judges seem to favour it, isn't a direction I want to take. I found my style, I found my subject matter interest, and I'm bloody fussy about both. Doing something unnatural to me to appeal to someone else is just so foreign to me. If I had naturally grown warm towards, say, textures or whatever else, and it happened to be in vogue, then sure; but I'm not one to do something because it's fashionable. I'm more likely to boycott it if it's fashionable.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    Better photography's competition demanded vignetted shots with muted colours
    How very Eastway-ish. While Peter is known for less-than-subtle vignetting, he does have some intensely saturated images too.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    so we entered a few like that and did well with those only.
    I'm probably less willing to make major alterations to my style and subject matter to appeal to someone else's view of How It Should Be.

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    I personally really hate heavy vignetting and I love my colour!
    I'm in the same boat. I like colour, but not too intense, and vignetting should be subtle rather than scream out "Look at me, I am a vignette!".

    Quote Originally Posted by dtoh View Post
    I don't think you stand much to lose from entering (unless it's a big entry fee) and if you can learn something from the images that come out above yours, then it's all worthwhile. (If however, you're thinking to yourself '###!' when looking at the ones above yours , maybe then, skip to another comp where you can understand the ideals of its judges ! likewise if it angers you for whatever reason)
    Good advice, D. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    FYI Since the start of the new comp system (November 2009) there are only 97 unique winners of competitions. Nearly ½ have won one comp. This includes NTP and other special competitions.

    Xenedis, you have one two. That puts you ahead of the game.
    Interesting factoids. :-)

    Also interesting (to me at least) is the fact that I only joined AP at the time the comp system changed.

    I might win another comp one day. ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    In the end, if you need to win a competition to justify to yourself that you are a good photographer, you are looking in the wrong place. Competitions are just that, and with all the quirkiness and fickleness of the judges comes bias. You are a good photographer Xenedis, as are many other members of AP, and APPA, but there are also a lot of even better photographers that will never be members of AP or any other site or organisation, who also know they can produce great photographs.

    Using a competition win as a measure of your success is the wrong way to go, in my opinion.
    I tend to agree.

    I know my own skill level. I know my limitations. I believe it's important to know my limitations and address those so that I can improve upon my previous work. Maybe entering competitions will give me insight and learnings that I'd otherwise not have.

    I know I can produce great images. Several of them adorn the walls here and elsewhere. I like looking at my own work -- the good stuff, that is. Looking back at the older stuff, I sometimes cringe. I try to avoid looking at some of it, but I was in a certain headspace at certain times, and it's a testament to the journey I was taking at that time.

    I'd like to step up a notch, and in as much as self-belief is a good thing, sometimes it's good to know that my own high opinion of my work isn't exclusive, and is shared by people in a position to know great images from good images.
    Last edited by Xenedis; 26-06-2011 at 10:17pm.

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