by Mark Weber, M.Photog.Cr, M.Artist, CPP
If you are a professional photographer, chances are you have either entered a print competition or thought about it. I’ve always thought the name should be changed to “Personal Print Challenge” because in my mind, the only competition is with myself to constantly improve. It’s not about winning awards, beating other photographers or breaking records. If that happens, fine. For me it’s about improving my craft each and every year. In any case, a new season of print competition is upon us and you might be considering submitting some images.
There are a number of opportunities for you to enter images even before the official PPA submission deadline. You might consider submitting images in your own state or regional competition first. This gives you the opportunity to see how your images score first-hand by sitting in the judging room and listening to any comments the judges make. If you have more questions,
you can also speak to one of the judges after the competition and ask him or her to give you some personal advice and opinions about your prints. They’re usually more than willing to give you some valuable feedback and you’ll learn a lot.
Once you learn where and when the competition is, you’ll need to get your images selected. There’s a potential merit image on your hard drive somewhere, right? But which one has the most potential? Which one will give you a couple of extra points and take you to the top of the scores? Here is the link to PPA’s article titled “12 Elements to a Merit Image” http://www.ppa.com/competitions/content.cfm?ItemNumber=1792&navItemNumber=2213.
All of the elements are important, but originality is one of the most important considerations for you to keep in mind. Just like in business, if you look like everyone else, you will have a hard time standing out. Judges see so many images and most of them are technically well executed and beautiful, but sometimes a particular print stands out like a bright light in a dark room. You know the kind I’m talking about. It just has that “wow” factor the minute you see it and you want to keep looking at it. It can be because of an extra special strength in one or more of the 12 elements used to judge a print, but usually the impact just smacks you in the face.
Personally, I always strive to challenge myself on something unique in each of my submissions. Sometimes that can be risky, the judges will either get it and I’ll be rewarded a few extra points or they won’t see my “genius” and it will cost me some points. Either way, I always feel that as long as I keep challenging myself artistically and creatively, I’ll always feel good about my choices regardless of what an image has scored.
Originality is harder when you are newer to competition. A good source of inspiration is to look through the PPA Loan and Show books.
If you are newer to competition, don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. Be open to learning and don’t take it too personally. If you’re the overly sensitive type, my advice is not to enter. If potential criticism and average scores ruin your whole experience and continue to bother you for many days afterwards, print competition may not be for you. I’ve heard it described by some that print judging is like standing in front of a room full of people naked. It can take a thick skin to put your heart and
passion on the table, but always keep in mind that you are no less of a person, or less valued by your clients or your peers because you receive average scores. On the other hand, you’re not going to suddenly get rich if all your prints score very high and you win lots of awards. The latter sure feels a lot better and gives you more confidence, but as long as you learn something in the
process, you’re bettering yourself, your business and your craft. Your willingness to constantly improve will pay off on many levels.
In the words from 1989’s Dead Poets Society – “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”
I encourage all of you to break out. Challenge yourself and your creativity by entering print competition. You will be glad you did.