1. Inspiration
  2. Techniques

Print Competition – Success and Building Your Skill Set

Intro by Skip Cohen

Years ago I entered my first print for competition. It was at WPPI and I only entered one print. The judging was open to the public, so that Saturday morning when I knew my print was likely to be judged, I wandered into the room and quietly sat down in the back.

I went into the room with the intent of staying for an hour or so. NOT! I stayed for five hours fascinated by the process. In fact, I can honestly say I learned more about composition, exposure and presentation in those five hours than just about any workshop I’ve ever attended.

What made it so incredible were the judges. There was a panel of five well-respected artists/educators who would talk about each print. They’d explain what they liked, didn’t like and often provide suggestions on how the image could have been stronger. I wasn’t watching print judging, but attending a workshop taught by five different artists!

Entering an image in print competition gives you a little “skin in the game.” Don’t underestimate how much you’ll learn or the personal satisfaction you’ll get, knowing you participated. And, if you decide you’re just not ready to enter, then at least sit in on print and album judging. Then wander through the print exhibits at the various conventions. You’ll learn a lot about style, technique, trends and presentation.

Just one thing to remember: Over the years I’ve heard a few photographers disappointed the judges didn’t like an image as much as their client did. This is about defining artistic merit based on impact and photographic technique. And while, as my buddy Dean Collins used to say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder,” this is about learning how to make your images stronger.

In this archived post from Bob Coates’ archives he shares some great insight into print competition and some of the benefits, along with a few images he entered of his own. Plus, there’s a fun sidebar backstory for me personally – Bob was one of the judges back to that day when I entered my first print, but it wasn’t until many years later we formally met and kicked off a great friendship!

SUCK it UP!!

If you aren’t participating in image competition I feel you are missing a huge piece of the education puzzle in becoming a better more successful photographer. Almost every photographer I’ve seen who gets in the game, submits images, attends the judging and listens to the critiques has shown amazing progress in the depth of their work.

It also doesn’t hurt that you can win awards, work toward your PPA degrees and talk photography with a bunch of like-minded people. If you wait until you think you are ready for imaging competition you are missing the boat because this is how you get better, not by waiting until you think you are ‘good enough’. If you need some help in getting started, get in touch and I’ll point you in the right direction.

And, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the ‘Rest of the Story”.

In addition to the education I received by being immersed in imaging competition last weekend I managed to score a few awards.

‘Street Portrait – ‘Doc” First Place Masters Portrait
Camera info – Lumix GX7 35-100 2.8 @47mm exp 1/160, f2.8, ISO 200
square in-camera crop

Captured on the 2nd day I had the Lumix GX7 in my hands in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I saw Doc and asked if he’d mind if I made his image after chatting with him for a bit. It was nice to be introduced to him by my friend & fellow photographer Dennis Chamberlain. He told me Doc was quite the character and he was right. I asked Doc to move to put him in some good light.

‘Art of the Saxophone’ earned First Place Masters Illustrative Image – AZPPA Loan Collection and the American Society of Photographers Award (ASP)
captured with the Lumix GX7.

Photographing some live music in nearby Cottonwood, Arizona and I spied this Sax on stage. Photographed it with the thought of creating an art piece. Even though I floated the sax in the scene it was the other instruments that help tell the story and add depth to the piece. The look was accomplished using multiple texture images, blend modes, masks, layers and color enhancements.

‘Committed’ – Awarded 2nd Place Masters IllustrativeCamera and gear info:
Lumix GX7 7-14 f4 @12mm exp 1/6 sec, f4, ISO 3200 Seven shot bracket.
camera mounted on Culmann Germany carbon fiber tri-pod Magnasit 532C

Check out the tattoo of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi from Santa Fe, New Mexico on this young man’s back. I was photographing the Cathedral around 10 PM and he walked by working on setting up for the Indian Market the next day and he said, “I have a tattoo of that on my back.” I asked if he had a minute to spare and could I make his photograph. I bracketed the image with 7 stops automatically with the Lumix GX7. Got off only two bursts because I had him for about 30 seconds before he was called back to his duties.

Guardsman’s Pass, Utah scored an 80 for a merit
Camera  – Lumix GX7 35-100 f2.8 @42mm  exp 1/640 sec, f7.1, ISO 640
(set by camera panorama mode)

This rounded out my image case. This was the first use of the in-camera panorama from the Lumix GX7. I love this feature! That doesn’t mean I don’t also make my panos the old fashioned way with multiple exposures and stitching them together when I want a larger file to work with but this is a great feature.

Managed to make it into the AZPPA Top Ten for the 14th time in 15 years. This information is being compiled into a press release.