Sign of the Times?

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The nature photography group that I belong to is an affiliate member of the Photographic Society of America, or PSA. We have recently begun participating in a number of their competitions, some of them for projected images but most of them for printed images. Because I consider the well-made print to be the intended final result of my photography, I began to submit some of my work to be considered for entry in these competitions. We’ve got a lot of members and each club is limited in the number of images they can submit in each category, plus each photographer is limited in the number of their images that can be in any one submission. It’s all very complicated to me and I have a hard time figuring it out so I generally don’t bother trying. I just send my stuff in and if it gets picked it does, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. No big deal either way.

I did have one of my photos win an Honorable Mention in one of the projected image competitions a couple of years ago, and that was nice. I’ve been working hard at getting better with my printing and am very proud of some of the work I have submitted, so I was hoping that one or more of my prints would do well.

I received an e-mail this morning with images of the winners from the most recent competition. Mine was not included in the list of winners or those receiving honorable mention. I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding how I feel about the winners, since they obviously appealed to the people who were doing the judging. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least for the purposes of these competitions, the kind of work I’m submitting isn’t what the judges are looking for. I’m just not using enough software.

This is not intended to be sour grapes or anything, and to conclude that would be missing my point. But I’d be interested in knowing if there is some place or some way to get meaningful and constructive feedback on printed work that is more representative of traditional photography, rather than heavily manipulated and/or highly processed images. Maybe I’m just entering the wrong category in these competitions, but I can’t imagine that I’m the only one experiencing this. Does anyone actively participate in a print review group? Is anyone interested in starting one? It’s something I’ve considered for a while, but there just aren’t that many people printing their work these days. And of those who do, it doesn’t seem like there are many people whose goals are similar to mine. I’d be interested in knowing the thoughts of anyone reading, and might even propose that a few of us give it a try and see how it goes.  Send me an e-mail or reply in the comments.


8 thoughts on “Sign of the Times?”

  1. Tom. I have had the same experience. I just don’t seem to take the kind of photos that the judges are interested in, which seem to be the over-sweetened, hyper-saturated, greatly manipulated types of photos that I rather dislike. At any rate, I’d be interested in participating in a print review group simply because I don’t print enough. I have this big, bad-A printer that I don’t use, so maybe this will be incentive for me to learn how to use it.

    1. That Epson 3800 is a fine printer – it needs to be used!

      This Saturday you’ll get to meet a couple of the other guys I would consider doing this print group with. Maybe we can talk about it over lunch, gauge their interest and see if we can work out a time to meet.

  2. I no longer belong to a camera club for that very reason, nor will I. I found it be a lot about popularity with the same people being chosen as winners. There is so much subjectivity.

    Like Paul, I have not printed in the past five years. Almost all my post processing is for the internet. And, not to sound like a romantic but I truly to shoot for the love of it. I want to create images that strike a cord with me and hopefully someone else.

    For me what you are talking about is finding a mentor or a group of mentors with a goal of working to improve our art. I also would enjoy having such a person, or two, in my life who can help me grow in all aspects of life as well as photography. They actually intertwine a lot. I also think it would appeal more to have a mentor who not a critic but supportive in nature, truly wanting to help me improve.

    1. I stopped going to critiques for the same reason, Monte. I often get asked to do critiques, but hesitate because there is so little benefit to gain from looking at and commenting on one-off images. Especially when there is no input solicited from the photographer.

      I had a good mentor that got me off to a great start and I value his lessons every day. He’s gone off to “bigger and better things” and doesn’t have time for that these days, but I agree that a mentor – one whose work you admire and input you trust – would be invaluable for all of us.

  3. I’m perplexed about the politics of photo competition. Unless you personally know all the judges and their likes and dislikes, it’s pretty much a gamble as to what they could choose. But knowing that the panel of judges favors the highly saturated HDR type of image over a more natural, subtle image, there’s no sense entering a photo that has little chance. I would suggest that there be a category for those photos that rely on a higher level of manipulation to separate them from those that only depend on a basic level of manipulation (those basic adjustments used on a RAW photo to correct exposure, clarity, detail, etc.). Oh, black and white should be a separate category too, but I think most clubs do this anyway.
    I also believe a beautifully made print is an art and craft by itself. A great photo poorly printed should not be submitted, but print quality points weigh heavily. I don’t think extra credit should be given to photos that the photographers printed themselves either since this gives a big advantage to those with the wherewithal to purchase expensive equipment and supplies. You can buy a great 8×10 inch print from any number of labs for less than $10 each. Print quality is scored the same no mater the source of the print.
    If I could make one suggestion to someone contemplating entering a competition it would be to find out as much information as you can about the contest, judges and past winners before entering (if possible) and submit only entries that are appropriate for the contest. Good luck in the future, I’ve seen so many prizewinners on this site and I find it inspirational. I apologize for being so long winded.

  4. Ken, I think I just started doing these contests for the wrong reasons or maybe with the wrong expectations. The problem is that even the winners don’t get feedback they just get “points.” Well, that doesn’t help with learning.

    One of the rules of these specific competitions dictates that the photographer submitting the print has to have printed it himself. That may be unfair to those without a fancy printer, but I have submitted prints made on my big 17″ printer and some made on my little desktop printer. A good print doesn’t necessarily have to come from an expensive printer, but the requirement does make sure that the person submitting the print had their hand in the entire process.

    Thanks for your comments. My reward is that you appreciate my work, not that it wins contests. I just want to learn to make better prints, and I don’t think entering these contests is going to get me there.

  5. Thank you for clarifying that, Tom. I’m referring to the point that the photographer has to submit a print that he (she) has printed themselves. Because of this rule I’m assuming that all the prints are made from digital files. If so, I would suggest that the judging be on the files themselves, not the print. This way the print and it’s presentation (border, matte, etc) are not a factor in judging the quality of the photo. After all, it is a photo contest.

  6. I quit going to my local camera club for much of the same reasons. I find it to be a stifling atmosphere for creativity. Years after I stopped going, I still see the same types of images taking top honors month after month. It isn’t that they aren’t terrific images, because many of them are. It just seems to be stale creatively.

    I print quite a bit because of doing print sales through my site. It keeps my printer pretty active, and I like to print favorite photos from time to time. It is really nice just feeling something in your hand, the tactile experience with a fine paper, representing something that you have created. I have been meaning to print my Top 10 photos from the past years, just haven’t got around to that yet.

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