Welcome back for another installment of my Behind the Camera series. In these entries, I will highlight a certain aspect of my photography and the topic is usually selected from a question that I have received over the previous month. I'm going to do something a little different this time, however. You see, the first of the month coincides rather conveniently with the start of the Dixie Classic Fair here in Winston Salem, NC. This is something that I have participated in for a total of seven years since 2005. It is the only contest that I regularly enter, and I have learned quite a bit from it over my years participating.
With this contest spending so much time in my head recently, I figured that this would be a great opportunity to speak about contests and what they mean to a photographer, and I'm sure any other artistic medium. Contests are always an interesting topic and there are some very wide views on their relevance and importance. I've run the gamut in my own personal experiences with contests over the years, and have come to a conclusion. Contests can be fun for the thrill, but they are always a learning opportunity more than a validation of your own work. What I mean is this, your goal should not be to win the contest, but to learn to view your own work more critically. Of course we go in hoping to win, but one thing that I have found is that the only part of a contest that you can control is your own entry. Beyond that, nobody knows what the judges will be looking for, nor what the other entries will bring to the table. Contests are in essence a contest with yourself to find your best work that fits the character of the particular contest. This is where you win or lose, the results of the contest are largely ceremonial and will likely come with dissension among those who have opinions on the entries.
With that out of the way lets take a look at what goes into selecting images for a contest. This varies widely from artist to artist, so what I am going to talk about here only applies to my process. The first step is determining what contest to enter. There are a lot of them out there, and you have to be really selective in what contests to enter. Many of the ones that are based online are ploys to get stock photography for a website/company. What I mean with that is say you are submitting pictures for a calendar. The company that publishes the calendar also publishes other items. You submit your picture hoping to be featured in the calendar, and sign a licensing agreement that states something along the lines of you allow the company to reuse your image for this purpose and that purpose related to the contest, and for other promotional material. If you aren't really careful, you will sign away your rights to that image while in their control. This leaves them the ability to use it for whatever they want in many cases without any further compensation for you.
The other type of contest I have seen is one where you submit the image, and get notified that your image is among the best of the best and will be featured in a coffee table book which you can purchase for the nominal fee of $50.00 or something similar. These contests usually have large prize money purses attached to them for the winners, and you have to pay to enter the contest. These contests are money makers for the ones holding the contest with entries more than paying for the prize money, and then you have the book sales that many will do after receiving notification that they are finalists. You should never have to purchase a book at full price where you are a contributor. These folks are preying on a photographer's desire to get published.
I actually inadvertently stumbled into this type of contest earlier this year. It was the Photographer's Forum magazine, 2018, Best of Photography contest. I saw an add for it in an Outdoor Photographers magazine which is a very reputable publication. I started to look at the website for the Photographers Forum and found some very quality images presented. I looked at the contest which was a yearly thing, and looked very legit. I perused through previous year's winners and thought that they had a wide variety of subject matter, much of which I shot. Since this was a legitimate magazine, and it was sponsored by a reputable lens maker I decided to enter a handful of images based on what I had seen winning in previous years.
|Down to Earth|
2016 First Place
The way the contest is set up, you have to differentiate between professional or
|Dairy Barn in the Summer|
2016 First Place
2017 First Place
I have entered landscapes in previous years, and some have done well, but
2017 Second Place
When it came time to select the images for the 2018 contest, I thought long and hard about it. I really wanted to enter some landscapes this year and had a few in mind. They had a lot of wow factor to them, but in the end they were just landscapes. Several of which were sunrise/sunset images which should not be entered into competition since they are quite cliche' in the field. I knew my safest bet was to enter something in the rural category once again, and that narrowed my choices down significantly.
|A Rusty Streak|
I had the two images picked out, and win or loose, they represented what I thought were my best images for the contest that I was entering. That was a huge hurdle for me, but not nearly the hardest part of this choice. Now that I had the images, I had to get them prepared for display by getting them framed. This is one of the harder aspects of making a piece of wall art. It is very easy to slap a gallery frame job on an image and go with a black frame and white mat for uniformity. Unfortunately, this is not always the most flattering presentation for the image.
I have been going to After 5 Framing in Greensboro for years now for my framing needs. The owner, Dave is great at what he does, and has an eye for matching colors and pulling out the elements that you want highlighted in an image. I used to really stress getting a picture framed and would struggle for days to figure out just how I wanted it done. These days, I go in with the print and flop it on the counter. I just let Dave do his magic with just a little bit of guidance from me.
|13x19" print matted and framed behind art glass|
$270.00 as shown
|13x19" print matted and framed behind art glass|
$270.00 as shown
At this point, it was all done except for the competition. I was confident that I had selected two images that would show well, and hopefully do well during the competition. As of the time of this entry being published the fair is in full swing but I have not had the opportunity to get by there to know how my pictures have done. As soon as I find out, I will come back and add the results. Regardless of how they do, I am looking forward to having them up on my walls and available for clients to purchase.
Edit October 5, 2018
The results are in from the photo competition. I'm excited to share that A Rusty Streak has earned top honors this year in the professional color photography category. I am really proud of this image and how it did in competition. There was a lot of thought that went into which image to select for this category and apparently I chose the correct one of the bunch. On the other hand, Timeless View did not do so well in the competition. Surprisingly, it didn't place. Since I have not been to the fair as of yet to see the winners, I have no idea what the judges were looking for this year in the monochrome genre. I can only assume that the competition is getting much stiffer as the years go on.
I can say that I am still very proud of this image. In fact, it is still one of my all time favorite shots and it captures everything that I wanted it to when I shot it. That is the thing with competitions, opinions vary and there is never a guarantee on how the chips will fall. I still say that of my two images, the black and white one was the stronger of the two. I would be interested to see which ones took home ribbons in the competition to see how I can improve on my selection process for this particular competition. It is always a learning process.