The Pain and Joy of Photography Competitions

Measuring Success

There are many ways to try and measure the success of your photography.  You can post your images on social media sites such as Flickr, Instagram or even Facebook and see how likes you get.  If you are a full time photographer you can measure your success by how well your business is doing. 

I measure the progression of my photography skills in two ways.  Firstly I have my images regularly critiqued by a professional photographer (see my post on Tuition and Mentoring).  This provides invaluable and detailed feedback on my images that I can use to further develop my skills.  The other way I measure progression is through my success (or failure) in photography competitions.  For me having my work recognised in competition provides some sort of validation for my photography.  Some people may consider this shallow or vain, but for me photography competitions have often been a great source of inspiration and being placed in one of the more prestigious competitions would be a great source of pride and joy. 

Entering Competitions

One of my entries in LPOTY 2015.

It's only recently that I've actually started entering images into competitions.  Though I've always I wanted to enter I probably lacked some of the commitment to achieve this in the past (see my bog post on Practising the Craft of Photography).  Over the last couple of years I've put a significant amount of effort into being placed in Landscape Photographer of the Year (LPOTY).  I fully appreciate that going from entering no competitions at all to being successful in LPOTY is a bit of a jump but for me LPOTY is the pinnacle in landscape photography competitions.  So I'm aiming high that's for sure but seeing an image printed the LPOTY book would be for me at least, a dream come true.

The good thing about having such a lofty goal is that it has driven me to get out more with my camera and improve my photography.  In 2015 I entered a number of images into LPOTY  but failed to have any shortlisted.  At the time I was gutted not to have progressed anywhere.  I had put a significant amount of effort and passion into those images, and the rejection was painful.   

Rejection and Motivation

This image was shortlisted in OPOTY 2016 but it unfortunately didn't make it any further.  It was however published in Outdoor Photography magazine (issue 206).

However, I use that pain as a way to motivate myself even more!  I decided to submit some of my images in the Outdoor Photographer of Year competition (OPOTY) in 2015.  One of my images was shortlisted for the competition but that was as far as it went.  The image did go onto win the monthly competition in Outdoor Photography magazine which was a huge confidence booster.  I love Outdoor Photography magazine so seeing my image in print there was really pleasing.

So for the 12 months following the end of LPOTY 2015 I worked hard at my photography.  I was out shooting more than ever and I undertook more 1-2-1 tuition days with my mentor (see blog post on Tuition and Mentoring).  By the time LPOTY  2016 had come around I had already had a few images in Outdoor Photography magazine published and I had won a local photography competition.  

One of my entries in LPOTY 2016.

When I entered my images for LPOTY 2016 I was more confident and was excited about the possibility of being shortlisted.  The excitement was unfortunately short-lived as I soon got that email that had caused me so much pain last year.  But I'm not letting it get me down.  After all, who knows what the judges are really looking for?  It's not to say that I necessarily had a bad image it might be that it didn't appeal to that particular judge at that particular time.  Art competitions are fickle things so some of my entries from previous years will be submitted again.  They might just strike a chord with someone else.

I invest a lot of time into these photography competitions and while rejection is painful, that just makes me try even harder the following year.  I'm already hard at work for my OPOTY 2016 portfolio and of course my LPOTY  2017 portfolio.  If I do ever get placed in one of these prestigious competitions it will be joyful day.  Of course with such a singular goal what would I aim for after that?  I'll just have a cross that bridge when I come to it but for now I will live with the pain and joy that competitions bring.

So how do you feel about photography competitions?  Are they a painful or joyful experience?  Are they a measure of success or just fickle things where luck is a factor?  Let me know your thoughts.