Benefits of Competitions

By: Karl Peschel

Benefits of Competitions
(and why you should never be upset by any judge’s comments)

Why are you here?

One of the primary reasons people join a camera club is to become better photographers, to improve and expand their skills, and create better images. There are two main ways Focus Camera Club goes about helping its members achieve those goals – Programs and Competitions.

In a nutshell, Programs help us all learn new shooting and software/editing techniques. The monthly presentations on a particular photography genre (landscapes, B&W, portraits, night photography, etc.) or a location or an overall way to approach photography give us new ways to see and shoot, along with new gear or techniques to use to get better mages.

Competitions, in one respect, are sometimes a way to “double check” to see that members understood and applied the knowledge from a previous program. But we also assign monthly subjects in order to challenge everyone to try new and different genres of photography, new techniques, new locations, and new skills. The only way to get better overall is to take your current knowledge and add to it and apply it to new types of photography.

It’s like you’re back in college…

Think about it – you learn new things via Programs, Mentors, or discussions with other club members. You (hopefully) do some of your own research and get more info about a topic, then you apply that knowledge and shoot a bunch of photos to get ones you’re happy with.

Then comes time for “the exam” – in our case it’s a Competition. Here is where you turn in your work and hope and pray you understood everything correctly and get an ‘A’ for your efforts.

But just as in college, not everyone gets top grades. And that’s okay, because…

Art is subjective

Remember this, above all else. Art…is…subjective.

The old saying you’ll hear from many members – “Leave your ego at the door on competition night.”
So true! If you’re entering competitions for scores, ribbons, awards, recognition, etc. then you’re doing it wrong. Competitions are a learning experience: an opportunity for you to hear what an experienced photographer thinks about your work and the work of everyone else. That’s a key point we all need to remember: we can learn more from the critique of other’s work than that of our own. Pay attention to the “I really like this…” kind of comments especially. Too often we focus on the negative.

The rules and criteria for what is awesome or mediocre are far different in Competitions than when you’re showing off images online or to friends and family. (None of your social media “friends” or IRL friends/family will be using the “12 Elements of a Merit Image” to judge your work.) In fact, they are more likely to say “You must have an expensive camera; it takes great photos.”

…And Judges offer opinions

Above all, remember that a judge is giving an OPINION of your image. You’ve been looking at that image for weeks or years. You spent hours editing and tweaking it. You’ve likely formed a strong opinion of it yourself. Anything a judge says doesn’t invalidate what you think about it.

But they are looking at it through THEIR lens; their collective experience; their criteria for that particular subject or type of image. They are allowed to love it or hate it. And they can and will offer advice on improving the image. It’s exactly what the club has employed them to do!

You can’t get upset at someone for sharing their opinion when it’s specifically what we want them to do. A better approach would be to try to see things from their perspective. It’s one way we can learn and grow our photography skills.

How to get the biggest benefit from Competitions

It’s kinda simple…

– Come into the competition with NO expectation of great scores. If it happens…bonus. And if it doesn’t it’s not the end of the world; just someone’s opinion of 1-2 images you put in this month (and NOT a condemnation of your entire catalog of work over however many decades you’ve been shooting!)

– Pay attention to all the comments on all the images. It’s where the “gold” is in our competitions, and where you can learn the most.

One important thing to look at – compare your current competition submissions against images you took a few years ago. How have you progressed? How much more critical are you when reviewing images to submit for competitions? How has your photographic style or editing changed?

Basically, how much better HAVE you gotten as a result of being a Focus Club member?

We’re willing to bet there is a noticeable difference.