Are Competitions a way of learning and improving?

I went and had a look at the images that won in the recent national Professional Photographer awards. And I was quite disappointed. I would really have liked to have seen the original photo and then the one that was submitted – because I think that it was less about the photography skill and more about the photoshopping skill (or other technique like HDR ).

I didn’t feel like I was looking at photos, I felt like it was art. And as with all art, some of it I liked and some of it completely eluded me (a white background with what looked like a few stalks of dead grass scattered on it had me quite bemused)

So lets take a step back – obviously this highly rarified air of top level photography competition is in no danger from me anytime soon. But as a way of getting feedback and ideas for improvement, are competitions worth while?

Can I expect there to be any consistency in judging things like technical merit and basic rules of composition? Or is it all very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’ and if the person judging doesn’t like cats or orchids or somesuch, then I’m on the back foot regardless?

I’m asking the question because I now feel the need for more advanced critique of my work – more direction to help me improve (or more specific direction)

What do other beginners do when they hit this stage?

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About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
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2 Responses to Are Competitions a way of learning and improving?

  1. forkboy says:

    I wish I could tell you. I would agree with you that sometimes the amount of photoshop’ing that goes on tells me less about the photographer and more about their computing skills.

    Then again, I have often read that photographers like that will have an idea in their head of where they want to take the stock photograph, so I imagine the editing is an extension of the photograph, which can only go so far to begin with.

    You might want to consider looking at competitions that do not permit editing beyond the basics of tweaking contrast, sharpness and the like.

    And who knows what judges look for. We’re told to follow rules of thumb like the rule of thirds, but then everyone gets so enamored with photographers who break the rules.

    It doesn’t make much sense unless we turn it around and make the rules more like guidelines that can help steer us in the right direction, but that aren’t 100% necessary all the time.

  2. adiemusfree says:

    I used Flickr and some of the wonderful people on there that give really good critique (not just ‘lovely shot!’) when I was about 12 months in to having fun with my then new DSLR.
    You could also try snagging someone who you admire and seeing what they think (maybe someone from The Christchurch Cluster?). It’s really important that you take anyone’s feedback with a large dollop of salt, because it’s only their opinion, and to some degree I do think it’s ‘in the eye of the beholder’.

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