Awards… Why Bother?

The Australian Professional Photography Awards are rapidly approaching, It’s a stressful time. Searching images, spending hours looking at them, fiddling with them and occasionally getting a shot that you think is amazing. You follow all the rules including minimum print sizes, how it is mounted, figure out the category, pay the entry fee and then post it away so that a bunch of judges can spend a few minutes looking at it and give it a score. You always hope the score is a good one, but more times than not the judges just don’t see what the artist saw. So… why bother entering?

I enter a few awards every year, generally the Australian Institute of Professional Photography state and national awards, the Wedding Portrait Photographers International which is in the USA and a few other national ones. It does cost a bit to enter, many hundreds of dollars some most cases.

I don’t always win an award for all the effort that goes into entering but I find the process of entering is more valuable than the awards.

Each time I shoot always aim to get different and unique shots, some of which may get into my award image short list. This is at the back of my mind when shooting, but in saying that many of my award shots have come about by chance and I’ve only just happened to have the skills to recognize the moment, get the camera, exposure and composition working together and click the shutter. That’s my way of doing it, some photographers spend days and weeks figuring out what they are going to shoot, setting it up, post processing and printing. Each to their own.

Another reason for entering the awards in getting feedback. I get feedback from the awards process in the form of a score or if I’m lucky from hearing the judges discussing the print. Sometimes they rip it to pieces, saying about composition, technical things or that they just don’t get the story. But when they are ripping, that is the time I take notice of what they are saying. (Which could lead to me picking up something or just thinking that the judges just don’t get it!)

Another important part of the process is the feedback I get from other photographers pre entering. I have a little network of friends about the country who are all fantastic and different photographers. I’ll generally show them some of the shots and see what they think about them. They come back to me with suggestions and ideas that I never would have thought of, which again get used in my everyday work. It’s a two way street, I get to talk to them about their images.

I tend to trust my gut feelings about a shot, each judging panel is different and there have been a few times where images I have entered in the state awards and miss out but I believe in them and sent them off to the national awards anyway. Mostly the gut gets it right, but my gut has been looking at awards for years now and kind of knows what might do ok.

Before last years Tasmanian awards I learnt a heap. The most I’ve learned in front of the computer in years. It helped me in some awards, and it also changed the way I did things for my clients. Every time I look at a client image now I’m using many of the skills that I picked up on that day. It actually revolutionised my workflow behind the scenes. This is one of the biggest plusses for my clients, they don’t know about it (until now!), but my images in the last 12 months look a heap better then a couple of years ago.

So, I’m always on the lookout for something different, always working on improving my ways of working images and always getting feedback from others about what is good, and more importantly, what needs improving. And what do my clients get out of it, some like to say their photographer is award winning, but all of them are receiving quality that is always evolving.

Sometimes the images get awards, sometimes they don’t. Doesn’t really matter too much to me (ok, I get bummed and swear a bit but in the long run it doesn’t really matter) APPA next week and I’m entering a brand new category. I have no idea what the judges will be looking for in the images. So I may crash and burn, but I did learn quite a few things on the way to making the images so the clients still win.

Click here to see a gallery of all the images that won awards at last year’s APPA awards. There are hundreds of them from photographers all over Australia and around the world.

The shots in these posts generally didn’t get award i one place and then did in another.