Competitions – Where do I Stand?

This is a continuing tale about improving personal photographic skills and the value of competition. I’m still navigating through competitions and I’m continuing to compete. My finding thus far is that some events have more value than others and that I have a need to find other ways to get feedback.

This year I have completed three digital photo competitions outside my club. The first one, organized by the Professional Photographers Association of Massachusetts, set my expectations. The judging was live streamed at the event so that many competitors received some kind of critique. All of the scores were available as well as the images so that you could view the competition and understand the differences in the scores. I could also see where I stood in the ranking of scores.

The second results came from the Ridgewood Camera Club International Exhibition. Their web site shows the number of Acceptances and number of entries for each country by category. However, if you miss the threshold for Acceptance, it is impossible to determine how you fared against the field of competitors. This approach works for the artists that achieved Acceptance or an award, but not for the people like me who are hoping to use the experience to improve their skills.

My most recent results from my third competition came from the Atlantic International Photographic Exhibition. In this case the Accepted and Awarded images will be displayed on the web site beginning in May. I’m hoping that the scores are given for each so that I can determine the artistic threshold for Acceptance. I know the scoring threshold, but need to view the images and understand the rank of each in the eyes of the judges. That’s the only way to determine the artistic differences as the scores increase.

Still, it would be nice to know: Was my score “Average”,  “Below Average”, or “Above Average”? What was the distribution of the scores: how many competitors had lower scores and how many had higher scores? The average doesn’t mean anything if most of the scores are “Average”. In my first competition with the PPAM, I was a solid “Average” with plenty of competitors above me and below me in scores for most of the five images that I submitted. I considered that an achievement in my first competition ever, especially since I was competing mostly with professionals.

I’m not expecting to soar up the rankings, but I would like to know where I stand and whether or not I’m improving. In parallel with competitions, I have found other means for getting feedback on my images. I have submitted images to reviewers at both the Professional Photographers of America and the Photographic Society of America with good results. The PSA also has study groups that I am joining. I may also take a shot at certification with the PPA. It’s important to know all of the options available to you and to take advantage of those that interest you because many competitions don’t provide a complete assessment of your skills.