I have entered my first photography competition to try to get more visibility for my work. This is the first time that I have ventured away from the Internet where I have this blog site, Facebook, Adobe Behance, and Flickr pages. I have worked hard on my Internet presence, but the Internet is not a place where a photographer can get honest feedback. That hasn’t been a deterrent or demotivation because I enjoy what I’m doing. Self-assessment over the past several months has provided some growth for me, but now it’s time to get the critical review of experts assessing my work.
I joined the Professional Photographer’s Association of Massachusetts since the organization seems to align well with my goals. Membership opens the possibility of competing with professionals and, importantly, being judged by a panel of professionals who are certified as judges. I’m hoping to get to know some of the members as well, although many are studio photographers who are building a business on photography. My studio is the street and some people don’t even want me to take their picture. That’s not a good business model.
That sounds like a chasm, but I think we also have a lot in common as photographers. Many of the same composition and technical skills are required in the studio of the street. One of the differences is that I can’t control the elements of lighting, the dress and expressions of the people in my images, or the background as a studio photographer can. I still need to know how to use those elements to my advantage to capture images that have impact. I probably delete more images than they do because of those uncontrollable elements.
Soon after joining, I began to study the rules for the 2017 PPAM Photographic Image Competition. Images could be submitted either as prints or digital files. I chose digital because I didn’t have enough time to deal with print quality issues. Most of my images are black and white and I was still in the process of evaluating commercially available black and white printing. There were several competition categories to enter and I chose “Illustrative”, a broad classification where street photos would be appropriate, and “Album”, a category where I thought that I could present a series of images to tell a story.
This was all foreign territory and there was unfamiliar terminology that I needed to understand so that I would be compliant with the rules. I reached out to one of the competition co-chairs with some questions and she referred me to Nancy Green who responded to me directly with an email. Nancy is an accomplished professional who is also an international judge. As my mentor for the competition, she reviewed my work and clarified some of the rules. Her critique helped me to improve the composition of the images that I planned to submit. I made slight adjustments that helped to eliminate distractions and focus on the message being conveyed by each image. These are things that I can apply more broadly to many other images. They are important enough that they could be the subject of another post in the future.
I would have missed the “Presentation” element of the images entirely without her help. The Presentation is a digital matte board designed by the photographer to complement the image. Nancy provided a link to her video on the creation of presentation for an image. I designed a simple off-white matte with a faux bevel on the inside using her technique. My work is black and white and I wanted something very simple that complimented the images rather than distracted from them.
Creating an album was more than I could manage and I decided not to enter that category. There were format requirements and there was creative work that I did not anticipate. In the future, one of my street projects may be suitable as an album, but it will require planning in advance of the shooting and shooting an appropriate series of images. I have at least three series that I’ve done, but none have enough of the correct kind of images to adequately tell a story as an album.
My first impressions of the PPAM are very good. My experiences with Nancy Green were great and I’m impressed by the PPAM culture of sharing and helping. I hope that I have something to give in return. I submitted six black and white street images into the Illustrative category and will now wait for the results. My expectations for an award are not high because of the level of competition. My expectations for critical review are high and I expect to learn things that will improve my images for the next round. In the meantime, see you on the street.