Photographers, You Could Be Seeing Stars

As an avid and struggling street photographer, I have tried many means to improve and to be affirmed as a photographer. Street photography has been a major pursuit for me since 2016. During the past four years I have been a featured artist in an online zine, I have a first place in an exhibition at my gallery, and I had a solo show. I participate in as many print exhibitions as I can at my home gallery. These activities generally do not provide any significant or consistent feedback although I enjoy them.

An improving and affirming activity that I think works better is participation in photo competitions. Among the most comprehensive are competitions that are recognized by the Photographic Society of America and hosted by organizations all over the world. The name of the PSA is misleading because it is a worldwide organization, not confined to the Americas. Recognition earned in these competitions can be used to achieve PSA Star Ratings that I will detail a little later.

The PSA has six divisions that encompass pretty much all subjects and techniques. The divisions are defined in detail on the PSA web site. In a PSA competition, a division may include one or more sections with themes described in the competition rules. Usually four entries are permitted in each section. There are many exhibitions recognized by the PSA each month.

The PSA competitions award “acceptances” to images that satisfy the PSA definitions and aesthetic for a particular division as determined by a panel of judges. The judges also consider section rules for the specific exhibition.  The very top images receive awards that distinguish them as the best of the exhibition. Acceptances are a meaningful way to encourage photographers who don’t score the top competition awards and to provide feedback that they are on the right track.

PSA PJD Accepted Image Titled “Turmoil” – Below the BU Bridge, Head of the Charles Regatta, Boston, 2016

The PSA exhibitions are at the international level and you are instantaneously thrown into the pool with hundreds of professional and amateur photographers. Each section of a PSA competition can have a thousand or more competitors. A catalog of acceptances is published by the competition host that usually includes the images receiving awards. Some exhibitions publish all the accepted images on their Internet sites,  but that is not done consistently. Still, I think that the system of awards and acceptances gives photographers feedback that is otherwise scarce. Based on a review of acceptance catalogs, I determined that acceptance in a PSA exhibition will place you in the 70th to 80th percentile of those competing.

Acceptances and awards from PSA competitions can be used to establish a personal international ranking maintained by the PSA. In the PSA Star Rating system, stars are earned according to the number of acceptances that you have achieved. One star requires 18 accepted images, two stars requires 36, three stars requires 72, four stars requires 144, and five stars requires 288 acceptances. Each unique image can have up to three acceptances in different exhibitions to qualify. That is, you can achieve 288 acceptances from 96 images. There are ratings above the stars that have additional requirements.

As a street photographer, I enter competitions in the Photojournalism Division (PJD). That division suits street photography since the PJD strictly limits the editing that can be done to images primarily to cropping and conversion to monochrome. That happens to be the tacit rule for street photography. Typical PJD competition sections are street, city life, and human interest that are very appropriate for street images. A PJD section can be done without a specific theme and that will attract a broader range of subjects.

PSA PJD Accepted Image Titled “Occupy Inauguration Boston” – Occupy Inauguration, Boston Common, 2017

The other divisions operate in a similar way and you will need to navigate your way through the PSA division definitions and specific competition section definitions to get comfortable with them. Select one or more divisions that fit your subjects and style. Enter the competition sections that best suit your work. I also recommend studying the Divisions and Stars/ROPA sections of the PSA web site. You can find all of the current exhibitions listed under the Exhibitions menu.

PSA membership and entry into the PSA exhibitions are not expensive. I recommend giving it a try as a creative outlet. You may find that you are good enough to place at the top and score an award. If you score an acceptance, you can be certain that you are better than average. If you score rejection, you have something more to learn and to achieve. That is a win-win-win in my book.

For more of my street photos, see my Portfolio.

See you on the street.

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