I haven’t entered photography competitions before, ever, but this year, the opportunity presented itself – twice. I’m a member of the Park City Photography Club, a loosely organized group of photographers of all levels in and around Park City. I was borrowing a lens from the club’s Chief Cat Herder (his preferred title!) and he mentioned that he was printing photographs for the Utah State Fair photography competition, and asked me if I wanted to enter. It was a bit of a “no-brainer” as the Chief Cat Herder has a photographic printer, and we have several good places to photographs professionally mounted. Seven other people in the club were going to enter photographs, and it sounded like fun.
I showed a couple of the people in the club a couple of photographs, and they felt I should enter the two I had shown them. You can only enter one photograph per category (as far as I understood it) in the State Fair competition, so I entered one of my favorite photos of Daisy with a steampunk background and industrial floor into the Professional level Pet category. I really love how I was able to light her so that the details of her fur were visible, and she was separated from the background, but still had the dark, Rembrandt-esque feeling I was going for.
Because entry fees are cheap, and everyone was encouraging me to enter more than one photograph, I also entered a photo of Bellatrix that I had taken for International Photography Day. I collect old cameras (they don’t work, but I think they look really cool!) and put one on a tripod and encouraged Bellatrix to look like she was taking photographs (peanut butter is my friend!). It was a bit of a ‘quickie’ – the photograph of Daisy involved a lot more time getting the lighting exactly the way I wanted it – but with this I just set things up, and took a couple of photos. This is a Kodak Pony camera from the 1950s, if you were curious. I actually have the box and manual for this one – it’s amazing how much more useful the manuals were back then – they actually gave tips as to how to take better photographs!
The only category I could see entering this photograph in was the Professional level Humor category – a slightly different take on Dog Photography! (Okay, I thought it was funny!)
To my great surprise, on the first day of the State Fair, I got a text from our Chief Cat Herder that I had won first place in the Pet category, and had earned a red ribbon in the Humor category. The judging had been done before the fair opened, and one of the club members had gone down on the morning of the first day to see how the club members had done.
All 8 of us from the Park City Photography Club who entered photographs received awards of some sort, from our Chief Cat Herder, who won the Grand Prize, with an amazing photograph of a bear he had taken in Alaska, and there were several of us winning blue ribbons in various categories and class levels (you could enter as a professional, advanced amateur, or amateur; there were also classes for children). For a small club, we all did quite well!
Our Chief Cat Herder went to the fair on the first night and talked with the judges who were available to give feedback on the photographs, and it was great to hear (second-hand) what the feedback from the judges was. One of the great things, I am quickly learning, about photography competitions is the feedback from the judges. We are all trying to get better, and external feedback is always helpful.
I was finally able to get down to the fair on Tuesday afternoon and see my awards! Even if I hadn’t won anything, I would have still be proud of myself for just “putting myself out there” – it’s a bit scary to take your creative work and put it out in the world and ask strangers to tell you what they think of it.
In the same vein of putting myself out there, and looking for feedback, I also entered 5 photographs into the International Pet Photographer of the Year competition. This is (as the name says) an international competition with the absolute best pet photographers in the world competing for honors.
This competition was different in a couple of ways. First, it was all online, and second, photographs were rated on a scale of 50-100, with 50-64 being ‘Less than professional standard’, 65-74 being ‘Professional standard’, 75-79 earning Bronze, 80-89 earning Silver, 90-94 earning Gold and 95-100 earning Platinum. There were about 1000 Bronzes awarded (out of ~4000 photos), about 100 Silvers, 30 Golds, and 2 Platinums.
Four of the 5 photographs I submitted earned high Professional Standard scores, with very good feedback about what would make similar photos better in the future, and the photograph of Daisy earned a Bronze.
I learned quite a bit about photography competitions through these two experiences, and I’m looking forward to entering next year. Next year, I will be a bit better prepared (I hadn’t planned on entering either competition, and so wasn’t actively thinking about photographs to submit until shortly before the deadline), and I will actively look to photograph in locations and with dogs and cats that will help me expand my creative range!
If you are ever considering entering a photography competition – whether it is local or international, I strongly encourage it. The feedback from the judges is invaluable, and whether you are awarded with anything or not, the experience of putting yourself out there is exciting. Sometimes the results aren’t what you hoped for, but if it is a learning experience then it’s valuable.