To compete or not….
I wrestle with the idea more than not. I think there is a definite positive to the competition scene in the world of photography, but it is also AMAZINGLY discouraging. I have turned down more times than I can count. I had given up years ago after being rejected so many times. (about 9 different times)
It took me a long time to learn to appreciate the rejection. Once I did, I really began to evolve me skills. I reached out to friends that were more successful than me to ask for advice and criticism. I took that and really worked on my shortcomings. I then entered very small and very local “competitions” that amounted to nothing more than a bit of bragging rights and maybe being published in a small local paper.
The small successes I had led to entering and being accepted to Open Call gallery shows. San diego has a wonderful and vibrant art scene. there all kinds of smaller, neighborhood galleries that look for emerging artist/ photographers. These types of events allowed me measure my skill set in a different way and gain some exposure. I would get feedback from a different group of people including other artists, gallery owners, and fans
After all that, I felt I was ready to enter a bigger, international competition, so I finally sent a submission to the San Diego County Fair competition last year first time in years. It is a very prestigious international competition. Sure only one image (of seven) was accepted, but it was accepted into one of the toughest categories; “Black and White Wildlife”. It also resulted in an “honorable mention” ribbon. Last year showed me that I could have some success and was on the right track.
Now, I do believe that being published, winning comps, and being gallery shown does lead to credibility as artist, but I also like to balance that against a one on one interaction with a fan.
Big call outs are intimidating, so look around and start small. Look to your newspapers, parks department, or county fairs. Ask for critiques not just from friends and family, but from others in the field. Finally, and most importantly, learn to edit your submissions. This last point was especially difficult for me. I have some images that I just love, but they never get the traction I would have expected. Prepping the fair submission is a great example. I sent a friend about 15 different images that I loved. She very candidly said “Yes, No, Yes, No” to every single one of them. She was very direct. It was difficult to hear, but it made for a great selection of just 7 images. Editing your self is challenging at best, but is vital to the process. Within that, you may need to edit the image itself. My advise is to edit with a purpose. I know how to do a ton of things in Photoshop and my skills are growing nicely in Lightroom, but over processed photos can be a big turn off judges and gallery owners. That will cost you in the long run.
At the end of the day it is ok to put yourself out there. That is how you grow. It is ok to fail. That is also how you grow. Start small, think local, and shoot often. You will be surprised with what can happen.