Saturday, August 18, 2012

What's in a Photo?

The Western Idaho Fair is this week. As a member of the Boise Camera Club, I've been volunteering in the Photography Booth. I worked on receiving day (taking photos from the entrants), and judging day. That was an interesting experience. Before the judges started looking at the photos, several of us volunteers went through the photos, picking our favorites. Some of our picks coincided with the judges' opinions, others - not so much.

I entered three photos this year. Before the fair I told myself and some other people, "I don't really care if I win any ribbons, and I don't expect to win any." Apparently, I wasn't being honest with them, or with myself. Turns out I did want to win ribbons. I wanted external validation that my photos are good, worthy of accolades (and a blue ribbon or three). Of the three photos, only one garnered a ribbon, and that for second place. In the judging process, the judges would review tables full of photos, choosing a limited number that would receive closer scrutiny. Two of my photos, which I thought were good examples of photography, didn't even warrant a second look. The judges passed right over them without stopping. This tells me that my photos lack impact. They must have seen them and thought, "a photo of a bird, a photo of poles," then quickly moved on to the next photo. Nothing about mine grabbed their attention, apparently.

I am really disappointed, although I don't know if I'm more disappointed in the judging, or in my own abilities and expectations. I like to think I shoot what I like without being concerned about what other people think of my photos. But there must be a part of me that does care.

I suspect, my disappointment goes to the very heart of my creativity. Of the 13,000 or so photos that I have on my hard drive, there are two that I think are really good photos. And one that I think is the best photo I've taken. But that "best" photo is only worth 2nd place in a small state fair competition. Talk about small fish in an even smaller pond - that's me. This also brings into question my ability to determine the value of a photo. The photos I think are great are apparently mediocre at best.

So, where to go from here?

I have a year to change my mind, but at this point, I won't be entering photos any more, not in competitions. I will still submit photos to the camera club. There, I get in-person feedback and valuable critique. At the fair, I get nothing - literally.

I also need to spend time working on my skills. I need to study great photos, learn what makes them great, and incorporate those qualities into my photography. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. My photography will continue to improve, of that I'm sure. But it's time for me to spend more time focusing on what I like instead of what some "objective" judge thinks of my photography.

Edit: As I reread this post, I notice parts that sound like I'm disparaging the judges, and their opinions. And that is not my intent at all. I think the judges did a great job identifying the best photos of the fair. My disappointment with the fair is firmly attached to my own expectations and performance. Had I presented better images, with more impact and of higher technical quality, I would have received more recognition. Next time I share photos I will work on those two characteristics of good photos.
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