More than just a competition image
Photography can document and creatively capture so many different subjects and views on the world. The vast majority of the photos we take will not be “winning images”, particularly as we’re taking more images now than ever before in human history.
We’ve all had disappointing results on competition nights where a judge hasn’t understood our image, or simply didn’t like it, but does this mean we should cast aside photos that don’t do well in competitions? Should we feel that they are somehow failures in our photographic journeys to the nirvana of imaging success? Definitely not!
Here’s a few ways for images that wouldn’t necessarily be “winners” to bring a little joy to our lives.
A common phrase a few years ago among camera club judges was that an image was “just” a record shot. Images documenting everyday life or local places sometimes only find their importance at a later date. You may need to know more of the story behind them to know their significance, or they need to be part of a bigger photo-essay to be effective.
Back in the 90s I spent a few afternoons wandering around the streets of my hometown documenting the buildings and the people. None of those images would have won a competition but looking at them now I have a glimpse into another world – people’s homes that have been demolished, a retired man outside a working men’s club that’s now the home of a glass-ceilinged shopping centre and skate-boarding teenagers long since grown up.
Who knows what social history we may capture today and then look back on in the future with different eyes?
Portraits of Friends and Family (and dogs and cats and rabbits…)
Your emotional attachment to people and animals you love is always going to give some photos a greater meaning. Learning to separate our emotions and experiences when we’re selecting images for competitions can be difficult and knowing how others will view our images can be almost impossible! Enjoy capturing the memories for yourself and others, just because it doesn’t have emotional value for a judge, doesn’t mean it’s not successful for you.
We’re not all brave enough to approach strangers in the street like Instagramer Alex Stemplewski, but giving a great image to someone you don’t know very well can be a huge gift to their self-confidence and a boost to your own wellbeing.
Projects and RPS Distinctions
Like social documentary images, some of the most creative imagery doesn’t work as a single image. Committing to a photographic project can open your eyes to documenting a subject from different points of view. Trying the same photographic style or treatment on different subjects can help you see what works and what can be improved.
Online communities like Blipfoto encourage you to try and take an image every day, while working to gain photographic distinctions from the Royal Photographic Society can give you a sense of purpose. Whether it be the entry-level LRPS that challenges you to achieve a level of technical standards and create a harmonious panel of images to show your skills, or the next step up to the ARPS where you can explore the creative possibilities on a single theme. Many images that would not be “winners” on their own take on bigger meaning as part of a panel. Just as the opposite can also be true – three winners don’t necessarily make a successful triptych.
The Joy of Taking and Making an Image
Let’s not forget that sometimes the best part of photography is the challenge of taking the image or processing it afterwards – no matter what the end result is. Over Christmas I spent three hours in the near dark squirting a syringe of water at some fruit I’d balanced on cocktail sticks while using a remote trigger on a studio flash to hopefully capture the right moment. I then spent another three hours editing together a stack of 17 layers in Photoshop to merge together all the different splashes and remove the supports.
What I was aiming for was to get the fruit floating impossibly in mid-air while the water drops made it look mouth-wateringly tasty. The result…positively underwhelming! It definitely won’t be making it into our “creative or experimental techniques” competition later this month. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I learnt lots from the process and had so much fun splashing about in the dark, even if I did soak half the kitchen and end up an hour late for dinner. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter what comes out of the camera if you’ve had fun doing it.