For the last few days, the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has been hosting the highest print competition, the International Photographic Competition (IPC). Photographers across the world have been clinging to their cell phones for the telling texts that are the first notification the fate of each image submitted as it was judged by a panel of six experienced, professional photographers. For the first time, I threw my hat in the ring. In the few moments I was able to glimpse at the beautiful images submitted by photographers from around the world, I was awestruck and humbled! While I did not gain the highest of high honors, I am still giddy with my results. Since the whole process was a bit of a mystery to me, I decided to share my perspective for those who wonder what it means and fellow photographers that are considering participating in print competition.
I am sure different photographers have different motivations, but for me, entering professional print competition is a way to gauge whether my photography skills truly rank in the professional level. In this new technology age where we are accustomed to seeing Instagram filters and all kinds of “actions” that can both enhance photographs and cover technical flaws, it is hard to gauge success by facebook likes or competitions that are run as popularity contests. While I appreciate ALL feedback on my work, having images reviewed by trained professionals is another level of validation and more importantly feedback for improvement.
How Did My Images Do?
I am overjoyed and humbled that 3 of 4 images I submitted scored Merits and one of those was selected for the Showcase Book! That's a pretty big deal around these parts and especially for a first timer.
What does that Mean?
Images are judged one at the time and are not compared to other images in the competition. At state and regional competitions, images are given a numerical score. Scores above 70 are considered to be of professional quality. The 75-79 range (where I started) is considered “above average professional” and the great score of 80 or higher is where the coveted title of Merit is given. There are higher honors but since I am not there yet, this is where I stop.
At IPC, a panel of 45 eminent jurors from across the United States reviewed photographs from some of the top photographers of PPA. Images are simply scored as Merit or No Merit. Just over 1,800 of the nearly 5,000 images submitted were given the Merit score. Those that Merit are then judged again and “the best of the best” are selected for the IPC Loan Collection. In addition, approximately 200 images that received the Merit score were also nominated to be published in the 2014 Showcase Book. It is an honor to receive merits of any kind and to be published in either collection. When all four images submitted together receive merits, photographers receive one of the “Photographer of the Year” awards. Angela Blankenship of AB Photography in Nashville, NC will be receiving that high honor this year along with many other excellent photographers.
Does This Make Me an Expert or a Master?
Heck no! Not even close! While I am happy with my success this year, I know that my photography skills have a long way to go. In fact, the term "Master" is given to photographers that have earned multiple merits over time. I would not have even dared to join the competition without a LOT of help and guidance from my PPNC family and Mona Sadler of Coastal Pet Portraits. Like most photographers, many of the images I shoot on a daily basis would not score in the Merit range. It is reassuring to see that they do consistently score above 75, though. Going through the competition process has helped me see my work through "a different lens" and there is no doubt my skills are improving because of the experience. While it is totally nerve racking and sometimes heart breaking, it is an experience I would recommend to any photographer who wants to take their talents to the next level.
How Do You Start?
Start by finding a trusted and experienced professional who can give you honest feedback. Grow a thick skin. Study the 12 elements of a merit image. Consider joining PPNC where you can sign up for mentor critiques. If you get a chance, attend a competition to hear the judges comments. Then enter a local or state competition that is judged by professionals and sign up to receive critiques on your images. If you are ready now, the state competition is coming up at the Carolina Photo Expo.
Many, many thanks to those who have supported me and others like me in this journey and to my clients who allow me to share their images in competitions. While I can't guarantee I will ever get another accolade, I can't wait to start over with the next round!
Rocky Mount, NC Photographer