Why I don’t enter photography competitions

Trevor Lamb - Leather & Art - NZIPP Iris Awards (Silver) Brett Stanley Photography

I’m a bit of a competitive person, well kinda…

I’m one of those frustrating people that’s only competitive when it looks like I’ll win, and isn’t interested when there’s a risk of failure. It’s a great place to be, unless you ACTUALLY want to grow, since that requires risks!

I started this post a couple weeks ago when I had just received the results back from a photography competition I entered. I didn’t win. I didn’t place. In fact I’m not even sure (due to the leagaleseish nature of the competition wording) if I qualified to be judged at all.

All of this just reinforced my opinion that photography competitions were judged so subjectively that I could never hope to understand the criteria and therefore not risk entering work that might not get a mention.

All the competitions I had watched from the outside seemed to be won by the same people each year, with similar work to the previous year. They seemed to award points based on a certain colour palette and treatment (brown and grey being the favourite). Particular styles appeared in the winning pieces that, to me, made them all look the same.

Maybe this is a trend in NZ, maybe it’s reflecting the fashion, but have a look through any professional¬† photography comp gallery and what you see are dark, moody, highly processed images. I’m not saying that my work is bright and colourful, far from it, I love drama and brooding skies in my images but SOMEONE must be producing vibrant pieces!

Other things confused me, like the highly creatively post-processed landscape winning the Photojournalist category or the rather bland travel image winning the Illustrative category.

I could make head nor tail of the criteria and so couldn’t choose my own images to submit for fear of missing the (rather misleading) point!

Anyway, after plucking up the courage to submit some of my landscapes to the Laurie Thomas New Zealand Landscape Salon and getting nada whilst other, rather lackluster shots made the grade I was rather sheepish to say the least. Actually, angry is another word. I mean, sure the main images that won were amazing, but the runners up included in the booklet? I didn’t think they were much chop. Perhaps it was the printing in the booklet? Not to big-note myself but you have to have some kind of belief in your work don’t you? I mean, I’m a landscape photographer!

Landscape Photographer - Brett Stanley Photography Landscape Photographer - Brett Stanley Photography Landscape Photographer - Brett Stanley Photography Landscape Photographer - Brett Stanley Photography

So when I realised the NZIPP Iris Awards were coming up rather fast I made the quick decision to try again. It would be a last ditch effort, the remains of my self esteem bouying me up whilst I narrowed down my entries.

I had a couple that I was rather proud of and a few more that weren’t that bad so I was feeling ok about it. The cost of entry would put off most amateur photographers so it would be a well considered competition at least!

After I sent the prints off in the mail I actually forgot all about the judging in the heat of all my other work. It wasn’t until a message on my Facebook page from fellow Wellington photographer Mandi Lynn alerted me to a win! Silver no less, for a commercial shot of the awesome Trevor Lamb from Leather & Art.

Trevor Lamb - Leather & Art - NZIPP Iris Awards (Silver) Brett Stanley Photography

Leather & Art – Commercial Category (Silver)

As the days went on (it’s a long judging) more awards surfaced:

Bird House – Creative Category (Bronze)

Bearded Lady - NZIPP Iris Awards (Commended) Brett Stanley Photography

The Bearded Lady – Portrait Classic Category (Commended – 67 points)

Winter's Eve - NZIPP Iris Awards (Bronze) Brett Stanley Photography

Winter’s Eve – Creative Portrait Category (Bronze)

Taupo Hoarfrost - NZIPP Iris Awards (Bronze) Brett Stanley Photography

Taupo Hoar Frost – Landscape Category (Bronze)

Yosemite Moonrise - NZIPP Iris Awards (Bronze) Brett Stanley Photography

Yosemite Moonrise – Landscape Category (Bronze)

All in all I received one Silver, 4 Bronze and a Commended; which out of 6 prints submitted is pretty cool!

Suffice to say, I feel humbled and justified all at the same time. I can’t believe that I won those awards but it makes me feel more confident about the quality of my work.

I must say that the winners of this event were well deserved, talented people to be sure, but I’m still in the dark as to the judging process though…

EDIT: Whilst my views above are (hopefully) obvious, I do wish to point out that I mean no disrespect to the actual photographers who have entered the competitions listed. I appreciate every piece of work that is generated and certainly don’t wish to slander or raise myself above them. It is the judging process not the work submitted I have issues with, and I’m sure that after my wins someone else will look at my work and wonder “what were the judges thinking?!”.