The Competition Dilemma

It’s difficult isn’t it. The decision to enter a competition or not, and then when you do decide, there are all the rules and regulations to consider.

I used to be an avid competition enterer (if there’s even such a word) – I was very competitive, and spent a lot of time (and money) with the BPE (British Photographic Exhibitions) and FIAP – I probably shouldn’t even contemplate how much money really… but I’m not any more.

The ones I do enter these days are ones that I’ve either been bullied into by friends, OR because I decided it was something that actually interested me.

What I did enjoy though, was the catalogues, and CD’s that thumped through the letter box, usually a few weeks later – it’s good to see what other people are doing in the UK and around the world, but I can still look at these online.

There is a cost though, and I think what started to jade me to begin with was that I won some international award or other, and there was a certificate. The email was full of congratulations, and then said that my document was attached to the mail, and I could print it out myself.  To be honest, that was a bit disappointing.  I know that postage is expensive, but then so was my entry, mine and the thousands of others that had also paid.  Medals of course are posted out, and I have a nice collection of them on my bookcase.

A few weeks ago FIAP changed a number of their rules for achieving distinctions – and it vastly increased the number of international acceptances you had to get to move from one award to another.  There were also rule changes about how many images from a previous distinction you could carry forward from one to another – in the event, it looked like I was going to lose nearly 100 of them.  I felt I couldn’t afford to lose them all, and start again almost from scratch.  

It seemed at first that FIAP also felt this way, and the rules were rescinded, but only till 2022. Maybe I’ll leave well alone then….. 

There’s been a lot of discussion too about what you can and can’t do in competitions organised by clubs and Federations.  It can be confusing, and frustrating both for organiser and entrant.  For example, a discussion about the use of brushes in Photoshop.  Apparently the ones that come as standard in the programme are OK to use, but downloaded ones from elsewhere are not.  The ones you make yourself are OK, but I wonder about the ones that come included in plug-ins in other software.   I understand that the work produced should be that of the photographer, but even shooting in JPG from the camera has some alterations made by the manufacturer.

Software that materially changes your image – I’m not sure about – Topaz, for example does things to your images that would be difficult (impossible?) in photoshop, so should this be allowed; and what about other things like ‘Flood’ for example that makes reflections and puddles, and water.  I know from watching tutorials on YouTube, that photographers entering international competitions use this, but is it really acceptable?  From some of the comments I have read, I would say that ostensibly is it not.

The latest discussion is about whether to include, or exclude EXIF information in the files sent out to judges before a competition is run.  There seems to be a fear that a judge will scrutinise this, and maybe somehow penalise an entrant, especially if the name of the photographer appears.  Yet, in the same breath we know that some EXIF data can be changed – and from my point of view, what does it matter if I know what camera / mobile phone / tablet has been used to take the image?  It’s about the end result surely, and not how, or what it was taken with.

Yes, I agree that sometimes it can be helpful to see where a mistake has been made (example shooting at 1/8000sec at ISO 12,800).  Maybe it’s something that can be discussed during the feedback.  On the other hand, and judges don’t know, the photographer might have chosen these settings for a particular reason, or to achieve a specific effect.

The truth is, that we don’t know by looking at a photograph and the EXIF how much experience the photographer really has.  

An example might be the production of a fantastic portrait, from a studio shoot – where the photographer pushing the button has had no input at all into the lighting, posing and creating of that set up.  

Conversely, the photographer may have employed the model, set up studio lighting him or her self, and worked on the image using minimal tools in photoshop, it may have even been a remote shoot…..

We just can’t tell that from one image and that EXIF.

Of course a sensible judge, on seeing the name of the entrant (if it appears in the EXIF) should ignore it – not be influenced by it.  In the same way that the back of prints should not be scrutinised when judging them.

Where does this leave us?

Well, if your proclivity is to enter competitions, and you get pleasure from them, or you think you can learn something from your judge then that’s great.  Remember though, there’s no feedback from BPE or FIAP, just a score.

I’m just finding these days, that I can get excellent feedback from the folks around me that I trust.  Photographers who know what they’re doing, who will give you truthful feedback about your images.   I get more pleasure now from an honest critique than I do getting 20 marks with no reasoning.

Finally, I’d say that I’m not competition bashing at all – I love judging, and without competitions I couldn’t do it – The enjoyment I have in seeing work from across the UK and (in the age of zoom) the world, cannot be  denied.

I just wish we could be a bit more relaxed about it. It’s our hobby, and our art after all……….

A Year of Lockdown

Back in March 2020, I started a gallery on my website to which I periodically added images I had taken during each of the three lockdowns.

The first images were reworks of some old photographs taken as early as 2011, and 2012, and it was rewarding to see how up to date software dealt with them, which encouraged me to keep looking at what I had – not only on older hard drives, but on some CD’s too.

It was a bit disappointing to find that some of the CD’s were no longer readable, despite my best efforts, but no matter – there was still lots to look at.

As the weather improved (we did have a lovely Spring last year), and daily exercise became a thing of habit – at least I was able to get some new images made. Cycling became more regular too, till I damaged my ankle at the end of March, but by then macro images came to the fore, and the re-introduction of the moth trap.

With the end of our first full year of Covid on the horizon, I’ve decided to close down that gallery, and start anew.

Here’s the link to the 2020/21 images

I have been kept busy all year with Zoom – lots of talks, and judging in places all over the UK, Ireland and Scotland, with the occasional foray abroad. New friends have been made, and I hope we will continue to keep in contact long after Covid has passed.

An invitation down to Cheltenham next year, and proposed trips to the Isle of Wight are just two of the things we have in mind, both prompted by zoom meetings.

Although I admit to being a bit ‘zoomed out’ sometimes, it’s been great to see new people and superb images, with more scheduled in for the rest of this year, and into the Spring of 2022.

Our camera club has had fewer competitions (in fact I think only 3 in the last year), with one about to run next week – and this was something that would never have happened before. It’s a 4 way between us (Cleethorpes), Niton (Isle of Wight), Otley and Kidderminster.

I find that I really don’t miss competitions – I gave up pretty much on the BPE circuit after I achieved level 3 – and totally gave up on FIAP after I achieved my A. Recently FIAP made a number of rule changes that a lot of people disagreed with, and it did seem to become more like a money making exercise than anything else. They also stopped any print submissions. Subsequently they have retracted these changes, but it looks more like a deferral to 2022.

The images I make these days are purely personal – and I only send images out to competition if it’s something I am interested in.

In the meantime, I need to settle down and sort out what I want to achieve in the next 12 months. I want to fly the drone more now I have completed the Certificate of Competency, and certainly get the camera overheated with imagery.

So, as the anniversary of lockdown one approaches – I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021 – and once you are offered your jab – please take it – make us all safe.

The leaves will soon be back on all the trees, and I’m looking forward to a happier, healthier spring…..

Take care and stay safe.