More Thoughts on Art and Competition



The positive response to my previous post tells me people are interested in the topic of art, photography and competition. I’d like to add a few more thoughts.

First, for anyone who might think otherwise, make no mistake, I believe camera clubs offer great value, especially to beginning to intermediate photographers. My friend Chuck Robinson feels the same way. This is what he had to say about his club experience. “I joined our camera club when I first got started into photography.  I wanted to meet people with similar interests and learn more about photography.  I ended up befriending some great people who are awesome photographers and I did learn a great deal through these friendships.  I enjoyed the competitions at first because I thought it was a way for me to gauge the growth of my photography compared to others that have been shooting way longer than I.  I felt that it also pushed me to become better.  As a novice photographer at the time, I felt that it was beneficial to my growth”  I agree with Chuck, his feelings mirror many others I’ve spoken to about their club experience.

Chuck goes on to say, “Nine years later my feelings have changed. Today, my personal view is much different. A little over a year ago, I was becoming frustrated in my photography.  Although I did very well in the competitions, I felt that the comments from the judges from month to month were all over the map. Now I can take constructive criticism, in fact, I look forward to it.  But some of the comments were just ridiculous. More importantly, I felt like I was creating images just to win competitions and I was becoming very frustrated and lost sight of why I wanted to create images in the first place. I was losing my desire in photography. I was chasing what I thought someone else would think was a winner.  I had to stop and regroup and distance myself from the club. I feel so much  better now that I’ve done that”  This too, is common feedback and emphasizes my concern with competition. 

I am currently traveling with my tour partner Dan Sniffin. We have been conversing about the value of camera clubs and the feedback to my last post. We even called Cole Thompson as someone shared with him a Facebook link with some of my comments regarding this subject. We all arrived at the same conclusion. Getting people to think about what and why they are creating images is important and healthy.

Second, In no way am I advocating that everyone who owns a camera or is part of a camera club should ascribe to my way of thinking. There are some who enjoy competing, winning points, pins, ribbons and plaques. If this is what brings you joy, who am I to say otherwise? For instance, I have a friend Gunther Riehle who is one of the highest ranking PSA nature photographers in the world. His work is stunning, yet follows a different vision and the guidelines of PSA. I am simply suggesting that following your heart or your vision could bring a different level of joy or satisfaction. Or as my friend Dewitt Jones says, another right answer. Let me share a two stories that might illustrate what I’m trying to say.

I was on the first day of a fall weekend photography workshop. The colors were astounding, the conditions could not have been better. A participant came up to me and said, “I am going to go home.” I asked if I had said something that offended her, had I done something wrong?  She said, “No, its just I am not finding what I came for.” She then shared that she had a competition at her camera club and her expectation was to find a particular image that she could win with. Rather than find another right answer, a different and maybe better answer, she went home. Isn’t that sad?

Contrast that experience to this story. Dan (tour partner) and I were scouting for our spring Smoky Mountain Tour last year. When we arrived, he said to me, “John, don’t worry if I don’t shoot much. I’ve been to the Smokies a number of times, I’ve got all the images I need. I’m going to just relax. I have no expectations for this trip. I’ll just shoot when something moves me.”  Normally Dan would go on a trip and have a “shot list.”  Not this time, he was going to be open to what moved him, spoke to him and inspired him. Guess what? He produced the best work he has ever produced from the Smokies. His success was so good, he did the same thing in the Palouse a couple of months later with the same results.

These stories capture the essence of what I was hoping to express in this and my previous post. I am simply suggesting an alternative approach.  A more contemplative approach, where you are open to whatever turns your head and will create based on what makes your heart sing.

This entry was posted in Cole Thompson, Inspiration and tagged , , , .


  1. Jeanne August 13, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Great read and on target. Bottom line is to enjoy, improve and end up with a result you are happy with!

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm #


  2. Wayne August 13, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    I don’t comment a lot but this is so right on that I feel I must. My path was exactly the same as Chuck Robinson. I value the experiences I enjoyed when I was beginning, but then started losing interest in competitions and eventually didn’t renew my membership.
    I am a retired Dentist with photography, both capturing images and processing them, as a sort of passion at this time of my life. When I go out I usually just let the subject call to me and I usually get something unexpected when I left home.
    I feel that I have been fortunate in that I earned my living elsewhere and my photography has been something that I go to for my inner satisfaction.
    Thanks John for your words of wisdom … I have been enjoying them for some time.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

      Glad you finally decided to comment! Thank you Wayne. And you’re welcome.

  3. Jazz Jaeschke August 13, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Never yet lured into competitions … I appreciate this post! I take photos of details I want to be able to “return to” … images that stir my heart or imagination.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm #


  4. Debbie Teague August 13, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    I agree with you John and have found that my vision overrides some critiques.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      Gosh I would HOPE SO!!! The only person you need to please is YOU!

  5. Barbara K August 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    My experience with clubs here is that it is a venue for guys to talk about their equipment. AND, you can take that any way you want! Lol! That’s why I came up with my pat answer when someone asks me what I shoot with. Answer: The right side of my brain!

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      Ha, ha, ha! 🙂

  6. Phyllis goodfriend August 13, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

    This post expresses my thoughts perfectly. Shoot what moves your heart and head. I started I a camera club also, and I learned from it. But now I feel that I am well past that stage and I shoot to express my creativity and to please myself.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

      And you do it well Phyllis!

  7. Ann Parry August 13, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    The pres. of Long Island Center of Photography forwarded links to your blog posts, since your philosophy of ‘Art is not a competition’ aligns with LICP’s philosophy.

    And, John, your last two anecdotes in today’s “More Thoughts…” particularly speak to me.

    When I don’t find what I came for on a shoot, it’s time to turn it into a challenge, an opportunity, to find and capture compelling images of what is there. (If I’m on assignment, make it a goal of capturing compelling, useful images.)

    And I can certainly relate to your tour partner Dan’s relaxing approach to returning to Smokies, and his happy results. Over the seasons and years, I return to New York, and especially Long Island, parks, museums, events…, since I love capturing our people places, events in depth, and in a variety of ways.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

      Hello Ann. Thank you for sharing your thoughts which cement the ideas I’m speaking about.

  8. Don August 13, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Wonderful thoughts JB! Lately when shooting with friends sometimes they worry that I’m loosing interest in photography just because I’m not shooting as much as they are. To the contrary, I’m in places that I love and just because the shutter is not clicking does not mean I want to be anywhere else. Sometimes what is in front of me might make a decent image, but if it does not move me, I don’t see the point in just collecting pixels and filling hard drives.

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

      Don, I really appreciate your comment as I think you are right on the money. I too have been shooting much less for the same reason. I’m not shooting for shooting sake… I too am more patient and willing to wait for something to call to me. Thanks for commenting.

  9. Pam Davis August 13, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    I agree with being true to your vision and creativity, but I think it is important for those who are feeling secure in there creativity to stay in camera clubs to help newbies find there vision. Camera clubs need people who love photography and want to share that love. Thanks John for this lively thoughtful blog post

    • JB August 13, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

      Pam, excellent comment, I agree! I also think having mentors who will be honest with you is important.

  10. Ann Lyssenko August 14, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Thanks John for your thoughtful presentation of the subject of creating Art.
    I am struck by the use of the word competition, the core of a contest for many. I would like to offer some thoughts from my intrapersonal perspective of striving toward excellence. Competition and excellence meet at times and are miles apart at other times.
    Each of us is unique. On our path to discovering our uniqueness (everyone else is taken) we try on many photographic hats. We learn techniques and add them to our photo toolbox. We are drawn to color, graphics, blur, subjects in different ways. We come to photography with the sum total of all of our values, talents and life experiences. These values, talents and life experiences are loaded with emotions that play on our sense of self. When we look too hard to others to determine the value of our photos, we forget the greatest resource we have…who we are and how we wish to express it.
    There is no reason that a photographer cannot gain much from a camera club or entering contests. These activities are opportunities to reflect on our own unique perspective. We can hone our skills and be inspired by the work of others and try to emulate them. It is all part of a process of creating unique images that over time will say our name…will be recognizable as our vision.
    What a wonderful play of learning and personal expression. And it can be done in the context of community. Ann

    • JB August 14, 2015 at 10:44 am #

      A very thoughtful comment Ann, and thus why I needed to write this follow up post and say that I was in no way saying my thinking is the only way. I agree that we are all unique and take your own unique path. thanks for sharing Ann.

    • Pam August 14, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      Very well said Ann, learning is a lifelong journey and we can find inspiring moments everywhere and take home to our hearts that which touches us and/or dismiss what does not. What I am saying is Art is subjective and To Thine Own Self Be True!!!

      • JB August 16, 2015 at 2:05 pm #


  11. scott September 6, 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    My work schedule demands a great deal of time, so much so, that I rarely get to my camera association meetings any more. I have limited time to photograph and the opportunity from this has been to relax, not get in a hurry, and be in the moment. I guess a one word summary of this would be contemplation, and I’m creating some of my best photos.

    • JB September 7, 2015 at 7:29 am #

      Contemplation is a perfect word Scott. Mindful is another that comes to mine. You are on the right track for sure! Thanks for chiming in.

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