I don’t know about you, but lately more than ever I sense for many, photography has become a competition. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram all feed us images in what feels like a never-ending stream. Sites like 500px seem to promote competition for Likes. I’m not sure this is healthy, at least for those aspiring to do more with their photography.
Back in ancient times when I used film, I felt more connected to the subject than the technical aspects of photography. When photographing, I was immersed in the experience, many times not seeing developed images for a week or more. Without Facebook, there were limited avenues to share images. The focus was on the experience and image making.
Digital photography and the “internet” offer value, especially for learning. But, I fear they have changed the “focus” to immediate gratification, and foster competition. I have no desire to participate! I photograph because it feeds my soul. I love and cherish being in the moment. And that is what separates the average photographer from the great ones. Connection. Connection to the experience, connection to subject, connection to others, life, etc. The photographers I admire, Dan Sniffin, Chuck Kimmerle, Cole Thompson and Guy Tal to name a few, all speak or write about it, and live this idea. They are not out to make the next wall hanger or to achieve front page status on 500px. No, I believe they are more interested in being part of, and connected to, the experience of photography. The images they create are a by-product of that intimate connection. When I look at their images, I sense this connection and feel I am looking at a part of them. Don’t misunderstand, I am human. I enjoy having others like what I do. I just don’t want that to drive my photography. So my question to you is: Where are your boundaries? Is this something you’ve consciously thought about? Is it even important to you?
Hi, John! I believe your comments are right on. This competitive aspect is blatantly apparent in my local camera club, and I would assume in many others as well. It has gotten to the point that some photographers in the club will choose/process their image to “please” certain judges. Points are assigned to each submitted image, and of course the member with the most points for a given year becomes the “Photographer of the Year.” One of the reasons your workshops are great experiences is the aspect of learning from other photographers, not to compete with them but to stimulate your thinking to allow you to explore new areas outside your self-imposed “box.” Anyway, well-said, John!
Thank you Rich. Clubs have much value but competitions I’m not sure about. So I’m with you.
John, your insight about photography and the social media for sharing, showing and competing are aligned with my own idea. I connect with what is before my camera lens and how will I complete the final print. Ansel Adams’ 3 books are always in my minds eye, exposure, develope and print. Also, its good to know that your accident hasn’t effected your thinking!
Thanks for your feedback Gary. Those were my first books.
I don’t see competition within art as being productive. Cole Thompson wrote a heartfelt on-target blog post recently about this subject and the prevalence of it in camera/photography clubs. You are taking the tack that the internet fosters competition, and I agree that many photo sites do have that as an aspect, but there is a huge uptick to these sites as well. While artists–––be they photographers, painters, sculptors, or writers–––are usually drawn first and foremost to their chosen craft because of fulfillment and the burning desire to create, the flip side of that coin is wanting your work to be viewed. Satisfaction should come from the act of creating, but it’s a rare artist who doesn’t try to sell their work or have it viewed. With regards to photography, before the internet, reaching an audience was difficult. If one didn’t rise to the status of gallery representation or shooting for a magazine, one settled for the eyes of friends and relatives. Now, one can post an image online and have the potential of it being viewed by thousands of people. I’m not talking about “faves” and “stars” or getting the front cover, but rather viewers of your work. But I agree that if what drives someone is recognition rather than an intimate connection with the creative process, then they are missing out.
Very thoughtful feedback. Thank you. Indeed sharing is an important part of the process. You have captured my feeling well , without the connection, what you are sharing might not be as powerful.
Thank you for this blog! I enjoy my photography immensely yet have been discouraged by the instant gratification photographers that want to “show you” what they saw an hour ago… I have even participated in this movement, only to be left feeling empty. I often have to let my images compost, as my amazing friend Ella says, to be able to re-live that moment in time that I wanted to capture behind the lens.
Thank you Kim.
i love photography, to quote you..*it makes my heart sing*. i have been photographing, just about everything, for over 40 years. i do post many of my images, small, web size. i don’t see it as a competition but as sharing my vision with others. while it is fun to get *likes* i find it helpful to get specific feedback about the images. i wonder how well i communicate my vision with others. i love to see others photographs, to see their vision. i find it amazing when i go with other photographers, we are in the same location but see differently.
my focus continues to be to see and create my vision, but i still like to share that vision with others.
Good feedback as usual Roni, thank you. Please note I never said sharing was not important. In fact it is and your reasons for doing so fit with my general philosophy.
Absolutely have thought about this! Photography is restorative for me. It’s my therapy. It’s my time alone to peer through the viewfinder, with no one else giving an opinion. It’s the moment I click the shutter that I get the most satisfaction. I know I’ve captured what caught my eye, I don’t need to wait to look at the screen, or as in the ‘old days’, see the developed image.
I do miss developing my own prints and should get back to that. It was also incredibly satisfying because I got to fine-tune my ‘vision’ even more.
Yes, I’m human, too and like being liked.
But don’t ever take away my camera, I’d be lost without it.
Thank you Alice. As you know , I love your work. What is very obvious in your work is your connection. You see in a deep way, beyond the obvious.
That’s a huge compliment – thank you.
Mr Barclay your comments are a refreshing reminder that our photographs can be a technical experience and could produce a work of art. Are the two always linked, no always, but as you stated ‘in the ancient times’ the technical ‘art’ of composition and exposure preceded the actual print by days or weeks. The focus then was to craft an image that was part of a memory. Others who had been to that area, would on viewing a photograph of that area create their own mental interpretation of their memory and what that photography meant to them.
A very good commentary, thanks for your insight.
Thanks for sloppy by and sharing.
Stopping!! Darn autocorrect!
I have never made a photograph to please others, although to be appreciated by people I respect is very gratifying. Since nothing I do in photography will ever improve my financial situation, I basically shoot to please “me”. The creative process gives me the ultimate satisfaction. When I review previously made images, I am transported back in time and space. I remember what I was thinking (usually!) and feeling, who I was with, and in general what the enviornment and experience was like. Looking through albums puts me in my happy place. I can’t imagine life which doesn’t include the making if photographs…
Well said Scott!
I find myself in the same thought process as Scott, I photograph to make my heart sing and if others enjoy thats great!! I also am a photography club participant (recently President of the PCC) which gives me a place to share and after being in the club for 17 years I have grown as a photographer thanks to my friends and met some of the most wonderful and creative people, but I enter images that make me happy and after 17 years have learned that making images that represent who I am is far more rewarding than making images the judges will give a high score too. I love to break rules and its hard in the beginning when your just learning but if you allow yourself to create for the love of creating its so much more fun!!
Absolutely clubs offer great value! Thanks for contributing.
A long time go I read a piece on athletic achievement at the highest level, what was the defining quality that stood out in those that achieved greatness, Olympic gold, world champion, etc. The one defining trait was that they were less concerned about beating others, as they were about improving their personal best. They were highly competitive, but were in competition with themselves. Setting small goals, achieving them and then setting slightly higher goals until they ended up great at their sport. In a way I agree with JB a d in a way I don’t. Competition with others for ego or just the sake of winning is toxic in so many ways. But, competition with ourselves to always improve on our last photograph, improve our technique, our vision, our patience, go deeper into the subject, consider the emotion of the image, etc., makes us all better at our craft. Great photographers were not born that way, the struggled with their inner competition to always improve. The opposite of this is the “photographer” who takes 2000 pictures without ever thinking or Cafu g if they are better than the last 20000, as long as they get to post them on some social media site. As Gordon Gecko said, “Greed is good…” In the same way, “competition is good.” But in each case it is how you harness the concept, not the concept itself.
Great feedback Paul. Thank you!
I live for the experience, in all that I do in life. I watch people rush from one moment to the next not really slowing down long enough to have a meaningful experience in anything that they do. Sadly what you wrote about is a becoming a norm for many, they think it important to be part of that rat race to be #1 driven be ego and insecurities. Which is a hopeless goal. Not for me, I like to be in the moment , taking my time to enjoy where I am , to feel it, drink it in. After all its the food that charges my spirit. It is very liberating to be comfortable with who you are and what you do, not competing. Instead being inspired by your surrounding to create good work that pleases yourself, no one else.
I once heard a quote that said” paint what you want too and don’t worry about what the critics have to say. While they are trying to figure out what it is that have done, paint another one and another, that will set you free. Nice write up John…..
Yup I agree Peter. Like I said it feeds my soul. Love your work Peter I can feel your passion
John, your article says it well. Even though I often learned a lot about my images from the competitions in my local camera club through the comments made by various judges, and appreciated the feedback which did help me grow as a photographer, it did not take long for me to tire of the competition and leave the club. My deepest satisfaction comes from being in the moment when I am taking photos. Most of my work is done in nature, and when I look at my images, I can recall exactly what I was feeling and what the conditions were when I clicked the shutter. I love making prints, which, for me, really bring the art to life. As you know, I sell my work at art festivals. I see many photographers with the iconic images in their booths, and it seems to me that some are in a competition to get the “best” image from those particular tripod holes. Occasionally, I decide to hang an icon of my own, but guess what? They do not sell. My heart, my spirit, does not live in these photographs and I think that buyers can sense that. My soul lives in the more mysterious images, the ones that cause folks to stop and ask me questions, to engage with me in the experience I remember when I clicked the shutter. It is very rewarding when someone decides to take one of these photographs home with them. It feels like I have shared a piece of myself with them and I am so happy to have my spirit living in their home. I refuse to join 500 px or any other site like that. What a soul killing experience it would be! Thank you for today’s article and the good discussion that it has generated.
Great feedback Barbara. Thanks for sharing.
Very well-said, John! I could not agree with you more. I too, love the whole experience – being at one with nature, focusing on what I see and how best to interpret what I am feeling– I totally lose myself in the moment when I am behind the lens. I am not a social media person and I certainly do not photograph for “likes” or for sales – I photograph for the wonder of it, for my own fulfillment and to express my creativity. However, while I do think that my local camera is very supportive and encouraging, we do participate in a variety of print competitions and I admit that it is very easy to get sucked up in PPA standards and start shooting and entering competitions with those standards in mind. I realize I will never make images that express my vision if I allow those guidelines to influence what and how I shoot, but it is tempting to use these competitions to gauge your progress and “worth” as a photographer. I have thought about this topic a lot recently especially now that the competition season has started in earnest. I think this is an important topic, John, and thank you for raising it!
Thank you for participating in and adding to the discussion.
I believe it goes beyond photography and is symptomatic of the connected age we live in. Look at all the media sites competing for eyeballs with click-bait headlines. Our lives are getting filled by the second. What is it that grabs our attention beyond that fleeting moment when something enters our field of view? Is it just human nature to pay more attention to the shiny object?
I think you make a valid observation.
Thanks for that!
Wow. Nailed it with this post. You’ve voiced a feeling that is obviously shared by many. Masters level equipment is becoming more and more affordable and the internet provides an instant feedback audience. I often wonder about what that does to our work…how it leads us.
There are obvious concerns, as you’ve mentioned. A steady diet of “likes” is probably as good for one’s work as a steady diet of sugar for their health, and just as addictive. However, having an audience that’s always available is an incredible thing.
The 2-3 years spent shooting 99% iPhone, and the absolutely incredible audience we had was an experience beyond measure, on many levels. In addition to the experiences, camaraderie and lifelong friendships developed it was for me quite definitely the best artistic / photography education in over 50 years of shutter releases. This was possible only because of the internet
So…some great and some not so great.
As I said, there is good in the Internet and digital photography. It is especially good for learning. That iPhone group was insane and a great example of the incredible good. I am simply asking folks to consider what and why with regard to their art.
Glad to see posts like yours and Cole Thompson’s. I think you are correct in your assessment about the possible negative impact of competition today.
And while we all realize the importance and advantages of social media and camera clubs, etc., for some photographers to share and get feedback, I also see many who use those things as their objectives, so to speak. That is, we all see many photographers with astronomical numbers of followers, likes, etc., but that does not validate their work or vision. Conversely, there are some who excel, but have a modest following. It’s too bad that people equate success with social media popularity and club competitions as their photographic achievement.
The proper mix is to balance somewhere in between. And to keep shooting what YOU like while always trying to improve your skill and vision so that you are happy with your results. At least, that’s what I think….
Amen! Very well put my friend.
Thank you so much for your oh so poignant message John. I hear you and appreciate your thoughtful reflection. I needed to be held in check by your perceptive remarks. I do think for those of us unable to make any real money from photography or teaching photography, sharing photos with others in various Internet social sites or other venues does complete the circle of fulfillment that the creating of the image began. I do feel more fulfilled when my images are seen and enjoyed by others. However, as you have stated we must not let ourselves or our photography be driven solely by receiving the various accolades offered to us in this new age of the Internet. Thank you for your timely words of caution John that will hopefully cause us to reflect on why we love photography in the first place!
I like your word caution. In no way am I saying don’t share. Just be mindful of your intentions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thank You John for the great article. What you said is true of photo clubs or groups these days.
It is all about the likes, very easy to get caught up in it. But I think you hit right on the head.
Many images with very little emotion since digital has come about. I am Vice Chairman of a Photographic Society and that’s all some members seem to care about!!!!
As Cole says focus on your vision! And Chuck says don’t worry what others think, create!
Greetings John: Your comments today were most refreshing and are personally shared by me. When I have an opportunity to capture images, I am self-centered in the sense that I frame, compose and capture totally to please myself. Sure…I enjoy sharing what I capture and like with others and I am gratified and appreciative when they approve/enjoy what I have captured but it doesn’t take anything away from me whether they are ecstatic over my images/or not. As long as I like what I have photographed, then I can’t wait to capture additional photographs! See you at ‘The Palouse’ next week. Frank and I will be flying out Saturday. Can’t wait!
Thanks Doc, see you soon.
Very well put, John. I share your viewpoint. In this day and age, it seems everyone is a photographer. I think the instant gratification is sought after for validation of someone that either is not truly a photographer, or someone that is not confident in themselves. The most important part of photography for me is the experience, and the excitement of trying something new…working outside the comfort zone. It feeds my soul.
Greetings JB. I think your thoughts are spot on. I hate competitions. Always have. Unfortunately the local clubs that I am familiar with seem to put more and more emphasis on competitions until it practically becomes their reason for being. And as someone above mentioned, I see people trying to select photos based on what they think the judges will like even if they do not believe it is their best work. Winning is more important than staying true to one’s artistic vision and work. I admit it has taken a while but these days I am really not concerned with what others think or how many likes I get. I am only concerned with staying true to my vision as expressed in my artist statements.
As Fritz Perls wrote in his Gestalt Prayer:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
I live happily knowing that I am pleased with my work. It is true to my vision. And it is important. If others also appreciate it and find it important, that’s fine. And if they don’t, that’s okay as well.
Great thoughts Ed. Love the Prayer! Thanks for sharing this.
Excellent thoughts, JB, and we seem to be seeing more artists embrace this approach. I’m finding that the more I loose myself from others’ expectations I experience more freedom to walk out my visionary style- and not just in photography! We are all unique and the world needs what each of us brings!
Well said, Barbara.
Lovely image btw!
As usual, great post JB. The old days of film, building confidence in knowing that you captured the moment without instant viewing, walking away absorbing the afterglow and thoughts of the moment … and then to drop off your film, pick it up when it was ready or develop in the darkroom on your own… It all developed and created a foundation of our craft.
In some ways, photography today has improved as digital has provided more information on what we capture. It is easier to view, sort and quickly glance at what we create… As for the Internet, within a few clicks, we can view millions of images and information.
Years ago we had show-and-tell and merely reached the select few that saw what was chosen. We were cautious in what we finalized and paid for the printing, mounting, matting and framing. Now, we can post-and-share without the cost or efforts we had to go through previously.
As like your great site, you invite those to stop by your site, enjoy not only your photography, but also your shared words, wisdom and what makes you sing.
Competitions ratings and such can be over-rated and sometimes provide negative encouragement rather than positive. As with everything, there are the pros vs cons and we all will walk away with some mindset of the experience of the competition or rating. How we respond to receiving awards, no awards, high ratings and low ratings is our growth or can be a negative of discouragement.
Who are we photographing for? When I photographed weddings, I photographed for the client, but was hired on my talent to see and capture the moment. As to person images, I photograph for myself and enjoy sharing, encourage others to photograph and embrace the art.
From the photo competitions I have entered, I enjoy seeing the ones that received awards, but I also equally enjoyed those that entered and viewing what everyone as a whole captured and created.
I seldom find two visions that are alike. As we are all individual, and all have our own unique fingerprints and style – our visions are equally different. As to share, embrace and not only see what we are photographing and to see what others see and capture… that creates a stimulating community of artists sharing their passions and what makes us all sing and dance when we photograph or do anything else in our celebrations of life and the moments before us.
Thank you for the post. Thank you for your website and blog. Thank you for sharing your images, thoughts and wisdom. All the best!
John, you comments here are right on the money. I’m amazed how likes on Facebook, Instagram and the others can become a substitute for a good old honest critique. While we all love a good pat on the back, it’s not why I make photographs.
I go back to the film days like you and agree that it was all about the experience. With digital the process is different and it does have its merits, but the experience can get lost in the process of making hundreds of images of the same subject. We’ve also lost the craft of getting it right the first time because with 36 shots on a roll of film there was not much of an option to screw up a once in a lifetime photograph.
Yup, film was expensive!
What is this “film” everybody keeps mentioning… Is that like those big round black vinyl disks with grooves on them people used to own???
Don’t you have lives to save?? 🙂
Your comments were right on the mark. When I first got back into photography a few years ago I think I was concerned with how my work would be accepted by others. But now the only person I want to please is me. My work is what I see through my camera lens is what my eye sees. If others like it fine and if they don’t that’s fine also. As long as I’m pleased and willing to experiment with new ideas that please me then I’m a happy camper!
Good for you Al!
John, from the perspective of someone who will never have to worry about winning a competition, I find that posting (a few) photographs is a great experience because that is when I feel removed from the photo and it becomes more public than personal. I can see the beauty and the flaws without all the noise of my own judgements; no good or bad thoughts – just an image that I happened to take and can now send out there for others to enjoy or comment upon. Competitive sites and contests would pull all that noise back into my next experience. Not for me…not unless, of course, the photograph can win me a new tripod! Then competitions are good!
You crack me up! 🙂
Very much agree with your article.
I love taking the photos and will admit I truly enjoy the process, creating what I want you to see with my computer. I was working in marketing with photoshop and illustrator when I got my first digital camera – I was completely hooked on all aspects of it. I print too, frustrating. I photograph what moves me, lots of landscapes and flowers. Used to love planting my flowers but in an apartment so it’s the photos that fill my soul now. I do show them, occasionally compete, occasionally win a prize to pay for this addiction, but it’s the process start to finish I love. Also teaching Photoshop and love sharing my knowledge (I do get paid for it ). Life is too short and doing what I love adds so much.
Amen! Good job!
John, photographers have forever complained about the judging in competitions being all over the place. I always tell photographers that when someone judges your image in a competition, the judges critiques of an image is based on what that judge would do with that image if it was their image. Every judge views subject matter, the composition, and the post processing a little different, so of course you will have critiques that are all over the place. We tell photographers to create images in your own style, shoot for what you like, but then complain if the judges don’t agree with their own unique style they have created. That’s because each judge also has their own styles they like and inject that opinion into their critiques. You can’t take it personal and say the judge doesn’t know what they are talking about. There’s no right or wrong, just differences in opinions.
I agree Mike, we bring to the act of viewing others images all of our biases, experiences and personal vision. What Cole, Chuck, Dan and I are suggesting is to be careful of letting others vision impact yours. Of course I am human and enjoy feedback.
Opps, my last post was meant for the second post on this subject where there is talk about competition judging. For this post I think everyone goes out to experience the fun of being in the environment they love and to capture images from that experience in those environments. I love that we have the internet to share our art with our followers, and I love when viewers appreciate what I’ve created through their likes and comments. I always said when I was in the art show business that there was no better feeling as an artist as when someone wanted to hang one of my images in their home, and were handing me money at the same time. We start out to create our art for us, but that art should be shared as much as possible. It would be tragic if all the great writers, painters, sculpture, photographers, etc, decided just to create their art for themselves and not share it with the world. So I think the internet is not only a great learning tool, but also a place where I can share and view all the great images that are being produced. I have competed in photo competitions and have been honored to have wins in all the contests I’ve competed in, and I think it lets me know if I’m producing images that others like, and that’s a nice feeling. Now if people didn’t like my images would I be disappointed, sure, but I would still go out and shoot, because #1, I love being out in nature and having fun with the camera.
To be clear, I never said sharing is not good. I’m simply suggesting it is healthy to understand why and to what end. Thanks for weighing in Mike. Good thoughts
Thanks John. The only photographer that you mentioned in your post that I know of is Guy. I’ve read some of his blog posts and for the life of me I can’t understand what he’s saying most of the time. He is an excellent writer but way above my intellect. I guess I never think that deeply about what I shoot. It’s more about the beauty within the subject and no zen or deep thought process going on between me and the subjects. I’m not sure very many photographer have that ability to think that deeply about what they shoot. I always tell people I’m just creating pretty picture.