kitten on a pink rug on a couch

Competitive Photography

My husband likens trying to give me a compliment to feeding a crumpled dollar bill into a vending machine. Now that’s going to be a strange analogy to many younger readers as it’s been a long time since we had a dollar note, much less a paper one that could be crumpled, not to mention when was the last time you could buy something from a vending machine for a dollar!

For those of you of an age to have actually experienced this ‘back in the day’ you’ll recall the experience of trying to straighten out a note, only to have it spat back out at you again. I am endeavoring to change, but it’s a slow process.

What does this have to do with competitive photography you ask? Well that’s a fair question.

The Australian Professional Photography Association (AIPP) holds the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) annually. It’s an opportunity for professional, student and emerging photographers to submit images for consideration by a panel of their peers, and assessed into grades or levels if you will. I compare it more to wine judging than the Olympics. There are category winners for each section, but largely it’s not about first, second and third, but about vision, creativity and ability to execute. And of course it is also all very subjective.

Entrants can submit up to four images. These can all be in one category, or across multiple categories. The rules for each category differ in relation to the level and type of post production allowed, in addition to rules about subject or medium.

This year I’ve been concentrating on my pet photography, so my three entries all went into the Pet and Animal Category. (editorial note – I just picked up a type before publishing and this was nearly pate and animal which would have been quite an icky kind of category…)

Two of my images received Silver Awards which is something to be really proud of, especially considering the amazing calibre of images this year. And I am proud. I love both of my images and they show part of my style and my aesthetic.

The challenge and benefit of being a vending machine that rejects the crumpled dollar bill is that I come away thinking about all the things I can do better. For me that is actually one of the best thing about awards. Stick with me here, I know this might not make that much sense yet but…

All critique can be an opportunity for growth. The Awards are part affirmation that you’re on the right track (or a sign that a course correction could be in order), but more importantly they are a chance to get feedback on where you can improve, things you can think about, accept or reject. You don’t have to agree with everything the judges say. Sometimes disagreeing with a comment will give you greater direction than agreeing with it. It’s your journey, they don’t know what destination you’re heading for.

While you’re sitting there, heart hammering in your chest as your image turns around it all feels so deeply personal. And it is. But it isn’t. You win by entering, by being brave and exposing your work, soul, ego, and fear of rejection to a panel of your peers. Competition is about continuous improvement, about getting out there are doing your very best, about being a good team player, a good loser and a generous winner. The awards are about the process, not about the badge.

APPAs feel very much like a team sport. I was lucky enough to head over to Sydney this year with a strong and inspiring Western Australian contingent. Celebrating the achievements and commiserating the disappointments with fellow photographers captures the spirit of the event, and is the real value of photography competitions. Active participation, giving it a go, taking a turn at being a cheerleader, or a coach, or the one who passes out the orange wedges at half time… You don’t need to be best on ground to get enormous value out of being a part of something great.

So hurrah and thanks to all the volunteers that make the awards what they are. I hope they will continue to be part of my personal and professional growth for years to come.

For those of you who give me encouragement, especially those who put up with me downplaying your kind words, thank you. I do hope you know how much it means to me.

If you’re interested in looking at the assessment guide you can find it on the AIPP web site. There is an assessment guide You may also want to check out the incredible images from the category winners.

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