It’s award season in the photo world, when we photographers round up our best work and pay a bunch of money to enter those images into an ever expanding range of photo contests.
Over the years I've had mixed feelings about these contests. It’s impossible to say if winning alone actually does anything for a career. I believe that marketing is a long term cumulative effort, and that the results are due to the sum of the parts, not any one part.
I have been entering my work in shows since around 2002, when I was just getting started as a full time pro. My reasons for doing so then were mainly because I believed that winning would be my ticket to an endless stream of creatively and financially rewarding commissions. Which is mostly not true. But each year I’d enter work, and pay the uncomfortably high fees, and feel sort of weird and icky about the whole thing.
Then I read Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth. And when I got to #26, which says “Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you,” something clicked and I spent several years believing it.
So I didn’t enter any of the big contests, because I believed that they weren’t good for me. It was an easy thing to believe, and it was even easier to not submit work or pay entry fees. It was also easy to not make new work because there were no deadlines. And for me, deadlines are fuel.
Since then I have come around, and realized that the real value is not in getting published in a award books. Winning awards is more a validation that you've done something well. With this in mind, this year I drove to Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs to shoot ski jumping.
My goal was to come away with one image that I could enter (with confidence) in the Communication Arts Photo Annual. Jumping is something that I have always wanted to shoot, and seemed like a good chance to try something new and maybe learn a thing or two.
And I did learn two things:
1. Shooting ski jumping is very technically challenging — especially with strobes.
2. The real value in photo contests hasn't been in the winning — it's in the making. The awards are a byproduct of that achievement.