Why We Compete and (sometimes) Fail

If you have followed our exploits for any length of time you might be aware that several times a year we enter images in to various photographic competitions. To be honest, any industry competition is way more important to the people in that industry than their prospective clients. Usually our clients are vaguely aware of the fact that we post about awards from time to time but not many know the extent, the reason or even base their purchasing decisions on that information. Out of the several that we take part in every year, the big one is the International Photographic Competition (IPC) from the Professional Photographers of America. With more than 5,000 entries from all over the world and the most qualified judging in the visual arts, the IPC is admired the world over for it’s prestigious history and it’s industry leadership. Many competitions base their standards, scoring and judging on the methods pioneered and used for decades by the IPC.

So without getting too wordy, it’s important to us. We love it and when the judging is happening it’s like the Superbowl for those of us that participate (we have even hosted a watch party at our studio). The reasons for being involved might seem obvious to some, but the truth is that they might not be what you think. As said above, the glory and honor is pretty much localized within the participants. Mostly it doesn’t do a ton to bring any new business in the door. In order to give a little insight, we wanted to give our top three reasons for participating and then show the entries from this year and the results we got.

1. Critique – Working in a creative field, it is very easy to live inside your own head and guard against criticism. In fact it’s almost a must these days because there is almost always someone waiting to criticize the work of those who put themselves out there. The problem with that is that you can find it hard to be challenged and to grow. The IPC (and photographic competition in general) anonymously gets your work in front of objective, experienced judges who will critique your work in a way that shows their passion and commitment to your growth and the betterment of the industry. Critique tells us that no matter how good we are (or think we are) that there is always room to improve. It also gives us some concrete and actionable ways to start improving. Critique can be scary for creative types, our heart tends to be very involved in what we create, but competition gives a safe space in which to get those critiques and use them to grow.

2. Relevance – Some of the best image makers in the world take part in the IPC. That is a scary fact when you consider that your work is going to bee seen by the same judges and held to the same standards. The truth is that, although we may not be the world’s best, we would like to be. A great way to improve at anything in life is to surround yourself with the best and aspire to that level, photography is no different. All of the greats had teachers and mentors. So not only can you see and be judged with some of the best photography in the world, but you can constantly be tested to see where you fall in to the mix. Competition gives insight in to where the industry is going and inspires us to use that insight to keep our work relevant.

 3. The Glory – There is a certain amount of glory to be had from competing. That glory is largely localized to the industry and even more so to the participants in the competition. You will garner some respect amongst your peers who work in the same world and sometimes your grandparents give you a thumbs up too. Mostly “the glory” for competitors we know is the sense of satisfaction that comes not from being better than others, but from being better than themselves yesterday. For people who create visual art for a living, satisfaction is typically short-lived. Whatever you made last week isn’t going to keep you satisfied; it’s all about what you make next week. Photographic competition gives you a date to set in your calendar, a reason to push yourself and an excuse to to experiment. For many of us who work in creative fields, that reason can be the difference between being inspired and being stuck in a rut.

Here are my entries for the 2016 IPC and a brief rundown of each one.


This image, titled “Breathless”, was the most successful this year. It was judged as a merit print (sort of the main goal, a score of 80 or higher) and then judged again as being worthy of acceptance in to the International Loan Collection, an honor that is usually reserved for the top 10% or so of images in the competition. This image marks the tenth entry of mine in to the Loan Collection in the last 8 years.


This image, titled “Our Moment in History”, was judged to be a merit image but failed to make it in to the Loan Collection. Although excited to see it judged as a merit, I have to admit that I was disappointed it didn’t go further. The good news is that the IPC provides additional critique by video and a judge from the competition sits down and gives you their thoughts on the image and how it could have been improved in ways from capture to post-processing.


This entry was my personal favorite. Titled “Like a King”, it was photographed on MLK Jr. day this year and I couldn’t help but notice this handsome man’s resemblance to the late Dr. King. None of those elements were planned or thought about ahead of time, but when the Universe throws you a softball you may as well take a swing at it. This print was judged to be a merit but failed to gain acceptance in to the Loan Collection largely because of the way it was cropped. The crop was an artistic choice and, to be fair, I knew it was a gamble. I was hoping that one of the judges would see what I did and fight for it but it wasn’t in the cards. Even though I was disappointed with the result, I appreciate the feedback on my work. Despite everything this is honestly my favorite image I have made this year. And you know what? A merit print is still a pretty great result.


“Dangerous” was my biggest disappointment. It wasn’t accepted as a merit image and not even eligible to be judged for the Loan Collection. Surprised and disappointed I waited for the video critique on the image so I could get some answers. As I watched and listened my first reaction was to yell at the screen, but as I gave it more thought, this was the reason I entered in the first place. As much as I love and am proud if this image, I wanted to have my work judged against the best in the world by the best in the world. Even if I happen to disagree with the results or the critique it’s important that I listen to and absorb them. Alternative points of view and honest critique are only going to make our work stronger over time.

It’s not always easy to have your work picked apart by a panel of experts. If nothing else, the result is more education and delivering better work on a daily basis to our clients. When it goes well, you get rewarded for your effort with medals, plaques and trophies for your office, the respect of your peers and a great sense of satisfaction. Unfortunately the satisfaction of victory only lasts until the IPC opens up for entries the following year!

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