Sunday, November 9, 2014

In Pursuit of Excellence

"You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books that you have read, the music you have heard and the people you have loved.
-Ansel Adams

Photography can be art, but strangely it is also sometimes nothing more than personal record keeping, what we might term a snapshot. Often we just want to record a moment or occasion in our lives without any attempt at creating anything more and that's okay of course, being a perfectly legitimate use of photographic technology. 

The vast majority of photographs taken on any given day are exactly that and no more, a photographic record destined for Facebook or Instagram, possibly to be "shared" or "liked" by members of the recorder's inner circle, their "friends".

But the potential, ahhh, the potential of the medium is so very vast these days, it's a bit mind blowing, that is to say, EXTREMELY INTIMIDATING!

Every time I start to think I'm making some progress towards transitioning some of my work from digital record keeping to creating art, I come across someone else's photographs that very quickly illustrate just how far I have to go. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the perspective) photographic technology is advancing incredibly rapidly and as one technique or technology is mastered or at least partially understood, something new becomes possible. It's quite the challenge to keep up!    

I think the best thing I ever did to help my photography skills move forward was to join a photography club. If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am guilty of being a bit of a lazy photographer (in the past). These days I am trying very hard to learn better habits and skills and to push, pull or drag my photography to a higher level.

When I first joined the St. Albert Photography Club
I was a little bit intimidated (and still am) by the skills of some of the members. Most of the members are not professional photographers, but rather they are for the most part, talented, passionate amateurs who love to learn and share their work with others.

Part of the process of a photography club is the submissions night that takes place every month during the club season. On that special night, members bring printed images, (as large as they can afford to print) up to the maximum size of 11" x 14" unframed but in a simple mat, to pit against the work of other club members.

The other way of entering is the digital submissions category and that is how I first entered the fray in an effort to determine if my images made the cut, if they would stand up to the critiquing of the other members of the club. At first I was regularly disappointed by the response to my submissions and in hind sight I see now that I often submitted badly chosen images, it was quite a revelation. 

A Non-winner from the "Country Roads" submissions theme.

It took quite a while to break into the winners circle and that only happened by accident.

When friends used some of my images in their home, they decided to re-print one of them in a larger size (because they liked it so much, wahoo!) and I asked for the old one printed at 11"x14" which was exactly the right size for submissions night.

My first winning image

I submitted it in the open category in October of 2013 and won first place, a very heady feeling let me tell you! That win ignited my renewed interest (my photo-mojo) and spurred me on to print more images, take more photos and much more carefully shoot, select and enter the various categories.

It's a lot of work planning and executing creative entries for themes such as: weathered wood, opposites, alone in a crowd, broken, fog/smoke or country roads. I've noticed though that it's good to be challenged, it's good to have stiff competition that consistently forces you to submit your best work for even a hope of having your images placing well. 

All of last season I was mentally chasing one particular individual who is consistently entering absolutely great images, technically perfect, exciting, creative and well crafted art. There are lot's of great photographers in the club, but this guy consistently submits excellent work and he makes every month even more of a challenge.

I love this one and expected it to do well......what can I say, it didn't even place but I still love it!

I called this post "In Pursuit of Excellence" because I wanted to make a point about how this kind of a challenge can be such a motivator to up your game, to push you and motivate you to spend more time thinking and creating something beautiful or meaningful that is well beyond what we might create on our own, without outside influence and a challenging environment.

You might believe that art is subjective and of course you are right, but until you have had a selection of your work critiqued by your peers (and betters) and you have truly compared your best to the best that is out there, it is very easy to convince yourself that your work is good or even great and leave it at that. 

After all, it's mine and I'm awesome, at least that's what my mom used to tell me and she should know!


  1. Well that makes sense and is interesting to see form someone else's perspective. I was also a member of the club and felt very intimidated by the same people winning over and over again. It was also discouraging since I am not very good with photoshop or lightroom and photo that is tweaked will always look better. i also felt that since the majority of these members have been meeting they all know each other and it was hard to fit in. I had been at every meeting and critique (even entered a few times) for over a year and when the president at the time asked me if I was new I felt a little disappointed that again no one had noticed me or made an effort since they were all friends. I never returned.

  2. That's too bad but I get it. Sometimes it's hard to break into a new group of people. I found that going to the banquets, camping trips and field trips as much as possible helps to get to know people. I encourage anyone to enter the competition and try not to take any criticism personally, just use it to learn and advance your photography, eventually you will find your photos doing better in the judging and that feels very good! Be encouraged and don't give up on your photography or on the club. Thanks for commenting.