This year I entered the Professional Photographers of Washington (PPW) image competition for the 6th time.
Images and Awards are at the bottom of the post 🙂
In 2015 I wanted to step up my game as a photographer and start working towards industry recognition. I invested in being an active member of PPW, having just earned my Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) status (which is a grueling technical and practical test and image review showing mastery of the science behind photography). I also become more active in the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and their degree programs.
My first year was a bit rough, as it is for most people entering a professional-caliber image competition. I brought my best work, expecting high marks and praise. But the reality of image competition came crashing down around me. I entered 4 images and had only a single image that came in at “merit” level. I am very fortunate though; I had some amazing support from my new PPW family during my first year. I had done well, having the highest aggregate case for a first-time entrant (my total score across my 4 entries). I earned my first trophy, the “Alma Gray” award, named after one of the founders of PPW. It also came with a scholarship for photography education (which I used to attend Ken Whitmire’s Wall Portrait Conference – another life-changing event . . . but that’s a different story). I licked my wounds, embraced that I had growing to do, and started down a path of improvement.
For those of you unfamiliar, a merit level image is one that scores 80 points or higher for an image. For a point of reference, a “good photographer” should expect to score between 70-74. A professional should expect scores between 75-79. The “merit” level is 80-84. Anything scoring 85+ is really high caliber work (and pretty rare).
I must admit it was a bit of a reality check to put your work up, blind and without explanation, against that of your fellow photographers. The images are judged by a panel of 5 accredited photographers who evaluate your images based on 12 different elements. This criterion was developed by the Professional Photographers of America as a guideline of what makes a high-quality image. Essentially, it is the vocabulary and rubric for creating your images. The judges don’t know the maker, the conditions, the intention, or any other details besides the title. They score it as a collective, debating with each other on the final score it deserves. Once they all agree on a score, it is locked in. These debates on an image are VERY helpful for understanding how a trained viewer evaluates an image.
I took notes religiously and worked on improving my craft. The details, harmony, technique, intention, and direction were paramount for an effective image. I started understanding just how much of the photography world I didn’t understand. I started working on making my images stronger and helping others improve along the way.
Over the course of the next several years, I continued to enter, learn, and work towards getting stronger and stronger entries. Each year I apply what I’ve learned and strive to be better than I was the year before. And each year I have made good progress toward improving as a photographer. I’ve started getting more and more images to “merit” level and receiving some recognition along the way.
Support, mentoring, and encouragement are key to pushing yourself to grow. I worked with mentors who helped push me (thanks Woody Walters), studied the works of photographers that blew me away (like Ansel Adams, Ben Shirk, John Gladman), had accountability checks with good friends (Mike Busby, Forrest Cooper), and worked towards being true to myself (thanks Rachel Wooley).
I’ve received top recognition from Fuji, American Color Imaging, American Society of Professional Photographers, Certified Professional Photographers, and numerous state level and district level awards. However, last year was monumental as I received the Master Photographer Degree from PPA, which requires a strong portfolio of merit level images. It was also my first year having all 4 of my entries for the National Level receive “merit” status, winning a Bronze award. My wife, Rachel, also did the same, receiving a 4/4 merit status and a Bronze award for her entries.
This year I decided to put in a lot more time, energy, and planning into my images. Rachel and I spent months planning, conceptualizing, and creating images for this year’s competition season. For one ambitious image, I had over 80 hours into its creation. In total, I had 10 entries between my two cases (one for Portraits and one for Artists). Rachel had 4 images in her split case (Portrait and Commercial). Oh boy did our hard work pay off at the PPW’s image competition. Both of our cases had every image at “merit” level, and new personal bests for each of us.
We both received the highest scores we have ever had. Rachel scored a 90 on one of her fine art flower images “Bottles and Blossoms” and I had my first 95 with “Stripes”, an image of a zebra. Between the two of us, we won 15 trophies at the PPW Image Competition. A new, and humbling, record.
We plan on taking the notes and feedback we received from the judges and fine-tuning our entries before “districts”, which is the next round of the competition. This gives us more feedback, as our images are judged up against other top makers from the “Western United States” (WA, OR, ID, CA, AK). From there, we will go on to Nationals at the International Print Competition from PPA.
The takeaway here is that you have to keep pushing yourself. We proved that we can obtain impressive marks. It is up to us to keep on improving, learning, growing, and helping others. I plan on helping more of my PPW and photography family grow and improve their images. I’m going to attend the PPA Judges Workshop so I can be better informed on the judging process and use that knowledge to help others improve their craft. After all, when those around you do better, it helps push you to do better.
Here are the entries that Rachel and I did this year, along with the recognition they received:
- Artist Case: Best Portrait
- Artist Case: Best Wedding
- Artist Case: Best Entry
- Portrait Case: Best Portrait of an Animal
- Portrait Case: Best Portrait of a Man
- Portrait Case: Best Portrait of a Woman
- Portrait Case: Best Portrait Entry
- Portrait Photographer of the Year
- Fuji Masterpiece Award: Portrait
- Fuji Masterpiece Award: Animal
- American Society of Photographers: Best Entry
- Certified Professional Photographers: Best Aggregate
- American Color Images: Print Excellence Award
- + 2 Judges Choice Awards
- Best Mixed Case (Commercial & Portrait)
- Commercial: Best Unclassifed Portrait