How do you ensure professional growth?

What do you do to ensure you’re growing? I started out as a professional photographer back in 2007 and the learning curve was STEEP at the beginning. There was a lot to learn around every curve (and there were a LOT of curves). As the years have passed, my natural growth slowed down and I needed to intentionally seek out new ways to grow or I knew I would stagnate.

One of the best growth tools I discovered this year is one that helps to push me artistically; print competitions. I wish I started competing in my very first year as a professional but I’m glad that I’ve started now even if it is 8 years later!

Some of you may be thinking that you remember back when I won some prizes through photography (like a trip to Disney World!). Those were won through contests – competitions are quite a bit different.

Contests:
-one judge who may or may not be qualified selects their favourite
-sometimes left up to the public to vote (a la popularity contest)

Competitions:
-a panel of judges made up of master photographers
-image is graded based on the 12 elements of a merit image
-once your images are judged you have a really great sense of how you stack up in the professional industry – below average, average for a professional photographer, above average, excellent, outstanding, superior, or exemplary
-receive a numeric score, or entrance into a prestigious collection

So, why do I compete?

I compete because it challenges me to aim for perfection within an image at every shoot. I keep in mind the following 12 elements of a merit image as outlined by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA): impact, technical excellence, creativity, style, composition, presentation, colour balance, centre of interest, lighting, subject matter, technique, and story telling – for more details on these see their website here.)

More than that, though, competitions have introduced me to a new level of artistry. I no longer capture only what I see – I also create what I want to see. I am an artist with a blank canvas and photography is my medium. I now shoot 80% what is expected and 20% experimental on a shoot – and usually my clients love to try new things with me. I also have been planning my own stylized shoots outside of my client work. When planning my own shoot with a model I have full creative control and really experiment to get the look I’m hoping for.

This year I entered two competitions. The first one I entered was in its inaugural year at ShutterFest in St. Louis, and I received two merits with one portrait scoring as above average and the other scoring as excellent and winning first place in the bride and groom together category!

The second competition I entered was in its 124th year (established in 1891!!) at PPA’s Annual Exhibition in Atlanta. I am honoured to say that two of my portraits made it into the merit collection with one going on to make it into the prestigious Loan Collection! The Loan Collection will be on display in Atlanta this January and will be published in their Loan Collection book featuring the best photographs of the year from around the world.

I already have plans for future competitions and cannot wait to compete at WPPI in Las Vegas for the first time March 2016!

So, how to you ensure professional growth? Have you ever competed? If not, what’s stopping you? Share in the comments below.