by Skip Cohen
Many of you have just returned from WPPI and hopefully had a chance to look at the print exhibit, regardless of whether or not you entered in competition. The only sad thing about it was that prints were stuck in a back hallway with lousy lighting and hardly elevated to the presentation level they deserved. Plus, I heard the number entering was down to a record low, but I suppose that's what happens when WPPI's parent company runs a print contest every month. Sooner or later it was bound to affect the 16x20 competition, but that doesn't take away from it being an outstanding experience or a great competition.
Whether you enter prints in competition or not, you're missing the boat if you don't at least get involved. It's an incredible learning experience and might well be the best bang for your buck when it comes to what you'll learn by listening to some good print critiques.
Years ago, I entered my first images in PPA competition and was ecstatic when three of them scored high enough to hang. The next year I entered just one print in WPPI, the whale shot above, "Mother and Child". It scored well and hung that year, but here's what I really learned.
First, the judging is open to the public. I went in hoping my print might come up within an hour or two and stayed for six hours. Listening to a panel of industry experts comment on each print, as it was shown, was incredible. Comments about exposure, composition and printing were in abundance and the information shared with the audience was virtually unlimited.
Second, seeing the work of other photographers made me realize things I needed to do to improve my own presentation. It might have been something major in relation to how I had cropped the subject or something that had seemed insignificant, like the title. With each image I found myself creating my own scoring system to see how well I was understanding the process and how close I could be to the score from the judges.
Third, was simply listening to the judges. Most of the judges are instructors at various conventions and workshops around the country. Listening to the judge's comments on a particular print gave me a feel of whose program I might want to attend, even their teaching style and presentation skills.
Fourth, when a print does score well there are hundreds of photographers who publish a press release in their community. Others, enjoy displaying the various awards in their studios and offices. Even if you don't do as well as you hope, just the fact that you participated can be a publicity opportunity.
Last but not least, and maybe one of the biggest bonuses of print competition, is that you never know how your images might be used later on. Numerous times over the years at Rangefinder, we found some outstanding covers for the magazine - all out of prints submitted for competition and relevant to the theme of a particular issue.
Over the years I've entered prints in both PPA and WPPI and it's been a learning experience every time. So, whether you're attending a national, regional or state convention, make it a point to sit in on the judging, whenever possible. Make the print exhibit your first stop. Look at as many prints as possible and pay attention to the subject matter, lighting, exposure and composition. Then look at the printing quality, the material used and the actual presentation.
I spoke at the Dallas chapter of PPA years ago and they do a print competition at every meeting. Here's a chance to test your abilities with your local peers. There was some outstanding work shown that night. Check around your community and see if there are any local groups meeting who share and critique images.
I know it’s going to sound trite, but it’s not whether you win or lose, but really is simply about playing the game. You don’t have to enter a print in competition to learn from the process!
But I will close with one final caution. How well a print might do or not do in competition doesn't necessarily reflect how much the client liked it. Or, in the words of my old buddy, Dean Collins:
"Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!"
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