Sunday, 26 July 2015

Realisations upon losing.

Each year I submit my photographs to Landscape Photographer Of The Year and each year, two cruelly short weeks later I get the reply informing me that my photos are just not up to scratch. My initial  reaction is usually anger with a good dollop of confusion - but then it moves on to wondering just why my photos might have missed out.

I'm not really expecting to win and get my hands on that £10000 prize - but I am surprised that I consistently don't get past the first round. What could I be doing wrong? Why do others do so well? What can I do for next year?.. So many questions need answering but, unfortunately, it's likely I'll never hear the answers due to the secrecy and inherent randomness involved in selecting one piece of art above another.

Now, before I go on, I should mention that when I see who is successful the overwhelming feeling is that I can see why, and it's well deserved. Even last year's winner - whilst not my cup of tea for the specific winning photo - I can see why it won and Mark Littlejohn has a million shots that I could deem a worthy winner anyway. Then when Greg Whitton won Outdoor Photographer Of The Year - I got it. It was my cup of tea, it was spectacular, and it was equally well deserved. So on the whole it's not that I'm unreasonably biased against anyone who does better than me (as in most people!)... but there are always a decent number of photos that make you step back and think 'really, that?!?'. 

I'm usually fine with that too... art is art... it's all meaningless really. It's not like it's physics or anything real. But this year I took a few photos which I couldn't/won't/wouldn't want to improve upon - and this adds a new dynamic to my thinking. What is the point in trying if the views of the judges are so misaligned with those of myself? I understand the technical aspects of photography and I equally enjoy the beauty of nature and what it throws at us - and on at least three occasions in the last 12 months nature and technology came together to allow me to capture everything I could ever wish to capture... and yet it's still not good enough. A lot of people will question why I care so much whilst not valuing the opinion of the judges - but who isn't looking for a small amount of validation from those who we're told know more than us? More importantly than this, who isn't looking for the small leg up that such validation brings when it comes to people knowing your name, valuing your prints and booking your tutorials?

I'm sure I'll still enter in future years anyway, but more in the hope that expectations change rather than my photos getting any better/different. I'm not averse to changing styles and shooting new things  - I do it already, but just don't like them - but I equally don't want to lose the excitement of those magical, scarcely believable moments where the wow factor is instant (and arguably cheesy) in favour of shooting the more boring... potentially brilliant, but fundamentally boring... scenes. 

A few things I'd like to reiterate and clarify:

- This is not meant as a desperate attempt at getting everyone to say "ignore them, your photos are amazing". Please don't say that.

- I do want recognition - who doesn't? I'm just losing faith in the judges and wonder who can ever judge something subjective. Similarly, I wonder how judges got the position they currently have? Is it luck? Are they the right age - balanced nicely between film and digital - they existed before photography became so wildly popular but are young enough to understand tinterweb? Are they actually really good, and if so - in what way and says who?

- Even if I didn't enter - I can think of so many photographers who get passed by who would be every bit as worthy as those who make the book - and in many cases more worthy.

- Finally, I promise to continue shooting into the sun as it makes a perfectly valid focal point so long as the composition works with it and I shall continue to share the 'tacky' but beautiful stuff that get's us addicted to being out in the countryside in the first place. It's depressing to look through last year's book of winners and - with the exception of those chosen by sponsors - be able to count on one finger the number of photographs with the sun in shot in a classical landscape fashion.

- Bonus finally - is there any point in any of this? I'm not a great believer in art at all... as in, I don't believe it matters at all... fundamentally I'm a pure, logical scientist who has no interest but to share the beauty of the universe - whether by equation or image. The rest is all a bit of fun that imperfect humans like to get all het up about. 


  1. "I'm not a great believer in art at all... as in, I don't believe it matters at all... fundamentally I'm a pure, logical scientist who has no interest but to share the beauty of the universe"

    Perhaps you should consider that this might be why: photography *is* art, not a purely clinical and technical way of recording the world. If you do see it that way, it sounds more like you are a forensic photographer, coldly producing the clearest and most detailed shot possible to later stand up in court as evidence. Wrong approach, I think.

    1. Photography is art, yes, but it doesn't mean it matters as such. I'd agree with you that my aim with the camera is to forensically capture the most detailed, real, accurate image that I possibly can - but that doesn't mean it takes any of the beauty and feeling out of the situation. My love of the landscape is as intense as anyone's and so I don't believe much should be... or needs to be... created in the camera. I trust nature to create the beauty and my job is simply to open up the sensor to record it.

      Of course, you take into consideration the way that most human brains are wired in order to perceive certain visual cues, shapes and patterns to make the composition of the projection of that 3D landscape within the 2D frame as pleasing as possible - but it's ultimately all still science, albeit an imperfect one.

      I can't see how that takes away from the beauty of the photograph though or, more precisely, what is depicted in the photograph...

  2. Hi Mat,

    I, as many other photographers who just got rejected from LPOTY, or any other photo contest for that matter, can relate very well to the pain, self doubt, frustration and a whole bunch f other feelings associated with having your work not deemed good enough by a panel of judges.
    I won't say your photos are amazing, as you explicitly stated you didn't want to hear that :-)
    And I won't say that competition results don't matter, as they do. Careers have been propelled forward on the back of competition results. But then again, I have seen your work published in major UK photography magazines. That in itself is a major sign that your work isn't too bad :-) And there's always next year. Different judges, different day, hopefully better results!

  3. I've just seen this! I have no idea how I missed it, so apologies for the slowest reply ever!

    I'm was quite astounded you didn't make it through either... even moreso than myself, you've consistenly produced some of my favourite images over the last year... so this frustrates me even more! Confirming the arbitrariness of the judgements.

    As you say, the main frustration is probably the leg up it can give you in turning it from a hobby with a profit to an actual business. The title always looks good on a business card, and the magazines come calling regardless of how much you actually know about your subject.

    There's always OPOTY to come before next year though :P