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Photography Is Not A Competition, Nor Should It Be

August 30, 2019  •  5 Comments

Even though there are photographic competitions, photography itself and art in general is not a competition. In the creative process there is no finish line, no competitors, no comparison. All creative endeavours are in their essence subjective, personal and incomparable. Yet the modern digital reality has created this sense of urgency and competition which I feel is hugely detrimental to art.

Photography Is Not A Competition

Social media platforms have made people believe that likes and followers are really important. They have algorithms that will decide if you are "interesting" or not within the first minutes after you post something. I have a problem with using the word interesting for things that are liked by the masses in the shortest amount of time. Very interesting things that are innovative, creative, artful and deep need more time to be understood and so they typically don't get a great number of likes in those first few minutes. 

Yet, this word interesting is used and as an effect many photographers and artists who are very talented have become insecure about their work as it is not as popular as other people's work. First of all, we must make the separation between popularity and quality. Even though sometimes these two things can come together, it also very often does not. I am not by any means implying that those who are popular don't take good pictures, but what I am saying is that it is very dangerous that popularity is now being equalled to mastery. 

The perception nowadays is that if one has hundreds of thousands of followers, one must be the very best in one's craft/art. This however is not self-evident. Social media have made many of us believe that in order for us to be successful, we must be popular. We have been fooled into believing that this number tells people something about how good we are, how worthy we are, how successful we are and the flip side of this is that an incredible amount of people is now feeling unworthy, unpopular, not good enough and unseen. 

As soon as you start to get the feeling that you need to catch up with those who are successful, you will start to give up your own uniqueness. It will lead to comparison, to adjusting to the taste of the masses and mimicking things that are generally liked. In the process of chasing after more popularity, running towards a finish line, you will loose yourself. You will loose your authentic way of expressing yourself in your art. You might then win a trophy, but at the cost of expressing what makes you you in your art.

And this is what art is all about. For art to be art there needs to be self-expression. The way you see things is unique to you and can't be compared to anyone else's, not should it be. Art is not like a sporting event, where you can win by defeating others. In art you can build on what you learn from artists who are willing to share, you can be inspired by them, but in self-expression, at one point the others must also be irrelevant. 

Try to remember that popularity does not equal mastery, being successful or making meaningful art. Let me explain this in another way. Do you assume that if a car is hugely popular, that it is also the best car? It might be liked by the masses, but there will also be a lot of people who don't like it. Will it be the fastest car? The most innovative car? The most interesting car? Can you see how this does not hold up? 

I do sometimes enter my work into competitions, but I pick the pictures that represent me best, pictures that have meaning to me. If they are not picked by judges, I really don't care. If I feel like I could improve on my work, I will do my very best to build on my own work by constantly learning new things, by making growth and inspiration priorities, but I am not willing to compromise my way of expressing myself in order to win. It would not feel like winning anyway if I had entered work that did not fully represent me.

There is no finish line. The only trophy that has any meaning is the joy that comes from creating itself, from being in nature, getting to do what you love. This is something that is often taken for granted, but from personal experience I can tell you that it is the greatest gift of all; being able to do what you love...Your story will be forever changing, as you grow, learn and evolve. Start with passion and dedication and be willing to forever be a student. Let other artists be who they are, celebrate what makes them unique and don't look at them as people you need to beat. There is no objective way of deciding who would win anyway. Self expression can never be objectively compared and therefore there can not be a competition. Stop comparing yourself to others, you will never be happy if you do. 

PS I just published a new eBook which is called The Magic Of Forest Photography: The Recipes. This eBook walks you through the entire process of three images from my initial thoughts before the capture to the finishing touches in Photoshop. I explain every single step in great detail with not just extensive descriptions and the reasons why I take a specific step, but also numerous screenshots, so you can see exactly how I make my signature signature edits


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Eric Hanson(non-registered)
Thanks for your thoughts on this critical topic. Too many people put their personal identities into how many followers and likes they receive. Considering how easy it is to buy followers and likes, those numbers are meaningless. Copying what is popular and ignoring self-expression and personal growth is a worrying consequence of social media. This subject needs to be discussed much more often.
Bernhard(non-registered)
I like you fotostyle. while watching i can dream about the motive.

Best Regards Bernhard
Judith Collins(non-registered)
This is a very important post, and I thank you for sharing it. Especially important is the point you make that popularity does not equal mastery.
Angela(non-registered)
really appreciate your insight. I have been trying to put my finger on why my camera club's monthly competition is taking away my love of photography. this has really given me clarity. Thank you!
Kevin BeGa(non-registered)
Hola Ellen. Excelente artículo para iniciar el día. Estoy interesado en tu libro, Como lo consigo. Está en google ? Apple ? Amazon ?
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