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Alex_Mustard

Competitions and pros

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It is competition season and I have seen a couple of communications recently commenting about photographers who many people see as pros entering "amateur only" competitions. This post is not about naming names, but I thought a discussion of the problem might be interesting/helpful.

 

I think that part of the problem is the definition of pro. If income is used, we find that many of the most well known "pro photographers" often have substantial income from other areas and while they earn well from their photography they are often earning much more from non-diving related business.

 

In Europe there are very few photographers who regard themselves as professionals (which has a slightly different definition here - meaning you are doing UW photography all day every day). Most photogs have other major income streams from other businesses. This is why a lot of top European photographers often are seen to be unfairly entering US based amateur comps - the word has a different useage over here. To use an Academic analogy there is a lot of difference between being a professor in the States and be a professor in the UK university.

 

In general, I think all competitions should be open to all. But with amateur/novice/beginner categories aimed at encouraging newbies. After that people should be encouraged to compete at a high level - in anycase most comps won't attract big names as they don't have any prestige value.

 

Most serious "pro-level' photographers will only enter the most prestigious competitions as these are the only ones that will enhance their reputation. Personally, this year I only entered my club (BSoUP competitions), and then only the ones I see as most important (BBC Wildlife and Antibes - although I might change these choices if I lived somewhere other than Europe). These competitions don't limit the entries (Antibes even states that they don't care if pictures have won other competitions before - they just want the best). And consequently these are the ones that have an effect on your reputation. Oh and I also entered the Seahorse competition as you got a free box of chocolates!

 

To get back to the point, most pros rarely shoot competitions images - they are usually more concerned in shooting for the client or the planned editorial usage of the image. So they tend not to produce a lot of competition images. It is the well funded (and often well known) pro-level photographers (but who are not only earning from their images and therefore would be outside the financial definition of pro) that tend to produce the best stand alone images. And many of these people choose not to eneter amateur competition because they feel they are outside the spirit of the rules. Others chose to enter because they are nbot breaking the rules. And I think this is where the problem starts.

 

Anyway, there are a few thoughts to get things started. What do others think? I have tried to be a bit provocative! And I would re-iterate that it is best not to get too specific in negative examples.

 

Alex

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Hi Alex

 

A good topic. Having said which, I rarely enter competitions, partly because I specialise in temperate water photography and generally subject matter struggles against tropical (especially with a green rather than blue background)!

 

Depending on your view it could be said that:

 

Underwater is a pretty level playing field,

Amateurs have more time to concentrate on getting a single stunning image

The definition of a 'Pro' is rather meaningless (I, for example, derive all my income from my freelance status, but this involves some whacky jobs which have little to do with what I set out to do!)

 

And there are probably many more comment too.

 

I would personally classify a 'Pro' as someone who sets out to make a profit from photography (very different from pretending to make money from it!)and who is 'professional' in approach (ie. carries appropriate insurance, produces accounts, etc., etc.).

 

At then end of the day, I'd say that to be able to enjoy taking photos that please you is what photography is all about. In my professional work, this is not always possible as I often shoot to a brief. If you are able to shoot competition winning material, you are very fortunate and it doesn't really matter what your status is!

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Very interesting comments. And I agree with what you have said Alex.

 

I know Herb, Rand and I had a similiar discussion in the summer while drinking wine in the Bahamian sunset. :)

 

I think we came to a general concensus that the income measure is not appropriate. It really does not have relevance and is not defined. We were thinking that a published images definition would be more appropriate to guage professional status. That said, Pros do shoot differently than for competition in general.

 

I also agree that they should open competitions to all but maybe have categories similiar to the recent NCUPS where there is Novice, Open and the Professional award. I think anyone should be allowed to choose to compete in a higher category than they qualify for should they choose. As you say it allows you to compete against the best. Something that many amateurs relish. ;)

 

In terms of past winning shots... I'm not sure. Maybe open for that year but not past year winners.

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For me, in the biggest picture, the best win would be against all comers. As Alex mentioned, the prestige associated with his wins elevates him to a level most of us can only dream about.

 

If the contest is clear with the rules of entry, I've no problem with Pros entering at all. The organizers obviously set the income level in a manner that allows most if not the majority of U/W photographers who make money through their photography to enter.

 

One contest (which shall remain namless ;) ) Has the word amateur bolded, but then uses a relatively generous term to define a Pro. So, is their goal really to prevent Professionals from entering or just the creme de la creme?

 

As an aside, I see the U.S. contests growing considerably over the next few years. Digital photography is exploding and a logical step for most of us, after learning the basics of U/W photography, is to enter these contest to test our skills against others.

 

Perhaps the organizers will expand the categories to include specific levels of talent beyond Novice. I might suggest, for a start, a category for fat, bald guys...

 

Rand

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I agree with randapex that the best pic should be the best pic. If i was only an issue of winning prizes, it would be nice to have us "amatures" separated out. but placeing knowing you beat the "pros" , or the cheaters if there are any ;) is better then any prize.

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Let's figure out how to define "amateurs" for those competitions who exist to promote hobbiests. Any ideas?

 

The issue at the recent NCUPS Sea contest is that a pro is defined as someone who makes more than 40% of his/her income in photography, instruction, etc. There are definitely people in the winners' list who define themselves as pros; they run workshops, are published everywhere, have judged other competitions, etc. -- yet they entered the contest anyway, which I think is tacky.

 

For Wetpixel's contest, I want to attract the best photos regardless of who took them (we don't care who enters). As Alex mentioned, a lot of pros might not want to enter such competitions, anyway...

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We've had this same problem with our HUPS contest. We have film Novice and Advanced categories. An advanced shooter is considered to be someone who has won HUPS photographer of the year before, or has placed in other competitions.

 

Right now, our digital contest only has ONE category "everyone shooting digital"

 

Some of our Advanced film shooters also shoot digital and are competing in the digital contest. This is discouraging our novice digital shooters (and we have a LOT of them) from competing in our digital contest. They usually say something like: "I'll never win competing against Jackie Reid, so why even enter, it's no fun."

 

For this reason we think we need to break into Novice and Advanced categories for our digital contest for 2006. Just something for other competitions to consider - not everyone wants to compete with the "pros."

 

Wetpixel has added a "compact digicams" category to our contest for this reason too.

 

Cheers

James

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agree with the tacky issue eric, but its better said by you.

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My dictionary defines a hobby as: "An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure". If your aim is to make money with the images you take, I think you fall outside of the definition of hobby. I dont think it matters if you only make 10% of our income with your images. If you plan to make money, you're not a hobbyist. I dont think there is a definate line though. Its ofcourse a huge grey area. Sometimes its obvious, sometimes it isnt. I personally think its a matter if self control. You know if you are a hobbyist or not. If you enter a competition even though you're clearly doing UW photography to make money, its a little tacky indeed.

 

I think that besides the pro/amateur distinction there is another line that I think is sometimes crossed. I think if you are in any way associated in the operations of an organisation running a contest, you shouldnt be entering it. I ofcourse dont mean members of whatever diveclub, but I do mean boardmembers, or the treasurer, or anything that sticks out. Ofcourse, the images are always stunning, and well deserving to win, but it should be a matter of principle to avoid any and all discussion about impartiality.

 

Cor

 

ps: this ofcourse only goes for 'amateur only' contests. If the contest is open for all, then ofcourse anyone can enter. (although I still think people strongly associated with the organisation shouldnt enter)

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I think that besides the pro/amateur distinction there is another line that I think is sometimes crossed. I think if you are in any way associated in the operations of an organisation running a contest, you shouldnt be entering it. I ofcourse dont mean members of whatever diveclub, but I do mean boardmembers, or the treasurer, or anything that sticks out.  Ofcourse, the images are always stunning, and well deserving to win, but it should be a matter of principle to avoid any and all discussion about impartiality.

Cor - this is an issue I had to think about when coming up with rules for the Wetpixel contest. I decided to ALLOW everyone associated with WP to enter, because they will have absolutely nothing to do with the contest. Basically, what that means is that the judges (Alex Mustard, Stephen Frink, myself), and DivePhotoGuide side (Jason Heller + whomever else he brings into the coordination efforts) are banned from entering, but for everyone else it's fair game. Judging will be blind (the images will have been renamed), and we are giving people explicit notice in the contest rules.

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I wasnt actually thinking of WP, but I can surely see you had to think about it. Take the extreme case where all prices are won by co-admins. Surely they can do it ;) But it'll look weird I think..

 

Cor

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First of all, can I ask where all of you were last January when I started working on the rules for the SEA competition? I really could have used some of your ideas and comments.

 

I also would not mind a competition open to all. I always get a thrill when I beat some of the well known (but not professional, most of them) photographers in my area in a competition. My exception would be the Novice category. We need to encourage the new photographers to keep trying and having a separate category for Novices at competitions can be a good way of doing that.

 

What about not calling it Amateur and Professional but going back to Novice - Intermediate - Advanced. Criteria (non-monetary) could be developed to allow "professionals" to compete in the Advanced category against the top "amateurs" some of whom are just as good if not better than some "professionals." Criteria could include quantity of published images, whether you teach photography, if Stan Waterman has you on his rolodex.

 

I'm making notes for revised rules for next year. All input is welcome.

 

Best,

Kathy Mendes

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