Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Salon competition at T.A.P.P.A.

Last night I participated in my first "Salon" as a member of the Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association.

First, let me tell you a little about the group.  T.A.P.P.A. is the largest affiliate guild in Florida of the Professional Photographers Association with over 100 members.  The P.P.A. is a great organization that publishes "Professional Photographer" magazine, provides insurance to guild members and sponsors schools and workshops around the country.  The people I have met since joining the guild have been great and it's really nice to have a network of fellow professionals who I can reach out to for support (and offer support in return)

Competition is a big deal in the PPA.  It starts with the "Salon" at our monthly meeting.  Then there's the yearly Salon for each guild chapter (that's what we did last night).  Next is regional and then national.  The ultimate goal is to receive a "merit" for your image.  A merit is awarded for a score of 80 or above in a regional competition.  Previous posts about monthly salon are here, here and here.

The idea is that the monthly salon, which is voted on by the members, is a way to see what images you have that might be worth moving up to the yearly salon (which is judged by three qualified judges.)  How you do in the yearly salon will help you decide if it's worth moving on to regional.  If you score 80 or above in the yearly salon, you receive a "Chapter Merit." 

What's a merit?
A chapter merit is just a ribbon and recognition from your guildmates.  A merit at the regional level counts towards PPA degrees.  If you want to earn the Master Photographer Degree from the PPA, you have to have earned 25 merits. twelve of those merits must be from salon competitions.  The others can be earned other ways, like serving on the board or a committee. So, a merit at the yearly chapter salon (last night) doesn't count toward anything but a merit at a regional salon does..

With me so far...?
Last night I entered 6 images (that's the max. you can enter) into the Salon.  I received one score of 80 and the other 5 were scored from 76-78.  (This is common.  I've never seen an image that didn't score 70 or higher and only seen one that scored over 85.) 

In the "Wedding and Event" category there were 11 submissions.  Three of the images received a "merit" score.  One of them was mine.  At the end of the salon, they award 1st, 2nd, 3rd in each category and a "Best in Show."  My image woe 1st in "Wedding and Event." (it's the image at the top)

There were over 100 images entered all told and probably 20 merit scores.

Now comes the tricky part:
If you had asked me to rank the images I submitted last night, the one that scored the highest would be 3rd or 4th on my list.  The two that I would have ranked the highest got the lowest scores of all my images.  Clearly I don't have a good idea of what an excellent image is.

But wait!  It was explained to us that just because you get a certain score at one salon doesn't mean you will get the same score at another salon.  Different judges with different ideas means different scores every time you enter.  But here's the rub:  If you are going to accept that getting a bad score doesn't necessarily mean that you have a bad image, you also have to accept that getting a good score doesn't necessarily mean you have a great image. So, if you don't take it too seriously that you got a low score, you also can't get too excited when you win 1st in the 'Weddings and Events" category!  You can't have it both ways.  You can't say, "The judges did a poor job judging my images, except for the one they thought was great..  lol"  If you are going to accept that they were absolutly right when they awarded you first place then you have to accept that your other 5 images weren't good enough. 

You see the problem.

This is my curse.  I'm a very logical, rational type person.  I play by the rules.  So, it's strange to be judged in a manner that is so... well... flexible. Of course, it has to be that way.  Photography is art and art is subjective by it's very nature but it's still frustrating!

The experience was interesting but I don't know that I'll do it again.  There was an image last night that one judge scored in the high 80's and then another judge scored the same image in the high 70's.  There was a 9 point difference.  Who do you believe?  One image was debated among the judges.  It was a portrait of a little girl.  One judge said that he thought it would score better in the "Uncategorized" category because there wasn't a catchlight in the eyes.  So, it's not a portrait because there's no catchlight??  To my eyes, it was clearly a portrait.  In fact, if I was a judge and that image was entered in "Uncat" I would penalize it for being in the wrong category.  (This is a common thing.  Last night there was a picture of a dog in "Uncat" and another picture of a dog in "Portrait." Both were shot in-studio.  Which one was in the wrong category?)

Let me change that... I probably will do it again but I don't know how serious I will take it...

Let me finish by making it perfectly clear that I believe that the judging is honest and as fair as can be.  The whole idea of judging art is a mine field to begin with and they do a great job of trying to be fair and helpful.  The judges were great and we owe them much love for doing it.  Also, the guild members who organize the whole thing deserve a great deal of thanks. The problem is me.  I'm not sure that I'm cut out for the high's and low's associated with being judged when there are no solid guidelines for success.  How do you work hard at success when success may not mean anything (nor failure...)?

Booray Perry is an award-winning wedding photographer in Tampa Florida.
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