12 Hot Tips About Print Competitions with Lori Nordstrom

Moms with Cameras Features Lori Nordstrom, who Dishes on Print Competitions and Gives Big Props to Catherine Hall!

*A version of this article was originally published at moms-with-cameras.com

Lori Nordstrom is an amazing educator, print judge and quite the photogra-momma! Here, she shares with us some of her expertise as well as encouragement!

Print competition can be a bit scary the first time.  Well, let's face it... it's scary every time!  While we put our emotions, and at times our self-worth on the line for the judges, after competing a few times you'll find it addicting!  Print competition will move you forward as a photographer and artist.  Each time you perfect a print and then open it up for critique, you will learn and grow.  Print competition and critique is a learning experience in itself.  I highly recommend attending a print competition, listening to the judges and learning.

There are many competitions out there, and one of the most "competed" and researched photographers I know is Catherine Hall  http://www.catherinehall.net/weddings/index.html.  Catherine has competed in most print competitions out there and has even published a book on competitions, schedules, rules, etc.

For this discussion we will focus on PPA's (Professional Photographers of America) print competition.  Through PPA you will compete first on the state level, next regionals and then on to nationals.  Each level propels to the next.  At the state level you compete not only to learn and grow but for state awards.  It's recommended that the prints that do well move on, and that you take critique and recommendations to perfect prints or try new ones at the regional level.  Each time you enter be sure to "fill your case".  Many state competitions allow more than the traditional four prints so that 6-8 can be judged and critiqued.  Take advantage of this if it's an option.  Four prints are allowed at the regional and national level.  Don't send less than four!   I made this mistake my first year of competition and only entered two prints.  I didn't know any better!

PPA has given us 12 elements of a "merit" print.  These are prints that are considered above average and worthy of a merit (prints that score 80 or above). As a judge we are to start at 100 (as a score) and then take points off for "issues".  We are also taught in "judges school" to really examine and look closely at images for flaws.  It's a judges responsibility to be able to communicate the problems as well as the positives.  Be sure to take anything the judges bring up and remember those things when you are in similar circumstances.  I can think of many things I've heard in print comp, even when it's not my image!  I think about those things when I'm out shooting and make sure to pay close attention to them.  You will move forward and your client will benefit from all that you learn through print competition.

The 12 elements of a "merit print" as defined by PPA's Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) are as follows:

  • Impact
  • Creativity
  • Technical excellence
  • Composition
  • Lighting
  • Style
  • Print Presentation
  • Center of Interest
  • Subject Matter
  • Color Balance
  • Technique
  • Story Telling

A successful print must have each of these elements and they are listed according to importance.  Good luck in your print competitions and be sure to go through this check list before entering! It's also really helpful to send prints to someone who is a Master Photographer, or a PEC judge for critique before entering.  Take suggestions and make changes where you can, and overall, believe in what you love and feel passionate about!

Lori sweetly answers a few questions about Print Competition:

When you enter print competition each year, how do you decide which images to enter? What advice can you offer to those who may be entering for the first time and don't know where to start? The very best thing you can do is to find a mentor.  Someone who is a master photographer and has earned their stripes that you can email your images over to and ask for honest critique.  Don't enter something that's too personal.  Don't enter your kids (in most circumstances!).  Start with images that you feel are technically strong and work on them to make them stronger.  Look for the little details that can make a huge difference before the judges.

I know you often enter albums for competition. Why have you chosen to go this route over individual images? Do you think it is easier or harder to do this? Most would say it's harder to enter an album because it represents a body of work and not just one image that you can work on to make amazing.  I feel that my work, and what I do, tells a story.  So, to me an album makes perfect sense.  When entering albums, be sure that lighting and color is consistent.  There should be several images that can stand alone.  In other words, in the end of it, a judge will look back and say how many of these images would be merits on their own, and how well does it all flow and fit together.  The same elements of a merit print stand in an album, but when working this way you have to pay even closer attention to the story and emotion.

I know photographers are a little split on this topic. Some photograph specifically for competition images. Others feel you should enter what you photograph from day to day. Do you have a particular opinion on this? I think there are benefits to both.  I personally have never photographed for competition.  It doesn't mean that I never will!  In the past however, I've looked for images that I love and then worked to perfect them. I like the idea of shooting for competition because it pushes you as you look for all of the elements.  I love having digital as a tool.  Shooting, checking it out and then perfecting as you go.  I think this is a great way to learn and grow as a photographer.

What did you do the first time one of your images won an award? My first competition was a result of sending an image for a client to have printed by Lou Zoke.  I met Lou at a week-long workshop and saw some of his black and white printing (film at the time!). I was so impressed that I sent him a few pieces to try out his work.  Lou called me after receiving one of the prints and recommended that I enter it in print competition.  I had no idea what that was or what it meant, but I decided to go for it!  I only entered one print (not knowing any better) and ended up winning several awards with it.  I really didn't understand the process or what any of it meant.  If I won the awards today that I won then, I would be jumping up and down and squealing! lol  I definitely was hit with the bug at that competition and began entering a "full case" after that.  By entering at each level (state, regional and then on to national) I was able to earn my Masters degree very quickly.

Any advice to photographers who may have a rough go the first time in competition? How do you suggest they go about dusting themselves off and going at it again? Every experience is a learning experience.  I've had competitions where I haven't done well.  I remember one in particular where I sat in the back of print judging and cried.  I can remember having the feeling that day that I wasn't any good and wanted to quit!  Another photographer talked to me that day and reminded me that while print competition pushes and challenges you, it's not what pays the bills. Always try to learn something from the judges and their comments.

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