Competitive Photography, Part 1

WTH is “Competition Photography?” Does it pay? is it worth it? What is required? Where do you begin?

Two Spinnakers

Two Spinnakers (V1) won first place in a local city-wide competition. It was later used on a C of C hand-out folder, and as the passbook watermark image of a local bank.

Good questions, all.  “What is required? ” is a good place to begin.  First of all, and the singular most important is an “eye”.  An eye is difficult to define. You can be pretty assured that you may have an eye if people who see the image tell you they really like the image.  When you take a photo of something other than your wife and kids, people other than your wife or kids, including your mother rell you, “These are great.” A master photographer tells you that you have an eye, after he sees your portfolio. When you give a slide show, for example, people in the audience don’t fall asleep. If you belong to an organization, like a yacht club, a golf club, tennis, etc., they come to you when they need a program for next month’s meeting which is four days from now.  In other words, you’re considered, by people who know, a better than average photographer.

Secondly, contrary to what I’ve posted before, you need equipment of the quality necessary to be ensured that “equipment failure” can never be your excuse for a crummy picture.  You must get the mindset for the same.  Never blame the tools. It’ll become a point of pride for you.

Spirit of the Ballet

This was in my “Every collection needs a red print” phase. Got an 86 or so.

Competition photographers (CPs) use the term, “Making an image”, rather than “taking a picture.” In competition, we are referred to as “The Maker”.  As in a critique/comment from the judging panel, “The maker of this image should have been aware of_______.” You fill in the blank.


This was a 90 print, I believe

Why the maker? Because a CP does not just develop and print out an image. Not if he wants to score. Simple image capture isn’t ever enough.  We show and compete with prints, usually sixteen by twenties. (A competition with closed panel or jury you can usually get away with an eight by ten.)  In the case of film, we need a darkroom, where we can apply our magic to a print, to make it perfect.  Somethimes that doesn’t mean to just make the image technically perfect, it means to apply your artistic sense or your eye to what makes the print look good.  Ansel Adams is a prime example of the artistry of the darkroom. His prints were a thing of beauty, but he didn’t just click a shutter to get them.  He spent days and weeks, if not months, getting the “perfect” image in the darkroom.  Once he had that, reproduction of the finished image was pretty routine.

The images we present in the nationals are our annual final exams; They’re going to give us a definitive score that compares us to our fellow competitors. The top photographers are the ones who adopt this attitude.  We strive to beat the guy who pulled one over on the judges, or the gal you just can’t seem to out-score. This is what polishes us as the cream of the crop. This is why some studios and photographers can charge more than others.  Bottom line is always dollars.

Aubrey's Dream

Even though this was brand new technology, this print didn’t score an 80.

In today’s world, we use digital.  I was among the first wave of pros who “went digital” to the scorn of film users.  Now, probably 95 percent of all CPs use digital.  Photoshop is so much easier on the nose, the wife, and the cat, then a smelly darkroom. I went digital as soon as I saw my first live demo of Photoshop (PS 3.0).  I knew this was the wave of the future.  So when I made my decisions on purchases at my first national convention for pro photogs, I made them with the idea of digital all the way.  I went the Photoshop, Apple computer and Canon camera route. With my wife’s permission and assistance, we basically stocked our studio.

That first convention, we attended the print competition, which was open to the conventioneers.  Kat (my wife) and I sat through some sixteen hours that weekend, observing and learning from the panel’s commentary.  Five top-pro judges, each with a number pad, hooked to a computer to average out the scores.  A score of 80 is passing.  It denotes a step above the average commercial photographer’s abilities. A commercial photographer is one who takes pictures for money.  Normally found in a smaller town, mom and pop photo studio.

A score in the mid eighties to low mid nineties was a good, solid score. With an eighty score, the print will be displayed at the convention and be included in the yearbook. In the mid to high nineties, the images better be exemplary. The best.  And of course a one hundred print meant that the five experts could find no fault whatsoever with the print.  To get a one hundred, four judges have to agree and score it 100.  One judge can give you a 99 and it’ll still round up to 100. Plenty of arguments one way or the other have been had over a potential 100 print.  A judge has the ability to lobby for a print, and even to recall the print for rescoring. If the one judge does not agree, and he/she gives you a 98,  the print is a 99, which still ain’t too shabby. Of course, the prints are anonymous and the judges are not allowed to see the back side of the image, where all the maker’s info is.

Also of course, even when the intention is to be completely fair, a successful CP will develop a style, sometimes recognizable to the panel.  And successful CPs will have detractors and cheerleaders on a given panel, which makes the scoring even more animated. And when you consider it, it’ll make a 100 print more validated.

Mirage c balls

Scored in the low eighties. My thoughts? WTF, they’ve never seen anything like it. And I get an 82? It was used later as the print for the WPPI convention’s advertising. Go figure.

By the time I “retired” from competition, I had three one-hundred prints, and three ninety-nines. Four purple ribbons, (kind of like “Best in Show”),  over twenty-five blues, seventeen or so reds, a few whites, and a ton of “attaboy”(80) prints.  Notice that my ribbons are weighted towards first place blue ribbons. I also won a Kodak award, a Fuji film award, four PPA “Loan Collection” prints, and made the highest level of excellence in the shortest time, on a international basis. I was in the money for five years straight. Pro competitions pay bucks to the winners.  Not a ton, but enough to have a good night in Vegas, where the biggest pro photographers convention is held annually.  Purple ribbons were usually good for a camera rig, and other prizes.

My first “mentor” was a commercial photographer.  He was a decent photographer, took all our family portraits, and my wedding shots. He supplemented his studio income with gore pictures … of auto accidents, for insurance companies. I rode with him one night.  He had a police radio in his car and house, and responded to car crashes with all the vigor of the Highway Patrol.  Scared the stuffing outta me, a fifteen year old.

This was before the onset of seat belt laws, before metal-to-metal clasps on a lap belt, no shoulder strap, period.  So there was a lot of blood and guts, quite literally. All on-scene photography was left to Leonard.  He shot with an old 4 x 5 Speed Graflex,  would take the Tri-X  black & white film to his darkroom and have them souped, printed and dried before the start of business the next day.  Delivered the prints to the insurance company that AM.  I guess he was sort of the first paparazzi.

GBH-Sir Charles

This was my first red ribbon and print over 90. It was later used for a national magazine cover.

When we went to our second convention, I entered my first professional print competition with three prints. All three qualified, scored over 80.  But they were made from scans of my film days, because there I didn’t fee my digital camera work was top quality.  But I was already fairly accomplished in Photoshop.  I photoshopped nearly all my prints through out my CP career.

Both Kat and I were nervously awaiting the group, “Digital Groups, non-wedding.”  As there were two people silhoutted on the boat, it qualified.  The way the rules were written in those days, inanimate objects could not really be the subject of the print. Because this was a WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographer’s International) convention there had to be people or at least some critters in the shot.

So a lot of my good imagery was ineligible for judging. The same time there was a decided prejudice against digital photography.  We were put in a “division” of digital imagery, and couldn’t compete in the major classes. Never mind that our imagery was already more innovative and spectacular than the film buffs were showing. I later discovered that many of the old pros never bothered to inform the competition that their work was photoshopped.  Sometimes a pro would send his prints out for photoshopping. If I had done the same, kept mum, I think I could have pulled some major loot out of the convention. As it was, digital was a step-child.  A red-headed one.

Lover's Moon ptg 2When my image, Lover’s Moon,  rotated around, a hush fell over the audience.  That scared the spit out of us.  I was sure, as was Kat, that I had totally blown it, showed up  with a print that would score in the fifties.  When you score below a sixty, they move your stuff out of your hotel room and deposit it, your print, and yourself in a pile in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd, AKA the Strip.

Discussions immediately ensued.  Digital detractors said I did not follow the protocol for the presentation.  It was not a glossy, it was a deep matte. The subjects were bullseyed (everything dead center, a compositional no-no). I had bordered it with a half-inch white border. Kat and I were floored when one or two of the judges familiar with digital began arguing for a ninety-plus print, while the others were pointing out the screw-ups.  The panel settled for a mid ninety, which won the blue ribbon.  It missed getting a purple best in group because of the white border.

A blue, a red and three  hundred bucks. I did well.

TBC … Next part, we’ll talk about image mods and what you can get out of becoming a CP


Have You Ever Wondered?


Even as a kid, just beginning to realized that boys and girls were different, the first time I heard the phrase, “She’s built like a brick s___house”, I wondered how in the world a human Have You Ever Wondered?with soft curves and a giggle could be compared to an out building.  The thing of it was that I was raised in the mountains in the summertime, and all houses in Pinecrest has outhouses.  Indoor plumbing was a rarity, leastwise in the oldest residential section.  Our house was built in 1914.  A “new” outhouse was built in 1948-49. It was a nice one. Had a shower and sink plus a smelly chemical toilet. And a doorlock.

A lot of my work is creating cartoons. I use a combination of programs, including Poser, Daz Studio, Bryce 3D, and Photoshop. Bryce on my computer is my own little world. What’s neat about it is that most physical laws are suspended. If I wanted to hang Captain Hook’s Galleon in the sky, I can, and make it pretty realistic.

With that in mind, I like to posit strange imagery depiction a saying, a quote, or a weird situation, and most of all, really rotten puns… Flying hillsides, or five hundred mile, 300 foot wide oil tanker (VLCCs) ship channels and so on. A WW 1 Biplane cutting off a 747 landing in San Francisco. Women counting horses. So when I come down with a case of Writer’s Block, I can go to one of my toons, post it and write a bit about it, and hopefully entertain you for a while.

So it’s all good.

As seen on TV

A currently running commercial on television says, “No one ever takes the second biggest cookie.”  Whoever wrote that stupid line never considered wives or mothers.  I cannot count the number of times  my wife or I would bring out a cookie for ourself and one for the other person.   Invariably, if I went into the kitchen and came out with and offered her a choice of two cookies, she would take the smaller of the two.  I knew she would, she knew she would, but I never didn’t offer her first choice.  Or there’s two cookies left in the cookie jar.  She would always give whatever child was in the kitchen the bigger one. So to the writer of that like.  Apologize to your Mama!

54 vb  (My cat typed that getting off my lap.I don’t know what it means.Maybe it’s cat code.)

If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said I was  dog person.  Dogs do things.  They run after anything that’s been propelled from it’s human companions hand.  They follow commands from their owners.  Roll over.  Fetch. Help the blind.  Guard military stuff. Capture crooks. Find drugs. They do all this so they can play with a squeaky toy. Dogs have no sense of worth.   There are thousands of names for dogs, unless they’re bird hunting dogs.  They they all have the same name. “No, over there. you Dummy!”

Cats are far too aloof for this kind of behavior.  My cat will come when I call her, but at her leisure  Other than being fastidious, she has no other attributes. Cats don’t do tricks.  No guard duty, no picking up dead wet birds in a cold miserable marsh.  They’ll play with a squeaky toy, but they ain’t gonna work all day for the honor.  Most of the time, cats practice killing things. Like squeaky toys, shadows, lasers, etc. My cat is welcome because she is something I can talk to.  If I talk to a dog, the critter’s butt, hindquarters and tail go into an uncontrolled high speed mayhem setting, knocking kids down, rapping adult’s shins, sweeping everything off the coffee table.  His tongue comes out, slopping dog spit all over everything.  A dog does not know the meaning of the word halitosis. They think you’re inviting them to become a human, on the couch, and they have a difficult time distinguishing between you and said couch.

But if you talk to a cat, she’ll look at you with the expression that says, “Do you really think I can understand any of the noises coming out of your mouth except the names for meals?  I also understand ‘Get down’, something that stoopid dog doesn’t.”  When I talk to my cat though, even with her superior attitude, it helps me to remember the mechanics of talking.  When to move my jaw up and down, what to do with my tongue, you know, that kind of talky stuff. What I say to her doesn’t matter, but it seems to make more sense to me that I’m talking to a quiet adult cat, instead of a wiggily, bouncy, utterly immature canine..

Maybe that’s the difference.  Cats grow up, Dogs don’t.

This has been buzzing around in my noggin for a while

Our national debt is out of hand.  the numbers of dollars are so vast, they don’t mean anything to the average Joe Sitzpak.  17.5 trillion bucks.  To paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirkson, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talkin’ about some real money!”.
A million, a billion, a trillion. And not just one trillion, seventeen and a half of `em! Next number is quadrillion.  There probably isn’t that many atoms on and in the earth. … Wait a sec. I just read on the web that there are about one quadrillion ants on earth. And you know they can’t lie on the web…

But what if dollars were miles?  How far would we get with some well known common distances/amounts?  If we begin here in Las Vegas the average monthly Social Security Check would take us to Kansas.  A year’s SS income would get us half-way around the world. You get the idea.  Someplace on the web, Microsoft’s Bill Gates income is set at around 157 million bucks.  I don’t know if that’s take-home or gross.  Really don’t care.  But he can make a trip to the sun and back. (He’ll have to go at night though, to keep from getting burned.)  To get from the highest point on land to the deepest seabed under water would only take $12.32.  Not even a good living wage…

Now let’s talk space. We add to the national nebt at the rate of a million bucks every minute and twenty-one seconds. 1.33 minutes, about.  So in an hour, we’ve added 45 million plus.  If we use that as the speed we can travel, we’re cookin’ along at 45.11 million miles an hour.  About 6.5% of the speed of light. So we can get to the sun in about two hours   Hell , we can get to the moon in 19 seconds!
Jupiter is a seven hour and forty minute trip. Saturn is sixteen hours away.
Alpha Centuri, our closest star neighbor, is 63.8 years away. That’s 4.3 light years.  The good news is that we’ve already traveled, 17.6 trillion miles, so we’re about three quarters of the way there.  At this rate, we should be there in another 16.9 years.

So what can we do about the debt?  I  haven’t got a clue. But since this is my blog, I don’t have to.

You know it’s gonna be one of those days

When your cat is up and had her breakfast before you get outta bed.  Every morning begins with great intentions, doesn’t it?  Your alarm goes off (mine is a bugle playing Reveille, nice and loud from my cell phone.  I have other audio signals from my phone, but we’ll go into that later… So el Gato tries to shame me into an upright position, but I’m refusing because, I’m watching the Fox News Channel, then the newsy part of Good Morning America in a reclining position.  And my bedroom telly is safely propped on a slant to match my head so that when I lay sideways, everything is oriented correctly.  Another sign of our inherent  state of relaxedness[word?].

Once I’m up, done my stuff, and gotten dressed, I retrieve my coffee leftovers.  No no, not yesterday’s grounds… On Monday, I brew a full pot of strong coffee and pour it into a 64 oz hot and cold giant mug I bought from our local Rebel Gasoline Station.  A big `ol green one.  So I put some Hazelnut creamer in, and fill to the brim with hearty black coffee.  Ergo, on Monday, I drink hot coffee, but I don’t finish the whole mug.  I put the remainder into the fridge around 11:00 and switch to diet cola.

Now before you get on my case about the evils of diet soda, I like diet soda, and I don’t like the effects of sugar on my svelte body.  So leave me alone.  For the rest of the week, I drink refreshing cold coffee, out of the same giant mug I made on Monday.  Efficient, hah?

Since my wife passed, I have added alarm tones to my cellphone. The sounds emanating my ever-present Samsung helps me keep my day somewhat organized.  It also allows me to ignore something audible, which makes me feel like someone is here trying to control my day.  We all have to get our little chunks of victory somewhere.  So my bells and whistles are:  At 8:00 am, a school bell goes off, telling me I should have been sitting at my dest, ready to do my chores. These comprise opening a folder in my bookmarks and doing a global opening of the websites therein.  My bank, a daily text and the photo of the day from National Geographic.  I check my email at that time.

Unless I decide to go outside and walk a mile in my shoes, (it’s rather difficult to walk a mile in my apartment), it’s time to write.  I compose one of three blogs I maintain, and that can take a while.  Then I zoom way in on the words, so that I can go over what I’ve written, looking for something, anything, that needs changing. When I’m satisfied with whatever I’ve written, I post it.
After I posted yesterday, I made several edits to the posted and published material, possibly generating a lot of stupid email notices to those who follow my blogs. So now, I’m using a simple text editor to compose.

I usually knock off sometime between 11:00 am, and 2:00 pm.  The Five comes on at 2:00 pm.  I eat my lunch and watch to find out what my political views of the day are.  BTW, I think Dana Perino should run for President.

At 3:00 pm, another school bell rings, just for nostalgic reasons.  It means I can officially relax.  I watch TV, munch on snacks, and wait for the five o’clock alarm, which is a San Francisco Foghorn.  For most people this means the start of Happy Hour.  For me, it means to get the hell off the streets, because drinking drivers will soon begin to show up on the roads.  I have an alarm set for 7:00, but I’m not sure why.  Maybe it signifies the time to go watch TV in my bedroom, and close out my day.

One of these days, I think I’ll teach my feline roommate how to make my coffee.


I hope I haven’t PO’d too many people.

On another blog that I write, this morning I performed several updates, and full revisions of one blog post. I think that I may have automatically sent update emails each time. This will work, once I get the hang of all this. So if you got a bunch of e-messages from the other blog, my apologies.

I’ll post here Thursday or Friday.



Didya Notice?

That when I put in my web address for my blog, I added an extra “w” to the word “wordpress”.  Here is the correct URL  I have a good excuse though. 

       I have dry macular degeneration, pretty heavy on one eye (my right) and light to moderate in the other.  Four days after a laser eye surgery bout on both eyes to correct fogging capsules, (the part of my eye anatomy that hold my cataract-replacement lens in) in my good eye, a tiny blind spot appeared in the dead-center of my good eye.  It is just about the size of a letter in a word that I can read comfortably so to read I have to flick my eyes just slightly from side to side to see the word.  My other alternative is to zoom my screen image in so I can see bigger print.  Its a little scary, because there isn’t much future for artists or photographers who can’t see so well.  My neice sent me Dragon for Mac so I can still dictate my musings and book chapters.

   Enough about that…

And on the URL for another site instead of, I wrote blogsite.  Sillyme.