What it Means to Create | What a Photography Contest Taught Me

For the first time, early this year, I decided to submit my work to the Shoot and Share Contest. It is an online Photography Contest that is “Free and Fair”.  They do not show artists names, they do not require that you pay to enter or pay to vote.  So it didn’t seem like it would be a popularity contest as some seem to be, you can’t tell people to vote for you… images come up randomly for voting.

It is very different when you send images to your clients or share them on Social Media… no one is “voting” on them.  Yes, I worry that my client likes their images.  I hope that the world in which I send them out into will like them, but I’ve never just put my work out there to be “voted” on.

Did I have grand illusions of winning the contest… NO! Not at all!  For me this was a practice of just “shipping my work” out into the world in a different form.  Having enough courage to let it be voted on.  Um… that’s a little scary… I mean what if the results come back and no one voted on any of my images?  What if no one liked my work??  Well, I figured that if I didn’t have to share my results with anyone then maybe the only person who would know is me.

So I submitted 50 images, the max.  I actually did it kind of wrong too… I cropped them all into squares because I remembered from voting the previous year that they were in a square format.  Funny how your mind plays tricks on you, they were in an outlined box that was square but the images themselves were not.  So mistake #1!

Then we voted.  I said “We” because my family voted… like a lot… we spent hours and hours voting, hoping to see images that were mine.  I saw a couple that were mine an also some that I recognized to be the work of some of my photographer friends.  As a family, we talked about the images we saw, shared them with each other and talked about what we voted on and why.

The contest ended and I waited… the results came in.  I was happy to see that few made it to the top 10%, 20% & 30% and one Finalist.  Finalist meant that the image made it to the Best of the Best Round, I figured that in itself is an accomplishment for me.

As I looked at them more, something really struck me… These three images were together right at the top:

Top 3 images from Photo contest for local Northern Virginia Photographer

Now, what is so interesting about these you ask??  These are my personal images…shot just for me, for fun or because something caught my eye.  The two on the ends were taken on vacation with a GoPro Hero 4.  These are not client images.  These were my top rated images out of 50.  Voted on by other people that I do not know.

What makes them special?  Nothing to anyone else, but to me this means to me that I need to shoot more for myself.  I actually am the worst at shooting for myself first.  I don’t take my camera to with me anymore, it’s heavy and I feel like I’ve carried it around a lot and I never get it out, because the light isn’t right or I’m just not inspired by the world around me. My daughter isn’t little and doing cute things anymore and the last thing she wants is for me to take photos… she is seriously tired of my camera.

What did I learn by “shipping” my work out to a different form in the world?  I learned that I need to have more confidence in myself and to be willing to make more risks with my craft… for me, for myself, because in the end that is who I create for.  I create for me.  And I NEED to create for ME.

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.  It was recommended to me by a friend, but I also felt as I read it that I was in the right space in my head to have it really have meaning to me as a creative on many levels.  I found myself saying “Yes, Yes, Yes… exactly” to so many things.  However, this struck me, “Just keep working. Through the mere act of creating something–anything–you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal, or important.  You might not, on the other hand.  But if your calling is to make things, then you still have to make things in order to live out your highest creative potential–and also in order to remain sane.”

What does all this mean?  What it means to me is that I need to “Just Do It”. I need to just shoot what I see, what my heart is drawn to, what is fun, what is mundane, what I don’t want to forget, whatever it is… I need to just shoot because it just may mean something or it may not, but how do I know if I don’t ever do it.  I’ve learned that my heart is very unsettled when I’m not creating something.  It has taken me a long time to figure that out, but that’s what I’ve come to… when I feel down or unsettled, I need to just make something… anything photography wise or not, I need to just make it and I feel better, the world is a better place when I get to make something… not that I make the world a better place when I create, but MY own world is better for it, my heart is better for it.  The rest of the world doesn’t care, but I do.

So I’ll leave you with my images that placed in the contest and the hope that if you have anything in all in you that calls you create, “Just do it”… Just make something and don’t worry about what the world thinks… care about what you think!  Because in the end, that’s really all that matters!

(Disclaimer: These are all screen shots from the website with the badges on them, they are not a great quality but you still can get the point.)

Awards from Shoot and Share Contest for Let the Light in Photography, one finalist and others placed in top 10% to 30%

Underwater image from Aulani in Hawaii on Oahu

Silhouette of Ferris wheel in Myrtle Beach South Carolina

Waikiki Beach water image with feet sticking out of the water and Diamond Head in the background.Senior girl in front of vintage truck at The Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton VA

Senior Portrait of a guy with his Jeep

Family walking with their dogs for family portrait

Baby boy being lifted up in the air, dad kissing his cheekFamily of 5 laughing and gigglingSenior girl with her horse

Senior girl in Warrenton Virginia near the train

Baby being held in mom's arms holding mom's hand. black and white imageGirl holding moms hand and pulling toward camera backlight and rim light in image.