I've had a string of bad luck lately when it comes to submitting my photos to contests, especially those associated with the Photographic Society of America. I have a few more non-successes to add to the list: zeroed at Manifest Gallery's "Nude 15" competition; skunked at LifeFramer's "The Human Body" competition. No word from Shots Magazine, though they just seem to be running behind schedule; and to be fair, I did hear that my entry to Monovisions was "nominated" (meaning it made the first cut but not the final one). And to be fair even further, Manifest and LifeFramer's competitions were highly competitive, so not making the cut is not surprising even for an advanced artist.
I guess it's those abysmal PSA results that keep weighing on me, and having me dread the upcoming results from the DPA and ALP Circuits.
So what does a scientist/geek do in the face of apparent failure? Search the data for explanations!
OK, consider this. Among my top 100 photos currently, all but one were taken since 2010, the autumn I started working with figure models for the first time. That's 13 years, or more precisely 155 months worth of photos. And that's 167 edited figure photo shoots in that time period (plus interstitial photos of other subjects). Do a little math, and that works out to an average of 0.60 photos per photo shoot ending up in my top 100, and 7.74 photos per year. And that's not a high bar -- my 100th-best photo, by the metrics I use to keep track, holds that position merely by being accepted for a virtual exhibition four times with no awards. (And some photo circuits have four or five chances for acceptance with a single submission, since they're being submitted to multiple judgings.)
So let's assume that the photos I've been submitting to contests are the ones I consider my very best out of the last 13 years of photography. Granted, the judges often work in mysterious ways, celebrating photos I entered on a whim while giving a collective "meh" to ones that I personally adore. Still, I think that my eye for quality roughly mirrors that of the judges. So that has resulted on a lot of photos rising to the top, and once recognized as such, being submitted multiple times to multiple contests, causing them to rise even further.
But at some point, there's no reason other than ego to keep submitting the same photos. Sure, I can keep winning, and winning, and winning, so much winning! But I don't spend $20-40 per contest just for the endorphins. I truly want to know which of my photos are the best, and to learn from that success to become even better. And once a photo has won or been accepted 10-20 times, why keep proving the same point? Except, of course, when some truly special contest comes along, that I haven't entered yet, those are the photos I pull out to submit.
So once those cream-of-the-crop photos are out of the picture (so to speak), what next? Well, I have two sources for new photos. One is to reach deeper into my existing oeuvre, looking for images I might have missed the first time through, or that the judges might think more highly of than I do myself. That's not a great formula for success, though it does yield some nice surprises now and then.
The second source is new images. And I'm editing new sets all the time, so I always have new photos to choose from! And theoretically (I hope) my photos today are better, as a general rule, than the ones I made 13 years ago. But still, on average, only 0.60 photos per photo shoot end up doing well (accepted four times or more in PSA contests), and only 7.74 out of an entire year's worth of photography. So if I'm entering two contests per month, 24 per year, at least two categories per contest, and four photos per category, and trying to fill out those 200+ slots, less than 8 of which are new photos that will rise to the top 100, well, you see the difficulty.
In fact, when you put it that way, the fact that I'm doing as well as I am is actually notable.
Given the situation, it may be more productive for me to apply to fewer contests, to better match the rate at which I produce new champions. Or, I just need to come to peace with the messy and resource-intensive process of weeding out photos that make the cut.
I'll probably take a hybrid approach. I need to be more discriminating about the photos I submit, and be realistic about the number of good photos I have to choose from. If I don't feel like I have enough new images to submit that are of sufficient quality to succeed, then instead of reaching deeper to fill out the quota, maybe it's better to sit out a contest or two until I accumulate more.
After all, every time I edit five photo shoots, I have three shiny new images with the potential to break out!
This blog post, by the way, is illustrated with three photos taken this year that have already cracked the top 100, and seven of the nine from 2022. Twelve photos in a year and a half isn't bad, especially considering how behind I am on actually editing the photo sets from this time period. Pictured here: