Ribbons and trophies and contests, oh my!


In a container tucked away in a closet are some bits and pieces of memorabilia from my childhood and my adult life, things that I chose to keep to remind me of some good things.  There are some old letters, handmade cards from my kids, my 4-H folder with ribbons earned on projects, and even a photo of a Sweet Adeline Chorus I was in…taken when we had won a “Small Chorus Award” in the early 1980’s.  Each of these things represent contests, opportunities to “make the best better” as the 4-H motto once read.  

Just keep that in mind while I go in a different direction now.

For this assignment in Kat’s Find Your Eye Course, entitled “Stop Apologizing”,  I had to define what I think a photographer is.  Here is what I wrote down:

“A real photographer takes photos full time, for pay; knows all the numbers of every possible thing on their camera and can say them; sells their photos; gets asked to do special projects; may have written a book on photography; owns multiple cameras and lots of accessories; enters lots and lots of contests and wins.”

Then I had to look at how I stack up to my own definition of photographer. Ouch.

It’s my hobby and I don’t get paid. I struggle with the numbers thing about exposure and stuff like that and I really don’t care. I have one camera I use. I’ve never sold an image.  I did get asked once to take a quick photo of a group.  I have written a novel, still in rough draft, and I will tell you there is a woman photographer in it.  And the camera collection I have….none of them work.

By my own definition I’m not a photographer.   

And the one area I apologize for is that I don’t enter contests.  Because somewhere I have picked up that idea that photographers, real ones, enter contests.  *Disclaimer: I have nothing against contests or those who do participate….these events are just not for me at this point in my journey.

Why do I take photos? You can read my earlier post about that here.  That answer still holds.  And since that is still true, here is how I have redefined what a “real photographer” is, focusing on the kind of photographer I want to be:

A real photographer uses photographic images to express their art, their creativity, their insight into life;  they are not limited by the equipment they use, no matter if it is a film camera, a point and shoot, a DSLR, or an iPhone.  What matters to them is what the expression of this art does for them and for others.  This real photographer is not concerned with awards.  They are willing to share what they know about their craft so they can help others along their journey. 

That is the kind of photographer I want to be.

Contests and awards?  I see them as an opportunity to grow, to learn more, to do better, much like the 4-H days from long ago.  Maybe there will be a place in my future for photographic competition, but for now I choose to concentrate on learning other things.

8 Replies to “Ribbons and trophies and contests, oh my!”

  1. Deb, what a wonderful, heartfelt post. I love your new definition of a real photographer. I agree with every word of it and would like to apply it to myself.

  2. Wonderful photo journal! Your revised view of a photographer is excellent. Add me to the list of wanting to be like this photographer. One who learns, expresses myself, and is willing to share any knowledge I have.

  3. Yay! Yay! Yay! I can't tell you how excited I am to see you redefine what a photographer is. YOU are a photographer, of that I have no doubt. Now you can have that belief in yourself too. I like how you linked it back to contests and awards – what they brought to you in your past and how they fit (or don't) for you now. Wonderful post.

  4. Deb – isn't it interesting what definitions we hold in our heads, perhaps without even knowing we are doing so? And how we compare ourselves to those definitions and then find ourselves wanting? It isn't until we take the time to really examine those thoughts that we can understand how they hold us back. I like your definition of what a real photographer is with its focus on expression and sharing.

  5. Love your definition of a 'real' photographer – I so agree and that's the kind of photographer I want to be too. Fantastic, thoughtful and thought provoking post.

  6. I am so with you on the contest thing. I have to get up the confidence to first print some of my photos and hang in my house, let alone out there in the world. Although I have no problem sharing on my blog 🙂 I love this statement -They are willing to share what they know about their craft so they can help others along their journey. I so agree. I talk to so many people that like to dabble with a camera, but don't think they are any good or that they are not really doing photography. I just want to encourage them to play and have fun and don't worry about the right equipment or what they take pictures of – enjoy the process!

  7. Well said Deborah. I have known you quite awhile thru blogging and you definitely practice what you preach. I see your philosophy within what you produce. Your idea of "what is a photographer" and mine are quite similar, tho' I don't know that I've come 'round to where you're at-you are standing on firm ground. Mine seems a little lumpy. Maybe the ground is just always shifting and we with it.
    Guess what? I was in Sweet Adelines. When I saw that image I thought "that looks like Sweet Adelines". One of my dreams just out of high school was to major in music AND become a traveling judge for SA-going from region to region. Remember Ann Gooch? If so, she was pres of the whole SA, and highly knowlegable in the organization. I chose my college partially on the fact that it was in her city. For a year I sang in her chorus. Very exciting…..and then the ground shifted again.

    I know I'm way off topic, but it was fun remembering. I've been afraid I'd forget, but your new header is super awesome. Phew. I remembered.

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