I’m just wrapping up 2 weeks of shooting seascapes in Cornwall. Perhaps it’s the less than ideal conditions I’ve had during this time but I’m going to post one of my rare rants. It’s one I’ve been holding back for many many months but now the time is right to let fly. Hours ago, the honour roll for Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice was revealed and I’m pleased to announce that “Starfish Swirl”, was highly honoured. It’s been a highly successful image for me; this week it will be exhibited in the Natural History Museum as part of the Veolia/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year events.
What does success in photography competitions mean? In my opinion it just means that on a particular day, a panel of judges have chosen a select few images as being noteworthy. Obviously art is subjective and to say one photography as being ‘better’ than another is simplistic and facile. What I’m happy to take away from competitions (apart from a nice cheque) is the fact that the judges (usually notable photographers themselves, editors and artists) have felt my work is worthy of distinction. Even though I shoot for myself, it is nice to feel that my peers think that I’m on the right track.
I’ve received a lot of helpful guidance along the way. Submitting image for critique on Nature Photographers Network, Naturescapes and Photo.net were particularly helpful early on when developing my craft. Even now 6 years on, fresh eyes and a dose of constructive criticism often add clarity to the evolution of my work. I’ve also learnt to take comments with a grain of salt. Many of these are well-meaning but often are heavily affected by sensibilities and biases of the critic. At the end of the day, it’s your vision. Nobody is going to understand the limitations of what you’ve had to work with, what compromises have had to be made and what the image means to you.
Now that “Starfish Swirl” has been commended in two of the most prestigious international nature photography competitions, I thought it interesting to read some of the comments, mostly made when it was selected as photo.net’s “Photo of the Week” last year. To my mind, many of these were made neither well-meaning nor well-credentialled photographers. The worse kind of critic is the one who has no body of work to show despite an often disdainful attitude towards others who are willing to put their images out there. The bitter armchair critic. Here’s a choice selection of comments and I’m not counting the personal emails I also received.
“Tired of the same ole same ole.”
“Honestly, I am not that excited about this photograph. I guess I am a bit tired of the near-far compositions, seascapes and long exposures with water–3 strikes! I really don’t find the composition all that strong and actually, very pedantic.”
“Sometimes less is more and more is too much and this is too much.”
“This just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry. There’s a very bland sky, the swirl appears to have been processed in. There seems to be too much filling the frame, especially the many starfish. The star at lower left is out of focus as well.”
“What is the subject? Where is something interesting?”
“The image is TOO balanced, cluttered, too pretty, and in my opinion, uninspired. It’s a good start, but I can’t help but wonder what else you might have that might be better.”
Anyway, as a parting shot, a big F.U. to all those armchair critics out there!