Ver­ity Mil­li­gan


Practical Photography (UK) - - January -

Cop­ing with the highs and lows of com­pe­ti­tions.

FILLED WITH HOPE, AN­TIC­I­PA­TION AND trep­i­da­tion, I en­tered my first land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy com­pe­ti­tion in 2014. My pho­to­graphic ca­reer had started in earnest some five years be­fore and I had been on some­thing of a jour­ney ever since. Back at the begin­ning of the decade, Flickr was the place to be for as­pir­ing pho­tog­ra­phers, and on the odd oc­ca­sion I bagged a spot in their daily ‘Ex­plore’ list of im­ages, it felt a lit­tle like I’d won the pho­to­graphic lot­tery. How­ever, it never seemed to be an im­age that res­onated as a per­sonal favourite, es­pe­cially as my style evolved. I spent years hon­ing my skills, shoot­ing at lo­ca­tions around the world, fol­low­ing the work of pho­tog­ra­phers I ad­mired, un­til I felt that I was ready to sub­mit the best of my work for ex­am­i­na­tion.

Need­less to say, noth­ing was short­listed. I didn’t ex­pect too much from the process, but the re­jec­tion email cre­ated a space for me to think about my work, my progress and how I mea­sure my own suc­cess. Com­pe­ti­tions are a dou­bled-edged sword – they can pro­vide val­i­da­tion and an un­prece­dented plat­form to those who are suc­cess­ful, but for the many oth­ers who find a re­jec­tion email in their in­box it can be a crush­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, mak­ing you doubt your own cre­ativ­ity and feel like you’ve been jour­ney­ing along the wrong road. This can be com­pounded by wit­ness­ing the suc­cess of con­tem­po­raries in the same com­pe­ti­tion on so­cial me­dia, and if you’re not care­ful, can sow seeds of self-doubt or even al­ter the way you shoot.

How­ever, I de­cided I wanted to ap­proach the re­jec­tion in a dif­fer­ent, more pro­duc­tive way. I as­pired to be­come bet­ter at what I do, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause I wanted to avoid an­other re­buf­fal, but be­cause I was in­spired by the ac­com­plish­ments of


oth­ers. Inspiration can come in many forms, and I’m guilty of fail­ing to in­dulge in the his­tor­i­cal time­line of the great land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers, but the ef­fi­ca­cious im­ages adorn­ing the ex­hibits of many na­tional land­scape com­pe­ti­tions can pro­vide the mo­ti­va­tion to get up early, go out in the right con­di­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing mag­i­cal.

I en­tered the com­pe­ti­tion again in 2015, this time think­ing less about what the judges might like, and in­stead sub­mit­ting per­sonal favourites. I was pleas­antly sur­prised to find I ended up short­listed and then com­mended with an im­age of Loch Sli­gachan on the Isle of Skye. It was a mo­ment of per­sonal achieve­ment that has been repli­cated ev­ery year since. Each year I made it into the book and ex­hi­bi­tion with a com­mended im­age, I would strug­gle with neg­a­tive emo­tions that I didn’t do bet­ter. It was an in­di­ca­tion that some­times ‘suc­cess’ can be a deep well that keeps you striv­ing for an­other pin­na­cle, and left me feel­ing de­flated by an achieve­ment that a year be­fore was a cause of cel­e­bra­tion.

This is a re­minder, for me and any­one who en­ters such com­pe­ti­tions, that the process of judg­ing is sub­jec­tive, and the out­comes for good or bad should be viewed with in­credulity. Suc­cess is sub­jec­tive, and while com­pe­ti­tions have their place, try to use the re­sults as mo­ti­va­tion to hone your skills. If you’re still feel­ing dis­ap­pointed, re­mem­ber there’s al­ways next year. Ver­ity Mil­li­gan is an award-win­ning land­scape, ar­chi­tec­tural and commercial pho­tog­ra­pher based in Birm­ing­ham. She runs work­shops and her clients in­clude Amer­i­can Ex­press, York­shire Tea & Visit Bri­tain. ver­i­tymil­li­gan­pho­tog­ra­

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