ADVENTURES OF A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER COPING WITH COMPETITIONS
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
I DECIDED I WANTED TO APPROACH THE REJECTION IN A MORE PRODUCTIVE WAYÉ
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. veritymilliganphotography.com