Wednesday, April 23, 2008


It’s contest time again and once again I am sorting through images, pulling my best and getting sad that none of my work seems good enough. I know intellectually that contests are all subjective and that every judge sees differently and is looking for a different connection. An image may be 100% technically perfect, tack sharp and beautifully exposed with an inspired composition but if it doesn’t speak to the individual judge – it isn’t going to win. That in no way diminishes the value of the image. I have to remind myself of this every year… just because the judges liked someone else’s work better doesn’t mean that mine is any less wonderful.

You can see the eye of different judges by following and comparing winning images from different competitions. Two of the largest and most coveted competitions in the Nature community are the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature’s Best Magazine.

The first year I was aware of the Shell competition I was shocked that an almost unidentifiable image would win such a prestigious competition. It was an image of a Walrus feeding in the muddy bottom of the ocean, the swirls of dirt he was kicking up almost obscured him completely and one could barely make out the eye and whiskers. This past year the overall winner was a relatively close up of an elephant bathing in muddy water, the splash frozen in time, water droplets flung far and wide, the image cuts straight through the elephants eye.

I have strived to capture nature as I see it, as it is… get that eye sharp, show depth in the fur or feathers, show the environment and focus on what is special about the animal, unique to it alone such as a bobcat’s ear tufts or a wolves golden yellow eyes. All of that fits Nature’s Best. Browsing their winners year after year I see clean backgrounds, striking color and sharp detailed images.

Which do I prefer? When I started shooting I was strictly Nature’s Best. I wanted perfection. As I have grown and developed my work I am finding more and more that I enjoy the not so perfect images that tell so much of their story through texture rather than in your face perfection. The beauty of art is that you can change your style, you can grow and learn and come to appreciate things you didn’t in the past. Who knows what the future will bring, I know that each competition drives me and inspires me to try new techniques, to improve upon what I know and to seek out new creatures and environments. Even if I don’t win anything, it is fun to try and maybe this year I’ll make that elusive connection with a judge.

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