POTD: Photography is a team sport…and a commentary on competitions

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Canon Photomarathon, Kuala Lumpur. Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1, ZD 45/1.8

This isn’t a recent event, but a group of photographers running around the streets of KL in a pack yesterday reminded me of this shot. The aim of the event is simple: it is a competition with several categories of prize, but everything must be shot on the day, in the same location, and you’ve got to wear the same damn shirt as everybody else. Editing is permitted, but everybody submits prints for judging, made on one of those dye sub printers.

Several thoughts:
1. There’s a HUGE market for photography equipment in Malaysia. This relatively small segment of the population was at least a thousand-strong, with easily $3,000 or more of gear for each person on average. There was more than one person going around with 1-series bodies and 300/2.8s.

2. It’s commendable that somebody bothers to organize something on this scale at all.

3. How on earth the organizers expect to see good results when you restrict the participants is ludicrous – it just makes you look bad because the level of photography is is low.

4. You’re not going to get any good reportage style images or candids when you’re milling around in a pack of hundreds or thousands of very conspicuous people. And more often than not, if you try something that looks out of the ordinary, a whole bunch of people will follow you immediately afterwards and it ceases to be unusual. And in the end the entire event just turns into an equipment masturbation session, with plenty of mine-is-bigger-than-yours. Or maybe that’s what the organizers want, so they can sell more cameras.

5. Postprocessing is as much part of the modern photography process as darkroom work was for film. So treat it as such, not an aberration or ‘cheat’. If you’re going to do something unnatural like HDR, it’ll be obvious to the judges (we hope).

6. Dye sub printers produce horrible color. Perhaps processing doesn’t matter because you won’t be able to appreciate the subtle tones anyway.

7. My final point is a criticism leveled at the organizers of almost all competitions, not just this one: yes, I can understand why you’d need limited rights to republish the image afterwards, but why on earth do all competitions result in the photographer having to surrender any and all rights to all images entered? Don’t the organizers realize that the really good photographers and pros will never agree to do this? I certainly would not enter my best images if I know I’ll have to surrender the rights to them. And if I’m not going to enter my best images, then why bother entering at all? If you’ve got a whole pool of people who think like this – and I know a lot of pros and talented amateurs do – then you’re just lowering the standard in general.

What I’d like to see – or perhaps even organize – is a competition based solely on merit; with no rights transferral or ownership, so we’d see people putting their best foot forward. Anonymous entry, so we don’t bias based on names or fame. Something to think about for the future, perhaps. MT


  1. I think you nailed it on the head when you said “…maybe thatโ€™s what the organizers want, so they can sell more cameras.” That’s their job, after all, to sell more cameras, not to encourage great photography. In my own experience, it’s the pros who hang on to older equipment than the rich amateurs who don’t need to factor cost of equipment into their business.

    Interesting how many amateurs (and I don’t use the word dismissively, I myself am one) who own pro-level bodies – I was in a Nikon meeting where they described the S$4000 D800 as targeted for both professionals and ‘serious amateurs’. But the market for high-level bodies is still narrow and niche, where the demand for entry and mid-level cameras is the one bringing in the mass market cash, and I suppose that’s how events like these help marketing.

    • Here’s the funny thing though: the low end cameras don’t have that fat margins. It’s mostly in the higher end gear and the lenses. However, the camera companies can’t completely ignore photography: if you use our equipment and get lousy images, there’s no way you’re going to want to continue using it. But at the same time, gear is getting so complex and demanding for your average amateur – the D800 is a great example; I’d recommend it to studio pros, but not to general photography amateurs – that more might not necessarily be better at all. Despite all this, no doubt a) there are a more amateurs buying pro gear than pros; b) pros have to make money off their gear, which is why they don’t change it if it isn’t broken or uncompetitive; c) workflow matters to pros, new gear means new workflow and less efficiency; and finally d) there are a lot of amateurs who are probably more skilled than your average pro, because it’s the difference between doing it as because it pays the bills, against doing it because you love it. Maybe I should start a camera company where we’ll only sell you what you need ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I think that would be quite a good shop, but maybe not so good a business LOL Honestly though, there’s a shop here in Singapore which is quite well-known for good service – the only one I’ve been to that has actually encouraged me not to buy stuff! So perhaps there’s an idea there ๐Ÿ˜€

        • Probably not. Unless you made some seriously awesome gear. I think something has to be said for giving people advice that’s solely focused on profit: if you’re just looking to make money out of a consumer, you’re not going to give them long term advice or build the relationship which means no repeat business – especially if you recommend the wrong thing (even though it has the best margins for you). Sadly, very few stores seem to understand that. Especially in Asia.

    • Agree with you guys. Marketing at work. Event organizers get free images for collaterals without having to pay for the services of a pro and as an added bonus, get to sell more equipment to the “my-lens-is-bigger-than-your-lens” fanboys. My best images have always been the ones where I went out by myself and shot on my own time. Friends and family would often wonder why I’d get in the car at 3:30AM and drive for 2 hours by myself just to chase a sunrise but that’s just how it is.

      • Your comment on the car reminds me of something…I once drove out at 3.30AM with the camera taped to the outside of my car to shoot a video because I couldn’t sleep and had an idea…

  2. zoodin88 says:

    You’re right. Though in the spirit of competition, competing for the sake of it has it’s limited merits as well.

    Winning a competition like this does take a certain type of person, and it has it’s own challenges.

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