Winning a Competition

On January 23rd 2018, I won my first photography competition. The competition is held every week on a Monday on Twitter, with photographers sharing one piece of work that was taken and processed in the previous week under the tag #sharemondays2018 (or #sharemondays before 2018). The winner of the competition judges the entries from the next week and so on. The judge chooses an initial long list of typically 10-20 images, then a short list of 3-4 from that before the winner is then announced. Here is the winning image:

The reason #sharemondays appeals to me is that it brings together photographers with a huge range of experiences and, particularly in the last couple of months, has showcased work across a broad spectrum of subject areas. Sometimes the winner is a landscape photographer. Other weeks a portrait photograph will win. I also love that it is an unofficial competition with entry open to anyone. If you are an amateur or casual photographer you work can be shown alongside a submission from a pro or someone who has featured, or even won, one of the big competitions, such as the Landscape or Outdoor Photographer of the Year. There is also no reason for anyone to feel daunted to be in such fine company because everyone has as much chance of winning if their work is good.

Perhaps the best thing about the competition, in my opinion, is the way it allows you to find and interact with fellow photographers. In the short time I have been entering, I have discovered work I would perhaps never have seen, by photographers I may never have come across otherwise. Not only that, the interaction between those entering and even those just following along is always incredibly rewarding and I feel I have made some good Twitter friends as a result.

I’m not too sure when the competition started but it’s becoming clear that it is growing stronger with every week that passes. Some of the entries that are submitted are stunning and would be worthy winners in the big competitions held by official bodies! It seems to encourage people to go out and take something for the next week. I know I have pushed myself a couple of times to get out, even if I didn’t create anything particularly submission worthy. Similarly, there is no pressure to enter if you don’t want to. There isn’t any issue with having a week off and just enjoying the submissions of others. There is always another week.

Over the months, I have entered a few times and been long listed a couple of times too. I have sat out a few weeks when I didn’t have anything to submit, either because I hadn’t been out or I wasn’t happy with the results I had got. On the 22nd Jan I submitted what you see above and for the first time had an inkling that it may be in with a shout. Let me explain why.

I recently took a short three day trip to Snæfellsnes peninsula. I’ll write about it in more detail in another post but it was the first time I have ventured out on my own for a few days to somewhere I haven’t visited before and with the aim of focusing on photography. Long story short, the trip was both exciting and frustrating from a photography stand point. My itinerary took me to well known photography spots but it was these places that left me most unfulfilled and feeling rushed to get an image before moving on to the next spot. However there were also times I’d be driving along an empty stretch of road, when the light would change or the landscape would suddenly reveal itself, and I would stop the car and just watch the changes happening. Sometimes I would get the camera out and try to capture what was happening.

It was on one of these occasions that I came across the image you see here in this post. I rounded a corner at the bottom of a mountain and noticed that the clouds were starting to break up above the valley I was next to. Nestled below were a few farmhouses, all of which seemed to be unoccupied at that moment. I pulled into the entrance way of one to take a look. The house furthest back stood out for me as I realised that during the shortest days of winter, it very likely didn’t see the sun at all. The clouds were rolling down the mountain towards it but the wind from behind me seemed to be keeping them from coming any further. Above the sun was starting to try and break through and I was curious to know if the sun would reach the house. I got my camera out and waited. And waited. The cloud formations and light were changing constantly but the sun was not getting any closer. At one point it broke through and hit the peak to the right of the house (out of shot) and I thought that may be as low as it was going to get that day and took the image. Almost immediately, the cloud layers closed up and the house would have to wait another day to see the sun.

When I got home to go through my images, this is the one that stood out to me. It was totally unplanned but I feel it managed to tell a story about the place, at that moment, rather than just capture an image of it. This is hard to do when you are visiting somewhere you haven’t been before and part of the reason some of the other parts of my trip were a little unfulfilling.

The following Monday I decided to enter it into #sharemondays2018. I tend to be critical of my own work, as I’m sure a lot of photographers are. However, I felt good about this particular photo; it meant something to me and the result was what I had envisaged. It seemed to attract a lot of nice comments and, as someone who is relatively new to photography and receiving feedback, I was blown away. I hadn’t experienced that with an image I had created or even anything I had created before! On Tuesday I found my image in the long list alongside some incredible photos. Then I was in the short list and I suddenly got a bit nervous. At around 9pm my phone buzzed and I realised I had won! I was stunned.

My last competition win was in 1991, when I sent a balloon into the sky in Rutland with my name and address on it in the hopes of winning the 2nd prize that day, which was a ghetto blaster. All it had to do was fly the second furthest distance of all the balloons released. Of course it flew the furthest, all the way to Newcastle, and I ended up with Michael Jackson concert tickets instead. Whilst disappointed at the time, I soon became a huge fan of MJ, and I can still Moonwalk to this day. Anyway, I digress.

Winning #sharemondays2018 means a lot to me. It may be a relatively small competition on Twitter, and you may only be a winner for a week, but to me it’s been much more than that. It’s helped confirm to me that if I like something I create, there’s a chance others will too. If you create an image with meaning and a story it can resonate with people you’ve never even met. It’s connected me with lots of great photographers and by winning I now have the opportunity to experience something totally new in being a judge (please see this post sharing my experience with that). It’s given me confidence to go out and find more stories and share them with people. It’s also taught me that if I don’t have something to share, not to worry as there is always another week.

If you are a photographer and haven’t done so before, I strongly encourage you to tag a photo you have taken from the last week with #sharemondays2018 and enjoy the experience.