Clubs, Competitions, & Critiques

In Most Popular, Pep Talks, The Craft, The Life Creative by David93 Comments

This is a longer one. You might want to grab a cup of coffee. In fact, if you’d rather listen than read, I’ve made an audio version for you and you can download it here. Enjoy.

When I was a kid, I begged my mother to let me take horseback riding lessons. After some tearful pleading (mine, not hers), she finally relented. At my first lesson, I was one of four kids, and my teacher insisted we learn first to pick the crap out of the horse’s hooves. She showed us how to do it, and so enthusiastic were we that we all rushed in with our hoof picks, grabbed one leg each and damn near dropped the poor horse to the ground without a leg to stand on.

Not unrelated (though it will take me a moment or two to tie the threads together), a photographer recently reached out to me about her frustrations with the camera club in which she was a member. She felt like the black sheep; that she and her photographs just didn’t seem to belong. It felt to me like she was relaying that experience in search of some solidarity, and even permission, to allow her membership to lapse and not feel guilty about doing so, both of which I gave her. But in the weeks since that conversation, I have wished that I had answered more fully. So this is my chance to do that—both to her and to anyone who has ever been stung by an insensitive critique, a competition loss, or the frustration of trying to learn in a group what is often best, and sometimes only, learned on our own.

In the 35 years I’ve been practicing this craft, I have somehow managed never to join a camera club; you’d be correct in thinking that this makes me wildly unqualified to write on the matter. I know almost nothing about camera clubs, except that, like the individual humans of whom these clubs are comprised, some are better than others, and some are amazing.

That’s my caveat: this is not about camera clubs. It’s about too many people grabbing at the hooves and leaving us without a leg to stand on.

At some point, most of us will be in a context in which we open ourselves, through our work, to the feedback of others. It might be a camera club; it might not. Maybe it’s online. Sometimes that feedback will be completely unsolicited, often by people who share only this one thing in common with us: they have cameras with which they make photographs and opinions about how this should be done. In other words, they’ve got a hoof pick, and they plan to use it!

Beyond that, those who weigh in on our images and offer feedback might come from different backgrounds and share no common photographic influences with us. It’s likely they want to achieve different things with their photographs than you do with yours, and have different reasons entirely for picking up the camera in the first place. Some have been using their cameras for a very long time; some still routinely forget to take the lens cap off, so new are they at this craft. But still, they rush in to offer advice and opinions. And it is most certain that these complicated and well-meaning people not only have different ideas about what makes a photograph “good,” but they have a powerful will to share that with others: to help; to grab a hoof and start cleaning.

And as they help, they’ll focus on the issues that were (or continue to be) challenging to them: the things they’ve learned or are still learning. In photography, those are likely to be technical concerns: how sharp is the image, how was it exposed, does the composition conform to devices or rules that they understand?

It might be matters of taste: it’s too saturated; it’s not saturated enough. 

It might also be gear. Give someone a hammer, and everything is a nail, right? One photographer gets a new flash, and suddenly everyone should be making portraits that are heavily gelled and side-lit. Another learns a new black and white conversion technique, and you find yourself feeling the pressure to make your images look like his, even when your work is about the exploration or celebration of vibrant colour.

In another context—competitions—our work is judged by people rarely as sensitive to what we were trying to accomplish with that work as we are ourselves. I judged a competition recently; it was my first, and it’ll be my last. It killed me because, yes, some photographs among the entrants were the result of much more technical skill, experience, and vision than others. But to judge them as “better” when I was so aware that some of the “lesser” images probably represented more significant progress and braver steps forward for the photographers who made them was painful for me, especially without having a way to explain my reasoning or reassure them that my choice of one image over another was based on metrics that might have had nothing to do with what they were trying to accomplish—or the courage that it took them to make and share the image in the first place.

As I was writing this, I received yet another email from a photographer discouraged by her placement in a competition. “I guess I thought I was doing better than I am,” she said with resignation. So since this is really the point of this whole article, I want to make this big, and bold:

Competitions and drive-by-critiquing do not measure how far you’ve come. In fact, they don’t even tell you where you’re at right now on your journey; they tell you where your work is relative to the expectations and tastes of others. Not to how brave you’re becoming. Not to the risks you are taking. Not to the discovery of your vision or the refinement of your voice. They say nothing about how much stronger your composition is becoming or whether your images are becoming more poetic. They tell you, really, what other people think.

Other people, in whatever context they are found, are a tough place in which to find yourself and discover your own path. In groups, it is even harder. Groups tend to encourage a certain level of conformity. They don’t do it to be mean. They don’t do it to kill your spirit. It just happens. It’s hard to do otherwise because when we’re all trying to find our own way in a group, the only real common ground is where our images are similar rather than where they are unique. It is much easier and much more comfortable to focus on what lies in the middle—in that small area where our photographs overlap, like the middle of a Venn diagram. For the photographer trying something different, the reception can be cool at best, and it’s hard to be on the receiving end of that when you’ve put your heart into it. It’s easy to feel hurt and get discouraged. No wonder so many photographers doubt themselves.

Individuality and the healthy stubborn desire to do things our own way (because that’s often where we find the greatest meaning and happiness) is not often found—or nurtured—easily in groups. The fact that we all use a similar tool (the camera) is a difficult premise around which to build a community when otherwise we’re concerned about entirely different creative purposes.

Just because we all use the same kind of tool doesn’t mean we’re trying to do similar things with that tool, and that should give comfort to those of you who have been bruised by the constant efforts of others to hammer you into a mold that is more understandable to them or looks more like what they are doing.

I often wonder how the photographs of Uta Barth or Saul Leiter would be critiqued at their local camera club or how they would fare in your average competition if they were to drop by and add their images anonymously to the pile. What about William Eggleston, Wynn Bullock, or Daido Moriyama? Would the quality of that work be decided by consensus, or by the prevailing tastes within the group?

Separated from their prestige as name-brand photographers, would their work be praised or would it be picked apart in the hopes of making it something we could all agree was more immediately understandable or “better,” which of course means “more like what I would have done”?

People mean well. But sometimes we charge in, and to the kid with the hoof pick, everything looks like a hoof, right? Very few people intentionally disparage your work. And they aren’t trying consciously to influence you to make your images look like theirs. It’s just that we all have such blind spots, and the way we do things and the reasons we do them makes sense to us, so it also makes sense that our methods and goals would be the filter through which we try to understand the work of others. To do otherwise takes a difficult but much-needed leap of empathy.

To the person hurt by the judgments of others, that empathy is just as important.  Perhaps it’ll soften the blow to understand that other people don’t evaluate your work on the same criteria with which you made that work. They can’t. It’s possible they need to encounter your work first; it might take them a while to understand it. To be hurt by this and still to learn from it are not mutually exclusive. To those in camera clubs or leading photography communities, that empathy might be what opens the door to understanding a wider gamut of creative expression among your members and a reordering of the importance you place on technical merit. Maybe it’s time to make room for the poetic and to give points for play and risk, and to encourage people who not only get better with their cameras but bolder with their courage.

The great temptation of popular photography culture is to forget the difference between teaching aspiring photographers to use a camera, and influencing what they say with it and how they say it.

It is a temptation that, should we give in to it or choose it by default, will result in choosing the perfect over the poetic, what is safe over what takes courage, and what is mediocre and average over what is individual and outstanding.

As you head into 2021, remember that your journey can’t be measured by the metrics created by other people. Learn everything you can from every source you can, but remember your journey can’t be measured by the footprints of others and you can’t borrow their map. It doesn’t matter where you are relative to others, but that you’re taking the next steps that get you closer to a destination only you will recognize. Happy New Year, my friend.

Comments, thoughts, or questions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. Oops… posted this in the wrong place at first!

    I am replying two years after the article was published but did certainly struck a chord for me. After retiring 4 years ago I decided to take up photography “seriously”, whatever that means. So instead of snapping away merrily on auto, I started studying technique, composition, etc, and after three years of pretty dogged study and practice in wildlife and landscape domains, thought I was improving markedly. So I joined my local camera club in the hope of getting advice and criticism that would help me improve further but would also grasp what I was attempting to do in my images. I wish I hadn’t bothered. I have found the criticism to be unhelpful and sometimes insulting. One examiner said my images were contrived and facile. Yes it was contrived in the sense that I waited two hours for two flamingoes to put their heads in exactly the right configuration to take the image and stopped down to get exactly the depth of field I wanted. But now I know that is a bad thing to do. The result is that since being in the club I have ceased taking pictures and am now pondering whether to sell the gear I purchased in the last 4 years. I no longer go to meetings of the club and no longer submit images for competitions or advice. I will not renew my membership. I should have stuck to snaps.

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  3. I know this is a while after your post was published but it illustrates perfectly the very mixed positive and negative feelings I have about being a member of a club. I’ve started with photography about 4 years ago and it soon became my main hobby and free time focus. Just before lockdown, I thought – there are a few things I don’t feel safe doing on my own – I need to find a photography buddy (I’m accident prone so astro photography and roaming off the beaten track are a recipe for call out to the emergency services 🤦‍♀️). So a friend said, try this group – they do practical sessions rather than the traditional club stuff.

    So I went – very nervous – and had a great evening snapping field mice and talking to nice people. Then I was brave enough to share a photo and it got picked for the club Facebook page. Then it all started to go downhill – I found that putting photos in for critique in the traditional don’t speak and not allowed to ask questions or explain made me angry and frustrated. I found the judgements of images were extremely biased towards things that I had seen as important in the judges’ own images. No allowance was made for a difference of taste. And even worse, when I commented that I would no longer put images forward I was told that I was missing out on an opportunity to learn plus I shouldn’t take judge comments to heart as it is just their opinion.

    I have always found that odd – listen in silence and just take this person’s opinion as gospel as they fail to appreciate something that might not be to their taste but is still an image worthy of fair critique.

    I put in one image which was supposed to be uncomfortable and unnerving to look at and it was titled to reinforce that and all I got was this image is terrible and the person needs a better appreciation and understanding of the colour wheel (I have a first class honours degree in art history so have a fairly good understanding of colour!).

    So I tried to talk to the organisers about alternative ways to share images and do sessions where a member could choose to share an image and ask the group for specific help or just to explain the image without critique. It happened once and they had more images submitted than for any competition. But the penny still didn’t drop that members would like more of that.

    I even tried to explain how people learn and that competitions were not the way I could learn to improve my photography and that in fact, they had destroyed any confidence I had in sharing images. I keep being told that just having friends click like or saying good isn’t the way to progress either. I said I know that but if I put an image in front of someone with the purpose of me learning from their expertise, it has to be a conversation for me to learn not just a public session of fault finding and degradation.

    I eventually got thrown out of that group as I posted an opportunity to club members that one of the organisers didn’t like on Facebook. Which confirmed my growing suspicion that club life was probably not for me. But one of the members said, just try this one before giving up completely as the man who banned you is an idiot. So I’ve tried another one – nice enough people but I just feel like an alien – I still don’t want to do competitions and the club is all about competitions and an obsession with collecting letters after their name from various photo bodies.

    I still haven’t found a photo buddy from either group – and I’ve been told by friends that I’m a nice person with good personal hygiene and manners so that can’t be what is putting them off!

    So now I’m debating whether to rejoin for the year – I suppose joining a club during a pandemic and only having 1 face to face meeting in a year is an odd way to try and build relationships but even on that one meeting, it was hard work having a conversation – I felt as if I was interviewing everyone I spoke to as the only way to get talking was by asking questions about them. Hard work.

    So thank you for this – clubs – lovely, kind, sweet people but very similar in tastes and approaches and view a judge as someone who shall not be questioned. And then after the competition, spend time commenting on how rubbish they were and scoring errors.

    Go figure!

    1. I am replying two years after the article was published but did certainly struck a chord for me. After retiring 4 years ago I decided to take up photography “seriously”, whatever that means. So instead of snapping away merrily on auto, I started studying technique, composition, etc, and after three years of pretty dogged study and practice in wildlife and landscape domains, thought I was improving markedly. So I joined my local camera club in the hope of getting advice and criticism that would help me improve further but would also grasp what I was attempting to do in my images. I wish I hadn’t bothered. I have found the criticism to be unhelpful and sometimes insulting. One examiner said my images were contrived and facile. Yes it was contrived in the sense that I waited two hours for two flamingoes to put their heads in exactly the right configuration to take the image and stopped down to get exactly the depth of field I wanted. But now I know that is a bad thing to do. The result is that since being in the club I have ceased taking pictures and am now pondering whether to sell the gear I purchased in the last 4 years. I no longer go to meetings of the club and no longer submit images for competitions or advice. I will not renew my membership. I should have stuck to snaps.

  4. This seems to be a very emotional topic.
    When I was starting out taking photos almost all the files I showed lead to some form of critique and all of it struck me. I didn’t want to agree and thought “you just don’t get it” and felt bad about all the things people say.
    It tool me years to realize: every critique has a true part. I don’t need to agree with all of it, but the more you show the more you can learn and implenent (if you feel like learning).
    But none of this critique was done in a photo club.
    It could very well be that german photographers (as me being one of them) don’t tend to be very positive or open minded. Of course this doesn’t hold true to everybody, but when I was starting I did feel so.

  5. I am a male 77 years old. I am not looking for a full time job as a photographer. I had my own photography co. in the 1960 & 1970 Photographing Weddings, Teen sporting groups, School proms and Studio porteaits. I was working full time in another field and had a family to support so I gave up on photography as a living. I retired in 2014 and bought my first DSLR Nikon D40 and started taking photos of nature and wildlife. I joinded a camera club to hone my skills. The club had a critique once a month and picked a 1st, 2ed, and 3er place. I joined another club that had a judging once a month. I did win some awards over the years that I particitaped. In the time that I was a member of the clubs I larned that the winners were at the mercy of the judges if they liked your work. i now know that the only person that matters is you and the person that is buying the photohraphy. I did learn a lot so my photography skills have inproved. I do sell some of my work and post on social media. I thank if you are trying to learn photographert taking class is the way to go. Yes it is good to have some one like your work but in the end you have to like your work.

  6. I founded a small group for photographers that want to pursue photography to create images for the purpose of expressing their own voice. The objective was to focus entirely on expression and we work hard to do just that. At the moment, we are doing month exercises to learn to “read” photographs and to “hear” what the photographer is saying. We are shutting down the inner critics from what many have learned from years of training in critique and competition clubs.

    While I do still fight the urge to tell them “straighten that horizon line” and other basics, there are plenty of clubs that do nothing but that, so our rule is that to work on your technicals go elsewhere. To work on your voice and your voice alone, be here.

    It is rare to find another photographer and especially one of your caliber that is on the same page.

    We now have 625+ members on and 130+ in our Facebook group. As a virtual group, our members extend through out the DC/ Baltimore metro area and beyond.

    Your blog is being reposted to our group on Facebook. Photo Society MD/VA/DC.


    Sheila Guevin

  7. Late to the party but I just found this discussion from, where else, a fellow camera club member. Sharing ideas and resources with other photographers is indispensable; however, my experience with club photo competitions has been a mixed bag. In the beginning I told myself that if I couldn’t win a local small city competition, I had no business trying to sell my images on the world stage. Interestingly, I did well in the first few years, and then not so much. Were my skills deteriorating? Probably not, but my vision gradually evolved from the grand landscape to less widely appreciated “intimate” views of nature, and competition judges were not so easily impressed. Now you wouldn’t think that would matter to a competition judge – you know, someone who considers technical aspects of a picture, regardless of the subject. However, I believe there’s been a long-standing bias in my club in favor of certain subjects, like birds and babies. One judge even commented: “How can you not like a picture of a cute baby?” Good grief.

    Anyway, to get to my point. After about ten years of participating in a camera club, my feeling is that if the criticism and bashing of our photographs hasn’t caused us to quit photography altogether, we’re better and stronger for it. Some of the critiques have been valid; others were simply absurd. If you survive a club long enough, you’ll learn to recognize the difference. One judge commented about my picture that he “couldn’t imagine why anyone would waste their time photographing such a mundane subject.” I’ll never forget that. If anything, it made me more determined than ever to make better images of the ordinary things we see every day. It served as a guiding principle for Edward Weston, so it’s good enough for me.

    Competition judges are often qualified as professionals or experts, and viewed as having the inside track on critiquing a photograph. Maybe so, but one must keep in mind that they might be flawed in some respects as well. Weston made the comment that “The only thing [art] critics do is psychoanalyze themselves.” As I recall, that was said in frustration to his having been rejected for an art show. After awhile, you’ll have greater inherent faith in yourself and your images, and depend less on competitions or social media to feed your confidence.

    I would add, too, that the way competitions are organized makes a big difference. I was in charge of running them for about three years at my camera club. We followed the customary routine by presenting scores and comments from three judges, but I was adamant that we would allocate time for discussing judges’ comments and critique after the formal presentation. That way, there was opportunity for disagreement and diversity of thought, which is what it’s all about in the real world of art. Let the beginners and advanced photographers alike have time to talk about the pictures. Assuming a little thought is behind the words we speak, these sort of discussions help everyone, and offer an environment for soothing frayed emotions.

  8. I really appreciated this post. Sometimes it is hard not to feel the pressure of comparing myself to others or being judged by others as I create my photographs and share them with the world. It is truly my goal as you put it to be bolder with my courage.
    This post reminds me of another mentality I am truly trying to embody more from Seth Godin, that my art isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t need to be loved by everyone. If someone doesn’t like my work that is ok, because my art isn’t for them.

    Kyle Reynolds

  9. You invited comments on your recent essay: Discouraged by clubs, competitions, or critiques? This article Craft & Vision e-mail of January 24, 2021 contains huge mischaracterizations about camera clubs and the contributions they make. Further, it is misleading, wrongheaded and destructive in some cases.

    Based on a single competiton/critique experience you make the following insinuations about them:

    – Encourage conformity
    – Are mean to participants
    – Kill the spirit of participants
    – Provide single solutions for all problems

    Sorry, Mr. duChemin you are definitely wrong. My experience, based on more than 40 competition/critiques, shows the opposite is true. With very few exceptions, nearly all who comment are sensitive to the photographers’ efforts and offer construction criticism and encouragement – not to mention – praising strong efforts.

    Further, you state “Individuality and the healthy stubborn desire to do things our own way…is not often found—or nurtured—easily in groups.” Wrong again! History shows any number of creative folks who gathered together to review one another’s works. For example, Group f/64 that included, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston, and Edward Weston. In the field of creative writing, the Inklings were just one of several literary discussion groups, associated with J. R. R. Tolkien at the University of Oxford for nearly two decades. These are only two of likely hundreds or even thousands!

    You worry about tender spirits who may be hurt by the judgments of others. My view is if photographers choose to bring their images into the public forum, they, like every other artist from time immemorial, are subject to both the accolades and criticism from any and all comers. Face Reality! If you can’t take the heat stop showing your work. Sell your camera and buy water skis.

    Clearly you fail to appreciate that camera clubs are much more than competition/critiques. Clubs provide workshops, field trips, exhibition opportunities, mentoring, educational presentations and social gatherings that all make strong contributions to member photographers. Personally, I have attended very few meetings where I didn’t learn something valuable that directly applied to my photographic efforts.

    I urge you to retract entirely your steaming pile of manure and shut up about things you know nothing about.

    1. “My view is if photographers choose to bring their images into the public forum, they, like every other artist from time immemorial, are subject to both the accolades and criticism from any and all comers. Face Reality! If you can’t take the heat stop showing your work. Sell your camera and buy water skis. ”

      You sound like a lot of fun, Keith. I’m guessing here, but it sounds suspiciously like you just might not be the intended audience for my writing.

    2. Hi David,

      Your post really struck me. Several years ago I was somehow presumed to be in a group that would share images on a facebook page, and which allowed anyone in the group to critique what was posted. It also happened that the group was invited to participate in a two day workshop with a well respected photographer from the NWT. I didn’t feel thatI had the skills to join in the workshop, but my son offered to go with me, so I went.

      At that time I was very obese, (over 300 pounds) and horribly self-consciousness this setting. A few people in the group clearly considered themselves superior photographers, and, through no fault on their part, I found myself losing confidence by the hour. I later learned that my son had spoken privately with the photographer who was leading the workshop, about my hanging back. He was very understanding, and tried to make specific opportunities for me to access time to work with the models, but I felt so inferior both because of my size and my inexperience that I couldn’t even think straight about the settings on my camera, or anything else for that matter. I could feels others watching me and could not shake the notion that I was someplace I didn’t belong, and the people around me knew it. What’s weird in all of this is that I didn’t realize some of this until my son and I were driving home after the last day. He spelled out every way in which I interfered with my own learning. He was excruciatingly spot on. (My son spoke about this very kindly.)

      The hilarity in this is that I had been a high school teacher for years and at the time, I was a high school principal! I had no problem standing in front of 500 teenagers and their teachers, but in the context of that photography group, I didn’t have the nerve to take my turn, or ask for help. I never could not make myself put a single photograph on the group Facebook page.

      Since my retirement 10 years ago, I have photographed weddings, sports events, family portraits, CD covers and a lot of other stuff, but to this day, I have never again been part of a club. I was so afraid of being judged that I got in the way of a wonderful opportunity to learn from a pro. Sometimes the problem lies with oneself as opposed to the others in “the club.”

      Thanks very much for this post, David; it has allowed me to put in words a story I’ve never shared before.

    3. Actually Keith that rather tetchy reply corroborates David’s piece. It also reminds me of the delusions of grandeur of the local camera club I made mistake of joining. The implication is that those who are discouraged by negative, unconstructive or bizarre judgements about their photography are “snowflakes” who would be better off never taking another photograph. It is a local camera club, not some gatekeeper of culture and aesthetics there to weed out the “tender spirits” unfitted for the manly bustle of competitive photography. You mention Tolkien’s experiences at Oxford. Well I was an undergraduate at his college, Exeter College Oxford, some 40 years back and I do not recall my tutors going out of their way to discourage me!

  10. Thanks so much for this, David. It came at the perfect time. The judge in this week’s camera club competition did not care for my underwater turtle shot but went absolutely gaga over all of the macro floral still life images. I felt as if I’d brought flippers to a pruning shear fight. I do appreciate the constructive thoughts from some camera club judges and I try to remember and focus on incorporating those, and it’s getting easier not to be disheartened by a less-than-expected score.

    1. ” I felt as if I’d brought flippers to a pruning shear fight. ” Cindy, those might be the best words anyone has ever written on this blog. Certainly the least expected. LOL. 🙂 I think this kind of sense of humour is probably the one thing we all need when letting others give us feedback. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  11. As someone on the path from a picture taker to a photographer, this essay strikes a chord. I enter images in the monthly photo club competition and have joined a subgroup to learn how to make better images. Both of these forums provide feedback which I find helpful.

    The monthly competition provides an objective result from three more experienced photographers. All three scores are presented then added for a final result. I have observed that images that are more conventional usually have tightly bunched scores and more unusual images have more divergent scores. When I have asked about this the answer is “personal preference of the judge”. Because there is a scoring rubric in use, this answer confused me. After reading your essay, it now makes perfect sense. I can’t say that the total score, and my place in the competition, won’t matter to me, but I will take notice of the highest individual score. This individual score will be an indication of the success that I have in conveying my vision.

    The subgroup is much more enlightening. The coordinators first present thoughts on what makes a good image to provoke discussion. Your insights are prominently presented! Then the coordinators show images that we have submitted, offer their critique, suggest edits and open the floor to comments from the other students. I find this process to be rewarding because it is good feedback on if I have succeeded or failed in conveying my vision. Over the last several months, I have become much more self-critical and more satisfied with the final images that I have created.

    I am working my way through the Visual Toolbox and it is hard work! The percent of images that are keepers has declined as my standards have changed.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!

  12. I will admit that I skimmed the voluminous trove of comments, but all seemed to be rather club-centric. Always the thorn among the roses, I would not only give the woman who asked your approval to leave her club said approval, I would encourage her to leave! If you can see that the club is shaping you in ways contrary to your artistic beliefs, then the time has come to high-tail it.

    I have done the club thing for about 10 years, and I was getting the feeling that my work just didn’t fit in. I rarely shoot anything but black and white film, and nearly everyone else consumes saturated color like candy. To a person, they stop with a digital file unless they want to enter a competition, but I’m going deeper into darkroom processing. This was not a good sign.

    I hate to say this, given the misery COVID-19 has brought upon so many people, but the time off from monthly meetings has clarified not only my view of the club but also my photographic vision, both technically and philosophically. This aspect of 2020 will forever be a gift to me.

    So I encourage this woman to strike out on her own! Find a friend or two that, if they don’t photograph like she does, they at least accept her work and like her in spite of it. And while she is at it, I suggest leaving Instagram and Facebook photo groups, which are wildly toxic to innovative thought. In short, she should be the artist that is within her, and be proud of it.

    1. Well said. This reflects some of my own experience although I could not articulate it as well as you have done. I too have left the toxic social media groups. I have friends with whom I go on photo adventures (well, whenever we aren’t in lockdown) and even though we each have different visions and are at different places in our photography journey, there is a great deal of respect for each other’s work and unique style. I follow photographers I like as people (including David of course). For me, the silver lining is very evident.

  13. At 66 years now, in both tears and laughter after reading this. I am deeply autistic and a camera is like a walking stick to me, with it I can go out and brave the world. And at last I became so brave, I became member of a Club … I was so happy to see so many pictures from others, even were able to talk to other people. And then it happened. The critique. Which became direct marching orders. But I am a wondering wanderer. Not an achiever. Whatever that might be. Inside I died. I don’t care about crappy pictures. I care about the joy and exhilarating happiness of the trying and telling. It was killed expertly. And all the member-sheep were happy to see me leave. I tried as best as I could, explaining my condition and explaining what I so much loved about being happy with seeing each others pictures. I was a no go. It was a no go. I was told to shut up or leave. It still hurts as if it was just a day ago. While it was in 2015.
    I still walk with my “walking stick” though. And while I left “society,” I still walk my little earth. There I can touch and see and smile at all and with all the light that is there.
    Sent to you from the Netherlands, Reina.

    Your story describes it all. Thank you for that.

    1. Oh, RJ, what a heartbreaking story. I am so, so sorry you experienced that. People, especially groups of people do not always treat others who are different with understanding or kindness. What a shame that their way of doing things couldn’t be expanded to include you. I am so glad, however, that the camera (your walking stick – I love that) draws you into the world and into that kind of joy. The others that do not get to experience this with you are poorer for it. Keep exploring. And don’t give up on people, quick as they might be to give up on you. There are still some wonderful, big hearted people out there. I hope your camera helps you find them .

  14. David,
    Interesting post and to a large extent I agree. My pursuit in photography is to continuously improve. Photo clubs, contests and critiques help me do that. I keep all feedback and comparisons to other’s photography at arms length, but generally consider it. I often try their suggestions even if it is contrary to my personal aesthetic because, maybe they are right . . . or not, but without trying, I learn nothing. And maybe their suggestion or competitive image does not appeal to me in the current context, that does not mean it won’t have application in the future. Just my thoughts, I could be wrong.

    1. Author

      Thanks, David. We all approach our craft differently and for different reasons. My hope with this piece was not to come to consensus or agreement but to begin a conversation and encourage a wider perspective, especially looping in those that have sometimes found themselves the outliers. This article will be more relevant to some than to others.

  15. Excellent article…the large majority of which I wholeheartedly agree.

    I think I differ a bit in my overall opinion about the value of feedback from others…whether it arises unsolicited as a result of my having posted something online with (hopefully) constructive commentary coming from anyone with access…or from a single judge at one of the local camera club competitions.

    Overall, I’ve reached a point where ‘technical’ commentary gets all but completely ignored. There are a bajillion photography oriented groups on FB alone in which one can find oodles of comments asking for EXIF data, but those asking about ‘The Heart of the Photograph’ are all but non-existent. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll see (or receive) a technical comment that spurs an idea I might choose to pursue, but most commonly, I mentally toss them in the Recycle Bin.

    But I am also a member of a local camera club to whom you recently presented, and we have periodic ‘Salon’ sessions that are basically group discussions surrounding images various attendees have voluntarily submitted for review. In a sense, it’s a form of critique. While there is occasional technical ‘stuff’ addressed, it leans much more towards getting to the heart of the image and what it may mean to those who choose to speak on it. I do find such discussions particularly valuable, but more for the different perspectives each commenter brings to the table than for any improvement it might help me make in my own work. I find it very interesting to hear how Suzy Sasquatch ‘sees’ any given image compared to how Roscoe Raswell may see it. That fascinates me. It’s not unlike attending a photography workshop and seeing how a dozen different individuals see Hatteras Island Lighthouse in a dozen different ways.

    The one aspect of image sharing I find peculiar is that surrounding the old addage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. But while there there seems to be almost universal agreement of the truth of that statement, it seems a whole big bunch of photographers struggle to come up with 25 to describe their own work. And we frequently see the refrain…’a photograph should stand on it’s own without any words.’..which too often comes across as someone who suffers from not being able to describe their work. It’s something I struggled with mightily when I was younger, and though I’m far better at it today than when I was 20, it still doesn’t come easy.

    1. I think we are in total agreement. Please see my (lengthy) comments below.

    2. Author

      Hey RJ – Your salon sessions sound right up my alley. Please don’t misunderstand, I think the thoughts of others can be very helpful, but I think we need to consider the source, and recognize that the feedback we offer might not be what another person is able to hear. It takes an uncommonly empathetic person to offer feedback that is customized for the person it is intended for. But those people are out there. Forgive me if I implied they were not. It was such a privilege to speak to you all in St Louis last Saturday – thank you!

  16. To me, the key questions for photographers are, “Why do you care about photography, and why do you want to make better photographs?”. The answers I hear from others seem to fall into several categories:
    • Recognition
    • Artistic self-fulfillment
    • Influencing/pleasing others
    • Social interaction

    Recognition – Those who strive for recognition seem to live-or-die by their successes in competitions. Acquiring numerous ribbons, plaques, certificates, or other similar materials appears to be the reason for their photography. Camera Clubs typically offer the opportunity to compete with others and achieve the gratification they crave.

    Many of us have gone through this phase, and many others have never left it. I was initially excited to win photography competitions. I have dozens of ribbons hanging on a wall. However, gradually I began to feel that they were hollow “victories.” My ribbons were purely reflections of my success at meeting the photographic standards of others. Once I realized that I stopped entering competitions.

    I think that your article is primarily addressing this category of photographers. And I agree with you that the recognition of others is not a good goal… at least not for me.

    Artistic self-fulfillment – I have found that I really like some of my images, even though others don’t necessarily agree with me. These photographs make me feel good about my photography. Somehow, they seem to enrich my artistic soul, much the same emotion that I suspect a painter feels. I now strive to create photographs that are meaningful to me. This approach has led to the development of my own personal style of photography.

    Influencing/Pleasing Others – I would be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy pleasing others. It feels good when my wife (or others) sees one of my images and says that they love it and would like to have a copy. Also, most professional photographers fall into this category since they must please others if their photographs are going to sell.

    Although it feels good when my photographs make others happy, this isn’t my primary goal. Instead, it’s a beneficial “side effect.”
    Social Interaction – Although I don’t participate in the photography competitions, I still attend most of the camera club meetings (currently by zoom). I do this because I enjoy interacting with people, especially those who share my passion for photography. They may not share my reasons for taking photographs, but we still have a great deal in common.

    I don’t feel that photographers who have different goals are inferior in any way. Instead, they have “drivers” that aren’t the same as mine. The fact that a competition judge’s decisions aren’t meaningful to me doesn’t change the fact that others feel a judge’s thoughts are vital. In fact, I occasionally judge photo competitions for camera clubs and even the PSA. If others value my opinions, I’m glad to share them.

    I belong to a couple of photography study groups. I appreciate the fact that we are not competing within our study group. The satisfaction that I get from photography derives from how I personally feel about my images. When I receive sincere input from others, I listen carefully and decide if their suggestions would make me more pleased with my creation. If so, I gratefully incorporate their ideas. If not, I graciously thank them for their comments.

    I realize that I can often modify my work so that I like it even more. I would change a photograph to meet someone else’s artistic values. Yet, I never feel that I’ve created an image that is as wonderful (to me) as it could be. Thus, I value the chance to hear ideas that might be beneficial to my own satisfaction.

    Hopefully, this all makes sense. I don’t disagree with much of what you express. However, I feel that acting on your views would be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” There is significant value in hearing the thoughts of others if you assess them objectively. However, to me, it is a mistake to blindly follow the recommendations of others. Their input is only valuable if it helps you meet your own goals for your art. To me, this is being faithful to oneself.

    1. Author

      Thank you for that thoughtful reply, Oliver. You said “I don’t disagree with much of what you express. However, I feel that acting on your views would be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” There is significant value in hearing the thoughts of others if you assess them objectively. However, to me, it is a mistake to blindly follow the recommendations of others. Their input is only valuable if it helps you meet your own goals for your art. To me, this is being faithful to oneself.” I completely agree, but I don’t see my views as being contrary to this. I think there is great value in listening to others, you just have to consider the source carefully, and be intentional about how much importance you give it, and what it might mean to you to act on that. Thanks for being part of the conversation.

      1. Thank you for the quick response, David. When I read your article, it felt to me that you were implying that it was an error to seek the input of others. I’m glad to see that you do find value in listening to others and appropriately determining their input’s importance for achieving your personal goals. We are clearly on the same page.

  17. Clubs have a place, one just can’t take the judging too seriously. I belong to two clubs, so if an image I believe in didn’t do well in one club, I enter it in the other. Quite a few times the image went on to win “Best of Show” the second time. That said, I have learned quite a bit and just try to do my own thing and not pander to the tastes of a known judge, and take in what I hear.

    There was a recent video on YouTube of three well known online photographers who were tricked…one of the three set up a photo critique and snuck in a number of lesser known Ansel Adams images. Almost without exception, the critiques for the Adams images were quite negative. The big reveal was quite funny and embarrassing for the judges!

    Take what you like from a critique, and leave the rest.

    1. Author

      Tamara, yes, you’re absolutely right. Clubs do have a place. Right now I speak virtually to one or two clubs a week and so many of them are truly wonderful. But learning in a group setting something as individual as photography can be definitely has its challenges. As for the video you mentioned, that’s fantastic. Another reader just sent me an email with a similar story about an author who sent submissions to publishers who all rejected the submissions. The kicker? The work he submitted was not his own but rather work that same publishing house had already published. A similar commentary on the subjectiveness of all this. 🙂

  18. Hey David I have been a follower of yours for many years and really enjoy your comments, articles, books etc but please cut camera clubs a little more slack. Its not really about the clubs its about the people who run the clubs. I have been a member of clubs that are pretty rigid and clubs that are just so creativity focused they have been a breath of fresh air. Find a club that fits where you are at and enjoy the camaraderie, discussions and, above all, the club outings. Photography is a truly wonderful hobby but sometimes, if you are new to the game, it is most fruitful when you don’t try and do it all on your own. Please keep writing.
    Roger Lee

    1. Author

      Hi Roger. When you say “it’s not really about the clubs” it sounds a lot like the big bold quote I was careful to emphasize that says: “That’s my caveat: this is not about camera clubs. It’s about too many people grabbing at the hooves and leaving us without a leg to stand on.” 🙂 Of course it’s not about the clubs per se. There are good clubs, many of them really great. And there are those that fall short. My hope in this article was only to encourage those who have been hurt and discouraged either by clubs or competitions or careless critiques, or their own expectations of these things.

  19. May I suggest that we embrace camera clubs with all the zest we can summon. By definition, these are groups of (somewhat) like-minded people who share a passion for photography. You won’t agree with all of them and not all of them will see things the way you do. You’ll make some friends and you’ll encounter others you can’t stand. But that’s how everything works. Think about school, work, the extended family.
    And, David, please re-consider your decision not to judge another competition. Wouldn’t all your correspondents on this blog want to hear what you have to say? Of course they would and so too would just about every camera club member wherever they may be. There’s nothing in club judging that says an image should be dismissed because of a technical fault. We could go even further to say that a judge is obliged to identify artistic merit first and foremost. Of course, most photographers would prefer to eliminate technical errors and that’s where good judges can be very helpful. But the best of judges will also know that the artist has gone to some effort in submitting their work for evaluation. And, in that light, they will find words of encouragement. Always.
    It is hard being a good judge of photography whilst being a wonderful mentor of photographers. But there are many who can do it and they do. The monetary rewards are slim but the satisfaction is great.
    The sense of obligation is even greater.

    1. Author

      Hi John – Thanks for this. You’re obviously coming at this from a very particular, and very positive experience of club life, none of which I meant to criticize. I do note you are from Australia, which is apropos of nothing (I love Aussies!) but Australia (and NZ, too) have a VERY different club culture than I have seen elsewhere in the world. It’s both more enthusiastic (and then some!) and in many cases, more developed. But your positive experiences do not, unfortunately, cancel out all the many emails and conversations I have with others whose experiences are equally negative. It was not my intention to criticize what is working but that which, for many, might be broken, and to encourage a change of perspective on the individual level and a change of focus or methodology on the collective level. Lastly, thank you for encouraging me to judge more competitions. I don’t think I will, but I’m interested by your comment: “Wouldn’t all your correspondents on this blog want to hear what you have to say?” My experience of competitions is one of ratings and wins/losses, not an opportunity for conversation or dialogue. The competitions I’ve entered over the years have NEVER been an opportunity to hear from the judges. If it’s different in Oz, then you all have much to teach the rest of us. Your words tell me you’re exactly the kind of person we need pushing these kinds of things forward. Maybe then there’d be less need for me to try to bind up the broken and encourage them. The amount of emails I got in reply to this article thanking me for saying what I did is overwhelming. We need more people like who would even think to acknowledge the challenge and need to be a “wonderful mentor of photographers.” Thank you.

  20. Thanks David, and also for the profound insight of your readers. I’ve been in the local camera club for 4 years following my second retirement and hold the record for the number of 8’s (judges are not supposed to give less than 9 out of 15! No one says why they gave a low score so you go home discouraged. I persist because our club has some great mentors who are closer to being true followers of light; and evening workshops and club seminars allow much more opportunity to develop your own thing. I am also a group leader for a PSA digital dialogue group as of 2 weeks ago. It seems to me that the pathway to excellence in photography is not linear in contrast to other skills, so image critique should not be viewed as something discouraging – just a way to communicate your stuff . But I think we should continue in the quest to find the best way and that your way is without doubt the best pointer out there.

    1. Author

      Thanks for that Piers. Your unbroken series of 8 is impressive. That alone deserves a trophy. Persistence and a willingness to risk, and to keep learning, should be celebrated much more than the occasional ability to pull off an image scoring 15! 🙂

  21. Thank for this sort podcast Mr. duChemin. I’ve had the same problem two years ago. I was afraid of the online criticism and every time I was making a photograph I was thinking about and trying to please the unknown internet master photographer. That changed after a lot of reading. Instead of investing time online I bought a lot of books (including all of yours, I’m currently reading The heart of photography) and learn a lot from the real masters. What I do now is start with questions and after I’ve finished shooting I check if my images answer those questions, simple as that. And if I want to check my progress I see my older images and make my criticism. It also helps if you can find a mentor, someone who doesn’t care about food or bad photos, someone who can just explain the whys and the hows of each photo.

    Thank you again Mr. duChemin and thanks to all your readers for their very nice and informative comments!

    1. Author

      Thanks George! You’re right about finding a mentor! That kind of personal feedback can be so much more valuable than what we learn in a group. It’s also much harder to find. I hope you’ve found a good one!

  22. David, you are excellent at bringing an alternative, and often provocative viewpoint, but I think we’ve ended up a little unbalanced here. Photographers make progress when they discuss and compare their work with others and receive feedback, misguided though some of that feedback may be. It’s very hard in this craft to be a lone ranger. You yourself have said in the past that we should examine other peoples’ work and build upon it with our own thoughts and ideas. Camera clubs are an excellent and accessible mechanism for many to do exactly that.

    I too am a camera club judge. Good critique praises what has been done well, points out where technical choices could be improved and where creative alternatives could be tried. The feedback may be biased but that’s human nature (and wiring). When did anyone last completely agree with their annual review at work? However, I do think that a lot could be done to improve standards of critique and anyone providing critique should have the humility to understand their own level of competence and comment accordingly.

    As you said, you’ve never been a member of a Camera Club. Best not therefore to pick up that enthusiastic hoof pick and criticise a mechanism which has helped thousands of photographers to improve their technique. Knowing your style though, I suspect that wasn’t the point of your article!

    1. David
      I always enjoy your “rants”, they give me hope. I have never had time for camera clubs since I left highschool, and I have never had much success with competitions. My strugle is to leverage time to practice my craft and to find my “vioce”. Pandemic life means that I have to pick up more responcibility at home. I find that I am picking up my camera adhoc when I am walking to the grocery store or the drug store.

      1. Author

        Thanks for that, Douglas. I hadn’t seen this as a rant, but everyone needs the freedom to come unhinged and go off on a tangent sometimes. LOL. Your struggle to find time is a common one, but the challenge to make the camera part of your day-to-day life is a good one. Best to you!

    2. Author

      Unbalanced? I don’t think so. I was offering a different perspective, not trying to replace one. If anything I think some clubs, some competitions, are off-balanced. One need not belong to clubs to experience them, as I have all over the world. Nor, for that matter, to know that some of them cause harm. I wrote this in reaction not to one email but hundreds of emails and conversations, and if the emails I got in reply to this are anything to go on, I think I hit a nerve. I know many, many good clubs and even more great people in those clubs. But that doesn’t change the reality that learning in a club environment presents challenges for many and I was hoping in this article to encourage those who’ve been hurt by competitions, critiques, or club environments, not to criticize those that find them helpful and run very healthy clubs. Thanks for that last line in your comment, and for giving me the benefit of the doubt. My intent was only to be positive and encouraging. But let’s remember not all clubs are equal and just because they have existed for decades and helped many, doesn’t mean they (some of them) can’t improve and aren’t subject to some caring and heart-felt criticism. The clubs aren’t remotely the point but the people in the clubs are very much the point. You sound like you’re in an excellent club and in leadership, as such you’re in a position to ensure your members are encouraged and helped to take risks and be creative and find their own voice. We need more people like you (and others like you already in places of leadership).

  23. Fabulous article and hit the nail on the head about camera clubs sometimes having a photographic personality. While the one I’m associated with is a good teaching club the competitions are very, well, competitive! And judged based on a certain criteria of elements to meet, sometimes without merit for creativeness. If you learn to follow this criteria you’ll do well. Thanks for this perspective, there is space in the room for everyone.

    1. Author

      “there is space in the room for everyone.” You nailed it Penny. The emails I get and the conversations I have tell me that is not always the case, but it’s certainly the goal. Thank you for that.

  24. David – I loved and was moved by your post script – “As you head in to 2021”. So moved that I copied it and wrote it in to a journal I am keeping for my Grandson Such wonderful and thoughtful advice. I made a few changes to make it more timeless. I hope you don’t mind. Of course I did credit you with the authorship. Thank you.
    Up and Over
    David M

    1. Author

      Thanks for that, David. Comments like this are more encouraging than you can know. Thank you!

  25. A timely article, thank you. I appreciate the reminder that critiques aren’t an actual commentary on the worth or merit of an image, as we all have a different idea of what is important.

    It causes me to consider, though, with juried shows…. do I enter work I love, knowing that likely it won’t be chosen, or do I enter things I think will be more in line with what the jurors tend to favor (based on research about past shows they’ve juried)? I recently entered a juried show and had to determine which route to take with that. I did have a bit of a dilemma for a bit (because why pay the entry fee if you think you have no chance of being accepted?), but it came down to having to enter what I love even if it’s not the style the jurors seem to prefer. I’d be thrilled to be wrong about their preferences, but at least the canvases are ones I’d want to have on my walls!

    1. Author

      Katrina – I think this is a really healthy approach. And you’re right, regardless the outcome you’ve something beautiful to surround yourself with. 🙂

  26. I never belonged to a photography club, either, and in fact most of the settings on my cameras (Canons, point-and-shoot) are a mystery to me. BUT I am impressed by your essay here! The principles you set forth are applicable to any creative endeavor where there is an opportunity to critique others’ work. I once belonged to a poetry writing group, and I found that when the criticism was most fierce, it was because that poet had wished they had written my poem themselves, but needed to tweak it to their style and not mine. Perhaps this might be true of those photographers who are severe critiics…

    1. Author

      There’s a really interesting insight in your comment about the motives of others in their reactions to what we make, AnneLou. I wonder if this is one of the more significant weaknesses: how do we judge/evaluate work that challenges us? I’m going to think about this for a while, but I suspect initial reactions to it will be resistant long before we learn from it, and see the value in it. Thanks for this – I’ll be thinking about it all day…

  27. I had been a member of a photo club on and off for a few years and found it strange that the comments in competitions always seemed to be criticisms on the same three aspects: focus, blur and not matching the rule of thirds. Judges seemed to fail to see the soul in many of the pictures offered.
    By chance I came across the MOMA self study class, ‘Seeing through photography’ I think it was called.
    Gradually I came to see that there are so many aspects to seeing and valuing images, and that if you wanted to score an image properly you would need to put your scores on a multi-axial graph (one of those spiders web graphics) but it would need a thousand axes. The trouble is that many photo club judges can only see three or four of the thousand axes or judgement points. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen many superb images in photo clubs but many of the best of them won no prizes and sadly the reviews often did little or nothing to help the photographer to grow from hearing the review.
    Maybe judges should try to always begin their reviews with the words, ‘Now what I like about this image is . . .’

    1. Author

      Maybe judges should try to always begin their reviews with the words, ‘Now what I like about this image is . . .’ I think you nailed it, Mike. Or perhaps “what I learned from this image was” or “what this image makes me feel is” or “what this photograph makes me wonder is…” SO many ways to respond to an image, but the first has to be to listen to it, not a knee-jerk reaction, especially as AnneLou observed, that reaction could be to the ways in which an image challenges or confronts us. Great insight and contribution, Mike, Thank you!

  28. Bingo!
    Thank you for your clear articulation of what I have found as well. I belong to one club because I like the people, but have stopped submitting any work to share. Likewise, I stopped submitting to competitions, save a couple in 2020 more to help support the small gallery that sponsors them than to expect acceptance (and then I was surprised when it was ). I’m slowly building my own support community who provide helpful feedback and encouragement, and I happily keep making work.

    1. Author

      Keep at it, Anne. There are so many beautiful ways to get up the mountain. Helpful feedback and encouragement is the point, we all find (and give!) those things in different places.

  29. Thank you, David. I am a relative newby to photography, and your words really hit home. One of your followers sent me this posting because she knows I have struggled with critiques that seem off the mark. Thankfully, she has continually supported me and encouraged me, and has helped me overcome the bad feelings from well meant but poorly done critiques. I am now in a position in our camera club to lead a new initiative, something geared to ALL members, in order to develop our community. I would love to share this post, in part or in whole, with those who are helping get this off the ground, and eventually with all members. I have found it difficult to find my own photographic voice, and I would hate to be a stumbling block for others, who like me, are relative newbies.


    1. Author

      THIS! This is what I hoped for, Sally. It’s all about leadership. There are some truly great camera clubs out there because there is leadership with vision and the desire to support, teach and encourage. Please feel free to share anything I write as far and wide as you like. 🙂 If you’d like me to email you these articles every 2 weeks, rather than having to remember the check this blog, you can tell where to send them here:

  30. Thank you, David! What you said is so true!! I joined a camera club 4 years ago, when I began photographing, and have been actively involved. I am so grateful for the information, exposure to lots of artists, feedback and support I have received and been able to share. At the same time, I stopped submitting images for competition two years ago because I felt like I was losing myself. It was the right thing to do, because I am slowly discovering my personal voice – thanks in part to your own wonderful teaching. There is no replacement for discovering your own views of the world and what you want to express, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Thank you so much for teaching this lesson over and over in so many ways. I am reminded of what Allen Ginsberg said, “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.”

    1. Author

      Well, who am I to contradict Allen Ginsberg!? Great quote, Pam – thank you for that. I’m copying that to my growing list of quoted wisdom!

  31. My photography hobby began many years ago as a pursuit of a fulfilling solitary activity. Little did l know that it would lead (through camera clubs) to several strong, long lasting friendships and to worldwide travels.

    In addition to viewing other’s work, I’ve enjoyed competitions to hear judge’s remarks. Did I accomplish my goals, technically and otherwise? I sometimes/often disagreed completely with the comments, but I ALWAYS got a new perspective. That has been the greatest learning value for me from camera clubs.

    1. Author

      Thank you for that, Jim. When I write something like this its almost always impossible to include all the possible caveats and I think for many the value of group settings is in the friendships gained. I also think it takes a level of confidence to disagree with the feedback you’re given and still find in it a new perspective. Thanks for that reminder.

  32. I am a new photographer. I joined a club recently. I struggle hard not to be turned off by technical comments and continue to developp my own creative process. The article reassures me. Thank’s

    1. Author

      You are welcome, Colette. Keep at it. Remember sometimes what’s in the way (the technical stuff, the comments that don’t seem to really get you or what you’re trying to do) is the way. So much to learn and it’s almost never a straight (or easy! or comfortable!) path. 🙂 Best to you!

  33. First off, thank you for the article (Competition and Camera Clubs), I really enjoyed it. As with all your works, they are thought provoking. You express things which. once read, the reader realizes, he / she / they feels. My older brother once said the hardest part of a “journey” is to begin and that the goal should never be to compete. . . . . . “don’t compete, create”. It seems like it is a small difference, but there is nothing small about it. “DON’T COMPETE, CREATE”!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Christopher. “Don’t Compete, Create” – that might just be one of the great mantras of 2021. 🙂

  34. Wow. Exactly how I’ve been feeling. There are people in our camera club who do the same thing every week and consistently score in the top 10 of the club. But I was getting bored with that, so I started doing different things and trying new approaches. And that’s when my scores started dropping off. Every once in awhile I will submit something to the monthly competition and am consistently critiqued in the strangest ways. It always hurts my feelings initially, until I remind myself that I’m happy with the work I’m doing now. So I’m mainly in the club for the social aspects and then riding away on my own pony. Thanks for reaffirming that, David.

    1. Author

      Sounds like I might have unknowingly written this just for you, Toni. Without risk there is no forward movement or growth and risk is not always rewarded by those watching. But it does contain its own reward (Oh God, that sounded like a fortune cookie, didn’t it? Sorry). 🙂

  35. Thank you David. Your articles, podcasts, books, and interviews consistently validate that photography like most creativity is extremely subjective. I watched an fstoppers video (I’ll say that website is as about camera clubby as you get) that presented Ansel Adams works mixed in with their community photos. The criticism of Adams’ work was amazing but not unexpected by a group tied to pixel peeping and the newest technology.

    I find myself stuck creatively recently, unsure of my abilities and without clear direction. I’ve found myself chasing light, probably forcing an image to feel accomplished. Despite having some of my work printed on box office posters,, in theatre programs, and on high school websites, I’m haunted by shots not taken or not taken well.

    Glad to see I’m not alone.

    1. Author

      You are not alone! In my comment to Toni in this thread I observed that:”Without risk there is no forward movement or growth and risk is not always rewarded by those watching. But it does contain its own reward.” Risk being misunderstood, even by your own self, as you try new things. It’s the only way forward. I love the story you told about the F-Stoppers video. Classic! I’m off to find that video.

  36. Dear David,
    Like I said when Biden and Harris took office, it’s always great when there’s an adult in the room! I appreciate your emotionally and spiritually mature, reflective inspirational essay.

    I am lucky enough to belong to the PhotoZone camera club in Eugene, Oregon.

    Admittedly, when I look around the Zoom rooms, I see predominantly old white guys with three or four of us old white broads—and yet there is enormous diversity among us in all the ways you outline, lifetimes of experimentation, play, angst and joy.

    Beneath the bald heads and gray beards are old hippies from the 60s and 70s who retain the spirit of the age that shaped them.

    It is a privilege to know them because they are all still active, developing artists.

    Thank you for this inspiring write.

    Sandy Brown Jensen

    1. Author

      Did you just accuse me of being an adult?! Huh. First time for everything. 🙂 I love (LOVE!) this: “Beneath the bald heads and gray beards are old hippies from the 60s and 70s who retain the spirit of the age that shaped them.” May we all be so lucky to learn from such diversity, especially if it’s laced with a little loving rebellion. 🙂 Nice to hear from you Sandy. Over the year some names keep popping up here and I feel like old friends. Thanks for that.

  37. Thank you! I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed this perspective. I recently declined to enter a local photography show and when friends tried to convince me anyway, I couldn’t find the right words to express what I was feeling – opting for the simple response, “It’s just not for me.” Every word of this post resonates with me and I’ve certainly felt exactly as the photographer who reached out to say that she just didn’t seem to belong. I almost trashed an entire file folder of images I took yesterday, deeming them unworthy, because they weren’t “good enough.” I’m so glad I saved the folder! Now I see those images as an experiment and a step in my progression as an artist. Thank you, again!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome, Donna. Though I must say it doesn’t sound like you really needed it. Anyone who can say “it’s just not for me” knows themselves well enough to be true to themselves. Combined with this: “Now I see those images as an experiment and a step in my progression as an artist,” it sounds like you’re doing just fine on your own path and moving forward. Well done, my friend.

  38. I feel better about my work and decision to not stay with a camera club. I have attended meetings at three different clubs and found the focus on competition a turn off. I would much rather hear the story behind each photo and the meaning to the photographer. I have attended at least ten day to week long photo classes/trips and truly enjoy the fellow participants and the experiences. Thanks for saying what needed to be said about clubs.

    1. Author

      There are many paths up the mountain, Rick. Sounds like you know which one best appeals to you. Enjoy the view!:-)

  39. I never participate in Contests or Competitions for that reason. Not that I don’t want to be judged but because the judge might not understand what I meant. Excellent article. Art, in general, is completely subjective. There is no right and no wrong.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Luiz! In art what is right is what works best for us, what is wrong is what does not. At least in terms of making what is ours. 🙂

  40. I was out running the frosty lanes of Devon at the break of dawn ( here in England )
    This morning and thinking how lucky I am to be in this wonderful landscape, a free spirit, and as unique, as as every human being is.
    I have a saying that was handed down to me many years ago “
    whatever people think of me, has got absolutely nothing to do with me, I can only be me and notuld like me to be”
    Your eloquent post runs along the same theme, and I thank you for it. It reminds me that as a photographers we all struggle at times with our art and thankfully we are all uniquely different in our approach and execution. Than God

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Author

      Thanks, David. You put much more poetically (and briefly!) what took me a couple thousand words to express. Thank you for that.

  41. I totally agree with you. I am a (volunteer) judge and visit many local clubs to grade entries in their competitions. What are my qualifications? One day’s training. Sixty years of taking snaps. And the ability, I hope, of engaging an audience for 90 minutes. Every time I stand in front of a group of photographers I tell them: 1. It was easier to judge in the past when 80% of images were under/over exposed, out of focus, blurred or badly developed. Now they are, usually, technically fine. 2. I choose the images I like- so don’t expect an objective view, I can’t do it and neither can anybody else. 3. This is all for fun 4. Plough your own furrow- take images (and share them) which you like. Do NOT compare yourselves with others- this art not sport

    1. Author

      This. All of it. There’s wisdom and grace there. We need more people like you, Nigel. Thank you for that. You’re comment that it’s art and not sport reminds me of the old quip that winning at art is like winning at yoga. A bit of a non-sequitor. 🙂

  42. David, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Competition, and Camera Clubs. It is very timely since my camera club’s monthly competition is tomorrow night. I shared your thoughts with many of my friends in the club. Thank you so much for saying the words we often need to hear.

  43. Your take on this reminded me of another’s.

    “It has come to me of late that comparing one man’s work to another’s, naming one greater or lesser, is a wrong approach.

    The important and only vital question is, how much greater, finer, am I than I was yesterday? Have I fulfilled my possibilities, made the most of my potentialities?

    What a marvellous world if all would, — could hold this attitude toward life.”

    Edward Weston, 1928

    1. Author

      I sometimes wonder if I’m just channeling Edward Weston because almost anything I’ve written has been better and more succinctly written by him. He’s got a lot of nerve stealing my ideas so long before I had a chance to think them! 🙂 Thanks for that quote, Michael. I hadn’t seen it before.

  44. Excellent article as always. I run a small town photography club. We have about 1500 members. Some are professional photographers and some are just beginning their journey into photography. We are a very friendly group. Very little, to basically no critique on the photos unless asked for. I do choose a photo of the week and a cover photo each week and give a short explanation of why I chose them. So of us try to get together in the summer for a photo walk and meet and greet but with Covid right know it is unlikely that that will happen. For the most part it is a very supportive group of people.

    1. Author

      Wait, what? ” A small town photography club” with “about 1500 members”?? You have a gift for understatement, Steve 🙂 It makes me tremendously happy to see all the comments and emails from people who are in clubs they really love. It doesn’t surprise me as I’ve spoken to some amazing clubs, but it’s nice to know people like you are experiencing that. My big hope is that things are changing for the clubs that have been less than encouraging of creativity and individuality.

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