Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?

Started 8 months ago | Discussions
Florida Nature Photographer
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Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
8 months ago

I am new to challenges and the ones I entered recently I found of little value in helping me become a better photographer.

I see there is a challenge discussion forum but I am posting here because I want to reach those who may have given up on challenges because of the issues I am discovering. I'm wondering if they are worth my time.

A couple of weeks back I entered a few challenges. Recently I received emails notifying me of the position my photo took in the challenge.

Problems:

  1. There were too few votes to make it a meaningful result
  2. Between my submission and the start of voting I forgot about it and as a result did not vote myself
  3. A few days after I submitted I couldn't remember which challenges I had entered and couldn't find  a list of them

Suggestions:

  1. Notify those who entered a challenge when voting begins
  2. Show pending challenges in the user profile, not just finished ones
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carl english
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

Florida Nature Photographer wrote:

I am new to challenges and the ones I entered recently I found of little value in helping me become a better photographer.

I see there is a challenge discussion forum but I am posting here because I want to reach those who may have given up on challenges because of the issues I am discovering. I'm wondering if they are worth my time.

A couple of weeks back I entered a few challenges. Recently I received emails notifying me of the position my photo took in the challenge.

Problems:

  1. There were too few votes to make it a meaningful result
  2. Between my submission and the start of voting I forgot about it and as a result did not vote myself
  3. A few days after I submitted I couldn't remember which challenges I had entered and couldn't find a list of them

Suggestions:

  1. Notify those who entered a challenge when voting begins
  2. Show pending challenges in the user profile, not just finished ones

It may be better if your could join a Camera club with a large membership so when competitions are held you can attend and listen to Judges opinion of your work and of course others work, I don't think the Photo challenge is the best way to improve your skills.

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carl english
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to carl english, 8 months ago

Should have mentioned that I like your work.

Carl

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Florida Nature Photographer
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to carl english, 8 months ago

carl english wrote:

It may be better if your could join a Camera club with a large membership

I actually have joined a camera club but I want to have as many avenues as practical to share thoughts with others.

I don't think the Photo challenge is the best way to improve your skills.

I see from reading the thread titles that there are allegedly some who don't necessarily play fair. I'm not sure what the motivation for that would be. What's the point of winning nothing if you didn't do so honestly.

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johncecilian
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

I think that they can help you improve...I would generally ignore the voting because sometimes it is hard to figure out how the winner was the best photo for the assigned subject matter (I almost always like mine better...hahahaha)...but as you say, you don't win anything so who cares....what is good about it is the same thing that you see on many sites that talk about improving and that is you have a project or assignment to complete. So if you photo efforts are getting kind of stale or boring, the challenge gives you something specific to work on and maybe give you a lift in doing something new or different that you haven't tried before.

The challenge might give you new ideas and you can submit your best effort in that regard...so, insofar as that part of the challenge, it can definitely help keep you fresh or change your typical photo outing. I think that helps generally and possibly can improve technique, concentration, etc.

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Glen Barrington
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I think it would have been more helpful if you said WHY. . .
In reply to carl english, 8 months ago

A simple boolean like/dislike response really doesn't help very much.  At least it has never helped me.  This is the major flaw of the challenges, I think. It would be FAR more helpful if those who vote provide some input as to why they voted the way they did.  It really leaves the entrant wondering why he got so many or so few votes.  It doesn't really help the winners all that much since they don't know WHY they won!

I would like to see the voting change so that any rating required a sentence of at least 10 words to accompany that vote. (But allow people enough space to write at least a full paragraph!)

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Bob Tullis
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Yes and No, in my HO.
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

The act of trying to pursue a challenge as outlined is always good practice. Especially if one is earnest about learning and applying themselves to new and maybe frustrating objectives. But there's also growth that can be had from trying to refine usual practices, whether inspired by a challenge or just one's own passion to be a better photographer.

The results of submissions and voting placement in the Challenges is something else, and not necessarily a reflection of one's efforts and intentions.

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edispics
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Interesting Question
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

Do one's photos become better or does one just get a lot better at pandering to the tastes of those who visit the challenges and vote?

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johncecilian
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Re: Interesting Question
In reply to edispics, 8 months ago

Ha ha, I wouldn't know what tastes to pander to. I have no clue what the voters are looking for or why they vote the way that they do...that is why I mentioned that whether you win or not who cares...the only thing good about the challenges is that it gives you a project to work on and you do the best job you can to accomplish that task. If you learn something about doing macros for the challenge that is a good thing, if you learn about HDR for the challenge that is a good thing.

It is much better than just going out on a Saturday with your camera and aimlessly shoot stuff. Going with a purpose or a mission of accomplishing something specific gives you better focus, makes you more aware of your surroundings and I think generally helps you take better photos...

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edispics
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Very good point
In reply to johncecilian, 8 months ago

Can't argue with that. Anything that gets folks out shooting, processing, thinking, analyzing and moving forward (however that is defined for each person) is terrific!!!

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AndyMulhearn
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

IMHO, no. You would be far better off finding either a group that can meet and give honest critiques or a website/forum where you can get the same. Coming nth out of an entry group of n+x in a challenge tells you nothing about your technique or how to improve it.

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dwight3
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve? YES and NO!
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

When I first joined dpreview I lurked for a bit, then decided "what the heck, I'll enter a challenge!". I did so, and voted and watched and came in somewhere in the middle. Then I tried another, then another etc. Always coming somewhere between 25% and 75%. Except once when I came in second. It was a challenge titled something like "your worst picture ever".

I only have time in the winter, so I did that for a couple winters, then eventually gave up.

I originally thought challenges would improve my photography. I still think that, but the dpreview challenge didn't do it, and probably won't the way it operated when I tried it.

First of all, the judges are anyone who wants to vote. Crowdsourcing works only if the numbers are large enough, and the number of people voting in challenges was far from a large number. Sometimes there were only 5 votes. Some people thought that if you entered the challenge you shouldn't vote at all, for any of the entries. Some people voted for only one or two of the entries (out of 20-200 entries). I must admit that I could have been part of the problem. I voted in all the challenges I entered (you are prohibited by the software in voting for your own submission) but did not vote in many other challenges. Many of them I had no interest in, so I just ignored them. So I did not contribute to raising the number of judges in most cases.

Second, there was reputedly a lot of cheating. The comment forum was full of complaints about people with extra accounts voting for their own entries and giving low scores to others. I did not look into this to confirm it but when I looked at the votes my entries got they were all over the map.

Finally, and IMHO most important, there was no feedback. If an entry got a lot of low scores, there was nothing to tell me why. Similarly, there was nothing to tell me why an entry got high scores. At the end of the day there was just a set of numbers. Likes. Dislikes. Why? Who knows? Without feedback, there is no improvement. I don't know what to change to do better.

I think the suggestion to join a local camera club is the best one. You still get people judging your pictures who are not necessarily trained or the best photographers around. They're mostly just average people like you or me. But you can talk to them. You can ask them why they did or didn't like your work. The feedback is there.

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Mr.NoFlash
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several feedback channels help
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

The problem with dpreview as "edispics" said is that the dpreview forum members are a special crowd which tend to drift in one direction.

In germany there is/was a fotocommunity - years ago, photos posted there had to have a FRAME. If there was no FRAME then the photo was downrated. Also if the image was not tilded.

Here in dpreview is sometimes the tendency to allow only one object/subject in a photo. If the photo is not totally easy and has 2 or 3 things in it, then the 1 or 2 things "to much" are DISTRACTING. Except they are blurred with EXTREME SHALLOW DOF, because EXTREME SHALLOW DOF is good in dpreview ( except if you are in the current Olympus SLR forum where the trolls left towards the m43 forum )..

The described problems are not always the case, but the tendency is there. But there are also some useful comments.

So its best to have multiple feedback channels.

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ecm
ecm
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve? YES and NO!
In reply to dwight3, 8 months ago

+1.

I put a few entries into the challenges a few years ago, and I had a photo that did well, some that did poorly and a a few that went nowhere specific. Sandbagging was rampant at the time, and no one really knew what to do about it - that really took the fun out of participating, you knew the more high votes your picture garnered the more the cheaters would be voting you down. As you mention, I didn't get any sense as to what I did right or wrong, there was no feedback - so what was the point?

I still browse through the challenges occasionally for the personal enjoyment I get from the excelllent photos I see there, but in the end I lost interest in participating - kind of seemed like a fool's game.

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Graham Meale
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I'm happy
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

I've only rarely visited the "challenges" but on each occasion my impression was that most entries are pretty ordinary. Occasionally some brilliant work, but only very occasionally. Over the years various people have asked why I haven't joined a camera club. I like my photos; if others like them too, good; if they don't, it doesn't matter. (I can say this because I've never set out to make an income from photography; that it has given me some financial rewards over time is just a bonus.)

The risk of striving to improve your technique is that you are forever looking for faults in photos, and wonderful memories from years ago become tainted when you look back at them and think "I should have framed that differently" or "I should have focussed on the foreground", etc.

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Mark Scott Abeln
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Re: Photo Challenges - Do they help you improve?
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

I never was good at competitions because I find it very difficult to judge my work: I see nothing but flaws, find it difficult to select an image, and when I try to operate on my gut instinct it often falls flat. As much as possible, I let someone else do the deciding for me.

However, I learned a lot by hosting competitions. I tried to have a clear subject and rules, open it up to lots of entries (which unfortunately, voters hate), and in most cases the few top ranking entries are very good if not excellent, although understandably the quality tends to drop quickly with rank. The entries at the bottom are almost always good negative examples.

From my experience, irregularities in voting only changes the ranking a bit — and so don’t just look at the winner, but also the runner-ups. Also, even if there are lots of entries and few people vote on all of the images, the cream still tends to rise towards the top — more entries usually means more voters, and the top ranking images will tend to have wider appeal.

Actually, I have to give the voters a lot of credit. I rarely disqualified any images, but the voters were usually rigorous in interpreting the rules. The only time I found bad photos as the top winners is when the competition itself was bad.

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Florida Nature Photographer
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Re: I'm happy
In reply to Graham Meale, 8 months ago

Graham Meale wrote:

Over the years various people have asked why I haven't joined a camera club. I like my photos; if others like them too, good; if they don't, it doesn't matter. (I can say this because I've never set out to make an income from photography; that it has given me some financial rewards over time is just a bonus.)

Thanks to all for the great comments in this thread. I've been reading them all.

I have no current ambition to make any serious money from this craft but I do care what others think of my photos. I enjoy sharing my work with others and doubt that I would have much interest if I couldn't or didn't share them. I want to show them them the beautiful things I see in the most appealing way possible. I want to entertain them. That is what drives me to improve.

The risk of striving to improve your technique is that you are forever looking for faults in photos, and wonderful memories from years ago become tainted

I understand your point but that hasn't been my experience. I look back on older favorite photos and see how much knowledge I have gained that I now see what I could have been done better. It doesn't affect MY enjoyment of the photo. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. That is what drives me to improve.

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tko
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Re: Interesting Question
In reply to edispics, 8 months ago

Tis always better to think that you photos are great rather than to submit them to public scrutiny and have it proven wrong . . .

Like any art form, there is always some BS at the elite levels (gentlemen, I give you a photo of a snow artfully blurred,) and a lot of BS at the lower levels (my singing is so great, how could the judges not like me), but in the middle areas like DPR the truth is usually outed.

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tko
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contests don't teach
In reply to Florida Nature Photographer, 8 months ago

Seems the issues are all yours. You forgot what you entered, you forgot to vote, and now you want the site to email you reminders. Teacher, I didn't know the test was today. You have graduated high school, right?

They most certainly are NOT worth your time if you don't put out the effort to participate.

Contests do not teach. They validate what you have learned. If you're not doing well, don't expect the contest to tell you why. Read, study, take photos, take a class, play, then enter another. If you do better, validation for your efforts.

I would certainly NOT vote in any contest that required me to explain why I voted. I've learned a lot in the last 10-years, and review images on Photosig and other places. Happy to critique any individual photo, but writing 100 critiques, even one liners, is not what I do in my spare time.

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tko
tko
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very good
In reply to Mark Scott Abeln, 8 months ago

One of the value of entering contests is understanding your own work. Not only is my photography getting better, but my ability to do self-assessment and view my photographs objectively is improving.

It's like singing in the shower always sounds great to the singer, but few want to subject their singing to a music critique. Writing, painting, singing, dancing. The hardest thing to do is to view your own work and see what needs to be improved.

But yeah. I've had a photograph I've loved for many year, convinced it is best in class, very hard to take, yet it has done poorly in every independent review. Go figure.

I never was good at competitions because I find it very difficult to judge my work: I see nothing but flaws, find it difficult to select an image, and when I try to operate on my gut instinct it often falls flat. As much as possible, I let someone else do the deciding for me.

This is so true. One day everything looks brilliant, the next, everything is terrible.

However, I learned a lot by hosting competitions. I tried to have a clear subject and rules, open it up to lots of entries (which unfortunately, voters hate), and in most cases the few top ranking entries are very good if not excellent, although understandably the quality tends to drop quickly with rank. The entries at the bottom are almost always good negative examples.

Thank you, host!

From my experience, irregularities in voting only changes the ranking a bit — and so don’t just look at the winner, but also the runner-ups. Also, even if there are lots of entries and few people vote on all of the images, the cream still tends to rise towards the top — more entries usually means more voters, and the top ranking images will tend to have wider appeal.

Considering the contests are just for fun, I have no complaints. Yes, I'm sure there is some cheating, bias and other stuff but jeez, it's not life or death.

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