I entered a big online photo contest this year called Shoot and Share. The awesome thing about this contest is that anyone can enter and anyone can vote. All the images are kept anonymous during voting, so it isn't a popularity contest. I was, of course, interested to see how my pictures did and excited to vote. What I didn't know is that this would be a learning experience for me, even before I got the results.
One of the first things I learned while voting is that I definitely have an editing style I prefer. I like pictures with clean, bright, true-to-life colors. This is the style I have already been aiming for in my own editing, but it can be so hard to get those true-to-life skin tones and colors, and sometimes my editing skills fall short. The contest solidified how important this is for me and gave me some encouragement to push myself while editing and enroll in some editing courses.
I also learned that light is a powerful element. Many of my favorite pictures I saw while voting, used light strategically and artistically. I've since been paying more attention to light and light patterns around me, which has resulted in some pictures I love, but also just appreciation of the beauty of light. More than once now, I have gone into my bathroom in the afternoon and been in awe with the light streaming in through the window. I had never noticed that before.
Ever since I became a photographer I have been drawn to genuine moments and interactions in photography. Because of the Shoot and Share contest, I realized that this carries 100% into newborn photography with me. I can appreciate a well-posed, intricate newborn set-up, but my heart is in the family moments with baby. Mom touching his toes. Brother holding her hand. Baby on Mom and Dad's bed. These are the newborn pictures I want to create.
And finally, I learned that I really am not sure how to classify my photography style. I've always thought that I was a lifestyle photographer, but the pictures in the lifestyle/documentary category didn't match up with mine. There were much more documentary. It made me wonder what other photographers consider lifestyle. I don't do formal poses, but I don't take a documentary approach either. Is lifestyle in the middle? I'm not sure. Whatever my approach and style is, it is the right style for me. I just need to think about how to best describe my style to others.
Voting taught me a lot, but I was reminded of an important lesson once I received my results. Here are some of my results.
First, my top three ranking pictures. Of the 50 pictures I entered (the maximum amount one photographer can enter), this photo made it the furthest and made it all the way to round 10 (out of 12) placing it in the top 10% in the Wedding Couple category.
This next photo placed in the top 20% in the kids category.
And this photo placed in the top 30% in the families category.
But this next photo, this next result is the one I really wanted to share. This photo never made it past round 1. It placed 38,437th out of 41,257 pictures in the Families category. It was my absolute worst ranking picture.
And yet, it is still one of my absolute favorite pictures.
And so I learned this. I do things for me, in my photography but also in my life, I do what I do for me, and for the people in my close circle-my family, my friends, my clients. What I do may not be the most popular, it may not win me fame, it might be different from those around me, but it has my heart. And my efforts. And my time. And those are exactly the things that the people in my life need.
Bethany Allen is a photographer based in Cedar City, Utah. She specializes in wedding and family photography and, based on this learning experience, is expanding to include newborn lifestyle sessions that involve the whole family. She looks forward to learning more in the 2020 Shoot and Share contest. If you would like to book a session with Bethany, please use the contact page to get in touch.