Chasing Trophies

I’ve come to wonder about people whose goal is to win prizes or duplicate famous shots. What is their reason for shooting? Is there a joy in recreating a shot someone already did? What motivates you? Are you satisfying your personal vision or chasing a trophy in a competition?

Prizes, rewards

I have to admit I used to chase prizes. Back when I was involved in my local camera club we had monthly competitions. Usually with a defined subject. I would spend hours thinking about the target subject, planning shots, and executing them. I must say that I got good at winning blue ribbons (I have a stack of them in my basement).

There was a discipline to this that was good training. Those days were not wasted. For anyone wanting to be a commercial or portrait photographer this is good exercise. I believe we had an exceptional camera club that generally did a lot of good.

But I got to a point where my vision went a different direction. One problem with our club or any organization that is “judging” art is that it has a culture and value system that narrowly filters out work that does not conform to their norm. Whether this is a local club or an international competition it looks to me like this is true.

So in our local club, I quickly learned what would place well and taught myself how to win. I am ashamed to admit that I helped perpetuate the culture by spending years as a judge critiquing other entrants and helping inculcate them. The day I was the first to win a blue ribbon with a heavily Photoshopped image was a time of soul searching for them and me. I decided I was going my own way and following my vision regardless of their likes and dislikes.

Recreate great images

Many people seem to see popular or well known images as a pattern or template they feel they should use. I have seen people researching where and when certain images were made. They want to know what equipment the artist used and how they processed the image. All with the goal, seemingly, of going out and shooting the same image.


That image has already been done. You may, at a chance, do it better, but it is still a copy. It is another artist’s work that you imitated.

Maybe imitation is the most sincere type of flattery, but it does not help the imitator. You are not using your creativity to make wonderful new works. You are not showing the world what you see. I suspect that people doing this feel that they do not have sufficient creativity or vision to come up with their own unique work, so they copy other artists.

An exception

Every rule has at least one exception. That is a good reason to avoid rules.

In 1998 Colorado photographer John Fielder began a major project to recreate many of the famous Colorado images of William Henry Jackson from the 19th century. He drove 25,000 miles and hiked 500 miles to locate each Jackson image – 156 in Vol 1 – and stand in exactly the same spot as Jackson to create a parallel image of what the scene looks like now.

In this case, Fielder was a well established photographer with his own vision and a huge, respected body of work. This project was creative and historical, documenting the changes that had taken place in a little over 100 years. Fielder could not be accused of being imitative. It has become the most popular Colorado regional book of all time.

Few of us are is the same position. If you are working on a project of this significance, good for you and best of luck. I would never imply that it is being an imitator.

Guided tours

I have heard photographers bragging that they offer guided tours to take clients to famous spots to recreate well known images. Really?

I can’t fault them for trying to make a buck if clients will pay for it. It is plenty hard to support yourself as a landscape or fine art photographer and any sources of income are welcome.

What I can’t believe is that customers will pay to be guided to these locations and told how to recreate these scenes. At the end, maybe they had a fun outing, but they have a bunch of imitation shots. These are somebody else’s work. The person who took the tour is kind of a passive tool, basically like a camera that somebody else is manipulating.

Wouldn’t it be better to be inspired by these great pictures and use that as motivation to go create your own unique work? Be yourself. Express your own vision.

Workshops can be a great experience. The right instructor can do wonders to educate and motivate you. I would stay away from template formats, where the instructor is trying to mold you to take exactly the images they take.

What is your reward?

Is the reward a prize? Is it a copy of a famous scene on your wall?

I guess I am not sufficiently competitive. I don’t see the “game” as a contest where there is 1 winner and everybody else loses.

The reward that matters to me is how I feel about my work. If it won prizes or was copied by other people I guess that would be satisfying. But that satisfaction would quickly fade. What remains is my work and the joy I feel in it.

In my long life I have discovered repeatedly that I get much better long term satisfaction from things I really earn and from the works of my own creation.

So enter contests if that motivates you. Get a guide to help you create your images if that helps you. But make sure you are making your images. Make them because it is your vision, not to please or imitate someone else.

Are you being your own person in your work? Let me know how it is going.

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