Now that the 2016 Shoot & Share Photo Contest has come to a close, I hope that all of you have been able to get back into your normal routines - those ones that don't involve questioning the existence of the elusive hedgehog and wondering how to choose between the groom with the facial hair and man-bun, or the other groom with the facial hair and man-bun. Don't even get me started on the "empty refrigerator" routine of hitting the refresh button every few minutes in hopes of seeing that favorites number go up...
Getting to see how my photos did 3 days earlier than expected was like Christmas (huge shoutout to Andrew and his amazing team for making that possible)!! When I got into my profile and started going through my photos, I was thrilled with my improvement over last year's contest. 20 out of the 50 photos I submitted made it in the top 30% of over 225,000 images, and this one survived all the way to the finalist round:
I was also really surprised that the photos I was convinced were going to do the best out of the photos I submitted, did the worst! They were ranked at the bottom of the list. What the...?!
I began noticing really quickly that I wasn't the only one feeling this way. Over and over again I was seeing people's comments on Facebook about their surprise at which photos did well and which photos didn't.
- "I'm shocked that my photo of the groom dancing didn't make it further! He didn't dance the whole night until this moment and I had to jump up on a rock and pray that 1) no one would see up my dress, and 2) my auto focus would react fast enough to get a clear photo because he stopped dancing just as fast as he started!"
- "I can't believe my photo of the couple getting married under the same tree the bride's grandmother was buried only got to round 6! There was not a dry eye the WHOLE ceremony!"
- "The photo of Morgan proposing to Karli in the snow was one of the first ones out?? It reached over 11,000 people on Facebook!"
It donned on me that all of these comments (and my own thoughts about my photos) had something in common: the photos didn't tell the story.
A photo of a groom dancing tells us that the groom was dancing at his wedding. Simple as that. There's no way to know that he didn't dance all night until that moment, or that the photographer jumped up on a rock to catch the moment - without having to be told the story with words.
The reason the photo of the proposal didn't do well in the contest, but did amazing on Facebook is because on Facebook there were words attached to the photo to tell the parts of the story the photo didn't portray, like how much planning went into that moment, or how he asked her to marry him with a sign that she could only see through her scope. Without the words, it's a photo of a guy proposing to a girl in a pretty winter scene.
Photographers, there's a lesson here.
The best images aren't always just breathtakingly beautiful ... they are the ones that tell the story, that make you feel something, that give you enough information to captivate you and keep you wanting to know more. They make you cry, they make you smile, they make you laugh out loud and say "OMG those sheep are doin' the dirty while the bride and groom are getting their portraits taken! That's one way to get in the mood!"
This isn't some profound idea I'm claiming the conception of. We've heard it a million times by the best in our field, but man, it's really hitting me hard this time around!
When you put aside the behind-the-scenes of the scene and look at it through the objective eyes of a stranger, THEN you can start creating those "Best of the Best" images. Those are the images that win contests. More importantly, those are the images that push you to get better, make a bigger impact on your viewer and keeps them coming back for more.
Now, I'm by no means saying that a photo is not a good one if it doesn't win a contest, or go viral on social media, or if it doesn't tell a story to the masses. There are those images that speak volumes to a handful of people, or even just to yourself - those can be just as great!
My point is that we all should think about telling the story while we photograph because it will push us to get better. There's always room for improvement.
There were SO MANY incredible photos in this years contest, and a ton of them didn't even place - congrats to everyone that put themselves out there! You all rock!
Click HERE to see this year's amazing winners of the Shoot and Share Photo Contest!