For the past 2 decades of teaching photography, grooming photographers, grooming judges, I have seen many “drop outs” who turned their passion to other hobbies like fishing, pottery or others, with their cameras in the dry box or sold to second hand shop. All these years, I have been trying to concoct the perfect formula to guide my students and passionate photographers in their pursuit towards photography excellence. Motivation and Goals are the keywords, set against the more practical aspects of life.
This short article is long overdue, which I should have written it long ago. While some people may say I have nothing better to do and worry about the health of photography, I continue to stick to my principles of promoting photography and let the action speak for itself.
In any forms of hobbies or arts, there are yardsticks or measures, or some may call them, the path to excellence.
If they take up the hobby in fishing, they will start with the basic rod. As they move on, they want to catch more fishes at a higher difficulty level, which requires them new sets of skills with specialised rods, threads, baits and tools. They may even enter local or international competitions or go to seas faraway to catch exotic fishes. Some proceed further and become referees in fishing competition.
If they take up singing as a hobby, they may start with joining some singing classes, training their vocals, practising in KTV box rooms with friends and peers. As they move on, they find themselves suited to certain types of songs and they practice with more passion. Before you know it, they take part in singing competitions, and if need be, deck themselves in specialised costumes suited for the songs they sing and the competitions they enter. Another step further, some may become judges in singing contests, some may become freelance singers at clubs.
Likewise, in photography. When they first decide to move beyond the handphone camera, they purchase the DSLR or mirrorless with some lenses recommended by friends or forums. Some are self-taught, learnt from Youtube and internet sources, some learn well but most get more confused. Some take up a few courses from a few instructors, have better foundations, learn some tips from Youtube and internet sources, take better images.
After which, some make friends and form their own “kaki” group in Whatsapp or Facebook, go about taking pictures in local spots and occasionally in overseas trips. Some join photography organisations and take part in their activities like studio shoots, overseas trips, seminars and exhibitions. Eventually, they found their favourite specialisation in photography and realise the need for skillset upgrade and the need to purchase certain types of lenses.
As they continue in their pursuit in photography, they have a set of images which are worthy of gaining them some recognition. They also embark on achieving skillsets in the digital darkroom, using software to enhance their images that push their images to the desired potential.
There are several measures or yardsticks available for the photographers to put their images to test.
Photography Distinction assessments are offered by Clubs or organisations where the photographers submit a set of images based on the requirement stipulated. For the Associateship level, the technical skills and coherence in tone across the portfolio (for some, there is a need to have the images relevant to certain themes) are tested. For the Fellowship level, which is the most demanding, the photographer shall prepare a set of images which reflect their style in photography. The reward for the photographers will be being conferred the Associateship or Fellowship of the Club or organisation.
International salons, also known as international exhibitions, which are patronised by the Photographic Society of America (PSA) or International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) or Global Photographic Union (GPU) have been around for the past century. These salons are organised by clubs and organisations from many countries. To date, there are about 600 salons a year. Each salon may have sections which include Color, Mono, Travel, Nature, Photojournalism, Specialised themes. The photographer submits up to 4 images per section. These salons are conducted according to the rules set by PSA or FIAP. The photographer shall keep proper record of the Acceptances gained in these salons to apply for PSA or FIAP titles. For the past century, the salon path has kept many photographers motivated and focused in their pursuit in photography excellence, as they need to continually take new photographs to achieve more acceptances. For example, to achieve the title of Grand Master of PSA (GMPSA), the photographer needs to accumulate about 3000 acceptances from an estimated 800 different images subject to the Stars and Galaxies regulation.
Solo exhibition of about 50 good works is the dream of many serious amateur photographers. In a way, it takes courage and of course, the budget to conduct the solo exhibition. The solo exhibition is a showcase of the photographer’s works. The exhibition can be based on a theme or a place. A set of good photographs will probably take the photographer more than a year to prepare. For instance, if the photographer is preparing a set of images based on portraits of the Yunnan tribe, several trips will be required to compile a good set of images.
These are just 3 of the commonly threaded measures or yardsticks in the pursuit of photography excellence. These keep the photographers motivated and continue to pursue their interest in photographic art.
What bothers is when photographers tell you…
- Take part in photography distinctions FOR WHAT?
- Join Salon FOR WHAT?
- Set up a solo exhibition FOR WHAT?
- Go for photography trip FOR WHAT?
Then my reply will be, you take up photography FOR WHAT? If you just want to buy a camera to record family photos, you don’t need to invest so much in the equipment and the handphone camera will do just fine.
What I have been through in my pursuit in photography while going through that 3 common yardsticks enabled me to achieve personal artistic development, enabled me to have my works showcased across the continents and in the social media, hence creating opportunities to network and mingle with photographers from all over the world.
For many others, the pursuit in photography excellence is a healthy pursuit of life, a hobby for life, keeping one’s mental state in good health, good self-esteem and self-satisfaction, keeping oneself busy. They look forward to the next photo shoot, look forward to nice images to come, and having them recognised and ultimately happiness in what they do.
Hope this article helps to encourage more budding photographers to move beyond snapshot photography.