Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon. 

Critique and Competition in Photography

Critique and Competition in Photography - The Painted Hills in Central Oregon.

My son Chris and I took my mom to the Painted Hills this past Sunday. Mom had never been there and was completely stoked by its beauty.

I enjoy taking photo at this location with a long lens. I usually take my 70-200 and shoot little micro scenes of the textures and folds in the hills. I also enjoy the textures of the soil, but I have found that it confuses some people, I'll explain later. On this day I used my Tamron 150-600 G2 and had a great time.

I entered a similar photo to this in a competition once. One of the things that I was gigged for was the texture. I remember that every time that I return to this location. The judge couldn't figure out what the "grain in the foreground" was. I just slapped my forehead and fell back in my chair in dismay. I wanted to yell into the screen that it was coarse soil. I also entered a cool shot of the lava ocean entry and I was gigged due to some "diffusion and lens distortion" that one judge perceived to be an issue. The issue was the steam from the lava. I was taken aback by that one too. All in all I did fairly well in the competition, but after that day I became a bit disillusioned by professional competitions. Their critique gave me no encouragement or advice in how to improve my work, but I suppose that's not the purpose of these competitions anyway.

Call me dumb or closed minded but I got nothing from the critique or comments. I think that competitions are fine, but really, I hate making photography a competition to begin with. I also question the qualifications beyond the certifications of some of those who are judges after the last one that I participated in. I compare them with "book learned" engineers. I'd love to have taken a couple of them out into the field with me and show them how I work.

All of the photographers whom I admire and am inspired by do not enter competitions. For them, I perceive, and I photography isn't about winning. It's not about professional credentials. It's about the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams and aspirations. I hope that I do this with my own work. In my opinion competitions only encourage the victors.

In the end a photographer's audience will not judge them or their work by the competitions that they win, or the credentials that they earn but, rather, the images that they create that touch their audience in the most personal way, many of which aren't technically perfect. And only you and those who admire what you do can actually honestly judge your work in a positive way.

Critique is fine, but ultimately it's objective. And when the judge's goal is to be critical of the photo, it won't be viewed in the same way as the photographer's fans. And it certainly won't be seen in the same light as the one who created the image.

Create your work for yourself first. Break away from standards that are used to judge photos. That's where creativity and originality starts. If you need advice seek it from someone whom you admire and trust. Take the critique of a stranger, no matter their professional credentials, with less weight than those who are trying to find positive in what you've done. And don't get discouraged.

Critique and Competition in Photography
Critique and Competition in Photography

The Painted Hills in The Darkness

Painted Hills at Night

The Painted Hills in The Darkness.

As we drove away from this amazing place after a beautiful sunset. I had to stop and look back on the hills one more time.

Come back and look at this photo at night time if you're viewing in a bright room to see all of the rich colors and details.

Nikon D810
Nikon 70-200 @ 135mm
1.6" exp
f/2.8
200 ISO
Handheld steadied by the roof of the car.

A Painted Hills Sunset

Painted Hills Oregon

The mountain is such a beautiful place to explore with all that it has to offer the outdoor enthusiast and landscape photographer. With unmatched scenery that includes scenic vistas, old growth forest groves, moss lined creeks and majestic waterfalls there’s no shortage of beautiful scenery. There’s really no reason to go far to find a world class photograph, especially during beautiful conditions.

The Painted Hills
The Painted Hills in Central Oregon

In landscape photography the weather affects and in some ways regulates when we are able to make the most striking images. Some seasons are certainly more photogenic than others. A creative mind can usually find beauty in the most mundane or challenging conditions, but even the most creative mind can get weary of the weather, especially when they’re patiently waiting for Springtime and all that it brings.

We are in a unique position here on The Mountain in that we’re able to travel east a relatively short distance and find fairer weather. I always keep this in mind come April or May. On those gray rainy days when I feel captive in my own home I am known to head east.

On one particular day in May, after a long Winter that pushed snowfall into the days that are typically conducive to wildflower blooms, I had had enough. It was past lunch time. Half of the day was gone so I thought for a minute. The Painted Hills came to mind. The Painted Hills are only one example of the amazing scenery that we have at our doorstep. Being only three hours from home I packed my gear, my dog and a lunch and headed out.

The Painted Hills Oregon
The Painted Hills Oregon

As I drove the rain seemed to follow. My best consolation was that it was a great Sunday drive. It was doubtful that I would get any photos that surpassed anything that I had taken there in the past, but it’s better than sitting in my living room watching TV. I love the open road, a brown bag lunch and a full tank of gasoline.

I arrive mid afternoon in the midst of a rain squall. There were several other photographers there hooded and hunkered over their tripods. I sat in my dry, warm rig wondering if I should even get out, but I figured that if I was going to drive all the way out here I was going to, at least, eat my lunch.

I sat in my rig and watched as each of the other photographers gave up, got back into their cars and left. In time the park ranger came by. I got out and walked over to have a chat and explained that I was there for the sunset. He looked at me, then looked up into the sky and said, “Well, stranger things have happened I suppose”, before he wished me luck and went on his way.

As the afternoon progressed and it got closer to sunset it didn’t look good, but in time I could see a narrow slot of an opening in the clouds on the horizon to the west. I made a little wish and set up my tripod and camera just in case.

Sure enough the sun moved down to the horizon and to the opening in the clouds and as it did it shown this amazing orange light on the scenery around me. As I stood there looking to the west, with the Painted Hills behind me I started shooting the horizon. My heart was beating as I shot a few scenes. I never expected this show at all. A moment later it occurred to me to turn around and look behind me at the scenery that I had really come to photograph. “Holy macaroni!” The hills were painted with this amazing vivid orange light. I could hardly believe it. I ran around photographing the scene as if it were a super model.

The Painted Hills Oregon
The Painted Hills Oregon

As I photographed the scene it changed and morphed into an incredible light show. As the beam of light moved into the clouds above the hills a rainbow appeared above the scene. As I stand there my in awe of what is happening in front of my camera the only thing that I figure would make the scene better would be a pegasus flying through the sky or a unicorn grazing in the foreground.

I left that day with some of the best photographs that I have ever made, and I almost missed it. I learned a lesson that day. If you don’t go out you won’t get the photograph. A second lesson is that I wouldn’t make much of a meteorologist.

Don’t discount those days that aren’t obviously epic. At the least you will go for a nice drive in some beautiful countryside. At the most you will experience something epic. And don’t forget your camera.

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