Monday, 31 January 2011

The bitter sweet taste of success

Just over a week ago, I got quite a shock when checking my email.

I learned that I had won the Pop Cop 'Best Scottish Music Photo 2010'
The competition was judged by legendary Scottish born photo journalist Harry Benson

Harry Benson arrived in America with The Beatles in 1964.
He has photographed every U.S president from Eisenhower to Obama, was just feet away from Bobby Kennedy the night he was asassinated, in the room with Richard Nixon the night he resigned, on the Meredith march with Martin Luther King, the list goes on.

It was quite a daunting thought to think that such a respected peer had let alone cast his eye over one of my images, but chosen it as the winner.

I have won competitions before, in a different genre of photography, but didn't feel anywhere ready to enter one in this genre as I am still very much the apprentice.
A friend suggested I enter, so I picked my two images to submit and thought nothing more of it, not expecting any chance of winning.

I  will always remember learning that to win a competition, you should study what the judges are looking they tick and what pushes their buttons.

I studied previous winning entries  and gained as much information as I could about Harry Benson.

I knew I should enter an image that captures the essence of a gig and include the band and audience.
I chose an image of Sham 69, taken at Drummonds, Aberdeen.

I had bagged the safe shots and as the crowd started to strip off their shirts and surge to the front of the stage, I decided to get in the middle of them and capture some images with more of a 'reportage' or photo journalistic feel.

In between the jostling and pushing, I captured a few frames, and in the case of the winning entry, I decided to make the focus point on the audience members in front of me, and at f/2.8 I blurred the faces of the two key members of Sham 69, with their heads appearing in the gaps between raised arms in the audience.

I remember this particular image resonating with me as I reviewed them for editing.
It wasn't the normal type of image you would see alongside a concert review, I broke the rules.
I don't work for a publication so rules are fair game, I'm my own picture editor.

I suspect this is what resonated with Harry Benson also.

A couple of days after the email, the post and announcement was up on the Pop Cop site.
In all honesty, I was horrified when I saw the standard of the joint second, 4th place and honourable mention images. The standard was very high and I immediately thought 'What is Harry thinking?'

To make matters worse, there were some extremely scathing comments below the post.
Some of the runners up were gracious on their websites/blogs (although a couple weren't quite as complimentary on their Twitter feeds...the internet is a small place!)

I went to bed that night in total despair and in a deep depression, my self confidence smashed and questioning my own judgement.

Although, I don't think the image deserved some of the extreme verbal assaults, I  don't think it was a particularly strong image. (In the last week alone, I've captured scores of interaction images that would have blown it out of the water and I would have stood my ground against anyone that criticised them)

I'll probably never get to know what was in the mind of the judge...maybe it was the 'get in the middle of it/whatever the other photographers are doing, go in the opposite direction' ethos he is famed for.

The Sham 69 image isn't about  spectacular lighting rigs or how famous the band are, it's an honest image taken in the thick of the action, from an audience perspective, with the audience the main subject.
The band were deliberately indistinguishable.

If I were judging the competition, I would have picked any of the featured entries but mine, but at the end of the day, I abode by the rules and won it fairly.

The competition came with some very nice prizes...a £50 voucher to spend at Park Cameras and weekend guest list/photo passes to the Belladrum and Loopallu Festivals in August/September 2011.

Finally, here is is the image that has caused me so much grief over the last week:.
PS: Sham 69 liked it, and at the end of the day, my clients are the only ones I have to please ;-)

Thanks to Jason at PopCop for running the competition and to Harry Benson for judging the entries.


  1. I entered the competition on the basis of I had nothing to lose, and I have to say that photo's fantastic and I'm happy to lose out to entries like it. It's got a proper good 'part of the crowd' feel as if you are actually an audience member rather than a paid photographer sent along to promote the band. Well done and enjoy your prizes!

  2. Hamish,

    Thank you, it's very much appreciated!