Last weekend I participated in the Photography Decathlon, a live shooting contest in the early stages of its development. I did this last year with my cousin Tyson, and this year we've done it again with the addition of a friend of mine, Ian Handley. The contest is basically a 48-hour period during which teams of 3-4 must photograph and submit 30 images in 10 categories, including landscapes, waterscapes, cityscapes, people, plants, street, night, architecture, product, and a themed category with themes selected by the organizers.
Last year Tyson and I had a good time just driving around making photos and hanging out, so this year I wanted to maintain that atmosphere of fun and relaxation. With Ian on the team, we were able to cover more ground than last year, which meant we had plenty of time to shoot together, grab some food and talk. The stakes in the competition are also extraordinarily low, with only small prizes available, so there's also very little pressure to win. Lastly, the entry fee was waived this year as an effort to get more people involved, so I wasn't feeling obligated to get my money's worth. All of this added together to make for a pretty relaxed two days of just shooting for fun. I'll post a few of the images I shot that didn't make it into our selection for the competition.
There are three difficulty levels in the competition. Advanced, intermediate and Intro. I was playing in the advanced category. Most of the categories for this competition are out of my comfort zone. It seems to be geared very much toward amateur photographers and landscape photographers. I often include landscapes as backgrounds for my images, but landscape photography has never been my focus. Categories like "Plant" and "Street" are the work you mostly see from a few working fine artists and a lot of high school and beginning college students. "Advanced" is for professional photographers. In real life, most pro photographers make their living shooting commercially, or here in Utah, many shoot weddings. I've never met someone whose living came from photographing plants, although I'm sure they exist.
Tyson loves to shoot food, and I like to photograph people--lifestyle, sport, portraits, advertising. So we found ways to put our interests into the shots. One of the products we were given to photograph was salt, so Tyson set up a food photo featuring the salt and it looked great. Another of the products was Vidangel. Where it's hard to photograph a website in an appealing way, I did a photo of a model watching a movie on her phone in downtown Salt Lake City. For the night photos I shot a model at night and on the street downtown for the street category. So we figured out ways to make the images more commercially viable and in line with our interests than maybe we were supposed to.
Last year I was so disinterested in the categories that I ended up with images that were really quite weak, with the exception of the product category where I really put some effort in. This year I didn't want to walk away with images I was embarrassed about and things went much better. I got lots of shots I'm proud of, even in categories that aren't what I normally shoot. I tried to shoot those categories in a way that was fun for me. I'm excited to show to my followers the shots I got, but since judging isn't over yet, I'll have to wait a week or so.
All-in-all, despite the things I've mentioned and some issues with the image-rights policy, I had a great time with my friends and will probably do it again in the future. The competition is just getting off the ground and has already made many positive changes to improve the experience, and I know its founder is committed to making it a success. The Photo Decathlon is designed not just for people like me, but for amateur and hobbyist photographers who just want to go out and explore a bit. Especially now, while it's free or inexpensive to participate, I recommend it. It's fun. And it's great experience. Besides all of that, it boosted my confidence in some photography abilities I haven't used for a long time and now I'm motivated to go take more photos.