The Noble Method: Competition

The Wetshirts

Photo by Lauren Randolph

Between 2009 and 2010, I had a little photo crew. It was basically a way for four friends to get outside and make some art. We’d call up some models, or some other friends, and the four of us would take pictures.

Routinely, as one of us was thinking up the perfect shot, someone else would capture it. Snatch it right out of our heads, it seemed. And that was a big part of the fun. How do I now come up with something better than what I initially had in mind?

Each shoot we went on, there was this friendly, unspoken competition to outdo each other, and it pushed us to think harder, to try more, to go beyond what was obvious in a situation. And we were all friends! There was no real animus or anger. It was an excitement that built up over the course of the shoot, each of us striving for the best shot possible.

I loved the camaraderie, and I loved the way it forced me more into my own personal style. When the obvious shot has already been taken, what’s next? Artistic competition drives you more into your own tastes, your own instincts. It’s not about being better than someone else, it’s about becoming better than you already are. It awakens the part of your artistic practice that is indelibly You.

It was a glorious time, because that artistic churn—all of us constantly shooting and thinking up the next shot and watching each other make art—it stoked our passions. It had us all in love with photography.

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Now I carry that passion with me in every shoot I go on. Often when I’m looking for a new model to shoot, I’ll see their social media, and all the pictures people take of them are the same. Same vibe, same focus. The challenge that calls to me in those moments is: do something different. Can I pull off a shot that shows a different side to my subject? Something that’s been overlooked? Something only I can see?

That kind of positive internal competition, not just with others, but with your own work, is a potent engine for increased creativity. How can you go farther than you did before?

Over time, competition became part of my regular practice. Before each shoot, I look at my recent work, maybe even some of my older work, and look for themes, techniques, or compositions that may be getting long in the tooth. What have I already done, what ground have I already covered? Where is there room to do something new, something that challenges me in some way?

With competition as the fuel, you can propel yourself to explore new artistic directions that may surprise even yourself. What’s key here, and what we’ll talk about in more detail next time, is that competition forces you to look within, to interrogate your own point of view, and really dig deep for inspiration.

Are you in constant competition with yourself? Do you have a community of photographers who keep you sharp? Tell us about how you push your creative envelope on Flickr Social.