15th Aug2016

My IPC 2016 Challenge Entry: mandalas (a non-event album)

by Christine

When I teach about photographic competition, I talk about utilizing it to challenge myself to learn a new skill, or improve upon a skill that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around. This year was no different. When I create a competition entry to specifically address a personal/skill weakness, I call it a “Challenge Entry”.

In 2015, I tackled my first album. I had never done one before and considered them beyond my capability, so it became a challenge entry. It was a simple black and white portrait album that earned a loan at IPC 2015 and went on to place 10th in the non-event album category at the Grand Imaging Awards at IUSA2016. It also placed as a top 10 Impact Award recipient from PPA Charities.

That was some pretty cool stuff for my first album – so I’ve kind of got a bug going on for the non-event album category, now. I think it’s a great challenge to assemble a consistent body of work into album form. I plan on doing at least one every year, and I’ve started encouraging my students to do the same if they’ve gotten their work up to a point where they’re exhibiting a consistent style and theme within their images.

So, of course, this year, I wanted to enter at least one album. I didn’t have any ideas about what that might be, so I sort of set that goal on the back burner until I came up with something brilliant (ie loan-worthy) and worked on some additional challenges.

I didn’t talk much about this next challenge because frankly, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off and I didn’t want to get too braggy about it, just in case. I dig down deep sometimes and get honest with myself about what I need to work on, and I kind of hated to admit the reasoning behind this one, but here goes…

Teaching a shooting class terrifies me.

If you are in a class of mine and I’m up front with a camera, lights and a model, you can lay a pretty hefty bet on the fact that my stomach is in turmoil. If I have a slideshow and images, it’s all good, but the moment I have to “perform” – ugh.

In my Murphy’s Law-filled world, these are the classes that have the most tendency to go haywire. There’s always some piece of equipment that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or I forget to bring something, or some other hiccup happens that threatens my ability to create an image in front of a class that I could easily do in private.

I get stage fright. Plain and simple.

But anyways…I like to teach. I like to teach a LOT. I want to be able to be a versatile teacher and when I’m asked to teach a lighting/posing/shooting class, I want to be able to confidently say “absolutely!”

I’ve taught a number of them, and they’ve all worked out fine – but I didn’t have a handle on *my* comfort level with them.

So…the challenge I gave myself was to teach a shooting class.

And within the images created during that class, utilize one for competition.

Yeah. Now you see why I didn’t mention this challenge…

I set these goals shortly after IPC 2015, so that I would have plenty of time to work on them. I already planned on doing something about the shooting class problem, so I had submitted a Super One Day class for October 2015 that included studio lighting, posing and post-processing techniques that I employ in competition.

I hired two models for the class, and for each technique I taught, I demonstrated the lighting setup we were after, and then turned the shooting area over to the students for them to capture a correct example, as well. (I hear the wheels turning – don’t worry – everyone gets the Wootnessy “I’d better not see these images in your portfolio” lecture first).

One of the techniques I taught was rim lighting and an accompanying Adobe Photoshop layer technique that I use to create graphic designs with rim-lit images. I’ve been using that technique in competition for a few years and have made it part of my signature style.

It took 4 tries to get the lighting where I wanted it:


And this is the example graphic that I created during our class to demonstrate the Photoshop technique:


Now, the above example is in no way, shape or form, anywhere close to what I would put in competition. It was a very quickly-worked, basic assembly demonstration, however, the base image, exposure number 21 was a perfect place to start a new project.

Later, after the class was over and the students had gone home, I sat down and created design after design incorporating the base image hundreds of times in various positions and angles. Hundreds and thousands of layers. Dozens of final designs. More designs than I’d ever created from one image before.

Enough for an album – to satisfy the album goal that I’d put on the back burner.

I like it when a plan comes together, don’t you?

I took this project just a little bit further in the “out there” department and added an element of geekiness to it via Carl Jung. I have an interest in psychology and find certain theories very interesting. I had a LOT of fun incorporating the psychology geekiness and the photography together for this project.

At one point, I felt it was finished. And then I put it in a competition. And then another. And another. I printed out hard copies of the spreads and hand-carried them to IUSA 2016 to get the opinion of someone from the mentor booth (Thank you, Cindy Behnke!). And after some revisions, I put it back in competition.

The last step before IPC was Northeast District where it earned a seal (and scored an 88!). I had ordered a critique, and although my reviewer pointed out some areas for consideration, I did not feel that the entry was weak enough in those areas to warrant breaking the seal. I had broken a seal on a different entry, so I wasn’t afraid to do it – it’s just that I felt that this album was finished and any additional tweaking would be messing with a good thing, you know?

So off it went to IPC, where it was selected for the Loan Collection for IUSA 2017.

That makes me really happy. Two black and white albums, two years in a row, two loans in a row.

I think I’m gonna feel a lot better about my next shooting class, don’t you?

I’d like to challenge *YOU*, person who is reading this – challenge yourself for IPC2017. Do one entry that takes you outside your comfort zone. Give yourself a goal and don’t let yourself off the hook. You just never know how it might turn out. 🙂

For your enjoyment, I present mandalas:

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