What I Learned from the Shoot & Share Photo Contest

Now that the 2016 Shoot & Share Photo Contest has come to a close, I hope that all of you have been able to get back into your normal routines – those ones that don’t involve questioning the existence of the elusive hedgehog and wondering how to choose between the groom with the facial hair and man-bun, or the other groom with the facial hair and man-bun. Don’t even get me started on the “empty refrigerator” routine of hitting the refresh button every few minutes in hopes of seeing that favorites number go up…

Getting to see how my photos did 3 days earlier than expected was like Christmas (huge shoutout to Andrew and his amazing team for making that possible)!! When I got into my profile and started going through my photos, I was thrilled with my improvement over last year’s contest. 20 out of the 50 photos I submitted made it in the top 30% of over 225,000 images, and this one survived all the way to the finalist round:

I was also really surprised that the photos I was convinced were going to do the best out of the photos I submitted, did the worst! They were ranked at the bottom of the list.  What the…?!

I began noticing really quickly that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Over and over again I was seeing people’s comments on Facebook about their surprise at which photos did well and which photos didn’t.

  • “I’m shocked that my photo of the groom dancing didn’t make it further! He didn’t dance the whole night until this moment and I had to jump up on a rock and pray that 1) no one would see up my dress, and 2) my auto focus would react fast enough to get a clear photo because he stopped dancing just as fast as he started!”
  • “I can’t believe my photo of the couple getting married under the same tree the bride’s grandmother was buried only got to round 6! There was not a dry eye the WHOLE ceremony!”
  • “The photo of Morgan proposing to Karli in the snow was one of the first ones out?? It reached over 11,000 people on Facebook!”

It donned on me that all of these comments (and my own thoughts about my photos) had something in common: the photos didn’t tell the story.

A photo of a groom dancing tells us that the groom was dancing at his wedding. Simple as that. There’s no way to know that he didn’t dance all night until that moment, or that the photographer jumped up on a rock to catch the moment – without having to be told the story with words.

The reason the photo of the proposal didn’t do well in the contest, but did amazing on Facebook is because on Facebook there were words attached to the photo to tell the parts of the story the photo didn’t portray, like how much planning went into that moment, or how he asked her to marry him with a sign that she could only see through her scope. Without the words, it’s a photo of a guy proposing to a girl in a pretty winter scene.

Photographers, there’s a lesson here.

The best images aren’t always just breathtakingly beautiful … they are the ones that tell the story, that make you feel something, that give you enough information to captivate you and keep you wanting to know more. They make you cry, they make you smile, they make you laugh out loud and say “OMG those sheep are doin’ the dirty while the bride and groom are getting their portraits taken! That’s one way to get in the mood!”

This isn’t some profound idea I’m claiming the conception of. We’ve heard it a million times by the best in our field, but man, it’s really hitting me hard this time around!

When you put aside the behind-the-scenes of the scene and look at it through the objective eyes of a stranger, THEN you can start creating those “Best of the Best” images. Those are the images that win contests. More importantly, those are the images that push you to get better, make a bigger impact on your viewer and keeps them coming back for more.

Now, I’m by no means saying that a photo is not a good one if it doesn’t win a contest, or go viral on social media, or if it doesn’t tell a story to the masses. There are those images that speak volumes to a handful of people, or even just to yourself – those can be just as great!

My point is that we all should think about telling the story while we photograph because it will push us to get better. There’s always room for improvement. 

There were SO MANY incredible photos in this years contest, and a ton of them didn’t even place – congrats to everyone that put themselves out there! You all rock!


Click HERE to see this year’s amazing winners of the Shoot and Share Photo Contest!

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  1. christina says:

    Stella! You totally rock! I love your outlook on this. And you’re really onto something…..images that are telling a story, pushing people to feel something emotional-sad, happy, excitement…..those are the ones that people notice more. Also some of the voters may not be as aware of all the technical things so they see more of story & emotion side when voting. I absolutely love your image and congrats to being a Finalist!!

  2. Jamie Gay says:

    Great point, and you’re right. That’s an excellent lesson!

  3. Candi says:

    Yes! I totally agree!! Emotion always grabs attention!

  4. Karen Zabel Shoufler says:

    Great advice! 🙂

  5. Misty says:

    This is so true!! It’s hard to take yourself out of the equation when you’re trying to pick images for things like the shoot and share contest, but it’s so important because the viewers don’t know the story behind it. Sure, we know the mother of the bride wasn’t supposed to be at the ceremony because she was supposed to be going through a chemo treatment so we took that one shot of her crying in the audience, but to someone else that’s just a lady crying. The images this year were amazing though! Can’t wait till next year!

  6. Kara says:

    Fabulous post! You hit the nail on the head!!

  7. I think we have such an emotional connection to our photos, it’s easy to question why one did well while the other did not. Great job this year!

  8. Janelle says:

    This is so true! As a wedding photographer, I was bummed that a photo of my cat made it the farthest. But while people say a photo is worth 1000 words, it helps to have words sometimes 🙂 There were things about weddings that make them special, but to everyone else, it’s just another wedding. I SO wish that we had a paragraph about all the Passion Portraits!

  9. Silvana Braggio says:

    That’s so true! I also was happy to see my improvement from last year to this. But surprisingly, the photo who placed on Top 100 wasn’t the "technical perfect" or most beautiful bride on sunset that I sent… was the one in the hospital, with my settings totally wrong, because I wasn’t expecting any action in that moment, but the emotion of the family when they knew that everything went okay with the twins birth that had some complications was the one who made that far… their reaction could tell the story that something was a great success for their family! 🙂
    Love your photo and your blog! Congratulations!

  10. Kimi Mills says:

    Yep….you nailed it! This is SO true and often it is SO easy to forget when we are observing our own work. A great little blog read and I love that you shared it!
    ps I NEVER saw one hedgehog image until the final results either, lol!!!

  11. Andrew Barlow says:

    Love this Stella! <3

  12. Thank you so much for sharing! Love this 🙂

  13. Wonderful post & so filled with the truth! Thanks for sharing & congrats on placing so well in the photo contest!

  14. Stefani says:

    This was absolutely perfect. You’re so right! That is an excellent take away from this year’s contest, thank you for sharing!

  15. Raelene says:

    I loved this post 🙂 So true!

  16. Ivory Door says:

    Love this because it is so true! Photographers are story tellers, that’s what sets an amazing wedding photographer apart from just anyone with a camera. The emotion. When you can look at a photo of a strangers wedding day ands feel like you were there, then that photographer did an amazing job.

  17. Leslie Lejcar says:

    This is such great insight!! I have yet to enter in the S&S contest and value this information as I consider next years contest!! Thank you!

  18. This is amazing! I haven’t submitted yet, but am getting my photos together and I think I’ll go kick a few out and add a few different ones in!

  19. Sara says:

    Such great tips!! I haven’t submitted this year, but this makes me want to!

  20. Misty says:

    These tips are SPOT on!! I always have to remove myself from the situation to really get the feel for how my photos will do in the contest. We can’t let our personal connection to the images get in the way! 😉

  21. This is some great insight!

  22. Jill Gum says:

    I love participating in this every year!!!

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