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How Entering Print Competitions Enhances Your Photography

Portrait of Jeff Dachowski by Don Chick
Portrait of Jeff Dachowski by Don Chick

Photographer Jeff Dachowski is a big believer in the benefits of entering print competitions—particularly those sponsored through PPA-affiliated organizations at the state, regional and international levels. And that’s not just because his album of winter scenics won an exceedingly rare perfect score of 100 at the 2009 print competition sponsored by the Professional Photographers Association of New England (PPANE).

He believes entering print competitions has significantly improved the quality of the portrait photography services he offers every day at the studio he runs with his photographer wife Carolle in Manchester, NH.

“Entering print competitions has pushed my client work into another realm,” says Dachowski, “I now look at details that I never would have seen if I hadn’t participated in print competitions.”

He says that clients typically don’t have the technical expertise to suggest ways he could create better portraits for them. But the photographers who judge PPA print competitions do. Well-trained judges help you grow by offering constructive advice regarding the technical merits of your photographs and fundamental principles of artistic composition that have endured for generations.

Entering print competitions can also be a confidence builder, Dachowski says, especially when peers validate work that is already popular with clients: “It’s nice to have a peer step up and say ‘This is a good piece of work. I would have liked to have made this myself’.”

Dachowski has attended more than 15 print competitions, both as an entrant and a judge. Serving as judge can be particularly inspiring, he says, because you get to see some awesome images. But being “inspired” doesn’t necessarily mean copying someone else’s style. When you critically evaluate enough good images, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll start to experiment with certain techniques you’ve seen in the best work of others.  

At the PPANE Conference, Dachowski received high scores for all four items he entered. In addition to receiving a 100 for his album of winter scenics, he received a score of 92 for an album of Maine scenics, an 84 for a wedding album, and a 92 for a color portrait of a client’s dog that he shot in his studio.

Because his dog portrait scored the highest of all the color portraits at this year’s PPANE Conference, Dachowski was named the winner of LexJet’s first Sunset Award. Along with a trophy, Dachowski received a gift certificate for $100 worth of LexJet Sunset inkjet media for professional photographic and fine-art printing. The trophy and gift certificate were presented at the PPANE awards banquet by LexJet Account Specialist Kelly Price.

Dachowski captured the winning portrait during a session that also involved shooting the three adult children of a long-time client. They had brought two dogs to session with them, because like many dog lovers, they regard their dogs as part of the family.

Shooting pet portraits isn’t difficult if you maintain good control and know how you want the final image to look, says Dachowski. Because he envisioned it as a profile from the start, he set up the lighting just as if he were shooting a profile of a child.

Jeff Dachowski first envisioned how he wanted the dog’s portrait to look, then set up the lighting to capture the details and amber tones of the fur. Essentially, he says it was like shooting a profile of a child: “I put the dog up on a Victorian settee, got his attention, and took the shot.” When he entered the image in the PPANE print competition, he gave it an appropriately descriptive title: “I Smell Bacon!” (Photo ©Jeff Dachowski, www.dachowskiphotography.com)
Jeff Dachowski first envisioned how he wanted the dog’s portrait to look, then set up the lighting to capture the details and amber tones of the fur. Essentially, he says it was like shooting a profile of a child: “I put the dog up on a Victorian settee, got his attention, and took the shot.” When he entered the image in the PPANE print competition, he gave it an appropriately descriptive title: “I Smell Bacon!” (Photo ©Jeff Dachowski, www.dachowskiphotography.com)

Dachowski sends his competition entries to White House Custom Color for output, but he does own a Epson Stylus Pro 7600 and has experimented with printing some of his work.

“We were so excited when got the LexJet award,” says Dachowski, because he and his wife had already thought about outputting some of the award-winning scenics on watercolor paper. They want to try selling matted art prints to people who visit the Dachowski Photography studios in Langer Place, a refurbished mill on the banks of the Merrimack River.

Needless to say, Dachowski is also thrilled at the score of 100 he received for his album of winter scenics. It’s a big honor, he says, because it means that all five members of the judging panel agreed that his work deserved the highest score possible. If just one of the judges had disagreed, he would have received a lower score.

But Dachowski believes you don’t have to win accolades from the judges to benefit from entering print competitions: “Everyone who enters wins, because the learning really comes from evaluating which images you should enter and preparing the files.” It helps you to think: What can I be doing better?

For more information about the award-winning work and beautiful studio of Jeff and Carolle Dachowski, visit their website: www.dachowskiphotography.com

For the latest news about PPA-sponsored print competitions, visit www.ppa.com/competitions

Note that LexJet is also a big believer in the value of print competitions. We have helped many professional photographers learn how to print their own award-winning competition prints. In fact, some of these photography pros now offer printmaking services to fellow photographers. Should you be interested in learning more about making your own competition prints, or finding an experienced photographer to make competition prints for you, contact a LexJet account specialist at 800-453-9538.

Since 1994, LexJet has helped tens of thousands of business owners, photographers, artists, and designers prosper by helping them select the best digital-printing equipment, materials, software, and finishing systems for their operations.

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