South Dakota Senior Portrait Photographer | What I Learned From The Shoot & Share Contest

So I posted about this on my Facebook business page a while back that I entered the world's largest free photo contest on a whim. It was a literal whim. I'm part of a bunch of photography groups and I saw someone chatting about the contest. I went to the site, read the requirements and thought, why not? 

Here were a few of the rules:

You couldn't put the same photo in multiple categories, you could submit up to 50 photos total, had to be family appropriate, and couldn't have watermarks. 

Here's how the contest works:

You upload 50 photos put them in one of 25 categories (I just did Seniors), people vote on them for a set period of time (anyone could vote but it was mostly photographers), photos drop out in rounds depending on votes, the top 100 get voted on for the top 20 places. Makes sense, right?

And I thought....well, I know I have 50 photos that would meet those requirements, easy. I might as well do this and give it a try! I mean, why not? If nothing else, this will push me to really examine my own work and I will get to see a lot of really wonderful photographer's images and be inspired. And keep in mind, this is voted on by peers. As in, so many other photographers are seeing your work. Oh, hey, nerves.

I picked my 50 photos and started uploading them. Well, guys, I got six photos uploaded before I got submerged back into work and completely forgot to upload the remaining 44. No joke. And I remembered the day after submissions were closed. My life in a nutshell. 

But then voting started and I learned an absolute ton about this contest, how I felt before during and after and got a real world perspective of just how big this truly was for a lot of people. To give you an idea of the scope of this, here is what the full contest looked like:

74,000 people involved | 149 countries | 225,207 photos submitted | 32,622,327 votes cast

As in 32 MILLION votes. OMG. And many, many, many of these photographers uploaded all 50 images (presumably because they don't suck at being on top of things like me). SO MANY IMAGES. 

So, now that the contest is over, how did I do and what did I learn?

1. I am but a small fish.

South Dakota Senior Picture Photographer | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography

Top 30%


Round: 6/12

Placed: 4,717/20,266

The magnitude of people that entered this contest was mind blowing! Mind boggling! Any other word that would accurately describe your mind not being in it's right state because the information it received was cray. Almost 100,000 photographers entered this contest. And that made me feel like my tiny pin in the state of South Dakota was just the smallest fish in the pond. Photography is such a saturated industry (errbody is a photographer these days) that it truly made me appreciate the job I get to do every day because I get to provide this service HERE to MY clients. 

2. The amount of talent was insane.

Senior Pictures in South Dakota | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography

Top 10%

Round: 8/12

Placed: 1,888/20,266

And when I say insane, I mean it was the true definition of the word. There were images that stopped me in my tracks, that took my breath away, that made me laugh out loud, that touched my soul and that made me cry tears the size of the sun. This contest allows you to "favorite" certain images (I'll touch on that next) by giving them a heart and I was handing out hearts like it was my job. Bold color, striking composition, rich and deep matte tones, connection and emotion. I could go on for days about the amount of talented photographers that entered some of the world's most gorgeous images. I remember voting for this one image over and over, every time I saw it. It was this picture of the tiniest wave out in the big ocean. Just the top of the curl of a wave. And I don't know why I loved it so much but it connected with me in a way I don't fully get. So I voted for it every single time.

3. Voting took a lot of my time/Someone should have called Intervention

Senior Pictures in South Dakota | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography

Top 10%

Round: 8/12

Placed: 1,778/20,266

I'm extremely thankful that this contest happened at a time when I was mostly caught up. Couldn't sleep? I would vote. Vacuum and vote? Photos were batching/loading? I'm voting. Jensen needs food? Sorry, son, I'm voting (just kidding). But that's what it felt like. It was all consuming! At the heart of it, I wanted to see one of my images come up and be able to vote for it. And it did happen a few times! So to see my images paired up next to other people was really, really cool! But for real, there at the end especially someone should have called A&E and just scheduled up that intervention. 

4. It made me look at my work as an outsider.

South Dakota Senior Picture Photographer | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography

Top 10%

Round: 9/12

Placed: 1,164/20,266

There was one time in voting (with this image especially) where my image came up in the voting square and it was in with three other senior photographer's work and I didn't vote for my own. WHY? Because the ones it was paired with were just better. Or at least one was better. Better composition or better toning or better something. And it really made me look at my work from an outside perspective. "Oh I love the way they used the light in that way." "Wow, their toning is really spot on." "I need to work on this." "I want to try this."

5. This contest pushed me to strive for more. 

Senior Pictures by South Dakota Photographers | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography

Top 10%

Round: 10/12

Placed: 685/20,266

When you only look at your own work all day, it's really easy to get stuck into this same routine of doing the same things over and over. This contest really helped me look at my own work a little more critically, detach the emotion that every photographer has to their images and just see what was best about it and what needed work. If nothing else, I'm really excited to try some new things with seniors this year that can produce a wow factor by just being simple. That was what I loved about so many images in the senior category. They were wow factors just because they were simple and striking. I loved that. 

6. It was incredibly humbling.

South Dakota Senior Pictures | The Shoot and Share Contest by Katie Swatek Photography


Round: 12/12

Placed: 255th/20,266

After seeing a lot of the images in voting, I really didn't expect for my images to go past the first round, especially since I had entered so few. Statistically speaking, my chances were way lower. So, when I kept seeing my favorites rise and I kept getting emails saying I was still in past the first few rounds with more than one image, I was floored. It made me feel like even a small town, South Dakota photographer was hanging in with the big dogs. And that was sort of a cool feeling.

To have an image make it all the way to the end of the rounds was really amazing. I didn't make it into the Top 100 of my category, but that is what my goal for next year is. Oh, and to remember to actually upload all 50 images.