What is Intra-Personal “Competition”

For most of us our lives probably have changed rather dramatically the last couple weeks with a strong emphasis on Social Distancing.  The Covid-19 epidemic has left many of us spending time at home.  Maybe I should give you a little homework to keep you busy 🙂 or maybe encourage you to share your idea about Evaluative vs. Informational Feedback.

My first thought was to respond to my friend Tom’s comment about his Sun City Hilton Head Photography Club (SCHHPC) and suggest how a Peer Mentor Program might be a valuable addition for a large responsive photography club.  But I’ll wait on that and hope that some of you who belong to large photo clubs can respond to Tom’s comments.  Large clubs like SCHHPC have a great deal to offer all level of photography including many levels of Inter-Personal Competition.  But what about Intra-Personal Competition?  I wouldn’t be surprised if you have never heard of this type of competition, even though you can figure out what it means.  So, let’s take a look at an example of Intra-Personal Competition and give you an opportunity to make the comparison.

Intra-Personal Photo Competition is comparing your own photo growth to your past photography.  That sounds pretty easy but it ain’t all that easy; how can you compare your present photography to your photography from 4 years ago?  I’m trying to encourage my peer mentors to do this, but the Covid-19 has cancelled our monthly meetings after I shared the experience of what I learned.  Let me show you what I have shared with my groups and see if I can get you involved.

For the past two years I have had the peer mentors share two similar photos for the Informal Critique session (more about the reason for that in a later blog).  I then asked the group to critique which photo they liked the best (evaluative feedback) and why they liked that photo better (informational feedback.)

At the February Peer Mentor Group meetings this year, I shared two photos with them for this and asked them which photo they liked the best and why.  The purpose of this critique was to introduce a form of intra-personal competition; the two photos were somewhat similar, but one was from April 2015 and the second one was from the same location in April 2019.  I had already decided which one I liked better and why; The purpose was to explore if I had improved and what I had improved upon in that past four years.

Since it is very likely many of you are sticking around home looking for something to do, I want to introduce you to one way to explore your possible improvement in photography.  I hope that you will learn something from this activity and it will get you to look at your Lightroom Library (or however you look at your old photos) and compare a photo you have recently taken with one from 1, 2, 3, or 4 years ago from a similar location (or of a similar animal or portrait or …)

Below is a photo I took at Blacktail Pond in Grand Teton National Park on April 18, 2015 with my Nikon 7000 at 25mm (with a 18-20 mm lens) at 1/45 sec @ f16 with ISO 100.  Your “homework” is to thoughtfully look at this photo and answer the 4 questions listed above the photo.  Don’t just skim over this!  Take time to answer each question (and preferably write down your answer):

  1. What do you like about this photo (Informational Feedback)?
  2. What do you think is not-so-great?  (Be specific, I’d really like to hear it in your comment)
  3. What specifically do you think should be changed?  This could be in exposure, composition, LR, etc
  4. What advice would you have given me on what I needed to do differently; what would you suggest?

 

Let’s look at a 2019 photo from a very similar place – Blacktail Pond

Let’s look at a photo taken at Blacktail Pond in GTNP on April 23, 2019 with my Nikon 610 at 24 mm (with a 24-120 mm lens) at 1/30 sec at f16 with ISO 100.  Your new “homework” is to thoughtfully look at this photo and answer the 4 questions listed above the photo.  But this time, also think of a 2015 – 2019 comparison – don’t give the 2019 photo any extra credit so that you can say that Randy’s photography has gotten better.  If you think Randy’s photography has gotten better, what about his photography seems better?  Here are the same questions:

  1. What do you like about this photo (Informational Feedback)?
  2. What do you think is not-so-great?  (Be specific, I’d really like to hear it in your comment)
  3. What specifically do you think should be changed?  This could be in exposure, composition, LR, etc
  4. What advice would you have given me on what I needed to do differently; what would you suggest?

So based on these two photos, do you think Randy’s photography has improve over the last four years?  I think I have improved (that’s a nice feeling 🙂 ) and I honestly do attribute a lot of that improvement to the Peer Mentor Program (more on that later).  Feedback from my peer mentor friends helped me think more …

Here is Randy’s Critique of these 2

The 2019 photo above has more “punch” in the sky, the foreground, and especially that line of orange willows just this side of the mountains.  The reflection of the mountains in the water isn’t great in either of the images and neither foreground leads my eyes to the mountains.  But the mid-range orange willows grabs my attention and leads my eyes to the mountain, and the mountains have interesting clouds in a more vibrant sky.  The 2015 photo has more balance but it is rather boring.  The 2019 has water on the right but brown grass on the left which is a bit distracting.  So my vote goes to the 2019 photo but there is still plenty of room for improvement.  Maybe more cropping?

_______________

And at the early March peer mentor meeting a photo friend of the peer mentor program (Mike Jackson, Best of the Tetons) gave me some informational feedback.  Mike pointed out that the water and grass and rocks actually took away from the bold orange willows and suggested that I crop the image quite a bit more, which led to this photo.  I think this pano is probably the best of the three but maybe photo #2 could be improved with more cropping to take away some of the foreground and some of the right and quite a bit of the left.  What do you think?

What have I learned from Inta-Personal Competition?

I must admit that finding images from the past to compare with images that are similar but way more recent isn’t easy.  But I suspect you probably have some social distancing time on-hand to compare the past to the present and I think you will value what you learn.  After a good photo shoot (there will be some good photo shoots in your future) you will feel good about your improvement.  But what exactly has improved in your photography?  You can guess but doing a Intra-Personal examination may be very helpful.

I won’t bore you with a lot of details about the improvements I’ve made but here are some basic changes: I take a majority of my shots on a tripod which slows-down my thinking.  I’m more thoughtful when getting ready to take the shot; I look around the edges, check-out composition, etc.  I think about leading lines and other foregrounds to take the viewer into the photo.  I’m more careful about exposure and use my exposure compensation and blinkies (highlights in the monitor) for most shots.  I take most of my photos at sunrise or early morning and some at sunset.  But probably most important is taking time to look and think which is in many ways fueled by participating in informal critiques where the peer mentors and I discuss what we think about many photos every month.

So have you improved your photography over the past year or two?  How do you know?  Is it a pain in the fanny to find old pictures to compare to new ones, or are you just a bit too lazy to check?  I’d like to suggest that you take the time you need to make those comparisons now that you are locked-up with the social distancing.  Staying home will help keep you safe and healthy.  Checking out your old photos may help you to recognize what is better about your photography and may even given you some ideas about what to improve in 2020.

Let me know what you think.  Can Intra-Personal Competition get you motivated?

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Growing a Peer Mentor Program

My many years teaching educational psychology taught me the importance of a safe learning environments where students support one another as opposed to competing with one another.  When I retired and became a “photography learner” I quickly realized that working with other amateur photographers would improve my photography.   Learning together in a peer mentor program would improve all of our skills if the environment were safe, respectful, and supportive.

After sharing my own photo challenges in the 2015-16 FirstAnAmateur.com blog I decided to create a Peer Mentor Program for photography.  It started slowly with about 6 amateur photographers.  We met once a month for a photo shoot and a group meeting.  Our monthly meeting focused on getting to know one another, discussing basic camera issues, and what I called Informal Critiques.  These critiques emphasized learning from one another in a way that will help everyone improve their photography.

At our second meeting I introduced how to give feedback at our Informal Critiques.  I had taught interpersonal communication to teachers for many years with a emphasis on the difference between Evaluative Feedback and Informational Feedback.   Most of the peer mentors had received comments on their photographs on social media where evaluative feedback was not very helpful.  Evaluative Feedback is a simple statement of support or non-support (e.g., awesome photo, beautiful, etc) without any explanation of what was “awesome” about the photo.

I emphasized the importance of Informational Feedback to help each of us improve our photography.  Informational feedback is a thoughtful explanation of why the photo is good or how it might be improved.  It requires some understanding of photography or art but does not require photo jargon.  This type of feedback is valuable to the photographer who took the image, and also to everyone else in the group.  This emphasis on respectful Informational Feedback is still a foundation of the Peer Mentor Program.

I started the third peer mentor meeting in summer of 2016 with two questions about their improvement in photography and a discussion:

How far has your photography improved compared to other photographers?

and

How far has your photography improved today compared to when you joined the PMP?

This led to an interesting discussion that allowed me to suggest that the key to all of our success was NOT how we compared to others, but rather how each of us had improved over time.  I suggested that some of us were likely to be motivated by inter-personal competition; comparing themselves and their photos to others.  Others in the group were likely to be motivated by intra-personal competition; comparing their own photo improvement to their prior photos.  It is interesting to read the recent peer mentor survey (2020) to see how some peer mentors enjoy competition (inter-personal competition) while others are not particularly motivated by inter-personal competition.  More on that in a later blog post.

During the first few months the Peer Mentor Program grew from 6 to about a dozen members who had gotten to know one another personally and also photographically.  The photographic experience, skill level, and post-processing was quite broad across the group, but the personal connection was developing with support.  We were learning about the photography of one another (Canon or Nikon, Landscape or Wildlife, etc.) and learning from one another.  We had successfully built a respectful safe learning environment where we supported one another by answering questions and guiding learning.  We were photographically different on many skills, interests, and motivations but we were developing a sense of community that was about support not interpersonal competition.

The sense of community among the PMP members was growing in a very different way than what might be the result from “monthly competition”.  The peer mentors attend the meeting to help one another, not to “beat” one another.  Often peer mentors asked the group for help, whether that related to the menu on their camera or an image adjustment in Lightroom.  We had created an environment where we recognized that Success was not always easy  and Success was often the result of extensive hard work.

Please understand that I am NOT suggesting that there is not a place for “monthly competition” and “critical feedback”.  But for many amateur photographers it is difficult to feel comfortable beginning what may be seen as a complicated learning process with a competitive group.  The 2020 Blog will not take a step-by-step journey through the 3 years of the Peer Mentor Program, but I hope to share some of the critical characteristics of the program that kept amateur photographers with all levels of photographic skills involved and contributing to the program.

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Don’t Give Up

Two months ago, I finally made a commitment to myself to upgrade my FirstanAmateur.com.  I had thought about it for a long time but wasn’t sure if I had the commitment, the enthusiasm, and the technology skills to dive in.

But I have a friend who has very good technology skills and he kept encouraging me to go ahead and start upgrading my website.  I was developing pages on our Teton Photography Club website for the Peer Mentor Program which was helping me learn online “skills.”  This experience also got me thinking about adding a gallery to my FirstanAmateur.com.  There were days when I felt confident that I was really learning, and other days when I was terribly frustrated and confused.  But my friend Aaron was there to answer questions that helped build my confidence, and never made me feel foolish or incompetent; “OK Randy, just give me a call and we can figure this out together.”

 


 

I didn’t make the connection at the time, but now I can look back at the motivational roller-coaster I took to make a commitment to improving my webpage.  My frustration building the website sure sounds like the motivational roller-coaster many amateur photographers experience.  Are you willing to put forward the time, energy, and deal with the potential failure you might experience as you try to improve your photography?  When you go out for a photoshoot and feel excited that the images are going to be great, how do you feel when you get home and look at them on your computer and they are barely OK?  Yea, I know the feeling!  It is frustrating and discouraging.  There are a lot of ways to get over that feeling but let me start with the one I just experienced.

I was able to deal with the frustration of trying to improve my website skills because I had a mentor that helped me learn the necessary skills AND he was encouraging, respectful, supportive, and gave me reasonable challenges – sound familiar?  Aaron was there to help me deal with frustration and explained that it took him a while to learn these skills. He didn’t “baby” me, he just helped me realize that developing a higher-level webpage was going to take time and that he would be available.  And when I calmed down and looked back it was easy to see the mentor relationship – and Aaron made it feel like a peer mentor relationship.  He didn’t say it was going to be easy and his response to my questions never led me to “feel stupid.”

You may not see learning website skills as “artistic” but in retrospect I see my experience developing the FirstanAmateur.com website as quite similar to the motivational challenges I faced trying to improve my photography.  Successful photography doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and is very likely to cause frustration and anxiety.  Just like learning how to create a reasonably good website.  Successful photography is the result of hard work and the motivation to continue your efforts in the face of “failure.”  Sure, some folks might catch on quickly to the necessary technical skills to develop a website, but I tripped many times along the way. I had a mentor that never sent a message that led me to feel “stupid” and it really helped.

Aaron helped me feel comfortable learning WordPress which eventually led to confidence and a willingness to keep working.  If you are looking to improve your photography, I hope the FirstanAmateur.com website/blog will help you.  As I move forward sharing how my peer mentor friends helped me improve my photography, I will also share how they improved their photography by being involved in the Peer Mentor Program.  I hope this website/blog will help you to improve your photography and maybe help you develop a peer mentoring program that will help others improve their photography.

Mentors don’t have to be someone who has all the answers.

Good mentors are folks who help keep you motivated to work hard.

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Peer Mentor Support

My 2015-16 blogs were about my own progress improving as an amateur photographer.  I must admit that I felt my progress to be shaky with some good days, and quite a few not-so-good days.  I typically attended a monthly photo critique session, which was somewhat helpful, but I often held back on asking for more explanation of the feedback I had received; I didn’t want to reveal how little I knew.  I was often apprehensive since Successful people made success look easy.

Our Teton Photography Club was led by a number of very advanced amateur and professional photographers.  They had spent years developing their photography skills and their images of landscape and wildlife were impressive to say the least.  I’m sure their Success was the result of years of hard work but since I wasn’t present to observe the development of their craft, I found it at time somewhat intimidating (OK, very intimidating) to ask them to slow down and explain their suggested critiques.  It was my fault that I didn’t speak-up, but intimidation held me down.  It was not the fault of the experts; it was my fault but …

I suspect there were other amateur photographers who had similar thoughts, although I never asked them at the time.  But I also suspect that some of the amateur photographers who are reading this blog understand … and you may be hesitant to share the impediments you feel about admitting you don’t understand or are confused.  So, what step can a hesitant amateur photographer take to make progress? Who, or what, can help you when you feel confused?

Starting the Peer Mentor Program in April 2016 brought about a significant change for me and my photography, and I believe for many of the peer mentors who joined the program and improved their photography.  The Peer Mentor Program mission is to create a comfortable learning environment based on encouragement, respect, support, and challenges.  My experience studying motivation at the university for many years helped me to realize the importance of the peer environment.

This basic mission of the peer mentor program has led to expanding from 8 “founders” to more than 40 amateur photographers who meet for a photo shoot and a critique once a month.  The success and growth of the program led to dividing into two smaller groups this summer with about 15-20 attendees each month.  It’s keeping me busy  :-).

This 2020 Blog will explore the growth of the Peer Mentor Program and share what you might find that will help you expand your own photographic development.  I will often refer to the views of the actual peer mentors, but I will also share my own experiences improving my photography.  I hope the 2020 Blog will help you improve your photography and maybe even help you to create an environment for others to improve their photography.

If you are interested in learning about how a peer mentor might be able to help you improve your photography, please subscribe to the FirstanAmateur.com web/blog and share any questions you have.  I am always interested in helping out amateur photographers improve their skills and photo-eye and if I can’t help you I’d bet one of our peer mentors will have an answer.

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