Okay, I'm a techie, a software programmer and architect, so I participate in a site that is highly technical. However, photography is really meant to be art, it is the essence of the shot. Do we really want a site like Stack Overflow here or do we want a site that celebrates all that is photography? The technology and the art?

Why do I ask this? Because I think we need to start thinking about photographic challenges on the site. Challenges, pitting our photos against one another, will help us become better photographers and the site is really well suited for the model. We can set up a contest in a 'question' that lasts for a certain period with the most votes getting the accepted answer and the question turned wiki to avoid any further reputation changes after decision.

After all, isn't our photographic outcome also a part of our reputation?

  • Some other meta threads you might be interested in: meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/248/…, and meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/203/…. They have sentiments along the same line...however the question about contests is a bit of a different tack... – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 2:56
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    I think so too, which is why I posted it. The site is structured well for it and, in the end result, all answers aside, the true measure of the photographer is the image. – John Cavan Aug 9 '10 at 3:02
  • By the way, I'm thinking a monthly challenge, not a free-for-all concept. Something to get the user base to start posting some interesting stuff to inspire us. – John Cavan Aug 9 '10 at 3:13
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    Maybe the photo critique/challenge site should be a different initiative? – Karel Aug 9 '10 at 8:55

tldr version: Not here, a million times no. A related site if you must, but please not here.

I have never seen a community-run site able to post consistently interesting challenges that didn't devolve into a mutual-congratulation society, a firehose of vaguely-related submissions where few people ever look past the first dozen (or what's next to their own), and sometimes both. It's actually one of my hallmarks for "sites I probably won't like."

Successful executions of this sort of thing all have one thing in common: a small group of people (often one) with a consistent goal and the critical skills to evaluate success. The best systems have that person actively curating the interesting submissions, and often submissions are invisible to participants.

This is largely incompatible with the way SE is set up. It's difficult to be consistent by committee, and it's largely incompatible with users/participants voting on submissions. The largely subjective and de facto competitive nature (as soon as people con vote, it's competitive) creates conflict.

Voting also brings the inevitable Velvet Elvis Effect: popular is not the same as good. HDR, much maligned, is a great example: you can do it well, some people do, most do not. But the awful, horrible HDR is just as popular, or more, as the well-done versions. I don't think that's fair to the people who do good work, nor to the people fooled into thinking that "it must be good, look at all those votes."

Another aspect of successful executions is that they mirror other aspects of the site: challenges/assignments meant to instruct are best on sites dedicated to instruction. The best art-oriented projects come from art-oriented blogs. Strobist does strobist stuff (it's basically its own word now). People seek out those places for their focus; it's not something we have here, or are even interested in.

I think it's also not entirely fair to users to do poorly. Look around at other examples, and you can see that most participants are low-to-mid-experience photographers with no particular preferred working method. They usually have a mild technical inclination. This is a broad community, certainly, but it's still a bit of an echo chamber; you see the people who participate, you don't see the people who don't.

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    Hard to argue with this one... – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 22:28

It would be nice to have chat used for photo critique/ challenges. I don't really want to see the challenges/critique on the main site though. This is a Q&A site, not a forum.


As it seems to be that allowing contests or challenges would not be a good idea, let me throw out an alternative. Recently, Che created a Photo.SE chat room in the new StackExchange chat service. We were discussing photo critiques there, and Che had the idea of using the chat to provide critiques, rather than the Photo.SE Q&A site.

I find it hard to argue with matt's logic, as trying to do any kind of photo challenge or critique using a forum would be less than ideal, and probably ultimately disastrous. However, given a real-time forum, such as chat, I think at the very least we could be successful with something along the lines of a critique night chat.

Rather than keeping challenges around forever in the form of a CW type thread, wing it and to something more ad-hoc on a real-time basis. Set up one night a month or something like that, and allow people to submit a single photo that they would like to have critiqued. Require people to "register" ahead of time, and have a moderator use the registration list to explicitly pick one person after another to submit their photo for critique. Give X amount of time for the other members of the chat to offer their critique, or perhaps do as Matt said and have a "vetted board" of a few skilled photographers do the critiquing.

Taking some kind of formal approach to this, I think we could have a regular, orderly but useful time to allow photographers to get some constructive feedback on their work, without it being disruptive or degrading into a "mutual-congratulation society". The chats would be logged, if anyone wanted to review them, but in general, the idea is that nothing is permanent or sticks around in a "forum-like" capacity where people can go off and congratulate each other but never really provide any kind of solid, useful, critical (which may need to be constructively negative) feedback.


  • Great idea, I think. Also sounds very promising as a format for Q&A topics like lighting technique which produce a large number of highly-specialized examples and related questions. – ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 23:40
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    I'm cool with that too. One of the motivators I had for this idea was the fear that the site might slow down a lot. None of the previous Stack-based sites had a ton of questions and all of them seemed to grind to a bit of a halt. Anyways, conceptually, I think a means to allow people to get critiques of their work is a good thing, though I don't totally buy the "forum" can't work, just look at DP Challenge. :) – John Cavan Aug 10 '10 at 0:39
  • +1. I love it.. – Reid Aug 10 '10 at 0:51

I'd love to see challenges here, but I think we shouldn't do this on the main Q&A site, for example to avoid flooding the main page (which, as was pointed out somewhere, is the main design element). Maybe having a tag that would show up on a separate tab, or other separate site, similar to this meta?

  • I think part of the idea is to build traffic and encourage participation. If we push it off to another site, we might keep things cleaner, but would lose the benefit challenges offer to Photo.SE overall. At least...food for thought. – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 20:01
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    @jrista - Would you tell a participant in such a challenge that it's just to drive traffic to the site? To me, that would be a disservice to people. If we can't offer them something more than "you can post a photo here" then I honestly think we shouldn't be doing it. – ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 20:15
  • @matt: I think you've twisted my previous comment a bit. If you read it again: "I think part of the idea...". I never said it was just to drive traffic to the site. I agree, that would be a disservice. However, I think they would be a good way to build and keep interest, and I think that is part of our job...to keep this place valuable. That said, its hard to argue with your answer to the OP, so the point is moot anyway. – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 22:32
  • @jrista; you're right & I apologize. I didn't mean to alter your intention, just make the point that "good for the site" doesn't always equate to "good for the visitor" (and that we should strive for both). – ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 23:34

Stackoverflow has challanges, so why can't this site?

So Photo Golf is born. :)

Any ideas for concepts to make it challenging enough not to be flooded with pictures, still general enough that anyone could participate?

(Or anyone simply against?)

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    "...not to be flooded with pictures..." Wouldn't that kind of be the point, to let people post pictures? I suppose we could enforce a one-entry-per-contest rule, but in general, every answer would have a photo, right? – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 16:27
  • @jrista That's how I would envision it, one entry per person with each entry a picture, perhaps with a brief description. – John Cavan Aug 9 '10 at 17:53
  • @jrista: What I meant was just that the subject should be challenging enough to require some real effort, so that we don't get thousands of pictures posted. – Guffa Aug 9 '10 at 19:42
  • AH! Yeah, that makes sense. We should probably closely monitor such threads as well, as there are bound to be submissions that don't meet the minimum qualifications, and they should be deleted. That might also help keep volume down. – jrista Aug 9 '10 at 19:58
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    @jrista: a good idea in theory. Impossible or boring in practice. Unless subjects are so restrictive as to be stifling, they're subject to a huge amount of interpretation. There's really no good way to throttle open submissions; people will post things simply for the enjoyment of posting things. – ex-ms Aug 9 '10 at 20:10

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