Lessons Learned: When Risk Pays Off


Risk has been something I’ve avoided at all cost for a large portion of my life. I really, really dislike it, it was always too scary for me. But 3 years ago, in attempt to push myself and try new things, I decided to enter a photography contest. It’s free, but it’s a gigantic contest. This year, there were over 500,000 images entered. That’s a HUGE number of photographs!!

Before I get into more about the lessons I learned from this contest, I want to tell you that I get to take part in a blog loop with some other photographers. I’ll give you the link to hop to the next photographer at the end of my post, so be watching for that!

Anyhow, all you have to do to take part in the contest is just take some pictures and then take some risk and enter. They even have a category for phone photography!

But that little part I said about “take some risk”? That’s hard. As an artist, every image I create, for myself or my client, is so personal. It’s basically me in a picture and when I “click” that shutter, I’ve put so much thought into what I want the finished product to look like. So to put my art “out there” for strangers to vote on and essentially “judge”? That’s just plain hard.

Two years ago, when I first entered, I did it to push myself. I’m an introvert who naturally shies away from the spotlight. For me, entering this contest was scary. I could enter up to 50 images and I only did 15. There are 12 rounds of voting in the contest and I thought “If I could make it to round 3, I’d be so happy.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how ecstatic I was to find out I made it all the way to Round 12! The image that made it to Round 12 is still one of my absolute favorites. It placed at number 409 out of 19,330 images entered into the “Pets and Animals” category. I have this image printed, in both black and white and color, in several places in my home.

Best Family Photographer in Manhattan, Kansas, captures her 4 dachshunds looking out a window. Photographed by Renee McDaniel of Renee McDaniel Photography.

That image right there? These four crazy pups were my inspiration to pick up a camera in the very beginning. Long before my two-legged baby came along, I was a dog-mom to these four-legged babies. And I loved them so. I photographed them everywhere, in every sort of light, because I adored their sweet faces. We lost one of them to an illness 2 years ago, but the other 3 are still with our family. I will always cherish this image because it represents a time in our lives with these 4 dogs and how our family looked at that moment.

Since then, I’ve created so many other images. Most notably, this one below, placed number 599 out of 19,330 images entered in the contest last year. That may not seem like a big deal, but that’s a huge to me. The “Lifestyle/Documentary” genre of photography is incredibly competitive, especially in professional photography. I pour everything I am into creating my images, so for me to land in the top 10% of all those other photographers that entered, that felt amazing.

Black and white image of a little girl at the top of a slide at Britt’s Garden Acres’ Pumpkin Patch. Captured by best family and child documentary photographer, Renee McDaniel Photography, in Manhattan, Kansas.

Here are a few of my favorites that placed each of the last 2 years I entered. They each have award badges on them, so you can see where they placed in the top percentage of their category.

Girl splashing in rain puddle after rain in Manhattan Kansas. Captured by best family and child documentary photographer, Renee McDaniel Photography.
Girl playing on merry-go-round at City Park in Manhattan Kansas. Captured by best family and child photographer, Renee McDaniel Photography
Girl and Father out playing along the shore in Galveston, Texas, their silhouettes reflected in the water on the sand. Photographed by best family and child documentary photographer, Renee McDaniel Photography based in Manhattan, Kansas
Black and white image of a little girl in rain boots bends down to examine her reflection in a rain puddle. Captured by best family and child documentary photographer Renee McDaniel Photography in Manhattan, Kansas.
Dachshund giving little girl kisses while she sits on the floor by an open door.
Little girl and her grandpa sitting head-to-head, touching foreheads, while eating breakfast in Olathe, Kansas.
Toddler staring out window in Manhattan, Kansas.

The contest is going on right now and I went “all in” with 50 images again this year. I find out how I did in March and I really can’t wait to see what placed. If you’re interested in voting, you can find out more information by going here. It’s 100% free to vote, no commitment or anything. And who knows, maybe you’ll be super inspired by the beauty you see in the photographs.

So why did I write a blog post on this? Well, as an artist, sometimes it’s a good idea to give yourself a pat on the back and remember all the good things you created. Artists are often the most critical of their work. Because the idea started in my head, I know how I want it to look. If it doesn’t look exactly like that idea, it can be disheartening. When that happens often, you can start to question if you ever did anything right. So sometimes, I need a reminder of the good.

But I’m also writing to the dreamers. The ones who have big ideas, big plans and big goals on where they want to be and what they want to do. But maybe they've been too cautious and haven’t taken the steps toward those dreams or ideas. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I can say that taking those risks are 100% worth it. The risks may not pan out the way you hope or think they will, but with every failed attempt, you get closer to knowing what it is that will make that dream work. Obviously, I’m speaking as much to myself as any other. But sometimes this blog becomes my own little pep talk, so I think that’s okay.

So what are your dreams? What are your big goals? I hope you’ll share them with me, if in an email or a quick message. And I hope this post has inspired you to take steps to making those dreams a reality.

Little girl running up a hill at Britt’s Garden Acres’ Pumpkin Patch while the sun sets behind her. Captured by best family and child documentary photographer in Manhattan, Kansas, Renee McDaniel Photography.

Remember the blog loop I mentioned earlier? Well, it is a great one to read, written by my friend Stephanie Niehaus. She is a Dallas Family Photographer and wrote about adding a space to cultivate creativity and growth as an artist. It really could not be a more perfect read after my encouragement to chase your dreams. So please hop on over to her post and learn some practical steps to help grow your dreams.

Till next time…

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