As I glanced at Photo.net to see what the latest picture of the week was, I saw an image which had it been made in the old film days, I would have really thought Wow. Now, with the ready image editing tools, there are literally millions of correctly exposed decently composed images. There are hundreds of thousands of dramatically coloured images with incredible skies capturing images at just the right moment - this used to be special, now it's the routine.
Undoubtedly digital has made all this happen. Instead of a few enthusiasts known to each other meeting on a Saturday morning at the local Camera store, now you can't find parking and lineups at the counter are normal and you can hardly hear yourself speak.
With thousands of photographers out hiking the mountains at dawn, no wonder there are lots of images with dramatic lighting, god rays and whatever. Of course, the other thing is that many of these people who did shoot in the old film days, had wonderful slides that no one ever saw because there was no internet, printing from slides was never ideal and certainly a hassle and work just wasn't seen.
But lets face it - there are a huge number of people who own and use SLR's now compared to 15 years ago. In the past, having an SLR was a sign of a really serious photographer - not any more.
The net result of all this exposure is that any time you look on the web, it's quite easy to find an image just as good as yours, perhaps better or at least more dramatic and it's easy to be discouraged.
What's a person to do?
Well, several things.
1) who ever said it was a contest, does it really matter that other people have nice images, get over it and enjoy your images and stop comparing.
2) if you must compare - then compare their entire portfolio to yours - many's the great image that was a photo of the week but which either was one of many images looking all the same or was in fact the only strong image in their portfolio.
3) Maybe this is telling you that your work isn't personal enough - that perhaps you have been working towards an ideal that was set for you by other people, through your reading and looking at images. If your work looks the same as every one elses, then something is missing.
4) If you want your work to stand out you could make your images more dramatic, but given the competition, you'd be hard pressed to do so and almost certainly shouldn't go that direction anyway. You could pick a different subject, but they've all been done. You could try being different just for difference sake, but I suspect it will look forced or fake or simply lack feeling. Probably the most practical answer is to simply to continue to look at the world through your unique eyes and hope that you see and can show things differently without actually trying to do so, by coming up with ideas from left field and thinking, wouldn't that be interesting, or important to me, or just cool, and following your instinct. It will be interesting or stand out or be unique, or it won't, but either way it will be the best work you can do, and that's all anyone can ask.